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

Monday, October 31

Oh, Bangkok!

Six hours and a world away from the current struggles of Bangkok, I allow the beach life to consume me. Just hours before, I was amongst the water, the people, the loss—the reality that has engulfed so many Thai lives—so many Bangkokians. I felt connected in those moments—connected to the severity of the loss and destruction, and connected to the depth of the Thai spirit. That unwavering “mai pen rai” that guides them to smile, to laugh, to remain calm in the face of danger, sadness, and destruction. Just hours before, I was going to it. going to the flood, to the sandhills, to the shelters—and, as I boarded the Laem Ngop bound bus, I couldn’t fight the feeling that I was now running from it. Running from the city that I call home, running from Gat, my neighbor who, only days before, had assured me “mai dong glooa—don’t be scared, I’ll make you food and paddle it over in a boat if the floods come.” Running from the people that have become a part of my everyday life. But, as the uncertainties in Bangkok grew with each long day, I knew that, for my own sanity, I had to get away. Partly because my one week holiday had unexpectantly been extended by two weeks after a Ministry of Education emergency meeting, partly because I knew my family wouldn’t have peace of mind with me living amongst the chaos that Bangkok has, once again, become, and, partly because my own selfishness didn’t want to have another sleepless night of waiting. Waiting for whatever it was that was going to happen. Waiting to see if my small flood supply of food and water would prove me over prepared or under prepared. Waiting to see if the sandbag walls would hold. Just…Waiting.

Far from Bangkok, far from the empty grocery shelves, the lagging water supply, far from the fear of having even another drop of rain and far from the news that most people in Bangkok have allowed to run their lives, the serenity has finally started to calm my worried mind and heavy heart. I’ve allowed myself to tune out a little, knowing that there isn’t much I can do from here and knowing that a bit of serenity can go a long way. I’ve already fallen into a great beach life routine and, the (very) basic hut that I was hesitant to go into on the first night, has become a bit of a haven for me. It’s the simple life that always takes a little getting used to but, once in place, fuels something in me that I can’t quite explain. I love waking with the sun, sweeping my hut and hand washing my pillowcase (this makes the very basic hut smell a little less so when I lay my head down at night!) before taking off on an early morning swim. Like clockwork, Arisa, the little Cambodian baby that I have come to love already (shocking!), greets me right after my swim and just before her morning feeding. I get lots of smiles and cuddles while mom finishes some chores around the huts. The morning passes peacefully with lots of reading, reflecting, meditating, and writing---all with the sound of the waves in my ear. By the time midday arrives, I join my friends, who are staying less than 20 paces up the beach, and I get lost in their company for the rest of the day and night. It’s all a bit perfect, really—and offers a sharp contradiction to the way things are in Bangkok. Things are far from perfect there, and, although I have allowed myself a bit of peace and serenity here, a big part of my heart is still there. Fighting with them, hoping with them, urging them to hold on. This too shall pass and when it does, I know this country will pull together to pick up the broken pieces that remain after the waters have swept away too much.

Sunday, October 2

Bits and Bobs from 117

The latest memo in my school mailbox reminds me that 1st quarter grades are due soon. What?! Seriously?! I'm not entirely sure where those 9 weeks have gone but, roughly half must have been lost in transition and the other half must have been lost in the passion of teaching. Being lost in transition wasn't easy. Many argue that it never is, but, I wanted to think that I was becoming a seasoned professional at transitioning, changing, relocating. Man was I wrong! This change hit me harder than most. I missed a lot of things about my old job, my old kids, my old school and, after only a few days, I thought I had, once again, checked another "possible life passion" off the list. But then, without warning, things snapped back into place and I again found myself passionate about teaching, passionate about life---and, it feels great to be back!

The last few weeks in room 117 have been fantastic. We sing, we dance, we cry, we laugh, we explore, we ask, and we seek to answer....we are becoming a great little family. Having only 10 students means lots of time and space for hands on activities. But, perhaps it's best hearing it...
From the 1st graders!!

Miss J always tells us "fun but not crazy" but I think sometimes she forgets. Especially during "Monday Dance"---she let's us all go a bit crazy then. Even she does the "Monday dance" with us and she sure looks crazy! Her memory is really bad so she always asks us to remind her of things. What would she do without us? We have to remind her to change the jobs list everyday. We have to remind her how to add and subtract and sometimes she even forgets that when you write names or special nouns, you have to use a capital letter. And she's always forgetting to use punctuation when she writes sentences! Who's the teacher here anyways? Crazy Miss J.

