"Not all who wander are aimless. Especially not those who seek truth beyond tradition, beyond definition, beyond the image."

Tuesday, October 21

Indonesia at a glance

4:30am. The Call To Prayer gentle shakes me from my slumber. Despite being prematurely wakened, I find a rewarding peacefulness in the sound. The calming effect rushes over me, rocking me back to sleep--and offers a sharp contradiction to my ignorant-driven fears of a religion that makes up nearly 90% of this country.

Walking out of the airport in Jakarta, Indonesia, I was overcome by an uncomfortable feeling. To an extent, it’s a natural feeling when you step foot on foreign soil, one that I’ve grown quite accustomed to. But this---this was different. My governmental warnings were fresh in my mind and I started to question myself. The US Department of State’s website urged me to “carefully weigh my decision (to travel here)”. Had I heeded their advice? I glanced around at several staring eyes, a “harsh-looking” crowd, and an obviously Muslim majority. I pulled my bags closer, trying to look more relaxed at the same time. When I proceeded onto the public bus, it was gut wrenching. Reflecting back, it wasn’t gut-wrenching because I was on a public bus. And not because I was a minority. But because I was a minority on a public bus that was populated entirely by Muslims. Afterall, my government, my country, has painted this picture numerous times before for me. It’s a picture of terrorism (isn‘t it?)---and here I am, voluntarily in the middle of it. As my fears slowly subsided on that first day, I immediately felt my mind, body, and eyes opening up---the previously painted picture of this country, of this religion, of this culture just couldn’t stand up to the actual picture that would unfold before me over the next several days…

Through the cracked window of my “eksekutif” seat on the Yogyakarta bound train, I watch the everyday Indonesia pass by. I get a glimpse of two burials, and, while I can’t see their faces, the body language of those surrounding the grave speak volumes. Their pain, their suffering, their loss is the same as any others. Poverty-stricken neighborhoods are the norm, but the faces of the children bathing, laughing, and playing in the polluted river hardly resemble those I’ve seen on TV. Their outward happiness is humbling. If only happiness could so easily be obtained in areas where bathing in a filthy river was unspeakable. Inside the train, 2 big, dark eyes stare at Rach and I the way I would have stared at a visibly disabled person before I knew it was impolite. Pure curiosity. Pure innocence. It’s far less intimidating when the eyes that are locked on you belong to those of a child--and I allow myself to stare back. Through her eyes, I could see the reflection of my own curiosity. Maybe all these stares that we’ve been subject to since our arrival aren’t driven by fear or hate, but rather by pure curiosity, pure innocence. That possibility only did more to further break down my fears---fears that initially were intensified by these stares!

On the streets of Yogya, an intimidating-looking teenager senses that Rach and I are a bit turned around (perhaps the map in our hands and our erratic footsteps tip him off) and comes to help. He gestures for us to follow him in a kind of way that only an intimidating, non-English speaking teenager could. Hesitantly, I follow him, consciously adjusting my body language--partly to make Rachel believe that everything was fine and I wasn’t the least bit concerned about this boys intentions--and partly to make myself believe it. We settle for a few smiles when our attempts at conversation fail and I continue to follow him, silently. He helps us cross the highly trafficked road by stepping into it, his body between us and the cars/motorbikes/horse carriages, his hand guiding my arm. Even with this selfless gesture, my mind is busy piecing together his possible intentions. Does he want money? Does he want to take us to a certain place? Is he getting us more lost? Does he want to hurt us? Before my mind could finish the last negative thought, I recognize Molboloro (street)…exactly what we were looking for. Familiarity. I stutter out terima kasih---relieved, yet ashamed. Our young guide proceeded to place a bracelet in my hand, gesturing for me to wear it, before disappearing into the crowd. I stood there a bit confused. Looking first at the bracelet, then scanning the crowd for the kid, then eyes back to the bracelet. Because I didn’t want to say exactly what I was thinking at that moment, I turned to Rach and asked “do you think it’s safe for me to wear it?” I examined the bracelet carefully, still confused, mind running wild. What was truly going though my head at that moment is something I hate to admit--- man--this thing is gonna start ticking isn’t it? This thug kid picked us Westerners out of the crowd to prove another religious point, didn’t he? Should I throw it? Should I drop it? What if that expedites things? Man--where did he go? Why did he just disappear? They aren’t thoughts I’m proud of, but they were intense thoughts. Real thoughts. Real fears. All which exist because many people like to use religion to tear nations apart---these people use intimidation to reach that goal. And apparently, it works. I closed my eyes, took a breath, and slipped the bracelet around my wrist. I continued to wear it, and examine it, for the rest of the day.

Just before sunset, Rachel and I wonder around the holy remains of Borobudur along with thousands of local Indonesians, who, because of the Ramadan holiday, have flocked to this particular place. Not long into our meander, a man hesitantly approaches, camera in hand. In his best English, he asks if we’ll take a picture with his children. We’re amused and when we smile in agreeance, his whole family lights up, smiling the way I did when Ed Jovanoski agreed to take a picture with me when I was a kid. They thank us profusely, then shake our hands with --what can only be explained as-- admiration. We laugh at the situation, understanding that Westerners look different--and some people have never seen “a real one”. Just when we thought it was a rare occurrence, someone gave us a speed ticket to our 15 minutes of fame. 1 family after another approached, parents thrusting their children at us, teenagers approaching hesitantly, women, men, children, teenagers. We glance up (Borobudur is a series of terraces, you can glance up at the next level, and the next…etc), to dozens of cameras and phones locked on us. Some people try to be discrete, but most aren‘t. We lost count of how many pictures we agreed to take that day, but we left with an overwhelming understanding that our original fears of “these people”--and their often chilling stares, couldn’t have been more wrong.

As if someone knew there was still one thing I couldn’t wrap my mind around, I got the last piece to my puzzle. On our hike up an active volcano, we met more people who wanted to take pictures with us and practice their English. Before we were leaving, the one kid who didn’t speak great English, asked for something--- “do you have something for me?”. Unsure of what he meant by something, I put my hands up in a “what do you mean” gesture. He pointed to my thumb ring. Although I was unable to part with that, the light bulb went off in my head. THAT’s why that thug kid gave me his bracelet!! This is a part of their culture! This is what’s normal to them!! When Rachel pointed to the hair tie she had wrapped around her wrist, the kid lit up---he took it, slipped it around his wrist, smiled in a way I can’t explain (proving that it didn‘t have to be something of value), and walked away, thanking us over and over. This continued to happen several times as we traveled through Java and Lombok. So many people we met wanted a memory--something they could have to remind them of the meeting. When Rach ran out of hair ties, we turned to pens---and every time we got the most rewarding smile---as if we had just given these kids a winning lotto ticket.

I know my 18 day trip through Indonesia hardly warrants me an expert on anything. But it was one of the most eye-opening, rewarding trips simple because my standing beliefs were effectively shattered. As for this bracelet---it has yet to start ticking. And until it does, it will be a constant reminder to take a stand against ignorant-driven fears.

"The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are." ~ Samuel Johnson

(pictures to follow on shutterfly shortly...as well as bullets to what we did/saw---and how fabulously fantastic it was to meet Ash and Cait in Bali!! )

Saturday, September 27

Say what you mean & mean what you say

My morning cup of coffee:

My 9th grade English teacher once told our class to "write what you mean and mean what you write". It was a good lesson in writing--one that I carried with me to my days at Rice--but the adapted form is the one that really stuck. For the last few years, since that class, I have been trying to "say what I mean and mean what I say". It's powerful in its simplicity. How many times do we utter out hurtful words when we don't really mean them--or fail to utter loving ones? As much as this simple phrase has shaped much of me (thanks Mr. Horal), I find it ironic that I've landed in a place where "saying what I mean and meaning what I say' is a near impossibility. Welcome to the tonal Thai language. A language that doesn't give a crap if I'm tone deaf. Lets, for instance, take the word kow. A word that, depending on your tone, can mean rice, mountain, or white. The blank stare at the food stall when I ask for 'mountain' reminds me that I need a new phrase because clearly, I'm not saying what I mean. And, until I develop more of an ear for these tones, I've decided to stay away from the confusion of such words as glai---which, at mid-tone, means far but at a falling-tone means near. I'll just take a taxi, thanks.

