#12 Last day of School

Yesterday I had my “last day of school”. I have not gone back to school this semester because I am so busy and leaving so soon but yesterday I made my farewell speech and saw my classmates for one of the last times. I did the speech in Thai, and I think it went well, but I did not get a recording of it. After my speech the school director handed me a “certificate” (it was not ready yet so they handed me an empty envelope) and a handmade bouquet of the school flower. Once the photos were done with the director I went over to my class and said my personal goodbyes to my classmates. They were very sweet, and actually made a circle around me and sang me a song and then wished me luck. My classmates were some of the sweetest people I have ever met, and it was so much fun to see them before I leave. We then took oodles of photos, which were very fun, and then I went to go say thank you to all my teachers, but I could not find most of them. To end my morning at the school my counselor took me and another teacher to get lunch, then I came home.

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Recently I have begun packing my bags just for the worry that I do not have enough space. I have rearranged them almost every day and now I have filled one and am in the process of filling the second.

Tomorrow I go to Bangkok with Natalia and our friend Beba to celebrate Natalia’s birthday. This is the last of our trips to Bangkok since Natalia leaves next Saturday. We are going to eat Mexican food, go to markets, go to an interesting themed mall and more. We get back to Sattahip on Wednesday and then Beba and I will stay with her until the day she leaves, and go send her off at the airport. I am not ready to see Natalia go, it is far too soon. Whenever we talk about going home we always mention how close our departure dates are, and that means when she goes, I follow quickly after. That is another reason I have started packing my bags, I already have all my clothes for Bangkok and Natalia’s house but after that it is just six days until I come home. I figured I might as well jump on it so that I can see how many souvenirs and snacks I can buy in Bangkok this weekend that will fit into my checked bag.

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Yesterday at the school put me at ease with coming home so soon for the first time in a long time. I am very nervous about coming home, and often do not want to because I feel I have more I need to do here, but having the closure of school ending and saying goodbye made me feel much better about leaving. I think it is because I no longer feel I have unfinished parts of my exchange. I will have to go pick up some of my artwork and a certificate from the school my last week but otherwise I think my last days are an open book (at least as far as I know). I am eager for this coming week, and cannot wait to soak it all up (and take photos of anything and everything). I will post a few more times during this last bit, but I want to thank everybody who has sent me encouraging messages about this blog, exchange, my newspaper article, and coming home. It has all helped immensely during my time here. Roll on June 16!

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#11 Koh Chang

Last week some of my friends and I traveled to the island Koh Chang in the Trat providence of the far eastern part of Thailand. We went to celebrate the birthday of our friend Jana from Germany and see the island she is lucky enough to live on for parts of her exchange year. After driving five hours from Sattahip and a ferry ride we arrived at the rainy island. Even with the dreary weather Koh Chang is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in Thailand. The island was lush, and more thickly covered with trees than any other place I have seen. The car ride to the hotel was winding, and we saw monkeys swinging on power lines as we went up one particularly steep hill (what could’ve been a textbook picture of urbanization and human encroachment).

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Hanging out at the beach before heading back to the main island.

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Storm clouds over the main island

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When we got down to the hotel we put our stuff in the room and then headed down to the beach (seeing as it was not raining on this part of the island). The beach was absolute perfection, almost no rocks in the water, soft sand, and beautiful views. That first evening we went swimming and saw the most incredible sunset. It started with pink hitting the tops of clouds in the east as the sun sank in the opposite direction. As the sun kept going down the pink continued to move across the sky and was reflected off the water until the whole world around us was tinted a perfect rosy hue. It was the most spectacular sunset I have ever seen.

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Unedited, just how it looked in person

 

The second day we had a sort of tour around the island. Because a 5 seat truck does not fit 10 teenagers most of us sat in the back of the truck, which was fun until it started to rain. Our exploration ended at a massive pool by the beach at a different resort. The pool was probably close to a regulation length lap pool and had granite tiling. The two long sides of the pool had ledges that jutted out towards the middle for around 10 feet before dropping to a depth that went above our heads. We ended up spending hours in the pool, just paddling, trying to swim from one end to the other without taking a breath, and playing such a long game of marco polo that we gave up playing.

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Trat province sign we found exploring the island.

The last day we spent at the island we actually spent snorkeling. A dinghy came and picked us up at eight in the morning, and took us to the pier for us to get on the larger tourist boat. The larger boat was grungy and in some places in shambles, with mildewed over seats and life jackets.

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As we settled in for the hour long ride to the islands we were going to snorkel at, it started to rain, and despite the “roof” the water just dripped down the sides and soaked us, our towels, and our bags.

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Eli, Natalia, Me, Megan, Jana, and Liam during our snorkeling excursion.

I tell you though, getting up early, getting rained on, and sitting on the decrepit boat was so worth it once we got to snorkeling. The snorkeling on this trip was by far, the most amazing snorkeling of any places I have been, we snorkeled at four islands and stopped at another before we went back to the main island of Koh Chang. The corals were so vibrant, the fish so numerous, you could always find a type you had not seen, and the whole environment positively buzzing. I felt like I could have snorkeled at each location for hours.

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Unfortunately the photo did not turn out but snorkeling was very fun!

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The first stop snorkeling

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JUMP. At one of the locations some of us jumped off the top of the boat. One of the most fun things I have done!

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We celebrated Jana’s birthday, eating barbecue and some of us stayed up to play cards. The next day a bunch of us headed to Bangkok, some to catch trains, others to say goodbye to our friend Liam who was going back to Canada a few days after. I spent a few days in Bangkok with some of my friends as the group dwindled, and also met up with some other exchange students. One of the days I went and had the most amazing pizza I have ever had from a little Italian place with two of my friends from the United States.

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Pala Pizza Romana=Heaven

Since then I have come back to Ban Chang and spent time packing things I know I will not need until I go home (to get a better idea of how much space I have left to fill). Hopefully in the next few weeks I will be going to Bangkok’s markets to fill up my suitcases before I leave. I know I am going in a week or so to celebrate my friend Natalia’s birthday but I am not so sure how much time we will have to go to markets.

The past few weeks have been hard with thinking about coming home. As my friends head back to where they come from one by one it feels like the clock is winding down for me too (which it is but it is easier to pretend it is not when you do not see photos from people already home). I feel a lot of apprehension about going back home. Being gone for a year sort of messes with your mind in terms of contributing much to school, clubs, and friends. When most people leave high school they are never confronted with the prospect of seeing everything get by without them and then just going back. Still, I am very excited to get back to school. I miss classes and learning and having familiar things to do. Having expectations for coming home will likely make the transition back more difficult, so I am trying to keep my mind off of it, and trying to live in the moment here. It is hardest when excitement to see my family boils over and I again imagine what life will be like when I am back. 23 days is nothing though, so I will be making the most of my time here!

 

#10 One Month Left

In some respects exchange has flown by and in others it has crawled. I distinctly remember in the first four months feeling like it was forever. Before meeting other exchange students, and while I was at school, time was just incredibly slow. I think it was just the fact that there was not much to look forward to at that point other than coming home. Ever since January however I have felt like it has been just a blink of an eye. Trips and conferences have kept me pretty busy and every two weeks there is another thing to do. This has made my past few months incredibly fun and much more like I thought exchange would be, but also made me much more sad as my time comes to a close. In the next few weeks a group of us students are visiting our friend for her birthday on the island her host family has a hotel on, and after that I spend another friend’s birthday with her and her host family in Bangkok. Just a week and a half after that I go home. I want these fun times with my friends to come soon but I also do not want to be done yet. When my friends go back to their parts of the world it will be a very long time until I see them again, and I am not really ready to say goodbye.