We love looking at our tadpoles! One person gets to help Miss J feed them everyday. "LOOK AT THAT ONE! That one has front legs!! Miss J! Miss J! Look at that one! He looks like a frog already!!" We learned about the life cycle of frogs in Science class and then we learned how to take care of our tadpoles by using Google. Did you know that if we don't feed our tadpoles, they will EAT EACH OTHER?!?! We really love Science class! Oh! And, on Thursday, we're going to the Zoo!! We are going on a mammal/reptile/amphibian/insect/fish hunt!

Our Special Country for International Culture Day is New Zealand. Miss J used to live there and "I FOUND IT, IT"S HERE!!! Look...I found it on the globe!! Miss J, Looook. It's here!".
Now we have so many stickers on our world map and globe!! America, Philippines, Japan, South Korea, India, Thailand and now, NEW ZEALAND! And tomorrow we are reading a story about the Arctic and Miss J said we have to find out where the Arctic is for homework. I think the Arctic is in Miss J's home.

Did you read our story?! We wrote a story! First, we had to Brainstorm and think about what we wanted to write about. We did a vote---and decided to write about the Ballroom! We brainstormed some more and made a Sloppy Copy of it and tried to make it better and Make It Shine! Then we Fixed It by adding capital letters and punctuation. We wrote it again in good handwriting and drew pictures to go with it. Then, we signed our name and Miss J published it! We get to take turns taking it home and reading it with our parents. I think my page is the best!! You should read it because we wrote it ourselves and it's really good!!

1st grade isn't always fun though. We have to work hard and sometimes we get so tired of thinking and writing. Miss J says "do your best work", even when we are writing on the board or drawing a picture. Sometimes people do it better then us, but if it's our best, it's okay. When we don't do our best work, or when we aren't listening or doing the "right thing", it means we don't earn time to play in the ballroom. In Kindergarten, we always got to play in the ballroom but Miss J says now that we are older, we have to earn it. I think that we should go to the ballroom everyday!! We also have lots of homework to take home in our F.R.O.G.S folders everyday. Our folders help us have re (clap) spons (clap) i (clap) bil (clap) i (clap) ty (clap). We are getting better at that. We are getting better at lots of things. And Miss J says we help her get better at things too. So, maybe it's good that we are all together in first grade!

post shaving-cream-writing (thanks for all that shaving cream Jose!)

checking out the tadpoles

buddy reading

on the path to becoming great little presenters!

Friday, July 29

Good Morning Vietnam

I never knew that "drink locally brewed, 25 cent beer on busy Hanoi street" should be on the bucket list but, alas, it should have had a prime spot near the top!! Vietnam was never high on my list, mostly because I never heard too many positive things about it and, for whatever reason, I actually listened to the ramblings I heard. But, a random, would-be-perfect-timing rendezvous with one Sarah F (the same Sarah F that makes many appearances in my blog if you've actually been following since that blissful, start-of-it-all trip to New Zealand)! Yes, finally...after nearly 5 years, I'd be reunited with my old New Zealand friend and flatmate...and the person who helped me grow the cojones to make the jump into SE Asia in the first place (she used to teach English in Vietnam and encouraged me to look in to it). So, as luck would have it, I flung myself into this "not high on my list" neighboring country with no expectations, no worries, and no real 'must see's/must do's' other then to just intercept Sarah and her folks along their 3 week SE Asia adventure. Perhaps it was this--the lack of expectations, the lack of pressure (to see and do it all) that would give this place a speed ticket through the MUST RETURN line!
When a street crossing can make a Bangkokian (yeah, I've claimed it, what of it...?!) hesitate and stare in awe, you know it must be crazy! Even after living in Bangkok for 3+ years, it took me a while to perfect Sarah's confident "just stick out your hand" stride across the intersection---which, just for kicks and comic relief, actually had a pedestrian crossing lane. Ha. After some time drinking the local brew roadside, and, after I insisted on crossing the road 10 more times just for kicks (sorry Ma!), the 4 of us jumped a Halong Bay bound bus and briefly said goodbye to the city noise. Watching the world pass from bus windows in these foreign countries always seems to amaze or inspire me...and Vietnam, certainly, was no exception. I felt myself comparing it a lot to the other countries I've been to in SE Asia but, it became more and more difficult to do.... Same Same but SO different! As the landscape unfolds, it immediately makes me question the fact that Thailand is the top exporter of rice! The paddies here stretch as far as the eye can see, (Jose, even you wouldn't miss these rice fields!) and are littered with dozens and dozens of workers in their nón lá (coolie hats!). The site is amazingly beautiful and during the 3.5 hour journey, I never tired of staring out the window. A million rice fields, a few hilarious bumps, an entertaining eavesdrop on a lifestory, and an amazing phone conversation later, we arrived at Halong Bay where our Junk (Wikipedia folks) awaited. It took only moments to fall in love! Limestone cliffs were jetting out of the water in all directions, the junk was cute and clean, all the bedrooms had windows (Hells no will we be trapped if our boat tries to sink in the middle of the night!) and the weather was looking amazing! After lunch on board, we climbed to the deck and soaked in the rays as we cruised along...perfection. After a great sunset, it took no convincing at all to get the recently showered and changed crew (Sarah and her folks) back into togs (I speak Kiwi very well...!) so we could jump off the roof into the water. I love this bunch!! Before long, most of the boat was jumping, screaming (not me of course...), laughing, swimming. It was one of those trips where the crowd on your boat can make or break the trip---and, our crowd made it! Good work crowd :).

