Final Post: I’m coming home.

NOTE: I’ve struggled to maintain this blog regularly because it’s often been difficult for me to put into words exactly what the last year has meant. So, for my final post, I collected my many thoughts from many different places and put them together to try and find some semblance of coherence. Please enjoy.

Burning Season

Chiang Mai, Thailand

March 2015

 

You walk outside and ask

Where was the BBQ just as

When you wake up and

Look out the window you

Wonder when it rained

What cast a blanket

Over the sky to turn it so

Gray. But it’s not rain or

Lingering festivities. It’s the

Air, filled with dust too small

To see, but big enough to

Suffocate. And it coats your

Arms like a film, and makes

You reach up to your eyes to

Clean your dirty glasses,

And it’s then you realize, you’re

Not wearing glasses. It’s not

A smudge on the glass that

Has obscured the mountain,

It’s something more sinister,

Blocking the view, causing

your throat to swell. So you

put on a mask and

wonder if this is how construction workers

always feel—slightly endangered

by the very thing that is supposed

to sustain life: the air.

 

Hookah Bar

Penang, Malaysia

April 2015
So I’m sitting in Penang, smoking hookah with friends, and I can’t stop staring at the woman in the full burkah, smoking hookah with a man I assume must be her husband.

The majority of things I know about the world, I know in an abstract way.  After all, I have never been to Katmandu.  I have never seen a sea-lion covered in oil.  Theses are things I read about in the paper, and while I often believe and believe in these things with all my heart, that doesn’t make it any less strange to confront something only known on paper for the first time face to face.

I know that the majority of people who practice Islam do so the same way I practice Judaism.  It’s a part of their culture.  The radical Islamics who Americans constantly fear, who shows like Homeland make us believe are a constant threat to our well-being, are but a minute fraction of this elaborate world.  That being said, I was awe struck watching this woman exhale smoke from under her veil.  She can do that?  I guess it was naïve of me to think otherwise.  I guess I’m more naïve that I like to think.

A lot of western woman look at veils and head scarves as a sign of oppression. What I realize is that it’s my upbringing that forces me to see it that way.  It’s nearly impossible for me to take off my western goggles—because those goggles have molded almost every thought I’ve ever had.  I see the headscarf and immediately bemoan a lack of feminism, when in reality, the scarf has almost nothing to do with feminism—well, maybe that’s not true, but it has less to do with feminism that I assume.

For my own peace of mind, I came up with the following comparison.  I’ll never get a tattoo in very much the same way these woman wear scarves.  It’s not something I think of on a daily basis, but it’s something I accepted years ago, because it’s part of my culture, where I come from, where my parents and grandparents came from.

  

Mustafa and Harrith’s apartment

Penang Malaysia

May 12th

Harrith: Yeah, ever since the war the weather in Iraq is horrible.

Me: Since the war?

Harrith: Well everything was destroyed.

Of course—I think—no sun protection and no buildings to shield from brutal winds. We’ve created our own dust bowl. 

Harrith—who moved from Iraq to Malaysia 8 years ago—tells me it’s not my fault, but how far down the rung does the excuse “I’m just following orders extend.” Is saying “it’s not you it’s the government” the same?

I don’t believe governments are necessarily representative of what the people want. Nonetheless, I’m wondering, does my passivity mean I’m exempt from responsibility?

History Museum

Singapore

May 15th

I stare at the songs the Japanese government taught to Singapore’s children during the occupation: “Hail the Emperor.” I begin to wonder: have I ever been subject to this?  What songs was I forced to sing as a child—what songs masqueraded as propaganda.

After 9/11, my fourth grade class was told that we should sing “This Land is Your Land” at the annual Winter Sing Christmas Celebration.   We would also sing “God bless America.” The normal line up of songs that the fourth grade class had sung for years was wiped clean in lieu of these “American classics.” No “Shout: it’s the time of the year” and no Israeli Sword Dance. Instead it was purely patriotic. I was furious. I had wanted to learn the sword dance for years—I was desperate to learn how all those older kids managed to weave their swords into the shape of a star. Now I can tell you it has something to do with weaving – but I couldn’t do it for you. I can still recite all the lyrics to “This Land is Your Land.” Propaganda? I wonder: Did it help someone in the audience to hear the words “land that I love” float across the audience. Was it supposed to help me?  This is one instance of propaganda I remember being able to distinctly recognize as propaganda even if I didn’t get know the word propaganda. I knew that my school had forced Ms. O’Shea to teach us these songs. She told us. We weren’t allowed to do the sword the dance. We’re there other instances? I’m sure. I guess the fact that I can’t identify them means that they worked.