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The different colors of clay (from mixing the powder with…..soda)

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Ready to go home after playing Songkran all day

In April we celebrated the Thai new year with Songkran, the infamous water fight. While most of Thailand celebrates Songkran from the 13-15 the region where I live has celebrations on different days. I ended up celebrating in Plutaluang one day and Pattaya a few days later with my friends Natalia and Beba from Mexico. The day in Plutaluang was one of the best days of exchange. We went with Natalia’s host brother, whose friend has a business in town that we were stationed at. We stood at the side of the road and threw water on cars, motorcyclists, and other people walking down the street. Almost everybody had water guns, or little bowls for throwing water, and some people used their trucks to carry barrels of water to soak people on the go. People also loved to mix ice into the water to make it shocking when they doused you with it. One of the traditions of Songkran is that people rub a clay paste on people’s faces for luck. This was pretty funny but also really bizarre because it is such an unusual encroachment on personal space, and after a while frustrating when the clay would get into my eyes and mouth. The whole day was fun until it got dark and for maybe the third time ever I was cold outdoors in Thailand.

Pattaya was less fun due to the sheer size of the crowds. There were some packs of men that seemed to be bent on making the time less fun. They had a particular penchance for spraying you directly in the eyes or rubbing the clay on your face as a big horde, making it impossible to move as they surrounded you, which was pretty disconcerting. In Pattaya Natalia, Beba, and I went with Natalia’s Rotary counselor, her niece, and her niece’s friend, so we had a little advantage with there being six of us.

The waterfront in Pattaya was packed with stages with djs playing dance music and thai mixes intermittently. The slow crawl down the road took us the whole afternoon to cover the distance that would have taken us half an hour to walk when there were no crowds. After Pattaya we went to Natalia’s counselors house and got dry clothes before going back home.

Songkran was such a unique experience, I think it is one of the most incredible things to see and do, and I would recommend to anybody, although I think smaller towns are better.

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Part of Bangkok right before the rain hit.

Since Songkran I have been spending a lot of time at home in Ban Chang, one weekend we went to Chatuchak market in Bangkok, and then another weekend my family took me to Chinatown. This past weekend I went to a Rotary conference in Pattaya. Some students came from different parts of the district and we got to spend time at a really big hotel. We also took a bus into Pattaya on two of the days and hung out in the mall. It was fun seeing some of the people I did not think I would be seeing again. Some of us students also helped with the change of leadership during a dinner where we took the pins, medals, and sashes from this past year’s people and then gave them to be transitioned to the new leaders. It was a really neat thing to be a part of.

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All dressed up for the ceremonies

Now it is Monday, and the weather has been beautiful. All I want to do is go for a walk and enjoy it but alas there is pretty much no safe place from cars except the local track here, which is not exactly the change in scenery that I want. I called my younger sister three times this morning as I got ready for my day and she wrapped up hers. It is always funny to hear what my family is up to, and to talk to them about plans for the summer. As much as I will miss my life here I cannot wait to go home and be with my family. Some days I am in awe of this place, and I never want to leave, and the next I wake up and all I want to do is pack my bags.

At any rate, seize the day, enjoy where you are, realize there are so many more hours in the day than you think, and stop filling time with phones. Those are the things that have been on my mind a lot lately. I am so excited to do all the things that nobody really thinks much of at home. Walking around the block, running outdoors, wearing sweaters, and throwing my phone into the lake are things I want/cannot wait to do. It is funny to me, all people want to do is have more time to chill out and do nothing but I have so much of that time on my hands that I want none of it. Grass is greener on the other side I suppose.

I will try to record more of these last few weeks. I feel like people do not often try to put to words how they feel about coming home (which is fair enough because it is complicated), but i will try my best to explain. Not entirely sure what to talk about though, there are a lot of worries about coming home, a lot of sadness about leaving here, also a lot of excitement as I said before. So we will see!

#9 The Last Trip: Southern Thailand!

The south trip is the trip that everybody is the most excited for when we get our packet of trip schedules at the beginning of our exchange year. The clear water, pristine beaches, and sun are, after all, what people think of when they think of Thailand. Even for students like me, who live less than 10 minutes from the beach, do not often go with our host families, and this trip was our time to have the classic sun soaked vacation. We got to spend the week going from beaches and islands by bus and boat, snorkeling almost every day, and exploring cities every night. We had the most fun time, and this was one of my favorite trips!

Our trip did not in fact start with our flight to the south, but with a Rotary conference on the 11th of March which was held in a city called Chanthaburi. This district conference had members from almost every rotary club in our district attending, and it was great fun. Us inbound students had a talent show where one group of students did the Muay Thai ritual of respect, and then the other group of us (that live closer in the south of our district) did a dance to a mashup of music from Mexico, Brazil, America, Canada, and Germany. It was fun although not altogether as organized as it could have been. We spent that afternoon and evening of the conference just hanging around and meeting the new exchange students who will be going all over the world from Thailand this coming year.

The next morning we had another presentation where we got certificates for our exchange and took many photos together and then us inbound students got on a bus to begin our trip to the south.

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 We had to take a bus all the way to Ayutthaya, around 5 hours of travel, for the first leg of our trip. Spending the whole day on the bus we slept, listened to music, and talked and by the time we got to Ayutthaya it was dinner. We had dinner on a boat and cruised the river looking at all the ancient monuments of the city lit up in the dark.

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The night boat tour in Ayutthaya.

After dinner we went to our hotel which was very rustic but very nice. In my room we actually had a tree growing out of the floor of the bathroom that made its way through the ceiling, a pretty funny thing to see as soon as you open the bathroom door. The hotel also had several ponds and little streams of water, and the largest of the ponds had some of the largest fish I have ever seen. The pair of fish were over 5 feet long, and had black scales with red edges. They were so massive and idle that at first they seemed like large logs, apart from their tails’ slight movement. The pond was also full of smaller catfish, and none were less than perhaps three feet long.

The next morning we toured Ayutthaya on foot. The ruins were incredible and very dramatic. It was such an expansive and full space even though it is in ruins, I cannot imagine what the structures would have looked like in their complete form.

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Ayutthaya’s ruins

One of the most identifiable parts of Ayutthaya is the famous stone Buddha head in the roots of a tree that is slowly slowly claiming it. This is one of the famous images of Thailand and very beautiful. Also, the vast majority of the Buddha images in the ruins lacked heads, because the ruins were looted over the hundreds of years. The heads are the smallest piece of the Buddha statues that retains value when sold on the black market, while simultaneously being much easier to transport than the full stone Buddhas.

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The Buddha head being engulfed in the tree.

