Throwback Thursday-This time two years ago I was hanging out on a little island in the Andaman sea off the coast of Thailand.  I spent my days rock climbing, kayaking, hiking and getting burned by the sun.  It was also the first time I skipped a flight.  I couldn’t bare to go back to work so I took off and booked a train ticket north a few days later.  One of the best impromptu decisions I’ve ever made. 

My Rudolph and Mrs. Claus. Christmas in Thailand in 2011.  My Rudolph and Mrs. Claus. Christmas in Thailand in 2011. 

My Rudolph and Mrs. Claus. Christmas in Thailand in 2011. 

The beginning of the end… (part two)

Meanwhile at the airport, there is free Internet, whoop, woooo.  So to pick up where I left off….

            Usually I look forward to Fridays because they mean sleep, traveling and adventures, but today was a different story.  I was bumming because of my imminent departure and I still had a lot of loose ends to wrap up.  I finished the last of my grading, which judged the students on various topics such as love for the king, patriotism, obedience and kindness.  I finally finished my video application for a travel internship as well.  After wrapping up those necessary tasks I headed to the flower shop to buy a bouquet to fill the vase I bought for my p1 Thai teacher.  As I crossed the street, I heard, “Teacher Sallllahh, Teacher Salllaahhh.”  At first I just waved and smiled, but when the truck stopped in the middle of the road I peaked in the window and there was Vita, the student I had become most attached to this semester.  It was so nice to see her again even if it was only for ten seconds in the middle of a busy street.  She looked adorable.  It was the first time I saw her not wearing her uniform.  Last Friday when Vita waved goodbye to me it felt awkward and unfinished.  I was so glad I got the chance to randomly run into her like that.  I might be reading too much into all of this, but I feel like it was the final goodbye we both needed.  That moment of seeing each other once more and being truly excited and grateful, simultaneously waving hello and goodbye that was definitely the way it was supposed to go down.  After that little episode I really felt like I could leave Chonburi on a happy note.  Kate and I picked out a beautiful bouquet that turned out to be only $5, grabbed some lunch and walked very quickly back to the school.  I taught my afternoon class without a hitch and like I previously mentioned my students and I had a hard time saying goodbye.  I told them I would come back and see them in about two years; hopefully I keep good on that promise.

            After school I gathered up my bags, handed in my key and got my security deposit back.  I dropped all my extra bags off at Saleem’s and then went shopping with Katie at the night market one last time.  We found a few watches, t-shirts, fun socks and other items as always.  I ate all my favorites at the food market including lots of sushi.  I left feeling stuffed and satisfied and ready to begin my journey.  We were eager to meet the taxi so that we could get to Bangkok and enjoy the sweet hostel we booked for the night.  It’s called Lub D.  Katie and I stayed there last weekend and enjoyed every bit of it.  When 9:30 rolled around our taxi called and asked where we were.  “We are at Anubanchonburi, where are you?” “Silom 13” Long story short, our taxi driver was waiting to pick us up in Bangkok where we wanted to be dropped off.  It was a disasater.  The operator for the taxi company insisted she knew the plan, but she must not have been fully listening.  We ended up waiting and hour and a half for the taxi to come get us and we didn’t make it to the hostel until midnight.  I was a little bummed because I wanted to spend some time just hanging and talking with Katie before I left, but we made it work.  Someone was already sleeping in our shared dorm room so we moved all our bags into the theater room.  We sat on beanbag chairs while we repacked our luggage, painted our nails and chatted.  Once 2 a.m. rolled around we both decided to go to bed, she was fast asleep and I stayed up to blog.  Kate stayed for seven days, but it went by so quickly that it seemed she was only here for three.  I wish I could have had a few more weeks with her or even one more day.  Tomorrow she will be romping around Bangkok all by her lonesome.  Hopefully she remembers how to say hello and makes it to the airport on time.  Speaking of airports, this one is freezing.  I think it’s about time for a preflight nap.

The beginning of the end…

I know, I know, you’re pissed. You’ve clicked on my blog day after day to find the same stinking map starring you in the face and for that I apologize. Where should I begin? I guess I should tell you this is the end or the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning depending on which way you look at it. This was my last week in Chonburi. I no longer have an apartment nor am I employed as a teacher. So much has changed in one single day. Although I’ve closed one door I’ll be opening a bunch more. Today marked the end of my teaching career, the end of my time in Thailand and the beginning of my adventures in Asia. Tomorrow I fly to Vietnam, the first stop of many on my backpacking adventure. I couldn’t be any happier than I am right now, sitting in my $12 bunk at the Lub D hostel in Bangkok. While I know I enjoyed every minute of my time here (well except for that rough first week of teaching) I can’t help thinking it wasn’t enough. This week I made and strengthened connections, had new experiences and learned more about Thai culture than I had known during the past five months. It’s amazing how fast and slow time can seem to move. Why do we experience things when we do? How do we run into certain people or discover certain avenues at a moment that seems like it was defined long before? Time will always be a lasting mystery to me. It is infinite, but is it enough? Let me explain.

     Today was my last day of teaching at Anubanchonburi. It was the last time I’ll see my kids. It was heartbreaking. I really can’t put into words how much I’ve come to love them, how much we have all grown together and the extent to which I’ll miss them. I can’t stop thinking about them and all the possibilities that lay ahead for each of them. I’m really rooting for all of them. I want to be there to push the really bright ones harder and I want to be able to lean over the papers of the slower ones so I can nudge them in the right direction. On Monday I gave the English final. I’m proud to say all my kids passed with flying colors and the one I worry about most must have studied his heart out because he got a 17/20. I joked that I wanted to hoist him onto my shoulders and parade him around the room. His Thai teacher often jokes that he is going to come to America with me so he can finally learn English. I wish I could explain to her that what he needs isn’t intimidation, but attention. If he was in a smaller class he would excel. He knows what to do it just takes him a bit more time to do it. Anyway, after the awesome final grades I decided it was time to give my students the best week of their little lives. My sister Katie is visiting and she brought with her endless goodies for the kids. I taught them about America, showing them the country, my state, school and the currency. They loved looking at the dollars and coins. Kate brought a penny for each of them, which really threw them for a loop. She also brought along these pretty sweet water color booklets. Each page has a picture on it and squares of dry paint at the bottom. You dip a brush in water and run it over the colored squares and you have watercolors. By the end of the week the students were showing my their finished masterpieces. Momma Schu also thought it would be a good idea to introduce the students to peeps, those marshmellow treats that come out around Easter time. Everyone loved them so we handed out seconds, which they quickly devoured. Other than pennies, peeps and paintbrushes we gave the students a bunch of stickers, tattoos and coloring sheets. I felt like I was bribing them because I was giving them so many treats, but really I had to get rid of all my teacher supplies to make room for all the tank tops I bought over the past few months. I also played Monsters Inc, my favorite movie, that was a big hit. When I came to class today I was showered with gifts; things like little love notes, a scarf and a soccer jersey. What meant a hundred times more than that was when I tried to leave and literally couldn’t. All the boys and girls surrounded me. I felt like I was in the front row of a crowded concert where you really have no control over which way you’re being pushed and you’re not really standing on your own because other forces are supporting you. I had 36 little munchkins pushing towards me fighting for a hug and squeeze, this went on for a good five minutes until the Thai teacher had to yell at them to sit down. If they only knew how much I wanted to stay, to hang out, to color, to play spelling games, to sing songs, to do anything, but leave, they wouldn’t have listened when she yelled at them instead they would have just kept me in the center of their circle. Okay enough of this. I never know if all this sappiness is boring or annoying, so I’ll keep it to a minimum.

     Back to time and how it’s sneaky. This week my sister came to visit. Unfortunately I had to be at work a lot so we didn’t do anything too out of the ordinary, but even so I must have said, “This is a first” or “I wish this would have happened the first week” or “I wish I would have known about this” about a dozen times. For instance, today when I was walking home from school a police officer stopped me and asked me in a lot of Thai and a little bit of English if I could teach him English. I was bummed to tell him that it was my last day. He definitely did not understand me so I hope he doesn’t think I’m avoiding him over the next few months. I would have loved to teach an older person English because then I could have learned a lot more Thai. Which brings me to Tip, Todti’s mom. Tip and I had a long conversation on the last day of kindergarten about Todti and his progress. We also talked about my time here and what I’m up to. I told her I wished I would have learned more Thai and she said, “I will teach you Thai! Come over and eat dinner and I can be your teacher.” What a sweet offer. Dinner and a language course, yes please. Unfortunately I probably won’t get to take Tip up on that because I’ll only be back in Thailand for one night before I fly out at the end of April. Speaking of Dinner dates with parents, I had my first one yesterday. I went to visit one of my students at her mom’s pet shop and they ended up taking me to a restaurant. I thought I was just going to pop in and say hi and it ended up being an all night affair. She is definitely the brightest student in the class and we get along very well. Her mom is extremely hospitable and treated me to so much Thai goodness I didn’t even know how to thank her. I told her I would eat whatever she ordered and I did. I was really surprised in my willingness to choke back some of the creepy meats on my plate, but I did it with a smile as I washed it down with a wine cooler. I tried to eat everything with a clear head, passing no judgments, even when my little student kept handing me the duck meat equivalent of a chicken wing. The trick is to eat slowly because then they can’t keep filling your plate or handing you more. I found this trick out at the end though after I was stuffed to the brim with food I couldn’t name or identify. All in all it was a great dinner with good company and flowing conversation. Too bad this isn’t week one, after a few more meals; I would be able to identify all the strange looking dishes at the night market. I have so much more to add to this post, but unfortunately fortunately it is 3 a.m. and that means it’s time to head to the airport! I promise to finish this train of thought before the weekend comes to a close.

The master plan:

On March 10th I’ll be setting off on the adventure of a lifetime.  I’ll start my trip in Vietnam and then move to Laos and Cambodia.  From there I’ll fly to Malaysia, Singapore and Bali.  After Indonesia I’ll head to Nepal for a few days and then finish my trip in India.  I’m beyond excited; I’ve never done a backpacking trip of this magnitude before.  I’m sure by the end of April I’ll be worn out, but I’ll have a long flight to rest before heading home to catch up with the family for my Pop’s 60th.

