Thai New Year in Bangkok

Happy Thai New Year! Today is the first day of Songkran, Thailand’s five-day New Year celebration, and yesterday was my last day of teaching cute unruly, primary school children. Read: Let’s party!

Thai New Year
Student water fight at school.

I said goodbye to my students by dumping buckets of water down their backs, in true Songkran fashion (and got totally soaked in return) and packed my things in my trusty backpack to move out of the grungy room in the back of the library that I’ve occupied for the past month. I boarded a bus for Bangkok to celebrate the Thai New Year in style – in shorts and a t-shirt, sopping wet and wandering up and down the streets of Silom, water gun in hand.

The most exciting part? I’m meeting up with my friend from college – my freshmen year apartment mate, and also the author of this guest post – whom I haven’t seen in at least four years. When we tire of the nationwide water fight, we’ll probably find ourselves poolside, so as not to veer too far from the water on these 100+, humid days in Thailand’s hottest month.

Thai New Year
Waiting impatiently to begin!

When things cool off, we’ll surely need to hit another watering hole – the swanky State Tower Sky Bar for a mouthwatering Kiss Bliss drink. Perhaps we’ll hit RCA, the popular local club street, for some live music, dancing and, of course, a different kind of thirst quencher: Thai whiskey.

It will be nice to stay in one place this year, which should prevent a repeat of last year’s experience: waiting by a tree stump for an unreliable bus on the country’s biggest holiday; then hitchhiking in the back of a pickup bed (read the full story) before, finally, succumbing to a 24-hour train ride, complete with a water fight in the bar car. Yeah, I think this year will be a little more low key.

But what do I know? Thailand is full of surprises.


Thai New Year in Bangkok
Written by:Jessica J. Hill

Teaching English (and Gossip!) in Thailand

One thing you learn fairly quickly as a teacher in Thailand is that your local counterparts love a good gossip. They aren’t particularly fussed about who showed up late for work two days in a row or who is a terrible teacher, but who is sleeping with whom? Now that is a beloved topic of choice.

On the gossip front, working in a Thai school is largely like being back in my small hometown of 700 people. There are about 1,000 students and teachers who inhabit this school, and it seems in small circles such as this, talking about each others’ business is a right of passage. It’s inevitable that some scandalous couple will emerge, blindsiding everyone with their sudden sly smirks and Sunday “work” dates in the library; their husbands, wives, and children all seemingly clueless.

teaching in thailand
Teaching my coworkers at Wang Nam Yen, Thailand. Photo by Rissa Sadey.

In Thailand, a country known for it’s open sexuality and third gender (lady-boys), with cities rampant with red light districts and ping pong shows, it’s also quite common for married men and women to take pleasure in what they call giks. When we (westerners) tell them our understanding for a gik is a “f*ck buddy,” they cringe and think it sounds terrible. And in truth, the translation isn’t really that simple.

A gik relationship isn’t always a sexual affair; It falls somewhere between “more than a friend” and the aforementioned “f*ck buddy.” In a country where men and women aren’t often friends with the opposite sex, and where the term friend is used quite loosely (more like an acquaintance), a gik might be someone whom you enjoy spending time with on an emotional level. It might also be someone you enjoy “fooling around with,” but not reaping all the benefits, if you will. However, more often than not, a gik relationship is comparable to our own version of the term, except one important detail: a gik is not a gik unless it’s also an act of infidelity.

The term only originated about 20-30 years ago (though it was probably happening before there was a word for it) and today gik relationships, though somewhat secretive, are the culprit of many rumors and jokes, despite their commonality.

Last week, I was teaching English to a class full of teachers, and the hour turned into a rather entertaining event. One of the two male teachers in attendance was unabashed in his flirtations with me. After asking if I like Thai men, and my dodging the question by saying I’m going back to America in May, he then told me it was no problem. “I go America with you,” he said.

“Oh I see,” I joked. “You just want American visa!”

“Wait, wait,” he said. “How many wives can you have in America?”

teaching in thailand
That’s him, on the right! Photo by Rissa Sadey.

I laughed, seeing where this conversation was going. “You get only one wife,” I said. “Only one.”

“Oh, okay…I stay in Thailand then!” The class erupted in laughter, but they didn’t think I understood.

“It’s same-same in Thailand, right?” (Thais don’t understand ‘same’ unless you duplicate it.) “Only one wife?”

“Yes, teacher.”

“Well then,” I said, catching them off-guard. “How many giks can you have?”

