Thursday, December 19, 2013

Skipping Christmas

Text from my sister this morning: Hi sissy! Jake and I are on a ferry, going to take a bus to Logan airport and sleep over there.  Our flight leaves at 6 am tomorrow morning.
Wait, what?! You’re leaving for Michigan.. already?? This is when the wake-up call came through and I actually had to pause, take a step back, and really think about what day it was.  Not one bone in my body could ever imagine that it is actually the 19th of December and Christmas is a mere six days away.

Coming into this, I knew that I would be missing the holidays.  It was something I had to do if I wanted to take this opportunity to teach in Thailand.  I felt prepared to miss the holidays when I left, even though I knew it was probably killing my mom and dad to know that I wouldn’t be there on Christmas morning to open up presents and scarf down a breakfast made for kings.  My sister and Jake have decided to go to Michigan for Christmas, so that’s unfortunately a double whammy for mom and dad this year.  I’m banking on my extended family to get them through (load up my mom with mimosas and white zin!).

Thanksgiving came and went and I survived the holiday with the help of my new friends. I wasn’t very homesick for Thanksgiving and I’m glad for that, because I didn’t want to be homesick when I had only been here for one measly month.  There is a lot more time for that and I didn’t want Thanksgiving to be the breaking point.

After I received my first card from Em, I was so happy.  At the same time, it was my first feeling of Wow, this is the person I used to spend every moment with outside of work and now we are writing letters to one another.  It is a strange realization.  Those closest to me are now very distant, and it is not always easy to plan a Skype session, although I feel fortunate for iMessaging and whatsapp, which allows me to text when I have wifi without getting charged for it. 

When one card came, others slowly began arriving here and there.  I get my mail delivered to school to ensure that it actually gets to me safely.  Each time the secretary finds me, my eyes light up and I get a humungous smile on my face.  My students crowd around my desk to see what I get and I always show off my letters and postcards to them.

Last Friday, I had a field trip so I wasn’t at school (Let me add, the most horribly exhausting and sweaty field trip of my life. It was Friday the 13th, jokes on me!).  When I got home, I had a message from Brittany saying that she had a letter AND a package for me. She knew that since it was Friday, I would have had to wait in anticipation if it just sat at school all weekend, so she was a very good person and took it home for me.  I was so much more excited for this package than I ever thought I would be, I think mainly because this was quite a large surprise, and I had no idea that anything was coming for me or who it would be from.  So, Brittany and Emily brought me my package and they were just as excited for me to open it and to find out what was inside.  If I only could have had a picture taken of us sitting on my bed smiling and staring at this enormous package, frantic about what the contents would be.  As soon as I saw the handwriting on the box, I knew immediately that it was from my parents.  Leave it to my mom to send me some cheering up on a day that had just stressed me out to the max.  Funny how things work that way!

As I fumbled to rip the tape off of the box I heard a bit of jingling, like Santa himself was in the box.  Of course my mom sent me Christmas decorations! It wouldn’t be a Christmas living away from home if I didn’t get these from my mom.  I should have known!  Tinsel, door/window hangings, and Santa hats!  I have zero decorations in my classroom and I have zero decorations in my house, so this was an amazing surprise.  I think I will be decking out my classroom in these gifts so that I can share my Christmas cheer with my students!  The decorations will be appreciated much more in my classroom, where all of my students and parents can see them, as opposed to being hung in my bedroom to be seen only by me.

When I was finished oogling over the Christmas decorations, I went back at the box to see what else was inside.  All that I saw was a layer of wrapping paper with a piece of paper on top that read, Don’t open till Christmas J.  Santa Clause came a bit early and it will take all that I have to wait another week until Christmas to open this, but it will be well worth it I’m sure.  My parents are extremely thoughtful and I am very thankful that I will have something to open on Christmas.  As much as I know that giving is better than receiving, receiving will be especially rewarding this year for me, just to make it feel like I am not totally skipping the holiday.

What will make or break the Christmas feeling for me on the 25th is what it feels like to be working on the most wonderful holiday.  Christmas is only an observance in Thailand, not a national holiday, so my coworkers and I will have a regular day at work.  I am not sure I have come to terms with this yet.  Even though I have had many Christmases where my dad was working, and it happens to many people, it just doesn’t seem fair!  In my 25 years, I have always had school or work off, and had plenty of time to spend with my family, but this Christmas will be the weirdest yet.  I have high hopes that my friends and I will make it a holiday worth celebrating, and why wouldn’t we since we will all be trying to make the best out of what we have to work with.  I plan on doing Christmas activities with my students all week long.  They may have to be math, science, or English related, but I am determined to dedicate next week to Christmas and I think my students will be on the same page. We also have a Christmas Show on the 23rd, which should be absolute mayhem, and a classroom New Year's party on the 27th. Let's hope these events help me feel like I am not skipping Christmas.

Silver lining: Amelia, Brittany, Emily, and I will be headed to Koh Tao to do our open water scuba diving certification course on the 27th and we get time off for New Year’s, so at least we get a long 5 day weekend.  It still would be better to have Christmas off, but I’ll take a trip to a beautiful island as a late Christmas present to myself! Check out where we will be diving and staying at http://www.simplelifedivers.com/!

We skip Christmas, save the money, and go splash in the Caribbean for ten days.
                           -Skipping Christmas, by John Grisham

Thursday, December 12, 2013

For The Love Of Food

I have been doing really well trying not to miss things from home too much yet. I figure, I still have over 4 months left abroad, so what's the point in dwelling over what I can't have? Well, Chiang Mai has finally made me start thinking of foods that I would give a lot to have. It seems to be the most simple foods that I miss. It was actually a relief to get away from the foods that I ate so often at home, but now, I can't seem to stop thinking about them!

Foods I miss: 
Mexican (Bombers specifically)
Buffalo chicken anything
Cheese (hard to come buy, VERY expensive at grocery store)
Hummus
Wheat thins
Pickles
Avocado
Wine
Mom's ziti and chicken parm
Coffee-mate creamer

Never thought I would miss this "dinner" so much.

I went to Chiang Mai for Loi Krathong three weeks ago. While I was there, we figured out that the city caters to tourists and Westerners, and had many hidden gems for foodies. We stumbled upon Nice Kitchen that weekend, where I had an amazing carrot, cinnamon, and cashew pancake, and vowed to go back again. We kept eating great food in Chiang Mai, so I began researching restaurants before we went again this past weekend. I was getting so excited for these restaurants that I started planning what to eat and when to eat it throughout the weekend. I absolutely love the Thai food I eat all week, but it is nice to have something else to look forward to!

Food I ate this weekend:
Mexican: margaritas, chicken burrito, chips and salsa at El Diablos. The salsa may be the best I have ever had.
Fried chicken sandwich with CHEESE AND TABASCO SAUCE, french fries, onion rings, side salad, and a large Heineken at U.N. Irish Pub.
Plain bagel with grilled chicken, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and avocado at Bagel House Cafe. I even brought a bagel home with me!
Cinnamon french toast with fruit salad (EXTREMELY FRESH banana, papaya, watermelon, pineapple, clementine, and dragon fruit) at Nice Kitchen. Had this meal twice and devoured it both times.
Chocolate pancake with banana. Cannot remember the name of the cafe, but if the pancake wasn't good, I wouldn't be talking about it.