A lesson in Thai schools:
Before I arrived in Thailand, the program I signed up with provided me with a lot of information about Thailand and the school system.  I kept seeing a few pieces of advice over and over.  I was instructed to go with the flow, not worry if I didn’t know exactly what was going on, and do what I was told as best I could.  The Thai school system was described as being lax and not as uniform as American schools.  The pamphlet also said uniform protocol is rare as well as future notice and scheduling of events.  All of this sounded fine to me.  I’m pretty good at going with the flow and rolling with the punches.  Who doesn’t like the sound of a more laid back job anyway?  Apparently “laid back” wasn’t what they meant when they said lack of protocol.  My school, Anubanchonburi, is actually pretty demanding.  Of all the other teachers I’ve talked to in my program no one does as much paperwork, after hours events and teaching as we do at Anubanchonburi.  That being said, we do get paid better than all the teachers I’ve talked to as well.  Besides learning how to write lesson plans and fill out feedback forms there are many other things I’ve learned while working at Anubanchonburi.  In most ways the Thai school system is the polar opposite of America’s, but the kids, teachers and politics are pretty much the same.
-Grades are arbitrary.  Really, they don’t matter.  They matter so much that they cease to exist.  Let me explain: no student is left behind.  Nope not that ridiculous system we have in America, but another one that goes like this:  Some kids are super smart, others skim by and yet others have no idea that the sky is blue, but they all have one thing in common: they pass.  No one fails here.  We were told that at orientation and we were all quite baffled.  What’s the point of school if no one fails?  How is that fair to the kids that actually pass?  Well, it’s not, but that’s just the way it is.  Before our midterm we said something to our coordinator like, “If kids can’t fail, what grade do we give?” She looked at us with a confused face and said in a high pitched voice, “Who said kids can’t fail?! They can fail!  They get the grade they deserve, we are trying to see what level they are really at!”  We all just sat there stunned and murmured “Okay.”  The next week we all gave our midterms and sure enough some kids failed.  Then a week later our coordinator held a big meeting.  It went something like this:  Come to school an hour early in the morning to personally tutor the kids that failed, then retest them, on the retest they cannot get below a ten a.k.a. all kids must pass, no matter what.  So really if a kid fails it gives the teacher more work and sometimes that work is fruitless and they still don’t pass, but on paper they do.  
Another instance of arbitrary grades just happened to me yesterday.  I was given a packet of papers, each page had a list of my students and a subject area like writing, reading, speaking, or listening.  I was asked to grade all my kids, right there on the spot on these four areas.  No, I didn’t have time to test them and of course we weren’t told at the beginning of the year that we would have to give them a grade in these specific areas.  So, I paged through my grade book, looked at the students’ notebooks and old tests and came up with what I thought were fair grades even though I wasn’t completely comfortable with my methods.  Twenty minutes after I handed my grades in to the Thai homeroom teacher she came and found me.  She started going off in Thai and all I could understand was “no good” “no have” “no, no, no.”  I kind of got the gist of what she was saying; she didn’t like the way I graded.  I had to change all my low grades to high grades, the kids who deserved 5/10 needed to have at least a 7/10.  So I sat with a whiteout pen and erased every grade under 7 and then without even looking up who the student was (their names were in Thai on the sheet) I gave them a seven or higher.  I didn’t even feel guilty or bad about it because like I learned from day one, T.I.T. This Is Thailand.  
-Forfeiting Future Notice.  Future notice simply does not exist here.  I learned that on my first day of school when I was handed my lesson plans ten minutes before class.  I also learned that when we were supposed to have two teacher in-service days, but they were changed to regular teaching days the day before.  Also the time when I was told the day before about the class field trip.  Or that Thursday when we were told we had to attend a teacher training course on that Saturday.  Also last week when our school changed our last day of work from the 18th to the 23rd of March.  Oh and all those times when I went to class and was handed some random test and told to explain it and give it to my kids, right then and there.  There are a million other instances of finding things out days, hours or seconds before they’re about to take place.  I thought CIEE was exaggerating when they said it’s the Thai way to plan things on the fly.  It seems really hard for me to believe that they don’t have a rough school schedule outlining things like days off, midterms, finals, and the last day of school, but they really don’t.  They plan weeks and days in advance.  At a meeting in December one of the teachers asked what days in January we had off for holiday and our coordinator answered, “That’s next year, so we will talk about that then.”  Last week I got an email hinting about a day off and I wasn’t actually told about it until I went around asking other teachers and our coordinator what that was all about.  Apparently it’s a holiday that happens on the same date every year, but they failed to put it on our holiday calendar.  I’m seriously starting to wonder if there are permanent records and documents anywhere in Thailand.  I’m pretty sure whenever something has to be communicated or a schedule has to be made someone just plops down at a computer and tries to pull everything from memory.  At first I was bothered by being in the dark all the time, but now I’m just plain used to it.  
  -Uniformity through uniforms.  Where grades fail to matter uniforms pick up the slack.  Each day has it’s own color or uniform attached to it.  Monday is yellow, Tuesday is pink, Wednesday is Hawaiian shirt day, Thursday is purple and Friday is sports day.  The students also have to wear scout uniforms on Thursday instead of purple.  There are also different shoes for different days, black for Mon, Tues, Thurs and white sneakers on Wed and Fri.  Each student has the same haircut too.  Boys have short hair that goes into a fade and girls have hair just below their chins.  The girls also wear a blue or white bow in their hair depending on what grade they’re in.  I always see teachers giving their students a hard time about their haircuts and styles.  If a student accidentally wears the wrong uniform they’re usually made fun of for the most part of the day.  Every time a different teacher walks by and sees them wearing the wrong shirt they make a comment and laugh with the homeroom teacher, which causes their classmates to then make fun of them too.  Teachers also have to stick to the uniforms or they are destined to be the topic of lunchtime gossip.  The first Wednesday of school I didn’t have a Hawaiian shirt and my homeroom teacher must have told me a dozen times that I needed to buy one.  She doesn’t speak English so her telling me was more like her pointing to her shirt a lot and pointing North to where the school store is.  She also took me around to other teachers who spoke English to tell me to buy one.  We also had to buy Friday sports day uniforms that consisted of an itchy blue polo and tight, hot and heavy dark blue polyester pants.  I would wear the Hawaiian shirt every day if I didn’t have to wear those pants on Fridays.  Once the big sports day competition arrived (think track and field day in elementary school) we had to buy another jersey in our team’s color.  Mine is green and I actually like it a lot.  I remember bitching about it at the time because I didn’t feel like shelling out more cash on another uncomfortable polo, but it turned out to be more like a soccer jersey.  Now I wear that every Friday and whenever I’m told to wear the polo I just say I don’t have one.  It’s crazy how much they care about uniforms.  It’s actually the one aspect of school that you get relatively future notice about.  A day or two before the field trips or special days I’m told in English (a lot of messages are told to me in Thai which results in confusion and lack of understanding) to wear my sports day outfit.  We also had a cowboy themed party for New Years where we were required to dress up in our western gear.  The Thais love, love, love cowboy culture.  
-ESL, wait what?  In the U.S.A. lot of books, lesson plans and curriculum guides are stamped with what we know as an ESL label aka English as a Second Language.  ESL materials take a different approach then plain and simple English curriculum and for good reason.  When you learned a new language, let’s say Spanish, I can bet you didn’t take the same approach as you did for English.  After all you probably weren’t a baby and surrounded by Spanish speakers.  Chances are you were older, learned from a textbook and had a nonnative speaking teacher.  Definitely not the best way to learn a new language, but decidedly not the worst either.  It’s important to have texts and guides that realize Spanish isn’t your primary language so that you can learn simple nouns, verbs and adjectives in a way that makes sense, kind of like stepping stones, instead of just pushing you off the ledge.  It is also important to learn from a native speaker, which is where most public school language programs fail.  Without a native speaker, the speaking part of the language is typically useless.  Unless the teacher is really good, there is a great chance you won’t really know how to say the words correctly with the proper accents and inflections making it really hard to communicate when you go on that trip to Mexico.  The writing and listening aspects will still have some merit, but again actually grasping everything that is being said and being able to reply will be quite difficult.  That being said, some knowledge is better than none and I’m not trying to discredit language lessons, I think it’s really important to attempt to learn new languages because it shows others that you have an interest in their culture and that is always appreciated even if you accidentally babble like a baby when you thought you were asking where the bathroom was.  Anyway, back to the main gist of this bullet point: ESL does not exist here, at least not at my school.  There is no curriculum in place to teach English in an introductory way for non-English speakers.  All of the workbooks and homework books are designed for English speakers so the concepts and flow of lessons is extremely confusing for the kids.  Also, the books are just crap.  The workbooks I’m provided with have been the main source of my reoccurring headaches.  I feel so angry and bad for my kids that they have to use these idiotic books.  My p1 kids use “Best Friends” books.  It is a workbook and a homework book combo that jumps around from topic to topic, has completely unrelated vocabulary words and stupid lesson and chapter titles and themes i.e. the dogs are sick, there are ten monkeys etc…  One week the vocabulary words were brave, toy boat, hot dog, toy store, mommy, and hurry up.  The books are also full of mistakes, which makes me think that one of our school suppliers got them really cheap and then sold them to our school to make some money.  Every lesson plan has an error in it.  It makes it confusing for the kids when they can’t figure out the right answer (because there isn’t one) and when I have to try and explain to them that the crossword puzzle doesn’t work out because the book is messed up.  At first I was pretty stressed out about the books, but then I realized I could just fly through the pointless lessons and add supplementary lessons to make everything flow together and make more sense.  I also started making more of my own worksheets and homework sheets instead of having them complete the ones filled with errors in the books.  I can only hope that my school will get better texts for next year.
It seems the curriculum should be much easier to plan for the kindergarten kids, but they have it even worse.  Each week we are assigned a really random topic to teach them like trash, air, milk, tree, winter, good and bad behavior, father’s day… the list could go on.  I agree the students should be learning about topics and subjects, but I think they should only be taught by their Thai teacher instead of both of us.  Basically they learn about trees in Thai for an hour and then I teach them about trees in English for an hour.  I think it would be beneficial if I was able to translate the key words and ideas about trees and teach with the Thai teacher and then during the English hour teach the alphabet and simple concepts like animals, colors, household objects and things of that sort.  It is ridiculously hard to teach complex lessons like good and bad behavior when the child doesn’t know anything you’re saying.  Beyond the seemingly random lessons, I have to work out of a workbook that’s designed for English speaking kindergarteners.  The workbook is way above my students’ level, which causes a lot of stress and anxiety on both their part and mine.  I struggle to explain how to complete the pages properly and most times they don’t understand and end up asking me over and over and over how to do it and still complete it wrong.  The workbook is no help with this because of how the pages are set up.  On the left-hand page there will be a word like Dog and a blank line for them to write Dog Dog Dog, but on the right-hand page there will be an incomplete sentence like Dogs like to _______ .  The students are supposed to write run, but because they are used to copying words and phrases instead they write Dogs like to.  If the workbook was set up in such a way that the students learned to copy and then to answer it would work out well, but when different types of activities are all jumbled together and there is no way to properly communicate that to my students they are bound to make mistakes, misunderstand and lose interest.  I think it’s awesome that so many countries are taking the initiative to start teaching their students English at a young age, but I think if it was went about in a more systematic and practical way the kids would get a lot more out of it.  Having native speaking teachers is a huge step in the right direction, but I think they wandered off the trail soon after that.  Until then Dogs like to dogs like to.  
-Distressing disparities.  Thai schools are in a lot better shape then I thought they would be.  For the most part they are equipped with all the important school supplies like pencils, books, whiteboards, projectors, computers and printers.  Anubanconburi also has a nice little library, gym and music room.  There is a huge auditorium where we have teacher parties and conferences and there are several play areas for the kids and a swimming pool on the larger campus across the street.  We also have a nifty finger scanner that we have to sign into each morning and air conditioner in all the rooms.  Lots of good and necessary things for a school to have, but why then is there a lack of paper, white board markers and supplementary supplies for lessons?  Paper is to Anuban teachers as food is to contestants on survivor.  It is hidden, well protected and rarely shared.  The same goes for whiteboard markers.  Under every whiteboard you’ll find dozens of markers, but none of them work.  They are just pawns.  The real ones are hidden in your purse, book bag or desk drawer.  Oh, and toilet paper.  Of course there’s none, after all we’re in Thailand.  The toilet paper also gets hidden because if you make the mistake of just setting it under your desk you’ll find it down to the last square within a couple days.  So hold onto your paper allotment and go buy art supplies with your first paycheck because there’s no way you’re getting any baht from the semester budget.  It bums me out to see all the activities, games and books that fill the shelves of my kindergarten classroom because they’re never used.  I taught my teacher how to play a few of the games so she would encourage the students to play them during free time, but it’s hard to get them away from the play dough.  The older grades are also in need of more practical hands on supplies for the classroom.  For instance there’s only one globe in the whole school that is always being shared and passed around.  Material objects that help kids see, feel and learn at the same time are really needed.  I found it pretty hard to find anything fun and useful for the classroom, but then again there could be a teacher supply store that no one is telling me about.  My friend Kandy is studying to be a teacher in the states and she sent me a pack of 4 mini dry erase boards for my class.  I use them every single day to play spelling games with the kids.  They absolutely love them.  I’ve had other teachers come in and watch my class and tell me that I’m doing a really good job and I think it’s mostly because they see how excited the kids are to learn.  I already promised away the white boards to one of the Pilipino teachers, but in the mean time I’ve had at least a dozen other teachers ask me for them.  I’ll have to send a care package of supplies for next semester.
-We like to party, and play games and have contests and dance and sing… It seems like there is always a new competition going on at Anubanchonburi.  The students are always practicing something.  This past week everyone had a waiing competition.  The students had to practice the traditional Thai greeting known as a wai.  They also had to perform other common practices in their culture like kneeling to pray with their feet under their butt and in “mermaid” style.  They also walked in a long line with their heads bowed down, which is what you do if you walk between people conversing or if you walk by someone of a higher status.  They also practiced short dialogues, which I guessed to be prayers, chants or something of the like.  Before the waiing competition everyone was preparing for the nine square competition.  Nine square is a marching activity in which every student has their own mat with nine squares on it.  There are several different marching routines that all the kids know how to say and march too.  Apparently it is supposed to help increase brain function and coordination.  The kindergarteners have a rough time staying on track, but the older kids are really good at it and have even added music and hand motions to their routines.  Before nine square and waiing we practiced every day twice a day for the Children’s day and Christmas day show.  Each grade had a different song and dance that was performed in front of parents and the community on a big stage in the center of Chonburi.  Before Children’s Day and Christmas everyone practiced their cheers and chants for sports day.  The activities never stop here.  Often times it seems like the group activities take precedence over the lessons, but I’ve noticed all the group events increase the school spirit and solidarity between both the teachers and the students.  In between all the school wide activities, there are smaller contests taking place all the time.  We are often asked to help kids study for spelling and speech competitions.  Sometimes we are even asked to help judge the speech competitions at other schools.  At first I was getting a bit dragged down by all the extra activities especially because we were often told about them a couple days before and expected to whip up amazing results, but after a few weeks I learned to embrace the crazy and just run with it.  If you practice and work hard for a few weeks it will probably pay off and if it doesn’t everyone will forget about it by the time the next contest, competition or activity rolls around.  
-Classroom control.  Imagine someone telling you to be quiet, behave, sit down, stop it, etc. in another language.  If you were surrounded by thirty of your peers and had not the faintest idea what that person was talking about, you probably wouldn’t listen.  That pretty much sums up my life with my kindergarten kids.  It is almost impossible for me to control their behavior unless they know what their doing is wrong.  I’ve tried to teach them simple manners like covering their mouth and being patient, but it hasn’t really caught on.  I’ve learned a few tricks for getting them to be quiet though.  I usually do hand motions or say body parts and everyone has to point to those parts on their body, this grabs everyone’s attention and they unknowingly stop talking and goofing off.  Or I break into song and they join in, which usually calms them down.  Other times I’ll clap and say one, two, three, zip and zip my lips.  They like things like that too because it involves clapping and motions and they understand what the desired result is.  Usually though they’re crazy and have to be disciplined by the Thai teacher.  They know that I won’t hit them or intimidate them so they definitely have less respect for me and they don’t really fear me at all.  I’ve seen my Thai teacher do some pretty crazy stuff and it always ends in a lot of tears.  I feel bad most times because I wouldn’t go about it the way she does, but at the same time she is teaching the same general lesson, be quiet, pay attention and behave, she just happens to be teaching it in a radically different way.  I’ve seen my teacher hit a kid in the face with scissors and pretend to cut his lips off.  She’s also put this one little girl high on top of a shelf in the classroom so that she couldn’t get down, because the girl just wouldn’t pay attention.  Once when we were making a craft, this one girl who is seriously naughty and rebellious stuck her hands in glue and dipped them into a bowl of seeds and started waving them around.  I told her to stop it, but she didn’t listen.  I even made her wash her hands, but she ended up doing it again and my teacher caught her.  She was so pissed off.  Number one because we have very limited craft supplies and number two because this girl is a little devil child.  Anyway, she grabbed the girl and rubbed the glue and the seeds all over her face for at least five minutes in front of the whole class and then made her go to lunch like that.  I’d have to say after that day that same girl’s behavior has improved dramatically.  I don’t know if my teacher talked to her parents or if that little glue incident got the point across, but she doesn’t act nearly as badly as she used to.
Needless to say I don’t use the intimidation approach.  I mean, how intimidating can I be?  Even when I’m yelling at them or hitting them over the head with a little notebook I’m making a funny face or trying not to laugh.  I’ve actually found hitting them on the head with some papers or their composition notebook is one of the best tactics because it causes all their classmates to laugh and they get really embarrassed.  In Thailand it is a really big deal if you “lose face” which is why it is rare for Thais to get angry, argue and raise their voice so by embarrassing the kids a little bit like that it puts them back in their place and at the same time I know I didn’t really hurt them.  My teachers tend to use what I think of as extreme versions of intimidation like shaking a kids entire desk, hitting them with rulers or making them stand on their chair for the entire class; that works for them and unlike me their kids actually listen really well and get quiet when they enter the room.  I take more round-a-bout approaches that allow me to control the kids without feeling bad about the way I acted.  Usually I write a word on the board like game, sticker, or snack.  Every time the kids are too noisy I will erase a letter.  Most times I only have to erase one or two letters and they will stay quiet for the whole class.  Once I had to erase every letter and they were so crazy I started to write a new word, ‘work,’ on the board.  I made them all write a bunch of sentences until the end of class.  I think most of them felt pretty badly about it, but thankfully it only had to happen once.  Games are my big reward.  I love playing games with them because they are actually learning something and it encourages willing participation from every single student.  After the first week of hating my p1 class I learned that it wasn’t their job to pay attention, it was my job to hold their attention.  I started to plan my lessons in ten minute blocks so that we were always doing a new activity.  I added short songs and movies to my lessons and asked for increased participation from the kids.  I also let them make choices about what activity we would do next and I let their behavior decide how class would proceed.  In the end it’s working out really well for me and I leave class feeling happy because I love my students and they love me back.  
I also got great positive feed back from one of the higher ups in the office the other day.  She came in and watched my lesson and told me in a few English and Thai words that I was doing really well.  Some of the Thai teachers have asked me if I’m staying next semester and when I shake my head no they grab my arms and squeeze me and make a frowning face.  These small gestures really mean a lot to me and they also confirm how much I feel like Anubanchonburi is my community and my workplace.  The Pilipino teacher, Nitzsan, who works in my grade 1 classroom with my Thai teacher, Teacher Now, pulled me aside on Friday and asked if I was staying.  I told her no and she looked pretty bummed.  She told me that Teacher Now thinks I’m teaching well and that if she didn’t like me she wouldn’t help me out with controlling the kids like she does.  She also said that Teacher Now had never helped out an English teacher as much as me and that she really likes me.  I honestly wanted to cry, I was so happy.  It was one of the biggest compliments I have ever received in my entire life.  The day before school started, a couple Pilipino teachers told me that Teacher Now was rough to work with.  I knew from day one that she was strict and old fashioned and that she probably wouldn’t be too warm to me, but I decided I wanted to try my hardest to get on her good side.  It really wasn’t that hard.  The first couple weeks I felt like she was testing me by interrupting me, talking to me in Thai, and telling me how to teach, but after about a month every thing changed.  Maybe I broke her down with all my smiles and “kopkunkah” (thank you) or maybe I passed whatever test she was giving me.  To be honest I really did like her after the first week because I realized whenever she was in the room the kids were quiet and would listen to me and that was what I needed.  I needed a second to be able to think, stop being nervous about teaching, and learn how to work with these little Thai devils and she gave me that.  So even though I couldn’t dicipline my students the way my Thai teachers do I realize that that is the way of the Thai school system and that’s what works for them.  I honestly don’t think Thai teachers recognize the power of positive reinforcement.  Maybe it could be integrated into their system, but maybe they don’t want it to be.  Different cultures have different ways of dealing with things and after an entire semester I’ve found a way to accept and adapt their practice to work for me.  
There a lots of other interesting aspects of the Thai education system or maybe you didn’t find these too interesting at all, but either way you’ll learn more about what the school and the kids do during the day when you watch the video I’m producing.  I’ve been filming for a few weeks now and I’m finally starting to put it all together.  I’d like to get it done within the next two weeks, but I have another more pressing video I have finish so I’m not sure if that will happen.  When it’s complete my coordinator is going to show it at one of the huge teachers’ parties so they can see what I see.  I’m pretty excited for all the Thai teachers to realize why I carry around a camera, microphone and tripod all day.  I get some pretty funny stares while I’m recording the kids at morning assembly, lunch and naptime.  
A lesson in Thai schools:
Before I arrived in Thailand, the program I signed up with provided me with a lot of information about Thailand and the school system.  I kept seeing a few pieces of advice over and over.  I was instructed to go with the flow, not worry if I didn’t know exactly what was going on, and do what I was told as best I could.  The Thai school system was described as being lax and not as uniform as American schools.  The pamphlet also said uniform protocol is rare as well as future notice and scheduling of events.  All of this sounded fine to me.  I’m pretty good at going with the flow and rolling with the punches.  Who doesn’t like the sound of a more laid back job anyway?  Apparently “laid back” wasn’t what they meant when they said lack of protocol.  My school, Anubanchonburi, is actually pretty demanding.  Of all the other teachers I’ve talked to in my program no one does as much paperwork, after hours events and teaching as we do at Anubanchonburi.  That being said, we do get paid better than all the teachers I’ve talked to as well.  Besides learning how to write lesson plans and fill out feedback forms there are many other things I’ve learned while working at Anubanchonburi.  In most ways the Thai school system is the polar opposite of America’s, but the kids, teachers and politics are pretty much the same.
-Grades are arbitrary.  Really, they don’t matter.  They matter so much that they cease to exist.  Let me explain: no student is left behind.  Nope not that ridiculous system we have in America, but another one that goes like this:  Some kids are super smart, others skim by and yet others have no idea that the sky is blue, but they all have one thing in common: they pass.  No one fails here.  We were told that at orientation and we were all quite baffled.  What’s the point of school if no one fails?  How is that fair to the kids that actually pass?  Well, it’s not, but that’s just the way it is.  Before our midterm we said something to our coordinator like, “If kids can’t fail, what grade do we give?” She looked at us with a confused face and said in a high pitched voice, “Who said kids can’t fail?! They can fail!  They get the grade they deserve, we are trying to see what level they are really at!”  We all just sat there stunned and murmured “Okay.”  The next week we all gave our midterms and sure enough some kids failed.  Then a week later our coordinator held a big meeting.  It went something like this:  Come to school an hour early in the morning to personally tutor the kids that failed, then retest them, on the retest they cannot get below a ten a.k.a. all kids must pass, no matter what.  So really if a kid fails it gives the teacher more work and sometimes that work is fruitless and they still don’t pass, but on paper they do.  
Another instance of arbitrary grades just happened to me yesterday.  I was given a packet of papers, each page had a list of my students and a subject area like writing, reading, speaking, or listening.  I was asked to grade all my kids, right there on the spot on these four areas.  No, I didn’t have time to test them and of course we weren’t told at the beginning of the year that we would have to give them a grade in these specific areas.  So, I paged through my grade book, looked at the students’ notebooks and old tests and came up with what I thought were fair grades even though I wasn’t completely comfortable with my methods.  Twenty minutes after I handed my grades in to the Thai homeroom teacher she came and found me.  She started going off in Thai and all I could understand was “no good” “no have” “no, no, no.”  I kind of got the gist of what she was saying; she didn’t like the way I graded.  I had to change all my low grades to high grades, the kids who deserved 5/10 needed to have at least a 7/10.  So I sat with a whiteout pen and erased every grade under 7 and then without even looking up who the student was (their names were in Thai on the sheet) I gave them a seven or higher.  I didn’t even feel guilty or bad about it because like I learned from day one, T.I.T. This Is Thailand.  
-Forfeiting Future Notice.  Future notice simply does not exist here.  I learned that on my first day of school when I was handed my lesson plans ten minutes before class.  I also learned that when we were supposed to have two teacher in-service days, but they were changed to regular teaching days the day before.  Also the time when I was told the day before about the class field trip.  Or that Thursday when we were told we had to attend a teacher training course on that Saturday.  Also last week when our school changed our last day of work from the 18th to the 23rd of March.  Oh and all those times when I went to class and was handed some random test and told to explain it and give it to my kids, right then and there.  There are a million other instances of finding things out days, hours or seconds before they’re about to take place.  I thought CIEE was exaggerating when they said it’s the Thai way to plan things on the fly.  It seems really hard for me to believe that they don’t have a rough school schedule outlining things like days off, midterms, finals, and the last day of school, but they really don’t.  They plan weeks and days in advance.  At a meeting in December one of the teachers asked what days in January we had off for holiday and our coordinator answered, “That’s next year, so we will talk about that then.”  Last week I got an email hinting about a day off and I wasn’t actually told about it until I went around asking other teachers and our coordinator what that was all about.  Apparently it’s a holiday that happens on the same date every year, but they failed to put it on our holiday calendar.  I’m seriously starting to wonder if there are permanent records and documents anywhere in Thailand.  I’m pretty sure whenever something has to be communicated or a schedule has to be made someone just plops down at a computer and tries to pull everything from memory.  At first I was bothered by being in the dark all the time, but now I’m just plain used to it.  
  -Uniformity through uniforms.  Where grades fail to matter uniforms pick up the slack.  Each day has it’s own color or uniform attached to it.  Monday is yellow, Tuesday is pink, Wednesday is Hawaiian shirt day, Thursday is purple and Friday is sports day.  The students also have to wear scout uniforms on Thursday instead of purple.  There are also different shoes for different days, black for Mon, Tues, Thurs and white sneakers on Wed and Fri.  Each student has the same haircut too.  Boys have short hair that goes into a fade and girls have hair just below their chins.  The girls also wear a blue or white bow in their hair depending on what grade they’re in.  I always see teachers giving their students a hard time about their haircuts and styles.  If a student accidentally wears the wrong uniform they’re usually made fun of for the most part of the day.  Every time a different teacher walks by and sees them wearing the wrong shirt they make a comment and laugh with the homeroom teacher, which causes their classmates to then make fun of them too.  Teachers also have to stick to the uniforms or they are destined to be the topic of lunchtime gossip.  The first Wednesday of school I didn’t have a Hawaiian shirt and my homeroom teacher must have told me a dozen times that I needed to buy one.  She doesn’t speak English so her telling me was more like her pointing to her shirt a lot and pointing North to where the school store is.  She also took me around to other teachers who spoke English to tell me to buy one.  We also had to buy Friday sports day uniforms that consisted of an itchy blue polo and tight, hot and heavy dark blue polyester pants.  I would wear the Hawaiian shirt every day if I didn’t have to wear those pants on Fridays.  Once the big sports day competition arrived (think track and field day in elementary school) we had to buy another jersey in our team’s color.  Mine is green and I actually like it a lot.  I remember bitching about it at the time because I didn’t feel like shelling out more cash on another uncomfortable polo, but it turned out to be more like a soccer jersey.  Now I wear that every Friday and whenever I’m told to wear the polo I just say I don’t have one.  It’s crazy how much they care about uniforms.  It’s actually the one aspect of school that you get relatively future notice about.  A day or two before the field trips or special days I’m told in English (a lot of messages are told to me in Thai which results in confusion and lack of understanding) to wear my sports day outfit.  We also had a cowboy themed party for New Years where we were required to dress up in our western gear.  The Thais love, love, love cowboy culture.  
-ESL, wait what?  In the U.S.A. lot of books, lesson plans and curriculum guides are stamped with what we know as an ESL label aka English as a Second Language.  ESL materials take a different approach then plain and simple English curriculum and for good reason.  When you learned a new language, let’s say Spanish, I can bet you didn’t take the same approach as you did for English.  After all you probably weren’t a baby and surrounded by Spanish speakers.  Chances are you were older, learned from a textbook and had a nonnative speaking teacher.  Definitely not the best way to learn a new language, but decidedly not the worst either.  It’s important to have texts and guides that realize Spanish isn’t your primary language so that you can learn simple nouns, verbs and adjectives in a way that makes sense, kind of like stepping stones, instead of just pushing you off the ledge.  It is also important to learn from a native speaker, which is where most public school language programs fail.  Without a native speaker, the speaking part of the language is typically useless.  Unless the teacher is really good, there is a great chance you won’t really know how to say the words correctly with the proper accents and inflections making it really hard to communicate when you go on that trip to Mexico.  The writing and listening aspects will still have some merit, but again actually grasping everything that is being said and being able to reply will be quite difficult.  That being said, some knowledge is better than none and I’m not trying to discredit language lessons, I think it’s really important to attempt to learn new languages because it shows others that you have an interest in their culture and that is always appreciated even if you accidentally babble like a baby when you thought you were asking where the bathroom was.  Anyway, back to the main gist of this bullet point: ESL does not exist here, at least not at my school.  There is no curriculum in place to teach English in an introductory way for non-English speakers.  All of the workbooks and homework books are designed for English speakers so the concepts and flow of lessons is extremely confusing for the kids.  Also, the books are just crap.  The workbooks I’m provided with have been the main source of my reoccurring headaches.  I feel so angry and bad for my kids that they have to use these idiotic books.  My p1 kids use “Best Friends” books.  It is a workbook and a homework book combo that jumps around from topic to topic, has completely unrelated vocabulary words and stupid lesson and chapter titles and themes i.e. the dogs are sick, there are ten monkeys etc…  One week the vocabulary words were brave, toy boat, hot dog, toy store, mommy, and hurry up.  The books are also full of mistakes, which makes me think that one of our school suppliers got them really cheap and then sold them to our school to make some money.  Every lesson plan has an error in it.  It makes it confusing for the kids when they can’t figure out the right answer (because there isn’t one) and when I have to try and explain to them that the crossword puzzle doesn’t work out because the book is messed up.  At first I was pretty stressed out about the books, but then I realized I could just fly through the pointless lessons and add supplementary lessons to make everything flow together and make more sense.  I also started making more of my own worksheets and homework sheets instead of having them complete the ones filled with errors in the books.  I can only hope that my school will get better texts for next year.
It seems the curriculum should be much easier to plan for the kindergarten kids, but they have it even worse.  Each week we are assigned a really random topic to teach them like trash, air, milk, tree, winter, good and bad behavior, father’s day… the list could go on.  I agree the students should be learning about topics and subjects, but I think they should only be taught by their Thai teacher instead of both of us.  Basically they learn about trees in Thai for an hour and then I teach them about trees in English for an hour.  I think it would be beneficial if I was able to translate the key words and ideas about trees and teach with the Thai teacher and then during the English hour teach the alphabet and simple concepts like animals, colors, household objects and things of that sort.  It is ridiculously hard to teach complex lessons like good and bad behavior when the child doesn’t know anything you’re saying.  Beyond the seemingly random lessons, I have to work out of a workbook that’s designed for English speaking kindergarteners.  The workbook is way above my students’ level, which causes a lot of stress and anxiety on both their part and mine.  I struggle to explain how to complete the pages properly and most times they don’t understand and end up asking me over and over and over how to do it and still complete it wrong.  The workbook is no help with this because of how the pages are set up.  On the left-hand page there will be a word like Dog and a blank line for them to write Dog Dog Dog, but on the right-hand page there will be an incomplete sentence like Dogs like to _______ .  The students are supposed to write run, but because they are used to copying words and phrases instead they write Dogs like to.  If the workbook was set up in such a way that the students learned to copy and then to answer it would work out well, but when different types of activities are all jumbled together and there is no way to properly communicate that to my students they are bound to make mistakes, misunderstand and lose interest.  I think it’s awesome that so many countries are taking the initiative to start teaching their students English at a young age, but I think if it was went about in a more systematic and practical way the kids would get a lot more out of it.  Having native speaking teachers is a huge step in the right direction, but I think they wandered off the trail soon after that.  Until then Dogs like to dogs like to.  
-Distressing disparities.  Thai schools are in a lot better shape then I thought they would be.  For the most part they are equipped with all the important school supplies like pencils, books, whiteboards, projectors, computers and printers.  Anubanconburi also has a nice little library, gym and music room.  There is a huge auditorium where we have teacher parties and conferences and there are several play areas for the kids and a swimming pool on the larger campus across the street.  We also have a nifty finger scanner that we have to sign into each morning and air conditioner in all the rooms.  Lots of good and necessary things for a school to have, but why then is there a lack of paper, white board markers and supplementary supplies for lessons?  Paper is to Anuban teachers as food is to contestants on survivor.  It is hidden, well protected and rarely shared.  The same goes for whiteboard markers.  Under every whiteboard you’ll find dozens of markers, but none of them work.  They are just pawns.  The real ones are hidden in your purse, book bag or desk drawer.  Oh, and toilet paper.  Of course there’s none, after all we’re in Thailand.  The toilet paper also gets hidden because if you make the mistake of just setting it under your desk you’ll find it down to the last square within a couple days.  So hold onto your paper allotment and go buy art supplies with your first paycheck because there’s no way you’re getting any baht from the semester budget.  It bums me out to see all the activities, games and books that fill the shelves of my kindergarten classroom because they’re never used.  I taught my teacher how to play a few of the games so she would encourage the students to play them during free time, but it’s hard to get them away from the play dough.  The older grades are also in need of more practical hands on supplies for the classroom.  For instance there’s only one globe in the whole school that is always being shared and passed around.  Material objects that help kids see, feel and learn at the same time are really needed.  I found it pretty hard to find anything fun and useful for the classroom, but then again there could be a teacher supply store that no one is telling me about.  My friend Kandy is studying to be a teacher in the states and she sent me a pack of 4 mini dry erase boards for my class.  I use them every single day to play spelling games with the kids.  They absolutely love them.  I’ve had other teachers come in and watch my class and tell me that I’m doing a really good job and I think it’s mostly because they see how excited the kids are to learn.  I already promised away the white boards to one of the Pilipino teachers, but in the mean time I’ve had at least a dozen other teachers ask me for them.  I’ll have to send a care package of supplies for next semester.
-We like to party, and play games and have contests and dance and sing… It seems like there is always a new competition going on at Anubanchonburi.  The students are always practicing something.  This past week everyone had a waiing competition.  The students had to practice the traditional Thai greeting known as a wai.  They also had to perform other common practices in their culture like kneeling to pray with their feet under their butt and in “mermaid” style.  They also walked in a long line with their heads bowed down, which is what you do if you walk between people conversing or if you walk by someone of a higher status.  They also practiced short dialogues, which I guessed to be prayers, chants or something of the like.  Before the waiing competition everyone was preparing for the nine square competition.  Nine square is a marching activity in which every student has their own mat with nine squares on it.  There are several different marching routines that all the kids know how to say and march too.  Apparently it is supposed to help increase brain function and coordination.  The kindergarteners have a rough time staying on track, but the older kids are really good at it and have even added music and hand motions to their routines.  Before nine square and waiing we practiced every day twice a day for the Children’s day and Christmas day show.  Each grade had a different song and dance that was performed in front of parents and the community on a big stage in the center of Chonburi.  Before Children’s Day and Christmas everyone practiced their cheers and chants for sports day.  The activities never stop here.  Often times it seems like the group activities take precedence over the lessons, but I’ve noticed all the group events increase the school spirit and solidarity between both the teachers and the students.  In between all the school wide activities, there are smaller contests taking place all the time.  We are often asked to help kids study for spelling and speech competitions.  Sometimes we are even asked to help judge the speech competitions at other schools.  At first I was getting a bit dragged down by all the extra activities especially because we were often told about them a couple days before and expected to whip up amazing results, but after a few weeks I learned to embrace the crazy and just run with it.  If you practice and work hard for a few weeks it will probably pay off and if it doesn’t everyone will forget about it by the time the next contest, competition or activity rolls around.  
-Classroom control.  Imagine someone telling you to be quiet, behave, sit down, stop it, etc. in another language.  If you were surrounded by thirty of your peers and had not the faintest idea what that person was talking about, you probably wouldn’t listen.  That pretty much sums up my life with my kindergarten kids.  It is almost impossible for me to control their behavior unless they know what their doing is wrong.  I’ve tried to teach them simple manners like covering their mouth and being patient, but it hasn’t really caught on.  I’ve learned a few tricks for getting them to be quiet though.  I usually do hand motions or say body parts and everyone has to point to those parts on their body, this grabs everyone’s attention and they unknowingly stop talking and goofing off.  Or I break into song and they join in, which usually calms them down.  Other times I’ll clap and say one, two, three, zip and zip my lips.  They like things like that too because it involves clapping and motions and they understand what the desired result is.  Usually though they’re crazy and have to be disciplined by the Thai teacher.  They know that I won’t hit them or intimidate them so they definitely have less respect for me and they don’t really fear me at all.  I’ve seen my Thai teacher do some pretty crazy stuff and it always ends in a lot of tears.  I feel bad most times because I wouldn’t go about it the way she does, but at the same time she is teaching the same general lesson, be quiet, pay attention and behave, she just happens to be teaching it in a radically different way.  I’ve seen my teacher hit a kid in the face with scissors and pretend to cut his lips off.  She’s also put this one little girl high on top of a shelf in the classroom so that she couldn’t get down, because the girl just wouldn’t pay attention.  Once when we were making a craft, this one girl who is seriously naughty and rebellious stuck her hands in glue and dipped them into a bowl of seeds and started waving them around.  I told her to stop it, but she didn’t listen.  I even made her wash her hands, but she ended up doing it again and my teacher caught her.  She was so pissed off.  Number one because we have very limited craft supplies and number two because this girl is a little devil child.  Anyway, she grabbed the girl and rubbed the glue and the seeds all over her face for at least five minutes in front of the whole class and then made her go to lunch like that.  I’d have to say after that day that same girl’s behavior has improved dramatically.  I don’t know if my teacher talked to her parents or if that little glue incident got the point across, but she doesn’t act nearly as badly as she used to.
Needless to say I don’t use the intimidation approach.  I mean, how intimidating can I be?  Even when I’m yelling at them or hitting them over the head with a little notebook I’m making a funny face or trying not to laugh.  I’ve actually found hitting them on the head with some papers or their composition notebook is one of the best tactics because it causes all their classmates to laugh and they get really embarrassed.  In Thailand it is a really big deal if you “lose face” which is why it is rare for Thais to get angry, argue and raise their voice so by embarrassing the kids a little bit like that it puts them back in their place and at the same time I know I didn’t really hurt them.  My teachers tend to use what I think of as extreme versions of intimidation like shaking a kids entire desk, hitting them with rulers or making them stand on their chair for the entire class; that works for them and unlike me their kids actually listen really well and get quiet when they enter the room.  I take more round-a-bout approaches that allow me to control the kids without feeling bad about the way I acted.  Usually I write a word on the board like game, sticker, or snack.  Every time the kids are too noisy I will erase a letter.  Most times I only have to erase one or two letters and they will stay quiet for the whole class.  Once I had to erase every letter and they were so crazy I started to write a new word, ‘work,’ on the board.  I made them all write a bunch of sentences until the end of class.  I think most of them felt pretty badly about it, but thankfully it only had to happen once.  Games are my big reward.  I love playing games with them because they are actually learning something and it encourages willing participation from every single student.  After the first week of hating my p1 class I learned that it wasn’t their job to pay attention, it was my job to hold their attention.  I started to plan my lessons in ten minute blocks so that we were always doing a new activity.  I added short songs and movies to my lessons and asked for increased participation from the kids.  I also let them make choices about what activity we would do next and I let their behavior decide how class would proceed.  In the end it’s working out really well for me and I leave class feeling happy because I love my students and they love me back.  
I also got great positive feed back from one of the higher ups in the office the other day.  She came in and watched my lesson and told me in a few English and Thai words that I was doing really well.  Some of the Thai teachers have asked me if I’m staying next semester and when I shake my head no they grab my arms and squeeze me and make a frowning face.  These small gestures really mean a lot to me and they also confirm how much I feel like Anubanchonburi is my community and my workplace.  The Pilipino teacher, Nitzsan, who works in my grade 1 classroom with my Thai teacher, Teacher Now, pulled me aside on Friday and asked if I was staying.  I told her no and she looked pretty bummed.  She told me that Teacher Now thinks I’m teaching well and that if she didn’t like me she wouldn’t help me out with controlling the kids like she does.  She also said that Teacher Now had never helped out an English teacher as much as me and that she really likes me.  I honestly wanted to cry, I was so happy.  It was one of the biggest compliments I have ever received in my entire life.  The day before school started, a couple Pilipino teachers told me that Teacher Now was rough to work with.  I knew from day one that she was strict and old fashioned and that she probably wouldn’t be too warm to me, but I decided I wanted to try my hardest to get on her good side.  It really wasn’t that hard.  The first couple weeks I felt like she was testing me by interrupting me, talking to me in Thai, and telling me how to teach, but after about a month every thing changed.  Maybe I broke her down with all my smiles and “kopkunkah” (thank you) or maybe I passed whatever test she was giving me.  To be honest I really did like her after the first week because I realized whenever she was in the room the kids were quiet and would listen to me and that was what I needed.  I needed a second to be able to think, stop being nervous about teaching, and learn how to work with these little Thai devils and she gave me that.  So even though I couldn’t dicipline my students the way my Thai teachers do I realize that that is the way of the Thai school system and that’s what works for them.  I honestly don’t think Thai teachers recognize the power of positive reinforcement.  Maybe it could be integrated into their system, but maybe they don’t want it to be.  Different cultures have different ways of dealing with things and after an entire semester I’ve found a way to accept and adapt their practice to work for me.  
There a lots of other interesting aspects of the Thai education system or maybe you didn’t find these too interesting at all, but either way you’ll learn more about what the school and the kids do during the day when you watch the video I’m producing.  I’ve been filming for a few weeks now and I’m finally starting to put it all together.  I’d like to get it done within the next two weeks, but I have another more pressing video I have finish so I’m not sure if that will happen.  When it’s complete my coordinator is going to show it at one of the huge teachers’ parties so they can see what I see.  I’m pretty excited for all the Thai teachers to realize why I carry around a camera, microphone and tripod all day.  I get some pretty funny stares while I’m recording the kids at morning assembly, lunch and naptime.  
A lesson in Thai schools:
Before I arrived in Thailand, the program I signed up with provided me with a lot of information about Thailand and the school system.  I kept seeing a few pieces of advice over and over.  I was instructed to go with the flow, not worry if I didn’t know exactly what was going on, and do what I was told as best I could.  The Thai school system was described as being lax and not as uniform as American schools.  The pamphlet also said uniform protocol is rare as well as future notice and scheduling of events.  All of this sounded fine to me.  I’m pretty good at going with the flow and rolling with the punches.  Who doesn’t like the sound of a more laid back job anyway?  Apparently “laid back” wasn’t what they meant when they said lack of protocol.  My school, Anubanchonburi, is actually pretty demanding.  Of all the other teachers I’ve talked to in my program no one does as much paperwork, after hours events and teaching as we do at Anubanchonburi.  That being said, we do get paid better than all the teachers I’ve talked to as well.  Besides learning how to write lesson plans and fill out feedback forms there are many other things I’ve learned while working at Anubanchonburi.  In most ways the Thai school system is the polar opposite of America’s, but the kids, teachers and politics are pretty much the same.
-Grades are arbitrary.  Really, they don’t matter.  They matter so much that they cease to exist.  Let me explain: no student is left behind.  Nope not that ridiculous system we have in America, but another one that goes like this:  Some kids are super smart, others skim by and yet others have no idea that the sky is blue, but they all have one thing in common: they pass.  No one fails here.  We were told that at orientation and we were all quite baffled.  What’s the point of school if no one fails?  How is that fair to the kids that actually pass?  Well, it’s not, but that’s just the way it is.  Before our midterm we said something to our coordinator like, “If kids can’t fail, what grade do we give?” She looked at us with a confused face and said in a high pitched voice, “Who said kids can’t fail?! They can fail!  They get the grade they deserve, we are trying to see what level they are really at!”  We all just sat there stunned and murmured “Okay.”  The next week we all gave our midterms and sure enough some kids failed.  Then a week later our coordinator held a big meeting.  It went something like this:  Come to school an hour early in the morning to personally tutor the kids that failed, then retest them, on the retest they cannot get below a ten a.k.a. all kids must pass, no matter what.  So really if a kid fails it gives the teacher more work and sometimes that work is fruitless and they still don’t pass, but on paper they do.  
Another instance of arbitrary grades just happened to me yesterday.  I was given a packet of papers, each page had a list of my students and a subject area like writing, reading, speaking, or listening.  I was asked to grade all my kids, right there on the spot on these four areas.  No, I didn’t have time to test them and of course we weren’t told at the beginning of the year that we would have to give them a grade in these specific areas.  So, I paged through my grade book, looked at the students’ notebooks and old tests and came up with what I thought were fair grades even though I wasn’t completely comfortable with my methods.  Twenty minutes after I handed my grades in to the Thai homeroom teacher she came and found me.  She started going off in Thai and all I could understand was “no good” “no have” “no, no, no.”  I kind of got the gist of what she was saying; she didn’t like the way I graded.  I had to change all my low grades to high grades, the kids who deserved 5/10 needed to have at least a 7/10.  So I sat with a whiteout pen and erased every grade under 7 and then without even looking up who the student was (their names were in Thai on the sheet) I gave them a seven or higher.  I didn’t even feel guilty or bad about it because like I learned from day one, T.I.T. This Is Thailand.  
-Forfeiting Future Notice.  Future notice simply does not exist here.  I learned that on my first day of school when I was handed my lesson plans ten minutes before class.  I also learned that when we were supposed to have two teacher in-service days, but they were changed to regular teaching days the day before.  Also the time when I was told the day before about the class field trip.  Or that Thursday when we were told we had to attend a teacher training course on that Saturday.  Also last week when our school changed our last day of work from the 18th to the 23rd of March.  Oh and all those times when I went to class and was handed some random test and told to explain it and give it to my kids, right then and there.  There are a million other instances of finding things out days, hours or seconds before they’re about to take place.  I thought CIEE was exaggerating when they said it’s the Thai way to plan things on the fly.  It seems really hard for me to believe that they don’t have a rough school schedule outlining things like days off, midterms, finals, and the last day of school, but they really don’t.  They plan weeks and days in advance.  At a meeting in December one of the teachers asked what days in January we had off for holiday and our coordinator answered, “That’s next year, so we will talk about that then.”  Last week I got an email hinting about a day off and I wasn’t actually told about it until I went around asking other teachers and our coordinator what that was all about.  Apparently it’s a holiday that happens on the same date every year, but they failed to put it on our holiday calendar.  I’m seriously starting to wonder if there are permanent records and documents anywhere in Thailand.  I’m pretty sure whenever something has to be communicated or a schedule has to be made someone just plops down at a computer and tries to pull everything from memory.  At first I was bothered by being in the dark all the time, but now I’m just plain used to it.  
  -Uniformity through uniforms.  Where grades fail to matter uniforms pick up the slack.  Each day has it’s own color or uniform attached to it.  Monday is yellow, Tuesday is pink, Wednesday is Hawaiian shirt day, Thursday is purple and Friday is sports day.  The students also have to wear scout uniforms on Thursday instead of purple.  There are also different shoes for different days, black for Mon, Tues, Thurs and white sneakers on Wed and Fri.  Each student has the same haircut too.  Boys have short hair that goes into a fade and girls have hair just below their chins.  The girls also wear a blue or white bow in their hair depending on what grade they’re in.  I always see teachers giving their students a hard time about their haircuts and styles.  If a student accidentally wears the wrong uniform they’re usually made fun of for the most part of the day.  Every time a different teacher walks by and sees them wearing the wrong shirt they make a comment and laugh with the homeroom teacher, which causes their classmates to then make fun of them too.  Teachers also have to stick to the uniforms or they are destined to be the topic of lunchtime gossip.  The first Wednesday of school I didn’t have a Hawaiian shirt and my homeroom teacher must have told me a dozen times that I needed to buy one.  She doesn’t speak English so her telling me was more like her pointing to her shirt a lot and pointing North to where the school store is.  She also took me around to other teachers who spoke English to tell me to buy one.  We also had to buy Friday sports day uniforms that consisted of an itchy blue polo and tight, hot and heavy dark blue polyester pants.  I would wear the Hawaiian shirt every day if I didn’t have to wear those pants on Fridays.  Once the big sports day competition arrived (think track and field day in elementary school) we had to buy another jersey in our team’s color.  Mine is green and I actually like it a lot.  I remember bitching about it at the time because I didn’t feel like shelling out more cash on another uncomfortable polo, but it turned out to be more like a soccer jersey.  Now I wear that every Friday and whenever I’m told to wear the polo I just say I don’t have one.  It’s crazy how much they care about uniforms.  It’s actually the one aspect of school that you get relatively future notice about.  A day or two before the field trips or special days I’m told in English (a lot of messages are told to me in Thai which results in confusion and lack of understanding) to wear my sports day outfit.  We also had a cowboy themed party for New Years where we were required to dress up in our western gear.  The Thais love, love, love cowboy culture.  
-ESL, wait what?  In the U.S.A. lot of books, lesson plans and curriculum guides are stamped with what we know as an ESL label aka English as a Second Language.  ESL materials take a different approach then plain and simple English curriculum and for good reason.  When you learned a new language, let’s say Spanish, I can bet you didn’t take the same approach as you did for English.  After all you probably weren’t a baby and surrounded by Spanish speakers.  Chances are you were older, learned from a textbook and had a nonnative speaking teacher.  Definitely not the best way to learn a new language, but decidedly not the worst either.  It’s important to have texts and guides that realize Spanish isn’t your primary language so that you can learn simple nouns, verbs and adjectives in a way that makes sense, kind of like stepping stones, instead of just pushing you off the ledge.  It is also important to learn from a native speaker, which is where most public school language programs fail.  Without a native speaker, the speaking part of the language is typically useless.  Unless the teacher is really good, there is a great chance you won’t really know how to say the words correctly with the proper accents and inflections making it really hard to communicate when you go on that trip to Mexico.  The writing and listening aspects will still have some merit, but again actually grasping everything that is being said and being able to reply will be quite difficult.  That being said, some knowledge is better than none and I’m not trying to discredit language lessons, I think it’s really important to attempt to learn new languages because it shows others that you have an interest in their culture and that is always appreciated even if you accidentally babble like a baby when you thought you were asking where the bathroom was.  Anyway, back to the main gist of this bullet point: ESL does not exist here, at least not at my school.  There is no curriculum in place to teach English in an introductory way for non-English speakers.  All of the workbooks and homework books are designed for English speakers so the concepts and flow of lessons is extremely confusing for the kids.  Also, the books are just crap.  The workbooks I’m provided with have been the main source of my reoccurring headaches.  I feel so angry and bad for my kids that they have to use these idiotic books.  My p1 kids use “Best Friends” books.  It is a workbook and a homework book combo that jumps around from topic to topic, has completely unrelated vocabulary words and stupid lesson and chapter titles and themes i.e. the dogs are sick, there are ten monkeys etc…  One week the vocabulary words were brave, toy boat, hot dog, toy store, mommy, and hurry up.  The books are also full of mistakes, which makes me think that one of our school suppliers got them really cheap and then sold them to our school to make some money.  Every lesson plan has an error in it.  It makes it confusing for the kids when they can’t figure out the right answer (because there isn’t one) and when I have to try and explain to them that the crossword puzzle doesn’t work out because the book is messed up.  At first I was pretty stressed out about the books, but then I realized I could just fly through the pointless lessons and add supplementary lessons to make everything flow together and make more sense.  I also started making more of my own worksheets and homework sheets instead of having them complete the ones filled with errors in the books.  I can only hope that my school will get better texts for next year.
It seems the curriculum should be much easier to plan for the kindergarten kids, but they have it even worse.  Each week we are assigned a really random topic to teach them like trash, air, milk, tree, winter, good and bad behavior, father’s day… the list could go on.  I agree the students should be learning about topics and subjects, but I think they should only be taught by their Thai teacher instead of both of us.  Basically they learn about trees in Thai for an hour and then I teach them about trees in English for an hour.  I think it would be beneficial if I was able to translate the key words and ideas about trees and teach with the Thai teacher and then during the English hour teach the alphabet and simple concepts like animals, colors, household objects and things of that sort.  It is ridiculously hard to teach complex lessons like good and bad behavior when the child doesn’t know anything you’re saying.  Beyond the seemingly random lessons, I have to work out of a workbook that’s designed for English speaking kindergarteners.  The workbook is way above my students’ level, which causes a lot of stress and anxiety on both their part and mine.  I struggle to explain how to complete the pages properly and most times they don’t understand and end up asking me over and over and over how to do it and still complete it wrong.  The workbook is no help with this because of how the pages are set up.  On the left-hand page there will be a word like Dog and a blank line for them to write Dog Dog Dog, but on the right-hand page there will be an incomplete sentence like Dogs like to _______ .  The students are supposed to write run, but because they are used to copying words and phrases instead they write Dogs like to.  If the workbook was set up in such a way that the students learned to copy and then to answer it would work out well, but when different types of activities are all jumbled together and there is no way to properly communicate that to my students they are bound to make mistakes, misunderstand and lose interest.  I think it’s awesome that so many countries are taking the initiative to start teaching their students English at a young age, but I think if it was went about in a more systematic and practical way the kids would get a lot more out of it.  Having native speaking teachers is a huge step in the right direction, but I think they wandered off the trail soon after that.  Until then Dogs like to dogs like to.  
-Distressing disparities.  Thai schools are in a lot better shape then I thought they would be.  For the most part they are equipped with all the important school supplies like pencils, books, whiteboards, projectors, computers and printers.  Anubanconburi also has a nice little library, gym and music room.  There is a huge auditorium where we have teacher parties and conferences and there are several play areas for the kids and a swimming pool on the larger campus across the street.  We also have a nifty finger scanner that we have to sign into each morning and air conditioner in all the rooms.  Lots of good and necessary things for a school to have, but why then is there a lack of paper, white board markers and supplementary supplies for lessons?  Paper is to Anuban teachers as food is to contestants on survivor.  It is hidden, well protected and rarely shared.  The same goes for whiteboard markers.  Under every whiteboard you’ll find dozens of markers, but none of them work.  They are just pawns.  The real ones are hidden in your purse, book bag or desk drawer.  Oh, and toilet paper.  Of course there’s none, after all we’re in Thailand.  The toilet paper also gets hidden because if you make the mistake of just setting it under your desk you’ll find it down to the last square within a couple days.  So hold onto your paper allotment and go buy art supplies with your first paycheck because there’s no way you’re getting any baht from the semester budget.  It bums me out to see all the activities, games and books that fill the shelves of my kindergarten classroom because they’re never used.  I taught my teacher how to play a few of the games so she would encourage the students to play them during free time, but it’s hard to get them away from the play dough.  The older grades are also in need of more practical hands on supplies for the classroom.  For instance there’s only one globe in the whole school that is always being shared and passed around.  Material objects that help kids see, feel and learn at the same time are really needed.  I found it pretty hard to find anything fun and useful for the classroom, but then again there could be a teacher supply store that no one is telling me about.  My friend Kandy is studying to be a teacher in the states and she sent me a pack of 4 mini dry erase boards for my class.  I use them every single day to play spelling games with the kids.  They absolutely love them.  I’ve had other teachers come in and watch my class and tell me that I’m doing a really good job and I think it’s mostly because they see how excited the kids are to learn.  I already promised away the white boards to one of the Pilipino teachers, but in the mean time I’ve had at least a dozen other teachers ask me for them.  I’ll have to send a care package of supplies for next semester.
-We like to party, and play games and have contests and dance and sing… It seems like there is always a new competition going on at Anubanchonburi.  The students are always practicing something.  This past week everyone had a waiing competition.  The students had to practice the traditional Thai greeting known as a wai.  They also had to perform other common practices in their culture like kneeling to pray with their feet under their butt and in “mermaid” style.  They also walked in a long line with their heads bowed down, which is what you do if you walk between people conversing or if you walk by someone of a higher status.  They also practiced short dialogues, which I guessed to be prayers, chants or something of the like.  Before the waiing competition everyone was preparing for the nine square competition.  Nine square is a marching activity in which every student has their own mat with nine squares on it.  There are several different marching routines that all the kids know how to say and march too.  Apparently it is supposed to help increase brain function and coordination.  The kindergarteners have a rough time staying on track, but the older kids are really good at it and have even added music and hand motions to their routines.  Before nine square and waiing we practiced every day twice a day for the Children’s day and Christmas day show.  Each grade had a different song and dance that was performed in front of parents and the community on a big stage in the center of Chonburi.  Before Children’s Day and Christmas everyone practiced their cheers and chants for sports day.  The activities never stop here.  Often times it seems like the group activities take precedence over the lessons, but I’ve noticed all the group events increase the school spirit and solidarity between both the teachers and the students.  In between all the school wide activities, there are smaller contests taking place all the time.  We are often asked to help kids study for spelling and speech competitions.  Sometimes we are even asked to help judge the speech competitions at other schools.  At first I was getting a bit dragged down by all the extra activities especially because we were often told about them a couple days before and expected to whip up amazing results, but after a few weeks I learned to embrace the crazy and just run with it.  If you practice and work hard for a few weeks it will probably pay off and if it doesn’t everyone will forget about it by the time the next contest, competition or activity rolls around.  
-Classroom control.  Imagine someone telling you to be quiet, behave, sit down, stop it, etc. in another language.  If you were surrounded by thirty of your peers and had not the faintest idea what that person was talking about, you probably wouldn’t listen.  That pretty much sums up my life with my kindergarten kids.  It is almost impossible for me to control their behavior unless they know what their doing is wrong.  I’ve tried to teach them simple manners like covering their mouth and being patient, but it hasn’t really caught on.  I’ve learned a few tricks for getting them to be quiet though.  I usually do hand motions or say body parts and everyone has to point to those parts on their body, this grabs everyone’s attention and they unknowingly stop talking and goofing off.  Or I break into song and they join in, which usually calms them down.  Other times I’ll clap and say one, two, three, zip and zip my lips.  They like things like that too because it involves clapping and motions and they understand what the desired result is.  Usually though they’re crazy and have to be disciplined by the Thai teacher.  They know that I won’t hit them or intimidate them so they definitely have less respect for me and they don’t really fear me at all.  I’ve seen my Thai teacher do some pretty crazy stuff and it always ends in a lot of tears.  I feel bad most times because I wouldn’t go about it the way she does, but at the same time she is teaching the same general lesson, be quiet, pay attention and behave, she just happens to be teaching it in a radically different way.  I’ve seen my teacher hit a kid in the face with scissors and pretend to cut his lips off.  She’s also put this one little girl high on top of a shelf in the classroom so that she couldn’t get down, because the girl just wouldn’t pay attention.  Once when we were making a craft, this one girl who is seriously naughty and rebellious stuck her hands in glue and dipped them into a bowl of seeds and started waving them around.  I told her to stop it, but she didn’t listen.  I even made her wash her hands, but she ended up doing it again and my teacher caught her.  She was so pissed off.  Number one because we have very limited craft supplies and number two because this girl is a little devil child.  Anyway, she grabbed the girl and rubbed the glue and the seeds all over her face for at least five minutes in front of the whole class and then made her go to lunch like that.  I’d have to say after that day that same girl’s behavior has improved dramatically.  I don’t know if my teacher talked to her parents or if that little glue incident got the point across, but she doesn’t act nearly as badly as she used to.
Needless to say I don’t use the intimidation approach.  I mean, how intimidating can I be?  Even when I’m yelling at them or hitting them over the head with a little notebook I’m making a funny face or trying not to laugh.  I’ve actually found hitting them on the head with some papers or their composition notebook is one of the best tactics because it causes all their classmates to laugh and they get really embarrassed.  In Thailand it is a really big deal if you “lose face” which is why it is rare for Thais to get angry, argue and raise their voice so by embarrassing the kids a little bit like that it puts them back in their place and at the same time I know I didn’t really hurt them.  My teachers tend to use what I think of as extreme versions of intimidation like shaking a kids entire desk, hitting them with rulers or making them stand on their chair for the entire class; that works for them and unlike me their kids actually listen really well and get quiet when they enter the room.  I take more round-a-bout approaches that allow me to control the kids without feeling bad about the way I acted.  Usually I write a word on the board like game, sticker, or snack.  Every time the kids are too noisy I will erase a letter.  Most times I only have to erase one or two letters and they will stay quiet for the whole class.  Once I had to erase every letter and they were so crazy I started to write a new word, ‘work,’ on the board.  I made them all write a bunch of sentences until the end of class.  I think most of them felt pretty badly about it, but thankfully it only had to happen once.  Games are my big reward.  I love playing games with them because they are actually learning something and it encourages willing participation from every single student.  After the first week of hating my p1 class I learned that it wasn’t their job to pay attention, it was my job to hold their attention.  I started to plan my lessons in ten minute blocks so that we were always doing a new activity.  I added short songs and movies to my lessons and asked for increased participation from the kids.  I also let them make choices about what activity we would do next and I let their behavior decide how class would proceed.  In the end it’s working out really well for me and I leave class feeling happy because I love my students and they love me back.  
I also got great positive feed back from one of the higher ups in the office the other day.  She came in and watched my lesson and told me in a few English and Thai words that I was doing really well.  Some of the Thai teachers have asked me if I’m staying next semester and when I shake my head no they grab my arms and squeeze me and make a frowning face.  These small gestures really mean a lot to me and they also confirm how much I feel like Anubanchonburi is my community and my workplace.  The Pilipino teacher, Nitzsan, who works in my grade 1 classroom with my Thai teacher, Teacher Now, pulled me aside on Friday and asked if I was staying.  I told her no and she looked pretty bummed.  She told me that Teacher Now thinks I’m teaching well and that if she didn’t like me she wouldn’t help me out with controlling the kids like she does.  She also said that Teacher Now had never helped out an English teacher as much as me and that she really likes me.  I honestly wanted to cry, I was so happy.  It was one of the biggest compliments I have ever received in my entire life.  The day before school started, a couple Pilipino teachers told me that Teacher Now was rough to work with.  I knew from day one that she was strict and old fashioned and that she probably wouldn’t be too warm to me, but I decided I wanted to try my hardest to get on her good side.  It really wasn’t that hard.  The first couple weeks I felt like she was testing me by interrupting me, talking to me in Thai, and telling me how to teach, but after about a month every thing changed.  Maybe I broke her down with all my smiles and “kopkunkah” (thank you) or maybe I passed whatever test she was giving me.  To be honest I really did like her after the first week because I realized whenever she was in the room the kids were quiet and would listen to me and that was what I needed.  I needed a second to be able to think, stop being nervous about teaching, and learn how to work with these little Thai devils and she gave me that.  So even though I couldn’t dicipline my students the way my Thai teachers do I realize that that is the way of the Thai school system and that’s what works for them.  I honestly don’t think Thai teachers recognize the power of positive reinforcement.  Maybe it could be integrated into their system, but maybe they don’t want it to be.  Different cultures have different ways of dealing with things and after an entire semester I’ve found a way to accept and adapt their practice to work for me.  
There a lots of other interesting aspects of the Thai education system or maybe you didn’t find these too interesting at all, but either way you’ll learn more about what the school and the kids do during the day when you watch the video I’m producing.  I’ve been filming for a few weeks now and I’m finally starting to put it all together.  I’d like to get it done within the next two weeks, but I have another more pressing video I have finish so I’m not sure if that will happen.  When it’s complete my coordinator is going to show it at one of the huge teachers’ parties so they can see what I see.  I’m pretty excited for all the Thai teachers to realize why I carry around a camera, microphone and tripod all day.  I get some pretty funny stares while I’m recording the kids at morning assembly, lunch and naptime.  
A lesson in Thai schools:
Before I arrived in Thailand, the program I signed up with provided me with a lot of information about Thailand and the school system.  I kept seeing a few pieces of advice over and over.  I was instructed to go with the flow, not worry if I didn’t know exactly what was going on, and do what I was told as best I could.  The Thai school system was described as being lax and not as uniform as American schools.  The pamphlet also said uniform protocol is rare as well as future notice and scheduling of events.  All of this sounded fine to me.  I’m pretty good at going with the flow and rolling with the punches.  Who doesn’t like the sound of a more laid back job anyway?  Apparently “laid back” wasn’t what they meant when they said lack of protocol.  My school, Anubanchonburi, is actually pretty demanding.  Of all the other teachers I’ve talked to in my program no one does as much paperwork, after hours events and teaching as we do at Anubanchonburi.  That being said, we do get paid better than all the teachers I’ve talked to as well.  Besides learning how to write lesson plans and fill out feedback forms there are many other things I’ve learned while working at Anubanchonburi.  In most ways the Thai school system is the polar opposite of America’s, but the kids, teachers and politics are pretty much the same.
-Grades are arbitrary.  Really, they don’t matter.  They matter so much that they cease to exist.  Let me explain: no student is left behind.  Nope not that ridiculous system we have in America, but another one that goes like this:  Some kids are super smart, others skim by and yet others have no idea that the sky is blue, but they all have one thing in common: they pass.  No one fails here.  We were told that at orientation and we were all quite baffled.  What’s the point of school if no one fails?  How is that fair to the kids that actually pass?  Well, it’s not, but that’s just the way it is.  Before our midterm we said something to our coordinator like, “If kids can’t fail, what grade do we give?” She looked at us with a confused face and said in a high pitched voice, “Who said kids can’t fail?! They can fail!  They get the grade they deserve, we are trying to see what level they are really at!”  We all just sat there stunned and murmured “Okay.”  The next week we all gave our midterms and sure enough some kids failed.  Then a week later our coordinator held a big meeting.  It went something like this:  Come to school an hour early in the morning to personally tutor the kids that failed, then retest them, on the retest they cannot get below a ten a.k.a. all kids must pass, no matter what.  So really if a kid fails it gives the teacher more work and sometimes that work is fruitless and they still don’t pass, but on paper they do.  
Another instance of arbitrary grades just happened to me yesterday.  I was given a packet of papers, each page had a list of my students and a subject area like writing, reading, speaking, or listening.  I was asked to grade all my kids, right there on the spot on these four areas.  No, I didn’t have time to test them and of course we weren’t told at the beginning of the year that we would have to give them a grade in these specific areas.  So, I paged through my grade book, looked at the students’ notebooks and old tests and came up with what I thought were fair grades even though I wasn’t completely comfortable with my methods.  Twenty minutes after I handed my grades in to the Thai homeroom teacher she came and found me.  She started going off in Thai and all I could understand was “no good” “no have” “no, no, no.”  I kind of got the gist of what she was saying; she didn’t like the way I graded.  I had to change all my low grades to high grades, the kids who deserved 5/10 needed to have at least a 7/10.  So I sat with a whiteout pen and erased every grade under 7 and then without even looking up who the student was (their names were in Thai on the sheet) I gave them a seven or higher.  I didn’t even feel guilty or bad about it because like I learned from day one, T.I.T. This Is Thailand.  
-Forfeiting Future Notice.  Future notice simply does not exist here.  I learned that on my first day of school when I was handed my lesson plans ten minutes before class.  I also learned that when we were supposed to have two teacher in-service days, but they were changed to regular teaching days the day before.  Also the time when I was told the day before about the class field trip.  Or that Thursday when we were told we had to attend a teacher training course on that Saturday.  Also last week when our school changed our last day of work from the 18th to the 23rd of March.  Oh and all those times when I went to class and was handed some random test and told to explain it and give it to my kids, right then and there.  There are a million other instances of finding things out days, hours or seconds before they’re about to take place.  I thought CIEE was exaggerating when they said it’s the Thai way to plan things on the fly.  It seems really hard for me to believe that they don’t have a rough school schedule outlining things like days off, midterms, finals, and the last day of school, but they really don’t.  They plan weeks and days in advance.  At a meeting in December one of the teachers asked what days in January we had off for holiday and our coordinator answered, “That’s next year, so we will talk about that then.”  Last week I got an email hinting about a day off and I wasn’t actually told about it until I went around asking other teachers and our coordinator what that was all about.  Apparently it’s a holiday that happens on the same date every year, but they failed to put it on our holiday calendar.  I’m seriously starting to wonder if there are permanent records and documents anywhere in Thailand.  I’m pretty sure whenever something has to be communicated or a schedule has to be made someone just plops down at a computer and tries to pull everything from memory.  At first I was bothered by being in the dark all the time, but now I’m just plain used to it.  
  -Uniformity through uniforms.  Where grades fail to matter uniforms pick up the slack.  Each day has it’s own color or uniform attached to it.  Monday is yellow, Tuesday is pink, Wednesday is Hawaiian shirt day, Thursday is purple and Friday is sports day.  The students also have to wear scout uniforms on Thursday instead of purple.  There are also different shoes for different days, black for Mon, Tues, Thurs and white sneakers on Wed and Fri.  Each student has the same haircut too.  Boys have short hair that goes into a fade and girls have hair just below their chins.  The girls also wear a blue or white bow in their hair depending on what grade they’re in.  I always see teachers giving their students a hard time about their haircuts and styles.  If a student accidentally wears the wrong uniform they’re usually made fun of for the most part of the day.  Every time a different teacher walks by and sees them wearing the wrong shirt they make a comment and laugh with the homeroom teacher, which causes their classmates to then make fun of them too.  Teachers also have to stick to the uniforms or they are destined to be the topic of lunchtime gossip.  The first Wednesday of school I didn’t have a Hawaiian shirt and my homeroom teacher must have told me a dozen times that I needed to buy one.  She doesn’t speak English so her telling me was more like her pointing to her shirt a lot and pointing North to where the school store is.  She also took me around to other teachers who spoke English to tell me to buy one.  We also had to buy Friday sports day uniforms that consisted of an itchy blue polo and tight, hot and heavy dark blue polyester pants.  I would wear the Hawaiian shirt every day if I didn’t have to wear those pants on Fridays.  Once the big sports day competition arrived (think track and field day in elementary school) we had to buy another jersey in our team’s color.  Mine is green and I actually like it a lot.  I remember bitching about it at the time because I didn’t feel like shelling out more cash on another uncomfortable polo, but it turned out to be more like a soccer jersey.  Now I wear that every Friday and whenever I’m told to wear the polo I just say I don’t have one.  It’s crazy how much they care about uniforms.  It’s actually the one aspect of school that you get relatively future notice about.  A day or two before the field trips or special days I’m told in English (a lot of messages are told to me in Thai which results in confusion and lack of understanding) to wear my sports day outfit.  We also had a cowboy themed party for New Years where we were required to dress up in our western gear.  The Thais love, love, love cowboy culture.  
-ESL, wait what?  In the U.S.A. lot of books, lesson plans and curriculum guides are stamped with what we know as an ESL label aka English as a Second Language.  ESL materials take a different approach then plain and simple English curriculum and for good reason.  When you learned a new language, let’s say Spanish, I can bet you didn’t take the same approach as you did for English.  After all you probably weren’t a baby and surrounded by Spanish speakers.  Chances are you were older, learned from a textbook and had a nonnative speaking teacher.  Definitely not the best way to learn a new language, but decidedly not the worst either.  It’s important to have texts and guides that realize Spanish isn’t your primary language so that you can learn simple nouns, verbs and adjectives in a way that makes sense, kind of like stepping stones, instead of just pushing you off the ledge.  It is also important to learn from a native speaker, which is where most public school language programs fail.  Without a native speaker, the speaking part of the language is typically useless.  Unless the teacher is really good, there is a great chance you won’t really know how to say the words correctly with the proper accents and inflections making it really hard to communicate when you go on that trip to Mexico.  The writing and listening aspects will still have some merit, but again actually grasping everything that is being said and being able to reply will be quite difficult.  That being said, some knowledge is better than none and I’m not trying to discredit language lessons, I think it’s really important to attempt to learn new languages because it shows others that you have an interest in their culture and that is always appreciated even if you accidentally babble like a baby when you thought you were asking where the bathroom was.  Anyway, back to the main gist of this bullet point: ESL does not exist here, at least not at my school.  There is no curriculum in place to teach English in an introductory way for non-English speakers.  All of the workbooks and homework books are designed for English speakers so the concepts and flow of lessons is extremely confusing for the kids.  Also, the books are just crap.  The workbooks I’m provided with have been the main source of my reoccurring headaches.  I feel so angry and bad for my kids that they have to use these idiotic books.  My p1 kids use “Best Friends” books.  It is a workbook and a homework book combo that jumps around from topic to topic, has completely unrelated vocabulary words and stupid lesson and chapter titles and themes i.e. the dogs are sick, there are ten monkeys etc…  One week the vocabulary words were brave, toy boat, hot dog, toy store, mommy, and hurry up.  The books are also full of mistakes, which makes me think that one of our school suppliers got them really cheap and then sold them to our school to make some money.  Every lesson plan has an error in it.  It makes it confusing for the kids when they can’t figure out the right answer (because there isn’t one) and when I have to try and explain to them that the crossword puzzle doesn’t work out because the book is messed up.  At first I was pretty stressed out about the books, but then I realized I could just fly through the pointless lessons and add supplementary lessons to make everything flow together and make more sense.  I also started making more of my own worksheets and homework sheets instead of having them complete the ones filled with errors in the books.  I can only hope that my school will get better texts for next year.
It seems the curriculum should be much easier to plan for the kindergarten kids, but they have it even worse.  Each week we are assigned a really random topic to teach them like trash, air, milk, tree, winter, good and bad behavior, father’s day… the list could go on.  I agree the students should be learning about topics and subjects, but I think they should only be taught by their Thai teacher instead of both of us.  Basically they learn about trees in Thai for an hour and then I teach them about trees in English for an hour.  I think it would be beneficial if I was able to translate the key words and ideas about trees and teach with the Thai teacher and then during the English hour teach the alphabet and simple concepts like animals, colors, household objects and things of that sort.  It is ridiculously hard to teach complex lessons like good and bad behavior when the child doesn’t know anything you’re saying.  Beyond the seemingly random lessons, I have to work out of a workbook that’s designed for English speaking kindergarteners.  The workbook is way above my students’ level, which causes a lot of stress and anxiety on both their part and mine.  I struggle to explain how to complete the pages properly and most times they don’t understand and end up asking me over and over and over how to do it and still complete it wrong.  The workbook is no help with this because of how the pages are set up.  On the left-hand page there will be a word like Dog and a blank line for them to write Dog Dog Dog, but on the right-hand page there will be an incomplete sentence like Dogs like to _______ .  The students are supposed to write run, but because they are used to copying words and phrases instead they write Dogs like to.  If the workbook was set up in such a way that the students learned to copy and then to answer it would work out well, but when different types of activities are all jumbled together and there is no way to properly communicate that to my students they are bound to make mistakes, misunderstand and lose interest.  I think it’s awesome that so many countries are taking the initiative to start teaching their students English at a young age, but I think if it was went about in a more systematic and practical way the kids would get a lot more out of it.  Having native speaking teachers is a huge step in the right direction, but I think they wandered off the trail soon after that.  Until then Dogs like to dogs like to.  
-Distressing disparities.  Thai schools are in a lot better shape then I thought they would be.  For the most part they are equipped with all the important school supplies like pencils, books, whiteboards, projectors, computers and printers.  Anubanconburi also has a nice little library, gym and music room.  There is a huge auditorium where we have teacher parties and conferences and there are several play areas for the kids and a swimming pool on the larger campus across the street.  We also have a nifty finger scanner that we have to sign into each morning and air conditioner in all the rooms.  Lots of good and necessary things for a school to have, but why then is there a lack of paper, white board markers and supplementary supplies for lessons?  Paper is to Anuban teachers as food is to contestants on survivor.  It is hidden, well protected and rarely shared.  The same goes for whiteboard markers.  Under every whiteboard you’ll find dozens of markers, but none of them work.  They are just pawns.  The real ones are hidden in your purse, book bag or desk drawer.  Oh, and toilet paper.  Of course there’s none, after all we’re in Thailand.  The toilet paper also gets hidden because if you make the mistake of just setting it under your desk you’ll find it down to the last square within a couple days.  So hold onto your paper allotment and go buy art supplies with your first paycheck because there’s no way you’re getting any baht from the semester budget.  It bums me out to see all the activities, games and books that fill the shelves of my kindergarten classroom because they’re never used.  I taught my teacher how to play a few of the games so she would encourage the students to play them during free time, but it’s hard to get them away from the play dough.  The older grades are also in need of more practical hands on supplies for the classroom.  For instance there’s only one globe in the whole school that is always being shared and passed around.  Material objects that help kids see, feel and learn at the same time are really needed.  I found it pretty hard to find anything fun and useful for the classroom, but then again there could be a teacher supply store that no one is telling me about.  My friend Kandy is studying to be a teacher in the states and she sent me a pack of 4 mini dry erase boards for my class.  I use them every single day to play spelling games with the kids.  They absolutely love them.  I’ve had other teachers come in and watch my class and tell me that I’m doing a really good job and I think it’s mostly because they see how excited the kids are to learn.  I already promised away the white boards to one of the Pilipino teachers, but in the mean time I’ve had at least a dozen other teachers ask me for them.  I’ll have to send a care package of supplies for next semester.
-We like to party, and play games and have contests and dance and sing… It seems like there is always a new competition going on at Anubanchonburi.  The students are always practicing something.  This past week everyone had a waiing competition.  The students had to practice the traditional Thai greeting known as a wai.  They also had to perform other common practices in their culture like kneeling to pray with their feet under their butt and in “mermaid” style.  They also walked in a long line with their heads bowed down, which is what you do if you walk between people conversing or if you walk by someone of a higher status.  They also practiced short dialogues, which I guessed to be prayers, chants or something of the like.  Before the waiing competition everyone was preparing for the nine square competition.  Nine square is a marching activity in which every student has their own mat with nine squares on it.  There are several different marching routines that all the kids know how to say and march too.  Apparently it is supposed to help increase brain function and coordination.  The kindergarteners have a rough time staying on track, but the older kids are really good at it and have even added music and hand motions to their routines.  Before nine square and waiing we practiced every day twice a day for the Children’s day and Christmas day show.  Each grade had a different song and dance that was performed in front of parents and the community on a big stage in the center of Chonburi.  Before Children’s Day and Christmas everyone practiced their cheers and chants for sports day.  The activities never stop here.  Often times it seems like the group activities take precedence over the lessons, but I’ve noticed all the group events increase the school spirit and solidarity between both the teachers and the students.  In between all the school wide activities, there are smaller contests taking place all the time.  We are often asked to help kids study for spelling and speech competitions.  Sometimes we are even asked to help judge the speech competitions at other schools.  At first I was getting a bit dragged down by all the extra activities especially because we were often told about them a couple days before and expected to whip up amazing results, but after a few weeks I learned to embrace the crazy and just run with it.  If you practice and work hard for a few weeks it will probably pay off and if it doesn’t everyone will forget about it by the time the next contest, competition or activity rolls around.  
-Classroom control.  Imagine someone telling you to be quiet, behave, sit down, stop it, etc. in another language.  If you were surrounded by thirty of your peers and had not the faintest idea what that person was talking about, you probably wouldn’t listen.  That pretty much sums up my life with my kindergarten kids.  It is almost impossible for me to control their behavior unless they know what their doing is wrong.  I’ve tried to teach them simple manners like covering their mouth and being patient, but it hasn’t really caught on.  I’ve learned a few tricks for getting them to be quiet though.  I usually do hand motions or say body parts and everyone has to point to those parts on their body, this grabs everyone’s attention and they unknowingly stop talking and goofing off.  Or I break into song and they join in, which usually calms them down.  Other times I’ll clap and say one, two, three, zip and zip my lips.  They like things like that too because it involves clapping and motions and they understand what the desired result is.  Usually though they’re crazy and have to be disciplined by the Thai teacher.  They know that I won’t hit them or intimidate them so they definitely have less respect for me and they don’t really fear me at all.  I’ve seen my Thai teacher do some pretty crazy stuff and it always ends in a lot of tears.  I feel bad most times because I wouldn’t go about it the way she does, but at the same time she is teaching the same general lesson, be quiet, pay attention and behave, she just happens to be teaching it in a radically different way.  I’ve seen my teacher hit a kid in the face with scissors and pretend to cut his lips off.  She’s also put this one little girl high on top of a shelf in the classroom so that she couldn’t get down, because the girl just wouldn’t pay attention.  Once when we were making a craft, this one girl who is seriously naughty and rebellious stuck her hands in glue and dipped them into a bowl of seeds and started waving them around.  I told her to stop it, but she didn’t listen.  I even made her wash her hands, but she ended up doing it again and my teacher caught her.  She was so pissed off.  Number one because we have very limited craft supplies and number two because this girl is a little devil child.  Anyway, she grabbed the girl and rubbed the glue and the seeds all over her face for at least five minutes in front of the whole class and then made her go to lunch like that.  I’d have to say after that day that same girl’s behavior has improved dramatically.  I don’t know if my teacher talked to her parents or if that little glue incident got the point across, but she doesn’t act nearly as badly as she used to.
Needless to say I don’t use the intimidation approach.  I mean, how intimidating can I be?  Even when I’m yelling at them or hitting them over the head with a little notebook I’m making a funny face or trying not to laugh.  I’ve actually found hitting them on the head with some papers or their composition notebook is one of the best tactics because it causes all their classmates to laugh and they get really embarrassed.  In Thailand it is a really big deal if you “lose face” which is why it is rare for Thais to get angry, argue and raise their voice so by embarrassing the kids a little bit like that it puts them back in their place and at the same time I know I didn’t really hurt them.  My teachers tend to use what I think of as extreme versions of intimidation like shaking a kids entire desk, hitting them with rulers or making them stand on their chair for the entire class; that works for them and unlike me their kids actually listen really well and get quiet when they enter the room.  I take more round-a-bout approaches that allow me to control the kids without feeling bad about the way I acted.  Usually I write a word on the board like game, sticker, or snack.  Every time the kids are too noisy I will erase a letter.  Most times I only have to erase one or two letters and they will stay quiet for the whole class.  Once I had to erase every letter and they were so crazy I started to write a new word, ‘work,’ on the board.  I made them all write a bunch of sentences until the end of class.  I think most of them felt pretty badly about it, but thankfully it only had to happen once.  Games are my big reward.  I love playing games with them because they are actually learning something and it encourages willing participation from every single student.  After the first week of hating my p1 class I learned that it wasn’t their job to pay attention, it was my job to hold their attention.  I started to plan my lessons in ten minute blocks so that we were always doing a new activity.  I added short songs and movies to my lessons and asked for increased participation from the kids.  I also let them make choices about what activity we would do next and I let their behavior decide how class would proceed.  In the end it’s working out really well for me and I leave class feeling happy because I love my students and they love me back.  
I also got great positive feed back from one of the higher ups in the office the other day.  She came in and watched my lesson and told me in a few English and Thai words that I was doing really well.  Some of the Thai teachers have asked me if I’m staying next semester and when I shake my head no they grab my arms and squeeze me and make a frowning face.  These small gestures really mean a lot to me and they also confirm how much I feel like Anubanchonburi is my community and my workplace.  The Pilipino teacher, Nitzsan, who works in my grade 1 classroom with my Thai teacher, Teacher Now, pulled me aside on Friday and asked if I was staying.  I told her no and she looked pretty bummed.  She told me that Teacher Now thinks I’m teaching well and that if she didn’t like me she wouldn’t help me out with controlling the kids like she does.  She also said that Teacher Now had never helped out an English teacher as much as me and that she really likes me.  I honestly wanted to cry, I was so happy.  It was one of the biggest compliments I have ever received in my entire life.  The day before school started, a couple Pilipino teachers told me that Teacher Now was rough to work with.  I knew from day one that she was strict and old fashioned and that she probably wouldn’t be too warm to me, but I decided I wanted to try my hardest to get on her good side.  It really wasn’t that hard.  The first couple weeks I felt like she was testing me by interrupting me, talking to me in Thai, and telling me how to teach, but after about a month every thing changed.  Maybe I broke her down with all my smiles and “kopkunkah” (thank you) or maybe I passed whatever test she was giving me.  To be honest I really did like her after the first week because I realized whenever she was in the room the kids were quiet and would listen to me and that was what I needed.  I needed a second to be able to think, stop being nervous about teaching, and learn how to work with these little Thai devils and she gave me that.  So even though I couldn’t dicipline my students the way my Thai teachers do I realize that that is the way of the Thai school system and that’s what works for them.  I honestly don’t think Thai teachers recognize the power of positive reinforcement.  Maybe it could be integrated into their system, but maybe they don’t want it to be.  Different cultures have different ways of dealing with things and after an entire semester I’ve found a way to accept and adapt their practice to work for me.  
There a lots of other interesting aspects of the Thai education system or maybe you didn’t find these too interesting at all, but either way you’ll learn more about what the school and the kids do during the day when you watch the video I’m producing.  I’ve been filming for a few weeks now and I’m finally starting to put it all together.  I’d like to get it done within the next two weeks, but I have another more pressing video I have finish so I’m not sure if that will happen.  When it’s complete my coordinator is going to show it at one of the huge teachers’ parties so they can see what I see.  I’m pretty excited for all the Thai teachers to realize why I carry around a camera, microphone and tripod all day.  I get some pretty funny stares while I’m recording the kids at morning assembly, lunch and naptime.  
A lesson in Thai schools:
Before I arrived in Thailand, the program I signed up with provided me with a lot of information about Thailand and the school system.  I kept seeing a few pieces of advice over and over.  I was instructed to go with the flow, not worry if I didn’t know exactly what was going on, and do what I was told as best I could.  The Thai school system was described as being lax and not as uniform as American schools.  The pamphlet also said uniform protocol is rare as well as future notice and scheduling of events.  All of this sounded fine to me.  I’m pretty good at going with the flow and rolling with the punches.  Who doesn’t like the sound of a more laid back job anyway?  Apparently “laid back” wasn’t what they meant when they said lack of protocol.  My school, Anubanchonburi, is actually pretty demanding.  Of all the other teachers I’ve talked to in my program no one does as much paperwork, after hours events and teaching as we do at Anubanchonburi.  That being said, we do get paid better than all the teachers I’ve talked to as well.  Besides learning how to write lesson plans and fill out feedback forms there are many other things I’ve learned while working at Anubanchonburi.  In most ways the Thai school system is the polar opposite of America’s, but the kids, teachers and politics are pretty much the same.
-Grades are arbitrary.  Really, they don’t matter.  They matter so much that they cease to exist.  Let me explain: no student is left behind.  Nope not that ridiculous system we have in America, but another one that goes like this:  Some kids are super smart, others skim by and yet others have no idea that the sky is blue, but they all have one thing in common: they pass.  No one fails here.  We were told that at orientation and we were all quite baffled.  What’s the point of school if no one fails?  How is that fair to the kids that actually pass?  Well, it’s not, but that’s just the way it is.  Before our midterm we said something to our coordinator like, “If kids can’t fail, what grade do we give?” She looked at us with a confused face and said in a high pitched voice, “Who said kids can’t fail?! They can fail!  They get the grade they deserve, we are trying to see what level they are really at!”  We all just sat there stunned and murmured “Okay.”  The next week we all gave our midterms and sure enough some kids failed.  Then a week later our coordinator held a big meeting.  It went something like this:  Come to school an hour early in the morning to personally tutor the kids that failed, then retest them, on the retest they cannot get below a ten a.k.a. all kids must pass, no matter what.  So really if a kid fails it gives the teacher more work and sometimes that work is fruitless and they still don’t pass, but on paper they do.  
Another instance of arbitrary grades just happened to me yesterday.  I was given a packet of papers, each page had a list of my students and a subject area like writing, reading, speaking, or listening.  I was asked to grade all my kids, right there on the spot on these four areas.  No, I didn’t have time to test them and of course we weren’t told at the beginning of the year that we would have to give them a grade in these specific areas.  So, I paged through my grade book, looked at the students’ notebooks and old tests and came up with what I thought were fair grades even though I wasn’t completely comfortable with my methods.  Twenty minutes after I handed my grades in to the Thai homeroom teacher she came and found me.  She started going off in Thai and all I could understand was “no good” “no have” “no, no, no.”  I kind of got the gist of what she was saying; she didn’t like the way I graded.  I had to change all my low grades to high grades, the kids who deserved 5/10 needed to have at least a 7/10.  So I sat with a whiteout pen and erased every grade under 7 and then without even looking up who the student was (their names were in Thai on the sheet) I gave them a seven or higher.  I didn’t even feel guilty or bad about it because like I learned from day one, T.I.T. This Is Thailand.  
-Forfeiting Future Notice.  Future notice simply does not exist here.  I learned that on my first day of school when I was handed my lesson plans ten minutes before class.  I also learned that when we were supposed to have two teacher in-service days, but they were changed to regular teaching days the day before.  Also the time when I was told the day before about the class field trip.  Or that Thursday when we were told we had to attend a teacher training course on that Saturday.  Also last week when our school changed our last day of work from the 18th to the 23rd of March.  Oh and all those times when I went to class and was handed some random test and told to explain it and give it to my kids, right then and there.  There are a million other instances of finding things out days, hours or seconds before they’re about to take place.  I thought CIEE was exaggerating when they said it’s the Thai way to plan things on the fly.  It seems really hard for me to believe that they don’t have a rough school schedule outlining things like days off, midterms, finals, and the last day of school, but they really don’t.  They plan weeks and days in advance.  At a meeting in December one of the teachers asked what days in January we had off for holiday and our coordinator answered, “That’s next year, so we will talk about that then.”  Last week I got an email hinting about a day off and I wasn’t actually told about it until I went around asking other teachers and our coordinator what that was all about.  Apparently it’s a holiday that happens on the same date every year, but they failed to put it on our holiday calendar.  I’m seriously starting to wonder if there are permanent records and documents anywhere in Thailand.  I’m pretty sure whenever something has to be communicated or a schedule has to be made someone just plops down at a computer and tries to pull everything from memory.  At first I was bothered by being in the dark all the time, but now I’m just plain used to it.  
  -Uniformity through uniforms.  Where grades fail to matter uniforms pick up the slack.  Each day has it’s own color or uniform attached to it.  Monday is yellow, Tuesday is pink, Wednesday is Hawaiian shirt day, Thursday is purple and Friday is sports day.  The students also have to wear scout uniforms on Thursday instead of purple.  There are also different shoes for different days, black for Mon, Tues, Thurs and white sneakers on Wed and Fri.  Each student has the same haircut too.  Boys have short hair that goes into a fade and girls have hair just below their chins.  The girls also wear a blue or white bow in their hair depending on what grade they’re in.  I always see teachers giving their students a hard time about their haircuts and styles.  If a student accidentally wears the wrong uniform they’re usually made fun of for the most part of the day.  Every time a different teacher walks by and sees them wearing the wrong shirt they make a comment and laugh with the homeroom teacher, which causes their classmates to then make fun of them too.  Teachers also have to stick to the uniforms or they are destined to be the topic of lunchtime gossip.  The first Wednesday of school I didn’t have a Hawaiian shirt and my homeroom teacher must have told me a dozen times that I needed to buy one.  She doesn’t speak English so her telling me was more like her pointing to her shirt a lot and pointing North to where the school store is.  She also took me around to other teachers who spoke English to tell me to buy one.  We also had to buy Friday sports day uniforms that consisted of an itchy blue polo and tight, hot and heavy dark blue polyester pants.  I would wear the Hawaiian shirt every day if I didn’t have to wear those pants on Fridays.  Once the big sports day competition arrived (think track and field day in elementary school) we had to buy another jersey in our team’s color.  Mine is green and I actually like it a lot.  I remember bitching about it at the time because I didn’t feel like shelling out more cash on another uncomfortable polo, but it turned out to be more like a soccer jersey.  Now I wear that every Friday and whenever I’m told to wear the polo I just say I don’t have one.  It’s crazy how much they care about uniforms.  It’s actually the one aspect of school that you get relatively future notice about.  A day or two before the field trips or special days I’m told in English (a lot of messages are told to me in Thai which results in confusion and lack of understanding) to wear my sports day outfit.  We also had a cowboy themed party for New Years where we were required to dress up in our western gear.  The Thais love, love, love cowboy culture.  
-ESL, wait what?  In the U.S.A. lot of books, lesson plans and curriculum guides are stamped with what we know as an ESL label aka English as a Second Language.  ESL materials take a different approach then plain and simple English curriculum and for good reason.  When you learned a new language, let’s say Spanish, I can bet you didn’t take the same approach as you did for English.  After all you probably weren’t a baby and surrounded by Spanish speakers.  Chances are you were older, learned from a textbook and had a nonnative speaking teacher.  Definitely not the best way to learn a new language, but decidedly not the worst either.  It’s important to have texts and guides that realize Spanish isn’t your primary language so that you can learn simple nouns, verbs and adjectives in a way that makes sense, kind of like stepping stones, instead of just pushing you off the ledge.  It is also important to learn from a native speaker, which is where most public school language programs fail.  Without a native speaker, the speaking part of the language is typically useless.  Unless the teacher is really good, there is a great chance you won’t really know how to say the words correctly with the proper accents and inflections making it really hard to communicate when you go on that trip to Mexico.  The writing and listening aspects will still have some merit, but again actually grasping everything that is being said and being able to reply will be quite difficult.  That being said, some knowledge is better than none and I’m not trying to discredit language lessons, I think it’s really important to attempt to learn new languages because it shows others that you have an interest in their culture and that is always appreciated even if you accidentally babble like a baby when you thought you were asking where the bathroom was.  Anyway, back to the main gist of this bullet point: ESL does not exist here, at least not at my school.  There is no curriculum in place to teach English in an introductory way for non-English speakers.  All of the workbooks and homework books are designed for English speakers so the concepts and flow of lessons is extremely confusing for the kids.  Also, the books are just crap.  The workbooks I’m provided with have been the main source of my reoccurring headaches.  I feel so angry and bad for my kids that they have to use these idiotic books.  My p1 kids use “Best Friends” books.  It is a workbook and a homework book combo that jumps around from topic to topic, has completely unrelated vocabulary words and stupid lesson and chapter titles and themes i.e. the dogs are sick, there are ten monkeys etc…  One week the vocabulary words were brave, toy boat, hot dog, toy store, mommy, and hurry up.  The books are also full of mistakes, which makes me think that one of our school suppliers got them really cheap and then sold them to our school to make some money.  Every lesson plan has an error in it.  It makes it confusing for the kids when they can’t figure out the right answer (because there isn’t one) and when I have to try and explain to them that the crossword puzzle doesn’t work out because the book is messed up.  At first I was pretty stressed out about the books, but then I realized I could just fly through the pointless lessons and add supplementary lessons to make everything flow together and make more sense.  I also started making more of my own worksheets and homework sheets instead of having them complete the ones filled with errors in the books.  I can only hope that my school will get better texts for next year.
It seems the curriculum should be much easier to plan for the kindergarten kids, but they have it even worse.  Each week we are assigned a really random topic to teach them like trash, air, milk, tree, winter, good and bad behavior, father’s day… the list could go on.  I agree the students should be learning about topics and subjects, but I think they should only be taught by their Thai teacher instead of both of us.  Basically they learn about trees in Thai for an hour and then I teach them about trees in English for an hour.  I think it would be beneficial if I was able to translate the key words and ideas about trees and teach with the Thai teacher and then during the English hour teach the alphabet and simple concepts like animals, colors, household objects and things of that sort.  It is ridiculously hard to teach complex lessons like good and bad behavior when the child doesn’t know anything you’re saying.  Beyond the seemingly random lessons, I have to work out of a workbook that’s designed for English speaking kindergarteners.  The workbook is way above my students’ level, which causes a lot of stress and anxiety on both their part and mine.  I struggle to explain how to complete the pages properly and most times they don’t understand and end up asking me over and over and over how to do it and still complete it wrong.  The workbook is no help with this because of how the pages are set up.  On the left-hand page there will be a word like Dog and a blank line for them to write Dog Dog Dog, but on the right-hand page there will be an incomplete sentence like Dogs like to _______ .  The students are supposed to write run, but because they are used to copying words and phrases instead they write Dogs like to.  If the workbook was set up in such a way that the students learned to copy and then to answer it would work out well, but when different types of activities are all jumbled together and there is no way to properly communicate that to my students they are bound to make mistakes, misunderstand and lose interest.  I think it’s awesome that so many countries are taking the initiative to start teaching their students English at a young age, but I think if it was went about in a more systematic and practical way the kids would get a lot more out of it.  Having native speaking teachers is a huge step in the right direction, but I think they wandered off the trail soon after that.  Until then Dogs like to dogs like to.  
-Distressing disparities.  Thai schools are in a lot better shape then I thought they would be.  For the most part they are equipped with all the important school supplies like pencils, books, whiteboards, projectors, computers and printers.  Anubanconburi also has a nice little library, gym and music room.  There is a huge auditorium where we have teacher parties and conferences and there are several play areas for the kids and a swimming pool on the larger campus across the street.  We also have a nifty finger scanner that we have to sign into each morning and air conditioner in all the rooms.  Lots of good and necessary things for a school to have, but why then is there a lack of paper, white board markers and supplementary supplies for lessons?  Paper is to Anuban teachers as food is to contestants on survivor.  It is hidden, well protected and rarely shared.  The same goes for whiteboard markers.  Under every whiteboard you’ll find dozens of markers, but none of them work.  They are just pawns.  The real ones are hidden in your purse, book bag or desk drawer.  Oh, and toilet paper.  Of course there’s none, after all we’re in Thailand.  The toilet paper also gets hidden because if you make the mistake of just setting it under your desk you’ll find it down to the last square within a couple days.  So hold onto your paper allotment and go buy art supplies with your first paycheck because there’s no way you’re getting any baht from the semester budget.  It bums me out to see all the activities, games and books that fill the shelves of my kindergarten classroom because they’re never used.  I taught my teacher how to play a few of the games so she would encourage the students to play them during free time, but it’s hard to get them away from the play dough.  The older grades are also in need of more practical hands on supplies for the classroom.  For instance there’s only one globe in the whole school that is always being shared and passed around.  Material objects that help kids see, feel and learn at the same time are really needed.  I found it pretty hard to find anything fun and useful for the classroom, but then again there could be a teacher supply store that no one is telling me about.  My friend Kandy is studying to be a teacher in the states and she sent me a pack of 4 mini dry erase boards for my class.  I use them every single day to play spelling games with the kids.  They absolutely love them.  I’ve had other teachers come in and watch my class and tell me that I’m doing a really good job and I think it’s mostly because they see how excited the kids are to learn.  I already promised away the white boards to one of the Pilipino teachers, but in the mean time I’ve had at least a dozen other teachers ask me for them.  I’ll have to send a care package of supplies for next semester.
-We like to party, and play games and have contests and dance and sing… It seems like there is always a new competition going on at Anubanchonburi.  The students are always practicing something.  This past week everyone had a waiing competition.  The students had to practice the traditional Thai greeting known as a wai.  They also had to perform other common practices in their culture like kneeling to pray with their feet under their butt and in “mermaid” style.  They also walked in a long line with their heads bowed down, which is what you do if you walk between people conversing or if you walk by someone of a higher status.  They also practiced short dialogues, which I guessed to be prayers, chants or something of the like.  Before the waiing competition everyone was preparing for the nine square competition.  Nine square is a marching activity in which every student has their own mat with nine squares on it.  There are several different marching routines that all the kids know how to say and march too.  Apparently it is supposed to help increase brain function and coordination.  The kindergarteners have a rough time staying on track, but the older kids are really good at it and have even added music and hand motions to their routines.  Before nine square and waiing we practiced every day twice a day for the Children’s day and Christmas day show.  Each grade had a different song and dance that was performed in front of parents and the community on a big stage in the center of Chonburi.  Before Children’s Day and Christmas everyone practiced their cheers and chants for sports day.  The activities never stop here.  Often times it seems like the group activities take precedence over the lessons, but I’ve noticed all the group events increase the school spirit and solidarity between both the teachers and the students.  In between all the school wide activities, there are smaller contests taking place all the time.  We are often asked to help kids study for spelling and speech competitions.  Sometimes we are even asked to help judge the speech competitions at other schools.  At first I was getting a bit dragged down by all the extra activities especially because we were often told about them a couple days before and expected to whip up amazing results, but after a few weeks I learned to embrace the crazy and just run with it.  If you practice and work hard for a few weeks it will probably pay off and if it doesn’t everyone will forget about it by the time the next contest, competition or activity rolls around.  
-Classroom control.  Imagine someone telling you to be quiet, behave, sit down, stop it, etc. in another language.  If you were surrounded by thirty of your peers and had not the faintest idea what that person was talking about, you probably wouldn’t listen.  That pretty much sums up my life with my kindergarten kids.  It is almost impossible for me to control their behavior unless they know what their doing is wrong.  I’ve tried to teach them simple manners like covering their mouth and being patient, but it hasn’t really caught on.  I’ve learned a few tricks for getting them to be quiet though.  I usually do hand motions or say body parts and everyone has to point to those parts on their body, this grabs everyone’s attention and they unknowingly stop talking and goofing off.  Or I break into song and they join in, which usually calms them down.  Other times I’ll clap and say one, two, three, zip and zip my lips.  They like things like that too because it involves clapping and motions and they understand what the desired result is.  Usually though they’re crazy and have to be disciplined by the Thai teacher.  They know that I won’t hit them or intimidate them so they definitely have less respect for me and they don’t really fear me at all.  I’ve seen my Thai teacher do some pretty crazy stuff and it always ends in a lot of tears.  I feel bad most times because I wouldn’t go about it the way she does, but at the same time she is teaching the same general lesson, be quiet, pay attention and behave, she just happens to be teaching it in a radically different way.  I’ve seen my teacher hit a kid in the face with scissors and pretend to cut his lips off.  She’s also put this one little girl high on top of a shelf in the classroom so that she couldn’t get down, because the girl just wouldn’t pay attention.  Once when we were making a craft, this one girl who is seriously naughty and rebellious stuck her hands in glue and dipped them into a bowl of seeds and started waving them around.  I told her to stop it, but she didn’t listen.  I even made her wash her hands, but she ended up doing it again and my teacher caught her.  She was so pissed off.  Number one because we have very limited craft supplies and number two because this girl is a little devil child.  Anyway, she grabbed the girl and rubbed the glue and the seeds all over her face for at least five minutes in front of the whole class and then made her go to lunch like that.  I’d have to say after that day that same girl’s behavior has improved dramatically.  I don’t know if my teacher talked to her parents or if that little glue incident got the point across, but she doesn’t act nearly as badly as she used to.
Needless to say I don’t use the intimidation approach.  I mean, how intimidating can I be?  Even when I’m yelling at them or hitting them over the head with a little notebook I’m making a funny face or trying not to laugh.  I’ve actually found hitting them on the head with some papers or their composition notebook is one of the best tactics because it causes all their classmates to laugh and they get really embarrassed.  In Thailand it is a really big deal if you “lose face” which is why it is rare for Thais to get angry, argue and raise their voice so by embarrassing the kids a little bit like that it puts them back in their place and at the same time I know I didn’t really hurt them.  My teachers tend to use what I think of as extreme versions of intimidation like shaking a kids entire desk, hitting them with rulers or making them stand on their chair for the entire class; that works for them and unlike me their kids actually listen really well and get quiet when they enter the room.  I take more round-a-bout approaches that allow me to control the kids without feeling bad about the way I acted.  Usually I write a word on the board like game, sticker, or snack.  Every time the kids are too noisy I will erase a letter.  Most times I only have to erase one or two letters and they will stay quiet for the whole class.  Once I had to erase every letter and they were so crazy I started to write a new word, ‘work,’ on the board.  I made them all write a bunch of sentences until the end of class.  I think most of them felt pretty badly about it, but thankfully it only had to happen once.  Games are my big reward.  I love playing games with them because they are actually learning something and it encourages willing participation from every single student.  After the first week of hating my p1 class I learned that it wasn’t their job to pay attention, it was my job to hold their attention.  I started to plan my lessons in ten minute blocks so that we were always doing a new activity.  I added short songs and movies to my lessons and asked for increased participation from the kids.  I also let them make choices about what activity we would do next and I let their behavior decide how class would proceed.  In the end it’s working out really well for me and I leave class feeling happy because I love my students and they love me back.  
I also got great positive feed back from one of the higher ups in the office the other day.  She came in and watched my lesson and told me in a few English and Thai words that I was doing really well.  Some of the Thai teachers have asked me if I’m staying next semester and when I shake my head no they grab my arms and squeeze me and make a frowning face.  These small gestures really mean a lot to me and they also confirm how much I feel like Anubanchonburi is my community and my workplace.  The Pilipino teacher, Nitzsan, who works in my grade 1 classroom with my Thai teacher, Teacher Now, pulled me aside on Friday and asked if I was staying.  I told her no and she looked pretty bummed.  She told me that Teacher Now thinks I’m teaching well and that if she didn’t like me she wouldn’t help me out with controlling the kids like she does.  She also said that Teacher Now had never helped out an English teacher as much as me and that she really likes me.  I honestly wanted to cry, I was so happy.  It was one of the biggest compliments I have ever received in my entire life.  The day before school started, a couple Pilipino teachers told me that Teacher Now was rough to work with.  I knew from day one that she was strict and old fashioned and that she probably wouldn’t be too warm to me, but I decided I wanted to try my hardest to get on her good side.  It really wasn’t that hard.  The first couple weeks I felt like she was testing me by interrupting me, talking to me in Thai, and telling me how to teach, but after about a month every thing changed.  Maybe I broke her down with all my smiles and “kopkunkah” (thank you) or maybe I passed whatever test she was giving me.  To be honest I really did like her after the first week because I realized whenever she was in the room the kids were quiet and would listen to me and that was what I needed.  I needed a second to be able to think, stop being nervous about teaching, and learn how to work with these little Thai devils and she gave me that.  So even though I couldn’t dicipline my students the way my Thai teachers do I realize that that is the way of the Thai school system and that’s what works for them.  I honestly don’t think Thai teachers recognize the power of positive reinforcement.  Maybe it could be integrated into their system, but maybe they don’t want it to be.  Different cultures have different ways of dealing with things and after an entire semester I’ve found a way to accept and adapt their practice to work for me.  
There a lots of other interesting aspects of the Thai education system or maybe you didn’t find these too interesting at all, but either way you’ll learn more about what the school and the kids do during the day when you watch the video I’m producing.  I’ve been filming for a few weeks now and I’m finally starting to put it all together.  I’d like to get it done within the next two weeks, but I have another more pressing video I have finish so I’m not sure if that will happen.  When it’s complete my coordinator is going to show it at one of the huge teachers’ parties so they can see what I see.  I’m pretty excited for all the Thai teachers to realize why I carry around a camera, microphone and tripod all day.  I get some pretty funny stares while I’m recording the kids at morning assembly, lunch and naptime.  
A lesson in Thai schools:
Before I arrived in Thailand, the program I signed up with provided me with a lot of information about Thailand and the school system.  I kept seeing a few pieces of advice over and over.  I was instructed to go with the flow, not worry if I didn’t know exactly what was going on, and do what I was told as best I could.  The Thai school system was described as being lax and not as uniform as American schools.  The pamphlet also said uniform protocol is rare as well as future notice and scheduling of events.  All of this sounded fine to me.  I’m pretty good at going with the flow and rolling with the punches.  Who doesn’t like the sound of a more laid back job anyway?  Apparently “laid back” wasn’t what they meant when they said lack of protocol.  My school, Anubanchonburi, is actually pretty demanding.  Of all the other teachers I’ve talked to in my program no one does as much paperwork, after hours events and teaching as we do at Anubanchonburi.  That being said, we do get paid better than all the teachers I’ve talked to as well.  Besides learning how to write lesson plans and fill out feedback forms there are many other things I’ve learned while working at Anubanchonburi.  In most ways the Thai school system is the polar opposite of America’s, but the kids, teachers and politics are pretty much the same.
-Grades are arbitrary.  Really, they don’t matter.  They matter so much that they cease to exist.  Let me explain: no student is left behind.  Nope not that ridiculous system we have in America, but another one that goes like this:  Some kids are super smart, others skim by and yet others have no idea that the sky is blue, but they all have one thing in common: they pass.  No one fails here.  We were told that at orientation and we were all quite baffled.  What’s the point of school if no one fails?  How is that fair to the kids that actually pass?  Well, it’s not, but that’s just the way it is.  Before our midterm we said something to our coordinator like, “If kids can’t fail, what grade do we give?” She looked at us with a confused face and said in a high pitched voice, “Who said kids can’t fail?! They can fail!  They get the grade they deserve, we are trying to see what level they are really at!”  We all just sat there stunned and murmured “Okay.”  The next week we all gave our midterms and sure enough some kids failed.  Then a week later our coordinator held a big meeting.  It went something like this:  Come to school an hour early in the morning to personally tutor the kids that failed, then retest them, on the retest they cannot get below a ten a.k.a. all kids must pass, no matter what.  So really if a kid fails it gives the teacher more work and sometimes that work is fruitless and they still don’t pass, but on paper they do.  
Another instance of arbitrary grades just happened to me yesterday.  I was given a packet of papers, each page had a list of my students and a subject area like writing, reading, speaking, or listening.  I was asked to grade all my kids, right there on the spot on these four areas.  No, I didn’t have time to test them and of course we weren’t told at the beginning of the year that we would have to give them a grade in these specific areas.  So, I paged through my grade book, looked at the students’ notebooks and old tests and came up with what I thought were fair grades even though I wasn’t completely comfortable with my methods.  Twenty minutes after I handed my grades in to the Thai homeroom teacher she came and found me.  She started going off in Thai and all I could understand was “no good” “no have” “no, no, no.”  I kind of got the gist of what she was saying; she didn’t like the way I graded.  I had to change all my low grades to high grades, the kids who deserved 5/10 needed to have at least a 7/10.  So I sat with a whiteout pen and erased every grade under 7 and then without even looking up who the student was (their names were in Thai on the sheet) I gave them a seven or higher.  I didn’t even feel guilty or bad about it because like I learned from day one, T.I.T. This Is Thailand.  
-Forfeiting Future Notice.  Future notice simply does not exist here.  I learned that on my first day of school when I was handed my lesson plans ten minutes before class.  I also learned that when we were supposed to have two teacher in-service days, but they were changed to regular teaching days the day before.  Also the time when I was told the day before about the class field trip.  Or that Thursday when we were told we had to attend a teacher training course on that Saturday.  Also last week when our school changed our last day of work from the 18th to the 23rd of March.  Oh and all those times when I went to class and was handed some random test and told to explain it and give it to my kids, right then and there.  There are a million other instances of finding things out days, hours or seconds before they’re about to take place.  I thought CIEE was exaggerating when they said it’s the Thai way to plan things on the fly.  It seems really hard for me to believe that they don’t have a rough school schedule outlining things like days off, midterms, finals, and the last day of school, but they really don’t.  They plan weeks and days in advance.  At a meeting in December one of the teachers asked what days in January we had off for holiday and our coordinator answered, “That’s next year, so we will talk about that then.”  Last week I got an email hinting about a day off and I wasn’t actually told about it until I went around asking other teachers and our coordinator what that was all about.  Apparently it’s a holiday that happens on the same date every year, but they failed to put it on our holiday calendar.  I’m seriously starting to wonder if there are permanent records and documents anywhere in Thailand.  I’m pretty sure whenever something has to be communicated or a schedule has to be made someone just plops down at a computer and tries to pull everything from memory.  At first I was bothered by being in the dark all the time, but now I’m just plain used to it.  
  -Uniformity through uniforms.  Where grades fail to matter uniforms pick up the slack.  Each day has it’s own color or uniform attached to it.  Monday is yellow, Tuesday is pink, Wednesday is Hawaiian shirt day, Thursday is purple and Friday is sports day.  The students also have to wear scout uniforms on Thursday instead of purple.  There are also different shoes for different days, black for Mon, Tues, Thurs and white sneakers on Wed and Fri.  Each student has the same haircut too.  Boys have short hair that goes into a fade and girls have hair just below their chins.  The girls also wear a blue or white bow in their hair depending on what grade they’re in.  I always see teachers giving their students a hard time about their haircuts and styles.  If a student accidentally wears the wrong uniform they’re usually made fun of for the most part of the day.  Every time a different teacher walks by and sees them wearing the wrong shirt they make a comment and laugh with the homeroom teacher, which causes their classmates to then make fun of them too.  Teachers also have to stick to the uniforms or they are destined to be the topic of lunchtime gossip.  The first Wednesday of school I didn’t have a Hawaiian shirt and my homeroom teacher must have told me a dozen times that I needed to buy one.  She doesn’t speak English so her telling me was more like her pointing to her shirt a lot and pointing North to where the school store is.  She also took me around to other teachers who spoke English to tell me to buy one.  We also had to buy Friday sports day uniforms that consisted of an itchy blue polo and tight, hot and heavy dark blue polyester pants.  I would wear the Hawaiian shirt every day if I didn’t have to wear those pants on Fridays.  Once the big sports day competition arrived (think track and field day in elementary school) we had to buy another jersey in our team’s color.  Mine is green and I actually like it a lot.  I remember bitching about it at the time because I didn’t feel like shelling out more cash on another uncomfortable polo, but it turned out to be more like a soccer jersey.  Now I wear that every Friday and whenever I’m told to wear the polo I just say I don’t have one.  It’s crazy how much they care about uniforms.  It’s actually the one aspect of school that you get relatively future notice about.  A day or two before the field trips or special days I’m told in English (a lot of messages are told to me in Thai which results in confusion and lack of understanding) to wear my sports day outfit.  We also had a cowboy themed party for New Years where we were required to dress up in our western gear.  The Thais love, love, love cowboy culture.  
-ESL, wait what?  In the U.S.A. lot of books, lesson plans and curriculum guides are stamped with what we know as an ESL label aka English as a Second Language.  ESL materials take a different approach then plain and simple English curriculum and for good reason.  When you learned a new language, let’s say Spanish, I can bet you didn’t take the same approach as you did for English.  After all you probably weren’t a baby and surrounded by Spanish speakers.  Chances are you were older, learned from a textbook and had a nonnative speaking teacher.  Definitely not the best way to learn a new language, but decidedly not the worst either.  It’s important to have texts and guides that realize Spanish isn’t your primary language so that you can learn simple nouns, verbs and adjectives in a way that makes sense, kind of like stepping stones, instead of just pushing you off the ledge.  It is also important to learn from a native speaker, which is where most public school language programs fail.  Without a native speaker, the speaking part of the language is typically useless.  Unless the teacher is really good, there is a great chance you won’t really know how to say the words correctly with the proper accents and inflections making it really hard to communicate when you go on that trip to Mexico.  The writing and listening aspects will still have some merit, but again actually grasping everything that is being said and being able to reply will be quite difficult.  That being said, some knowledge is better than none and I’m not trying to discredit language lessons, I think it’s really important to attempt to learn new languages because it shows others that you have an interest in their culture and that is always appreciated even if you accidentally babble like a baby when you thought you were asking where the bathroom was.  Anyway, back to the main gist of this bullet point: ESL does not exist here, at least not at my school.  There is no curriculum in place to teach English in an introductory way for non-English speakers.  All of the workbooks and homework books are designed for English speakers so the concepts and flow of lessons is extremely confusing for the kids.  Also, the books are just crap.  The workbooks I’m provided with have been the main source of my reoccurring headaches.  I feel so angry and bad for my kids that they have to use these idiotic books.  My p1 kids use “Best Friends” books.  It is a workbook and a homework book combo that jumps around from topic to topic, has completely unrelated vocabulary words and stupid lesson and chapter titles and themes i.e. the dogs are sick, there are ten monkeys etc…  One week the vocabulary words were brave, toy boat, hot dog, toy store, mommy, and hurry up.  The books are also full of mistakes, which makes me think that one of our school suppliers got them really cheap and then sold them to our school to make some money.  Every lesson plan has an error in it.  It makes it confusing for the kids when they can’t figure out the right answer (because there isn’t one) and when I have to try and explain to them that the crossword puzzle doesn’t work out because the book is messed up.  At first I was pretty stressed out about the books, but then I realized I could just fly through the pointless lessons and add supplementary lessons to make everything flow together and make more sense.  I also started making more of my own worksheets and homework sheets instead of having them complete the ones filled with errors in the books.  I can only hope that my school will get better texts for next year.
It seems the curriculum should be much easier to plan for the kindergarten kids, but they have it even worse.  Each week we are assigned a really random topic to teach them like trash, air, milk, tree, winter, good and bad behavior, father’s day… the list could go on.  I agree the students should be learning about topics and subjects, but I think they should only be taught by their Thai teacher instead of both of us.  Basically they learn about trees in Thai for an hour and then I teach them about trees in English for an hour.  I think it would be beneficial if I was able to translate the key words and ideas about trees and teach with the Thai teacher and then during the English hour teach the alphabet and simple concepts like animals, colors, household objects and things of that sort.  It is ridiculously hard to teach complex lessons like good and bad behavior when the child doesn’t know anything you’re saying.  Beyond the seemingly random lessons, I have to work out of a workbook that’s designed for English speaking kindergarteners.  The workbook is way above my students’ level, which causes a lot of stress and anxiety on both their part and mine.  I struggle to explain how to complete the pages properly and most times they don’t understand and end up asking me over and over and over how to do it and still complete it wrong.  The workbook is no help with this because of how the pages are set up.  On the left-hand page there will be a word like Dog and a blank line for them to write Dog Dog Dog, but on the right-hand page there will be an incomplete sentence like Dogs like to _______ .  The students are supposed to write run, but because they are used to copying words and phrases instead they write Dogs like to.  If the workbook was set up in such a way that the students learned to copy and then to answer it would work out well, but when different types of activities are all jumbled together and there is no way to properly communicate that to my students they are bound to make mistakes, misunderstand and lose interest.  I think it’s awesome that so many countries are taking the initiative to start teaching their students English at a young age, but I think if it was went about in a more systematic and practical way the kids would get a lot more out of it.  Having native speaking teachers is a huge step in the right direction, but I think they wandered off the trail soon after that.  Until then Dogs like to dogs like to.  
-Distressing disparities.  Thai schools are in a lot better shape then I thought they would be.  For the most part they are equipped with all the important school supplies like pencils, books, whiteboards, projectors, computers and printers.  Anubanconburi also has a nice little library, gym and music room.  There is a huge auditorium where we have teacher parties and conferences and there are several play areas for the kids and a swimming pool on the larger campus across the street.  We also have a nifty finger scanner that we have to sign into each morning and air conditioner in all the rooms.  Lots of good and necessary things for a school to have, but why then is there a lack of paper, white board markers and supplementary supplies for lessons?  Paper is to Anuban teachers as food is to contestants on survivor.  It is hidden, well protected and rarely shared.  The same goes for whiteboard markers.  Under every whiteboard you’ll find dozens of markers, but none of them work.  They are just pawns.  The real ones are hidden in your purse, book bag or desk drawer.  Oh, and toilet paper.  Of course there’s none, after all we’re in Thailand.  The toilet paper also gets hidden because if you make the mistake of just setting it under your desk you’ll find it down to the last square within a couple days.  So hold onto your paper allotment and go buy art supplies with your first paycheck because there’s no way you’re getting any baht from the semester budget.  It bums me out to see all the activities, games and books that fill the shelves of my kindergarten classroom because they’re never used.  I taught my teacher how to play a few of the games so she would encourage the students to play them during free time, but it’s hard to get them away from the play dough.  The older grades are also in need of more practical hands on supplies for the classroom.  For instance there’s only one globe in the whole school that is always being shared and passed around.  Material objects that help kids see, feel and learn at the same time are really needed.  I found it pretty hard to find anything fun and useful for the classroom, but then again there could be a teacher supply store that no one is telling me about.  My friend Kandy is studying to be a teacher in the states and she sent me a pack of 4 mini dry erase boards for my class.  I use them every single day to play spelling games with the kids.  They absolutely love them.  I’ve had other teachers come in and watch my class and tell me that I’m doing a really good job and I think it’s mostly because they see how excited the kids are to learn.  I already promised away the white boards to one of the Pilipino teachers, but in the mean time I’ve had at least a dozen other teachers ask me for them.  I’ll have to send a care package of supplies for next semester.
-We like to party, and play games and have contests and dance and sing… It seems like there is always a new competition going on at Anubanchonburi.  The students are always practicing something.  This past week everyone had a waiing competition.  The students had to practice the traditional Thai greeting known as a wai.  They also had to perform other common practices in their culture like kneeling to pray with their feet under their butt and in “mermaid” style.  They also walked in a long line with their heads bowed down, which is what you do if you walk between people conversing or if you walk by someone of a higher status.  They also practiced short dialogues, which I guessed to be prayers, chants or something of the like.  Before the waiing competition everyone was preparing for the nine square competition.  Nine square is a marching activity in which every student has their own mat with nine squares on it.  There are several different marching routines that all the kids know how to say and march too.  Apparently it is supposed to help increase brain function and coordination.  The kindergarteners have a rough time staying on track, but the older kids are really good at it and have even added music and hand motions to their routines.  Before nine square and waiing we practiced every day twice a day for the Children’s day and Christmas day show.  Each grade had a different song and dance that was performed in front of parents and the community on a big stage in the center of Chonburi.  Before Children’s Day and Christmas everyone practiced their cheers and chants for sports day.  The activities never stop here.  Often times it seems like the group activities take precedence over the lessons, but I’ve noticed all the group events increase the school spirit and solidarity between both the teachers and the students.  In between all the school wide activities, there are smaller contests taking place all the time.  We are often asked to help kids study for spelling and speech competitions.  Sometimes we are even asked to help judge the speech competitions at other schools.  At first I was getting a bit dragged down by all the extra activities especially because we were often told about them a couple days before and expected to whip up amazing results, but after a few weeks I learned to embrace the crazy and just run with it.  If you practice and work hard for a few weeks it will probably pay off and if it doesn’t everyone will forget about it by the time the next contest, competition or activity rolls around.  
-Classroom control.  Imagine someone telling you to be quiet, behave, sit down, stop it, etc. in another language.  If you were surrounded by thirty of your peers and had not the faintest idea what that person was talking about, you probably wouldn’t listen.  That pretty much sums up my life with my kindergarten kids.  It is almost impossible for me to control their behavior unless they know what their doing is wrong.  I’ve tried to teach them simple manners like covering their mouth and being patient, but it hasn’t really caught on.  I’ve learned a few tricks for getting them to be quiet though.  I usually do hand motions or say body parts and everyone has to point to those parts on their body, this grabs everyone’s attention and they unknowingly stop talking and goofing off.  Or I break into song and they join in, which usually calms them down.  Other times I’ll clap and say one, two, three, zip and zip my lips.  They like things like that too because it involves clapping and motions and they understand what the desired result is.  Usually though they’re crazy and have to be disciplined by the Thai teacher.  They know that I won’t hit them or intimidate them so they definitely have less respect for me and they don’t really fear me at all.  I’ve seen my Thai teacher do some pretty crazy stuff and it always ends in a lot of tears.  I feel bad most times because I wouldn’t go about it the way she does, but at the same time she is teaching the same general lesson, be quiet, pay attention and behave, she just happens to be teaching it in a radically different way.  I’ve seen my teacher hit a kid in the face with scissors and pretend to cut his lips off.  She’s also put this one little girl high on top of a shelf in the classroom so that she couldn’t get down, because the girl just wouldn’t pay attention.  Once when we were making a craft, this one girl who is seriously naughty and rebellious stuck her hands in glue and dipped them into a bowl of seeds and started waving them around.  I told her to stop it, but she didn’t listen.  I even made her wash her hands, but she ended up doing it again and my teacher caught her.  She was so pissed off.  Number one because we have very limited craft supplies and number two because this girl is a little devil child.  Anyway, she grabbed the girl and rubbed the glue and the seeds all over her face for at least five minutes in front of the whole class and then made her go to lunch like that.  I’d have to say after that day that same girl’s behavior has improved dramatically.  I don’t know if my teacher talked to her parents or if that little glue incident got the point across, but she doesn’t act nearly as badly as she used to.
Needless to say I don’t use the intimidation approach.  I mean, how intimidating can I be?  Even when I’m yelling at them or hitting them over the head with a little notebook I’m making a funny face or trying not to laugh.  I’ve actually found hitting them on the head with some papers or their composition notebook is one of the best tactics because it causes all their classmates to laugh and they get really embarrassed.  In Thailand it is a really big deal if you “lose face” which is why it is rare for Thais to get angry, argue and raise their voice so by embarrassing the kids a little bit like that it puts them back in their place and at the same time I know I didn’t really hurt them.  My teachers tend to use what I think of as extreme versions of intimidation like shaking a kids entire desk, hitting them with rulers or making them stand on their chair for the entire class; that works for them and unlike me their kids actually listen really well and get quiet when they enter the room.  I take more round-a-bout approaches that allow me to control the kids without feeling bad about the way I acted.  Usually I write a word on the board like game, sticker, or snack.  Every time the kids are too noisy I will erase a letter.  Most times I only have to erase one or two letters and they will stay quiet for the whole class.  Once I had to erase every letter and they were so crazy I started to write a new word, ‘work,’ on the board.  I made them all write a bunch of sentences until the end of class.  I think most of them felt pretty badly about it, but thankfully it only had to happen once.  Games are my big reward.  I love playing games with them because they are actually learning something and it encourages willing participation from every single student.  After the first week of hating my p1 class I learned that it wasn’t their job to pay attention, it was my job to hold their attention.  I started to plan my lessons in ten minute blocks so that we were always doing a new activity.  I added short songs and movies to my lessons and asked for increased participation from the kids.  I also let them make choices about what activity we would do next and I let their behavior decide how class would proceed.  In the end it’s working out really well for me and I leave class feeling happy because I love my students and they love me back.  
I also got great positive feed back from one of the higher ups in the office the other day.  She came in and watched my lesson and told me in a few English and Thai words that I was doing really well.  Some of the Thai teachers have asked me if I’m staying next semester and when I shake my head no they grab my arms and squeeze me and make a frowning face.  These small gestures really mean a lot to me and they also confirm how much I feel like Anubanchonburi is my community and my workplace.  The Pilipino teacher, Nitzsan, who works in my grade 1 classroom with my Thai teacher, Teacher Now, pulled me aside on Friday and asked if I was staying.  I told her no and she looked pretty bummed.  She told me that Teacher Now thinks I’m teaching well and that if she didn’t like me she wouldn’t help me out with controlling the kids like she does.  She also said that Teacher Now had never helped out an English teacher as much as me and that she really likes me.  I honestly wanted to cry, I was so happy.  It was one of the biggest compliments I have ever received in my entire life.  The day before school started, a couple Pilipino teachers told me that Teacher Now was rough to work with.  I knew from day one that she was strict and old fashioned and that she probably wouldn’t be too warm to me, but I decided I wanted to try my hardest to get on her good side.  It really wasn’t that hard.  The first couple weeks I felt like she was testing me by interrupting me, talking to me in Thai, and telling me how to teach, but after about a month every thing changed.  Maybe I broke her down with all my smiles and “kopkunkah” (thank you) or maybe I passed whatever test she was giving me.  To be honest I really did like her after the first week because I realized whenever she was in the room the kids were quiet and would listen to me and that was what I needed.  I needed a second to be able to think, stop being nervous about teaching, and learn how to work with these little Thai devils and she gave me that.  So even though I couldn’t dicipline my students the way my Thai teachers do I realize that that is the way of the Thai school system and that’s what works for them.  I honestly don’t think Thai teachers recognize the power of positive reinforcement.  Maybe it could be integrated into their system, but maybe they don’t want it to be.  Different cultures have different ways of dealing with things and after an entire semester I’ve found a way to accept and adapt their practice to work for me.  
There a lots of other interesting aspects of the Thai education system or maybe you didn’t find these too interesting at all, but either way you’ll learn more about what the school and the kids do during the day when you watch the video I’m producing.  I’ve been filming for a few weeks now and I’m finally starting to put it all together.  I’d like to get it done within the next two weeks, but I have another more pressing video I have finish so I’m not sure if that will happen.  When it’s complete my coordinator is going to show it at one of the huge teachers’ parties so they can see what I see.  I’m pretty excited for all the Thai teachers to realize why I carry around a camera, microphone and tripod all day.  I get some pretty funny stares while I’m recording the kids at morning assembly, lunch and naptime.  
A lesson in Thai schools:
Before I arrived in Thailand, the program I signed up with provided me with a lot of information about Thailand and the school system.  I kept seeing a few pieces of advice over and over.  I was instructed to go with the flow, not worry if I didn’t know exactly what was going on, and do what I was told as best I could.  The Thai school system was described as being lax and not as uniform as American schools.  The pamphlet also said uniform protocol is rare as well as future notice and scheduling of events.  All of this sounded fine to me.  I’m pretty good at going with the flow and rolling with the punches.  Who doesn’t like the sound of a more laid back job anyway?  Apparently “laid back” wasn’t what they meant when they said lack of protocol.  My school, Anubanchonburi, is actually pretty demanding.  Of all the other teachers I’ve talked to in my program no one does as much paperwork, after hours events and teaching as we do at Anubanchonburi.  That being said, we do get paid better than all the teachers I’ve talked to as well.  Besides learning how to write lesson plans and fill out feedback forms there are many other things I’ve learned while working at Anubanchonburi.  In most ways the Thai school system is the polar opposite of America’s, but the kids, teachers and politics are pretty much the same.
-Grades are arbitrary.  Really, they don’t matter.  They matter so much that they cease to exist.  Let me explain: no student is left behind.  Nope not that ridiculous system we have in America, but another one that goes like this:  Some kids are super smart, others skim by and yet others have no idea that the sky is blue, but they all have one thing in common: they pass.  No one fails here.  We were told that at orientation and we were all quite baffled.  What’s the point of school if no one fails?  How is that fair to the kids that actually pass?  Well, it’s not, but that’s just the way it is.  Before our midterm we said something to our coordinator like, “If kids can’t fail, what grade do we give?” She looked at us with a confused face and said in a high pitched voice, “Who said kids can’t fail?! They can fail!  They get the grade they deserve, we are trying to see what level they are really at!”  We all just sat there stunned and murmured “Okay.”  The next week we all gave our midterms and sure enough some kids failed.  Then a week later our coordinator held a big meeting.  It went something like this:  Come to school an hour early in the morning to personally tutor the kids that failed, then retest them, on the retest they cannot get below a ten a.k.a. all kids must pass, no matter what.  So really if a kid fails it gives the teacher more work and sometimes that work is fruitless and they still don’t pass, but on paper they do.  
Another instance of arbitrary grades just happened to me yesterday.  I was given a packet of papers, each page had a list of my students and a subject area like writing, reading, speaking, or listening.  I was asked to grade all my kids, right there on the spot on these four areas.  No, I didn’t have time to test them and of course we weren’t told at the beginning of the year that we would have to give them a grade in these specific areas.  So, I paged through my grade book, looked at the students’ notebooks and old tests and came up with what I thought were fair grades even though I wasn’t completely comfortable with my methods.  Twenty minutes after I handed my grades in to the Thai homeroom teacher she came and found me.  She started going off in Thai and all I could understand was “no good” “no have” “no, no, no.”  I kind of got the gist of what she was saying; she didn’t like the way I graded.  I had to change all my low grades to high grades, the kids who deserved 5/10 needed to have at least a 7/10.  So I sat with a whiteout pen and erased every grade under 7 and then without even looking up who the student was (their names were in Thai on the sheet) I gave them a seven or higher.  I didn’t even feel guilty or bad about it because like I learned from day one, T.I.T. This Is Thailand.  
-Forfeiting Future Notice.  Future notice simply does not exist here.  I learned that on my first day of school when I was handed my lesson plans ten minutes before class.  I also learned that when we were supposed to have two teacher in-service days, but they were changed to regular teaching days the day before.  Also the time when I was told the day before about the class field trip.  Or that Thursday when we were told we had to attend a teacher training course on that Saturday.  Also last week when our school changed our last day of work from the 18th to the 23rd of March.  Oh and all those times when I went to class and was handed some random test and told to explain it and give it to my kids, right then and there.  There are a million other instances of finding things out days, hours or seconds before they’re about to take place.  I thought CIEE was exaggerating when they said it’s the Thai way to plan things on the fly.  It seems really hard for me to believe that they don’t have a rough school schedule outlining things like days off, midterms, finals, and the last day of school, but they really don’t.  They plan weeks and days in advance.  At a meeting in December one of the teachers asked what days in January we had off for holiday and our coordinator answered, “That’s next year, so we will talk about that then.”  Last week I got an email hinting about a day off and I wasn’t actually told about it until I went around asking other teachers and our coordinator what that was all about.  Apparently it’s a holiday that happens on the same date every year, but they failed to put it on our holiday calendar.  I’m seriously starting to wonder if there are permanent records and documents anywhere in Thailand.  I’m pretty sure whenever something has to be communicated or a schedule has to be made someone just plops down at a computer and tries to pull everything from memory.  At first I was bothered by being in the dark all the time, but now I’m just plain used to it.  
  -Uniformity through uniforms.  Where grades fail to matter uniforms pick up the slack.  Each day has it’s own color or uniform attached to it.  Monday is yellow, Tuesday is pink, Wednesday is Hawaiian shirt day, Thursday is purple and Friday is sports day.  The students also have to wear scout uniforms on Thursday instead of purple.  There are also different shoes for different days, black for Mon, Tues, Thurs and white sneakers on Wed and Fri.  Each student has the same haircut too.  Boys have short hair that goes into a fade and girls have hair just below their chins.  The girls also wear a blue or white bow in their hair depending on what grade they’re in.  I always see teachers giving their students a hard time about their haircuts and styles.  If a student accidentally wears the wrong uniform they’re usually made fun of for the most part of the day.  Every time a different teacher walks by and sees them wearing the wrong shirt they make a comment and laugh with the homeroom teacher, which causes their classmates to then make fun of them too.  Teachers also have to stick to the uniforms or they are destined to be the topic of lunchtime gossip.  The first Wednesday of school I didn’t have a Hawaiian shirt and my homeroom teacher must have told me a dozen times that I needed to buy one.  She doesn’t speak English so her telling me was more like her pointing to her shirt a lot and pointing North to where the school store is.  She also took me around to other teachers who spoke English to tell me to buy one.  We also had to buy Friday sports day uniforms that consisted of an itchy blue polo and tight, hot and heavy dark blue polyester pants.  I would wear the Hawaiian shirt every day if I didn’t have to wear those pants on Fridays.  Once the big sports day competition arrived (think track and field day in elementary school) we had to buy another jersey in our team’s color.  Mine is green and I actually like it a lot.  I remember bitching about it at the time because I didn’t feel like shelling out more cash on another uncomfortable polo, but it turned out to be more like a soccer jersey.  Now I wear that every Friday and whenever I’m told to wear the polo I just say I don’t have one.  It’s crazy how much they care about uniforms.  It’s actually the one aspect of school that you get relatively future notice about.  A day or two before the field trips or special days I’m told in English (a lot of messages are told to me in Thai which results in confusion and lack of understanding) to wear my sports day outfit.  We also had a cowboy themed party for New Years where we were required to dress up in our western gear.  The Thais love, love, love cowboy culture.  
-ESL, wait what?  In the U.S.A. lot of books, lesson plans and curriculum guides are stamped with what we know as an ESL label aka English as a Second Language.  ESL materials take a different approach then plain and simple English curriculum and for good reason.  When you learned a new language, let’s say Spanish, I can bet you didn’t take the same approach as you did for English.  After all you probably weren’t a baby and surrounded by Spanish speakers.  Chances are you were older, learned from a textbook and had a nonnative speaking teacher.  Definitely not the best way to learn a new language, but decidedly not the worst either.  It’s important to have texts and guides that realize Spanish isn’t your primary language so that you can learn simple nouns, verbs and adjectives in a way that makes sense, kind of like stepping stones, instead of just pushing you off the ledge.  It is also important to learn from a native speaker, which is where most public school language programs fail.  Without a native speaker, the speaking part of the language is typically useless.  Unless the teacher is really good, there is a great chance you won’t really know how to say the words correctly with the proper accents and inflections making it really hard to communicate when you go on that trip to Mexico.  The writing and listening aspects will still have some merit, but again actually grasping everything that is being said and being able to reply will be quite difficult.  That being said, some knowledge is better than none and I’m not trying to discredit language lessons, I think it’s really important to attempt to learn new languages because it shows others that you have an interest in their culture and that is always appreciated even if you accidentally babble like a baby when you thought you were asking where the bathroom was.  Anyway, back to the main gist of this bullet point: ESL does not exist here, at least not at my school.  There is no curriculum in place to teach English in an introductory way for non-English speakers.  All of the workbooks and homework books are designed for English speakers so the concepts and flow of lessons is extremely confusing for the kids.  Also, the books are just crap.  The workbooks I’m provided with have been the main source of my reoccurring headaches.  I feel so angry and bad for my kids that they have to use these idiotic books.  My p1 kids use “Best Friends” books.  It is a workbook and a homework book combo that jumps around from topic to topic, has completely unrelated vocabulary words and stupid lesson and chapter titles and themes i.e. the dogs are sick, there are ten monkeys etc…  One week the vocabulary words were brave, toy boat, hot dog, toy store, mommy, and hurry up.  The books are also full of mistakes, which makes me think that one of our school suppliers got them really cheap and then sold them to our school to make some money.  Every lesson plan has an error in it.  It makes it confusing for the kids when they can’t figure out the right answer (because there isn’t one) and when I have to try and explain to them that the crossword puzzle doesn’t work out because the book is messed up.  At first I was pretty stressed out about the books, but then I realized I could just fly through the pointless lessons and add supplementary lessons to make everything flow together and make more sense.  I also started making more of my own worksheets and homework sheets instead of having them complete the ones filled with errors in the books.  I can only hope that my school will get better texts for next year.
It seems the curriculum should be much easier to plan for the kindergarten kids, but they have it even worse.  Each week we are assigned a really random topic to teach them like trash, air, milk, tree, winter, good and bad behavior, father’s day… the list could go on.  I agree the students should be learning about topics and subjects, but I think they should only be taught by their Thai teacher instead of both of us.  Basically they learn about trees in Thai for an hour and then I teach them about trees in English for an hour.  I think it would be beneficial if I was able to translate the key words and ideas about trees and teach with the Thai teacher and then during the English hour teach the alphabet and simple concepts like animals, colors, household objects and things of that sort.  It is ridiculously hard to teach complex lessons like good and bad behavior when the child doesn’t know anything you’re saying.  Beyond the seemingly random lessons, I have to work out of a workbook that’s designed for English speaking kindergarteners.  The workbook is way above my students’ level, which causes a lot of stress and anxiety on both their part and mine.  I struggle to explain how to complete the pages properly and most times they don’t understand and end up asking me over and over and over how to do it and still complete it wrong.  The workbook is no help with this because of how the pages are set up.  On the left-hand page there will be a word like Dog and a blank line for them to write Dog Dog Dog, but on the right-hand page there will be an incomplete sentence like Dogs like to _______ .  The students are supposed to write run, but because they are used to copying words and phrases instead they write Dogs like to.  If the workbook was set up in such a way that the students learned to copy and then to answer it would work out well, but when different types of activities are all jumbled together and there is no way to properly communicate that to my students they are bound to make mistakes, misunderstand and lose interest.  I think it’s awesome that so many countries are taking the initiative to start teaching their students English at a young age, but I think if it was went about in a more systematic and practical way the kids would get a lot more out of it.  Having native speaking teachers is a huge step in the right direction, but I think they wandered off the trail soon after that.  Until then Dogs like to dogs like to.  
-Distressing disparities.  Thai schools are in a lot better shape then I thought they would be.  For the most part they are equipped with all the important school supplies like pencils, books, whiteboards, projectors, computers and printers.  Anubanconburi also has a nice little library, gym and music room.  There is a huge auditorium where we have teacher parties and conferences and there are several play areas for the kids and a swimming pool on the larger campus across the street.  We also have a nifty finger scanner that we have to sign into each morning and air conditioner in all the rooms.  Lots of good and necessary things for a school to have, but why then is there a lack of paper, white board markers and supplementary supplies for lessons?  Paper is to Anuban teachers as food is to contestants on survivor.  It is hidden, well protected and rarely shared.  The same goes for whiteboard markers.  Under every whiteboard you’ll find dozens of markers, but none of them work.  They are just pawns.  The real ones are hidden in your purse, book bag or desk drawer.  Oh, and toilet paper.  Of course there’s none, after all we’re in Thailand.  The toilet paper also gets hidden because if you make the mistake of just setting it under your desk you’ll find it down to the last square within a couple days.  So hold onto your paper allotment and go buy art supplies with your first paycheck because there’s no way you’re getting any baht from the semester budget.  It bums me out to see all the activities, games and books that fill the shelves of my kindergarten classroom because they’re never used.  I taught my teacher how to play a few of the games so she would encourage the students to play them during free time, but it’s hard to get them away from the play dough.  The older grades are also in need of more practical hands on supplies for the classroom.  For instance there’s only one globe in the whole school that is always being shared and passed around.  Material objects that help kids see, feel and learn at the same time are really needed.  I found it pretty hard to find anything fun and useful for the classroom, but then again there could be a teacher supply store that no one is telling me about.  My friend Kandy is studying to be a teacher in the states and she sent me a pack of 4 mini dry erase boards for my class.  I use them every single day to play spelling games with the kids.  They absolutely love them.  I’ve had other teachers come in and watch my class and tell me that I’m doing a really good job and I think it’s mostly because they see how excited the kids are to learn.  I already promised away the white boards to one of the Pilipino teachers, but in the mean time I’ve had at least a dozen other teachers ask me for them.  I’ll have to send a care package of supplies for next semester.
-We like to party, and play games and have contests and dance and sing… It seems like there is always a new competition going on at Anubanchonburi.  The students are always practicing something.  This past week everyone had a waiing competition.  The students had to practice the traditional Thai greeting known as a wai.  They also had to perform other common practices in their culture like kneeling to pray with their feet under their butt and in “mermaid” style.  They also walked in a long line with their heads bowed down, which is what you do if you walk between people conversing or if you walk by someone of a higher status.  They also practiced short dialogues, which I guessed to be prayers, chants or something of the like.  Before the waiing competition everyone was preparing for the nine square competition.  Nine square is a marching activity in which every student has their own mat with nine squares on it.  There are several different marching routines that all the kids know how to say and march too.  Apparently it is supposed to help increase brain function and coordination.  The kindergarteners have a rough time staying on track, but the older kids are really good at it and have even added music and hand motions to their routines.  Before nine square and waiing we practiced every day twice a day for the Children’s day and Christmas day show.  Each grade had a different song and dance that was performed in front of parents and the community on a big stage in the center of Chonburi.  Before Children’s Day and Christmas everyone practiced their cheers and chants for sports day.  The activities never stop here.  Often times it seems like the group activities take precedence over the lessons, but I’ve noticed all the group events increase the school spirit and solidarity between both the teachers and the students.  In between all the school wide activities, there are smaller contests taking place all the time.  We are often asked to help kids study for spelling and speech competitions.  Sometimes we are even asked to help judge the speech competitions at other schools.  At first I was getting a bit dragged down by all the extra activities especially because we were often told about them a couple days before and expected to whip up amazing results, but after a few weeks I learned to embrace the crazy and just run with it.  If you practice and work hard for a few weeks it will probably pay off and if it doesn’t everyone will forget about it by the time the next contest, competition or activity rolls around.  
-Classroom control.  Imagine someone telling you to be quiet, behave, sit down, stop it, etc. in another language.  If you were surrounded by thirty of your peers and had not the faintest idea what that person was talking about, you probably wouldn’t listen.  That pretty much sums up my life with my kindergarten kids.  It is almost impossible for me to control their behavior unless they know what their doing is wrong.  I’ve tried to teach them simple manners like covering their mouth and being patient, but it hasn’t really caught on.  I’ve learned a few tricks for getting them to be quiet though.  I usually do hand motions or say body parts and everyone has to point to those parts on their body, this grabs everyone’s attention and they unknowingly stop talking and goofing off.  Or I break into song and they join in, which usually calms them down.  Other times I’ll clap and say one, two, three, zip and zip my lips.  They like things like that too because it involves clapping and motions and they understand what the desired result is.  Usually though they’re crazy and have to be disciplined by the Thai teacher.  They know that I won’t hit them or intimidate them so they definitely have less respect for me and they don’t really fear me at all.  I’ve seen my Thai teacher do some pretty crazy stuff and it always ends in a lot of tears.  I feel bad most times because I wouldn’t go about it the way she does, but at the same time she is teaching the same general lesson, be quiet, pay attention and behave, she just happens to be teaching it in a radically different way.  I’ve seen my teacher hit a kid in the face with scissors and pretend to cut his lips off.  She’s also put this one little girl high on top of a shelf in the classroom so that she couldn’t get down, because the girl just wouldn’t pay attention.  Once when we were making a craft, this one girl who is seriously naughty and rebellious stuck her hands in glue and dipped them into a bowl of seeds and started waving them around.  I told her to stop it, but she didn’t listen.  I even made her wash her hands, but she ended up doing it again and my teacher caught her.  She was so pissed off.  Number one because we have very limited craft supplies and number two because this girl is a little devil child.  Anyway, she grabbed the girl and rubbed the glue and the seeds all over her face for at least five minutes in front of the whole class and then made her go to lunch like that.  I’d have to say after that day that same girl’s behavior has improved dramatically.  I don’t know if my teacher talked to her parents or if that little glue incident got the point across, but she doesn’t act nearly as badly as she used to.
Needless to say I don’t use the intimidation approach.  I mean, how intimidating can I be?  Even when I’m yelling at them or hitting them over the head with a little notebook I’m making a funny face or trying not to laugh.  I’ve actually found hitting them on the head with some papers or their composition notebook is one of the best tactics because it causes all their classmates to laugh and they get really embarrassed.  In Thailand it is a really big deal if you “lose face” which is why it is rare for Thais to get angry, argue and raise their voice so by embarrassing the kids a little bit like that it puts them back in their place and at the same time I know I didn’t really hurt them.  My teachers tend to use what I think of as extreme versions of intimidation like shaking a kids entire desk, hitting them with rulers or making them stand on their chair for the entire class; that works for them and unlike me their kids actually listen really well and get quiet when they enter the room.  I take more round-a-bout approaches that allow me to control the kids without feeling bad about the way I acted.  Usually I write a word on the board like game, sticker, or snack.  Every time the kids are too noisy I will erase a letter.  Most times I only have to erase one or two letters and they will stay quiet for the whole class.  Once I had to erase every letter and they were so crazy I started to write a new word, ‘work,’ on the board.  I made them all write a bunch of sentences until the end of class.  I think most of them felt pretty badly about it, but thankfully it only had to happen once.  Games are my big reward.  I love playing games with them because they are actually learning something and it encourages willing participation from every single student.  After the first week of hating my p1 class I learned that it wasn’t their job to pay attention, it was my job to hold their attention.  I started to plan my lessons in ten minute blocks so that we were always doing a new activity.  I added short songs and movies to my lessons and asked for increased participation from the kids.  I also let them make choices about what activity we would do next and I let their behavior decide how class would proceed.  In the end it’s working out really well for me and I leave class feeling happy because I love my students and they love me back.  
I also got great positive feed back from one of the higher ups in the office the other day.  She came in and watched my lesson and told me in a few English and Thai words that I was doing really well.  Some of the Thai teachers have asked me if I’m staying next semester and when I shake my head no they grab my arms and squeeze me and make a frowning face.  These small gestures really mean a lot to me and they also confirm how much I feel like Anubanchonburi is my community and my workplace.  The Pilipino teacher, Nitzsan, who works in my grade 1 classroom with my Thai teacher, Teacher Now, pulled me aside on Friday and asked if I was staying.  I told her no and she looked pretty bummed.  She told me that Teacher Now thinks I’m teaching well and that if she didn’t like me she wouldn’t help me out with controlling the kids like she does.  She also said that Teacher Now had never helped out an English teacher as much as me and that she really likes me.  I honestly wanted to cry, I was so happy.  It was one of the biggest compliments I have ever received in my entire life.  The day before school started, a couple Pilipino teachers told me that Teacher Now was rough to work with.  I knew from day one that she was strict and old fashioned and that she probably wouldn’t be too warm to me, but I decided I wanted to try my hardest to get on her good side.  It really wasn’t that hard.  The first couple weeks I felt like she was testing me by interrupting me, talking to me in Thai, and telling me how to teach, but after about a month every thing changed.  Maybe I broke her down with all my smiles and “kopkunkah” (thank you) or maybe I passed whatever test she was giving me.  To be honest I really did like her after the first week because I realized whenever she was in the room the kids were quiet and would listen to me and that was what I needed.  I needed a second to be able to think, stop being nervous about teaching, and learn how to work with these little Thai devils and she gave me that.  So even though I couldn’t dicipline my students the way my Thai teachers do I realize that that is the way of the Thai school system and that’s what works for them.  I honestly don’t think Thai teachers recognize the power of positive reinforcement.  Maybe it could be integrated into their system, but maybe they don’t want it to be.  Different cultures have different ways of dealing with things and after an entire semester I’ve found a way to accept and adapt their practice to work for me.  
There a lots of other interesting aspects of the Thai education system or maybe you didn’t find these too interesting at all, but either way you’ll learn more about what the school and the kids do during the day when you watch the video I’m producing.  I’ve been filming for a few weeks now and I’m finally starting to put it all together.  I’d like to get it done within the next two weeks, but I have another more pressing video I have finish so I’m not sure if that will happen.  When it’s complete my coordinator is going to show it at one of the huge teachers’ parties so they can see what I see.  I’m pretty excited for all the Thai teachers to realize why I carry around a camera, microphone and tripod all day.  I get some pretty funny stares while I’m recording the kids at morning assembly, lunch and naptime.  
A lesson in Thai schools:
Before I arrived in Thailand, the program I signed up with provided me with a lot of information about Thailand and the school system.  I kept seeing a few pieces of advice over and over.  I was instructed to go with the flow, not worry if I didn’t know exactly what was going on, and do what I was told as best I could.  The Thai school system was described as being lax and not as uniform as American schools.  The pamphlet also said uniform protocol is rare as well as future notice and scheduling of events.  All of this sounded fine to me.  I’m pretty good at going with the flow and rolling with the punches.  Who doesn’t like the sound of a more laid back job anyway?  Apparently “laid back” wasn’t what they meant when they said lack of protocol.  My school, Anubanchonburi, is actually pretty demanding.  Of all the other teachers I’ve talked to in my program no one does as much paperwork, after hours events and teaching as we do at Anubanchonburi.  That being said, we do get paid better than all the teachers I’ve talked to as well.  Besides learning how to write lesson plans and fill out feedback forms there are many other things I’ve learned while working at Anubanchonburi.  In most ways the Thai school system is the polar opposite of America’s, but the kids, teachers and politics are pretty much the same.
-Grades are arbitrary.  Really, they don’t matter.  They matter so much that they cease to exist.  Let me explain: no student is left behind.  Nope not that ridiculous system we have in America, but another one that goes like this:  Some kids are super smart, others skim by and yet others have no idea that the sky is blue, but they all have one thing in common: they pass.  No one fails here.  We were told that at orientation and we were all quite baffled.  What’s the point of school if no one fails?  How is that fair to the kids that actually pass?  Well, it’s not, but that’s just the way it is.  Before our midterm we said something to our coordinator like, “If kids can’t fail, what grade do we give?” She looked at us with a confused face and said in a high pitched voice, “Who said kids can’t fail?! They can fail!  They get the grade they deserve, we are trying to see what level they are really at!”  We all just sat there stunned and murmured “Okay.”  The next week we all gave our midterms and sure enough some kids failed.  Then a week later our coordinator held a big meeting.  It went something like this:  Come to school an hour early in the morning to personally tutor the kids that failed, then retest them, on the retest they cannot get below a ten a.k.a. all kids must pass, no matter what.  So really if a kid fails it gives the teacher more work and sometimes that work is fruitless and they still don’t pass, but on paper they do.  
Another instance of arbitrary grades just happened to me yesterday.  I was given a packet of papers, each page had a list of my students and a subject area like writing, reading, speaking, or listening.  I was asked to grade all my kids, right there on the spot on these four areas.  No, I didn’t have time to test them and of course we weren’t told at the beginning of the year that we would have to give them a grade in these specific areas.  So, I paged through my grade book, looked at the students’ notebooks and old tests and came up with what I thought were fair grades even though I wasn’t completely comfortable with my methods.  Twenty minutes after I handed my grades in to the Thai homeroom teacher she came and found me.  She started going off in Thai and all I could understand was “no good” “no have” “no, no, no.”  I kind of got the gist of what she was saying; she didn’t like the way I graded.  I had to change all my low grades to high grades, the kids who deserved 5/10 needed to have at least a 7/10.  So I sat with a whiteout pen and erased every grade under 7 and then without even looking up who the student was (their names were in Thai on the sheet) I gave them a seven or higher.  I didn’t even feel guilty or bad about it because like I learned from day one, T.I.T. This Is Thailand.  
-Forfeiting Future Notice.  Future notice simply does not exist here.  I learned that on my first day of school when I was handed my lesson plans ten minutes before class.  I also learned that when we were supposed to have two teacher in-service days, but they were changed to regular teaching days the day before.  Also the time when I was told the day before about the class field trip.  Or that Thursday when we were told we had to attend a teacher training course on that Saturday.  Also last week when our school changed our last day of work from the 18th to the 23rd of March.  Oh and all those times when I went to class and was handed some random test and told to explain it and give it to my kids, right then and there.  There are a million other instances of finding things out days, hours or seconds before they’re about to take place.  I thought CIEE was exaggerating when they said it’s the Thai way to plan things on the fly.  It seems really hard for me to believe that they don’t have a rough school schedule outlining things like days off, midterms, finals, and the last day of school, but they really don’t.  They plan weeks and days in advance.  At a meeting in December one of the teachers asked what days in January we had off for holiday and our coordinator answered, “That’s next year, so we will talk about that then.”  Last week I got an email hinting about a day off and I wasn’t actually told about it until I went around asking other teachers and our coordinator what that was all about.  Apparently it’s a holiday that happens on the same date every year, but they failed to put it on our holiday calendar.  I’m seriously starting to wonder if there are permanent records and documents anywhere in Thailand.  I’m pretty sure whenever something has to be communicated or a schedule has to be made someone just plops down at a computer and tries to pull everything from memory.  At first I was bothered by being in the dark all the time, but now I’m just plain used to it.  
  -Uniformity through uniforms.  Where grades fail to matter uniforms pick up the slack.  Each day has it’s own color or uniform attached to it.  Monday is yellow, Tuesday is pink, Wednesday is Hawaiian shirt day, Thursday is purple and Friday is sports day.  The students also have to wear scout uniforms on Thursday instead of purple.  There are also different shoes for different days, black for Mon, Tues, Thurs and white sneakers on Wed and Fri.  Each student has the same haircut too.  Boys have short hair that goes into a fade and girls have hair just below their chins.  The girls also wear a blue or white bow in their hair depending on what grade they’re in.  I always see teachers giving their students a hard time about their haircuts and styles.  If a student accidentally wears the wrong uniform they’re usually made fun of for the most part of the day.  Every time a different teacher walks by and sees them wearing the wrong shirt they make a comment and laugh with the homeroom teacher, which causes their classmates to then make fun of them too.  Teachers also have to stick to the uniforms or they are destined to be the topic of lunchtime gossip.  The first Wednesday of school I didn’t have a Hawaiian shirt and my homeroom teacher must have told me a dozen times that I needed to buy one.  She doesn’t speak English so her telling me was more like her pointing to her shirt a lot and pointing North to where the school store is.  She also took me around to other teachers who spoke English to tell me to buy one.  We also had to buy Friday sports day uniforms that consisted of an itchy blue polo and tight, hot and heavy dark blue polyester pants.  I would wear the Hawaiian shirt every day if I didn’t have to wear those pants on Fridays.  Once the big sports day competition arrived (think track and field day in elementary school) we had to buy another jersey in our team’s color.  Mine is green and I actually like it a lot.  I remember bitching about it at the time because I didn’t feel like shelling out more cash on another uncomfortable polo, but it turned out to be more like a soccer jersey.  Now I wear that every Friday and whenever I’m told to wear the polo I just say I don’t have one.  It’s crazy how much they care about uniforms.  It’s actually the one aspect of school that you get relatively future notice about.  A day or two before the field trips or special days I’m told in English (a lot of messages are told to me in Thai which results in confusion and lack of understanding) to wear my sports day outfit.  We also had a cowboy themed party for New Years where we were required to dress up in our western gear.  The Thais love, love, love cowboy culture.  
-ESL, wait what?  In the U.S.A. lot of books, lesson plans and curriculum guides are stamped with what we know as an ESL label aka English as a Second Language.  ESL materials take a different approach then plain and simple English curriculum and for good reason.  When you learned a new language, let’s say Spanish, I can bet you didn’t take the same approach as you did for English.  After all you probably weren’t a baby and surrounded by Spanish speakers.  Chances are you were older, learned from a textbook and had a nonnative speaking teacher.  Definitely not the best way to learn a new language, but decidedly not the worst either.  It’s important to have texts and guides that realize Spanish isn’t your primary language so that you can learn simple nouns, verbs and adjectives in a way that makes sense, kind of like stepping stones, instead of just pushing you off the ledge.  It is also important to learn from a native speaker, which is where most public school language programs fail.  Without a native speaker, the speaking part of the language is typically useless.  Unless the teacher is really good, there is a great chance you won’t really know how to say the words correctly with the proper accents and inflections making it really hard to communicate when you go on that trip to Mexico.  The writing and listening aspects will still have some merit, but again actually grasping everything that is being said and being able to reply will be quite difficult.  That being said, some knowledge is better than none and I’m not trying to discredit language lessons, I think it’s really important to attempt to learn new languages because it shows others that you have an interest in their culture and that is always appreciated even if you accidentally babble like a baby when you thought you were asking where the bathroom was.  Anyway, back to the main gist of this bullet point: ESL does not exist here, at least not at my school.  There is no curriculum in place to teach English in an introductory way for non-English speakers.  All of the workbooks and homework books are designed for English speakers so the concepts and flow of lessons is extremely confusing for the kids.  Also, the books are just crap.  The workbooks I’m provided with have been the main source of my reoccurring headaches.  I feel so angry and bad for my kids that they have to use these idiotic books.  My p1 kids use “Best Friends” books.  It is a workbook and a homework book combo that jumps around from topic to topic, has completely unrelated vocabulary words and stupid lesson and chapter titles and themes i.e. the dogs are sick, there are ten monkeys etc…  One week the vocabulary words were brave, toy boat, hot dog, toy store, mommy, and hurry up.  The books are also full of mistakes, which makes me think that one of our school suppliers got them really cheap and then sold them to our school to make some money.  Every lesson plan has an error in it.  It makes it confusing for the kids when they can’t figure out the right answer (because there isn’t one) and when I have to try and explain to them that the crossword puzzle doesn’t work out because the book is messed up.  At first I was pretty stressed out about the books, but then I realized I could just fly through the pointless lessons and add supplementary lessons to make everything flow together and make more sense.  I also started making more of my own worksheets and homework sheets instead of having them complete the ones filled with errors in the books.  I can only hope that my school will get better texts for next year.
It seems the curriculum should be much easier to plan for the kindergarten kids, but they have it even worse.  Each week we are assigned a really random topic to teach them like trash, air, milk, tree, winter, good and bad behavior, father’s day… the list could go on.  I agree the students should be learning about topics and subjects, but I think they should only be taught by their Thai teacher instead of both of us.  Basically they learn about trees in Thai for an hour and then I teach them about trees in English for an hour.  I think it would be beneficial if I was able to translate the key words and ideas about trees and teach with the Thai teacher and then during the English hour teach the alphabet and simple concepts like animals, colors, household objects and things of that sort.  It is ridiculously hard to teach complex lessons like good and bad behavior when the child doesn’t know anything you’re saying.  Beyond the seemingly random lessons, I have to work out of a workbook that’s designed for English speaking kindergarteners.  The workbook is way above my students’ level, which causes a lot of stress and anxiety on both their part and mine.  I struggle to explain how to complete the pages properly and most times they don’t understand and end up asking me over and over and over how to do it and still complete it wrong.  The workbook is no help with this because of how the pages are set up.  On the left-hand page there will be a word like Dog and a blank line for them to write Dog Dog Dog, but on the right-hand page there will be an incomplete sentence like Dogs like to _______ .  The students are supposed to write run, but because they are used to copying words and phrases instead they write Dogs like to.  If the workbook was set up in such a way that the students learned to copy and then to answer it would work out well, but when different types of activities are all jumbled together and there is no way to properly communicate that to my students they are bound to make mistakes, misunderstand and lose interest.  I think it’s awesome that so many countries are taking the initiative to start teaching their students English at a young age, but I think if it was went about in a more systematic and practical way the kids would get a lot more out of it.  Having native speaking teachers is a huge step in the right direction, but I think they wandered off the trail soon after that.  Until then Dogs like to dogs like to.  
-Distressing disparities.  Thai schools are in a lot better shape then I thought they would be.  For the most part they are equipped with all the important school supplies like pencils, books, whiteboards, projectors, computers and printers.  Anubanconburi also has a nice little library, gym and music room.  There is a huge auditorium where we have teacher parties and conferences and there are several play areas for the kids and a swimming pool on the larger campus across the street.  We also have a nifty finger scanner that we have to sign into each morning and air conditioner in all the rooms.  Lots of good and necessary things for a school to have, but why then is there a lack of paper, white board markers and supplementary supplies for lessons?  Paper is to Anuban teachers as food is to contestants on survivor.  It is hidden, well protected and rarely shared.  The same goes for whiteboard markers.  Under every whiteboard you’ll find dozens of markers, but none of them work.  They are just pawns.  The real ones are hidden in your purse, book bag or desk drawer.  Oh, and toilet paper.  Of course there’s none, after all we’re in Thailand.  The toilet paper also gets hidden because if you make the mistake of just setting it under your desk you’ll find it down to the last square within a couple days.  So hold onto your paper allotment and go buy art supplies with your first paycheck because there’s no way you’re getting any baht from the semester budget.  It bums me out to see all the activities, games and books that fill the shelves of my kindergarten classroom because they’re never used.  I taught my teacher how to play a few of the games so she would encourage the students to play them during free time, but it’s hard to get them away from the play dough.  The older grades are also in need of more practical hands on supplies for the classroom.  For instance there’s only one globe in the whole school that is always being shared and passed around.  Material objects that help kids see, feel and learn at the same time are really needed.  I found it pretty hard to find anything fun and useful for the classroom, but then again there could be a teacher supply store that no one is telling me about.  My friend Kandy is studying to be a teacher in the states and she sent me a pack of 4 mini dry erase boards for my class.  I use them every single day to play spelling games with the kids.  They absolutely love them.  I’ve had other teachers come in and watch my class and tell me that I’m doing a really good job and I think it’s mostly because they see how excited the kids are to learn.  I already promised away the white boards to one of the Pilipino teachers, but in the mean time I’ve had at least a dozen other teachers ask me for them.  I’ll have to send a care package of supplies for next semester.
-We like to party, and play games and have contests and dance and sing… It seems like there is always a new competition going on at Anubanchonburi.  The students are always practicing something.  This past week everyone had a waiing competition.  The students had to practice the traditional Thai greeting known as a wai.  They also had to perform other common practices in their culture like kneeling to pray with their feet under their butt and in “mermaid” style.  They also walked in a long line with their heads bowed down, which is what you do if you walk between people conversing or if you walk by someone of a higher status.  They also practiced short dialogues, which I guessed to be prayers, chants or something of the like.  Before the waiing competition everyone was preparing for the nine square competition.  Nine square is a marching activity in which every student has their own mat with nine squares on it.  There are several different marching routines that all the kids know how to say and march too.  Apparently it is supposed to help increase brain function and coordination.  The kindergarteners have a rough time staying on track, but the older kids are really good at it and have even added music and hand motions to their routines.  Before nine square and waiing we practiced every day twice a day for the Children’s day and Christmas day show.  Each grade had a different song and dance that was performed in front of parents and the community on a big stage in the center of Chonburi.  Before Children’s Day and Christmas everyone practiced their cheers and chants for sports day.  The activities never stop here.  Often times it seems like the group activities take precedence over the lessons, but I’ve noticed all the group events increase the school spirit and solidarity between both the teachers and the students.  In between all the school wide activities, there are smaller contests taking place all the time.  We are often asked to help kids study for spelling and speech competitions.  Sometimes we are even asked to help judge the speech competitions at other schools.  At first I was getting a bit dragged down by all the extra activities especially because we were often told about them a couple days before and expected to whip up amazing results, but after a few weeks I learned to embrace the crazy and just run with it.  If you practice and work hard for a few weeks it will probably pay off and if it doesn’t everyone will forget about it by the time the next contest, competition or activity rolls around.  
-Classroom control.  Imagine someone telling you to be quiet, behave, sit down, stop it, etc. in another language.  If you were surrounded by thirty of your peers and had not the faintest idea what that person was talking about, you probably wouldn’t listen.  That pretty much sums up my life with my kindergarten kids.  It is almost impossible for me to control their behavior unless they know what their doing is wrong.  I’ve tried to teach them simple manners like covering their mouth and being patient, but it hasn’t really caught on.  I’ve learned a few tricks for getting them to be quiet though.  I usually do hand motions or say body parts and everyone has to point to those parts on their body, this grabs everyone’s attention and they unknowingly stop talking and goofing off.  Or I break into song and they join in, which usually calms them down.  Other times I’ll clap and say one, two, three, zip and zip my lips.  They like things like that too because it involves clapping and motions and they understand what the desired result is.  Usually though they’re crazy and have to be disciplined by the Thai teacher.  They know that I won’t hit them or intimidate them so they definitely have less respect for me and they don’t really fear me at all.  I’ve seen my Thai teacher do some pretty crazy stuff and it always ends in a lot of tears.  I feel bad most times because I wouldn’t go about it the way she does, but at the same time she is teaching the same general lesson, be quiet, pay attention and behave, she just happens to be teaching it in a radically different way.  I’ve seen my teacher hit a kid in the face with scissors and pretend to cut his lips off.  She’s also put this one little girl high on top of a shelf in the classroom so that she couldn’t get down, because the girl just wouldn’t pay attention.  Once when we were making a craft, this one girl who is seriously naughty and rebellious stuck her hands in glue and dipped them into a bowl of seeds and started waving them around.  I told her to stop it, but she didn’t listen.  I even made her wash her hands, but she ended up doing it again and my teacher caught her.  She was so pissed off.  Number one because we have very limited craft supplies and number two because this girl is a little devil child.  Anyway, she grabbed the girl and rubbed the glue and the seeds all over her face for at least five minutes in front of the whole class and then made her go to lunch like that.  I’d have to say after that day that same girl’s behavior has improved dramatically.  I don’t know if my teacher talked to her parents or if that little glue incident got the point across, but she doesn’t act nearly as badly as she used to.
Needless to say I don’t use the intimidation approach.  I mean, how intimidating can I be?  Even when I’m yelling at them or hitting them over the head with a little notebook I’m making a funny face or trying not to laugh.  I’ve actually found hitting them on the head with some papers or their composition notebook is one of the best tactics because it causes all their classmates to laugh and they get really embarrassed.  In Thailand it is a really big deal if you “lose face” which is why it is rare for Thais to get angry, argue and raise their voice so by embarrassing the kids a little bit like that it puts them back in their place and at the same time I know I didn’t really hurt them.  My teachers tend to use what I think of as extreme versions of intimidation like shaking a kids entire desk, hitting them with rulers or making them stand on their chair for the entire class; that works for them and unlike me their kids actually listen really well and get quiet when they enter the room.  I take more round-a-bout approaches that allow me to control the kids without feeling bad about the way I acted.  Usually I write a word on the board like game, sticker, or snack.  Every time the kids are too noisy I will erase a letter.  Most times I only have to erase one or two letters and they will stay quiet for the whole class.  Once I had to erase every letter and they were so crazy I started to write a new word, ‘work,’ on the board.  I made them all write a bunch of sentences until the end of class.  I think most of them felt pretty badly about it, but thankfully it only had to happen once.  Games are my big reward.  I love playing games with them because they are actually learning something and it encourages willing participation from every single student.  After the first week of hating my p1 class I learned that it wasn’t their job to pay attention, it was my job to hold their attention.  I started to plan my lessons in ten minute blocks so that we were always doing a new activity.  I added short songs and movies to my lessons and asked for increased participation from the kids.  I also let them make choices about what activity we would do next and I let their behavior decide how class would proceed.  In the end it’s working out really well for me and I leave class feeling happy because I love my students and they love me back.  
I also got great positive feed back from one of the higher ups in the office the other day.  She came in and watched my lesson and told me in a few English and Thai words that I was doing really well.  Some of the Thai teachers have asked me if I’m staying next semester and when I shake my head no they grab my arms and squeeze me and make a frowning face.  These small gestures really mean a lot to me and they also confirm how much I feel like Anubanchonburi is my community and my workplace.  The Pilipino teacher, Nitzsan, who works in my grade 1 classroom with my Thai teacher, Teacher Now, pulled me aside on Friday and asked if I was staying.  I told her no and she looked pretty bummed.  She told me that Teacher Now thinks I’m teaching well and that if she didn’t like me she wouldn’t help me out with controlling the kids like she does.  She also said that Teacher Now had never helped out an English teacher as much as me and that she really likes me.  I honestly wanted to cry, I was so happy.  It was one of the biggest compliments I have ever received in my entire life.  The day before school started, a couple Pilipino teachers told me that Teacher Now was rough to work with.  I knew from day one that she was strict and old fashioned and that she probably wouldn’t be too warm to me, but I decided I wanted to try my hardest to get on her good side.  It really wasn’t that hard.  The first couple weeks I felt like she was testing me by interrupting me, talking to me in Thai, and telling me how to teach, but after about a month every thing changed.  Maybe I broke her down with all my smiles and “kopkunkah” (thank you) or maybe I passed whatever test she was giving me.  To be honest I really did like her after the first week because I realized whenever she was in the room the kids were quiet and would listen to me and that was what I needed.  I needed a second to be able to think, stop being nervous about teaching, and learn how to work with these little Thai devils and she gave me that.  So even though I couldn’t dicipline my students the way my Thai teachers do I realize that that is the way of the Thai school system and that’s what works for them.  I honestly don’t think Thai teachers recognize the power of positive reinforcement.  Maybe it could be integrated into their system, but maybe they don’t want it to be.  Different cultures have different ways of dealing with things and after an entire semester I’ve found a way to accept and adapt their practice to work for me.  
There a lots of other interesting aspects of the Thai education system or maybe you didn’t find these too interesting at all, but either way you’ll learn more about what the school and the kids do during the day when you watch the video I’m producing.  I’ve been filming for a few weeks now and I’m finally starting to put it all together.  I’d like to get it done within the next two weeks, but I have another more pressing video I have finish so I’m not sure if that will happen.  When it’s complete my coordinator is going to show it at one of the huge teachers’ parties so they can see what I see.  I’m pretty excited for all the Thai teachers to realize why I carry around a camera, microphone and tripod all day.  I get some pretty funny stares while I’m recording the kids at morning assembly, lunch and naptime.  
A lesson in Thai schools:
Before I arrived in Thailand, the program I signed up with provided me with a lot of information about Thailand and the school system.  I kept seeing a few pieces of advice over and over.  I was instructed to go with the flow, not worry if I didn’t know exactly what was going on, and do what I was told as best I could.  The Thai school system was described as being lax and not as uniform as American schools.  The pamphlet also said uniform protocol is rare as well as future notice and scheduling of events.  All of this sounded fine to me.  I’m pretty good at going with the flow and rolling with the punches.  Who doesn’t like the sound of a more laid back job anyway?  Apparently “laid back” wasn’t what they meant when they said lack of protocol.  My school, Anubanchonburi, is actually pretty demanding.  Of all the other teachers I’ve talked to in my program no one does as much paperwork, after hours events and teaching as we do at Anubanchonburi.  That being said, we do get paid better than all the teachers I’ve talked to as well.  Besides learning how to write lesson plans and fill out feedback forms there are many other things I’ve learned while working at Anubanchonburi.  In most ways the Thai school system is the polar opposite of America’s, but the kids, teachers and politics are pretty much the same.
-Grades are arbitrary.  Really, they don’t matter.  They matter so much that they cease to exist.  Let me explain: no student is left behind.  Nope not that ridiculous system we have in America, but another one that goes like this:  Some kids are super smart, others skim by and yet others have no idea that the sky is blue, but they all have one thing in common: they pass.  No one fails here.  We were told that at orientation and we were all quite baffled.  What’s the point of school if no one fails?  How is that fair to the kids that actually pass?  Well, it’s not, but that’s just the way it is.  Before our midterm we said something to our coordinator like, “If kids can’t fail, what grade do we give?” She looked at us with a confused face and said in a high pitched voice, “Who said kids can’t fail?! They can fail!  They get the grade they deserve, we are trying to see what level they are really at!”  We all just sat there stunned and murmured “Okay.”  The next week we all gave our midterms and sure enough some kids failed.  Then a week later our coordinator held a big meeting.  It went something like this:  Come to school an hour early in the morning to personally tutor the kids that failed, then retest them, on the retest they cannot get below a ten a.k.a. all kids must pass, no matter what.  So really if a kid fails it gives the teacher more work and sometimes that work is fruitless and they still don’t pass, but on paper they do.  
Another instance of arbitrary grades just happened to me yesterday.  I was given a packet of papers, each page had a list of my students and a subject area like writing, reading, speaking, or listening.  I was asked to grade all my kids, right there on the spot on these four areas.  No, I didn’t have time to test them and of course we weren’t told at the beginning of the year that we would have to give them a grade in these specific areas.  So, I paged through my grade book, looked at the students’ notebooks and old tests and came up with what I thought were fair grades even though I wasn’t completely comfortable with my methods.  Twenty minutes after I handed my grades in to the Thai homeroom teacher she came and found me.  She started going off in Thai and all I could understand was “no good” “no have” “no, no, no.”  I kind of got the gist of what she was saying; she didn’t like the way I graded.  I had to change all my low grades to high grades, the kids who deserved 5/10 needed to have at least a 7/10.  So I sat with a whiteout pen and erased every grade under 7 and then without even looking up who the student was (their names were in Thai on the sheet) I gave them a seven or higher.  I didn’t even feel guilty or bad about it because like I learned from day one, T.I.T. This Is Thailand.  
-Forfeiting Future Notice.  Future notice simply does not exist here.  I learned that on my first day of school when I was handed my lesson plans ten minutes before class.  I also learned that when we were supposed to have two teacher in-service days, but they were changed to regular teaching days the day before.  Also the time when I was told the day before about the class field trip.  Or that Thursday when we were told we had to attend a teacher training course on that Saturday.  Also last week when our school changed our last day of work from the 18th to the 23rd of March.  Oh and all those times when I went to class and was handed some random test and told to explain it and give it to my kids, right then and there.  There are a million other instances of finding things out days, hours or seconds before they’re about to take place.  I thought CIEE was exaggerating when they said it’s the Thai way to plan things on the fly.  It seems really hard for me to believe that they don’t have a rough school schedule outlining things like days off, midterms, finals, and the last day of school, but they really don’t.  They plan weeks and days in advance.  At a meeting in December one of the teachers asked what days in January we had off for holiday and our coordinator answered, “That’s next year, so we will talk about that then.”  Last week I got an email hinting about a day off and I wasn’t actually told about it until I went around asking other teachers and our coordinator what that was all about.  Apparently it’s a holiday that happens on the same date every year, but they failed to put it on our holiday calendar.  I’m seriously starting to wonder if there are permanent records and documents anywhere in Thailand.  I’m pretty sure whenever something has to be communicated or a schedule has to be made someone just plops down at a computer and tries to pull everything from memory.  At first I was bothered by being in the dark all the time, but now I’m just plain used to it.  
  -Uniformity through uniforms.  Where grades fail to matter uniforms pick up the slack.  Each day has it’s own color or uniform attached to it.  Monday is yellow, Tuesday is pink, Wednesday is Hawaiian shirt day, Thursday is purple and Friday is sports day.  The students also have to wear scout uniforms on Thursday instead of purple.  There are also different shoes for different days, black for Mon, Tues, Thurs and white sneakers on Wed and Fri.  Each student has the same haircut too.  Boys have short hair that goes into a fade and girls have hair just below their chins.  The girls also wear a blue or white bow in their hair depending on what grade they’re in.  I always see teachers giving their students a hard time about their haircuts and styles.  If a student accidentally wears the wrong uniform they’re usually made fun of for the most part of the day.  Every time a different teacher walks by and sees them wearing the wrong shirt they make a comment and laugh with the homeroom teacher, which causes their classmates to then make fun of them too.  Teachers also have to stick to the uniforms or they are destined to be the topic of lunchtime gossip.  The first Wednesday of school I didn’t have a Hawaiian shirt and my homeroom teacher must have told me a dozen times that I needed to buy one.  She doesn’t speak English so her telling me was more like her pointing to her shirt a lot and pointing North to where the school store is.  She also took me around to other teachers who spoke English to tell me to buy one.  We also had to buy Friday sports day uniforms that consisted of an itchy blue polo and tight, hot and heavy dark blue polyester pants.  I would wear the Hawaiian shirt every day if I didn’t have to wear those pants on Fridays.  Once the big sports day competition arrived (think track and field day in elementary school) we had to buy another jersey in our team’s color.  Mine is green and I actually like it a lot.  I remember bitching about it at the time because I didn’t feel like shelling out more cash on another uncomfortable polo, but it turned out to be more like a soccer jersey.  Now I wear that every Friday and whenever I’m told to wear the polo I just say I don’t have one.  It’s crazy how much they care about uniforms.  It’s actually the one aspect of school that you get relatively future notice about.  A day or two before the field trips or special days I’m told in English (a lot of messages are told to me in Thai which results in confusion and lack of understanding) to wear my sports day outfit.  We also had a cowboy themed party for New Years where we were required to dress up in our western gear.  The Thais love, love, love cowboy culture.  
-ESL, wait what?  In the U.S.A. lot of books, lesson plans and curriculum guides are stamped with what we know as an ESL label aka English as a Second Language.  ESL materials take a different approach then plain and simple English curriculum and for good reason.  When you learned a new language, let’s say Spanish, I can bet you didn’t take the same approach as you did for English.  After all you probably weren’t a baby and surrounded by Spanish speakers.  Chances are you were older, learned from a textbook and had a nonnative speaking teacher.  Definitely not the best way to learn a new language, but decidedly not the worst either.  It’s important to have texts and guides that realize Spanish isn’t your primary language so that you can learn simple nouns, verbs and adjectives in a way that makes sense, kind of like stepping stones, instead of just pushing you off the ledge.  It is also important to learn from a native speaker, which is where most public school language programs fail.  Without a native speaker, the speaking part of the language is typically useless.  Unless the teacher is really good, there is a great chance you won’t really know how to say the words correctly with the proper accents and inflections making it really hard to communicate when you go on that trip to Mexico.  The writing and listening aspects will still have some merit, but again actually grasping everything that is being said and being able to reply will be quite difficult.  That being said, some knowledge is better than none and I’m not trying to discredit language lessons, I think it’s really important to attempt to learn new languages because it shows others that you have an interest in their culture and that is always appreciated even if you accidentally babble like a baby when you thought you were asking where the bathroom was.  Anyway, back to the main gist of this bullet point: ESL does not exist here, at least not at my school.  There is no curriculum in place to teach English in an introductory way for non-English speakers.  All of the workbooks and homework books are designed for English speakers so the concepts and flow of lessons is extremely confusing for the kids.  Also, the books are just crap.  The workbooks I’m provided with have been the main source of my reoccurring headaches.  I feel so angry and bad for my kids that they have to use these idiotic books.  My p1 kids use “Best Friends” books.  It is a workbook and a homework book combo that jumps around from topic to topic, has completely unrelated vocabulary words and stupid lesson and chapter titles and themes i.e. the dogs are sick, there are ten monkeys etc…  One week the vocabulary words were brave, toy boat, hot dog, toy store, mommy, and hurry up.  The books are also full of mistakes, which makes me think that one of our school suppliers got them really cheap and then sold them to our school to make some money.  Every lesson plan has an error in it.  It makes it confusing for the kids when they can’t figure out the right answer (because there isn’t one) and when I have to try and explain to them that the crossword puzzle doesn’t work out because the book is messed up.  At first I was pretty stressed out about the books, but then I realized I could just fly through the pointless lessons and add supplementary lessons to make everything flow together and make more sense.  I also started making more of my own worksheets and homework sheets instead of having them complete the ones filled with errors in the books.  I can only hope that my school will get better texts for next year.
It seems the curriculum should be much easier to plan for the kindergarten kids, but they have it even worse.  Each week we are assigned a really random topic to teach them like trash, air, milk, tree, winter, good and bad behavior, father’s day… the list could go on.  I agree the students should be learning about topics and subjects, but I think they should only be taught by their Thai teacher instead of both of us.  Basically they learn about trees in Thai for an hour and then I teach them about trees in English for an hour.  I think it would be beneficial if I was able to translate the key words and ideas about trees and teach with the Thai teacher and then during the English hour teach the alphabet and simple concepts like animals, colors, household objects and things of that sort.  It is ridiculously hard to teach complex lessons like good and bad behavior when the child doesn’t know anything you’re saying.  Beyond the seemingly random lessons, I have to work out of a workbook that’s designed for English speaking kindergarteners.  The workbook is way above my students’ level, which causes a lot of stress and anxiety on both their part and mine.  I struggle to explain how to complete the pages properly and most times they don’t understand and end up asking me over and over and over how to do it and still complete it wrong.  The workbook is no help with this because of how the pages are set up.  On the left-hand page there will be a word like Dog and a blank line for them to write Dog Dog Dog, but on the right-hand page there will be an incomplete sentence like Dogs like to _______ .  The students are supposed to write run, but because they are used to copying words and phrases instead they write Dogs like to.  If the workbook was set up in such a way that the students learned to copy and then to answer it would work out well, but when different types of activities are all jumbled together and there is no way to properly communicate that to my students they are bound to make mistakes, misunderstand and lose interest.  I think it’s awesome that so many countries are taking the initiative to start teaching their students English at a young age, but I think if it was went about in a more systematic and practical way the kids would get a lot more out of it.  Having native speaking teachers is a huge step in the right direction, but I think they wandered off the trail soon after that.  Until then Dogs like to dogs like to.  
-Distressing disparities.  Thai schools are in a lot better shape then I thought they would be.  For the most part they are equipped with all the important school supplies like pencils, books, whiteboards, projectors, computers and printers.  Anubanconburi also has a nice little library, gym and music room.  There is a huge auditorium where we have teacher parties and conferences and there are several play areas for the kids and a swimming pool on the larger campus across the street.  We also have a nifty finger scanner that we have to sign into each morning and air conditioner in all the rooms.  Lots of good and necessary things for a school to have, but why then is there a lack of paper, white board markers and supplementary supplies for lessons?  Paper is to Anuban teachers as food is to contestants on survivor.  It is hidden, well protected and rarely shared.  The same goes for whiteboard markers.  Under every whiteboard you’ll find dozens of markers, but none of them work.  They are just pawns.  The real ones are hidden in your purse, book bag or desk drawer.  Oh, and toilet paper.  Of course there’s none, after all we’re in Thailand.  The toilet paper also gets hidden because if you make the mistake of just setting it under your desk you’ll find it down to the last square within a couple days.  So hold onto your paper allotment and go buy art supplies with your first paycheck because there’s no way you’re getting any baht from the semester budget.  It bums me out to see all the activities, games and books that fill the shelves of my kindergarten classroom because they’re never used.  I taught my teacher how to play a few of the games so she would encourage the students to play them during free time, but it’s hard to get them away from the play dough.  The older grades are also in need of more practical hands on supplies for the classroom.  For instance there’s only one globe in the whole school that is always being shared and passed around.  Material objects that help kids see, feel and learn at the same time are really needed.  I found it pretty hard to find anything fun and useful for the classroom, but then again there could be a teacher supply store that no one is telling me about.  My friend Kandy is studying to be a teacher in the states and she sent me a pack of 4 mini dry erase boards for my class.  I use them every single day to play spelling games with the kids.  They absolutely love them.  I’ve had other teachers come in and watch my class and tell me that I’m doing a really good job and I think it’s mostly because they see how excited the kids are to learn.  I already promised away the white boards to one of the Pilipino teachers, but in the mean time I’ve had at least a dozen other teachers ask me for them.  I’ll have to send a care package of supplies for next semester.
-We like to party, and play games and have contests and dance and sing… It seems like there is always a new competition going on at Anubanchonburi.  The students are always practicing something.  This past week everyone had a waiing competition.  The students had to practice the traditional Thai greeting known as a wai.  They also had to perform other common practices in their culture like kneeling to pray with their feet under their butt and in “mermaid” style.  They also walked in a long line with their heads bowed down, which is what you do if you walk between people conversing or if you walk by someone of a higher status.  They also practiced short dialogues, which I guessed to be prayers, chants or something of the like.  Before the waiing competition everyone was preparing for the nine square competition.  Nine square is a marching activity in which every student has their own mat with nine squares on it.  There are several different marching routines that all the kids know how to say and march too.  Apparently it is supposed to help increase brain function and coordination.  The kindergarteners have a rough time staying on track, but the older kids are really good at it and have even added music and hand motions to their routines.  Before nine square and waiing we practiced every day twice a day for the Children’s day and Christmas day show.  Each grade had a different song and dance that was performed in front of parents and the community on a big stage in the center of Chonburi.  Before Children’s Day and Christmas everyone practiced their cheers and chants for sports day.  The activities never stop here.  Often times it seems like the group activities take precedence over the lessons, but I’ve noticed all the group events increase the school spirit and solidarity between both the teachers and the students.  In between all the school wide activities, there are smaller contests taking place all the time.  We are often asked to help kids study for spelling and speech competitions.  Sometimes we are even asked to help judge the speech competitions at other schools.  At first I was getting a bit dragged down by all the extra activities especially because we were often told about them a couple days before and expected to whip up amazing results, but after a few weeks I learned to embrace the crazy and just run with it.  If you practice and work hard for a few weeks it will probably pay off and if it doesn’t everyone will forget about it by the time the next contest, competition or activity rolls around.  
-Classroom control.  Imagine someone telling you to be quiet, behave, sit down, stop it, etc. in another language.  If you were surrounded by thirty of your peers and had not the faintest idea what that person was talking about, you probably wouldn’t listen.  That pretty much sums up my life with my kindergarten kids.  It is almost impossible for me to control their behavior unless they know what their doing is wrong.  I’ve tried to teach them simple manners like covering their mouth and being patient, but it hasn’t really caught on.  I’ve learned a few tricks for getting them to be quiet though.  I usually do hand motions or say body parts and everyone has to point to those parts on their body, this grabs everyone’s attention and they unknowingly stop talking and goofing off.  Or I break into song and they join in, which usually calms them down.  Other times I’ll clap and say one, two, three, zip and zip my lips.  They like things like that too because it involves clapping and motions and they understand what the desired result is.  Usually though they’re crazy and have to be disciplined by the Thai teacher.  They know that I won’t hit them or intimidate them so they definitely have less respect for me and they don’t really fear me at all.  I’ve seen my Thai teacher do some pretty crazy stuff and it always ends in a lot of tears.  I feel bad most times because I wouldn’t go about it the way she does, but at the same time she is teaching the same general lesson, be quiet, pay attention and behave, she just happens to be teaching it in a radically different way.  I’ve seen my teacher hit a kid in the face with scissors and pretend to cut his lips off.  She’s also put this one little girl high on top of a shelf in the classroom so that she couldn’t get down, because the girl just wouldn’t pay attention.  Once when we were making a craft, this one girl who is seriously naughty and rebellious stuck her hands in glue and dipped them into a bowl of seeds and started waving them around.  I told her to stop it, but she didn’t listen.  I even made her wash her hands, but she ended up doing it again and my teacher caught her.  She was so pissed off.  Number one because we have very limited craft supplies and number two because this girl is a little devil child.  Anyway, she grabbed the girl and rubbed the glue and the seeds all over her face for at least five minutes in front of the whole class and then made her go to lunch like that.  I’d have to say after that day that same girl’s behavior has improved dramatically.  I don’t know if my teacher talked to her parents or if that little glue incident got the point across, but she doesn’t act nearly as badly as she used to.
Needless to say I don’t use the intimidation approach.  I mean, how intimidating can I be?  Even when I’m yelling at them or hitting them over the head with a little notebook I’m making a funny face or trying not to laugh.  I’ve actually found hitting them on the head with some papers or their composition notebook is one of the best tactics because it causes all their classmates to laugh and they get really embarrassed.  In Thailand it is a really big deal if you “lose face” which is why it is rare for Thais to get angry, argue and raise their voice so by embarrassing the kids a little bit like that it puts them back in their place and at the same time I know I didn’t really hurt them.  My teachers tend to use what I think of as extreme versions of intimidation like shaking a kids entire desk, hitting them with rulers or making them stand on their chair for the entire class; that works for them and unlike me their kids actually listen really well and get quiet when they enter the room.  I take more round-a-bout approaches that allow me to control the kids without feeling bad about the way I acted.  Usually I write a word on the board like game, sticker, or snack.  Every time the kids are too noisy I will erase a letter.  Most times I only have to erase one or two letters and they will stay quiet for the whole class.  Once I had to erase every letter and they were so crazy I started to write a new word, ‘work,’ on the board.  I made them all write a bunch of sentences until the end of class.  I think most of them felt pretty badly about it, but thankfully it only had to happen once.  Games are my big reward.  I love playing games with them because they are actually learning something and it encourages willing participation from every single student.  After the first week of hating my p1 class I learned that it wasn’t their job to pay attention, it was my job to hold their attention.  I started to plan my lessons in ten minute blocks so that we were always doing a new activity.  I added short songs and movies to my lessons and asked for increased participation from the kids.  I also let them make choices about what activity we would do next and I let their behavior decide how class would proceed.  In the end it’s working out really well for me and I leave class feeling happy because I love my students and they love me back.  
I also got great positive feed back from one of the higher ups in the office the other day.  She came in and watched my lesson and told me in a few English and Thai words that I was doing really well.  Some of the Thai teachers have asked me if I’m staying next semester and when I shake my head no they grab my arms and squeeze me and make a frowning face.  These small gestures really mean a lot to me and they also confirm how much I feel like Anubanchonburi is my community and my workplace.  The Pilipino teacher, Nitzsan, who works in my grade 1 classroom with my Thai teacher, Teacher Now, pulled me aside on Friday and asked if I was staying.  I told her no and she looked pretty bummed.  She told me that Teacher Now thinks I’m teaching well and that if she didn’t like me she wouldn’t help me out with controlling the kids like she does.  She also said that Teacher Now had never helped out an English teacher as much as me and that she really likes me.  I honestly wanted to cry, I was so happy.  It was one of the biggest compliments I have ever received in my entire life.  The day before school started, a couple Pilipino teachers told me that Teacher Now was rough to work with.  I knew from day one that she was strict and old fashioned and that she probably wouldn’t be too warm to me, but I decided I wanted to try my hardest to get on her good side.  It really wasn’t that hard.  The first couple weeks I felt like she was testing me by interrupting me, talking to me in Thai, and telling me how to teach, but after about a month every thing changed.  Maybe I broke her down with all my smiles and “kopkunkah” (thank you) or maybe I passed whatever test she was giving me.  To be honest I really did like her after the first week because I realized whenever she was in the room the kids were quiet and would listen to me and that was what I needed.  I needed a second to be able to think, stop being nervous about teaching, and learn how to work with these little Thai devils and she gave me that.  So even though I couldn’t dicipline my students the way my Thai teachers do I realize that that is the way of the Thai school system and that’s what works for them.  I honestly don’t think Thai teachers recognize the power of positive reinforcement.  Maybe it could be integrated into their system, but maybe they don’t want it to be.  Different cultures have different ways of dealing with things and after an entire semester I’ve found a way to accept and adapt their practice to work for me.  
There a lots of other interesting aspects of the Thai education system or maybe you didn’t find these too interesting at all, but either way you’ll learn more about what the school and the kids do during the day when you watch the video I’m producing.  I’ve been filming for a few weeks now and I’m finally starting to put it all together.  I’d like to get it done within the next two weeks, but I have another more pressing video I have finish so I’m not sure if that will happen.  When it’s complete my coordinator is going to show it at one of the huge teachers’ parties so they can see what I see.  I’m pretty excited for all the Thai teachers to realize why I carry around a camera, microphone and tripod all day.  I get some pretty funny stares while I’m recording the kids at morning assembly, lunch and naptime.  
A lesson in Thai schools:
Before I arrived in Thailand, the program I signed up with provided me with a lot of information about Thailand and the school system.  I kept seeing a few pieces of advice over and over.  I was instructed to go with the flow, not worry if I didn’t know exactly what was going on, and do what I was told as best I could.  The Thai school system was described as being lax and not as uniform as American schools.  The pamphlet also said uniform protocol is rare as well as future notice and scheduling of events.  All of this sounded fine to me.  I’m pretty good at going with the flow and rolling with the punches.  Who doesn’t like the sound of a more laid back job anyway?  Apparently “laid back” wasn’t what they meant when they said lack of protocol.  My school, Anubanchonburi, is actually pretty demanding.  Of all the other teachers I’ve talked to in my program no one does as much paperwork, after hours events and teaching as we do at Anubanchonburi.  That being said, we do get paid better than all the teachers I’ve talked to as well.  Besides learning how to write lesson plans and fill out feedback forms there are many other things I’ve learned while working at Anubanchonburi.  In most ways the Thai school system is the polar opposite of America’s, but the kids, teachers and politics are pretty much the same.
-Grades are arbitrary.  Really, they don’t matter.  They matter so much that they cease to exist.  Let me explain: no student is left behind.  Nope not that ridiculous system we have in America, but another one that goes like this:  Some kids are super smart, others skim by and yet others have no idea that the sky is blue, but they all have one thing in common: they pass.  No one fails here.  We were told that at orientation and we were all quite baffled.  What’s the point of school if no one fails?  How is that fair to the kids that actually pass?  Well, it’s not, but that’s just the way it is.  Before our midterm we said something to our coordinator like, “If kids can’t fail, what grade do we give?” She looked at us with a confused face and said in a high pitched voice, “Who said kids can’t fail?! They can fail!  They get the grade they deserve, we are trying to see what level they are really at!”  We all just sat there stunned and murmured “Okay.”  The next week we all gave our midterms and sure enough some kids failed.  Then a week later our coordinator held a big meeting.  It went something like this:  Come to school an hour early in the morning to personally tutor the kids that failed, then retest them, on the retest they cannot get below a ten a.k.a. all kids must pass, no matter what.  So really if a kid fails it gives the teacher more work and sometimes that work is fruitless and they still don’t pass, but on paper they do.  
Another instance of arbitrary grades just happened to me yesterday.  I was given a packet of papers, each page had a list of my students and a subject area like writing, reading, speaking, or listening.  I was asked to grade all my kids, right there on the spot on these four areas.  No, I didn’t have time to test them and of course we weren’t told at the beginning of the year that we would have to give them a grade in these specific areas.  So, I paged through my grade book, looked at the students’ notebooks and old tests and came up with what I thought were fair grades even though I wasn’t completely comfortable with my methods.  Twenty minutes after I handed my grades in to the Thai homeroom teacher she came and found me.  She started going off in Thai and all I could understand was “no good” “no have” “no, no, no.”  I kind of got the gist of what she was saying; she didn’t like the way I graded.  I had to change all my low grades to high grades, the kids who deserved 5/10 needed to have at least a 7/10.  So I sat with a whiteout pen and erased every grade under 7 and then without even looking up who the student was (their names were in Thai on the sheet) I gave them a seven or higher.  I didn’t even feel guilty or bad about it because like I learned from day one, T.I.T. This Is Thailand.  
-Forfeiting Future Notice.  Future notice simply does not exist here.  I learned that on my first day of school when I was handed my lesson plans ten minutes before class.  I also learned that when we were supposed to have two teacher in-service days, but they were changed to regular teaching days the day before.  Also the time when I was told the day before about the class field trip.  Or that Thursday when we were told we had to attend a teacher training course on that Saturday.  Also last week when our school changed our last day of work from the 18th to the 23rd of March.  Oh and all those times when I went to class and was handed some random test and told to explain it and give it to my kids, right then and there.  There are a million other instances of finding things out days, hours or seconds before they’re about to take place.  I thought CIEE was exaggerating when they said it’s the Thai way to plan things on the fly.  It seems really hard for me to believe that they don’t have a rough school schedule outlining things like days off, midterms, finals, and the last day of school, but they really don’t.  They plan weeks and days in advance.  At a meeting in December one of the teachers asked what days in January we had off for holiday and our coordinator answered, “That’s next year, so we will talk about that then.”  Last week I got an email hinting about a day off and I wasn’t actually told about it until I went around asking other teachers and our coordinator what that was all about.  Apparently it’s a holiday that happens on the same date every year, but they failed to put it on our holiday calendar.  I’m seriously starting to wonder if there are permanent records and documents anywhere in Thailand.  I’m pretty sure whenever something has to be communicated or a schedule has to be made someone just plops down at a computer and tries to pull everything from memory.  At first I was bothered by being in the dark all the time, but now I’m just plain used to it.  
  -Uniformity through uniforms.  Where grades fail to matter uniforms pick up the slack.  Each day has it’s own color or uniform attached to it.  Monday is yellow, Tuesday is pink, Wednesday is Hawaiian shirt day, Thursday is purple and Friday is sports day.  The students also have to wear scout uniforms on Thursday instead of purple.  There are also different shoes for different days, black for Mon, Tues, Thurs and white sneakers on Wed and Fri.  Each student has the same haircut too.  Boys have short hair that goes into a fade and girls have hair just below their chins.  The girls also wear a blue or white bow in their hair depending on what grade they’re in.  I always see teachers giving their students a hard time about their haircuts and styles.  If a student accidentally wears the wrong uniform they’re usually made fun of for the most part of the day.  Every time a different teacher walks by and sees them wearing the wrong shirt they make a comment and laugh with the homeroom teacher, which causes their classmates to then make fun of them too.  Teachers also have to stick to the uniforms or they are destined to be the topic of lunchtime gossip.  The first Wednesday of school I didn’t have a Hawaiian shirt and my homeroom teacher must have told me a dozen times that I needed to buy one.  She doesn’t speak English so her telling me was more like her pointing to her shirt a lot and pointing North to where the school store is.  She also took me around to other teachers who spoke English to tell me to buy one.  We also had to buy Friday sports day uniforms that consisted of an itchy blue polo and tight, hot and heavy dark blue polyester pants.  I would wear the Hawaiian shirt every day if I didn’t have to wear those pants on Fridays.  Once the big sports day competition arrived (think track and field day in elementary school) we had to buy another jersey in our team’s color.  Mine is green and I actually like it a lot.  I remember bitching about it at the time because I didn’t feel like shelling out more cash on another uncomfortable polo, but it turned out to be more like a soccer jersey.  Now I wear that every Friday and whenever I’m told to wear the polo I just say I don’t have one.  It’s crazy how much they care about uniforms.  It’s actually the one aspect of school that you get relatively future notice about.  A day or two before the field trips or special days I’m told in English (a lot of messages are told to me in Thai which results in confusion and lack of understanding) to wear my sports day outfit.  We also had a cowboy themed party for New Years where we were required to dress up in our western gear.  The Thais love, love, love cowboy culture.  
-ESL, wait what?  In the U.S.A. lot of books, lesson plans and curriculum guides are stamped with what we know as an ESL label aka English as a Second Language.  ESL materials take a different approach then plain and simple English curriculum and for good reason.  When you learned a new language, let’s say Spanish, I can bet you didn’t take the same approach as you did for English.  After all you probably weren’t a baby and surrounded by Spanish speakers.  Chances are you were older, learned from a textbook and had a nonnative speaking teacher.  Definitely not the best way to learn a new language, but decidedly not the worst either.  It’s important to have texts and guides that realize Spanish isn’t your primary language so that you can learn simple nouns, verbs and adjectives in a way that makes sense, kind of like stepping stones, instead of just pushing you off the ledge.  It is also important to learn from a native speaker, which is where most public school language programs fail.  Without a native speaker, the speaking part of the language is typically useless.  Unless the teacher is really good, there is a great chance you won’t really know how to say the words correctly with the proper accents and inflections making it really hard to communicate when you go on that trip to Mexico.  The writing and listening aspects will still have some merit, but again actually grasping everything that is being said and being able to reply will be quite difficult.  That being said, some knowledge is better than none and I’m not trying to discredit language lessons, I think it’s really important to attempt to learn new languages because it shows others that you have an interest in their culture and that is always appreciated even if you accidentally babble like a baby when you thought you were asking where the bathroom was.  Anyway, back to the main gist of this bullet point: ESL does not exist here, at least not at my school.  There is no curriculum in place to teach English in an introductory way for non-English speakers.  All of the workbooks and homework books are designed for English speakers so the concepts and flow of lessons is extremely confusing for the kids.  Also, the books are just crap.  The workbooks I’m provided with have been the main source of my reoccurring headaches.  I feel so angry and bad for my kids that they have to use these idiotic books.  My p1 kids use “Best Friends” books.  It is a workbook and a homework book combo that jumps around from topic to topic, has completely unrelated vocabulary words and stupid lesson and chapter titles and themes i.e. the dogs are sick, there are ten monkeys etc…  One week the vocabulary words were brave, toy boat, hot dog, toy store, mommy, and hurry up.  The books are also full of mistakes, which makes me think that one of our school suppliers got them really cheap and then sold them to our school to make some money.  Every lesson plan has an error in it.  It makes it confusing for the kids when they can’t figure out the right answer (because there isn’t one) and when I have to try and explain to them that the crossword puzzle doesn’t work out because the book is messed up.  At first I was pretty stressed out about the books, but then I realized I could just fly through the pointless lessons and add supplementary lessons to make everything flow together and make more sense.  I also started making more of my own worksheets and homework sheets instead of having them complete the ones filled with errors in the books.  I can only hope that my school will get better texts for next year.
It seems the curriculum should be much easier to plan for the kindergarten kids, but they have it even worse.  Each week we are assigned a really random topic to teach them like trash, air, milk, tree, winter, good and bad behavior, father’s day… the list could go on.  I agree the students should be learning about topics and subjects, but I think they should only be taught by their Thai teacher instead of both of us.  Basically they learn about trees in Thai for an hour and then I teach them about trees in English for an hour.  I think it would be beneficial if I was able to translate the key words and ideas about trees and teach with the Thai teacher and then during the English hour teach the alphabet and simple concepts like animals, colors, household objects and things of that sort.  It is ridiculously hard to teach complex lessons like good and bad behavior when the child doesn’t know anything you’re saying.  Beyond the seemingly random lessons, I have to work out of a workbook that’s designed for English speaking kindergarteners.  The workbook is way above my students’ level, which causes a lot of stress and anxiety on both their part and mine.  I struggle to explain how to complete the pages properly and most times they don’t understand and end up asking me over and over and over how to do it and still complete it wrong.  The workbook is no help with this because of how the pages are set up.  On the left-hand page there will be a word like Dog and a blank line for them to write Dog Dog Dog, but on the right-hand page there will be an incomplete sentence like Dogs like to _______ .  The students are supposed to write run, but because they are used to copying words and phrases instead they write Dogs like to.  If the workbook was set up in such a way that the students learned to copy and then to answer it would work out well, but when different types of activities are all jumbled together and there is no way to properly communicate that to my students they are bound to make mistakes, misunderstand and lose interest.  I think it’s awesome that so many countries are taking the initiative to start teaching their students English at a young age, but I think if it was went about in a more systematic and practical way the kids would get a lot more out of it.  Having native speaking teachers is a huge step in the right direction, but I think they wandered off the trail soon after that.  Until then Dogs like to dogs like to.  
-Distressing disparities.  Thai schools are in a lot better shape then I thought they would be.  For the most part they are equipped with all the important school supplies like pencils, books, whiteboards, projectors, computers and printers.  Anubanconburi also has a nice little library, gym and music room.  There is a huge auditorium where we have teacher parties and conferences and there are several play areas for the kids and a swimming pool on the larger campus across the street.  We also have a nifty finger scanner that we have to sign into each morning and air conditioner in all the rooms.  Lots of good and necessary things for a school to have, but why then is there a lack of paper, white board markers and supplementary supplies for lessons?  Paper is to Anuban teachers as food is to contestants on survivor.  It is hidden, well protected and rarely shared.  The same goes for whiteboard markers.  Under every whiteboard you’ll find dozens of markers, but none of them work.  They are just pawns.  The real ones are hidden in your purse, book bag or desk drawer.  Oh, and toilet paper.  Of course there’s none, after all we’re in Thailand.  The toilet paper also gets hidden because if you make the mistake of just setting it under your desk you’ll find it down to the last square within a couple days.  So hold onto your paper allotment and go buy art supplies with your first paycheck because there’s no way you’re getting any baht from the semester budget.  It bums me out to see all the activities, games and books that fill the shelves of my kindergarten classroom because they’re never used.  I taught my teacher how to play a few of the games so she would encourage the students to play them during free time, but it’s hard to get them away from the play dough.  The older grades are also in need of more practical hands on supplies for the classroom.  For instance there’s only one globe in the whole school that is always being shared and passed around.  Material objects that help kids see, feel and learn at the same time are really needed.  I found it pretty hard to find anything fun and useful for the classroom, but then again there could be a teacher supply store that no one is telling me about.  My friend Kandy is studying to be a teacher in the states and she sent me a pack of 4 mini dry erase boards for my class.  I use them every single day to play spelling games with the kids.  They absolutely love them.  I’ve had other teachers come in and watch my class and tell me that I’m doing a really good job and I think it’s mostly because they see how excited the kids are to learn.  I already promised away the white boards to one of the Pilipino teachers, but in the mean time I’ve had at least a dozen other teachers ask me for them.  I’ll have to send a care package of supplies for next semester.
-We like to party, and play games and have contests and dance and sing… It seems like there is always a new competition going on at Anubanchonburi.  The students are always practicing something.  This past week everyone had a waiing competition.  The students had to practice the traditional Thai greeting known as a wai.  They also had to perform other common practices in their culture like kneeling to pray with their feet under their butt and in “mermaid” style.  They also walked in a long line with their heads bowed down, which is what you do if you walk between people conversing or if you walk by someone of a higher status.  They also practiced short dialogues, which I guessed to be prayers, chants or something of the like.  Before the waiing competition everyone was preparing for the nine square competition.  Nine square is a marching activity in which every student has their own mat with nine squares on it.  There are several different marching routines that all the kids know how to say and march too.  Apparently it is supposed to help increase brain function and coordination.  The kindergarteners have a rough time staying on track, but the older kids are really good at it and have even added music and hand motions to their routines.  Before nine square and waiing we practiced every day twice a day for the Children’s day and Christmas day show.  Each grade had a different song and dance that was performed in front of parents and the community on a big stage in the center of Chonburi.  Before Children’s Day and Christmas everyone practiced their cheers and chants for sports day.  The activities never stop here.  Often times it seems like the group activities take precedence over the lessons, but I’ve noticed all the group events increase the school spirit and solidarity between both the teachers and the students.  In between all the school wide activities, there are smaller contests taking place all the time.  We are often asked to help kids study for spelling and speech competitions.  Sometimes we are even asked to help judge the speech competitions at other schools.  At first I was getting a bit dragged down by all the extra activities especially because we were often told about them a couple days before and expected to whip up amazing results, but after a few weeks I learned to embrace the crazy and just run with it.  If you practice and work hard for a few weeks it will probably pay off and if it doesn’t everyone will forget about it by the time the next contest, competition or activity rolls around.  
-Classroom control.  Imagine someone telling you to be quiet, behave, sit down, stop it, etc. in another language.  If you were surrounded by thirty of your peers and had not the faintest idea what that person was talking about, you probably wouldn’t listen.  That pretty much sums up my life with my kindergarten kids.  It is almost impossible for me to control their behavior unless they know what their doing is wrong.  I’ve tried to teach them simple manners like covering their mouth and being patient, but it hasn’t really caught on.  I’ve learned a few tricks for getting them to be quiet though.  I usually do hand motions or say body parts and everyone has to point to those parts on their body, this grabs everyone’s attention and they unknowingly stop talking and goofing off.  Or I break into song and they join in, which usually calms them down.  Other times I’ll clap and say one, two, three, zip and zip my lips.  They like things like that too because it involves clapping and motions and they understand what the desired result is.  Usually though they’re crazy and have to be disciplined by the Thai teacher.  They know that I won’t hit them or intimidate them so they definitely have less respect for me and they don’t really fear me at all.  I’ve seen my Thai teacher do some pretty crazy stuff and it always ends in a lot of tears.  I feel bad most times because I wouldn’t go about it the way she does, but at the same time she is teaching the same general lesson, be quiet, pay attention and behave, she just happens to be teaching it in a radically different way.  I’ve seen my teacher hit a kid in the face with scissors and pretend to cut his lips off.  She’s also put this one little girl high on top of a shelf in the classroom so that she couldn’t get down, because the girl just wouldn’t pay attention.  Once when we were making a craft, this one girl who is seriously naughty and rebellious stuck her hands in glue and dipped them into a bowl of seeds and started waving them around.  I told her to stop it, but she didn’t listen.  I even made her wash her hands, but she ended up doing it again and my teacher caught her.  She was so pissed off.  Number one because we have very limited craft supplies and number two because this girl is a little devil child.  Anyway, she grabbed the girl and rubbed the glue and the seeds all over her face for at least five minutes in front of the whole class and then made her go to lunch like that.  I’d have to say after that day that same girl’s behavior has improved dramatically.  I don’t know if my teacher talked to her parents or if that little glue incident got the point across, but she doesn’t act nearly as badly as she used to.
Needless to say I don’t use the intimidation approach.  I mean, how intimidating can I be?  Even when I’m yelling at them or hitting them over the head with a little notebook I’m making a funny face or trying not to laugh.  I’ve actually found hitting them on the head with some papers or their composition notebook is one of the best tactics because it causes all their classmates to laugh and they get really embarrassed.  In Thailand it is a really big deal if you “lose face” which is why it is rare for Thais to get angry, argue and raise their voice so by embarrassing the kids a little bit like that it puts them back in their place and at the same time I know I didn’t really hurt them.  My teachers tend to use what I think of as extreme versions of intimidation like shaking a kids entire desk, hitting them with rulers or making them stand on their chair for the entire class; that works for them and unlike me their kids actually listen really well and get quiet when they enter the room.  I take more round-a-bout approaches that allow me to control the kids without feeling bad about the way I acted.  Usually I write a word on the board like game, sticker, or snack.  Every time the kids are too noisy I will erase a letter.  Most times I only have to erase one or two letters and they will stay quiet for the whole class.  Once I had to erase every letter and they were so crazy I started to write a new word, ‘work,’ on the board.  I made them all write a bunch of sentences until the end of class.  I think most of them felt pretty badly about it, but thankfully it only had to happen once.  Games are my big reward.  I love playing games with them because they are actually learning something and it encourages willing participation from every single student.  After the first week of hating my p1 class I learned that it wasn’t their job to pay attention, it was my job to hold their attention.  I started to plan my lessons in ten minute blocks so that we were always doing a new activity.  I added short songs and movies to my lessons and asked for increased participation from the kids.  I also let them make choices about what activity we would do next and I let their behavior decide how class would proceed.  In the end it’s working out really well for me and I leave class feeling happy because I love my students and they love me back.  
I also got great positive feed back from one of the higher ups in the office the other day.  She came in and watched my lesson and told me in a few English and Thai words that I was doing really well.  Some of the Thai teachers have asked me if I’m staying next semester and when I shake my head no they grab my arms and squeeze me and make a frowning face.  These small gestures really mean a lot to me and they also confirm how much I feel like Anubanchonburi is my community and my workplace.  The Pilipino teacher, Nitzsan, who works in my grade 1 classroom with my Thai teacher, Teacher Now, pulled me aside on Friday and asked if I was staying.  I told her no and she looked pretty bummed.  She told me that Teacher Now thinks I’m teaching well and that if she didn’t like me she wouldn’t help me out with controlling the kids like she does.  She also said that Teacher Now had never helped out an English teacher as much as me and that she really likes me.  I honestly wanted to cry, I was so happy.  It was one of the biggest compliments I have ever received in my entire life.  The day before school started, a couple Pilipino teachers told me that Teacher Now was rough to work with.  I knew from day one that she was strict and old fashioned and that she probably wouldn’t be too warm to me, but I decided I wanted to try my hardest to get on her good side.  It really wasn’t that hard.  The first couple weeks I felt like she was testing me by interrupting me, talking to me in Thai, and telling me how to teach, but after about a month every thing changed.  Maybe I broke her down with all my smiles and “kopkunkah” (thank you) or maybe I passed whatever test she was giving me.  To be honest I really did like her after the first week because I realized whenever she was in the room the kids were quiet and would listen to me and that was what I needed.  I needed a second to be able to think, stop being nervous about teaching, and learn how to work with these little Thai devils and she gave me that.  So even though I couldn’t dicipline my students the way my Thai teachers do I realize that that is the way of the Thai school system and that’s what works for them.  I honestly don’t think Thai teachers recognize the power of positive reinforcement.  Maybe it could be integrated into their system, but maybe they don’t want it to be.  Different cultures have different ways of dealing with things and after an entire semester I’ve found a way to accept and adapt their practice to work for me.  
There a lots of other interesting aspects of the Thai education system or maybe you didn’t find these too interesting at all, but either way you’ll learn more about what the school and the kids do during the day when you watch the video I’m producing.  I’ve been filming for a few weeks now and I’m finally starting to put it all together.  I’d like to get it done within the next two weeks, but I have another more pressing video I have finish so I’m not sure if that will happen.  When it’s complete my coordinator is going to show it at one of the huge teachers’ parties so they can see what I see.  I’m pretty excited for all the Thai teachers to realize why I carry around a camera, microphone and tripod all day.  I get some pretty funny stares while I’m recording the kids at morning assembly, lunch and naptime.  

