wander process


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The Water, Pt. II

The thing about living in Bangkok right now, is that you never know what to believe or expect. For roughly a month now, we have been told to stock up on water, on ramen, on the essentials. That, or leave. One of my friend’s mom called her to ask if she had purchased a boat! She had not. There’s been a lot of media hype, a lot of confusion, and a lot of frustration and worry on all parts when it has come to the flood water reaching Bangkok.

Until now, the flooding within Bangkok proper has been pretty limited to Northern Bangkok, pretty far away from where I live. However, things are getting more desperate and less confined. Last week, school was cancelled on Thursday and Friday since many of my students live in places that were already affected by the floods. When I think about the flood, I often think of one of my sweetest, brightest students, Meiji (she even brings books to class to read, just like I did! Nerds will always be drawn to other nerds). Meiji was pulled out of my English class last Wednesday because her house was flooding and her parents came to collect her so that they could help save their belongings on the first floor of her house.

In Koh Phi Phi this weekend (a trip that had been planned before the flooding in Bangkok), I received a text as I was about to board the boat to leave the island. “DSIL will be closed until Friday 28 October because of flood situation in Bangkok and for the convenience of everyone’s transportation in this week.”

So no work at all this week. Further information by one of our overseers instructed us to either stay in our apartments for the next week or to leave Bangkok entirely. To get away. I wasn’t too keen on being trapped in my apartment for a week with 1.5 meter water all around me. Nina, my roommate, is heading to Udon Thani (in the northeast of Thailand) with family. I decided to follow suit. I’ve been meaning to visit Nongkhai since returning to Thailand, and I might as well now. Nongkhai is only an hour away from Udon and a hop, skip, and a jump away from Laos.

I made my way to Hua Lamphong, Bangkok’s main railway station, this morning. It was more crowded now than I ever remembered it. Granted, the majority of the time I spent in Hua Lamphong last time I was there was at entirely unreasonable hours in the middle of the night. My plans were to buy a ticket leaving tonight. All of the tickets were already sold out. So I’m leaving tomorrow night if the waters stay back. There’s no promising anything though.

The bus I spend a lot of time on runs straight from my apartment to Hua Lamphong. On the bus on the way back to my place from Hua Lamphong and lunch in downtown Bangkok, I saw something that made my heart stop. One of the sois (alleyways) off of Charoen Krung Road (one of the streets I frequently travel on, a street parallel to the mighty Chao Phraya, Bangkok’s river) was flooded!

Nina was heading to her grandma’s house on the bus, just an hour after I had returned and snapped this picture:

This isn’t a soi either, this is Charoen Krung! The water has risen considerably in just an hour.

Things have become less and less something I read about on news websites and more and more something that’s happening and affecting my everyday life. All of the 7-11s look ransacked. Stores have cinder-blocked their entrances closed to protect themselves from the water. Water is hard to find. Trash bags are hard to find – people living close to the ground on the first and second levels of their buildings have to shut off and cover their toilets to protect themselves from the sewage that will come up into their toilets.

I realize how completely selfish I am through this situation and I’m kind of disgusting myself. It’s very easy to think about myself and not about the other people who have had their houses flooded for months now. It’s just that these things become far more real when they happen to you.

I have a little over 24 hours before I can hopefully leave BKK. I’ll try and update a few small things from my wonderful weekend, since I can’t really do anything else.


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Lively Island, Lovely People

The first fruits of my record of the past weekend! Instead of sitting down and thinking seriously of where I should be evacuating to (I’ve been instructed by work to either stay at my apartment for the next week or leave Bangkok altogether), I have made this video. I had a wonderful weekend in Koh Phi Phi filled with lots of unexpected things. Things like roving bands of wild monkeys controlling hiking paths. And an island with a cat population almost as high as the permanent resident population.

Since I have at least the next week off, I need to decide 1. where I can travel (places that aren’t restricted by the flooding), 2. what I can afford to do, and 3. what I will actually do. It’s always difficult to know what is media hype and what is real. I’ve been expecting flooding for almost a month now and it hasn’t come to my neighborhood. Hopefully it won’t. But I don’t know what to expect anymore.


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Life in the English Classroom

This post is cobbled together from a recent tumblr post of mine and from a picture I took today. Things happened in my English class today that were way too ridiculous not to share.