                                      
                         El Diablos                                                                                        Nice Kitchen

I am happy to travel with the people I do because we plan the food we are going to eat just as much as the activities. I have never looked forward to anything like I looked forward to riding elephants but at the same time, I knew that I would be eating bagels this weekend and I had been smiling about that for a week! We talked about bagels at least four times a day leading up to THE day.I am thankful to have made friends who, like me, looked forward to eating just as much as I do.

Good thing we did as much physical activity as we did eating because we were constantly eating! I had a serious breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day on this trip and I am sad that I'll no longer have that variety available to me anymore! But, even as we talked about going back to Chon Buri and the Thai food we constantly consume at home, there is always something to look forward to. Said my skinny-minnie friend Brittany: "My stomach hurts but I really want to eat the chocolate cookies we get on the bus." Then when feeling better on the bus, "I'm definitely going to eat both meals we get tonight." Case in point. Food is important so we eat it, especially when it's free.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Elephant Days

I found my one true love this weekend. He is large and big-boned, has thinning hair on the top of his head, has two long sharp teeth, goes to the bathroom A LOT, and he's Asian. I am luckily not referring to a man, but the elephant I got to have for a day.

Amelia's birthday is December 11th, and in Thailand why not ride an elephant for your birthday?! After researching elephant conservatories for a few weeks, we finally decided on Thai Elephant Home. We wanted to be able to ride bare-back at a place that we knew did not abuse the elephants. I guess you can never truly know that for sure, but from the reviews we read, this place had everything we were looking for, even though it was a bit pricey compared to what we're used to spending. I splurge for elephants.

When we arrived, our fears of what we would actually walk into we're immediately put to rest. We had a briefing from a bubbly Thai man with good English. He gave us the history of the elephant home, told us about the elephants, taught us commands to use, and also explained the stick with a hook that the mahouts, or elephant trainers, would be carrying around. The stick is used for tapping the elephants to guide when they are going astray (which mine often did), and their skin is so thick that it is basically itching a scratch for them. The hook is only used in extreme measures, like if the elephants are fighting, if they are putting someone in danger, or when teaching them not to eat plastic or garbage (we have to teach dogs not to eat our furniture somehow too!). I have heard horror stories of how elephants are treated at some zoos and sanctuaries, and the fact that the guide brought up the hook without anyone asking gave me reassurance that they were being honest with us. Also, the elephants were in perfect shape. No holes in their ears and no gashes on their bodies. It was a great sign and we all felt like we chose a place that genuinely cares for and respects the elephants.

We were given a beautiful change of clothes to wear over our bathing suits (can you hear how sarcastic I'm being?) and off we were to practice getting on and off the elephant. Not so easy and extremely terrifying but, if the 7 year old girl behind me could do it, so could I. When we were done practicing, we got assigned an elephant.
The mahouts must have seen it in my eyes. Terror. I think to mess with me, they gave me the elephant wanderer. The one who was always turning left or right or up or down to look for food. Elephants are vegetarians, so 9 year old Won (pronounced Juan) literally stopped every 30 seconds to try and eat something.

Now, you might be thinking that I was so silly being scared of riding an elephant. I rode one at the Catskill Game Farm when I was about 4 and I was probably fearless then, sitting on the elephant in a basket with the comfort of my sister sitting next to me, but this is no Catskill Game Farm elephant. This is a huge, wild, Asian elephant that I rode with nothing but Won's head, ears, and a rope behind me to hold onto. I have a fear of falling down. My friends can all attest to this weird fear of mine.. Slipping on ice/snow/water and falling, falling backwards on an escalator, falling from climbing/being on a tall surface (another fear I came face to face with while zip lining this weekend), and now I can add falling off of an elephant down the jungle mountain to that list that goes on and on. One thing I know about myself and accept about myself is that I am a chicken, but I always follow through, and this day was no different.

As petrified as I was while my mind was trying to figure out how to balance on this gigantic animal, I had to talk myself down from the fear so that I could enjoy one of the reasons that I came to Thailand in the first place. How could I possibly get through this without falling down the steep mountain to my death?!
I had my own elephant trainer with me the whole day. My mahout walked beside me all morning and all afternoon. He shouted commands at Won when his trunk began to wander to to the nearest tree. He knew I was a chicken. I even flapped my wings at him and said I'm a chicken bawk bawk so he was well aware. Without my mahout, I may have had an anxiety attack.

The balance thing was really stressing me out. If I had a seatbelt, I wouldn't have had one single issue, but who uses seatbelts in Thailand?! So, I had my cheerleaders in front of me talking me through it. My friends were cheering me on, taking millions of pictures (since I couldn't even take one hand off for more than 2 minutes to do so), and told me where it was more comfortable to put my feet. That was a lifesaver. I assumed just hanging my feet made the most sense for my safety, but turns out legs bent behind the ears was the place to be. Once I figured that out, it was smooth sailing. Won was even so nice and smart as to give my legs a boost back up with his ears if they began slipping down.

Amelia and Shelby were directly in front of me and were riding the elephants so effortlessly, like they had been doing it for years. They were my motivation to really take it all in, enjoy myself, and stop worrying so much. I even got myself to take my hands off Won's head for 30 seconds so my mahout could take this picture of me. So glad I did, this picture is worth a thousand words.
Look Ma, no hands!

In the morning, I rode my elephant for about 2 hours straight. I saw amazing views of the jungle and village below. I got to see elephants in their natural environment. They are smart, friendly, curious, and hungry. These enormous creatures were going up and down very narrow paths, along a steep drop of the mountain, all with their four gigantic feet. How they figured that out is beyond me!

We had lunch provided for us, which was a humungous portion of amazing pad Thai, and we gave the banana leaf it came in and any leftovers to one of the elephants.  Then we got big ole elephant kisses! That was just awesome.

I got to have a mud bath all while giving an elephant one as well. We got a free facial! We were encouraged to get all muddy, and then give the elephant a mud and dirt bath. After walking for two hours in the Thai jungle heat, these big guys deserved it. You could tell how much she loved the wet mud, and it was fun for us too! Still nice and dirty, we hopped (more gracefully now after doing it a few times) back onto our elephants to walk for about another hour. Our next destination was the river and my mahout and I gave Won a bath! Won was just like a dog, plunging under water for as long as he could hold his breath, just soaking it all up. Looking around, every single person was smiling and laughing. We were playing with our elephants. I really appreciated them at this moment, and I'd like to think that they were appreciating us as well for washing them clean and letting them take a nice break after working so hard all day. After the river, it took another 20 minutes to walk back to the sanctuary, and then I had to say goodbye to my elephant. It was around 3 pm. I spent a whole entire day with my own elephant and I will never forget it.