A lesson in Thai schools:

Before I arrived in Thailand, the program I signed up with provided me with a lot of information about Thailand and the school system.  I kept seeing a few pieces of advice over and over.  I was instructed to go with the flow, not worry if I didn’t know exactly what was going on, and do what I was told as best I could.  The Thai school system was described as being lax and not as uniform as American schools.  The pamphlet also said uniform protocol is rare as well as future notice and scheduling of events.  All of this sounded fine to me.  I’m pretty good at going with the flow and rolling with the punches.  Who doesn’t like the sound of a more laid back job anyway?  Apparently “laid back” wasn’t what they meant when they said lack of protocol.  My school, Anubanchonburi, is actually pretty demanding.  Of all the other teachers I’ve talked to in my program no one does as much paperwork, after hours events and teaching as we do at Anubanchonburi.  That being said, we do get paid better than all the teachers I’ve talked to as well.  Besides learning how to write lesson plans and fill out feedback forms there are many other things I’ve learned while working at Anubanchonburi.  In most ways the Thai school system is the polar opposite of America’s, but the kids, teachers and politics are pretty much the same.

-Grades are arbitrary.  Really, they don’t matter.  They matter so much that they cease to exist.  Let me explain: no student is left behind.  Nope not that ridiculous system we have in America, but another one that goes like this:  Some kids are super smart, others skim by and yet others have no idea that the sky is blue, but they all have one thing in common: they pass.  No one fails here.  We were told that at orientation and we were all quite baffled.  What’s the point of school if no one fails?  How is that fair to the kids that actually pass?  Well, it’s not, but that’s just the way it is.  Before our midterm we said something to our coordinator like, “If kids can’t fail, what grade do we give?” She looked at us with a confused face and said in a high pitched voice, “Who said kids can’t fail?! They can fail!  They get the grade they deserve, we are trying to see what level they are really at!”  We all just sat there stunned and murmured “Okay.”  The next week we all gave our midterms and sure enough some kids failed.  Then a week later our coordinator held a big meeting.  It went something like this:  Come to school an hour early in the morning to personally tutor the kids that failed, then retest them, on the retest they cannot get below a ten a.k.a. all kids must pass, no matter what.  So really if a kid fails it gives the teacher more work and sometimes that work is fruitless and they still don’t pass, but on paper they do. 

Another instance of arbitrary grades just happened to me yesterday.  I was given a packet of papers, each page had a list of my students and a subject area like writing, reading, speaking, or listening.  I was asked to grade all my kids, right there on the spot on these four areas.  No, I didn’t have time to test them and of course we weren’t told at the beginning of the year that we would have to give them a grade in these specific areas.  So, I paged through my grade book, looked at the students’ notebooks and old tests and came up with what I thought were fair grades even though I wasn’t completely comfortable with my methods.  Twenty minutes after I handed my grades in to the Thai homeroom teacher she came and found me.  She started going off in Thai and all I could understand was “no good” “no have” “no, no, no.”  I kind of got the gist of what she was saying; she didn’t like the way I graded.  I had to change all my low grades to high grades, the kids who deserved 5/10 needed to have at least a 7/10.  So I sat with a whiteout pen and erased every grade under 7 and then without even looking up who the student was (their names were in Thai on the sheet) I gave them a seven or higher.  I didn’t even feel guilty or bad about it because like I learned from day one, T.I.T. This Is Thailand. 

-Forfeiting Future Notice.  Future notice simply does not exist here.  I learned that on my first day of school when I was handed my lesson plans ten minutes before class.  I also learned that when we were supposed to have two teacher in-service days, but they were changed to regular teaching days the day before.  Also the time when I was told the day before about the class field trip.  Or that Thursday when we were told we had to attend a teacher training course on that Saturday.  Also last week when our school changed our last day of work from the 18th to the 23rd of March.  Oh and all those times when I went to class and was handed some random test and told to explain it and give it to my kids, right then and there.  There are a million other instances of finding things out days, hours or seconds before they’re about to take place.  I thought CIEE was exaggerating when they said it’s the Thai way to plan things on the fly.  It seems really hard for me to believe that they don’t have a rough school schedule outlining things like days off, midterms, finals, and the last day of school, but they really don’t.  They plan weeks and days in advance.  At a meeting in December one of the teachers asked what days in January we had off for holiday and our coordinator answered, “That’s next year, so we will talk about that then.”  Last week I got an email hinting about a day off and I wasn’t actually told about it until I went around asking other teachers and our coordinator what that was all about.  Apparently it’s a holiday that happens on the same date every year, but they failed to put it on our holiday calendar.  I’m seriously starting to wonder if there are permanent records and documents anywhere in Thailand.  I’m pretty sure whenever something has to be communicated or a schedule has to be made someone just plops down at a computer and tries to pull everything from memory.  At first I was bothered by being in the dark all the time, but now I’m just plain used to it. 

  -Uniformity through uniforms.  Where grades fail to matter uniforms pick up the slack.  Each day has it’s own color or uniform attached to it.  Monday is yellow, Tuesday is pink, Wednesday is Hawaiian shirt day, Thursday is purple and Friday is sports day.  The students also have to wear scout uniforms on Thursday instead of purple.  There are also different shoes for different days, black for Mon, Tues, Thurs and white sneakers on Wed and Fri.  Each student has the same haircut too.  Boys have short hair that goes into a fade and girls have hair just below their chins.  The girls also wear a blue or white bow in their hair depending on what grade they’re in.  I always see teachers giving their students a hard time about their haircuts and styles.  If a student accidentally wears the wrong uniform they’re usually made fun of for the most part of the day.  Every time a different teacher walks by and sees them wearing the wrong shirt they make a comment and laugh with the homeroom teacher, which causes their classmates to then make fun of them too.  Teachers also have to stick to the uniforms or they are destined to be the topic of lunchtime gossip.  The first Wednesday of school I didn’t have a Hawaiian shirt and my homeroom teacher must have told me a dozen times that I needed to buy one.  She doesn’t speak English so her telling me was more like her pointing to her shirt a lot and pointing North to where the school store is.  She also took me around to other teachers who spoke English to tell me to buy one.  We also had to buy Friday sports day uniforms that consisted of an itchy blue polo and tight, hot and heavy dark blue polyester pants.  I would wear the Hawaiian shirt every day if I didn’t have to wear those pants on Fridays.  Once the big sports day competition arrived (think track and field day in elementary school) we had to buy another jersey in our team’s color.  Mine is green and I actually like it a lot.  I remember bitching about it at the time because I didn’t feel like shelling out more cash on another uncomfortable polo, but it turned out to be more like a soccer jersey.  Now I wear that every Friday and whenever I’m told to wear the polo I just say I don’t have one.  It’s crazy how much they care about uniforms.  It’s actually the one aspect of school that you get relatively future notice about.  A day or two before the field trips or special days I’m told in English (a lot of messages are told to me in Thai which results in confusion and lack of understanding) to wear my sports day outfit.  We also had a cowboy themed party for New Years where we were required to dress up in our western gear.  The Thais love, love, love cowboy culture. 

-ESL, wait what?  In the U.S.A. lot of books, lesson plans and curriculum guides are stamped with what we know as an ESL label aka English as a Second Language.  ESL materials take a different approach then plain and simple English curriculum and for good reason.  When you learned a new language, let’s say Spanish, I can bet you didn’t take the same approach as you did for English.  After all you probably weren’t a baby and surrounded by Spanish speakers.  Chances are you were older, learned from a textbook and had a nonnative speaking teacher.  Definitely not the best way to learn a new language, but decidedly not the worst either.  It’s important to have texts and guides that realize Spanish isn’t your primary language so that you can learn simple nouns, verbs and adjectives in a way that makes sense, kind of like stepping stones, instead of just pushing you off the ledge.  It is also important to learn from a native speaker, which is where most public school language programs fail.  Without a native speaker, the speaking part of the language is typically useless.  Unless the teacher is really good, there is a great chance you won’t really know how to say the words correctly with the proper accents and inflections making it really hard to communicate when you go on that trip to Mexico.  The writing and listening aspects will still have some merit, but again actually grasping everything that is being said and being able to reply will be quite difficult.  That being said, some knowledge is better than none and I’m not trying to discredit language lessons, I think it’s really important to attempt to learn new languages because it shows others that you have an interest in their culture and that is always appreciated even if you accidentally babble like a baby when you thought you were asking where the bathroom was.  Anyway, back to the main gist of this bullet point: ESL does not exist here, at least not at my school.  There is no curriculum in place to teach English in an introductory way for non-English speakers.  All of the workbooks and homework books are designed for English speakers so the concepts and flow of lessons is extremely confusing for the kids.  Also, the books are just crap.  The workbooks I’m provided with have been the main source of my reoccurring headaches.  I feel so angry and bad for my kids that they have to use these idiotic books.  My p1 kids use “Best Friends” books.  It is a workbook and a homework book combo that jumps around from topic to topic, has completely unrelated vocabulary words and stupid lesson and chapter titles and themes i.e. the dogs are sick, there are ten monkeys etc…  One week the vocabulary words were brave, toy boat, hot dog, toy store, mommy, and hurry up.  The books are also full of mistakes, which makes me think that one of our school suppliers got them really cheap and then sold them to our school to make some money.  Every lesson plan has an error in it.  It makes it confusing for the kids when they can’t figure out the right answer (because there isn’t one) and when I have to try and explain to them that the crossword puzzle doesn’t work out because the book is messed up.  At first I was pretty stressed out about the books, but then I realized I could just fly through the pointless lessons and add supplementary lessons to make everything flow together and make more sense.  I also started making more of my own worksheets and homework sheets instead of having them complete the ones filled with errors in the books.  I can only hope that my school will get better texts for next year.

It seems the curriculum should be much easier to plan for the kindergarten kids, but they have it even worse.  Each week we are assigned a really random topic to teach them like trash, air, milk, tree, winter, good and bad behavior, father’s day… the list could go on.  I agree the students should be learning about topics and subjects, but I think they should only be taught by their Thai teacher instead of both of us.  Basically they learn about trees in Thai for an hour and then I teach them about trees in English for an hour.  I think it would be beneficial if I was able to translate the key words and ideas about trees and teach with the Thai teacher and then during the English hour teach the alphabet and simple concepts like animals, colors, household objects and things of that sort.  It is ridiculously hard to teach complex lessons like good and bad behavior when the child doesn’t know anything you’re saying.  Beyond the seemingly random lessons, I have to work out of a workbook that’s designed for English speaking kindergarteners.  The workbook is way above my students’ level, which causes a lot of stress and anxiety on both their part and mine.  I struggle to explain how to complete the pages properly and most times they don’t understand and end up asking me over and over and over how to do it and still complete it wrong.  The workbook is no help with this because of how the pages are set up.  On the left-hand page there will be a word like Dog and a blank line for them to write Dog Dog Dog, but on the right-hand page there will be an incomplete sentence like Dogs like to _______ .  The students are supposed to write run, but because they are used to copying words and phrases instead they write Dogs like to.  If the workbook was set up in such a way that the students learned to copy and then to answer it would work out well, but when different types of activities are all jumbled together and there is no way to properly communicate that to my students they are bound to make mistakes, misunderstand and lose interest.  I think it’s awesome that so many countries are taking the initiative to start teaching their students English at a young age, but I think if it was went about in a more systematic and practical way the kids would get a lot more out of it.  Having native speaking teachers is a huge step in the right direction, but I think they wandered off the trail soon after that.  Until then Dogs like to dogs like to. 

-Distressing disparities.  Thai schools are in a lot better shape then I thought they would be.  For the most part they are equipped with all the important school supplies like pencils, books, whiteboards, projectors, computers and printers.  Anubanconburi also has a nice little library, gym and music room.  There is a huge auditorium where we have teacher parties and conferences and there are several play areas for the kids and a swimming pool on the larger campus across the street.  We also have a nifty finger scanner that we have to sign into each morning and air conditioner in all the rooms.  Lots of good and necessary things for a school to have, but why then is there a lack of paper, white board markers and supplementary supplies for lessons?  Paper is to Anuban teachers as food is to contestants on survivor.  It is hidden, well protected and rarely shared.  The same goes for whiteboard markers.  Under every whiteboard you’ll find dozens of markers, but none of them work.  They are just pawns.  The real ones are hidden in your purse, book bag or desk drawer.  Oh, and toilet paper.  Of course there’s none, after all we’re in Thailand.  The toilet paper also gets hidden because if you make the mistake of just setting it under your desk you’ll find it down to the last square within a couple days.  So hold onto your paper allotment and go buy art supplies with your first paycheck because there’s no way you’re getting any baht from the semester budget.  It bums me out to see all the activities, games and books that fill the shelves of my kindergarten classroom because they’re never used.  I taught my teacher how to play a few of the games so she would encourage the students to play them during free time, but it’s hard to get them away from the play dough.  The older grades are also in need of more practical hands on supplies for the classroom.  For instance there’s only one globe in the whole school that is always being shared and passed around.  Material objects that help kids see, feel and learn at the same time are really needed.  I found it pretty hard to find anything fun and useful for the classroom, but then again there could be a teacher supply store that no one is telling me about.  My friend Kandy is studying to be a teacher in the states and she sent me a pack of 4 mini dry erase boards for my class.  I use them every single day to play spelling games with the kids.  They absolutely love them.  I’ve had other teachers come in and watch my class and tell me that I’m doing a really good job and I think it’s mostly because they see how excited the kids are to learn.  I already promised away the white boards to one of the Pilipino teachers, but in the mean time I’ve had at least a dozen other teachers ask me for them.  I’ll have to send a care package of supplies for next semester.

-We like to party, and play games and have contests and dance and sing… It seems like there is always a new competition going on at Anubanchonburi.  The students are always practicing something.  This past week everyone had a waiing competition.  The students had to practice the traditional Thai greeting known as a wai.  They also had to perform other common practices in their culture like kneeling to pray with their feet under their butt and in “mermaid” style.  They also walked in a long line with their heads bowed down, which is what you do if you walk between people conversing or if you walk by someone of a higher status.  They also practiced short dialogues, which I guessed to be prayers, chants or something of the like.  Before the waiing competition everyone was preparing for the nine square competition.  Nine square is a marching activity in which every student has their own mat with nine squares on it.  There are several different marching routines that all the kids know how to say and march too.  Apparently it is supposed to help increase brain function and coordination.  The kindergarteners have a rough time staying on track, but the older kids are really good at it and have even added music and hand motions to their routines.  Before nine square and waiing we practiced every day twice a day for the Children’s day and Christmas day show.  Each grade had a different song and dance that was performed in front of parents and the community on a big stage in the center of Chonburi.  Before Children’s Day and Christmas everyone practiced their cheers and chants for sports day.  The activities never stop here.  Often times it seems like the group activities take precedence over the lessons, but I’ve noticed all the group events increase the school spirit and solidarity between both the teachers and the students.  In between all the school wide activities, there are smaller contests taking place all the time.  We are often asked to help kids study for spelling and speech competitions.  Sometimes we are even asked to help judge the speech competitions at other schools.  At first I was getting a bit dragged down by all the extra activities especially because we were often told about them a couple days before and expected to whip up amazing results, but after a few weeks I learned to embrace the crazy and just run with it.  If you practice and work hard for a few weeks it will probably pay off and if it doesn’t everyone will forget about it by the time the next contest, competition or activity rolls around. 

-Classroom control.  Imagine someone telling you to be quiet, behave, sit down, stop it, etc. in another language.  If you were surrounded by thirty of your peers and had not the faintest idea what that person was talking about, you probably wouldn’t listen.  That pretty much sums up my life with my kindergarten kids.  It is almost impossible for me to control their behavior unless they know what their doing is wrong.  I’ve tried to teach them simple manners like covering their mouth and being patient, but it hasn’t really caught on.  I’ve learned a few tricks for getting them to be quiet though.  I usually do hand motions or say body parts and everyone has to point to those parts on their body, this grabs everyone’s attention and they unknowingly stop talking and goofing off.  Or I break into song and they join in, which usually calms them down.  Other times I’ll clap and say one, two, three, zip and zip my lips.  They like things like that too because it involves clapping and motions and they understand what the desired result is.  Usually though they’re crazy and have to be disciplined by the Thai teacher.  They know that I won’t hit them or intimidate them so they definitely have less respect for me and they don’t really fear me at all.  I’ve seen my Thai teacher do some pretty crazy stuff and it always ends in a lot of tears.  I feel bad most times because I wouldn’t go about it the way she does, but at the same time she is teaching the same general lesson, be quiet, pay attention and behave, she just happens to be teaching it in a radically different way.  I’ve seen my teacher hit a kid in the face with scissors and pretend to cut his lips off.  She’s also put this one little girl high on top of a shelf in the classroom so that she couldn’t get down, because the girl just wouldn’t pay attention.  Once when we were making a craft, this one girl who is seriously naughty and rebellious stuck her hands in glue and dipped them into a bowl of seeds and started waving them around.  I told her to stop it, but she didn’t listen.  I even made her wash her hands, but she ended up doing it again and my teacher caught her.  She was so pissed off.  Number one because we have very limited craft supplies and number two because this girl is a little devil child.  Anyway, she grabbed the girl and rubbed the glue and the seeds all over her face for at least five minutes in front of the whole class and then made her go to lunch like that.  I’d have to say after that day that same girl’s behavior has improved dramatically.  I don’t know if my teacher talked to her parents or if that little glue incident got the point across, but she doesn’t act nearly as badly as she used to.

Needless to say I don’t use the intimidation approach.  I mean, how intimidating can I be?  Even when I’m yelling at them or hitting them over the head with a little notebook I’m making a funny face or trying not to laugh.  I’ve actually found hitting them on the head with some papers or their composition notebook is one of the best tactics because it causes all their classmates to laugh and they get really embarrassed.  In Thailand it is a really big deal if you “lose face” which is why it is rare for Thais to get angry, argue and raise their voice so by embarrassing the kids a little bit like that it puts them back in their place and at the same time I know I didn’t really hurt them.  My teachers tend to use what I think of as extreme versions of intimidation like shaking a kids entire desk, hitting them with rulers or making them stand on their chair for the entire class; that works for them and unlike me their kids actually listen really well and get quiet when they enter the room.  I take more round-a-bout approaches that allow me to control the kids without feeling bad about the way I acted.  Usually I write a word on the board like game, sticker, or snack.  Every time the kids are too noisy I will erase a letter.  Most times I only have to erase one or two letters and they will stay quiet for the whole class.  Once I had to erase every letter and they were so crazy I started to write a new word, ‘work,’ on the board.  I made them all write a bunch of sentences until the end of class.  I think most of them felt pretty badly about it, but thankfully it only had to happen once.  Games are my big reward.  I love playing games with them because they are actually learning something and it encourages willing participation from every single student.  After the first week of hating my p1 class I learned that it wasn’t their job to pay attention, it was my job to hold their attention.  I started to plan my lessons in ten minute blocks so that we were always doing a new activity.  I added short songs and movies to my lessons and asked for increased participation from the kids.  I also let them make choices about what activity we would do next and I let their behavior decide how class would proceed.  In the end it’s working out really well for me and I leave class feeling happy because I love my students and they love me back. 

I also got great positive feed back from one of the higher ups in the office the other day.  She came in and watched my lesson and told me in a few English and Thai words that I was doing really well.  Some of the Thai teachers have asked me if I’m staying next semester and when I shake my head no they grab my arms and squeeze me and make a frowning face.  These small gestures really mean a lot to me and they also confirm how much I feel like Anubanchonburi is my community and my workplace.  The Pilipino teacher, Nitzsan, who works in my grade 1 classroom with my Thai teacher, Teacher Now, pulled me aside on Friday and asked if I was staying.  I told her no and she looked pretty bummed.  She told me that Teacher Now thinks I’m teaching well and that if she didn’t like me she wouldn’t help me out with controlling the kids like she does.  She also said that Teacher Now had never helped out an English teacher as much as me and that she really likes me.  I honestly wanted to cry, I was so happy.  It was one of the biggest compliments I have ever received in my entire life.  The day before school started, a couple Pilipino teachers told me that Teacher Now was rough to work with.  I knew from day one that she was strict and old fashioned and that she probably wouldn’t be too warm to me, but I decided I wanted to try my hardest to get on her good side.  It really wasn’t that hard.  The first couple weeks I felt like she was testing me by interrupting me, talking to me in Thai, and telling me how to teach, but after about a month every thing changed.  Maybe I broke her down with all my smiles and “kopkunkah” (thank you) or maybe I passed whatever test she was giving me.  To be honest I really did like her after the first week because I realized whenever she was in the room the kids were quiet and would listen to me and that was what I needed.  I needed a second to be able to think, stop being nervous about teaching, and learn how to work with these little Thai devils and she gave me that.  So even though I couldn’t dicipline my students the way my Thai teachers do I realize that that is the way of the Thai school system and that’s what works for them.  I honestly don’t think Thai teachers recognize the power of positive reinforcement.  Maybe it could be integrated into their system, but maybe they don’t want it to be.  Different cultures have different ways of dealing with things and after an entire semester I’ve found a way to accept and adapt their practice to work for me. 

There a lots of other interesting aspects of the Thai education system or maybe you didn’t find these too interesting at all, but either way you’ll learn more about what the school and the kids do during the day when you watch the video I’m producing.  I’ve been filming for a few weeks now and I’m finally starting to put it all together.  I’d like to get it done within the next two weeks, but I have another more pressing video I have finish so I’m not sure if that will happen.  When it’s complete my coordinator is going to show it at one of the huge teachers’ parties so they can see what I see.  I’m pretty excited for all the Thai teachers to realize why I carry around a camera, microphone and tripod all day.  I get some pretty funny stares while I’m recording the kids at morning assembly, lunch and naptime.  

On Friday afternoon Saleem and I headed to the bus station.  We were going in the same direction as the week before so we pretty much knew the travel routine: buy van tickets to the southern bus station in Bangkok, known as Sai Tai, and then catch another van to Phetchaburi.  We got to the station and purchased two tickets for a 4:30 van or so we thought.  As the minutes rolled by we were getting restless.  It was already 4:50.  Last week our van left only ten minutes late so we were wondering what was up.  We started discussing optimal seats in the van.  It’s important to be on your game right when the van comes or you’ll be stuck in the back with little leg room and even less seat space.  I looked down at our tickets and said, “Well we’re 8a and 8b, whatever that means.”  Saleem wondered allowed, “Maybe we’re taking a bus this week?”  We both looked at each other and agreed that we probably weren’t because we asked for the same exact thing as last week and it was the same price and time.  A couple minutes later the bus that had been parked next to us for the last twenty minutes pulled out.  I looked at the number on the back and it seemed familiar, 128. “128!!” I yelled, as I looked down at our tickets.  I don’t even remember comprehending that number, but it was in my brain and there it was on the ticket.  We yelled to the parking attendant, “Sai, Tai? Sai Tai?” “Chai, chai, Sai, Tai!” He called back.  Saleem and I looked at each other and then booked it to the bus, which was about to pull out onto Sukhumvit, the major highway leading to Bangkok.  Thankfully there was traffic, so we made it to the bus and knocked on the window.  The driver opened the door and checked out tickets.  I had the most enormous smile on my face all the way back to seat 8a partially because I knew all the Thai people were thinking something along the lines of, “Damn Farang” and also because I was so relieved that again, somehow, it all worked out.  We made it to Sai Tai and then to Phetchaburi where we had the opportunity to explore Khao Luang cave. On Friday afternoon Saleem and I headed to the bus station.  We were going in the same direction as the week before so we pretty much knew the travel routine: buy van tickets to the southern bus station in Bangkok, known as Sai Tai, and then catch another van to Phetchaburi.  We got to the station and purchased two tickets for a 4:30 van or so we thought.  As the minutes rolled by we were getting restless.  It was already 4:50.  Last week our van left only ten minutes late so we were wondering what was up.  We started discussing optimal seats in the van.  It’s important to be on your game right when the van comes or you’ll be stuck in the back with little leg room and even less seat space.  I looked down at our tickets and said, “Well we’re 8a and 8b, whatever that means.”  Saleem wondered allowed, “Maybe we’re taking a bus this week?”  We both looked at each other and agreed that we probably weren’t because we asked for the same exact thing as last week and it was the same price and time.  A couple minutes later the bus that had been parked next to us for the last twenty minutes pulled out.  I looked at the number on the back and it seemed familiar, 128. “128!!” I yelled, as I looked down at our tickets.  I don’t even remember comprehending that number, but it was in my brain and there it was on the ticket.  We yelled to the parking attendant, “Sai, Tai? Sai Tai?” “Chai, chai, Sai, Tai!” He called back.  Saleem and I looked at each other and then booked it to the bus, which was about to pull out onto Sukhumvit, the major highway leading to Bangkok.  Thankfully there was traffic, so we made it to the bus and knocked on the window.  The driver opened the door and checked out tickets.  I had the most enormous smile on my face all the way back to seat 8a partially because I knew all the Thai people were thinking something along the lines of, “Damn Farang” and also because I was so relieved that again, somehow, it all worked out.  We made it to Sai Tai and then to Phetchaburi where we had the opportunity to explore Khao Luang cave. On Friday afternoon Saleem and I headed to the bus station.  We were going in the same direction as the week before so we pretty much knew the travel routine: buy van tickets to the southern bus station in Bangkok, known as Sai Tai, and then catch another van to Phetchaburi.  We got to the station and purchased two tickets for a 4:30 van or so we thought.  As the minutes rolled by we were getting restless.  It was already 4:50.  Last week our van left only ten minutes late so we were wondering what was up.  We started discussing optimal seats in the van.  It’s important to be on your game right when the van comes or you’ll be stuck in the back with little leg room and even less seat space.  I looked down at our tickets and said, “Well we’re 8a and 8b, whatever that means.”  Saleem wondered allowed, “Maybe we’re taking a bus this week?”  We both looked at each other and agreed that we probably weren’t because we asked for the same exact thing as last week and it was the same price and time.  A couple minutes later the bus that had been parked next to us for the last twenty minutes pulled out.  I looked at the number on the back and it seemed familiar, 128. “128!!” I yelled, as I looked down at our tickets.  I don’t even remember comprehending that number, but it was in my brain and there it was on the ticket.  We yelled to the parking attendant, “Sai, Tai? Sai Tai?” “Chai, chai, Sai, Tai!” He called back.  Saleem and I looked at each other and then booked it to the bus, which was about to pull out onto Sukhumvit, the major highway leading to Bangkok.  Thankfully there was traffic, so we made it to the bus and knocked on the window.  The driver opened the door and checked out tickets.  I had the most enormous smile on my face all the way back to seat 8a partially because I knew all the Thai people were thinking something along the lines of, “Damn Farang” and also because I was so relieved that again, somehow, it all worked out.  We made it to Sai Tai and then to Phetchaburi where we had the opportunity to explore Khao Luang cave. On Friday afternoon Saleem and I headed to the bus station.  We were going in the same direction as the week before so we pretty much knew the travel routine: buy van tickets to the southern bus station in Bangkok, known as Sai Tai, and then catch another van to Phetchaburi.  We got to the station and purchased two tickets for a 4:30 van or so we thought.  As the minutes rolled by we were getting restless.  It was already 4:50.  Last week our van left only ten minutes late so we were wondering what was up.  We started discussing optimal seats in the van.  It’s important to be on your game right when the van comes or you’ll be stuck in the back with little leg room and even less seat space.  I looked down at our tickets and said, “Well we’re 8a and 8b, whatever that means.”  Saleem wondered allowed, “Maybe we’re taking a bus this week?”  We both looked at each other and agreed that we probably weren’t because we asked for the same exact thing as last week and it was the same price and time.  A couple minutes later the bus that had been parked next to us for the last twenty minutes pulled out.  I looked at the number on the back and it seemed familiar, 128. “128!!” I yelled, as I looked down at our tickets.  I don’t even remember comprehending that number, but it was in my brain and there it was on the ticket.  We yelled to the parking attendant, “Sai, Tai? Sai Tai?” “Chai, chai, Sai, Tai!” He called back.  Saleem and I looked at each other and then booked it to the bus, which was about to pull out onto Sukhumvit, the major highway leading to Bangkok.  Thankfully there was traffic, so we made it to the bus and knocked on the window.  The driver opened the door and checked out tickets.  I had the most enormous smile on my face all the way back to seat 8a partially because I knew all the Thai people were thinking something along the lines of, “Damn Farang” and also because I was so relieved that again, somehow, it all worked out.  We made it to Sai Tai and then to Phetchaburi where we had the opportunity to explore Khao Luang cave. On Friday afternoon Saleem and I headed to the bus station.  We were going in the same direction as the week before so we pretty much knew the travel routine: buy van tickets to the southern bus station in Bangkok, known as Sai Tai, and then catch another van to Phetchaburi.  We got to the station and purchased two tickets for a 4:30 van or so we thought.  As the minutes rolled by we were getting restless.  It was already 4:50.  Last week our van left only ten minutes late so we were wondering what was up.  We started discussing optimal seats in the van.  It’s important to be on your game right when the van comes or you’ll be stuck in the back with little leg room and even less seat space.  I looked down at our tickets and said, “Well we’re 8a and 8b, whatever that means.”  Saleem wondered allowed, “Maybe we’re taking a bus this week?”  We both looked at each other and agreed that we probably weren’t because we asked for the same exact thing as last week and it was the same price and time.  A couple minutes later the bus that had been parked next to us for the last twenty minutes pulled out.  I looked at the number on the back and it seemed familiar, 128. “128!!” I yelled, as I looked down at our tickets.  I don’t even remember comprehending that number, but it was in my brain and there it was on the ticket.  We yelled to the parking attendant, “Sai, Tai? Sai Tai?” “Chai, chai, Sai, Tai!” He called back.  Saleem and I looked at each other and then booked it to the bus, which was about to pull out onto Sukhumvit, the major highway leading to Bangkok.  Thankfully there was traffic, so we made it to the bus and knocked on the window.  The driver opened the door and checked out tickets.  I had the most enormous smile on my face all the way back to seat 8a partially because I knew all the Thai people were thinking something along the lines of, “Damn Farang” and also because I was so relieved that again, somehow, it all worked out.  We made it to Sai Tai and then to Phetchaburi where we had the opportunity to explore Khao Luang cave. On Friday afternoon Saleem and I headed to the bus station.  We were going in the same direction as the week before so we pretty much knew the travel routine: buy van tickets to the southern bus station in Bangkok, known as Sai Tai, and then catch another van to Phetchaburi.  We got to the station and purchased two tickets for a 4:30 van or so we thought.  As the minutes rolled by we were getting restless.  It was already 4:50.  Last week our van left only ten minutes late so we were wondering what was up.  We started discussing optimal seats in the van.  It’s important to be on your game right when the van comes or you’ll be stuck in the back with little leg room and even less seat space.  I looked down at our tickets and said, “Well we’re 8a and 8b, whatever that means.”  Saleem wondered allowed, “Maybe we’re taking a bus this week?”  We both looked at each other and agreed that we probably weren’t because we asked for the same exact thing as last week and it was the same price and time.  A couple minutes later the bus that had been parked next to us for the last twenty minutes pulled out.  I looked at the number on the back and it seemed familiar, 128. “128!!” I yelled, as I looked down at our tickets.  I don’t even remember comprehending that number, but it was in my brain and there it was on the ticket.  We yelled to the parking attendant, “Sai, Tai? Sai Tai?” “Chai, chai, Sai, Tai!” He called back.  Saleem and I looked at each other and then booked it to the bus, which was about to pull out onto Sukhumvit, the major highway leading to Bangkok.  Thankfully there was traffic, so we made it to the bus and knocked on the window.  The driver opened the door and checked out tickets.  I had the most enormous smile on my face all the way back to seat 8a partially because I knew all the Thai people were thinking something along the lines of, “Damn Farang” and also because I was so relieved that again, somehow, it all worked out.  We made it to Sai Tai and then to Phetchaburi where we had the opportunity to explore Khao Luang cave. On Friday afternoon Saleem and I headed to the bus station.  We were going in the same direction as the week before so we pretty much knew the travel routine: buy van tickets to the southern bus station in Bangkok, known as Sai Tai, and then catch another van to Phetchaburi.  We got to the station and purchased two tickets for a 4:30 van or so we thought.  As the minutes rolled by we were getting restless.  It was already 4:50.  Last week our van left only ten minutes late so we were wondering what was up.  We started discussing optimal seats in the van.  It’s important to be on your game right when the van comes or you’ll be stuck in the back with little leg room and even less seat space.  I looked down at our tickets and said, “Well we’re 8a and 8b, whatever that means.”  Saleem wondered allowed, “Maybe we’re taking a bus this week?”  We both looked at each other and agreed that we probably weren’t because we asked for the same exact thing as last week and it was the same price and time.  A couple minutes later the bus that had been parked next to us for the last twenty minutes pulled out.  I looked at the number on the back and it seemed familiar, 128. “128!!” I yelled, as I looked down at our tickets.  I don’t even remember comprehending that number, but it was in my brain and there it was on the ticket.  We yelled to the parking attendant, “Sai, Tai? Sai Tai?” “Chai, chai, Sai, Tai!” He called back.  Saleem and I looked at each other and then booked it to the bus, which was about to pull out onto Sukhumvit, the major highway leading to Bangkok.  Thankfully there was traffic, so we made it to the bus and knocked on the window.  The driver opened the door and checked out tickets.  I had the most enormous smile on my face all the way back to seat 8a partially because I knew all the Thai people were thinking something along the lines of, “Damn Farang” and also because I was so relieved that again, somehow, it all worked out.  We made it to Sai Tai and then to Phetchaburi where we had the opportunity to explore Khao Luang cave. On Friday afternoon Saleem and I headed to the bus station.  We were going in the same direction as the week before so we pretty much knew the travel routine: buy van tickets to the southern bus station in Bangkok, known as Sai Tai, and then catch another van to Phetchaburi.  We got to the station and purchased two tickets for a 4:30 van or so we thought.  As the minutes rolled by we were getting restless.  It was already 4:50.  Last week our van left only ten minutes late so we were wondering what was up.  We started discussing optimal seats in the van.  It’s important to be on your game right when the van comes or you’ll be stuck in the back with little leg room and even less seat space.  I looked down at our tickets and said, “Well we’re 8a and 8b, whatever that means.”  Saleem wondered allowed, “Maybe we’re taking a bus this week?”  We both looked at each other and agreed that we probably weren’t because we asked for the same exact thing as last week and it was the same price and time.  A couple minutes later the bus that had been parked next to us for the last twenty minutes pulled out.  I looked at the number on the back and it seemed familiar, 128. “128!!” I yelled, as I looked down at our tickets.  I don’t even remember comprehending that number, but it was in my brain and there it was on the ticket.  We yelled to the parking attendant, “Sai, Tai? Sai Tai?” “Chai, chai, Sai, Tai!” He called back.  Saleem and I looked at each other and then booked it to the bus, which was about to pull out onto Sukhumvit, the major highway leading to Bangkok.  Thankfully there was traffic, so we made it to the bus and knocked on the window.  The driver opened the door and checked out tickets.  I had the most enormous smile on my face all the way back to seat 8a partially because I knew all the Thai people were thinking something along the lines of, “Damn Farang” and also because I was so relieved that again, somehow, it all worked out.  We made it to Sai Tai and then to Phetchaburi where we had the opportunity to explore Khao Luang cave. On Friday afternoon Saleem and I headed to the bus station.  We were going in the same direction as the week before so we pretty much knew the travel routine: buy van tickets to the southern bus station in Bangkok, known as Sai Tai, and then catch another van to Phetchaburi.  We got to the station and purchased two tickets for a 4:30 van or so we thought.  As the minutes rolled by we were getting restless.  It was already 4:50.  Last week our van left only ten minutes late so we were wondering what was up.  We started discussing optimal seats in the van.  It’s important to be on your game right when the van comes or you’ll be stuck in the back with little leg room and even less seat space.  I looked down at our tickets and said, “Well we’re 8a and 8b, whatever that means.”  Saleem wondered allowed, “Maybe we’re taking a bus this week?”  We both looked at each other and agreed that we probably weren’t because we asked for the same exact thing as last week and it was the same price and time.  A couple minutes later the bus that had been parked next to us for the last twenty minutes pulled out.  I looked at the number on the back and it seemed familiar, 128. “128!!” I yelled, as I looked down at our tickets.  I don’t even remember comprehending that number, but it was in my brain and there it was on the ticket.  We yelled to the parking attendant, “Sai, Tai? Sai Tai?” “Chai, chai, Sai, Tai!” He called back.  Saleem and I looked at each other and then booked it to the bus, which was about to pull out onto Sukhumvit, the major highway leading to Bangkok.  Thankfully there was traffic, so we made it to the bus and knocked on the window.  The driver opened the door and checked out tickets.  I had the most enormous smile on my face all the way back to seat 8a partially because I knew all the Thai people were thinking something along the lines of, “Damn Farang” and also because I was so relieved that again, somehow, it all worked out.  We made it to Sai Tai and then to Phetchaburi where we had the opportunity to explore Khao Luang cave. On Friday afternoon Saleem and I headed to the bus station.  We were going in the same direction as the week before so we pretty much knew the travel routine: buy van tickets to the southern bus station in Bangkok, known as Sai Tai, and then catch another van to Phetchaburi.  We got to the station and purchased two tickets for a 4:30 van or so we thought.  As the minutes rolled by we were getting restless.  It was already 4:50.  Last week our van left only ten minutes late so we were wondering what was up.  We started discussing optimal seats in the van.  It’s important to be on your game right when the van comes or you’ll be stuck in the back with little leg room and even less seat space.  I looked down at our tickets and said, “Well we’re 8a and 8b, whatever that means.”  Saleem wondered allowed, “Maybe we’re taking a bus this week?”  We both looked at each other and agreed that we probably weren’t because we asked for the same exact thing as last week and it was the same price and time.  A couple minutes later the bus that had been parked next to us for the last twenty minutes pulled out.  I looked at the number on the back and it seemed familiar, 128. “128!!” I yelled, as I looked down at our tickets.  I don’t even remember comprehending that number, but it was in my brain and there it was on the ticket.  We yelled to the parking attendant, “Sai, Tai? Sai Tai?” “Chai, chai, Sai, Tai!” He called back.  Saleem and I looked at each other and then booked it to the bus, which was about to pull out onto Sukhumvit, the major highway leading to Bangkok.  Thankfully there was traffic, so we made it to the bus and knocked on the window.  The driver opened the door and checked out tickets.  I had the most enormous smile on my face all the way back to seat 8a partially because I knew all the Thai people were thinking something along the lines of, “Damn Farang” and also because I was so relieved that again, somehow, it all worked out.  We made it to Sai Tai and then to Phetchaburi where we had the opportunity to explore Khao Luang cave.

