As of today it has officially been a month since I left California and while it just been four weeks, it feels like a lifetime ago that I flew out of San Francisco because so much has happened since then. After arriving in Tha Wang Pha early Tuesday morning (May 13th, 3 AM), I had to prepare to teach five classes the next day. While it was intense and a little shocking to start so immediately, I think it was best in the long run as there was no time to develop anxiety and overanalyze what I was about to start doing. The first day I also had to introduce myself in front of the whole school (some 1100 students), which was somewhat intimidating. However, the introduction made the next five classes I was about to teach seem a bit less daunting.
Since then, the adjustment to life in Tha Wang Pha has been about as smooth as I could’ve imagined. Thai people are so incredibly generous and kind, it is truly humbling. They love the act of giving and helping others out and they truly seem to be generous and kind with no expectation whatsoever of having anything given back to them in return.
Just as examples, a few weeks ago Ben and I went into town to get dinner. On the way we were stopped by one of the teachers, Kru Noi (there are two Kru Nois in the Foreign language department), who invited us into her backyard to pick mangoes and lychee. It was awesome to see her attempt to pick mangoes using a cage contraption made with a giant bamboo pole, although it was very difficult and we both failed to pick mangoes with it. We still were able to pick mangoes that were lower to the ground, and plenty of lychees as well. As we were leaving she recommended a place for us to eat dinner across the street from her house, and insisted on paying for our dinner. I had kuay tiao kah (glass noodles with various types of seafood), as well as kao man gai (chicken and rice) which were delicious. After thanking her and departing, we went to 7-11 and began the ride home. On the way home we ran into one of the guys in the English class we had helped with in Nan named Kamon. He owns a block of businesses in Tha Wang Pha including a bar and an electronics store. We sat down and talked with him, and he insisted on giving us large quantities of alcohol for free, including beer poured over ice which is common here (it is so hot and the beers are only lagers so relatively flavorless anyway). After a couple beers we were ready to leave but he asked us something resembling, “You like hotel?”. After some miscommunication we thought we understood by talking about our last hotel when we were interrupted by the bartender putting a huge mixed drink on the table and saying “Hotel”. It was pretty hilarious but intimidating at the same time because we both had to lesson plan and prepare to teach early the next morning so we cut ourselves off pretty quickly.
Every day there seems to be someone who wants to give you something, or do something nice for you. I have gotten free motorbike rides to the hardware store from helpful strangers, my meal paid for by insisting teachers, assistance in booking a hotel from a Thai teacher to avoid getting charged farang prices, rides from other teachers to buy bus tickets or to Nan, and some sort of free food every day (today one of the teachers gave me some cookies and another teacher gave me an interesting sour grapelike fruit to try during lunch). Even though Thai people are generous without any expectation of reciprocation, I feel so indebted to so many people that it is kind of overwhelming. I am trying to think of creative ways to pay back their kindness, as monetary compensation does not seem to have the same kind of allure here that it does back home.
Changing the subject, last weekend I went back to Nan with Kru Noi and her husband Kru Tang (also a teacher at the school) to help with her English class at the Nan technical college. After struggling through the last class without the assistance of caffeine, I bought two canned coffee drinks and a hot coffee to help myself stay alert during this class. However, she did not need our assistance until the afternoon so Ben and I walked around Nan a bit in the intense heat, before slinking back to the college to get back to the refuge of the air conditioned classroom. In the afternoon we listened to the students read a dialogue about catching a mouse (a joke with double meanings), and graded each of the students on their pronunciation. Thai students learning English have trouble pronouncing certain sounds, so while they could pronounce most of the dialogue very well, other words they struggled to pronounce even after repetition (i.e. oil, trap). I totally understand though, because I can pronounce zero words in Thai correctly, I have just gotten more used to various ways that Thai English speakers commonly make mistakes.
After the class, we went to Wat Che Huang and Wat Kao Noi, two temples on opposite sides of Nan that are both on hills. Wat Kao Noi was particularly impressive. There was a set of ~300 stairs leading up to the top but we decided just to drive to the top because it was very hot and I was feeling very dehydrated. Living in the Thai heat can be a constant battle between suffering from dehydration or urination, or as it has seemed lately, a combination of both. I am so excited for the ‘winter’ here, everyone raves about how much better it is to travel when the weather is cooler.
Anyway, Wat Kao Noi was awesome. Kru Noi and Kru Tang were also kind enough to buy us coconut water drinks, which actually replenished me a lot more than the water I was drinking. The view was spectacular too, we could see the whole city of Nan as well as the mountains in the background and the hills towards Tha Wang Pha in the North.
After seeing the wats, we made a quick run to Tesco. There always seems to be a hundred things I could buy at Tesco, so I have to stop myself from spending too much. Inside the Tesco there are also several other stores and restaurants; we went to a restaurant called MK Restaurant to eat. MK is a chain across Thailand that serves food sukiyaki style (similar to shabu shabu, or just called hot pot in the United States; you cook your own meat and vegetables in a broth in the center of the table and dip the food in several amazing dipping sauces). It was easily one of the best meals I have had in Thailand. Halfway through the meal a song came on and all of the waiters and waitresses had to dance and sing a song. While it was pretty hilarious one of the waiters looked like he was dying inside the whole time, so I sort of felt bad for laughing at their dance routine. After the dinner we drove back to Tha Wang Pha, and I planned for classes the following week.
This past Wednesday Ben and I were invited to go to a nearby temple with some of the students. We rode on the back of their motorbikes and it was fun to get to hang out with students in an informal setting outside of school. One of the students, Phillip, is actually really good at speaking English but unfortunately is not either one of our students. It would be really nice to teach students as motivated as he is, so I hope I can teach his class next semester (much older kids – Mattayohm six or twelfth grade; I only teach seventh and eighth graders). The ride out to the wat was very nice, we rode past a lot of corn fields and even had to stop to let a farmer wrangle three giant water buffaloes off of the road. The wat (Wat Nong Bua) was very beautiful and it had a very cool lush tree in front of it. The students showed us around the wat and even convinced the monks to open the wat for us so we could see inside (because it was closed for the day). After seeing the wat we went to a nearby overlook on the Nan river, before heading back into town. It was cool that the students wanted to show us around, I can’t ever imagine wanting to hang out with a teacher when I was in high school but I guess that is just one of the differences between the Thai and American school system.
Last night I ate another hot pot meal with one of the Chinese teachers, Kru Fan, who lives below my apartment. He has taught at the school for three years and is very nice. The menu was all in Thai and so we just negotiated with the waitress to get some pork (muu) and vegetables. Although it was the most expensive meal I have purchased in Tha Wang Pha it was still only 200 baht ($6.14).
Today one of the Thai teachers gave me a bunch of mangoes, so I may have to bring them with me to Chiang Mai this weekend. I am taking the bus there tonight at 9:25 and should get to Chiang Mai around 3-4 AM. It’s not going to be the most restful night but at least I can sleep in the bus station in Chiang Mai until sunrise, and then check into my hotel sometime tomorrow.
More about Chiang Mai to come…