Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Loy Krathong

Last night (the 28th) we celebrated Loy Krathong even though the full moon (which the day of the celebration is based on) wasn't in sight. I did not know what the festival was before coming to Thailand, but I had seen pictures of it before and you probably have, too. Most of the more famous pictures of the festival are taken in Chiang Mai and look something like this:
Chiang Mai
The festival has changed, developed, and morphed a lot over the years. When we asked the Thai teachers about it, it was summarized as a time to show appreciation for nature. It is celebrated by lighting a lantern and sending it into the sky and/or making a krathong (which I did!) to float in the river. We were told to make a wish when we put our krathong in the river and think of any negative aspect of our life we want to let go and put behind us. Most krathongs are make of a piece of a banana tree trunk, banana leaves, flowers (especially orchids), a candle, and incense. The Chinese teachers were making them at school yesterday with some of the students and luckily I wasn't teaching at the time so I got to make one (minus flowers), too! I find celebrating Loy Krathong a little contradictory since honoring nature meant putting a lot of plastic, paper, and other trash in the rivers and air, but I'm all about trying to get immersed in the culture so tried not to think of that detail.
My Krathong
I really wanted to go to Chiang Mai for the festival, but unfortunately it in the north of Thailand and the full moon landed on a school day. One of the women that works in the office at our school invited us to celebrate Loy Krathong with her (side note: spelling is very inconsistent here with roman letters, so you may see it spelled loy or loi). We met Jinny at her shop, which she works at after school, in the old market (about 1 mile from our apartment). The market is basically on the river, which has a big sidewalk/board walk where many people were celebrating.
Loy Krathong in Suphanburi

There were huge, elaborate Krathongs that various groups of people in Suphan made. They were so beautiful and complicated with tons of banana leaves woven in different ways. It kind of reminded me of sand castle building contests as a comparison. There was also a beauty contest for kids going on, which is evidently common at Loy Krathong celebrations (Toddlers in Tiara's anyone?). I placed my Krathong on the water slide to go down into the river, made a wish, and let some negative thoughts go. Very refreshing.
Krathong Water Slide 
Beauty Pageant
We ran into the other farang in our apartment building whose students gave them a couple big lanterns. The lanterns aspect of Loy Krathong isn't as common in Suphan, but people released them throughout the night lighting up the sky from time to time. Helping send a lantern off was probably my favorite part of the festival and it definitely makes me want to be in Thailand at some point during this same time of year to celebrate in Chiang Mai. I was surprised as a feeling of harmony and joy washing over me as I helped let go of the lantern and watched it fly high into the sky. I was very grateful to still feel a little magic amidst the crowds, the neon lights, and the fire works.

Letting our lantern fly (I took part in the second one, so I am not in this picture)
 Yay for festivals in Thailand!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Lopburi Monkey Festival

Last weekend was the first time Eric, Anna and I all spent a weekend without at least one of the other. Eric had been feeling under the weather and wanted to stay in Suphan to rest and relax. Anna made plans with some friends from orientation to go to Bangkok. I decided to go to Lopburi for the weekend to celebrate the city's famous monkey festival.

Lopburi is about 2 hours from Suphan, so I let myself sleep in to a whopping 7:00 am and headed off to the bus stop Saturday morning. There wasn't a direct bus from Suphan to Lopburi, so I took the 1 1/2 hour bus to Ayutthaya and then the 2 hour bus from Ayutthaya to Lopburi. By the time I reached Lopburi it was noon and my bus dropped me off right outside some Wat that I eventually discovered was the Wat where the Monkey Festival (also called Monkey Party) would take place on Sunday. I walked around the Wat, which you cannot see from pictures but it is a pretty small area right in the middle of old Lopburi city.

After watching the monkey for a while I headed over to my hostel, which ended up only being a few blocks away. I checked in and put my stuff down in the tiny room before going to find some food. I sat down at a stand that was luckily covered because rain started dumping down which was even more dramatized by the tin roof. I thought the rain would stop after half an hour or so since that is what usually happens, but it continued. I eventually went back to my little room to lay down and listen to the chain smoking French people talking outside my room.
Wat the day before the festival.

I made plans to meet up with a couple girls (Allison and Megan) who also live and teach in Suphan, but are not in my same apartment like the other 15 foreign teachers. They had rented motorcycles and were stuck waiting out the rain, but eventually came back to Lopburi. We spent the evening hanging out at some Wat ruins, getting dinner, and going to bed early to wake up and go to the festival.