Friday was my last day of teaching this term and I spent 15 minutes of my lunch break lost (and loving it) in translation. I visited with 'my homeroom' teachers (Mee, Ning and Kan)--none of whom speak English. For 15 minutes, we played pictionary (by the makers of necessity, not Milton Bradley) and nearly peed ourselves laughing. They tried so hard to speak English and I tried so hard to speak Thai (the sound of which, with all due respects, mirrors the sounds you may hear in a special-needs class) and every now and then, we'd recognize a word. Completely and utterly out of context, but a word nonetheless. 15 minutes, 3 words, an aching stomach and watery eyes later, I realized the full power of a smile--the full power of laughter. It's something that is multilingual--knowing no borders--and luckily, no tones. So, while our Thai fluency may be forever a work-in-progress, one thing for sure--Rach and I know how to laugh and smile---and by Buddha are we!!

Because work wants to give me a month off AND pay me a 1/3 of my salary, we're Bali-bound! We're flying to Indonesia on Wednesday, Oct. 1st and will spend 2.5 weeks exploring another country--another culture--. 2 of my BFFFFL's from Rice, Ashley (better known by readers of my blog as "hussy from houston" :) ) and Cait, will be meeting us in Bali on the 14th and I CANNOT wait! I know it's going to be an amazing trip and I can't wait to see my girls again. And yes, Ashley mommy dear, I have researched Indonesia and you can be assured that we will be smart travelers. So the mommy's out there can sleep peacefully, I've registered with the US embassy and have made them aware of my plans to travel there---so no worries, the US government has got my back!! haha.

Because several people have asked: Rachel and I are both working at a place called Fun Language. The majority of my classes are 4-6years old but I have 1 older class of 11 year olds. Fun Language pretty much acts as a middle man and sends us to different schools. I have 4 different schools...and several hundred students in total. Other than a few bad days here and there, I LOVE my kids--love my schedule--love it. Rach will start training on Oct. 2oth and then will be assigned to schools. It's a perfect set up because, while we'll be working together, it's very unlikely we'll be working at the same schools. So our jobs will be our own space, but we'll have all the same holidays/term breaks, etc. Everything else is going well. We have survived our first month of living in a 2x2 box (ok, so it's not THAT small...) together and show no signs of converting to the "I'll just shove you in the closet and lock it if I get sick of you" contingency plan!! We have been meeting a lot of people--Thai and foreigners alike and are just soaking up the culture of this place. In true Elizabeth Gilbert (Author of Eat, Pray, Love) form, I've made a "you teach me Thai, I'll teach you English" arrangement with the women that work at our apartment building and Rach made a similar arrangement with a woman that lives in the apartment building next door--hopefully commencing upon our return from Indonesia.

Skype: The internet in our apartment slows significantly when there are a lot of people online. Because of that, I'm only able to get a Skype connection early in the morning or late, late at night. Which, is ok with the time difference. But that's why I haven't been on too much lately. Hopefully it will get better. Thanks to everyone who has downloaded it...it means so much that you can still only be a phone call away.

For anyone who remembers/knows my forever friend Randi, send good thoughts her way! She's walking down the isle on Sept. 27th!! Congrats Rand--I'm there in spirit. Love you.

Friday, September 19

Top 10: You know you've adjusted well when

(in no particular order...)
Instead of gawking at the adorable baby elephants walking down the street, you get disgusted at the people using them to make a buck.

You're not from 'the States', not from the 'USA', not even from America....you're from A-mer-ee-cahh!

The occassional splurge on Western food makes you ill

A meal costing over 150 Baht (5 dollars) is reserved for special occasions

You may be an English teacher, but proper English grammar is out and local pidgin is in---with a special focus on tones

You've started applying baby power to your face in hopes that it will make your skin look half as good as the theirs

The workers in the local market not only know you, they know what you want to eat and how you like it cooked/made

You've graduated from 'mai ped' (not spicy) to 'nit-noy' (a little) and are happy your taste buds are adjusting

The Thai kids you teach are amazed by your 2 Thai phrases and automatically think you are fluent...not only in Thai, but also in Chinese...

You've started giving the 'asian peace sign' in pictures...

and one for good measure:
The locals call you up and tell you (in above mentioned pidgin) to come play futsol...and luckily, you've mastered 3 of the most important words in soccer: chi, chi (YES, YES....soccer translation: GIVE ME THE FREAKIN BALL), mai chi (NO...soccer translation: DON'T YOU DARE PLAY ME THAT HOSPITAL BALL), Yiing (SHOOT....soccer translation: FREAKIN SHOOT)

Saturday, August 23

From a writer's perspective...

From the comfort of my apartment, I could be anywhere in the world. Sometimes, it's easy to forget that I'm here...until I remember.

This morning, I wake before the sun and go through my (temporary) morning routine before starting the hour commute to work. (The appreciation I have for my CELTA trainer-turned-roomy, Nicky, and her free apartment, far outweighs any inconvenience of a long commute). The temples in the distance are silhouoetted against the rising sun and the sight urges me to reach for my camera. I quickly realize that there is nothing to reach for--my camera is, has been, "at home" for a long time, reminding me that I've become more than a tourist. I stare at the sight in awe, knowing that the beauty that meets my eyes is more than even the best lens could capture. I take a short walk through the park to the river, finding joy in this commute, even on days when I'm exhausted. I follow the "clunk, clunk" of heels in front of me, allowing early morning runners to pass along side. I glimpse up, again, at the aerobics class taking place in the open air of the park and find my inners smiling. My feet have memorized the placement of early-morning food stalls but the sight still grabs my attention. I spend an extra second looking at the sweets stall every morning. Not because I want sweets at 6am, but because they are the most beautifully decorated candies I've ever seen and I hardly believe they are edible. I, along with 100 other work-goers load onto a small boat and cross the river to the subway. I join the orderly line that has formed, voluntarily, at the subway. I no longer watch in amazement as people on the train pile out, completely, before the line begins to file in. A uniformed teenager rises from his seat without a moments hesitation so a small child, a monk or an older person can sit. This isn't a rare occurrence. Back on the street, closer to work, I pass more food stalls. The familiar scent of food overcomes me and eliminates the other smells that go along with big cities. The scent of meat and other lunch/dinner foods in the morning once turned my stomach. I now welcome it and no longer take a second look when I see someone finishing off a bowl of meat, noodles and liver at 7am. I glance up to see a woman rising from her kneeling position, slipping on her shoes, a monk reciting a blessing over her. Moments before, she had offered up alms food to the monk, first giving thanks, and then wishing her good karma onto someone else, or onto the world. Seconds later, I pass another "lady boy" and find myself staring. No at her, but at the unaffected people around her. I can't help but notice that the mothers don't pull their children closer, the elderly don't give unapproving looks, no one points, no one stares. Just another part of an amazingly accepting culture. I walk over to the first in a line of orange-jacketed men, jump on the back of his motorbike and confidently tell him my destination. The joy I get from doing this successfully would suggest it entails more then knowing "Soi 13" in Thai. It doesn't. As we weave between cars, I notice that my knuckles are no longer white, my knees no longer grasping my driver. This once incredible frightening way of getting a few blocks in a highly congested city has become a way of life. When I get to school, I'm instantly greeted with wai after wai. I find myself wai'ing back as naturally as if it were a handshake. The power of a meaningful wai is unexplainable and it took me walking into a school to feel the true respect behind it. Soon I'm greeted by the enthusiastic, innocent Thai faces that make up one of my many classes. The children accept me as if they've known me for years, some clinging on to me, some gazing at me from a distance--but all mimicking me (and my accent) exactly. We sing a song and I'm transported back to my own Kindergarten class, amazed at how unchanged the songs are. I start the day with a choral "Hello teacher J" and end the day with a choral "Goodbye teacher J" and am reminded that, while it may not be my forever, it's exactly what I want right now. I meet Nicky, my CELTA trainer/friend/wife/roomy/mother/savior at the Irish Pub at Sala Daeng
. We meet here, at Molly Malones, reluctantly. It's overpriced, has mediocre food, and is packed with farang. But the large screen of Live Olympic action can't be beat, so again, we rendezvous here for a few hours before going home. We talk about my new apartment and how we were a great team at finding the place. I think back to the several days/weeks I spent searching....
I call a potential "winner" hoping to get directions. I'm relieved that the Thai jargon is promptly followed by "press 2 for English". I find myself wondering if Thai's feel the same frustration that Americans (or Floridians!) feel when they hear "Press 1 for English". In this moment, and others like it, this simple convenience is a lifeline for me. Time after time in my search for an apartment, my English would be rebounded with Thai. I speak more slowly, directly, hoping that this time she'll understand me. She speaks more slowly, directly, in Thai, hoping that this time I'll understand her. Exchanging first glances of "what don't you understand about this", then glances of amusement and then a mutual understanding that we don't understand...and it's ok. We'll make do. And we do. Make do. When I finally find the place I want, I'm put in touch with the manager---someone who always seems to speak at least a hint of English--to work out any last details. These last details consisted of me bargaining a bit before giving the ok. I return the next day to sign, walking down my street slowly, happily looking around at my new surroundings. They were kind enough to translate the contract to English, a luxury I wasn't expecting. The 2 woman, Kik and Pha, that are there waiting for me speak a little English and the 3 of us spend time talking after the money and contract business is finished. They quickly ask for my nickname, not because they have difficulty pronouncing or remembering my full name, but because every Thai person has a given nickname (a fact that I am thankful for). They simply don't know a life without them. So, instead of telling them that I don't have a given nickname, I offer up "J", knowing that this, once again, has become my "official" nickname. They ask if a "mister" is moving in with me and I hesitate. Although that hesitation has subsided significantly over the years, it's something that a society has conditioned me to do, and the conditioning has crossed borders. I tread carefully forward. Stuttering. Finally, they come to their own conclusion that my "girlfriend" is moving in with me. And immediately, they want to know her nickname, how old she is, where she is now. I laugh at my hesitation, hoping that having yet another moment like this will continue to breakdown my own societal conditioning.

