Monday, October 1, 2012

The Two Glendas

One of my all time favorite paintings is Frida Kahlo’s The Two Fridas. It isn’t until now that I truly ponder on the significance of this painting.  In my heart, I knew that Kahlo was illustrating having one’s identity being split in two. You see one Frida wearing typical Mexican clothing and the other Frida wearing traditional Spanish clothing.

Now that I am preparing to readjust back into American life, I am really understanding the emotions behind this painting. For the last year, I have been playing the teacher role and wearing outfits that made me feel and look the part. I often caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and thought to myself, “who is that?”

I joke around with friends back home and say that, in the last year, I have been living the life of a 50-year-old Thai woman. She doesn’t laugh whole-heartedly, she  follows hierarchical structures (of age and socio-economic status), and only shares appropriate stories of herself. I find myself missing wearing short skirts, shorts, v-neck shirts,  and many pieces of clothing or accessories that would not be deemed socially acceptable for a 50-year-old Thai woman (or middle-class 20 year old). Side note: From my observations, lower income women have a lot more freedom in their wardrobe, mannerisms, and social life in general. Unlike, my middle-class (same aged) friends who hide their boyfriends, wear long sleeve shirts in 100 degree weather, and never contradict their elders.

After many years of playing the role of a Guatemalan-American ambassador, outcast, brave adventurer, and pioneer-- I wonder why this addition to my identity archive is causing me so much uneasiness. As a Latina, my identity has always felt naturally divided; There was always a choice to be made with my identity. Choice has never been a burden to me, but more of a natural birthright. Now, I am forced to pack my life into two suitcases and decide what I want to toss or take with me, while also determining what traits of my most recent role I want to get rid of or retain.

My identity has been put to question for the entirety of this year, but it isn’t until now that I am truly facing the significance of living in a country with a culture a lot different from mine. I am no longer a recent college graduate or that young woman looking to set out into the world in the search for adventure and the significance of her existence. Now I am a woman who is trying to leave a footprint in this world and trying to figure out the best way to do so. 

I know that I want to laugh in public with gusto and without reservations. I know that I want to wear whatever my heart desires without fearing that it is going to determine my moral and or social stance.  Los Angeles, CA will provide me with a lot of liberties, including reverting back to being a mid-twenties woman looking to live loudly.

I am looking forward to the day when things are settled and traits from my Teacher Glenda role have dissipated or materialized. A part of me wants to switch off my emotions and mind until I settled back in America with a good idea of what the next few years will look like, but I know in my heart that these experiences are what shape a strong and independent character.

Lots of love,
The Two Glendas

Photo collage of The Two Glendas

The backdrop picture in my good-bye party. "Glendas," even this acknowledged the two of us trying to co-exist. Also "Glendas" is a nickname used by many of my friends who know of the story of my birthday cake type-O.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Outsider

The white smudge is a white butterfly named Lily. She wanted to be our friend.
Charlie has almost completely retired. In other words, my calf is now almost completely healed, but there are times when standing for too long or sitting for too long makes my calf feel sore. I am really looking forward to having my body without any obstructions from this unwanted outsider.

After an amazing body scrub/massage, I created the following prayer for and to my body:

I am yours and you are mine.
I love you.

While, the therapist--as she called herself--began to rub a rice (beautifully) scented body scrub my mind began to wonder whether her hands and her inner-self could identify things in my body. Did her hands recognize the traces left behind from past lovers and travels to distant lands? Did the knots in my neck and back tell her the story of my woes? Or better yet, could her hands read my future? Could she tell me where I will be next year?

This massage was a much needed trance for my body, mind, and soul. I have never been in an establishment where I allowed the masseuse/therapist massage my chest and or abdomen. I am a strong believer that there needs to be parts of your body that are left untraveled by strangers.  This woman--at this juncture--made me feel so comfortable that I allowed her hands to trespass the yellow tape that I had placed around my upper body. After the body scrub, the therapist asked me to shower (in the nicest shower I’ve been in, in the last year). I dried off and expected my time to be up, but then she asked me to lay down for the lotion part of my massage.

