Christmas is coming…
Selections from Slang Day
I’ve been told (Present Perfect Progressive) that I’m doing (Present Progressive) a poor job of updating (Present Participle) the blog. Fair enough. I’m (Present Simple) also severely behind in correspondence with a number of you, including (Present Participle) all the thoughtful and appreciated birthday wishes. So, here’s (Present Simple) a brief and temporary improvement on my performance.
My technical knowledge of the English language is improving, obviously.
And life is good! My birthday was greeted by a monsoon, but luckily the day before I went motorbiking to a couple waterfalls and found an excellent burger joint. I’m getting better at not sucking at teaching day by day. The language barrier between me and the Thai people is slowly coming down. And I’m finding a routine in life here, since I can’t just be a traveler forever.
But, never one for consistency, I’m about to become a traveler again for almost two weeks. Tomorrow, I fly to Kuala Lumpur and then bus to Malacca for two days. Then, back to Kuala Lumpur for a layover in Miri, before hopping a propellor death trap to Gunung Mulu World Heritage Area (park site).
Most exciting is the four day trek up Mount Mulu to the summit that I’ll be doing (Shackleton’s son was the “first” to attain the peak, although what are the odds it was a European first?). Although the routine in Bang Sak has been comfortable to find, I’m looking forward to the break. Consistency: who needs it?
Talk to you in a couple weeks.
Miss you much, love you more,
The train stopped at Bang Sue. We’d been on it only 20 minutes, maybe 30. I was trying to sleep but three peers were chatting in a language I couldn’t recognize. Russian? No, I heard “cerveza.” Spanish? Too many “sh” sounds. Catalan? I don’t think I’d recognize it even if it were. Italian? Eh, I give up.
The stop offered picturesque views of parked mopeds and sleepy taxi drivers. But as the train harumphed into motion, we passed cranes. Not the type that flap their wings into ascent, but the type that people build from diagrams and steel. The type that people use to build structures that dwarf the pyramids. The type they built in my hometown.
Dad loved those cranes. He basked in the feat of engineering and was probably proud that they were born in his hometown. He took the route home past the construction yard on purpose, slowing down to extend a 10-second passage into 30. They were lined up, waiting to be sent to Boston, Bangkok, Budapest, and Buenos Aires. These cranes, the kind without feathers, were created with the express purpose of serving a six-foot species that lives far beyond its natural abilities.
I’d almost feel guilty about the exploitation if the cranes weren’t being used for the very purpose for which they were created. Hell, we should all be so lucky.
You think I like that? You think I want to sit at the heavenly banquet next to Ann Coulter? Not so much.
But that’s what I’m stuck with because I’m in the Jesus business. And in the Jesus business there is not male or female, jew or greek, slave or free, gay or straight, there is only one category of people: children of God. Which means nobody gets to be special and everybody gets to be loved."
The Nuts and Bolts
While I’ve got some travelogue stuff simmering on the back burner, I’m about to move on to the next portion of my trip. A summary and status report seemed in order.
Sunrise in Sam Roi Yot
After arriving in Bangkok a little over five weeks ago, I milled about the city for a week getting acclimated and doing touristy things. A significant Wat tour, a visit to the Jim Thompson House, figuring out how to order street food and, the highlight, the Sririaj Medical Museum. Oddly enough this least-touristy stop was where I got pick-pocketed. I was less disappointed to lose the $70 than I was to lose my money clip. Jerks.
My first venture outside of Bangkok was to Chiang Mai, a trip so enjoyable I extended it past the initially-scheduled seven day duration. I met some Portuguese friends on the train, stayed at two lovely guesthouses, attended both home and away matches of Chiang Mai FC, played some pickup ultimate and took a couple day trips on scooter. I met the ringleader of the Chiang Mai punk scene and found a ska/reggae bar. Good on ya, Thailand. The most fun, however, was definitely the three day jungle trek I took. Never sweated so much in my life, but I’m happy to report that the guide returned with all twelve attendees he left with.
In retrospect, I would’ve stayed in Chiang Mai a few extra days. It felt big enough, but slow enough; the size and speed combo that the Twin Cities have taught me to love.
The rest of my time in Thailand thus far has been based in Bangkok with weekend trips to Sam Roi Yot and Kanchanaburi and a day trip to Ayuttahaya. The first was with Dave and Amy to a lovely little resort town about an hour south of Thai-favorite Hua Hin. We did caves, wetlands, beach-walking and beer-drinking. Nice little weekend.