We made our way over to the festival around 9:30 am and the Wat ruins were transformed from the day before with tons of vendors selling popcorn, soda, candy, cookies, hot dogs, etc. The monkeys were already being fed the aforementioned foods, but at 10:00 a parade led by the Lopburi high school marching band came up the street and into the Wat area to bring tons of fruit and more goodies that are terrible for the monkeys to be eating. There were also hundreds of monkey stuffed animals layed out in from of the wat with some of the fruit. I think monkeys like stuffed animals since they tried to steal Allison's.
Lopburi Marching Band
Fruit and stuffed animals for the monkeys.
Overall, the monkey festival was very bizarre, but they are very silly/entertaining animals to watch. I had read that they would climb on you if you wanted, but I didn't realize that you actually didn't have a choice. If you had a purse, backpack, or were carrying food, at least 2 monkeys were going to climb all over you with a focus on climbing all over your head.
Allison saving her stuffed animal from the monkeys.
One monkey stole my sunglasses off my head and ran up to the top of the Wat with them, trying them on and hitting them against the stone. He eventually dropped them and I ran through the monkeys to snatch them before another monkey could. Shortly after this incident, I had two more monkeys on me when I felt a pain on my arm, looked down, and saw one of the monkeys biting me! He didn't break the skin, so I'm good, but I was pretty over the monkey festival after that.
Sunglasses theif.
Megan, Allison and I heard that there was a public bus that could take you out to the sunflower fields that Lopburi is also known for, so we spent at least an hour getting on various buses, waiting for others, and generally experiencing a lot of confusion. We never made it to the sunflower fields, so we gave up and headed back to Suphan.

It was fun seeing what the monkey festival was all about, but I am definitely itching to get out of cities in general and spend time on the beach or in the mountains. We have Monday off of school next week so it is looking like we will be able to get to a beach, so excited!

In case you are interested (why wouldn't you be), here is a video I found that gives you a good idea of the monkey festival.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

There is so much for me to be thankful for as I spend this Thanksgiving in Thailand. I won't make a public list of all of the things I am grateful for here, but do want to express my gratitude for my family. I am grateful for having the opportunity to travel and for inheriting a traveling/adventurous spirit (or at least growing up being encouraged to try new things and travel as an adult). I am grateful for the support I received when I decided to teach English in Thailand from all of my family and friends. I am really grateful for the little mush ball addition to the family (Liam) and wish he would slow down his growing!

And here is what some of my kids are grateful for:

"I'm grateful for my best friend!!"
"I'm gratoful for friends and family" [I am not correcting spelling here]
"I'm grateful for games" [and I know he meant computer games]
"I'm grateful for Nukk" [who this student's friend told me is his girlfriend]

I suggest making a list of all of the things you are grateful for (and why) to embrace the spirit of Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2012

The City of Exotic Animals, Muay Thai, and Khao San Road: Bangkok

Happy one month anniversary of living in Thailand to me! Part of me thinks it is crazy that I've already been here a week and another part feels like I have been here much longer. We finally got the courage to make our way to Bangkok for the weekend and I had a really good time!

We left Suphan Saturday morning for the 1.5 hour van ride to Bangkok. We took the van that drops you off at the Mo Chit (Pronounced Mo Shit) Bus Station, which is very close to the gigantic weekend market in Bangkok. We found our way to the market easily enough and spent about an hour or so snaking through the stalls selling clothing, jewelry, home decorations, furniture, and everything else you could think of including pet hedgehogs (I am very close to buying one), squirrels (yes pet squirrels), hundreds of puppies (so cute! But you aren't allowed to touch them), ferrets, and really any strange small animal you could think of. We then realized that we had only seen a fraction of the market and spent another 3 to 4 hours shopping and weaving our way around.  We probably still only saw about half of the market.  It wasn't as overwhelming as I expected though and really enjoyed it.  I spent 1,000 baht (gasp! So much!), but bought a lot of great clothes, jewelry, and a couple decorations (I remind myself that 1,000 baht is under $40 so life is good).
Pet Squirrel Anyone?
After the market we took a couple modes of transportation to the infamous Khao San Road. It is basically the cheapest place to stay in Bangkok and is a couple streets of purely backpackers and other foreigners.  It is mostly known for being the street that foreigners go party on. It was a pretty interesting scene and I am very happy we didn't spend much time there. The english teachers are practically the only white people in Suphan (population 40,000ish) so it was really weird being around so many other foreigners.