They all hooped and hollered at my knowledge of their well-used term, and everybody began shouting random numbers.

“Five!”

“Seven!”

“Ten!”

“Teacher, you can have many, many. As many you want,” was the final answer.

Even though it’s a very common thing, because of it’s stealthy nature, gik relationships give people in a small town something to talk about. Fortunately, the young, married, female teacher and mother of one who is the current gossip rage among the teacher crowd, was in the other classroom, sitting next to her coworker and gik.


Teaching English in Thailand: Gossip
Written by:Jessica J. Hill

You Can Do It Too by Michelle Lim

MissAdventure is excited to announce a new feature – a weekly guest post! Each Tuesday I’ll publish a story from one of my fellow travelers. Their tales will be about something they’ve learned, or something they’ve taught, while on the road. It might not be a traditional classroom setting, as often these experiences are not when we’re exposed to a new culture, but hopefully they’ll inspire you to book that plane ticket you’ve been dreaming about, or simply give you a new blog to enjoy.

We’re kicking things off with a post from Michelle of Mish Lovin’ Life. You’ll love her as soon as you read her tagline “I told someone I was starting a blog. He asked me, ‘Do you really think your life is that interesting?’ Yeah, I guess I do…(JERK!).” She writes about all things travel, life, and her crazy Korean father whom she calls Fasha.

Her and her boy quit their comfortable San Diego day jobs to travel the world, and have since started another blog (Filling in the Dots) about that. Below, read about how she turned her cubicle daydreams into reality, and how you can do it to!

If you’re interested in submitting a guest post, contact me here.

Meet Michelle:

YOU CAN DO IT TOO

Hi there. My name is Michelle. But you can call me Mish.Here’s a picture of me to put a face to this post.Nice to meet you!

So. About me. Here’s a little back story:

Ten months ago, I was working 40 hours a week at your typical 9-5 office job. I was faced with a glaring computer screen every day and attempted to keep my phone’s “Do Not Disturb” button active more than I’d like to admit. In so many words, I was pretty unhappy in the career department.

But what could I do?

I was almost 26 years old with a hefty student loan, living in Downtown San Diego with rent and car payments to make. Plus, this is just what you’re supposed to do, right? You go to college, then you get a job, and you work your way up the corporate ladder. That’s the path. You can have fun when you retire, they say! So how come I felt so miserable? Why did I want to gouge my eyes out every morning as I opened my Microsoft Outlook only to be greeted with 100+ emails?

I knew I wanted more. There had to be more.

Last May, my boyfriend Verner and I went to Korea for a week. My brother was getting married and we jumped on the chance to take a trip outside of the ol’ U-S-of-A. Needless to say, it was a blast. We did some sight-seeing, enjoyed a beautiful wedding, ate the most amazing kimchi I’ve ever had, and just soaked it all in. I mean, just look at us: That’s true happiness right there. And who wouldn’t be with a beer the size of your head?

Exactly.

Anyway, that trip sparked something inside of us. We returned to San Diego with this nagging feeling in our stomachs. We had an urge to see more. Do more. Be more. The thought of living my life, working so hard (okay, not that hard, but hard enough) at a job I didn’t care for seemed like torture to me. There was no way I could do that for 40+ more years!

Something had to be done. I had to stop making excuses. I had to think about what I wanted and make it happen. Simple as that. And it really is as simple as that. I firmly believe YOU are the only one that can hold YOU back. So I took responsibility and I went for it.

We decided to travel.

We decided to sell everything we owned. Goodbye cars. Goodbye furniture. Goodbye clothes.

We decided to quit our jobs. Goodbye and good riddance, I said!

We whittled our possessions down to fit in one suitcase each.

We set a goal of 5 months to plan, sell, save, and say our goodbyes.

With $26,000 in our bank account, we bought one-way tickets to Spain. And on November 18, 2012, we began our journey.

Excited didn’t even begin to describe our emotions that day.

We made a goal to only spend $100 a day. Total. For the both of us.

We wrote down everything we spent.

And surprisingly, it was totally doable.

Our first 50 days of travel were spent in Europe: 30 days in Spain, 20 days in Italy, with a short trip to Paris and Morocco!

^^^View from the Eiffel Tower^^^

After Europe, we went straight to Thailand and spent a month on Koh Samui.

Our $100/day budget easily came down to only $50/day, splurging on the best Pad Thai noodles for only $1.50!

I think I found my second home there in Thailand.

After Thailand, we went to Malaysia, then Bali, and Vietnam.