After touring Ayutthaya we drove an hour to the airport in Bangkok and flew to Phuket. After we arrived in Phuket we went to the Fantasea theme park, essentially a tourist trap, and there we had dinner and saw a show about Thai myth. This show was rather unique because it had all manner of entertainment; elephants, pyrotechnics, a tiger, trapeze artists, a magic show, and dance throughout. Rather confusing, and a tad ridiculous, the show is so famous that we had to hand over our phones to ensure that nobody videotaped the show. A great number of celebrities from all over the world have been to the theme park, and the park made plaques with photos of the celebrities who have attended the show in the past, which was pretty interesting.

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One of the shops at Fantasea

The theme park was mostly made up of themed gift shops but there was also a zoo type portion with lemurs, peacocks, snakes, and most sadly some white tigers, that were in a very small enclosure made entirely of white cement with no escape from people pressing their faces against the window. 

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One of the islands with ivy growing in the shape of Buddha

After the dinner and show we went back to our hotel and the next day we set out to Phi Phi island. I would have to say Phi Phi is one of my favorite places I have been in Thailand so far. The island has beautiful rock formations and the little town is one of the nicest I have seen. We took a 2 hour ferry to the island, had lunch, and then went snorkeling. I have never been snorkeling in the ocean before and unfortunately Lake Superior does not boast a large amount of easily observable aquatic life, so seeing all the coral, plants, sea urchins, and multitudes of fish was dazzling.

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Snorkeling at Phi Phi

The only downside was the stinging sensation of plankton in the water. The feeling was like a fly bite and immediately itchy, which was bothersome but I think the beauty of the water made up for it. We went snorkeling for an hour and then we got back on the ferry to go back to Phuket. We then went to see the sunset and while we there there a man was playing a guitar of old american classics, which made the sunset like a movie.

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Thai Sunset ❤

That night in Phuket we had free, so we went to get food and then explored Phuket’s walking street before going back to our hotel.

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The somewhat more murky depths at Krabi

The next day we drove a few hours to Krabi to go snorkeling again and to island hop. The snorkeling was nice, not as clear as the day before, but it was free of the painful plankton. It also had very interesting sea urchins, that had not only black spines but white ones as well that were flexible and releasing something into the water. We ended up also going to Kai Island. In english Kai means egg, and Kai island was named due to the hundreds of years the island was a hot-spot for nesting sea turtles (although it has become virtually devoid of nesting turtles recently due to foot traffic on the sand as well as dwindling sea turtle populations). We also went to the separated sea, a strip of land revealed only when the tide is right to connect 3 islands. From a distance it almost makes the people walking across the strip of land look like they are walking on water. 

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The separated sea.

After the day in the sun we went to dinner, and since it was mostly seafood I went out with friends after dinner to get different food. On this quest for more food I found the most amazing place. It was at an Italian restaurant called La Luna and it was absolutely fantastic. The restaurant is owned by an actual Italian (who I met on the stairs on the way to our table). We had the funniest waiter who was very goofy, and laughed at the silly things we were saying as well as running around like a madman. I had bruschetta with prosciutto and then a mascarpone pastry and it was wonderful in every way.

After dinner my friends and I wandered to the downtown of the city and walked along the beach, where we found a misplaced pineapple of all things. After that we went back to the hotel and spent the night just hanging out in each others rooms. 

The next day we traveled to Le Khao Kop cave, which was one of the most unique and terrifying experiences I have ever had in my life. the journey to the caves began in a murky river, and with 5 people in a boat and two guides we began to paddle down the river. The river went through some lightly wooded areas with long vines hanging down to eye level, and then we entered the cave. In order to fit in the entrance of the cave everybody has to lie down flat. Once within the mountain there are a few different passages that lead through the stalactites and stalagmites. In these caverns were beautiful formations, various worshiping areas, and thousands of years of natural history. The actual scary part of the path came after the walking as we made our way out of the cave. While we had to lie down to enter the caves inside we still had at least a foot to spare above us, exiting was a different story. As we squeezed by underneath the ceiling I was told to move my hands from my stomach to my sides because the extra inch above the rest of my body would get caught on the ceiling (and indeed my belt got tugged on a particularly low spot) as we went past. There was even a part that was so close that you had to turn your head to the side to ensure your nose was not scraped, and some people said their ears still touched. The whole while going through those crevices all we could hear were the anxious shrieks of people ahead of us, and it was impossible to not do the same (despite the guide’s repeated phrase that they will not let anything happen to us). Getting out of that cave was such a relief I do not think i have ever felt so happy to see light.

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One of the islands we stopped at

After the cave experience  we went and had lunch, and then headed to the docks to get a boat out to Koh Lipe, our final destination. We were on the speedboat for almost 2 hours, but we stopped part way to walk around an island. Going up to Koh Lipe was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. The sun was setting and there were Thai style boats anchored in the little bay as the sun began to descend. The beach was open and not crowded and all along  the beach were various cute little hotels. After we got off the boat we went swimming as the sun set, and then went to Koh Lipe’s walking street (although it is essentially the only street on the island with businesses). Our hotel was right on the water like all the others but our rooms were in the back, so we unfortunately were unable to see the ocean from our rooms, but the proximity was still lovely. 

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Koh Lipe with its cute bungalows.

The next day was our last full day of the trip and it was beyond amazing. We spent the whole day just going from location to location, snorkeling and swimming. The first spot we went to was very different from past snorkeling locations because it was quite far from the shore, and packed with other tourists. Although it was packed and deeper than the other places it was full of amazing fish. At this location we also had to wear life jackets because of the depth and number of people, so it was a little less enjoyable, but still nice. This spot also had the plankton though, so we did not spend too long there.

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Clown fish!

The second spot we snorkeled at was my favorite by far. The coral was vibrant and there were lots of gorgeous fish that were not so numerous at other places. The area we snorkeled at was separated from other tourist groups, and the guide took those of us who snorkeled to see the anemones where clown fish hide and all sorts of other wonderful things. He also pointed out where bigger fish were milling about and showed us how some of the things that lived in holes of the coral would shoot back into the coral if you got your hands to close. This part of the world was the epitome of paradise. We all lounged around on the boat; and spent a few hours diving off, swimming, and having a grand time.  

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After that we went to an island to have lunch, and it was again, one of the most postcard places I have ever seen. White sand, a hammock, and rope swings on the beach. After we ate we swam a bit and then as some people began jumping off the boat a few of us put on our snorkeling masks and swam around the boat. I was shocked as I looked under the water to see a school of fish, thousands of them, moving together in big swirling eddies. The fish were difficult to see from the surface but below you could swim through them, putting holes through their otherwise impenetrable group. It was one of those moments that I thought to myself that I may never be able to see what I saw again. I wish I could have gotten a picture from below to show what it was like to dive down through the fish and have them swirl above you in your wake. 

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After that we moved to another beach which was lackluster compared to the previous two. The water was too shallow for a lot of diving to be done off the boat and the coral was rather bleached. There were some fish there though that I  had not seen before, and that was interesting in itself. 

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After that we headed back to Koh Lipe and had dinner, and it was one of our chaperones birthdays so we had a party on the beach with cake and music after the sun went down. Koh Lipe is a very quiet island, and the walking street was desolate by 10 at night, but we kept the party going on the beach until almost midnight which was really fun. Some people even went swimming but I had had my fill after spending the majority of the day in the water.

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One of our stops at the aptly named rock island

The next morning we packed back onto the speedboat and went back to the mainland, then flew back to Bangkok. This was our last trip, so there were a lot of tearful goodbyes. We will likely never be as a big group like that every again and it was very sad, but we will see each other again before long, just not all together.

