Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Learning how to walk again: Sansai, Chiang Mai

Existing in Sansai, Chiang Mai 
840+ nametags made. 21 introduction lessons.  12 additional lessons. 200 Hand turkeys made with “I’m thankful for” written neatly. 40 hours of teaching. 4 lessons with the Director of the school. What is it? The first 2.5 weeks of teaching at Sansai Wittaykom school. This, coupled with numerous dinner parties, mistakes, laughter, bugs, games of badminton, volleyball and ping pong, trips to Chiang Mai city, festivals, parades, several Skype dates, informal Thai lessons, new friends, fabulous students, minor frustrations and way too much food, has been my life these past two weeks. This has been my life. Sometimes as I start to fall asleep, while the little beetles are crawling on me, I have these strange moments of confusion and then clarity. The first of confusion: am I really here? In Thailand? For a year? The second, that follows is a moment of clarity: yes, I am and not only that, I am meant to be here. It feels right. 

Humans are complex. We contemplate our existence. As a fellow foreign teacher reminded me the other day, this fact sets us apart from other species. We contemplate our existence. What is my purpose for living? Is it to learn? To get rich? To have babies? To get to heaven? To achieve enlightenment? For me, my purpose is to serve & help others primarily. Secondly, to grow and learn continuously until the day I depart from what I know as earth, and third to make meaningful, lastingly relationships and share my existence with people. Our lives are often a series of decisions, some that take longer than others, some that are a split second. One decision can change the course of someone’s life for a lifetime. One application. One plane ticket. One summer. Singular actions, days, even minutes – can change the course of someone’s life forever.

My first trip to Africa was life changing, the others that followed life-changing in different ways. Thailand too, although perhaps not in the same way, definitely has its life changing ways. I’ve already noticed my ability to laugh more at my mistakes, take my time doing things, not rush, try foods I do not want to try, and generally become comfortable with being constantly uncomfortable – both physically (heat, bugs etc) and culturally. My teaching schedule changes? No problem. Bugs in my bed? No problem. Dogs chasing me? No problem. Printer broken? No problem. This is Thailand, as we were told, and as ethnocentric as I first thought that was, the phrase helps me remember to remove my American perspective and to be as open, adaptable and loving as possible. Sometimes I don’t have to remind myself to do this, and other times I notice frustration bubbling and I need to remind myself to be calm. Be calm. Jai yen yen. Keep a cool heart.

I am slowly learning how to walk again. It is a slow dance of mistakes and learning experiences and keeping a smile on.

To Teach, My new favorite sport
The classroom has always been a place of comfort for me. The classroom has varied from a place to expand my own mind and feed my love for learning, to my minimal experiences in teaching non-formally and semi-formally in Ghana and the US, to now my first formal teaching job (although still quite different than what a US teaching job would entail). I have a set schedule, a roster of students, grades to assign and a curriculum to design. Exciting, overwhelming and exceedingly rewarding (though exhausting & challenging at times) teaching these two-plus weeks has been the highlight of life in Sansai for me. My class size varies from 30-42 students. I teach grades 7-12, some once every two weeks for an hour and others twice a week (3 classes). I question my curriculum, my teaching style and am constantly trying to perfect, a non-perfectable technique.  

The hand turkeys I had my students create really put a smile on my face and teaching about Thanksgiving was wonderful; it remains my favorite holiday. Not because of the history, but because of family, love and thankfulness.

Those moments of pure joy with students

The English Office
The English office is a place of comfort, where I sit at a desk of my own, write in my notebook, read, lesson plan, make posters/teaching aids and most importantly practice Thai with the teachers / they practice their English. The relationships I've been creating here are, as always, the most important to me. There are those I connected with immediately and others whom I'm getting to know. All in all, a wonderful experience day to day - very festive. I've yet to buy lunch for myself, because someone always wants me to try something they've gotten!

Kru Toi, my host teacher/mom

P'Jan! Also an English Teacher, we get along great! :)

Let’s light 1,000s of flaming lanterns and set them into the sky! It will be the most beautiful thing in the world, really!
Loy Loy Krathong was this past weekend. Words and pictures cannot truly capture the essence of this stunningly spiritual and beautiful celebration. Camping out on mats for several hours, thousands of people crowded onto a large field. We sat on our mats and waited for darkness to fall. We listened to Buddhist prayers and eventually, after much waiting, we set ablaze a tissue paper and wire lantern (in the right place, on the fuse) and watched as they filled with hot air and rose hundreds of feet in the air. The night was magical, ablaze with lanterns, the sight truly unreal.

Escaping the madness of crowds post the lantern take off was nearly impossible. We climbed through fences, jumped over barbed wire and were stuck not moving in the midst of sweaty people pushing and shoving. Eventually, with the help of my host teacher we made it through and got home safely. It was a truly fantastic evening. (By we, I mean a few other Fulbrighters who came together for the event).

The Lighter Ablaze

Words cannot describe how incredible this was to see.

Setting it off!

Post Take off in the field.

And with that,
Here are some more pictures of my various experiences thus far. This is my life here. Life is beautiful. As I posted recently on Facebook, life is too short to not find happiness in your life. Enjoy things. Positivity will bring about more change than negativity.

