So. Blogging. A lot harder to keep up with than I’d imagined. I’ve done SO much and have so many things I could talk about but my goodness, I’ve been busy! I arrived in Hua Hin on Monday and this city is exactly the change of pace I needed. As we made our way down south, you could feel the vibe completely transform. The chaos and crazy smells of Bangkok slowly faded away into a chill, palm-tree laden beach town. I couldn’t ask for a better location to spend the next few weeks of my TESOL course. In case you're wondering (and I'll admit I didn't know the exact acronym until recently) TESOL stands for 'teaching English to speakers of other languages'. This past week in Hua Hin has been one of the better weeks of my life- Monday was spent getting to our accommodation, shopping for basic necessities, and getting a tour of the mall in which we could find Western food, cellular providers, and currency exchange booths. Hillary and I are once again sharing a King bed, and this time it really is my idea of a King. I reckon this bed was popular in Fred Flinstone's home. This thing is hard as a rock! There is A/C in the room, so that’s a nice luxury. I do realize, however, that it is in my best interest to use it sparingly so as not to become accustomed to it. There's a possibility that I won't have A/C in my next accommodation, and an even bigger possibility that it will not be in my classroom. Our bathroom is an interesting set up of shower/toilet/sink with zero separation. Not sure who designed these things, but how hard could a door or shower curtain be!? Our very first night I saw the most beautiful sunset I’ve witnessed here yet from our balcony. It was the perfect reassurance that I was in a good place.
Tuesday morning all 27 of us in the ‘’yellow group’’ waited outside to catch our transportation to school. We take what is called a songthaew. It essentially looks like a huge barred paddy wagon carrying white kids off to jail. We pile into this thing daily. No seat belts. Trees smacking us all in the head through the bars. Thais smiling and waving and taking pictures of us as we drive through town. It’s pretty enjoyable, actually. When it’s as hot as it is here, you take the open air happily and ignore the fact that your hair is now a rat’s nest accessorized by leaves. Our course is being hosted at a Thai government school. The school is quite large and is comprised of primarily non-airconditioned classrooms with old wooden desks (often times with holes in them) and lots of fans. I can’t explain the absolute joy I get from seeing the children that attend this school as I walk to my own class. All of us can say hands down that we’ve never felt so famous. They high five us, they hug us, they try to talk to us…it’s absolutely adorable. Westerners in Hua Hin aren’t totally uncommon but to see us rolling up in hoards is something that excites them to no end.
For the past week, our orientation has been a mix of classroom time and amazing excursions. I had anticipated that these trips would be cheesy and inauthentic but I am happy to report that I was very, very wrong. Our first trip was to a temple called Khao Tao. The best part of all is that when we go to these various destinations they are typically made exclusive to us. As we toured the temple, we were given some tidbits about Buddhism. Unfortunately, with a group as big as ours I felt like I was listening to the barely audible Asian girl from Pitch Perfect (if this reference is over your head, you MUST see this movie) and only heard about 25% of it. Buddhism is a religion I would really like to study further. The temple’s location is really stunning, as it is set up on a hill alongside the ocean and a small fishing village. At the highest point (after quite a few stairs) you find a GIANT golden Buddha. Our visit included a meditation session which took place in one of the smaller temples on the property. Windows were open and nothing could be heard but our own breathing and the ocean waves. We met with a Buddhist monk who gave us some wise advice such as don’t lie or be a home wrecker (translated to us in other lengthier terms) and at the end we were blessed with holy water and given bracelets.
From the temple we took a trip to the dog rescue organization that xploreAsia has started called Rescue Paws. It is a non-profit organization that helps improve the lives of stray dogs in Thailand. The stray dog population is UNREAL. We’re talking thousands. It doesn’t matter where you go, you will see dogs upon dogs upon dogs just wandering around. Some are pretty darn cute and appear similar to our own house pets in America, while others are emaciated and can be found in the same spots day after day, seemingly without an ounce of energy. It's certainly bothersome and difficult to see, but honestly it just becomes a regular part of your daily life here. So far I’ve resisted the urge to pet them- a friend of mine getting bit by a collared dog (ya know, usually a sign of a friendly, domesticated animal) has further deterred me. It really was a pleasure to visit this organization and see the dogs they have helped and are in the process of helping. I promise I’m not trying to make you cry but here’s an example of a dog in bad condition and one that was restored to good health:
Tuesday night we checked out the Hua Hin night market. It isn’t really frequented by tourists- it’s more of a locals market which made it pretty neat. The things these people sell are comical- I came across used soccer cleats and a Kohl’s employee t-shirt. I bought what appeared to be pig-in-a-blanket type rolls but I assure you the taste was more like disgusting pork in a pancake. Speaking of breakfast food, I did find a dark chocolate mini waffle of sorts that was pretty delicious. I’m really struggling with food- the problem is you have NO idea what anything is going to taste like so it’s hit or miss. For this reason I subsist off of chicken and rice nearly every day. When I order this I know what to expect and I’m usually about to pass out from hunger. My goal for this market was to find elephant pants (thin material that essentially look like pjs and are covered, as the name implies, in elephants) however, these were nowhere to be found. I was eventually able to find them at the touristy market, phew!
