Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bangkok and beyond

Hello again,

When I left you last I was preparing for my first trip to Bangkok. About two hours by bus from my current abode (Singburi), Bangkok (of which I only saw a small bit) appears to offer immense amounts of night life and shopping which my town lacks. As one of the mysterious authority figures in my hostel told me, "Bangkok is great, you can get anything you want.. I mean anything." I took this advice with a grain of salt but after my first night, I sort of got an idea of what he was talking about (and kind of a creepy vibe as well).

In one area, where I spent most of my time, street vendors and cab drivers fill the streets during the day time, begging (sometimes aggressively) each passing tourist to come purchase their goods/services. The same occurs at night, only instead of street vendors and cab drivers, it's prostitutes (both female and transgendered) and 'ping pong show' promoters (the most inappropriate thing you could think about involving said title). However, to be fair, I only explored one small segment of the giant metropolis, and I also heard that these scenarios are rather unique to the particular area I was in. The club scene was also a sort of culturing experience, filled with heavy trance/techno music, strobe lights, and sweaty individuals (of which I was one) until 5am.

I also got my first Thai massage while in Bangkok, something which in my opinion definitely lived up to its hype. For 230 baht or about $7, (me and a couple friends haggled the price down from 250 baht [a difference of about 65 cents] in just under 20 minutes of intense negotiation) you can get a professional and high quality massage for 90 minutes. The food in Bangkok was also something that had a lasting impact on me. I ate a couple of meals in nicer restaurants (maybe $6 a plate) which were good, but I was most impressed by the noodle stands and street meats (which to the surprise of some of my traveling companions, have yet to have an effect on my health). All in all, my first trip to the big city was enjoyable but I think for future trips I will seek out less touristy areas which I assume will be less flooded with aggressive salesman and night walkers.

Yesterday marked the end of my two week teacher training/certification period, of which I have little to report other than the countless hours I spent translating the lesson plans from Thai to English with the help of James, my English-speaking Thai superior, who insisted that the lesson plans include sentences/concepts which make little if any sense in English (i.e. something about "children collecting the knowledge", and how human organs are affected by touching/contact and sunlight?). We'll see how it goes if and when I actually get to spend a substantial amount of time in front of the students (who are a terrific group of 6 and 7-year-olds) but as of now its fair to say I'm less than impressed with my job description (in addition, I'm one of three English teachers in the same classroom, which makes me seriously question my purpose).

There's now a three week end of term break (thank God) before my formal teaching term starts, so I've planned a trip to do volunteer teaching up in the poorer/northern region of Chiang Rai. Nick's off to Australia for these three weeks so I'll be up on my own, but I'm confident after reading the brochure and talking to the program organizer that my teaching situation will be a lot better than it has been thus far (at the very least I will be the only English teacher in my classroom). I'll try and update you all next week from the jungles of northern Thailand (I'm told I'll have internet but we'll see), and sorry for the long gap since my last entry. I miss you all and please fill me in on any exciting developments occurring back home.



(Below is a link with pictures and info for where I will be for the next three weeks and some of my own pictures from Bangkok).


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Thailand Week 2

Hello friends, family, acquaintances, peers, strangers and creeps:

When I left you last I had just returned from my weekend trip to the wondrous Erawan National Park (I included pictures from the trip in this entry). Since then a few interesting developments have happened; however, perhaps none more unique/unforgettable than the overnight trip to the Buddhist temple. We (the group) arrived at the temple on Tuesday evening after eating dinner at the neighboring 7-11, which was lovely, and followed the monks in chanting and meditation for three hours or so. Then, the guys and girls were separated for the sleeping portion of the trip; the guys stayed on the floor of the temple while the girls unwound in some luxurious suite fixed with beds and air conditioning (at least we think).

Five hours later (at about 4:30am), we were awoken to one of the monks ringing a bell as he circled around our lifeless bodies, only stopping once we were on our feet. After meeting up with the girls in the temple, we did about an hour of chanting and meditation before walking with the monks through the town to gather food that the locals would donate to them (a pretty eye opening experience.. pun very much intended). About two hours later, we all made our way back to the temple where the monks got to have their breakfast and the rest of us got two hours of downtime (sleep). We then had lunch with the monks (they eat a lot early in the day because they're not allowed to have solid food after 12:00pm), said a few parting words and were on our way back to the eco-house. All in all an incredible experience but due to the lack of sleep and sore nature of my body (both from sleeping on the floor and strangely uncomfortable meditation positions), I'm not sure if its one that I'm eager to repeat.

Today we spent the majority of the day volunteering at an orphanage in a nearby town. At first glance, it appeared to be quite similar to the school we volunteered at last week (classrooms for different age groups, playgrounds, the works). That is however until we saw the sleeping quarters for the kids (roughly 180 in total) which were basically large rooms with rows upon rows of bunk beds. Despite their seemingly short straw, the kids were awesome/energetic and appeared to enjoy our company for the day.

Tomorrow I leave for Bangkok with some of the people from the group. From the stories I've heard, it should be a relaxing getaway similar to that of a hill top resort (sarcasm). But it should be exciting and hopefully I'll have some wild stories for the upcoming entry.

Tune in next time.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Welcome to Thailand

Hello (insert name), or should I say "Sa-wat-dee". It's strange to think that just over a week ago I was preparing myself for the thirty-some hours of travel I had later that day. The flights turned out to be relatively painless and Nick and I were able to meet our ride and board a bus north to Singburi province with little difficulty. Apart from the deep sadness I felt when reading about the Buckeye loss (I don't know if thats something we're allowed to talk about but sorry to bring it up for those of you who've already moved on) in the Bangkok airport, I'd say the trip went better than expected.

I am currently residing in whats referred to as an "eco-house" (I'm not exactly sure how it differs from a hostel?) about 5 or 6 miles outside the city of Singburi with about 20 other backpackers representing a variety of Western European countries. We all get along swimmingly and share the same schedule for the first two weeks, meaning that we do the same daily activities/trips during this time before parting ways. Nick and I share a room with an Irish fellow named Chris (one of 4 Chris's in the group) who is traveling with his wife, but not allowed to stay in the same room as her (something which both Nick and I are silently happy about because he could legitimately be the nicest person on the planet).

Days here are long and action packed. We wrapped up our first week (intro week) which consisted mostly of visiting various temples and looking at some of the ancient ruins around the area. We also got to visit and practice teaching English in a Thai classroom. This past weekend, a few of us from the group traveled to Erawan National Park and hiked around for a day before returning to our 'home' on Sunday. Be sure to look at the pictures from the first week (assuming I uploaded them properly).

The trips been a huge success thus far but I do miss all of you. I'll try and make ensuing posts a little more frequent and a little more interesting too... I'm new to the whole blogging thing if you can't tell.

Best for now,