Side note: At times, I feel like an outsider could tell me more about myself and my body than I could. This massage reminded me that the vision we have of ourselves is very limited. After all, we could never get a close look at the pores in the middle of our backs. We are often stuck on an image of our body that no longer exists or never existed. 

At some point after my massage, I realized that I would have never experienced this luxury back home (with my salary), because this type of luxury costs a couple hundred dollars. But in Thailand, I paid $30 for an hour of pure bliss. I don’t know if it was the massage,  but I was reminded that I am an outsider living a life that was not intended for me. As a Latina, raised by a low-income single-mother in the city of Los Angeles--I was never expected to graduate from a distinguished liberal arts college, serve my country through community service, and secure a prestigious fellowship.

The truth is that I have worked very hard to be where I am and sometimes I get exhausted of feeling like an outsider in my own country and in my own life. In June, I ran into a group of American women, I enthusiastically introduced myself and one of them introduced herself and added, “It’s so great to be around white people again.” At that point, I made sure to point out that I didn’t identify as white. I know that this was her way of including me and making me feel like a part of the group, but her comment did just the opposite.

I am very accustomed to being the only woman of color in my professional and academic cohorts, but sometimes I wish that society would stop reminding me that a person with my background would have never overcome the financial and social obstacles that I overcame to be where I am today.

In Thailand, I don’t feel like an outsider until:
  • I open my mouth and all that comes out is awful broken Thai. 
  • My host teacher opts to speak only in Thai, because she is fully aware that the new English teacher will translate whatever she is saying.*
  • During lunch time, a woman who I thought was my friend from the English department claims to have “tired jaw” and cannot speak English.*
  • A friend instead of saying, “We need to take Glenda to the hospital,” says “We need to take the  farang to the hospital.”--As if everyone in Ban Phai didn’t know my name.  Side note: At my school, the teachers were upset that I decided to not sit around in the school during midterms. They said, “you’re a part of the school.” I have concluded that--like in most situations--I am not the outsider when it is for someone’s benefit.
*Side note: English teachers (and some teachers) at my school were initially ecstatic to have me on campus to practice/build their English skills, but that has now flown out the window.

After (A MUCH NEEDED) break from my school, I have decided to stop fighting many things that I cannot control. For example, I will accept that I am farrang/the outsider and no one thinks otherwise (even though they might say “kon thai” [You are Thai]).

I accept the role as the outsider, because like the masseuses' hands, I have different insights and abilities. My role as the outsider helps me be grateful for everything valuable in my life. As the outsider, I know that someday I will have the opportunity to prevent others from feeling like the outsider.

Sincerely yours,
The Outsider

Otherwise known as Glenda

Before my life changing massage at Chivit Thamma Da in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Day 2 of Chivit Thamma Da. If heaven exists, I want it to look exactly like that coffee shop.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Gossip Girls--Thai Edition

Everyone loves a great scoop of gossip. Hey, even I, at times, catch myself parsing Perez Hilton’s trashy news and investigating my Facebook newsfeed in hopes of some juicy news.

But man, oh Thais love to gossip!! In the beginning,  I practiced my Thai language comprehension skills by eavesdropping on people’s gossip, but at one point I got tired and annoyed at the frequency of gossip sessions. There came a point when I started zoning out when people spoke in Thai--because I had became accustomed to not wanting to know what people were talking about--this in a away hurt my Thai language acquisition/comprehension skills.

I no longer cared to know that:
  • A teacher that I had never heard of-- in a school that I had never heard of-- was sleeping around with a married teacher. 
  • A teacher at my school changed her last name a year before her wedding and that man she is marrying is a widowed man with children.
  • A female teacher is a thief, liar, and lazy. She is never to be found during class time. Side note: I remember when I overheard this, and I asked if I could know the person’s name so that I could be more cautious. The person who was gossiping basically told me that it was not good for me to know these things (I think because of my “farang”/outsider status)--and I thought well if it is something that people should not know, then why are you going around telling people. 

Then there were those awful, awful times when I was in the middle of the gossip, snap shot of those moments:
  • The time no one wanted to drive me to school.
  • The time I got bit by a dog.
  • The time I requested time off*.
And many more times when I’ve heard my name and just decided to stop listening because I didn’t want to know that my weight, skin color, eating habits (ie. I enjoy cereal every morning and I like consistency on the time I eat my meals), and etc. were up for discussion.

