A Lost Month, and Beautiful Things

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Floor at Wat Pha Sorn Kaew, Buddhist Temple in Khao Koh, Thailand

Okay. We have some catching up to do.

First of all, culture shock is real, and I lost August. Not entirely lost—I traveled to Chiang Mai and Bangkok, I wrote some, and planned and organized thoughts for the rest of my novel. I went to school every day, and joined my friends for dinner and lunch and afternoons at coffee shops. When I wasn’t with people or fulfilling a work obligation, though, I was lying on my bed watching Gilmore Girls, and even when I was with people I mostly felt really, really bad. I identified with many of the things on this “13 Lies Your Depression is Telling You” list, I felt like a terrible teacher, and I wanted to go home.

I don’t know how much of this was the isolating effects of culture shock, and how much was mild depression. I’ve always struggled with ups and downs and probably always will, and going to Thailand in the first place was a response to some pretty serious negative feelings about my self-worth. I didn’t feel like I was capable of anything, so I went to the other side of the world to prove myself wrong. I’m not necessarily knocking this as a solution, but… you’re still you, even in Thailand, and all those bad feelings won’t instantly go away.

I’m doing amazing now, though, and I’m really grateful to everyone who sent me emails and skyped and chatted on facebook and talked and ate meals with me during my bad month. The human contact was so needed and appreciated. Somewhere along the line I got really cynical about a lot of things, and I made a decision a few weeks ago to be more grateful and less self-defeating. To believe that things can be done when I start them, instead of assuming laziness and failure from the outset.

Here’s what I’ve been up to:

Running. Thursday will mark three weeks successful completion of my 5-runs-a-week routine. I run around our school building (.4 miles a lap!) and the students laugh and smile at me. They wave and shout “Hello teacher!” when they see me, every time they see me, which is sometimes three or four or even six times per run! This is a good system because I always run a little faster after a student makes me smile. My favorite was when a group of M1 girls (seventh graders) said, “Teacher, fighting!” as I went by. That’s my new mantra, whenever I’m out of breath and want to stop: Teacher, fighting!

Strength training. Three days a week, I’m doing push ups and squats and crunches. Like, more than I knew I could do. I’ve flirted with pushups in the past, and exercise machines and stuff like that, but this is the first time I’ve realized how it works. You do this. It feels like this. This is uncomfortable, but instead of stopping you do a few more, or a lot more. Sweat drips onto your yoga mat, your muscles surprise you, and you feel fierce. In a few days, you come back and do even more.

[Reality check: I still can’t do more than three full push-ups in a row. Instead of letting that discourage me, I’m killing it with the modified ones and I’ll work my way up to full ones very soon.]

Other stuff. Stretches and yoga, which get mixed in with the running and strength training. While on a school trip, I got up early to do yoga on the balcony while the sun rose over a misty sea. My yoga instruction is entirely from youtube videos, but maybe all these people who are talking about yoga all the time are actually onto something.

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Environment. My brother told me a while ago that a clean house fights depression, so I’m trying to do things to make my surroundings feel nice—even though I’ll only be here for six more months. It’s difficult because my house is dirty and desperately needs a coat of paint, but I’ve been putting things on the walls and investing in cleaning supplies. I haven’t kept up with the cleaning quite as well as the exercise, but I’m picking things up more often and working on some projects. I’m sewing fabric curtains for an ugly piece of furniture, and I bought a new bed set and a folding table to go by my bed. Little things, but worth it for the happiness I get when I use them, and the happiness that comes from feeling at peace with my surroundings.

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I’ve also done some traveling these last few weeks to the ocean and the mountains. The ocean, man. I lived a ten-minute walk from the ocean for last past two years, and didn’t realize how much I missed it until I saw it again. And yesterday’s ride on a mountain highway to a stunning temple 117 km (70 miles away) was awesome, and now I’m remembering my plans for longer bike trips. Things feel possible again, and it feels especially amazing because nothing felt possible in August.

There’s a lot more to say, always is, but for now enjoy some pictures from yesterday’s road trip!

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The five sitting Buddha statue at Wat Pha Sorn Kaew

Me and Anna, my friend from Germany who has been teaching at the school and sharing my house for the last two months. It was her last weekend in Phitsanulok, and I'm so glad we got to do something fun together!

Me and Anna, my friend from Germany who has been teaching at the school and sharing my house for the last two months. It was her last weekend in Phitsanulok, and I’m so glad we got to do something fun together!

Stairs!

Stairs!

Mountains!

And mountains!

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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

Games, Writing, and Christmas Photos

It’s two days after Christmas, and here in Maine we’re having a snowstorm. My father took another day off work so he wouldn’t have to drive through the snow to the coast (he commutes over an hour when the roads are clear). Brother can work from home, and he’s here through Sunday. A board game called Middle Earth Quest is taking up our entire kitchen table. Brother got it for Christmas and it’s epic, with like 20 decks of cards that do different things and 10 plastic figures and some more cardboard standups and a gazillion punched-out, printed-on-both-sides, heavy cardboard tokens. Oh, and a rulebook that is 40 pages long. We only got a few rounds into the game last night, but we think it will be fun once we figure out how to play. Here’s the cool video review that turned Brother onto the game in the first place (if you’re into boardgames (or even if you’re not), you should watch these reviews. They’re hilarious): http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/middle-earth-quest

It's HUGE!

It’s HUGE!

When my mother came home from work yesterday, she found me sitting on the couch, appearing entirely at ease. “What have you been doing all day?” she joked. And, with a wonderful and rare sense of accomplishment and self-justification, I answered simply: “Writing.” That’s right, sports fans: the Wanderlust train is back on the track. Cruising through Chapter Nine (To the Wolves), to be precise. I’m still overwhelmed by the amount of work to do, and in fact the “Plot and Narrative Issues I Need to Resolve” list seems to grow LONGER instead of shorter each time I check an item off the top, but I just have to finish this draft, and soon. So I’m going to go work on that now. In lieu of any illustrations, philosophical advice, or particularly eloquent bloggery, please enjoy this photograph of our Christmas tree (it’s a much smaller tree than our usual white-pine monstrosities that take up half the living room and are wider than they are tall, but I think it pulled together quite nicely):

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*BONUS*

Have a photo of me on Christmas morning modeling some oven mitts.

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Merry Christmas. I hope yours was magical. 🙂