Once the bane of my existence, English class has become an interesting and often delightful challenge as I become closer with my students. Above, NamFom proudly displays the funny face I taught my class. Below, AnAn, though not a student of mine, partakes in her daily routine of staring through the windows into my class, waiting for her friends to emerge from my class and to show me her sweet smile and daily wave. I once was walking to work when a park slowed down next to me on the sidewalk. Inside was AnAn and her mother. AnAn had recognized me on the street and had asked her mother to give me a ride to school. How sweet.

Now comes the ridiculosity. Mondays, like most days at DSIL, can be a little frenetic (more than a little). I’m used to heading to my classroom early, right after lunch, but before English classes start, on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. It usually takes me a good 5 minutes of cajoling to get my students to sit in a tiny circle on the classroom floor. They’re usually rolling around on the rolly chairs, chasing each other, or even talking on their cell phones. But today.

Today I walked into the classroom and beheld a strange sight.

Four of my students tried to trick me into thinking they’re dead! Palm is my student who’s getting ready to say “Nooooo, teachah!” NamFon is trying to pass as a dead girl, lying face up with her eyes open. They are ridiculous and I am really starting to like them a lot. I’ve been getting notes from the parents saying that the students like English class and that they’ve seen improvement in their kids. Sometimes it’s the little things, the things like students trying to trick me and parents seeing value in my time in the classroom, that make my time here feel much more worthwhile.


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Flood Relief in Nakhan Nayok

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Look how fancy I’m getting. A slideshow and everything! Here are some non-canine pictures of Nakhan Nayok. The most flooding I’ve seen in Bangkok so far is ankle deep water in the streets of Thonburi on Saturday evening during a particularly torrential downpour. The water had cleared by morning. While Bangkok has been spared from the deluge, outlying areas like this province have not. The government has managed to spare Bangkok only because water that would have entered Bangkok is being redirected out of the city and into areas that are already flooded.

I had thought about making a video of volunteering, but decided not to. I thought it might be a little distracting for me, trying to help out and think about what to take video of at the same time. One of my co-teachers, Duj (pronounced more like Dudjk – actually I’m not sure, but it’s really hard to pronounce if you don’t know Thai) took a lot of video and uploaded this to youtube.


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Flood Dogs

I had the chance yesterday to go to Nakhan Nayok Province, about an hour and a half drive outside of Bangkok. More pictures will be forthcoming, but here are a few initial ones. What struck me was the abundance of dogs. With water covering all of the available ground, the dogs have created for themselves a rather makeshift existence.


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The Water

Most nights, as I slip under my blanket and burrow my head into my too-soft pillows, the rain comes. I love sleeping during rainfall, but lately I’ve felt uneasy while going to sleep. One night last week, I was woken up by a crack of thunder so loud that I forgot how old I was.

The problem extends far beyond my own personal comfort. Thailand has had record rainfall this year and you have probably noticed by now that there has been massive flooding in north and central Thailand. Hundreds of people have died, some are missing. UNESCO World Heritage sites are under water. Until recently, the water hasn’t reached Bangkok. That’s about to change tomorrow. Water from the northern provinces will finally make its way to the city. Bangkok is a city built around the Chao Phraya river. An extensive canal system permeates every nook and cranny of the city. There are a lot of opportunities for water to come.

The flooding is reported to be the worst on the east bank of the river, in the northern and eastern parts of the city. Fortunately, I live on the opposite bank, a little more south and west of the main part of the city. As a precaution, school has been cancelled for tomorrow (Friday). Instead of lazing around my house, I decided to travel with other Thai and American teachers from my school to a province outside of Bangkok that has been hit the hardest by the flooding. We’ll be handing out supplies that the school has collected. The first floor of school is full of packages of water, ramen, and toilet paper that we’ll be handing out.

I’m really impressed with the care and dedication that the students of my school have shown to helping flood victims. They’ve worked overtime collecting supplies and finding creative ways to make money to send to flood relief. They’ve made and sold cheeseburgers at school and donated the profits. Some of the older students have made candles to sell for donations at Wat Phra Kaew, one of the biggest touristed areas in all of Bangkok. Even before things started to get more personal for us here in Bang Mot. Their compassion far exceeds what I have ever witnessed in American schoolchildren, myself included.

There is already billions of dollars in damage, but I belief in the tenacity and strength of the Thai people.

A more personal note: I still had to do some disaster preparedness shopping for myself. I went with my friends Cristal and Jacob to the big Tesco Lotus to stock up on ramen, water, and anything else that would be good flood food. This is what we found when we got to the water aisle:

EMPTY, save for a few expensive bottles of Evian and other bubbly mineral water. None of the big jugs of the cheap stuff that I wanted. Luckily, I found water later AND I made it out of the Tesco with ramen, pb&j, and Cookie Crisp!