It's moments like this that remind me where I am. What a beautiful country this is. The intimidation of big cities is something that once forced me to hurry through. Hiding behind the truth that cities are...cities (no matter where they are) I would never have to face the fast-paced, different way of life. And while I don't see myself ever truly being a "city-girl", I've enjoyed what taking a deeper look has given me.

Sunday, August 3

New Pictures/Cell Phone

I got a cell phone:

Phone number is 084 553 7894
I think you put a +66 in front of that but can't be sure. I'll be rejoining the Skype/internet world shortly...in another 1-2 weeks so I'll be accessible through that. But here's the cell number for safe keeping :)

I posted some new pictures on my shutterfly account


I cut them down to stay below 200 so you aren't so overwhelmed with pics. They go along with everything written in the previous blog and then some.

Thursday, July 31

Ever been caving...BAREFOOT?!

Greetings from Pai (pronounced 'bye'), a small, hippy-town west of Chaing Mai! :)

The abridged version for Jose---who, by the way, I have connected with via Skype and webcam. It's my new favorite toy and I love seeing his sexy face and bald head on my computer from across the globe. Everyone should get Skype.

Jose, shall I do bullets? Yeah? Here goes.
(Since the last time...)

  • Headed to Vang Vieng, Laos where we booked a caving, kayaking, trekking tour. They told us to wear flip-flops...they broke because the mudd (and cow shit) swallowed them so we were barefoot most the time. We slipped and slid our way through dark caves barefoot. We braved a few mini rapids in a kayak which was heaps of fun. The bars here played FRIENDS and Simpsons (yes, in English) non-stop. Also, their menu's were VERY interesting and hilarious--I'll post a picture soon.
  • Made our way to Vientiane, Laos--the capital. Learned all about UXO (unexploded ordinances) through a very eye-opening and moving exhibit/organization called C.O.P.E. The bombs that USA dropped during the Vietnam war still litter Laos and about 80 million are left unexploded and possibly armed--making many aspects of life very dangerous for these people. Enjoyed a few drinks along the Mekong river at sunset. Braved the local bus.
  • Back to Thailand (Chaing Mai) via an overnight (13 hour) bus. Ugh. Sucked. Hardly slept at all. But at least we had seats. Some people stood for hours on end. It was an experience.
  • After a few days in CM, we loaded another "regular"bus (we laugh in the face of regular buses) and took a 4 hour (Beautiful) drive to Pai (where I now sit). We rented a SCOOTER. A PINK scooter. AND we had SEXY helmets (no worries...pics in a few days! These are blackmail pics...and I will give them free). We are IN LOVE with this place. We spent a few hours zooming around on our scooter (yes, only 1. You don't actually think I would let Rach drive, do you?!) exploring...hills, mountains, rice fields, people offering us opium (we think), waterfalls, canyons. It was nothing short of amazing. Today, we rode an elephant (my moral explantion of this to follow below)! And, it was freaking AMAZING!! Her name is Padwade---we got to feed her and ride bareback on her...then she took us to the water and threw us off. She SHOOK us off like we were flys. We won't soon (or EVER) forget this experience!
  • Rach starts school on Monday---which means I need a job. Play time is almost over (well, kinda. I'm excited to teach in a foreign country!).

And my wordy version for anyone else that wishes to continue (mommy and daddy...?!) :)

