Time for an Update!

Time for an Update!
There’s something strange that happens to me with blogging once I hit a rhythm.  Writing a blog entry becomes the very last thing on my priority list, despite my intense desire to share my experiences with my family and friends back home.  Today, I’m breaking that cycle.  Here are some of the highlights of my last few months in Thailand.
During the second week of school, the princess of Thailand graced our school with a visit.  She came for a ceremony and gave a big speech.  It was a really big deal in my small town.  The preparation for her visit took all week, and by the time the day came, our town was covered in flags, banners, draped in colorful clothes, and signs with the princess’s face on it were all over town.  The teachers at my school were beaming with pride at having such an important and respected figure in their very own school.  The picture below is of me and some of my coworkers posing next to the chair she sat in during the ceremony.  (The princess’s color is orange.  Can you tell?)

My friend Ell took me to a cool springs on a weekend day with her friend and her neighbor, Boo, and Boo’s son, New.  The picture below is of New playing in the spring water.  It was a wonderful escape from the incessant heat.

A sunset from over the lake in my town of Ban Phet.

Emily and I visited Khon Kaen, the largest city in Isan (NE Thailand).  There we saw the temples pictured below.  We’ve been to Khon Kaen a handful of times now.  It’s a good place for us to go to the movie theater and eat pizza, things we cannot do in our towns, and two things that we’ve discovered are hard to live without.

My wheels.  I’m renting this little beauty from a coworker.  For about a dollar a week in gas money, it gets me to school and back as well as to the next town over when I want to take a bus somewhere.  Having the freedom of a scooter is the best.

Those are colored chicks.  I have no idea why they are painted or why someone would want to buy a chick painted the color pink or green.  Add that to the list of things I just don’t understand in Thailand.

This is my friend Ell.  She is eating a frog.  The frog was boiled and cooked in some sort of stew, probably super spicy, and is eaten whole.  This is one of those moments were I look at her and say, “You are so Thai.”

A traffic jam on the way home from school.  Created by cows.  I live in the country, folks.

This is an image of Wai Kru day.  Wai Kru is a day that students show their respects to their teachers for all they do for the students.  The students gift large arrangements made of leaves and flowers to their teachers and bow before them, while the teachers wish them luck and pour love and support over the students.

Here is a pretty picture of some colorful mushrooms being sold at the daily market in Ban Phet.

Taking photos with students after school.  The student to the right of me has since shown me a mini slide show on her cell phone of pictures with me.  There were about 5 or 6 photos in the slideshow, and they were set to Thai music.  It almost made me cry.

When our visas were about to expire, it was time for Emily and I to go to Laos for a visa run.  Since we both have multiple entry visas, the process was simple for us.  Basically we had to do what we call a “border bump,” which means that we just had to leave the country and come back in.  We decided to make a weekend of it and visited the Laos capital of Vientiane, which is right on the other side of the border not too far from where I am teaching.

Being colonized by the French, Laos has a lot of French influence in their food.  Unlike Thailand, bread and cheese are common in the food supply.  I indulged in this with a plate of nachos for lunch.  This is pure chips, cheese, chicken, salsa and sour cream goodness.  I was in heaven.

Back in Ban Phet, I explored the outskirts of town (which literally meant I drove one road farther from the route I take to school) to find a pretty rice paddy field with cows and water buffalo grazing.  I truly love the peacefulness of being in the country, no matter where I am in the world.

Posing for another picture with students.

I stopped to take this picture from my motorbike on my way to the bus station in Phukhiao.  I admired the advancing rainstorm for a moment before speeding off to avoid the storm!

In late June, I went to Phi Ta Khon Festival in Dan Sai Loei with Emily and a bunch of her coworkers.  Phi Ta Khon is hard to explain, but there is a lot of music, food, and people in crazy masks.  Here’s a little copy-and-paste to help explain the festival:

The origins of this part of the festival are traditionally ascribed to a story of the Vessantara Jataka in which the Buddha in one of his past lives as a prince made a long journey and was presumed dead. The celebrations on his return were so raucous as to wake the dead.

I just had to include this picture of some students lounging around between classes.  There is no concept of a personal space bubble in Thailand, as shown from these boys.  These are all M5 students, probably 16 or 17 years old, and very comfortable with each other.  They just make me laugh.

I love my M1 students!  They are so adorable and lively and my classes with them are almost always completely enjoyable.  Do you see that one white girl in there?  Yeah, that’s me.

In preparation for the parade coming up for a Buddhist festival in Ban Phet, my coworker and friend Pooky taught some of the women of Ban Phet the dance they would be performing.  Pooky is pictured in the front of the line in the bright green shirt.  I participated and learned how to do the dance, and was showered with compliments on my abilities for it being my first time trying to do Thai dance.  (My mom keeps telling me not to get a big head because people aren’t going to shower compliments on me when I get home.  I know, I know.)

When the festival weekend arrived, Emily came out to visit my little town.  Ell took us to a temple Friday night to participate in a prayer ceremony at the temple.  We walked three loops around the temple with a group of people holding flowers, three sticks of incense and two burning candles.  When we finished the walking we placed the items on the stones pictured below.

After going to the temple, we went back into town, where they were holding an Isan concert.  Emily made some friends with some little boys while we watched the concert.  The picture shown below is of the little boy teaching Emily a Thai version of rock-paper-scissors where the winner smacks the loser’s hand… though Emily couldn’t figure out the details of the game.  The result was a lot of miming and laughter.