I will of course, keep you updated.


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Snail Problems

Teachers so have favorite students. And don’t let any other teacher tell you differently. In a fevered daze, I left work early one day this week to sleep (and this was after already taking a nap in the school’s infirmary area). As I left, two of the school’s younger students, Milo and YaFaek came up to me and started talking to me. “NamFon is in your English class, right?”

“Yep, she’s in my class.”

“Is she your favorite?”

“That’s silly, I don’t know who my favorite is!”

How did these kids know?

Of course, I don’t have an absolute favorite student out of all of my students, but there are certainly standout students that have qualities that I find entirely endearing. NamFon is one of those students. She is tiny and scrawny and when I am not careful, she will climb on my back. (I’ve given up teaching with a table and chairs long ago, the only way that my English class can function is by having us all sit in a little circle on the floor. Sometimes we lay on our stomachs too.) She is super spacy and tends to wander around the class and jump up with excitement.

One day this past week, I asked my class if they knew what excited meant. My quickest students didn’t seem to remember what it meant. I asked NamFon. She chirped up, “I know teacher, it’s like this!” She then proceeded to cover her face with her hands and slowly pulled them down, widened her eyes and gasped.

“Hmm, almost but not quite.” I said. Taking a cue from her, I covered my face with hands and pulled them down to reveal (for lack of a better term) an excited face.

“Oh yes! I know!” Namfon said. She repeated what I had just done but added lots of “WOW!s” and looked around excitedly. “It’s like when I first saw Disneyland for the first time!” She started hopping around the room, recreating her first sight of Disneyland

“Exactly!”

All of that backstory to bring you this little nugget of cuteness. Like every unoriginal teacher of a foreign language, I like to start out class on Monday by asking my students what they did over the weekend. I have them write in their English journals. They were a little lethargic last Monday so to get them started, I said “I saw a giant snail!” Now, you might think I could’ve been talking down to the students, demeaning them by thinking they only care about what animals I saw. But if you know me well enough, you know full well that I take great in sharing inane details of my life.

Once some of the kids are done writing and waiting for others to finish, I let them draw in their journals, since they love to draw (and I love to see their drawings). NamFon drew me a lovely picture of a snail problem that her uncle had.

snails bangkok thailand

Her uncle, the larger figure in the drawing, had had some problems awhile back with snails eating all of the vegetation in his backyard (the leaves that the snail is eating are getting bigger and bigger). Look at the tears he’s crying! To take matters into his own hands, her uncle picked up the snail with a branch and tossed it into the “gardage.” As is generally the case when snails are disposed of, young girls get sad, hence the sad little NamFon and the black sun.


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Life in Bangkok: Thoughts

If I didn't put a picture in my blog, no one would read anything at all.

Having been under the weather this week (it wasn’t out of the ordinary for me to go to bed at 3pm), I thought I had better take this weekend off. So far, I have only left my apartment once. I told myself I would do all of these things I had been meaning to do – things like getting caught up on Community (done), reading (done, some), updating my blog (doing it right now), and finally, finally starting to study for the GRE (hah!).

What I have really been meaning to say for so many posts but I haven’t spat it out yet is this:

My life is not very exciting.

I’m doing all of the things I would do at home, I’m just doing them in another country. Instead of seeking out all of the opportunities I can to try new Thai food, I eagerly comb the internet for places in central Bangkok where I can find quality bagels and burgers. I could be listening to Thai music all of the time, but I choose to expand my repertoire of indie and alternative.

In a place where everything should seem foreign and different, it doesn’t. It doesn’t seem strange to me that I travel around by stuffing myself into the back of a small truck meant for travel for people half my width. It doesn’t seem weird that I generally don’t understand fully a lot of the conversations going on around me (although I’m getting better!). This is what I’ve chosen for myself for right now in my life, and it doesn’t seem weird. This seems fairly improbable to most of you, I assume, but it doesn’t feel strange. It feels right. I don’t have anything figured out yet, but I’m working on it.

