As many of you probably have heard by now, there has officially been a military coup in Thailand. Protests have been escalating the last seven months, and in an apparent attempt to distill the tension and violence, the military has seized power and declared a coup. The Yellow Shirts (anti-government protesters) have been scaling up protests against the government because they see the window to change the government and rewrite the constitution closing as the King’s health declines (he is 86; the Royal family in Thailand are largely figureheads but are very revered by absolutely everyone). The King will likely be replaced by his son, the crown prince, who is nowhere near as popular nationwide and thus the Yellow Shirts want to change the government before the King is succeeded by his son (to emphasize how revered the King is, one of the teachers who has been here a year already told me that the last time there was a military coup, the King officially spoke in favor of one side and the military immediately lifted the coup). The North of Thailand is the hotbed for the Red Shirts (pro-government activists) and there is talk that they may attempt to mobilize to prevent the passing of a new constitution, but all the political protests and demonstrations will likely stay concentrated in Bangkok, or at the very least in the big cities (and thus not affect me, I am in a very rural province in a small town).
While it is serious and I am trying not to underestimate the gravity of the political situation, if there is one place to be during a coup, it is Thailand. Things still feel incredibly safe here and the area I am in is relatively untouched by the coup, although school was cancelled nationwide on Friday and there is a temporary military-ordered curfew (10 pm – 5 am). There were military forces in the city of Nan over the weekend, but all across the country Thai people are taking selfies with military servicemen, and the general mood is unconcerned and not threatened by the presence of the military. In fact, while Ben and I were relaxing at the tourist center in Nan (waiting to meet our friends), some Thai people started talking to us before saying, “You follow us” (more of a command than a question). We shrugged our shoulders and followed them across the street to the military’s LAV parked next to one of the wats. They told us to take pictures with them in the front and back of the military LAV, as we are random farangs (foreigners) and I guess it’s normal to take pictures with farangs in front of the military’s occupying forces.
Speaking of Nan, I have gone to the city (Nan is the name of the province and also the name of the capital city of the province) the last two weekends.
While I like Tha Wang Pha a lot, it is relatively dead during the weekends as most of the teachers and store owners live in neighboring cities and go home for the weekend, leaving Tha Wang Pha a ghost town. Last weekend I went into Nan on Saturday to help Kru Noi, one of my coordinators, with an English class she was teaching at the Nan Technical College. The students in her class had never spoken to or heard a native English speaker, so I was there to have a basic conversation with them, and help them in any way possible. While it was fun to meet the college students and nice to be able to help out, the lack of caffeine coursing through my body made it hard to get through the relatively long class (10 am – 3 pm, with a lunch break at noon). After the class, we went to Tesco which is basically a store that sells everything that exists, and I bought some much needed clothing and supplies for my apartment. We ended the day with a very good meal at a restaurant on one of the banks of the Nan River. While the river is fairly low and brown right now (because it is right before the start of the rainy season), it was really cool to see people rowing longboats down the river and a couple fishermen harvesting fish from the river. The meal was also divine. To reward us for helping out during her class, Kru Noi paid for the excellent meal. Among other things, we had an interesting variation of som tam (usually a spicy salad made with green papaya, this one had watermelon, pineapple, and other fruits), fish cakes, mixed vegetables in oyster sauce, a seafood curry-like dish and some other dishes I can’t remember. We ate Thai style, so we shared all of the dishes. The meal was excellent and a great way to finish off the day before we headed back to Tha Wang Pha.
The next day, I went back to Nan with two other teachers, Kru Gai and Kru Aw. I had told them I wanted to buy a guitar in Nan, and Kru Aw played guitar also so she was willing to give assistance on where to buy a good guitar. Needless to say, it was awesome that I was able to go to the guitar store with them, as they negotiated 3000 baht off the sticker price (about $92.19)! I also made sure to buy a nice guitar, as the saying “you get what you pay for” is very true with guitars. I am very satisfied with my guitar; it is a ‘Saga’ guitar (a brand I had never heard of), and is acoustic-electric so I can play it through an amp if I want to piss off my neighbors. After buying the guitar, Kru Gai and Kru Aw had to attend a teaching conference, so they left me to my own devices in the downtown area near one of the main wats (temples), Wat Phumin.
There are other Americans teaching in Nan, but I did not have any of their phone numbers so I figured I would just explore the city and visit several of the wats. After looking through Wat Phumin, I started heading towards Wat Ming Muang. On the way to the second wat, I saw all of the American teachers in Nan eating at a restaurant, and ended up joining them for lunch. It was good to see the four girls from my orientation who are teaching in Nan (Katy, Aubrey, Jessica, and Hannah). I also met two other American girls who had been teaching in Nan for a year already, Tricia and Abbie. It was interesting to see how they liked their schools, and how their first week of teaching went. I also really enjoyed the restaurant. The owner reserves a table for teachers only which is cool, but is actually about to close the restaurant for a month as she is vacationing in Iran for a month interestingly enough (she is very intrigued by the historical sites). After eating lunch, I had to meet the Thai teachers so I said goodbye to the girls from Nan and met the teachers for a ride back. Before we left Nan, we stopped at a fresh market (equivalent to a farmer’s market) where I bought mangoes (the yellow ones are my favorite) and oranges (although they are green on the outside, like the oranges in Brazil). Kru Gai was also very generous and bought me a bunch of lychees and some corn. It was great to get another free ride to Nan, and I was really glad I bought the guitar with people who could speak and negotiate prices in Thai.
Because of the military coup, school was cancelled yesterday (Friday), and so I was able to catch another ride to Nan with one of the thai teachers, Kru Chin. He lives in Wiang Sa (south of Nan), but was kind enough to drop me and Ben off in Nan. We explored several of the wats, my favorite being Wat Ming Muang because of its beautiful white exterior.
After exploring the wats, we met the girls and went back to their place, where we hung out and spent the night. The girls who teach at Srisawat in Nan have a very nice house, an actual real house that isn’t infested with bugs compared to my one room apartment (which is still fine, I have plenty of gecko roommates to help out with the bug problem). We had great pad thai for dinner for only 35 baht (~$1.08).
We took the bus back to Tha Wang Pha this morning. The bus was only 35 baht (~$1.08) and took about an hour (the drive takes about 35-40 minutes). Although I was somewhat terrified to try out the bus on the windy, mountainous roads, the driver ended up being a fairly chill guy who drove safely for the most part. The only mishap on the ride was when the driver accidentally hit another car in Nan while trying to back up the bus to pick up a passenger but it was no big deal, mai pen rae (no worries).
After getting back to Tha Wang Pha, Ben and I stopped at a coffee & smoothie shop where I got an oreo milkshake for 40 baht (~$1.23). The shop had a deck with outside seating that overlooked the Nan river, so it was very beautiful and a welcomed respite from the intense heat.
The rest of the day I napped and played guitar while putting off the inevitable lesson planning. For dinner, we stopped at a local noodle place and had great spicy gwieetiyao (glass noodle soup with spicy pork & pork meatballs), before our inevitable stop at 7-11 (basically our kitchen). We encountered yet another form of Thai kindness tonight as an owner of a hardware store fixed the handlebars of Ben’s bike before refusing any sort of monetary compensation. It is really overwhelming how generous people are here, and how much they will go out of their way to help anyone out (more on this later).
The rest of the weekend I am going to relax and lesson plan at some point. Each day is full of new experiences and great people so it seems like working at the school will never become ‘routine’ in the normal sense of the word.
Until next time, sawatdee khrap!