*Side note: Thailand’s major flaw and strength lies in its desire to appear impressive at all times. The reality is that many of the times it becomes all about appearance and the importance of substance goes out the window. How is this relevant to me asking for time off? Well the teachers at my school argued that I should not take midterms off, because as a member of the school I needed to be a part of the school during its activities. My counter argument was that there really wasn’t a need for me to sit around campus when I could be using that time towards something more beneficial. At the end of the day, we failed to see each others arguments. All I could see was that in Thailand it is important to go to school every morning, have everyone see you sign your name into the school’s attendance book, and then almost no one cares if you teach or the quality of education you provide your students. As a person who has come to find little value on appearances, I find this infuriating.

This entry is entitled “Gossip Girls,” because I have no idea what the males in my school discuss. I have very superficial relationships with the men at my school, because there is an understanding that women and men hang out separately. This became ingrained in me when I traveled with my school to Nakhon Rachasima (Korat) for the Girl/Boy’s Scout Camp and one of the “farang” teachers was criticized/gossiped about for sitting in an all-male table. 

Then there are those occasions when I completely do not mind hearing the school's gossip...and that is only when it is coming from my students. Last Wednesday, I sat down at the M5/2 (a section of the juniors at my school) lunch tables and conversed with one of my favorite students (yes, favoritism is horrible, but cut me a break--she deserves to be favored--she's really smart, hard working, and outspoken ). The conversation began with me asking Rattana about her plans to go to university in less than two years. She told me that she plans to go to either Khon Kaen University, Mahasarakam University or universities in Chiang Mai. When she said that she wanted to go to university in the north my heart jumped for joy, because it showed interest in not following her classmates decision to only apply to Khon Kaen University and Mahasarakam University. She added that she was very afraid to go so far from home, and I reassured her that it really is not that far--it is a 10-12 hour bus ride. I told her that I was really far from home, 20 hours in airplane, and that she had nothing to worry about. It seemed that we were wrapping up our conversation when we saw a M5/3 boy stand up from the M5/2 girls table and Rattana points at the girl and boy and says/screams, "They are in love!" Then she followed by pointing at everyone and saying "boyfriend, no boyfriend, lesbian, boyfriend, and tom*." There was no sort of judgement towards the same-sex couples in the M5/2 circle of girls and I thought, to myself, these girls are light-years ahead of where my classmates were in high school. Finally, all of the girls from my M5/2 joined in on the conversation and added their little bit of information on the couples on campus.

*Tom is the term used to refer to young women who identify as male. 

From left to right: Rattana (M5/2 sttudent), Me (Ajan Glenda), and the new Chinese teacher (I can't remember her name--only her nickname because everyone refers to her by her nickname--also she's Thai, didn't want to confuse anyone).

Side note: My advice for future ETAs  in Thailand:
  • Get prepared to live under a microscope
  • Be expected to have little to no inhibitions--because it is ok for Thais to be shy, but Americans are all outgoing and often make a spectacle of themselves anyway
  • Thai food is delicious...until that’s all you could ever eat! (Many people still argue with me on this one...but really you don’t know until you’ve lived it!!!!) 

Hasta luego!

Glenda Garcia

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Science of Pain

This week’s events have encouraged me to think about what I have deemed The Science of Pain.
When our body is injured, we physically feel it.
When we are injured and our families are miles away, our hearts feel it.
When we feel betrayed by strangers and friends, we feel it inside our thoughts.
When we see an elderly woman fighting for her last breaths or a young man with serious head injures, we undergo empathetic pain.

Pain is not a universal feeling. We encounter and understand pain differently, not only from culture to culture, but also from person to person. I understand this better (and less) than I ever did before. 

Pain, as I understand it, is a concept that we can see, feel, smell, touch, and conceptualize only when it is in front of us. Most of us get caught up on our pursue of happiness and we forget that pain is just around the corner.