I feel like so much of my path of study condemned different types of travel. Some are surely more authentic than others. Does that make me a bad person then, for not craving something more “authentic”? What the heck is authentic, anyway? I’ve talked about this with my coworkers, people who have spent quite a bit of time in Thailand before and have chosen to return. There is a clear difference in mindset between someone who has a return ticket back home and someone who bought a one-way ticket. Most of us fall into the latter category. None of our times here are definite. This isn’t travel anymore. This is living. We don’t know how long our time in Bangkok last (though we will surely be here for quite awhile), and that makes us live and experience Bangkok in a way that we might not have otherwise. Instead of joyously eating street food night after night, we find ourselves dreaming of the comforts of cheese and cheesecake. We spend our nights catching up on American TV and American movies (although I have spent a few nights watching Thai soap operas/dramas which are always confusing and entertaining and require a lot of translation).

I think that this was just a little rant more for my own record-keeping than your personal enjoyment. If I had to summarize this, it would sound kind of like: This is strange, I’m in this for the long haul, what is living “authentically” as an ex-pat (AM I AN EX-PAT?!?)?, I miss cheese.

These feelings were, of course, somewhat compounded by my sickness, which left me with a general distaste for food and life and anything that didn’t involve my pajamas and 16 hours of uninterrupted sleep. I think I’m on the mend?


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Buddhist Vegetarian Festival (and a trip to Chinatown)

I am full of videos this week! Before I tuck in for the night, here is the fruit of my adventuring labor. After putzing around the apartment, doing my laundry, and finishing and uploading the apartment tour video, I made my way to Chinatown. I spent the better part of the afternoon wandering around, taking in the sights and sounds (and food).

The Buddhist Vegetarian Festival seems like a pretty big deal here. I hadn’t noticed any semblance of order or regulation to street food and restaurants, but for the Vegetarian Festival, carts and street vendors and restaurants alike proudly display yellow pendants, letting the customers know that the food they are serving is jai. Jai is loosely used as a term that means vegetarian, but I am told it actually means vegan. Since many people in Bangkok have Chinese ethnic ancestry, many people seem to participate in the festival. I’ve had my fair share of meat here, and seeing as how I basically only cook vegetarian things when left to my own devices, I thought it would be a good idea to take advantage of all of the vegetarian food while it’s so prevalent. There’s a lot of strange, fake meat and a lot of fried things. Vegetarian doesn’t have to mean healthy. Actually, I made this video and all, but this might very well go down as the day I found churros! I was on my way out and I stopped, and before I knew it, I forked over 20 baht for four churros (I originally asked for 3, but then I looked at them for too long and thought about how I might now have churros for a very long time so I told him four instead).

I then proceeded to wander around Chinatown more, looking through the windows of the famous restaurants selling shark fin soup and birds nest soup. Maybe this will be another day, another adventure. Then I got lost. I wandered poorly lit, deserted streets, following the buses, hoping to find a stop for my bus. Usually at some point, I decide to take a cab when I get hopelessly lost because it’ll only be about $3-5, tops. But today, I made it! I found the bus stop and impressed myself with my street smarts.

I will leave you with a quote from my father.
Upon learning that his eldest daughter enjoys black bean burgers
“What? You like burgers made out of vegetables?! You know what? They should make vegetables out of MEAT!”


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Apartment Tour

Now you can picture me eating som tam and watching American tv on my computer accurately! I started making the apartment tour the first weekend that I moved in, but my camera ran out of batteries and I decided to finish it up today. Naturally, because I made it, it’s a little awkward. I did all of the outside filming while also holding my wet laundry I didn’t want dried. I tried my best to not have people see me while I was talking to the camera while recording, but I think I few people saw me, at which point I promptly turned the camera off and acted like I wasn’t doing anything weird.

My Apartment Tour

I have a quite the weekend ahead of me. Last night, I went to a wonderful restaurant called Garden of Dream (no ‘s’) with friends and we were the only people there. I was thirsty but I should’ve stopped drinking my water because every 5 minutes the waiter came over to refill my glass. And one of the other girls received her food later because every person in the restaurant (which was only the people working there) wouldn’t stop taking pictures of her dish. After that, we went to a really awesome bar/gallery across the soi called WTF Bangkok. I had had my eye on going to this place for away. Very hip, cozy ambiance on the first floor and gallery space on the second and third floors. And the alleyway, oh, the alleyway! That will be a post I will save to write for tonight. On today’s agenda, It’s the Buddhist vegetarian festival in Thailand, so I think I’m gonna explore around Chinatown today and possibly even make a movie. On Sunday, I’m having brunch with someone who has a very exciting and intellectually-stimulating sounding job, so I’m excited about that. Also, I get to be a proud little newly-minted alumna and go to the Brown University Alumni dinner at a fancy-schmancy hotel on the riverside! All of that and I just finished the first season of Community.