Excerpt from my journal: Week 1 in Thailand (July 2016) 

“The idea of spending an entire year here is overwhelming. The past two days have felt like an escape. I’ve been trekking with Taylor and will and it had proven to me that Thailand is indeed as beautiful as I thought it was, however when I woke up this morning I again was struck with the same all top familiar feeling of anxiety. I’m worried about simply negotiating lunch by myself.

Everything is strange to me. The sounds I hear. The feel of the air. I’m used to humidity. In Duck it’s like walking through soup sometimes, but this humidity is different. I can feel the water on my skin like dew. My bra from two days ago still is not dry.”

 

Abi’s Apartment

Bangkok

May 26, 2015

My final night in Thailand

 

Reading that journal entry reminds me of just how far I’ve come. Thailand is no longer an overwhelming place where the sounds and smells seem all too unfamiliar.

Instead:

It’s a land of lemon smoothies – which I drink to “feel fresh” as my students would say.

A place where I lament not being able to “play water” when it’s hot because I have to go into the office

It’s Tuesday dance classes taught entirely in Thai minus the word “Sexy,” which the instructor screams out at random

It’s the accessory store “Pink Pussy” which innocently has a cat as its logo

It’s girls riding side-saddle on motorbikes

Dogs smiling in the wind with their paws on the dashboard

It’s a place where you smile instead of yell and apologize before asking for a favor

It’s a place where chili is not option but an essential – more than salt – more than pepper

It’s crispy pork over rice, papaya salad and 3 dollar movie tickets on Wednesdays

It’s the exhaust of a Song Taew that you don’t notice because the beauty of the rice patties distracts you

It’s the dust on your skin and the mask that digs into your cheeks as you strain to see Doi Suteph

It’s downshifting on red and up-shifting on green

It’s the two dogs from next door that crawl under your gate and tear up your lawn

It’s the small palm tree forest that grows at the agricultural fields, where the old men run faster than you do

It’s the students posing with selfie sticks in the sunflower garden behind CMU.

It’s three on a motorbike in the pouring rain

It’s thinking that ponchos are sexy

It’s finding food on your after you proof read a co-workers exam

It’s hearing the words “teacher” shouted from down the hall

It’s feeling your skirt fly up in the wind on your bike and wondering how Marilyn Monroe managed to make this look cool

It’s street food for less than a dollar and paying your utilities at 7/11

It’s refusing to use the water heater not to save money but because it’s simply that hot

It’s the 3 minute walk down your soi with empty water jugs and 1 baht coins that the machine will reject

It’s kao soi and Sunday walking street

It’s Larder’s Breakfast Hot Dog and the Hash Brown Supreme

It’s mosquito bites and umbrellas for the sun, never wearing a seat belt and always wearing a helmet.

It’s Tuesday nights at Jazz club and hating the foreigners for wearing elephant pants.

It’s not wanting to be called a foreigner.

It’s speaking Thai so people don’t call me a foreigner.

It’s accepting that I will always be called a foreigner: farong. 

But still: Thailand has been my home for the last year—and that’s how I will always remember it.

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Late on grading…

Favorite Teaching Moment of the week (a discussion on jobs):

Me: What is one job that does not have a lot of job security?
Student: Second wife.
Me: Why?
Student: Because first wife will kill them.

I think my students have a good grasp on job security!

————————————————————————————————————-

I have become the very thing I used to complain about as a student…the person who hands back papers months after the assignment was given.  I guess now I understand how overwhelming the whole process can be.  How crazy it is that I have power to scribble all over someone’s hard work — an essay he or she spent a week writing — which I can mark up in red pen in less than a second.  Needless to say, I don’t like grading…but, I do like discovering that the things I’ve tried to teach have quite possibly stuck.

So, to continue with the simile’s and metaphors, below is my favorite collection from the pile of papers I, unfortunately, graded last.

On performing in a talent show:

The audience were lion that looked for victims and I would become their carcass.

Have you ever feel that you are in the wrong place like a black sheep in a big group of goats or the feeling that I shouldn’t do this?

