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!

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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

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.

I’m drinking coffee after 4 pm

Just thought you should know what kind of day it is. I worked full-out, busy, stressful days for the last three days, and I love having a day off, but I’ve basically wasted it so far (except for a few important things) and I’m having a cup of coffee in a desperate attempt to wake up. I’m also meeting a new friend at a bar in a couple hours, so don’t worry; I’ll be getting my social interaction for the day.

Last weekend was, of course, awesome. I got to go back to Michigan and see some of my favorite people, and we all hung out and had good times just like nothing had changed. Oh, and I watched two beautiful and amazing people promise to be together for the rest of their lives. It was a beautiful ceremony, and the wedding was a lot of fun. It was also a pretty tiring weekend, and you know how traveling takes it out of you, so I’ve spent this week sort of trying to catch up. Which is why this might be the shortest blog post ever.

I saw the new Star Trek movie with Brackett on the night I got back from Michigan, and it was really really good—so good that I’m planning on going again tomorrow (this time with someone who hasn’t seen it yet, so I have an excuse!). I’ve also been watching all the old Star Trek movies on Netflix; Star Trek IV (the one with the whales!) was my introduction to Star Trek, so I feel way more nostalgic about the movies when the actors are all middle-aged than I do about the original series. Also, last night/this morning (I started it last night before going to bed, and finished it this morning) I watched the Original Series episode Devil in the Dark, which I hadn’t seen before. I thought it was a really good one! …Now, if I worked at it, I could probably end this post with a lesson about how Star Trek is somehow life affirming and good for me (and all of us!), but since my energy tank is running pretty empty, I’m gonna go with, “Yay Star Trek!” and call it a day.

And that’s the kind of blog post you get when I write it in twenty minutes while drinking a cup of coffee.

Aw, man.

Coffee’s gone.

BROS

BROS!

Your weekly update (and *Michigan*)

Congratulations, everyone. We got through another week, each and every one of us. I hope you’re all as pleased with this accomplishment as I am.

I worked every day this week, still training. By friday, I felt a lot more comfortable and confident. On Monday, I will go out by myself, with my own route. It is, of course, a completely different route than the one I’ve been training on, and I need to fit in the time this weekend to really study it, but I’m excited to begin.

Also, I’m flying out to Michigan on Thursday. The whole thing seems a little unreal right now, mostly because I have a lot of things to accomplish before I get on that plane, but I’m flying out to Michigan on Thursday. I’m so excited! The thing is, you see, that Leftenant Weatherby and his Lady Elise are getting married a week from today. Goodness. One. Week. From. Today. It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime kind of events that you just gotta be there for, whatever it takes. I was willing to Greyhound-bus it, but my parents thought that was crazy (they’re awesome) and lent me enough money to get the plane tickets. Getting the time off my new job wasn’t even an issue, because I brought it up before any of us even had schedules (I still don’t have a schedule past Monday). So next week, I get to witness this important and meaningful occasion in the lives of two awesome people that mean a lot to me… AND I get to see everyone in the group of friends surrounding those people. Lady Higg, Constable Maelstrom, Doctor Longbottom, and everyone else that doesn’t have a blog pseudonym yet. I’m just so happy that I’m able to make this trip, able to be there, and able to keep these people in my life. I’m actually flying into Lansing on Thursday and staying with Lady Higg, and then driving upstate for the wedding with her and Doctor Longbottom. The three of us and Constable Maelstrom are staying in a cabin for the weekend, and then I’m flying out of Lansing again on Monday. You’ll notice I have cleverly maximised my time with Lady Higg, because going a year (okay, eleven months) without seeing your best friend is the exact opposite of an ideal situation(!!!), and who knows when I’ll get to see her again after this!! So naturally, I’ve arranged my trip to include as much best friend time as possible, and I can’t wait.

And that’s your blog post for today, because I actually have a lot to do in the way of packing and planning and shopping and laundering and studying and sketching and all the other things. Have a good Saturday, y’all!

Me and Lady Higg in NOLA. Ignore the redeye. Also, I didn't clip Lorax out of the picture intentionally! That's how I found it on facebook!)

Me and Lady Higg in NOLA. Ignore the redeye. Also, I didn’t clip Lorax out of the picture intentionally! That’s how I found it on facebook!

And here's a group shot that actually includes the happy couple! Elise standing up on the far left, and Tom (Leftenant Weatherby) looking heroic with the box of cupcakes.