This was a once in a lifetime experience. I say this about a lot of the things that I do in Thailand, but unless I come across an inheritance I don't yet know about, I may never even make it to Asia again. I have adored elephants since I was a little girl. I used to collect anything elephant but eventually grew out of that phase and got rid of my collection. I've grown back into that phase again and may become a crazy elephant lady. I now have an elephant collection of bracelets, scarves, necklaces, Thai pants, a hanging rope of colorful elephants (props Erica Wordon), and I was THIS close to spending way too much money on an original painting of an elephant's behind this weekend. I actually may regret not buying that later in life, but for now, I had to think realistically about my financial situation and how much more debt I would be in at home if I went for the splurge. Maybe I'll take up painting in the future and just make my own.

I'm pretty sure nothing will top this experience and I'm okay with that. I conquered a fear and lived out a dream all in one day, and this memory will last forever.

I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant's faithful one-hundred percent!
        -Dr. Seuss

Other weekend highlights:
 
                    Jungle hike                                                    Sunrise at Doi Suthep                                                            Zip lining

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Turkey Day

Thanksgiving is the second holiday that I have missed. The first was Halloween, but I don't love Halloween so I didn't care to miss it. Thanksgiving on the other hand, I LOVE. Thursday was a bit difficult but here is how I got through it..

Firsts things first. When you're teaching on a holiday in a foreign country, you bring your culture to your students! Amelia made an awesome powerpoint with the basic history of Thanksgiving, the foods we eat, and what we do on that day (aka eat food, nap, and pretend to watch football). Then I talked to them about being thankful and I made them do a typical handprint turkey where they wrote what they were thankful for. Some turkeys became rainbows and some were made into Angry Birds, but I was so happy to be able to share our customs with my students.

Thanksgiving this year also happened to fall on my grandmother's birthday, so I videotaped my students singing to her, and they said a little message at the end. Like the Thanksgiving message I put up on Facebook, it was by far the cutest thing ever. A few periods after we videotaped, my Thai teacher gave me a pad of stationary and she wrote on it, "Happy birthday T Laura, From T Ae." As much as I tried explaining that it was not my birthday but my grandmother's, it was lost in translation and became my birthday for the day. One of the most awkward encounters ever, but presents are always much appreciated.

With much anticipation all day, we finally headed to Pooky and Erik's for Thanksgiving dinner (no I do not know Pooky or Erik, but they were amazing and cooked for us at their restaurant). A whole turkey. Mashed potatoes. Stuffing. Carrots and snow peas. Bread and butter. Apple pie. Blueberry pie. Pumpkin pie. I think it was the first time I have actually been full in Thailand. If only there had been a couch to lay on immediately after! It was a delicious meal and it really did make the holiday seem as real as it possibly could. I was surrounded by new friends that I have made over the past month and we made the best out of the holiday!
Gravy and everything!

This past year has really been one of ups and downs, but even when times have been tough, there is always something to be thankful for. There are a million things that I could list right now, but I'll leave it at this:
        I am thankful for the opportunity that I have in Thailand. Although I don't love every minute, I am always happy to have a teaching job.
        I am thankful for my students who make being here well-worth it.
        I am thankful for my coworkers who are always in the same boat as me.
        I am thankful that I haven't gotten hit by a motorbike (yet).
        I am thankful that I haven't gotten malaria, even if I think I have the symptoms once a week.
        I am thankful that my time difference between America allows me to talk to my family and friends plenty every day.
        I am thankful for being safe. I was in Bangkok this past weekend when tensions were at a high. Some voilent protests occured and I am happy to have steared clear, even though this meant missing out on lots of sight seeing.

Next year, I hope to be thankful that this experience led me to a job that I love in the Sates!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Land Of No Laws

It is official. I have lasted a whole month in Thailand. Time is already feeling like it is flying by, and in order for me to remember this place, I have been writing down random things that I learn or see. Here are a few I wanted to share:

1. Thailand is a lawless land. "There are rules but there are no laws." I figured this out very, very quickly.
        Drink on the street.
        Drive on the wrong side of the road if and when all is clear. Or maybe even when all is not clear.
        Nurses wear gloves? Why would they do such a thing?
        Pile a family of 4 onto a motor bike and don't have anyone wear a helmet. Not even the four-year old.
        Overcharge the farangs (foreigners, aka me) for anything and everything, and take advantage of them whenever possible.

2. Ordering food can be difficult.  There is a lot of pointing involved in that, while hoping that what you end up with tastes good. Luckily it always is great and I don't think I've had a bad meal since I've been here. Except the time I was told that I was eating blood and I did not know I was eating blood. Stearing clear of that from now on. A couple of important words to know, mainly the only couple that I have mastered because they are staples:
        Goong- Shrimp
        Guy- Chicken
At our market, we are branching out and going for new things all the time. I love dinner time and I am obsessed with the food here. Pad thai, papaya salad, and seafood everywhere you look.
Pad thai, dinner at least two nights a week. My favorite!

3. I strip out of my work clothes as soon as my feet hit my bedroom door everyday and put on shorts and a tank top. My air conditioning goes on as soon as I can find the remote. The past two days have been the most brutal since I have arrived. Extremely humid, as if I was in Orlando in July. But it is almost December. The confusion for me is never ending because how on earth could it be this hot in December?! The Thai people still think it's cold and my students wear zip ups in class all of the time. I should send them to New York where it is the opposite extreme! My mom just told me that they have a 2 hour delay today! As hot as it is here I cannot say it enough.. I am happy to skip winter this year!

4. In order to show respect here, we wai (pronounced as the letter, y) instead of shake hands. This means that I put my hands together and bow my head to people higher up than me, and also to Thai teachers. There are different ways to wai, depending on the status of the person, but I have yet to become an expert on that. Honestly, I get so many new cultural things thrown at me a day that I may never get the wai down pat.

5. 7-11. The other day my coworker was telling me how to get a bus that is close to the 7-11. I assumed she meant my 7-11 but then realized that she could be talking about any six between my house and hers, which is only a 15 minute walk. 7-11 is found on no lie, every three blocks. In Laos, it was almost unsettling that there was no 7-11 to be found. We buy alcohol there (liquor too), 'top up' our cell phones when we run out of minutes, buy any kind of strange packaged food that can be heated up there, and can find any other random thing you can squeeze into a tiny corner store. I just had my first 2 am toastie experience last weekend, and I hate to say that it will not be my last. Oh, and 7-11 is open 24 hours so I really can't go wrong. Wow, never thought I would choose 7-11 to be one of the things to rave about in Thailand.
A typical Thai 7-11

6. Holidays. We obviously do not have Thanksgiving off, but I also have the displeasure of working on Christmas this year. Working on Christmas and the weather will be 95 degrees. I can't imagine it actually feeling like Christmas, but the other foreign teachers and I will cross that bridge when we get there.
The reason we have to work.. The majority of the Thai population is Buddhist. They may have adopted some of our holiday traditions here and there, but Christmas is not recognized as a national holiday. Guess what we will be doing all day on December 25th? Chirstmas activities of course! I'll be looking to Pinterest for a make-your-own-snow activity. BUT, the English teachers do get to put on a Christmas Show. We were told that we did not have to choose a Christmas song, actually maybe we were encouraged not to. So, what else did my team and I choose for our second graders? The uber-famous American rock song that will forever be the song that is okay to scream at the top of your lungs while out at a bar, no matter if you are 22 or 42.. Don't Stop Believing of course!! Amelia, Sydney, and I are currently working on choreography with the kids. Videos will follow after the show next month because who would not want to see 30 Thai kids rocking out to Journey?!