The rest of Laos was great. We spent 2 days in Vang Vieng which has a reputation for being a "party place"--drugs, alcohol and young people being crazy. We wanted to check it out anyways. It was a cute enough place--gorgeous scenary right on the river. The bars that lined the main strip all played FRIENDS and Simpsons which we found hilarious (ok, ok...so we gave in and lounged to FREINDS a few times). The first night, we walked into a deserted looking bar a bit away from the rest---mainly (okay, ONLY) b/c as we were walking by, 2 ADORABLE twin thai boys literally grabbed on to us and started swinging on us. Must have known I had SUCKER written on me. We went in and were just gonna lounge and share a drink. We ordered a "mixed rum bucket" because it was cheap and sounded good. Perhaps your seasoned drinker would know this drink would come in a (very large) bucket...but we were none the wiser. DUH!! Oops. Good thing we like to share! There were a few locals next to us who we started to mingle with---and through them got to try a few shots of their locally made rice whiskey. Good, strong stuff! We got to know the owner of the place a bit, Addy--he beat me in a game of pool and practiced his English on us for a bit. We wound up making him some CD's (music can make or break these places!) the next day---he thanked us with...another bucket. Thanks Addy. We headed out (ánother bucket' came AFTER this) for our kayaking, caving, trekking trip expecting a nice little day adventure. Boy were we right! The woman assured us that wearing sandals (reefs) was the way to go. Okay. It took us about 2 minutes into the trek (guides dictionary: TREK--walking and/or wading through deep, slippery mud and cow poo so we can laugh at people who were stupid enough to wear sandals) to realize this was NOT the way to go! We "trekked"over/around rice fields which was actually kind of great...especially after Rach totally slipped and covered herself in mud (haha...cow poo). By this point, we were both barefoot walking through who-knows-what trying not to fall into the Rice. Every now and then we looked up at the scenary, but for the most part, the scenary consisted of where our next step would be. BUT, we were cracking up the whole time. When we got to the other side, we were relieved. Stupid us. Next? CAVES!! The only light we had was the one attatched to our heads---and, as we would discover, these don't do much good if your ass down most the time. The caves were crazy. And, we were BAREFOOT. Our guide says "isokayisokay" as we looked questionably at our barefeet, at him, at the makeshift ladder (with exposed nailes) in front of us, at the mudd and slippery rocks ahead. Well, if isokay, then isokay. Off we go. Rach, me and 2 irish girls (also with sandal issues) took up the rear. We had our own laughing party, taking turns laughing at who ever fell next. Every now and then, it was a really good fall---you know, one that causes you to slide down a few feet, get completely COVERED in mudd, and make a loud "thud/slpash" when you land in the muddy puddle at the bottom--thus resulting in the applause of fellow (clean) cavers. Hey, at least we got a good lunch and would get to clean off while kayaking! Ry, you would be proud of my kayaking! So the rapids weren't big (grade 1) but they were still RAPIDS!!! And I did it :)! We didn't even fall!! The tour wasn't everything that we hoped it would be (I hate organized tours!) but we definitely got a good laugh...or 1000 good laughs. If you are wondering where the "party" reputation comes in, it has to do with all the make-shift bars that line the river. Foreigners go tubing down river, stopping at the bars along the way. And, when you see a picture of the menu from a regular bar in this place, you'll understand more (but think drugs...on the menu)! Our next stop was Vientiane (the capital). We went to a place called Buddha Park which was full of larger-than-life Buddha (and other) statues. It was beautiful! Also visited the oldest wat, the main stupa (representing Buddhism and Lao soverginity), and a Revolutinary War monument (known as the vertical runway b/c it was made with cement dontated from the US for a new airport). Had some good food and enjoyed the views/sunset from the Mekong river. This is where we visited COPE and learned all about UXO. (If you want to learn more about this, email me---I'm very moved by it all and would love to talk about it!). Our trip to Laos came to a close and we took a 2.5 hour bus across the boarder to Thailand (stopping by the bus-load to sort out passport/visa stuff which, other than the heat, was easy as). There is a bridge contecting the 2 countries (the Friendship Bridge built recently) and as we crossed it, our driver had to change the side he was driving on. In Laos, they drive on the right (like us) and in Thailand, on the left. It was crazy thinking how much concentration that must take to switch back and forth like that! In order to get back to Chaing Mai, we had to take a 13 hour over-night bus. This was quite the experience! We decided to go for the cheaper option (we didn't need VIP!). Opps. The bus stopped what felt like every 10 mintues to pick people up or drop them off. And there were people standing in the isles nearly the whole journey (mind you, not the SAME people the entire time!)---and just like that my leg room was gone! Not to mention that the roads were incredibly windey and bumpy...so even if we wanted to sleep, there was something about being THROWN back and forth that kinda of prevented the zzzz from taking over. But another Thai experience that we won't soon forget! A few relaxng days in Chaing Mai before heading here, to Pai. The bus journey here was great! The scenary was amazing and though it's only 122 km from CM, it took over 4 hours (that should tell you a little about the landscape). It didn't take long for us to fall in love. Everything is beautiful around here---and the town is so layed back (if not very hippy-ish). We are staying in a "bungalow" :). Yesterday, we rented a scooter so we could explore the surrounding areas (Pai is very small). They gave us a PINK scooter!!! How'd they know that was my favorite color?!!! And to go with it, we got sexy green helmets. I'm sorry, I don't care who you are, there ain't NO way to make this look hot!! haha. I wasn't sure what to expect when renting this here scooter---I don't have an ïnternational drving license" and have never driven one of these things (or it's been a LONG time). Well. Apparently, they just wanted to see my passport. Didn't even make us wear helmets (no, that was the mom in me that decided we would look better with these goofy helmets then with smashed heads!). Didn't even give us a lesson (nope, my pride took a break and allowed me to ask some girly tourist for a lesson). Didn't even require insurance (nope, for ONCE in my life I was ALL OVER buying that optional insurance). Just passport, keys, off you go. Haha. They looked easy. haha. But they really looked easy. haha. HOW THE HELL DO PEOPLE RIDE THESE THINGS WITH BABIES ON THEIR HIPS?! Okay, so I got the hang of it...and by today, I was all over the scooter driving---but I wish I had a video of us riding our hot pink scooter down the left side of the road for the first few mintues. Please jsut picture it. Then multiple whatever you pictured by about 10. That was me and rach on this scooter for the first few mintues!! Once we got comfy though, it was AMAZING!! We explored everything around here and I felt like I was in a movie (so what if the movie was Dumb and Dumber). The scenary was amazing and we were so...free! We loved every mintue. While exploring, we passed a place that came recommened by a friend--"Joy's elephant riding". Elephant riding is a big thing here---from day 1 I would have loved to do one of those elephant riding tours---but morally, I couldn't bring myself to fall into the tourist trap. Most places treat the elephants like crap and over work them...just so they can make a buck. As much as I thought it would be an awesome experience, I didn't want to support it. So when I heard about this place...and then we passed it, I had to check it out. This woman, Joy, has 1 elephant that she rescued. She keeps her during the day and brings her to the jungle at night (not sure how she gets her back...!). It's so obvious how much she loves this thing. She only allows her to do 2 rides per day---enough to pay to feed her. When we stopped by, Joy introduced us to Padwade (the elephant that we are now in love with) and gave us a huge bag of fruit (from her garden and trees) to feed her. We loved it and made a reservation for today. Not sure of our Mahoot's name (the guy in command of this massive creature) but he was awesome! It was just me, him and Rach right on the back (not on one of those seats they use at zoos) of Padwade. Then, mahoot got off and led her from the floor--it was CRAZY! You could feel the strength of this thing--and swaying back and forth was a bit more scary then I had imagined! He led us right down to the water...where Padwade would get to "play"! haha. SANUK!!!! (Thai for Fun). The whole while, Mahoot was standing back laughing and taking pics. We were so unsuspecting (I was thinking a little spray of water from the trunk)...a few grumbles/grunts from mahoot, and padwade was sitting in the river. Still unsuspecting but holding on a little tighter. Smiling away (the pictures outline this fabulously...I'll post them ASAP). A few more grunts and BAM....Padwade is LAYING sideways in the water and we are soaked!!! All good times. We got situatied back on Padwade (which was A LOT of work!) just in time for more grunts (not to mention curious grins from mahoot). This time?! Padwade is SHAKING us off her as if we were flys!!! We did our best to hang on for a bit...but trying to hang on to a 2 ton animal who has nothing to hold on to...while she is shaking like crazy...is near impossible! We went FLYING into the water!!! We were LOVING it!! We continued to play in the water for a bit longer before making our way back---got to feed her some more and fell in love even more. More in love with her, more in love with Pai. A perfect end to a perfect trip (of a trip that has really just begun...!).

Love and kisses....

Friday, July 25

A few visuals....descriptions at the end

1) An example of what I see EVERYWHERE. Rice-paddy fields galore.
2) Kuang Si falls--pictures don't come close to doing it justice. We got to climb right into it. Amazing.
3) Tat Sae falls--reminded us of Dunn's River in Jamaica
4) An example of the scenary on our 2 day boat journey. Think those huts stand a chance in a storm?
5) Hmmm...one of the many "bridges" we walked across at the falls. Bridges here have put "swing bridges" to shame....
6) Our crowded boat--the one we were on for 14+ hours. We were a big happy family!
7)These are the boats that take people up and down the Mekong for hours on end...haha...LOVE IT
8) Crossing in the "ferry" from Thailand to Laos

Monday, July 21

Just Rolling Down the (Mekong) River

Greetings! :) First, to the mother--I didn't inform you of this trip BEFORE becuase I wanted to save you the worry...so now that I'm safe n sound, here goes!

(As I type this, I'm sitting in a cafe with a mosquito the size of my hand hanging out behind me. Remembering I was just living by 8 precepts that told me NOT to kill, I'm leaving the dang thing alone...)

So, 2 bus rides, a 2-day boat trip, and a handful of anti-malarial pills later, Rachel and I find ourselves in Luang Probang, Laos. We decided to hop the boarder a few days ago and make the most of the 2-3 weeks we have. So, we boarded a fancy-dancy bus (I only call it that b/c of what follows...) in Chiang Mai and took a 5 hour bus ride to Chaing Rai. It was an easy ride with beautiful scenary to keep our attention. There were more rolling green hills and mountains then I expected and more rice-paddy fields then I knew existed! Once we got to Chaing Rai, we boarded a "regular" bus for the 3 hour journey to the boarder of Thailand and Laos. THIS bus ride was all about the...uh...experience! Think school bus...maybe from like the 70's or 80's. Then, pile WAY too many people on it (rach and I were sharing a regular size seat with another) and then drive it over some awesomingly bumpy and unsealed (only at times..!!) roads...and THEN, continually stop to pick up MORE people....and there you have it. Instant Thai experience! Once we got to the boarder, we sorted our visas (easy as!) and boarded a "ferry" to cross the Mekong River (thus going from Chiang Khong, Thailand to Huay Xui, Laos). Now...this "ferry"...hmmm...how does one describe a few pieces of wood?? Pictures will follow when the internet is faster! We crashed at a guest house in Huay Xui for the night and got our first taste of "Laos time" and the the pace of life in these parts. We stayed here before boarding a "slow boat"...which we knew would be a 2 day adventure. About 7 hours, a night stay in a village, and another 7ish hours the next day. From what we had read, we knew the boat would be a bit uncomfortable...but we also knew that it was meant to be great views....and really, how many people can say they've floated down the Mekong River?! A bit about the boat. Mmmm, well...pictures would prolly do best to describe it. But erase any image you may have about a boat that was taking us down a river for 14 hours. It was small...well, maybe even tiny considering the number of people on it. There were hard, wooden benches big enough for 1...for 2 (on day 2 we scored some car seats that were put in the back...you may never know the full benefit and awesomeness of this!). The boat iteself was probably made by the young village kids...and the motor...well, the motor....was prolly made by them too. It was a pretty easy decision for us, but due to the rains (oh yeah..it's been raining off and on since we left Thailand), many other backpackers who were meant to get on the boat with us, opted to go by bus. I decided that I like my odds of having a chance to swim if we flipped...over the alternative in a bus (since when do heavy rains mean driving is a better idea?! Put me in the river!). The boat trip was...well, pretty great. The views were beautiful, the rains stayed pretty well away, and the time flew by. Not to mention that the stay over in the village was far from the scary thing we were expecting! We loved it there! Anyhoo, we have since run into those people that opted for the bus ride...and we made the right decision..the bus turned out to be a 15 hour nightmare.

