The Last Few Weeks in Photos

I spent the weekend of July 4th in Khon Kaen, a city in the East of Thailand. It was a six hour bus ride from my home in Phitsanulok; unfortunately, too far to drive. Here is a view of the city from the top of a nine-story temple:

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Here is the perfectly roomy and comfy hotel room, which cost 230 baht, or seven US dollars, a night. Seven dollars a night!

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This is how much fun you can have riding in a tuk-tuk.

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This is what happens when your bus breaks down on the way home (they had it fixed in under half an hour).

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This is how beautiful Namtok Chat Trakan National Park is in the morning. This is about five days later; we stayed here while running an english camp at another school an hour and a half away.

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Back in Phitsanulok, this is what the sky looked like over the river on a Friday evening.

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Last weekend, I got coffee from a new coffee shop. It came with a flower on top.

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Yesterday, I left the house early, drove over an hour on highway 12, and toured three waterfalls on the Khek river. Here is the Kaeng So Pha waterfall.

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In the parking lot, I saw a really cool lizard.

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Kaeng Poi, cool tree, and selfie. I had to cross a not-very-obvious bridge and drive through a Thai neighborhood to find this vantage point!

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I crossed another bridge to get a good view of Kaeng Song. The locals actually drive their bikes across this one, but I didn’t dare.

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After some emotional ups and downs this month, I find that I am doing quite well. Teaching has started making more sense to me, and I’ve started exercising frequently. When I tried to run around campus every day it was difficult to stay motivated, but I’ve become running buddies with a teacher from Arizona who teaches at a different school in town. We’ve been running around the river path in town a few nights a week, and exercising (as it always does) is giving me more energy for life in general. Today, Sunday, is writing, planning, and laundry day. I’m doing Camp NaNoWriMo this month, which is National Novel Writing Month but in July and you can set your own wordcount goal. I’m shooting for 30,000, and for the first week and a half I was writing every day and the challenge went really, really well. I now find myself behind by considerable thousands of words, but there are two weeks left in the month and I think I can catch up.

Cheers!

Rainy Season

Friday night. Throwing a few extras in my purse before trotting down the stairs and heading out. Ako was already on her way to town, picking up a friend, and I would follow after. Others were already in town, all of us converging in a little while on a restaurant in the night bazaar for food and drinks. Some of us just wanted to get out of the house, some of us had transferred Saturday plans to Friday due to an early engagement on Sunday, and some of us had missed a bus to Bangkok due to a series of unfortunate circumstances. My phone was in my hand on its way to my bag when my bedroom AC shut off and the lights went dark. Seconds later, the phone rang.

It was Ako, already partway to town. “It’s raining,” she said. She was under the roof of a store somewhere between the school and Phitsanulok, trying to decide what do. As we talked I made my way to the window, narrowly avoided tripping over my harp in the dark room, and opened the shutters to let in the remaining light.

“Huh,” I said. “It’s not raining here yet. No, wait, here it comes.”

Ako carried on into town because she was already wet and halfway there. I decided to wait a while; usually these storms pass in twenty minutes or so. Soon the initial downpour eased slightly, and I ran downstairs and put my purse inside double layers of plastic bags and got ready to move out—but the slackening turned out to be an illusion. A few more minutes brought another downpour. The word “torrential” came to mind. I stood with the door open for a few seconds and thought about it, but it just seemed stupid to take a motorbike out into a storm like this if you didn’t have to. Even if the power was out, and the light was leaving the sky.

I stood by the large kitchen window as the light faded, feeling the cool air through the screen and staring at the rain, willing the sky to keep its glow for a few minutes longer. I turned on my cell phone every few seconds to illumine a dark corner behind me, and to check for lizards on the wall nearby.

Maybe 25 minutes into the storm, I heard a loud noise. It was a cross between a wail, a rusty door, and a foghorn. It was followed by others, a chorus of creaking, mechanical noises. I grew up with a river in the backyard and I’m used to frogs singing in the swamp at night, but this was a breed of frog I had never heard before. The rain continued well past the half hour mark, and soon I was only imagining that the sky was any brighter than the rest of the dark around me. I couldn’t stay here without light or food, but going out into the storm still seemed like a foolhardy proposition.