I thought it will be easy like eating banana.

If I sing English song, I will be like chicken that sing compete with a nightingale bird.

My feeling was down and down like a plant that slowly dry up.

On comparing yourself to celebrities:

Cyril and me are really different like a gold and a rock.

On getting into fights at bars:

Don’t doing like Mafia if you are just a teddy bear.

On weather in Laos:

It’s very hot, around 40 degrees Celsius, like I live on the sun. If I’m an ice-cream, I would melt away.

On car trouble in the mountains:

My body has become red because of dust like the actor in Indian Jones movie.

On working at 7/11:

That time I remember I don’t dare to make eye contact with the customer because all of them locked at me like I was killed their lover.

On the 2009 tsunami:

The weather was also fresh as when I just finished drinking soda. 

On shopping:

I enjoyed buying everything, and no one interrupted me when I decided to buy the things. If so, I would feel as very angry as the Hulk when he’s upset.

On coffee:

Every day in the past, she has drunk about 4-5 cups per a day, since she woke up until sleeping. It made her fresh, relax, and have more power to do her homework as a robot.

And finally…a wonderful malapropism…

  

On the weather:

The sky was as clear as glasses.

I know she wasn’t talking about my glasses…those are always dirty.

Simile and Metaphor

My public speaking students just finished a unit about narrative speeches. For their last assignment, they had to deliver a 5 minute speech to the class, in which they recounted a specific even that they either witnessed or participated in. The catch was that the students were required to use figurative language to describe the event, making it as colorful as possible.

My students came up with some stellar examples—despite some grammar mistakes. Now, I can say confidently that they have mastered the art of simile and metaphor (or at least they’ve come very close.) Below are some of my favorite examples.

On driving a manual transmission truck:

It was like trying to a roller coaster on the ground.

I was so stressed and tired, like I did my finals exams.

On staying cool in summer

The ice in the Coca-Cola was the coldest ice, it was like it was from Alaska.

On asthma:

I cannot breath. Like a murderer press their hands on my neck.

On not wanting to be kissed:

The girl ran away with tear pouring down like rain.

On falling onto a rock:

I don’t want to be like a Captain Kook in peter Pan that sees anything with his one eye.

On failing to live up to your parents’ expectations:

I feel yourself like a wicked witch who made mother cry.

I feel like prisoner that wait for investigation.

On starting a business:

I am as confident about this as a queen on stage.

On failing in school:

It seems like a fall down to hell.

On using squat toilets:

So your pants leg get hiked up as you pull your pants down—then you squat—and it is a balancing act—as your pants suddenly become like an elastic band just below your knee.

On friendship:

We are funny like monster.

My friends teach me to get it like mother teach her baby.

On Hello Kitty in Bangkok:

It’s like I’m in the heaven of Hello Kitty.

On eating ice-cream

I feel fresh my eyes is open as watermelon.

On men:

There is one man who is very handsome like Captain America.

Pooying (women).

When I was little, I LOVED school. I LOVED coming home and telling my parents about everything I had learned, from the Iroquois to Ellis Island, from relief sculptures to print making. In fourth grade that changed. I began to notice that whenever I answered my teachers’ question, this one group of girls would run

My beautiful students helping to set up the "America" booth at International Day.

My beautiful students helping to set up the “America” booth at International Day.

their hands along their forearm. What I later discovered was that this gesture was a code, a way for the girls to communicate amongst themselves when they thought I was being a teacher’s pet. I promptly stopped raising my hand first in class, even though I saw my male peers rewarded for their similar aptitude. Instead, I waited. I would count the number of hands in the air, before deciding that it was okay for me to raise mine. By 12th grade, the most popular boy in the grade was also the boy best at calculus. Meanwhile, my hand raising tick had become a firmly rooted habit, one that I carried with me all the way through senior year of college.

Senior year of college, a professor I highly respected and admired, called me into her office. In this impromptu meeting, she pointed out that I had a tendency to use up speak. Additionally, I inserted the word “like” into my sentences every time I hesitated. She explained to me that these ticks are speaking habits women often develop in their teenage years as they deal with gender discrimination and puberty. Both up speak and “like” make women’s speech less threatening, less direct and less bold. In other words, it’s a way of adapting to a male world, without unseating the male figures who reign supreme. She then told me that this speaking habits would detract from people taking my words seriously. It would cause people to label me as a “silly girl.” I was shocked. I was completely unaware of these habits. Where had they come from? I found myself telling my professor that same story of fourth grade, along with several others.