And now, for my FAVORITE day so far: our excursion to a pineapple farm and an elephant sanctuary. The pineapple farm, to my untrained eye, was in the middle of nowhere. The idea was to swing by and pick up some fresh pineapple to A. consume ourselves and B. bring to feed our new friends at the elephant sanctuary. Fields, flowers, mountains, and by far the freshest pineapple I’ve ever tasted made up this little pit stop. For 30 baht (less than a dollar) I had myself a bag of mouth-watering pineapple chunks. It was a pretty small operation in terms of the farm’s stand and I’d imagine xploreAsia contributes greatly to their overall business when our groups come through. The landscape was picturesque- I could have wandered around there all day. Now- I haven’t mentioned that Hillary, Sara, and me were asked to be ambassadors for this particular teach abroad program in Thailand. As I understand it and not having seen a finished product, we’re essentially the faces of marketing materials that will be used to promote the program to future teachers. Consequently, we have ourselves a fun new South African friend named Liam who gets to film our excursions and interview us. Naturally, we thought it’d be fun if the 4 of us did a picture of our own whilst in such a beautiful setting.
After we’d had our share of pineapple eating, we hopped on our songthaew and headed to the Hutsadin Elephant Sanctuary. I have proof that elephants and elephants alone were a significant factor in some people’s decision to come to this country and I have absolutely no doubt in my mind why- they’re AMAZING. We visited with 3 main elephants who were quite pleased to see us with pineapples in tow. One of the elephants was actually pregnant and we were allowed to touch her and feel the baby move (it was both ginormous and active and had I not known I would have assumed it was a tumor protruding from the elephant’s side). Of course this created photo opps galore. I was beside myself to have this opportunity. I looked these elephants in the eye. Felt their prickly skin. Fed them pineapple. Got whacked in the head by their huge flapping ears. It really doesn’t get any cooler than that. After visiting the big girls, we went and saw Songkran, the baby elephant on site. Songkran is a talented genius who has been trained to play sports (soccer, basketball) paint, kiss, hug, and collect money in a basket (of course) amongst many other things. Songkran gave me the best hug of my life . Experiences like these really are hard to find words for, but days like that make this experience so, so worth it.
Our last two excursions were to an artist village and to a Muay Thai gym. The artist village was adorable- tropical and artsy and eclectic. We drew and painted- activities intended to get our creative juices flowing. It’d been a while since I’ve had time to produce some art so I really enjoyed that. The Muay Thai (not to be confused with Mai Thai ‘’no, no, no, mai thai cocktail!’’) was also much needed. I’ve had no release for a few weeks’ worth of emotion and stress, so what better solution than kicking and punching as hard as I can? Our group was split into 3 for our lessons. My group was lucky enough to land the actual boxing ring as our teaching arena. A fairly small Thai man led our lesson and taught us the correct stance as well as how to punch and kick correctly. He thought it’d be fun to throw push ups in between sets or have us practice high knee thrusts at a rapid pace for a few minutes straight. Needless to say, I was sweating from head to toe. I loved every second though, and am really hopefully that I can get into Muay Thai wherever I’m ultimately placed. Such a solid workout.
I’ve been neglecting the actual classroom work we’ve been doing but the first week it was mostly informative- Thai culture, do’s and don’t’s…things of that nature. XploreAsia is awesome in a lot of ways, but what I appreciate most is their laid back, tell-it-like-it-is attitude. Do we talk about prostitutes in class? We sure as heck do. They’re ALL over the place. Do we discuss how to address/treat lady boys? Absolutely. Curse words are thrown around class without a second thought. It’s just REAL. I love this more than words can express and feel all the more prepared because of it. Without going into too much detail for confidentiality purposes, we had a workshop in which we took a few minutes to reflect on WHY we came to Thailand. There’s of course the generic reasons- ‘’to teach’’ ‘’to change lives’’ ‘’to travel’’ but a lot of it goes much deeper than that. This exercise fully expected that a lot of us had reasons that maybe we’d be reluctant to admit. Reasons that stemmed from a desire to run away from something. And if we did, it was 100% ok. This workshop was such a personal, emotional, and wonderful experience. It was so refreshing. How often do you sit down and REALLY get to know people’s stories? People shared things that I’d bet they never would feel comfortable telling loved ones at home- and it’s because we created a safe environment and because we’re in this together- this crazy, crazy experience we voluntarily signed up for. Not all of us got a chance to speak (myself included) but i think there’s an intention to finish it at a later date.
We finished off our first week with a beach BBQ. Up until this point, we’d all been segregated into our four colored teams for class purposes, so it was nice to be reunited. We’d spent a lot of time with people from different groups while in Bangkok before the course officially started, and this was one of few opportunities to see them again. We drank, we swam, we dodged jellyfish, we threw frisbees, played soccer, and had a pig roast. The water down here is INCREDIBLE- I’ve always hated the cold ocean of the Northeast so this bath-temperature water is right up my alley. I can only imagine what it’s like further south off of the islands!
Whew! (flexes cramping fingers) That pretty much sums up my first week in Hua Hin. Until next time, CHEERS!