When David called, he solved my dilemma (he was the “missed his bus”  portion of the dinner crew). “Don’t go out if you don’t have to,” he said. “I just watched a motorcycle accident happen in front of me. The roads are a mess.” He had already given up on going to the restaurant, and offered to bring me pad thai when he came back to the school. Yes. Minutes later, I remembered the frog-shaped rechargeable lamp on the table, surely purchased by my Thai roommate for instances such as this. Soon after I was happily writing by lamp-light at the table, and not much later the power returned. David made it back as the storm was finally fading to droplets and sprinkles, and by this time the strange frog noises had grown as soothing as a foghorn in the night.

Oh, and the Pad Thai was delicious.

Me and Ako on a nature walk

Me and Ako on a nature walk

Me and David at a chinese temple not far out of town

Me and David at a chinese temple not far out of town. In this photo, we look RELATED.

The view from the chinese temple

The view from the chinese temple

My Friday Night

Some foliage encountered on the Khao Pradu Nature Trail

Some foliage encountered last week on the Khao Pradu Nature Trail

I didn’t know what to do last night, so I went for a ride.

I could have done something more exciting on a Friday night, for sure, but it’s been a long week full of words and thoughts and I didn’t want the city, or a beer, or even company. The danger existed, lurked, of staying inside my air-conditioned bedroom the entire evening. I already knew I wouldn’t grade papers or write a homework assignment or even cobble together a few words of my novel, though, and thankfully hunger forced me out the door.

There’s a restaurant around the corner from the school that is open for lunch and dinner. The tables are made from fiberglassed sections of tree trunks, and at the smaller tables the stools are entire tree stumps. We call it AC Place, although I’ve found that the doors are open and the fans are on just as often as the air conditioning. When we leave campus to go to the city we turn left out of the driveway, but AC Place is a very small distance to the right and, until last weekend, was the farthest I’d traveled in that direction.

Last Saturday David, Ako, and I went to a Nature Preserve in Wat Bot where I took the photo at the beginning of this post, and on the way discovered that the drive was perfect. Last night I wanted a bit of perfect, so I drove past AC Place and kept going, over the railroad tracks, onto 1086, and down the curving two-lane road. Trees overflowing with greenery hung over the road, and I drove past rice fields and intermittent patches of jungle. Friday seems to be trash day, so I passed many roadside fires, always untended and burning gently by the side of the road, releasing fumes of plastic bags and bottles into the dusky air. Thai people sat outside their houses, near the road, sometimes selling watermelon or rambutans. Sometimes they sat at restaurants, but it was always hard to tell if they were restaurants. I peered into the darkness of tables and people sitting beneath roofs with no walls, looking for food or a kitchen and smelling good things, but I remained ultimately unsure and drove on, unwilling to stop. They don’t get many Farang in this neighborhood, and as I drove by people stared, laughter and a smile on the edge of their faces, as though wondering what I was doing there.

I marked a few roads to come back to at a later date, including the way to a local wat (temple), but ultimately this was a trip for getting out of the house, not one of wild exploration. (Should one always be wildly exploring? Can one be forgiven for feeling shy and wanting only a bit of air and the sunset?) I turned around a little ways after the road widened into a four-lane on its way through a miniature strip with shops and a 7-11, and just before it met the broader highway. (If you are traveling all the way to the Khao Noi – Khao Pradu Non-Hunting Area, you will turn off again after a very short stint on the highway and soon find yourself on a narrow and muddy dirt track that travels up and down hills and tests your ability to stay upright on your motorbike.) Where the horizon was wide due to the lack of foliage near the highway, I saw the sunset in my rear-view mirror, dusky purples sinking into grey clouds and a yellow haze. I turned to face it, but lost it soon after I began to head toward home. The road turned a bend and very soon the sunset was reflecting in brilliance, once again, in my rearview mirror. A metaphor? Perhaps.