So, here we are in Luang Probang--an adorable, quaint little city that lays on the Mekong River. We are staying in an amazing guesthouse and eating amazing food! We decided to SPLURGE on our guesthouse...a whooping $7.50...AND on a delicious and huge French-ish dinner (this part of the country is known to have a "french ghost" and, for instance, baguettes line every street) for a crazy 10 bucks. We went to a waterfall today and will be going to another tomorrow. Our plan so far is to head south to Vang Vieng and then to Vientiene before making our way back to Chaing Mai.

Not to alarm the parentals but I figured it's better if you know that I'm aware. If you have been hearing about the Mekong River floods in the news know that we are fine (and have yet to see the effects)....there was some talk of things south of here getting pretty flooded...so, we are doing all necessary research and taking necessary precautions before moving forward. I'll keep you guys posted but Internet in Laos (along with everything else) is SLOW! So don't be alarmed if you don't hear from me for a bit. Hope all is well on the home front!!

PS. Did I mention that I LOVE Laos so far?! So much so that I think I'll be job searching when we get to the bigger city!!

Saturday, July 12

10 days with me, myself and...Johnathon

1) Meditation grounds (and my home) by night 2) Yep, I'm as exhausted as I look

3) Aw, she IS that cute!!

4) everytime I looked down, someone was there (I think it was the white!)

Hello!! I just spent 10 days living at a wat with the monks n nuns...doing an intensive meditation retreat. I apologize for the length of this....but a girl hasn't spoken in 10 days...so let me blab....

A word about vipassana: introspective meditation that offers insight to the 4 aspects of human life--mind, body, feelings, and mind objects (much like feelings). It is the realization (or belief...) that everything mental and physical is Anicca, (meaning impermanent), Dukkha (suffering), and Anatta (non-self). Basically, everything has a cause and effect...and unless we learn to understand that, and cut the cause (when needed), it all ends in suffering. (i.e. if we have a happy feeling, we like it, we want more, we become attatched...which eventually leads to our suffering when we can no longer have that). It puts a focus on the present moment...encouraging learners to identify (or name) everything that comes up during meditation, and then release it out and return to the present moment. And, of course, it focuses on the idea of kamma (which is the Pali word for Karma).
---there is a crap load of info on this...so if you are truly interested, look it up. This is a tiny little chunk.

A word about my day to day:
For 10 days, I didn't speak, didn't eat solid foods after noon, spent a ridiculous amount of time in a meditative walk or sit, didn't listen to music, didn't read, and lived by 8 "precepts".

Now, when I say I didn't speak, that's not entirely true. Everyday, I would report to my teacher (enter, Johnathon) and we would talk for 10-15 minutes about how it was going. I imagine him to be something like a psychologist. I would report all my feelings, how my "practice" was going... and had he not been accustomed to this, he would have thought I was bipolar. On day 5, I had a 2 minute conversation (I know this because I had a timer attached to me at all times) with another international student. So, I can't say that I didn't speak....but lets just say that this puts the "day of silence" (a gay-awareness thing we used to do at Rice) to shame.

When I say a "ridiculous amount of time", I mean that. We woke at 4am, ate breakfast at 6am, lunch at 11am, had a 15 minute meeting with Johnathon somewhere in between, and went to bed at 10pm. The rest of the time was dedicated to us...being with us...and meditating. On day 1, I started with a 5 minute walk and a 5 minute sit. By day 10, I was walking for 60 minutes and sitting for 60 minutes (multiple times a day....20 minute break between 'sets'). The walk is done incredibly slowly...think 20 yards in 20 minutes. Also, we name EVERYTHING we do or feel. (for the walk...."heel up, lifting, moving, putting"). In between meditations..."walking, opening, closing, brushing, angry, frustrated, laying, eating, tasting, seeing"....etc, etc.

A word about my living situation:
Accommodation was basic...and really, I can't complain too much. But lets just say that the 'bed' brought the meaning of uncomfortable to entirely different level. On day 1, I hated my cold shower. By day 3, it was my best friend. By day 6, I discovered there actually was a bit of hot water if you waited long enough (I hope that you can see me laughing out loud when I discovered this). One of the 8 precepts was "kill no living being" (these 8 precepts....no killing, no wrong speech, no laying on high bed, no sexual activity, no wrong eating, no stealing, no alcohol/drugs, no dancing, music, singing or beautifying self) were in place to avoid bad kamma (karma)....therefore, I simple had to say "goodnight" to the little (no...not little) spider that lived above my bed...and hope that when I stumbled to the bathroom in the middle of the night that the little (nope...not little) spider that lived there was tucked away happily under the shelf. Now, I'm not usually one to kill living things anyway...but sometimes with spiders, I could make an exception. Not this time. I haven't discovered any spider bites yet...cheers to that good karma.

A word about my experience:
I can't really get into details...anyone who has done anything like this, (or who wants to do something like this) knows (or will discover) that everyone has their own experiences. It effects everyone differently....and I don't want my experiences to shape your ideas of vipassana in any way. I will, however, give you this:
On the best day (there was only 1 of these), I felt as if I weighed 5 pounds...I was skipping, smiling ear to ear, meditating painlessly for hours (when I say hours...I mean 40 walking, 40 sitting....20 minute break....40/40, etc.). On the worst days (yes, there were many of these...but particularly day 5 and day 10), I could have screamed, could have left, could have broken something....it was excruciating...and I don't hesitate AT ALL to use that word. Along with any internal feelings (not that I have some hidden, deep anger issues...mostly it's the effects of the course...being alone 24 hours a day, etc), I had an onslaught of physical stuff. I became a bit intestinally challenged...and I believe something like this crossed my mind "no way I've been in Thailand for 2 months and NOW...NOW I'm gonna get a spurt of TD? When I'm supposed to be sitting on my ass for 12 hours a day? COME ON!". Also, I became so insanely itchy that I was sure the damn cat that I stupidly (yes, I'm angry at myself and speaking to myself this way...oh, and of course naming...."angry, angry, angry") let jump on my "bed" gave me fleas. My skin broke out and felt disgusting...and before I went to sleep on day 5, I believe I said something like this "AHHHHH. I HATE THIS PLACE. WHAT THE F***. THIS STUPID BED. IT'S NOT EVEN A BED. STUPID SPIDER...I HOPE YOU DIE. STUPID CAT....YOU'RE NOT EVEN THAT CUTE. I THOUGHT THIS MEDITATION S*** WAS MEANT TO BE GOOD FOR ME!!!!" (oh..."angry, angry, angry"...."suppressing, suppressing, suppressing", "irate, irate, irate".....). Haha. My next day with Johnathon, I explained my anger...my frustration...my wanting to leave...my thinking this was stupid....it wasn't working...and, to my surprise, Mr. freakin Johnathon came alive. Clapped his hands, smiled ear to ear, and said YES!!! YES!!! NOW you are seeing it. Mmmm...ok. If you say so dude. Then he asks...."how have you been feeling physically? Do you feel itchy? Does your skin feel greasy? Any nausea or diarrhea? Uhhhh....ok, creep ass. Yes, yes and yes. Can you explain now? Apparently....the meditation does this. It "wrings the body out"...if you will. Now, if he would have told me this AFTER I explained my 'conditions', I would have been like "yah...ok...whatever"....I didn't say a word. I felt better that all that was normal...and I believe it was day 6 that was my "best" day. Overall, it was up and down. With the ups averaging somewhere around neutral and the downs averaging somewhere around...well, hell. I didn't enjoy it...but I wasn't really expecting to. I learned stuff, but am not some "enlightened" being after 10 days. I haven't been brain-washed or mentally/physically scarred. The people closest to me may notice a slight difference...but other than that, it was more so just an eye-opening experience. Not something that I can change from just yet....just something I can choose to be more aware of. Obviously, it all goes much deeper than this...they couldn't have possibly taught me all there is to know in 10 days...and I can't possibly tell you in a blog everything I learned in 10 days....the meaning and reasoning behind everything. Why we "name" everything...why Johnathon said that I was "seeing it" after day 5...why I would possible do this to myself...why it's so important to be alone and not talk (and the true effect that has on you)...the intense feelings of "boredom" and what that can do to you....the understanding of the present moment...and how it allows you to let a lot of things go while also understanding they may come back (that idea of annica....imperamance)...the idea of accepting the fear, anger, worry and appreciating the good moments without getting caught on them....

