My three week game of charades.

Greetings!

Despite the lack of posting the past week or so, I am alive and well.  I apologize for the delay, but I have been busy, how you say, living.  Thank you to everyone who has told me via email, FB, skype, etc. that you’ve been following along and enjoying reading about my adventures!  With no one commenting (hint hint?) I never really know who is reading.  So thanks 🙂

So just to get everyone up to speed, I’ve been living in Pa Pae, a small, rural hill tribe somewhere in the northwest corner of Thailand.  Here.  It’s been a busy week, both physically and mentally exhausting.  The biggest challenge is the language barrier, namely I speak about maybe two dozen Thai phrases clearly and most of the people here speak somewhere around the same amount, or slightly more/less, of English.  I’m teaching English to 8 classes of students, which is fun but also tough considering communication difficulties.  I’ve never taught before, so going in front of any class is daunting enough!  It’s certainly a challenge, but everyone here is so welcoming that it’s hard to stay panicked for long.

One of the hardest things to wrap my head around is the idea of remoteness.  Here I am, on the other side of the world, in a village, in the middle of NOWHERE (the nearest town is about an hour and a half away by treacherous, half-paved road) and I’m sitting in my room on wifi.  Half a world away, and still plugged in.  I simultaneously hate it and love it.  I don’t know how I would feel about spending three weeks completely removed from the English speaking world, but at the same time it saddens me that our world has shrunk so much.  “Remoteness” in the true sense of the world is becoming a thing of the past.

Life here is quite exciting.  My school day starts around 7:30 am when students begin blasting music from the school, which is located conveniently right outside my non-insulated wall.  Song of choice?  Sexy Lady, a painfully catchy Asian pop song.  Oi vey.  As much as I roll my eyes, I actually don’t mind waking up this way.  It’s like the revelry played at summer camp.  Rise and shine, Pa Pae!  And I’m usually already awake, courtesy of the 4 am chicken chorus.

Actually, living here feels a lot like summer camp.  I live in a cabin, I have a bug net, there are kids everywhere, food is prepared for me… it’s kind of nice.  It’s a mix between summer camp and Sturbridge Village, if you happen to be from southern N.E., brought back to life.  Oh and throw in that I don’t speak the language.  I’m still wrapping my head around how unique this environment is and how utterly different it is from any place I’ve ever been.  I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts at the end of my three weeks, but for now, I’m just enjoying taking each day at a time and slowly improving my ability to pud pasa thai (speak Thai).  It’s slow going, but some of my favorite times so far have been sitting on the floor of Pee Pon, one of the villagers, and playing with her baby, slowly and tentatively teaching each other the Thai and English words for various objects.  Latest word mastered? Sohm= orange! Aroy mak (very delicious) because they grow them right in Pa Pae.

Despite my attempts to dive into the Thai language, there’s nothing quite like having a mutually comprehended conversation in English.  It’s like tonic for my brain.  After tying itself in knots, an hour or two of rapid fire good ‘ol English restores it to it’s original settings.  So, because of this, thank God for Skype.

Well, I suppose that’s enough rambling for now.  I’ll leave you with one of my favorite pictures from Pa Pae so far…

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The kids of Pa Pae waiting for the ice cream tru….MOTORBIKE. That’s right, a guy drives in every day from Mae Sariang (1.5 hr away via the sketchy road) with ice cream pops for the kids (and teachers… :-D) Note the teacher up front reminding the kids to take one each.

To everyone in the northeast, stay safe, stay WARM! and enjoy the feeling of being curled up on the couch with good company (snacks included) and nowhere to go.  Right about now, I miss that.  So enjoy it just a little bit extra for me 🙂

❤ J

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Clashing worlds.

Clashing worlds.

Chiang Mai, Thailand. Starbucks, meet tuk tuk. (Still annoyed that the time stamps messed up all my photos that day.)

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A Word a Week, new blog fun!

A Word a Week, new blog fun!

This is my response to the “A Word a Week Photo Challenge.” This week’s theme is “island.” This photo was taken on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, looking out into the lagoon. Click on the photo to check out the contest and other entries!

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Riddle me this.