A few weeks ago my friends and I returned to P-Pom’s (a rotarian’s house in Sattahip). We stayed there for a few days and then I stayed a few days after my friends left because my host family was travelling in Hong Kong (and I am not allowed to leave the country).  

Since then I have been studying and taken the ACT and also spending time in Bangkok with my friend Natalia and her host sister. I am loving this school break so far and I am just so happy with everything right now. In a few weeks my friends and I are hoping to visit another friend for her birthday on the island her host family runs a hotel on. I cannot wait for the unknown things to come before I go home!

 

#8 A Countdown In Earnest

The other day I was going through some old photos when I found a photo of a dress. A burgundy dress that I wore to a Rotary conference, a Junior State of America convention in Washington D.C., on New Years, and countless other occasions. I was so shocked to see this dress because I had completely forgotten about it. When I first got here all I used to think about was the clothes I wished I could wear that I had at home. When I came to school I fixated on how weird it was to wear a uniform. I could imagine where everything in my room was and exactly where everything was in my kitchen. The past few weeks however, as I have less than 4 months here and have gotten my tickets home, I have realized that these things have been out of my mind for so long that I do not remember them. The kitchen has probably changed since I left; the various pots, pans, bowls rearranged. Some glasses have probably broken, and nobody at home probably thought twice about it but when I open the cabinet I will see what is different. When I get home I will have a whole closet of clothes that I have not seen in a year, and it will feel excessive to have more than one sweater (at first). I will have all my shoes back, and all my shorts and shirts that I used to wish I had. The most disconcerting will be going back to school. I cannot remember anymore what it is like to wear my own clothes to school, or why I do, when uniforms are convenient and everybody is equal. At home I can even wear nail polish and makeup and nobody will care. I saw a photo on Houghton High School’s social media of students in the hall, and it felt so strange to see people wearing jeans and wearing such diverse clothes. I suppose I am more accustomed to life here than I thought I was, and it will be hard going back.

Of course I am excited to go home. Today my mom added a dental appointment to my calendar and I got an email notification, and I realized that very soon I will be back in my town where I know people and understand side conversations, and can still tell you exactly where to find the milk in the grocery store. Remembering I am going home is always a funny feeling, and sometimes I just imagine walking around my town and know it will probably be the same in many ways and very different in others. Stores may have come and gone, roads may have been redone, or since it is Michigan, gotten gaping potholes that weren’t there before. Houses have been repainted, people got new cars, and since these things are not news worthy I won’t know about them until I come home with my very specific memories and am shocked when it is different. Some of these things I know will be different than before, but others I do not expect. I know my life will feel very strange at first but the things around me changing are what is really going to get me. I know things for me will feel funny because I have changed, but the physical environment changing too will throw me for a loop. I have such a picture of home in my head, and in a way it feels like time has stopped there because my “image” is just that and not a live video, so for me everything is on pause.

As my time here winds down I am thinking more about what I am leaving. Particularly a few of my teachers and exchange friends. The thing about leaving home is that you come back, but we will never come back here. We will probably never all meet up from our various corners of the world and even if we did it would not be the same. My teachers are going back to America and transferring schools, so if I visit my school here it will not be the same. That is one thing that I think people do not understand, when you are done with exchange that is the end, you cannot go back. Of course you go on loving your friends, cherish your memories, and maybe visiting your friends, but you never get to have it the same way.

These past 3 weekends I have not been home once. I went to Pattaya with friends from the north the first two weekends and last weekend I stayed with my friend Natalia while my host family went out of town. I have gone to the beach more often on these weekends than I have any other time during exchange, and I have had so much fun spending time with students exploring walking street, hunting down Mexican food for my Mexican friends, going to the beach, eating Thai desserts, and just being around them. It is always bittersweet because in a way I do not know which time will be my last time going to the beach or going to Pattaya or staying in a house with my more local exchange friends. We have an amazing rotarian, P-Pom, who has let us stay with her pretty much every time we have asked and we have made amazing memories swimming in her pool, barbecuing food, and going to Pattaya and I think those times are the hardest to realize I cannot have again after this.

These first two months of 2017 have flown by, and I just keep seeing things I want to do again, wish I could do, or will miss. There are so many experiences I wish I could bring home and share with people in earnest, because stories do not quite do life here its justice.

I am set to come home June 16 and because of the time difference I will leave here and come home the same day, despite something crazy like 35 hours of travel and layovers. Some days I wish time would speed up because I want to see my family and friends and be home, and other days I wish time would stand still and I could keep doing this forever. I feel like there is so much to do and not enough time.

#7 Trip Two, Chiang Mai

I have had a wonderful past few weeks traveling to the north and celebrating Christmas and New Years with all of my exchange friends. My trip essentially started the 21st where a few of us relatively local exchange students met up at my friends house so that the next day we could carpool to Bangkok. From Bangkok we flew to Chiang Mai, and the travel took up a good portion of the day so we ended up just going to our first hotel when we got there. The hotel was a collection of little cabins, each having two separate rooms, with 2 students to a room. The evening was passed having dinner, playing card games, and throwing a football that one of the other students had brought as well as having a very spicy dinner and a trip to 7/11 for snacks.

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All of us district 3340 exchange students setting out.

The next day (as with every day of the trip) we woke up bright and early, had breakfast, and set off to the Mae Fah Luang flower garden and the Doi Tung Royal Villa. The Royal Villa was gorgeous, and funnily enough designed in a minimalist Swiss style as Princess Srinagarindra (who it was built for) spent a good deal of time in Switzerland. The property was extensive, and filled with flower gardens, a passion of the Princess. The Villa is now a museum of Princess Srinagarindra’s life and her philanthropic efforts in the north of Thailand. We did an audio guided tour of the Villa and it was incredible how much the Princess did with her time as well as the thought that went into building the Villa. Possibly the most intricate part of the house was the constellations that were put into the ceiling of the main hall for the Princess’s love of astronomy. These constellations were made of inset lights, with carvings around the lights to show the animal or scene depicted by the constellation, and are all set relative to each other as they would have been on the date of the Princess’s birth in 1900 (a ridiculous but fascinating detail).

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A photo of all of us exchange students in the Mae Fah Luang flower garden.

After seeing the beautiful Royal Villa we went to the Mae Fah Luang flower garden. This flower garden was created as a means to bring the beauty of temperate flower gardens to the Thai people unable to travel abroad, and also as a way to bring money into the area. Locals raise the flowers that are planted in the garden, and the tourism that the garden attracts has become the livelihood of the people in town. The villa and flower garden are just 2 of a set of projects that were designed to end the heavy bearing drug trade in this part of Thailand, and they have largely succeeded, as people no longer have to grow opium or transport drugs in order to make a living.

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A tea plantation in the mountains of northern Thailand

After spending the morning in the gardens we had lunch, and then traveled to Doi Mae Salong to see the tea farms. These farms mostly grow oolong tea and we were able to sample some of the tea. We also got to walk along the terraced tea bushes and watch some of the workers picking the leaves.

