wander process


pomelo, persimmons, papaya & postcards

I think I’ve gotten to a point in my life where if someone asked me for an adjective to describe my perfect weekend, it would be restorative. A time to relax, to sleep in late. A time to share with friends, reflect on the past week and scheme about the future.

Not all weekend days are like this, but today was one such day for me. I sliced up some fruit (all conveniently beginning with the letter p) and plopped myself down outside to send postal service love to friends and family and enjoy the mid-day sun.

Pomelo – the sweeter, fatter older sister to the bitter grapefruit. I sprinked my pomelo with a mix of sugar, salt and chili seeds. Pomelo’s in season now in Thailand and I thought I’d enjoy when I can. Living in Thailand has really influenced the way I buy fruit in season.

Persimmon – a mellow, orange-colored delight. I think that persimmons rep the color orange better than actual oranges do. Every time I enjoy or even see a persimmon, I think of my friend Kirstin, who loves them more adamantly than anyone else I know.

Papaya – this fruit is so stinky and cheesy smelling to me, but I love it. I love, love, love it. I buy one or two every week, slice it up, and enjoy it for lunch or supper. Plus, it does wonders for digestion.

The ever-present nuisance/amusement of my life, The Big Lug (this is name my dad and I gave to all surly tomcats) limped over to get a little affection and see if I had any food to give him. I didn’t share my fruit, but he hopped up on my bench anyway and I shared his company as I scribbled over my homemade postcards.

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One Year Out

Oh, what a year it’s been.

One year ago day, I had another typical, feverish 3am packing frenzy. I stuffed equal amounts of comforting things I loved and crazy thrift-store clothing I didn’t care about getting trashed into a medium-sized suitcase and a backpack.

I cut off all of my hair, partly because it was something I always wanted to do and partly because I needed to leave things behind.

I bid farewell to my friends. I said goodbye to my family. It was the first time I ever hugged my sisters and parents goodbye without knowing when I would see them again. Before there was always a return date in mind. When I set out for Bangkok last year, there wasn’t.

People always tell me how brave I am, to do something like move across an ocean, but I don’t know if I can understand that. It’s not bravery that I have as much as a desire to see the world, at any cost. And to not chase this desire while I’m young and unattached would be soul-crushing to me. This wanderlust I have is innate. It drove me as a young girl just as much as it drives me now.

I made this trip. Over the Pacific once more, nary a plane cankle in sight. And let me tell you, on that plane from Chicago to Hong Kong, I cried. Just because I do things doesn’t mean they aren’t scary to me. Quite the opposite, really. From constant challenges I grow, learn more about myself, learn more about the world. The only thing scarier than challenging myself is becoming complacent with shelving my dreams for another day, another year, another decade. Plenty of real adults I have met at home, in Providence, in Bangkok, in Buriram, have told me that they wished they would have done something like this when they were younger. And I am a firm believer in regretting more the things I don’t do over the things I have done.

My permavacation in Bangkok was magical. So much exploring, so much getting acquainted to do. Except this time, it was with a city. This was a year for falling in love with places. My heart will always burst for Bangkok.

And then I moved. I have met wonderfully kind, fascinating people in the middle of nowhere. I have had the chance to try and become wonderful and kind myself, but it’s hard. I thought I’d start immediately soul-searching. As much as traveling or living or working abroad is often equated with “soul-searching,” it shouldn’t be. Far-flung locales don’t facilitate soul-searching, it comes from within as a response to an outside conflict. And I don’t even know if soul-searching is a good phrase. It’s more about personal development and self-knowledge. But soul-searching and personal development are not why you read this blog.

It feels so universal, the romanticization of lives of friends and acquaintances and strangers abroad. I am more than guilty of this. I click through facebook, enviously clicking through pictures of friends’ trips abroad, wishing I could also travel. And then I have to snap out of it, because I remember that I’m abroad. This isn’t me bragging, this is me telling you that my life isn’t as exciting as it seems through a blog and facebook pictures. There are lots of things to overcome that wouldn’t exist if I was working at home. There are days when I have thought only about how green the grass must be in an alternate, America-dwelling life I would have had.

It’s hard, but it’s good. It’s rewarding in a complex, sometimes backhanded, sometimes straightforward way that nothing has ever been before.  I can’t always articulate it, but you know it if you’ve been here, if you’ve felt these same things. I’m grateful for the friends I’ve made here, I’m grateful for the friends and family who have clocked in many early and late hours on skype. I am grateful for everything I’ve learned in this year, because it’s so much, it astonishes me. I am grateful for myself, for persevering and making it here in Thailand one whole year. I can only hope that my next year of life will bring so many adventures and insights.

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Bad Spelling

Sometimes I wonder what kind of friend I am. I mean, obviously, to most of my friends, I’m “the friend who’s living in Thailand.” And what kind of friend-who’s-living-in-Thailand could I be if I don’t provide people with many pictures to drool over?