I’m actually currently writing this to you from our $22/night hotel room in Hanoi.

I am excited to say that next week, we will be heading back to Thailand to explore Phuket, Chiang Mai, and Bangkok. And again, excitement doesn’t begin to explain how I feel about that.

Let’s just say Vietnam hasn’t necessarily been my favorite place in the world.

^^^You can’t get this in Vietnam!^^^

I am sharing this because I want, more than anything, for you to know and to believe that you can truly do whatever you set your mind to. If you told me two years ago, hell, even a year ago, that I would be doing this now, I would have laughed in your face and said, “Yeah, right!”

But trust me when I say this, if I can do this, anyone can do this!

It takes a little bit of planning, sure. It takes a lot of sacrifice, yes. But it’s about priorities and it’s about your happiness. With anything in life, really.

We bought tickets finally to head to San Francisco in May. A part of me is really excited and looking forward to being on American soil again and scarfing down some good Mexican food. And there’s a part of me that will really miss being away, discovering new places. But there is one thing that I have learned from all of this, and that is: Never Settle. Don’t accept the “norm” in life if that “norm” is not what you want. If you’re unhappy, do something about it. Stop making excuses.

I don’t know how long I’ll be in San Francisco for, but I can guarantee that you won’t be finding me in another cubicle, gouging my eyes out! I vow to keep travel a close part of my life. I vow to put my happiness above what society tells me I should do. I vow to stay present, focused, and determined!

^^^Doing what I love in Barcelona.^^^

Thank you for allowing me to share with you. I hope to meet some new friendly faces over in my little corner of the interwebs!

xoxo

Take me to Mish Lovin Life!


You Can Do It Too
Written by:Michelle Lim

Teaching English in Thailand

I have a newfound respect for primary school teachers worldwide. Before I returned to Thailand and begged my old agency for a short-term placement in the midst of summer break, I hoped it would be an elementary position Not necessarily because I was looking forward to teaching young, adorable children, but because I really wasn’t looking forward to going back to high school.

Due to a nonexistent schedule for the first two days of class, I was randomly assigned the lower grades of 1-3, and told “just do whatever you want” by my Filipino manager. I entered the room to smiling faces and was greeted with a standard, synchronized, “Good morning teacher!”

teaching in thailandThey were absolutely adorable. For the first five minutes. That’s all it took for any last-minute lesson plan to morph into Plan B: Babysitting.

I have no patience for this. I signed up to teach students, not daycare. It’s adorable when you hug me, but not when five of you cling on and tug my arm and slap the back of my neck, all wanting simultaneous attention. I didn’t sign up to be a mom.

I really am sorry if your head hurts, or your classmate scratched you with his ruler, or punched you in the face after you tried to choke him out, but I didn’t sign up to be a nurse, either.

teaching in thailandI understand this is a necessary part of teaching youngsters, but it eats away at my patience like the roof of my room, hidden inside the school’s library, which cracks under too much pressure, giving way to a flood of water. Okay, that’s an exaggeration; I haven’t cried. Yet.

But that’s what you folks back home willingly sign up for, albeit with much better behaved students, hopefully, and I commend you.

When my schedule was finally made, I was relieved at what felt like a blessing to be given the older children in grades 4-6. However, my little paper timeline had classes marked “computer” and “math,” as well as “English.” It surely couldn’t be mine, for I haven’t seen the inside of a math book since high school. (That class at fashion school certainly doesn’t count as I’m sure the teacher sought to erase all previous knowledge and start again, using graph paper and a ruler for simple math equations. The ruler was for drawing a square around the answers so he could easily see them. This was a man who prided himself on his fluency in four languages. Last time I checked, those who excel in the liberal arts do not necessarily do so in math. It was true for him.)

Thai students“Uh, let me see if I got this right. So I’m teaching math to the older students whose math I don’t even understand?”

“It’ll be fine. It’ll come back to you,” offered my English coworker. “But if you fancy the younger ones, we can switch.”

I thought back to Grade 2 racing around the small room with scissors in their hands and shook my head. “Nah, I’ll figure it out. Thanks!”

And she was right. Math is actually my favorite of the three subjects to teach now, and its a good refresher for me as well. Grades 5 and 6 are small, only six and nine students respectively – a nice change from my classes of 50+ in Suwannaphum last year. Their English is already much better than my high schoolers, and they’re quite good students who can have a laugh and get their work done at the same time. I’m rather enjoying my short time with them.