I will give you my first experience being back in the "real world". When I got home (Spicy Thai...), I was SO excited to be here (or to be OUT of there). I talked to Saaw (1 of the chicas that works here) forever, sat on the computer forever, and decided I wanted a PIZZA...a whole one just for ME (you see...all these things I couldn't have before...). So, I had one of the girls order me one...I just pointed to a pretty picture...it looked good and I was sure I could eat the whole dang thing (come on...you have all seen me eat pizza before. And I had it from this place before...the large is quite small...and it's good). Even as I was doing this, I was saying BAD you!! Wanting, wanting, wanting....not a good path Janelle....cut the cause, cut the cause. I didn't. The pizza got here. He handed it to me and I nearly dropped it...it must have weighed 5 pounds. That's just gotta be gross. Then, the bill. It was 500 baht...which is officially, the single biggest transaction I've made since I've been in Thailand. I ate 2 slices. I feel ill. This, according to vipassana would be named "suffering, suffering, suffering"....my happy feeling of being here, led to wanting pizza, led to wanting a WHOLE pizza, led to a huge bill (13 dollars) and a stomach ache....I thus, created my own suffering. And the karma I let out by wanting, wanting, wanting came right back to me...! Now, this may seem like common sense, but you don't really realize how much it truly effects our lives, our relationships, our thoughts....and how hard it is to change...until you sit with it it....and sit with it....and walk with it....and sit with it......

Rachel will be here in 2 days....and, even through my exhaustion that makes me jump up and down!!

Saturday, June 28

School's Out :)


Hello all!! Just a quick one to say I'm DONE!! The 4 weeks FLEW by and it's been great. Definitely exhausting at times, but not nearly as difficult as I had anticipated (shhh). Most of our group are heading to a guesthouse in the city. We are on a pizza mission!! We'll have one last hurray together before going our separate ways. I'll be in touch soon in more detail. But the phone number and address given previously are now null n void :). I've signed up for Skype. My name is janelle.crowley. So add me if you have it, and if you don't, be expecting a call soonish!


Saturday, June 7

"Thank you teacher"

Between my last blog and now, I blinked a few times and it was over. A week, 2 (observed) lessons and an armful of classes later, here I am...the weekend! Taking the advice of those that have come before me and taking some time away from my work for some of the weekend. A few of us went into the city today. Got a massage (yep...correctional facility!) did some washing, and found the best store (thanks to Jane) ever. It's called Tesco...and I guess it's comparative to a Walmart or super target. I got some "teacher clothes" (those are kinda like airplane clothes ;) ) and genuinely enjoyed shopping for them!

As for the week. It's been amazing. It's been challenging, exhausting and terrifying. Classes aren't quite as tedious as I expected and it's more "controlled free thinking" with the other trainees that anything else. And the day is well broken up with "tea and biscuit" breaks and meals...which will start to show on this body very soon if I don't watch myself (portions here are crazy big...3 times a day). I taught on Wednesday and Friday...both times I was so nervous I was nearly sick to my stomach...but both times I did great...and I've already come to love it. I'm shocked that I'm able to forget the fact that I've being observed (by peers and my trainer) and just 'do my thing'. I get so nervous on my "teaching days" that I have to play with my pocket knife to keep my hands from shaking (hmmm...prolly not the best idea!)...but I also get so damn excited. Everyday this week, I've woken up with the feeling that I'm absolutely living this life to the fullest...which is an amazing feeling. The work load is definitely doable...but it's non-stop. I have less time to procrastinate here then I did in college. I think it definitely adds to it that others are counting on me...so if nothing else, I owe it to my class to be prepared. I literally work from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed...and I love that right now. Apparently week 3 gets really tough...so if I'm complaining then , remind me of this blog! I don't know if I'm "in my element" while I'm teaching or if it's just the newness feeling...but either way, I absolutely love it. I feel like I'm transported when I'm up there and there is something about it that makes every inch of my being smile. Any uncertainies I had about coming here, any feelings of uneasyness or loneliness have been replaced by so many other feelings....and the sound of "thank you teacher" followed by lots of thai smiles reminds me that this is one of the best decisions I've made. Obviously, I have no idea where I go from here and I'm still taking it 1 day at a time....but I just thought I'd spread my happiness along...how ever short or long lived it may be! But for now, in the words of one Kenny Chesney, I feel like I'm french kissing life!

As for my fellow trainees, we've all bonded...even if we may not necessarily 'hang out' outside of here. It's a very supportive environment and everyone is rooting for each other. There are MANY different ways of thinking...which can get frustrating at times. Especially since the majority of things are group activites...but I know that is just preparing us to work with others (perhaps future collegues or bosses) who may not necessarily see eye to eye with us. We eat together, live together, school together, and have to criticize and encourage each other...it's challenging at times but uplifting at others.

That's all for now! I think I've had my share of "no work" time today and have to get back to it! Love to all.

Sunday, June 1

School has begun...almost

‘Ello! I found myself a great clan (even if it was only temporary) consisting of 2 Canadians, a girl from Switzerland, and a British girl. A few nights ago we went out with a few others for a night of Bowling!! Noom had offered a free nights stay to anyone who could beat him. I came surprisingly close to doing so but in the end, he pulled an upset and beat me by 1 pin! Damn!! But I did win myself a t-shirt! Hey, I’ll take it! Clothes are good! J All in all, bowling was a blast! They had the black lights on and Noom made sure we were all ready by giving us ‘war paint’ (chalk for your hands…glows under the black lights. Thus, doubles as face war paint quite well!) and booze and away we went. The first 2 rounds were all business. The 3rd round was judged on creativity! So, If you see the pictures on shutterfly, you’ll understand why we are floating through the air! The most popular was pushing the ball with your hands and giving a final push while flying forward. We also spun ourselves in circles, went backwards, kicked and walked it down the lane. And Esther bowled it across 3 lanes. Impressive. What was MOST impressive was the fact that the Thai’s are so laid back that they just laughed along with us…instead of kicking us out! All the while, there was English rap music blasting…and we were trying to figure out if the rest of the people there knew the words! I don’t think they did! After that, everyone was pumped up so Noom drove us (I did mention that he’s a fabulous taxi driver, right?) to a bar/club…we were the only Western faces in there and we got lots of smiles and looks. We stuck around long enough for the band to come on…which I THINK was a punk-rock cover band. Punk-rock by the clothes, actions and overall beat of the songs…and cover band b/c everyone was singing along. But it was all in Thai…so what do I know? They were quite good though….even though I didn’t understand a damn word! The next day I took a Thai cooking class (along with 2 others from the clan) and made (and ate) heaps of food! Chicken in coconut milk soup, cashew chicken stir fry, red curry, pad thai, spring rolls and our chef/teacher showed us how to make jasmine rice (perfectly), sticky rice, sticky rice with mango, and papaya salad. I was stuffed to say the least! Before we started cooking, we got a market tour and were taught a bit about different herbs, veggies, etc…which was actually quite helpful. We got to play with fire…which was cool…cooler that I still have my eyebrows! Not sure how the big bro did that for so long! It was hot, hot, hot! Got a thai massage yesterday at the women’s correctional facility! Awesome!! Haha…I was a little uneasy going to the correctional facility but it came well recommended. It was fabulous! And if I think it was only 6 bucks, it was SUPER fabulous!! We had a big hostel night out last night. Went to a place called The Riverside which had 2 awesome bands—both of which had male and female singers (who sung in English) so they had lots of variety! It was jammed packed with locals and appeared to have great food. I ventured away from Thai and ordered a pizza….note to self: when in Thailand, don’t order pizza! It wasn’t horrible…but it was no Sal’s! After dinner (and lots of drinking for everyone else) we ALL piled into a pick-up truck taxi…there were about 20 of us….piled in…with 3 of us hanging off the back of the truck (there is a small stool/rack thingie)…I was playing the role of “don’t let the drunk girl in front of you fall into the street”…good times! Jim was taking us to sing karaoke. I had an image in my head…you know, bar scene….people on stage singing. Nope. Turns out that in Thailand, karaoke means renting out a room with a tv and 2 mics….and singing your heart out with your friends/group. Well…this particular room was made for MAYBE 6-7 people….small, small! Again…20 something of us….singing at the top of our lungs! The room was shaking! I was the first one back to the hostel and it was past 2am….lets just say the house was very quiet when I woke up this morning!