More than pictures to velvety rice paddies, lushly dense jungled mountains and pristine beaches, people seem to go nuts over bad translations and unfortunate spelling. And I see them all of the time! I should stop holding out on all y’all.

This comes from a walk down the vegetable aisle at Tesco Lotus. I go to “Lotuh” twice weekly, mostly to stock up on apples, yogurt, and yogurt milk. If I’m lucky, there will be some sugar snap peas or cherry tomatoes. Yesterday, there were no peas, but I did find these translations (right next to one another):

I’m realizing that I don’t share enough the charms of my everyday life here. There are some really great, silly, crazy things that happen to me here. They might not be exciting, but they also might not be a part of everyday life in America. So I’m thinking I should document more of them.

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Love, Thai Style

News of my coworkers’ impending wedding came in April or so and knowing that it would be in bad form to not invite coworkers, I eagerly awaited my invitation.

When the invitation finally came, I could not have been more pleased. Getting the invite was great enough. The greatest part, however, was the realization that I was about to attend a Hello Kitty-themed wedding. Hello Kitty holding a bottle milk (that conveniently read “MILK”) was emblazoned all over the background of the wedding invite. It was like a bad stereotype come true.

Thai weddings are reserved for people close to the family, so all of the coworkers met up at the wedding reception, which was held at a large building on the edge of Lamplaimat. I slapped some make up on my face and put on my fancy beads that weigh roughly as much as a small child. I met up with Stephanie, an intern at the school for the summer (you will see more of her in the coming posts), and we set off to congratulate Ouey and Op and celebrate their nuptial bliss.

I gave Ouey a big hug and told her how beautiful she looked on her special day. Some things don’t change across cultures. I also slipped them a little money. Wedding gifts in Thailand are almost always money. And money that you give has to be an even amount, otherwise it’s bad luck or something.

We strolled into the reception hall and were confronted with what might be the most ridiculous thing I’ve even seen at a wedding. A larger-than-life-size banner of Ouey and Op in their wedding clothes, looking all cutesy and pointing at each other.

It seems like elaborate table set-ups are a given, no matter what country you go to a wedding reception in. This one, I was told, was Chinese-style.

All of the tables were provided with cheap, flat, watered-down alcohol. I was sitting around a table with my coworkers, and we saw that some of our students were also attending the wedding reception. They bashfully came over to our table, said a quick hello, gave us the alcohol from their table, and promptly left.

For the next hour or so, there was a lot of sitting around and enjoying/trying to identify the food. Here are some shots of my lovely coworkers:

Bell, Kum, and Oi

Nat, Nim, Nim’s boyfriend, Add

Ty, me, Stephanie

At one point in the night, I was coerced into trying to catch the bouquet (I was surprised they even had the bouquet toss). There were not many single ladies attending the reception, so it ended up being me and a handful of the other teachers. I didn’t want to be the strange, bouquet-snatching white girl at the reception, so I hung back a little and let my coworkers battle for the bouquet. Oi emerged the victor.

The bride and groom made their way through the guests, stopping to take pictures with everyone. Then came time for our crew.

And then it was time for the final picture of the night before the jet-legged Stephanie and I made our way back to our rooms. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into the reception, but I suppose like all wedding receptions, it depends on the company you keep. And my coworkers were a blast to hang out with.




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A Night at the Thunder Castle

And no. This is not a title to a porn film. At least to my knowledge.

A few weeks ago, a coworker and friend of mine, Nat, came into my office with an announcement: “There is a Buriram United game tonight and some of the teachers are going. Let me know if you want to come so we can get tickets for you!”

I hesitated for a little bit, but then I agreed to it. I generally operate on the principle that if something is a new experience (and especially if something has the potential to be a window into a part of culture I haven’t seen before), I should, by all means, participate. So I said yes!

Buriram United is a real big deal in Buriram, the Thai province where I live. They’re widely considered the best soccer team in Thailand and have won different championships that I’m not even going to pretend what they are or how much they actually matter (can you feel my apathy towards sports?). In the political turbulence and riots in 2010, the iconic Buriram jerseys even gained a place among the red shirts and yellow shirts and wearing a jersey was a political statement itself (to some people). Now, I think it’s just symbol of team and province pride.

I learned more about Buriram United while evading the advances of a Cameroonian footballer in the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh. “Oh, I know Buriram, I have played there! They are a very good team. You can come and see me play sometime. You can be my guest. Here’s a picture of me with my shirt off. Here’s a picture of my bed. I would like your phone number and email and facebook and skype, please.” Ick. No thanks.

So that’s about all I knew about Buriram up until this point.

Let me tell you, I was actually really regretting my decision to go to the game all afternoon. As I mentioned above, I incredibly apathetic when it comes to commercialized athletics. I decided to go anyway, since (I thought) my ticket was already purchased.