That's about all I can squeeze out of my brain at the moment. I'm onto grading and brainstorming for Father's Day/the King's Birthday, which is December 5th for them!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Loi Krathong

You might think after the debacle that was Laos, I would give up on buses for a little while.  Instead, I hopped right back on one a short 4 days later.  Another 15 hour bus ride.  Let me just say, I keep living and I keep learning.  This trip, I learned never to take the economy bus again.  No toilet, no blankets, and worst of all, zero leg room.  Easy ride for all of the tiny Asians.  Not so comfortable for us tall Americans.  It felt as if my ankles would snap or my knee caps might fall off.  Never again.

Amelia and I went to Chiang Mai this weekend.  Chiang Mai is almost as far up north in Thailand as you can get.  The last three hours of the drive, I was holding onto the seat for dear life.  If I could pick out the most winding road I have ever seen, this would be it.  It felt as if the bus driver was going 100 mph around the mountainous turns.  All that came between me and the jungle tree tops was a very tiny guardrail.  Pretty view, but I saw my life flash before my eyes at least twice.  Finally, I felt my body stop tensing once my feet touched  the ground, knowing there was a good reason that I decided it was necessary to travel all the way up to Chiang Mai on this certain weekend.

The weekend of November 16th was Loi Krathong, or more commonly known to us as Lantern Festival.  Loi Krathong is a ceremony in Thailand that connects multiple beliefs, mainly Buddhism and Hinduism.  It takes place every year on the full moon in November and the lanterns and floats are the largest part of the ceremony.  This is something that I had seen pictures of many times and always thought the photographs were beautiful, but never knew much about it.  When I realized that this festival was held in Thailand, I decided it was a must, as this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Once we arrived in Chiang Mai, we tried to figure out all of the details, since scheduling was difficult to find online.  Scheduling happened to be difficult to come by once we were there as well.  Everyone we talked to, Thai or tourist, gave us different dates, different times, different locations, and all we wanted to do was see the lanterns!  Eventually, we got ahold of some coworkers staying at a hostel down the street and they confirmed that the lantern ceremony that we had specifically gone to Chiang Mai for would luckily be that night.  Their hostel was running a few songtaos to the festival for only 150 Baht, which was the best price we had gotten all day.

We took the songtao through heavy traffic to Mae Jo University, where the festival was being held.  When we got to the entrance, there were so many signs.  No alcohol.  No food.  No bare knees/shoulders.  No fireworks.  No lanterns.  Wait, no lanterns?!  Thank goodness Amelia read ahead of time that lanterns bought outside the festival were not allowed, or else we would have been scammed by the hundreds of people selling them right next to the gate.  We followed the mass of people, bought our lanterns inside, then ran to quickly find a spot to sit.

Before the actual ceremony, we had a “practice run.”  Someone who spoke English was there to let us know how to bow the correct way, what to say, how to light the lantern, and when to light the lantern.  After the directions were given, we had about an hour of a Buddhist ceremony.  We were surrounded by lots of people who had a deep connection of some sort to Loi Krathong.  We were facing a stage filled with monks in bright orange.  We had a cloudless sky with lanterns being set off here and there from outside of the ceremony.  Now, I may be one of the least religious people you know (whether you know it or not), but there was something about this ceremony leading up to releasing the lanterns.  Peaceful. Quiet.  Spiritual.  Calming.  These four words may sound silly coming from a non-religious person, but I think that this may have been the first time I have ever felt these things all at once, and I have a feeling it may never happen again.  I don’t mind that this was probably my biggest moment of spirituality, because it was one of the most amazing and unreal experiences that I have had to date.

When the ceremony ended, it was time to light the lanterns.  Lighting one lantern was a three person job.  Amelia, Lorna (a new friend from the UK who we adopted for the weekend), and I went at the first one.  More difficult than you would think!! I held onto the first lantern that we lit and let it go with the wave of other lanterns floating toward the sky.  I will never ever see anything like this again in my life, unless I happen to go back for another Loi Krathong.  Here I am four days later getting emotional just thinking about it.  It is hard to explain exactly how I felt throughout this night, but I know that when I was surrounded by a sky filled with lanterns, I was giddy.  Happy.  Joyous even?!  Smiling from ear to ear and on a high for the rest of the night.  Maybe even the whole next day.
As if the weekend couldn’t get any better, I took the VIP bus home.  V.  I.  P.  I walked on and almost cried when we sat in our seats.  I had so much room for my legs that I could stretch them all the way with no difficulty.  The seats reclined practically to a bed, which you would think may be annoying when the person in front of you reclines, but not on the VIP bus!! Room for all! This was great for sleeping since we took yet again another overnight bus.  I got a warm blanket.  I got a water bottle.  I got a bag of chips.  I got a bag of cookies.  There was a toilet.  Not a squatter.  An actual clean toilet.  We stopped twice and got complimentary dinner both times.  We arrived to Chon Buri at the correct time.  I know how I’m traveling from now on!

This weekend was probably one of the best I will come by in Thailand.  Not only was the Lantern Festival absolutely breathtaking, but Chiang Mai is such an amazing city.  It has lots of tourists because there are a lot of jungle activities to do up there, so there are people who I can communicate with easily.  The food was really great.  I had my first ever banana pancake.  I had no idea what Jack Johnson was making such a fuss about all these years!!  To die for.  There is also great shopping in Chiang Mai.  I was slightly on a budget this trip, but will be diving right in next time I head back there, which happens to be soon because there are also elephants in Chiang Mai.  Yes I came to Thailand to teach, but another big seller for me was that I could adopt an elephant for a day, and I will be doing so in three weeks!!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Laos

What trip should have looked like:
Leave for Laos on 8:40 pm bus from Chon Buri Wednesday. Arive 11 hours later, around 8 am in Nong Khai, Thailand on Thursday morning. Take tuk tuk to border, cross over Friendship Bridge into Laos, take 45 min tuk tuk to Thai Embassy in Vientiane, Laos. Arrive at embassy by 10 am, with plenty of time to drop off visa paperwork by 12pm. Sight see in the capital of Vientiane, stay over at cheap hostel. Pick up visa Friday afternoon, take overnight bus back home and lesson plan the rest of the weekend.