On Friday afternoon Saleem and I headed to the bus station.  We were going in the same direction as the week before so we pretty much knew the travel routine: buy van tickets to the southern bus station in Bangkok, known as Sai Tai, and then catch another van to Phetchaburi.  We got to the station and purchased two tickets for a 4:30 van or so we thought.  As the minutes rolled by we were getting restless.  It was already 4:50.  Last week our van left only ten minutes late so we were wondering what was up.  We started discussing optimal seats in the van.  It’s important to be on your game right when the van comes or you’ll be stuck in the back with little leg room and even less seat space.  I looked down at our tickets and said, “Well we’re 8a and 8b, whatever that means.”  Saleem wondered allowed, “Maybe we’re taking a bus this week?”  We both looked at each other and agreed that we probably weren’t because we asked for the same exact thing as last week and it was the same price and time.  A couple minutes later the bus that had been parked next to us for the last twenty minutes pulled out.  I looked at the number on the back and it seemed familiar, 128. “128!!” I yelled, as I looked down at our tickets.  I don’t even remember comprehending that number, but it was in my brain and there it was on the ticket.  We yelled to the parking attendant, “Sai, Tai? Sai Tai?” “Chai, chai, Sai, Tai!” He called back.  Saleem and I looked at each other and then booked it to the bus, which was about to pull out onto Sukhumvit, the major highway leading to Bangkok.  Thankfully there was traffic, so we made it to the bus and knocked on the window.  The driver opened the door and checked out tickets.  I had the most enormous smile on my face all the way back to seat 8a partially because I knew all the Thai people were thinking something along the lines of, “Damn Farang” and also because I was so relieved that again, somehow, it all worked out.  We made it to Sai Tai and then to Phetchaburi where we had the opportunity to explore Khao Luang cave.

Read up on Sukhothai in the post below. Read up on Sukhothai in the post below. Read up on Sukhothai in the post below. Read up on Sukhothai in the post below. Read up on Sukhothai in the post below. Read up on Sukhothai in the post below. Read up on Sukhothai in the post below. Read up on Sukhothai in the post below. Read up on Sukhothai in the post below. Read up on Sukhothai in the post below.

Read up on Sukhothai in the post below.

            Remember back in grade school when you wrote your name and then after each letter you’d have to write an adjective or word that described you and began with that letter?  I feel like everyone has done that at least once.  I was pretty bad at it back in the day.  I have not one but two A’s in my name, inevitably one was always angel.  Anyway, here I am a decade later and I’m doing it again.  I decided I need to breathe new life into my blog posts.  I’m worried they’re becoming a bit drab and predictable.  My main goal is not to put you to sleep although if you’re in need of an afternoon nap and reading about my life helps you out, then so be it, read on.  Today I’m afraid you’ll stay awake though because like I said, there’s a new format going on around these parts.  I’m going to tell you all about Sukhothai, an ancient city in Thailand, by highlighting some adjectives that correspond with the city’s name, which by the way means ‘Rising of Happiness.’ 
S-SERENE.  Sukhothai is many things, but most of all it is serene.  We arrived in the early morning and the whole town was sleepy and quiet.  There was barely any traffic the whole weekend and to be honest I didn’t talk to or come across many people.  The ones I did run into were shy and soft-spoken.  There wasn’t a sound at the ruins except for the occasional call of a songbird.  As we rode the motorbike along the rural roads a calm surrounded us, even at fifty miles per hour.  The empty streets and quiet mornings and afternoons made for a truly peaceful weekend.  I may have mentioned before that I’m in the middle of a fitness program called p90x.  Basically you have to do at least an hour-long workout every day.  On weekends it always takes some accommodating because I never know where I’ll be or how much space I will have.  Initially I was worried that I wouldn’t have a proper spot to do yoga on Sunday, but when I passed a grassy area outside of a school I knew I could escape there for my ninety minutes of meditation.  I woke up early on Sunday.  The morning was cool and there was still dew on the grass.  I spread out my towel and began to move through the poses.  For the most part I keep my eyes closed if I’m doing yoga without a mirror, but after twenty minutes or so I opened my eyes and to my surprise there were over twenty people watching me.  I had no idea.  I don’t know how long they were there or where they came from, but it was a wide range of people.  A group of young boys and girls, some older middle-aged men, a few teenage girls and older grandmother aged ladies.  I had heard some cars passing, but apparently some of them stopped.  It was awkward at first, but then I decided to just close my eyes and continue.  They were so quiet that it really made no difference if they were there or not.  When I opened my eyes another fifteen minutes later they were all gone.  
U-UNDERSTATED.  I read a good bit about each place before I go to get a general idea of what to expect.  The section about Sukhothai in the guide book was all about ruins, temples and monuments.  There was little about the surrounding area of the old city.  The rural roads bordering the historical park was the real gem of the weekend.  Once Saleem and I saw a few big Buddha statues and towers we decided to leave the park and go exploring.  We wound down each round, stopping frequently to take photos or just enjoy the view. The natural beauty that surrounds the park was overwhelming.  There were miles of rice paddies and stretches of what looked to me like old moats that are now overgrown with trees and vines.  Each pond or waterway looked like it was covered with a brilliant green scum, but upon closer inspection it was actually a blanket of little green plants.  I went to Sukhothai expecting to see ruins and ancient formations, but I didn’t expect to see such breathtaking views of mountains, ponds and endless roads lined with farms.
K-KIND.  I’m really thinking of a particular person, but in general the vibe at Sukhothai was a kind one.  The woman I’m referring to owns a bungalow and restaurant near where we were staying.  On Saturday morning we stopped in to eat lunch before exploring the ruins.  We asked her if she was serving food and she said yes, but she had a worried look on her face.  We looked at the menus and wrote down our order.  A half hour passed and we hadn’t heard anything going on in the kitchen or anywhere on the property really, so Josh went downstairs to check things out.  He couldn’t find the lady.  We realized she had gone to the market to get all the ingredients for our lunch.  We felt bad, but we really didn’t have the time to waste, so we explained to her partner that we would come back for dinner instead.  On our way out we saw her coming back on her motorcycle with bags full of vegetables.  She looked crushed when she saw we were leaving, but when we told her we’d be back she lit up again and wished us goodbye.  That night for dinner I had spicy red curry tofu in a coconut soup with rice.  It was delicious.  It was probably because her main ingredient was kindness.
H-HISTORIC. Sukhothai was an early kingdom in northern central Thailand from roughly 1238-1438.  I’m not a historian so don’t let my lingo offend you.  Back in the day kingdoms were being taken over, reestablished and expanded quite often.  So even though it was a Thai empire starting in the 1200s the city dates back a long time before that.  Some sources I read said that the secession from the Khmer empire began as early as 1180.  Two Thai Rulers, Pho Khun Pha Muang and Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao came together to form a new Thai kingdom, which became known as Sukhothai.  Sukhothai is not the first Thai empire even though many sources state that.  It’s often times considered the beginning of the Thai nation only because not much was known about kingdoms prior to Sukhothai.  The dynasty lasted over 200 years and was ruled by nine kings.  The most famous king, Ramkhamhaeng, is credited for developing the first Thai script and his inscriptions are also considered the first Thai literature.  Ramkhamhaeng expanded the kingdom to include an area even larger than present day Thailand, but another hundred years later Sukhothai was absorbed by the Ayuthaya empire.  Ayuthaya is another ancient kingdom in Thailand that I blogged about here and here.
O-OBSERVANT. That’s more about Saleem and myself than the city of course.  All day Saturday and for a few hours on Sunday morning we rode along the country roads looking left and right.  We stopped countless times for photos, turned around to explore tiny lanes and even made mental maps of the landscape in order to find connecting routes to our favorite rice paddies.  While we zoomed along we had to stop for herds of cattle that were crossing the road or sometimes coming towards us.  There was a mad cow that had it out for me during one of these crossings. I was terrified, especially after my incident with the monkey that stole my fruit shake.  I don’t trust these Thai animals anymore.  We starred into the soils of countless rice paddies, time after time admiring their beauty.  We watched the sunset over one mountain range and then zoomed to another area to catch it falling just below the peaks there too.  We met cute little Thai children and got a glimpse of what rural Thailand was really about.
T-TRADITIONAL. This ties into the historical relevance of Sukhothai so I won’t go into it too much.  The old city obviously has a traditional feel because of its roots.  It is also a UNESCO world heritage site so many things are left as they once were.  There are over 21 sites and four remaining ponds in the historical park and over 70 more sites in a 5-kilometer radius.  The architecture of a majority of these temples is most typified by the classic lotus-bud chedi that features a conical spire topping a square sided structure on a three-tiered base.  That sounds complicated, but you can see it in many of the temple photos.  
H-HOLY.  All things in Thailand have an element of religion involved.  Everywhere you go you see offerings to Buddha in the form of water, incense and a dish of food.  Even on the bus there will be a photo with an offering below it.  The ruins have a calm and serene religious feel because of all the Buddha statues, monuments and monks wandering around.  It is impossible not to feel some type of connection to religion when temples surround you.  Usually I feel uncomfortable in ornate churches or things of that sort, but this is completely different. There is a certain element of modesty to the statues and temples and a welcoming air about all of it.  Some of the ideas behind the temples are really neat too.  For instance the Wat Mahathat, the largest wat in Sukhothai, is surrounded by brick walls and a moat and is believed to represent the outer wall of the universe and the cosmic ocean.  You can see this wat and it’s deteriorating pillars one of the photos above.  The Buddha statues pictured are also located in Wat Mahathat.  
A-ALIVE.  Even though it’s not rainy season the plants in Sukhothai are flourishing.  I mentioned about the tiny green leaves that cover the surface of the ponds, but that’s just the beginning.  Everywhere you look a bright green rice paddy is staring back at you.  I haven’t ever seen such a brilliant green in nature.  We passed hundreds of paddies and all the greens are slightly different yet equally bright.   And the trees, they seemed to be as ancient as the city.  Enormous trunks leading up to a brimming crown of green leaves.  Some trees had wide tops that provided endless amounts of shade while others had long weeping branches accented by heavy brown vines.  Where the manmade city was slowly deteriorating and withering away into the earth, the natural landscape was thriving, growing and expanding.
I-INDEPENDENT. Again this is referring to Saleem, myself and the motorbike we rented.  Being able to rent a motorbike anywhere in Thailand is one of my favorite things about this country.  It gives you the flexibility to do what you want when you want anywhere you want.  It usually costs $10 or less for a full twenty-four hours.  I once rented a motor scooter in the U.S. and it cost $17 for two hours and it wouldn’t go past 35 mph.  I was pissed.  This is the complete opposite.  You hand over a copy of your passport and they hand you the keys.  In my mind motor scooters are now synonymous with freedom and independence.  No more waving down tuktuk drivers, paying individual fees and having someone else tell you where they think you want to go.  The best part is when you don’t have a plan because then you can really just ride and let the road, your mind or your heart take you where it wants.   That’s exactly what Saleem and I did during our weekend in Sukhothai and we ended up coming across some beautiful scenes both natural and manmade.  We had our first real look at the rural life of Thai farmers living just outside one of the most visited historical sites in all of Thailand.  Many of them seemed shocked yet happy to see us coming down the road.  I’m guessing a lot of other travelers stick to the insides of the city walls, not us.  
            Remember back in grade school when you wrote your name and then after each letter you’d have to write an adjective or word that described you and began with that letter?  I feel like everyone has done that at least once.  I was pretty bad at it back in the day.  I have not one but two A’s in my name, inevitably one was always angel.  Anyway, here I am a decade later and I’m doing it again.  I decided I need to breathe new life into my blog posts.  I’m worried they’re becoming a bit drab and predictable.  My main goal is not to put you to sleep although if you’re in need of an afternoon nap and reading about my life helps you out, then so be it, read on.  Today I’m afraid you’ll stay awake though because like I said, there’s a new format going on around these parts.  I’m going to tell you all about Sukhothai, an ancient city in Thailand, by highlighting some adjectives that correspond with the city’s name, which by the way means ‘Rising of Happiness.’ 
S-SERENE.  Sukhothai is many things, but most of all it is serene.  We arrived in the early morning and the whole town was sleepy and quiet.  There was barely any traffic the whole weekend and to be honest I didn’t talk to or come across many people.  The ones I did run into were shy and soft-spoken.  There wasn’t a sound at the ruins except for the occasional call of a songbird.  As we rode the motorbike along the rural roads a calm surrounded us, even at fifty miles per hour.  The empty streets and quiet mornings and afternoons made for a truly peaceful weekend.  I may have mentioned before that I’m in the middle of a fitness program called p90x.  Basically you have to do at least an hour-long workout every day.  On weekends it always takes some accommodating because I never know where I’ll be or how much space I will have.  Initially I was worried that I wouldn’t have a proper spot to do yoga on Sunday, but when I passed a grassy area outside of a school I knew I could escape there for my ninety minutes of meditation.  I woke up early on Sunday.  The morning was cool and there was still dew on the grass.  I spread out my towel and began to move through the poses.  For the most part I keep my eyes closed if I’m doing yoga without a mirror, but after twenty minutes or so I opened my eyes and to my surprise there were over twenty people watching me.  I had no idea.  I don’t know how long they were there or where they came from, but it was a wide range of people.  A group of young boys and girls, some older middle-aged men, a few teenage girls and older grandmother aged ladies.  I had heard some cars passing, but apparently some of them stopped.  It was awkward at first, but then I decided to just close my eyes and continue.  They were so quiet that it really made no difference if they were there or not.  When I opened my eyes another fifteen minutes later they were all gone.  
U-UNDERSTATED.  I read a good bit about each place before I go to get a general idea of what to expect.  The section about Sukhothai in the guide book was all about ruins, temples and monuments.  There was little about the surrounding area of the old city.  The rural roads bordering the historical park was the real gem of the weekend.  Once Saleem and I saw a few big Buddha statues and towers we decided to leave the park and go exploring.  We wound down each round, stopping frequently to take photos or just enjoy the view. The natural beauty that surrounds the park was overwhelming.  There were miles of rice paddies and stretches of what looked to me like old moats that are now overgrown with trees and vines.  Each pond or waterway looked like it was covered with a brilliant green scum, but upon closer inspection it was actually a blanket of little green plants.  I went to Sukhothai expecting to see ruins and ancient formations, but I didn’t expect to see such breathtaking views of mountains, ponds and endless roads lined with farms.
K-KIND.  I’m really thinking of a particular person, but in general the vibe at Sukhothai was a kind one.  The woman I’m referring to owns a bungalow and restaurant near where we were staying.  On Saturday morning we stopped in to eat lunch before exploring the ruins.  We asked her if she was serving food and she said yes, but she had a worried look on her face.  We looked at the menus and wrote down our order.  A half hour passed and we hadn’t heard anything going on in the kitchen or anywhere on the property really, so Josh went downstairs to check things out.  He couldn’t find the lady.  We realized she had gone to the market to get all the ingredients for our lunch.  We felt bad, but we really didn’t have the time to waste, so we explained to her partner that we would come back for dinner instead.  On our way out we saw her coming back on her motorcycle with bags full of vegetables.  She looked crushed when she saw we were leaving, but when we told her we’d be back she lit up again and wished us goodbye.  That night for dinner I had spicy red curry tofu in a coconut soup with rice.  It was delicious.  It was probably because her main ingredient was kindness.
H-HISTORIC. Sukhothai was an early kingdom in northern central Thailand from roughly 1238-1438.  I’m not a historian so don’t let my lingo offend you.  Back in the day kingdoms were being taken over, reestablished and expanded quite often.  So even though it was a Thai empire starting in the 1200s the city dates back a long time before that.  Some sources I read said that the secession from the Khmer empire began as early as 1180.  Two Thai Rulers, Pho Khun Pha Muang and Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao came together to form a new Thai kingdom, which became known as Sukhothai.  Sukhothai is not the first Thai empire even though many sources state that.  It’s often times considered the beginning of the Thai nation only because not much was known about kingdoms prior to Sukhothai.  The dynasty lasted over 200 years and was ruled by nine kings.  The most famous king, Ramkhamhaeng, is credited for developing the first Thai script and his inscriptions are also considered the first Thai literature.  Ramkhamhaeng expanded the kingdom to include an area even larger than present day Thailand, but another hundred years later Sukhothai was absorbed by the Ayuthaya empire.  Ayuthaya is another ancient kingdom in Thailand that I blogged about here and here.
O-OBSERVANT. That’s more about Saleem and myself than the city of course.  All day Saturday and for a few hours on Sunday morning we rode along the country roads looking left and right.  We stopped countless times for photos, turned around to explore tiny lanes and even made mental maps of the landscape in order to find connecting routes to our favorite rice paddies.  While we zoomed along we had to stop for herds of cattle that were crossing the road or sometimes coming towards us.  There was a mad cow that had it out for me during one of these crossings. I was terrified, especially after my incident with the monkey that stole my fruit shake.  I don’t trust these Thai animals anymore.  We starred into the soils of countless rice paddies, time after time admiring their beauty.  We watched the sunset over one mountain range and then zoomed to another area to catch it falling just below the peaks there too.  We met cute little Thai children and got a glimpse of what rural Thailand was really about.
T-TRADITIONAL. This ties into the historical relevance of Sukhothai so I won’t go into it too much.  The old city obviously has a traditional feel because of its roots.  It is also a UNESCO world heritage site so many things are left as they once were.  There are over 21 sites and four remaining ponds in the historical park and over 70 more sites in a 5-kilometer radius.  The architecture of a majority of these temples is most typified by the classic lotus-bud chedi that features a conical spire topping a square sided structure on a three-tiered base.  That sounds complicated, but you can see it in many of the temple photos.  
H-HOLY.  All things in Thailand have an element of religion involved.  Everywhere you go you see offerings to Buddha in the form of water, incense and a dish of food.  Even on the bus there will be a photo with an offering below it.  The ruins have a calm and serene religious feel because of all the Buddha statues, monuments and monks wandering around.  It is impossible not to feel some type of connection to religion when temples surround you.  Usually I feel uncomfortable in ornate churches or things of that sort, but this is completely different. There is a certain element of modesty to the statues and temples and a welcoming air about all of it.  Some of the ideas behind the temples are really neat too.  For instance the Wat Mahathat, the largest wat in Sukhothai, is surrounded by brick walls and a moat and is believed to represent the outer wall of the universe and the cosmic ocean.  You can see this wat and it’s deteriorating pillars one of the photos above.  The Buddha statues pictured are also located in Wat Mahathat.  
A-ALIVE.  Even though it’s not rainy season the plants in Sukhothai are flourishing.  I mentioned about the tiny green leaves that cover the surface of the ponds, but that’s just the beginning.  Everywhere you look a bright green rice paddy is staring back at you.  I haven’t ever seen such a brilliant green in nature.  We passed hundreds of paddies and all the greens are slightly different yet equally bright.   And the trees, they seemed to be as ancient as the city.  Enormous trunks leading up to a brimming crown of green leaves.  Some trees had wide tops that provided endless amounts of shade while others had long weeping branches accented by heavy brown vines.  Where the manmade city was slowly deteriorating and withering away into the earth, the natural landscape was thriving, growing and expanding.
I-INDEPENDENT. Again this is referring to Saleem, myself and the motorbike we rented.  Being able to rent a motorbike anywhere in Thailand is one of my favorite things about this country.  It gives you the flexibility to do what you want when you want anywhere you want.  It usually costs $10 or less for a full twenty-four hours.  I once rented a motor scooter in the U.S. and it cost $17 for two hours and it wouldn’t go past 35 mph.  I was pissed.  This is the complete opposite.  You hand over a copy of your passport and they hand you the keys.  In my mind motor scooters are now synonymous with freedom and independence.  No more waving down tuktuk drivers, paying individual fees and having someone else tell you where they think you want to go.  The best part is when you don’t have a plan because then you can really just ride and let the road, your mind or your heart take you where it wants.   That’s exactly what Saleem and I did during our weekend in Sukhothai and we ended up coming across some beautiful scenes both natural and manmade.  We had our first real look at the rural life of Thai farmers living just outside one of the most visited historical sites in all of Thailand.  Many of them seemed shocked yet happy to see us coming down the road.  I’m guessing a lot of other travelers stick to the insides of the city walls, not us.  
            Remember back in grade school when you wrote your name and then after each letter you’d have to write an adjective or word that described you and began with that letter?  I feel like everyone has done that at least once.  I was pretty bad at it back in the day.  I have not one but two A’s in my name, inevitably one was always angel.  Anyway, here I am a decade later and I’m doing it again.  I decided I need to breathe new life into my blog posts.  I’m worried they’re becoming a bit drab and predictable.  My main goal is not to put you to sleep although if you’re in need of an afternoon nap and reading about my life helps you out, then so be it, read on.  Today I’m afraid you’ll stay awake though because like I said, there’s a new format going on around these parts.  I’m going to tell you all about Sukhothai, an ancient city in Thailand, by highlighting some adjectives that correspond with the city’s name, which by the way means ‘Rising of Happiness.’ 
S-SERENE.  Sukhothai is many things, but most of all it is serene.  We arrived in the early morning and the whole town was sleepy and quiet.  There was barely any traffic the whole weekend and to be honest I didn’t talk to or come across many people.  The ones I did run into were shy and soft-spoken.  There wasn’t a sound at the ruins except for the occasional call of a songbird.  As we rode the motorbike along the rural roads a calm surrounded us, even at fifty miles per hour.  The empty streets and quiet mornings and afternoons made for a truly peaceful weekend.  I may have mentioned before that I’m in the middle of a fitness program called p90x.  Basically you have to do at least an hour-long workout every day.  On weekends it always takes some accommodating because I never know where I’ll be or how much space I will have.  Initially I was worried that I wouldn’t have a proper spot to do yoga on Sunday, but when I passed a grassy area outside of a school I knew I could escape there for my ninety minutes of meditation.  I woke up early on Sunday.  The morning was cool and there was still dew on the grass.  I spread out my towel and began to move through the poses.  For the most part I keep my eyes closed if I’m doing yoga without a mirror, but after twenty minutes or so I opened my eyes and to my surprise there were over twenty people watching me.  I had no idea.  I don’t know how long they were there or where they came from, but it was a wide range of people.  A group of young boys and girls, some older middle-aged men, a few teenage girls and older grandmother aged ladies.  I had heard some cars passing, but apparently some of them stopped.  It was awkward at first, but then I decided to just close my eyes and continue.  They were so quiet that it really made no difference if they were there or not.  When I opened my eyes another fifteen minutes later they were all gone.  
U-UNDERSTATED.  I read a good bit about each place before I go to get a general idea of what to expect.  The section about Sukhothai in the guide book was all about ruins, temples and monuments.  There was little about the surrounding area of the old city.  The rural roads bordering the historical park was the real gem of the weekend.  Once Saleem and I saw a few big Buddha statues and towers we decided to leave the park and go exploring.  We wound down each round, stopping frequently to take photos or just enjoy the view. The natural beauty that surrounds the park was overwhelming.  There were miles of rice paddies and stretches of what looked to me like old moats that are now overgrown with trees and vines.  Each pond or waterway looked like it was covered with a brilliant green scum, but upon closer inspection it was actually a blanket of little green plants.  I went to Sukhothai expecting to see ruins and ancient formations, but I didn’t expect to see such breathtaking views of mountains, ponds and endless roads lined with farms.
K-KIND.  I’m really thinking of a particular person, but in general the vibe at Sukhothai was a kind one.  The woman I’m referring to owns a bungalow and restaurant near where we were staying.  On Saturday morning we stopped in to eat lunch before exploring the ruins.  We asked her if she was serving food and she said yes, but she had a worried look on her face.  We looked at the menus and wrote down our order.  A half hour passed and we hadn’t heard anything going on in the kitchen or anywhere on the property really, so Josh went downstairs to check things out.  He couldn’t find the lady.  We realized she had gone to the market to get all the ingredients for our lunch.  We felt bad, but we really didn’t have the time to waste, so we explained to her partner that we would come back for dinner instead.  On our way out we saw her coming back on her motorcycle with bags full of vegetables.  She looked crushed when she saw we were leaving, but when we told her we’d be back she lit up again and wished us goodbye.  That night for dinner I had spicy red curry tofu in a coconut soup with rice.  It was delicious.  It was probably because her main ingredient was kindness.
H-HISTORIC. Sukhothai was an early kingdom in northern central Thailand from roughly 1238-1438.  I’m not a historian so don’t let my lingo offend you.  Back in the day kingdoms were being taken over, reestablished and expanded quite often.  So even though it was a Thai empire starting in the 1200s the city dates back a long time before that.  Some sources I read said that the secession from the Khmer empire began as early as 1180.  Two Thai Rulers, Pho Khun Pha Muang and Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao came together to form a new Thai kingdom, which became known as Sukhothai.  Sukhothai is not the first Thai empire even though many sources state that.  It’s often times considered the beginning of the Thai nation only because not much was known about kingdoms prior to Sukhothai.  The dynasty lasted over 200 years and was ruled by nine kings.  The most famous king, Ramkhamhaeng, is credited for developing the first Thai script and his inscriptions are also considered the first Thai literature.  Ramkhamhaeng expanded the kingdom to include an area even larger than present day Thailand, but another hundred years later Sukhothai was absorbed by the Ayuthaya empire.  Ayuthaya is another ancient kingdom in Thailand that I blogged about here and here.
O-OBSERVANT. That’s more about Saleem and myself than the city of course.  All day Saturday and for a few hours on Sunday morning we rode along the country roads looking left and right.  We stopped countless times for photos, turned around to explore tiny lanes and even made mental maps of the landscape in order to find connecting routes to our favorite rice paddies.  While we zoomed along we had to stop for herds of cattle that were crossing the road or sometimes coming towards us.  There was a mad cow that had it out for me during one of these crossings. I was terrified, especially after my incident with the monkey that stole my fruit shake.  I don’t trust these Thai animals anymore.  We starred into the soils of countless rice paddies, time after time admiring their beauty.  We watched the sunset over one mountain range and then zoomed to another area to catch it falling just below the peaks there too.  We met cute little Thai children and got a glimpse of what rural Thailand was really about.
T-TRADITIONAL. This ties into the historical relevance of Sukhothai so I won’t go into it too much.  The old city obviously has a traditional feel because of its roots.  It is also a UNESCO world heritage site so many things are left as they once were.  There are over 21 sites and four remaining ponds in the historical park and over 70 more sites in a 5-kilometer radius.  The architecture of a majority of these temples is most typified by the classic lotus-bud chedi that features a conical spire topping a square sided structure on a three-tiered base.  That sounds complicated, but you can see it in many of the temple photos.  
H-HOLY.  All things in Thailand have an element of religion involved.  Everywhere you go you see offerings to Buddha in the form of water, incense and a dish of food.  Even on the bus there will be a photo with an offering below it.  The ruins have a calm and serene religious feel because of all the Buddha statues, monuments and monks wandering around.  It is impossible not to feel some type of connection to religion when temples surround you.  Usually I feel uncomfortable in ornate churches or things of that sort, but this is completely different. There is a certain element of modesty to the statues and temples and a welcoming air about all of it.  Some of the ideas behind the temples are really neat too.  For instance the Wat Mahathat, the largest wat in Sukhothai, is surrounded by brick walls and a moat and is believed to represent the outer wall of the universe and the cosmic ocean.  You can see this wat and it’s deteriorating pillars one of the photos above.  The Buddha statues pictured are also located in Wat Mahathat.  
A-ALIVE.  Even though it’s not rainy season the plants in Sukhothai are flourishing.  I mentioned about the tiny green leaves that cover the surface of the ponds, but that’s just the beginning.  Everywhere you look a bright green rice paddy is staring back at you.  I haven’t ever seen such a brilliant green in nature.  We passed hundreds of paddies and all the greens are slightly different yet equally bright.   And the trees, they seemed to be as ancient as the city.  Enormous trunks leading up to a brimming crown of green leaves.  Some trees had wide tops that provided endless amounts of shade while others had long weeping branches accented by heavy brown vines.  Where the manmade city was slowly deteriorating and withering away into the earth, the natural landscape was thriving, growing and expanding.
I-INDEPENDENT. Again this is referring to Saleem, myself and the motorbike we rented.  Being able to rent a motorbike anywhere in Thailand is one of my favorite things about this country.  It gives you the flexibility to do what you want when you want anywhere you want.  It usually costs $10 or less for a full twenty-four hours.  I once rented a motor scooter in the U.S. and it cost $17 for two hours and it wouldn’t go past 35 mph.  I was pissed.  This is the complete opposite.  You hand over a copy of your passport and they hand you the keys.  In my mind motor scooters are now synonymous with freedom and independence.  No more waving down tuktuk drivers, paying individual fees and having someone else tell you where they think you want to go.  The best part is when you don’t have a plan because then you can really just ride and let the road, your mind or your heart take you where it wants.   That’s exactly what Saleem and I did during our weekend in Sukhothai and we ended up coming across some beautiful scenes both natural and manmade.  We had our first real look at the rural life of Thai farmers living just outside one of the most visited historical sites in all of Thailand.  Many of them seemed shocked yet happy to see us coming down the road.  I’m guessing a lot of other travelers stick to the insides of the city walls, not us.  
            Remember back in grade school when you wrote your name and then after each letter you’d have to write an adjective or word that described you and began with that letter?  I feel like everyone has done that at least once.  I was pretty bad at it back in the day.  I have not one but two A’s in my name, inevitably one was always angel.  Anyway, here I am a decade later and I’m doing it again.  I decided I need to breathe new life into my blog posts.  I’m worried they’re becoming a bit drab and predictable.  My main goal is not to put you to sleep although if you’re in need of an afternoon nap and reading about my life helps you out, then so be it, read on.  Today I’m afraid you’ll stay awake though because like I said, there’s a new format going on around these parts.  I’m going to tell you all about Sukhothai, an ancient city in Thailand, by highlighting some adjectives that correspond with the city’s name, which by the way means ‘Rising of Happiness.’ 
S-SERENE.  Sukhothai is many things, but most of all it is serene.  We arrived in the early morning and the whole town was sleepy and quiet.  There was barely any traffic the whole weekend and to be honest I didn’t talk to or come across many people.  The ones I did run into were shy and soft-spoken.  There wasn’t a sound at the ruins except for the occasional call of a songbird.  As we rode the motorbike along the rural roads a calm surrounded us, even at fifty miles per hour.  The empty streets and quiet mornings and afternoons made for a truly peaceful weekend.  I may have mentioned before that I’m in the middle of a fitness program called p90x.  Basically you have to do at least an hour-long workout every day.  On weekends it always takes some accommodating because I never know where I’ll be or how much space I will have.  Initially I was worried that I wouldn’t have a proper spot to do yoga on Sunday, but when I passed a grassy area outside of a school I knew I could escape there for my ninety minutes of meditation.  I woke up early on Sunday.  The morning was cool and there was still dew on the grass.  I spread out my towel and began to move through the poses.  For the most part I keep my eyes closed if I’m doing yoga without a mirror, but after twenty minutes or so I opened my eyes and to my surprise there were over twenty people watching me.  I had no idea.  I don’t know how long they were there or where they came from, but it was a wide range of people.  A group of young boys and girls, some older middle-aged men, a few teenage girls and older grandmother aged ladies.  I had heard some cars passing, but apparently some of them stopped.  It was awkward at first, but then I decided to just close my eyes and continue.  They were so quiet that it really made no difference if they were there or not.  When I opened my eyes another fifteen minutes later they were all gone.  
U-UNDERSTATED.  I read a good bit about each place before I go to get a general idea of what to expect.  The section about Sukhothai in the guide book was all about ruins, temples and monuments.  There was little about the surrounding area of the old city.  The rural roads bordering the historical park was the real gem of the weekend.  Once Saleem and I saw a few big Buddha statues and towers we decided to leave the park and go exploring.  We wound down each round, stopping frequently to take photos or just enjoy the view. The natural beauty that surrounds the park was overwhelming.  There were miles of rice paddies and stretches of what looked to me like old moats that are now overgrown with trees and vines.  Each pond or waterway looked like it was covered with a brilliant green scum, but upon closer inspection it was actually a blanket of little green plants.  I went to Sukhothai expecting to see ruins and ancient formations, but I didn’t expect to see such breathtaking views of mountains, ponds and endless roads lined with farms.
K-KIND.  I’m really thinking of a particular person, but in general the vibe at Sukhothai was a kind one.  The woman I’m referring to owns a bungalow and restaurant near where we were staying.  On Saturday morning we stopped in to eat lunch before exploring the ruins.  We asked her if she was serving food and she said yes, but she had a worried look on her face.  We looked at the menus and wrote down our order.  A half hour passed and we hadn’t heard anything going on in the kitchen or anywhere on the property really, so Josh went downstairs to check things out.  He couldn’t find the lady.  We realized she had gone to the market to get all the ingredients for our lunch.  We felt bad, but we really didn’t have the time to waste, so we explained to her partner that we would come back for dinner instead.  On our way out we saw her coming back on her motorcycle with bags full of vegetables.  She looked crushed when she saw we were leaving, but when we told her we’d be back she lit up again and wished us goodbye.  That night for dinner I had spicy red curry tofu in a coconut soup with rice.  It was delicious.  It was probably because her main ingredient was kindness.
H-HISTORIC. Sukhothai was an early kingdom in northern central Thailand from roughly 1238-1438.  I’m not a historian so don’t let my lingo offend you.  Back in the day kingdoms were being taken over, reestablished and expanded quite often.  So even though it was a Thai empire starting in the 1200s the city dates back a long time before that.  Some sources I read said that the secession from the Khmer empire began as early as 1180.  Two Thai Rulers, Pho Khun Pha Muang and Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao came together to form a new Thai kingdom, which became known as Sukhothai.  Sukhothai is not the first Thai empire even though many sources state that.  It’s often times considered the beginning of the Thai nation only because not much was known about kingdoms prior to Sukhothai.  The dynasty lasted over 200 years and was ruled by nine kings.  The most famous king, Ramkhamhaeng, is credited for developing the first Thai script and his inscriptions are also considered the first Thai literature.  Ramkhamhaeng expanded the kingdom to include an area even larger than present day Thailand, but another hundred years later Sukhothai was absorbed by the Ayuthaya empire.  Ayuthaya is another ancient kingdom in Thailand that I blogged about here and here.
O-OBSERVANT. That’s more about Saleem and myself than the city of course.  All day Saturday and for a few hours on Sunday morning we rode along the country roads looking left and right.  We stopped countless times for photos, turned around to explore tiny lanes and even made mental maps of the landscape in order to find connecting routes to our favorite rice paddies.  While we zoomed along we had to stop for herds of cattle that were crossing the road or sometimes coming towards us.  There was a mad cow that had it out for me during one of these crossings. I was terrified, especially after my incident with the monkey that stole my fruit shake.  I don’t trust these Thai animals anymore.  We starred into the soils of countless rice paddies, time after time admiring their beauty.  We watched the sunset over one mountain range and then zoomed to another area to catch it falling just below the peaks there too.  We met cute little Thai children and got a glimpse of what rural Thailand was really about.
T-TRADITIONAL. This ties into the historical relevance of Sukhothai so I won’t go into it too much.  The old city obviously has a traditional feel because of its roots.  It is also a UNESCO world heritage site so many things are left as they once were.  There are over 21 sites and four remaining ponds in the historical park and over 70 more sites in a 5-kilometer radius.  The architecture of a majority of these temples is most typified by the classic lotus-bud chedi that features a conical spire topping a square sided structure on a three-tiered base.  That sounds complicated, but you can see it in many of the temple photos.  
H-HOLY.  All things in Thailand have an element of religion involved.  Everywhere you go you see offerings to Buddha in the form of water, incense and a dish of food.  Even on the bus there will be a photo with an offering below it.  The ruins have a calm and serene religious feel because of all the Buddha statues, monuments and monks wandering around.  It is impossible not to feel some type of connection to religion when temples surround you.  Usually I feel uncomfortable in ornate churches or things of that sort, but this is completely different. There is a certain element of modesty to the statues and temples and a welcoming air about all of it.  Some of the ideas behind the temples are really neat too.  For instance the Wat Mahathat, the largest wat in Sukhothai, is surrounded by brick walls and a moat and is believed to represent the outer wall of the universe and the cosmic ocean.  You can see this wat and it’s deteriorating pillars one of the photos above.  The Buddha statues pictured are also located in Wat Mahathat.  
A-ALIVE.  Even though it’s not rainy season the plants in Sukhothai are flourishing.  I mentioned about the tiny green leaves that cover the surface of the ponds, but that’s just the beginning.  Everywhere you look a bright green rice paddy is staring back at you.  I haven’t ever seen such a brilliant green in nature.  We passed hundreds of paddies and all the greens are slightly different yet equally bright.   And the trees, they seemed to be as ancient as the city.  Enormous trunks leading up to a brimming crown of green leaves.  Some trees had wide tops that provided endless amounts of shade while others had long weeping branches accented by heavy brown vines.  Where the manmade city was slowly deteriorating and withering away into the earth, the natural landscape was thriving, growing and expanding.
I-INDEPENDENT. Again this is referring to Saleem, myself and the motorbike we rented.  Being able to rent a motorbike anywhere in Thailand is one of my favorite things about this country.  It gives you the flexibility to do what you want when you want anywhere you want.  It usually costs $10 or less for a full twenty-four hours.  I once rented a motor scooter in the U.S. and it cost $17 for two hours and it wouldn’t go past 35 mph.  I was pissed.  This is the complete opposite.  You hand over a copy of your passport and they hand you the keys.  In my mind motor scooters are now synonymous with freedom and independence.  No more waving down tuktuk drivers, paying individual fees and having someone else tell you where they think you want to go.  The best part is when you don’t have a plan because then you can really just ride and let the road, your mind or your heart take you where it wants.   That’s exactly what Saleem and I did during our weekend in Sukhothai and we ended up coming across some beautiful scenes both natural and manmade.  We had our first real look at the rural life of Thai farmers living just outside one of the most visited historical sites in all of Thailand.  Many of them seemed shocked yet happy to see us coming down the road.  I’m guessing a lot of other travelers stick to the insides of the city walls, not us.  
            Remember back in grade school when you wrote your name and then after each letter you’d have to write an adjective or word that described you and began with that letter?  I feel like everyone has done that at least once.  I was pretty bad at it back in the day.  I have not one but two A’s in my name, inevitably one was always angel.  Anyway, here I am a decade later and I’m doing it again.  I decided I need to breathe new life into my blog posts.  I’m worried they’re becoming a bit drab and predictable.  My main goal is not to put you to sleep although if you’re in need of an afternoon nap and reading about my life helps you out, then so be it, read on.  Today I’m afraid you’ll stay awake though because like I said, there’s a new format going on around these parts.  I’m going to tell you all about Sukhothai, an ancient city in Thailand, by highlighting some adjectives that correspond with the city’s name, which by the way means ‘Rising of Happiness.’ 
S-SERENE.  Sukhothai is many things, but most of all it is serene.  We arrived in the early morning and the whole town was sleepy and quiet.  There was barely any traffic the whole weekend and to be honest I didn’t talk to or come across many people.  The ones I did run into were shy and soft-spoken.  There wasn’t a sound at the ruins except for the occasional call of a songbird.  As we rode the motorbike along the rural roads a calm surrounded us, even at fifty miles per hour.  The empty streets and quiet mornings and afternoons made for a truly peaceful weekend.  I may have mentioned before that I’m in the middle of a fitness program called p90x.  Basically you have to do at least an hour-long workout every day.  On weekends it always takes some accommodating because I never know where I’ll be or how much space I will have.  Initially I was worried that I wouldn’t have a proper spot to do yoga on Sunday, but when I passed a grassy area outside of a school I knew I could escape there for my ninety minutes of meditation.  I woke up early on Sunday.  The morning was cool and there was still dew on the grass.  I spread out my towel and began to move through the poses.  For the most part I keep my eyes closed if I’m doing yoga without a mirror, but after twenty minutes or so I opened my eyes and to my surprise there were over twenty people watching me.  I had no idea.  I don’t know how long they were there or where they came from, but it was a wide range of people.  A group of young boys and girls, some older middle-aged men, a few teenage girls and older grandmother aged ladies.  I had heard some cars passing, but apparently some of them stopped.  It was awkward at first, but then I decided to just close my eyes and continue.  They were so quiet that it really made no difference if they were there or not.  When I opened my eyes another fifteen minutes later they were all gone.  
U-UNDERSTATED.  I read a good bit about each place before I go to get a general idea of what to expect.  The section about Sukhothai in the guide book was all about ruins, temples and monuments.  There was little about the surrounding area of the old city.  The rural roads bordering the historical park was the real gem of the weekend.  Once Saleem and I saw a few big Buddha statues and towers we decided to leave the park and go exploring.  We wound down each round, stopping frequently to take photos or just enjoy the view. The natural beauty that surrounds the park was overwhelming.  There were miles of rice paddies and stretches of what looked to me like old moats that are now overgrown with trees and vines.  Each pond or waterway looked like it was covered with a brilliant green scum, but upon closer inspection it was actually a blanket of little green plants.  I went to Sukhothai expecting to see ruins and ancient formations, but I didn’t expect to see such breathtaking views of mountains, ponds and endless roads lined with farms.
K-KIND.  I’m really thinking of a particular person, but in general the vibe at Sukhothai was a kind one.  The woman I’m referring to owns a bungalow and restaurant near where we were staying.  On Saturday morning we stopped in to eat lunch before exploring the ruins.  We asked her if she was serving food and she said yes, but she had a worried look on her face.  We looked at the menus and wrote down our order.  A half hour passed and we hadn’t heard anything going on in the kitchen or anywhere on the property really, so Josh went downstairs to check things out.  He couldn’t find the lady.  We realized she had gone to the market to get all the ingredients for our lunch.  We felt bad, but we really didn’t have the time to waste, so we explained to her partner that we would come back for dinner instead.  On our way out we saw her coming back on her motorcycle with bags full of vegetables.  She looked crushed when she saw we were leaving, but when we told her we’d be back she lit up again and wished us goodbye.  That night for dinner I had spicy red curry tofu in a coconut soup with rice.  It was delicious.  It was probably because her main ingredient was kindness.
H-HISTORIC. Sukhothai was an early kingdom in northern central Thailand from roughly 1238-1438.  I’m not a historian so don’t let my lingo offend you.  Back in the day kingdoms were being taken over, reestablished and expanded quite often.  So even though it was a Thai empire starting in the 1200s the city dates back a long time before that.  Some sources I read said that the secession from the Khmer empire began as early as 1180.  Two Thai Rulers, Pho Khun Pha Muang and Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao came together to form a new Thai kingdom, which became known as Sukhothai.  Sukhothai is not the first Thai empire even though many sources state that.  It’s often times considered the beginning of the Thai nation only because not much was known about kingdoms prior to Sukhothai.  The dynasty lasted over 200 years and was ruled by nine kings.  The most famous king, Ramkhamhaeng, is credited for developing the first Thai script and his inscriptions are also considered the first Thai literature.  Ramkhamhaeng expanded the kingdom to include an area even larger than present day Thailand, but another hundred years later Sukhothai was absorbed by the Ayuthaya empire.  Ayuthaya is another ancient kingdom in Thailand that I blogged about here and here.
O-OBSERVANT. That’s more about Saleem and myself than the city of course.  All day Saturday and for a few hours on Sunday morning we rode along the country roads looking left and right.  We stopped countless times for photos, turned around to explore tiny lanes and even made mental maps of the landscape in order to find connecting routes to our favorite rice paddies.  While we zoomed along we had to stop for herds of cattle that were crossing the road or sometimes coming towards us.  There was a mad cow that had it out for me during one of these crossings. I was terrified, especially after my incident with the monkey that stole my fruit shake.  I don’t trust these Thai animals anymore.  We starred into the soils of countless rice paddies, time after time admiring their beauty.  We watched the sunset over one mountain range and then zoomed to another area to catch it falling just below the peaks there too.  We met cute little Thai children and got a glimpse of what rural Thailand was really about.
T-TRADITIONAL. This ties into the historical relevance of Sukhothai so I won’t go into it too much.  The old city obviously has a traditional feel because of its roots.  It is also a UNESCO world heritage site so many things are left as they once were.  There are over 21 sites and four remaining ponds in the historical park and over 70 more sites in a 5-kilometer radius.  The architecture of a majority of these temples is most typified by the classic lotus-bud chedi that features a conical spire topping a square sided structure on a three-tiered base.  That sounds complicated, but you can see it in many of the temple photos.  
H-HOLY.  All things in Thailand have an element of religion involved.  Everywhere you go you see offerings to Buddha in the form of water, incense and a dish of food.  Even on the bus there will be a photo with an offering below it.  The ruins have a calm and serene religious feel because of all the Buddha statues, monuments and monks wandering around.  It is impossible not to feel some type of connection to religion when temples surround you.  Usually I feel uncomfortable in ornate churches or things of that sort, but this is completely different. There is a certain element of modesty to the statues and temples and a welcoming air about all of it.  Some of the ideas behind the temples are really neat too.  For instance the Wat Mahathat, the largest wat in Sukhothai, is surrounded by brick walls and a moat and is believed to represent the outer wall of the universe and the cosmic ocean.  You can see this wat and it’s deteriorating pillars one of the photos above.  The Buddha statues pictured are also located in Wat Mahathat.  
A-ALIVE.  Even though it’s not rainy season the plants in Sukhothai are flourishing.  I mentioned about the tiny green leaves that cover the surface of the ponds, but that’s just the beginning.  Everywhere you look a bright green rice paddy is staring back at you.  I haven’t ever seen such a brilliant green in nature.  We passed hundreds of paddies and all the greens are slightly different yet equally bright.   And the trees, they seemed to be as ancient as the city.  Enormous trunks leading up to a brimming crown of green leaves.  Some trees had wide tops that provided endless amounts of shade while others had long weeping branches accented by heavy brown vines.  Where the manmade city was slowly deteriorating and withering away into the earth, the natural landscape was thriving, growing and expanding.
I-INDEPENDENT. Again this is referring to Saleem, myself and the motorbike we rented.  Being able to rent a motorbike anywhere in Thailand is one of my favorite things about this country.  It gives you the flexibility to do what you want when you want anywhere you want.  It usually costs $10 or less for a full twenty-four hours.  I once rented a motor scooter in the U.S. and it cost $17 for two hours and it wouldn’t go past 35 mph.  I was pissed.  This is the complete opposite.  You hand over a copy of your passport and they hand you the keys.  In my mind motor scooters are now synonymous with freedom and independence.  No more waving down tuktuk drivers, paying individual fees and having someone else tell you where they think you want to go.  The best part is when you don’t have a plan because then you can really just ride and let the road, your mind or your heart take you where it wants.   That’s exactly what Saleem and I did during our weekend in Sukhothai and we ended up coming across some beautiful scenes both natural and manmade.  We had our first real look at the rural life of Thai farmers living just outside one of the most visited historical sites in all of Thailand.  Many of them seemed shocked yet happy to see us coming down the road.  I’m guessing a lot of other travelers stick to the insides of the city walls, not us.  
            Remember back in grade school when you wrote your name and then after each letter you’d have to write an adjective or word that described you and began with that letter?  I feel like everyone has done that at least once.  I was pretty bad at it back in the day.  I have not one but two A’s in my name, inevitably one was always angel.  Anyway, here I am a decade later and I’m doing it again.  I decided I need to breathe new life into my blog posts.  I’m worried they’re becoming a bit drab and predictable.  My main goal is not to put you to sleep although if you’re in need of an afternoon nap and reading about my life helps you out, then so be it, read on.  Today I’m afraid you’ll stay awake though because like I said, there’s a new format going on around these parts.  I’m going to tell you all about Sukhothai, an ancient city in Thailand, by highlighting some adjectives that correspond with the city’s name, which by the way means ‘Rising of Happiness.’ 
S-SERENE.  Sukhothai is many things, but most of all it is serene.  We arrived in the early morning and the whole town was sleepy and quiet.  There was barely any traffic the whole weekend and to be honest I didn’t talk to or come across many people.  The ones I did run into were shy and soft-spoken.  There wasn’t a sound at the ruins except for the occasional call of a songbird.  As we rode the motorbike along the rural roads a calm surrounded us, even at fifty miles per hour.  The empty streets and quiet mornings and afternoons made for a truly peaceful weekend.  I may have mentioned before that I’m in the middle of a fitness program called p90x.  Basically you have to do at least an hour-long workout every day.  On weekends it always takes some accommodating because I never know where I’ll be or how much space I will have.  Initially I was worried that I wouldn’t have a proper spot to do yoga on Sunday, but when I passed a grassy area outside of a school I knew I could escape there for my ninety minutes of meditation.  I woke up early on Sunday.  The morning was cool and there was still dew on the grass.  I spread out my towel and began to move through the poses.  For the most part I keep my eyes closed if I’m doing yoga without a mirror, but after twenty minutes or so I opened my eyes and to my surprise there were over twenty people watching me.  I had no idea.  I don’t know how long they were there or where they came from, but it was a wide range of people.  A group of young boys and girls, some older middle-aged men, a few teenage girls and older grandmother aged ladies.  I had heard some cars passing, but apparently some of them stopped.  It was awkward at first, but then I decided to just close my eyes and continue.  They were so quiet that it really made no difference if they were there or not.  When I opened my eyes another fifteen minutes later they were all gone.  
U-UNDERSTATED.  I read a good bit about each place before I go to get a general idea of what to expect.  The section about Sukhothai in the guide book was all about ruins, temples and monuments.  There was little about the surrounding area of the old city.  The rural roads bordering the historical park was the real gem of the weekend.  Once Saleem and I saw a few big Buddha statues and towers we decided to leave the park and go exploring.  We wound down each round, stopping frequently to take photos or just enjoy the view. The natural beauty that surrounds the park was overwhelming.  There were miles of rice paddies and stretches of what looked to me like old moats that are now overgrown with trees and vines.  Each pond or waterway looked like it was covered with a brilliant green scum, but upon closer inspection it was actually a blanket of little green plants.  I went to Sukhothai expecting to see ruins and ancient formations, but I didn’t expect to see such breathtaking views of mountains, ponds and endless roads lined with farms.
K-KIND.  I’m really thinking of a particular person, but in general the vibe at Sukhothai was a kind one.  The woman I’m referring to owns a bungalow and restaurant near where we were staying.  On Saturday morning we stopped in to eat lunch before exploring the ruins.  We asked her if she was serving food and she said yes, but she had a worried look on her face.  We looked at the menus and wrote down our order.  A half hour passed and we hadn’t heard anything going on in the kitchen or anywhere on the property really, so Josh went downstairs to check things out.  He couldn’t find the lady.  We realized she had gone to the market to get all the ingredients for our lunch.  We felt bad, but we really didn’t have the time to waste, so we explained to her partner that we would come back for dinner instead.  On our way out we saw her coming back on her motorcycle with bags full of vegetables.  She looked crushed when she saw we were leaving, but when we told her we’d be back she lit up again and wished us goodbye.  That night for dinner I had spicy red curry tofu in a coconut soup with rice.  It was delicious.  It was probably because her main ingredient was kindness.
H-HISTORIC. Sukhothai was an early kingdom in northern central Thailand from roughly 1238-1438.  I’m not a historian so don’t let my lingo offend you.  Back in the day kingdoms were being taken over, reestablished and expanded quite often.  So even though it was a Thai empire starting in the 1200s the city dates back a long time before that.  Some sources I read said that the secession from the Khmer empire began as early as 1180.  Two Thai Rulers, Pho Khun Pha Muang and Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao came together to form a new Thai kingdom, which became known as Sukhothai.  Sukhothai is not the first Thai empire even though many sources state that.  It’s often times considered the beginning of the Thai nation only because not much was known about kingdoms prior to Sukhothai.  The dynasty lasted over 200 years and was ruled by nine kings.  The most famous king, Ramkhamhaeng, is credited for developing the first Thai script and his inscriptions are also considered the first Thai literature.  Ramkhamhaeng expanded the kingdom to include an area even larger than present day Thailand, but another hundred years later Sukhothai was absorbed by the Ayuthaya empire.  Ayuthaya is another ancient kingdom in Thailand that I blogged about here and here.
O-OBSERVANT. That’s more about Saleem and myself than the city of course.  All day Saturday and for a few hours on Sunday morning we rode along the country roads looking left and right.  We stopped countless times for photos, turned around to explore tiny lanes and even made mental maps of the landscape in order to find connecting routes to our favorite rice paddies.  While we zoomed along we had to stop for herds of cattle that were crossing the road or sometimes coming towards us.  There was a mad cow that had it out for me during one of these crossings. I was terrified, especially after my incident with the monkey that stole my fruit shake.  I don’t trust these Thai animals anymore.  We starred into the soils of countless rice paddies, time after time admiring their beauty.  We watched the sunset over one mountain range and then zoomed to another area to catch it falling just below the peaks there too.  We met cute little Thai children and got a glimpse of what rural Thailand was really about.
T-TRADITIONAL. This ties into the historical relevance of Sukhothai so I won’t go into it too much.  The old city obviously has a traditional feel because of its roots.  It is also a UNESCO world heritage site so many things are left as they once were.  There are over 21 sites and four remaining ponds in the historical park and over 70 more sites in a 5-kilometer radius.  The architecture of a majority of these temples is most typified by the classic lotus-bud chedi that features a conical spire topping a square sided structure on a three-tiered base.  That sounds complicated, but you can see it in many of the temple photos.  
H-HOLY.  All things in Thailand have an element of religion involved.  Everywhere you go you see offerings to Buddha in the form of water, incense and a dish of food.  Even on the bus there will be a photo with an offering below it.  The ruins have a calm and serene religious feel because of all the Buddha statues, monuments and monks wandering around.  It is impossible not to feel some type of connection to religion when temples surround you.  Usually I feel uncomfortable in ornate churches or things of that sort, but this is completely different. There is a certain element of modesty to the statues and temples and a welcoming air about all of it.  Some of the ideas behind the temples are really neat too.  For instance the Wat Mahathat, the largest wat in Sukhothai, is surrounded by brick walls and a moat and is believed to represent the outer wall of the universe and the cosmic ocean.  You can see this wat and it’s deteriorating pillars one of the photos above.  The Buddha statues pictured are also located in Wat Mahathat.  
A-ALIVE.  Even though it’s not rainy season the plants in Sukhothai are flourishing.  I mentioned about the tiny green leaves that cover the surface of the ponds, but that’s just the beginning.  Everywhere you look a bright green rice paddy is staring back at you.  I haven’t ever seen such a brilliant green in nature.  We passed hundreds of paddies and all the greens are slightly different yet equally bright.   And the trees, they seemed to be as ancient as the city.  Enormous trunks leading up to a brimming crown of green leaves.  Some trees had wide tops that provided endless amounts of shade while others had long weeping branches accented by heavy brown vines.  Where the manmade city was slowly deteriorating and withering away into the earth, the natural landscape was thriving, growing and expanding.
I-INDEPENDENT. Again this is referring to Saleem, myself and the motorbike we rented.  Being able to rent a motorbike anywhere in Thailand is one of my favorite things about this country.  It gives you the flexibility to do what you want when you want anywhere you want.  It usually costs $10 or less for a full twenty-four hours.  I once rented a motor scooter in the U.S. and it cost $17 for two hours and it wouldn’t go past 35 mph.  I was pissed.  This is the complete opposite.  You hand over a copy of your passport and they hand you the keys.  In my mind motor scooters are now synonymous with freedom and independence.  No more waving down tuktuk drivers, paying individual fees and having someone else tell you where they think you want to go.  The best part is when you don’t have a plan because then you can really just ride and let the road, your mind or your heart take you where it wants.   That’s exactly what Saleem and I did during our weekend in Sukhothai and we ended up coming across some beautiful scenes both natural and manmade.  We had our first real look at the rural life of Thai farmers living just outside one of the most visited historical sites in all of Thailand.  Many of them seemed shocked yet happy to see us coming down the road.  I’m guessing a lot of other travelers stick to the insides of the city walls, not us.  
            Remember back in grade school when you wrote your name and then after each letter you’d have to write an adjective or word that described you and began with that letter?  I feel like everyone has done that at least once.  I was pretty bad at it back in the day.  I have not one but two A’s in my name, inevitably one was always angel.  Anyway, here I am a decade later and I’m doing it again.  I decided I need to breathe new life into my blog posts.  I’m worried they’re becoming a bit drab and predictable.  My main goal is not to put you to sleep although if you’re in need of an afternoon nap and reading about my life helps you out, then so be it, read on.  Today I’m afraid you’ll stay awake though because like I said, there’s a new format going on around these parts.  I’m going to tell you all about Sukhothai, an ancient city in Thailand, by highlighting some adjectives that correspond with the city’s name, which by the way means ‘Rising of Happiness.’ 
S-SERENE.  Sukhothai is many things, but most of all it is serene.  We arrived in the early morning and the whole town was sleepy and quiet.  There was barely any traffic the whole weekend and to be honest I didn’t talk to or come across many people.  The ones I did run into were shy and soft-spoken.  There wasn’t a sound at the ruins except for the occasional call of a songbird.  As we rode the motorbike along the rural roads a calm surrounded us, even at fifty miles per hour.  The empty streets and quiet mornings and afternoons made for a truly peaceful weekend.  I may have mentioned before that I’m in the middle of a fitness program called p90x.  Basically you have to do at least an hour-long workout every day.  On weekends it always takes some accommodating because I never know where I’ll be or how much space I will have.  Initially I was worried that I wouldn’t have a proper spot to do yoga on Sunday, but when I passed a grassy area outside of a school I knew I could escape there for my ninety minutes of meditation.  I woke up early on Sunday.  The morning was cool and there was still dew on the grass.  I spread out my towel and began to move through the poses.  For the most part I keep my eyes closed if I’m doing yoga without a mirror, but after twenty minutes or so I opened my eyes and to my surprise there were over twenty people watching me.  I had no idea.  I don’t know how long they were there or where they came from, but it was a wide range of people.  A group of young boys and girls, some older middle-aged men, a few teenage girls and older grandmother aged ladies.  I had heard some cars passing, but apparently some of them stopped.  It was awkward at first, but then I decided to just close my eyes and continue.  They were so quiet that it really made no difference if they were there or not.  When I opened my eyes another fifteen minutes later they were all gone.  
U-UNDERSTATED.  I read a good bit about each place before I go to get a general idea of what to expect.  The section about Sukhothai in the guide book was all about ruins, temples and monuments.  There was little about the surrounding area of the old city.  The rural roads bordering the historical park was the real gem of the weekend.  Once Saleem and I saw a few big Buddha statues and towers we decided to leave the park and go exploring.  We wound down each round, stopping frequently to take photos or just enjoy the view. The natural beauty that surrounds the park was overwhelming.  There were miles of rice paddies and stretches of what looked to me like old moats that are now overgrown with trees and vines.  Each pond or waterway looked like it was covered with a brilliant green scum, but upon closer inspection it was actually a blanket of little green plants.  I went to Sukhothai expecting to see ruins and ancient formations, but I didn’t expect to see such breathtaking views of mountains, ponds and endless roads lined with farms.
K-KIND.  I’m really thinking of a particular person, but in general the vibe at Sukhothai was a kind one.  The woman I’m referring to owns a bungalow and restaurant near where we were staying.  On Saturday morning we stopped in to eat lunch before exploring the ruins.  We asked her if she was serving food and she said yes, but she had a worried look on her face.  We looked at the menus and wrote down our order.  A half hour passed and we hadn’t heard anything going on in the kitchen or anywhere on the property really, so Josh went downstairs to check things out.  He couldn’t find the lady.  We realized she had gone to the market to get all the ingredients for our lunch.  We felt bad, but we really didn’t have the time to waste, so we explained to her partner that we would come back for dinner instead.  On our way out we saw her coming back on her motorcycle with bags full of vegetables.  She looked crushed when she saw we were leaving, but when we told her we’d be back she lit up again and wished us goodbye.  That night for dinner I had spicy red curry tofu in a coconut soup with rice.  It was delicious.  It was probably because her main ingredient was kindness.
H-HISTORIC. Sukhothai was an early kingdom in northern central Thailand from roughly 1238-1438.  I’m not a historian so don’t let my lingo offend you.  Back in the day kingdoms were being taken over, reestablished and expanded quite often.  So even though it was a Thai empire starting in the 1200s the city dates back a long time before that.  Some sources I read said that the secession from the Khmer empire began as early as 1180.  Two Thai Rulers, Pho Khun Pha Muang and Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao came together to form a new Thai kingdom, which became known as Sukhothai.  Sukhothai is not the first Thai empire even though many sources state that.  It’s often times considered the beginning of the Thai nation only because not much was known about kingdoms prior to Sukhothai.  The dynasty lasted over 200 years and was ruled by nine kings.  The most famous king, Ramkhamhaeng, is credited for developing the first Thai script and his inscriptions are also considered the first Thai literature.  Ramkhamhaeng expanded the kingdom to include an area even larger than present day Thailand, but another hundred years later Sukhothai was absorbed by the Ayuthaya empire.  Ayuthaya is another ancient kingdom in Thailand that I blogged about here and here.
O-OBSERVANT. That’s more about Saleem and myself than the city of course.  All day Saturday and for a few hours on Sunday morning we rode along the country roads looking left and right.  We stopped countless times for photos, turned around to explore tiny lanes and even made mental maps of the landscape in order to find connecting routes to our favorite rice paddies.  While we zoomed along we had to stop for herds of cattle that were crossing the road or sometimes coming towards us.  There was a mad cow that had it out for me during one of these crossings. I was terrified, especially after my incident with the monkey that stole my fruit shake.  I don’t trust these Thai animals anymore.  We starred into the soils of countless rice paddies, time after time admiring their beauty.  We watched the sunset over one mountain range and then zoomed to another area to catch it falling just below the peaks there too.  We met cute little Thai children and got a glimpse of what rural Thailand was really about.
T-TRADITIONAL. This ties into the historical relevance of Sukhothai so I won’t go into it too much.  The old city obviously has a traditional feel because of its roots.  It is also a UNESCO world heritage site so many things are left as they once were.  There are over 21 sites and four remaining ponds in the historical park and over 70 more sites in a 5-kilometer radius.  The architecture of a majority of these temples is most typified by the classic lotus-bud chedi that features a conical spire topping a square sided structure on a three-tiered base.  That sounds complicated, but you can see it in many of the temple photos.  
H-HOLY.  All things in Thailand have an element of religion involved.  Everywhere you go you see offerings to Buddha in the form of water, incense and a dish of food.  Even on the bus there will be a photo with an offering below it.  The ruins have a calm and serene religious feel because of all the Buddha statues, monuments and monks wandering around.  It is impossible not to feel some type of connection to religion when temples surround you.  Usually I feel uncomfortable in ornate churches or things of that sort, but this is completely different. There is a certain element of modesty to the statues and temples and a welcoming air about all of it.  Some of the ideas behind the temples are really neat too.  For instance the Wat Mahathat, the largest wat in Sukhothai, is surrounded by brick walls and a moat and is believed to represent the outer wall of the universe and the cosmic ocean.  You can see this wat and it’s deteriorating pillars one of the photos above.  The Buddha statues pictured are also located in Wat Mahathat.  
A-ALIVE.  Even though it’s not rainy season the plants in Sukhothai are flourishing.  I mentioned about the tiny green leaves that cover the surface of the ponds, but that’s just the beginning.  Everywhere you look a bright green rice paddy is staring back at you.  I haven’t ever seen such a brilliant green in nature.  We passed hundreds of paddies and all the greens are slightly different yet equally bright.   And the trees, they seemed to be as ancient as the city.  Enormous trunks leading up to a brimming crown of green leaves.  Some trees had wide tops that provided endless amounts of shade while others had long weeping branches accented by heavy brown vines.  Where the manmade city was slowly deteriorating and withering away into the earth, the natural landscape was thriving, growing and expanding.
I-INDEPENDENT. Again this is referring to Saleem, myself and the motorbike we rented.  Being able to rent a motorbike anywhere in Thailand is one of my favorite things about this country.  It gives you the flexibility to do what you want when you want anywhere you want.  It usually costs $10 or less for a full twenty-four hours.  I once rented a motor scooter in the U.S. and it cost $17 for two hours and it wouldn’t go past 35 mph.  I was pissed.  This is the complete opposite.  You hand over a copy of your passport and they hand you the keys.  In my mind motor scooters are now synonymous with freedom and independence.  No more waving down tuktuk drivers, paying individual fees and having someone else tell you where they think you want to go.  The best part is when you don’t have a plan because then you can really just ride and let the road, your mind or your heart take you where it wants.   That’s exactly what Saleem and I did during our weekend in Sukhothai and we ended up coming across some beautiful scenes both natural and manmade.  We had our first real look at the rural life of Thai farmers living just outside one of the most visited historical sites in all of Thailand.  Many of them seemed shocked yet happy to see us coming down the road.  I’m guessing a lot of other travelers stick to the insides of the city walls, not us.  
            Remember back in grade school when you wrote your name and then after each letter you’d have to write an adjective or word that described you and began with that letter?  I feel like everyone has done that at least once.  I was pretty bad at it back in the day.  I have not one but two A’s in my name, inevitably one was always angel.  Anyway, here I am a decade later and I’m doing it again.  I decided I need to breathe new life into my blog posts.  I’m worried they’re becoming a bit drab and predictable.  My main goal is not to put you to sleep although if you’re in need of an afternoon nap and reading about my life helps you out, then so be it, read on.  Today I’m afraid you’ll stay awake though because like I said, there’s a new format going on around these parts.  I’m going to tell you all about Sukhothai, an ancient city in Thailand, by highlighting some adjectives that correspond with the city’s name, which by the way means ‘Rising of Happiness.’ 
S-SERENE.  Sukhothai is many things, but most of all it is serene.  We arrived in the early morning and the whole town was sleepy and quiet.  There was barely any traffic the whole weekend and to be honest I didn’t talk to or come across many people.  The ones I did run into were shy and soft-spoken.  There wasn’t a sound at the ruins except for the occasional call of a songbird.  As we rode the motorbike along the rural roads a calm surrounded us, even at fifty miles per hour.  The empty streets and quiet mornings and afternoons made for a truly peaceful weekend.  I may have mentioned before that I’m in the middle of a fitness program called p90x.  Basically you have to do at least an hour-long workout every day.  On weekends it always takes some accommodating because I never know where I’ll be or how much space I will have.  Initially I was worried that I wouldn’t have a proper spot to do yoga on Sunday, but when I passed a grassy area outside of a school I knew I could escape there for my ninety minutes of meditation.  I woke up early on Sunday.  The morning was cool and there was still dew on the grass.  I spread out my towel and began to move through the poses.  For the most part I keep my eyes closed if I’m doing yoga without a mirror, but after twenty minutes or so I opened my eyes and to my surprise there were over twenty people watching me.  I had no idea.  I don’t know how long they were there or where they came from, but it was a wide range of people.  A group of young boys and girls, some older middle-aged men, a few teenage girls and older grandmother aged ladies.  I had heard some cars passing, but apparently some of them stopped.  It was awkward at first, but then I decided to just close my eyes and continue.  They were so quiet that it really made no difference if they were there or not.  When I opened my eyes another fifteen minutes later they were all gone.  
U-UNDERSTATED.  I read a good bit about each place before I go to get a general idea of what to expect.  The section about Sukhothai in the guide book was all about ruins, temples and monuments.  There was little about the surrounding area of the old city.  The rural roads bordering the historical park was the real gem of the weekend.  Once Saleem and I saw a few big Buddha statues and towers we decided to leave the park and go exploring.  We wound down each round, stopping frequently to take photos or just enjoy the view. The natural beauty that surrounds the park was overwhelming.  There were miles of rice paddies and stretches of what looked to me like old moats that are now overgrown with trees and vines.  Each pond or waterway looked like it was covered with a brilliant green scum, but upon closer inspection it was actually a blanket of little green plants.  I went to Sukhothai expecting to see ruins and ancient formations, but I didn’t expect to see such breathtaking views of mountains, ponds and endless roads lined with farms.
K-KIND.  I’m really thinking of a particular person, but in general the vibe at Sukhothai was a kind one.  The woman I’m referring to owns a bungalow and restaurant near where we were staying.  On Saturday morning we stopped in to eat lunch before exploring the ruins.  We asked her if she was serving food and she said yes, but she had a worried look on her face.  We looked at the menus and wrote down our order.  A half hour passed and we hadn’t heard anything going on in the kitchen or anywhere on the property really, so Josh went downstairs to check things out.  He couldn’t find the lady.  We realized she had gone to the market to get all the ingredients for our lunch.  We felt bad, but we really didn’t have the time to waste, so we explained to her partner that we would come back for dinner instead.  On our way out we saw her coming back on her motorcycle with bags full of vegetables.  She looked crushed when she saw we were leaving, but when we told her we’d be back she lit up again and wished us goodbye.  That night for dinner I had spicy red curry tofu in a coconut soup with rice.  It was delicious.  It was probably because her main ingredient was kindness.
H-HISTORIC. Sukhothai was an early kingdom in northern central Thailand from roughly 1238-1438.  I’m not a historian so don’t let my lingo offend you.  Back in the day kingdoms were being taken over, reestablished and expanded quite often.  So even though it was a Thai empire starting in the 1200s the city dates back a long time before that.  Some sources I read said that the secession from the Khmer empire began as early as 1180.  Two Thai Rulers, Pho Khun Pha Muang and Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao came together to form a new Thai kingdom, which became known as Sukhothai.  Sukhothai is not the first Thai empire even though many sources state that.  It’s often times considered the beginning of the Thai nation only because not much was known about kingdoms prior to Sukhothai.  The dynasty lasted over 200 years and was ruled by nine kings.  The most famous king, Ramkhamhaeng, is credited for developing the first Thai script and his inscriptions are also considered the first Thai literature.  Ramkhamhaeng expanded the kingdom to include an area even larger than present day Thailand, but another hundred years later Sukhothai was absorbed by the Ayuthaya empire.  Ayuthaya is another ancient kingdom in Thailand that I blogged about here and here.
O-OBSERVANT. That’s more about Saleem and myself than the city of course.  All day Saturday and for a few hours on Sunday morning we rode along the country roads looking left and right.  We stopped countless times for photos, turned around to explore tiny lanes and even made mental maps of the landscape in order to find connecting routes to our favorite rice paddies.  While we zoomed along we had to stop for herds of cattle that were crossing the road or sometimes coming towards us.  There was a mad cow that had it out for me during one of these crossings. I was terrified, especially after my incident with the monkey that stole my fruit shake.  I don’t trust these Thai animals anymore.  We starred into the soils of countless rice paddies, time after time admiring their beauty.  We watched the sunset over one mountain range and then zoomed to another area to catch it falling just below the peaks there too.  We met cute little Thai children and got a glimpse of what rural Thailand was really about.
T-TRADITIONAL. This ties into the historical relevance of Sukhothai so I won’t go into it too much.  The old city obviously has a traditional feel because of its roots.  It is also a UNESCO world heritage site so many things are left as they once were.  There are over 21 sites and four remaining ponds in the historical park and over 70 more sites in a 5-kilometer radius.  The architecture of a majority of these temples is most typified by the classic lotus-bud chedi that features a conical spire topping a square sided structure on a three-tiered base.  That sounds complicated, but you can see it in many of the temple photos.  
H-HOLY.  All things in Thailand have an element of religion involved.  Everywhere you go you see offerings to Buddha in the form of water, incense and a dish of food.  Even on the bus there will be a photo with an offering below it.  The ruins have a calm and serene religious feel because of all the Buddha statues, monuments and monks wandering around.  It is impossible not to feel some type of connection to religion when temples surround you.  Usually I feel uncomfortable in ornate churches or things of that sort, but this is completely different. There is a certain element of modesty to the statues and temples and a welcoming air about all of it.  Some of the ideas behind the temples are really neat too.  For instance the Wat Mahathat, the largest wat in Sukhothai, is surrounded by brick walls and a moat and is believed to represent the outer wall of the universe and the cosmic ocean.  You can see this wat and it’s deteriorating pillars one of the photos above.  The Buddha statues pictured are also located in Wat Mahathat.  
A-ALIVE.  Even though it’s not rainy season the plants in Sukhothai are flourishing.  I mentioned about the tiny green leaves that cover the surface of the ponds, but that’s just the beginning.  Everywhere you look a bright green rice paddy is staring back at you.  I haven’t ever seen such a brilliant green in nature.  We passed hundreds of paddies and all the greens are slightly different yet equally bright.   And the trees, they seemed to be as ancient as the city.  Enormous trunks leading up to a brimming crown of green leaves.  Some trees had wide tops that provided endless amounts of shade while others had long weeping branches accented by heavy brown vines.  Where the manmade city was slowly deteriorating and withering away into the earth, the natural landscape was thriving, growing and expanding.
I-INDEPENDENT. Again this is referring to Saleem, myself and the motorbike we rented.  Being able to rent a motorbike anywhere in Thailand is one of my favorite things about this country.  It gives you the flexibility to do what you want when you want anywhere you want.  It usually costs $10 or less for a full twenty-four hours.  I once rented a motor scooter in the U.S. and it cost $17 for two hours and it wouldn’t go past 35 mph.  I was pissed.  This is the complete opposite.  You hand over a copy of your passport and they hand you the keys.  In my mind motor scooters are now synonymous with freedom and independence.  No more waving down tuktuk drivers, paying individual fees and having someone else tell you where they think you want to go.  The best part is when you don’t have a plan because then you can really just ride and let the road, your mind or your heart take you where it wants.   That’s exactly what Saleem and I did during our weekend in Sukhothai and we ended up coming across some beautiful scenes both natural and manmade.  We had our first real look at the rural life of Thai farmers living just outside one of the most visited historical sites in all of Thailand.  Many of them seemed shocked yet happy to see us coming down the road.  I’m guessing a lot of other travelers stick to the insides of the city walls, not us.  
            Remember back in grade school when you wrote your name and then after each letter you’d have to write an adjective or word that described you and began with that letter?  I feel like everyone has done that at least once.  I was pretty bad at it back in the day.  I have not one but two A’s in my name, inevitably one was always angel.  Anyway, here I am a decade later and I’m doing it again.  I decided I need to breathe new life into my blog posts.  I’m worried they’re becoming a bit drab and predictable.  My main goal is not to put you to sleep although if you’re in need of an afternoon nap and reading about my life helps you out, then so be it, read on.  Today I’m afraid you’ll stay awake though because like I said, there’s a new format going on around these parts.  I’m going to tell you all about Sukhothai, an ancient city in Thailand, by highlighting some adjectives that correspond with the city’s name, which by the way means ‘Rising of Happiness.’ 
S-SERENE.  Sukhothai is many things, but most of all it is serene.  We arrived in the early morning and the whole town was sleepy and quiet.  There was barely any traffic the whole weekend and to be honest I didn’t talk to or come across many people.  The ones I did run into were shy and soft-spoken.  There wasn’t a sound at the ruins except for the occasional call of a songbird.  As we rode the motorbike along the rural roads a calm surrounded us, even at fifty miles per hour.  The empty streets and quiet mornings and afternoons made for a truly peaceful weekend.  I may have mentioned before that I’m in the middle of a fitness program called p90x.  Basically you have to do at least an hour-long workout every day.  On weekends it always takes some accommodating because I never know where I’ll be or how much space I will have.  Initially I was worried that I wouldn’t have a proper spot to do yoga on Sunday, but when I passed a grassy area outside of a school I knew I could escape there for my ninety minutes of meditation.  I woke up early on Sunday.  The morning was cool and there was still dew on the grass.  I spread out my towel and began to move through the poses.  For the most part I keep my eyes closed if I’m doing yoga without a mirror, but after twenty minutes or so I opened my eyes and to my surprise there were over twenty people watching me.  I had no idea.  I don’t know how long they were there or where they came from, but it was a wide range of people.  A group of young boys and girls, some older middle-aged men, a few teenage girls and older grandmother aged ladies.  I had heard some cars passing, but apparently some of them stopped.  It was awkward at first, but then I decided to just close my eyes and continue.  They were so quiet that it really made no difference if they were there or not.  When I opened my eyes another fifteen minutes later they were all gone.  
U-UNDERSTATED.  I read a good bit about each place before I go to get a general idea of what to expect.  The section about Sukhothai in the guide book was all about ruins, temples and monuments.  There was little about the surrounding area of the old city.  The rural roads bordering the historical park was the real gem of the weekend.  Once Saleem and I saw a few big Buddha statues and towers we decided to leave the park and go exploring.  We wound down each round, stopping frequently to take photos or just enjoy the view. The natural beauty that surrounds the park was overwhelming.  There were miles of rice paddies and stretches of what looked to me like old moats that are now overgrown with trees and vines.  Each pond or waterway looked like it was covered with a brilliant green scum, but upon closer inspection it was actually a blanket of little green plants.  I went to Sukhothai expecting to see ruins and ancient formations, but I didn’t expect to see such breathtaking views of mountains, ponds and endless roads lined with farms.
K-KIND.  I’m really thinking of a particular person, but in general the vibe at Sukhothai was a kind one.  The woman I’m referring to owns a bungalow and restaurant near where we were staying.  On Saturday morning we stopped in to eat lunch before exploring the ruins.  We asked her if she was serving food and she said yes, but she had a worried look on her face.  We looked at the menus and wrote down our order.  A half hour passed and we hadn’t heard anything going on in the kitchen or anywhere on the property really, so Josh went downstairs to check things out.  He couldn’t find the lady.  We realized she had gone to the market to get all the ingredients for our lunch.  We felt bad, but we really didn’t have the time to waste, so we explained to her partner that we would come back for dinner instead.  On our way out we saw her coming back on her motorcycle with bags full of vegetables.  She looked crushed when she saw we were leaving, but when we told her we’d be back she lit up again and wished us goodbye.  That night for dinner I had spicy red curry tofu in a coconut soup with rice.  It was delicious.  It was probably because her main ingredient was kindness.
H-HISTORIC. Sukhothai was an early kingdom in northern central Thailand from roughly 1238-1438.  I’m not a historian so don’t let my lingo offend you.  Back in the day kingdoms were being taken over, reestablished and expanded quite often.  So even though it was a Thai empire starting in the 1200s the city dates back a long time before that.  Some sources I read said that the secession from the Khmer empire began as early as 1180.  Two Thai Rulers, Pho Khun Pha Muang and Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao came together to form a new Thai kingdom, which became known as Sukhothai.  Sukhothai is not the first Thai empire even though many sources state that.  It’s often times considered the beginning of the Thai nation only because not much was known about kingdoms prior to Sukhothai.  The dynasty lasted over 200 years and was ruled by nine kings.  The most famous king, Ramkhamhaeng, is credited for developing the first Thai script and his inscriptions are also considered the first Thai literature.  Ramkhamhaeng expanded the kingdom to include an area even larger than present day Thailand, but another hundred years later Sukhothai was absorbed by the Ayuthaya empire.  Ayuthaya is another ancient kingdom in Thailand that I blogged about here and here.
O-OBSERVANT. That’s more about Saleem and myself than the city of course.  All day Saturday and for a few hours on Sunday morning we rode along the country roads looking left and right.  We stopped countless times for photos, turned around to explore tiny lanes and even made mental maps of the landscape in order to find connecting routes to our favorite rice paddies.  While we zoomed along we had to stop for herds of cattle that were crossing the road or sometimes coming towards us.  There was a mad cow that had it out for me during one of these crossings. I was terrified, especially after my incident with the monkey that stole my fruit shake.  I don’t trust these Thai animals anymore.  We starred into the soils of countless rice paddies, time after time admiring their beauty.  We watched the sunset over one mountain range and then zoomed to another area to catch it falling just below the peaks there too.  We met cute little Thai children and got a glimpse of what rural Thailand was really about.
T-TRADITIONAL. This ties into the historical relevance of Sukhothai so I won’t go into it too much.  The old city obviously has a traditional feel because of its roots.  It is also a UNESCO world heritage site so many things are left as they once were.  There are over 21 sites and four remaining ponds in the historical park and over 70 more sites in a 5-kilometer radius.  The architecture of a majority of these temples is most typified by the classic lotus-bud chedi that features a conical spire topping a square sided structure on a three-tiered base.  That sounds complicated, but you can see it in many of the temple photos.  
H-HOLY.  All things in Thailand have an element of religion involved.  Everywhere you go you see offerings to Buddha in the form of water, incense and a dish of food.  Even on the bus there will be a photo with an offering below it.  The ruins have a calm and serene religious feel because of all the Buddha statues, monuments and monks wandering around.  It is impossible not to feel some type of connection to religion when temples surround you.  Usually I feel uncomfortable in ornate churches or things of that sort, but this is completely different. There is a certain element of modesty to the statues and temples and a welcoming air about all of it.  Some of the ideas behind the temples are really neat too.  For instance the Wat Mahathat, the largest wat in Sukhothai, is surrounded by brick walls and a moat and is believed to represent the outer wall of the universe and the cosmic ocean.  You can see this wat and it’s deteriorating pillars one of the photos above.  The Buddha statues pictured are also located in Wat Mahathat.  
A-ALIVE.  Even though it’s not rainy season the plants in Sukhothai are flourishing.  I mentioned about the tiny green leaves that cover the surface of the ponds, but that’s just the beginning.  Everywhere you look a bright green rice paddy is staring back at you.  I haven’t ever seen such a brilliant green in nature.  We passed hundreds of paddies and all the greens are slightly different yet equally bright.   And the trees, they seemed to be as ancient as the city.  Enormous trunks leading up to a brimming crown of green leaves.  Some trees had wide tops that provided endless amounts of shade while others had long weeping branches accented by heavy brown vines.  Where the manmade city was slowly deteriorating and withering away into the earth, the natural landscape was thriving, growing and expanding.
I-INDEPENDENT. Again this is referring to Saleem, myself and the motorbike we rented.  Being able to rent a motorbike anywhere in Thailand is one of my favorite things about this country.  It gives you the flexibility to do what you want when you want anywhere you want.  It usually costs $10 or less for a full twenty-four hours.  I once rented a motor scooter in the U.S. and it cost $17 for two hours and it wouldn’t go past 35 mph.  I was pissed.  This is the complete opposite.  You hand over a copy of your passport and they hand you the keys.  In my mind motor scooters are now synonymous with freedom and independence.  No more waving down tuktuk drivers, paying individual fees and having someone else tell you where they think you want to go.  The best part is when you don’t have a plan because then you can really just ride and let the road, your mind or your heart take you where it wants.   That’s exactly what Saleem and I did during our weekend in Sukhothai and we ended up coming across some beautiful scenes both natural and manmade.  We had our first real look at the rural life of Thai farmers living just outside one of the most visited historical sites in all of Thailand.  Many of them seemed shocked yet happy to see us coming down the road.  I’m guessing a lot of other travelers stick to the insides of the city walls, not us.  
            Remember back in grade school when you wrote your name and then after each letter you’d have to write an adjective or word that described you and began with that letter?  I feel like everyone has done that at least once.  I was pretty bad at it back in the day.  I have not one but two A’s in my name, inevitably one was always angel.  Anyway, here I am a decade later and I’m doing it again.  I decided I need to breathe new life into my blog posts.  I’m worried they’re becoming a bit drab and predictable.  My main goal is not to put you to sleep although if you’re in need of an afternoon nap and reading about my life helps you out, then so be it, read on.  Today I’m afraid you’ll stay awake though because like I said, there’s a new format going on around these parts.  I’m going to tell you all about Sukhothai, an ancient city in Thailand, by highlighting some adjectives that correspond with the city’s name, which by the way means ‘Rising of Happiness.’ 
S-SERENE.  Sukhothai is many things, but most of all it is serene.  We arrived in the early morning and the whole town was sleepy and quiet.  There was barely any traffic the whole weekend and to be honest I didn’t talk to or come across many people.  The ones I did run into were shy and soft-spoken.  There wasn’t a sound at the ruins except for the occasional call of a songbird.  As we rode the motorbike along the rural roads a calm surrounded us, even at fifty miles per hour.  The empty streets and quiet mornings and afternoons made for a truly peaceful weekend.  I may have mentioned before that I’m in the middle of a fitness program called p90x.  Basically you have to do at least an hour-long workout every day.  On weekends it always takes some accommodating because I never know where I’ll be or how much space I will have.  Initially I was worried that I wouldn’t have a proper spot to do yoga on Sunday, but when I passed a grassy area outside of a school I knew I could escape there for my ninety minutes of meditation.  I woke up early on Sunday.  The morning was cool and there was still dew on the grass.  I spread out my towel and began to move through the poses.  For the most part I keep my eyes closed if I’m doing yoga without a mirror, but after twenty minutes or so I opened my eyes and to my surprise there were over twenty people watching me.  I had no idea.  I don’t know how long they were there or where they came from, but it was a wide range of people.  A group of young boys and girls, some older middle-aged men, a few teenage girls and older grandmother aged ladies.  I had heard some cars passing, but apparently some of them stopped.  It was awkward at first, but then I decided to just close my eyes and continue.  They were so quiet that it really made no difference if they were there or not.  When I opened my eyes another fifteen minutes later they were all gone.  
U-UNDERSTATED.  I read a good bit about each place before I go to get a general idea of what to expect.  The section about Sukhothai in the guide book was all about ruins, temples and monuments.  There was little about the surrounding area of the old city.  The rural roads bordering the historical park was the real gem of the weekend.  Once Saleem and I saw a few big Buddha statues and towers we decided to leave the park and go exploring.  We wound down each round, stopping frequently to take photos or just enjoy the view. The natural beauty that surrounds the park was overwhelming.  There were miles of rice paddies and stretches of what looked to me like old moats that are now overgrown with trees and vines.  Each pond or waterway looked like it was covered with a brilliant green scum, but upon closer inspection it was actually a blanket of little green plants.  I went to Sukhothai expecting to see ruins and ancient formations, but I didn’t expect to see such breathtaking views of mountains, ponds and endless roads lined with farms.
K-KIND.  I’m really thinking of a particular person, but in general the vibe at Sukhothai was a kind one.  The woman I’m referring to owns a bungalow and restaurant near where we were staying.  On Saturday morning we stopped in to eat lunch before exploring the ruins.  We asked her if she was serving food and she said yes, but she had a worried look on her face.  We looked at the menus and wrote down our order.  A half hour passed and we hadn’t heard anything going on in the kitchen or anywhere on the property really, so Josh went downstairs to check things out.  He couldn’t find the lady.  We realized she had gone to the market to get all the ingredients for our lunch.  We felt bad, but we really didn’t have the time to waste, so we explained to her partner that we would come back for dinner instead.  On our way out we saw her coming back on her motorcycle with bags full of vegetables.  She looked crushed when she saw we were leaving, but when we told her we’d be back she lit up again and wished us goodbye.  That night for dinner I had spicy red curry tofu in a coconut soup with rice.  It was delicious.  It was probably because her main ingredient was kindness.
H-HISTORIC. Sukhothai was an early kingdom in northern central Thailand from roughly 1238-1438.  I’m not a historian so don’t let my lingo offend you.  Back in the day kingdoms were being taken over, reestablished and expanded quite often.  So even though it was a Thai empire starting in the 1200s the city dates back a long time before that.  Some sources I read said that the secession from the Khmer empire began as early as 1180.  Two Thai Rulers, Pho Khun Pha Muang and Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao came together to form a new Thai kingdom, which became known as Sukhothai.  Sukhothai is not the first Thai empire even though many sources state that.  It’s often times considered the beginning of the Thai nation only because not much was known about kingdoms prior to Sukhothai.  The dynasty lasted over 200 years and was ruled by nine kings.  The most famous king, Ramkhamhaeng, is credited for developing the first Thai script and his inscriptions are also considered the first Thai literature.  Ramkhamhaeng expanded the kingdom to include an area even larger than present day Thailand, but another hundred years later Sukhothai was absorbed by the Ayuthaya empire.  Ayuthaya is another ancient kingdom in Thailand that I blogged about here and here.
O-OBSERVANT. That’s more about Saleem and myself than the city of course.  All day Saturday and for a few hours on Sunday morning we rode along the country roads looking left and right.  We stopped countless times for photos, turned around to explore tiny lanes and even made mental maps of the landscape in order to find connecting routes to our favorite rice paddies.  While we zoomed along we had to stop for herds of cattle that were crossing the road or sometimes coming towards us.  There was a mad cow that had it out for me during one of these crossings. I was terrified, especially after my incident with the monkey that stole my fruit shake.  I don’t trust these Thai animals anymore.  We starred into the soils of countless rice paddies, time after time admiring their beauty.  We watched the sunset over one mountain range and then zoomed to another area to catch it falling just below the peaks there too.  We met cute little Thai children and got a glimpse of what rural Thailand was really about.
T-TRADITIONAL. This ties into the historical relevance of Sukhothai so I won’t go into it too much.  The old city obviously has a traditional feel because of its roots.  It is also a UNESCO world heritage site so many things are left as they once were.  There are over 21 sites and four remaining ponds in the historical park and over 70 more sites in a 5-kilometer radius.  The architecture of a majority of these temples is most typified by the classic lotus-bud chedi that features a conical spire topping a square sided structure on a three-tiered base.  That sounds complicated, but you can see it in many of the temple photos.  
H-HOLY.  All things in Thailand have an element of religion involved.  Everywhere you go you see offerings to Buddha in the form of water, incense and a dish of food.  Even on the bus there will be a photo with an offering below it.  The ruins have a calm and serene religious feel because of all the Buddha statues, monuments and monks wandering around.  It is impossible not to feel some type of connection to religion when temples surround you.  Usually I feel uncomfortable in ornate churches or things of that sort, but this is completely different. There is a certain element of modesty to the statues and temples and a welcoming air about all of it.  Some of the ideas behind the temples are really neat too.  For instance the Wat Mahathat, the largest wat in Sukhothai, is surrounded by brick walls and a moat and is believed to represent the outer wall of the universe and the cosmic ocean.  You can see this wat and it’s deteriorating pillars one of the photos above.  The Buddha statues pictured are also located in Wat Mahathat.  
A-ALIVE.  Even though it’s not rainy season the plants in Sukhothai are flourishing.  I mentioned about the tiny green leaves that cover the surface of the ponds, but that’s just the beginning.  Everywhere you look a bright green rice paddy is staring back at you.  I haven’t ever seen such a brilliant green in nature.  We passed hundreds of paddies and all the greens are slightly different yet equally bright.   And the trees, they seemed to be as ancient as the city.  Enormous trunks leading up to a brimming crown of green leaves.  Some trees had wide tops that provided endless amounts of shade while others had long weeping branches accented by heavy brown vines.  Where the manmade city was slowly deteriorating and withering away into the earth, the natural landscape was thriving, growing and expanding.
I-INDEPENDENT. Again this is referring to Saleem, myself and the motorbike we rented.  Being able to rent a motorbike anywhere in Thailand is one of my favorite things about this country.  It gives you the flexibility to do what you want when you want anywhere you want.  It usually costs $10 or less for a full twenty-four hours.  I once rented a motor scooter in the U.S. and it cost $17 for two hours and it wouldn’t go past 35 mph.  I was pissed.  This is the complete opposite.  You hand over a copy of your passport and they hand you the keys.  In my mind motor scooters are now synonymous with freedom and independence.  No more waving down tuktuk drivers, paying individual fees and having someone else tell you where they think you want to go.  The best part is when you don’t have a plan because then you can really just ride and let the road, your mind or your heart take you where it wants.   That’s exactly what Saleem and I did during our weekend in Sukhothai and we ended up coming across some beautiful scenes both natural and manmade.  We had our first real look at the rural life of Thai farmers living just outside one of the most visited historical sites in all of Thailand.  Many of them seemed shocked yet happy to see us coming down the road.  I’m guessing a lot of other travelers stick to the insides of the city walls, not us.  