Back in Hanoi, I chipped away another piece of my historical ignorance as we visited some key places linked to the Vietnam War. The Hoa Lo Prison, often referred to as the Hanoi Hilton, was a good start and it was interesting to get a different perspective on some of the War details. We also visited the lake where John McCain's plane was shot down and he was captured as a PoW as well as the "B-52 Lake" where you can see the remains of a B-52 that was shot down in 1972. Staring at the remains while having Bruce (Sarah's dad) explain some amazing details to me was an awesome history lesson---and it made me wish that my history teachers would have actually TRIED to get my attention---b/c, clearly, I would have been captivated! Or maybe the Bruce, staring at B-52 combo, was just that awesome!
All in all, an amazing trip. A great country. Great company. And a complete feeling of comfort because Sarah and her folks (and Sarah's friends) had all lived in or been to Hanoi previously . I didn't have to worry about directions or language barriers or wonder if I was getting ripped off! It took away any possible headache and just left me able to completely enjoy myself! It made me realize that if you know someone living in a foreign country which you may not have otherwise paid a visit to, you should go and take advantage of them being there. I'm just sayin, Ryan,...I speak Thai. I speak Thai real well. ;)

Thursday, July 14

Cashmere...In Loving Memory...

What is it about our pets that totally transforms the way we go at life? What is it about their companionship that makes it impossible to compare to anything else? Why is it that you either get it or you don't?! For what it's worth, I get it. I totally do.

I got my first cat when I was 9 years old and I can honestly say that it changed my life from day one. Days filled with cat hair, vet visits, litterbox cleanups, and pre-dawn wake-ups rained down on me (and my parents/brother) and helped mold that 9-year-old-me. My cat, affectionately known as cashmere, cashee, pumpkin face, brat, angel, and sweet face, has seen me through more of my life than most others. We have, quite literally, grown up together. I "put up" with her kitten stage---the constant crying (read: meowing), playfulness and, of course, mischievousness---and, in turn, she put up with my adolescence---meaning, mostly, that she had to endure dress-up, attempted cat-walks, and, perhaps, a (bit) of smothering! We've seen each other through sickness and pain---her years battling a serious case of fleas and ringworm meant hours bonding in the bathroom picking through until every last one was drowned in the toilet. I don't know many cats that would tolerate laying upside down while their mom picked, pulled, and prodded. I think deep down she must have known that it was for her own good. Of course, all that close contact meant that we shared the ringworm that she was infested with, and, I hardly cared. When I was sick, or in tears, my little pumpkin face was never far away. She was never huge with the cuddles, but she made exceptions at times like that and would often lick away my salty tears or lay near for hours, never fully closing her eyes as if keeping a constant watch. She saw me through my teenage years, and, although I wavered from moment to moment, she never did. Sometimes I would tell her I despised her as much as the rents--and sometimes, she was the only one I wanted to be around. One minute she was the target of my teenage angst and the next she was the only reason I wasn't running away in full blown teenage protest. And, in turn, I struggled through her own teenage protests. When she put her guts to the test and wondered beyond the security of home one day, I held on to me "Homeward Bound" fueled hopes while my parents scurried about (I didn't find out until later) with posters, reward promises, and fruitless searches. Nearly a week later as my parents were trying to find the heart to have the "she's-not-coming-home" talk with me, my little brat surfaced. She was found---a bit more dirty, humble and thin--but found! As my teenage moodiness faded into young-adult heartache, she was always there. She sat, she listened, she joined me for nights filled with ice cream and movies (so what if she only stayed because I shared my ice cream with her)! She saw me off to college and was always waiting for my return so she could once again wake me at 5am with her "play-with-me" meows.

