Nearly two months in Thailand and I’ve already got two solid weeks of teaching under my belt. Where has the time gone!? I’d like to think that my days are getting progressively easier. The anxiety and pre-class jitters have dissipated quite a bit and I’m starting to get comfortable in front of a class full of unruly teenagers (whether they’re listening to me or not.) Somehow ten days have already passed, but I’d like to reflect on November 6th as promised. It was an incredible day for a few reasons. First and foremost, it was Loy Krathong. In Thailand Loy Krathong is celebrated annually on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. The Thais make little floating krathongs (pictured below) that are ideally biodegradable and made out of materials such as banana leaves. Because so many krathongs are released into the river, these natural products are a great way to minimize any pollution. Each krathong has a candle which you light before you send it out into the water with an accompanying wish. It’s a cleansing ritual of sorts, during which time you can let your sins float away and start fresh. It’s also an opportunity to pay respect to the water spirits. This ritual is performed all over Thailand. Now, I think we can all agree that celebrations are generally a good time. They become an even better time when the Director of the school you teach at invites you and your two friends to be on your very own parade car dressed head to toe in traditional Thai dress. We agreed before having any idea at all what this holiday would entail, and I’m beyond glad that we did.
The morning of the 6th we came to school (totally makeup-less, mind you) and taught most of our morning classes. Afterwards, it was time to make the transformation. Luckily for us, our Thai assistant is an AMAZING hair and makeup artist in her free time. Sara went first, and by the time I came back from class, she looked like a Disney princess if ever Thailand had one. I generally hate having my hair done, but this girl is an absolute genius. I’ve actually found that Thais in general are pretty phenomenal hair stylists. At the rate my hair is growing over here, I think soon enough I’ll even entrust them with a cut and color. I couldn’t tell you how long it took, but I’d say an hour later I had more makeup on than a lady boy and a hairstyle bigger and more teased than an 80’s pop star. Sara was having a rough day with her phone being stolen and all, so I took one for the team and opted to wear the pink costume that we were all trying to avoid. For 3 girls, I find it pretty surprising that none of us like pink. Getting into this costume was almost equally as time consuming as the the hair and makeup. So much wrapping and pinning and accessorizing with golden jewelry and belts and arm cuffs and cross-body chains. Hillary followed suit, and after a quick Edward Scissorhands hair phase, a third Disney princess was born.
Our students were beyond excited to see us and watched us get ready nearly the entire time. We took pictures until we were summoned by the Vice Director to hop in his car and go meet our float. The Vice Director is a really great guy, and we stopped and got some coffee and chatted a bit before meeting up with our float- a decorated truck that was literally mid-drive down the street heading towards the parade route. We hopped out of our own car and jumped up onto our three chairs set up in the bed of the big truck. The day was hot as all hell, and the heat from the truck shot right up our skirts to boot. From the street we hooked a left into what I can only describe as a giant field of mud, and so began our parade. The smiles we received from the Thai people were priceless. Dressed in our finest, we drove through the mud, waved, and tortured our faces with permanent smiles. We drove beside the river, which was beautifully decorated with giant floating lotus flowers. These lotus flowers were being made at the school in the weeks leading up to the day. We watched the Thais stitch the vibrant pink and green fabric that would come together to make the flower and it’s leaves. Our parade came to a stop shortly after a truck a few cars up from us got lodged in the mud. We hopped out onto what felt like molding clay and I tried my best to keep my shoes above surface level. We took more photos with passersby until the decision was made to head out and change so that we could comfortably send our own krathongs off at a nearby temple and river. When we got there, we bought our own krathongs for 20 baht (less than $1 USD) and made wishes before releasing them into the river. It’s really a beautiful sight to see them all floating together. At the risk of sounding corny, it really warmed my heart that our school held us in such high esteem and allowed us to be in their parade. If ever you move to or visit Thailand, I can assure you that a day will never pass where you don’t receive the most genuine of smiles or a compliment. I can have a TERRIBLE class- but my students will still tell me they missed me or give me a hug. Even on the worst day, there’s always SOMEONE that will brighten it up with kind words or gestures.
Another stand out moment since my last post would have to be our visit to a sunflower field. This is something I’ve been waiting to see for quite some time. You can find sunflower fields in a lot of places- even back home- but I just never made the time. The Mayor of Pathumthani requested our presence at the opening event for this GORGEOUS field of sunflowers which happened to be located a short distance from our school. We were told there would be news crews in attendance and to dress formally. Again, the day could not be any hotter as we wandered around the field in the direct sunlight dressed in formal attire. I loved every second of it, though. Luckily, my sweat drenched self wasn’t apparent in pictures and we had a field day with our cameras. We took pictures with the mayor and gave interviews for the TV crew (completely on the spot- I have no idea what words even came out of my mouth but I've been informed that it did air on the news). Some of our students were present and took us down to the river to feed the large and hungry fish. I can’t stress enough how wonderful these kids are- they love their foreign teachers in a way that I personally have never seen back in America. Like many others, this was an experience that’s hard to explain with just words so I’ll let some pictures do the talking:
I have to say I am truly baffled by the amount of time that has gone by already. I feel like I can’t even adequately touch on many of the days and moments I’ve experienced so far. I lack the words and the time to cover such ground. But I guess if I were able to write about it all- I would be taking away from the time I have to be out there living it. As an aside- if you’re out there somewhere reading this and you’re on the fence about teaching abroad, about taking a trip, about quitting your job, about making any kind of daunting move at all- I ask that you please consider taking the leap. Every once in a while something happens in our lives, and whether it affects us directly or indirectly, it has the power to remind us that life is a very precious gift. It is a beautiful, fragile gift that has the potential to be taken away from us in the blink of an eye. Do what you want to do and go where you want to go while you can. It is not all sunshine and rainbows in Thailand, and there is a certain amount of risk here (and anywhere else for that matter) that has become very evident recently. Regardless, it's a risk worth taking and I have thrown myself outside of my comfort zone into a new and amazing culture that can make me laugh and cry all in the same day. Most times, the tears that uncontrollably stream down my cheeks have been instigated by feelings of pure joy and overwhelming happiness. This country makes me feel. It makes me think. It makes me introspective and reflective. It inspires me to see the rest of the world and to set aside the conventions and expectations that a lot of people associate with a successful life. Travel is what makes you rich. Promotions, money, and corporate America help you to afford nice things and to take 2 week luxury vacations. There is nothing wrong with that and that’s more than fine for a lot of people, but I've decided I want more than a 2 week vacation. I want lengthy, immersive experiences that fully encapsulate the following: “At the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your hair messy, and your eyes sparkling.” So far, I’m happy to say that my feet are dirty every day. My hair is constantly messy without question. And there's a sparkle in my eye that I haven't seen in quite some time.