Sunday, March 9, 2014

Thai-ed To Thailand

It seems like just yesterday I got off the plane and had a panic attack when I couldn’t find the people picking me up at the airport in Bangkok. I was looking around anxiously trying to find my name written on a piece of paper, but Laura Konderwich was nowhere to be found. I thought to myself, hm, maybe they are waiting for me in a different spot, so on I went, toting my loads of luggage around the airport. After about a half hour of pacing back and forth, I was about to give up and what? Cry? Find a cab and hope they could guess where I needed to go? Go back to America? All of these thoughts were floating through my head when a nice Thai woman stopped me and asked where I needed to go in broken English. She had probably noticed the anxiety in my face as I was frantically looking around. All I knew to say was Anubanchonburi, and I didn’t even know how to pronounce it. Right as the name of the school came out of my mouth, I saw someone whip their head around and say my first name. I’m not sure I’ve hugged anyone that hard in my life.

I experienced Thai time, which I often talk and complain about, in my very first hour in Thailand. My Thai supervisor and Helen, the girl whose class I was taking over, came to pick me up. They profusely apologized for being late. The driver was late to pick them up, then he needed to get gas, and then there was Bangkok traffic. Helen told me right off the bat that being late was something I’d have to deal with and boy was she right.

On my ride to Chon Buri, I was trying to pick Helen’s brain while attempting to take in the scenery of my new home at the same time. No matter what you’re in a new place for, whether it be someplace you move to or someplace you visit for a brief amount of time, it is a crazy feeling. I can vividly remember having this feeling in other new countries, and I think I feel this way in any new place. It’s basically a feeling of I can’t believe I’m here. The same feeling crept back as I got closer and closer to my house. It just felt unreal, and once in a while I still have found myself taking a step back. I give myself a pat on the back, so to say, because I am proud of myself for all I have done here, and for even following through with coming to Thailand at all. I have proved a lot to myself.  I have conquered countless fears. I have become confident about where my future will lead me, and it is all because of my experiences here.

One thing I will never forget about that first day is pulling onto my road. It was then that I actually thought, holy crap, this is actually happening. The only way that I can describe my neighborhood is authentically Thai. We say it has charm. I’m not sure many people would agree, but it was my home for five months and I swear it is charming in its own way! We have gated houses, mom and pop shops, wooden rickety shacks on stilts, and of course the swamp of sewage and garbage right in my backyard. We have become very friendly with some of our neighbors, many who never fail to say hello in English, which goes a long way in my book. Just last night, we had friends over for a "last hoorah".  At one point, one of our neighbors came over to drop off a bag of mangos. Then when we ordered pizza, the Thai woman next door told the man on the phone how to get to our house. Everyone is so friendly in our neighborhood and I will miss the old men offering me whiskey every day!

My most generous neighbor sharing his whiskey

Greeted every day after school by this smiling face!

I thank my lucky stars that Amelia was there waiting at the house for me on that first day. Our mutual friend, Alicia, set us both up at the school, so Amelia and I were in constant contact in the months leading up to the move. From the second I arrived, we hit it off and began exploring. We spent just about every minute of our time in Thailand together, and I am thankful that I can now call her a lifelong friend. You make different bonds with people when you share experiences like this one together and I couldn’t have asked for a better roommate/travel buddy/coworker/friend. I'm not sure what I would have done without her wisdom, knowledge of travel, and advice. For example, she just saved my butt while packing. I showed her everything I had out to take backpacking, which was WAY too much. As I went through each piece of clothing, she was floored when I pulled out four black tank tops to bring, plus the one I was wearing at that moment. She was the voice of reason as usual and gave it to me straight. Laura, please only take one black tank top. My backpack will now be a pound lighter because of her! See you in Vietnam my pretty girl!

As I prepare to leave Thailand, I have to give it some shout-outs. When I leave a place that I grow to love, I always leave a little piece of me behind, and Thailand is no different (even though we often had a love-hate kind of relationship). I’d like to acknowledge all that I will miss in this wonderful country..