Sooo….I’m now at Nugent Waterside where my course is taking place. There are 8 of us total…4 of which are couples….lots of places represented (Canada, aussie, england, iran, whales)…but none of whom I’ve quite connected with to be honest. I’m sure we’ll get to know each other a bit better…but so far, I don’t get a warm fuzzy feeling from any of them! Not that it matters…just sayin’! So, the place is kind of great. It’s far from anything….and I’m already having an issue b/c apparently we start TEACHING on Tuesday…yeah, I TOTALLY missed that fine print! Really thought we would have some time before getting in front of a class! The “issue’ is that I didn’t really bring any teaching clothes with me…I was planning to go shopping once I was settled and knew more about this place….so now I have very little time to find clothes…and not many places to find them! I’ll prolly make due with what I have (we have to teach bare foot so shoes aren’t an issue….score!) until this weekend. Aside from that, the rooms are much better then I expected. Roomy, modern, clean…big bed, great bathroom/shower…and a western toilet (as opposed to a squatting toilet!)….it’s nicer/bigger then my college dorm room…and I’m in there alone…so I think If I managed (and loved it) at Rice, I think I can manage here! Getting a bit nervous about the start of things tomorrow…and even more nervous that I actually have to teach on Tuesday…but not much I can do about it! Sooo, Gonna do a bit of research and get settled in until dinner. Class everyday is from 11:30-8pm. I have a phone in my room…but it’s touch and go. As is Internet. Depending on the intensity of things, I may or may not be in regular contact for the next month! But seems like we should have weekend pretty well free.

You can give my phone a whirl…keeping in mind that it may or may not work…and if it does, I will only be in my room before 11:30am and after 9pm during the week…and sometimes not even then! But, if you managed to catch me, I’d be delighted J The number is +66 (0) 53 441503 (which will apparently put you through to some kind of answering machine/service…and then you dial my room number) 116

Wish me luck…I’m off to attempt bonding with my classmates!

Wednesday, May 28

It's a Small World Afterall!

Ihave to start this by sharing my small world story! 1 night after I got to my new hostel, a group of us were out to dinner casually talking. I hadn't yet met the girl across from me so we introduced ourselves (Kristen) and it wasn't long before we were staring at each other in disbelief...she graduated from Rice in 07...2 years after me. Although I didn't reconize her straight away, we did know of each other in school. She was actually close friends with Kelly...which is even crazier! What are the chances!

ANYHOO... After my last blog, I relocated to Spicy Thai backpackers b/c I just wasn't feeling the other hostel. As soon as I pulled up, I couldn't help but smile. "Noom", the young owner who opened the place about 2 years ago came out front to greet me and instantly made me feel at home. It's in a converted house, with common "shoes off", "self-clean up" type rules, in a quiet neighboor and is full at all hours with fun backpackers keen to do anything. The first day here, I had a lazy day. Watching House episodes with some others and studying. That night, I went out to dinner with 2 Scottish guys I met and enjoyed one the best nights (weather wise) since I've been here. (Not that weather has been bad...but it was nice and cool). Sunday morning, there was a hostel trip planned to a Wat (Wat Doi Suthep) and a Lake. A few of us loaded up the SpicyThai truck and headed up the windey roads to the Wat. Noom gave us the history (and 'wat edicate') and I'm convinced we had the best tour of the whole lot (b/c Noom not only runs this place, he's a crazy fun taxi driver, tour guide and all around entertainer!). The Wat was beautiful and I still can't get over the extravant designs and gold finishings. I got a monk blessing and am super excited to explore this Buddist culture further (am thinking of doing a meditation retreat once my class is over). We headed back to the hostel to pick up the late-risers before heading to the Lake. Although the lake was a far cry from the clear waters that the pictures show (the clear waters are in Southern Thailand), it had a beautiful view of the mountains...and the tiny huts along the edges are a great local hangout...offereing shade, food, and drinks. Noom started off ordering some food for us all...and I couldn't help but notice the grin on his face. When the bowl of "dancing shrimp" came, it all made sense...live shrimp---a Thai favorite. After Noom shook 'em up to get them nice and spiced, he took a spoonful for himself and then offered them to us farangs (foreigners). While I couldn't bring myself to take a whole spoonful, I gave it a whirl! Why not! I have to say...they were pretty tasty (or the spices that covered them were anyways)...though, that wasn't the first word that came to mind when I pulled an antenna from my mouth a few seconds after I swollowed the poor guy down! After spending a few hours at the lake eating, swimming, playing frisbee, etc, etc, we made our way back to the truck and I got to ride rooftop!! The pictures will give you a clear picture but there is a rack on the top of the truck...4 people are allowed up top and it's AWESOME!! Mom and GG...stop reading...but we sat up there, holding on to the rack bars as Noom went over bumps, around circles and under tree branches in the park! Of course the particular branch he went under was loaded with red ants...so for the next few minutes, Lus and I were frantically trying to flick the ants off of each other and off the roof (as were driving down the normal road now!)! Hilarious. Driving in Thailand is interesting enough...I have yet to figure out why there are lines painted on the roads...no one pays attention to those. SO, riding rooftop was an entirely crazy experience! When we got back home, it was a mad rush for the showers before loading up the truck again and heading to the night market (not to be confused with the night bizaar). It was an adorable strip of vendors selling beautiful things...unfortunately, we only got to walk around for about 5 mintues before there was a mad scamble...the rain came with little warning so we followed suit and found selter with the rest of the crowds. It wasn't long before the rain was a full on monsoon....the lights went out and water was rushing everywhere...but just as quickly as it came, the rain past....but not in time for us to stick around. It was off to dinner with the group and then bed...which, on that particular night was the couch! Yep...the couch! The beds were all previously booked up before I showed up here...so they offered me (and 4 others that night) a place on the couch or in the living room! It was like a college sleep over! So fun! The next morning, I met Danielle and Lena at the airport and our whirlwind adventure began. After we settled on a "family vehicle" b/c the jeep that Dan reserved was taken, we headed off to do a scenic loop of Northern Thailand. Turns out we did a scenic loop of the city first...about 3 times! 3 smart cookies and we couldn't find the roads we needed! By the end of the trip, we realized it was the maps (we are pretty sure they are made up as a joke) and not our horrible sense of direction! We eventually got on the right roads and were headed off to Chiang Doa....passing lots of beautiful mountains, rice fields, wats and villages on the way. We made a stop in Chiang Doa to get some "ahaun" (food) and had a blast putting my Thai phrasebook to use! Outside of the city, English speakers are rare so we really had to manage...which we did quite well. I have to say, there is nothing more satisfying that successfully communicating! After our roadside lunch (a pork and noodle stew), we headed to the caves...complete with our lantern and tour guide, the 3 of us made our way through the bat-filled caves...often crawling though spaces in which our tour guide would say "too small" then immediately start making her way through! Oh, the beauty of language barriers! We carried on driving after the caves, occassionally stopping to take in the sights....which many times consisted of small, adorable children that I wanted to kidnap....and occassionally rolling very slowly through road checks/blocks....even though no one seemed interested in stopping us...we didn't want to upset the small men with the big guns so we gave them plenty of time to wave us down as we passed! We made it back to our hotel around 11:30 that night and took off the next morning for Doi Inthanon National Park...another scenic route (mountains and waterfalls) up to the highest peak in Thailand. The road that we took to our next destination was hardly a road...and I commend Dan's "4-wheel driving in a 2-wheel drive vehicle" skills! It was actually scary at times...and we were unsure if the road would just vanish at any moment. But, we made it out safe and sound and I have now become familiar with the Thai maps, roads, and signs....or lack thereof! It was great to see Dan and Lena and was awesome to get out of the city for a bit. I came home last night in time to go to an all-you-can-eat Thai BBQ with the hostel clan...which was crazy interesting! Rows and rows of cooked food, raw food, veggies, meats, fruits...a small charcoal cooker between a few people which you use to cook the meat (and other things that may or may not have been cooked already!). You fill the outer edges with water which eventually becomes a very tasty brooth...and enjoy! Not sure what's on the schedule for the next few days...maybe a Thai cooking class...maybe riding elephants...maybe just studying....maybe soccer with Noom and other locals...but surely more entertaining times with Spicy thai backpackers and staff!