My understanding of pain is definitely not the same as the average Thai person’s understanding of pain. If someone suffers a physical injury, I have no need to see the injury. But, I have come to learn that Thai people are very curious. Side note: This past Tuesday, I attempted to go back to my normal schedule. I headed to the main office to sign in, when I was approached by a teacher who proceeded to lift my skirt (without my permission) to try to get a better look at the dog bite on my left calf. Side side note: Teachers at most Thai schools are obliged to sign a book that states what time they arrive and leave school. The book is never around at the end of the day. I always sign in and out in the mornings. There’s a teacher at my school that arrives at 6:30am every morning to make sure that his signature is the first one in the teachers’ book. Makes me there is any correlation between the time a teacher arrives and the quality of their teaching?? (read with snarky sarcasm). I, as the farang teacher, have my own sign-in/out book.

Last Thursday, I had a painful day. Like most things in this universe it wasn’t a purely bad day. There were a couple of highlights. I had an excellent class with my M3/1 students (9th grade equivalent) and an awesome picnic with the English Club. We cooked egg salads and made sandwiches. During our picnic, we listened to English pop songs and played frisbee.
Students in my classroom for English Club making egg salad. You can see my class rules in the background. From right to left: Ploy, กนกพร, and Nong


At Ban Phai Pittayakom's field having our picnic. English Club and Ajan Glenda and Ajan Nirinda (English Club advisors)

The painful part of my day commenced when a student decided to use a lighter to warm the tip of a mechanical pencil and then press that portion of the pencil onto my right hand. I was in shock that a student would do this to me.  I am a teacher that does her best to give useful and fun lessons. I am a teacher that does not use bamboo sticks or other forms of humiliation as a discipline tool. And yet, this student had no respect for me. I stepped out of the classroom and felt thick tears rolling out of my eyes. I cried. I thought maybe I could still teach that period, but then I stepped outside my body and saw myself running into the main office directly into the restroom to continue crying. I didn't know if I was crying because I felt abused, betrayed, and disrespected by this student or because I felt like I had failed as a teacher for having my students see me cry. I have never seen a teacher/professor cry in front of me; I’ve always seen teachers as superhuman.

The student then apologized and seemed genuine. In Thai culture, it is customary for students to go on their knees to ask for forgiveness or give thanks. The director of discipline came to the main office and told the student that he had broken multiple rules by having a lighter in school grounds and burning a teacher’s hand. There were talks of potentially expelling him and I thought his punishments would be severe, so I got teary eyed when he asked for forgiveness on his knees. Later, I would go on to mentally try to forgive this student. I know that forgiveness is the most important step in overcoming a traumatic experience. I justified his actions by telling myself that he lives a rough life without attentive parents and does not see school as a stepping stone to a better future. But the pain in my hand, and seeing him dance around with his friends in the school’s courtyard made it difficult for me to forgive him. 

Afterschool, I was in my bedroom feeling unpleasant energy and felt like I needed a jog (Thursday is not a part of my jogging routine, but my body needed something to release the days events). During my run I felt a little tense feeling in my left hamstring. I thought maybe I should just run half of my usual but I told myself stop being lazy and not cut across the temple. As I was finishing the last few feet of my jog, a dog seemed to be following me. He jumped at me and bit my left calf. I didn't feel anything the first few seconds until I saw a little piece of skin and fat flapping and bursting with blood. I lost my breath and began to sob. No one helped me. As a matter of fact, I think I saw someone petting the dog that bit me. I walked myself to the nearest clinic and they directed me to another clinic. At the second clinic, they told me the same thing. I began to cry. I thought, what am I doing in this country? It doesn't want me here any more. Finally, a man took pity on me and said he would drive me to what I thought was the pharmacy but luckily it turned out to be the town's hospital. At the hospital, I saw so many older Thai women coming in to the ER.  Side note: Thai people seem to preserve very well, they live very long lives. I was dripping all over the place, and the pain was not unbearable but it wasn't a picnic either.  Then, I was escorted to a bed where they cleaned my wound and gave me a tetanus shot. I wanted to be home in America so bad, and was angry at myself for not carrying my cell phone during my runs. I was in a place where no one spoke English and I felt so alone. They gave me shots and told me things, but mentally I wasn't there--my body was just going through the motions. All I wanted to do was scream, cry and not be in Thailand. I was directed to go back into the ER but I walked into the street. Luckily a student drove my way and I asked him to please drive me home, there was some sort of confusion but I didn't catch it. A doctor ran out and said that I must not leave the hospital, but I left anyway. My student drove me to the hotel where I live. I went directly to my room and grabbed my cell phone and wallet because I also didn't have money to pay the hospital. My student must have told my host dad that I need to be driven back to the hospital. I called my friends and they met me in the hospital. The hospital seemed so much bearable with friendly faces around.