Low cost of living. Tonight I had my last fish dinner at our market, which is my favorite meal here. We got two large fish, endless noodles, lettuce, and cabbage, three plates of fried rice, three plates of papaya salad, and lots of Leo. There were nine of us and it cost 150 Baht a person (close to $4.50). This is an expensive splurge for us, as my dinner usually costs only 50 Baht. A movie ticket costs 120 Baht, or $3.64. If I am the stingiest person you’ve met when I get home, it’s because I am used to paying nothing for everything!

The night market. Our smoothie lady has the biggest smile and never fails to give us a taste of a strange fruit she could tell we had never seen before. The pad Thai couple has the best pad Thai I ever did have, and they also make a mean papaya salad (som tam). Pad see ew, hanging duck, meat on a stick, fresh fish dinner, guava, bananas, dragon fruit, watermelon, omelets, mango and sticky rice, baked goods, ice cream. This list doesn’t do my market justice.

Our smoothie ladies
Can't forget about the bugs

Islands. From Koh Tao to Koh Samet to Koh Chang. Thailand is known for its islands and I am so happy that I got to witness all of their beauty and uniqueness. My island days aren’t over yet though. Some of my last days in Southeast Asia will be spent island hopping. Originally the plan was to take them on alone, but I am extremely happy that my friend Jordan is joining me! Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, and Krabi. So much to see and so little time!

My favorite, Koh Tao

Traveling cheap. Nowhere in America could you travel 12 hours and pay only $22. Yes, getting here and back was a big cost, but traveling within Southeast Asia is dirt cheap. If you can afford to get a plane ticket here, the worst financially is behind you!

My students. I cannot tell you how many times I went home from work with a migraine these past five months. Trying (often failing) to speak over 36 children is nearly impossible, even when using a microphone. Teaching is hard work and often exhausting, but I wouldn’t have traded my students for anything. I love being with kids all day and it was a joy to have hopefully made even the tiniest bit of an impact on them.

Tonight is my last night in Chon Buri. After watching the sunset, eating some of our favorite market meals, and enjoying a couple of Changs, my anxiety is building and I am starting to get nervous about this move. As of tomorrow, I officially do not have a home for over a month. It is an exciting and scary thought at the same time! Tomorrow afternoon, I am dropping off my large suitcase at a storage unit in Bangkok, and then Brittany and I will be off to Cambodia. Posts and pictures may be far and few for a while, but if you’d like to track my journey, here is my travel itinerary:

March 10: Overnight in Bangkok
March 11th-21st: Cambodia with Brittany (Siem Reap, Koh Rong, Phnom Penh)
March 22nd-April 3rd: Vietnam with Brittany, Amelia, and Mikaela (Ho Chi Min City, Hanoi, Sapa, Ha Long Bay)
April 3rd-5th: Pick up Jordan/ Bangkok
April 5th-11th: Southwest islands with Jordan(Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, Krabi)
April 11th-15th: Singapore with Jimmy
April 15th-17th: Bangkok
April 17th-May 11th: London with Kristen (Lance, Dana, and Al arrive May 2nd!)
May 11th- Back to Americaaa! (Happy Mother’s Day, mom!!)

I have been looking forward to backpacking for months and I cannot believe it is already here! After days of preparing, my bags are finally packed and off I go to continue the adventure! A gigantic thank you to those who have kept in touch these past five months, and especially to those who have mailed things to me. You have no idea how appreciative I am of every text, letter, or package I have gotten. Simple acts of kindness go a long way with me, and I will forever remember those who reached out. I also have to apologize to those who have sent me things that never made it here. Unfortunately, the postal system in Thailand is sketchy and unreliable and I am sorry that some packages got jacked. I love you for trying!

Just know, as you're headed off into the blue, that a big pice of Here will be going with you!
                            -Dr. Seuss

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