            Remember back in grade school when you wrote your name and then after each letter you’d have to write an adjective or word that described you and began with that letter?  I feel like everyone has done that at least once.  I was pretty bad at it back in the day.  I have not one but two A’s in my name, inevitably one was always angel.  Anyway, here I am a decade later and I’m doing it again.  I decided I need to breathe new life into my blog posts.  I’m worried they’re becoming a bit drab and predictable.  My main goal is not to put you to sleep although if you’re in need of an afternoon nap and reading about my life helps you out, then so be it, read on.  Today I’m afraid you’ll stay awake though because like I said, there’s a new format going on around these parts.  I’m going to tell you all about Sukhothai, an ancient city in Thailand, by highlighting some adjectives that correspond with the city’s name, which by the way means ‘Rising of Happiness.’ 

S-SERENE.  Sukhothai is many things, but most of all it is serene.  We arrived in the early morning and the whole town was sleepy and quiet.  There was barely any traffic the whole weekend and to be honest I didn’t talk to or come across many people.  The ones I did run into were shy and soft-spoken.  There wasn’t a sound at the ruins except for the occasional call of a songbird.  As we rode the motorbike along the rural roads a calm surrounded us, even at fifty miles per hour.  The empty streets and quiet mornings and afternoons made for a truly peaceful weekend.  I may have mentioned before that I’m in the middle of a fitness program called p90x.  Basically you have to do at least an hour-long workout every day.  On weekends it always takes some accommodating because I never know where I’ll be or how much space I will have.  Initially I was worried that I wouldn’t have a proper spot to do yoga on Sunday, but when I passed a grassy area outside of a school I knew I could escape there for my ninety minutes of meditation.  I woke up early on Sunday.  The morning was cool and there was still dew on the grass.  I spread out my towel and began to move through the poses.  For the most part I keep my eyes closed if I’m doing yoga without a mirror, but after twenty minutes or so I opened my eyes and to my surprise there were over twenty people watching me.  I had no idea.  I don’t know how long they were there or where they came from, but it was a wide range of people.  A group of young boys and girls, some older middle-aged men, a few teenage girls and older grandmother aged ladies.  I had heard some cars passing, but apparently some of them stopped.  It was awkward at first, but then I decided to just close my eyes and continue.  They were so quiet that it really made no difference if they were there or not.  When I opened my eyes another fifteen minutes later they were all gone. 

U-UNDERSTATED.  I read a good bit about each place before I go to get a general idea of what to expect.  The section about Sukhothai in the guide book was all about ruins, temples and monuments.  There was little about the surrounding area of the old city.  The rural roads bordering the historical park was the real gem of the weekend.  Once Saleem and I saw a few big Buddha statues and towers we decided to leave the park and go exploring.  We wound down each round, stopping frequently to take photos or just enjoy the view. The natural beauty that surrounds the park was overwhelming.  There were miles of rice paddies and stretches of what looked to me like old moats that are now overgrown with trees and vines.  Each pond or waterway looked like it was covered with a brilliant green scum, but upon closer inspection it was actually a blanket of little green plants.  I went to Sukhothai expecting to see ruins and ancient formations, but I didn’t expect to see such breathtaking views of mountains, ponds and endless roads lined with farms.

K-KIND.  I’m really thinking of a particular person, but in general the vibe at Sukhothai was a kind one.  The woman I’m referring to owns a bungalow and restaurant near where we were staying.  On Saturday morning we stopped in to eat lunch before exploring the ruins.  We asked her if she was serving food and she said yes, but she had a worried look on her face.  We looked at the menus and wrote down our order.  A half hour passed and we hadn’t heard anything going on in the kitchen or anywhere on the property really, so Josh went downstairs to check things out.  He couldn’t find the lady.  We realized she had gone to the market to get all the ingredients for our lunch.  We felt bad, but we really didn’t have the time to waste, so we explained to her partner that we would come back for dinner instead.  On our way out we saw her coming back on her motorcycle with bags full of vegetables.  She looked crushed when she saw we were leaving, but when we told her we’d be back she lit up again and wished us goodbye.  That night for dinner I had spicy red curry tofu in a coconut soup with rice.  It was delicious.  It was probably because her main ingredient was kindness.

H-HISTORIC. Sukhothai was an early kingdom in northern central Thailand from roughly 1238-1438.  I’m not a historian so don’t let my lingo offend you.  Back in the day kingdoms were being taken over, reestablished and expanded quite often.  So even though it was a Thai empire starting in the 1200s the city dates back a long time before that.  Some sources I read said that the secession from the Khmer empire began as early as 1180.  Two Thai Rulers, Pho Khun Pha Muang and Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao came together to form a new Thai kingdom, which became known as Sukhothai.  Sukhothai is not the first Thai empire even though many sources state that.  It’s often times considered the beginning of the Thai nation only because not much was known about kingdoms prior to Sukhothai.  The dynasty lasted over 200 years and was ruled by nine kings.  The most famous king, Ramkhamhaeng, is credited for developing the first Thai script and his inscriptions are also considered the first Thai literature.  Ramkhamhaeng expanded the kingdom to include an area even larger than present day Thailand, but another hundred years later Sukhothai was absorbed by the Ayuthaya empire.  Ayuthaya is another ancient kingdom in Thailand that I blogged about here and here.

O-OBSERVANT. That’s more about Saleem and myself than the city of course.  All day Saturday and for a few hours on Sunday morning we rode along the country roads looking left and right.  We stopped countless times for photos, turned around to explore tiny lanes and even made mental maps of the landscape in order to find connecting routes to our favorite rice paddies.  While we zoomed along we had to stop for herds of cattle that were crossing the road or sometimes coming towards us.  There was a mad cow that had it out for me during one of these crossings. I was terrified, especially after my incident with the monkey that stole my fruit shake.  I don’t trust these Thai animals anymore.  We starred into the soils of countless rice paddies, time after time admiring their beauty.  We watched the sunset over one mountain range and then zoomed to another area to catch it falling just below the peaks there too.  We met cute little Thai children and got a glimpse of what rural Thailand was really about.

T-TRADITIONAL. This ties into the historical relevance of Sukhothai so I won’t go into it too much.  The old city obviously has a traditional feel because of its roots.  It is also a UNESCO world heritage site so many things are left as they once were.  There are over 21 sites and four remaining ponds in the historical park and over 70 more sites in a 5-kilometer radius.  The architecture of a majority of these temples is most typified by the classic lotus-bud chedi that features a conical spire topping a square sided structure on a three-tiered base.  That sounds complicated, but you can see it in many of the temple photos. 

H-HOLY.  All things in Thailand have an element of religion involved.  Everywhere you go you see offerings to Buddha in the form of water, incense and a dish of food.  Even on the bus there will be a photo with an offering below it.  The ruins have a calm and serene religious feel because of all the Buddha statues, monuments and monks wandering around.  It is impossible not to feel some type of connection to religion when temples surround you.  Usually I feel uncomfortable in ornate churches or things of that sort, but this is completely different. There is a certain element of modesty to the statues and temples and a welcoming air about all of it.  Some of the ideas behind the temples are really neat too.  For instance the Wat Mahathat, the largest wat in Sukhothai, is surrounded by brick walls and a moat and is believed to represent the outer wall of the universe and the cosmic ocean.  You can see this wat and it’s deteriorating pillars one of the photos above.  The Buddha statues pictured are also located in Wat Mahathat. 

A-ALIVE.  Even though it’s not rainy season the plants in Sukhothai are flourishing.  I mentioned about the tiny green leaves that cover the surface of the ponds, but that’s just the beginning.  Everywhere you look a bright green rice paddy is staring back at you.  I haven’t ever seen such a brilliant green in nature.  We passed hundreds of paddies and all the greens are slightly different yet equally bright.   And the trees, they seemed to be as ancient as the city.  Enormous trunks leading up to a brimming crown of green leaves.  Some trees had wide tops that provided endless amounts of shade while others had long weeping branches accented by heavy brown vines.  Where the manmade city was slowly deteriorating and withering away into the earth, the natural landscape was thriving, growing and expanding.

I-INDEPENDENT. Again this is referring to Saleem, myself and the motorbike we rented.  Being able to rent a motorbike anywhere in Thailand is one of my favorite things about this country.  It gives you the flexibility to do what you want when you want anywhere you want.  It usually costs $10 or less for a full twenty-four hours.  I once rented a motor scooter in the U.S. and it cost $17 for two hours and it wouldn’t go past 35 mph.  I was pissed.  This is the complete opposite.  You hand over a copy of your passport and they hand you the keys.  In my mind motor scooters are now synonymous with freedom and independence.  No more waving down tuktuk drivers, paying individual fees and having someone else tell you where they think you want to go.  The best part is when you don’t have a plan because then you can really just ride and let the road, your mind or your heart take you where it wants.   That’s exactly what Saleem and I did during our weekend in Sukhothai and we ended up coming across some beautiful scenes both natural and manmade.  We had our first real look at the rural life of Thai farmers living just outside one of the most visited historical sites in all of Thailand.  Many of them seemed shocked yet happy to see us coming down the road.  I’m guessing a lot of other travelers stick to the insides of the city walls, not us.  

Lovey Dovey Day

I’m not a big believer in Valentine’s Day.  I usually just hand out hugs and cookies, but it doesn’t get much deeper than that.  All of the marketing and advertising that goes into Valentine’s Day drives me a little nuts, so I try not to “buy” into it.  I thought it was just the U.S. that was V day crazy, but boy was I wrong.  Here at Anubanchonburi everyone is covered with heart stickers and I’ve already received 7 flowers and three erasers and it’s only 9 a.m.  I really like the way it’s celebrated here, but maybe that’s because I can’t understand the commercials on the radio or read the signs posted outside the jewelry store.  It seems there is a big emphasis on stickers and fake flowers rather than cards and candy.  When I walked into my P1 classroom this morning I was bombarded with hugs and stickers.  I seriously had to wait ten minutes until every student pasted a dozen stickers to my shirt, books and bag.  I’m not gonna lie, I loved it.  I almost want to frame this shirt as if the amount of stickers on it actually measures their love for me.  

With all the love in the air I figured it was only appropriate to post something about feelings and mushy stuff, so I’m going to share with you some of my favorite ‘love songs’ right now, in no particular order, here goes..

Song name - Artist name - Album:


Fool in the Rain - Led Zeppelin - In Through the Out Door

Ob La Di, Ob La Da - The Beatles - White Album

Finally Moving - Pretty Lights - Taking Up Your Precious Time

Hotel Song - Regina Spektor - Begin to Hope

Sea of Love - Cat Power - The Covers Album

You and I - Ingrid Michaelson - Be OK

You Make Loving Fun - Fleetwood Mac - Rumours

Love On Top - Beyonce - 4

She’s The One - Bruce Springsteen - Born To Run

Just Can’t Get Enough - Black Eyed Peas - The Beginning

Stir It Up - Bob Marley - Legend

Everyday - Dave Mathews Band - Best of What’s Around

Eyes - Kaskade ft. Mindy Gledhill - Fire and Ice

Hold Yuh - Gyptian - Unknown

Case of You - Joni Mitchell - Miles of Aisles

Nothing But Love - Axwell - Unknown

Come Away With Me - Norah Jones - Come Away With Me

Crazy Love - Van Morrison - Moon Dance

My sticker count is currently in the eighties and shows no signs of stopping. 

It’s Friday!  When Friday comes I’m always thinking TGIF, like the rest of the working population, and sometimes on really hard, long weeks I’m thinking TGIFF.  Not this week though.  School went by pretty quickly and it was enjoyable for the most part.  I had a couple ‘firsts’ this week also.  Which seems strange since it’s the 16th week, but new things are still happening every day.  
I found out that we have to give our kindergarten kids a final.  All semester they told us that we didn’t have to test or grade our kids and then out of the blue I’m handed a three page test.  Some of the questions are things I never covered in class, so now I’m scrambling to make worksheets and squeeze review sessions into my lesson plans.  I’m not too worried about it, but I want to make sure my kids are on the same English level as the other kindergarten classes.  
My grade 1 kids reached a new high on the  ’out of control scale.’  They were the worst that they had ever been.  I felt like I was back at week one when they didn’t listen or respect me at all.  I didn’t want to yell and scream because I remember when I was in school it was kind of funny if the teacher lost it, so instead I started writing a word on the board.  Every time they were noisy I would add a letter.  I was going to spell WRITE, but when I put the W up one of my smart girls said, “Teacher, work?”  ”Yep, work,” I answered because work has less letters than write and I knew they were going to keep talking anyway.  Approximately two minutes later I made them all shut their workbooks when we were in the middle of a problem that really got their attention.  They looked so scared.  It was awesome.  Then I told them that they had to write everything I had on the board or they would get a zero.  I started writing a bunch of sentences, so many that only the really good fast kids could finish in time.  If they didn’t finish I put a huge red 0 on their page.  I think it worked because they were much better the rest of the week.  
One of my “bad” kids gave me a hug.  A lot of the kids flock to me after song and dance time and basically smoother me with hugs.  Sometimes I feel like a piece of chocolate and they’re all ants.  They’re so small but when they all hug and squeeze me they have the ability to basically pick me up and move me.  I have to make them form a line so I don’t end up crushing them if I fall over.  Anyway, one of the most rambunctious little kids that never does his work or listens to anyone actually gave me a hug.  It was adorable.  I thought he hated me.  Probably because a little part of me really dislikes his attitude.  Now I’m trying to communicate and motivate him in different ways so we’ll see where that takes us.
My distracted and hyper boy is interested in finishing his worksheets.  I think he realized that if he finishes them quickly he can run around like a crazy person like he wants to.  I used to have to beg him to even start them or separate him from everyone so he would stop talking long enough to concentrate, but now he is the first one done.  All week he’s been running up to me and showing me his work.  When I smile and tell him it’s correct he gets so excited.  This is a boy that they had to move down from Kindergarten 2 because he couldn’t stay focused.  He has shown so much improvement this semester and I think he’s finally ready to move up with this class.  
My students drew pictures of me and a bunch of them said, “I love teacher.”  So precious.  They probably love me because they can take total advantage of me and I won’t beat them, but hey love is love.  Some of the photos were hilarious.  One boy drew me as a karate girl.  Obviously that means I’m a kick ass teacher.  Another kid drew me as a robot.  I’m not sure how to take that, but I look cool, I know that.  
My face is now on the TV screens of ten different Thai families.  I had to talk to grade 3 kids on camera for five minutes each.  That conversation determined if they pass or fail the third grade.  Some aspects of the Thai education system still baffle me.  Like how one conversation with a stranger (I’m not these kids’ English teacher) can determine if they pass or fail.  Oh and that finals and the last day of school has just been pushed back another week.
As baffling as some things are others always stay the same like story and song time at the end of the day.  It’s my favorite twenty minutes with the kids because they love, love, love to dance and sing.  Whenever I teach them a new song they literally jump for joy.  They’re always hyped up for new adventures and activities too.  Last week we went to the flower market and they couldn’t stop owing and awing at every plant they passed.  Lastly their love for little prizes and gifts is always overwhelming.  One day I gave them candy canes and you would have thought I handed them each 1,000 baht.  The day they got these giraffes or G. Ralphs, as my Thai teacher originally thought it was spelled, they all went into mother mode.  Everyone was codling and hugging their new little toy.  When they were told to put them in their cubbies they all situated them just so.  I forgot how caring kids are.  Which brings me to my last point: I’m going to miss these crazy babies!  I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like to not see them every week.  It’s like I have my own little fan club and unfortunately it’s going to be taken away very soon.  I also feel bad that I’m the one leaving them.  I wonder if they all know that I won’t be around next semester or if they’ll be looking for me on the first day of class.  I wish there was some way I could be pen pals with all of them, but they’re just too young.  I’m going to stop dwelling on the fact that I only have four weeks of school left and look forward to my weekend on Hua Hin beach instead.  Enjoy your weekend and take pleasure in the fact that although it’s already Friday afternoon for me right now that means my Monday morning starts before yours does.
It’s Friday!  When Friday comes I’m always thinking TGIF, like the rest of the working population, and sometimes on really hard, long weeks I’m thinking TGIFF.  Not this week though.  School went by pretty quickly and it was enjoyable for the most part.  I had a couple ‘firsts’ this week also.  Which seems strange since it’s the 16th week, but new things are still happening every day.  
I found out that we have to give our kindergarten kids a final.  All semester they told us that we didn’t have to test or grade our kids and then out of the blue I’m handed a three page test.  Some of the questions are things I never covered in class, so now I’m scrambling to make worksheets and squeeze review sessions into my lesson plans.  I’m not too worried about it, but I want to make sure my kids are on the same English level as the other kindergarten classes.  
My grade 1 kids reached a new high on the  ’out of control scale.’  They were the worst that they had ever been.  I felt like I was back at week one when they didn’t listen or respect me at all.  I didn’t want to yell and scream because I remember when I was in school it was kind of funny if the teacher lost it, so instead I started writing a word on the board.  Every time they were noisy I would add a letter.  I was going to spell WRITE, but when I put the W up one of my smart girls said, “Teacher, work?”  ”Yep, work,” I answered because work has less letters than write and I knew they were going to keep talking anyway.  Approximately two minutes later I made them all shut their workbooks when we were in the middle of a problem that really got their attention.  They looked so scared.  It was awesome.  Then I told them that they had to write everything I had on the board or they would get a zero.  I started writing a bunch of sentences, so many that only the really good fast kids could finish in time.  If they didn’t finish I put a huge red 0 on their page.  I think it worked because they were much better the rest of the week.  
One of my “bad” kids gave me a hug.  A lot of the kids flock to me after song and dance time and basically smoother me with hugs.  Sometimes I feel like a piece of chocolate and they’re all ants.  They’re so small but when they all hug and squeeze me they have the ability to basically pick me up and move me.  I have to make them form a line so I don’t end up crushing them if I fall over.  Anyway, one of the most rambunctious little kids that never does his work or listens to anyone actually gave me a hug.  It was adorable.  I thought he hated me.  Probably because a little part of me really dislikes his attitude.  Now I’m trying to communicate and motivate him in different ways so we’ll see where that takes us.
My distracted and hyper boy is interested in finishing his worksheets.  I think he realized that if he finishes them quickly he can run around like a crazy person like he wants to.  I used to have to beg him to even start them or separate him from everyone so he would stop talking long enough to concentrate, but now he is the first one done.  All week he’s been running up to me and showing me his work.  When I smile and tell him it’s correct he gets so excited.  This is a boy that they had to move down from Kindergarten 2 because he couldn’t stay focused.  He has shown so much improvement this semester and I think he’s finally ready to move up with this class.  
My students drew pictures of me and a bunch of them said, “I love teacher.”  So precious.  They probably love me because they can take total advantage of me and I won’t beat them, but hey love is love.  Some of the photos were hilarious.  One boy drew me as a karate girl.  Obviously that means I’m a kick ass teacher.  Another kid drew me as a robot.  I’m not sure how to take that, but I look cool, I know that.  
My face is now on the TV screens of ten different Thai families.  I had to talk to grade 3 kids on camera for five minutes each.  That conversation determined if they pass or fail the third grade.  Some aspects of the Thai education system still baffle me.  Like how one conversation with a stranger (I’m not these kids’ English teacher) can determine if they pass or fail.  Oh and that finals and the last day of school has just been pushed back another week.
As baffling as some things are others always stay the same like story and song time at the end of the day.  It’s my favorite twenty minutes with the kids because they love, love, love to dance and sing.  Whenever I teach them a new song they literally jump for joy.  They’re always hyped up for new adventures and activities too.  Last week we went to the flower market and they couldn’t stop owing and awing at every plant they passed.  Lastly their love for little prizes and gifts is always overwhelming.  One day I gave them candy canes and you would have thought I handed them each 1,000 baht.  The day they got these giraffes or G. Ralphs, as my Thai teacher originally thought it was spelled, they all went into mother mode.  Everyone was codling and hugging their new little toy.  When they were told to put them in their cubbies they all situated them just so.  I forgot how caring kids are.  Which brings me to my last point: I’m going to miss these crazy babies!  I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like to not see them every week.  It’s like I have my own little fan club and unfortunately it’s going to be taken away very soon.  I also feel bad that I’m the one leaving them.  I wonder if they all know that I won’t be around next semester or if they’ll be looking for me on the first day of class.  I wish there was some way I could be pen pals with all of them, but they’re just too young.  I’m going to stop dwelling on the fact that I only have four weeks of school left and look forward to my weekend on Hua Hin beach instead.  Enjoy your weekend and take pleasure in the fact that although it’s already Friday afternoon for me right now that means my Monday morning starts before yours does.
It’s Friday!  When Friday comes I’m always thinking TGIF, like the rest of the working population, and sometimes on really hard, long weeks I’m thinking TGIFF.  Not this week though.  School went by pretty quickly and it was enjoyable for the most part.  I had a couple ‘firsts’ this week also.  Which seems strange since it’s the 16th week, but new things are still happening every day.  
I found out that we have to give our kindergarten kids a final.  All semester they told us that we didn’t have to test or grade our kids and then out of the blue I’m handed a three page test.  Some of the questions are things I never covered in class, so now I’m scrambling to make worksheets and squeeze review sessions into my lesson plans.  I’m not too worried about it, but I want to make sure my kids are on the same English level as the other kindergarten classes.  
My grade 1 kids reached a new high on the  ’out of control scale.’  They were the worst that they had ever been.  I felt like I was back at week one when they didn’t listen or respect me at all.  I didn’t want to yell and scream because I remember when I was in school it was kind of funny if the teacher lost it, so instead I started writing a word on the board.  Every time they were noisy I would add a letter.  I was going to spell WRITE, but when I put the W up one of my smart girls said, “Teacher, work?”  ”Yep, work,” I answered because work has less letters than write and I knew they were going to keep talking anyway.  Approximately two minutes later I made them all shut their workbooks when we were in the middle of a problem that really got their attention.  They looked so scared.  It was awesome.  Then I told them that they had to write everything I had on the board or they would get a zero.  I started writing a bunch of sentences, so many that only the really good fast kids could finish in time.  If they didn’t finish I put a huge red 0 on their page.  I think it worked because they were much better the rest of the week.  
One of my “bad” kids gave me a hug.  A lot of the kids flock to me after song and dance time and basically smoother me with hugs.  Sometimes I feel like a piece of chocolate and they’re all ants.  They’re so small but when they all hug and squeeze me they have the ability to basically pick me up and move me.  I have to make them form a line so I don’t end up crushing them if I fall over.  Anyway, one of the most rambunctious little kids that never does his work or listens to anyone actually gave me a hug.  It was adorable.  I thought he hated me.  Probably because a little part of me really dislikes his attitude.  Now I’m trying to communicate and motivate him in different ways so we’ll see where that takes us.
My distracted and hyper boy is interested in finishing his worksheets.  I think he realized that if he finishes them quickly he can run around like a crazy person like he wants to.  I used to have to beg him to even start them or separate him from everyone so he would stop talking long enough to concentrate, but now he is the first one done.  All week he’s been running up to me and showing me his work.  When I smile and tell him it’s correct he gets so excited.  This is a boy that they had to move down from Kindergarten 2 because he couldn’t stay focused.  He has shown so much improvement this semester and I think he’s finally ready to move up with this class.  
My students drew pictures of me and a bunch of them said, “I love teacher.”  So precious.  They probably love me because they can take total advantage of me and I won’t beat them, but hey love is love.  Some of the photos were hilarious.  One boy drew me as a karate girl.  Obviously that means I’m a kick ass teacher.  Another kid drew me as a robot.  I’m not sure how to take that, but I look cool, I know that.  
My face is now on the TV screens of ten different Thai families.  I had to talk to grade 3 kids on camera for five minutes each.  That conversation determined if they pass or fail the third grade.  Some aspects of the Thai education system still baffle me.  Like how one conversation with a stranger (I’m not these kids’ English teacher) can determine if they pass or fail.  Oh and that finals and the last day of school has just been pushed back another week.
As baffling as some things are others always stay the same like story and song time at the end of the day.  It’s my favorite twenty minutes with the kids because they love, love, love to dance and sing.  Whenever I teach them a new song they literally jump for joy.  They’re always hyped up for new adventures and activities too.  Last week we went to the flower market and they couldn’t stop owing and awing at every plant they passed.  Lastly their love for little prizes and gifts is always overwhelming.  One day I gave them candy canes and you would have thought I handed them each 1,000 baht.  The day they got these giraffes or G. Ralphs, as my Thai teacher originally thought it was spelled, they all went into mother mode.  Everyone was codling and hugging their new little toy.  When they were told to put them in their cubbies they all situated them just so.  I forgot how caring kids are.  Which brings me to my last point: I’m going to miss these crazy babies!  I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like to not see them every week.  It’s like I have my own little fan club and unfortunately it’s going to be taken away very soon.  I also feel bad that I’m the one leaving them.  I wonder if they all know that I won’t be around next semester or if they’ll be looking for me on the first day of class.  I wish there was some way I could be pen pals with all of them, but they’re just too young.  I’m going to stop dwelling on the fact that I only have four weeks of school left and look forward to my weekend on Hua Hin beach instead.  Enjoy your weekend and take pleasure in the fact that although it’s already Friday afternoon for me right now that means my Monday morning starts before yours does.
It’s Friday!  When Friday comes I’m always thinking TGIF, like the rest of the working population, and sometimes on really hard, long weeks I’m thinking TGIFF.  Not this week though.  School went by pretty quickly and it was enjoyable for the most part.  I had a couple ‘firsts’ this week also.  Which seems strange since it’s the 16th week, but new things are still happening every day.  
I found out that we have to give our kindergarten kids a final.  All semester they told us that we didn’t have to test or grade our kids and then out of the blue I’m handed a three page test.  Some of the questions are things I never covered in class, so now I’m scrambling to make worksheets and squeeze review sessions into my lesson plans.  I’m not too worried about it, but I want to make sure my kids are on the same English level as the other kindergarten classes.  
My grade 1 kids reached a new high on the  ’out of control scale.’  They were the worst that they had ever been.  I felt like I was back at week one when they didn’t listen or respect me at all.  I didn’t want to yell and scream because I remember when I was in school it was kind of funny if the teacher lost it, so instead I started writing a word on the board.  Every time they were noisy I would add a letter.  I was going to spell WRITE, but when I put the W up one of my smart girls said, “Teacher, work?”  ”Yep, work,” I answered because work has less letters than write and I knew they were going to keep talking anyway.  Approximately two minutes later I made them all shut their workbooks when we were in the middle of a problem that really got their attention.  They looked so scared.  It was awesome.  Then I told them that they had to write everything I had on the board or they would get a zero.  I started writing a bunch of sentences, so many that only the really good fast kids could finish in time.  If they didn’t finish I put a huge red 0 on their page.  I think it worked because they were much better the rest of the week.  
One of my “bad” kids gave me a hug.  A lot of the kids flock to me after song and dance time and basically smoother me with hugs.  Sometimes I feel like a piece of chocolate and they’re all ants.  They’re so small but when they all hug and squeeze me they have the ability to basically pick me up and move me.  I have to make them form a line so I don’t end up crushing them if I fall over.  Anyway, one of the most rambunctious little kids that never does his work or listens to anyone actually gave me a hug.  It was adorable.  I thought he hated me.  Probably because a little part of me really dislikes his attitude.  Now I’m trying to communicate and motivate him in different ways so we’ll see where that takes us.
My distracted and hyper boy is interested in finishing his worksheets.  I think he realized that if he finishes them quickly he can run around like a crazy person like he wants to.  I used to have to beg him to even start them or separate him from everyone so he would stop talking long enough to concentrate, but now he is the first one done.  All week he’s been running up to me and showing me his work.  When I smile and tell him it’s correct he gets so excited.  This is a boy that they had to move down from Kindergarten 2 because he couldn’t stay focused.  He has shown so much improvement this semester and I think he’s finally ready to move up with this class.  
My students drew pictures of me and a bunch of them said, “I love teacher.”  So precious.  They probably love me because they can take total advantage of me and I won’t beat them, but hey love is love.  Some of the photos were hilarious.  One boy drew me as a karate girl.  Obviously that means I’m a kick ass teacher.  Another kid drew me as a robot.  I’m not sure how to take that, but I look cool, I know that.  
My face is now on the TV screens of ten different Thai families.  I had to talk to grade 3 kids on camera for five minutes each.  That conversation determined if they pass or fail the third grade.  Some aspects of the Thai education system still baffle me.  Like how one conversation with a stranger (I’m not these kids’ English teacher) can determine if they pass or fail.  Oh and that finals and the last day of school has just been pushed back another week.
As baffling as some things are others always stay the same like story and song time at the end of the day.  It’s my favorite twenty minutes with the kids because they love, love, love to dance and sing.  Whenever I teach them a new song they literally jump for joy.  They’re always hyped up for new adventures and activities too.  Last week we went to the flower market and they couldn’t stop owing and awing at every plant they passed.  Lastly their love for little prizes and gifts is always overwhelming.  One day I gave them candy canes and you would have thought I handed them each 1,000 baht.  The day they got these giraffes or G. Ralphs, as my Thai teacher originally thought it was spelled, they all went into mother mode.  Everyone was codling and hugging their new little toy.  When they were told to put them in their cubbies they all situated them just so.  I forgot how caring kids are.  Which brings me to my last point: I’m going to miss these crazy babies!  I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like to not see them every week.  It’s like I have my own little fan club and unfortunately it’s going to be taken away very soon.  I also feel bad that I’m the one leaving them.  I wonder if they all know that I won’t be around next semester or if they’ll be looking for me on the first day of class.  I wish there was some way I could be pen pals with all of them, but they’re just too young.  I’m going to stop dwelling on the fact that I only have four weeks of school left and look forward to my weekend on Hua Hin beach instead.  Enjoy your weekend and take pleasure in the fact that although it’s already Friday afternoon for me right now that means my Monday morning starts before yours does.
It’s Friday!  When Friday comes I’m always thinking TGIF, like the rest of the working population, and sometimes on really hard, long weeks I’m thinking TGIFF.  Not this week though.  School went by pretty quickly and it was enjoyable for the most part.  I had a couple ‘firsts’ this week also.  Which seems strange since it’s the 16th week, but new things are still happening every day.  
I found out that we have to give our kindergarten kids a final.  All semester they told us that we didn’t have to test or grade our kids and then out of the blue I’m handed a three page test.  Some of the questions are things I never covered in class, so now I’m scrambling to make worksheets and squeeze review sessions into my lesson plans.  I’m not too worried about it, but I want to make sure my kids are on the same English level as the other kindergarten classes.  
My grade 1 kids reached a new high on the  ’out of control scale.’  They were the worst that they had ever been.  I felt like I was back at week one when they didn’t listen or respect me at all.  I didn’t want to yell and scream because I remember when I was in school it was kind of funny if the teacher lost it, so instead I started writing a word on the board.  Every time they were noisy I would add a letter.  I was going to spell WRITE, but when I put the W up one of my smart girls said, “Teacher, work?”  ”Yep, work,” I answered because work has less letters than write and I knew they were going to keep talking anyway.  Approximately two minutes later I made them all shut their workbooks when we were in the middle of a problem that really got their attention.  They looked so scared.  It was awesome.  Then I told them that they had to write everything I had on the board or they would get a zero.  I started writing a bunch of sentences, so many that only the really good fast kids could finish in time.  If they didn’t finish I put a huge red 0 on their page.  I think it worked because they were much better the rest of the week.  
One of my “bad” kids gave me a hug.  A lot of the kids flock to me after song and dance time and basically smoother me with hugs.  Sometimes I feel like a piece of chocolate and they’re all ants.  They’re so small but when they all hug and squeeze me they have the ability to basically pick me up and move me.  I have to make them form a line so I don’t end up crushing them if I fall over.  Anyway, one of the most rambunctious little kids that never does his work or listens to anyone actually gave me a hug.  It was adorable.  I thought he hated me.  Probably because a little part of me really dislikes his attitude.  Now I’m trying to communicate and motivate him in different ways so we’ll see where that takes us.
My distracted and hyper boy is interested in finishing his worksheets.  I think he realized that if he finishes them quickly he can run around like a crazy person like he wants to.  I used to have to beg him to even start them or separate him from everyone so he would stop talking long enough to concentrate, but now he is the first one done.  All week he’s been running up to me and showing me his work.  When I smile and tell him it’s correct he gets so excited.  This is a boy that they had to move down from Kindergarten 2 because he couldn’t stay focused.  He has shown so much improvement this semester and I think he’s finally ready to move up with this class.  
My students drew pictures of me and a bunch of them said, “I love teacher.”  So precious.  They probably love me because they can take total advantage of me and I won’t beat them, but hey love is love.  Some of the photos were hilarious.  One boy drew me as a karate girl.  Obviously that means I’m a kick ass teacher.  Another kid drew me as a robot.  I’m not sure how to take that, but I look cool, I know that.  
My face is now on the TV screens of ten different Thai families.  I had to talk to grade 3 kids on camera for five minutes each.  That conversation determined if they pass or fail the third grade.  Some aspects of the Thai education system still baffle me.  Like how one conversation with a stranger (I’m not these kids’ English teacher) can determine if they pass or fail.  Oh and that finals and the last day of school has just been pushed back another week.
As baffling as some things are others always stay the same like story and song time at the end of the day.  It’s my favorite twenty minutes with the kids because they love, love, love to dance and sing.  Whenever I teach them a new song they literally jump for joy.  They’re always hyped up for new adventures and activities too.  Last week we went to the flower market and they couldn’t stop owing and awing at every plant they passed.  Lastly their love for little prizes and gifts is always overwhelming.  One day I gave them candy canes and you would have thought I handed them each 1,000 baht.  The day they got these giraffes or G. Ralphs, as my Thai teacher originally thought it was spelled, they all went into mother mode.  Everyone was codling and hugging their new little toy.  When they were told to put them in their cubbies they all situated them just so.  I forgot how caring kids are.  Which brings me to my last point: I’m going to miss these crazy babies!  I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like to not see them every week.  It’s like I have my own little fan club and unfortunately it’s going to be taken away very soon.  I also feel bad that I’m the one leaving them.  I wonder if they all know that I won’t be around next semester or if they’ll be looking for me on the first day of class.  I wish there was some way I could be pen pals with all of them, but they’re just too young.  I’m going to stop dwelling on the fact that I only have four weeks of school left and look forward to my weekend on Hua Hin beach instead.  Enjoy your weekend and take pleasure in the fact that although it’s already Friday afternoon for me right now that means my Monday morning starts before yours does.
It’s Friday!  When Friday comes I’m always thinking TGIF, like the rest of the working population, and sometimes on really hard, long weeks I’m thinking TGIFF.  Not this week though.  School went by pretty quickly and it was enjoyable for the most part.  I had a couple ‘firsts’ this week also.  Which seems strange since it’s the 16th week, but new things are still happening every day.  
I found out that we have to give our kindergarten kids a final.  All semester they told us that we didn’t have to test or grade our kids and then out of the blue I’m handed a three page test.  Some of the questions are things I never covered in class, so now I’m scrambling to make worksheets and squeeze review sessions into my lesson plans.  I’m not too worried about it, but I want to make sure my kids are on the same English level as the other kindergarten classes.  
My grade 1 kids reached a new high on the  ’out of control scale.’  They were the worst that they had ever been.  I felt like I was back at week one when they didn’t listen or respect me at all.  I didn’t want to yell and scream because I remember when I was in school it was kind of funny if the teacher lost it, so instead I started writing a word on the board.  Every time they were noisy I would add a letter.  I was going to spell WRITE, but when I put the W up one of my smart girls said, “Teacher, work?”  ”Yep, work,” I answered because work has less letters than write and I knew they were going to keep talking anyway.  Approximately two minutes later I made them all shut their workbooks when we were in the middle of a problem that really got their attention.  They looked so scared.  It was awesome.  Then I told them that they had to write everything I had on the board or they would get a zero.  I started writing a bunch of sentences, so many that only the really good fast kids could finish in time.  If they didn’t finish I put a huge red 0 on their page.  I think it worked because they were much better the rest of the week.  
One of my “bad” kids gave me a hug.  A lot of the kids flock to me after song and dance time and basically smoother me with hugs.  Sometimes I feel like a piece of chocolate and they’re all ants.  They’re so small but when they all hug and squeeze me they have the ability to basically pick me up and move me.  I have to make them form a line so I don’t end up crushing them if I fall over.  Anyway, one of the most rambunctious little kids that never does his work or listens to anyone actually gave me a hug.  It was adorable.  I thought he hated me.  Probably because a little part of me really dislikes his attitude.  Now I’m trying to communicate and motivate him in different ways so we’ll see where that takes us.
My distracted and hyper boy is interested in finishing his worksheets.  I think he realized that if he finishes them quickly he can run around like a crazy person like he wants to.  I used to have to beg him to even start them or separate him from everyone so he would stop talking long enough to concentrate, but now he is the first one done.  All week he’s been running up to me and showing me his work.  When I smile and tell him it’s correct he gets so excited.  This is a boy that they had to move down from Kindergarten 2 because he couldn’t stay focused.  He has shown so much improvement this semester and I think he’s finally ready to move up with this class.  
My students drew pictures of me and a bunch of them said, “I love teacher.”  So precious.  They probably love me because they can take total advantage of me and I won’t beat them, but hey love is love.  Some of the photos were hilarious.  One boy drew me as a karate girl.  Obviously that means I’m a kick ass teacher.  Another kid drew me as a robot.  I’m not sure how to take that, but I look cool, I know that.  
My face is now on the TV screens of ten different Thai families.  I had to talk to grade 3 kids on camera for five minutes each.  That conversation determined if they pass or fail the third grade.  Some aspects of the Thai education system still baffle me.  Like how one conversation with a stranger (I’m not these kids’ English teacher) can determine if they pass or fail.  Oh and that finals and the last day of school has just been pushed back another week.
As baffling as some things are others always stay the same like story and song time at the end of the day.  It’s my favorite twenty minutes with the kids because they love, love, love to dance and sing.  Whenever I teach them a new song they literally jump for joy.  They’re always hyped up for new adventures and activities too.  Last week we went to the flower market and they couldn’t stop owing and awing at every plant they passed.  Lastly their love for little prizes and gifts is always overwhelming.  One day I gave them candy canes and you would have thought I handed them each 1,000 baht.  The day they got these giraffes or G. Ralphs, as my Thai teacher originally thought it was spelled, they all went into mother mode.  Everyone was codling and hugging their new little toy.  When they were told to put them in their cubbies they all situated them just so.  I forgot how caring kids are.  Which brings me to my last point: I’m going to miss these crazy babies!  I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like to not see them every week.  It’s like I have my own little fan club and unfortunately it’s going to be taken away very soon.  I also feel bad that I’m the one leaving them.  I wonder if they all know that I won’t be around next semester or if they’ll be looking for me on the first day of class.  I wish there was some way I could be pen pals with all of them, but they’re just too young.  I’m going to stop dwelling on the fact that I only have four weeks of school left and look forward to my weekend on Hua Hin beach instead.  Enjoy your weekend and take pleasure in the fact that although it’s already Friday afternoon for me right now that means my Monday morning starts before yours does.
It’s Friday!  When Friday comes I’m always thinking TGIF, like the rest of the working population, and sometimes on really hard, long weeks I’m thinking TGIFF.  Not this week though.  School went by pretty quickly and it was enjoyable for the most part.  I had a couple ‘firsts’ this week also.  Which seems strange since it’s the 16th week, but new things are still happening every day.  
I found out that we have to give our kindergarten kids a final.  All semester they told us that we didn’t have to test or grade our kids and then out of the blue I’m handed a three page test.  Some of the questions are things I never covered in class, so now I’m scrambling to make worksheets and squeeze review sessions into my lesson plans.  I’m not too worried about it, but I want to make sure my kids are on the same English level as the other kindergarten classes.  
My grade 1 kids reached a new high on the  ’out of control scale.’  They were the worst that they had ever been.  I felt like I was back at week one when they didn’t listen or respect me at all.  I didn’t want to yell and scream because I remember when I was in school it was kind of funny if the teacher lost it, so instead I started writing a word on the board.  Every time they were noisy I would add a letter.  I was going to spell WRITE, but when I put the W up one of my smart girls said, “Teacher, work?”  ”Yep, work,” I answered because work has less letters than write and I knew they were going to keep talking anyway.  Approximately two minutes later I made them all shut their workbooks when we were in the middle of a problem that really got their attention.  They looked so scared.  It was awesome.  Then I told them that they had to write everything I had on the board or they would get a zero.  I started writing a bunch of sentences, so many that only the really good fast kids could finish in time.  If they didn’t finish I put a huge red 0 on their page.  I think it worked because they were much better the rest of the week.  
One of my “bad” kids gave me a hug.  A lot of the kids flock to me after song and dance time and basically smoother me with hugs.  Sometimes I feel like a piece of chocolate and they’re all ants.  They’re so small but when they all hug and squeeze me they have the ability to basically pick me up and move me.  I have to make them form a line so I don’t end up crushing them if I fall over.  Anyway, one of the most rambunctious little kids that never does his work or listens to anyone actually gave me a hug.  It was adorable.  I thought he hated me.  Probably because a little part of me really dislikes his attitude.  Now I’m trying to communicate and motivate him in different ways so we’ll see where that takes us.
My distracted and hyper boy is interested in finishing his worksheets.  I think he realized that if he finishes them quickly he can run around like a crazy person like he wants to.  I used to have to beg him to even start them or separate him from everyone so he would stop talking long enough to concentrate, but now he is the first one done.  All week he’s been running up to me and showing me his work.  When I smile and tell him it’s correct he gets so excited.  This is a boy that they had to move down from Kindergarten 2 because he couldn’t stay focused.  He has shown so much improvement this semester and I think he’s finally ready to move up with this class.  
My students drew pictures of me and a bunch of them said, “I love teacher.”  So precious.  They probably love me because they can take total advantage of me and I won’t beat them, but hey love is love.  Some of the photos were hilarious.  One boy drew me as a karate girl.  Obviously that means I’m a kick ass teacher.  Another kid drew me as a robot.  I’m not sure how to take that, but I look cool, I know that.  
My face is now on the TV screens of ten different Thai families.  I had to talk to grade 3 kids on camera for five minutes each.  That conversation determined if they pass or fail the third grade.  Some aspects of the Thai education system still baffle me.  Like how one conversation with a stranger (I’m not these kids’ English teacher) can determine if they pass or fail.  Oh and that finals and the last day of school has just been pushed back another week.
As baffling as some things are others always stay the same like story and song time at the end of the day.  It’s my favorite twenty minutes with the kids because they love, love, love to dance and sing.  Whenever I teach them a new song they literally jump for joy.  They’re always hyped up for new adventures and activities too.  Last week we went to the flower market and they couldn’t stop owing and awing at every plant they passed.  Lastly their love for little prizes and gifts is always overwhelming.  One day I gave them candy canes and you would have thought I handed them each 1,000 baht.  The day they got these giraffes or G. Ralphs, as my Thai teacher originally thought it was spelled, they all went into mother mode.  Everyone was codling and hugging their new little toy.  When they were told to put them in their cubbies they all situated them just so.  I forgot how caring kids are.  Which brings me to my last point: I’m going to miss these crazy babies!  I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like to not see them every week.  It’s like I have my own little fan club and unfortunately it’s going to be taken away very soon.  I also feel bad that I’m the one leaving them.  I wonder if they all know that I won’t be around next semester or if they’ll be looking for me on the first day of class.  I wish there was some way I could be pen pals with all of them, but they’re just too young.  I’m going to stop dwelling on the fact that I only have four weeks of school left and look forward to my weekend on Hua Hin beach instead.  Enjoy your weekend and take pleasure in the fact that although it’s already Friday afternoon for me right now that means my Monday morning starts before yours does.
It’s Friday!  When Friday comes I’m always thinking TGIF, like the rest of the working population, and sometimes on really hard, long weeks I’m thinking TGIFF.  Not this week though.  School went by pretty quickly and it was enjoyable for the most part.  I had a couple ‘firsts’ this week also.  Which seems strange since it’s the 16th week, but new things are still happening every day.  
I found out that we have to give our kindergarten kids a final.  All semester they told us that we didn’t have to test or grade our kids and then out of the blue I’m handed a three page test.  Some of the questions are things I never covered in class, so now I’m scrambling to make worksheets and squeeze review sessions into my lesson plans.  I’m not too worried about it, but I want to make sure my kids are on the same English level as the other kindergarten classes.  
My grade 1 kids reached a new high on the  ’out of control scale.’  They were the worst that they had ever been.  I felt like I was back at week one when they didn’t listen or respect me at all.  I didn’t want to yell and scream because I remember when I was in school it was kind of funny if the teacher lost it, so instead I started writing a word on the board.  Every time they were noisy I would add a letter.  I was going to spell WRITE, but when I put the W up one of my smart girls said, “Teacher, work?”  ”Yep, work,” I answered because work has less letters than write and I knew they were going to keep talking anyway.  Approximately two minutes later I made them all shut their workbooks when we were in the middle of a problem that really got their attention.  They looked so scared.  It was awesome.  Then I told them that they had to write everything I had on the board or they would get a zero.  I started writing a bunch of sentences, so many that only the really good fast kids could finish in time.  If they didn’t finish I put a huge red 0 on their page.  I think it worked because they were much better the rest of the week.  
One of my “bad” kids gave me a hug.  A lot of the kids flock to me after song and dance time and basically smoother me with hugs.  Sometimes I feel like a piece of chocolate and they’re all ants.  They’re so small but when they all hug and squeeze me they have the ability to basically pick me up and move me.  I have to make them form a line so I don’t end up crushing them if I fall over.  Anyway, one of the most rambunctious little kids that never does his work or listens to anyone actually gave me a hug.  It was adorable.  I thought he hated me.  Probably because a little part of me really dislikes his attitude.  Now I’m trying to communicate and motivate him in different ways so we’ll see where that takes us.
My distracted and hyper boy is interested in finishing his worksheets.  I think he realized that if he finishes them quickly he can run around like a crazy person like he wants to.  I used to have to beg him to even start them or separate him from everyone so he would stop talking long enough to concentrate, but now he is the first one done.  All week he’s been running up to me and showing me his work.  When I smile and tell him it’s correct he gets so excited.  This is a boy that they had to move down from Kindergarten 2 because he couldn’t stay focused.  He has shown so much improvement this semester and I think he’s finally ready to move up with this class.  
My students drew pictures of me and a bunch of them said, “I love teacher.”  So precious.  They probably love me because they can take total advantage of me and I won’t beat them, but hey love is love.  Some of the photos were hilarious.  One boy drew me as a karate girl.  Obviously that means I’m a kick ass teacher.  Another kid drew me as a robot.  I’m not sure how to take that, but I look cool, I know that.  
My face is now on the TV screens of ten different Thai families.  I had to talk to grade 3 kids on camera for five minutes each.  That conversation determined if they pass or fail the third grade.  Some aspects of the Thai education system still baffle me.  Like how one conversation with a stranger (I’m not these kids’ English teacher) can determine if they pass or fail.  Oh and that finals and the last day of school has just been pushed back another week.
As baffling as some things are others always stay the same like story and song time at the end of the day.  It’s my favorite twenty minutes with the kids because they love, love, love to dance and sing.  Whenever I teach them a new song they literally jump for joy.  They’re always hyped up for new adventures and activities too.  Last week we went to the flower market and they couldn’t stop owing and awing at every plant they passed.  Lastly their love for little prizes and gifts is always overwhelming.  One day I gave them candy canes and you would have thought I handed them each 1,000 baht.  The day they got these giraffes or G. Ralphs, as my Thai teacher originally thought it was spelled, they all went into mother mode.  Everyone was codling and hugging their new little toy.  When they were told to put them in their cubbies they all situated them just so.  I forgot how caring kids are.  Which brings me to my last point: I’m going to miss these crazy babies!  I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like to not see them every week.  It’s like I have my own little fan club and unfortunately it’s going to be taken away very soon.  I also feel bad that I’m the one leaving them.  I wonder if they all know that I won’t be around next semester or if they’ll be looking for me on the first day of class.  I wish there was some way I could be pen pals with all of them, but they’re just too young.  I’m going to stop dwelling on the fact that I only have four weeks of school left and look forward to my weekend on Hua Hin beach instead.  Enjoy your weekend and take pleasure in the fact that although it’s already Friday afternoon for me right now that means my Monday morning starts before yours does.
It’s Friday!  When Friday comes I’m always thinking TGIF, like the rest of the working population, and sometimes on really hard, long weeks I’m thinking TGIFF.  Not this week though.  School went by pretty quickly and it was enjoyable for the most part.  I had a couple ‘firsts’ this week also.  Which seems strange since it’s the 16th week, but new things are still happening every day.  
I found out that we have to give our kindergarten kids a final.  All semester they told us that we didn’t have to test or grade our kids and then out of the blue I’m handed a three page test.  Some of the questions are things I never covered in class, so now I’m scrambling to make worksheets and squeeze review sessions into my lesson plans.  I’m not too worried about it, but I want to make sure my kids are on the same English level as the other kindergarten classes.  
My grade 1 kids reached a new high on the  ’out of control scale.’  They were the worst that they had ever been.  I felt like I was back at week one when they didn’t listen or respect me at all.  I didn’t want to yell and scream because I remember when I was in school it was kind of funny if the teacher lost it, so instead I started writing a word on the board.  Every time they were noisy I would add a letter.  I was going to spell WRITE, but when I put the W up one of my smart girls said, “Teacher, work?”  ”Yep, work,” I answered because work has less letters than write and I knew they were going to keep talking anyway.  Approximately two minutes later I made them all shut their workbooks when we were in the middle of a problem that really got their attention.  They looked so scared.  It was awesome.  Then I told them that they had to write everything I had on the board or they would get a zero.  I started writing a bunch of sentences, so many that only the really good fast kids could finish in time.  If they didn’t finish I put a huge red 0 on their page.  I think it worked because they were much better the rest of the week.  
One of my “bad” kids gave me a hug.  A lot of the kids flock to me after song and dance time and basically smoother me with hugs.  Sometimes I feel like a piece of chocolate and they’re all ants.  They’re so small but when they all hug and squeeze me they have the ability to basically pick me up and move me.  I have to make them form a line so I don’t end up crushing them if I fall over.  Anyway, one of the most rambunctious little kids that never does his work or listens to anyone actually gave me a hug.  It was adorable.  I thought he hated me.  Probably because a little part of me really dislikes his attitude.  Now I’m trying to communicate and motivate him in different ways so we’ll see where that takes us.
My distracted and hyper boy is interested in finishing his worksheets.  I think he realized that if he finishes them quickly he can run around like a crazy person like he wants to.  I used to have to beg him to even start them or separate him from everyone so he would stop talking long enough to concentrate, but now he is the first one done.  All week he’s been running up to me and showing me his work.  When I smile and tell him it’s correct he gets so excited.  This is a boy that they had to move down from Kindergarten 2 because he couldn’t stay focused.  He has shown so much improvement this semester and I think he’s finally ready to move up with this class.  
My students drew pictures of me and a bunch of them said, “I love teacher.”  So precious.  They probably love me because they can take total advantage of me and I won’t beat them, but hey love is love.  Some of the photos were hilarious.  One boy drew me as a karate girl.  Obviously that means I’m a kick ass teacher.  Another kid drew me as a robot.  I’m not sure how to take that, but I look cool, I know that.  
My face is now on the TV screens of ten different Thai families.  I had to talk to grade 3 kids on camera for five minutes each.  That conversation determined if they pass or fail the third grade.  Some aspects of the Thai education system still baffle me.  Like how one conversation with a stranger (I’m not these kids’ English teacher) can determine if they pass or fail.  Oh and that finals and the last day of school has just been pushed back another week.
As baffling as some things are others always stay the same like story and song time at the end of the day.  It’s my favorite twenty minutes with the kids because they love, love, love to dance and sing.  Whenever I teach them a new song they literally jump for joy.  They’re always hyped up for new adventures and activities too.  Last week we went to the flower market and they couldn’t stop owing and awing at every plant they passed.  Lastly their love for little prizes and gifts is always overwhelming.  One day I gave them candy canes and you would have thought I handed them each 1,000 baht.  The day they got these giraffes or G. Ralphs, as my Thai teacher originally thought it was spelled, they all went into mother mode.  Everyone was codling and hugging their new little toy.  When they were told to put them in their cubbies they all situated them just so.  I forgot how caring kids are.  Which brings me to my last point: I’m going to miss these crazy babies!  I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like to not see them every week.  It’s like I have my own little fan club and unfortunately it’s going to be taken away very soon.  I also feel bad that I’m the one leaving them.  I wonder if they all know that I won’t be around next semester or if they’ll be looking for me on the first day of class.  I wish there was some way I could be pen pals with all of them, but they’re just too young.  I’m going to stop dwelling on the fact that I only have four weeks of school left and look forward to my weekend on Hua Hin beach instead.  Enjoy your weekend and take pleasure in the fact that although it’s already Friday afternoon for me right now that means my Monday morning starts before yours does.
It’s Friday!  When Friday comes I’m always thinking TGIF, like the rest of the working population, and sometimes on really hard, long weeks I’m thinking TGIFF.  Not this week though.  School went by pretty quickly and it was enjoyable for the most part.  I had a couple ‘firsts’ this week also.  Which seems strange since it’s the 16th week, but new things are still happening every day.  
I found out that we have to give our kindergarten kids a final.  All semester they told us that we didn’t have to test or grade our kids and then out of the blue I’m handed a three page test.  Some of the questions are things I never covered in class, so now I’m scrambling to make worksheets and squeeze review sessions into my lesson plans.  I’m not too worried about it, but I want to make sure my kids are on the same English level as the other kindergarten classes.  
My grade 1 kids reached a new high on the  ’out of control scale.’  They were the worst that they had ever been.  I felt like I was back at week one when they didn’t listen or respect me at all.  I didn’t want to yell and scream because I remember when I was in school it was kind of funny if the teacher lost it, so instead I started writing a word on the board.  Every time they were noisy I would add a letter.  I was going to spell WRITE, but when I put the W up one of my smart girls said, “Teacher, work?”  ”Yep, work,” I answered because work has less letters than write and I knew they were going to keep talking anyway.  Approximately two minutes later I made them all shut their workbooks when we were in the middle of a problem that really got their attention.  They looked so scared.  It was awesome.  Then I told them that they had to write everything I had on the board or they would get a zero.  I started writing a bunch of sentences, so many that only the really good fast kids could finish in time.  If they didn’t finish I put a huge red 0 on their page.  I think it worked because they were much better the rest of the week.  
One of my “bad” kids gave me a hug.  A lot of the kids flock to me after song and dance time and basically smoother me with hugs.  Sometimes I feel like a piece of chocolate and they’re all ants.  They’re so small but when they all hug and squeeze me they have the ability to basically pick me up and move me.  I have to make them form a line so I don’t end up crushing them if I fall over.  Anyway, one of the most rambunctious little kids that never does his work or listens to anyone actually gave me a hug.  It was adorable.  I thought he hated me.  Probably because a little part of me really dislikes his attitude.  Now I’m trying to communicate and motivate him in different ways so we’ll see where that takes us.
My distracted and hyper boy is interested in finishing his worksheets.  I think he realized that if he finishes them quickly he can run around like a crazy person like he wants to.  I used to have to beg him to even start them or separate him from everyone so he would stop talking long enough to concentrate, but now he is the first one done.  All week he’s been running up to me and showing me his work.  When I smile and tell him it’s correct he gets so excited.  This is a boy that they had to move down from Kindergarten 2 because he couldn’t stay focused.  He has shown so much improvement this semester and I think he’s finally ready to move up with this class.  
My students drew pictures of me and a bunch of them said, “I love teacher.”  So precious.  They probably love me because they can take total advantage of me and I won’t beat them, but hey love is love.  Some of the photos were hilarious.  One boy drew me as a karate girl.  Obviously that means I’m a kick ass teacher.  Another kid drew me as a robot.  I’m not sure how to take that, but I look cool, I know that.  
My face is now on the TV screens of ten different Thai families.  I had to talk to grade 3 kids on camera for five minutes each.  That conversation determined if they pass or fail the third grade.  Some aspects of the Thai education system still baffle me.  Like how one conversation with a stranger (I’m not these kids’ English teacher) can determine if they pass or fail.  Oh and that finals and the last day of school has just been pushed back another week.
As baffling as some things are others always stay the same like story and song time at the end of the day.  It’s my favorite twenty minutes with the kids because they love, love, love to dance and sing.  Whenever I teach them a new song they literally jump for joy.  They’re always hyped up for new adventures and activities too.  Last week we went to the flower market and they couldn’t stop owing and awing at every plant they passed.  Lastly their love for little prizes and gifts is always overwhelming.  One day I gave them candy canes and you would have thought I handed them each 1,000 baht.  The day they got these giraffes or G. Ralphs, as my Thai teacher originally thought it was spelled, they all went into mother mode.  Everyone was codling and hugging their new little toy.  When they were told to put them in their cubbies they all situated them just so.  I forgot how caring kids are.  Which brings me to my last point: I’m going to miss these crazy babies!  I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like to not see them every week.  It’s like I have my own little fan club and unfortunately it’s going to be taken away very soon.  I also feel bad that I’m the one leaving them.  I wonder if they all know that I won’t be around next semester or if they’ll be looking for me on the first day of class.  I wish there was some way I could be pen pals with all of them, but they’re just too young.  I’m going to stop dwelling on the fact that I only have four weeks of school left and look forward to my weekend on Hua Hin beach instead.  Enjoy your weekend and take pleasure in the fact that although it’s already Friday afternoon for me right now that means my Monday morning starts before yours does.

It’s Friday!  When Friday comes I’m always thinking TGIF, like the rest of the working population, and sometimes on really hard, long weeks I’m thinking TGIFF.  Not this week though.  School went by pretty quickly and it was enjoyable for the most part.  I had a couple ‘firsts’ this week also.  Which seems strange since it’s the 16th week, but new things are still happening every day.  

I found out that we have to give our kindergarten kids a final.  All semester they told us that we didn’t have to test or grade our kids and then out of the blue I’m handed a three page test.  Some of the questions are things I never covered in class, so now I’m scrambling to make worksheets and squeeze review sessions into my lesson plans.  I’m not too worried about it, but I want to make sure my kids are on the same English level as the other kindergarten classes.  

My grade 1 kids reached a new high on the  ’out of control scale.’  They were the worst that they had ever been.  I felt like I was back at week one when they didn’t listen or respect me at all.  I didn’t want to yell and scream because I remember when I was in school it was kind of funny if the teacher lost it, so instead I started writing a word on the board.  Every time they were noisy I would add a letter.  I was going to spell WRITE, but when I put the W up one of my smart girls said, “Teacher, work?”  ”Yep, work,” I answered because work has less letters than write and I knew they were going to keep talking anyway.  Approximately two minutes later I made them all shut their workbooks when we were in the middle of a problem that really got their attention.  They looked so scared.  It was awesome.  Then I told them that they had to write everything I had on the board or they would get a zero.  I started writing a bunch of sentences, so many that only the really good fast kids could finish in time.  If they didn’t finish I put a huge red 0 on their page.  I think it worked because they were much better the rest of the week.  

One of my “bad” kids gave me a hug.  A lot of the kids flock to me after song and dance time and basically smoother me with hugs.  Sometimes I feel like a piece of chocolate and they’re all ants.  They’re so small but when they all hug and squeeze me they have the ability to basically pick me up and move me.  I have to make them form a line so I don’t end up crushing them if I fall over.  Anyway, one of the most rambunctious little kids that never does his work or listens to anyone actually gave me a hug.  It was adorable.  I thought he hated me.  Probably because a little part of me really dislikes his attitude.  Now I’m trying to communicate and motivate him in different ways so we’ll see where that takes us.

My distracted and hyper boy is interested in finishing his worksheets.  I think he realized that if he finishes them quickly he can run around like a crazy person like he wants to.  I used to have to beg him to even start them or separate him from everyone so he would stop talking long enough to concentrate, but now he is the first one done.  All week he’s been running up to me and showing me his work.  When I smile and tell him it’s correct he gets so excited.  This is a boy that they had to move down from Kindergarten 2 because he couldn’t stay focused.  He has shown so much improvement this semester and I think he’s finally ready to move up with this class.  

My students drew pictures of me and a bunch of them said, “I love teacher.”  So precious.  They probably love me because they can take total advantage of me and I won’t beat them, but hey love is love.  Some of the photos were hilarious.  One boy drew me as a karate girl.  Obviously that means I’m a kick ass teacher.  Another kid drew me as a robot.  I’m not sure how to take that, but I look cool, I know that.  

My face is now on the TV screens of ten different Thai families.  I had to talk to grade 3 kids on camera for five minutes each.  That conversation determined if they pass or fail the third grade.  Some aspects of the Thai education system still baffle me.  Like how one conversation with a stranger (I’m not these kids’ English teacher) can determine if they pass or fail.  Oh and that finals and the last day of school has just been pushed back another week.

As baffling as some things are others always stay the same like story and song time at the end of the day.  It’s my favorite twenty minutes with the kids because they love, love, love to dance and sing.  Whenever I teach them a new song they literally jump for joy.  They’re always hyped up for new adventures and activities too.  Last week we went to the flower market and they couldn’t stop owing and awing at every plant they passed.  Lastly their love for little prizes and gifts is always overwhelming.  One day I gave them candy canes and you would have thought I handed them each 1,000 baht.  The day they got these giraffes or G. Ralphs, as my Thai teacher originally thought it was spelled, they all went into mother mode.  Everyone was codling and hugging their new little toy.  When they were told to put them in their cubbies they all situated them just so.  I forgot how caring kids are.  Which brings me to my last point: I’m going to miss these crazy babies!  I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like to not see them every week.  It’s like I have my own little fan club and unfortunately it’s going to be taken away very soon.  I also feel bad that I’m the one leaving them.  I wonder if they all know that I won’t be around next semester or if they’ll be looking for me on the first day of class.  I wish there was some way I could be pen pals with all of them, but they’re just too young.  I’m going to stop dwelling on the fact that I only have four weeks of school left and look forward to my weekend on Hua Hin beach instead.  Enjoy your weekend and take pleasure in the fact that although it’s already Friday afternoon for me right now that means my Monday morning starts before yours does.

