Wednesday, January 29, 2014

So Many Reasons to Celebrate

I know I do this quite a bit, but here is yet another “catch-up” blog post! My last post was about the weather. It’s been over a month, and I’m still cold! We’ve had a couple of warmer spells, but overall, Thailand feels much colder this year than it did last year. It’s amazing that I can make comments like that now. That’s right, we’ve now been in Thailand for over a year! It’s a pretty big milestone for us. I’m already getting ahead of myself though. Let’s get back to everything that has happened over the past couple of months.

Scout Camp

December 23rd and 24th Zack and I accompanied my school to scout camp. Scouts (boy and girl scouts) are standard in every school, and we have various activities throughout the year related to scouts. Also, every Wednesday is scout day. That means that the students wear their scout uniforms to school and have scout activities for the last period of the day. The camp is an event that everyone seems to really look forward to. Joy (one of my co-teachers) kept telling me how fun it would be and how excited she was for us to go.

At the camp, the bpratom 6 through mattayom 3 students (grades 6-9) took part in scout activities led by staff at the camp while the teachers either followed the students around or hung out in a separate building eating som tam, drinking and singing karaoke. Right after we arrived at the camp, we all (Zack and I, the students, the scout leaders and a few of the teachers) went on a short hike. Of course, no hike is complete without ice cream, so partway though some ice cream vendors pulled up to one of the empty lots that we happened to be hiking though and everyone took an ice cream break. It seemed to be pretty good timing. Some of the students really struggled with the hike, but I was encouraged to see kids being active outside. Hiking regularly is one of the things Zack and I have really missed, so it was fun to share that experience with our students. As we were coming to the end of our hike, we walked past a wat and were blessed by monks who sprinkled water on us as we went by. It seemed like a really good way to conclude the hike.

Ice cream break!
That evening, each school performed a skit. Our students’ performance consisted of a lot of fire. From what I understand, their skit was about a ceremony that is performed to bring rain during times of drought. Basically, during this ceremony villagers put a cat in a cage and parade it around, throwing water on it. Of course, all I can think about is how traumatizing that must be for the poor cat, but luckily our students used a Mickey Mouse plush toy rather than an actual cat. I found out a little bit more about this ceremony HERE.

Can't say I've seen anything like this
 at school functions in the States...

That night I slept in a small house with all of the women and Zack slept in a separate house with the men. I was ecstatic to find that our bathroom had HOT WATER! (Unfortunately, Zack's did not...but he says he finds the cold water "exhilerating!") The students slept in separate dorms. We woke up the next day, and I didn’t even think about it being the 24th, Christmas Eve. I came to that realization quickly though when my co-teacher and school administrator approached me ever so casually, pulled me aside privately, and as sweetly as possible asked if I could plan activities for Christmas the following day. I have confirmation that Thailand has changed me, because it honestly didn’t faze me very much that they would wait until literally less than 24 hours beforehand to approach me with this. A couple of weeks earlier I had mentioned to Joy that a fellow volunteer was planning a Christmas camp at her school. Joy made sure to mention this as they ever so kindly asked for my help. As nicely as possible, I also reminded her that my friend had been planning her camp for several weeks. The conversation quickly moved to what materials I would need for the camp. We brainstormed a brief outline in the span of about five minutes then proceeded to the closing ceremony for the scout camp. (More of this story to follow…)

Wat Luang Phor Toh

After the scout camp came to a close, we all made a side trip to the beautiful Wat Luang Phor Toh. On our ride back to site, Zack and I had some really great conversations with the teachers from my school who drove us. We learned the word “oop un” which we kind of translated to “warm fuzzies,” but literally translates to “warm embrace.” We’ve heard many people use this word when describing family, home, or other feel-good things. Before going home, we made a run to the store to get some supplies for our Christmas activities. As Zack and I began to check out, one of the teachers insisted on buying our groceries for us. We in turn insisted that we could buy them ourselves, but she told us that helping us made her “dtem jai,” which translates literally to “full heart.” Later that evening she explained that we need to allow people to take care of us and that it hurts the gift-giver’s feelings to not accept a gift. Zack and I are still finding the balance with this, mostly because we don’t want to be a burden to anyone. We have to tread carefully though because our intentions to not burden could potentially offend those trying to “take care” of us. This is a perfect example of the giving nature of the Thai people surrounding us. They just want to make sure that we are happy and taken care of.

Carrying on my family's sugar
cooking-making tradition in Thailand.

When we finally arrived home, I had a ton to do. Not only did I have to prepare for the school Christmas activities, but I also had to finish making cookies for a staff Christmas party that we were planning to host at our house after school. It was a Christmas eve to remember as Zack and I scrambled to make materials, bake, clean the house, decorate a little bit and wrap presents.


There's my mom!

I woke up on Christmas morning already knowing that this was going to be a Christmas unlike any other. I arrived at the school early because I had a Skype call planned with my parents in Alaska. They were going to talk with the whole school, so I wanted to make sure that everything was functioning correctly ahead of time. After the normal morning assembly we started our Christmas activities. One of the first activities was the Skype call with my parents and little sister. The students were so excited to see my family. Their gasps of astonishment as my dad showed them snow and their excited murmurs as they saw my family’s Christmas tree were uplifting. My school principal introduced himself to my parents and shared how happy he was to be able to have Zack and I here and reassured them not to worry about us. The students were interested to learn more about my sister, who is deaf, and were so impressed and enthusiastic to find out that she is going to college. There were so many things that I was able to share with my students and counterparts. They got to see Zack and me in a new light that portrayed us as ordinary people who had families back home. It was an experience that brought all of us closer.