As old age began taking it's toll, she went through an "I-forget-where-to-pee" stage---a stage which never phased me and which my dad graciously accepted without much fuss. Her kidneys needed convincing to stay strong which turned me and, in my absence, my dad, into expert kidney healers. When the call came that he thought her time was coming to a close---weight loss, weakness, lack of purring, we knew without hesitation that we wanted to send her off peacefully before the pain kicked in. And, although I'm at peace with it, a little piece of my heart has gone with my baby. I wish that I could have been there to kiss her little nose one last time---but, knowing that she was in good hands makes it easier to accept. Although I hate that dad had to go through the process alone, it's symbolic in ways---I remember so clearly the site of tiny, kitten, Cashmere in my dad's big, strong, hands----and, it puts my heart at ease visualizing her slipping peacefully away in the same hands that held her tiny body (nearly) 20 years before. And knowing that Dr. T and Jenna, the nurse and Doctor that I've come to know and love over the years, were there for her in her final moments fills my heart with relief.

It's amazing how much joy my fur-ball brought to my life. I'll never forget the day there was a meowing towel under the Christmas tree, when, in an instant, that meowing towel changed my life forever!!

You will never be forgotten Cashee!

Sunday, June 26

Let's hear it for NEW YORK...!

I should be honest from the start, I've never really been a big advocate for gay rights, gay marriage, gay anything....I kind of felt like just "mixing in" would be more powerful then anything. A way, in sorts, to prove that we really aren't different at all. I always believed that breaking down stereotypes one ignorant person at a time would be much more effective then covering myself in rainbows while declaring to the world that I'm "gay and proud"...and pissed off. But, as I find myself singing Alicia Keys (and Jay Z's) song...again...I realize how proud I am for this moment. Proud to be a part of changing times...proud that it's going in this direction...proud that it's, well, NEW YORK! At times I feel ashamed for not doing more. When amazing people step up and "fight the fight" that isn't even, technically, 'theirs', I feel like I'm taking the easy way out, just waiting...waiting to reap the benefits. But, I know that I make tiny changes in the world immediately around me and, in time, with enough people doing that, it does actually make a difference. But, it makes me appreciate those people who are getting, well, "loud" in a way that I never used to appreciate them. When people like Claire Buffie, my good friend's lil' sister, and former Miss NY choose "Straight for Equality: Let's Talk" as a pageant platform, it's incredibly moving. Filled with love for her sister, her family, and driven by a dream of equality, Claire tackled real issues with real elegance and passion. She never cowered in the face of adversity (and she faced a lot) and, I believe, brave people like Claire had a big influence on this change. It makes me proud...proud of Claire on a personal level, but also proud to be a part of a society that includes people like her. Looking at it from this perspective feels good---feels much better then looking at the half empty glass of "well, if ignorant assholes didn't exist, it wouldn't be such a big fight...". That view still exists within me, but, as time passes, as more and more people step up to fight these kinds of things, and, as change actually occurs, I find that, along with everything else in life, having the glass half full is so much more joyful.

And although I am happy that the possibility exists (obviously), no, I will not be running off to NY to get married (yet)! But, my love goes out to all those committed, loving couples who will now be able to express their love in a way they always dreamed. You deserve it.

Wednesday, April 27

The beauty around us

My recent trip back to the U S of A has been great. But, instead of giving you the play by play, I wanted to share some random tidbits. Over the course of my holiday, I witnessed, experienced, and felt many beautiful things. Some truly remarkable and others humorously simple, but all took my attention fully and led me into some sort of reflection....it's these type of things that rarely get the attention they deserve...so, here's giving an extra moment of notice...

The newly weds (Jay and Kaleigh) enclose a bottle of wine (representing their relationship...one that will age well and get better with time) along with notes to one another inside a box. The box, wine, and letters are to be opened on their 10th anniversary.

My cousin, who suffered a stroke several years ago which resulted in partial paralysis, briefly left her cane and (balance guide) dog behind so she could share a dance with her newlywed son.

Lizards. (okay, let me explain). I was sitting outside and this random lizard totally captivated me. I sat there, staring at this prehistoric looking thing and was transported to my childhood. I used to (regularly) catch them and make them bite my ears. Just like that, I had a pair of earrings. A part of me wanted to reach out and grab the lizard---but, I know, even if I decided to do it, I would have hesitated to catch it....let alone let the freakin' thing bite my ear. It made me appreciate my fearless younger self.

Nearly 6 months after being diagnosed with lung cancer and being told he had only weeks to live, my grandfather has tackled cruises and road trips and is making preparations for his November "I'm still here" party.

Carrots. Fresh from my brother's garden.