The following day I was taken to the city’s government hospital. I was given stitches in a giant room with other patients waiting to be seen. I knew that my injury did not compare to the man covered in blood-- from what I assumed was a motorcycle accident-- or the elderly people laying in the beds next to me. I empathized with them but their pain in no way lessened my pain and fears.

Some of my acquaintances and friends have responded to my pain in a myriad of ways. Some have mocked me. Some have laughed. Some have completely ignored me. Some have tried to diminish my pain by sharing stories of their more severe injuries. On the flip side, some of my friends have made me feel really special. One of my friends--my best friend--took an 8 hour bus ride to spend the weekend with me. Another one of my friends brought me my favorite herbal drink and bananas and rubbed my back while I cried in the hospital.

On Tuesday, I decided to name my bite Charlie. Charlie was the first name that popped into my head after I decided that my injury needed a name. After I put a status update on Charlie, a VISTA member posted this video  on my Facebook wall. After watching this video, I decided I had given my bite the perfect name. Side note: I think I decided to give the bite a name because I am not this bite. The bite is something that is happening to my body, not who I am-- to really understand what I am saying you  would have to understand Eckhart Tolle's teachings on pain and living in the now.

Charlie is currently infected but doctors gave it stronger antibiotics hoping that the infection will go away and that it does not have an abscess. An abscess would require surgery. Today, I went to the local hospital to get Charlie's dressings changed and to clarify about the rabies vaccines (I was told in Khon Kaen City that I did not need more vaccines than two post-exposure shots because I received  pre-exposure prior to my trip to India--I hope this is correct because I really don’t want to have rabies). While at the hospital, I became friends with Aisha. She is half Thai and half Pakistani and is doing a summer internship at the hospital in Ban  Phai, but attends school in China. We both have our nose pierced, and she speaks 7 languages including Thai! I cannot wait to be her friend.

Everything that happened in the last week has taught me that without pain we cannot be grateful for lives’ comforts. We cannot be grateful for our bodies abilities or be able to sympathize when others are in pain. Your pain, is not my pain. Or is it?
With pain and love,
Glenda aka Dada

Monday, June 25, 2012

Thai Romance

Want your bad romance

Lady Gaga’s visit, a couple of weeks ago (May 25th--now a month ago), to Thailand shook the country to its core. Everyone was glued to their TV screen. I, on the other hand, was merely a spectator to all the commotion. Most Thais tend to be very conservative/proper in their social interactions and mannerisms, I believe that Gaga gives Thailand’s youth an opportunity to put tradition aside and act like a “little monster” (this is the term Gaga uses to refer to her fans).

(Side note: I’ve now been attempting to write this blog post for the past 3 weeks and have been very unsuccessful for one reason or another. Primarily, I am trying to make GRE studying a habit/priority. Today, I have been blessed with insomnia and that is why this piece is coming together. I think the insomnia is due to my friend’s grandmother’s house lack of AC--it’s so hot in Thailand...I used to think people exaggerated-until now! Also, I took an accidental nap after my “app nahm”/shower. And to top it off I had coffee at around 4pm in an attempt to stay focused during GRE studying time).

The adoration for Lady Gaga came at a time when I could not stop noticing the “farang” (white) older men parading around Khon Kaen (and other parts of Thailand) with Thai women (often times many years younger). One night after the Khon Kaen soccer game, my host family invited me to Khon Kaen walking street. On the way back to the family van, I pointed out the “farang” and the Thai woman walking a few steps ahead of us. He said, “it is an Isaan thing. Isaan women tend to go with farang men. I think farang men want to be with Isaan women because they can get treated well by them.”