My professor finally admitted that she had been worrying for weeks about pointing out these habits. She didn’t know how I would react, and she didn’t want to isolate me. But, I could not have been happier that someone believed my words were important enough to deserve a proper hearing, rather than a dismissal stemming from how I might inflect them.

A few weeks ago—and many months after my encounter with my professor, I ran into a student of mine at a bar. These moments are always awkward for me, in very much the same way it was strange for me as a student to realize that my teachers had their own other lives. This particular student was interesting. Often, when making up examples in class, she referenced her love life. For the conditional there was: “If I could, I would break up with my girlfriend” or “I would tell her not to come back.” As she spoke to me, her speech quickened by the life of liquor, she leaned in close to whisper, “That is my girlfriend…the one I told you about.” I began to formulate my thoughts “Oh she’s so beautiful.” “She looks so nice.” But before I could utter it, my student said, “She hits me.”

Domestic violence in Thailand is common. I know this as a theory, they same way people know the poverty rate or the percentage of unemployed workers. But the fact doesn’t stop you from being surprised when you stumble upon such a moment face to face. I guess, I just hadn’t thought too much about it. But I saw the impact, not just on one student but on all of my students, this past week. My freshman and sophomore students had to do presentations about a culturally significant work of art. I was expecting photos of Burmese refugees, or the 2009 tsunami destruction. However, the most common things I received were videos, pop songs about broken homes and destructive love—some of which included physical abuse. When my students got around to answering “Why is this video significant,” they told me “It is because it is so commonplace in Thailand.” Now, I’d always thought “Because of You” by Kelly Clarkson was a good song, but culturally significant? Think again. My students made me think again, telling me about how commonplace broken homes are in Thailand.

As I finished the conversation at the bar, I told my student to come and see me if she needed any help. That Monday, she stopped by my office. I asked her why she didn’t break up with her girlfriend. I expected to hear about being afraid, and there was some of that, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. My student told me she didn’t want to be alone: What will I do in my free time? Who would hang out with me? Who will drive me to work?

The problem, suddenly, became much more complex. What I soon realized was that as a woman, my student had been taught that being independent, or “alone” was bad. Women need men – and while my student is a lesbian – here in Thailand that doesn’t mean much regarding freedom from gender roles. Relationships are based on the King and Queen model. One person is designated to be the provider—something I learned when my gay male roommate was asked by a co-worker regarding his own relationship, “But who is King?”

I tried to calm my student down by assuring her of her friendships. And she has great friends. I see her tight knit clique together everyday, walking down the halls side by side, eating lunch, sipping ramen. When I asked about them, telling her they would be there to fill the void in time, my student plainly reminded me that her friends can’t spend time with her outside of school because they have boyfriends.

In coming to Thailand, I knew that the feminist tendencies I was taught about and raised on would be challenged. For one, I am not allowed to wear pants to work. However, I didn’t realize that in meeting these challenges, I would become so grateful in retrospect for the environment in which I was raised. Patricia Arquette made an excellent point about wage equality in her Oscar speech, and I admit that America has a long way to go. But I am so thankful to have grown up in a place where my mentors, my parents, people like my professor, will pull me aside to tell me that I do not need to be afraid to assert my opinion and that I should do so with confidence, not with words such as “like” or with a simple note of up speak. For me, free time has never been a sign of failure, a reminder that I am alone, instead it has been presented to me as an opportunity to express my creativity.

In the end, my student broke up with her girlfriend. She moved out of her girlfriend’s apartment and into a dorm at the University. She has often left my classroom crying. Her ex has not made the transition easy – using social media to slander her – but I think she’s made a good start for herself.

Heffalumps and Woozels

I did something bad…

…now that’s not saying a lot. I’ve done a lot of bad things. My brother once told me that if there was a hell, he was going there. When I asked what sins he had committed, his immediate response was, “Let’s start with the seven deadly.” I guess I’ve also committed those seven treacherous sins. Plus, there was the time I stole money from my brother’s tzedakah box to put in my tzedakah box because I didn’t want him to be more charitable than me, but this isn’t about that (but I am sorry Benjy). This is about something else.

When I went trekking up near the Burma border my first week in Thailand I rode an elephant. In fact, I even posted a picture of me doing so on this very blog.