Jump forward a couple weeks; it’s Friday and Saleem and I are on our own again.  Dave left two weeks ago and Saleem’s friends left last week.  It’s a bummer when your friends go.  For a short period of time it’s like you were at home again.  Something familiar was added to your every day Thai life and in the blink of an eye it’s taken away.  To remedy our post-pal blues we decided to head to a national park.  One of our best weekends was spent in Khao Yai National park so we figured another park excursion would do us good.  
At orientation we learned about Erawan National Park.  It is home to a massive seven-tiered waterfall.  Everyone knows about Erawan.  It seems like everyone has gone there, loved it and came back with beautiful pictures.  I had wanted to go since October so I was super psyched to say the least.
After school on Friday we grabbed our bags and walked to the bus station.  We quickly caught a bus and were on our way, or so we thought.  The bus kept slowing down almost to a stop and jerking forward and backward.  I wasn’t sure if we had a 16-year-old driver or if it was broken and then my question was answered when it shut off in the middle of the highway.  Saleem and I groaned in unison and decided after ten minutes that it was the worst bus ride we had ever had.  Things didn’t get better either.  We continued on at a jerky pace for most of the ride.  Then when the bus cleared out the driver decided he didn’t want to take us to where we originally agreed so we were basically kicked off early.  It’s not uncommon for this to happen, but usually it’s relatively close to where you wanted to get off, this time it wasn’t.  We gritted our teeth, got off the bus, crossed the highway and started walking towards the sky train.  The sky train is an elevated subway, but picture a really clean, sleek, modern subway.  It was Friday around 5:30 and it was packed to the gills.  Did you ever see videos of Japan where people outside the train and pushing people in so the doors can close?  It was pretty close to that point.  I could feel sweat on my forehead as I squeezed in and put my arm up to grab the overhead loops.  In Thailand it’s very offensive to be dirty or have body odor so when I feel one drop of sweat I feel like everyone’s going to be giggling about me.  I think everyone was more concerned with my weekend backpack that kept bumping in to them, but I just smiled and tried to take up as little room as possible.  About twenty minutes later it was time to shove my way out of the train, the moment I was dreading since I squirmed into my spot, but it turned out my stop was pretty popular and getting off was no problem at all.  I met up with Saleem again and we walked down the stairs and towards the balcony that over looks Victory Monument.  It’s an enormous monument in the middle of a roundabout.  Not the baby ones that are all over New Jersey; this intersection is huge.  It is also the hub for buses and vans to the rest of Thailand.  You can find a bus to anywhere the hard part is figuring out which of the twenty corners your bus is on.  Usually we are completely wrong and we end up having to go up and down catwalks, wait for lights to change and dodge speeding buses, but this time Saleem was on the money.  The first ticket desk we tried sold tickets to Kanchanaburi, the town we were headed to.  The bummer was that the van didn’t leave for another two hours.  At first we walked through the street market, but it was crowded and I was pinching pennies so I really didn’t want to be tempted to buy anything.  Our next stop was a bus bench where I took a catnap while sitting up.  Then we grew bored so we moved on in search of dinner.  We came across fruit smoothies first so we each ordered one.  After taking the first few sips we watched a waiter put straws from dirty cups he’d just cleared into a container with water.  That’s the day we realized Thai’s reuse straws, gross.  We sat down for dinner even though we had no idea what was being served.  We waited a couple minutes and the waiter just kept passing us by so we decided to forget it.  We found another bench and sat there restlessly.  After another ten minutes, without speaking we both stood up.  We simultaneously thought we should move a little closer to the ticket table in case the van came early.  Right as we were walking over we heard, “Falangggg, Falanggg!” which means foreigner.  The lady from the ticket table was waving us into the van.  It had just gotten there and filled up and she saved our two seats for us.  We scrambled into the back and sat down relieved to finally be on the road.  
We got off to a slow start because Bangkok traffic was horrible.  After thirty minutes Saleem tapped me and pointed out the window, we were passing Victory Monument again.  I’m not sure if the driver made a wrong turn or wanted to take an alternate route or what, but it basically took us thirty minutes to drive in a circle.  I already had to pee.  Not a good sign.  I tuned out of the van and the traffic and into my Joe Rogan podcast.  In no time we were zooming northwest on rural roads far away from the busy streets of Bangkok.
Three hours later we pulled into a semi-deserted street.  Our first mission was food and since it looked like everything was about to close we made a quick decision to get papaya salad.  It’s a popular Thai dish that I eat almost daily for lunch.  It’s a mixture of shredded green papaya, carrots and cabbage topped with tomatoes, hot peppers, peanuts, tiny dried shrimp, and a mixture of spicy vinegars and sauces.  It’s all thrown into a mortar and pestle and pounded around until it’s spicy, juicy and delicious.  I love it.  It has replaced my daily ice cream craving, which makes me love it even more.  This batch was really spicy; by the end of dinner my nose was running and my mouth watering.  We ate quickly and walked over to 7-eleven to buy goodies.  Then we hitched a ride from two motorcycle taxi men.  We asked them to take us to Jolly Frog, the cheapest bungalow in the guidebook.  Unfortunately Jolly Frog was full.  The drivers said another hotel name, we shook our heads and off we went.  We arrived at Blue Star, another cheap hotel, but it was also full and so was  Apple’s, Sugarhouse and Bamboo House.  Finally on the fifth try we lucked out.  My Home still had some rooms and to our delight they were cheap, only about $7 a night.  The rooms were actually little sheds like the ones you can buy at home depot to keep your riding lawn mower in.  The only thing in the room was a fan and bed, there was no space to walk, but who needs that anyway?  Each of the sheds were lined up in an L shape, making a right angle and they were all painted a different color of the rainbow.  Talk about trendy.  After stashing our stuff we walked out onto the main street, which wasn’t nearly as sleepy as the rode we arrived on.  This was Kanchanaburi’s main street and it was packed with tourists and lined with bars and restaurants.  In the guidebook it was described as a backpacker town, but I wasn’t expecting so many people.  We walked to another 7-eleven (there’s about a dozen in each town) and grabbed two big Leo beers.  We headed back to “My Home” and stooped it for a while as we planned out the next day.
Our plan was to wake up early, which we did.  We ate fruit for breakfast and went next door to Jolly Frog to rent a bike.  The owner used to be a director at a school, which is like a superintendent in the states, and he was happy and talkative once he saw our work permits.  Once we got the motorbike we headed for the hills, literally.  The national park with the waterfall was about 60 kilometers away so we had quite the journey ahead of us.  On the ride we were pretty silent, I could feel a mutual enjoyment of being surrounded by mountains, green fields and fresh cold air.  After a little bit Saleem asked me to take a photo while we were speeding along.  As I lifted my camera from my hip I got stung by something.  At first I thought maybe a rock hit my wrist, but ten minutes later I saw a small circle with a pinhole in the middle of it.  It hurt like hell and was starting to get itchy, but I tried to ignore it.  Another half hour later we drove by an enormous reservoir.  We pulled over, jumped the guardrail and made our way through the trees and vines to the water’s edge.  The reflection of the blue sky with fluffy white clouds was immaculate on the calm water.  I had never had much luck with reflection photos.  In four years of taking pictures this was probably only my second or third opportunity like this.  We both took our time finding our own angles and views, climbing up the hill, crouching by the water, experimenting one way or the other until we were satisfied with our shots.  As we walked back to the bike I noticed my wrist was swelling up.  I tried to squeeze the tiny hole and get whatever was in there out, but it just wasn’t happening.  
After another half hour we were at the park’s entrance.  We showed them our work permits and haggled to get the fee lowered and it worked.  We parked the bike and began the walk to the waterfall.  We were a little put off when we saw that there were several buses in the parking lot, but we tried not to make any assumptions about what lay ahead.  Not long after we started walking, groups upon groups of Europeans, particularly Russians were passing us in the opposite direction.  All of them wearing next to nothing and many of them obscenely overweight, smoking cigarettes and being boisterous.  We passed by the first tier and moved onto the second hoping it would be a bit quieter.  It wasn’t at all.  From my photos you’d think no one was there, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.  I was hoping for a relaxing weekend of solitude.  Just me, my camera and mother earth.  By the look on his face, I think that’s what Saleem was hoping for to.   
After climbing up steep stairs (behind a woman in a thong) we made it to tier three.  The waterfall itself was beautiful, but I was finding it really hard to take it all in amid the groups and gaggles of people pushing by me.  I couldn’t take a photo without someone waiting behind me as if it was a zoo and they had to get the same picture of the lion as I did.  I wasn’t annoyed, I was just a little let down.  I had really high expectations and I think that was ninety percent of the problem.  I had built up this famous waterfall in my head for a few months.  I pictured a walk through the woods, blue clear water and serene photographs.  It was quite a nice hike and the water was shockingly blue, but something was missing or maybe hundreds of things were added that was taking away from the whole experience.  
On and on I walked.  Stepping over jagged rocks, splashing through shallow water, gripping to the handrail while climbing up slippery wooden stairs all on my way to the top of Erawan.  I had heard that the top three tiers were more challenging to reach so there would be less people.  I really hoped that was true.  The fifth and sixth were breathtakingly beautiful, but still crowded.  I had a really great photo in mind for the fifth, but I couldn’t pull it off because someone kept stepping into the frame.  It just occurred to me that I sound like I’m the only one who had the right to be there and that all these other people were ruining my time, but that’s not what I’m trying to project.  I’m simply trying to convey the thoughts that were going through my mind all day.  I just now realized that these thoughts were what really discounted my day.  My inner negativity was dampening my creativity when it came to photography and at the same time shutting off my senses.  I was so focused on blocking everyone out that at the same time I didn’t allow myself to fully take in all the beauty amidst the chaos.  Again, it came down to the expectations I had built up around this waterfall.  I expected to be one of the only ones there, exploring and discovering new angles and methods for capturing Erawan and it just didn’t end up like that.  Anyway, back to the final tier.  It was true that most people didn’t make it all the way to the top.  There were only a couple foreigners.  There were a bunch of Thais, but I could handle them, I liked them.  They were kind, quiet and inviting.  This was their space anyway, their country’s gem.  The waterfall itself was actually quite lame at the very top.  If we had come in the rainy season I’m sure it would have been one of the better ones I’d seen in all of Thailand, but compared to October it was really dry.  Where there was a lack of water there was an excess of bees.  They were huge, like the size of my pinky and they were everywhere.  I happened to be wearing fluorescent pink shorts and if bees love any color, it’s fluorescent pink.  I was swarmed instantly and because of my earlier incident I was really freaked out.  I immediately took off my shorts and ran away.  I bet I was a sight to see.  I actually made friends by acting like a scared idiot.  I met a few Thai while I was running away from my shorts.  They only spoke a tiny bit of English and I answered with my tiny bit of Thai.  We learned each others names, ages and where we lived.  They were really happy that I was a teacher.  They kept saying, “crue, crue, crue” over and over (crue means teacher).  After we had a mini photo shoot I said good-bye and picked up my shorts that were still covered with bees.  I managed to shove them in my backpack without getting stung again.  Those big bees may not even sting, but I wasn’t taking any chances.  My entire hand was swollen by this point in the day, but I was trying to not to think about it.  
Originally Saleem and I decided to hike all the way up and then chill at certain spots on the way down.  We hung out a little bit at tier six, but then we decided to keep moving.  It all felt like too much of a tourist attraction and we weren’t feeling it.  I bet you couldn’t guess that from the previous paragraphs, could you?
We got back on the bike and decided to head Tham Phra That cave.  According to lonely planet there is a visible fault line, translucent rocks, glittering crystals and bat covered caverns.  I was really excited because I hadn’t been to a legitimate cave yet and for some reason caves are my thing, even though I’m pretty sure I’ve only been to two in my life time, but yeah, I was pumped.  We didn’t really know how to get there, but we followed the vague guidebook and our guts.  We proceed up a mountain on a bumpy dirt road.  I was borderline terrified.  Saleem likes to drive fast, all the time.  I closed my eyes and hung onto the bar behind my butt hoping that we weren’t going to tip over.  When I opened my eyes I saw a fantastic view.  It was a huge body of water with mountains dotted here and there.   I hadn’t seen anything like it before.  We stopped the bike and walked through an empty lot to get closer to the edge, but then we heard dogs barking and after counting five of them we decided it was time to turn around slowly and walk back to the bike.  We paused at a couple other lookout points and took some photos.  We even turned down a road that said “viewpoint” which turned out to be someone’s house.  They also had dogs, but the owner was a nice old man who repeatedly whacked his dogs every time they barked, a true act of kindness in Thailand.  He invited us up onto his deck for a better view and we had a short conversation about Erawan and where we were headed.  He was so sweet.  I bet he put that sign there just so he could meet people.  I was glad I got to talk with him and enjoy his view.  The mountain islands in the middle of the water seemed so foreign.  It reminded me of something in The Land Before Time or maybe The Never Ending Story, you get the point, it was mystical.
Finally after an hour or so we saw a little sign that said Tham Phra That.  We turned down the skinny dirt lane and ended up at the tiny visitors center.  The boy working there told us that it closed ten minutes ago.  Ten freaking minutes.  I felt like we had struck out.  I had my heart set on seeing everything the cave had to offer.  When I thought of the crystals and the fault line and fluttering bats that would surely scare me as much as excite me, I thought again of expectations and how important it is to keep them low or in the case of Erawan have none at all.  Again we saddled up and rode off into the sunset, just kidding, we rode off in the opposite direction looking for something to save the day.  According to the guidebook there was supposed to be an “enormous and extremely scenic Si Nakharin Reservoir.”  I’ll cut to the chase here to spare myself the pain, it started to rain, we almost crashed and we never got to the reservoir.  The directions weren’t clear, the mileage was off, or it didn’t exist, either way the umpire called strike three.  We were out.  Out of luck, out of gas and out of daylight so we headed back to Kanchanaburi.
Believe it or not we were in pretty good moods throughout the day.  I think we were both stewing inside and we didn’t realize it until we talked over two big beers that night.  Two big beers and a bag full of ice that was sitting on my now ballooned hand.  Saleem started calling it a muffin hand.  He said it was puffy like a muffin.  You couldn’t even see my knuckles.  The ice didn’t help, but the guy who owned the bar directed me towards a pharmacy where they gave me an antibiotic and cream for only $2.  Health care is the bomb in Thailand.  On the way back from the pharmacy I decided it was time to remedy my day.  Even though I was in the throws of the P90x workout I decided there was room for chocolate ice cream in my nutrition plan.  It worked.  It made me smile even though I had had a flop of a day and a balloon of a hand.  On the way back from the pharmacy we even ran into a group of street vendors that chatted us up for a while.  They offered us liquor after we told them we taught in Chonburi.  We learned to “cheers” in Thai and had a few good laughs.  It’s times like those when you realize it’s all about company.  If I could have replaced all the tourists with Thais at Erawan I would have had a completely different experience.  The few interactions I had with Thai natives throughout the day were simple yet meaningful because they carried with them the lasting effects of happiness.  
Jump forward a couple weeks; it’s Friday and Saleem and I are on our own again.  Dave left two weeks ago and Saleem’s friends left last week.  It’s a bummer when your friends go.  For a short period of time it’s like you were at home again.  Something familiar was added to your every day Thai life and in the blink of an eye it’s taken away.  To remedy our post-pal blues we decided to head to a national park.  One of our best weekends was spent in Khao Yai National park so we figured another park excursion would do us good.  
At orientation we learned about Erawan National Park.  It is home to a massive seven-tiered waterfall.  Everyone knows about Erawan.  It seems like everyone has gone there, loved it and came back with beautiful pictures.  I had wanted to go since October so I was super psyched to say the least.
After school on Friday we grabbed our bags and walked to the bus station.  We quickly caught a bus and were on our way, or so we thought.  The bus kept slowing down almost to a stop and jerking forward and backward.  I wasn’t sure if we had a 16-year-old driver or if it was broken and then my question was answered when it shut off in the middle of the highway.  Saleem and I groaned in unison and decided after ten minutes that it was the worst bus ride we had ever had.  Things didn’t get better either.  We continued on at a jerky pace for most of the ride.  Then when the bus cleared out the driver decided he didn’t want to take us to where we originally agreed so we were basically kicked off early.  It’s not uncommon for this to happen, but usually it’s relatively close to where you wanted to get off, this time it wasn’t.  We gritted our teeth, got off the bus, crossed the highway and started walking towards the sky train.  The sky train is an elevated subway, but picture a really clean, sleek, modern subway.  It was Friday around 5:30 and it was packed to the gills.  Did you ever see videos of Japan where people outside the train and pushing people in so the doors can close?  It was pretty close to that point.  I could feel sweat on my forehead as I squeezed in and put my arm up to grab the overhead loops.  In Thailand it’s very offensive to be dirty or have body odor so when I feel one drop of sweat I feel like everyone’s going to be giggling about me.  I think everyone was more concerned with my weekend backpack that kept bumping in to them, but I just smiled and tried to take up as little room as possible.  About twenty minutes later it was time to shove my way out of the train, the moment I was dreading since I squirmed into my spot, but it turned out my stop was pretty popular and getting off was no problem at all.  I met up with Saleem again and we walked down the stairs and towards the balcony that over looks Victory Monument.  It’s an enormous monument in the middle of a roundabout.  Not the baby ones that are all over New Jersey; this intersection is huge.  It is also the hub for buses and vans to the rest of Thailand.  You can find a bus to anywhere the hard part is figuring out which of the twenty corners your bus is on.  Usually we are completely wrong and we end up having to go up and down catwalks, wait for lights to change and dodge speeding buses, but this time Saleem was on the money.  The first ticket desk we tried sold tickets to Kanchanaburi, the town we were headed to.  The bummer was that the van didn’t leave for another two hours.  At first we walked through the street market, but it was crowded and I was pinching pennies so I really didn’t want to be tempted to buy anything.  Our next stop was a bus bench where I took a catnap while sitting up.  Then we grew bored so we moved on in search of dinner.  We came across fruit smoothies first so we each ordered one.  After taking the first few sips we watched a waiter put straws from dirty cups he’d just cleared into a container with water.  That’s the day we realized Thai’s reuse straws, gross.  We sat down for dinner even though we had no idea what was being served.  We waited a couple minutes and the waiter just kept passing us by so we decided to forget it.  We found another bench and sat there restlessly.  After another ten minutes, without speaking we both stood up.  We simultaneously thought we should move a little closer to the ticket table in case the van came early.  Right as we were walking over we heard, “Falangggg, Falanggg!” which means foreigner.  The lady from the ticket table was waving us into the van.  It had just gotten there and filled up and she saved our two seats for us.  We scrambled into the back and sat down relieved to finally be on the road.  
We got off to a slow start because Bangkok traffic was horrible.  After thirty minutes Saleem tapped me and pointed out the window, we were passing Victory Monument again.  I’m not sure if the driver made a wrong turn or wanted to take an alternate route or what, but it basically took us thirty minutes to drive in a circle.  I already had to pee.  Not a good sign.  I tuned out of the van and the traffic and into my Joe Rogan podcast.  In no time we were zooming northwest on rural roads far away from the busy streets of Bangkok.
Three hours later we pulled into a semi-deserted street.  Our first mission was food and since it looked like everything was about to close we made a quick decision to get papaya salad.  It’s a popular Thai dish that I eat almost daily for lunch.  It’s a mixture of shredded green papaya, carrots and cabbage topped with tomatoes, hot peppers, peanuts, tiny dried shrimp, and a mixture of spicy vinegars and sauces.  It’s all thrown into a mortar and pestle and pounded around until it’s spicy, juicy and delicious.  I love it.  It has replaced my daily ice cream craving, which makes me love it even more.  This batch was really spicy; by the end of dinner my nose was running and my mouth watering.  We ate quickly and walked over to 7-eleven to buy goodies.  Then we hitched a ride from two motorcycle taxi men.  We asked them to take us to Jolly Frog, the cheapest bungalow in the guidebook.  Unfortunately Jolly Frog was full.  The drivers said another hotel name, we shook our heads and off we went.  We arrived at Blue Star, another cheap hotel, but it was also full and so was  Apple’s, Sugarhouse and Bamboo House.  Finally on the fifth try we lucked out.  My Home still had some rooms and to our delight they were cheap, only about $7 a night.  The rooms were actually little sheds like the ones you can buy at home depot to keep your riding lawn mower in.  The only thing in the room was a fan and bed, there was no space to walk, but who needs that anyway?  Each of the sheds were lined up in an L shape, making a right angle and they were all painted a different color of the rainbow.  Talk about trendy.  After stashing our stuff we walked out onto the main street, which wasn’t nearly as sleepy as the rode we arrived on.  This was Kanchanaburi’s main street and it was packed with tourists and lined with bars and restaurants.  In the guidebook it was described as a backpacker town, but I wasn’t expecting so many people.  We walked to another 7-eleven (there’s about a dozen in each town) and grabbed two big Leo beers.  We headed back to “My Home” and stooped it for a while as we planned out the next day.
Our plan was to wake up early, which we did.  We ate fruit for breakfast and went next door to Jolly Frog to rent a bike.  The owner used to be a director at a school, which is like a superintendent in the states, and he was happy and talkative once he saw our work permits.  Once we got the motorbike we headed for the hills, literally.  The national park with the waterfall was about 60 kilometers away so we had quite the journey ahead of us.  On the ride we were pretty silent, I could feel a mutual enjoyment of being surrounded by mountains, green fields and fresh cold air.  After a little bit Saleem asked me to take a photo while we were speeding along.  As I lifted my camera from my hip I got stung by something.  At first I thought maybe a rock hit my wrist, but ten minutes later I saw a small circle with a pinhole in the middle of it.  It hurt like hell and was starting to get itchy, but I tried to ignore it.  Another half hour later we drove by an enormous reservoir.  We pulled over, jumped the guardrail and made our way through the trees and vines to the water’s edge.  The reflection of the blue sky with fluffy white clouds was immaculate on the calm water.  I had never had much luck with reflection photos.  In four years of taking pictures this was probably only my second or third opportunity like this.  We both took our time finding our own angles and views, climbing up the hill, crouching by the water, experimenting one way or the other until we were satisfied with our shots.  As we walked back to the bike I noticed my wrist was swelling up.  I tried to squeeze the tiny hole and get whatever was in there out, but it just wasn’t happening.  
After another half hour we were at the park’s entrance.  We showed them our work permits and haggled to get the fee lowered and it worked.  We parked the bike and began the walk to the waterfall.  We were a little put off when we saw that there were several buses in the parking lot, but we tried not to make any assumptions about what lay ahead.  Not long after we started walking, groups upon groups of Europeans, particularly Russians were passing us in the opposite direction.  All of them wearing next to nothing and many of them obscenely overweight, smoking cigarettes and being boisterous.  We passed by the first tier and moved onto the second hoping it would be a bit quieter.  It wasn’t at all.  From my photos you’d think no one was there, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.  I was hoping for a relaxing weekend of solitude.  Just me, my camera and mother earth.  By the look on his face, I think that’s what Saleem was hoping for to.   
After climbing up steep stairs (behind a woman in a thong) we made it to tier three.  The waterfall itself was beautiful, but I was finding it really hard to take it all in amid the groups and gaggles of people pushing by me.  I couldn’t take a photo without someone waiting behind me as if it was a zoo and they had to get the same picture of the lion as I did.  I wasn’t annoyed, I was just a little let down.  I had really high expectations and I think that was ninety percent of the problem.  I had built up this famous waterfall in my head for a few months.  I pictured a walk through the woods, blue clear water and serene photographs.  It was quite a nice hike and the water was shockingly blue, but something was missing or maybe hundreds of things were added that was taking away from the whole experience.  
On and on I walked.  Stepping over jagged rocks, splashing through shallow water, gripping to the handrail while climbing up slippery wooden stairs all on my way to the top of Erawan.  I had heard that the top three tiers were more challenging to reach so there would be less people.  I really hoped that was true.  The fifth and sixth were breathtakingly beautiful, but still crowded.  I had a really great photo in mind for the fifth, but I couldn’t pull it off because someone kept stepping into the frame.  It just occurred to me that I sound like I’m the only one who had the right to be there and that all these other people were ruining my time, but that’s not what I’m trying to project.  I’m simply trying to convey the thoughts that were going through my mind all day.  I just now realized that these thoughts were what really discounted my day.  My inner negativity was dampening my creativity when it came to photography and at the same time shutting off my senses.  I was so focused on blocking everyone out that at the same time I didn’t allow myself to fully take in all the beauty amidst the chaos.  Again, it came down to the expectations I had built up around this waterfall.  I expected to be one of the only ones there, exploring and discovering new angles and methods for capturing Erawan and it just didn’t end up like that.  Anyway, back to the final tier.  It was true that most people didn’t make it all the way to the top.  There were only a couple foreigners.  There were a bunch of Thais, but I could handle them, I liked them.  They were kind, quiet and inviting.  This was their space anyway, their country’s gem.  The waterfall itself was actually quite lame at the very top.  If we had come in the rainy season I’m sure it would have been one of the better ones I’d seen in all of Thailand, but compared to October it was really dry.  Where there was a lack of water there was an excess of bees.  They were huge, like the size of my pinky and they were everywhere.  I happened to be wearing fluorescent pink shorts and if bees love any color, it’s fluorescent pink.  I was swarmed instantly and because of my earlier incident I was really freaked out.  I immediately took off my shorts and ran away.  I bet I was a sight to see.  I actually made friends by acting like a scared idiot.  I met a few Thai while I was running away from my shorts.  They only spoke a tiny bit of English and I answered with my tiny bit of Thai.  We learned each others names, ages and where we lived.  They were really happy that I was a teacher.  They kept saying, “crue, crue, crue” over and over (crue means teacher).  After we had a mini photo shoot I said good-bye and picked up my shorts that were still covered with bees.  I managed to shove them in my backpack without getting stung again.  Those big bees may not even sting, but I wasn’t taking any chances.  My entire hand was swollen by this point in the day, but I was trying to not to think about it.  
Originally Saleem and I decided to hike all the way up and then chill at certain spots on the way down.  We hung out a little bit at tier six, but then we decided to keep moving.  It all felt like too much of a tourist attraction and we weren’t feeling it.  I bet you couldn’t guess that from the previous paragraphs, could you?
We got back on the bike and decided to head Tham Phra That cave.  According to lonely planet there is a visible fault line, translucent rocks, glittering crystals and bat covered caverns.  I was really excited because I hadn’t been to a legitimate cave yet and for some reason caves are my thing, even though I’m pretty sure I’ve only been to two in my life time, but yeah, I was pumped.  We didn’t really know how to get there, but we followed the vague guidebook and our guts.  We proceed up a mountain on a bumpy dirt road.  I was borderline terrified.  Saleem likes to drive fast, all the time.  I closed my eyes and hung onto the bar behind my butt hoping that we weren’t going to tip over.  When I opened my eyes I saw a fantastic view.  It was a huge body of water with mountains dotted here and there.   I hadn’t seen anything like it before.  We stopped the bike and walked through an empty lot to get closer to the edge, but then we heard dogs barking and after counting five of them we decided it was time to turn around slowly and walk back to the bike.  We paused at a couple other lookout points and took some photos.  We even turned down a road that said “viewpoint” which turned out to be someone’s house.  They also had dogs, but the owner was a nice old man who repeatedly whacked his dogs every time they barked, a true act of kindness in Thailand.  He invited us up onto his deck for a better view and we had a short conversation about Erawan and where we were headed.  He was so sweet.  I bet he put that sign there just so he could meet people.  I was glad I got to talk with him and enjoy his view.  The mountain islands in the middle of the water seemed so foreign.  It reminded me of something in The Land Before Time or maybe The Never Ending Story, you get the point, it was mystical.
Finally after an hour or so we saw a little sign that said Tham Phra That.  We turned down the skinny dirt lane and ended up at the tiny visitors center.  The boy working there told us that it closed ten minutes ago.  Ten freaking minutes.  I felt like we had struck out.  I had my heart set on seeing everything the cave had to offer.  When I thought of the crystals and the fault line and fluttering bats that would surely scare me as much as excite me, I thought again of expectations and how important it is to keep them low or in the case of Erawan have none at all.  Again we saddled up and rode off into the sunset, just kidding, we rode off in the opposite direction looking for something to save the day.  According to the guidebook there was supposed to be an “enormous and extremely scenic Si Nakharin Reservoir.”  I’ll cut to the chase here to spare myself the pain, it started to rain, we almost crashed and we never got to the reservoir.  The directions weren’t clear, the mileage was off, or it didn’t exist, either way the umpire called strike three.  We were out.  Out of luck, out of gas and out of daylight so we headed back to Kanchanaburi.
Believe it or not we were in pretty good moods throughout the day.  I think we were both stewing inside and we didn’t realize it until we talked over two big beers that night.  Two big beers and a bag full of ice that was sitting on my now ballooned hand.  Saleem started calling it a muffin hand.  He said it was puffy like a muffin.  You couldn’t even see my knuckles.  The ice didn’t help, but the guy who owned the bar directed me towards a pharmacy where they gave me an antibiotic and cream for only $2.  Health care is the bomb in Thailand.  On the way back from the pharmacy I decided it was time to remedy my day.  Even though I was in the throws of the P90x workout I decided there was room for chocolate ice cream in my nutrition plan.  It worked.  It made me smile even though I had had a flop of a day and a balloon of a hand.  On the way back from the pharmacy we even ran into a group of street vendors that chatted us up for a while.  They offered us liquor after we told them we taught in Chonburi.  We learned to “cheers” in Thai and had a few good laughs.  It’s times like those when you realize it’s all about company.  If I could have replaced all the tourists with Thais at Erawan I would have had a completely different experience.  The few interactions I had with Thai natives throughout the day were simple yet meaningful because they carried with them the lasting effects of happiness.  
Jump forward a couple weeks; it’s Friday and Saleem and I are on our own again.  Dave left two weeks ago and Saleem’s friends left last week.  It’s a bummer when your friends go.  For a short period of time it’s like you were at home again.  Something familiar was added to your every day Thai life and in the blink of an eye it’s taken away.  To remedy our post-pal blues we decided to head to a national park.  One of our best weekends was spent in Khao Yai National park so we figured another park excursion would do us good.  
At orientation we learned about Erawan National Park.  It is home to a massive seven-tiered waterfall.  Everyone knows about Erawan.  It seems like everyone has gone there, loved it and came back with beautiful pictures.  I had wanted to go since October so I was super psyched to say the least.
After school on Friday we grabbed our bags and walked to the bus station.  We quickly caught a bus and were on our way, or so we thought.  The bus kept slowing down almost to a stop and jerking forward and backward.  I wasn’t sure if we had a 16-year-old driver or if it was broken and then my question was answered when it shut off in the middle of the highway.  Saleem and I groaned in unison and decided after ten minutes that it was the worst bus ride we had ever had.  Things didn’t get better either.  We continued on at a jerky pace for most of the ride.  Then when the bus cleared out the driver decided he didn’t want to take us to where we originally agreed so we were basically kicked off early.  It’s not uncommon for this to happen, but usually it’s relatively close to where you wanted to get off, this time it wasn’t.  We gritted our teeth, got off the bus, crossed the highway and started walking towards the sky train.  The sky train is an elevated subway, but picture a really clean, sleek, modern subway.  It was Friday around 5:30 and it was packed to the gills.  Did you ever see videos of Japan where people outside the train and pushing people in so the doors can close?  It was pretty close to that point.  I could feel sweat on my forehead as I squeezed in and put my arm up to grab the overhead loops.  In Thailand it’s very offensive to be dirty or have body odor so when I feel one drop of sweat I feel like everyone’s going to be giggling about me.  I think everyone was more concerned with my weekend backpack that kept bumping in to them, but I just smiled and tried to take up as little room as possible.  About twenty minutes later it was time to shove my way out of the train, the moment I was dreading since I squirmed into my spot, but it turned out my stop was pretty popular and getting off was no problem at all.  I met up with Saleem again and we walked down the stairs and towards the balcony that over looks Victory Monument.  It’s an enormous monument in the middle of a roundabout.  Not the baby ones that are all over New Jersey; this intersection is huge.  It is also the hub for buses and vans to the rest of Thailand.  You can find a bus to anywhere the hard part is figuring out which of the twenty corners your bus is on.  Usually we are completely wrong and we end up having to go up and down catwalks, wait for lights to change and dodge speeding buses, but this time Saleem was on the money.  The first ticket desk we tried sold tickets to Kanchanaburi, the town we were headed to.  The bummer was that the van didn’t leave for another two hours.  At first we walked through the street market, but it was crowded and I was pinching pennies so I really didn’t want to be tempted to buy anything.  Our next stop was a bus bench where I took a catnap while sitting up.  Then we grew bored so we moved on in search of dinner.  We came across fruit smoothies first so we each ordered one.  After taking the first few sips we watched a waiter put straws from dirty cups he’d just cleared into a container with water.  That’s the day we realized Thai’s reuse straws, gross.  We sat down for dinner even though we had no idea what was being served.  We waited a couple minutes and the waiter just kept passing us by so we decided to forget it.  We found another bench and sat there restlessly.  After another ten minutes, without speaking we both stood up.  We simultaneously thought we should move a little closer to the ticket table in case the van came early.  Right as we were walking over we heard, “Falangggg, Falanggg!” which means foreigner.  The lady from the ticket table was waving us into the van.  It had just gotten there and filled up and she saved our two seats for us.  We scrambled into the back and sat down relieved to finally be on the road.  
We got off to a slow start because Bangkok traffic was horrible.  After thirty minutes Saleem tapped me and pointed out the window, we were passing Victory Monument again.  I’m not sure if the driver made a wrong turn or wanted to take an alternate route or what, but it basically took us thirty minutes to drive in a circle.  I already had to pee.  Not a good sign.  I tuned out of the van and the traffic and into my Joe Rogan podcast.  In no time we were zooming northwest on rural roads far away from the busy streets of Bangkok.
Three hours later we pulled into a semi-deserted street.  Our first mission was food and since it looked like everything was about to close we made a quick decision to get papaya salad.  It’s a popular Thai dish that I eat almost daily for lunch.  It’s a mixture of shredded green papaya, carrots and cabbage topped with tomatoes, hot peppers, peanuts, tiny dried shrimp, and a mixture of spicy vinegars and sauces.  It’s all thrown into a mortar and pestle and pounded around until it’s spicy, juicy and delicious.  I love it.  It has replaced my daily ice cream craving, which makes me love it even more.  This batch was really spicy; by the end of dinner my nose was running and my mouth watering.  We ate quickly and walked over to 7-eleven to buy goodies.  Then we hitched a ride from two motorcycle taxi men.  We asked them to take us to Jolly Frog, the cheapest bungalow in the guidebook.  Unfortunately Jolly Frog was full.  The drivers said another hotel name, we shook our heads and off we went.  We arrived at Blue Star, another cheap hotel, but it was also full and so was  Apple’s, Sugarhouse and Bamboo House.  Finally on the fifth try we lucked out.  My Home still had some rooms and to our delight they were cheap, only about $7 a night.  The rooms were actually little sheds like the ones you can buy at home depot to keep your riding lawn mower in.  The only thing in the room was a fan and bed, there was no space to walk, but who needs that anyway?  Each of the sheds were lined up in an L shape, making a right angle and they were all painted a different color of the rainbow.  Talk about trendy.  After stashing our stuff we walked out onto the main street, which wasn’t nearly as sleepy as the rode we arrived on.  This was Kanchanaburi’s main street and it was packed with tourists and lined with bars and restaurants.  In the guidebook it was described as a backpacker town, but I wasn’t expecting so many people.  We walked to another 7-eleven (there’s about a dozen in each town) and grabbed two big Leo beers.  We headed back to “My Home” and stooped it for a while as we planned out the next day.
Our plan was to wake up early, which we did.  We ate fruit for breakfast and went next door to Jolly Frog to rent a bike.  The owner used to be a director at a school, which is like a superintendent in the states, and he was happy and talkative once he saw our work permits.  Once we got the motorbike we headed for the hills, literally.  The national park with the waterfall was about 60 kilometers away so we had quite the journey ahead of us.  On the ride we were pretty silent, I could feel a mutual enjoyment of being surrounded by mountains, green fields and fresh cold air.  After a little bit Saleem asked me to take a photo while we were speeding along.  As I lifted my camera from my hip I got stung by something.  At first I thought maybe a rock hit my wrist, but ten minutes later I saw a small circle with a pinhole in the middle of it.  It hurt like hell and was starting to get itchy, but I tried to ignore it.  Another half hour later we drove by an enormous reservoir.  We pulled over, jumped the guardrail and made our way through the trees and vines to the water’s edge.  The reflection of the blue sky with fluffy white clouds was immaculate on the calm water.  I had never had much luck with reflection photos.  In four years of taking pictures this was probably only my second or third opportunity like this.  We both took our time finding our own angles and views, climbing up the hill, crouching by the water, experimenting one way or the other until we were satisfied with our shots.  As we walked back to the bike I noticed my wrist was swelling up.  I tried to squeeze the tiny hole and get whatever was in there out, but it just wasn’t happening.  
After another half hour we were at the park’s entrance.  We showed them our work permits and haggled to get the fee lowered and it worked.  We parked the bike and began the walk to the waterfall.  We were a little put off when we saw that there were several buses in the parking lot, but we tried not to make any assumptions about what lay ahead.  Not long after we started walking, groups upon groups of Europeans, particularly Russians were passing us in the opposite direction.  All of them wearing next to nothing and many of them obscenely overweight, smoking cigarettes and being boisterous.  We passed by the first tier and moved onto the second hoping it would be a bit quieter.  It wasn’t at all.  From my photos you’d think no one was there, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.  I was hoping for a relaxing weekend of solitude.  Just me, my camera and mother earth.  By the look on his face, I think that’s what Saleem was hoping for to.   
After climbing up steep stairs (behind a woman in a thong) we made it to tier three.  The waterfall itself was beautiful, but I was finding it really hard to take it all in amid the groups and gaggles of people pushing by me.  I couldn’t take a photo without someone waiting behind me as if it was a zoo and they had to get the same picture of the lion as I did.  I wasn’t annoyed, I was just a little let down.  I had really high expectations and I think that was ninety percent of the problem.  I had built up this famous waterfall in my head for a few months.  I pictured a walk through the woods, blue clear water and serene photographs.  It was quite a nice hike and the water was shockingly blue, but something was missing or maybe hundreds of things were added that was taking away from the whole experience.  
On and on I walked.  Stepping over jagged rocks, splashing through shallow water, gripping to the handrail while climbing up slippery wooden stairs all on my way to the top of Erawan.  I had heard that the top three tiers were more challenging to reach so there would be less people.  I really hoped that was true.  The fifth and sixth were breathtakingly beautiful, but still crowded.  I had a really great photo in mind for the fifth, but I couldn’t pull it off because someone kept stepping into the frame.  It just occurred to me that I sound like I’m the only one who had the right to be there and that all these other people were ruining my time, but that’s not what I’m trying to project.  I’m simply trying to convey the thoughts that were going through my mind all day.  I just now realized that these thoughts were what really discounted my day.  My inner negativity was dampening my creativity when it came to photography and at the same time shutting off my senses.  I was so focused on blocking everyone out that at the same time I didn’t allow myself to fully take in all the beauty amidst the chaos.  Again, it came down to the expectations I had built up around this waterfall.  I expected to be one of the only ones there, exploring and discovering new angles and methods for capturing Erawan and it just didn’t end up like that.  Anyway, back to the final tier.  It was true that most people didn’t make it all the way to the top.  There were only a couple foreigners.  There were a bunch of Thais, but I could handle them, I liked them.  They were kind, quiet and inviting.  This was their space anyway, their country’s gem.  The waterfall itself was actually quite lame at the very top.  If we had come in the rainy season I’m sure it would have been one of the better ones I’d seen in all of Thailand, but compared to October it was really dry.  Where there was a lack of water there was an excess of bees.  They were huge, like the size of my pinky and they were everywhere.  I happened to be wearing fluorescent pink shorts and if bees love any color, it’s fluorescent pink.  I was swarmed instantly and because of my earlier incident I was really freaked out.  I immediately took off my shorts and ran away.  I bet I was a sight to see.  I actually made friends by acting like a scared idiot.  I met a few Thai while I was running away from my shorts.  They only spoke a tiny bit of English and I answered with my tiny bit of Thai.  We learned each others names, ages and where we lived.  They were really happy that I was a teacher.  They kept saying, “crue, crue, crue” over and over (crue means teacher).  After we had a mini photo shoot I said good-bye and picked up my shorts that were still covered with bees.  I managed to shove them in my backpack without getting stung again.  Those big bees may not even sting, but I wasn’t taking any chances.  My entire hand was swollen by this point in the day, but I was trying to not to think about it.  
Originally Saleem and I decided to hike all the way up and then chill at certain spots on the way down.  We hung out a little bit at tier six, but then we decided to keep moving.  It all felt like too much of a tourist attraction and we weren’t feeling it.  I bet you couldn’t guess that from the previous paragraphs, could you?
We got back on the bike and decided to head Tham Phra That cave.  According to lonely planet there is a visible fault line, translucent rocks, glittering crystals and bat covered caverns.  I was really excited because I hadn’t been to a legitimate cave yet and for some reason caves are my thing, even though I’m pretty sure I’ve only been to two in my life time, but yeah, I was pumped.  We didn’t really know how to get there, but we followed the vague guidebook and our guts.  We proceed up a mountain on a bumpy dirt road.  I was borderline terrified.  Saleem likes to drive fast, all the time.  I closed my eyes and hung onto the bar behind my butt hoping that we weren’t going to tip over.  When I opened my eyes I saw a fantastic view.  It was a huge body of water with mountains dotted here and there.   I hadn’t seen anything like it before.  We stopped the bike and walked through an empty lot to get closer to the edge, but then we heard dogs barking and after counting five of them we decided it was time to turn around slowly and walk back to the bike.  We paused at a couple other lookout points and took some photos.  We even turned down a road that said “viewpoint” which turned out to be someone’s house.  They also had dogs, but the owner was a nice old man who repeatedly whacked his dogs every time they barked, a true act of kindness in Thailand.  He invited us up onto his deck for a better view and we had a short conversation about Erawan and where we were headed.  He was so sweet.  I bet he put that sign there just so he could meet people.  I was glad I got to talk with him and enjoy his view.  The mountain islands in the middle of the water seemed so foreign.  It reminded me of something in The Land Before Time or maybe The Never Ending Story, you get the point, it was mystical.
Finally after an hour or so we saw a little sign that said Tham Phra That.  We turned down the skinny dirt lane and ended up at the tiny visitors center.  The boy working there told us that it closed ten minutes ago.  Ten freaking minutes.  I felt like we had struck out.  I had my heart set on seeing everything the cave had to offer.  When I thought of the crystals and the fault line and fluttering bats that would surely scare me as much as excite me, I thought again of expectations and how important it is to keep them low or in the case of Erawan have none at all.  Again we saddled up and rode off into the sunset, just kidding, we rode off in the opposite direction looking for something to save the day.  According to the guidebook there was supposed to be an “enormous and extremely scenic Si Nakharin Reservoir.”  I’ll cut to the chase here to spare myself the pain, it started to rain, we almost crashed and we never got to the reservoir.  The directions weren’t clear, the mileage was off, or it didn’t exist, either way the umpire called strike three.  We were out.  Out of luck, out of gas and out of daylight so we headed back to Kanchanaburi.
Believe it or not we were in pretty good moods throughout the day.  I think we were both stewing inside and we didn’t realize it until we talked over two big beers that night.  Two big beers and a bag full of ice that was sitting on my now ballooned hand.  Saleem started calling it a muffin hand.  He said it was puffy like a muffin.  You couldn’t even see my knuckles.  The ice didn’t help, but the guy who owned the bar directed me towards a pharmacy where they gave me an antibiotic and cream for only $2.  Health care is the bomb in Thailand.  On the way back from the pharmacy I decided it was time to remedy my day.  Even though I was in the throws of the P90x workout I decided there was room for chocolate ice cream in my nutrition plan.  It worked.  It made me smile even though I had had a flop of a day and a balloon of a hand.  On the way back from the pharmacy we even ran into a group of street vendors that chatted us up for a while.  They offered us liquor after we told them we taught in Chonburi.  We learned to “cheers” in Thai and had a few good laughs.  It’s times like those when you realize it’s all about company.  If I could have replaced all the tourists with Thais at Erawan I would have had a completely different experience.  The few interactions I had with Thai natives throughout the day were simple yet meaningful because they carried with them the lasting effects of happiness.  
Jump forward a couple weeks; it’s Friday and Saleem and I are on our own again.  Dave left two weeks ago and Saleem’s friends left last week.  It’s a bummer when your friends go.  For a short period of time it’s like you were at home again.  Something familiar was added to your every day Thai life and in the blink of an eye it’s taken away.  To remedy our post-pal blues we decided to head to a national park.  One of our best weekends was spent in Khao Yai National park so we figured another park excursion would do us good.  
At orientation we learned about Erawan National Park.  It is home to a massive seven-tiered waterfall.  Everyone knows about Erawan.  It seems like everyone has gone there, loved it and came back with beautiful pictures.  I had wanted to go since October so I was super psyched to say the least.
After school on Friday we grabbed our bags and walked to the bus station.  We quickly caught a bus and were on our way, or so we thought.  The bus kept slowing down almost to a stop and jerking forward and backward.  I wasn’t sure if we had a 16-year-old driver or if it was broken and then my question was answered when it shut off in the middle of the highway.  Saleem and I groaned in unison and decided after ten minutes that it was the worst bus ride we had ever had.  Things didn’t get better either.  We continued on at a jerky pace for most of the ride.  Then when the bus cleared out the driver decided he didn’t want to take us to where we originally agreed so we were basically kicked off early.  It’s not uncommon for this to happen, but usually it’s relatively close to where you wanted to get off, this time it wasn’t.  We gritted our teeth, got off the bus, crossed the highway and started walking towards the sky train.  The sky train is an elevated subway, but picture a really clean, sleek, modern subway.  It was Friday around 5:30 and it was packed to the gills.  Did you ever see videos of Japan where people outside the train and pushing people in so the doors can close?  It was pretty close to that point.  I could feel sweat on my forehead as I squeezed in and put my arm up to grab the overhead loops.  In Thailand it’s very offensive to be dirty or have body odor so when I feel one drop of sweat I feel like everyone’s going to be giggling about me.  I think everyone was more concerned with my weekend backpack that kept bumping in to them, but I just smiled and tried to take up as little room as possible.  About twenty minutes later it was time to shove my way out of the train, the moment I was dreading since I squirmed into my spot, but it turned out my stop was pretty popular and getting off was no problem at all.  I met up with Saleem again and we walked down the stairs and towards the balcony that over looks Victory Monument.  It’s an enormous monument in the middle of a roundabout.  Not the baby ones that are all over New Jersey; this intersection is huge.  It is also the hub for buses and vans to the rest of Thailand.  You can find a bus to anywhere the hard part is figuring out which of the twenty corners your bus is on.  Usually we are completely wrong and we end up having to go up and down catwalks, wait for lights to change and dodge speeding buses, but this time Saleem was on the money.  The first ticket desk we tried sold tickets to Kanchanaburi, the town we were headed to.  The bummer was that the van didn’t leave for another two hours.  At first we walked through the street market, but it was crowded and I was pinching pennies so I really didn’t want to be tempted to buy anything.  Our next stop was a bus bench where I took a catnap while sitting up.  Then we grew bored so we moved on in search of dinner.  We came across fruit smoothies first so we each ordered one.  After taking the first few sips we watched a waiter put straws from dirty cups he’d just cleared into a container with water.  That’s the day we realized Thai’s reuse straws, gross.  We sat down for dinner even though we had no idea what was being served.  We waited a couple minutes and the waiter just kept passing us by so we decided to forget it.  We found another bench and sat there restlessly.  After another ten minutes, without speaking we both stood up.  We simultaneously thought we should move a little closer to the ticket table in case the van came early.  Right as we were walking over we heard, “Falangggg, Falanggg!” which means foreigner.  The lady from the ticket table was waving us into the van.  It had just gotten there and filled up and she saved our two seats for us.  We scrambled into the back and sat down relieved to finally be on the road.  
We got off to a slow start because Bangkok traffic was horrible.  After thirty minutes Saleem tapped me and pointed out the window, we were passing Victory Monument again.  I’m not sure if the driver made a wrong turn or wanted to take an alternate route or what, but it basically took us thirty minutes to drive in a circle.  I already had to pee.  Not a good sign.  I tuned out of the van and the traffic and into my Joe Rogan podcast.  In no time we were zooming northwest on rural roads far away from the busy streets of Bangkok.
Three hours later we pulled into a semi-deserted street.  Our first mission was food and since it looked like everything was about to close we made a quick decision to get papaya salad.  It’s a popular Thai dish that I eat almost daily for lunch.  It’s a mixture of shredded green papaya, carrots and cabbage topped with tomatoes, hot peppers, peanuts, tiny dried shrimp, and a mixture of spicy vinegars and sauces.  It’s all thrown into a mortar and pestle and pounded around until it’s spicy, juicy and delicious.  I love it.  It has replaced my daily ice cream craving, which makes me love it even more.  This batch was really spicy; by the end of dinner my nose was running and my mouth watering.  We ate quickly and walked over to 7-eleven to buy goodies.  Then we hitched a ride from two motorcycle taxi men.  We asked them to take us to Jolly Frog, the cheapest bungalow in the guidebook.  Unfortunately Jolly Frog was full.  The drivers said another hotel name, we shook our heads and off we went.  We arrived at Blue Star, another cheap hotel, but it was also full and so was  Apple’s, Sugarhouse and Bamboo House.  Finally on the fifth try we lucked out.  My Home still had some rooms and to our delight they were cheap, only about $7 a night.  The rooms were actually little sheds like the ones you can buy at home depot to keep your riding lawn mower in.  The only thing in the room was a fan and bed, there was no space to walk, but who needs that anyway?  Each of the sheds were lined up in an L shape, making a right angle and they were all painted a different color of the rainbow.  Talk about trendy.  After stashing our stuff we walked out onto the main street, which wasn’t nearly as sleepy as the rode we arrived on.  This was Kanchanaburi’s main street and it was packed with tourists and lined with bars and restaurants.  In the guidebook it was described as a backpacker town, but I wasn’t expecting so many people.  We walked to another 7-eleven (there’s about a dozen in each town) and grabbed two big Leo beers.  We headed back to “My Home” and stooped it for a while as we planned out the next day.
Our plan was to wake up early, which we did.  We ate fruit for breakfast and went next door to Jolly Frog to rent a bike.  The owner used to be a director at a school, which is like a superintendent in the states, and he was happy and talkative once he saw our work permits.  Once we got the motorbike we headed for the hills, literally.  The national park with the waterfall was about 60 kilometers away so we had quite the journey ahead of us.  On the ride we were pretty silent, I could feel a mutual enjoyment of being surrounded by mountains, green fields and fresh cold air.  After a little bit Saleem asked me to take a photo while we were speeding along.  As I lifted my camera from my hip I got stung by something.  At first I thought maybe a rock hit my wrist, but ten minutes later I saw a small circle with a pinhole in the middle of it.  It hurt like hell and was starting to get itchy, but I tried to ignore it.  Another half hour later we drove by an enormous reservoir.  We pulled over, jumped the guardrail and made our way through the trees and vines to the water’s edge.  The reflection of the blue sky with fluffy white clouds was immaculate on the calm water.  I had never had much luck with reflection photos.  In four years of taking pictures this was probably only my second or third opportunity like this.  We both took our time finding our own angles and views, climbing up the hill, crouching by the water, experimenting one way or the other until we were satisfied with our shots.  As we walked back to the bike I noticed my wrist was swelling up.  I tried to squeeze the tiny hole and get whatever was in there out, but it just wasn’t happening.  
After another half hour we were at the park’s entrance.  We showed them our work permits and haggled to get the fee lowered and it worked.  We parked the bike and began the walk to the waterfall.  We were a little put off when we saw that there were several buses in the parking lot, but we tried not to make any assumptions about what lay ahead.  Not long after we started walking, groups upon groups of Europeans, particularly Russians were passing us in the opposite direction.  All of them wearing next to nothing and many of them obscenely overweight, smoking cigarettes and being boisterous.  We passed by the first tier and moved onto the second hoping it would be a bit quieter.  It wasn’t at all.  From my photos you’d think no one was there, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.  I was hoping for a relaxing weekend of solitude.  Just me, my camera and mother earth.  By the look on his face, I think that’s what Saleem was hoping for to.   
After climbing up steep stairs (behind a woman in a thong) we made it to tier three.  The waterfall itself was beautiful, but I was finding it really hard to take it all in amid the groups and gaggles of people pushing by me.  I couldn’t take a photo without someone waiting behind me as if it was a zoo and they had to get the same picture of the lion as I did.  I wasn’t annoyed, I was just a little let down.  I had really high expectations and I think that was ninety percent of the problem.  I had built up this famous waterfall in my head for a few months.  I pictured a walk through the woods, blue clear water and serene photographs.  It was quite a nice hike and the water was shockingly blue, but something was missing or maybe hundreds of things were added that was taking away from the whole experience.  
On and on I walked.  Stepping over jagged rocks, splashing through shallow water, gripping to the handrail while climbing up slippery wooden stairs all on my way to the top of Erawan.  I had heard that the top three tiers were more challenging to reach so there would be less people.  I really hoped that was true.  The fifth and sixth were breathtakingly beautiful, but still crowded.  I had a really great photo in mind for the fifth, but I couldn’t pull it off because someone kept stepping into the frame.  It just occurred to me that I sound like I’m the only one who had the right to be there and that all these other people were ruining my time, but that’s not what I’m trying to project.  I’m simply trying to convey the thoughts that were going through my mind all day.  I just now realized that these thoughts were what really discounted my day.  My inner negativity was dampening my creativity when it came to photography and at the same time shutting off my senses.  I was so focused on blocking everyone out that at the same time I didn’t allow myself to fully take in all the beauty amidst the chaos.  Again, it came down to the expectations I had built up around this waterfall.  I expected to be one of the only ones there, exploring and discovering new angles and methods for capturing Erawan and it just didn’t end up like that.  Anyway, back to the final tier.  It was true that most people didn’t make it all the way to the top.  There were only a couple foreigners.  There were a bunch of Thais, but I could handle them, I liked them.  They were kind, quiet and inviting.  This was their space anyway, their country’s gem.  The waterfall itself was actually quite lame at the very top.  If we had come in the rainy season I’m sure it would have been one of the better ones I’d seen in all of Thailand, but compared to October it was really dry.  Where there was a lack of water there was an excess of bees.  They were huge, like the size of my pinky and they were everywhere.  I happened to be wearing fluorescent pink shorts and if bees love any color, it’s fluorescent pink.  I was swarmed instantly and because of my earlier incident I was really freaked out.  I immediately took off my shorts and ran away.  I bet I was a sight to see.  I actually made friends by acting like a scared idiot.  I met a few Thai while I was running away from my shorts.  They only spoke a tiny bit of English and I answered with my tiny bit of Thai.  We learned each others names, ages and where we lived.  They were really happy that I was a teacher.  They kept saying, “crue, crue, crue” over and over (crue means teacher).  After we had a mini photo shoot I said good-bye and picked up my shorts that were still covered with bees.  I managed to shove them in my backpack without getting stung again.  Those big bees may not even sting, but I wasn’t taking any chances.  My entire hand was swollen by this point in the day, but I was trying to not to think about it.  
Originally Saleem and I decided to hike all the way up and then chill at certain spots on the way down.  We hung out a little bit at tier six, but then we decided to keep moving.  It all felt like too much of a tourist attraction and we weren’t feeling it.  I bet you couldn’t guess that from the previous paragraphs, could you?
We got back on the bike and decided to head Tham Phra That cave.  According to lonely planet there is a visible fault line, translucent rocks, glittering crystals and bat covered caverns.  I was really excited because I hadn’t been to a legitimate cave yet and for some reason caves are my thing, even though I’m pretty sure I’ve only been to two in my life time, but yeah, I was pumped.  We didn’t really know how to get there, but we followed the vague guidebook and our guts.  We proceed up a mountain on a bumpy dirt road.  I was borderline terrified.  Saleem likes to drive fast, all the time.  I closed my eyes and hung onto the bar behind my butt hoping that we weren’t going to tip over.  When I opened my eyes I saw a fantastic view.  It was a huge body of water with mountains dotted here and there.   I hadn’t seen anything like it before.  We stopped the bike and walked through an empty lot to get closer to the edge, but then we heard dogs barking and after counting five of them we decided it was time to turn around slowly and walk back to the bike.  We paused at a couple other lookout points and took some photos.  We even turned down a road that said “viewpoint” which turned out to be someone’s house.  They also had dogs, but the owner was a nice old man who repeatedly whacked his dogs every time they barked, a true act of kindness in Thailand.  He invited us up onto his deck for a better view and we had a short conversation about Erawan and where we were headed.  He was so sweet.  I bet he put that sign there just so he could meet people.  I was glad I got to talk with him and enjoy his view.  The mountain islands in the middle of the water seemed so foreign.  It reminded me of something in The Land Before Time or maybe The Never Ending Story, you get the point, it was mystical.
Finally after an hour or so we saw a little sign that said Tham Phra That.  We turned down the skinny dirt lane and ended up at the tiny visitors center.  The boy working there told us that it closed ten minutes ago.  Ten freaking minutes.  I felt like we had struck out.  I had my heart set on seeing everything the cave had to offer.  When I thought of the crystals and the fault line and fluttering bats that would surely scare me as much as excite me, I thought again of expectations and how important it is to keep them low or in the case of Erawan have none at all.  Again we saddled up and rode off into the sunset, just kidding, we rode off in the opposite direction looking for something to save the day.  According to the guidebook there was supposed to be an “enormous and extremely scenic Si Nakharin Reservoir.”  I’ll cut to the chase here to spare myself the pain, it started to rain, we almost crashed and we never got to the reservoir.  The directions weren’t clear, the mileage was off, or it didn’t exist, either way the umpire called strike three.  We were out.  Out of luck, out of gas and out of daylight so we headed back to Kanchanaburi.
Believe it or not we were in pretty good moods throughout the day.  I think we were both stewing inside and we didn’t realize it until we talked over two big beers that night.  Two big beers and a bag full of ice that was sitting on my now ballooned hand.  Saleem started calling it a muffin hand.  He said it was puffy like a muffin.  You couldn’t even see my knuckles.  The ice didn’t help, but the guy who owned the bar directed me towards a pharmacy where they gave me an antibiotic and cream for only $2.  Health care is the bomb in Thailand.  On the way back from the pharmacy I decided it was time to remedy my day.  Even though I was in the throws of the P90x workout I decided there was room for chocolate ice cream in my nutrition plan.  It worked.  It made me smile even though I had had a flop of a day and a balloon of a hand.  On the way back from the pharmacy we even ran into a group of street vendors that chatted us up for a while.  They offered us liquor after we told them we taught in Chonburi.  We learned to “cheers” in Thai and had a few good laughs.  It’s times like those when you realize it’s all about company.  If I could have replaced all the tourists with Thais at Erawan I would have had a completely different experience.  The few interactions I had with Thai natives throughout the day were simple yet meaningful because they carried with them the lasting effects of happiness.  
Jump forward a couple weeks; it’s Friday and Saleem and I are on our own again.  Dave left two weeks ago and Saleem’s friends left last week.  It’s a bummer when your friends go.  For a short period of time it’s like you were at home again.  Something familiar was added to your every day Thai life and in the blink of an eye it’s taken away.  To remedy our post-pal blues we decided to head to a national park.  One of our best weekends was spent in Khao Yai National park so we figured another park excursion would do us good.  
At orientation we learned about Erawan National Park.  It is home to a massive seven-tiered waterfall.  Everyone knows about Erawan.  It seems like everyone has gone there, loved it and came back with beautiful pictures.  I had wanted to go since October so I was super psyched to say the least.
After school on Friday we grabbed our bags and walked to the bus station.  We quickly caught a bus and were on our way, or so we thought.  The bus kept slowing down almost to a stop and jerking forward and backward.  I wasn’t sure if we had a 16-year-old driver or if it was broken and then my question was answered when it shut off in the middle of the highway.  Saleem and I groaned in unison and decided after ten minutes that it was the worst bus ride we had ever had.  Things didn’t get better either.  We continued on at a jerky pace for most of the ride.  Then when the bus cleared out the driver decided he didn’t want to take us to where we originally agreed so we were basically kicked off early.  It’s not uncommon for this to happen, but usually it’s relatively close to where you wanted to get off, this time it wasn’t.  We gritted our teeth, got off the bus, crossed the highway and started walking towards the sky train.  The sky train is an elevated subway, but picture a really clean, sleek, modern subway.  It was Friday around 5:30 and it was packed to the gills.  Did you ever see videos of Japan where people outside the train and pushing people in so the doors can close?  It was pretty close to that point.  I could feel sweat on my forehead as I squeezed in and put my arm up to grab the overhead loops.  In Thailand it’s very offensive to be dirty or have body odor so when I feel one drop of sweat I feel like everyone’s going to be giggling about me.  I think everyone was more concerned with my weekend backpack that kept bumping in to them, but I just smiled and tried to take up as little room as possible.  About twenty minutes later it was time to shove my way out of the train, the moment I was dreading since I squirmed into my spot, but it turned out my stop was pretty popular and getting off was no problem at all.  I met up with Saleem again and we walked down the stairs and towards the balcony that over looks Victory Monument.  It’s an enormous monument in the middle of a roundabout.  Not the baby ones that are all over New Jersey; this intersection is huge.  It is also the hub for buses and vans to the rest of Thailand.  You can find a bus to anywhere the hard part is figuring out which of the twenty corners your bus is on.  Usually we are completely wrong and we end up having to go up and down catwalks, wait for lights to change and dodge speeding buses, but this time Saleem was on the money.  The first ticket desk we tried sold tickets to Kanchanaburi, the town we were headed to.  The bummer was that the van didn’t leave for another two hours.  At first we walked through the street market, but it was crowded and I was pinching pennies so I really didn’t want to be tempted to buy anything.  Our next stop was a bus bench where I took a catnap while sitting up.  Then we grew bored so we moved on in search of dinner.  We came across fruit smoothies first so we each ordered one.  After taking the first few sips we watched a waiter put straws from dirty cups he’d just cleared into a container with water.  That’s the day we realized Thai’s reuse straws, gross.  We sat down for dinner even though we had no idea what was being served.  We waited a couple minutes and the waiter just kept passing us by so we decided to forget it.  We found another bench and sat there restlessly.  After another ten minutes, without speaking we both stood up.  We simultaneously thought we should move a little closer to the ticket table in case the van came early.  Right as we were walking over we heard, “Falangggg, Falanggg!” which means foreigner.  The lady from the ticket table was waving us into the van.  It had just gotten there and filled up and she saved our two seats for us.  We scrambled into the back and sat down relieved to finally be on the road.  
We got off to a slow start because Bangkok traffic was horrible.  After thirty minutes Saleem tapped me and pointed out the window, we were passing Victory Monument again.  I’m not sure if the driver made a wrong turn or wanted to take an alternate route or what, but it basically took us thirty minutes to drive in a circle.  I already had to pee.  Not a good sign.  I tuned out of the van and the traffic and into my Joe Rogan podcast.  In no time we were zooming northwest on rural roads far away from the busy streets of Bangkok.
Three hours later we pulled into a semi-deserted street.  Our first mission was food and since it looked like everything was about to close we made a quick decision to get papaya salad.  It’s a popular Thai dish that I eat almost daily for lunch.  It’s a mixture of shredded green papaya, carrots and cabbage topped with tomatoes, hot peppers, peanuts, tiny dried shrimp, and a mixture of spicy vinegars and sauces.  It’s all thrown into a mortar and pestle and pounded around until it’s spicy, juicy and delicious.  I love it.  It has replaced my daily ice cream craving, which makes me love it even more.  This batch was really spicy; by the end of dinner my nose was running and my mouth watering.  We ate quickly and walked over to 7-eleven to buy goodies.  Then we hitched a ride from two motorcycle taxi men.  We asked them to take us to Jolly Frog, the cheapest bungalow in the guidebook.  Unfortunately Jolly Frog was full.  The drivers said another hotel name, we shook our heads and off we went.  We arrived at Blue Star, another cheap hotel, but it was also full and so was  Apple’s, Sugarhouse and Bamboo House.  Finally on the fifth try we lucked out.  My Home still had some rooms and to our delight they were cheap, only about $7 a night.  The rooms were actually little sheds like the ones you can buy at home depot to keep your riding lawn mower in.  The only thing in the room was a fan and bed, there was no space to walk, but who needs that anyway?  Each of the sheds were lined up in an L shape, making a right angle and they were all painted a different color of the rainbow.  Talk about trendy.  After stashing our stuff we walked out onto the main street, which wasn’t nearly as sleepy as the rode we arrived on.  This was Kanchanaburi’s main street and it was packed with tourists and lined with bars and restaurants.  In the guidebook it was described as a backpacker town, but I wasn’t expecting so many people.  We walked to another 7-eleven (there’s about a dozen in each town) and grabbed two big Leo beers.  We headed back to “My Home” and stooped it for a while as we planned out the next day.
Our plan was to wake up early, which we did.  We ate fruit for breakfast and went next door to Jolly Frog to rent a bike.  The owner used to be a director at a school, which is like a superintendent in the states, and he was happy and talkative once he saw our work permits.  Once we got the motorbike we headed for the hills, literally.  The national park with the waterfall was about 60 kilometers away so we had quite the journey ahead of us.  On the ride we were pretty silent, I could feel a mutual enjoyment of being surrounded by mountains, green fields and fresh cold air.  After a little bit Saleem asked me to take a photo while we were speeding along.  As I lifted my camera from my hip I got stung by something.  At first I thought maybe a rock hit my wrist, but ten minutes later I saw a small circle with a pinhole in the middle of it.  It hurt like hell and was starting to get itchy, but I tried to ignore it.  Another half hour later we drove by an enormous reservoir.  We pulled over, jumped the guardrail and made our way through the trees and vines to the water’s edge.  The reflection of the blue sky with fluffy white clouds was immaculate on the calm water.  I had never had much luck with reflection photos.  In four years of taking pictures this was probably only my second or third opportunity like this.  We both took our time finding our own angles and views, climbing up the hill, crouching by the water, experimenting one way or the other until we were satisfied with our shots.  As we walked back to the bike I noticed my wrist was swelling up.  I tried to squeeze the tiny hole and get whatever was in there out, but it just wasn’t happening.  
After another half hour we were at the park’s entrance.  We showed them our work permits and haggled to get the fee lowered and it worked.  We parked the bike and began the walk to the waterfall.  We were a little put off when we saw that there were several buses in the parking lot, but we tried not to make any assumptions about what lay ahead.  Not long after we started walking, groups upon groups of Europeans, particularly Russians were passing us in the opposite direction.  All of them wearing next to nothing and many of them obscenely overweight, smoking cigarettes and being boisterous.  We passed by the first tier and moved onto the second hoping it would be a bit quieter.  It wasn’t at all.  From my photos you’d think no one was there, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.  I was hoping for a relaxing weekend of solitude.  Just me, my camera and mother earth.  By the look on his face, I think that’s what Saleem was hoping for to.   
After climbing up steep stairs (behind a woman in a thong) we made it to tier three.  The waterfall itself was beautiful, but I was finding it really hard to take it all in amid the groups and gaggles of people pushing by me.  I couldn’t take a photo without someone waiting behind me as if it was a zoo and they had to get the same picture of the lion as I did.  I wasn’t annoyed, I was just a little let down.  I had really high expectations and I think that was ninety percent of the problem.  I had built up this famous waterfall in my head for a few months.  I pictured a walk through the woods, blue clear water and serene photographs.  It was quite a nice hike and the water was shockingly blue, but something was missing or maybe hundreds of things were added that was taking away from the whole experience.  
On and on I walked.  Stepping over jagged rocks, splashing through shallow water, gripping to the handrail while climbing up slippery wooden stairs all on my way to the top of Erawan.  I had heard that the top three tiers were more challenging to reach so there would be less people.  I really hoped that was true.  The fifth and sixth were breathtakingly beautiful, but still crowded.  I had a really great photo in mind for the fifth, but I couldn’t pull it off because someone kept stepping into the frame.  It just occurred to me that I sound like I’m the only one who had the right to be there and that all these other people were ruining my time, but that’s not what I’m trying to project.  I’m simply trying to convey the thoughts that were going through my mind all day.  I just now realized that these thoughts were what really discounted my day.  My inner negativity was dampening my creativity when it came to photography and at the same time shutting off my senses.  I was so focused on blocking everyone out that at the same time I didn’t allow myself to fully take in all the beauty amidst the chaos.  Again, it came down to the expectations I had built up around this waterfall.  I expected to be one of the only ones there, exploring and discovering new angles and methods for capturing Erawan and it just didn’t end up like that.  Anyway, back to the final tier.  It was true that most people didn’t make it all the way to the top.  There were only a couple foreigners.  There were a bunch of Thais, but I could handle them, I liked them.  They were kind, quiet and inviting.  This was their space anyway, their country’s gem.  The waterfall itself was actually quite lame at the very top.  If we had come in the rainy season I’m sure it would have been one of the better ones I’d seen in all of Thailand, but compared to October it was really dry.  Where there was a lack of water there was an excess of bees.  They were huge, like the size of my pinky and they were everywhere.  I happened to be wearing fluorescent pink shorts and if bees love any color, it’s fluorescent pink.  I was swarmed instantly and because of my earlier incident I was really freaked out.  I immediately took off my shorts and ran away.  I bet I was a sight to see.  I actually made friends by acting like a scared idiot.  I met a few Thai while I was running away from my shorts.  They only spoke a tiny bit of English and I answered with my tiny bit of Thai.  We learned each others names, ages and where we lived.  They were really happy that I was a teacher.  They kept saying, “crue, crue, crue” over and over (crue means teacher).  After we had a mini photo shoot I said good-bye and picked up my shorts that were still covered with bees.  I managed to shove them in my backpack without getting stung again.  Those big bees may not even sting, but I wasn’t taking any chances.  My entire hand was swollen by this point in the day, but I was trying to not to think about it.  
Originally Saleem and I decided to hike all the way up and then chill at certain spots on the way down.  We hung out a little bit at tier six, but then we decided to keep moving.  It all felt like too much of a tourist attraction and we weren’t feeling it.  I bet you couldn’t guess that from the previous paragraphs, could you?
We got back on the bike and decided to head Tham Phra That cave.  According to lonely planet there is a visible fault line, translucent rocks, glittering crystals and bat covered caverns.  I was really excited because I hadn’t been to a legitimate cave yet and for some reason caves are my thing, even though I’m pretty sure I’ve only been to two in my life time, but yeah, I was pumped.  We didn’t really know how to get there, but we followed the vague guidebook and our guts.  We proceed up a mountain on a bumpy dirt road.  I was borderline terrified.  Saleem likes to drive fast, all the time.  I closed my eyes and hung onto the bar behind my butt hoping that we weren’t going to tip over.  When I opened my eyes I saw a fantastic view.  It was a huge body of water with mountains dotted here and there.   I hadn’t seen anything like it before.  We stopped the bike and walked through an empty lot to get closer to the edge, but then we heard dogs barking and after counting five of them we decided it was time to turn around slowly and walk back to the bike.  We paused at a couple other lookout points and took some photos.  We even turned down a road that said “viewpoint” which turned out to be someone’s house.  They also had dogs, but the owner was a nice old man who repeatedly whacked his dogs every time they barked, a true act of kindness in Thailand.  He invited us up onto his deck for a better view and we had a short conversation about Erawan and where we were headed.  He was so sweet.  I bet he put that sign there just so he could meet people.  I was glad I got to talk with him and enjoy his view.  The mountain islands in the middle of the water seemed so foreign.  It reminded me of something in The Land Before Time or maybe The Never Ending Story, you get the point, it was mystical.
Finally after an hour or so we saw a little sign that said Tham Phra That.  We turned down the skinny dirt lane and ended up at the tiny visitors center.  The boy working there told us that it closed ten minutes ago.  Ten freaking minutes.  I felt like we had struck out.  I had my heart set on seeing everything the cave had to offer.  When I thought of the crystals and the fault line and fluttering bats that would surely scare me as much as excite me, I thought again of expectations and how important it is to keep them low or in the case of Erawan have none at all.  Again we saddled up and rode off into the sunset, just kidding, we rode off in the opposite direction looking for something to save the day.  According to the guidebook there was supposed to be an “enormous and extremely scenic Si Nakharin Reservoir.”  I’ll cut to the chase here to spare myself the pain, it started to rain, we almost crashed and we never got to the reservoir.  The directions weren’t clear, the mileage was off, or it didn’t exist, either way the umpire called strike three.  We were out.  Out of luck, out of gas and out of daylight so we headed back to Kanchanaburi.
Believe it or not we were in pretty good moods throughout the day.  I think we were both stewing inside and we didn’t realize it until we talked over two big beers that night.  Two big beers and a bag full of ice that was sitting on my now ballooned hand.  Saleem started calling it a muffin hand.  He said it was puffy like a muffin.  You couldn’t even see my knuckles.  The ice didn’t help, but the guy who owned the bar directed me towards a pharmacy where they gave me an antibiotic and cream for only $2.  Health care is the bomb in Thailand.  On the way back from the pharmacy I decided it was time to remedy my day.  Even though I was in the throws of the P90x workout I decided there was room for chocolate ice cream in my nutrition plan.  It worked.  It made me smile even though I had had a flop of a day and a balloon of a hand.  On the way back from the pharmacy we even ran into a group of street vendors that chatted us up for a while.  They offered us liquor after we told them we taught in Chonburi.  We learned to “cheers” in Thai and had a few good laughs.  It’s times like those when you realize it’s all about company.  If I could have replaced all the tourists with Thais at Erawan I would have had a completely different experience.  The few interactions I had with Thai natives throughout the day were simple yet meaningful because they carried with them the lasting effects of happiness.  
Jump forward a couple weeks; it’s Friday and Saleem and I are on our own again.  Dave left two weeks ago and Saleem’s friends left last week.  It’s a bummer when your friends go.  For a short period of time it’s like you were at home again.  Something familiar was added to your every day Thai life and in the blink of an eye it’s taken away.  To remedy our post-pal blues we decided to head to a national park.  One of our best weekends was spent in Khao Yai National park so we figured another park excursion would do us good.  
At orientation we learned about Erawan National Park.  It is home to a massive seven-tiered waterfall.  Everyone knows about Erawan.  It seems like everyone has gone there, loved it and came back with beautiful pictures.  I had wanted to go since October so I was super psyched to say the least.
After school on Friday we grabbed our bags and walked to the bus station.  We quickly caught a bus and were on our way, or so we thought.  The bus kept slowing down almost to a stop and jerking forward and backward.  I wasn’t sure if we had a 16-year-old driver or if it was broken and then my question was answered when it shut off in the middle of the highway.  Saleem and I groaned in unison and decided after ten minutes that it was the worst bus ride we had ever had.  Things didn’t get better either.  We continued on at a jerky pace for most of the ride.  Then when the bus cleared out the driver decided he didn’t want to take us to where we originally agreed so we were basically kicked off early.  It’s not uncommon for this to happen, but usually it’s relatively close to where you wanted to get off, this time it wasn’t.  We gritted our teeth, got off the bus, crossed the highway and started walking towards the sky train.  The sky train is an elevated subway, but picture a really clean, sleek, modern subway.  It was Friday around 5:30 and it was packed to the gills.  Did you ever see videos of Japan where people outside the train and pushing people in so the doors can close?  It was pretty close to that point.  I could feel sweat on my forehead as I squeezed in and put my arm up to grab the overhead loops.  In Thailand it’s very offensive to be dirty or have body odor so when I feel one drop of sweat I feel like everyone’s going to be giggling about me.  I think everyone was more concerned with my weekend backpack that kept bumping in to them, but I just smiled and tried to take up as little room as possible.  About twenty minutes later it was time to shove my way out of the train, the moment I was dreading since I squirmed into my spot, but it turned out my stop was pretty popular and getting off was no problem at all.  I met up with Saleem again and we walked down the stairs and towards the balcony that over looks Victory Monument.  It’s an enormous monument in the middle of a roundabout.  Not the baby ones that are all over New Jersey; this intersection is huge.  It is also the hub for buses and vans to the rest of Thailand.  You can find a bus to anywhere the hard part is figuring out which of the twenty corners your bus is on.  Usually we are completely wrong and we end up having to go up and down catwalks, wait for lights to change and dodge speeding buses, but this time Saleem was on the money.  The first ticket desk we tried sold tickets to Kanchanaburi, the town we were headed to.  The bummer was that the van didn’t leave for another two hours.  At first we walked through the street market, but it was crowded and I was pinching pennies so I really didn’t want to be tempted to buy anything.  Our next stop was a bus bench where I took a catnap while sitting up.  Then we grew bored so we moved on in search of dinner.  We came across fruit smoothies first so we each ordered one.  After taking the first few sips we watched a waiter put straws from dirty cups he’d just cleared into a container with water.  That’s the day we realized Thai’s reuse straws, gross.  We sat down for dinner even though we had no idea what was being served.  We waited a couple minutes and the waiter just kept passing us by so we decided to forget it.  We found another bench and sat there restlessly.  After another ten minutes, without speaking we both stood up.  We simultaneously thought we should move a little closer to the ticket table in case the van came early.  Right as we were walking over we heard, “Falangggg, Falanggg!” which means foreigner.  The lady from the ticket table was waving us into the van.  It had just gotten there and filled up and she saved our two seats for us.  We scrambled into the back and sat down relieved to finally be on the road.  
We got off to a slow start because Bangkok traffic was horrible.  After thirty minutes Saleem tapped me and pointed out the window, we were passing Victory Monument again.  I’m not sure if the driver made a wrong turn or wanted to take an alternate route or what, but it basically took us thirty minutes to drive in a circle.  I already had to pee.  Not a good sign.  I tuned out of the van and the traffic and into my Joe Rogan podcast.  In no time we were zooming northwest on rural roads far away from the busy streets of Bangkok.
Three hours later we pulled into a semi-deserted street.  Our first mission was food and since it looked like everything was about to close we made a quick decision to get papaya salad.  It’s a popular Thai dish that I eat almost daily for lunch.  It’s a mixture of shredded green papaya, carrots and cabbage topped with tomatoes, hot peppers, peanuts, tiny dried shrimp, and a mixture of spicy vinegars and sauces.  It’s all thrown into a mortar and pestle and pounded around until it’s spicy, juicy and delicious.  I love it.  It has replaced my daily ice cream craving, which makes me love it even more.  This batch was really spicy; by the end of dinner my nose was running and my mouth watering.  We ate quickly and walked over to 7-eleven to buy goodies.  Then we hitched a ride from two motorcycle taxi men.  We asked them to take us to Jolly Frog, the cheapest bungalow in the guidebook.  Unfortunately Jolly Frog was full.  The drivers said another hotel name, we shook our heads and off we went.  We arrived at Blue Star, another cheap hotel, but it was also full and so was  Apple’s, Sugarhouse and Bamboo House.  Finally on the fifth try we lucked out.  My Home still had some rooms and to our delight they were cheap, only about $7 a night.  The rooms were actually little sheds like the ones you can buy at home depot to keep your riding lawn mower in.  The only thing in the room was a fan and bed, there was no space to walk, but who needs that anyway?  Each of the sheds were lined up in an L shape, making a right angle and they were all painted a different color of the rainbow.  Talk about trendy.  After stashing our stuff we walked out onto the main street, which wasn’t nearly as sleepy as the rode we arrived on.  This was Kanchanaburi’s main street and it was packed with tourists and lined with bars and restaurants.  In the guidebook it was described as a backpacker town, but I wasn’t expecting so many people.  We walked to another 7-eleven (there’s about a dozen in each town) and grabbed two big Leo beers.  We headed back to “My Home” and stooped it for a while as we planned out the next day.
Our plan was to wake up early, which we did.  We ate fruit for breakfast and went next door to Jolly Frog to rent a bike.  The owner used to be a director at a school, which is like a superintendent in the states, and he was happy and talkative once he saw our work permits.  Once we got the motorbike we headed for the hills, literally.  The national park with the waterfall was about 60 kilometers away so we had quite the journey ahead of us.  On the ride we were pretty silent, I could feel a mutual enjoyment of being surrounded by mountains, green fields and fresh cold air.  After a little bit Saleem asked me to take a photo while we were speeding along.  As I lifted my camera from my hip I got stung by something.  At first I thought maybe a rock hit my wrist, but ten minutes later I saw a small circle with a pinhole in the middle of it.  It hurt like hell and was starting to get itchy, but I tried to ignore it.  Another half hour later we drove by an enormous reservoir.  We pulled over, jumped the guardrail and made our way through the trees and vines to the water’s edge.  The reflection of the blue sky with fluffy white clouds was immaculate on the calm water.  I had never had much luck with reflection photos.  In four years of taking pictures this was probably only my second or third opportunity like this.  We both took our time finding our own angles and views, climbing up the hill, crouching by the water, experimenting one way or the other until we were satisfied with our shots.  As we walked back to the bike I noticed my wrist was swelling up.  I tried to squeeze the tiny hole and get whatever was in there out, but it just wasn’t happening.  
After another half hour we were at the park’s entrance.  We showed them our work permits and haggled to get the fee lowered and it worked.  We parked the bike and began the walk to the waterfall.  We were a little put off when we saw that there were several buses in the parking lot, but we tried not to make any assumptions about what lay ahead.  Not long after we started walking, groups upon groups of Europeans, particularly Russians were passing us in the opposite direction.  All of them wearing next to nothing and many of them obscenely overweight, smoking cigarettes and being boisterous.  We passed by the first tier and moved onto the second hoping it would be a bit quieter.  It wasn’t at all.  From my photos you’d think no one was there, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.  I was hoping for a relaxing weekend of solitude.  Just me, my camera and mother earth.  By the look on his face, I think that’s what Saleem was hoping for to.   
After climbing up steep stairs (behind a woman in a thong) we made it to tier three.  The waterfall itself was beautiful, but I was finding it really hard to take it all in amid the groups and gaggles of people pushing by me.  I couldn’t take a photo without someone waiting behind me as if it was a zoo and they had to get the same picture of the lion as I did.  I wasn’t annoyed, I was just a little let down.  I had really high expectations and I think that was ninety percent of the problem.  I had built up this famous waterfall in my head for a few months.  I pictured a walk through the woods, blue clear water and serene photographs.  It was quite a nice hike and the water was shockingly blue, but something was missing or maybe hundreds of things were added that was taking away from the whole experience.  
On and on I walked.  Stepping over jagged rocks, splashing through shallow water, gripping to the handrail while climbing up slippery wooden stairs all on my way to the top of Erawan.  I had heard that the top three tiers were more challenging to reach so there would be less people.  I really hoped that was true.  The fifth and sixth were breathtakingly beautiful, but still crowded.  I had a really great photo in mind for the fifth, but I couldn’t pull it off because someone kept stepping into the frame.  It just occurred to me that I sound like I’m the only one who had the right to be there and that all these other people were ruining my time, but that’s not what I’m trying to project.  I’m simply trying to convey the thoughts that were going through my mind all day.  I just now realized that these thoughts were what really discounted my day.  My inner negativity was dampening my creativity when it came to photography and at the same time shutting off my senses.  I was so focused on blocking everyone out that at the same time I didn’t allow myself to fully take in all the beauty amidst the chaos.  Again, it came down to the expectations I had built up around this waterfall.  I expected to be one of the only ones there, exploring and discovering new angles and methods for capturing Erawan and it just didn’t end up like that.  Anyway, back to the final tier.  It was true that most people didn’t make it all the way to the top.  There were only a couple foreigners.  There were a bunch of Thais, but I could handle them, I liked them.  They were kind, quiet and inviting.  This was their space anyway, their country’s gem.  The waterfall itself was actually quite lame at the very top.  If we had come in the rainy season I’m sure it would have been one of the better ones I’d seen in all of Thailand, but compared to October it was really dry.  Where there was a lack of water there was an excess of bees.  They were huge, like the size of my pinky and they were everywhere.  I happened to be wearing fluorescent pink shorts and if bees love any color, it’s fluorescent pink.  I was swarmed instantly and because of my earlier incident I was really freaked out.  I immediately took off my shorts and ran away.  I bet I was a sight to see.  I actually made friends by acting like a scared idiot.  I met a few Thai while I was running away from my shorts.  They only spoke a tiny bit of English and I answered with my tiny bit of Thai.  We learned each others names, ages and where we lived.  They were really happy that I was a teacher.  They kept saying, “crue, crue, crue” over and over (crue means teacher).  After we had a mini photo shoot I said good-bye and picked up my shorts that were still covered with bees.  I managed to shove them in my backpack without getting stung again.  Those big bees may not even sting, but I wasn’t taking any chances.  My entire hand was swollen by this point in the day, but I was trying to not to think about it.  
Originally Saleem and I decided to hike all the way up and then chill at certain spots on the way down.  We hung out a little bit at tier six, but then we decided to keep moving.  It all felt like too much of a tourist attraction and we weren’t feeling it.  I bet you couldn’t guess that from the previous paragraphs, could you?
We got back on the bike and decided to head Tham Phra That cave.  According to lonely planet there is a visible fault line, translucent rocks, glittering crystals and bat covered caverns.  I was really excited because I hadn’t been to a legitimate cave yet and for some reason caves are my thing, even though I’m pretty sure I’ve only been to two in my life time, but yeah, I was pumped.  We didn’t really know how to get there, but we followed the vague guidebook and our guts.  We proceed up a mountain on a bumpy dirt road.  I was borderline terrified.  Saleem likes to drive fast, all the time.  I closed my eyes and hung onto the bar behind my butt hoping that we weren’t going to tip over.  When I opened my eyes I saw a fantastic view.  It was a huge body of water with mountains dotted here and there.   I hadn’t seen anything like it before.  We stopped the bike and walked through an empty lot to get closer to the edge, but then we heard dogs barking and after counting five of them we decided it was time to turn around slowly and walk back to the bike.  We paused at a couple other lookout points and took some photos.  We even turned down a road that said “viewpoint” which turned out to be someone’s house.  They also had dogs, but the owner was a nice old man who repeatedly whacked his dogs every time they barked, a true act of kindness in Thailand.  He invited us up onto his deck for a better view and we had a short conversation about Erawan and where we were headed.  He was so sweet.  I bet he put that sign there just so he could meet people.  I was glad I got to talk with him and enjoy his view.  The mountain islands in the middle of the water seemed so foreign.  It reminded me of something in The Land Before Time or maybe The Never Ending Story, you get the point, it was mystical.
Finally after an hour or so we saw a little sign that said Tham Phra That.  We turned down the skinny dirt lane and ended up at the tiny visitors center.  The boy working there told us that it closed ten minutes ago.  Ten freaking minutes.  I felt like we had struck out.  I had my heart set on seeing everything the cave had to offer.  When I thought of the crystals and the fault line and fluttering bats that would surely scare me as much as excite me, I thought again of expectations and how important it is to keep them low or in the case of Erawan have none at all.  Again we saddled up and rode off into the sunset, just kidding, we rode off in the opposite direction looking for something to save the day.  According to the guidebook there was supposed to be an “enormous and extremely scenic Si Nakharin Reservoir.”  I’ll cut to the chase here to spare myself the pain, it started to rain, we almost crashed and we never got to the reservoir.  The directions weren’t clear, the mileage was off, or it didn’t exist, either way the umpire called strike three.  We were out.  Out of luck, out of gas and out of daylight so we headed back to Kanchanaburi.
Believe it or not we were in pretty good moods throughout the day.  I think we were both stewing inside and we didn’t realize it until we talked over two big beers that night.  Two big beers and a bag full of ice that was sitting on my now ballooned hand.  Saleem started calling it a muffin hand.  He said it was puffy like a muffin.  You couldn’t even see my knuckles.  The ice didn’t help, but the guy who owned the bar directed me towards a pharmacy where they gave me an antibiotic and cream for only $2.  Health care is the bomb in Thailand.  On the way back from the pharmacy I decided it was time to remedy my day.  Even though I was in the throws of the P90x workout I decided there was room for chocolate ice cream in my nutrition plan.  It worked.  It made me smile even though I had had a flop of a day and a balloon of a hand.  On the way back from the pharmacy we even ran into a group of street vendors that chatted us up for a while.  They offered us liquor after we told them we taught in Chonburi.  We learned to “cheers” in Thai and had a few good laughs.  It’s times like those when you realize it’s all about company.  If I could have replaced all the tourists with Thais at Erawan I would have had a completely different experience.  The few interactions I had with Thai natives throughout the day were simple yet meaningful because they carried with them the lasting effects of happiness.  
Jump forward a couple weeks; it’s Friday and Saleem and I are on our own again.  Dave left two weeks ago and Saleem’s friends left last week.  It’s a bummer when your friends go.  For a short period of time it’s like you were at home again.  Something familiar was added to your every day Thai life and in the blink of an eye it’s taken away.  To remedy our post-pal blues we decided to head to a national park.  One of our best weekends was spent in Khao Yai National park so we figured another park excursion would do us good.  
At orientation we learned about Erawan National Park.  It is home to a massive seven-tiered waterfall.  Everyone knows about Erawan.  It seems like everyone has gone there, loved it and came back with beautiful pictures.  I had wanted to go since October so I was super psyched to say the least.
After school on Friday we grabbed our bags and walked to the bus station.  We quickly caught a bus and were on our way, or so we thought.  The bus kept slowing down almost to a stop and jerking forward and backward.  I wasn’t sure if we had a 16-year-old driver or if it was broken and then my question was answered when it shut off in the middle of the highway.  Saleem and I groaned in unison and decided after ten minutes that it was the worst bus ride we had ever had.  Things didn’t get better either.  We continued on at a jerky pace for most of the ride.  Then when the bus cleared out the driver decided he didn’t want to take us to where we originally agreed so we were basically kicked off early.  It’s not uncommon for this to happen, but usually it’s relatively close to where you wanted to get off, this time it wasn’t.  We gritted our teeth, got off the bus, crossed the highway and started walking towards the sky train.  The sky train is an elevated subway, but picture a really clean, sleek, modern subway.  It was Friday around 5:30 and it was packed to the gills.  Did you ever see videos of Japan where people outside the train and pushing people in so the doors can close?  It was pretty close to that point.  I could feel sweat on my forehead as I squeezed in and put my arm up to grab the overhead loops.  In Thailand it’s very offensive to be dirty or have body odor so when I feel one drop of sweat I feel like everyone’s going to be giggling about me.  I think everyone was more concerned with my weekend backpack that kept bumping in to them, but I just smiled and tried to take up as little room as possible.  About twenty minutes later it was time to shove my way out of the train, the moment I was dreading since I squirmed into my spot, but it turned out my stop was pretty popular and getting off was no problem at all.  I met up with Saleem again and we walked down the stairs and towards the balcony that over looks Victory Monument.  It’s an enormous monument in the middle of a roundabout.  Not the baby ones that are all over New Jersey; this intersection is huge.  It is also the hub for buses and vans to the rest of Thailand.  You can find a bus to anywhere the hard part is figuring out which of the twenty corners your bus is on.  Usually we are completely wrong and we end up having to go up and down catwalks, wait for lights to change and dodge speeding buses, but this time Saleem was on the money.  The first ticket desk we tried sold tickets to Kanchanaburi, the town we were headed to.  The bummer was that the van didn’t leave for another two hours.  At first we walked through the street market, but it was crowded and I was pinching pennies so I really didn’t want to be tempted to buy anything.  Our next stop was a bus bench where I took a catnap while sitting up.  Then we grew bored so we moved on in search of dinner.  We came across fruit smoothies first so we each ordered one.  After taking the first few sips we watched a waiter put straws from dirty cups he’d just cleared into a container with water.  That’s the day we realized Thai’s reuse straws, gross.  We sat down for dinner even though we had no idea what was being served.  We waited a couple minutes and the waiter just kept passing us by so we decided to forget it.  We found another bench and sat there restlessly.  After another ten minutes, without speaking we both stood up.  We simultaneously thought we should move a little closer to the ticket table in case the van came early.  Right as we were walking over we heard, “Falangggg, Falanggg!” which means foreigner.  The lady from the ticket table was waving us into the van.  It had just gotten there and filled up and she saved our two seats for us.  We scrambled into the back and sat down relieved to finally be on the road.  
We got off to a slow start because Bangkok traffic was horrible.  After thirty minutes Saleem tapped me and pointed out the window, we were passing Victory Monument again.  I’m not sure if the driver made a wrong turn or wanted to take an alternate route or what, but it basically took us thirty minutes to drive in a circle.  I already had to pee.  Not a good sign.  I tuned out of the van and the traffic and into my Joe Rogan podcast.  In no time we were zooming northwest on rural roads far away from the busy streets of Bangkok.
Three hours later we pulled into a semi-deserted street.  Our first mission was food and since it looked like everything was about to close we made a quick decision to get papaya salad.  It’s a popular Thai dish that I eat almost daily for lunch.  It’s a mixture of shredded green papaya, carrots and cabbage topped with tomatoes, hot peppers, peanuts, tiny dried shrimp, and a mixture of spicy vinegars and sauces.  It’s all thrown into a mortar and pestle and pounded around until it’s spicy, juicy and delicious.  I love it.  It has replaced my daily ice cream craving, which makes me love it even more.  This batch was really spicy; by the end of dinner my nose was running and my mouth watering.  We ate quickly and walked over to 7-eleven to buy goodies.  Then we hitched a ride from two motorcycle taxi men.  We asked them to take us to Jolly Frog, the cheapest bungalow in the guidebook.  Unfortunately Jolly Frog was full.  The drivers said another hotel name, we shook our heads and off we went.  We arrived at Blue Star, another cheap hotel, but it was also full and so was  Apple’s, Sugarhouse and Bamboo House.  Finally on the fifth try we lucked out.  My Home still had some rooms and to our delight they were cheap, only about $7 a night.  The rooms were actually little sheds like the ones you can buy at home depot to keep your riding lawn mower in.  The only thing in the room was a fan and bed, there was no space to walk, but who needs that anyway?  Each of the sheds were lined up in an L shape, making a right angle and they were all painted a different color of the rainbow.  Talk about trendy.  After stashing our stuff we walked out onto the main street, which wasn’t nearly as sleepy as the rode we arrived on.  This was Kanchanaburi’s main street and it was packed with tourists and lined with bars and restaurants.  In the guidebook it was described as a backpacker town, but I wasn’t expecting so many people.  We walked to another 7-eleven (there’s about a dozen in each town) and grabbed two big Leo beers.  We headed back to “My Home” and stooped it for a while as we planned out the next day.
Our plan was to wake up early, which we did.  We ate fruit for breakfast and went next door to Jolly Frog to rent a bike.  The owner used to be a director at a school, which is like a superintendent in the states, and he was happy and talkative once he saw our work permits.  Once we got the motorbike we headed for the hills, literally.  The national park with the waterfall was about 60 kilometers away so we had quite the journey ahead of us.  On the ride we were pretty silent, I could feel a mutual enjoyment of being surrounded by mountains, green fields and fresh cold air.  After a little bit Saleem asked me to take a photo while we were speeding along.  As I lifted my camera from my hip I got stung by something.  At first I thought maybe a rock hit my wrist, but ten minutes later I saw a small circle with a pinhole in the middle of it.  It hurt like hell and was starting to get itchy, but I tried to ignore it.  Another half hour later we drove by an enormous reservoir.  We pulled over, jumped the guardrail and made our way through the trees and vines to the water’s edge.  The reflection of the blue sky with fluffy white clouds was immaculate on the calm water.  I had never had much luck with reflection photos.  In four years of taking pictures this was probably only my second or third opportunity like this.  We both took our time finding our own angles and views, climbing up the hill, crouching by the water, experimenting one way or the other until we were satisfied with our shots.  As we walked back to the bike I noticed my wrist was swelling up.  I tried to squeeze the tiny hole and get whatever was in there out, but it just wasn’t happening.  
After another half hour we were at the park’s entrance.  We showed them our work permits and haggled to get the fee lowered and it worked.  We parked the bike and began the walk to the waterfall.  We were a little put off when we saw that there were several buses in the parking lot, but we tried not to make any assumptions about what lay ahead.  Not long after we started walking, groups upon groups of Europeans, particularly Russians were passing us in the opposite direction.  All of them wearing next to nothing and many of them obscenely overweight, smoking cigarettes and being boisterous.  We passed by the first tier and moved onto the second hoping it would be a bit quieter.  It wasn’t at all.  From my photos you’d think no one was there, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.  I was hoping for a relaxing weekend of solitude.  Just me, my camera and mother earth.  By the look on his face, I think that’s what Saleem was hoping for to.   
After climbing up steep stairs (behind a woman in a thong) we made it to tier three.  The waterfall itself was beautiful, but I was finding it really hard to take it all in amid the groups and gaggles of people pushing by me.  I couldn’t take a photo without someone waiting behind me as if it was a zoo and they had to get the same picture of the lion as I did.  I wasn’t annoyed, I was just a little let down.  I had really high expectations and I think that was ninety percent of the problem.  I had built up this famous waterfall in my head for a few months.  I pictured a walk through the woods, blue clear water and serene photographs.  It was quite a nice hike and the water was shockingly blue, but something was missing or maybe hundreds of things were added that was taking away from the whole experience.  
On and on I walked.  Stepping over jagged rocks, splashing through shallow water, gripping to the handrail while climbing up slippery wooden stairs all on my way to the top of Erawan.  I had heard that the top three tiers were more challenging to reach so there would be less people.  I really hoped that was true.  The fifth and sixth were breathtakingly beautiful, but still crowded.  I had a really great photo in mind for the fifth, but I couldn’t pull it off because someone kept stepping into the frame.  It just occurred to me that I sound like I’m the only one who had the right to be there and that all these other people were ruining my time, but that’s not what I’m trying to project.  I’m simply trying to convey the thoughts that were going through my mind all day.  I just now realized that these thoughts were what really discounted my day.  My inner negativity was dampening my creativity when it came to photography and at the same time shutting off my senses.  I was so focused on blocking everyone out that at the same time I didn’t allow myself to fully take in all the beauty amidst the chaos.  Again, it came down to the expectations I had built up around this waterfall.  I expected to be one of the only ones there, exploring and discovering new angles and methods for capturing Erawan and it just didn’t end up like that.  Anyway, back to the final tier.  It was true that most people didn’t make it all the way to the top.  There were only a couple foreigners.  There were a bunch of Thais, but I could handle them, I liked them.  They were kind, quiet and inviting.  This was their space anyway, their country’s gem.  The waterfall itself was actually quite lame at the very top.  If we had come in the rainy season I’m sure it would have been one of the better ones I’d seen in all of Thailand, but compared to October it was really dry.  Where there was a lack of water there was an excess of bees.  They were huge, like the size of my pinky and they were everywhere.  I happened to be wearing fluorescent pink shorts and if bees love any color, it’s fluorescent pink.  I was swarmed instantly and because of my earlier incident I was really freaked out.  I immediately took off my shorts and ran away.  I bet I was a sight to see.  I actually made friends by acting like a scared idiot.  I met a few Thai while I was running away from my shorts.  They only spoke a tiny bit of English and I answered with my tiny bit of Thai.  We learned each others names, ages and where we lived.  They were really happy that I was a teacher.  They kept saying, “crue, crue, crue” over and over (crue means teacher).  After we had a mini photo shoot I said good-bye and picked up my shorts that were still covered with bees.  I managed to shove them in my backpack without getting stung again.  Those big bees may not even sting, but I wasn’t taking any chances.  My entire hand was swollen by this point in the day, but I was trying to not to think about it.  
Originally Saleem and I decided to hike all the way up and then chill at certain spots on the way down.  We hung out a little bit at tier six, but then we decided to keep moving.  It all felt like too much of a tourist attraction and we weren’t feeling it.  I bet you couldn’t guess that from the previous paragraphs, could you?
We got back on the bike and decided to head Tham Phra That cave.  According to lonely planet there is a visible fault line, translucent rocks, glittering crystals and bat covered caverns.  I was really excited because I hadn’t been to a legitimate cave yet and for some reason caves are my thing, even though I’m pretty sure I’ve only been to two in my life time, but yeah, I was pumped.  We didn’t really know how to get there, but we followed the vague guidebook and our guts.  We proceed up a mountain on a bumpy dirt road.  I was borderline terrified.  Saleem likes to drive fast, all the time.  I closed my eyes and hung onto the bar behind my butt hoping that we weren’t going to tip over.  When I opened my eyes I saw a fantastic view.  It was a huge body of water with mountains dotted here and there.   I hadn’t seen anything like it before.  We stopped the bike and walked through an empty lot to get closer to the edge, but then we heard dogs barking and after counting five of them we decided it was time to turn around slowly and walk back to the bike.  We paused at a couple other lookout points and took some photos.  We even turned down a road that said “viewpoint” which turned out to be someone’s house.  They also had dogs, but the owner was a nice old man who repeatedly whacked his dogs every time they barked, a true act of kindness in Thailand.  He invited us up onto his deck for a better view and we had a short conversation about Erawan and where we were headed.  He was so sweet.  I bet he put that sign there just so he could meet people.  I was glad I got to talk with him and enjoy his view.  The mountain islands in the middle of the water seemed so foreign.  It reminded me of something in The Land Before Time or maybe The Never Ending Story, you get the point, it was mystical.
Finally after an hour or so we saw a little sign that said Tham Phra That.  We turned down the skinny dirt lane and ended up at the tiny visitors center.  The boy working there told us that it closed ten minutes ago.  Ten freaking minutes.  I felt like we had struck out.  I had my heart set on seeing everything the cave had to offer.  When I thought of the crystals and the fault line and fluttering bats that would surely scare me as much as excite me, I thought again of expectations and how important it is to keep them low or in the case of Erawan have none at all.  Again we saddled up and rode off into the sunset, just kidding, we rode off in the opposite direction looking for something to save the day.  According to the guidebook there was supposed to be an “enormous and extremely scenic Si Nakharin Reservoir.”  I’ll cut to the chase here to spare myself the pain, it started to rain, we almost crashed and we never got to the reservoir.  The directions weren’t clear, the mileage was off, or it didn’t exist, either way the umpire called strike three.  We were out.  Out of luck, out of gas and out of daylight so we headed back to Kanchanaburi.
Believe it or not we were in pretty good moods throughout the day.  I think we were both stewing inside and we didn’t realize it until we talked over two big beers that night.  Two big beers and a bag full of ice that was sitting on my now ballooned hand.  Saleem started calling it a muffin hand.  He said it was puffy like a muffin.  You couldn’t even see my knuckles.  The ice didn’t help, but the guy who owned the bar directed me towards a pharmacy where they gave me an antibiotic and cream for only $2.  Health care is the bomb in Thailand.  On the way back from the pharmacy I decided it was time to remedy my day.  Even though I was in the throws of the P90x workout I decided there was room for chocolate ice cream in my nutrition plan.  It worked.  It made me smile even though I had had a flop of a day and a balloon of a hand.  On the way back from the pharmacy we even ran into a group of street vendors that chatted us up for a while.  They offered us liquor after we told them we taught in Chonburi.  We learned to “cheers” in Thai and had a few good laughs.  It’s times like those when you realize it’s all about company.  If I could have replaced all the tourists with Thais at Erawan I would have had a completely different experience.  The few interactions I had with Thai natives throughout the day were simple yet meaningful because they carried with them the lasting effects of happiness.  
Jump forward a couple weeks; it’s Friday and Saleem and I are on our own again.  Dave left two weeks ago and Saleem’s friends left last week.  It’s a bummer when your friends go.  For a short period of time it’s like you were at home again.  Something familiar was added to your every day Thai life and in the blink of an eye it’s taken away.  To remedy our post-pal blues we decided to head to a national park.  One of our best weekends was spent in Khao Yai National park so we figured another park excursion would do us good.  
At orientation we learned about Erawan National Park.  It is home to a massive seven-tiered waterfall.  Everyone knows about Erawan.  It seems like everyone has gone there, loved it and came back with beautiful pictures.  I had wanted to go since October so I was super psyched to say the least.
After school on Friday we grabbed our bags and walked to the bus station.  We quickly caught a bus and were on our way, or so we thought.  The bus kept slowing down almost to a stop and jerking forward and backward.  I wasn’t sure if we had a 16-year-old driver or if it was broken and then my question was answered when it shut off in the middle of the highway.  Saleem and I groaned in unison and decided after ten minutes that it was the worst bus ride we had ever had.  Things didn’t get better either.  We continued on at a jerky pace for most of the ride.  Then when the bus cleared out the driver decided he didn’t want to take us to where we originally agreed so we were basically kicked off early.  It’s not uncommon for this to happen, but usually it’s relatively close to where you wanted to get off, this time it wasn’t.  We gritted our teeth, got off the bus, crossed the highway and started walking towards the sky train.  The sky train is an elevated subway, but picture a really clean, sleek, modern subway.  It was Friday around 5:30 and it was packed to the gills.  Did you ever see videos of Japan where people outside the train and pushing people in so the doors can close?  It was pretty close to that point.  I could feel sweat on my forehead as I squeezed in and put my arm up to grab the overhead loops.  In Thailand it’s very offensive to be dirty or have body odor so when I feel one drop of sweat I feel like everyone’s going to be giggling about me.  I think everyone was more concerned with my weekend backpack that kept bumping in to them, but I just smiled and tried to take up as little room as possible.  About twenty minutes later it was time to shove my way out of the train, the moment I was dreading since I squirmed into my spot, but it turned out my stop was pretty popular and getting off was no problem at all.  I met up with Saleem again and we walked down the stairs and towards the balcony that over looks Victory Monument.  It’s an enormous monument in the middle of a roundabout.  Not the baby ones that are all over New Jersey; this intersection is huge.  It is also the hub for buses and vans to the rest of Thailand.  You can find a bus to anywhere the hard part is figuring out which of the twenty corners your bus is on.  Usually we are completely wrong and we end up having to go up and down catwalks, wait for lights to change and dodge speeding buses, but this time Saleem was on the money.  The first ticket desk we tried sold tickets to Kanchanaburi, the town we were headed to.  The bummer was that the van didn’t leave for another two hours.  At first we walked through the street market, but it was crowded and I was pinching pennies so I really didn’t want to be tempted to buy anything.  Our next stop was a bus bench where I took a catnap while sitting up.  Then we grew bored so we moved on in search of dinner.  We came across fruit smoothies first so we each ordered one.  After taking the first few sips we watched a waiter put straws from dirty cups he’d just cleared into a container with water.  That’s the day we realized Thai’s reuse straws, gross.  We sat down for dinner even though we had no idea what was being served.  We waited a couple minutes and the waiter just kept passing us by so we decided to forget it.  We found another bench and sat there restlessly.  After another ten minutes, without speaking we both stood up.  We simultaneously thought we should move a little closer to the ticket table in case the van came early.  Right as we were walking over we heard, “Falangggg, Falanggg!” which means foreigner.  The lady from the ticket table was waving us into the van.  It had just gotten there and filled up and she saved our two seats for us.  We scrambled into the back and sat down relieved to finally be on the road.  
We got off to a slow start because Bangkok traffic was horrible.  After thirty minutes Saleem tapped me and pointed out the window, we were passing Victory Monument again.  I’m not sure if the driver made a wrong turn or wanted to take an alternate route or what, but it basically took us thirty minutes to drive in a circle.  I already had to pee.  Not a good sign.  I tuned out of the van and the traffic and into my Joe Rogan podcast.  In no time we were zooming northwest on rural roads far away from the busy streets of Bangkok.
Three hours later we pulled into a semi-deserted street.  Our first mission was food and since it looked like everything was about to close we made a quick decision to get papaya salad.  It’s a popular Thai dish that I eat almost daily for lunch.  It’s a mixture of shredded green papaya, carrots and cabbage topped with tomatoes, hot peppers, peanuts, tiny dried shrimp, and a mixture of spicy vinegars and sauces.  It’s all thrown into a mortar and pestle and pounded around until it’s spicy, juicy and delicious.  I love it.  It has replaced my daily ice cream craving, which makes me love it even more.  This batch was really spicy; by the end of dinner my nose was running and my mouth watering.  We ate quickly and walked over to 7-eleven to buy goodies.  Then we hitched a ride from two motorcycle taxi men.  We asked them to take us to Jolly Frog, the cheapest bungalow in the guidebook.  Unfortunately Jolly Frog was full.  The drivers said another hotel name, we shook our heads and off we went.  We arrived at Blue Star, another cheap hotel, but it was also full and so was  Apple’s, Sugarhouse and Bamboo House.  Finally on the fifth try we lucked out.  My Home still had some rooms and to our delight they were cheap, only about $7 a night.  The rooms were actually little sheds like the ones you can buy at home depot to keep your riding lawn mower in.  The only thing in the room was a fan and bed, there was no space to walk, but who needs that anyway?  Each of the sheds were lined up in an L shape, making a right angle and they were all painted a different color of the rainbow.  Talk about trendy.  After stashing our stuff we walked out onto the main street, which wasn’t nearly as sleepy as the rode we arrived on.  This was Kanchanaburi’s main street and it was packed with tourists and lined with bars and restaurants.  In the guidebook it was described as a backpacker town, but I wasn’t expecting so many people.  We walked to another 7-eleven (there’s about a dozen in each town) and grabbed two big Leo beers.  We headed back to “My Home” and stooped it for a while as we planned out the next day.
Our plan was to wake up early, which we did.  We ate fruit for breakfast and went next door to Jolly Frog to rent a bike.  The owner used to be a director at a school, which is like a superintendent in the states, and he was happy and talkative once he saw our work permits.  Once we got the motorbike we headed for the hills, literally.  The national park with the waterfall was about 60 kilometers away so we had quite the journey ahead of us.  On the ride we were pretty silent, I could feel a mutual enjoyment of being surrounded by mountains, green fields and fresh cold air.  After a little bit Saleem asked me to take a photo while we were speeding along.  As I lifted my camera from my hip I got stung by something.  At first I thought maybe a rock hit my wrist, but ten minutes later I saw a small circle with a pinhole in the middle of it.  It hurt like hell and was starting to get itchy, but I tried to ignore it.  Another half hour later we drove by an enormous reservoir.  We pulled over, jumped the guardrail and made our way through the trees and vines to the water’s edge.  The reflection of the blue sky with fluffy white clouds was immaculate on the calm water.  I had never had much luck with reflection photos.  In four years of taking pictures this was probably only my second or third opportunity like this.  We both took our time finding our own angles and views, climbing up the hill, crouching by the water, experimenting one way or the other until we were satisfied with our shots.  As we walked back to the bike I noticed my wrist was swelling up.  I tried to squeeze the tiny hole and get whatever was in there out, but it just wasn’t happening.  
After another half hour we were at the park’s entrance.  We showed them our work permits and haggled to get the fee lowered and it worked.  We parked the bike and began the walk to the waterfall.  We were a little put off when we saw that there were several buses in the parking lot, but we tried not to make any assumptions about what lay ahead.  Not long after we started walking, groups upon groups of Europeans, particularly Russians were passing us in the opposite direction.  All of them wearing next to nothing and many of them obscenely overweight, smoking cigarettes and being boisterous.  We passed by the first tier and moved onto the second hoping it would be a bit quieter.  It wasn’t at all.  From my photos you’d think no one was there, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.  I was hoping for a relaxing weekend of solitude.  Just me, my camera and mother earth.  By the look on his face, I think that’s what Saleem was hoping for to.   
After climbing up steep stairs (behind a woman in a thong) we made it to tier three.  The waterfall itself was beautiful, but I was finding it really hard to take it all in amid the groups and gaggles of people pushing by me.  I couldn’t take a photo without someone waiting behind me as if it was a zoo and they had to get the same picture of the lion as I did.  I wasn’t annoyed, I was just a little let down.  I had really high expectations and I think that was ninety percent of the problem.  I had built up this famous waterfall in my head for a few months.  I pictured a walk through the woods, blue clear water and serene photographs.  It was quite a nice hike and the water was shockingly blue, but something was missing or maybe hundreds of things were added that was taking away from the whole experience.  
On and on I walked.  Stepping over jagged rocks, splashing through shallow water, gripping to the handrail while climbing up slippery wooden stairs all on my way to the top of Erawan.  I had heard that the top three tiers were more challenging to reach so there would be less people.  I really hoped that was true.  The fifth and sixth were breathtakingly beautiful, but still crowded.  I had a really great photo in mind for the fifth, but I couldn’t pull it off because someone kept stepping into the frame.  It just occurred to me that I sound like I’m the only one who had the right to be there and that all these other people were ruining my time, but that’s not what I’m trying to project.  I’m simply trying to convey the thoughts that were going through my mind all day.  I just now realized that these thoughts were what really discounted my day.  My inner negativity was dampening my creativity when it came to photography and at the same time shutting off my senses.  I was so focused on blocking everyone out that at the same time I didn’t allow myself to fully take in all the beauty amidst the chaos.  Again, it came down to the expectations I had built up around this waterfall.  I expected to be one of the only ones there, exploring and discovering new angles and methods for capturing Erawan and it just didn’t end up like that.  Anyway, back to the final tier.  It was true that most people didn’t make it all the way to the top.  There were only a couple foreigners.  There were a bunch of Thais, but I could handle them, I liked them.  They were kind, quiet and inviting.  This was their space anyway, their country’s gem.  The waterfall itself was actually quite lame at the very top.  If we had come in the rainy season I’m sure it would have been one of the better ones I’d seen in all of Thailand, but compared to October it was really dry.  Where there was a lack of water there was an excess of bees.  They were huge, like the size of my pinky and they were everywhere.  I happened to be wearing fluorescent pink shorts and if bees love any color, it’s fluorescent pink.  I was swarmed instantly and because of my earlier incident I was really freaked out.  I immediately took off my shorts and ran away.  I bet I was a sight to see.  I actually made friends by acting like a scared idiot.  I met a few Thai while I was running away from my shorts.  They only spoke a tiny bit of English and I answered with my tiny bit of Thai.  We learned each others names, ages and where we lived.  They were really happy that I was a teacher.  They kept saying, “crue, crue, crue” over and over (crue means teacher).  After we had a mini photo shoot I said good-bye and picked up my shorts that were still covered with bees.  I managed to shove them in my backpack without getting stung again.  Those big bees may not even sting, but I wasn’t taking any chances.  My entire hand was swollen by this point in the day, but I was trying to not to think about it.  
Originally Saleem and I decided to hike all the way up and then chill at certain spots on the way down.  We hung out a little bit at tier six, but then we decided to keep moving.  It all felt like too much of a tourist attraction and we weren’t feeling it.  I bet you couldn’t guess that from the previous paragraphs, could you?
We got back on the bike and decided to head Tham Phra That cave.  According to lonely planet there is a visible fault line, translucent rocks, glittering crystals and bat covered caverns.  I was really excited because I hadn’t been to a legitimate cave yet and for some reason caves are my thing, even though I’m pretty sure I’ve only been to two in my life time, but yeah, I was pumped.  We didn’t really know how to get there, but we followed the vague guidebook and our guts.  We proceed up a mountain on a bumpy dirt road.  I was borderline terrified.  Saleem likes to drive fast, all the time.  I closed my eyes and hung onto the bar behind my butt hoping that we weren’t going to tip over.  When I opened my eyes I saw a fantastic view.  It was a huge body of water with mountains dotted here and there.   I hadn’t seen anything like it before.  We stopped the bike and walked through an empty lot to get closer to the edge, but then we heard dogs barking and after counting five of them we decided it was time to turn around slowly and walk back to the bike.  We paused at a couple other lookout points and took some photos.  We even turned down a road that said “viewpoint” which turned out to be someone’s house.  They also had dogs, but the owner was a nice old man who repeatedly whacked his dogs every time they barked, a true act of kindness in Thailand.  He invited us up onto his deck for a better view and we had a short conversation about Erawan and where we were headed.  He was so sweet.  I bet he put that sign there just so he could meet people.  I was glad I got to talk with him and enjoy his view.  The mountain islands in the middle of the water seemed so foreign.  It reminded me of something in The Land Before Time or maybe The Never Ending Story, you get the point, it was mystical.
Finally after an hour or so we saw a little sign that said Tham Phra That.  We turned down the skinny dirt lane and ended up at the tiny visitors center.  The boy working there told us that it closed ten minutes ago.  Ten freaking minutes.  I felt like we had struck out.  I had my heart set on seeing everything the cave had to offer.  When I thought of the crystals and the fault line and fluttering bats that would surely scare me as much as excite me, I thought again of expectations and how important it is to keep them low or in the case of Erawan have none at all.  Again we saddled up and rode off into the sunset, just kidding, we rode off in the opposite direction looking for something to save the day.  According to the guidebook there was supposed to be an “enormous and extremely scenic Si Nakharin Reservoir.”  I’ll cut to the chase here to spare myself the pain, it started to rain, we almost crashed and we never got to the reservoir.  The directions weren’t clear, the mileage was off, or it didn’t exist, either way the umpire called strike three.  We were out.  Out of luck, out of gas and out of daylight so we headed back to Kanchanaburi.
Believe it or not we were in pretty good moods throughout the day.  I think we were both stewing inside and we didn’t realize it until we talked over two big beers that night.  Two big beers and a bag full of ice that was sitting on my now ballooned hand.  Saleem started calling it a muffin hand.  He said it was puffy like a muffin.  You couldn’t even see my knuckles.  The ice didn’t help, but the guy who owned the bar directed me towards a pharmacy where they gave me an antibiotic and cream for only $2.  Health care is the bomb in Thailand.  On the way back from the pharmacy I decided it was time to remedy my day.  Even though I was in the throws of the P90x workout I decided there was room for chocolate ice cream in my nutrition plan.  It worked.  It made me smile even though I had had a flop of a day and a balloon of a hand.  On the way back from the pharmacy we even ran into a group of street vendors that chatted us up for a while.  They offered us liquor after we told them we taught in Chonburi.  We learned to “cheers” in Thai and had a few good laughs.  It’s times like those when you realize it’s all about company.  If I could have replaced all the tourists with Thais at Erawan I would have had a completely different experience.  The few interactions I had with Thai natives throughout the day were simple yet meaningful because they carried with them the lasting effects of happiness.  
Jump forward a couple weeks; it’s Friday and Saleem and I are on our own again.  Dave left two weeks ago and Saleem’s friends left last week.  It’s a bummer when your friends go.  For a short period of time it’s like you were at home again.  Something familiar was added to your every day Thai life and in the blink of an eye it’s taken away.  To remedy our post-pal blues we decided to head to a national park.  One of our best weekends was spent in Khao Yai National park so we figured another park excursion would do us good.  
At orientation we learned about Erawan National Park.  It is home to a massive seven-tiered waterfall.  Everyone knows about Erawan.  It seems like everyone has gone there, loved it and came back with beautiful pictures.  I had wanted to go since October so I was super psyched to say the least.
After school on Friday we grabbed our bags and walked to the bus station.  We quickly caught a bus and were on our way, or so we thought.  The bus kept slowing down almost to a stop and jerking forward and backward.  I wasn’t sure if we had a 16-year-old driver or if it was broken and then my question was answered when it shut off in the middle of the highway.  Saleem and I groaned in unison and decided after ten minutes that it was the worst bus ride we had ever had.  Things didn’t get better either.  We continued on at a jerky pace for most of the ride.  Then when the bus cleared out the driver decided he didn’t want to take us to where we originally agreed so we were basically kicked off early.  It’s not uncommon for this to happen, but usually it’s relatively close to where you wanted to get off, this time it wasn’t.  We gritted our teeth, got off the bus, crossed the highway and started walking towards the sky train.  The sky train is an elevated subway, but picture a really clean, sleek, modern subway.  It was Friday around 5:30 and it was packed to the gills.  Did you ever see videos of Japan where people outside the train and pushing people in so the doors can close?  It was pretty close to that point.  I could feel sweat on my forehead as I squeezed in and put my arm up to grab the overhead loops.  In Thailand it’s very offensive to be dirty or have body odor so when I feel one drop of sweat I feel like everyone’s going to be giggling about me.  I think everyone was more concerned with my weekend backpack that kept bumping in to them, but I just smiled and tried to take up as little room as possible.  About twenty minutes later it was time to shove my way out of the train, the moment I was dreading since I squirmed into my spot, but it turned out my stop was pretty popular and getting off was no problem at all.  I met up with Saleem again and we walked down the stairs and towards the balcony that over looks Victory Monument.  It’s an enormous monument in the middle of a roundabout.  Not the baby ones that are all over New Jersey; this intersection is huge.  It is also the hub for buses and vans to the rest of Thailand.  You can find a bus to anywhere the hard part is figuring out which of the twenty corners your bus is on.  Usually we are completely wrong and we end up having to go up and down catwalks, wait for lights to change and dodge speeding buses, but this time Saleem was on the money.  The first ticket desk we tried sold tickets to Kanchanaburi, the town we were headed to.  The bummer was that the van didn’t leave for another two hours.  At first we walked through the street market, but it was crowded and I was pinching pennies so I really didn’t want to be tempted to buy anything.  Our next stop was a bus bench where I took a catnap while sitting up.  Then we grew bored so we moved on in search of dinner.  We came across fruit smoothies first so we each ordered one.  After taking the first few sips we watched a waiter put straws from dirty cups he’d just cleared into a container with water.  That’s the day we realized Thai’s reuse straws, gross.  We sat down for dinner even though we had no idea what was being served.  We waited a couple minutes and the waiter just kept passing us by so we decided to forget it.  We found another bench and sat there restlessly.  After another ten minutes, without speaking we both stood up.  We simultaneously thought we should move a little closer to the ticket table in case the van came early.  Right as we were walking over we heard, “Falangggg, Falanggg!” which means foreigner.  The lady from the ticket table was waving us into the van.  It had just gotten there and filled up and she saved our two seats for us.  We scrambled into the back and sat down relieved to finally be on the road.  
We got off to a slow start because Bangkok traffic was horrible.  After thirty minutes Saleem tapped me and pointed out the window, we were passing Victory Monument again.  I’m not sure if the driver made a wrong turn or wanted to take an alternate route or what, but it basically took us thirty minutes to drive in a circle.  I already had to pee.  Not a good sign.  I tuned out of the van and the traffic and into my Joe Rogan podcast.  In no time we were zooming northwest on rural roads far away from the busy streets of Bangkok.
Three hours later we pulled into a semi-deserted street.  Our first mission was food and since it looked like everything was about to close we made a quick decision to get papaya salad.  It’s a popular Thai dish that I eat almost daily for lunch.  It’s a mixture of shredded green papaya, carrots and cabbage topped with tomatoes, hot peppers, peanuts, tiny dried shrimp, and a mixture of spicy vinegars and sauces.  It’s all thrown into a mortar and pestle and pounded around until it’s spicy, juicy and delicious.  I love it.  It has replaced my daily ice cream craving, which makes me love it even more.  This batch was really spicy; by the end of dinner my nose was running and my mouth watering.  We ate quickly and walked over to 7-eleven to buy goodies.  Then we hitched a ride from two motorcycle taxi men.  We asked them to take us to Jolly Frog, the cheapest bungalow in the guidebook.  Unfortunately Jolly Frog was full.  The drivers said another hotel name, we shook our heads and off we went.  We arrived at Blue Star, another cheap hotel, but it was also full and so was  Apple’s, Sugarhouse and Bamboo House.  Finally on the fifth try we lucked out.  My Home still had some rooms and to our delight they were cheap, only about $7 a night.  The rooms were actually little sheds like the ones you can buy at home depot to keep your riding lawn mower in.  The only thing in the room was a fan and bed, there was no space to walk, but who needs that anyway?  Each of the sheds were lined up in an L shape, making a right angle and they were all painted a different color of the rainbow.  Talk about trendy.  After stashing our stuff we walked out onto the main street, which wasn’t nearly as sleepy as the rode we arrived on.  This was Kanchanaburi’s main street and it was packed with tourists and lined with bars and restaurants.  In the guidebook it was described as a backpacker town, but I wasn’t expecting so many people.  We walked to another 7-eleven (there’s about a dozen in each town) and grabbed two big Leo beers.  We headed back to “My Home” and stooped it for a while as we planned out the next day.
Our plan was to wake up early, which we did.  We ate fruit for breakfast and went next door to Jolly Frog to rent a bike.  The owner used to be a director at a school, which is like a superintendent in the states, and he was happy and talkative once he saw our work permits.  Once we got the motorbike we headed for the hills, literally.  The national park with the waterfall was about 60 kilometers away so we had quite the journey ahead of us.  On the ride we were pretty silent, I could feel a mutual enjoyment of being surrounded by mountains, green fields and fresh cold air.  After a little bit Saleem asked me to take a photo while we were speeding along.  As I lifted my camera from my hip I got stung by something.  At first I thought maybe a rock hit my wrist, but ten minutes later I saw a small circle with a pinhole in the middle of it.  It hurt like hell and was starting to get itchy, but I tried to ignore it.  Another half hour later we drove by an enormous reservoir.  We pulled over, jumped the guardrail and made our way through the trees and vines to the water’s edge.  The reflection of the blue sky with fluffy white clouds was immaculate on the calm water.  I had never had much luck with reflection photos.  In four years of taking pictures this was probably only my second or third opportunity like this.  We both took our time finding our own angles and views, climbing up the hill, crouching by the water, experimenting one way or the other until we were satisfied with our shots.  As we walked back to the bike I noticed my wrist was swelling up.  I tried to squeeze the tiny hole and get whatever was in there out, but it just wasn’t happening.  
After another half hour we were at the park’s entrance.  We showed them our work permits and haggled to get the fee lowered and it worked.  We parked the bike and began the walk to the waterfall.  We were a little put off when we saw that there were several buses in the parking lot, but we tried not to make any assumptions about what lay ahead.  Not long after we started walking, groups upon groups of Europeans, particularly Russians were passing us in the opposite direction.  All of them wearing next to nothing and many of them obscenely overweight, smoking cigarettes and being boisterous.  We passed by the first tier and moved onto the second hoping it would be a bit quieter.  It wasn’t at all.  From my photos you’d think no one was there, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.  I was hoping for a relaxing weekend of solitude.  Just me, my camera and mother earth.  By the look on his face, I think that’s what Saleem was hoping for to.   
After climbing up steep stairs (behind a woman in a thong) we made it to tier three.  The waterfall itself was beautiful, but I was finding it really hard to take it all in amid the groups and gaggles of people pushing by me.  I couldn’t take a photo without someone waiting behind me as if it was a zoo and they had to get the same picture of the lion as I did.  I wasn’t annoyed, I was just a little let down.  I had really high expectations and I think that was ninety percent of the problem.  I had built up this famous waterfall in my head for a few months.  I pictured a walk through the woods, blue clear water and serene photographs.  It was quite a nice hike and the water was shockingly blue, but something was missing or maybe hundreds of things were added that was taking away from the whole experience.  
On and on I walked.  Stepping over jagged rocks, splashing through shallow water, gripping to the handrail while climbing up slippery wooden stairs all on my way to the top of Erawan.  I had heard that the top three tiers were more challenging to reach so there would be less people.  I really hoped that was true.  The fifth and sixth were breathtakingly beautiful, but still crowded.  I had a really great photo in mind for the fifth, but I couldn’t pull it off because someone kept stepping into the frame.  It just occurred to me that I sound like I’m the only one who had the right to be there and that all these other people were ruining my time, but that’s not what I’m trying to project.  I’m simply trying to convey the thoughts that were going through my mind all day.  I just now realized that these thoughts were what really discounted my day.  My inner negativity was dampening my creativity when it came to photography and at the same time shutting off my senses.  I was so focused on blocking everyone out that at the same time I didn’t allow myself to fully take in all the beauty amidst the chaos.  Again, it came down to the expectations I had built up around this waterfall.  I expected to be one of the only ones there, exploring and discovering new angles and methods for capturing Erawan and it just didn’t end up like that.  Anyway, back to the final tier.  It was true that most people didn’t make it all the way to the top.  There were only a couple foreigners.  There were a bunch of Thais, but I could handle them, I liked them.  They were kind, quiet and inviting.  This was their space anyway, their country’s gem.  The waterfall itself was actually quite lame at the very top.  If we had come in the rainy season I’m sure it would have been one of the better ones I’d seen in all of Thailand, but compared to October it was really dry.  Where there was a lack of water there was an excess of bees.  They were huge, like the size of my pinky and they were everywhere.  I happened to be wearing fluorescent pink shorts and if bees love any color, it’s fluorescent pink.  I was swarmed instantly and because of my earlier incident I was really freaked out.  I immediately took off my shorts and ran away.  I bet I was a sight to see.  I actually made friends by acting like a scared idiot.  I met a few Thai while I was running away from my shorts.  They only spoke a tiny bit of English and I answered with my tiny bit of Thai.  We learned each others names, ages and where we lived.  They were really happy that I was a teacher.  They kept saying, “crue, crue, crue” over and over (crue means teacher).  After we had a mini photo shoot I said good-bye and picked up my shorts that were still covered with bees.  I managed to shove them in my backpack without getting stung again.  Those big bees may not even sting, but I wasn’t taking any chances.  My entire hand was swollen by this point in the day, but I was trying to not to think about it.  
Originally Saleem and I decided to hike all the way up and then chill at certain spots on the way down.  We hung out a little bit at tier six, but then we decided to keep moving.  It all felt like too much of a tourist attraction and we weren’t feeling it.  I bet you couldn’t guess that from the previous paragraphs, could you?
We got back on the bike and decided to head Tham Phra That cave.  According to lonely planet there is a visible fault line, translucent rocks, glittering crystals and bat covered caverns.  I was really excited because I hadn’t been to a legitimate cave yet and for some reason caves are my thing, even though I’m pretty sure I’ve only been to two in my life time, but yeah, I was pumped.  We didn’t really know how to get there, but we followed the vague guidebook and our guts.  We proceed up a mountain on a bumpy dirt road.  I was borderline terrified.  Saleem likes to drive fast, all the time.  I closed my eyes and hung onto the bar behind my butt hoping that we weren’t going to tip over.  When I opened my eyes I saw a fantastic view.  It was a huge body of water with mountains dotted here and there.   I hadn’t seen anything like it before.  We stopped the bike and walked through an empty lot to get closer to the edge, but then we heard dogs barking and after counting five of them we decided it was time to turn around slowly and walk back to the bike.  We paused at a couple other lookout points and took some photos.  We even turned down a road that said “viewpoint” which turned out to be someone’s house.  They also had dogs, but the owner was a nice old man who repeatedly whacked his dogs every time they barked, a true act of kindness in Thailand.  He invited us up onto his deck for a better view and we had a short conversation about Erawan and where we were headed.  He was so sweet.  I bet he put that sign there just so he could meet people.  I was glad I got to talk with him and enjoy his view.  The mountain islands in the middle of the water seemed so foreign.  It reminded me of something in The Land Before Time or maybe The Never Ending Story, you get the point, it was mystical.
Finally after an hour or so we saw a little sign that said Tham Phra That.  We turned down the skinny dirt lane and ended up at the tiny visitors center.  The boy working there told us that it closed ten minutes ago.  Ten freaking minutes.  I felt like we had struck out.  I had my heart set on seeing everything the cave had to offer.  When I thought of the crystals and the fault line and fluttering bats that would surely scare me as much as excite me, I thought again of expectations and how important it is to keep them low or in the case of Erawan have none at all.  Again we saddled up and rode off into the sunset, just kidding, we rode off in the opposite direction looking for something to save the day.  According to the guidebook there was supposed to be an “enormous and extremely scenic Si Nakharin Reservoir.”  I’ll cut to the chase here to spare myself the pain, it started to rain, we almost crashed and we never got to the reservoir.  The directions weren’t clear, the mileage was off, or it didn’t exist, either way the umpire called strike three.  We were out.  Out of luck, out of gas and out of daylight so we headed back to Kanchanaburi.
Believe it or not we were in pretty good moods throughout the day.  I think we were both stewing inside and we didn’t realize it until we talked over two big beers that night.  Two big beers and a bag full of ice that was sitting on my now ballooned hand.  Saleem started calling it a muffin hand.  He said it was puffy like a muffin.  You couldn’t even see my knuckles.  The ice didn’t help, but the guy who owned the bar directed me towards a pharmacy where they gave me an antibiotic and cream for only $2.  Health care is the bomb in Thailand.  On the way back from the pharmacy I decided it was time to remedy my day.  Even though I was in the throws of the P90x workout I decided there was room for chocolate ice cream in my nutrition plan.  It worked.  It made me smile even though I had had a flop of a day and a balloon of a hand.  On the way back from the pharmacy we even ran into a group of street vendors that chatted us up for a while.  They offered us liquor after we told them we taught in Chonburi.  We learned to “cheers” in Thai and had a few good laughs.  It’s times like those when you realize it’s all about company.  If I could have replaced all the tourists with Thais at Erawan I would have had a completely different experience.  The few interactions I had with Thai natives throughout the day were simple yet meaningful because they carried with them the lasting effects of happiness.  
Jump forward a couple weeks; it’s Friday and Saleem and I are on our own again.  Dave left two weeks ago and Saleem’s friends left last week.  It’s a bummer when your friends go.  For a short period of time it’s like you were at home again.  Something familiar was added to your every day Thai life and in the blink of an eye it’s taken away.  To remedy our post-pal blues we decided to head to a national park.  One of our best weekends was spent in Khao Yai National park so we figured another park excursion would do us good.  
At orientation we learned about Erawan National Park.  It is home to a massive seven-tiered waterfall.  Everyone knows about Erawan.  It seems like everyone has gone there, loved it and came back with beautiful pictures.  I had wanted to go since October so I was super psyched to say the least.
After school on Friday we grabbed our bags and walked to the bus station.  We quickly caught a bus and were on our way, or so we thought.  The bus kept slowing down almost to a stop and jerking forward and backward.  I wasn’t sure if we had a 16-year-old driver or if it was broken and then my question was answered when it shut off in the middle of the highway.  Saleem and I groaned in unison and decided after ten minutes that it was the worst bus ride we had ever had.  Things didn’t get better either.  We continued on at a jerky pace for most of the ride.  Then when the bus cleared out the driver decided he didn’t want to take us to where we originally agreed so we were basically kicked off early.  It’s not uncommon for this to happen, but usually it’s relatively close to where you wanted to get off, this time it wasn’t.  We gritted our teeth, got off the bus, crossed the highway and started walking towards the sky train.  The sky train is an elevated subway, but picture a really clean, sleek, modern subway.  It was Friday around 5:30 and it was packed to the gills.  Did you ever see videos of Japan where people outside the train and pushing people in so the doors can close?  It was pretty close to that point.  I could feel sweat on my forehead as I squeezed in and put my arm up to grab the overhead loops.  In Thailand it’s very offensive to be dirty or have body odor so when I feel one drop of sweat I feel like everyone’s going to be giggling about me.  I think everyone was more concerned with my weekend backpack that kept bumping in to them, but I just smiled and tried to take up as little room as possible.  About twenty minutes later it was time to shove my way out of the train, the moment I was dreading since I squirmed into my spot, but it turned out my stop was pretty popular and getting off was no problem at all.  I met up with Saleem again and we walked down the stairs and towards the balcony that over looks Victory Monument.  It’s an enormous monument in the middle of a roundabout.  Not the baby ones that are all over New Jersey; this intersection is huge.  It is also the hub for buses and vans to the rest of Thailand.  You can find a bus to anywhere the hard part is figuring out which of the twenty corners your bus is on.  Usually we are completely wrong and we end up having to go up and down catwalks, wait for lights to change and dodge speeding buses, but this time Saleem was on the money.  The first ticket desk we tried sold tickets to Kanchanaburi, the town we were headed to.  The bummer was that the van didn’t leave for another two hours.  At first we walked through the street market, but it was crowded and I was pinching pennies so I really didn’t want to be tempted to buy anything.  Our next stop was a bus bench where I took a catnap while sitting up.  Then we grew bored so we moved on in search of dinner.  We came across fruit smoothies first so we each ordered one.  After taking the first few sips we watched a waiter put straws from dirty cups he’d just cleared into a container with water.  That’s the day we realized Thai’s reuse straws, gross.  We sat down for dinner even though we had no idea what was being served.  We waited a couple minutes and the waiter just kept passing us by so we decided to forget it.  We found another bench and sat there restlessly.  After another ten minutes, without speaking we both stood up.  We simultaneously thought we should move a little closer to the ticket table in case the van came early.  Right as we were walking over we heard, “Falangggg, Falanggg!” which means foreigner.  The lady from the ticket table was waving us into the van.  It had just gotten there and filled up and she saved our two seats for us.  We scrambled into the back and sat down relieved to finally be on the road.  
We got off to a slow start because Bangkok traffic was horrible.  After thirty minutes Saleem tapped me and pointed out the window, we were passing Victory Monument again.  I’m not sure if the driver made a wrong turn or wanted to take an alternate route or what, but it basically took us thirty minutes to drive in a circle.  I already had to pee.  Not a good sign.  I tuned out of the van and the traffic and into my Joe Rogan podcast.  In no time we were zooming northwest on rural roads far away from the busy streets of Bangkok.
Three hours later we pulled into a semi-deserted street.  Our first mission was food and since it looked like everything was about to close we made a quick decision to get papaya salad.  It’s a popular Thai dish that I eat almost daily for lunch.  It’s a mixture of shredded green papaya, carrots and cabbage topped with tomatoes, hot peppers, peanuts, tiny dried shrimp, and a mixture of spicy vinegars and sauces.  It’s all thrown into a mortar and pestle and pounded around until it’s spicy, juicy and delicious.  I love it.  It has replaced my daily ice cream craving, which makes me love it even more.  This batch was really spicy; by the end of dinner my nose was running and my mouth watering.  We ate quickly and walked over to 7-eleven to buy goodies.  Then we hitched a ride from two motorcycle taxi men.  We asked them to take us to Jolly Frog, the cheapest bungalow in the guidebook.  Unfortunately Jolly Frog was full.  The drivers said another hotel name, we shook our heads and off we went.  We arrived at Blue Star, another cheap hotel, but it was also full and so was  Apple’s, Sugarhouse and Bamboo House.  Finally on the fifth try we lucked out.  My Home still had some rooms and to our delight they were cheap, only about $7 a night.  The rooms were actually little sheds like the ones you can buy at home depot to keep your riding lawn mower in.  The only thing in the room was a fan and bed, there was no space to walk, but who needs that anyway?  Each of the sheds were lined up in an L shape, making a right angle and they were all painted a different color of the rainbow.  Talk about trendy.  After stashing our stuff we walked out onto the main street, which wasn’t nearly as sleepy as the rode we arrived on.  This was Kanchanaburi’s main street and it was packed with tourists and lined with bars and restaurants.  In the guidebook it was described as a backpacker town, but I wasn’t expecting so many people.  We walked to another 7-eleven (there’s about a dozen in each town) and grabbed two big Leo beers.  We headed back to “My Home” and stooped it for a while as we planned out the next day.
Our plan was to wake up early, which we did.  We ate fruit for breakfast and went next door to Jolly Frog to rent a bike.  The owner used to be a director at a school, which is like a superintendent in the states, and he was happy and talkative once he saw our work permits.  Once we got the motorbike we headed for the hills, literally.  The national park with the waterfall was about 60 kilometers away so we had quite the journey ahead of us.  On the ride we were pretty silent, I could feel a mutual enjoyment of being surrounded by mountains, green fields and fresh cold air.  After a little bit Saleem asked me to take a photo while we were speeding along.  As I lifted my camera from my hip I got stung by something.  At first I thought maybe a rock hit my wrist, but ten minutes later I saw a small circle with a pinhole in the middle of it.  It hurt like hell and was starting to get itchy, but I tried to ignore it.  Another half hour later we drove by an enormous reservoir.  We pulled over, jumped the guardrail and made our way through the trees and vines to the water’s edge.  The reflection of the blue sky with fluffy white clouds was immaculate on the calm water.  I had never had much luck with reflection photos.  In four years of taking pictures this was probably only my second or third opportunity like this.  We both took our time finding our own angles and views, climbing up the hill, crouching by the water, experimenting one way or the other until we were satisfied with our shots.  As we walked back to the bike I noticed my wrist was swelling up.  I tried to squeeze the tiny hole and get whatever was in there out, but it just wasn’t happening.  
After another half hour we were at the park’s entrance.  We showed them our work permits and haggled to get the fee lowered and it worked.  We parked the bike and began the walk to the waterfall.  We were a little put off when we saw that there were several buses in the parking lot, but we tried not to make any assumptions about what lay ahead.  Not long after we started walking, groups upon groups of Europeans, particularly Russians were passing us in the opposite direction.  All of them wearing next to nothing and many of them obscenely overweight, smoking cigarettes and being boisterous.  We passed by the first tier and moved onto the second hoping it would be a bit quieter.  It wasn’t at all.  From my photos you’d think no one was there, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.  I was hoping for a relaxing weekend of solitude.  Just me, my camera and mother earth.  By the look on his face, I think that’s what Saleem was hoping for to.   
After climbing up steep stairs (behind a woman in a thong) we made it to tier three.  The waterfall itself was beautiful, but I was finding it really hard to take it all in amid the groups and gaggles of people pushing by me.  I couldn’t take a photo without someone waiting behind me as if it was a zoo and they had to get the same picture of the lion as I did.  I wasn’t annoyed, I was just a little let down.  I had really high expectations and I think that was ninety percent of the problem.  I had built up this famous waterfall in my head for a few months.  I pictured a walk through the woods, blue clear water and serene photographs.  It was quite a nice hike and the water was shockingly blue, but something was missing or maybe hundreds of things were added that was taking away from the whole experience.  
On and on I walked.  Stepping over jagged rocks, splashing through shallow water, gripping to the handrail while climbing up slippery wooden stairs all on my way to the top of Erawan.  I had heard that the top three tiers were more challenging to reach so there would be less people.  I really hoped that was true.  The fifth and sixth were breathtakingly beautiful, but still crowded.  I had a really great photo in mind for the fifth, but I couldn’t pull it off because someone kept stepping into the frame.  It just occurred to me that I sound like I’m the only one who had the right to be there and that all these other people were ruining my time, but that’s not what I’m trying to project.  I’m simply trying to convey the thoughts that were going through my mind all day.  I just now realized that these thoughts were what really discounted my day.  My inner negativity was dampening my creativity when it came to photography and at the same time shutting off my senses.  I was so focused on blocking everyone out that at the same time I didn’t allow myself to fully take in all the beauty amidst the chaos.  Again, it came down to the expectations I had built up around this waterfall.  I expected to be one of the only ones there, exploring and discovering new angles and methods for capturing Erawan and it just didn’t end up like that.  Anyway, back to the final tier.  It was true that most people didn’t make it all the way to the top.  There were only a couple foreigners.  There were a bunch of Thais, but I could handle them, I liked them.  They were kind, quiet and inviting.  This was their space anyway, their country’s gem.  The waterfall itself was actually quite lame at the very top.  If we had come in the rainy season I’m sure it would have been one of the better ones I’d seen in all of Thailand, but compared to October it was really dry.  Where there was a lack of water there was an excess of bees.  They were huge, like the size of my pinky and they were everywhere.  I happened to be wearing fluorescent pink shorts and if bees love any color, it’s fluorescent pink.  I was swarmed instantly and because of my earlier incident I was really freaked out.  I immediately took off my shorts and ran away.  I bet I was a sight to see.  I actually made friends by acting like a scared idiot.  I met a few Thai while I was running away from my shorts.  They only spoke a tiny bit of English and I answered with my tiny bit of Thai.  We learned each others names, ages and where we lived.  They were really happy that I was a teacher.  They kept saying, “crue, crue, crue” over and over (crue means teacher).  After we had a mini photo shoot I said good-bye and picked up my shorts that were still covered with bees.  I managed to shove them in my backpack without getting stung again.  Those big bees may not even sting, but I wasn’t taking any chances.  My entire hand was swollen by this point in the day, but I was trying to not to think about it.  
Originally Saleem and I decided to hike all the way up and then chill at certain spots on the way down.  We hung out a little bit at tier six, but then we decided to keep moving.  It all felt like too much of a tourist attraction and we weren’t feeling it.  I bet you couldn’t guess that from the previous paragraphs, could you?
We got back on the bike and decided to head Tham Phra That cave.  According to lonely planet there is a visible fault line, translucent rocks, glittering crystals and bat covered caverns.  I was really excited because I hadn’t been to a legitimate cave yet and for some reason caves are my thing, even though I’m pretty sure I’ve only been to two in my life time, but yeah, I was pumped.  We didn’t really know how to get there, but we followed the vague guidebook and our guts.  We proceed up a mountain on a bumpy dirt road.  I was borderline terrified.  Saleem likes to drive fast, all the time.  I closed my eyes and hung onto the bar behind my butt hoping that we weren’t going to tip over.  When I opened my eyes I saw a fantastic view.  It was a huge body of water with mountains dotted here and there.   I hadn’t seen anything like it before.  We stopped the bike and walked through an empty lot to get closer to the edge, but then we heard dogs barking and after counting five of them we decided it was time to turn around slowly and walk back to the bike.  We paused at a couple other lookout points and took some photos.  We even turned down a road that said “viewpoint” which turned out to be someone’s house.  They also had dogs, but the owner was a nice old man who repeatedly whacked his dogs every time they barked, a true act of kindness in Thailand.  He invited us up onto his deck for a better view and we had a short conversation about Erawan and where we were headed.  He was so sweet.  I bet he put that sign there just so he could meet people.  I was glad I got to talk with him and enjoy his view.  The mountain islands in the middle of the water seemed so foreign.  It reminded me of something in The Land Before Time or maybe The Never Ending Story, you get the point, it was mystical.
Finally after an hour or so we saw a little sign that said Tham Phra That.  We turned down the skinny dirt lane and ended up at the tiny visitors center.  The boy working there told us that it closed ten minutes ago.  Ten freaking minutes.  I felt like we had struck out.  I had my heart set on seeing everything the cave had to offer.  When I thought of the crystals and the fault line and fluttering bats that would surely scare me as much as excite me, I thought again of expectations and how important it is to keep them low or in the case of Erawan have none at all.  Again we saddled up and rode off into the sunset, just kidding, we rode off in the opposite direction looking for something to save the day.  According to the guidebook there was supposed to be an “enormous and extremely scenic Si Nakharin Reservoir.”  I’ll cut to the chase here to spare myself the pain, it started to rain, we almost crashed and we never got to the reservoir.  The directions weren’t clear, the mileage was off, or it didn’t exist, either way the umpire called strike three.  We were out.  Out of luck, out of gas and out of daylight so we headed back to Kanchanaburi.
Believe it or not we were in pretty good moods throughout the day.  I think we were both stewing inside and we didn’t realize it until we talked over two big beers that night.  Two big beers and a bag full of ice that was sitting on my now ballooned hand.  Saleem started calling it a muffin hand.  He said it was puffy like a muffin.  You couldn’t even see my knuckles.  The ice didn’t help, but the guy who owned the bar directed me towards a pharmacy where they gave me an antibiotic and cream for only $2.  Health care is the bomb in Thailand.  On the way back from the pharmacy I decided it was time to remedy my day.  Even though I was in the throws of the P90x workout I decided there was room for chocolate ice cream in my nutrition plan.  It worked.  It made me smile even though I had had a flop of a day and a balloon of a hand.  On the way back from the pharmacy we even ran into a group of street vendors that chatted us up for a while.  They offered us liquor after we told them we taught in Chonburi.  We learned to “cheers” in Thai and had a few good laughs.  It’s times like those when you realize it’s all about company.  If I could have replaced all the tourists with Thais at Erawan I would have had a completely different experience.  The few interactions I had with Thai natives throughout the day were simple yet meaningful because they carried with them the lasting effects of happiness.  