What actually happened on trip:
Amelia, Matt, and I got on our overnight bus with plenty of time to spare. It was roomy and cool with AC, and we got water and some food. At what I think to be around 12 am, I woke up and we were at a dead stop. I looked out the window to find that we were stopped in the street, along with every car around us. Our bus driver was outside smoking a cigarette and hanging out with what I assume to be other drivers stuck in the traffic jam. Immediately some swear words ran through my head as I'm thinking, we're not going to make it on time. I was extremely tired though, so I drifted back to sleep. Maybe two hours later I woke again. Still stopped. This had to be some kind of sick joke. I looked across the bus in alarm at Amelia and Matt, but they were both sleeping. Knowing we wouldn't make it to the embassy on time (by 12 pm), but also knowing I could do nothing about it, I went back to sleep.

We eventually started moving and we took a pit stop at a rest area at 7:30 am. This is when Amelia and I finally talked, looked at our location on our phones, and muttered a few more swear words. We weren't even halfway there yet. Now a million things were going through our heads and we began to brainstorm. Our only hope was that we could both drop off our paperwork and pick up our visas on Friday (which was a high hope, visa applications are never processed same day).

Around 2:45 pm on Thursday, we finally made it to Nong Khai, where we needed to be taken to the border. We grabbed a tuk tuk, but the man tried to scam us by taking us to a place where we could pay for our Laos visa. Laos visa?! We didn't need one of those, so we demanded he take us straight to the border, where he proceeded to overcharge us for our ride. At the border, we showed our passports and they let us in with no problems. We boarded the bus to cross the Friendship Bridge, and when we got into Laos, we realized that we actually DID have to get a visa. And pay for it. Which we hadn't factored into our budget for the weekend. It was only $35, but that is 1,500 Baht in Thailand. A large expense that we knew nothing about.

So, if we weren't screwed enough already by missing the visa drop off time, we were surely screwed now by suddenly having a significantly smaller amount of money. Not knowing exactly what to do, we took the cheapest tuk tuk we could find and went to the embassy. It was 3:40. The Thai Embassy closed at 3:30. Fail. Next, we did the only thing we could do. Asked around for cheap hostels that would maybe fit into our now super-small budget. We had the name for a super cheap hostel. This nice professor at a business school called the number we had for it even though he said he was not familiar with it. No wonder it wasn't familiar. It doesn't exist anymore.

We stumbled upon a nice hotel called the Lao Golden Hotel. We explained our situation and they were very sympathetic. The room he had for us was normally $55 a night, but after our sob story he said he could go down to $45 for the night. Again, this would usually be the cheapest hotel you could find in America, but we literally didn't have enough Baht to afford this. Our last and only option: Charge it. Charge it we did, and charge it unfortunately became the theme for the weekend.

The Lao Golden Hotel was luxury. Something we will probably never ever see again in our stay in Southeast Asia. We showered, got a great sleep, and took full advantage of the complementary breakfast. With many thanks, we made our way to the Thai Embassy. We explained our awful situation again and I cried on command, but we got the answer we were not hoping for. You have to pick up on Monday. Enter some more tears and lots of thoughts of how the hell are we going to survive the weekend!? We had no clothes. We had no money. We had no place to stay. The three of us went to a coffee shop to get on wifi. I cried some more. We waited around to see if we could get an advance in our first paycheck, but the email we were hoping for never came through. Last option: Amelia's Visa and my MasterCard. Amelia, being the well-traveled and level-headed one, took charge, which I will always owe for this trip. She put aside cash for our bus trip back to Chon Buri and for all of the songtao/tuk tuks we would have to take throughout the weekend. We weren't left with too much, so charge, charge we did.

We immediately changed our way of thinking to okay, let's make the best of the weekend. We were in a new country that we knew little about so we set out to explore. We went to two temples and other Buddhist sights. Seeing the temples is something that I never thought would give me that wow moment, but each one was simply breathtaking, and we saw at least five during our stay. After walking around Vientiane for a few hours, we decided it was inevitable. It was time for a beer. We sat. We drank. We fumed. We laughed. We caught up on Instagram and Facebook. We searched for cheap hostels online.

Sihome Backpackers Garden. How we love you so. Their reviews were so recent and so enthusiastic that we decided that this had to be the hostel for us. No wonder the reviews were so recent.. Sihome had only been open for 15 days when we arrived on Friday. Brand new and thriving already. FINALLY something went right! We met the owner Steve, a young German, right when we arrived. We explained our situation yet again, and he immediately said he'd take care of us, and that he did. The rooms were clean, we had air conditioning, and the staff and other guests were extremely friendly. Not bad for my first ever hostel. Later that evening when we were talking to other guests and listening to the awesome music Sihome plays all day everyday, we came across an Australian, Phillip, who happened to be the other owner. He asked what brought us to Laos, and we spilled our story for the fourth and definitely not final time. Phillip told us he had extra women's clothing that he would wash for us and give to us the next day. He also said that we had to go on the waterfall tour that Steve put together on Saturday. Phillip helped us out with that too since we couldn't afford it. We were finally relaxed and ready to enjoy the weekend.

Although the bed in the hostel was harder than mine in Chon Buri and a rooster was crowing at 6:20 am, I still woke up refreshed and ready to go. It actually felt like I was on a small vacation. Amelia,  Matt, and I had our complimentary Western breakfast (eggs, toast, bacon, coffee, banana), which is also something we will not ever again see in Thailand. We got on whatever clothes we could fake as bathing suits, since we didn't bring any, and headed to the tuk tuk with the other guests going to the waterfall and Steve. How I know we were a charity case for the weekend: As we were waiting to get on the back of the tuk tuk, Steve said to me, Can I have your names again? I just have you down as Three Poor People. Nice! Nicknames for the rest of the weekend! 
Tad Xai Waterfall

We drove about two hours to the countryside of Laos. I mean to the jungle of Laos. Getting to the waterfall was difficult when we reached the national park. The tuk tuk was old. At many hills, we had to get out and walk up so that the tuk tuk could make it without being so back-heavy. The road was dusty. We were all a new shade of red dust by the time we parked and I definitely inhaled a good amount of dirt. We trekked through the bamboo lined jungle. At one point Steve gave a helpful bit of information: If you happen to see a tiger or elephant, don't move. Just stand still. Comforting. The long drive and bit of a walk was well worth it, especially at first glance of the waterfall. No other words to describe it but beautiful and peaceful. I of course was too chicken to jump off of it, but we swam a bunch, had lunch, and relaxed until we decided to take off around 4:30. I can't thank Steve and Phillip enough for letting us join the day trip. It is something I will never forget. Big shout out to them for all of their helpfulness and hospitality. Not that it's likely, but if anyone reading my blog happens to be traveling in Vientiane, look them up. You'll be in for a highly enjoyable stay! Check them out here (shout out to the postcard we left for them!): https://www.facebook.com/BackpackersHostelGarden

I am so happy that we changed our attitudes and took advantage of being in a new place. We met very interesting people from all over the world. We splurged on good food and drinks, knowing that we won't be spoiled like that ever in Thailand (whoops, sorry credit card!). We saw many temples. We fell in love with Vientiane. Vientiane is the capital of Laos. Compared to what I have seen so far in Thailand, Vientiane is not crowded, it is very clean, it has many eclectic restaurants, and the population of people is very diverse. In Chon Buri, the foreign teachers are the only white people in town, aka roughly 15 of us. When we see a white person we immediately wonder what the heck they're doing there. In Vientiane, saying look, white people! got real old real fast. White people were everywhere. German, Australian, French, American, Canadian. You name it! There is also a huge population of expatriates in Laos. Cost of living is cheap and it is a very nice city, so many people end up living there. It is definitely a place that I would visit again, and we may have to cross Vang Vieng, Laos off of our bucket list during our stay in Asia.