Now, all that might not sound especially shocking. Lots of people ride elephants and lots of people come to Thailand with the specific idea that they will ride elephants. Whenever I go to the night market, I see tons of shirts, and carvings, all of which have elephants on them. My roommates and I often identify tourists by their so called “elephant pants.” I even have an elephant key chain! In Thailand, elephants are inescapable, so again it’s no shock to hear that I rode one. But, what was shocking for me to learn is that the majority of working elephants in Thailand suffer serious abuse, and this abuse is part of an age old ritual.

My parents came to spend the Holidays here with me in Thailand. I had been told to take them to the Elephant Nature Park, a beautiful nature reserve an hour north of the city. It was there that I learned about these cycles of abuse.

In Thailand, the domestication of elephants takes place through a phajaan, or what many call elephant crushing. The practice originated in the hill tribes, and revolves around the idea that a tribe shaman can separate the spirit of the elephant from its body, leaving the elephant under the control of its handlers. While the phajaan process differs from country to country, it usually involves a small wooden cage, no larger than the size of a 4 year old elephant, in which the elephant initiates (3-4 year old elephants) are held for days at a time. Once in the cage, handlers use beatings, many of which involve nails at the end of long sticks, sleep deprivation, and starvation to break the elephants’ spirits and make them submissive.

It seems that nearly all domesticated elephants undergo a version of this process. However, animal activist struggled to protect elephants from this abuse because in Thailand, domesticated elephants are considered to be livestock not an endangered species.

At the Elephant Nature Park, there are no working elephants. No elephants paint pictures or dance, no elephants give rides to tourists, or participate in logging. The elephants there have been rescued, most often bought out of their working environment and brought to the reserve—usually because they are in need of serious medical care. Some elephants have damaged legs, from where they stepped on land mines while logging. One elephant I met was blinded by his previous owner. Another elephant has a permanently dislocated leg, also a result of beatings. A young baby elephant, only four, has a swollen leg, disfigured by a poaching trap. The list goes on and on. The one that upset my mother most was the story of a wealthy family who bought a young elephant to keep as a pet in their backyard without knowing how much work actually goes into caring for an elephant. When this one was finally rescued, the elephant was suffering from extreme malnutrition and had nearly died from starvation.

Seeing all of this was incredibly upsetting, and it was even more upsetting to know that I had participated in the cycle by paying money to a trekking company that allowed me to ride an elephant. I had been told my trekking guide that the elephants we were riding spent no time in chains, but they responded so easily to the calls of their handlers. Had they also gone through the phajaan? I’m not sure. How can I be?

However, what was most upsetting to me was the realization that there is no simple solution to this problem of abuse. Punishing abuse via law, or increasing fines for abuse, even making the phajaan illegal cannot provide an immediate fix.

So many families, specifically in the Hill Villages depend entirely on the income their elephants generate from tourism. Elephants have been a part of Thai culture for so long. How can you just take this aspect away without ruining the economic livelihood of many, specifically the poor? Furthermore, these animals have been domesticated, they cannot simply be returned to the wild, where they are now unequipped to live. Furthermore, they can’t be kept as pets. Without the money from tourism, the people who own them would have no way to feed them. Where could the thousands of working elephants go? There is no infrastructure in place to take care of them and there doesn’t seem to be a good alternative to elephant tourism economically for the communities that depend on it. Unfortunately it seems to be a rather vicious cycle.

I do not have the answers of how to fix this, but I believe that making people aware of the situation is a good place to begin.

To learn more see below:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/10/1016_021016_phajaan.html

http://www.elephantectivism.org/2014/04/phajaan-breaking-elephants-spirit.html

Feeding time!

Feeding time!

This cheeky gal playfully steels food from the canteen.

This cheeky gal playfully steels food from the canteen.

This poor baby's foot got caught in a poaching trap and is now disfigured.

This poor baby’s foot got caught in a poaching trap and is now disfigured.

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This elephant stepped on a land mine years ago, but her wound must still be treated daily.

This elephant stepped on a land mine years ago, but her wound must still be treated daily.

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If you look carefully you can see the permanently dislocated hip on the elephant on the right.

If you look carefully you can see the permanently dislocated hip on the elephant on the right.