And so, after school, 7 of us piled into the cab of Khru Shell’s shiny new pickup truck. Inhuman squeezing into vehicles is a weekly occurrence here.

We traveled the 30 or so kilometers to Buriram proper and as we did, the sky grew increasingly darker, thunder cracked, and fat drops of rain began to fall. We considered doing a rain dance to make the rain stop.

No luck there.

We approach the stadium of Buriram United, the Thunder Castle (which has to be one of the best stadium names ever).

We had some pictures taken of ourselves (this is one of the few posts that proves my existence as a human).

Nat, Shell, Ad, Duk, me (Jordan)

We wait in line for tickets because, in fact, the tickets were not purchased like we thought they were.

I waited off to the side next to people who I’m pretty sure were scalping tickets.

Lines to get into the Thunder Castle were loooong.

Since we arrived late, we could only buy tickets for the seats without an overhang. Commence more getting wet. People were reluctant to find their seats.

The Thunder Castle’s capacity is 24,000 people. The night I went, it was announced that over 23,000 people were there. The Thunder Castle-dwellers were a diehard group – they had cheers and a fan club section and vuvuzelas and 2 drumlines (that didn’t really pay attention to each other).

You can't see this, but it says "BREATH OF BURIRAM" which I thought was the greatest thing.

Duk and Shell were getting into it. Okay, even I was getting into it.

That night, the Thunder Castle hosted the Jeonbok Hyundai Motors team from Korea. I had the privilege of sitting very near the Korean team’s designated fan section, which was about 9 people strong. Buriram United tried their mightiest, but they were ultimately no match for the Jeonbok Hyundai Motors. The game ended with a 2-0 score.

Nat and I. I'm looking more than a little slimy from sitting in the rain and mist and the fans behind me are looking disappointed.

Mark, Nat, and I.

in all its glory.

We took our last few minutes at the stadium to take even more pictures of ourselves next to various things that said “THUNDER CASTLE” on them.

Duk, Mark, Nat & Ad next to the THUNDER CASTLE bus.

Me next to the ASTLE. Do you see why it's hard for me to trust people to compose pictures well?

Me next to another one of the various THUNDER vehicles.

All in all, I got totally nasty, witnessed where all of the gross sexpat white men come for their liver football fill, got to participate in a part of Buriram culture, and became a Buriram United fan. I suspect I may make another trip to the Thunder Castle.




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Thankful, Quiet Weekends

After so much traveling lately, I am thankful for a quiet weekend.

I am thankful for talking to family and friends (for they restore my sanity – how would I live without skype?). I had a chance to see la diablita and be reassured by both family and friends that at 22, I’m not supposed to have everything figured out just yet.

I am thankful for obscene amounts of time to read (I finished The Corrections). And time to watch movies (The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Beginners), although I still don’t like that I watch so much TV.

I am thankful for still enjoying my nightly walks and for the fact that it’s often too dark for people to see me mouthing along to the words of songs.

And although there are three accepted seasons in Thailand – hot, rainy, cold – I am thankful for the advent of the most important season…

Rambutan season!

In other food-related news, seaweed has become my new favorite snack and I’ve already started thinking about piling some away to snack on during my upcoming multi-continental (and probably seaweed-less travels). If there’s no seaweed though, that’s alright. I’m already putting together an extensive mental list of Midwestern delicacies I can’t wait to tickle the taste buds with.

I think that my computer charger has gone totally rogue and works roughly 2% of the time, due to having weathered an obscene amount of power surges and sparks. My challenge for the next week is to find a new charger. And then crank out more picture-laden updates.

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Buriram Life

Lately, my job has consisted/will consist of:

  • weathering massive, destructive storms
  • thinking a lot
  • tripping my way through 12th century Khmer ruins (Buriram is famous for them! I’m with my coworker, Hannah, at Phanom Rung)
  • tripping on non-historical rocks with an armful of books, landing myself some skinned knees
  • learning about the life and death of ants
  • drinking so much coconut water on visits to villages
  • frantically traveling all over Thailand, making friends with taxi drivers when I can
  • trying to persuade (unsuccessfully) visitors to eat crickets
  • being told by many people that my voice I use when speaking Thai is “cute” and “lovely” (unfortunately, my voice is cute but my grammar and vocabulary are atrocious)

The hot season is upon us in Buriram and I am dreaming of faraway (cooler) places! If it’s 80 degrees here in the morning, I start to feel giddy because of how cool the weather is.

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On the Occasion of an Anniversary

Today is one of those rare Wednesdays that happens to also be a public holiday.

Makha Bucha Day, to be exact.

So you can imagine my surprise when I was woken by a knock at the door.

The Teleflora man! With beautiful flowers! For me!