And here’s a group shot that actually includes the happy couple! Elise standing up on the far left, and Tom (Leftenant Weatherby) looking heroic with the box of cupcakes.

My Running Revolution

I started running again last week, and it’s changing my life.

The other day, my dear friend and email correspondent Constable Maelstrom and I discussed the concept of agency. How it’s easy to let things happen to you in life, and it’s easy to just float along and assume you can’t really control the stuff that makes you feel good, or the stuff that makes you feel bad. Well, as Constable Maelstrom said, to hell with that. When I went for a run last tuesday, I took agency in my life and my health. I said, to hell with not feeling good, and to hell with worrying about things I can’t control. What I can do, right now, today, is go running. I can do this good thing and choose to feel incredible, rather than letting the days pass me by.

Did I mention it was raining last Tuesday, when I took that first run of the year? I’m a warm weather person, and while I know that running is something I enjoy and something that enriches and improves my life, I have always allowed my running routine to be controlled by the weather. Tuesday was pretty daring for me, going running in the rain and the barely forty degrees. I went again Wednesday, when it was 37˚ and sunny. Lower than my ideal temperature, but I bundled up and did okay. Then, on Thursday and Friday, a cold wind blew. “It’s winter again,” I moaned. So much for my healthy routine! But it was sunny again on Saturday, so I did the thing and jogged around the block. On Sunday, it was cold. I sang in church, I joined my parents and their church group for corned beef and cabbage (and roasted carrots and Irish soda bread), I wrote most of a blog post, and we all finished Argo (which we’d started the night before. Good movie). At the end of the day, I felt kind of antsy and desperate. At dusk, and in just under 20˚ Fahrenheit, I went for a run.

This may not seem like a big deal to you, but for me it was huge. Prior to this week, I’ve never gone running in temperatures under 40˚, and under 50˚ only on very rare occasions. On Sunday, I took agency away from the outdoor thermometer. I stood up and said, I’m the one who gets to control whether or not I run on any given day. Me. I get to choose.

Since then, it’s been awesome. On Tuesday, I ran in a snowstorm. On Wednesday, I ran through the post-snowstorm slush. Yesterday, even though I’d given myself permission to take the day off, I ran because I ate deep-fried seafood for lunch (so yummy) and I needed to do something healthy to counteract the sugar-sauce and the grease. I’ve been for eight runs in the past ten days, and I feel incredible. I have so much more energy for every aspect of my life. My tummy is shrinking at an alarming rate (anyone else excited for bikini season this year?), and I’ve had the courage to take agency in other things, like correspondence, creative work, and employment. Good things just keep happening. We had a great set at the pub last friday in which I barely messed up my harp solo at all, and then we left early to jam with old and new friends until midnight. I’m making exciting new friends, and I’m having exciting new conversations with some of the old and dear ones. I even found a job to apply for (read my last post on Writing with a Day Job!), and it’s valuable work for which I feel well-qualified. I can’t tell you how excited I am about everything—and I think it’s all happening because of the running, and because of my choice to feel great.

All good blog posts need a visual, so here is a photograph of me.

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It was taken in Thailand, looking across the river into Laos. Here’s what the photo doesn’t tell you:

On the day this was taken, I’d had a terrible morning. Imagine being stuck on a bus for two hours with the radio set on the sappiest, most saccharine english-language love songs you can imagine—within a month from the worst break up of your life. Plus, my legs were absolutely covered with bites from monster mosquitoes that itched with a persistance American mosquito bites can only dream of. It was was also getting to that point in the three-week trip where we’d had so many new and incredible experiences, almost more than I could take, with relatively little time to recharge. It’s also possible that I was hungover. We finally piled out of the bus into at least ninety-degree weather onto a rocky plateau, the sun a hard orb above, and went for a hike just below the cliffs where we could look across the river and see some cave paintings. I was cranky, antsy, upset, and full of that bad sort of energy that boils around inside and makes your skin crawl. Even though it was the sort of weather where you’d sweat your brains out just standing still, I needed to run. When we hit the the part of the trail that headed back over land to the bus, I cajoled one of the guys on the trip to join me in a run. And then, I ran my heart out. I sweated and huffed and barely kept up, but I set my feet against the hard rock and pounded forward into the blazing sun and the still air and ran out all my anger and frustration and heartache. This picture was taken that afternoon, and you have no idea how much sweat had drenched and dried into my clothing and hair, but I think it’s one of the most beautiful pictures of me from the whole trip.