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A collection of thoughts following the completion of first semester…

PART I: A Short Dialogue: 

RACHEL enters the kitchen in a towel. ALYSSA sits sipping coffee from a “prison” mug (as Nick calls them – they look like the mugs from Orange is the New Black).

Rachel: That moment when you wrap your towel around your naked body only to realize it’s covered in ants, which are now all over your naked body.

Alyssa: Uh, I hate that!

RACHEL turns around and promptly walks to her room. The door slams. ALYSSA continues sipping her coffee.

…Just a normal morning getting ready for work here in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

PART II: Those small moments when you forget you’re a teacher…

You walk around the room, checking the grammar as your students practice The Conditional.

What would you do if you had a million dollars?

Your eyes land slowly on her paper.

I would buy all books I wish to own.

It’s missing an article.

All THE books, I wish to own.

You think of correcting it, but then realize that “all books I wish to own” is correct in it’s own way. It’s a different meaning, and there’s no doubt that the student hasn’t noticed the grandiose nature of her small forgetfulness—articles are a common thing to forget, the Thai language does not have them—but it’s incredibly poetic, and it makes you realize that perhaps this student has more in common with you than you’d thought to consider.

PART III: Making Friends

During my very first week at Payap, I noticed something strange. My fourth period classroom was segregated. On one side of the room sat my Thai students. On the other side of the room sat my Turkish students. Now, I haven’t quiet figured out what makes Thailand such an appealing location for Turkish immigrants, but there is a rather large community of Turkish students at Payap.

As, we played ice-breakers during that first week, a few of the Turkish girls turned to me to complain about the Thai students, saying: “Ajarn, we can’t hear them.” Now, I too was struggling to hear some of my soft spoken Thai students, whose shyness prevented them from enunciating,* but this comment was not stated as a fact of volume. This was said with clear disdain, and thereby drew a distinct line in my classroom between US and THEM. My students were NOT friends.

I dealt with this in the following weeks by pairing the Thai students with the other Thai students and the Turkish students with the Turkish students. This way everyone could play nice.

Alyssa took a different route in her sections. One day she pointed out to me that English was the only language the two groups had in common. If you pair them together, they MUST speak English: it’s the only means by which they can communicate to complete their exercises. I decided Alyssa’s methodology was worth a try.

I can’t pinpoint when the change started, but one day I watched as one of my popular Thai girls, lets call her K, (she sits in the back row and is usually five casual minutes late to each and every class), shouted out the name of one of my Turkish girls, lets call her L, as she entered the classroom. The two waved across the tens of bodies of other students, sharing smiles.

Then, another one of my Thai students, H, began asking to be paired with L for exercises. L’s English was far superior and she would work slowly to explain everything to H. If I partnered H with someone else, he usually pointed pleadingly to L, until I capitulated.

So, while I can’t tell you when or how it started, I can point to the moment I knew that the friendship was real and extended beyond the bounds of my classroom. A few weeks ago I was walking through campus on my way to another class. From behind me I heard a shout: “Rachelle!” (Most of my students have trouble pronouncing Rachel). I turned and there was K. She caught up to me and asked “Teacher, where are you going?” I told her, and then asked her the same thing. “To see my Turkey friends!” she exclaimed. I asked where they were meeting, and she told me she was going off campus to L’s house to cook. L was teaching her how to make Turkish food. I was shocked.

While, I still get the occasional comment that reminds me that the two communities are not fully integrated, its nice to know that part of the integration happened in my classroom as these two groups bonded over their sharing of a language that was equally foreign to both parties. When you speak a language that is not your own you lose something. The native speaker inherently has more power. But if two people are speaking a language that is not their own, there is a sense of equality. No one has the upper hand.

* NOTE: Thai is a very soft-spoken language. In fact, I have been told by a different student that my voice was scary given the volume at which I speak. When I then spoke Thai to this same students at a different point in time, he exclaimed “Wait, teacher you have a pretty voice.”

I promise you, we did not intentionally steal your kayaks…

“Don’t worry, Luke told me that plastic doesn’t conduct electricity,” said Rowan.

This was supposed to comfort me, as I sat in an ocean kayak in the middle of the Andaman Sea watching lighting glisten over the high rock formations which make up the many islands off of Krabi.

Classes had been cancelled on Thursday, so Alyssa and I took Friday off as well to fly down to Krabi, where we hitched ourselves a long tail boat to Railay beach for the weekend.