All in all, Thailand has been mostly what I expected.  Warm/hot, loud, confusing at times, but overall a vibrant, welcoming place.  There are, however, a few things that I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around…

  1. Cold showers are the norm.  Finding a place with hot water can be a luxury.  The Lawa village where I’m headed off to tomorrow for the next three weeks doesn’t have showers at all: my showers will be a bucket of cold water.  Yippee!
  2. Toilet paper is also a luxury and definitely can NOT be flushed down the toilet. A hose mounted next to the toilet is the norm, for all your cleaning needs. I’m still adjusting to this. Toilet paper is occasionally provided, but putting it down the can is a big no-no. Learned that the hard way. Oops.
  3. No matter where you are, you are probably no more than twenty feet from free wifi.  Your accommodations may lack a shower and a seated toilet, but I bet you 50-1 they have free wifi.  I’m still trying to figure this one out.
  4. Traffic here makes rush hour on the Mass Pike look like a cake walk.  Scooters, tuk tuks, motorcycles, cars, trucks, songtaews, and pedestrians all jockey for a place on the road.  I swear to God, it’s like a real life size game of Mario Kart when the light changes (bananas occasionally included.)
  5. Thai people really are as friendly as they’re made out to be.  When you smile, people actually smile back!  If you smile and give someone a friendly “sawatdeeka”, you’re in.  The other day we stopped for a drink and some snacks at a road side stand and made instant friends with three women also stopped. One even invited us to her house for dinner, anytime!
  6. Thai natives do NOT understand the concept of walking for fun/exercise.  I can’t even tell you how many straight up crazy looks I got the other day when I was walking down the road, simply to see some sights and enjoy the exercise. Part of it was probably my farang (“fa-lahng” or foreigner) status, but man, they were perplexed.

Overall, I’m loving things here. I had a successful Skype interview with a university back in the states last night and I’m still impressed how clear the call was. Considering I literally called the other side of the world (11:30 am EST, 11:30 pm Chiang Mai time), things went really well. I might as well have been calling the house next door. This has been the biggest surprise of all- I’m as far away from home as I could possibly be, but if I turn on my computer, I feel like I haven’t even left. The ubiquitous free wifi has made it almost impossible to feel like I’m that far away.

I suppose things will be different in the village.. But then again, despite being two hours from the nearest town and having squat toilets, I’m told that there is (wait for it) free wifi. Oh technology, how the world keeps shrinking…

Stay tuned for my next update from the hills! 🙂

❤ J

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Living at Wat Doi Saket

Greetings! 🙂

Today begins Day 2 of my week at Wat Doi Saket, a decently large temple complex about a half an hour east of Chiang Mai (for those of you who like maps as much as me, click here).  The Wat Doi Saket project is the flagship program of Atma Seva, so I’m following in the footsteps of other volunteers that have come through the wat.  Most volunteers come for a month or two (or more) to teach English, but I’m only here for a week to get a taste of the experience before heading off to a remote hill tribe somewhere north of here.

Things out in Doi Saket are much quieter than Chiang Mai.  Well, maybe quieter isn’t the right word.  Calmer, less frenzied.  I guess this makes sense since my fellow companions at the wat are about 120 monks!  I’m adjusting to the sounds of the wat, which include incessant chirping, honking (what sound DOES a boar make?), the Thai chatter of teenage novice monks, and animal sounds of an unknown origin outside my window ~3am.  It’s quite fun!

The wat and surrounding grounds are beautiful, at every time of the day.  I’m doing my best to get out and explore whenever I can.  It’s amazing how different the same statue or monument looks at day break, noon and after dark.  My favorite so far is the giant buddha:

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One giant buddha, Wat Doi Saket.

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The giant Buddha at sunset.

It’s really hard to snap a picture that really encapsulates just how huge this thing is.  Just trust me when I say that it’s HUGE.

Besides wandering around and taking pictures of shiny things, I’ve also started some work.  Looks like my Chiang Mai honeymoon week is over.  Whomp. Dave and I went over a broad outline of my time here and some of the goals we hope to accomplish in the next four months.  I can’t really complain, though, since our work session was held at an adorable little open air cafe over an iced latte and green tea.  To give you a sense of how trusting and safe it is out here, we left our laptops on the cafe table while we took a quick drive down the street to pick up some lunch.  I was a little hesitant at first, but Dave is friendly with the woman who owns the shop and assured me that they wouldn’t go anywhere (and they didn’t!)  Back in the states, I barely trust my laptop alone in Starbucks if I have to run to the restroom ten feet away.  I can already tell that readjusting to that when I go home is going to be tough.

Anyways, it’s a new day over here in Thailand, so I should be out exploring.  I’ve been debating how badly I need a shower since the idea of washing in cold water doesn’t sound too tempting on this chilly, cloudy morning.  Yesterday it was “invigorating,” today it just sounds straight up cold and unpleasant.

I’ll leave you with one last picture that I took the other day at the “mini zoo” up the hill…

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Peacock at the Wat Doi Saket mini zoo! Still loving my new 20x zoom camera.