Even after all of the frustration and stress, I think we were meant to stay in Laos for the weekend. Although it was definitely much more expensive than what I would have wanted it to be, the experience ended up being something unforgettable. It was a disaster that turned into a blessing and I am almost thankful that our first bus took so stinking long. Here's to hoping my overnight bus trip to and from Chiang Mai this coming weekend for the Lantern Festival goes a bit more smoothly with just as many good memories!

Monday, November 4, 2013

STEM

I have 36 children in my classroom.  This is a small class compared to the other teachers who may have 38 or even 40.  You think you have it bad with 26 in America.
My precious little Thai students

Before I got to Thailand, I was under the impression that I would be teaching English.  Reading, writing, grammar, and conversation.  I wasn’t exactly wrong, but why don’t you throw in science and math on top of it as well.  Then try and teach them all together.  Constantly.  To kids who don't know what you are saying half the time.  I teach 2, 3, or 4 periods a day, then the rest of the students’ day is taught in Thai.  It is a little bit overwhelming trying to figure out what we should be teaching, but the first four days really went well.  This was mostly because the first three days were “getting to know you/Halloween” days.  Had that in the bag.

About the school:  Anubanchonburi is the first STEM school to arrive in Thailand, and is considered extremely controversial to many.  STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.  This type of school is so controversial, that the United States only has STEM programs, not schools.  It is extremely difficult to find a school in the U.S. teaching STEM K-12.  I am by no means an expert on STEM, so bear with me, but here is a little bit about what I know.  Here in Thailand, I am integrating everything I teach.  All of the subjects I listed that I teach are always building off of one another.  For example, here is a snippet of my plans for this week:

            Our reading unit is called “A Sandwich.”  We will talk about McDonalds and if it is healthy or not, watch a clip from Super Size Me, and experiment with packaged food.  This incorporates most of the elements I teach.. Again, reading, writing, conversation, phonics, and science.  Probably math too if we get into working with the nutrition facts on the back of the packaged food.  The Sandwich unit has a workbook, so there are also reading words, sentences to write, and the connections go all week long. This week will probably be the least interactive week out of the whole term, as I have to travel to Laos for the latter part of the week.

STEM is hands-on.  Seems to be the complete opposite of what we are in the U.S.  What teacher didn’t go into teaching thinking that they would be able to do projects and exciting activities?!  Steps in the process of teaching STEM are plan, design, label, and build.  Then students should write as often as possible and reflect.  Last week, I showed a powerpoint about Halloween because they don't celebrate Halloween in Thailand.  I then had the students design their own Halloween costume.  We brainstormed materials they could be made out of and then they labeled their costumes with chosen materials.  I never once said that we were going to make these costumes.  I actually didn't plan on making them at all.  The next day though, I had four students bring in their own materials from home to create the costumes.  I was so thrilled.  They have been working like this for 3 years and they are excited to do these types of things!

Even though this sounds wonderful, remember that STEM is controversial.  This is because of testing.  Parents, teachers, and administrators get nervous that the children will not pass the exams.  It happens at home and it happens here too.  In Thailand, there is testing in grades 3 and 6.  How can the children possibly pass when students are constantly doing ‘arts and crafts’?!  It is not just that.  Thailand has indicators, just like the US has standards.  For each grade, we have to teach certain indicators by the end of every term but here, we get some flexibility in when we teach what topics and how we teach them.  It’s a great system if you ask me.  The children have to be taught these indicators and it doesn’t matter the topic.  We are expected to get creative.  If the topic is rain, students can design and build rain gauges, like they did last term with the teacher before me.  That is exciting, fun, and relevant for Thai students, especially during Thailand’s rainy season, which lasts for half a year.  Children are more likely to remember facts about rain if they have done a cool project to go with it than if they are being lectured.  If I never come back home, it will be because I have found a school that lets me teach the way most teachers picture themselves teaching.

Some more about STEM:

How does the United States compare in STEM Education?
-The World Economic Forum ranks the United States 52nd in the quality of mathematics and science education, and 5th (and declining) in overall global competitiveness
-The United States ranks 27th in developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving undergraduate degrees in science or engineering
-There are more foreign students studying in U.S. graduate schools than the number of U.S. students and over 2/3 of the engineers who receive Ph.D.’s from United States universities are not United States citizens
                                    http://www.lpfi.org/how-does-us-compare-other-countries-stem-education

About the children:
Like I said, 36 2nd grade Thai students.  36 Thai students who behave better than having 10 American students in one room would.  They behave so well for a couple of reasons.  First is because their parents pay for them to come here.  This ensures a good education and native English speaking teachers who will make sure their children learn English.  Second is because they are disciplined, and I believe they may be scared of that discipline.  I assume they are disciplined at home if they come home with a bad grade, just like they are disciplined at school for various reasons.  The Thai teachers are extremely strict.  When my Thai teacher is in the room while I’m teaching a lesson, my kids are on their best behavior.  Their excellent behavior is something that I don’t think I have ever witnessed before in a classroom, and I enjoy it.

The kids are adorable.  They are so curious about the new Americans in town.  TEACHA TEACHA is what I hear all day long.  Their English is pretty decent already, and I can’t wait to help them learn more.  One thing I love is that they all have nicknames so us Americans can hopefully call them something with no fumble (kidding.. it helps, but it’s just another cultural thing that Thai people do).  Some American-ish nicknames are: Rat, Stamp, Ice, Guy, and Pooh.  There is I-fon (pronounced iPhone) and more Thai names like Yumi, Mew, and Chokun.  They are all just too cute and bring presents all the time.  At the end of the day on my first day of school, one of the girls handed me a plastic bag with a Tweety Bird stuffed animal inside.  She wrote duck and I’m heppy on the outside.  I told her it was very nice and she said ‘For you Teacha, for you’!!  I have zero clue what the significance of the gift was, but I accepted and greatly appreciated it.  These kids will continue to confuse me every day, but each time I find myself at a disconnect with a student, I just laugh.  Our language conflicts are silly, and eventually through large gestures and asking around the room, we’ve always gotten on the same page, and I think it will only get better!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Chon Buri

I’m not sure I know what day it is or the time.  Sleeping on my bed is like sleeping on a solid rock.  It is hot as, yes I’m going to say it.. balls.  I have to take off my shoes when I’m entering my own house, because I happen to have a middle-aged Thai woman as a roommate/house mom/land lady.  I slept with a beach towel as a blanket my first night because I had no sheet.  I can’t ever remember how to say anything in Thai.  Why can’t I remember hi? Oh yeah, because it is just a short sawatdee kha.  Our shower is ice cold and shares a space with the sink and toilet.  But surprisingly, I don’t seem to hate any of this.  Well, okay I definitely don’t love a freezing cold shower, but it’s something I’ll get used to eventually.

