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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Sick in Thailand

Hello. Sorry for the lack of updates. I haven’t even gotten around to taking the motorbike photo I promised. It’s just weird to stop during a daily activity and say, “Hold up guys I need a photo!” Zooming off to the city has already become far too normal to be event-worthy. But I will get you that photo, maybe this week!

Settling in has been good and bad. I love all the people here and the new friends I’ve made. I feel pretty insecure about my job and my abilities as a teacher. Somehow we keep getting through another four to five classes each day, but it seems like the material is always too easy for the kids sitting in front and too hard for the kids sitting in back. It’s hard to find a balance.

This weekend is a holiday weekend. There is no school on Monday for the Buddhist holiday of Vesākha, where (from what I’ve gathered from my students) it is traditional to visit a temple, light incense or a candle, and process around the temple three times. I was feeling a little bummed that I didn’t have any exciting travel plans for the long weekend, but simultaneously relieved that my lack of exciting plans precluded any exhausting overnight bus trips, since I never sleep well on those. I had decided to drive to Sukothai, a historical site a little over an hour away, but relaxation won out when I woke up with a fever yesterday morning.

It is a truly bizarre experience to be living in Thailand and find yourself unable to get warm. I had to get one of the comforters out of storage. It is a bright blue which actually matches some of the pillowcases I had bought, and the design features a child’s version of the solar system complete with all the planets. I stayed in bed literally the entire day aside from necessary trips to the bathroom—which is more challenging than it sounds, because there are stairs, and you can see through the stairs, and part of my illness manifested in a touch of vertigo. I thought I was feeling better in the evening, until I ran downstairs to ask a valiant friend to bring me some items from the convenience store (yogurt, and grape juice). I tried to move back up the stairs too swiftly, nearly fainted, and had to sit at the bottom for a few moments and regain my composure.

When I woke briefly at 3 AM my fever had lifted, and things seemed promising for today aside from the killer stomach ache which seemed to have manifested in place of yesterday’s headache. I couldn’t decide where eating was a good idea or not, but I eventually went with yogurt and plain, room temperature noodles. When I said I hoped to lose weight in Thailand, this isn’t quite what I had in mind. Now it is afternoon again, and the stomach ache has receded for the moment…. only to make way for the return of headache and fever! Huzzah!

Hopefully I will fell better enough to give you a more exciting update soon.

First Weeks Abroad

My favorite little guardian demon from the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

My favorite little guardian demon from the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

So I’ve been here (Thailand) for nearly two weeks. You’re probably wondering what the heck is going on. I guess the answer is, “A lot!”, which is also the answer to, “Why the heck haven’t you blogged about it yet?”

I got in to Bangkok last Wednesday morning, and then waited a few hours for the shuttle to the hotel. I had the rest of that day free, and my main achievements were buying water and beer from the 7-11, taking a nap, and finding some delicious pad thai.

Orientation was five days of classes in an air-conditioned hotel with about 70 other westerners (mostly americans, but there were two brits and an australian). I found the whole thing to be a stressful social situation, which isn’t to say I didn’t have fun, but my faculties were maybe too overwhelmed by the Implications of Being in Thailand for a Year to really participate in the “Wow, new best friends forever!” thing that was going on around me. I also made a point of not being dependent on other participants to go do things, and as a result ended up doing a lot of things by myself… go figure. :-p I did have a lot of good conversations with a lot of people over the week, and met quite a few people whom I would love to see again and have the chance to become better friends with. One of the happier moments was breakfast at the hotel on the first day, when I found the three people (Jayson, George, and Katie) that had been part of my TEFL class, and whom I had been communicating with over the internet for the previous three months. Big smiles, big group hug. It was a good moment!

On the Bridge over the River Kwai. My arm looks like a noodle, but I sure am in Thailand!

On the Bridge over the River Kwai. My arm looks like a noodle, but I sure am in Thailand, yessah!

After some sightseeing and one night at a resort hotel on the last day of orientation, I boarded a flight to Phitsanulok from Bangkok’s domestic airport on Tuesday evening. Nok Air was the cutest; all of their planes are painted to look like birds.

Next would be the big moment: meeting my coordinator at the airport and rocking the first impression. I was tired and nervous, but as soon as I saw my welcoming committee I knew everything would be alright. The school director, my coordinator (and boss of the English/Foreign Language department), and three young teachers from Canada, Japan, and Thailand were all waiting for me. The director and my coordinator welcomed me and gave me a lei of flowers for my wrist (which didn’t quite fit over my big american hands), and then I piled into a car with the three young teachers to go to my new home.