We had looked into going to a Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) fight so we took a taxi (with an awesome taxi driver) to the stadium. We were ready to spend more than desired, but when we got there it turned out tickets were at least twice as expensive as we thought. A quick group meeting and we decided what the heck let's do this!  We got ringside tickets for 1,600 baht (a little over $50) and enjoyed some boxing! I have never been to a boxing match at home and haven't even really watched it on TV, but I thought it was pretty cool. The first fight we saw was between the "heavy weights" AKA 150 pounds.  We then watched 5 or so more fights until the end.  Some of them were as small as 104 pounds and 14 years old! I felt a little guilty watching kids the age of my students (very strange perspective) beat each other up and get payed for it. Pretty much all of them were really respectful fighters, though, and would often smile when their opponent got a good shot, so it was all in good fun (although a couple were knocked out or bled, hmmm).

We went back to Khao San Road after the fight ended (after midnight) where it was in full swing. We watched some kids do some great brake dancing and people watched a little before going to bed.

It was great to sleep in finally and not feel like we had to do anything the next day. We planned on going to Wat Pho where there is a huge lounging Buddha, but unfortunately it was closed getting ready for Obama to visit a few hours after we tried to go! I wanted to hang around the Grand Palace where Obama was scheduled to be around 3 pm, but ended up hitting up Break Dawn Part 2 (oh yes) at an epic movie theater.


Bangkok is quite the money sucker and I don't plan on going back very soon, but had a great weekend all the same!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Hilarious English

Eric gave his eighth graders a homework assignment to come up with a world record. These were my favorites (brackets are his corrections to make them make some sense):

"My crowd are supergirl[s].  We have Sim, Kaew, Bam, Nampu, and me. We can subdue big chickens. We subdued [a] monster, [a] big fish, [a] big newt and [a] big sable. We hoisted [a] pyramid in [the] sky. We [can] eat chocolate 1,000 bar in 1 second. We are [the] girly gang."

"Perche ate 350,000 grains [of cat food] in 1 hour.  He was hungry and he didn't know what can he do?  So, he pick[ed] the cat food from the box. And then he eat it!!!"

"Safe went in and went out [of his] home 333 times in one day. He like[s] walking. He had good shoes for walking. He happyed with this activity."

Love it.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Around Suphan

Differences Between Thai High Schoolers and American High Schoolers
1. Thais look so young that it is hard to really hate your students.  They piss you off and some people (Eric) want to throw chalk at them, but they are so cute so it is somewhat forgivable.  I don't think I could say the same for American high schoolers.

2. They stand at the beginning and end of every class to say: "Good morning/Afternoon Teacher!" and "Thank you Teacher!"

3. Thai students do not leave class or try to pack up when the bell rings.  They don't leave until they are dismissed.  Sometimes I really have to encourage them to leave the room.

Similarities Between Thai High Schoolers and American High Schoolers
1. Thai students draw penises on the desks and on themselves just like in the US.

2. Getting the teacher to say "penis" is hilarious. (Me: "Choose a team name." Student: "Pen (points at a pen) is." Me: "Pen is..?" (in my head, crap they got me and this is hilarious)

3. Copying and cheating.  This is actually way worse in Thailand since that are a much more collective society.

Anyway, last week wasn't extremely eventful since I spent the weekend in Suphan instead of going on an adventure, but it was fun nonetheless.  We were asked to judge an english contest on Saturday morning, so the school week was really busy getting kids ready for their contests.  There was skit writing and acting, story writing, impromptu speech, interview, spelling bee, listening and answering questions, and writing.  Even though helping the kids who were competing went into our lunch time and free periods, I usually really enjoyed helping them.  These are the smart students that actually want to learn english and they are so cute.  I would love it if my job was just to do one on one tutoring with some of these kids.
My Apartment Building

Saturday we woke up to go judge the competition that was between 3-5 different schools in the area. I was judging the spelling bee, which was pretty boring compared to Eric who got to judge the skits. It sounds like they were hilarious and our students were pretty embarassingly awful. "Mommy I want the mobile phone," "No," "I hate you, I'm going to kill myself," etc.