Once we had our fill of trying tea we moved to go see the tomb of General Tuan. This tomb is inscribed in Chinese because General Tuan was part of a group of anti communist Chinese who had to flee China when Mao came to power. His tomb lies in Mae Salong because his fortune was later made in this part of Thailand (unfortunately as part of the drug trade). There is actually a guard on duty at the tomb at all times who stands watch over the landmark.

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One of the things that makes Wat Rong Khun unique is that it has a lot of different murals and statues like this one.

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Wat Rong Khun AKA the White Temple, is one of the most intricate temples I have ever seen (and much larger than it appears in the photo)

That night we stayed in a gorgeous resort in Mae Salong and got to do some shopping in town, buying a lot of handmade things from locals. The next day we went to Wat Rong Khun also known as the White Temple. Perhaps one of the most famous temples in Thailand, the White Temple is truly incredible. The temple was completed in the 90’s and features many pop culture murals and statues along with the traditional Buddhist ones.

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The hands of the underworld reaching up

The temple itself is of course snow white and covered in fragments of mirrors that reflect light back that makes it look even more striking. In order to get into the temple people have to walk across a bridge that goes over hands of the underworld, and pass guarding statues that deter evil spirits. Inside the temple there is a figure of a monk that is such a lifelike statue that at first it appears to be a real person who just is staying perfectly still. This statue sits in the hall of the temple, and behind him is a statue of Buddha.

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The lucky metal souvenirs hang down from a stand, and they also hang from a covered walkway

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From this angle you can see the covered walk and Wat Rong Khun behind the trees

After walking out of the main room of the temple there were more white statues, and beyond that a covered walk. This covered walk at first glance looks like it has a textured roof but the “roof” was actually a metal frame, with thousands of thin sheets of metal hanging down. These ornaments are sold at the temple and people write their names on them for good luck. They also had a little wishing well which was really beautiful.

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Driving through the mountains.

After we visited Wat Rong Khun we had lunch, and began our drive to my favorite part of the trip, the homestay in the Mae Kam Pong village. This was by far one of the most unique places I have been and just gorgeous. The village and homestay are both tucked very far into the mountains, which made for a long drive. The roads were also very narrow, so the drivers had to honk before rounding corners because it would be hard to avoid hitting another car if we were caught by surprise.

A homestay is exactly what it sounds like. People rent out parts of their houses for guests to stay in, which was very interesting in this part of Thailand, as the people lead very simple lives growing coffee in the mountains. The homestay itself was in a kind of valley with a river going through the middle. The girl’s house was built into a hill, with the doors of our rooms literally 3 steps from the road. The girls stayed in the upper level of this house built into the hill and the guys stayed in another house across the gully and river.

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The girls rooms were the highest level of this building, with the 2nd highest tier for the owner, and the bottom two for a small restaurant and sitting area

The room I stayed in was just a single room, a balcony, and a sort of attic room. All that was in it were 2 beds on the floor of the bottom room, a line of beds in the attic room, and a bathroom with shower. I actually loved this because it was so simple and nice. There was no air conditioning or heat, so it was warm in the day and cool at night, and it was all around really cute.

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The upper level of one of the girl’s rooms

The bottom levels of our homestay were also a restaurant and to get there you had to go outside, and go down steep stairs to reach the lower 2 levels. The stairs were interesting, but not too bad, just a bit too steep, and in some places the railing was barbed wire (this was a part that was not steep at all).

We stayed at the homestay for 2 nights. The first night we played cards and other games, and the second night was Christmas. The people who ran our homestay actually set up a Christmas tree and lights, and for our Christmas party one of our chaperones dressed up as Santa Claus, and we all had a Secret Santa gift exchange that my friend Natalia set up. It was really fun, and even though it was not a traditional Christmas it was better this way (rather than having it “just like home”). We also had a member of the community come and say prayers over us, and got white string bracelets tied around our wrists as is traditional for welcoming people in Thailand. During Christmas day itself we actually went and explored the village a kilometer away, and walked around to see some waterfalls, the coffee plants, and buy some of the mountain coffee. There was also the cutest cafe which had tons of bakery including warm scones, which we treated ourselves to.

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The hot springs

The day after Christmas we went to see the San Kam Phaeng Hot springs, and then we went to the Mae Taeng elephant camp. At the camp we went on bamboo rafts, ox cart rides, and saw an elephant show. We were supposed to ride elephants as well but many of us did not want to ride the elephants so instead we took a bus back to the main park and got smoothies while we waited for the others to finish.

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Rafts at the elephant camp

After the elephant camp we moved to the city of Pai. Pai was INCREDIBLE. The city itself is one of the nicest I have seen in Thailand and they had a really lively walking street. We spent the night shopping around the street and we even found Mexican food, which my friends and I lost our minds over because we have not had Mexican food since we left home.

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Decked out in gear before floating down the river

The next morning we went rafting on the Khong River which was not much rafting but light paddling because the water levels were so low. We were rafting for a few hours, and after we finished we all got changed and had a picnic lunch with some pretty gorgeous views.

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Rice paddies near where we began rafting

After that we drove to our next location, stopping at Wat Nam Hoo, eventually ending at Wat Chong Kham before heading to our hotel. Once we dropped our stuff off out at the hotel we went back to Mae Hong Som (the town that Wat Chong Kham is in) to go to their walking street, which was low key, but very pleasant.

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Wat Chong Kham

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The lake in the town of Hong Som

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I took this photo because I loved all the Thai flags and lights above this little walkway

The next morning we got up to see the sunrise. Now, the thing that people do not realize is that even though the north is largely the same temperature as where I live in Thailand in the day, it gets much much colder at night. So we all woke up at 5 am, and drove half an hour to a field where we had to stop, and have buses take us up the mountains to a lake to see the sunrise (because the vans could not make the steep hills). When we got to the field though our guide asked our van if we wanted to stay in the van for a while, and we of course said yes because it was very cold outside.

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A chilly morning in the mountains calls for the sweaters, jackets, and blankets that most of us were skeptical about bringing to Thailand in the first place.

Little did we know that the extra 10 minutes in the van would become 30 minutes of waiting outside for the buses to come back because we did not go up with the rest of our group. That plus the 10 minute ride up meant that my van basically missed the sunrise on the lake, but when we got there it was still very pretty.

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Sunrise in the mountains

After that we went and had a Chinese breakfast (this part of Thailand especially is heavily influenced by China) and we began our journey back to Chiang Mai.

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The view from where we got breakfast

For lunch we also went to a Chinese restaurant, and by night time we were finally in the city of Chiang Mai. For dinner we went to a famous Thai restaurant that had traditional Thai music and dancing for entertainment, and after that we went to Chiang Mai’s massive walking street.

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The famous restaurant in Chiang Mai

The next morning we went to Wat Phra That Doi Su Thep, a temple that overlooks Chiang Mai. We took vans to the bottom of the stairs to the temple, and then climbed to the top. This temple in particular was gorgeous was because everything was covered in gold.

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All the stairs leading to the temple

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One of the more extravagant temples in Thailand

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The faint view of Chiang Mai below

After visiting this temple we made our way back to the airport, flew back to Bangkok, and went home. It was a wonderful trip, with so much traveling that we often had to look at shirts for sale to figure out which city we were in, but it was great all the same. I am really excited for our next trip in March because we are going to be island hopping the south, and that will be really cool. Until then I have to wait though, but I might see some other exchange students before the next trip.