Student Smoke Lanterns for Loy Krathong


Wat Phra Singh - Stunning!

Loy Krathong Parade!

Adorable Child Photographer

Jessye Kass in Thai! Written at the Temple !

Love you all.
Jessye Kass  

Friday, November 1, 2013

Sabai Sabai: It will all be fine...

Despite my general enjoyment of writing, the daunting task of writing this next blog post has had my stomach in knots for over a week. I began writing the night before my departure into the unknown, but with last minute packing and an early wake up, the blog describing the last two weeks in Bangkok did not happen. On Wednesday morning at 4:15am (Tuesday 5pm  EST) I departed my beloved Krit Thai Mansion in Bangkok for the airport with the two other Chiang Mai Fulbrighters.

Bangkok, though not my favorite city, will definitely be missed in these few weeks of adjustment to my new home at Sansai Wittayakom School. The past two weeks included meeting my host teachers at a dinner, a dance performance with elaborate, sparkling costumes and hard to follow stories, massages, a brief Shabbos dinner at the Chabad in Bangkok (yes, there are Orthodox Israeli Jews in Bangkok...I guess I missed Brandeis) a week of practice teaching with 'volunteer' students, and lots of Western food to fill our bellies in preparation for the unknown access in Chiang Mai (I will sometimes refer to this as CM). Now I am in Sansai, slowly acclimating to my new surroundings and home for the next eleven months. 

Trekking into the Unknown
Just a few days ago I was sitting in my hiso (high society) hotel room with AC and hot water. In preparation for the unknown lands of Sansai. I tried to remind myself: be patient, be adaptable, keep smiling - I told myself I would be fine and could handle anything. PTip, the executive director of Fulbright Thailand had told us to accept that with our expectations we should expect to be disappointed. Bangkok did not bombard me with too much culture shock, in fact it did not feel so different to other cities I've inhabited. I was surrounded by 19 other Americans, speaking my language and understanding my cultural references. Now...for something entirely different...

Arrival to Sansai Wittayakom School
Sansai Wittayakom lies on a busy road. My little two-story white house is in the back next to the rice paddy fields. Which apparently I am helping harvest when the time comes. School grounds are fairly large for a high school, but smaller than my university. Not the dirt roads I imagined in my mind, but busy streets that terrify me when crossing. Despite busy roads, there is not a great deal of shops or food around. Though a 25-30 minute walk gets to me to a populated area with open-air food places, street vendors and various shops. Yet, on Thursdays there is a sprawling market place across the road from my home/the school, laden with dozens of delicious looking treats and other slightly less appetizing items that I'm sure I will be talked into testing at some point. I've already been forced to eat fish stomach and congealed pig's blood. I suppose I'm not the intrepid adventurer I thought I was for these foods had me desperately wishing for Annie's Mac N' Cheese.

Kru Toi, my host teacher and Kru Dang, the head of the foreign language department, and truly a second host teacher, picked me up from the airport. P'Noi, a Fulbright staff, came with me the first day and took me around to different shops to get the various things I needed for my house. Though the entry was overwhelming, I'm excited to be here, excited to explore and am slowly acclimating to life in the province (or highway school near a small town?).

Thai Kindness
Already I've been given several free meals, been invited to dinners at teachers homes (and attended one already), been to an English competition at another school, and been checked in on constantly. My host teacher(s) are kind, wonderful women and treat me as their daughter - helping me with every question, qualm and issue to the best of their ability.

Lizards, Flying Ants and Construction
Stepping into my new home on Wednesday I was greeted by several men inside my home as nails hammered and drills drilled. It was not quite the peaceful entry I had hoped for, but I supposed better that they were still renovating the house than giving up on screen doors and such. The house has four rooms - two downstairs & two upstairs. One room upstairs is empty except for a dresser and my room has a twin bed, two desks, a dresser and a mirror table. It is the largest room I have ever lived in and the largest living space I have ever lived in - alone or with 7 other people.

At night, lizards roam my ceiling and keep me company in the eerie quiet with the songs of bugs outside my window wanting to join the lizard party on my ceiling. Small bugs flood to my fluorescent light & small flying ants and beetles share my bed with me, as well as making their way onto my arms and legs, and even in my hair. Some may say, how are you living there? Well, sabai sabai - just go with it, as they say here in Thailand. This is an adventure. Though hard the first day, I am getting used to my amenities (or lack there of). My blue fan sits close to my face and the cold water showers wake me up! Put a smile on - and fake it 'til you make it.

Oh Thailand
There may be language barriers, I may be overwhelmed and my house may not be the house I imagined. But at the end of the day, I have 17 hours of teaching a week, lesson plans to write, free online courses to take, places around the country to explore, friends near and far, in Thailand and abroad, growing and learning to do, a new language to learn and a smile on my face - life is wonderful and I am excited to take each day one day at a time - facing new challenges each day.

Maybe I will even like sleeping with ants by the end of the year. Who knows. Anything could happen. :)
More on teaching Thai students next time.

Sabai Sabai - just go with it, it's fine. :)


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