Through my observations, I have noticed that Isaan women tend to be considered inferior to other women in Thailand because of their (supposed) darker skin and less educated background. I did not further discuss the topic with my host father, but my entire host family was amused by my observation of the farang husband and Thai wife.

My fellow Fulbrighters and I have discussed many times the concept of the Thai wife and farang husband. We have always concluded that the Thai wife is largely obligated to be with her farang husband because of the monetary advantages that come with being with a white foreigner. (Side note: I specifically say white foreigner, because you never see any other type of foreigner with a Thai woman). We ask ourselves:
  • What do they talk about? 
  • What do they have in common? 
  • Can they speak the same language?
  • Is it a purely physical relationship? 
  • Does the Thai women's social stance change? Or is she shunned by other "proper*" Thai women? 
*The proper Thai woman has a Thai husband. She wears neutral colors and never calls too much attention to herself (i.e. in her speech, mannerisms, attire and otherwise). One will never catch her singing, dancing, or laughing too loud in public. Essentially, she is Lady Gaga's anti-thesis.

When I catch myself staring at a farang and his Thai wife, I try to repeat to myself that their relationship is none of my business.

Most people in Thailand confuse me for being Thai. I am often greeted by people speaking rapid Thai, but to their surprise I am neither Thai nor can I speak the language. There have been times when I have been around white males and wondered: "What do people assume of me? Do they have the same thoughts I have about other Thai women? Do they think I have essentially sold myself for my financial well-being?" And when my thoughts start dancing away, I try to stop myself and think to myself that I am not Thai and I have no idea what drives Thai women to do the things they do. As an outsider, I can only observe what is in front of me and develop relationships with people that will someday allow me to answer my questions.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Be present

This blog entry does not come from a place of epiphanies or revelations or any type of clarity. This blog entry comes from a place of questions, curiosity, and (fear of) the unknown.

The reality has hit me that I am four months away from completing my year as a Fulbright ETA grantee. On Friday, I emailed my successor in response to questions she had about my teaching position at Ban Phai Pittayakom School. I enthusiastically answered all her questions and directed her to this blog (and reflection tool).

In the next four months there is so much that I want to accomplish. Here is a snapshot of my goals for the incoming months:

    1. Establish an impressive English Language Club. The following are things that I envision for the English Language Club to be:
  • A space where students can practice their English speaking skills.
  • A space where students can prepare for English competition in November. Last November, our students did poorly. I know that their performance was greatly impacted by that fact that they did not begin practicing spelling (for the spelling bee) and speeches (for storytelling) until a month before the competition.
  • An activity that is a good use of everyone’s time. (All students in my school are required to be a part of an club activity on Thursdays during the last period of the day. There were many times,last semester, when I  saw students hanging around campus without nothing to do.)
    2. Conquer the GREs.
    3. Work on a research project that I can successfully publish.
    4. Be proud of my performance as a teacher.
    5. Continue enjoying the friendships I have developed in Thailand.
    6. Take care of myself (spiritually and physically)
    7. Remain optimistic about the future.
    8. Look towards the future (even if I am not sure what is in-stored) without missing out on the present.

First Days of Teaching (First Semester of the year/Second semester as a Fulbright ETA)
The following are a couple of obstacles and highlights that I noted down on my first days back in school

  • Two days before school starts I did not have a class schedule or classroom.
  • Sabai sabai attitude--
  •  After questioning my host teacher about my schedule, she responds, “Sabai, Sabai. This is Thailand.”
  • Materials used to teach English are in Thai. Update: I have slowly been receiving the English books for each grade level. 
  • Teacher drama. I was caught in the middle of teacher drama/bureaucracy. In the beginning of     the year, there were multiple teachers volunteering to drive me to and from school. Mid-point in the semester there was a communication breakdown and people could not decide who would pick me up--at one point there were two teachers outside my room ready to take me to school. This semester is the polar opposite no one wanted to drive. Finally, the school administration     decided to hire the AMAZING cleaning lady to drive me in the mornings and  afternoons.
  • My enthusiasm to be back in the classroom. 
  • I know teachers names. 
  • Students are adorable! 
  • My nerves. This is a highlight because of the following comment made by Andrea Gibson,     “I heard once that the degree to which you are nervous for an event is the degree to which you respect it.”
I hope everyone is remembering (or making it a goal) to be present in the now.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Guess who’s back?!