Writing Marathon Day 7, and Tonight’s Winner

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Well, would you look at that. Day 7. We are ALMOST THERE.

The Writing Day

I’m making progress. I’m hanging in there. In fact, I’m working on the last chapter—although I confess that I skipped a fairly important section of chapter 11 in the interest of moving on. I did sacrifice a portion of my day to practicing music (worth it), but I’ve been moving forward steadily. Chapter 12 is long, though, and I’m 25% in at the most. It’s likely that I won’t be all the way to the end by the time I post the blog tomorrow… but without this event, and all your encouragement, I’m sure I wouldn’t have made it half this far in the first week of February. And who knows, maybe some birthday-writing magic will kick in on the morrow.

These are the flowers my daddy got me for my birthday; aren’t they wonderful? (He brought them home tonight because we might get snowed in tomorrow!)

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We need a topic!

And the winner is…

Caitlin. Congratulations, Caitlin!

I haven’t seen Caitlin for four years, but we were roommates during a five-week study abroad trip to Ireland. When we met, we quickly bonded over a shared love of books and bookstores. Caitlin is running a really cool blog called The Hopeful Heroine that I suspect a lot of you would enjoy; it is all about books and especially teen and middle grade reads.

Caitlin’s entry: Think about your summer spent in Ireland. Remember your favorite place and/or moment. Take me there.

I had many piercingly wonderful moments during those weeks in Ireland. The place is rich with stories, chock-full of castles, and, like everyone says, so very green. It takes your breath away. If anyone were to ask me to name the most beautiful/magnificent thing I’ve ever seen, I would say the Cliffs of Moher without skipping a beat. The moment that came to mind when I first read Caitlin’s question, however, was the night I climbed Bray Head.

Bray is the last stop on the Dart train that stretches along the coast to the north and south of Dublin. http://www.irishrail.ie/maps/dart  One day, when I had arrived Dun Laoghaire in the afternoon, I was frustrated and started walking. I walked a couple train stops south, and eventually I got on the train and took it to Bray. It was already evening, and I used the bathroom at a casino and started walking down the beach. There was a large, rocky hill (or a very small mountain) at one end of the beach; it took maybe half an hour to climb. It was windy at the top, the sort of wind that blows into all your nooks and crannies and sweeps the gathered dust away. The setting sun turned the far off hilltops to gold, and I noticed there was a trail leading on. I followed it, even though I knew I had to turn around soon to catch the train. That trail beckoned me onward, and I walked until I caught  [Hang on, live blogging break, my brother just walked in the door (ahead of the storm!) to surprise me for my birthday. My mom already blew the surprise that he was driving down tomorrow, but then she assured me he wasn’t coming then because of the storm. I AM SURPRISED. 🙂] and I walked until I caught a glimpse of the coast to the south, and saw the trail stretching on before me. I followed it around one more bend, and then… It may have been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I turned back, climbed down the hill, walked up the beach, and caught the last train home.

That moment was my wanderlust moment. It encapsulates how Ireland enchanted me, and how I always wanted to go deeper. I had so many experiences in five weeks, and yet I barely broke the surface.

Thanks for your question, Caitlin, it was lovely to return to Ireland for a few minutes there. Everyone: don’t forget to visit Caitlin’s blog, The Hopeful Heroine. And Caitlin, you will be receiving your name doodle prize in a week or so, and by the end of February at the latest.

Good night, all! We’ll wrap up this whole shebang tomorrow, on the final day of the marathon. Thanks for sticking with me so far.

-G

David Triumphant

I found a boy with a harp, so I drew him.

It’s a David, of course, from the David and Goliath story. I didn’t have as much time to draw as I should have liked, but what can you do? Here’s a photo of the sculpture:

Thomas Crawford (artist)
American, 1814 – 1857
David Triumphant, model 1845/1846, carved 1848
marble and bronze
height: 114.3 cm (45 in.)

Source: http://www.nga.gov/

I arrived back in Maine at 8 am this morning after traveling through the night via Greyhound Bus. I have so much enjoyed my trip to North Carolina and DC, and I’ve had so many diverse experiences in the last two weeks. With any luck I’ll get to writing about them in the next few days, on the off chance you’re getting tired of all these pictures. 🙂

-G