After the Skype chat, Kru Charoensri (my other co-teacher) and I used the projector to tell/show the story of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer in English and Thai. Afterwards, Zack and I taught the song along with motions. We then played a “pass the balloon” game. Each balloon had a question about the story inside of it. The students passed balloons around as music played. Whoever was holding the balloon when the music stopped had to pop it and answer the question inside. The students who answered the questions even got Christmas presents as prizes! Our last game was a Santa hat relay race. Our principal dressed up as Santa and each team raced to put the hat on and say “Merry Christmas!” before passing the hat to the next person. The last person in the relay line then ran to “Santa” to give him the hat. It was pretty cute, and our principal seems really proud to be Santa. He kept joking about his skin color not being right, be we assured him that nobody knows for sure what Santa looks like and that he was a perfect Santa. Last, the school rock band (a band that Zack has been working with every day after school) performed for the first time! The meeting hall turned into a giant dance party, perfect for channeling Christmas cheer.

School Staff

The Band

The party didn't stop there! Right after school, the school staff came to our house. Some of the younger women came home with me during last period to help prepare fruit and snacks ahead of time. Zack made popcorn and I pulled out the Christmas sugar cookies that I had made the night before. I made hot coco, and we all ate together. It was unlike any Christmas I had ever had before, but my heart was still full and we were surrounded by people who care about us. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

My principal sits down for some Christmas snacks.

A little Christmas Cheer

New Years at the SAO

(above: Pi Noi, one of our absolute favorite people
below: some of the SAO staff)

The day after Christmas was the New Year’s party at the SAO (Zack’s work). It was a night full of singing, dancing, eating, drinking, gift exchanging, and all-around light-heartedness.

Trip to Koh Samet

That Friday night, Zack and I got on an overnight bus to Rayong province, where we were planning to spend New Year’s and my birthday on the island of Koh Samet. We arrived in Rayong early in the morning and ended up navigating our way to the ferry with a man we met on the bus who happened to be a vendor on the island. We felt so fortunate to be guided and were once again grateful for the kindness of Thai people. Once on the island, we still needed to find a place to stay. Since it was a holiday weekend, there were a TON of tourists, mostly from Europe. We secured a place for the first couple of days (which was actually our first choice of places to stay!) then spent a good chunk of the day trying to track down another vacant room. We eventually got it all sorted out. The next few days consisted of a lot of beach lounging, swimming and attempted snorkeling. We were lucky to be able to spend time with a couple other PCVs, so that made things even more fun. New Year’s Eve was a blast! We had real pizza, hung out on the beach, set off and watched others set of a million fireworks, watched a steady stream of lanterns floating over the ocean and toasted the New Year with champagne and good friends.

left: the view from our beach bungalow, right: our bungalow at night

Look what Zack found!!

So that brought us into the New Year! The beginning of January has been pretty eventful too.

We were still on the island for my birthday, which was relaxing and simple. I spent most of the day lounging on the beach reading and sipping on cold beer. The evening was more of the same, plus strawberry dewberry cookies and a really sweet song from Zack. It came to a close with us releasing a lantern together as I made a birthday wish.


Zack and I were home in time for our 6 year anniversary. We still can’t believe it’s been that long! We made dinner together, complete with my new favorite food, cilantro salad, and instant mashed potatoes from a wonderful friend back home.

If anyone wants the cilantro salad  recipe, let me know!
It's super easy and REALLY delicious :)

Out of Commission

Monday I was back at school, but feeling a little bit off. That evening it really hit me. I would try to get up to do something then would have to sit down moments later because I was out of breath and dizzy. For whatever reason, this extreme fatigue continued for a couple of weeks, keeping me out of school most of that time. I’m much better now, almost back to 100%, thank goodness. I was starting to lose my mind a bit and everyone at the school was super worried about me, so I received regular visits from my co-teachers and the rest of the staff. I also received several bagfuls of fruit to aid me in my recovery and felt so genuinely cared for.


Once I was finally feeling better, I ended up getting a last minute call from our Peace Corps Program Manager asking me to come help out at group 126’s Pre-service Training (PST). (Zack and I are part of group 125, so this is the next round of volunteers!) Because of the protests in Bangkok, the person who was originally going to help couldn’t make it to the training. Zack had already been invited to go, so it just made sense for me to tag along. It ended up working out really well. The sessions were fun, and it was so great to get to meet the new group of volunteers! 


This pretty much catches me up to present-day. I’m back at school, trying to get into a normal flow again, but ONET (standardized testing) is interfering with that quite a bit. I may end up writing more about it later, but for now I’m just happy to have the opportunity and the health to be able to teach whenever the opportunity presents itself. When we teach it’s really enjoyable, and I am seeing an enormous amount of growth in our students.

Even in the past couple of months Zack and I have grown, and we continue to learn so much from our experience here.

Check out more pictures HERE.

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