Jetblue. If you don't agree, try Air Asia as a budget air option and get back to me.

Enjoying Jamie's chicken and dumplings in the company of 4 people who have known me longer (and better) than most others.

Listening to my 98 year old great, great uncle retell the story about the time he came to our Christmas Party and we got him drunk.

Watching my friend---who kicks ass at being a vet---kick ass at being a mom even more.

Sitting on my bro's dock, watching the sunset, with him and mom, while trying to understand why the ducks found it absolutely necessary to get on the dock the moment we were sitting there.

Sitting next to my 19 year old cat, watching her doze off into a snore...

Being the first to occupy the guestroom in Jo and Ty's new house...and being around 2 people who make it easy to believe in love.

Sitting business class!! (ah, the beauty of knowing people in the industry! ;) )

Baking a cake with Grandma.

Eating breakfast with pops and getting the tour of the garden.

Closing down the wedding dance floor with some kind of crazy swaying, jumping, swinging, rocking moves---with all the cousins---led by GG.

Having a completely random Easter gathering at the park with GG and all her grandchildren that ended in a big soccer game. If only we had taken that picture...!

Tuesday, March 22

STOP...and smell the fish balls!

Time flies when you're having fun! A Christmas trip to Nepal (with some great peeps), several weekend getaways/day trips (to take advantage of some amazing weather), some intense job-hunting, and a 10 day whirlwind adventure with visiting friends has come and gone---and Borneo sits on the horizon (2 more days to be exact!). The last few months have brought endless smiles to my heart and sometimes I need to find the time to sit back, take a breath, and fully appreciate all that I've done.

Mount Everest and the Himalayan mountains greeted our plane on Christmas day and shortly after, Fern and I were enjoying mulled wine with Kerry, Steph, and Dave in Kathmandu, Nepal. It was a beautiful (and unique) way to celebrate Christmas! We received our hiking itinerary that day and all had a good (nervous) laugh about the 6-day adventure that awaited us...including at least 1 day of "straight up". Awesome. --The trekking was great, although a bit exhausting (okay, maybe that's an understatement!) the scenery was amazing, and---, with our group, never a dull moment! Between the 5 of us, we had 3 porters and a guide---so, thankfully, we were only responsible for carrying our day packs!! Don't judge! We arrived to Ghorepani 2 days after we set off and were greeted by the snow-peaked Annapurna mountains against the setting sun---calling it beautiful would be a harsh understatement! Especially after we walked 2 days to get there! For Kerry and I the excitement was short lived and both of us would pay a rough price for making the wrong choice as dinner time. Our itinerary shifted, we hardly moved from bed all day (except to get sick of course), and our nurses (i.e. Fern and Steph) were gracious enough to take frequent breaks from their book reading, site seeing, weather-enjoying day to take care of us sickies! We were back on the trail the next day for what was arguable the most beautiful and real part of the trek. This less traveled track winded us through a local village, over and around rice terraces, through herds of sheep and buffalo and past the local people going about their lives. It was a great day-after-feeling-like-crap trek! All in all, the trip to Nepal was much too short to appreciate all it has to offer but we got a taste of it---especially of the amazing hiking. The end of the trail was bitter sweet and we missed the mountainous surrounds immediately...but our legs...and all that lactic acid thanked us for the break!

After the Christmas holiday, I returned to work to finish out the term with my "graduating" K3's. It was an emotional moment---my first ever K1 class all grown up and leaving K3. I can't believe how fast the time has gone. Although I've been job searching and will continue to search, I've decided, after a good deal/offer from my current employer, that I'll be staying put for now. Next term will offer me a chance to make some changes to the overall curriculum which will be a great chance to gain some experience. As for now, I'm enjoying my time off---but, as always, I'm missing my crazy kids already!

Jose and Alexis have just left and I think I'm still in shock that I ever went to the airport to get them in the first place!! I have to admit that I never really expected the "yeah, I'm thinking of coming to visit" to materialize---so, when I learned that it was...for BOTH of them...I was so excited!! I loved inviting them into my world and showing them around. Lots of laughs (Dearest Scotsman with the Bangkok Belly---squatting toilets are for SQUATTING...not sitting! HA) and good times...and, perhaps for one, a newly ignited fire for travel! You know where to find a travel buddy Jose!

Borneo is next on the list and we head out on Thursday! We'll be traveling our way around Sabah making sure to fit in diving and snorkeling at Mabul and Sipidan islands, river cruising in search of wild animals, visiting the orangutans, and trekking around Mount Kinabalu. Bring on the jungle...bring on the river...bring on the clear blue seas!! Will post pictures when I return in April.