Just kidding. No one sent me flowers. But it was nice that Makha Bucha Day fell on a very special day for me. Today marks 6 months since moving to Thailand.

And what a special, amazing 6 months those have been.

So I thought it would be in order to snip a few blooms from the ever-present bougainvillea bushes to jazz up my living quarters.

After completing my cat-sitting duties for the morning, I used my trusty pocketknife (an essential for every girl! I don’t leave home without it.) to find the brightest assortment of all of the bougainvillea colors.

I made sure to be careful for thorns. I filled up a bottle of soda water (a new introduction into my life, thanks to Nora. I use it to add some bubbles to my veggie juice).

And now they’re sitting happily on the table in my room, a reminder of the small things that sometimes make me the happiest.

Here’s to more beautiful months with you, Thailand. You’ve treated me well.

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If you’ve been keeping up with me in real life, then you have probably already figured out that my blog is waaay behind on things that are actually happening with me. So I’ll take the time to explain it now.

I moved to Thailand because of a teaching job that I took. I knew however, that teaching was more or less the opposite of what I wanted to be doing with my life. Through some meetings and networking in Bangkok, I was granted a meeting with one of the world leaders in health and education, Khun Mechai Viravaidya (he even won a Gates Award for Global Leadership!). Khun Mechai (khun is a word you use in Thai to denote respect for an elder) is the founder of the Population and Community Development Association. He’s the man responsible for massive amounts of change in the Thai birth rate and for his work in HIV/AIDS prevention. He’s more commonly known as the founder of Cabbages & Condoms Restaurant.

With a combination of luck and hard work, I landed myself a job working for the Village Development Partnership and the Mechai Pattana School in Lamplaimat, Buriram Province. I’ve been living here since early January. While my work description has been still kind of fuzzily defined, I’ve managed to keep myself busy. I’ve been researching different types of progressive models of education, I’ve helped write grants, I’ve been doing video work. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet some really cool people and philanthropists. Soon, I’ll be hopefully writing case studies on microfinance or possibly helping with the development of a health curriculum. Who knows?!

I’ve been helping the school out by teaching English 2 hours a week. There’s a striking difference between the rich, educated children I taught in Bangkok and the plucky, rural students I teach here. We’ve managed to talk about some funny things though – everything from planking to drug dealers to porcupines.

Here are a few videos from the organization (that I did not make, for the record) that’ll give you a better idea of the organization I’m working for and the surroundings I live in.

Life is rural, a far cry from how I lived in Bangkok. Since I live 10km from the nearest town, I spend almost all of my time around the school.

I’ve come to treasure my routine though. I wake up around 6:45 these days. I go to bed by 10 or 10:30. I like the early to bed, early to rise schedule. It suits me. I read a lot. I watch too much TV (still under 1/3 of the US national average – I checked – but I have extremely mixed feelings about TV in general). I work out every night. I don’t have internet where Iive, which makes motivation for working out much easier. I listen to a lot of podcasts (nothing new really, just the 4 or so that I’ve always listened to). If you have any kind of culture related suggestion that you feel strongly about, then share with me, please! I’m always looking for new books to read, music to listen to, podcasts to enrich myself with.

The air is clear here. The nights are generally quiet, save the sometimes deafening buzz of the cicadas.

The most stressful things I deal with are the geckos. I sincerely hate them. Imagine me trying to watch a show at night, in my pajamas, when a stinking gecko is rustling around in my luggage! I haven’t felt that much adrenaline in a very long time. I hopped from bed to bed with my Thai-style broom, flipping my suitcase around, trying to get that darn lizard out. Sometimes I forget that he was probably more scared of me than I was of him.

Yesterday, while sweeping out my room (which I do multiple times a day, Mom!), I found a dead gecko. Gross. Just gross.

I’m fine with the quiet lifestyle though. I value all of the time I have to read things I’ve wanted to read for awhile, watch the TV shows I never watched before because I always felt like I either didn’t have the time or had something better to do. The highlights of my weekends are skype chats with friends and family who keep me, me. What would I do without skype?

While the thought of moving back to Bangkok is enticing, I really appreciate the time I have here to live on my own terms (kind of, I still don’t have transportation, really). It makes visits with friends that much more special. I’m truly grateful that I have fun people I can see in Bangkok when I do! Sometimes trips to a big city are totally welcome, both in terms of hanging out with people and giving my system a little break from rice (I bet I’ve had more rice than you this year).

Pictures will unfold soon. Granted, they may not be as exciting or busy as the ones from Bangkok, but this is my life now. I haven’t taken pictures of my room yet since I hadn’t confirmed if I will be moving my room or not (I’m staying put).

I have plenty of post ideas in my head – of the bamboo architecture, the bougainvillea, the fruit, and of course, tons of food. Until then, enjoy the work-related videos and feel relieved that you finally know where I’m working and what my job is!