The 13th of January marked 1 year since I found out that I was coming to Thailand, and is almost exactly halfway through my exchange, which feels like complete insanity. I feel like it was yesterday that I got the text. At the same time it feels like forever since I got here. I know that by the time I do actually go home though that it will be a blur, and I am kind of scared for that. There are so many emotions the closer I get to going home. Scared to go back some days, really thrilled to go back others, always missing my family, but not really missing everything. This year feels like it is in limbo, and that it is my life but not really. When I go home it is like hitting play on a paused DVD, and I will walk back into school and open my locker and go to class as if nothing has happened. That part scares me more than any other, because I know that some day what I experience today will feel as far removed as being home feels in my mind. Weird thoughts all around. Anyway, I am having a wonderful time and I am so excited for what is to come.

#6 Trips and the Holidays

I must admit that I am beginning to have a hard time writing about my life here. Writing feels so far apart from how it really feels to be here and doing what I am doing. I cannot exactly explain what things are like on exchange and I often feel like I should postpone writing until I actually have something worth writing about, and I end up pushing it off much longer than I planned (which is why nothing has been posted in a few weeks).

I have had a pretty rough time feeling motivated with school. But a few weeks ago there was a rotary trip to Phu Kradueng National Park, about 10 hours north of where I live (by bus). The trip was a lot of fun and I made a lot of great friends but it also made coming back to school really difficult. It is hard to leave the few people that you have been able to communicate with in the almost 4 months and just go back to never being able to completely relate like with exchange students.

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Our view right after getting off the night bus (not Phu Kradueng).

The trip itself was absolutely gorgeous and exhausting. We took a night bus from my city to the bottom of the mountain, stayed in a resort for a day where all the other students from our district collected, celebrated Loi Kratong, and the next day we went went up the mountain.

After arriving in the town near Phu Kradueng we went and dropped off our bags and then straight to breakfast where we were joined by some of the other exchange students who arrived from their various parts of our district.

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Following breakfast we all headed back to the resort to relax and in the afternoon we went on a hike and for a swim in a local waterfall which was a refreshing break from the heat.

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People setting their baskets in the water and some people wading through.

The Loi Kratong festival is a festival to respect the water and all it gives the people (as almost half of Thailand’s people are farmers). To celebrate Loi Kratong Thai people make little baskets out of banana leaves, foam, and flowers that they set adrift in the water with candles and incense. All of us exchange students got a little boat, said a prayer, and then set them down in the water. All the small baskets in the water looked beautiful, and funnily enough a bunch of people started jumping into the water and walking among the boats.

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Some of the other exchange students letting go of their lanterns

After we went to the festival in town we went back to the resort that we were staying at and set off paper lanterns. That was something that I have always wanted to do and it was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. It was a challenge lighting them because you either had to hold the paper away from the flame to stop it burning while waiting for the heat to collect, which was a full arm length effort, or you had to start with the lantern upside down and then quickly flip it over. It was an incredible experience waiting for the lanterns to fill up, and feel them gradually pull against our hands until it felt like they were ready, and just watching our lanterns float away. By far one of my favorite parts of my trip was the lanterns, and the feeling of letting them go. It was almost a cathartic experience, all my worries and stress just going up into the night.

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A photo taken by one of the other students of the lanterns floating away

The next morning we all had breakfast, and headed to the bottom of the mountain to begin our climb up. Although it was only a 5 K hike it was ridiculously steep and rocky, with projected climbing time being 4-6 hours. Knowing how difficult the hike would be made one of the things most interesting about the mountain even more extraordinary. There are actually porters who go up and down the mountain every day carrying supplies to the businesses and people at the top (and the various stands on the path to the top) as well as tourist’s bags. These porters carry the supplies on large bamboo rods that they balance on their shoulders with bags and supplies at either end. After experiencing the climb myself I cannot imagine doing it every day, it was completely exhausting. Anyway, these porters make their living by bringing things up the mountain which is truly remarkable.

Our hike started at almost 9:30 am and the climb was instantly very steep. About 30 minutes into the hike we came to the first of the rest areas where we got our first break. There were 3 or 4 of these rest areas along the trail up the mountain which had food, water, and often beautiful views to take pictures. A small group of us went ahead of the rest and we ended up being the first to the top of the mountain. The climb did not really have an easy part except for a short flat bit but the most difficult was the end, with large rocks, and mud making up the trail.

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Stopping to take photos of the view from one of the rest areas

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Nearing the top the path became a lot of boulders instead of dirt

Once we got to the top we waited for the rest of the group to arrive, which took another hour or so, and then we all relaxed for a while before walking to the welcome center. Once we got the welcome center we were able to get food and then went to our cabins. Each cabin had 8 people, and was 2 “bedrooms”, a shared space, and a bathroom. The bedrooms were essentially mattresses lined up next to each other on the floor, so 4 or 5 of us slept on what was one big shared bed. Also, the cabins only had electricity from 6 pm to 10 pm and after that, nothing, and no electricity in the morning either. The cabins did not even have outlets (we had to go to the restaurants to get power).

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Sunrise at Phu Kradueng

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Almost all of us students and tourists lining up to see the sunrise

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Tired but so happy to see the beautiful morning.

The day after we got to the top of the mountain we woke up at 4:30 am to see the sunrise. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen and it really looked like the clouds over the town below were water. We ended up sticking around there until 6 and then went back to the restaurants for breakfast, and spent the rest of the day hiking around the plateau to see the waterfalls. The hike was a bit long and the waterfalls were pretty but nothing crazy, it was a bit tiresome after hiking up the day before. We had lunch at one of the waterfalls and then hiked back to the cabins, and had free time. The next day we hiked to a cliff to watch the sunset, which sounds like it would be a lot of waiting for the sun to go down but we walked a total of 20 km that day, stopping for lunch and photos and then continuing to the cliff to watch the sunset. The walk back to the cabins was funny because it was dark, so it was a lot of stumbling around and trying not to lose footing

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Some of my friends and I stopping to enjoy the beautiful view

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The beautiful sunset from the mountain top.

The next day we made our descent down the mountain which was difficult, going from the (relative) coolness of the top to the intensity of the bottom. Oddly enough going down was in a way a little more difficult because we had to focus on not falling the whole time, and our legs were never really given a rest. At the bottom we had a picnic lunch and had an event to give blankets to kids in need. From there students started leaving and my group ended up being last since we had the chaperones and we took a night bus back, arriving the next morning in my city.

The way I have described this trip is very bare bones, and the reason for that is that I just cannot describe the trip in a way to make any person understand what it was really like. If I tried to explain the hours playing card games, joking around, walking back from hikes, conversations, or games we played my post would be 3 times as long and still not convey what it was like at all. I cannot explain how fun late nights were just messing around, and eating noodles while playing games and make you feel how it feels to be there with the people I was with.

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Getting ready for the parade representing see-fah (blue) in traditional Thai clothes

Since the trip I have had sport day at my school (essentially a 3 day track and field day but with all sorts of sports) in which I played soccer, futsal, and ran in 2 relays, as well as walked in a parade. All of the grades were separated by class and color and competed in all different types of events. The funniest thing was trying to explain that America does not have sport day, that we just play sports every day and have games a few times a week. Many of the students were surprised because sport day is a BIG deal here.