I stopped at AC Place on the way back and had the chicken with basil over rice (it cost a dollar). Then I picked up some evening snacks at the convenience store and turned down the drive to the school. A dark and dainty shape ran out of the shadows and chased alongside my bike as I passed the empty school buildings: Lady Gaga, one of the school dogs. She is all black and slender with long legs and elegantly tufted ears. Moments later Rusty appeared on my other side, a red-brown dog who always seems competent and in charge of the situation. They are the parents of the four puppies on campus, three baby black dogs and one the color of rust. The two dogs flanked my bike like an honor guard the whole way to my door. I wondered if they wanted to play, or say hello, but by the time I had turned off my bike they had already run off side by side into the night.

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Rusty. Photo Credit to my fellow teacher David Owen.

Thailand! Motorbike! Yeah!

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Yesterday marked six weeks since my departure from the US, if anyone’s keeping track.

There are a lot of things in life I just never really pictured myself doing. Operating a wheelchair-lift bus for two years was one of them. I’m a words-and-pictures person, you know, a books-and-paper kind of girl. Being on the road 8 hours a day and barking, “Ten-four,” and “What’s your twenty?” into a two-way radio wasn’t really on the bucket list. I learned a lot, though, it paid the bills, and it got me to the next thing. Which is here.

Then there’s teaching. I never thought of myself as qualified for the responsibility, and I only really decided to give it a try when I saw my twenties slipping un-adventurously away and realized that less qualified people than me apply for this gig all the time. Now I’m here, and some days I struggle with the work, but if there’s going to be a foreign teacher struggling at this school it might as well be me. I’m doing my best, and I’m learning.

Another thing I never saw myself doing is owning a motorbike.

It’s a 1998 Honda Dream Exces. Semi-automatic; four gears and no clutch. I’m still not entirely clear on the distinctions between scooter, motorbike, and motorcycle according to US standards, but I’ve gathered that this sort of thing depends on the number of CCs in the engine. I’m also having trouble finding the exact specifications for my vehicle on the internet, but my current understanding is that is below the 150 cc threshold for full-on motorcycle status. It gets up to 55 mph easily, though, topping out around 60, and I would definitely need a motorcycle license to operate it back in the states.

In Thailand, giant touring motorcycles a lá Harley Davidson are just not a thing. My motorbike is the same size as every other motorbike and scooter, and motorbikes and scooters are everywhere. They’re like bicycles! I got mine from a guy around the corner with some help from a fellow teacher who’s been at the school longer than me. “This is the one,” he said. “10,000 Baht.”

(That’s 300 US dollars.)

“Oh,” I said. “What about the blue one, is that for sale?”

It wasn’t, and that is just fine. I have grown to really like my motorbike, with its black paint and dented tailpipe. Somewhere along its life someone christened it with a BMW sticker, and it has a basket for groceries. I had originally wanted an automatic scooter, having had 24 hours experience driving one four years ago in Koh Samet, but Brian (the same teacher) told me that was silly. This would be cheaper, and it would be easy. No problem.

Brian is a hero, by the way. He got the seller (chicken guy, we call him, because the shop also sells roasted chicken) to drive my bike to the school. He then drove the guy back to his shop, and spent the next hour teaching me how to work my gears and start my bike while I drove endless laps around around a parking lot at the school. By the end of the night, I felt nearly confident. Easy! I am still not always the smoothest gear shifter, especially when I get to thinking of other things, but I can cruise along on the left side of the road with the best of them now. And having wheels makes life possible. Having wheels means freedom.

Incidentally, I’ve never owned a car before. This is my first motor vehicle, so I’m a little proud. But I would be completely stuck at the school, miles from anything, without it. It means I can drive into town to go shopping, to get dinner, to find a coffee shop, to sit by the river. And maybe it’s not really built for long distance, but taking an hour and a half highway drive to Sukothai and biking around the ruins of famous temples was so much more satisfying than an hour bus ride. Life is good. And life is still confusing and full of ups and downs, but hey. Motorbike. Ancient ruins. Can’t complain.

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