Monday, December 16, 2013

But I don't dance!

As I wrote this, the long table in the Foreign Language office, with it’s plastic flowery table cloth, was splattered with a feast of spicy papaya salad (Som Tum), sticky rice (Kao Nee-ow), fried chicken, curries, coconut milk treats and other delicious Thai foods. Usually once or twice a week there is some large shared feast between the 8-10 English teachers that populate this office. My belly was full and my mouth was on fire from the spicy chilies as I began to write this post.

Today is Day 81. Eighty-one days ago, on an early Thursday morning I finished packing my bags and headed out on this journey, mom & dad in tow, giving me big hugs in the Logan airport. Anxious, but excited I arrived with an open heart ready to take this adventure by the horns and learn as much as I could throughout this amazing opportunity.

Happiness is a choice, but it also comes from accepting love and acceptance for oneself and the rest of the world. This is something I have finally come to accept and realize as I grow more into myself and discover new aspects of my identity; and additionally recognize that I am always growing and learning. I am eager to live. Really live. Live each day to the absolute fullest.

Never in all my life have I felt happier and more of a purpose than I do now. Each day is an adventure that I am open to, each evening as I lay my back against my brick mattress I am reeling with new Thai vocab, new ideas, for classes, my future, life, philosophies, beliefs – new findings of my day or week run through my head as I try to relax and sleep. My days and evenings have left me with ample time for self-reflection, philosophical musings and goal setting. Though, despite the amount of ‘free time’ I still manage to have a lengthy to-do list that is ever-growing and is never complete. My days are different; yet follow a semi-distinct routine.

I'm on a staff board!

An Average (Week) Day of Jessye in Thailand

6:03am: The loud rooster fights outside my window awaken me as they squawk their morning
               tunes. This also occurs at 1:00am & 4:00am approximately. I doze back to sleep.
7:15am: My favorite Ghanaian hiplife songs rudely awakens me from my sleep in the post- 
               rooster rouse mood. Wake-up routine begins.
7:50am: Walk the 2 minutes from my house in the back of campus to the English office, drop off   
               school bag and go downstairs to the morning assembly, until 8:30am.
8:30am: Teach first class.
9:30am: Teach second class.
10:30am: Read book/write in journal/lesson plan/talk with Thai teachers/practice Thai
11:30am: Lunch time! Sometimes complete with coconut ice cream with black beans. A time of  
                 great fun and laughter. My favorite time of day to get to know the other teachers.
12:30pm: Teach third class.
1:30pm: Shadow other classes/edit worksheets/lesson plan/talk with Thai teachers/edit friends
               essays back home/read books/online class work/philosophize with another Westerner
3:30pm: Teach 4th class! TEACHER CLASS (Tutoring 5-6 Thai teachers)
4:30pm: Drop off bag at home, change out of work clothes and into exercise clothes
4:45pm: Play badminton/volleyball with my host teacher or students
5:30pm: Either catch bus (sorngtaew) or a ride 3 miles into Maejo area (a university near me).
               Walk around, interact with my local friends & make new local friends
6:15pm: Decide on something to eat, pay about $1.50 for a full meal, sometimes only $1.00.
6:35pm: Catch a bus back to my house
6:43pm: Confront the guard dogs that guard me from entering my own house.
6:49pm: Safely in the house, lock the door, turn off the lights downstairs, grab a bottle of water
                and head upstairs.
7:00pm:  Shower
7:30pm: Get in bed, read/surf internet/talk to friends/online school work/research Phd
               programs.../watch a movie (rarely)/meditate
9:30-10pm: Asleep.

Life is pretty wonderful. Though through this ‘average’ day schedule, it is important to recognize that Thailand is anything but average. There have been days that finished with impromptu trips to the city to see a friend, or markets or parades or festivals or dinner parties at friends houses or being ‘thai-napped’ to rooftop restaurants and other such crazy adventures. Each day something new happens. Each day I challenge myself to further analyze the world in its’ complexity and discover my purpose, goals and desires. Each day I learn something new.

But, I don’t dance...I don’t even KNOW the dance!

Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the day before I flew to Bangkok, I had the afternoon free and was fully planning on relaxing, packing and getting myself ready for the Thanksgiving adventure with Fulbright friends. Around 2pm, my friend P’Jan told me “Jessye, dance rehearsal at 3pm.” Thinking we would rehearse the dance we had minimally learned the week before at an hour long rehearsal, I happily brought my school bag to the dance room to rehearse for an hour and calculated I would be in my room by 4pm, happily eating peanut butter sandwiches for dinner. P’Jan was a bit late, having to attend a teacher meeting, so I practiced once with the dance teacher and then read my book.
            “Jessye!! We put on your make-up and costume!! Okay???” The dance teacher, Kru Jum announced to me around 3:45pm, when I was ready to go home and shower & pack.
            “Huh?” was my tactful response.
            “We perform the dance tonight!! It is the Assistant Director’s going away party! So we dress up and put make up and then perform the dance, okay?”

My heart rate quickened instantly and my palms became sweaty. I like dancing in front of the mirror and occasionally at a party/bar, but dancing in front of a crowd, on a stage? Not my thing. Not to mention, I DID NOT KNOW THE DANCE. I had practiced all of three times and am possibly the most uncoordinated person alive. I panicked.

I scolded myself internally: Jessye, you are here to experience new things and go outside your comfort zone! With a deep breath, drying my palms on my skirt, I smiled at Kru Jum and said “Great, what time do we perform and what am I wearing?”

In the following three hours I had: two fake eyelashes, three inches of make-up, flowers in my hair, a traditional Thai costume, borrowed jewelry, and done three dance run throughs. I was anything but ready, but that did not matter as I was escorted to the large assembly hall where all the teachers were seated around large white circle tables feasting.

“Oh Jesssyeeeee!!! So beautiful today!” the teachers oohed and ahhed, several taking selfies with me or pictures of me. I nervously picked at some som-tum (spicy papaya salad) and drank a bottle of water before P’Jan tapped me and said, “it’s time!”

Waiting behind the stage, I could hear the beginning of our song playing. Mind over matter, I told myself and willed myself to remember the moves. Six teachers in matching costumes, myself included, stepped carefully onto the stage in line with our formation. Quietly moving our hands and fingers to the allotted dance routine. When I began to forget a move, I would quickly glance to my left at what the others were doing and copy with a semi-seamless transition. In the back of the large hall I could see my host teacher, Kru Toi, smiling and dancing along to the dance. I willed my nervous heartbeat to slow as I looked around the familiar and unfamiliar faces around the room and silently prayed that the dozens of clicks of the camera in front of me would not end up on Facebook (they did, of course).

Within a few minutes, our dance was done and I sashayed off the stage (on the wrong side I might add) and breathed a sigh of relief. Yet, at the same time I was happy and grinning. I cheered with my group of dancers and we all took a group picture once outside. I did it.

Sometimes, you just have to do it and the result will be better than you hoped. This dance story is how much of my life here in Thailand is, taking chances and becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. I am not always in charge of the plans, I might get to bed to late or miss a Skype date or have a class canceled that I’ve been laboring over a lesson plan for, but in return there is excitement, culture and experiences that are unforgettable. Let your guard down and live a little. 

With a student dancer

With P'Jan, my girl!

Teaching Teachers and Big Changes

Most recently I started a teacher’s class where I teach Thai teachers who have signed up for my course for an hour a week, (I teach three sections). I quite enjoy the different pace of adult learners and small circle style learning. The class period goes by quickly and I enjoy it immensely.

My partner, Ryan has just arrived to Thailand and this will definitely change the alone time I’ve happily breezed through in the past 80 days, but I look forward to the new change and challenges that will arise as a result.

Thanksgiving in Bangkok was a blast and two weekends ago I went to Chiang Rai to see my friend Francesca and we visited this strange Narnia-esque Temple with underworld undertones... very strange.

Narnia aka White Temple

Strange hell images?

Real sweet turkey 

Me & the Exec Director of Fulbright @ Thanksgiving in BKK

Hope everyone has a very happy holiday season and is booking their tickets to Thailand as soon as possible! :)

What is home? Is travel ethical or unethical?

What is home? Is travel ethical or unethical? These are the two questions I am asking myself the most.  I have spent the last four plu...