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Blue team and a game called ‘find the exchange student’

I also met up with my friends for a weekend to run in a race, and we also went to a mall, and got those little fish pedicures where they nibble your feet which was a mix of disgusting and cool.

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Photos with some of the girls while shopping.

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Thai people love to deem any length of race as a marathon or mini marathon, in reality we ran a 4k. And Beba’s state of slumber+my expression shows how late we regretfully stayed up the night before.

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Fish pedicures!

This week I also participated in an english camp where I taught 3rd year college students english with my friend Natalia from Mexico.

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Natalia and I on Wednesday before judging the student’s skits.

This past weekend I was supposed to go to Bangkok with Natalia to meet up with friends but I ended up getting sick and had to go to the hospital, which did those plans in. Hopefully we can do that some other time though because it was going to be lots of fun.

All in all I have had a wonderfully busy few weeks, and I am really looking forward to the Chiang Mai trip this week. With little/no Christmas spirit it has been difficult seeing all the beautiful photos of home, and it makes me even more homesick, as Christmas is a holiday that my family really has a lot of tradition and memories around. This trip to Chiang Mai is purposefully this time of year so that we all are gathered together at Christmas instead of alone, which I think is brilliant. I am very excited, and will hopefully write about this trip in a much more timely manner!

 

#5 School Break and Birthday Celebrations

So far school break has been pretty interesting. I go to my family’s office pretty much every day and I usually read and do online homework on my phone there. It is nice to relax and not worry about what to do next. Without school life is a bit more exciting because you never know exactly what is going to happen the next day.

A few weeks ago it was my host brother’s girlfriend Vi’s birthday and I went to Bangkok with them for a few nights and stayed in their apartment. We went to Vi’s birthday party which was great fun and all the girls either jumped or were pushed in a pool (except me). The next day I went with Vi to donate to an orphanage in Bangkok that houses boys who were abandoned by their families due to mental or physical impairment (often both). Some people in Thailand actually give donations during their birthday, as a way of sharing what they have (as I interpret it), which I think is something that should be adopted all over the world. Particularly in the USA I notice how stingy people are with their money, not that it is really the worst thing, but there are plenty of people that could use twenty dollars in a much more meaningful way than a fancy dinner. After we dropped the goods off at the orphanage we were given a bit of a tour, and while I could not understand what the person was telling us about, I did learn a lot just by observing. We walked into a sort of dormitory where people were feeding the boys. This orphanage houses boys 7-18, and the ones we saw were probably in the middle, 14 or 15. I cannot really describe what I saw or how I felt in a way that accurately  expresses what it was like but it was something that altered my perspective on helping people. To see all these people who could not feed themselves, bathe themselves, care for themselves, or communicate for themselves gives me such admiration for people who dedicate their lives to helping people in need. To think people desire to reduce the help given for any person in need of care seems particularly appalling now that I have seen some of the people who need this aid.

2 weeks ago was also my birthday. I turned 17 and I had a bit of a party with my friend from Mexico, Natalia, and her exchange officer’s friends and family. While I missed my family on my birthday it was nice to spend time with Natalia and I enjoyed the day the best I could without them. It was really fun and there were a bunch of people who actually spoke English there, which was interesting as it feels unusual to hear English being spoken in background conversations now that I have gone so long without it. The party was held at the exchange officers house and I completely freaked out when I saw there was an oven in the kitchen!!! Almost nobody in Thailand has an oven and it was so wonderful just to see one after so long. I did not bake anything but it just reminded me of home and I felt it was such a quirky thing to view with such affection that it was worth sharing.                        The food at the party was heavenly. It was a Thanksgiving type spread with what seemed to be pulled beef, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and stewed vegetables. Absolutely delicious in every way. I ate past fullness and although I felt uncomfortably stuffed it was fantastic.

I also went to visit Bangkok again with my host brother and his girlfriend last week and it was very exciting. My day started with me going to the office like usual but then I was invited to join them for a few days. That night we stayed in a spectacular resort close to Pattaya, a city between Bangkok and Ban Chang. The resort was one of those places that always makes it onto pamphlets and ads on the internet for visiting Thailand. Consequently this resort was almost entirely populated by tourists, and funnily enough the majority were from eastern Europe. The resort was designed in a way that had 2 main buildings with rooms with a court yard and a pool in the middle. At one end was a waterfall built from huge concrete blocks, and at the other end was the hotel restaurant. This hotel also had huge rooms and best of all an enormous bathroom with a bathtub! Again, Thailand does not have bathtubs in most houses, and was a surprising thing that I miss seeing greatly.

The next day we had an “american style” breakfast at the hotel (PANCAKES!!!) which was very nice, and for lunch we went to a very nice restaurant called the Chocolate Factory. Their specialty is obviously chocolate but they also had fantastic meals. We all had rich chocolate drinks and then a very nice lunch. We also bought a box of delicious chocolates and then we headed to Bangkok. As I had not brought any clothes with me we did a bit of clothes shopping that night, bought a movie, then went back to the apartment. The next day we did MORE clothes shopping and tried all sorts of different foods. At the end of the day we went and saw the new movie, “The Girl On the Train”, which was brilliant, although quite horrific and a bit too graphic for my taste. The movie really makes you think about manipulation and alcoholism which I feel have too much of a presence in our culture.

After shopping at the famous market called the Chatuchak in Bangkok I actually saw a schoolmate in the crowd. It was so odd because I was just going through the mob of people to get to the train and scanning the crowd as usual when I recognized him as a fellow student in my school. Quite funny being 2 hours away in a city with millions of people and I still managed to see a classmate.

The next day we went out with Vi’s sister to a night market which was nice, and the day after I headed back home to Ban Chang completely laden with new clothing from all the shopping outings.

Last week the King of Thailand also died. This event has affected Thailand greatly and I feel badly for the Thai people. After 70 years of leadership it is incredibly difficult for many to deal with this loss, as many have never known another ruler. King Rama IX was a ruler who made great humanitarian efforts for citizens across the country. He united people of all religions, social classes, and incomes. He made many adjustments to encourage economic growth and tourism, and was well loved by all people. His portrait is on all official government buildings, on arch ways before cities, on some roadways, in schools, temples, and many businesses. The country is currently in a mourning period where everybody is supposed to wear bland colors, there will be no parties, and there have been requests that people respect this time for the sake of the King. Government employees are even supposed to wear black for a whole year. For the time being white and black sashes have been put up around his portraits and in a month his son will take over the throne. At that time the face on the money will be changed, the portraits will be replaced with the new king, and largely the country will start again. Hopefully King Rama X rules with the same grace and care as his father. It will be interesting seeing this upheaval after so many years without a shift in royal leadership.

I head back to school on the 28th of October, and there is a mix of excitement but also disappointment. While it will be nice to see friends and have plenty of time to really practice Thai, it also is going to be a bit of a nuisance. I am going to have to redo my entire schedule, which was a pain the first time round, and I am quite liking doing what I like with all my time instead of trying to pay attention during history, which was not particularly thrilling last semester either. Still, it is part of the experience, and I am looking forward to having a bit more to do with my time. Speaking of which, while I have been trying to write the past 2 weeks there has not been sufficient wifi and it would not save properly, but hopefully I can work that out a bit better in the future. Also, I am having a tricky time with getting photos from my phone to the computer, which is why this post is so bland, but I will be working that out soon and will put them up then!