So far, everything is a learning experience.  I feel extremely naïve in this whole new world, but it’s exciting.  Trying to learn words so I can order food at the night market is interesting.  Half the time I find that I’m not exactly sure what I’m about to eat, but I’ll learn.  Luckily I’ll eat just about anything you put in front of me.  Proud to say that we've already made friends with Uthai, the smoothie guy who after three nights of going to him, found out that he speaks decent English! All of the new foreign teachers at Anubanchonburi are in the dark, and it’s nice that we’re in this together.  Amelia and I are destined to be great friends here.  We have mutual friends from home and got the chance to talk A LOT the few months before we got here. We are living together, walking to school together, teaching the same grade level, eating dinner together, and the list goes on!  I am so thankful to have her here or else I would be lost!

A few things I know about Chon Buri:

-It is HOT.  I am no stranger to complaining about the heat and humidity during a summer in New York.  I don’t complain about it via social networking, but I may start complaining publicly soon enough (sorry in advance).  I worked on my bulletin board today for about four hours.  The bulletin board is outside.  It was sweaty and all I was doing was cutting and stapling.
            -Average temperature in Thailand in the month of November: 87 degrees. Aka I will be sweating my buns off, while the locals will be wearing pants and sweaters, thinking that this is the “cold” season.  And it only gets hotter.  My poor hair is going to hate me!

-I am living in a decently central location:
            -20 minutes from a beach
            -One hour drive to Bangkok
            -Phuket, Chiang Mai, and Ko Samet are all within a long bus or short plane ride away.  The planning has begun, and we will probably go on our first weekend trip in a couple of weeks! Look these places up, they are just beautiful!

-The school I will be teaching at is called Anubanchonburi, and I am teaching in the cutest little purple school.  I will be teaching English, (reading, writing, grammar, and conversation) science, and math to Thai children in second grade.  How I will go about this, I have no idea, but I guess I will figure it out tomorrow.  We had two days of orientation which was extremely helpful, but I still feel like I’m going in with zero clue of what to do.  My Thai consists of hi and thank you, when I can remember it.  This should be pretty comical.

-My apartment is also interesting.  I think my description for a lot of things here is just that.  On the first floor is our common room.  We have two couches, a table, a fridge, some room for snacks and cooking supplies (although there is no kitchen to cook), and a squatter.  What’s a squatter you ask?  Well, have you ever peed outside in the woods, holding onto a tree so you don’t fall over?  It’s like that.  A bowl on the ground that you squat over to relieve yourself.  Not my kind of toilet bowl and luckily I haven’t had to use one yet, although I will have to at some point during my stay.  Then, our landlady, Aor, lives off of the common room.  It’s almost as if we have a host family because people are always in and out of here cleaning and fixing things that are broken.  Taking time to get used to.  But after a long day of orientation today, I walked into my room and it had a beautiful comforter on my bed, a table cloth on my desk, a new lamp, and everything was so organized!!  They are taking care of us for sure.

On the second floor, Amelia and I each have our own bedrooms.  This consists of a twin sized bed, desk, armoire, and balcony.  It is simple, but it works.  I started “decorating” my room today with pictures from home and it makes me so happy just looking at them.  We have a bathroom to share.  This has a normal toilet, although toilet paper should not be flushed.  Gross, I know.  The shower hangs on the wall and is not enclosed.  That’s right, I’m showering in front of the sink and mirror and right next to the toilet.  Everything gets wet.  Like I said, it’s interesting.  We each have AC in our rooms (hallelujah) and the wifi is awesome!!  There is a third floor with three more bedrooms and we are trying to convince some of our fellow American teachers to move in with us.  There are so many animals that you hear throughout the day and night.. Birds, dogs, cats, bugs, and my favorite visitors of all: the lizards.  Frequent visitors in my bedroom and bathroom.

The new comforter and table cloth from my land lady!

-Tesco!!  Tesco is basically like Walmart, except you can’t read anything because it is all in Thai.  I went to Tesco the second I got in from the airport, when I was about to crash from jet lag.  We took the Songtao there, which is the taxi in Thailand.  It is a truck with gated in seats in the back.  They stop for you if you wave, and they let you off when you press a button.  It only costs 10 baht no matter where you go in Chon Buri.  This equals about 1 cent.  At Tesco, Amelia and I got our Thai cell phones.  They’re so ancient that I don’t even know how to use it, but they work for trying to get a hold of the other teachers!

On the songtao.. Very jet lagged on my first day

As for now, that’s all my brain can think about sharing because I have had so much information about work shoved into my head the past couple of days!

Friday, October 25, 2013

And I'm Off

I bring you my last post before I leave for Thailand.  The countdown is over.  It seems like just yesterday I received the email with the job offer and now, I’ll be on a plane at 1:30 am, trying to figure out what to do first in trying to pass time on a 16 hour flight.

The past month has really taken a toll on me emotionally.  The wedding was happy, but with happy weddings come happy tears of course.  Then, during the wedding weekend, I had sad goodbyes woven throughout.  You often forget how amazing friends are until you spend a long, fun, and highly entertaining weekend with them.  It was very difficult to say goodbye to the people I’ve grown accustomed to seeing at least once a month.

I said goodbye to my family at a little going away party we had Columbus Day weekend, but I still promised I would go visit each of them again, and I did the best I could with that.  That was also rough, especially knowing that I won’t have any holidays with them this year.  Even though I may not have cried to all of them, I definitely shed a tear or 17 thinking about them this week.  My sister was home for the party too and I am so happy I got to say goodbyes to her in person.  Lindsey recently moved to Nantucket with her boyfriend Jake.  Nantucket.. I’m not sure I understand that yet, but then again, I’m moving somewhere way more drastic.  Guess I can’t really talk.  They seem happy being there together, and that’s what matters.

I left my students and coworkers for good on Monday.  As much as I have been looking forward to leaving the daycare, I cried like a baby.  My students definitely don’t entirely understand that I won’t be back, and I can imagine that “What the heck is wrong with this lady” was among some of the thoughts going on in their heads while I was bawling my eyes out.  Although teaching a roomful of three year olds can be stressful (I give one child in particular all of the credit for the gray hair I have accumulated) and I really was ready to move onto something else, kids are kids and I can’t help but love them all.  They are hilarious and you never know what is about to come out of a child’s mouth.  I recently asked one of my girls what her dad’s job was because it was community helper week and her dad is a trooper.  She replied with “working out.”  Not exactly the answer I was looking for, but it's things like this that just make me laugh and love this age group.  Saying goodbye to my coworkers was just as difficult. I have gotten to work with great people over the past two years and I wish them all the best taking on my kids without me!