Happy Tuesday!

Until next time,

❤ J

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An eventful day!

Well, I think yesterday takes the cake for most eventful day in Thailand thus far.  I managed to sleep in until 7:15am, quite the accomplishment since my first morning I woke up around 6:30 and day 2 around 6:45 (today I even made it to a little after 8am! I’m improving!)

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My lovely accommodations in the Sunshine Guest House, home til Sunday.

I hung around my room for a little bit before heading over to Dave’s girlfriend Nid’s place to meet up with the gang around 10.  Of course, being chronically early and certainly not adjusted to “Thai time” yet, I arrived around 9:45 and took a few laps.  I made my first successful solo purchase in 7 Eleven, managed to make it rain baht all over the floor, and enjoyed a breakfast of dried seaweed and water before returning to Dave and Nid’s closer to 10.

We met up with Katherine, Alexis, Stu, another volunteer who does work with Atma Seva from time to time, and another American named Scott who just arrived two weeks ago.  After chowing down on some delicious chocolate croissants, courtesy of Stu, we headed out for the day, planning on making a loop from Chiang Mai around through Mae Rim, a nearby district in the hills, and back to the city.  The first 1/3 of the trip was great, incredible lush, green forest, relatively empty roads compared to downtown Chiang Mai which is complete chaos.  Things were going great until Dave and I (on his motorcycle) and Katherine and Scott (on her motorbike) stopped at the top of a hill to wait for Stu and Alexis.  They were suddenly nowhere in sight after we’d all been following each other at a pretty close distance.  After about 30 seconds of wondering, Dave’s phone rings. Ut oh. It’s Stu, informing us that they crashed after being forced to swerve by a songtaew, or Thai version of shared taxi, that made an unexpected turn.  We raced back to them and found the Thai ambulance already at the scene, cleaning out their wounds and bandaging them up.  Luckily, nobody was seriously injured and an awesome bystander who witnessed the whole thing actually managed to chase the songtaew, which fled the scene, up the road and bring him back!!  That guy was our new best friend.  While they were getting patched up, another local kept translating for us what was going on and how we needed to wait “just few minutes!” for the driver to return.  All things considered, it was pretty lucky that the crash happened literally two minutes down the road from the clinic where the ambulance is housed and that no one sustained injuries worse than some gnarly scrapes and bruises (thank you, helmets.)

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Alexis getting patched up by Thai EMTs.. and still she manages a smile!

Needless to say, this was not how we expected our day would turn out.  Dave’s words as we eventually continued on our way, “I’m having a really hard time selling you on the whole idea of learning how to drive a motorbike…!” Um, yes.  In three days, this is the second crash I’ve seen (although I’m told by others, like Katherine, that in her entire six months here, these are the only two she’s seen as well.)  I also managed to give myself my first “tourist tattoo” or leg burn from leaning against the exhaust pipe of the motorcycle.  Oww/oops.

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My new “tattoo”… really just an afterthought to the rest of the day’s events!

So yeah, right now I don’t have such a great feeling about these two wheeled beasts.  I must say, I was pretty impressed by the Thai emergency service.  Not only were they efficient, but we didn’t have to pay them a thing.  They got the contact info for the songtaew driver and he’s responsible for any charges, no questions asked, no forms to file, no waiting for claims to process.  I also managed to get a saline soaked gauze pad taped onto my burn while we were waiting, free of charge! Katherine got some iodine for a cut on her leg as well.  In America, we’d be out thousands of dollars for that little visit from the ambulance.  I’m still amazed how easy the whole process was and it reminds me of how ridiculously inefficient/cost in-effective our US system can be.  Annnnyways, I’m just happy that everyone was okay in the end and made it back to Chiang Mai in one piece.  What a crazy day.

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The scene of the accident. The stand to the left is where all emergency care was administered. The EMTs were there for maybe 15 minutes tops.

Stay tuned for more updates from Wat Doi Saket, the temple I’ll be living at next week!

❤ J

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Sa wat dee ka! Hello!

Greetings from Thailand!