Jump forward a couple weeks; it’s Friday and Saleem and I are on our own again.  Dave left two weeks ago and Saleem’s friends left last week.  It’s a bummer when your friends go.  For a short period of time it’s like you were at home again.  Something familiar was added to your every day Thai life and in the blink of an eye it’s taken away.  To remedy our post-pal blues we decided to head to a national park.  One of our best weekends was spent in Khao Yai National park so we figured another park excursion would do us good. 

At orientation we learned about Erawan National Park.  It is home to a massive seven-tiered waterfall.  Everyone knows about Erawan.  It seems like everyone has gone there, loved it and came back with beautiful pictures.  I had wanted to go since October so I was super psyched to say the least.

After school on Friday we grabbed our bags and walked to the bus station.  We quickly caught a bus and were on our way, or so we thought.  The bus kept slowing down almost to a stop and jerking forward and backward.  I wasn’t sure if we had a 16-year-old driver or if it was broken and then my question was answered when it shut off in the middle of the highway.  Saleem and I groaned in unison and decided after ten minutes that it was the worst bus ride we had ever had.  Things didn’t get better either.  We continued on at a jerky pace for most of the ride.  Then when the bus cleared out the driver decided he didn’t want to take us to where we originally agreed so we were basically kicked off early.  It’s not uncommon for this to happen, but usually it’s relatively close to where you wanted to get off, this time it wasn’t.  We gritted our teeth, got off the bus, crossed the highway and started walking towards the sky train.  The sky train is an elevated subway, but picture a really clean, sleek, modern subway.  It was Friday around 5:30 and it was packed to the gills.  Did you ever see videos of Japan where people outside the train and pushing people in so the doors can close?  It was pretty close to that point.  I could feel sweat on my forehead as I squeezed in and put my arm up to grab the overhead loops.  In Thailand it’s very offensive to be dirty or have body odor so when I feel one drop of sweat I feel like everyone’s going to be giggling about me.  I think everyone was more concerned with my weekend backpack that kept bumping in to them, but I just smiled and tried to take up as little room as possible.  About twenty minutes later it was time to shove my way out of the train, the moment I was dreading since I squirmed into my spot, but it turned out my stop was pretty popular and getting off was no problem at all.  I met up with Saleem again and we walked down the stairs and towards the balcony that over looks Victory Monument.  It’s an enormous monument in the middle of a roundabout.  Not the baby ones that are all over New Jersey; this intersection is huge.  It is also the hub for buses and vans to the rest of Thailand.  You can find a bus to anywhere the hard part is figuring out which of the twenty corners your bus is on.  Usually we are completely wrong and we end up having to go up and down catwalks, wait for lights to change and dodge speeding buses, but this time Saleem was on the money.  The first ticket desk we tried sold tickets to Kanchanaburi, the town we were headed to.  The bummer was that the van didn’t leave for another two hours.  At first we walked through the street market, but it was crowded and I was pinching pennies so I really didn’t want to be tempted to buy anything.  Our next stop was a bus bench where I took a catnap while sitting up.  Then we grew bored so we moved on in search of dinner.  We came across fruit smoothies first so we each ordered one.  After taking the first few sips we watched a waiter put straws from dirty cups he’d just cleared into a container with water.  That’s the day we realized Thai’s reuse straws, gross.  We sat down for dinner even though we had no idea what was being served.  We waited a couple minutes and the waiter just kept passing us by so we decided to forget it.  We found another bench and sat there restlessly.  After another ten minutes, without speaking we both stood up.  We simultaneously thought we should move a little closer to the ticket table in case the van came early.  Right as we were walking over we heard, “Falangggg, Falanggg!” which means foreigner.  The lady from the ticket table was waving us into the van.  It had just gotten there and filled up and she saved our two seats for us.  We scrambled into the back and sat down relieved to finally be on the road. 

We got off to a slow start because Bangkok traffic was horrible.  After thirty minutes Saleem tapped me and pointed out the window, we were passing Victory Monument again.  I’m not sure if the driver made a wrong turn or wanted to take an alternate route or what, but it basically took us thirty minutes to drive in a circle.  I already had to pee.  Not a good sign.  I tuned out of the van and the traffic and into my Joe Rogan podcast.  In no time we were zooming northwest on rural roads far away from the busy streets of Bangkok.

Three hours later we pulled into a semi-deserted street.  Our first mission was food and since it looked like everything was about to close we made a quick decision to get papaya salad.  It’s a popular Thai dish that I eat almost daily for lunch.  It’s a mixture of shredded green papaya, carrots and cabbage topped with tomatoes, hot peppers, peanuts, tiny dried shrimp, and a mixture of spicy vinegars and sauces.  It’s all thrown into a mortar and pestle and pounded around until it’s spicy, juicy and delicious.  I love it.  It has replaced my daily ice cream craving, which makes me love it even more.  This batch was really spicy; by the end of dinner my nose was running and my mouth watering.  We ate quickly and walked over to 7-eleven to buy goodies.  Then we hitched a ride from two motorcycle taxi men.  We asked them to take us to Jolly Frog, the cheapest bungalow in the guidebook.  Unfortunately Jolly Frog was full.  The drivers said another hotel name, we shook our heads and off we went.  We arrived at Blue Star, another cheap hotel, but it was also full and so was  Apple’s, Sugarhouse and Bamboo House.  Finally on the fifth try we lucked out.  My Home still had some rooms and to our delight they were cheap, only about $7 a night.  The rooms were actually little sheds like the ones you can buy at home depot to keep your riding lawn mower in.  The only thing in the room was a fan and bed, there was no space to walk, but who needs that anyway?  Each of the sheds were lined up in an L shape, making a right angle and they were all painted a different color of the rainbow.  Talk about trendy.  After stashing our stuff we walked out onto the main street, which wasn’t nearly as sleepy as the rode we arrived on.  This was Kanchanaburi’s main street and it was packed with tourists and lined with bars and restaurants.  In the guidebook it was described as a backpacker town, but I wasn’t expecting so many people.  We walked to another 7-eleven (there’s about a dozen in each town) and grabbed two big Leo beers.  We headed back to “My Home” and stooped it for a while as we planned out the next day.

Our plan was to wake up early, which we did.  We ate fruit for breakfast and went next door to Jolly Frog to rent a bike.  The owner used to be a director at a school, which is like a superintendent in the states, and he was happy and talkative once he saw our work permits.  Once we got the motorbike we headed for the hills, literally.  The national park with the waterfall was about 60 kilometers away so we had quite the journey ahead of us.  On the ride we were pretty silent, I could feel a mutual enjoyment of being surrounded by mountains, green fields and fresh cold air.  After a little bit Saleem asked me to take a photo while we were speeding along.  As I lifted my camera from my hip I got stung by something.  At first I thought maybe a rock hit my wrist, but ten minutes later I saw a small circle with a pinhole in the middle of it.  It hurt like hell and was starting to get itchy, but I tried to ignore it.  Another half hour later we drove by an enormous reservoir.  We pulled over, jumped the guardrail and made our way through the trees and vines to the water’s edge.  The reflection of the blue sky with fluffy white clouds was immaculate on the calm water.  I had never had much luck with reflection photos.  In four years of taking pictures this was probably only my second or third opportunity like this.  We both took our time finding our own angles and views, climbing up the hill, crouching by the water, experimenting one way or the other until we were satisfied with our shots.  As we walked back to the bike I noticed my wrist was swelling up.  I tried to squeeze the tiny hole and get whatever was in there out, but it just wasn’t happening. 

After another half hour we were at the park’s entrance.  We showed them our work permits and haggled to get the fee lowered and it worked.  We parked the bike and began the walk to the waterfall.  We were a little put off when we saw that there were several buses in the parking lot, but we tried not to make any assumptions about what lay ahead.  Not long after we started walking, groups upon groups of Europeans, particularly Russians were passing us in the opposite direction.  All of them wearing next to nothing and many of them obscenely overweight, smoking cigarettes and being boisterous.  We passed by the first tier and moved onto the second hoping it would be a bit quieter.  It wasn’t at all.  From my photos you’d think no one was there, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.  I was hoping for a relaxing weekend of solitude.  Just me, my camera and mother earth.  By the look on his face, I think that’s what Saleem was hoping for to.   

After climbing up steep stairs (behind a woman in a thong) we made it to tier three.  The waterfall itself was beautiful, but I was finding it really hard to take it all in amid the groups and gaggles of people pushing by me.  I couldn’t take a photo without someone waiting behind me as if it was a zoo and they had to get the same picture of the lion as I did.  I wasn’t annoyed, I was just a little let down.  I had really high expectations and I think that was ninety percent of the problem.  I had built up this famous waterfall in my head for a few months.  I pictured a walk through the woods, blue clear water and serene photographs.  It was quite a nice hike and the water was shockingly blue, but something was missing or maybe hundreds of things were added that was taking away from the whole experience. 

On and on I walked.  Stepping over jagged rocks, splashing through shallow water, gripping to the handrail while climbing up slippery wooden stairs all on my way to the top of Erawan.  I had heard that the top three tiers were more challenging to reach so there would be less people.  I really hoped that was true.  The fifth and sixth were breathtakingly beautiful, but still crowded.  I had a really great photo in mind for the fifth, but I couldn’t pull it off because someone kept stepping into the frame.  It just occurred to me that I sound like I’m the only one who had the right to be there and that all these other people were ruining my time, but that’s not what I’m trying to project.  I’m simply trying to convey the thoughts that were going through my mind all day.  I just now realized that these thoughts were what really discounted my day.  My inner negativity was dampening my creativity when it came to photography and at the same time shutting off my senses.  I was so focused on blocking everyone out that at the same time I didn’t allow myself to fully take in all the beauty amidst the chaos.  Again, it came down to the expectations I had built up around this waterfall.  I expected to be one of the only ones there, exploring and discovering new angles and methods for capturing Erawan and it just didn’t end up like that.  Anyway, back to the final tier.  It was true that most people didn’t make it all the way to the top.  There were only a couple foreigners.  There were a bunch of Thais, but I could handle them, I liked them.  They were kind, quiet and inviting.  This was their space anyway, their country’s gem.  The waterfall itself was actually quite lame at the very top.  If we had come in the rainy season I’m sure it would have been one of the better ones I’d seen in all of Thailand, but compared to October it was really dry.  Where there was a lack of water there was an excess of bees.  They were huge, like the size of my pinky and they were everywhere.  I happened to be wearing fluorescent pink shorts and if bees love any color, it’s fluorescent pink.  I was swarmed instantly and because of my earlier incident I was really freaked out.  I immediately took off my shorts and ran away.  I bet I was a sight to see.  I actually made friends by acting like a scared idiot.  I met a few Thai while I was running away from my shorts.  They only spoke a tiny bit of English and I answered with my tiny bit of Thai.  We learned each others names, ages and where we lived.  They were really happy that I was a teacher.  They kept saying, “crue, crue, crue” over and over (crue means teacher).  After we had a mini photo shoot I said good-bye and picked up my shorts that were still covered with bees.  I managed to shove them in my backpack without getting stung again.  Those big bees may not even sting, but I wasn’t taking any chances.  My entire hand was swollen by this point in the day, but I was trying to not to think about it. 

Originally Saleem and I decided to hike all the way up and then chill at certain spots on the way down.  We hung out a little bit at tier six, but then we decided to keep moving.  It all felt like too much of a tourist attraction and we weren’t feeling it.  I bet you couldn’t guess that from the previous paragraphs, could you?

We got back on the bike and decided to head Tham Phra That cave.  According to lonely planet there is a visible fault line, translucent rocks, glittering crystals and bat covered caverns.  I was really excited because I hadn’t been to a legitimate cave yet and for some reason caves are my thing, even though I’m pretty sure I’ve only been to two in my life time, but yeah, I was pumped.  We didn’t really know how to get there, but we followed the vague guidebook and our guts.  We proceed up a mountain on a bumpy dirt road.  I was borderline terrified.  Saleem likes to drive fast, all the time.  I closed my eyes and hung onto the bar behind my butt hoping that we weren’t going to tip over.  When I opened my eyes I saw a fantastic view.  It was a huge body of water with mountains dotted here and there.   I hadn’t seen anything like it before.  We stopped the bike and walked through an empty lot to get closer to the edge, but then we heard dogs barking and after counting five of them we decided it was time to turn around slowly and walk back to the bike.  We paused at a couple other lookout points and took some photos.  We even turned down a road that said “viewpoint” which turned out to be someone’s house.  They also had dogs, but the owner was a nice old man who repeatedly whacked his dogs every time they barked, a true act of kindness in Thailand.  He invited us up onto his deck for a better view and we had a short conversation about Erawan and where we were headed.  He was so sweet.  I bet he put that sign there just so he could meet people.  I was glad I got to talk with him and enjoy his view.  The mountain islands in the middle of the water seemed so foreign.  It reminded me of something in The Land Before Time or maybe The Never Ending Story, you get the point, it was mystical.

Finally after an hour or so we saw a little sign that said Tham Phra That.  We turned down the skinny dirt lane and ended up at the tiny visitors center.  The boy working there told us that it closed ten minutes ago.  Ten freaking minutes.  I felt like we had struck out.  I had my heart set on seeing everything the cave had to offer.  When I thought of the crystals and the fault line and fluttering bats that would surely scare me as much as excite me, I thought again of expectations and how important it is to keep them low or in the case of Erawan have none at all.  Again we saddled up and rode off into the sunset, just kidding, we rode off in the opposite direction looking for something to save the day.  According to the guidebook there was supposed to be an “enormous and extremely scenic Si Nakharin Reservoir.”  I’ll cut to the chase here to spare myself the pain, it started to rain, we almost crashed and we never got to the reservoir.  The directions weren’t clear, the mileage was off, or it didn’t exist, either way the umpire called strike three.  We were out.  Out of luck, out of gas and out of daylight so we headed back to Kanchanaburi.

Believe it or not we were in pretty good moods throughout the day.  I think we were both stewing inside and we didn’t realize it until we talked over two big beers that night.  Two big beers and a bag full of ice that was sitting on my now ballooned hand.  Saleem started calling it a muffin hand.  He said it was puffy like a muffin.  You couldn’t even see my knuckles.  The ice didn’t help, but the guy who owned the bar directed me towards a pharmacy where they gave me an antibiotic and cream for only $2.  Health care is the bomb in Thailand.  On the way back from the pharmacy I decided it was time to remedy my day.  Even though I was in the throws of the P90x workout I decided there was room for chocolate ice cream in my nutrition plan.  It worked.  It made me smile even though I had had a flop of a day and a balloon of a hand.  On the way back from the pharmacy we even ran into a group of street vendors that chatted us up for a while.  They offered us liquor after we told them we taught in Chonburi.  We learned to “cheers” in Thai and had a few good laughs.  It’s times like those when you realize it’s all about company.  If I could have replaced all the tourists with Thais at Erawan I would have had a completely different experience.  The few interactions I had with Thai natives throughout the day were simple yet meaningful because they carried with them the lasting effects of happiness.  