Kanchanaburi was a solo trip to the Bridge Over the River Kwae area for some historical tourism and waterfall hiking. I hit up a local football match, too, and braved out the mid-game thunder storm. The Thai skies are nothing short of gorgeous.
That brings us to this week, where I find myself facing the end of what’s essentially been a vacation. Flying to Phuket in 3 days. To start a new job. Doing something I’ve never done before. In a country where I don’t speak the language (slowly improving on that). To children whose families were killed in the 2004 tsunami.
Naturally, I’m super excited to do work that so directly helps people who could use some extra help. In my interview with a school associate (an alumni from the Bangkok International School that supports the school I’ll be at) she told me the most important thing is to spend time with the students and give them someone who cares. I can do that, no problem. But teaching English to 800+ kids of varying age and skill-levels (my ostensible charge, along with two other English teachers) feels like quite the mountain to climb from three days out.
Luckily, I’ve become a strong advocate of Ira Glass’s advice to beginners of anything: you have to suck at something before you’re good at it. That’s paraphrased.
So after my scheduled five week break from responsibility, it’s time to meet a new challenge where other people are counting on me. While it may fill me with anxiety, it’s anxiety bred from the desire to fulfill responsibility that I plan on turning into 10 months of trying to make 800 kids’ lives a little bit better.
The weather’s hot, the food is great. I miss you, but life is good.
(Huh, editing. Wish I would’ve thought of that in college.)
Sam Roi Yot Wetlands, by Amy
Hopefully you’ve seen some of my photos so far, as that’s the easiest way to communicate what I’m seeing to you. But, if not, please do. And if you want to stay in touch on the reg, so far it seems like Facebook Messenger is the easiest.
My journey to Thailand began with the Radar ringtone emanating from my iPhone at 4:30am on a Saturday in Nordeast Minneapolis. Luckily, Sam and Jill had just been blessed with the beautiful Yael, so being awake at that hour wasn’t a foreign experience for them. Sam and I lumbered to the Prius I’ve loaned them for the year and, if memory serves, we were escorted to MSP airport by the dulcet tones of The RZA, The GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon the Chef, U-God, Ghostface Killah and the Method Man.
After a hug and exchange of I Love Yous with Sam, I thought I was on my own. But after checking my luggage and still fighting sleep in the terminal, I pulled to refresh on my phone and found a handful of valedictions from people, quelling last minute jitters that accompany the unique exhaustion of waking at an ungodly hour to board a series of tin can death rockets for 30 hours. Thank you (for the emails and for reading that run-on sentence).
From LAX to NRT to BKK I battled sleep and apprehension with involuntary waves of excitement. Eleven hours across the Pacific and 9 hours across the East and South China Seas were blunted by three Coen Brothers films, Jurassic Park, 15 minutes of 300 (honestly more unbearable than 25 hours of breathing other people’s farts at 35,000 feet) and a handful of cocktails. I can, technically, state that I’ve been to Japan though. So I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.
My flights were unexpectedly on time, but getting through Thai immigration was more of a Communist bread line than expected. After a skeptical glance and a signature on my 365-day visa I was welcomed to the Baggage Claim of Smiles. I finally saw familiar faces at about 1:30am local time. Amy and Dave, my infinitely gracious hosts for the last five weeks, were waiting for me in the terminal, happily ready to grab my bags from me, translate during an ultimately futile attempt to acquire a SIM card for my phone and finding an ATM that would give me 30,000 baht (don’t show this sentence to an English teacher, sorry Tim and mom).
Hopefully, I’ll have more travel tips to share at some point, but here is one: when arriving in a time zone 12 hours ahead early in the morning, avoid sleep as much as possible and your odds of staving off jet lag will increase tenfold.
So, while this information is over five weeks old, it’s only the beginning of the rest of my life and communiques. Especially the next year. Miss you tons. More to come…
(Watch the whole thing, but if you’re strapped for time, start at 24:20)
I am so head over heels for this band, and yes crushing hard on the lead singer. Can you blame me though, when she can’t wipe the smile off her face during Tibetan Pop Stars after realizing the crowd knows every word?
Heartbreaking without being sappy, earnest without being too self-aware. They will rock your balls off.