 

#4 A Week of Buzzing Activity

Oh boy has it been a busy week! School is out on break for the next month or so as the semester has just ended, so I am just hanging out for a while and rolling with the punches. I am kind of bummed that there is a break actually because I felt like I was really getting into the routine of school, and there is nothing like hundreds of students who want to talk to you to make you practice language. However, it is nice to get a bit of a break from some of it, and I am still working on Thai at home (please send help).

 

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The traditional Thai dress and makeup I got to wear for my performance!

This week I had the (incredibly nerve wracking) honor of dancing at a teacher retirement celebration at my school. I have practiced a few times a week since I arrived, and was quite anxious about the performance. As the dance teacher does not speak English I had to learn by mimicking her movements and could not understand much of her critiques or instructions. Learning became a lot of adjusting as I grew more comfortable and noticed differences between myself and my teacher’s movement. 2 weeks ago I began practicing with my group and a few of my movements were backwards (we had to stagger dancers to fit us all on stage, so some moments where I was taught to go forward were actually moments I was supposed to go backward). After a bunch of crashing about and looking very bewildered while my teacher attempted to guide me, I was able to adjust and we were prepared for the performance! It was a very formal event, so much so that I even got to have my makeup and hair done for the occasion!  I also got to wear a wonderful bright pink traditional Thai dress.

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A photo of me and my beautiful friend named Bam.

The performance itself was much bigger than any I have done with acting as part of the drama club at home and was quite overwhelming. All the students of the school piled into the pavilion, the band played the national anthem, and then myself and 20 other beautifully made up girls took the stage. I have never understood how somebody could feel their heart beating in their chest but in the seconds before the music began playing I actually could feel it. As we began our dance I felt more shaky than I ever have in my life. It did not help that the teacher insisted that I had a face splitting smile the whole time (none of the other students had to, but I was instructed to grin ear to ear) and nerves made my smile falter and my mouth twitch throughout the song. I was so terrified of messing up that I danced very quickly, in a sort of an attempt to get through the dance without forgetting something, which looks funny on video (thankfully it all went smoothly aside from my impressive clip). At the time it felt  S O   S L O W  and I wish now that I could have been more reasonable and just relaxed. It was great though, and an incredible experience that I am so excited to have been able to participate in. It was such a unique event that I know I will never forget.

This past Friday I got to go play soccer after school with some friends. I played last week too which was fun especially since I do not do a ton else in the way of sports here, but I played terribly because it has been a while since I practiced. It was to the point where I felt bad for the people on my team. Hopefully I play better next week and it is a little less embarrassing.

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The view I had while getting a massage on the beach 🙂 

I also got to spend a day and a night with my second host family, where we watched a Thai soap opera (horrendous even though I could not understand a word) and we went to the beach to get massages. It was one of those picture perfect places that you see photos of when you google Thailand, and the weather was perfect, with a breeze that kept it from being too hot. It was very relaxing given how exhausting it is to try to keep up with language.

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After the race at 7 am, trophy in hand and ready to sleep again!

To top off my week I came home from my day with my second host family to learn that I had to wake up at 5 am for a 10 K race the next day (I knew about the race, but not that it was the next day). The race was so early because it gets so hot here in the day, and it was actually a lot of fun to participate in. I woke up bright and early, at first dreading the race ahead, and then learned that I only had to run a 3 K instead of 10 K (a fantastic relief as I have not run in a very long time). Last year I ran cross country in school and I definitely miss the team so it was nice to run again. I actually got first which was pretty neat. I am going to run again in October and that will be a 5 K. It is a relief to do something that is pretty hard to mess up and that I do not have to think much about to understand, just the Thai words for 1, 2, 3, run when the horns are blown, and run where people point.

The past few weeks have been really great. I have not had enough time to sit down and really write for a while though and I figured I would rather write a well planned post than two rushed pieces. I am currently having a long break out of school, as I said at the beginning, and I will be a little more regular with posting, as well as have all sorts of things to write about because I will not have such a definite and normalized routine . Who knows what is in store!

#3 Getting Busier, Getting Used to It

The past 11 days have been pretty busy. I go to school every day of course, and I am glad to say I am making friends which is very fun. School is still strange though. People have taken habit of just yelling my name but not looking at me, which is awfully confusing because I do not know who to respond to. They also say things like “hello”, “good morning”, or “how are you” and again do not make eye contact with me or wave, so I do not know who says it. It is pretty bizarre but I am getting used to just looking around and smiling, and just sort of hope it falls on the person who said something to me.

I am glad to say I am getting used to the heat, which is a sort of weird experience as well because air conditioning is not soothing after a while, but rather uncomfortably cold. At first the blast of cool air is a nice change, but when I wake up in my air conditioned room it is uncomfortable to get up, and when I sit in an air conditioned room too long I actually get goosebumps. This all is very different from my first 3 weeks where sitting in air conditioning was the only time I was comfortable. I also am no longer shocked when I open a door and the heat rushes in, it is just normal. It is weird the way your body adjusts to expect certain things when the climate changes.

This week I went to a charity event with my family. Most of the rotary club was there too and it was really nice. All the women were wearing fancy party dresses (I was severely under-dressed) and it was karaoke. I have not really seen people participate in karaoke before but people actually paid to up on stage and sing. My host family wanted me to sing and I very nearly did but it was $100 to sing a song (again, charity event) so we decided it was not the time to experiment with my singing abilities. Karaoke seems like a thing people do a lot here though. There are businesses that just rent rooms to have karaoke parties in and I frequently see videos of other exchange students singing karaoke. It is fun to be in a place where people just go for things like that, instead of being bashful and embarrassed about doing things publicly like in the US.

This past weekend I had my orientation, which was very different from the conferences we have in the USA. Our conferences at home were 3 days long and consisted of many meetings with around 25 inbound students and 25 outbound students, as well as some rebounds and rotex (students recently returned or students who have been home for over a year). Here is was just the one day, it was just 6 of the inbounds of the district (because the district is so large we have to have smaller orientations in different areas because some people would have to drive 8 hours if we had one big orientation) and there were only 2 previous exchange students and no outbound students. It was great fun though and it was nice to see other exchange students and start making friends. We have 2 Americans (counting me), 1 Brazilian, 1 Mexican, 1 Canadian, and 1 German in our group. Overall there are I think 31 exchange students in our district, and I will meet more students on the trips we get to take later in the year!

I also got to go to Bangkok to visit my host sister there with my family. We went to markets in the night and in the morning and basically just poked around for a few hours but it was fun. I do not think I have ever seen such a sprawling city. It felt like no matter where I turned it just kept going and going which was a really weird experience. I also had my first experience around tourists. It is the most bizarre thing to hear Thai all around you for 3 weeks and then hearing people speak your language, it is like this moment of clarity when it finally all makes sense. Also, tourists dress very obviously and it is funny. They are easy to spot because they all wear shorts and foam flip flops with t-shirts or they wear billowy elephant print pants (though pretty, I am fairly sure no Thai person ever wears them). It was pretty different to see tourists from the angle of an exchange student, even though it has been just 3 weeks.

Overall everything has been well, and I have had such a great time with my host family and Rotary and I cannot wait for all the adventures to come!