The house is nice! My school is a boarding school, so am living on campus in an area with several houses for teachers. It’s like college; all my friends live next door! I live with a Thai teacher (she teaches English and German) who was able to show me around when I got here, and a Korean teacher (she speaks really good english and will be teaching Korean at the school) who arrived three days after I did. The house has four bedrooms, so we may be getting one more teacher later on.

My first few days were a little strange as I navigated settling in. I was told that I wouldn’t begin teaching until Monday, even though school had already started, but after the busyness of orientation it felt strange to have little to do. I sat at my desk in the English office at school, but felt like I was shirking my duties somehow as all the other teacher came and went from their classes. Also, having more time to think about it only increased my nervousness about the first day in the classroom. On Friday morning, my class of M1s (Mathayom 1, equivalent of 7th grade) came looking for me, and I ended up teaching their class and taught all my classes for the rest of the day. Definitely had some awkward moments, as I had very little prepared, but it went okay and I feel so much better now about being able to do my job.

The other thing that took some getting used to is that my school is actually fairly remote, and you need a motorbike to even go to the convenience store. It’s about a 20 minute motorbike ride into the city (Phitsanulok). Everyone was very nice and took very good care of me, but I don’t like having to rely on other people to do anything or go anywhere! I knew I had to get the situation sorted as soon as possible… which led to an exciting purchase yesterday evening. More info (and pictures!) to come in my next post. 🙂

There’s lots more to tell about teaching and making new friends, but it will have to wait until next time. I’ll leave you with a few photos from the lovely dinner I had with one of the teachers from my department on Wednesday evening:

Top right is the teacher who took me out to dinner, and top left and bottom right are the restaurant owners, and also the mother and grandmother of one of my students.

Top right is the teacher who took me out to dinner, and top left and bottom right are the restaurant owners, and also the mother and grandmother of one of my students.

Fried chicken with rice and cashews. Have I mentioned that everything I've eaten here was delicious?

Fried chicken with rice and cashews. Have I mentioned that everything I’ve eaten here was delicious?

Leaving on a Jetplane

All my bags are packed, it’s time to go

I’m standing here, outside your door…

I’ve been singing that song all week. My bags have been (mostly) packed since late last night, and I’m sitting at the Portland International Jetport waiting to board my first flight. This one’s to JFK, where I’ll board a flight to Abu Dhabi later this evening. My final flight is from Abu Dhabi to Bangkok, and I should arrive about 25 hours from now. I’ve just said goodbye to my parents and my boyfriend, and I’m a little sad. It’s been a wonderful last weekend in Portland, though; my boyfriend and one of my oldest friends teamed up to orchestrate a surprise going-away party on Friday evening, and there have been a lot of good times around all the packing and panicking and last-minute goodbyes. Thank you for all the support and well-wishes; I love you all, and I will do my best to keep you posted as my journey continues.

So, I’m moving to Thailand in a week

Maybe I should have mentioned something earlier?

It was such a hard decision to make that I didn’t want to post anything before everything was settled, and then when everything was settled I became too busy to do anything else.

I’ll be teaching English at Princess Chulabhorn’s School in Phitsanulok, Thailand, for an entire year. To prepare, I have been taking an online TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) Certification class, which includes a 20-hour practicum that I have been serving by volunteering at an adult ESL class in my community. I have a week to pass my final exam, move out of my apartment, pack my bags, and say goodbye to family, boyfriend, and friends.

And then… well, then I’ll have an adventure. Updates to follow.

See you in Bangkok.

Day 13

Almost two weeks into the December Sketch-a-Day Challenge and I am caught up. What’s more, I never even fell behind—I’ve actually sketched something every day so far! I’m not going to post every sketch here, but I’ve been doing a series of portraits based on Photobooth pictures of friends (along the lines of the self portrait I posted last time). Here they are! Various levels of completed-ness, of course, and all created entirely in Adobe Photoshop. Thanks so much for letting me draw you, friends!

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Day 1

December Sketch-a-Day challenge. It’s happening. I can’t tell you how excited I was when two of my friends posted sketches to the facebook group today before I’d even started thinking about my sketch for the evening. And here’s that sketch, by the way, my second annual It’s The Monday After Thanksgiving, Work Sucks, and I Need a Haircut self portrait (you can find last year’s here.) And remember it’s not too late to join the december challenge;  you can post sketches to your blog or find us on facebook by searching for the December Sketch-a-Day Challenge facebook group.

I probably won’t post sketches here every day, but I thought I’d let you know that I’m off to a good start.