The following morning, at 4 o’clock in the morning, I drug Emily to the school with me, where I was made into a Thai princess.  Well, not really a princess, but I felt like it.  I was dressed in Thai clothing, including four different things attached to my hair, and had more makeup put on my face than I ever have before.  The end result was something that looked like it was from another world and another time altogether.

Pooky and I ready for the parade.

This is Pommy, the student who did my makeup.  He makes a beautiful woman, doesn’t he? =)  He also wore about 4 inch heels during the entire parade.  I was beyond impressed.

Me with the group of students who prepared together for the parade.  Aren’t they cute?

Here was my duty:  Hold the sign and smile.  The sign I held said the title of the dance they were performing behind me.  By the end of the parade, both my arms and my face hurt.  I’ve never smiled so much in my life.  But whenever I felt the smile turning into a grimace, I would see another familiar face – a student, a coworker, a friend – and the smile would become real again.  I had hundreds of pictures taken of me that day.  It was an incredible experience, and is something I will never forget!

Emily and I went for a cruise on my scooter and decided to stop and take pictures of people working in a rice paddy.  I was tentative, but as soon as we held up the camera and asked, they broke into huge smiles and agreed to pose for photos.  The lady in the green and pink stood and grinned the whole time we snapped photos.  We thanked them with a big khawp khun kah! before driving off again.

A couple weeks ago, I was invited to travel with the M2 students to a national park about four hours away.  The park is called Pa Hin Ngam National Park.  I arrived at the school at 6 AM where we loaded into four large charter buses and headed out.  The ride there and back were nonstop bumping Thai music and karaoke, and I discovered that I can sleep with blaring dance music playing in my face.  The picture below was taken before we left the school grounds.

The park was lovely.  It was on top of a mountain, and first we visited this great overlook of the valley below.  (Yes, this is the first time I’ve worn pants in Thailand.  It felt really strange to have my legs covered.)

The sign below says maybe the name of the lookout (I’m guessing here) and the height of the location.  It said 800-something meters.  So we were up high!

Next we hiked along a path to get to the flower field.  There was a clear path but this group of boys were jumping rock to rock along the side of the path.  I let my inner child out and joined them.

I also spotted this large centipede thing along the path.  It was probably 3/4″ thick and 6 inches long.  I’ve been collecting images of everything creepy and crawly… it will deserve its own blog post by the end of the trip.  The pictures are inspired from my cousin Brody, who looked up everything deadly and dangerous in Thailand before I left.

The flower fields at Pa Hin Ngam National Park.

The last attraction at the park was a field of these limestone formations.  The one pictured is a favorite because of its likeness to the World Cup trophy when pictured from the right angle.

We had two days of sports competitions at our school during school hours.  Although class pretty much screeched to a halt, I got to watch some fun sporting events, and discover a new sport altogether.  The sport below is called Sepak Takraw, and it’s basically volleyball played with your feet and a medium-sized hard plastic ball.  The coolest part is when they go for a kill – they basically do a backflip and kick the ball in midair to send it rocketing down on their opponent’s side of the court.  You can block the kill with your body.  This is what is happening in the picture below.  It was really neat to watch.

Again with the lack of space bubble.  These three boys, who are actually sort of the trouble kids of their grade, have no problems sharing a chair while watching the sepak takraw match.

I was invited to join this group of teachers for dinner and karaoke for the guy in the blue’s birthday.  He had a few drinks with dinner and was having a great time at karaoke.  I previously was clueless my town had karaoke until this night.  It’s just a small room next to a restaurant in town with two wooden benches and a TV with karaoke videos on it.  Nothing in English, unfortunately, so I was unable to participate.  Thai people have absolutely no problems grabbing that mic and singing in front of other people.

On Wednesdays, we wear orange at my school.  With the black pants and skirts, I feel like every Wednesday is Go Beavs Day.

Ell and I.

This is my boss’s niece, June.  She is my favorite baby in all of Thailand.  She just turned 1 last month.  She is happy and chunky and sweet as can be.

Believe it or not, I grilled steaks.  It’s the only time I’ve ever had beef in my town, and will probably be the last.  Ell’s fiance Riku came from Finland and we bought some steaks and potatoes and feasted like true westerners.  It was glorious.  Though watching the Thai people that ate the steaks I grilled was pretty funny.  They were pretty iffy about the whole thing.

The board says “Mattayomsuksa 2/3 love teacher Erika Wilmes”  Awwwww.

Cute little Thai baby!

My mom sent me a care package, and it was glorious.  Thanks, Mom!

I wanted to take a picture of the food spread, and my coworkers all leaned in for a photo.  Thai people love taking pictures.  The meal was all sorts of strange Isan food, most of it stinky and bitter and spicy, all hallmarks of true Isan food.  I was asked to join, so I ate some rice and politely picked at some of the dishes, settling on stir fried vegetables and raw cucumber slices.  I’ve never been such a picky eater before.

One day, while chatting with Pooky at school, I mentioned that I wanted to learn how to make Pad See Ew, my favorite Thai dish that is wide rice noodles with vegetables, egg, pork, and flavored with soy sauce.  The next thing I know, I’m getting a cooking lesson from the school’s volleyball coach.  It was awesome, and he said I can come back whenever I want!  Did I mention how wonderful and generous the people in my town are?!?

More adorable M1 students.

These little rubber band bracelets are all the rage right now.  These have all been gifted to me from students.  Awwwwww.

For as difficult as some of my students can be, walking into my class and seeing this sure makes me happy.

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