Great success!  I arrived in Chiang Mai safe and sound on Tuesday night, which to me just felt like the end of one really long Monday thanks to the 12 hour time difference.  I’m still working on completely reversing my circadian rhythm with limited success (day 2 of waking before 7 am!), but I’m sure it’ll get better with time.  Everything has been wonderful so far!  Here are some highlights:

  1. Some wonderful soul at Korean Airlines decided to put me in business/prestige class.  Yeah, that meant one of these.  Hands down the best flight of my life, probably ever, unless I become rich and famous.
  2. Arriving in Chiang Mai to be greeted by the Atma Seva team, the group of people with whom I’ll be working for the next four months. (Read more about Atma Seva here!) It was such a great feeling to have a whole welcome party waiting for me when I exited baggage claim.  We threw my bags in the back of the pick up truck and headed to an adorable outdoor restaurant/bar for spicy noodles and beer.  We were half successful in this goal.  Upon arrival, we were informed that the chef was “too drunk” to cook us dinner, and instead happily settled for some Beer Leo and french fries (guess he wasn’t too drunk for the deep frier?)
  3. Eating my first ever Thai pad thai.  For breakfast.  The freshness of the flavors was devine.

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    Breakfast 🙂 My first (of many) pad thai in Thailand!

  4. Exploring Wat Palad, a lesser known wat, or temple, halfway up the mountain to Wat Doi Suthep, a more popular sight.  I had my first chance to go to town with my new digital camera at Wat Palad and there was certainly no shortage of incredible statues, scenery and wildlife to photograph.

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    The grounds at Wat Palad

  5. Watching Thai natives drive.  Wow.  In the words of Dave, traffic laws here are really more like guidelines- no one will bother you if you have three people, an entire family, an entire family plus a chicken, or an entire family with their livestock and personal possessions precariously balanced on the back of a motorbike.  Quite the scene.
  6. My first one hour Thai massage for 170 baht, or about $5-6.  Yes, please!

After a full day of exploring, Katherine (one of the other on-site interns) and I had a lengthy dinner at sit down Japanese restaurant.  Quite the adventure.  The best part involved the waitress explaining to us what each menu item was by pointing to her body, for example indicating that the item we had just pointed to was, in fact, cow tongue.  Ooookay then, next!  Cuisine adventures aside, it was great to have a chance to just sit and chat and get to talk about all kinds of ideas for the future, both Atma Seva’s and our own.  I couldn’t be more excited to be here and I can’t wait to see what the next several months hold!!

❤ J

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Sitting, waiting, wishing.

Sitting: at Bradley International Airport, which is located in neither Hartford nor Springfield, despite the rather deceptive listing of “Bradley- Hartford/Springfield” listed on most airline websites.  This has always been a minor pet peeve of mine.  Although I suppose if they used the city, nay, relatively small town, the airport is actually located in, nobody would know where it is.

Waiting: for another… 42 minutes until I can board my tiny excuse of a plane that will take me just a hop, skip and jump away to Chicago, O’Hare.  The whole “arrive two hours early” for an international flight is a bit generous, especially here in good old Windsor Locks.  Not knowing whether that still applied even though my first leg is entirely domestic, I split the difference and arrived 90 minutes early.  Hence my current entertainment of watching half-awake souls slowly trudge their way through the DD line.  I’m holding out, hoping I’ll be rewarded with sleep on this first three hour flight.

Wishing: that I had thought ahead and chosen my seats on the Chicago –> Seoul leg of this trip rather than putting myself at the mercy of Korean Air, which I’m pretty sure has chosen to give me a middle seat.  I’m going to see what I can do about this at the ticket counter in Chicago, but I’m not holding my breath.  Oh well.  My new memory foam travel pillow ($10, thanks Marshall’s!) combined with a meager, fitful four hours of sleep last night should be a recipe for nap time.  If all else fails, I just bought a book for my new kindle, The Lifeboat, that I’m excited to start!

Anyways… next stop, Chicago –> Seoul, South Korea –> Chiang Mai, Thailand!  Despite 27 hours of travel time, I’m actually quite lucky to have such a direct route.  I’m so excited to finally be doing this, I can’t even explain.  Next time I write it’ll be from Southeast Asia!!

Au revoir, America! ❤ J

(Disclaimer: Please excuse any spelling/grammatical errors as I’m pretty sure I’m only 47% awake.)

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Wait for it….

Well hidey-ho!  I’m now just over one week out from my departure for Thailand and man, am I getting itchy feet.  This is due in no small part to the difficult adjustment that is returning to my childhood home in the suburbs after living independently in Boston for over a year.  Going from a 40 hour work week and weekends spent exploring the bars of Boston with friends to spending ~24 hours a day in my house has been a rough transition to say the least.  It’s always nice to visit, but there’s a limit on how much downtime I can handle before going crazy.  On the bright side, I finally have enough time to workout as much as I want and am incredibly lucky have found a bikram yoga studio nearby which offers a 30 day trial for $30.  I barely survived my first class (read: I saw stars.  Lots of them.  Despite what the website told me, skipping breakfast before class was NOT a good idea), but somehow I managed to drag my butt back for a second attempt and I’ve been hooked ever since.  This has been the highlight of 2013 thus far. …