After that we mostly hung out at the apartment and Eric and I made plans for New Years when we have a decent amount of time off. We booked a really cool looking hotel on one of the island on the west side, which will be way less touristy than the rest of the south. It is on Koh Maak and we are staying at this awesome little place.

Later we went to dinner and had some really amazing Mango and Green Tea Gelato, thank you Coco Monkey! I have been spending more time just walking around and exploring the town, which always makes me feel like I belong in a place more, especially if I am walking around by myself (don't worry, not at night and Suphan is an incredibly safe city). This led me to so great exploring yesterday!

Eric was playing golf with Mr. Hiroshi, the Japanese teacher at our school, and Anna hasn't been feeling well so I went out on my own. I stopped at a coffee stand and hung out for a while talking with the women there the best I could (which wasn't well), but they helped me practice my Thai and I helped them practice English.  Everyone here seems to want to exchange language lessons, which is awesome.

There is a huge Chine dragon temple a mile or so from my apartment, so I thought I would keep walking to check it out.  Along the way I met a grandmother hanging out on a side street who invited me to sit down and eat some of her popcorn.  Five or so of her grandkids were around and we eventually all went to the temple (minus Gma).  They were super cute and there was a 19 year old who spoke a little English.  She was walking around in heels, which I was very impressed by especially since she was technically a boy ("Lady boys" are so common here that it barely phases me anymore. There are a couple gay kids in all of my classes and they are awesome.  Ironic that a somewhat still developing country is more socially developed than the US.  I want to ask if "Boy ladies" exist aka girls that dress like boys hmmm.)

The temple was very cool and it was fun going with them since they taught me all the little rituals.

I definitely want to get out of town next weekend so stay posted for another awesome adventure to come!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Tomorrow is the start of our second week teaching here in Suphanburi and even though I still feel silly calling myself a teacher, it feels like I have been here teaching for at least a month. We also went on our visit weekend trip, which made coming back to Suphanburi feel like coming home.  We went to Ayutthaya with a group of four other teachers from our program living in Suphanburi.  Before I get to the weekend update, I wrote down some of the most common or silliest nicknames of my students (all Thais have a super long first name so they each have short nicknames and I'm not sure how they come up with them):

1. Ice
2. Beer
3. Porn (Common for girls because it means blessed or something else positive)
4. Tony Stark
5. Nut
6. Dream
7. Mint
8. Ploy
9. Pan
10. Fluke
11. Earth
12. Oat
13. O
14. M
15. Ct. Dooky Baby
16. F in love

Anyway, Ayuttaya was once the capital of Thailand and evidently was the largest city in the world at one time with over 1 million people.  Burma invaded and basically tore the city down, but there are tons of really neat ruins to explore which is what we did all weekend!  I am really into ruins (I couldn't think of a better word than "into") and have loved exploring them in India, Peru, and now Thailand! (Photos: Hampi-India, Machu Picchu-Peru, Ayutthaya-Thailand.

Ayuttaya is only an hour and a half van ride from Suphanburi, so we left Saturday morning and got there by 11.  We walked a ways down the street toward the area where most of the ruins are(which are all Wats -aka temples) and explored a pretty cool one that was very popular for tourists.  After getting lunch we tried to look for a hostel/hotel in that area because we didn't want to go to the street that Lonely Planet recommended where all foreigners go.  Alas, we couldn't find one that everyone was willing to pay for so we walked back to where we were dropped off and eventually found the street with all the hostels.  It was actually pretty cool and we found some nice and cheap rooms.  Eric and I splurged staying in an A/C room with the bathroom inside our room for 400 baht ($13ish).  Saturday night we took a boat ride to see some of the really cool Wats on the river.  We saw one that has one of (or the?) biggest lounging Buddha and another huge gold plated one.  Buddha images are often coated in gold because even when the Buddha is in darkness, with even a glimpse of light it shines through.  I think this is a really beautiful metaphor for life whichever way you are spiritually or religiously inclined.

We got a relatively early start the next morning so we could check out the other temples before it got too hot.  We have a very disappointing American breakfast (3 pancakes with a 1/2 inch diameter each), but this was compensated for by biking around Ayutthaya the rest of the day! I miss riding a bike so much and this was just what I needed.  We rented bikes from our hostel and were off to explore the ancient city!

We ended our mini vacation shopping a little at the street market near the bus stop (I don't often enjoy shopping at home, but love it for some reason when I am traveling) and then headed home to Suphanburi.