The next morning we accidentally overslept.  We wanted to wake up at 7 a.m. to make the most of our day incase we weren’t staying.  When we frantically awoke at 9 a.m. we were kicking ourselves.  We hurried down to breakfast where we checked the weather on my iPod.  The forecast had improved since last night, only a 30% chance of a couple scattered thundershowers.  Once we saw that we agreed that we would definitely stay.  I think we both knew we were staying when Dave brought it up the night before, but we pretended that it was a hard decision with many variables.  After breakfast I called my coordinator to make sure I wasn’t going to get fired for missing two more days in such a short period of time.  She couldn’t care less.  She told me to have a good time, enjoy myself and get better (she could hear that I had caught a cold).  Now it was time to buy the train tickets, but I remembered you have to do it with a credit card and I had left mine in Chonburi and so had Dave.  After .7 seconds of panic I realized I could call my all time fixer of problems, Katie Schu Daenzer.  It was only 10 p.m. in the U.S. so she was definitely awake.  Thankfully I had just memorized her number a couple months before (different area codes make it a lot more difficult) or else we would have been S.O.L.  I called her up and she was glad to front me $30 so we headed off to the Internet café and purchased two train tickets from Surat Thani to Bangkok.  
After our tickets were printed we packed up and checked out of our hotel.  It was nice on Railay East, but our hearts still lived on Tonsai.  We scrambled over the sharp, hard, slippery rocks and waded through knee-high water in order to get to the backpacker beach.  As we walked by climbers struggling to finish their routes and their kids playing in the sand right below them we turned to each other and smiled.  We were staying.  A few more days in paradise.  
We could have shopped around for a cheap bungalow, but we had such a great experience at the Tonsai Bay Resort that we decided to go back.  Admittedly it is probably the priciest option on Tonsai, but our motto is ‘go big or go home’ and we obviously weren’t going home.  We rented a villa for two more nights and this time the lights even worked.  We threw our stuff down and decided it was time to grub again, but first we needed to get our laundry done.  A couple of the places were full so we trekked deep into the woods, past some simple bungalows and shacks to the Mountain View Resort. We handed off our smelly shirts and skipped back down to the beach in search of a smoothie and pad thai.  After lunch we rented a two-seater kayak, which cost us about $15 dollars for the entire day.  We were so excited to go on an adventure that we left completely unprepared.  We didn’t realize this until we were out in the middle of the Andaman Sea with our eyes on a far away island.  
We were ambitious to say the least.  We saw an island with a beautiful white beach that looked pretty deserted so we decided to paddle there.  As we paddled, and paddled and paddled for what seemed like forever, and was realistically a couple hours, the island was not getting any closer.  We contemplated going back, but of course we couldn’t stop now.  We had to keep going.  We finally reached the one island that was in between Tonsai and the one we wanted to get to.  When we realized that that island wasn’t really close to our destination island like we thought it was we were a little crushed.  It was all an illusion.  I tried to look up the islands on Google Maps to give you an idea of the distance, but unfortunately they’re so small that they aren’t even on the web.  Anyway, I think this is about the point we realized we were getting absolutely fried by the sun.  We had only put on one coat of SPF 15 and that was hours ago.  Call us idiots, grumble to yourself, write me an angry letter about how irresponsible that was, I know.  We know and we paid for it.  From that point on we couldn’t think about anything else, but our burning shoulders, chests and thighs.  We were in pain and I was thirsty.  I closed my eyes and started silently counting each stroke of the paddle.  For some reason that was keeping me going.  Once I got to two hundred I counted backwards and once I got to zero I opened my eyes.  We were still really far away.  Imagine another half hour of agony and then we floated right up onto the white sandy beach that we were so determined to get to.  It was really rewarding, but at the same time we couldn’t fully enjoy it because we were getting third degree sunburn.  I kept kicking myself for making such a dumb mistake.  Why did I not pack sunscreen?  I still don’t have an answer for that.  We pulled our boat up onto the beach and took a walk in search of some water.  There was a small restaurant, but they were out of water.  They did offer me beer or soda, but I politely declined.  We stopped at a few long tail boat food stalls.  They’re kind of like food trucks, but boats.  The first two we came across were out of water, but luckily we found some at the third one.  We also bought a couple fruit shakes.  With our hydration in hand we took a long walk down the beach.
It was a bit more crowded than we had expected, but it was still quiet.  We passed sunbathers who looked just as red as us and families building sand forts.  We also admired some makeshift beach huts that people made out of pieces of driftwood and towels.  I really wanted to sneak into the shade of one for a while, but I didn’t know how well that would go over.  As we kept walking we passed couples napping, parents reading and kids searching for seashells.  Dave and I stopped every few steps to pick up some ourselves.  Once we came to the end of the beach we took a little dip to soothe our skin before heading back.  When we got back to the main beach we took refuge in the shade.  There we found all the long tail boat drivers playing a Thai game called Da – gror (Da is pronounced with a low tone and gror with a falling tone).  It’s a game where any number of people stand in a circle kicking and heading a small woven rattan ball.  It’s basically like juggling a soccer ball, but the ball is much smaller and made of natural fibers.  During a match there are usually four people and the object of the game is to keep the ball from hitting the ground.  Points are acquired through style, difficulty and kicking maneuver.  These guys weren’t playing for points.  There was at least a dozen of them and they were just having a good time and passing the hours before their long tail was chartered again.  Dave and I watched them for a little bit and then I started to take photos and videos.  One of the guys motioned Dave to play so he took off his bag and joined in.  That’s one of the things I really admire about him.  He hadn’t ever played this game, but he was willing to try in front of a group of strangers that were damn good at it.  The first couple times it came to him he either missed it or sent it flying, but after the third time he was money.  He was kicking it and heading it like the rest of them.  I should have known.  He has a knack for being good at everything.  Sometimes it’s annoying.  Annoying in the ‘I’m jealous and I want to be good at random things I try for the first time like juggling and guitar hero’ kind of way.  As he was heading the ball and twisting his leg behind his back to launch it back up into the air, all the Thai men were ooowing and awing.  It was really a great sight and luckily I have it all on video.  While I was standing in the shade, another taxi man came up to me and gave me a decoration that he wove out of leaves and twigs.  He just handed it to me and said, “For you,” and walked towards the circle and joined the game.  I’m sure it’s something he makes all the time and he did it out of sheer boredom, but it meant a lot to me and it’s still hanging in my room.  
After the Da- gror game we inquired about a taxi ride back.  You didn’t think we were seriously going to paddle back did you?  It was too far and we did enough skin damage for one day.  We asked the taxi men how much for a kayak and two people and they all laughed hysterically.  I’m sure they’ve seen it before or maybe they haven’t and they were laughing at how weak and unable we were.  Either way, we laughed with them and decided one kayak is like the price of two people so we paid up and we were on our way.  
It was a long ride back.  We sped through the blue water for at least thirty minutes, which really opened our eyes to how far we had actually come.  We were torn between laughing at ourselves and being proud of journey.  Once we pulled up to shore we stashed the kayak under a tree and went to our villa, for what you ask? Sunscreen!  We applied and applied again until we were white with SPF 15.  We stashed it in our backpacks along with some water and believe it or not we got back in the kayak and paddled over to Railay East.  We wanted to watch the sunset and cliff jump and that was the place to do it.  
Cliff jumping was terrifyingly awesome.  The only time it’s scary is that moment when you have to force yourself off the rock.  Other than that it’s a fun ride down.  We also have that on video.  I somehow managed to record my reaction as I’m falling through the air; it is hilarious.  Dave is working on compiling all of our footage so hang tight you’ll see it someday.  After jumping a couple times we relaxed on our backs in the water.  I still can’t get over the sight of those overhanging cliffs.  I must go back there.  The thing is I don’t want to go now or before I leave because when I picture myself there I imagine Dave by my side.  I’m not even starting a cheese fest here, I’m just saying sometimes it’s about the people you’re with.  Yes, the scenery and natural beauty was a-f*cking-mazing, but it was more amazing to enjoy it with someone who was just as taken back and appreciative of it all as I was.  I can still picture the crazy, swirly colors of the limestone and I can hear the drips from the water runoff as they hit the sea, I can also feel something stinging me, which is why we decided to get out of the water and onto dry land.  I have no idea what was biting me, but it was biting everyone else to.  We took turns watching the skilled climbers behind us and the sun sinking in the sky before us.  Eventually we walked back to the other side of the island before the sun completely set because we had to return the kayak.  We sat on Tonsai and watched Earth’s star fall into the ocean which proved to be a work of art.  Deep pinks and yellows set off by the silhouette of limestone crags.  At the end of the day I was so happy and relieved we decided to stay.  It felt like the first day that we were actually able to sit and relax.  No rain, no traveling, just adventures and enjoyment. The next morning we accidentally overslept.  We wanted to wake up at 7 a.m. to make the most of our day incase we weren’t staying.  When we frantically awoke at 9 a.m. we were kicking ourselves.  We hurried down to breakfast where we checked the weather on my iPod.  The forecast had improved since last night, only a 30% chance of a couple scattered thundershowers.  Once we saw that we agreed that we would definitely stay.  I think we both knew we were staying when Dave brought it up the night before, but we pretended that it was a hard decision with many variables.  After breakfast I called my coordinator to make sure I wasn’t going to get fired for missing two more days in such a short period of time.  She couldn’t care less.  She told me to have a good time, enjoy myself and get better (she could hear that I had caught a cold).  Now it was time to buy the train tickets, but I remembered you have to do it with a credit card and I had left mine in Chonburi and so had Dave.  After .7 seconds of panic I realized I could call my all time fixer of problems, Katie Schu Daenzer.  It was only 10 p.m. in the U.S. so she was definitely awake.  Thankfully I had just memorized her number a couple months before (different area codes make it a lot more difficult) or else we would have been S.O.L.  I called her up and she was glad to front me $30 so we headed off to the Internet café and purchased two train tickets from Surat Thani to Bangkok.  
After our tickets were printed we packed up and checked out of our hotel.  It was nice on Railay East, but our hearts still lived on Tonsai.  We scrambled over the sharp, hard, slippery rocks and waded through knee-high water in order to get to the backpacker beach.  As we walked by climbers struggling to finish their routes and their kids playing in the sand right below them we turned to each other and smiled.  We were staying.  A few more days in paradise.  
We could have shopped around for a cheap bungalow, but we had such a great experience at the Tonsai Bay Resort that we decided to go back.  Admittedly it is probably the priciest option on Tonsai, but our motto is ‘go big or go home’ and we obviously weren’t going home.  We rented a villa for two more nights and this time the lights even worked.  We threw our stuff down and decided it was time to grub again, but first we needed to get our laundry done.  A couple of the places were full so we trekked deep into the woods, past some simple bungalows and shacks to the Mountain View Resort. We handed off our smelly shirts and skipped back down to the beach in search of a smoothie and pad thai.  After lunch we rented a two-seater kayak, which cost us about $15 dollars for the entire day.  We were so excited to go on an adventure that we left completely unprepared.  We didn’t realize this until we were out in the middle of the Andaman Sea with our eyes on a far away island.  
We were ambitious to say the least.  We saw an island with a beautiful white beach that looked pretty deserted so we decided to paddle there.  As we paddled, and paddled and paddled for what seemed like forever, and was realistically a couple hours, the island was not getting any closer.  We contemplated going back, but of course we couldn’t stop now.  We had to keep going.  We finally reached the one island that was in between Tonsai and the one we wanted to get to.  When we realized that that island wasn’t really close to our destination island like we thought it was we were a little crushed.  It was all an illusion.  I tried to look up the islands on Google Maps to give you an idea of the distance, but unfortunately they’re so small that they aren’t even on the web.  Anyway, I think this is about the point we realized we were getting absolutely fried by the sun.  We had only put on one coat of SPF 15 and that was hours ago.  Call us idiots, grumble to yourself, write me an angry letter about how irresponsible that was, I know.  We know and we paid for it.  From that point on we couldn’t think about anything else, but our burning shoulders, chests and thighs.  We were in pain and I was thirsty.  I closed my eyes and started silently counting each stroke of the paddle.  For some reason that was keeping me going.  Once I got to two hundred I counted backwards and once I got to zero I opened my eyes.  We were still really far away.  Imagine another half hour of agony and then we floated right up onto the white sandy beach that we were so determined to get to.  It was really rewarding, but at the same time we couldn’t fully enjoy it because we were getting third degree sunburn.  I kept kicking myself for making such a dumb mistake.  Why did I not pack sunscreen?  I still don’t have an answer for that.  We pulled our boat up onto the beach and took a walk in search of some water.  There was a small restaurant, but they were out of water.  They did offer me beer or soda, but I politely declined.  We stopped at a few long tail boat food stalls.  They’re kind of like food trucks, but boats.  The first two we came across were out of water, but luckily we found some at the third one.  We also bought a couple fruit shakes.  With our hydration in hand we took a long walk down the beach.
It was a bit more crowded than we had expected, but it was still quiet.  We passed sunbathers who looked just as red as us and families building sand forts.  We also admired some makeshift beach huts that people made out of pieces of driftwood and towels.  I really wanted to sneak into the shade of one for a while, but I didn’t know how well that would go over.  As we kept walking we passed couples napping, parents reading and kids searching for seashells.  Dave and I stopped every few steps to pick up some ourselves.  Once we came to the end of the beach we took a little dip to soothe our skin before heading back.  When we got back to the main beach we took refuge in the shade.  There we found all the long tail boat drivers playing a Thai game called Da – gror (Da is pronounced with a low tone and gror with a falling tone).  It’s a game where any number of people stand in a circle kicking and heading a small woven rattan ball.  It’s basically like juggling a soccer ball, but the ball is much smaller and made of natural fibers.  During a match there are usually four people and the object of the game is to keep the ball from hitting the ground.  Points are acquired through style, difficulty and kicking maneuver.  These guys weren’t playing for points.  There was at least a dozen of them and they were just having a good time and passing the hours before their long tail was chartered again.  Dave and I watched them for a little bit and then I started to take photos and videos.  One of the guys motioned Dave to play so he took off his bag and joined in.  That’s one of the things I really admire about him.  He hadn’t ever played this game, but he was willing to try in front of a group of strangers that were damn good at it.  The first couple times it came to him he either missed it or sent it flying, but after the third time he was money.  He was kicking it and heading it like the rest of them.  I should have known.  He has a knack for being good at everything.  Sometimes it’s annoying.  Annoying in the ‘I’m jealous and I want to be good at random things I try for the first time like juggling and guitar hero’ kind of way.  As he was heading the ball and twisting his leg behind his back to launch it back up into the air, all the Thai men were ooowing and awing.  It was really a great sight and luckily I have it all on video.  While I was standing in the shade, another taxi man came up to me and gave me a decoration that he wove out of leaves and twigs.  He just handed it to me and said, “For you,” and walked towards the circle and joined the game.  I’m sure it’s something he makes all the time and he did it out of sheer boredom, but it meant a lot to me and it’s still hanging in my room.  
After the Da- gror game we inquired about a taxi ride back.  You didn’t think we were seriously going to paddle back did you?  It was too far and we did enough skin damage for one day.  We asked the taxi men how much for a kayak and two people and they all laughed hysterically.  I’m sure they’ve seen it before or maybe they haven’t and they were laughing at how weak and unable we were.  Either way, we laughed with them and decided one kayak is like the price of two people so we paid up and we were on our way.  
It was a long ride back.  We sped through the blue water for at least thirty minutes, which really opened our eyes to how far we had actually come.  We were torn between laughing at ourselves and being proud of journey.  Once we pulled up to shore we stashed the kayak under a tree and went to our villa, for what you ask? Sunscreen!  We applied and applied again until we were white with SPF 15.  We stashed it in our backpacks along with some water and believe it or not we got back in the kayak and paddled over to Railay East.  We wanted to watch the sunset and cliff jump and that was the place to do it.  
Cliff jumping was terrifyingly awesome.  The only time it’s scary is that moment when you have to force yourself off the rock.  Other than that it’s a fun ride down.  We also have that on video.  I somehow managed to record my reaction as I’m falling through the air; it is hilarious.  Dave is working on compiling all of our footage so hang tight you’ll see it someday.  After jumping a couple times we relaxed on our backs in the water.  I still can’t get over the sight of those overhanging cliffs.  I must go back there.  The thing is I don’t want to go now or before I leave because when I picture myself there I imagine Dave by my side.  I’m not even starting a cheese fest here, I’m just saying sometimes it’s about the people you’re with.  Yes, the scenery and natural beauty was a-f*cking-mazing, but it was more amazing to enjoy it with someone who was just as taken back and appreciative of it all as I was.  I can still picture the crazy, swirly colors of the limestone and I can hear the drips from the water runoff as they hit the sea, I can also feel something stinging me, which is why we decided to get out of the water and onto dry land.  I have no idea what was biting me, but it was biting everyone else to.  We took turns watching the skilled climbers behind us and the sun sinking in the sky before us.  Eventually we walked back to the other side of the island before the sun completely set because we had to return the kayak.  We sat on Tonsai and watched Earth’s star fall into the ocean which proved to be a work of art.  Deep pinks and yellows set off by the silhouette of limestone crags.  At the end of the day I was so happy and relieved we decided to stay.  It felt like the first day that we were actually able to sit and relax.  No rain, no traveling, just adventures and enjoyment. The next morning we accidentally overslept.  We wanted to wake up at 7 a.m. to make the most of our day incase we weren’t staying.  When we frantically awoke at 9 a.m. we were kicking ourselves.  We hurried down to breakfast where we checked the weather on my iPod.  The forecast had improved since last night, only a 30% chance of a couple scattered thundershowers.  Once we saw that we agreed that we would definitely stay.  I think we both knew we were staying when Dave brought it up the night before, but we pretended that it was a hard decision with many variables.  After breakfast I called my coordinator to make sure I wasn’t going to get fired for missing two more days in such a short period of time.  She couldn’t care less.  She told me to have a good time, enjoy myself and get better (she could hear that I had caught a cold).  Now it was time to buy the train tickets, but I remembered you have to do it with a credit card and I had left mine in Chonburi and so had Dave.  After .7 seconds of panic I realized I could call my all time fixer of problems, Katie Schu Daenzer.  It was only 10 p.m. in the U.S. so she was definitely awake.  Thankfully I had just memorized her number a couple months before (different area codes make it a lot more difficult) or else we would have been S.O.L.  I called her up and she was glad to front me $30 so we headed off to the Internet café and purchased two train tickets from Surat Thani to Bangkok.  
After our tickets were printed we packed up and checked out of our hotel.  It was nice on Railay East, but our hearts still lived on Tonsai.  We scrambled over the sharp, hard, slippery rocks and waded through knee-high water in order to get to the backpacker beach.  As we walked by climbers struggling to finish their routes and their kids playing in the sand right below them we turned to each other and smiled.  We were staying.  A few more days in paradise.  
We could have shopped around for a cheap bungalow, but we had such a great experience at the Tonsai Bay Resort that we decided to go back.  Admittedly it is probably the priciest option on Tonsai, but our motto is ‘go big or go home’ and we obviously weren’t going home.  We rented a villa for two more nights and this time the lights even worked.  We threw our stuff down and decided it was time to grub again, but first we needed to get our laundry done.  A couple of the places were full so we trekked deep into the woods, past some simple bungalows and shacks to the Mountain View Resort. We handed off our smelly shirts and skipped back down to the beach in search of a smoothie and pad thai.  After lunch we rented a two-seater kayak, which cost us about $15 dollars for the entire day.  We were so excited to go on an adventure that we left completely unprepared.  We didn’t realize this until we were out in the middle of the Andaman Sea with our eyes on a far away island.  
We were ambitious to say the least.  We saw an island with a beautiful white beach that looked pretty deserted so we decided to paddle there.  As we paddled, and paddled and paddled for what seemed like forever, and was realistically a couple hours, the island was not getting any closer.  We contemplated going back, but of course we couldn’t stop now.  We had to keep going.  We finally reached the one island that was in between Tonsai and the one we wanted to get to.  When we realized that that island wasn’t really close to our destination island like we thought it was we were a little crushed.  It was all an illusion.  I tried to look up the islands on Google Maps to give you an idea of the distance, but unfortunately they’re so small that they aren’t even on the web.  Anyway, I think this is about the point we realized we were getting absolutely fried by the sun.  We had only put on one coat of SPF 15 and that was hours ago.  Call us idiots, grumble to yourself, write me an angry letter about how irresponsible that was, I know.  We know and we paid for it.  From that point on we couldn’t think about anything else, but our burning shoulders, chests and thighs.  We were in pain and I was thirsty.  I closed my eyes and started silently counting each stroke of the paddle.  For some reason that was keeping me going.  Once I got to two hundred I counted backwards and once I got to zero I opened my eyes.  We were still really far away.  Imagine another half hour of agony and then we floated right up onto the white sandy beach that we were so determined to get to.  It was really rewarding, but at the same time we couldn’t fully enjoy it because we were getting third degree sunburn.  I kept kicking myself for making such a dumb mistake.  Why did I not pack sunscreen?  I still don’t have an answer for that.  We pulled our boat up onto the beach and took a walk in search of some water.  There was a small restaurant, but they were out of water.  They did offer me beer or soda, but I politely declined.  We stopped at a few long tail boat food stalls.  They’re kind of like food trucks, but boats.  The first two we came across were out of water, but luckily we found some at the third one.  We also bought a couple fruit shakes.  With our hydration in hand we took a long walk down the beach.
It was a bit more crowded than we had expected, but it was still quiet.  We passed sunbathers who looked just as red as us and families building sand forts.  We also admired some makeshift beach huts that people made out of pieces of driftwood and towels.  I really wanted to sneak into the shade of one for a while, but I didn’t know how well that would go over.  As we kept walking we passed couples napping, parents reading and kids searching for seashells.  Dave and I stopped every few steps to pick up some ourselves.  Once we came to the end of the beach we took a little dip to soothe our skin before heading back.  When we got back to the main beach we took refuge in the shade.  There we found all the long tail boat drivers playing a Thai game called Da – gror (Da is pronounced with a low tone and gror with a falling tone).  It’s a game where any number of people stand in a circle kicking and heading a small woven rattan ball.  It’s basically like juggling a soccer ball, but the ball is much smaller and made of natural fibers.  During a match there are usually four people and the object of the game is to keep the ball from hitting the ground.  Points are acquired through style, difficulty and kicking maneuver.  These guys weren’t playing for points.  There was at least a dozen of them and they were just having a good time and passing the hours before their long tail was chartered again.  Dave and I watched them for a little bit and then I started to take photos and videos.  One of the guys motioned Dave to play so he took off his bag and joined in.  That’s one of the things I really admire about him.  He hadn’t ever played this game, but he was willing to try in front of a group of strangers that were damn good at it.  The first couple times it came to him he either missed it or sent it flying, but after the third time he was money.  He was kicking it and heading it like the rest of them.  I should have known.  He has a knack for being good at everything.  Sometimes it’s annoying.  Annoying in the ‘I’m jealous and I want to be good at random things I try for the first time like juggling and guitar hero’ kind of way.  As he was heading the ball and twisting his leg behind his back to launch it back up into the air, all the Thai men were ooowing and awing.  It was really a great sight and luckily I have it all on video.  While I was standing in the shade, another taxi man came up to me and gave me a decoration that he wove out of leaves and twigs.  He just handed it to me and said, “For you,” and walked towards the circle and joined the game.  I’m sure it’s something he makes all the time and he did it out of sheer boredom, but it meant a lot to me and it’s still hanging in my room.  
After the Da- gror game we inquired about a taxi ride back.  You didn’t think we were seriously going to paddle back did you?  It was too far and we did enough skin damage for one day.  We asked the taxi men how much for a kayak and two people and they all laughed hysterically.  I’m sure they’ve seen it before or maybe they haven’t and they were laughing at how weak and unable we were.  Either way, we laughed with them and decided one kayak is like the price of two people so we paid up and we were on our way.  
It was a long ride back.  We sped through the blue water for at least thirty minutes, which really opened our eyes to how far we had actually come.  We were torn between laughing at ourselves and being proud of journey.  Once we pulled up to shore we stashed the kayak under a tree and went to our villa, for what you ask? Sunscreen!  We applied and applied again until we were white with SPF 15.  We stashed it in our backpacks along with some water and believe it or not we got back in the kayak and paddled over to Railay East.  We wanted to watch the sunset and cliff jump and that was the place to do it.  
Cliff jumping was terrifyingly awesome.  The only time it’s scary is that moment when you have to force yourself off the rock.  Other than that it’s a fun ride down.  We also have that on video.  I somehow managed to record my reaction as I’m falling through the air; it is hilarious.  Dave is working on compiling all of our footage so hang tight you’ll see it someday.  After jumping a couple times we relaxed on our backs in the water.  I still can’t get over the sight of those overhanging cliffs.  I must go back there.  The thing is I don’t want to go now or before I leave because when I picture myself there I imagine Dave by my side.  I’m not even starting a cheese fest here, I’m just saying sometimes it’s about the people you’re with.  Yes, the scenery and natural beauty was a-f*cking-mazing, but it was more amazing to enjoy it with someone who was just as taken back and appreciative of it all as I was.  I can still picture the crazy, swirly colors of the limestone and I can hear the drips from the water runoff as they hit the sea, I can also feel something stinging me, which is why we decided to get out of the water and onto dry land.  I have no idea what was biting me, but it was biting everyone else to.  We took turns watching the skilled climbers behind us and the sun sinking in the sky before us.  Eventually we walked back to the other side of the island before the sun completely set because we had to return the kayak.  We sat on Tonsai and watched Earth’s star fall into the ocean which proved to be a work of art.  Deep pinks and yellows set off by the silhouette of limestone crags.  At the end of the day I was so happy and relieved we decided to stay.  It felt like the first day that we were actually able to sit and relax.  No rain, no traveling, just adventures and enjoyment. The next morning we accidentally overslept.  We wanted to wake up at 7 a.m. to make the most of our day incase we weren’t staying.  When we frantically awoke at 9 a.m. we were kicking ourselves.  We hurried down to breakfast where we checked the weather on my iPod.  The forecast had improved since last night, only a 30% chance of a couple scattered thundershowers.  Once we saw that we agreed that we would definitely stay.  I think we both knew we were staying when Dave brought it up the night before, but we pretended that it was a hard decision with many variables.  After breakfast I called my coordinator to make sure I wasn’t going to get fired for missing two more days in such a short period of time.  She couldn’t care less.  She told me to have a good time, enjoy myself and get better (she could hear that I had caught a cold).  Now it was time to buy the train tickets, but I remembered you have to do it with a credit card and I had left mine in Chonburi and so had Dave.  After .7 seconds of panic I realized I could call my all time fixer of problems, Katie Schu Daenzer.  It was only 10 p.m. in the U.S. so she was definitely awake.  Thankfully I had just memorized her number a couple months before (different area codes make it a lot more difficult) or else we would have been S.O.L.  I called her up and she was glad to front me $30 so we headed off to the Internet café and purchased two train tickets from Surat Thani to Bangkok.  
After our tickets were printed we packed up and checked out of our hotel.  It was nice on Railay East, but our hearts still lived on Tonsai.  We scrambled over the sharp, hard, slippery rocks and waded through knee-high water in order to get to the backpacker beach.  As we walked by climbers struggling to finish their routes and their kids playing in the sand right below them we turned to each other and smiled.  We were staying.  A few more days in paradise.  
We could have shopped around for a cheap bungalow, but we had such a great experience at the Tonsai Bay Resort that we decided to go back.  Admittedly it is probably the priciest option on Tonsai, but our motto is ‘go big or go home’ and we obviously weren’t going home.  We rented a villa for two more nights and this time the lights even worked.  We threw our stuff down and decided it was time to grub again, but first we needed to get our laundry done.  A couple of the places were full so we trekked deep into the woods, past some simple bungalows and shacks to the Mountain View Resort. We handed off our smelly shirts and skipped back down to the beach in search of a smoothie and pad thai.  After lunch we rented a two-seater kayak, which cost us about $15 dollars for the entire day.  We were so excited to go on an adventure that we left completely unprepared.  We didn’t realize this until we were out in the middle of the Andaman Sea with our eyes on a far away island.  
We were ambitious to say the least.  We saw an island with a beautiful white beach that looked pretty deserted so we decided to paddle there.  As we paddled, and paddled and paddled for what seemed like forever, and was realistically a couple hours, the island was not getting any closer.  We contemplated going back, but of course we couldn’t stop now.  We had to keep going.  We finally reached the one island that was in between Tonsai and the one we wanted to get to.  When we realized that that island wasn’t really close to our destination island like we thought it was we were a little crushed.  It was all an illusion.  I tried to look up the islands on Google Maps to give you an idea of the distance, but unfortunately they’re so small that they aren’t even on the web.  Anyway, I think this is about the point we realized we were getting absolutely fried by the sun.  We had only put on one coat of SPF 15 and that was hours ago.  Call us idiots, grumble to yourself, write me an angry letter about how irresponsible that was, I know.  We know and we paid for it.  From that point on we couldn’t think about anything else, but our burning shoulders, chests and thighs.  We were in pain and I was thirsty.  I closed my eyes and started silently counting each stroke of the paddle.  For some reason that was keeping me going.  Once I got to two hundred I counted backwards and once I got to zero I opened my eyes.  We were still really far away.  Imagine another half hour of agony and then we floated right up onto the white sandy beach that we were so determined to get to.  It was really rewarding, but at the same time we couldn’t fully enjoy it because we were getting third degree sunburn.  I kept kicking myself for making such a dumb mistake.  Why did I not pack sunscreen?  I still don’t have an answer for that.  We pulled our boat up onto the beach and took a walk in search of some water.  There was a small restaurant, but they were out of water.  They did offer me beer or soda, but I politely declined.  We stopped at a few long tail boat food stalls.  They’re kind of like food trucks, but boats.  The first two we came across were out of water, but luckily we found some at the third one.  We also bought a couple fruit shakes.  With our hydration in hand we took a long walk down the beach.
It was a bit more crowded than we had expected, but it was still quiet.  We passed sunbathers who looked just as red as us and families building sand forts.  We also admired some makeshift beach huts that people made out of pieces of driftwood and towels.  I really wanted to sneak into the shade of one for a while, but I didn’t know how well that would go over.  As we kept walking we passed couples napping, parents reading and kids searching for seashells.  Dave and I stopped every few steps to pick up some ourselves.  Once we came to the end of the beach we took a little dip to soothe our skin before heading back.  When we got back to the main beach we took refuge in the shade.  There we found all the long tail boat drivers playing a Thai game called Da – gror (Da is pronounced with a low tone and gror with a falling tone).  It’s a game where any number of people stand in a circle kicking and heading a small woven rattan ball.  It’s basically like juggling a soccer ball, but the ball is much smaller and made of natural fibers.  During a match there are usually four people and the object of the game is to keep the ball from hitting the ground.  Points are acquired through style, difficulty and kicking maneuver.  These guys weren’t playing for points.  There was at least a dozen of them and they were just having a good time and passing the hours before their long tail was chartered again.  Dave and I watched them for a little bit and then I started to take photos and videos.  One of the guys motioned Dave to play so he took off his bag and joined in.  That’s one of the things I really admire about him.  He hadn’t ever played this game, but he was willing to try in front of a group of strangers that were damn good at it.  The first couple times it came to him he either missed it or sent it flying, but after the third time he was money.  He was kicking it and heading it like the rest of them.  I should have known.  He has a knack for being good at everything.  Sometimes it’s annoying.  Annoying in the ‘I’m jealous and I want to be good at random things I try for the first time like juggling and guitar hero’ kind of way.  As he was heading the ball and twisting his leg behind his back to launch it back up into the air, all the Thai men were ooowing and awing.  It was really a great sight and luckily I have it all on video.  While I was standing in the shade, another taxi man came up to me and gave me a decoration that he wove out of leaves and twigs.  He just handed it to me and said, “For you,” and walked towards the circle and joined the game.  I’m sure it’s something he makes all the time and he did it out of sheer boredom, but it meant a lot to me and it’s still hanging in my room.  
After the Da- gror game we inquired about a taxi ride back.  You didn’t think we were seriously going to paddle back did you?  It was too far and we did enough skin damage for one day.  We asked the taxi men how much for a kayak and two people and they all laughed hysterically.  I’m sure they’ve seen it before or maybe they haven’t and they were laughing at how weak and unable we were.  Either way, we laughed with them and decided one kayak is like the price of two people so we paid up and we were on our way.  
It was a long ride back.  We sped through the blue water for at least thirty minutes, which really opened our eyes to how far we had actually come.  We were torn between laughing at ourselves and being proud of journey.  Once we pulled up to shore we stashed the kayak under a tree and went to our villa, for what you ask? Sunscreen!  We applied and applied again until we were white with SPF 15.  We stashed it in our backpacks along with some water and believe it or not we got back in the kayak and paddled over to Railay East.  We wanted to watch the sunset and cliff jump and that was the place to do it.  
Cliff jumping was terrifyingly awesome.  The only time it’s scary is that moment when you have to force yourself off the rock.  Other than that it’s a fun ride down.  We also have that on video.  I somehow managed to record my reaction as I’m falling through the air; it is hilarious.  Dave is working on compiling all of our footage so hang tight you’ll see it someday.  After jumping a couple times we relaxed on our backs in the water.  I still can’t get over the sight of those overhanging cliffs.  I must go back there.  The thing is I don’t want to go now or before I leave because when I picture myself there I imagine Dave by my side.  I’m not even starting a cheese fest here, I’m just saying sometimes it’s about the people you’re with.  Yes, the scenery and natural beauty was a-f*cking-mazing, but it was more amazing to enjoy it with someone who was just as taken back and appreciative of it all as I was.  I can still picture the crazy, swirly colors of the limestone and I can hear the drips from the water runoff as they hit the sea, I can also feel something stinging me, which is why we decided to get out of the water and onto dry land.  I have no idea what was biting me, but it was biting everyone else to.  We took turns watching the skilled climbers behind us and the sun sinking in the sky before us.  Eventually we walked back to the other side of the island before the sun completely set because we had to return the kayak.  We sat on Tonsai and watched Earth’s star fall into the ocean which proved to be a work of art.  Deep pinks and yellows set off by the silhouette of limestone crags.  At the end of the day I was so happy and relieved we decided to stay.  It felt like the first day that we were actually able to sit and relax.  No rain, no traveling, just adventures and enjoyment. The next morning we accidentally overslept.  We wanted to wake up at 7 a.m. to make the most of our day incase we weren’t staying.  When we frantically awoke at 9 a.m. we were kicking ourselves.  We hurried down to breakfast where we checked the weather on my iPod.  The forecast had improved since last night, only a 30% chance of a couple scattered thundershowers.  Once we saw that we agreed that we would definitely stay.  I think we both knew we were staying when Dave brought it up the night before, but we pretended that it was a hard decision with many variables.  After breakfast I called my coordinator to make sure I wasn’t going to get fired for missing two more days in such a short period of time.  She couldn’t care less.  She told me to have a good time, enjoy myself and get better (she could hear that I had caught a cold).  Now it was time to buy the train tickets, but I remembered you have to do it with a credit card and I had left mine in Chonburi and so had Dave.  After .7 seconds of panic I realized I could call my all time fixer of problems, Katie Schu Daenzer.  It was only 10 p.m. in the U.S. so she was definitely awake.  Thankfully I had just memorized her number a couple months before (different area codes make it a lot more difficult) or else we would have been S.O.L.  I called her up and she was glad to front me $30 so we headed off to the Internet café and purchased two train tickets from Surat Thani to Bangkok.  
After our tickets were printed we packed up and checked out of our hotel.  It was nice on Railay East, but our hearts still lived on Tonsai.  We scrambled over the sharp, hard, slippery rocks and waded through knee-high water in order to get to the backpacker beach.  As we walked by climbers struggling to finish their routes and their kids playing in the sand right below them we turned to each other and smiled.  We were staying.  A few more days in paradise.  
We could have shopped around for a cheap bungalow, but we had such a great experience at the Tonsai Bay Resort that we decided to go back.  Admittedly it is probably the priciest option on Tonsai, but our motto is ‘go big or go home’ and we obviously weren’t going home.  We rented a villa for two more nights and this time the lights even worked.  We threw our stuff down and decided it was time to grub again, but first we needed to get our laundry done.  A couple of the places were full so we trekked deep into the woods, past some simple bungalows and shacks to the Mountain View Resort. We handed off our smelly shirts and skipped back down to the beach in search of a smoothie and pad thai.  After lunch we rented a two-seater kayak, which cost us about $15 dollars for the entire day.  We were so excited to go on an adventure that we left completely unprepared.  We didn’t realize this until we were out in the middle of the Andaman Sea with our eyes on a far away island.  
We were ambitious to say the least.  We saw an island with a beautiful white beach that looked pretty deserted so we decided to paddle there.  As we paddled, and paddled and paddled for what seemed like forever, and was realistically a couple hours, the island was not getting any closer.  We contemplated going back, but of course we couldn’t stop now.  We had to keep going.  We finally reached the one island that was in between Tonsai and the one we wanted to get to.  When we realized that that island wasn’t really close to our destination island like we thought it was we were a little crushed.  It was all an illusion.  I tried to look up the islands on Google Maps to give you an idea of the distance, but unfortunately they’re so small that they aren’t even on the web.  Anyway, I think this is about the point we realized we were getting absolutely fried by the sun.  We had only put on one coat of SPF 15 and that was hours ago.  Call us idiots, grumble to yourself, write me an angry letter about how irresponsible that was, I know.  We know and we paid for it.  From that point on we couldn’t think about anything else, but our burning shoulders, chests and thighs.  We were in pain and I was thirsty.  I closed my eyes and started silently counting each stroke of the paddle.  For some reason that was keeping me going.  Once I got to two hundred I counted backwards and once I got to zero I opened my eyes.  We were still really far away.  Imagine another half hour of agony and then we floated right up onto the white sandy beach that we were so determined to get to.  It was really rewarding, but at the same time we couldn’t fully enjoy it because we were getting third degree sunburn.  I kept kicking myself for making such a dumb mistake.  Why did I not pack sunscreen?  I still don’t have an answer for that.  We pulled our boat up onto the beach and took a walk in search of some water.  There was a small restaurant, but they were out of water.  They did offer me beer or soda, but I politely declined.  We stopped at a few long tail boat food stalls.  They’re kind of like food trucks, but boats.  The first two we came across were out of water, but luckily we found some at the third one.  We also bought a couple fruit shakes.  With our hydration in hand we took a long walk down the beach.
It was a bit more crowded than we had expected, but it was still quiet.  We passed sunbathers who looked just as red as us and families building sand forts.  We also admired some makeshift beach huts that people made out of pieces of driftwood and towels.  I really wanted to sneak into the shade of one for a while, but I didn’t know how well that would go over.  As we kept walking we passed couples napping, parents reading and kids searching for seashells.  Dave and I stopped every few steps to pick up some ourselves.  Once we came to the end of the beach we took a little dip to soothe our skin before heading back.  When we got back to the main beach we took refuge in the shade.  There we found all the long tail boat drivers playing a Thai game called Da – gror (Da is pronounced with a low tone and gror with a falling tone).  It’s a game where any number of people stand in a circle kicking and heading a small woven rattan ball.  It’s basically like juggling a soccer ball, but the ball is much smaller and made of natural fibers.  During a match there are usually four people and the object of the game is to keep the ball from hitting the ground.  Points are acquired through style, difficulty and kicking maneuver.  These guys weren’t playing for points.  There was at least a dozen of them and they were just having a good time and passing the hours before their long tail was chartered again.  Dave and I watched them for a little bit and then I started to take photos and videos.  One of the guys motioned Dave to play so he took off his bag and joined in.  That’s one of the things I really admire about him.  He hadn’t ever played this game, but he was willing to try in front of a group of strangers that were damn good at it.  The first couple times it came to him he either missed it or sent it flying, but after the third time he was money.  He was kicking it and heading it like the rest of them.  I should have known.  He has a knack for being good at everything.  Sometimes it’s annoying.  Annoying in the ‘I’m jealous and I want to be good at random things I try for the first time like juggling and guitar hero’ kind of way.  As he was heading the ball and twisting his leg behind his back to launch it back up into the air, all the Thai men were ooowing and awing.  It was really a great sight and luckily I have it all on video.  While I was standing in the shade, another taxi man came up to me and gave me a decoration that he wove out of leaves and twigs.  He just handed it to me and said, “For you,” and walked towards the circle and joined the game.  I’m sure it’s something he makes all the time and he did it out of sheer boredom, but it meant a lot to me and it’s still hanging in my room.  
After the Da- gror game we inquired about a taxi ride back.  You didn’t think we were seriously going to paddle back did you?  It was too far and we did enough skin damage for one day.  We asked the taxi men how much for a kayak and two people and they all laughed hysterically.  I’m sure they’ve seen it before or maybe they haven’t and they were laughing at how weak and unable we were.  Either way, we laughed with them and decided one kayak is like the price of two people so we paid up and we were on our way.  
It was a long ride back.  We sped through the blue water for at least thirty minutes, which really opened our eyes to how far we had actually come.  We were torn between laughing at ourselves and being proud of journey.  Once we pulled up to shore we stashed the kayak under a tree and went to our villa, for what you ask? Sunscreen!  We applied and applied again until we were white with SPF 15.  We stashed it in our backpacks along with some water and believe it or not we got back in the kayak and paddled over to Railay East.  We wanted to watch the sunset and cliff jump and that was the place to do it.  
Cliff jumping was terrifyingly awesome.  The only time it’s scary is that moment when you have to force yourself off the rock.  Other than that it’s a fun ride down.  We also have that on video.  I somehow managed to record my reaction as I’m falling through the air; it is hilarious.  Dave is working on compiling all of our footage so hang tight you’ll see it someday.  After jumping a couple times we relaxed on our backs in the water.  I still can’t get over the sight of those overhanging cliffs.  I must go back there.  The thing is I don’t want to go now or before I leave because when I picture myself there I imagine Dave by my side.  I’m not even starting a cheese fest here, I’m just saying sometimes it’s about the people you’re with.  Yes, the scenery and natural beauty was a-f*cking-mazing, but it was more amazing to enjoy it with someone who was just as taken back and appreciative of it all as I was.  I can still picture the crazy, swirly colors of the limestone and I can hear the drips from the water runoff as they hit the sea, I can also feel something stinging me, which is why we decided to get out of the water and onto dry land.  I have no idea what was biting me, but it was biting everyone else to.  We took turns watching the skilled climbers behind us and the sun sinking in the sky before us.  Eventually we walked back to the other side of the island before the sun completely set because we had to return the kayak.  We sat on Tonsai and watched Earth’s star fall into the ocean which proved to be a work of art.  Deep pinks and yellows set off by the silhouette of limestone crags.  At the end of the day I was so happy and relieved we decided to stay.  It felt like the first day that we were actually able to sit and relax.  No rain, no traveling, just adventures and enjoyment. The next morning we accidentally overslept.  We wanted to wake up at 7 a.m. to make the most of our day incase we weren’t staying.  When we frantically awoke at 9 a.m. we were kicking ourselves.  We hurried down to breakfast where we checked the weather on my iPod.  The forecast had improved since last night, only a 30% chance of a couple scattered thundershowers.  Once we saw that we agreed that we would definitely stay.  I think we both knew we were staying when Dave brought it up the night before, but we pretended that it was a hard decision with many variables.  After breakfast I called my coordinator to make sure I wasn’t going to get fired for missing two more days in such a short period of time.  She couldn’t care less.  She told me to have a good time, enjoy myself and get better (she could hear that I had caught a cold).  Now it was time to buy the train tickets, but I remembered you have to do it with a credit card and I had left mine in Chonburi and so had Dave.  After .7 seconds of panic I realized I could call my all time fixer of problems, Katie Schu Daenzer.  It was only 10 p.m. in the U.S. so she was definitely awake.  Thankfully I had just memorized her number a couple months before (different area codes make it a lot more difficult) or else we would have been S.O.L.  I called her up and she was glad to front me $30 so we headed off to the Internet café and purchased two train tickets from Surat Thani to Bangkok.  
After our tickets were printed we packed up and checked out of our hotel.  It was nice on Railay East, but our hearts still lived on Tonsai.  We scrambled over the sharp, hard, slippery rocks and waded through knee-high water in order to get to the backpacker beach.  As we walked by climbers struggling to finish their routes and their kids playing in the sand right below them we turned to each other and smiled.  We were staying.  A few more days in paradise.  
We could have shopped around for a cheap bungalow, but we had such a great experience at the Tonsai Bay Resort that we decided to go back.  Admittedly it is probably the priciest option on Tonsai, but our motto is ‘go big or go home’ and we obviously weren’t going home.  We rented a villa for two more nights and this time the lights even worked.  We threw our stuff down and decided it was time to grub again, but first we needed to get our laundry done.  A couple of the places were full so we trekked deep into the woods, past some simple bungalows and shacks to the Mountain View Resort. We handed off our smelly shirts and skipped back down to the beach in search of a smoothie and pad thai.  After lunch we rented a two-seater kayak, which cost us about $15 dollars for the entire day.  We were so excited to go on an adventure that we left completely unprepared.  We didn’t realize this until we were out in the middle of the Andaman Sea with our eyes on a far away island.  
We were ambitious to say the least.  We saw an island with a beautiful white beach that looked pretty deserted so we decided to paddle there.  As we paddled, and paddled and paddled for what seemed like forever, and was realistically a couple hours, the island was not getting any closer.  We contemplated going back, but of course we couldn’t stop now.  We had to keep going.  We finally reached the one island that was in between Tonsai and the one we wanted to get to.  When we realized that that island wasn’t really close to our destination island like we thought it was we were a little crushed.  It was all an illusion.  I tried to look up the islands on Google Maps to give you an idea of the distance, but unfortunately they’re so small that they aren’t even on the web.  Anyway, I think this is about the point we realized we were getting absolutely fried by the sun.  We had only put on one coat of SPF 15 and that was hours ago.  Call us idiots, grumble to yourself, write me an angry letter about how irresponsible that was, I know.  We know and we paid for it.  From that point on we couldn’t think about anything else, but our burning shoulders, chests and thighs.  We were in pain and I was thirsty.  I closed my eyes and started silently counting each stroke of the paddle.  For some reason that was keeping me going.  Once I got to two hundred I counted backwards and once I got to zero I opened my eyes.  We were still really far away.  Imagine another half hour of agony and then we floated right up onto the white sandy beach that we were so determined to get to.  It was really rewarding, but at the same time we couldn’t fully enjoy it because we were getting third degree sunburn.  I kept kicking myself for making such a dumb mistake.  Why did I not pack sunscreen?  I still don’t have an answer for that.  We pulled our boat up onto the beach and took a walk in search of some water.  There was a small restaurant, but they were out of water.  They did offer me beer or soda, but I politely declined.  We stopped at a few long tail boat food stalls.  They’re kind of like food trucks, but boats.  The first two we came across were out of water, but luckily we found some at the third one.  We also bought a couple fruit shakes.  With our hydration in hand we took a long walk down the beach.
It was a bit more crowded than we had expected, but it was still quiet.  We passed sunbathers who looked just as red as us and families building sand forts.  We also admired some makeshift beach huts that people made out of pieces of driftwood and towels.  I really wanted to sneak into the shade of one for a while, but I didn’t know how well that would go over.  As we kept walking we passed couples napping, parents reading and kids searching for seashells.  Dave and I stopped every few steps to pick up some ourselves.  Once we came to the end of the beach we took a little dip to soothe our skin before heading back.  When we got back to the main beach we took refuge in the shade.  There we found all the long tail boat drivers playing a Thai game called Da – gror (Da is pronounced with a low tone and gror with a falling tone).  It’s a game where any number of people stand in a circle kicking and heading a small woven rattan ball.  It’s basically like juggling a soccer ball, but the ball is much smaller and made of natural fibers.  During a match there are usually four people and the object of the game is to keep the ball from hitting the ground.  Points are acquired through style, difficulty and kicking maneuver.  These guys weren’t playing for points.  There was at least a dozen of them and they were just having a good time and passing the hours before their long tail was chartered again.  Dave and I watched them for a little bit and then I started to take photos and videos.  One of the guys motioned Dave to play so he took off his bag and joined in.  That’s one of the things I really admire about him.  He hadn’t ever played this game, but he was willing to try in front of a group of strangers that were damn good at it.  The first couple times it came to him he either missed it or sent it flying, but after the third time he was money.  He was kicking it and heading it like the rest of them.  I should have known.  He has a knack for being good at everything.  Sometimes it’s annoying.  Annoying in the ‘I’m jealous and I want to be good at random things I try for the first time like juggling and guitar hero’ kind of way.  As he was heading the ball and twisting his leg behind his back to launch it back up into the air, all the Thai men were ooowing and awing.  It was really a great sight and luckily I have it all on video.  While I was standing in the shade, another taxi man came up to me and gave me a decoration that he wove out of leaves and twigs.  He just handed it to me and said, “For you,” and walked towards the circle and joined the game.  I’m sure it’s something he makes all the time and he did it out of sheer boredom, but it meant a lot to me and it’s still hanging in my room.  
After the Da- gror game we inquired about a taxi ride back.  You didn’t think we were seriously going to paddle back did you?  It was too far and we did enough skin damage for one day.  We asked the taxi men how much for a kayak and two people and they all laughed hysterically.  I’m sure they’ve seen it before or maybe they haven’t and they were laughing at how weak and unable we were.  Either way, we laughed with them and decided one kayak is like the price of two people so we paid up and we were on our way.  
It was a long ride back.  We sped through the blue water for at least thirty minutes, which really opened our eyes to how far we had actually come.  We were torn between laughing at ourselves and being proud of journey.  Once we pulled up to shore we stashed the kayak under a tree and went to our villa, for what you ask? Sunscreen!  We applied and applied again until we were white with SPF 15.  We stashed it in our backpacks along with some water and believe it or not we got back in the kayak and paddled over to Railay East.  We wanted to watch the sunset and cliff jump and that was the place to do it.  
Cliff jumping was terrifyingly awesome.  The only time it’s scary is that moment when you have to force yourself off the rock.  Other than that it’s a fun ride down.  We also have that on video.  I somehow managed to record my reaction as I’m falling through the air; it is hilarious.  Dave is working on compiling all of our footage so hang tight you’ll see it someday.  After jumping a couple times we relaxed on our backs in the water.  I still can’t get over the sight of those overhanging cliffs.  I must go back there.  The thing is I don’t want to go now or before I leave because when I picture myself there I imagine Dave by my side.  I’m not even starting a cheese fest here, I’m just saying sometimes it’s about the people you’re with.  Yes, the scenery and natural beauty was a-f*cking-mazing, but it was more amazing to enjoy it with someone who was just as taken back and appreciative of it all as I was.  I can still picture the crazy, swirly colors of the limestone and I can hear the drips from the water runoff as they hit the sea, I can also feel something stinging me, which is why we decided to get out of the water and onto dry land.  I have no idea what was biting me, but it was biting everyone else to.  We took turns watching the skilled climbers behind us and the sun sinking in the sky before us.  Eventually we walked back to the other side of the island before the sun completely set because we had to return the kayak.  We sat on Tonsai and watched Earth’s star fall into the ocean which proved to be a work of art.  Deep pinks and yellows set off by the silhouette of limestone crags.  At the end of the day I was so happy and relieved we decided to stay.  It felt like the first day that we were actually able to sit and relax.  No rain, no traveling, just adventures and enjoyment. The next morning we accidentally overslept.  We wanted to wake up at 7 a.m. to make the most of our day incase we weren’t staying.  When we frantically awoke at 9 a.m. we were kicking ourselves.  We hurried down to breakfast where we checked the weather on my iPod.  The forecast had improved since last night, only a 30% chance of a couple scattered thundershowers.  Once we saw that we agreed that we would definitely stay.  I think we both knew we were staying when Dave brought it up the night before, but we pretended that it was a hard decision with many variables.  After breakfast I called my coordinator to make sure I wasn’t going to get fired for missing two more days in such a short period of time.  She couldn’t care less.  She told me to have a good time, enjoy myself and get better (she could hear that I had caught a cold).  Now it was time to buy the train tickets, but I remembered you have to do it with a credit card and I had left mine in Chonburi and so had Dave.  After .7 seconds of panic I realized I could call my all time fixer of problems, Katie Schu Daenzer.  It was only 10 p.m. in the U.S. so she was definitely awake.  Thankfully I had just memorized her number a couple months before (different area codes make it a lot more difficult) or else we would have been S.O.L.  I called her up and she was glad to front me $30 so we headed off to the Internet café and purchased two train tickets from Surat Thani to Bangkok.  
After our tickets were printed we packed up and checked out of our hotel.  It was nice on Railay East, but our hearts still lived on Tonsai.  We scrambled over the sharp, hard, slippery rocks and waded through knee-high water in order to get to the backpacker beach.  As we walked by climbers struggling to finish their routes and their kids playing in the sand right below them we turned to each other and smiled.  We were staying.  A few more days in paradise.  
We could have shopped around for a cheap bungalow, but we had such a great experience at the Tonsai Bay Resort that we decided to go back.  Admittedly it is probably the priciest option on Tonsai, but our motto is ‘go big or go home’ and we obviously weren’t going home.  We rented a villa for two more nights and this time the lights even worked.  We threw our stuff down and decided it was time to grub again, but first we needed to get our laundry done.  A couple of the places were full so we trekked deep into the woods, past some simple bungalows and shacks to the Mountain View Resort. We handed off our smelly shirts and skipped back down to the beach in search of a smoothie and pad thai.  After lunch we rented a two-seater kayak, which cost us about $15 dollars for the entire day.  We were so excited to go on an adventure that we left completely unprepared.  We didn’t realize this until we were out in the middle of the Andaman Sea with our eyes on a far away island.  
We were ambitious to say the least.  We saw an island with a beautiful white beach that looked pretty deserted so we decided to paddle there.  As we paddled, and paddled and paddled for what seemed like forever, and was realistically a couple hours, the island was not getting any closer.  We contemplated going back, but of course we couldn’t stop now.  We had to keep going.  We finally reached the one island that was in between Tonsai and the one we wanted to get to.  When we realized that that island wasn’t really close to our destination island like we thought it was we were a little crushed.  It was all an illusion.  I tried to look up the islands on Google Maps to give you an idea of the distance, but unfortunately they’re so small that they aren’t even on the web.  Anyway, I think this is about the point we realized we were getting absolutely fried by the sun.  We had only put on one coat of SPF 15 and that was hours ago.  Call us idiots, grumble to yourself, write me an angry letter about how irresponsible that was, I know.  We know and we paid for it.  From that point on we couldn’t think about anything else, but our burning shoulders, chests and thighs.  We were in pain and I was thirsty.  I closed my eyes and started silently counting each stroke of the paddle.  For some reason that was keeping me going.  Once I got to two hundred I counted backwards and once I got to zero I opened my eyes.  We were still really far away.  Imagine another half hour of agony and then we floated right up onto the white sandy beach that we were so determined to get to.  It was really rewarding, but at the same time we couldn’t fully enjoy it because we were getting third degree sunburn.  I kept kicking myself for making such a dumb mistake.  Why did I not pack sunscreen?  I still don’t have an answer for that.  We pulled our boat up onto the beach and took a walk in search of some water.  There was a small restaurant, but they were out of water.  They did offer me beer or soda, but I politely declined.  We stopped at a few long tail boat food stalls.  They’re kind of like food trucks, but boats.  The first two we came across were out of water, but luckily we found some at the third one.  We also bought a couple fruit shakes.  With our hydration in hand we took a long walk down the beach.
It was a bit more crowded than we had expected, but it was still quiet.  We passed sunbathers who looked just as red as us and families building sand forts.  We also admired some makeshift beach huts that people made out of pieces of driftwood and towels.  I really wanted to sneak into the shade of one for a while, but I didn’t know how well that would go over.  As we kept walking we passed couples napping, parents reading and kids searching for seashells.  Dave and I stopped every few steps to pick up some ourselves.  Once we came to the end of the beach we took a little dip to soothe our skin before heading back.  When we got back to the main beach we took refuge in the shade.  There we found all the long tail boat drivers playing a Thai game called Da – gror (Da is pronounced with a low tone and gror with a falling tone).  It’s a game where any number of people stand in a circle kicking and heading a small woven rattan ball.  It’s basically like juggling a soccer ball, but the ball is much smaller and made of natural fibers.  During a match there are usually four people and the object of the game is to keep the ball from hitting the ground.  Points are acquired through style, difficulty and kicking maneuver.  These guys weren’t playing for points.  There was at least a dozen of them and they were just having a good time and passing the hours before their long tail was chartered again.  Dave and I watched them for a little bit and then I started to take photos and videos.  One of the guys motioned Dave to play so he took off his bag and joined in.  That’s one of the things I really admire about him.  He hadn’t ever played this game, but he was willing to try in front of a group of strangers that were damn good at it.  The first couple times it came to him he either missed it or sent it flying, but after the third time he was money.  He was kicking it and heading it like the rest of them.  I should have known.  He has a knack for being good at everything.  Sometimes it’s annoying.  Annoying in the ‘I’m jealous and I want to be good at random things I try for the first time like juggling and guitar hero’ kind of way.  As he was heading the ball and twisting his leg behind his back to launch it back up into the air, all the Thai men were ooowing and awing.  It was really a great sight and luckily I have it all on video.  While I was standing in the shade, another taxi man came up to me and gave me a decoration that he wove out of leaves and twigs.  He just handed it to me and said, “For you,” and walked towards the circle and joined the game.  I’m sure it’s something he makes all the time and he did it out of sheer boredom, but it meant a lot to me and it’s still hanging in my room.  
After the Da- gror game we inquired about a taxi ride back.  You didn’t think we were seriously going to paddle back did you?  It was too far and we did enough skin damage for one day.  We asked the taxi men how much for a kayak and two people and they all laughed hysterically.  I’m sure they’ve seen it before or maybe they haven’t and they were laughing at how weak and unable we were.  Either way, we laughed with them and decided one kayak is like the price of two people so we paid up and we were on our way.  
It was a long ride back.  We sped through the blue water for at least thirty minutes, which really opened our eyes to how far we had actually come.  We were torn between laughing at ourselves and being proud of journey.  Once we pulled up to shore we stashed the kayak under a tree and went to our villa, for what you ask? Sunscreen!  We applied and applied again until we were white with SPF 15.  We stashed it in our backpacks along with some water and believe it or not we got back in the kayak and paddled over to Railay East.  We wanted to watch the sunset and cliff jump and that was the place to do it.  
Cliff jumping was terrifyingly awesome.  The only time it’s scary is that moment when you have to force yourself off the rock.  Other than that it’s a fun ride down.  We also have that on video.  I somehow managed to record my reaction as I’m falling through the air; it is hilarious.  Dave is working on compiling all of our footage so hang tight you’ll see it someday.  After jumping a couple times we relaxed on our backs in the water.  I still can’t get over the sight of those overhanging cliffs.  I must go back there.  The thing is I don’t want to go now or before I leave because when I picture myself there I imagine Dave by my side.  I’m not even starting a cheese fest here, I’m just saying sometimes it’s about the people you’re with.  Yes, the scenery and natural beauty was a-f*cking-mazing, but it was more amazing to enjoy it with someone who was just as taken back and appreciative of it all as I was.  I can still picture the crazy, swirly colors of the limestone and I can hear the drips from the water runoff as they hit the sea, I can also feel something stinging me, which is why we decided to get out of the water and onto dry land.  I have no idea what was biting me, but it was biting everyone else to.  We took turns watching the skilled climbers behind us and the sun sinking in the sky before us.  Eventually we walked back to the other side of the island before the sun completely set because we had to return the kayak.  We sat on Tonsai and watched Earth’s star fall into the ocean which proved to be a work of art.  Deep pinks and yellows set off by the silhouette of limestone crags.  At the end of the day I was so happy and relieved we decided to stay.  It felt like the first day that we were actually able to sit and relax.  No rain, no traveling, just adventures and enjoyment.

The next morning we accidentally overslept.  We wanted to wake up at 7 a.m. to make the most of our day incase we weren’t staying.  When we frantically awoke at 9 a.m. we were kicking ourselves.  We hurried down to breakfast where we checked the weather on my iPod.  The forecast had improved since last night, only a 30% chance of a couple scattered thundershowers.  Once we saw that we agreed that we would definitely stay.  I think we both knew we were staying when Dave brought it up the night before, but we pretended that it was a hard decision with many variables.  After breakfast I called my coordinator to make sure I wasn’t going to get fired for missing two more days in such a short period of time.  She couldn’t care less.  She told me to have a good time, enjoy myself and get better (she could hear that I had caught a cold).  Now it was time to buy the train tickets, but I remembered you have to do it with a credit card and I had left mine in Chonburi and so had Dave.  After .7 seconds of panic I realized I could call my all time fixer of problems, Katie Schu Daenzer.  It was only 10 p.m. in the U.S. so she was definitely awake.  Thankfully I had just memorized her number a couple months before (different area codes make it a lot more difficult) or else we would have been S.O.L.  I called her up and she was glad to front me $30 so we headed off to the Internet café and purchased two train tickets from Surat Thani to Bangkok. 

After our tickets were printed we packed up and checked out of our hotel.  It was nice on Railay East, but our hearts still lived on Tonsai.  We scrambled over the sharp, hard, slippery rocks and waded through knee-high water in order to get to the backpacker beach.  As we walked by climbers struggling to finish their routes and their kids playing in the sand right below them we turned to each other and smiled.  We were staying.  A few more days in paradise. 

We could have shopped around for a cheap bungalow, but we had such a great experience at the Tonsai Bay Resort that we decided to go back.  Admittedly it is probably the priciest option on Tonsai, but our motto is ‘go big or go home’ and we obviously weren’t going home.  We rented a villa for two more nights and this time the lights even worked.  We threw our stuff down and decided it was time to grub again, but first we needed to get our laundry done.  A couple of the places were full so we trekked deep into the woods, past some simple bungalows and shacks to the Mountain View Resort. We handed off our smelly shirts and skipped back down to the beach in search of a smoothie and pad thai.  After lunch we rented a two-seater kayak, which cost us about $15 dollars for the entire day.  We were so excited to go on an adventure that we left completely unprepared.  We didn’t realize this until we were out in the middle of the Andaman Sea with our eyes on a far away island. 

We were ambitious to say the least.  We saw an island with a beautiful white beach that looked pretty deserted so we decided to paddle there.  As we paddled, and paddled and paddled for what seemed like forever, and was realistically a couple hours, the island was not getting any closer.  We contemplated going back, but of course we couldn’t stop now.  We had to keep going.  We finally reached the one island that was in between Tonsai and the one we wanted to get to.  When we realized that that island wasn’t really close to our destination island like we thought it was we were a little crushed.  It was all an illusion.  I tried to look up the islands on Google Maps to give you an idea of the distance, but unfortunately they’re so small that they aren’t even on the web.  Anyway, I think this is about the point we realized we were getting absolutely fried by the sun.  We had only put on one coat of SPF 15 and that was hours ago.  Call us idiots, grumble to yourself, write me an angry letter about how irresponsible that was, I know.  We know and we paid for it.  From that point on we couldn’t think about anything else, but our burning shoulders, chests and thighs.  We were in pain and I was thirsty.  I closed my eyes and started silently counting each stroke of the paddle.  For some reason that was keeping me going.  Once I got to two hundred I counted backwards and once I got to zero I opened my eyes.  We were still really far away.  Imagine another half hour of agony and then we floated right up onto the white sandy beach that we were so determined to get to.  It was really rewarding, but at the same time we couldn’t fully enjoy it because we were getting third degree sunburn.  I kept kicking myself for making such a dumb mistake.  Why did I not pack sunscreen?  I still don’t have an answer for that.  We pulled our boat up onto the beach and took a walk in search of some water.  There was a small restaurant, but they were out of water.  They did offer me beer or soda, but I politely declined.  We stopped at a few long tail boat food stalls.  They’re kind of like food trucks, but boats.  The first two we came across were out of water, but luckily we found some at the third one.  We also bought a couple fruit shakes.  With our hydration in hand we took a long walk down the beach.

It was a bit more crowded than we had expected, but it was still quiet.  We passed sunbathers who looked just as red as us and families building sand forts.  We also admired some makeshift beach huts that people made out of pieces of driftwood and towels.  I really wanted to sneak into the shade of one for a while, but I didn’t know how well that would go over.  As we kept walking we passed couples napping, parents reading and kids searching for seashells.  Dave and I stopped every few steps to pick up some ourselves.  Once we came to the end of the beach we took a little dip to soothe our skin before heading back.  When we got back to the main beach we took refuge in the shade.  There we found all the long tail boat drivers playing a Thai game called Da – gror (Da is pronounced with a low tone and gror with a falling tone).  It’s a game where any number of people stand in a circle kicking and heading a small woven rattan ball.  It’s basically like juggling a soccer ball, but the ball is much smaller and made of natural fibers.  During a match there are usually four people and the object of the game is to keep the ball from hitting the ground.  Points are acquired through style, difficulty and kicking maneuver.  These guys weren’t playing for points.  There was at least a dozen of them and they were just having a good time and passing the hours before their long tail was chartered again.  Dave and I watched them for a little bit and then I started to take photos and videos.  One of the guys motioned Dave to play so he took off his bag and joined in.  That’s one of the things I really admire about him.  He hadn’t ever played this game, but he was willing to try in front of a group of strangers that were damn good at it.  The first couple times it came to him he either missed it or sent it flying, but after the third time he was money.  He was kicking it and heading it like the rest of them.  I should have known.  He has a knack for being good at everything.  Sometimes it’s annoying.  Annoying in the ‘I’m jealous and I want to be good at random things I try for the first time like juggling and guitar hero’ kind of way.  As he was heading the ball and twisting his leg behind his back to launch it back up into the air, all the Thai men were ooowing and awing.  It was really a great sight and luckily I have it all on video.  While I was standing in the shade, another taxi man came up to me and gave me a decoration that he wove out of leaves and twigs.  He just handed it to me and said, “For you,” and walked towards the circle and joined the game.  I’m sure it’s something he makes all the time and he did it out of sheer boredom, but it meant a lot to me and it’s still hanging in my room. 

After the Da- gror game we inquired about a taxi ride back.  You didn’t think we were seriously going to paddle back did you?  It was too far and we did enough skin damage for one day.  We asked the taxi men how much for a kayak and two people and they all laughed hysterically.  I’m sure they’ve seen it before or maybe they haven’t and they were laughing at how weak and unable we were.  Either way, we laughed with them and decided one kayak is like the price of two people so we paid up and we were on our way. 

It was a long ride back.  We sped through the blue water for at least thirty minutes, which really opened our eyes to how far we had actually come.  We were torn between laughing at ourselves and being proud of journey.  Once we pulled up to shore we stashed the kayak under a tree and went to our villa, for what you ask? Sunscreen!  We applied and applied again until we were white with SPF 15.  We stashed it in our backpacks along with some water and believe it or not we got back in the kayak and paddled over to Railay East.  We wanted to watch the sunset and cliff jump and that was the place to do it. 

Cliff jumping was terrifyingly awesome.  The only time it’s scary is that moment when you have to force yourself off the rock.  Other than that it’s a fun ride down.  We also have that on video.  I somehow managed to record my reaction as I’m falling through the air; it is hilarious.  Dave is working on compiling all of our footage so hang tight you’ll see it someday.  After jumping a couple times we relaxed on our backs in the water.  I still can’t get over the sight of those overhanging cliffs.  I must go back there.  The thing is I don’t want to go now or before I leave because when I picture myself there I imagine Dave by my side.  I’m not even starting a cheese fest here, I’m just saying sometimes it’s about the people you’re with.  Yes, the scenery and natural beauty was a-f*cking-mazing, but it was more amazing to enjoy it with someone who was just as taken back and appreciative of it all as I was.  I can still picture the crazy, swirly colors of the limestone and I can hear the drips from the water runoff as they hit the sea, I can also feel something stinging me, which is why we decided to get out of the water and onto dry land.  I have no idea what was biting me, but it was biting everyone else to.  We took turns watching the skilled climbers behind us and the sun sinking in the sky before us.  Eventually we walked back to the other side of the island before the sun completely set because we had to return the kayak.  We sat on Tonsai and watched Earth’s star fall into the ocean which proved to be a work of art.  Deep pinks and yellows set off by the silhouette of limestone crags.  At the end of the day I was so happy and relieved we decided to stay.  It felt like the first day that we were actually able to sit and relax.  No rain, no traveling, just adventures and enjoyment.

After puddle jumping on Koh Lanta it was time to go back to the coast we couldn’t get enough of.  We already had a hotel booked at the Princess Resort on Railay East so we headed straight there after our two-hour ferry ride.  Once inside our baby bungalow we dropped our bags, changed into our bathing suits and headed off to see the lagoon.  After walking back and forth a few times on the path from Hat Rai Leh East to Hat Tham Phra Nang we spotted the trail, if you could call it that.  The guide book describes it as, “a crude path that leads up the jungle-cloaked cliff wall,” and that’s exactly what it was except on this particular day it was extremely muddy because of the previous day’s rain.  We spotted a mud-covered rope hanging down from the cliff side so we grabbed it and started to slowly make our way up.  It was a long, slow journey because just one slip could cost you your life.  I wish I were kidding, but it was scary at times.  Even the rope wasn’t helping because the mud made it slick.  We realized grabbing onto the tree roots was the safest and best option.  After a long trek up, we made it to the top where there was a clear trail so of course we followed it, but no lagoon.  Instead we reached ‘the viewpoint’ and I’m happy we did.  
We looked out over Hat Rai Leh East & West and Hat Ton Sai, the beach we stayed at on Friday night.  The landscape was breathtaking.  As I was enjoying the natural beauty of the tall, straight palms amid the enormous, ragged limestone cliffs I began to worry a little bit.  What if Ton Sai and Railay become the next Koh Phi Phi?  I could see hotels dotted among the palms and foliage, but there was definitely more greenery than guesthouses.  I hoped deep down in the deepest of all my hopes that this small piece of Thailand would stay as it is.  I truly loved it here and I felt like it was a home away from home.  I wouldn’t feel that way if I came back and it’s completely taken over by hostels, hotels and resorts.  The vibe was different here, especially on Ton Sai where it’s all backpackers and climbers.  There was more respect for the island and a shared love and enjoyment for space and place.  Hopefully that sentiment will carry through the years and the next time I return for that multi-month climbing trip, Ton Sai will look the same as it did that day from the viewpoint.  After we had our fill we turned around and walked back down the trail in search of the lagoon.  The sun was setting so we knew we had to move fast.  We took a couple steps to the left of the trail and then the right, but we didn’t see another path anywhere.  Right before we were about to descend back down the treacherous cliffside, we saw a path leading off to the left.  We also saw another muddy rope, which meant we were about to get dirty again.  
Dave tested the waters by sliding down, half on his feet, half on his butt.  Once he was down in the thick of things he gave me the ‘OK’ so I grabbed a handful of rope and tree root and slid down after him.  Now we were really in the jungle.  The vines and roots were tangled and twisted all about.  Everything was damp, green and full of life.  We crossed paths with the most enormous tree I’ve ever seen.  The roots were taller than me, yes, the roots.  I want to corral all the people who don’t have an appreciation for nature, and sit them at the base of that tree for a day.  I could have stood there are starred at it for at least an hour, but like I said, it was getting dark so we moved on.  We slid down more rocks until we came to a big mud pit and then a drop off, we peaked over the side and there it was, the lagoon.  When you hear lagoon do you automatically place the word blue in front of it? Because I do.  It was brown; probably because of the heavy rains and all the mud flowing off the mountainside.  I took a glance at it, looked at Dave and then silently agreed to head back.  I wasn’t even disappointed.  I really believe half of the adventure is getting to your destination and in this case it was 90% and so be it.  For me the adventure was complete once I laid eyes on that tree, I’m still not over it if you can’t tell.  We sidestepped the mud pit and clambered back up the slick rocks with the help of strong vines, roots and carefully placed steps.  The journey back down the cliffside was ten times scarier, but with Dave ahead of me I felt like I had a personal coach so it made it that much easier.  He would basically take the hard way every time and then we would contemplate a different route, a much easier one, and that’s the way I would come down.  It was more of a mind game than a physical one.  If you picked the right root to grab and foothold than it was cake, well as cake as a slick, muddy, vertical trail can be.  
Once we reached the bottom we did a celebratory high five and made our way to Hat Tham Phra Nang, the most beautiful beach on the peninsula.  We washed off as best we could while we floated on our backs and stared up at the overhanging cliffs.  Drops of water were constantly falling from the cliffs onto the beach and into the ocean, still at least 24 hours since it had rained.  These little methodical drops made it possible for me to imagine how the flooding took place here in Thailand in August and October.  When I arrived it hadn’t rained for an entire week, but after a few days in Bangkok we were evacuated because the flood waters were coming.  I didn’t understand at the time, but now I do.  All the water was still running from the high northern mountains to the lower inlands of the country.  So even though I hadn’t experienced rain there were massive amounts of water that had nowhere to go because the ground was completely saturated.  I still can’t wrap my head around all the water that rocked this country.  After the sun went down we walked back to our bungalow and showered off all the jungle slime and mud that wouldn’t come clean in the sea.  
We decided to eat dinner at our hotel’s restaurant because all the food smelled delicious as we walked by the first time.  I also spotted pizza and I was dying for some western food.  We took a seat in the heavy wooden chairs and simply gazed around grateful for where we were.  All day we talked about how much we loved it here and how we shouldn’t have left on Saturday morning.  Then Dave suggested half jokingly that we ditch our flight the next day.  At first I thought it was crazy, but after a few minutes I started to give it some serious thought.  He was only here for three more days and the both of us weren’t coming back to Ton Sai anytime soon, so if not now then when?  We both pondered it silently as we look at our menus.  
We had an absolute feast for dinner.  The restaurant was out of a few things we ordered, but it ended up in our favor because the food we did get was the bomb.  We devoured a thin crust cheesy pizza and a side of garlic bread before our meals arrived.  For my main course, which came after the four slices of pizza, I had vegetable fried rice baked in a pineapple.  It was like nothing I had ever seen before.  It was really moist and full of flavor.  After stuffing ourselves silly we started to discuss skipping our flight more seriously.  We looked up the weather, train tickets and talked about me taking off work for two more days.  Everyday that I miss I am docked $30 pay so I was already down $90 since Dave arrived.  Even though I’d be losing some cash we both agreed that staying seemed like the responsible thing to do. I mean, why waste the days if we are already here.  We paid for our flight a month ago so that money was already out of pocket and the train would only cost $30 total.  After dinner we took a long, dark walk along the deserted Hat Tham Phra Nang beach.  We laid a blanket down and starred up at the black sky, looming cliffs and twinkling stars.  Yep, we’re staying. After puddle jumping on Koh Lanta it was time to go back to the coast we couldn’t get enough of.  We already had a hotel booked at the Princess Resort on Railay East so we headed straight there after our two-hour ferry ride.  Once inside our baby bungalow we dropped our bags, changed into our bathing suits and headed off to see the lagoon.  After walking back and forth a few times on the path from Hat Rai Leh East to Hat Tham Phra Nang we spotted the trail, if you could call it that.  The guide book describes it as, “a crude path that leads up the jungle-cloaked cliff wall,” and that’s exactly what it was except on this particular day it was extremely muddy because of the previous day’s rain.  We spotted a mud-covered rope hanging down from the cliff side so we grabbed it and started to slowly make our way up.  It was a long, slow journey because just one slip could cost you your life.  I wish I were kidding, but it was scary at times.  Even the rope wasn’t helping because the mud made it slick.  We realized grabbing onto the tree roots was the safest and best option.  After a long trek up, we made it to the top where there was a clear trail so of course we followed it, but no lagoon.  Instead we reached ‘the viewpoint’ and I’m happy we did.  
We looked out over Hat Rai Leh East & West and Hat Ton Sai, the beach we stayed at on Friday night.  The landscape was breathtaking.  As I was enjoying the natural beauty of the tall, straight palms amid the enormous, ragged limestone cliffs I began to worry a little bit.  What if Ton Sai and Railay become the next Koh Phi Phi?  I could see hotels dotted among the palms and foliage, but there was definitely more greenery than guesthouses.  I hoped deep down in the deepest of all my hopes that this small piece of Thailand would stay as it is.  I truly loved it here and I felt like it was a home away from home.  I wouldn’t feel that way if I came back and it’s completely taken over by hostels, hotels and resorts.  The vibe was different here, especially on Ton Sai where it’s all backpackers and climbers.  There was more respect for the island and a shared love and enjoyment for space and place.  Hopefully that sentiment will carry through the years and the next time I return for that multi-month climbing trip, Ton Sai will look the same as it did that day from the viewpoint.  After we had our fill we turned around and walked back down the trail in search of the lagoon.  The sun was setting so we knew we had to move fast.  We took a couple steps to the left of the trail and then the right, but we didn’t see another path anywhere.  Right before we were about to descend back down the treacherous cliffside, we saw a path leading off to the left.  We also saw another muddy rope, which meant we were about to get dirty again.  
Dave tested the waters by sliding down, half on his feet, half on his butt.  Once he was down in the thick of things he gave me the ‘OK’ so I grabbed a handful of rope and tree root and slid down after him.  Now we were really in the jungle.  The vines and roots were tangled and twisted all about.  Everything was damp, green and full of life.  We crossed paths with the most enormous tree I’ve ever seen.  The roots were taller than me, yes, the roots.  I want to corral all the people who don’t have an appreciation for nature, and sit them at the base of that tree for a day.  I could have stood there are starred at it for at least an hour, but like I said, it was getting dark so we moved on.  We slid down more rocks until we came to a big mud pit and then a drop off, we peaked over the side and there it was, the lagoon.  When you hear lagoon do you automatically place the word blue in front of it? Because I do.  It was brown; probably because of the heavy rains and all the mud flowing off the mountainside.  I took a glance at it, looked at Dave and then silently agreed to head back.  I wasn’t even disappointed.  I really believe half of the adventure is getting to your destination and in this case it was 90% and so be it.  For me the adventure was complete once I laid eyes on that tree, I’m still not over it if you can’t tell.  We sidestepped the mud pit and clambered back up the slick rocks with the help of strong vines, roots and carefully placed steps.  The journey back down the cliffside was ten times scarier, but with Dave ahead of me I felt like I had a personal coach so it made it that much easier.  He would basically take the hard way every time and then we would contemplate a different route, a much easier one, and that’s the way I would come down.  It was more of a mind game than a physical one.  If you picked the right root to grab and foothold than it was cake, well as cake as a slick, muddy, vertical trail can be.  
Once we reached the bottom we did a celebratory high five and made our way to Hat Tham Phra Nang, the most beautiful beach on the peninsula.  We washed off as best we could while we floated on our backs and stared up at the overhanging cliffs.  Drops of water were constantly falling from the cliffs onto the beach and into the ocean, still at least 24 hours since it had rained.  These little methodical drops made it possible for me to imagine how the flooding took place here in Thailand in August and October.  When I arrived it hadn’t rained for an entire week, but after a few days in Bangkok we were evacuated because the flood waters were coming.  I didn’t understand at the time, but now I do.  All the water was still running from the high northern mountains to the lower inlands of the country.  So even though I hadn’t experienced rain there were massive amounts of water that had nowhere to go because the ground was completely saturated.  I still can’t wrap my head around all the water that rocked this country.  After the sun went down we walked back to our bungalow and showered off all the jungle slime and mud that wouldn’t come clean in the sea.  
We decided to eat dinner at our hotel’s restaurant because all the food smelled delicious as we walked by the first time.  I also spotted pizza and I was dying for some western food.  We took a seat in the heavy wooden chairs and simply gazed around grateful for where we were.  All day we talked about how much we loved it here and how we shouldn’t have left on Saturday morning.  Then Dave suggested half jokingly that we ditch our flight the next day.  At first I thought it was crazy, but after a few minutes I started to give it some serious thought.  He was only here for three more days and the both of us weren’t coming back to Ton Sai anytime soon, so if not now then when?  We both pondered it silently as we look at our menus.  
We had an absolute feast for dinner.  The restaurant was out of a few things we ordered, but it ended up in our favor because the food we did get was the bomb.  We devoured a thin crust cheesy pizza and a side of garlic bread before our meals arrived.  For my main course, which came after the four slices of pizza, I had vegetable fried rice baked in a pineapple.  It was like nothing I had ever seen before.  It was really moist and full of flavor.  After stuffing ourselves silly we started to discuss skipping our flight more seriously.  We looked up the weather, train tickets and talked about me taking off work for two more days.  Everyday that I miss I am docked $30 pay so I was already down $90 since Dave arrived.  Even though I’d be losing some cash we both agreed that staying seemed like the responsible thing to do. I mean, why waste the days if we are already here.  We paid for our flight a month ago so that money was already out of pocket and the train would only cost $30 total.  After dinner we took a long, dark walk along the deserted Hat Tham Phra Nang beach.  We laid a blanket down and starred up at the black sky, looming cliffs and twinkling stars.  Yep, we’re staying. After puddle jumping on Koh Lanta it was time to go back to the coast we couldn’t get enough of.  We already had a hotel booked at the Princess Resort on Railay East so we headed straight there after our two-hour ferry ride.  Once inside our baby bungalow we dropped our bags, changed into our bathing suits and headed off to see the lagoon.  After walking back and forth a few times on the path from Hat Rai Leh East to Hat Tham Phra Nang we spotted the trail, if you could call it that.  The guide book describes it as, “a crude path that leads up the jungle-cloaked cliff wall,” and that’s exactly what it was except on this particular day it was extremely muddy because of the previous day’s rain.  We spotted a mud-covered rope hanging down from the cliff side so we grabbed it and started to slowly make our way up.  It was a long, slow journey because just one slip could cost you your life.  I wish I were kidding, but it was scary at times.  Even the rope wasn’t helping because the mud made it slick.  We realized grabbing onto the tree roots was the safest and best option.  After a long trek up, we made it to the top where there was a clear trail so of course we followed it, but no lagoon.  Instead we reached ‘the viewpoint’ and I’m happy we did.  
We looked out over Hat Rai Leh East & West and Hat Ton Sai, the beach we stayed at on Friday night.  The landscape was breathtaking.  As I was enjoying the natural beauty of the tall, straight palms amid the enormous, ragged limestone cliffs I began to worry a little bit.  What if Ton Sai and Railay become the next Koh Phi Phi?  I could see hotels dotted among the palms and foliage, but there was definitely more greenery than guesthouses.  I hoped deep down in the deepest of all my hopes that this small piece of Thailand would stay as it is.  I truly loved it here and I felt like it was a home away from home.  I wouldn’t feel that way if I came back and it’s completely taken over by hostels, hotels and resorts.  The vibe was different here, especially on Ton Sai where it’s all backpackers and climbers.  There was more respect for the island and a shared love and enjoyment for space and place.  Hopefully that sentiment will carry through the years and the next time I return for that multi-month climbing trip, Ton Sai will look the same as it did that day from the viewpoint.  After we had our fill we turned around and walked back down the trail in search of the lagoon.  The sun was setting so we knew we had to move fast.  We took a couple steps to the left of the trail and then the right, but we didn’t see another path anywhere.  Right before we were about to descend back down the treacherous cliffside, we saw a path leading off to the left.  We also saw another muddy rope, which meant we were about to get dirty again.  
Dave tested the waters by sliding down, half on his feet, half on his butt.  Once he was down in the thick of things he gave me the ‘OK’ so I grabbed a handful of rope and tree root and slid down after him.  Now we were really in the jungle.  The vines and roots were tangled and twisted all about.  Everything was damp, green and full of life.  We crossed paths with the most enormous tree I’ve ever seen.  The roots were taller than me, yes, the roots.  I want to corral all the people who don’t have an appreciation for nature, and sit them at the base of that tree for a day.  I could have stood there are starred at it for at least an hour, but like I said, it was getting dark so we moved on.  We slid down more rocks until we came to a big mud pit and then a drop off, we peaked over the side and there it was, the lagoon.  When you hear lagoon do you automatically place the word blue in front of it? Because I do.  It was brown; probably because of the heavy rains and all the mud flowing off the mountainside.  I took a glance at it, looked at Dave and then silently agreed to head back.  I wasn’t even disappointed.  I really believe half of the adventure is getting to your destination and in this case it was 90% and so be it.  For me the adventure was complete once I laid eyes on that tree, I’m still not over it if you can’t tell.  We sidestepped the mud pit and clambered back up the slick rocks with the help of strong vines, roots and carefully placed steps.  The journey back down the cliffside was ten times scarier, but with Dave ahead of me I felt like I had a personal coach so it made it that much easier.  He would basically take the hard way every time and then we would contemplate a different route, a much easier one, and that’s the way I would come down.  It was more of a mind game than a physical one.  If you picked the right root to grab and foothold than it was cake, well as cake as a slick, muddy, vertical trail can be.  
Once we reached the bottom we did a celebratory high five and made our way to Hat Tham Phra Nang, the most beautiful beach on the peninsula.  We washed off as best we could while we floated on our backs and stared up at the overhanging cliffs.  Drops of water were constantly falling from the cliffs onto the beach and into the ocean, still at least 24 hours since it had rained.  These little methodical drops made it possible for me to imagine how the flooding took place here in Thailand in August and October.  When I arrived it hadn’t rained for an entire week, but after a few days in Bangkok we were evacuated because the flood waters were coming.  I didn’t understand at the time, but now I do.  All the water was still running from the high northern mountains to the lower inlands of the country.  So even though I hadn’t experienced rain there were massive amounts of water that had nowhere to go because the ground was completely saturated.  I still can’t wrap my head around all the water that rocked this country.  After the sun went down we walked back to our bungalow and showered off all the jungle slime and mud that wouldn’t come clean in the sea.  
We decided to eat dinner at our hotel’s restaurant because all the food smelled delicious as we walked by the first time.  I also spotted pizza and I was dying for some western food.  We took a seat in the heavy wooden chairs and simply gazed around grateful for where we were.  All day we talked about how much we loved it here and how we shouldn’t have left on Saturday morning.  Then Dave suggested half jokingly that we ditch our flight the next day.  At first I thought it was crazy, but after a few minutes I started to give it some serious thought.  He was only here for three more days and the both of us weren’t coming back to Ton Sai anytime soon, so if not now then when?  We both pondered it silently as we look at our menus.  
We had an absolute feast for dinner.  The restaurant was out of a few things we ordered, but it ended up in our favor because the food we did get was the bomb.  We devoured a thin crust cheesy pizza and a side of garlic bread before our meals arrived.  For my main course, which came after the four slices of pizza, I had vegetable fried rice baked in a pineapple.  It was like nothing I had ever seen before.  It was really moist and full of flavor.  After stuffing ourselves silly we started to discuss skipping our flight more seriously.  We looked up the weather, train tickets and talked about me taking off work for two more days.  Everyday that I miss I am docked $30 pay so I was already down $90 since Dave arrived.  Even though I’d be losing some cash we both agreed that staying seemed like the responsible thing to do. I mean, why waste the days if we are already here.  We paid for our flight a month ago so that money was already out of pocket and the train would only cost $30 total.  After dinner we took a long, dark walk along the deserted Hat Tham Phra Nang beach.  We laid a blanket down and starred up at the black sky, looming cliffs and twinkling stars.  Yep, we’re staying. After puddle jumping on Koh Lanta it was time to go back to the coast we couldn’t get enough of.  We already had a hotel booked at the Princess Resort on Railay East so we headed straight there after our two-hour ferry ride.  Once inside our baby bungalow we dropped our bags, changed into our bathing suits and headed off to see the lagoon.  After walking back and forth a few times on the path from Hat Rai Leh East to Hat Tham Phra Nang we spotted the trail, if you could call it that.  The guide book describes it as, “a crude path that leads up the jungle-cloaked cliff wall,” and that’s exactly what it was except on this particular day it was extremely muddy because of the previous day’s rain.  We spotted a mud-covered rope hanging down from the cliff side so we grabbed it and started to slowly make our way up.  It was a long, slow journey because just one slip could cost you your life.  I wish I were kidding, but it was scary at times.  Even the rope wasn’t helping because the mud made it slick.  We realized grabbing onto the tree roots was the safest and best option.  After a long trek up, we made it to the top where there was a clear trail so of course we followed it, but no lagoon.  Instead we reached ‘the viewpoint’ and I’m happy we did.  
We looked out over Hat Rai Leh East & West and Hat Ton Sai, the beach we stayed at on Friday night.  The landscape was breathtaking.  As I was enjoying the natural beauty of the tall, straight palms amid the enormous, ragged limestone cliffs I began to worry a little bit.  What if Ton Sai and Railay become the next Koh Phi Phi?  I could see hotels dotted among the palms and foliage, but there was definitely more greenery than guesthouses.  I hoped deep down in the deepest of all my hopes that this small piece of Thailand would stay as it is.  I truly loved it here and I felt like it was a home away from home.  I wouldn’t feel that way if I came back and it’s completely taken over by hostels, hotels and resorts.  The vibe was different here, especially on Ton Sai where it’s all backpackers and climbers.  There was more respect for the island and a shared love and enjoyment for space and place.  Hopefully that sentiment will carry through the years and the next time I return for that multi-month climbing trip, Ton Sai will look the same as it did that day from the viewpoint.  After we had our fill we turned around and walked back down the trail in search of the lagoon.  The sun was setting so we knew we had to move fast.  We took a couple steps to the left of the trail and then the right, but we didn’t see another path anywhere.  Right before we were about to descend back down the treacherous cliffside, we saw a path leading off to the left.  We also saw another muddy rope, which meant we were about to get dirty again.  
Dave tested the waters by sliding down, half on his feet, half on his butt.  Once he was down in the thick of things he gave me the ‘OK’ so I grabbed a handful of rope and tree root and slid down after him.  Now we were really in the jungle.  The vines and roots were tangled and twisted all about.  Everything was damp, green and full of life.  We crossed paths with the most enormous tree I’ve ever seen.  The roots were taller than me, yes, the roots.  I want to corral all the people who don’t have an appreciation for nature, and sit them at the base of that tree for a day.  I could have stood there are starred at it for at least an hour, but like I said, it was getting dark so we moved on.  We slid down more rocks until we came to a big mud pit and then a drop off, we peaked over the side and there it was, the lagoon.  When you hear lagoon do you automatically place the word blue in front of it? Because I do.  It was brown; probably because of the heavy rains and all the mud flowing off the mountainside.  I took a glance at it, looked at Dave and then silently agreed to head back.  I wasn’t even disappointed.  I really believe half of the adventure is getting to your destination and in this case it was 90% and so be it.  For me the adventure was complete once I laid eyes on that tree, I’m still not over it if you can’t tell.  We sidestepped the mud pit and clambered back up the slick rocks with the help of strong vines, roots and carefully placed steps.  The journey back down the cliffside was ten times scarier, but with Dave ahead of me I felt like I had a personal coach so it made it that much easier.  He would basically take the hard way every time and then we would contemplate a different route, a much easier one, and that’s the way I would come down.  It was more of a mind game than a physical one.  If you picked the right root to grab and foothold than it was cake, well as cake as a slick, muddy, vertical trail can be.  
Once we reached the bottom we did a celebratory high five and made our way to Hat Tham Phra Nang, the most beautiful beach on the peninsula.  We washed off as best we could while we floated on our backs and stared up at the overhanging cliffs.  Drops of water were constantly falling from the cliffs onto the beach and into the ocean, still at least 24 hours since it had rained.  These little methodical drops made it possible for me to imagine how the flooding took place here in Thailand in August and October.  When I arrived it hadn’t rained for an entire week, but after a few days in Bangkok we were evacuated because the flood waters were coming.  I didn’t understand at the time, but now I do.  All the water was still running from the high northern mountains to the lower inlands of the country.  So even though I hadn’t experienced rain there were massive amounts of water that had nowhere to go because the ground was completely saturated.  I still can’t wrap my head around all the water that rocked this country.  After the sun went down we walked back to our bungalow and showered off all the jungle slime and mud that wouldn’t come clean in the sea.  
We decided to eat dinner at our hotel’s restaurant because all the food smelled delicious as we walked by the first time.  I also spotted pizza and I was dying for some western food.  We took a seat in the heavy wooden chairs and simply gazed around grateful for where we were.  All day we talked about how much we loved it here and how we shouldn’t have left on Saturday morning.  Then Dave suggested half jokingly that we ditch our flight the next day.  At first I thought it was crazy, but after a few minutes I started to give it some serious thought.  He was only here for three more days and the both of us weren’t coming back to Ton Sai anytime soon, so if not now then when?  We both pondered it silently as we look at our menus.  
We had an absolute feast for dinner.  The restaurant was out of a few things we ordered, but it ended up in our favor because the food we did get was the bomb.  We devoured a thin crust cheesy pizza and a side of garlic bread before our meals arrived.  For my main course, which came after the four slices of pizza, I had vegetable fried rice baked in a pineapple.  It was like nothing I had ever seen before.  It was really moist and full of flavor.  After stuffing ourselves silly we started to discuss skipping our flight more seriously.  We looked up the weather, train tickets and talked about me taking off work for two more days.  Everyday that I miss I am docked $30 pay so I was already down $90 since Dave arrived.  Even though I’d be losing some cash we both agreed that staying seemed like the responsible thing to do. I mean, why waste the days if we are already here.  We paid for our flight a month ago so that money was already out of pocket and the train would only cost $30 total.  After dinner we took a long, dark walk along the deserted Hat Tham Phra Nang beach.  We laid a blanket down and starred up at the black sky, looming cliffs and twinkling stars.  Yep, we’re staying. After puddle jumping on Koh Lanta it was time to go back to the coast we couldn’t get enough of.  We already had a hotel booked at the Princess Resort on Railay East so we headed straight there after our two-hour ferry ride.  Once inside our baby bungalow we dropped our bags, changed into our bathing suits and headed off to see the lagoon.  After walking back and forth a few times on the path from Hat Rai Leh East to Hat Tham Phra Nang we spotted the trail, if you could call it that.  The guide book describes it as, “a crude path that leads up the jungle-cloaked cliff wall,” and that’s exactly what it was except on this particular day it was extremely muddy because of the previous day’s rain.  We spotted a mud-covered rope hanging down from the cliff side so we grabbed it and started to slowly make our way up.  It was a long, slow journey because just one slip could cost you your life.  I wish I were kidding, but it was scary at times.  Even the rope wasn’t helping because the mud made it slick.  We realized grabbing onto the tree roots was the safest and best option.  After a long trek up, we made it to the top where there was a clear trail so of course we followed it, but no lagoon.  Instead we reached ‘the viewpoint’ and I’m happy we did.  
We looked out over Hat Rai Leh East & West and Hat Ton Sai, the beach we stayed at on Friday night.  The landscape was breathtaking.  As I was enjoying the natural beauty of the tall, straight palms amid the enormous, ragged limestone cliffs I began to worry a little bit.  What if Ton Sai and Railay become the next Koh Phi Phi?  I could see hotels dotted among the palms and foliage, but there was definitely more greenery than guesthouses.  I hoped deep down in the deepest of all my hopes that this small piece of Thailand would stay as it is.  I truly loved it here and I felt like it was a home away from home.  I wouldn’t feel that way if I came back and it’s completely taken over by hostels, hotels and resorts.  The vibe was different here, especially on Ton Sai where it’s all backpackers and climbers.  There was more respect for the island and a shared love and enjoyment for space and place.  Hopefully that sentiment will carry through the years and the next time I return for that multi-month climbing trip, Ton Sai will look the same as it did that day from the viewpoint.  After we had our fill we turned around and walked back down the trail in search of the lagoon.  The sun was setting so we knew we had to move fast.  We took a couple steps to the left of the trail and then the right, but we didn’t see another path anywhere.  Right before we were about to descend back down the treacherous cliffside, we saw a path leading off to the left.  We also saw another muddy rope, which meant we were about to get dirty again.  
Dave tested the waters by sliding down, half on his feet, half on his butt.  Once he was down in the thick of things he gave me the ‘OK’ so I grabbed a handful of rope and tree root and slid down after him.  Now we were really in the jungle.  The vines and roots were tangled and twisted all about.  Everything was damp, green and full of life.  We crossed paths with the most enormous tree I’ve ever seen.  The roots were taller than me, yes, the roots.  I want to corral all the people who don’t have an appreciation for nature, and sit them at the base of that tree for a day.  I could have stood there are starred at it for at least an hour, but like I said, it was getting dark so we moved on.  We slid down more rocks until we came to a big mud pit and then a drop off, we peaked over the side and there it was, the lagoon.  When you hear lagoon do you automatically place the word blue in front of it? Because I do.  It was brown; probably because of the heavy rains and all the mud flowing off the mountainside.  I took a glance at it, looked at Dave and then silently agreed to head back.  I wasn’t even disappointed.  I really believe half of the adventure is getting to your destination and in this case it was 90% and so be it.  For me the adventure was complete once I laid eyes on that tree, I’m still not over it if you can’t tell.  We sidestepped the mud pit and clambered back up the slick rocks with the help of strong vines, roots and carefully placed steps.  The journey back down the cliffside was ten times scarier, but with Dave ahead of me I felt like I had a personal coach so it made it that much easier.  He would basically take the hard way every time and then we would contemplate a different route, a much easier one, and that’s the way I would come down.  It was more of a mind game than a physical one.  If you picked the right root to grab and foothold than it was cake, well as cake as a slick, muddy, vertical trail can be.  
Once we reached the bottom we did a celebratory high five and made our way to Hat Tham Phra Nang, the most beautiful beach on the peninsula.  We washed off as best we could while we floated on our backs and stared up at the overhanging cliffs.  Drops of water were constantly falling from the cliffs onto the beach and into the ocean, still at least 24 hours since it had rained.  These little methodical drops made it possible for me to imagine how the flooding took place here in Thailand in August and October.  When I arrived it hadn’t rained for an entire week, but after a few days in Bangkok we were evacuated because the flood waters were coming.  I didn’t understand at the time, but now I do.  All the water was still running from the high northern mountains to the lower inlands of the country.  So even though I hadn’t experienced rain there were massive amounts of water that had nowhere to go because the ground was completely saturated.  I still can’t wrap my head around all the water that rocked this country.  After the sun went down we walked back to our bungalow and showered off all the jungle slime and mud that wouldn’t come clean in the sea.  
We decided to eat dinner at our hotel’s restaurant because all the food smelled delicious as we walked by the first time.  I also spotted pizza and I was dying for some western food.  We took a seat in the heavy wooden chairs and simply gazed around grateful for where we were.  All day we talked about how much we loved it here and how we shouldn’t have left on Saturday morning.  Then Dave suggested half jokingly that we ditch our flight the next day.  At first I thought it was crazy, but after a few minutes I started to give it some serious thought.  He was only here for three more days and the both of us weren’t coming back to Ton Sai anytime soon, so if not now then when?  We both pondered it silently as we look at our menus.  
We had an absolute feast for dinner.  The restaurant was out of a few things we ordered, but it ended up in our favor because the food we did get was the bomb.  We devoured a thin crust cheesy pizza and a side of garlic bread before our meals arrived.  For my main course, which came after the four slices of pizza, I had vegetable fried rice baked in a pineapple.  It was like nothing I had ever seen before.  It was really moist and full of flavor.  After stuffing ourselves silly we started to discuss skipping our flight more seriously.  We looked up the weather, train tickets and talked about me taking off work for two more days.  Everyday that I miss I am docked $30 pay so I was already down $90 since Dave arrived.  Even though I’d be losing some cash we both agreed that staying seemed like the responsible thing to do. I mean, why waste the days if we are already here.  We paid for our flight a month ago so that money was already out of pocket and the train would only cost $30 total.  After dinner we took a long, dark walk along the deserted Hat Tham Phra Nang beach.  We laid a blanket down and starred up at the black sky, looming cliffs and twinkling stars.  Yep, we’re staying.

After puddle jumping on Koh Lanta it was time to go back to the coast we couldn’t get enough of.  We already had a hotel booked at the Princess Resort on Railay East so we headed straight there after our two-hour ferry ride.  Once inside our baby bungalow we dropped our bags, changed into our bathing suits and headed off to see the lagoon.  After walking back and forth a few times on the path from Hat Rai Leh East to Hat Tham Phra Nang we spotted the trail, if you could call it that.  The guide book describes it as, “a crude path that leads up the jungle-cloaked cliff wall,” and that’s exactly what it was except on this particular day it was extremely muddy because of the previous day’s rain.  We spotted a mud-covered rope hanging down from the cliff side so we grabbed it and started to slowly make our way up.  It was a long, slow journey because just one slip could cost you your life.  I wish I were kidding, but it was scary at times.  Even the rope wasn’t helping because the mud made it slick.  We realized grabbing onto the tree roots was the safest and best option.  After a long trek up, we made it to the top where there was a clear trail so of course we followed it, but no lagoon.  Instead we reached ‘the viewpoint’ and I’m happy we did. 

We looked out over Hat Rai Leh East & West and Hat Ton Sai, the beach we stayed at on Friday night.  The landscape was breathtaking.  As I was enjoying the natural beauty of the tall, straight palms amid the enormous, ragged limestone cliffs I began to worry a little bit.  What if Ton Sai and Railay become the next Koh Phi Phi?  I could see hotels dotted among the palms and foliage, but there was definitely more greenery than guesthouses.  I hoped deep down in the deepest of all my hopes that this small piece of Thailand would stay as it is.  I truly loved it here and I felt like it was a home away from home.  I wouldn’t feel that way if I came back and it’s completely taken over by hostels, hotels and resorts.  The vibe was different here, especially on Ton Sai where it’s all backpackers and climbers.  There was more respect for the island and a shared love and enjoyment for space and place.  Hopefully that sentiment will carry through the years and the next time I return for that multi-month climbing trip, Ton Sai will look the same as it did that day from the viewpoint.  After we had our fill we turned around and walked back down the trail in search of the lagoon.  The sun was setting so we knew we had to move fast.  We took a couple steps to the left of the trail and then the right, but we didn’t see another path anywhere.  Right before we were about to descend back down the treacherous cliffside, we saw a path leading off to the left.  We also saw another muddy rope, which meant we were about to get dirty again. 

Dave tested the waters by sliding down, half on his feet, half on his butt.  Once he was down in the thick of things he gave me the ‘OK’ so I grabbed a handful of rope and tree root and slid down after him.  Now we were really in the jungle.  The vines and roots were tangled and twisted all about.  Everything was damp, green and full of life.  We crossed paths with the most enormous tree I’ve ever seen.  The roots were taller than me, yes, the roots.  I want to corral all the people who don’t have an appreciation for nature, and sit them at the base of that tree for a day.  I could have stood there are starred at it for at least an hour, but like I said, it was getting dark so we moved on.  We slid down more rocks until we came to a big mud pit and then a drop off, we peaked over the side and there it was, the lagoon.  When you hear lagoon do you automatically place the word blue in front of it? Because I do.  It was brown; probably because of the heavy rains and all the mud flowing off the mountainside.  I took a glance at it, looked at Dave and then silently agreed to head back.  I wasn’t even disappointed.  I really believe half of the adventure is getting to your destination and in this case it was 90% and so be it.  For me the adventure was complete once I laid eyes on that tree, I’m still not over it if you can’t tell.  We sidestepped the mud pit and clambered back up the slick rocks with the help of strong vines, roots and carefully placed steps.  The journey back down the cliffside was ten times scarier, but with Dave ahead of me I felt like I had a personal coach so it made it that much easier.  He would basically take the hard way every time and then we would contemplate a different route, a much easier one, and that’s the way I would come down.  It was more of a mind game than a physical one.  If you picked the right root to grab and foothold than it was cake, well as cake as a slick, muddy, vertical trail can be. 

Once we reached the bottom we did a celebratory high five and made our way to Hat Tham Phra Nang, the most beautiful beach on the peninsula.  We washed off as best we could while we floated on our backs and stared up at the overhanging cliffs.  Drops of water were constantly falling from the cliffs onto the beach and into the ocean, still at least 24 hours since it had rained.  These little methodical drops made it possible for me to imagine how the flooding took place here in Thailand in August and October.  When I arrived it hadn’t rained for an entire week, but after a few days in Bangkok we were evacuated because the flood waters were coming.  I didn’t understand at the time, but now I do.  All the water was still running from the high northern mountains to the lower inlands of the country.  So even though I hadn’t experienced rain there were massive amounts of water that had nowhere to go because the ground was completely saturated.  I still can’t wrap my head around all the water that rocked this country.  After the sun went down we walked back to our bungalow and showered off all the jungle slime and mud that wouldn’t come clean in the sea. 

We decided to eat dinner at our hotel’s restaurant because all the food smelled delicious as we walked by the first time.  I also spotted pizza and I was dying for some western food.  We took a seat in the heavy wooden chairs and simply gazed around grateful for where we were.  All day we talked about how much we loved it here and how we shouldn’t have left on Saturday morning.  Then Dave suggested half jokingly that we ditch our flight the next day.  At first I thought it was crazy, but after a few minutes I started to give it some serious thought.  He was only here for three more days and the both of us weren’t coming back to Ton Sai anytime soon, so if not now then when?  We both pondered it silently as we look at our menus. 

We had an absolute feast for dinner.  The restaurant was out of a few things we ordered, but it ended up in our favor because the food we did get was the bomb.  We devoured a thin crust cheesy pizza and a side of garlic bread before our meals arrived.  For my main course, which came after the four slices of pizza, I had vegetable fried rice baked in a pineapple.  It was like nothing I had ever seen before.  It was really moist and full of flavor.  After stuffing ourselves silly we started to discuss skipping our flight more seriously.  We looked up the weather, train tickets and talked about me taking off work for two more days.  Everyday that I miss I am docked $30 pay so I was already down $90 since Dave arrived.  Even though I’d be losing some cash we both agreed that staying seemed like the responsible thing to do. I mean, why waste the days if we are already here.  We paid for our flight a month ago so that money was already out of pocket and the train would only cost $30 total.  After dinner we took a long, dark walk along the deserted Hat Tham Phra Nang beach.  We laid a blanket down and starred up at the black sky, looming cliffs and twinkling stars.  Yep, we’re staying.

After our monumental New Year’s celebration on the beaches of Koh Phi Phi, Dave and I headed to a larger island further south called Koh Lanta.  Koh Lanta is known as the gem of the Andaman Coast because of it’s long beaches with white sand.  We were looking forward to going snorkeling on one of the island tours, swimming in the underwater emerald cave, or exploring a limestone cave on our hands and knees. Unfortunately when we arrived it started raining and it didn’t stop until long after we went to bed that night.  After we dropped our bags in our overpriced and overrated villa we puddle jumped across the street to find something to eat.  We both enjoyed different kinds of curries with rice and a couple big beers.  We had such good service and food that we decided to go back a few hours later for dinner.  In between lunch and dinner we napped, watched TV and even dipped our toes in the ocean.  We doodled in the sand and took photos and video of the beautiful yet cloudy beachfront.  We also decided to buy tickets for a Maui Thai fight later that night.  We were sitting near the front desk contemplating what we should do, since we were so bored, when we heard a truck roll past announcing that there was a “Fight Tonight!” So we bought tickets, ate dinner and made our way to the stadium.  
The stadium was small, but lively.  There were a total of five fights.  The first one was a pair of kids, literally, I think they were six years old.  The second fighters were 14 and the men in the third match were in their early twenties.  The fourth match was a 28 and 34 year old, but Dave and I thought they looked like they were in their late forties.  Probably the first time I thought an Asian person looked older than they actually were.  The fifth and final match was a Thai fighter and a white guy from England.  It was the only match that was really a fight.  The other ones seemed like they were just fillers before the main event.  This match was different.  The fighters were actually punching, blocking and kicking with ferocity.  It was really exciting.  So much so that Dave and I decided to get out of our seats and head down near the edge of the ring for the beginning of the third round.  We weren’t sure if we were allowed because that was the V.I.P. area, but we took a chance and it was worth it.  We both got amazing footage with our cameras and the match happened to end that round.  It if was a competition of footage between Dave and I, he definitely won.  He stood up on the V.I.P. bleachers right behind the coaches and filmed them yelling and cheering on the guy from England, who was kicking the Thai fighter’s ass.  Dave was also there when the English fighter exited the ring all sweaty, waiting for a drink of water.  I can’t wait to see what he puts together from that night.  I was so proud of him.  Not like I taught him anything, but he was like a little photojournalist, just going for it and taking chances to get the shot and it all paid off in the end.  After the match we went straight to bed in excitement and anticipation for the next morning when we would head back to Tonsai, the coast we wished we had never left.   After our monumental New Year’s celebration on the beaches of Koh Phi Phi, Dave and I headed to a larger island further south called Koh Lanta.  Koh Lanta is known as the gem of the Andaman Coast because of it’s long beaches with white sand.  We were looking forward to going snorkeling on one of the island tours, swimming in the underwater emerald cave, or exploring a limestone cave on our hands and knees. Unfortunately when we arrived it started raining and it didn’t stop until long after we went to bed that night.  After we dropped our bags in our overpriced and overrated villa we puddle jumped across the street to find something to eat.  We both enjoyed different kinds of curries with rice and a couple big beers.  We had such good service and food that we decided to go back a few hours later for dinner.  In between lunch and dinner we napped, watched TV and even dipped our toes in the ocean.  We doodled in the sand and took photos and video of the beautiful yet cloudy beachfront.  We also decided to buy tickets for a Maui Thai fight later that night.  We were sitting near the front desk contemplating what we should do, since we were so bored, when we heard a truck roll past announcing that there was a “Fight Tonight!” So we bought tickets, ate dinner and made our way to the stadium.  
The stadium was small, but lively.  There were a total of five fights.  The first one was a pair of kids, literally, I think they were six years old.  The second fighters were 14 and the men in the third match were in their early twenties.  The fourth match was a 28 and 34 year old, but Dave and I thought they looked like they were in their late forties.  Probably the first time I thought an Asian person looked older than they actually were.  The fifth and final match was a Thai fighter and a white guy from England.  It was the only match that was really a fight.  The other ones seemed like they were just fillers before the main event.  This match was different.  The fighters were actually punching, blocking and kicking with ferocity.  It was really exciting.  So much so that Dave and I decided to get out of our seats and head down near the edge of the ring for the beginning of the third round.  We weren’t sure if we were allowed because that was the V.I.P. area, but we took a chance and it was worth it.  We both got amazing footage with our cameras and the match happened to end that round.  It if was a competition of footage between Dave and I, he definitely won.  He stood up on the V.I.P. bleachers right behind the coaches and filmed them yelling and cheering on the guy from England, who was kicking the Thai fighter’s ass.  Dave was also there when the English fighter exited the ring all sweaty, waiting for a drink of water.  I can’t wait to see what he puts together from that night.  I was so proud of him.  Not like I taught him anything, but he was like a little photojournalist, just going for it and taking chances to get the shot and it all paid off in the end.  After the match we went straight to bed in excitement and anticipation for the next morning when we would head back to Tonsai, the coast we wished we had never left.   After our monumental New Year’s celebration on the beaches of Koh Phi Phi, Dave and I headed to a larger island further south called Koh Lanta.  Koh Lanta is known as the gem of the Andaman Coast because of it’s long beaches with white sand.  We were looking forward to going snorkeling on one of the island tours, swimming in the underwater emerald cave, or exploring a limestone cave on our hands and knees. Unfortunately when we arrived it started raining and it didn’t stop until long after we went to bed that night.  After we dropped our bags in our overpriced and overrated villa we puddle jumped across the street to find something to eat.  We both enjoyed different kinds of curries with rice and a couple big beers.  We had such good service and food that we decided to go back a few hours later for dinner.  In between lunch and dinner we napped, watched TV and even dipped our toes in the ocean.  We doodled in the sand and took photos and video of the beautiful yet cloudy beachfront.  We also decided to buy tickets for a Maui Thai fight later that night.  We were sitting near the front desk contemplating what we should do, since we were so bored, when we heard a truck roll past announcing that there was a “Fight Tonight!” So we bought tickets, ate dinner and made our way to the stadium.  
The stadium was small, but lively.  There were a total of five fights.  The first one was a pair of kids, literally, I think they were six years old.  The second fighters were 14 and the men in the third match were in their early twenties.  The fourth match was a 28 and 34 year old, but Dave and I thought they looked like they were in their late forties.  Probably the first time I thought an Asian person looked older than they actually were.  The fifth and final match was a Thai fighter and a white guy from England.  It was the only match that was really a fight.  The other ones seemed like they were just fillers before the main event.  This match was different.  The fighters were actually punching, blocking and kicking with ferocity.  It was really exciting.  So much so that Dave and I decided to get out of our seats and head down near the edge of the ring for the beginning of the third round.  We weren’t sure if we were allowed because that was the V.I.P. area, but we took a chance and it was worth it.  We both got amazing footage with our cameras and the match happened to end that round.  It if was a competition of footage between Dave and I, he definitely won.  He stood up on the V.I.P. bleachers right behind the coaches and filmed them yelling and cheering on the guy from England, who was kicking the Thai fighter’s ass.  Dave was also there when the English fighter exited the ring all sweaty, waiting for a drink of water.  I can’t wait to see what he puts together from that night.  I was so proud of him.  Not like I taught him anything, but he was like a little photojournalist, just going for it and taking chances to get the shot and it all paid off in the end.  After the match we went straight to bed in excitement and anticipation for the next morning when we would head back to Tonsai, the coast we wished we had never left.  

After our monumental New Year’s celebration on the beaches of Koh Phi Phi, Dave and I headed to a larger island further south called Koh Lanta.  Koh Lanta is known as the gem of the Andaman Coast because of it’s long beaches with white sand.  We were looking forward to going snorkeling on one of the island tours, swimming in the underwater emerald cave, or exploring a limestone cave on our hands and knees. Unfortunately when we arrived it started raining and it didn’t stop until long after we went to bed that night.  After we dropped our bags in our overpriced and overrated villa we puddle jumped across the street to find something to eat.  We both enjoyed different kinds of curries with rice and a couple big beers.  We had such good service and food that we decided to go back a few hours later for dinner.  In between lunch and dinner we napped, watched TV and even dipped our toes in the ocean.  We doodled in the sand and took photos and video of the beautiful yet cloudy beachfront.  We also decided to buy tickets for a Maui Thai fight later that night.  We were sitting near the front desk contemplating what we should do, since we were so bored, when we heard a truck roll past announcing that there was a “Fight Tonight!” So we bought tickets, ate dinner and made our way to the stadium. 

The stadium was small, but lively.  There were a total of five fights.  The first one was a pair of kids, literally, I think they were six years old.  The second fighters were 14 and the men in the third match were in their early twenties.  The fourth match was a 28 and 34 year old, but Dave and I thought they looked like they were in their late forties.  Probably the first time I thought an Asian person looked older than they actually were.  The fifth and final match was a Thai fighter and a white guy from England.  It was the only match that was really a fight.  The other ones seemed like they were just fillers before the main event.  This match was different.  The fighters were actually punching, blocking and kicking with ferocity.  It was really exciting.  So much so that Dave and I decided to get out of our seats and head down near the edge of the ring for the beginning of the third round.  We weren’t sure if we were allowed because that was the V.I.P. area, but we took a chance and it was worth it.  We both got amazing footage with our cameras and the match happened to end that round.  It if was a competition of footage betw