Now, goodbye has been dragged out a bit with my friends.  Even though we have had so many fun events planned, the inevitable departure was always on everyone’s mind.  The closer today got, the more everyone was thinking about it.  And crying about it.  If I didn’t know this before, I now know that we can be quite the emotional bunch, especially after having a few margaritas (who am I kidding, I definitely knew this before).  I met my amazing friends at Mexican Radio last night for a final hoorah.  We had some laughs and caught up a bit, but it was a going away party.  All anyone was thinking about was me going away.  We eventually got to the goodbyes and it honestly wasn't as bad as I thought.  By this point, we’ve been crying about my leaving for a good two months, and now I’m just ready to go.  As sad as I am to leave the ones I love, I am so excited for what’s coming up and I need to be selfish here.  I’ve realized that it’s just 6 months. Life will go so quickly in 6 months and by the time I snap my fingers, I’ll be home.  Unless I find a European boyfriend and move to Europe (mom, if it happens, it happens).  Friends, I love you so much.  You are the ones I spend most of my time with and I am not as comfortable and myself around any other people in the world.  No one will ever be able to replace you and I am the luckiest girl to have you.  Be happy with where you are, however you can make that happen.  Run marathons.  Keep our corner of the bar at Lionheart warm.  Open up a bakery.  Fly to Italy.  Don't keep people in your lives who let you down.  You don't deserve it.  Be happy.  Love you.


I haven’t even gotten to say goodbye to my parents yet, but I can’t imagine it being pretty.  They have been my biggest support system for anything that I have done throughout my life, and I honestly don’t know how people survive without parents like mine.  Whether it’s a flat tire that needs fixing, or a flight that needs to be bought for Christmas, they are always there.  It’s funny, but I haven’t gotten very many tangible birthday or Christmas gifts for a long time now.  I am always trying to travel.  On my salary at the daycare, I could barely afford to take a weekend trip to Boston, let alone support my frequent traveling itch so, insert flights (or spending money) as gifts.  Vegas (twice), New Orleans, Atlantic City, and even Italy way back in high school.  Why get clothes that I’ll end up hating soon enough when I can gain an experience that I will never forget.  I love them so much for supporting me when I choose to drain all my funds on traveling!

Everyone please pray that my mother doesn’t have a heart attack at any point throughout my first flight.  If you have children you would like them to adopt while I am away, that may be helpful as well, as this will truly be the first time they have a very empty nest.  I think they’ll do great without me though, they’re growing up so fast :)

I want to give thank yous to every person who has encouraged me to go for such a crazy opportunity.  Recently I have been wondering if I am just that.. Crazy.  But no, I then correct myself. Smart.  That’s what I am.  People don’t just get handed an experience like teaching English to 2nd graders in Thailand.  It is the opportunity of a lifetime and I know I won’t regret going.  So, I am off.  Off to the unknown.  Not knowing the person picking me up at the airport.  Not knowing the language.  Not knowing exactly where I’ll be living.  Not knowing how to teach English to native Thai children.  Not knowing where the best place is to exchange my dollars for baht.  These unknown things would be a big deal for many people, but as I do in any other typical day of my life, I’m just going with the flow.  What will be will be, and I’m going to take each day as it comes.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Hand In Hand

Dana and Mike are married!!  Two of my best friends, the most generous and genuine people that I know, are married.  It feels like just yesterday we were pressuring Mike to propose, and I feel so honored to have been included in their special day.

Dana and I became friends when I started visiting Emily at RPI.  After many sleeps on the glitter factory couch and then tons at Dana's State Street place in Albany, I am happy to be able to call her one of my very best friends.  Dana has done so much for me over the past few years.  She has provided countless pans of buffalo chicken dip and bottles of Andre for random pig-out days.  She has been present, and very consoling, whenever the most recent flame has broken my little heart (tequila usually guaranteed to follow).  She has opened her home to us whenever we needed to stay, and she has plenty of extra rooms for her “children.”  She is always thoughtful in gift-giving, most recently giving me a camera as a bridesmaid gift, knowing that I wanted one for Thailand so badly.  She is sure to be found in Albany about once a week and show up for any and all events, although Dana and Mike moved to Hopewell Junction last year. Dana is selfless and I am thankful that I have her in my life.

As for Mike, he won me over the first night I met him.  On this particular Friday night, I had zero plans of going to RPI because I was incredibly broke, but suddenly after student teaching that day, I had texts saying that Mike Passante was taking the girls out to dinner and I would be missing out.  Free dinner?  Yes.  Okay fine, count me in.  Mike took all 7 (?) of us girls to dinner at Carrabba’s and this was the first time he had met most of us.  Sangria, apps, sangria, dinner, and more sangria later, I was sold.  It was like Dana and Mike had been together forever, and from that night on, I never thought twice about their relationship.

In the weekend that is supposed to be dedicated to them, Mike and Dana were extremely generous, as usual.  Gifts were given, nails were done, lobsters were eaten, smores were made, boats were ridden.  These are just some things that Dana and Mike did for us, just as much as for themselves.  Although Dana is allergic to seafood, she made sure that everyone got lobster, clams, and mussels at the rehearsal dinner.  On the night of the wedding, the reception ended at 10:30, but who wants to stop partying then?  So they planned a bonfire on the beach with a bar and ingredients for smores.  Then, why end a Friday night wedding on Friday night?! Most friends were staying until Sunday, just because we wanted to have each other’s company, but Dana and Mike insisted on finding something for us to do.  Booze cruise anyone?

I couldn’t be happier for these two amazing people.  I literally cannot find another word other than perfect to describe this weekend.  I will now agree that a bit of rain is good luck on a wedding day.  Dana has dreamed of getting married on a beach in Cape Cod since she was a little girl, and there was a moment when we all almost broke down crying because of the rain.  We watched the radar all day, and we finally found that the rain would break 20 minutes after the ceremony was supposed to start.  So, we waited.  Really, what is 20 minutes when this is what you have wanted your whole life?!  As soon as the rain let up, we got into wedding mode, telling the wedding planner to GO, GO, GO!  The ceremony was perfect.  Perfect temperature, perfect sunset, perfect bride, and perfect groom.  You could just feel the love on that beach at that moment (and the tears dripping from Allison's face), and I can only hope that I experience that from a bride’s perspective at some point in my life.


Dana Ciborowski is now Dana Passante, and I don't find it weird in the slightest bit.  These two are meant to be together.  It is obviously cliché to say about a newlywed couple, but I don’t know that I am so sure of anything else in my life at the moment.  Dana and Mike have been through a lot, and everything in their lives finally fell together at the right place, right time.  I am happy to call Dana my best friend, and happy to call Mike my sugar daddy.  Happy to call them both family.