Almost two weeks ago, I arrived in Thailand from vacationing in the states. Upon exiting the airplane, I began to feel more homesick than I had been before I left Thailand in April. I began to question, “who is this Glenda?” I’ve never been prone to homesickness (ok, maybe Sophomore year of college), and now I cannot shake it off.

My April vacation in the US of A was MAGICAL! Photograph was taken in SF courtesy of Rene Cruz.

I spent my first days back in Thailand at a Fulbright ETA mid-year grant meeting. It was wonderful spending time with fellow teachers and friends, but I could not get my head out of vacation mode. During the first day of meeting,  I remember passing a note to Gracie that read “When are you going to the beach?” Luckily, she responded, “This weekend!” Two other girls jumped into Gracie’s and I’s beach adventure. Everything was planned last minute (hey, we are in Thailand). KEY PHRASES TO LIVE BY: SABAI SABAI (loosely translates to go with the flow, relaxed, stress free) and JAI YEN YEN (literally translates to cool heart which means to be cool/relaxed about everything).

Side note: These phrases hold such positive meanings  (Buddhist roots), but I am irked when someone tells me “sabai sabai” or “jai yen yen” when it is COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY. For instance, I was getting our huge suitcases out of a mini-bus and I was trying to hurry when the driver (who had been rude, impatient, and the complete opposite of jai yen yen) comments “jai yen yen” and all I wanted to do at that point was SCREAM BACK: “YOU JAI YEN YEN”...But I kept my composure and walked to the Mo Chit Bus Station.

Three Fulbright women and I spent five days in Koh Chang. We spent those five days eating delicious (Mexican) food, laying out in the sun, and sitting around a beautiful bungalow in Lonely Beach. For me, this beach vacation was the perfect time to reflect and wrap my head around the fact that:

  1. I live in Thailand
  2. I am privileged
  3. I am a woman
  4. I make my dreams come true
Lonely Beach in Koh Chang, Thailand. ("Koh" means island in Thai)

Gracie Raver (AKA the birthday girl) holding the menu to Barrio Bonito Mexican Restaurant.

By day three at the beach, I was beginning to feel guilty of my lifestyle. Why am I privileged enough to have these experiences? What part of my upbringing and or background makes it so guilt overpowers every inch of me?

Side note: As I write this, I realize that my mind, spirit, and heart are not the only ones re-readjusting to Thai living my stomach is also finding its way back. Side side note: while being back at Ban Phai Pittayakom School, I have been told I look slender (or thinner) and I respond with a laugh and say “mai chai” (not correct). I laugh for two reasons:

  1. Comments about my weight take me back to last semester. Last semester, I would fight back (sometimes unsuccessfully) the tears from people commenting on my weight. My first month here, one of the female teachers made the following comment, “You are very pretty, but you would be beautiful if you lost 10 kilos.” At the  good-bye party of a fellow English teacher, a faculty member said to me, “that shirt makes you look fatter.”
  2. I have no other way to express my discomfort with discussing my weight.

This past Friday (May 11th), I arrived in Ban Phai, Khon Kaen. I was so relieved to be back in my home away from home. I was also relieved that I no longer had to drag around my 50 pound suitcase and backpack around Thailand. When I opened my room at the Highway Hotel, I could smell the dust and see the dead bugs and geckos collecting throughout my room. I began to realize that dust had not only accumulated in my room, but dust had also piled up on my blog, GRE books, and routine/life in Thailand.

I am happy to report that my room is now clean and I will begin to shake off the dust in other areas of my life. Luckily, I have a very loving host family and friends...and the teachers in my school will continue to challenge my comfort and self-esteem.

Lots of love from Thailand,

Dada (my Thai nickname)

Side note: Everyone in Thailand refers to one another by their nicknames. My nickname was given to me by the Life Skills Teacher (aka the woman that supervises my wardrobe and calls me out when my skirts are too short--really they are short in Thai Teacher standards, but not for Thai culture).