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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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?