My first:
Taste of "dancing shrimp", pork intestine, Banana pancake, Leechi fruit, waffle wrapped banana (on a stick), roadside cafe meal (x2)
encounter with a squatting toilet (see pictures)
Thai BBQ
Monk blessing
Wat tour
Roadside Elephant sighting
Monsoon (x2)

Successfully communicated (in Thai...not gestures):
Toliet, Cave, yes, no, right & left (direction), food, pork, chicken, thank you, hello, how much
Will attempt loading pictures onto my shutterfly in a few minutes: http://www.janellecrowley.shutterfly.com/
Love to all!

Friday, May 23


Josh and I in the tuk-tuk taxi

Sorry it's taken me so long to get out an "I'm fine" out...but I'm alive, well and loving it. Well, except for the fact that I just typed an entire blog post and lost it. Ugh! Let's see. Got a train to JFK airport at 8am wedneday. Took a few deep breaths on the way...more so because I thought I Should be nervous! Wasn't long before the guy in front of me at check in started talking to me...Wanye--came to Thailand over 20 years ago, fell in love and now holds residency. He quieted any fears I may have had and totally put me at ease. A few more deep breaths in line to board the plane but as soon as I hit the jet way (or gangway...or whatever it's called), it was all smiles! I had to keep myself from jumping up and down and running down the jet way! And once I boarded, the giddyness just intensified! The crew was so friendly, smiley and welcoming! And the plane and the crews' uniforms were SO colorful...how can you NOT smile?! I didn't sleep a wink on the plane and am not sure how I'm functioning right now! The plane ride flew by (no pun intended :) ) despite my inbility to sleep. Watched a few movies, learned Thai (they had a berlitz language game on the personal screen...how cool!), studied and ate! The native next to me was very friendly and helped me with my Thai pronounciation...and gave me her contact info insisiting that I call if I need help. I spoke with the girl across the isle towards the end of the flight...again, very friendly. She took my contact info and wants me to work (teach english) for her family business once I'm done with the course. What?! Not even landed yet and have a tenative job offer?! Sweet! Wayne was waiting for me when we landed and walked with me to our connecting flight (yes, we were on the same connecting flight!) and gave me his contact info in case I need anything! I PASSED OUT on the quick flight to Chiang Mai (CM) but was woken for my snack (they definitely don't let you sleep through meals!) and in time to see the beauitful landscape below. The sun was setting over the mountains as we were landing and I knew right away I picked the right city. I overheard an English guy (josh) behind me looking for a hostel so I introduced myself and invited him to come along to this hostel. Getting through "customs" was boarderline a joke...not sure why I was so worried about that! The hostel wasn't waiting at the airport so Josh and I jumped in a taxi and paid a crazy $2 for the ride! The hostel is more than doable...big bed, my own bathroom/shower, ac--though despite what I heard, they do not speak english! I like the hostel but it's not a great location and lacks that backpacker buzz (it's kinda quiet) so I may move in a day or 2 but we'll see) I met up with Josh and we wondered around the old city in search of the "highlighted" area on our map! We passed some crazy food vendors along the way that were selling foods I don't even think I could try once. Passed some beautiful Wats (temples) but couldn't get the full affect since it was dark (9pm). Eventually jumped in a tuk-tuk taxi and were loving it! They took us to the night bazaar and I was instantly amazed! Vendors selling everything and anything for crazy cheap (it was "mad" as my adorable, adoted reminder of phil Brit guy kept saying!). Found a place to eat...appeared to by "fancy-ish" and had locals inside so we went for it. Chicken with noodles and soya sauce....d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s. Crazy fresh...I swear they must have made the noodles right then. They even had a band singing english songs and they kept urging me and josh to sing along...which we did!! Found a bar after that...and enjoyed an awesome mai tai. Found a strip of indoor bars later and it felt like we were walking down the red carpet...everyone waving, smiling, cheering...some even grabbed josh's arm. We were cracking up! They had a muay thai (boxing) ring in the middle of all the bars but we just missed the match (??)...all in good time! Josh stayed to brave the night and I went home and crashed. Passed out..until 4:30am. I'm getting by on such little sleep it's ridiculous! Hopefully my body clock will adjust soon. I just enjoyed my free breakfast...delicious...and met a girl from Michigan who is interning here. She gave me a few more helpful hints and we will hopefully meet up for dinner in the next few nights.
So far,
I've mastered "thank-you", "please", "trash", "hello", and "bar" (okay...that ones easy) in Thai
Accepted the fact that bug spray is my new lotion/purfume
I've taken a taxi ride for $2
ridden in a tuk-tuk...for $1.50
gotten a bottle of water for less than 25 cents
had a delicious (and huge) meal for less than $2.50
--guess it's true! It really is that cheap!
Not sure what today has in store but I'll keep you posted. Think I'm just going to lay low, study, get to know the city a bit until Danielle comes in a few days.

Wednesday, May 21

Tomorrow, Tomorrow...only a day away!

I'd be lying if I said "I can't believe I'm leaving tomorrow". Not that I "don't believe it"...just that it hasn't hit me. And as one KDL pointed out, it probably won't hit me until the trip has come and gone. Though, I'm bound to have some kind of overflow of emotion on the plane tomorrow...if not there, than certainly in the Thailand airport! For now, I'm very cool, calm and collected. And no...that's not the Woodchuck cider talking! I've had a great few days visiting with friends and family...even got a small dose of my Merig cousins activities (soccer for Dreya, tennis for Galen, Recorder concert for Tari...and non-stop entertainment from Caleb). I'm catching an 8am train to JFK airport in the morning...then my 17 hour plane adventure begins at 11:35am. I'm feeling a bit of a sore throat coming on...which would not be my ideal way to start this trip...but I'm prepared with all the mommy medicines and will hopefully have this thing beat...either that or it will fester for 17 hours on the plane and I'll feel like crap when I land :) But hey, lets think positive, shall we?! Fabulous. In case there are others out there as worried as the mother (grandma...), you'll be happy to know that I'm registered with the US embassy in Thailand...so they have all my info (and dad's) in case they need to get in contact with me/him.

My address from June 2nd-June 27th (the center won't accept mail for me after this date):

Janelle Crowley [CELTA course]
Nugent Waterside
39-39/1 Moo 9
Ban Phe Doi Tham
Tambon Nam Prae,
Amphur Hang Dong,
Chiang Mai

If you get the urge to send a letter (no need to send parcels...Aunt Joyce, I traded 2 t-shirts for some underwear! :) )...you'll be required by the post shop to recite my address 5 times before you can send it :) Good luck!

So long...farewell...something, something, something...adieu

Thursday, May 8

T-Minus 7 days

Well, well! Who would have thunk I'd be returning to the blogging world after such a long absence! But, here I sit exactly 1 week before heading out! For those of you who are in the dark, I'm going to Chiang Mai, Thailand to take a 4-week TEFL (teaching english as a foreign language) course...and then, hopefully to...well, TEACH! My bags (or should I say BAG...If I learned anything from my NZ travels, it's to pack LIGHT!) are nearly packed and all the paperwork is done. I have a few things left to take care of (selling my car...all too familiar!) but I imagine the next week will mostly consist of studying (I have a whole packet of work I have to get through before the start of the course!) and maintaining a constant, steady buzz! Once again...all too familiar! It's how I prepared for Australia and NZ...and I don't see how this trip should be any different! Mr. Woodchuck has a way of keeping my mind at ease. Hey! Don't judge...you'd prolly be doing the same if you were preparing to get on a 17 hour flight to a country where you know no one...and can only hope they speak a little English! That being said, I couldn't be more excited! I'll be maintaining this blog the way I did from NZ. Pictures and posts when I can to keep anyone interested up-to-date. I don't like imposing with mass e-mails so I'll leave it up to you! Save the website for a rainy day! I'm leaving FL May14th...leaving Houston May 17th...and leaving NY (JFK-Chiang Mai) May 21st.

Here goes nothin...come along for the ride when you can! It might get pretty interesting!