Anyways, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful.  I have what almost every working “young professional” wishes they could have: a winter break reminiscent of those golden college days.  Sleep is nice, as is grocery shopping on my parents’ dime, but I miss my independence and am counting the minutes until I take off for Thailand.  Thankfully my passport arrived back safely in the mail the other day, complete with a Thai double tourist entry visa!  I never tire of flipping through my passport, being reminded of all the places I’ve been lucky enough to visit.  I can’t wait to see how many more stamps I can add over the next five months and years to come… which brings me to the original intention of this post (hey, it’s me. superfluous stories are what this blog is all about, yo.)

I’ve been perusing many a travel blog over the past couple of weeks, and I keep running across various travel bucket lists.  As one afflicted with a particularly insatiable case of wanderlust, I have quite the mental list, but have never put it formally in writing.  With all my free time these days, I suppose there’s no time like the present. So here goes attempt #1, subject to (frequent) additions as I continue to be inspired…. After #1, these are in no particular order:

  1. Travel to all seven continents.  This is my #1 life goal. (North America, Europe, Australia and soon to be Asia down; Africa, South America and Antarctica to go!)
  2. See the temples of Angkor Wat.
  3. Watch the sunset in Santorini, Greece.
  4. Go to Kiribati, preferably before it sinks under rising oceans.
  5. Gorge myself on Italian food in Rome, Venice, Tuscany… really just take a foodie tour of Italy.  And not care when I come home 10 lbs heavier.
  6. Actually tour Hobbiton. I’ve been lucky (erm, nerdy?) enough to visit several LotR filming locations in New Zealand, and while I’ve been to Mata Mata twice, I have yet to do the actual farm tour of the Hobbiton set.  Next time I’m in NZ, it’s happening.
  7. See the pyramids in Egypt.
  8. Explore Machu Picchu.
  9. Travel solo for an extended period of time.
  10. Take a hot air balloon ride over a gorgeous landscape.
  11. Conquer my fear of scuba diving and dive an old shipwreck somewhere.
  12. Visit Petra, Jordan.
  13. Travel to all four countries of my ancestry (Ireland, check. Lithuania, Sweden and Poland to go!)
  14. Learn how to surf. Like, really learn how to surf. Not take a lesson or two. Become proficient.
  15. Fill up my whole passport with stamps before it expires. Actually have to apply for more pages (I didn’t know this was a thing until last week!)
  16. Visit at least one country that everyone thinks I’m crazy for doing so (I look to Miss Anna B for inspiration on this one.)
  17. See Niagara Falls.
  18. Go on a cruise! Especially to Alaska.
  19. Just visit Alaska in general.
  20. Walk on the Great Wall of China.
  21. Climb one legit mountain. (I don’t count my brave summits of Baldy, as awesome as those hikes were.)
  22. Climb Mt Whitney in a day.
  23. Go on a safari somewhere in Africa!
  24. Oktoberfest.  ‘Nuff said.
  25. Go skydiving.
  26. Visit all 50 U.S. states.
  27. Tour a vineyard and stomp grapes to make wine and then drink said wine. 🙂
  28. Visit Paris with a significant other.
  29. Learn how to salsa from someone sexy (trick statement: anyone that is proficient enough in salsa to teach it is, by definition, sexy.)
  30. Ride a tuk tuk in Asia!
  31. Visit Russia. Buy one of these and take photos in front of prominent Russian landmarks wearing it.
  32. Drive the length of the PCH in California. (Somehow in my four years out there, I never managed to make it to Big Sur. That’s the one national park that I regret not visiting while at Pomona.)
  33. Tour Alcatraz.
  34. Watch the northern lights from one of those ice hotels.
  35. Become fluent in a second language.
  36. Actually do that thing where you throw a dart at a map and go wherever it lands. Unless it lands in the middle of the ocean (likely).  Then I’d throw it again.

I’m sure there’s more, but this is a start (ideas? epic adventures I’ve neglected? please share!). If I could accomplishment everything on this list, I could die a very happy woman.  This list ignores all of the items that I’ve already checked off my bucket list, but I’ll save those for another, more reminiscent post someday.  I’m going to try really, really hard to keep up with this blog once I land in Chiang Mai and actually have interesting adventures to report.  I promise.

Until next time, ❤ J

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Keep a weather eye on the horizon…

(revived) BLOG COMING SOON! 🙂

Posts will follow the start of adventures.

Stay tuned.

❤ J

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