With our friends Jake, Luke and Rowan, we had rented Kayaks for the day. We journey from Ton Sai beach to Poda beach: a small island with sand the color of snow and water so clear you could see the dirt under your finger nails. But now, as the sun was setting, I sat rather lost in the middle of the ocean. While anxious about the uncertainty of our return home, it was difficult to let the anxiety fully consume me, as it probably should have. The landscape was breathless. Everywhere I turned beautiful cliffs dotted the horizon, cradling the sea like a mother holding a newborn child. The water was warm as a bath. After we’d been kayaking (theoretically towards home) for more than an hour we decided we needed a break and went for a much-appreciated swim. With no human being visible, and just the vast stretch of horizon, I felt like I was inside of a dream, a dream that I never could have conjured on my own. In whose imagination was I playing?

As night descended, the coasts—however many miles away, I’m not sure—lit up like Christmas trees. I could tell people, whoever they were, were having fun, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, definitely not concerned at all, that two people, whoever we were, were floating helplessly along, however many miles away.

As we finally accepted the idea that we were indeed lost, and that these beaches stretched out before us were in no way Ton Sai, we considered our options.

Rowan, wanted to pull onto the first beach we saw, hitch ourselves up to the highway, flag down a pick up truck, put the kayak in the back of the truck and drive home.

Needless to say, we quickly vetoed this idea. No only was it possible that we would not be able to drive (we are talking about islands here, what if we were on the wrong one?), I had no possible idea for how we could even begin to explain what a weird situation we had gotten ourselves into to said “truck driver.”

We finally decided our best bet was just to pull into the nearest beach and ask, “where are we?” From there we could chart a course back to Ton Sai.

We pulled into a Port shortly after making this decision. It looked eerily familiar. “I think we’re in Krabi,” I said.

“There’s no way we’re in Krabi town,” replied Rowan.

“No, I think we’re in Krabi.”

We pulled our kayak up next to a long tail boat, aptly named for the 10-foot long propellers that the drivers maneuver as if they were wielding machine guns from atop a tank. The contrast of the artillery with the worn wood of the boat is slightly disquieting, like technology has forced itself upon the wooden institution, making the boat into something it was never meant to be.

“Kaw tod, ka? Koon pood pasa angrit dai mai ka?” I asked

Excuse me, can you speak English?

It turns out we were in Ao Nang, otherwise know as the MAINLAND. Yes, we had kayaked all the way back to the exact place where just last night, Alyssa and I had taken a boat to get to Railay beach.

We begged the long tail driver to give us a ride back to Ton Sai, explaining that we had no money and no phones and could pay him back only once we were there.

He agreed, but told us that we would have to discuss with his boss, who was in the ticket booth on the island.

To get to the ticket booth we had to walk through a crowded restaurant, barefooted mind you. Never in my life have I felt more naked in a one-piece bathing suit.

Needless to say, we finally made it back to Ton Sai.

Such ended our first full day on vacation…

 

 

…and on Day 2…food poisoning struck.

Alyssa sleeps in our Bungalow (250 baht per night, roughly 8 dollars).  There was no toilet paper, and the sink didn't have a pipe, so that when you let the water run to wash your hands, it would hit your feet.  Made for an interesting tooth brushing experience.  We upgraded to a place with Air Con the next day, so we could ride out our food poisoning fevers with some cold air.

Alyssa sleeps in our Bungalow (250 baht per night, roughly 8 dollars). There was no toilet paper, and the sink didn’t have a pipe, so that when you let the water run to wash your hands, it would hit your feet. Made for an interesting tooth brushing experience. We upgraded to a place with Air Con the next day, so we could ride out our food poisoning fevers with some cold air.

The shortcut from the Bungalow to Ton Sai

The shortcut from the Bungalow to Ton Sai

Ton Sai Beach

Ton Sai Beach

So many shells and stones lie abandoned on the beach, left behind as the tide goes out.

So many shells and stones lie abandoned on the beach, left behind as the tide goes out.

East Railay at low tide.

East Railay at low tide.

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At this restaurant, the chef made Alyssa and I a special off the menu dinner to help our terribly upset stomachs.  His mother had trained him in herbal medicine.

At this restaurant, the chef made Alyssa and me a special off the menu dinner to help our terribly upset stomachs. His mother had trained him in herbal medicine.

Sunset from East Railay.

Sunset from East Railay.