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NaNoWriMo and December Sketch-a-Day Challenge

Winner-2014-Web-BannerI finished NaNoWriMo today. I wrote my 50,000 words, and that’s a wrap for November. Here’s the graph; I even managed to stay pretty close to par all last week, despite traveling to Boston for a really lovely Thanksgiving dinner and weekend with cousins and friends.Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 6.25.21 PM

I have a lot more time to do creative work than I thought I did, but I need to be working hard every month of the year, not just November. Last year, in the wake of NaNoWriMo, I instigated a Sketch-a-Day challenge for December. I didn’t finish in time, but Ruthanne of A More Colorful Life sure did and I still think it’s a great idea. So this year, I’m doing it for real. If you need an artistic kick-in-the-pants, please join us! I’ll link to your blog if that’s where you’re posting December sketches, and if you’d like to join the online December Sketch-a-Day Challenge community, do a Facebook search for the group I made (it’s called December Sketch-a-Day Challenge) and request to join. The goal is 31 sketches, 31 days.

The Sketch-a-Day Challenge is my big goal for December, but I don’t want to stop writing. I also don’t think I told you anything about my NaNoWriMo novel? It’s the self-indulgent telepathic dragon novel I never knew I had to write, and I don’t think I’m even fifty percent through the story at 50,000 hastily-written words. I have a lot of good stuff, especially good ideas, but a lot of those words are unusable and a lot of them will change once I figure out some answers to the Big Story Questions, and I’m finally at a place where I know which Big Story Questions I should ask. So I’m going to keep working on it. Most especially, I am going to take some time for outlining and researching and organizing—all the things I didn’t have time for during NaNoWriMo. I know I need to do lots of non-word-count related work on the story, and I know my sketch challenge will take up the majority of my daily creative energy, so I am setting a very small writing goal of 500 words a day. This makes a total of 15,500 words for the month. That’s sure a significant drop from 50,000, and I’ll top it if I can, but I think 500 words and one sketch every day will be enough to be getting on with. And I think I’ll get tired. But I think I can do it.

What are your goals for December?

NaNoWriMo, By the Way

NaNo Stats for 22 November 2014

NaNoWriMo Stats for 22 November 2014

I’ve been quietly doing NaNoWriMo all month. That stats photo above is from yesterday, my most heroic day of writing so far, where I wrote 7,027 words and caught up on four days of writing in one 12-hour period. It was day 22, yesterday, and last year I didn’t break 37,000 words until day 28, so historically speaking I’m ahead! And most importantly, caught up to par, if I can manage around 2,000 words today (which I’m sure I can).

Having a local writers group who are also doing NaNoWriMo has helped a lot this time around. We’ve met up for write-ins a couple times a week, sometimes at apartments and sometimes at bars, and it helps so much to be able to discuss plotting and inspiration issues with other folks who are sharing the same frustrations.

I think the best thing about NaNoWriMo this month is that the consistent goal has allowed me to notice patterns, and to be more aware of how the choices I make affect my workflow. This week, for instance, I began the week officially Caught Up after some pretty intense work days over the weekend. Monday, I stayed on track because I didn’t play a really fun looking board game with Brother, Mr. Huntington, Brackett, and Ranger B. Instead, I said hello to everyone, went into my room to write, and then said goodnight and went to bed. Tuesday, I stayed on track because I didn’t plan a big dinner for myself and Mr. Huntington. Instead, I microwaved something for myself after work while I caught up on my word count, and then I invited him over afterwards to watch Adventure Time and drink hot chocolate. Wednesday, I had a horrible, no good, very bad day at work, and I didn’t write because I only had enough energy afterwards to eat the dinner Mr Huntington cooked for us and go to bed early. Thursday, I didn’t write because I attended an event with Mr Huntington after work, and then got dinner with friends, and then it was bedtime. Friday I PLANNED to write, and I invited over some writing buddies for that express purpose… but sometimes your writing night turns into a medley-themed party (we had a carrot medley, a ravioli medley, and a wine medley) and I had a beautiful time talking with my friends and didn’t write a single word. And all of this was allowable, because I did have a spare 12 hours on Saturday, yesterday, in which to write for all four days.

So the lesson is compromise? It’s always been compromise, but when I don’t have a clear goal the things like boardgames and events and nice home-cooked dinners always take precedence over spending a few hours alone with my computer. And I think we’re somewhat conditioned to choose the social activity, to do the thing, to not be lame and not be a hermit. And I don’t regret the choices I made on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday to be social rather than productive. The social activities were seriously important and productive in their own ways, good for my relationships and good for my mental health. The difference between this week and every other week was that I knew what those choices meant for my writing goals as I made them, and I traded those three nights for my entire Saturday. And then I followed through, and caught up to my goal.

ADDENDUM: Speaking of goals, remember that Sketch-a-day challenge I started in December last year? I didn’t complete it last year, but this year I’m going to try again and think I can do it. Stay tuned.