Grade 4 still gives me problems, particularly because they’re stuck between the “clingy” phase and the “I’m too cool for school” phase. When the latter half gives me grief, I just look at the innocent faces of the others and remind myself it’s only three more weeks.

teach in thailand

Three more weeks. Three more weeks. Three more weeks!

One month will pass before I even notice it, but I still won’t know how my counterparts back home do it for nine, year after year. You’re immortal souls.

God Buddha bless you.


Teach English in Thailand
Written by:Jessica J. Hill

Back With My Ex: Thailand

Since I got back together with my ex, Thailand, things have been going quite smoothly. We’re happy now. Well, I’m happy now. Mr. Land o’ Smiles is always happy. It’s like I could be anyone, and he wouldn’t even notice with all the bikini-clad tourists around here, but I guess I’ll just have to get used to that.

He does get jealous about one thing, though. He really doesn’t like the love letter he found from me to Hong Kong. In all the time we were together before, he complains, he never got a letter like that.

It wasn’t for lack of feeling, I tell him. I love you more, I say. But after a few months of flirting with China, only to have him throw up all over your face, anyone would fall madly in love with Hong Kong. And while Hong Kong will remain a very memorable one-night stand (uh hum, okay, we might have continued our affair for several nights, on more than one occasion…but who’s counting?), it was just a fling. Thailand and I go way back…to 2011. And our relationship was on an entirely different level.

Anyway, here’s my attempt to clear up any confusion about who holds my heart. Better late than never.

Dear Thailand,

I wasn’t fair to you before. I admitted my love for you, yes, but I didn’t shout it from the top of Mt. Kangchenjunga in India like I should have. The reason is because you were my first love, and I wasn’t yet sure what lay beyond your borders. Did I love you for the amazing country you are, or just because I didn’t know any better? Would I love another country just the same?

Now I know. There is no other country like you, Thailand. I’ve not yet seen them all, but I’ve seen enough to know my love for you will probably never be topped. And it’s not just for your flawless good looks and your splendid personality. It’s not only for your karmic beliefs, your aversion to fighting and your ability to accept all people with open arms (except those bikini-clad girls, but I’ll let it slide). It’s not even just because you give a damn good massage and you’re smokin’ hot. In fact, sometimes you’re so hot I can’t stand it!

Loong Dum Beach, Koh Samet Thailand
Loong Dum Beach, Koh Samet Thailand

I love you because of how you make me feel. When I’m with you I’m relaxed, confident and in control, yet I’m motivated, carefree and, in reality, have no control at all. I never know when or if my bus will actually arrive, whether or not I’ll have a job or where I’ll live when I do get one. When I’m with you, I’m completely okay with knowing nothing except that everything always works out how it should.

I love you because when I arrived at your airport for the second time, I felt like I had come home. When I took a taxi, you told me (via the driver) you thought I was beautiful. You said it four times – three in Thai and once in English – just to make sure I understood, which was probably necessary after four months in China and six weeks in India where the only comments I got on my appearance were various renditions of, “What happened to your face?”

Trust me. I fell in love with you all over again in that moment, and I knew that following my heart back to you was the best decision I could have made. You kept a piece of my heart when I left you last time, Thailand, and I’m pretty sure it will be yours forever.

With more love than Hong Kong,

MissAdventure


Back With My Ex: Thailand
Written by:Jessica J. Hill

Goodbye, Acne. Goodbye, China.

I just gave up the only job I’m probably ever going to have that requires me to work less than 20 hours a week, only eight months a year, and pays me for two of the other four. But before you call me crazy, hear me out.

Some of you know from our Skype chats that a few weeks after arrival in China my face exploded in a shattered array of white and red zits much like the firework pattern I witnessed nightly from my apartment there (the students light them off whenever an upperclassmen starts dating a freshmen girl). At first I thought it was just the small breakout that occurs each time I travel to a new country, but before I knew it, the acne had manifested and refused to dissipate.

Not only is it the most hideous, disgusting, embarrassing, hibernation-worthy thing that’s ever happened to me (it definitely tops falling in the pool at that swanky L.A. party), but it was painful and itchy, too.

I tried to remedy it with internet research and frequent visits to Watsons, and each time I would try something new, it would appear to heal – but only temporarily. By the end of four months, I knew I needed to see a dermatologist, and that I wasn’t going to do it on the mainland after the stories I’d heard. One of my friends went to get his testicle tested and was told they needed to operate. Thankfully, he denied their urgent request and returned to the U.S. instead, where the doctors told him he surely would have died in the Chinese operating room had the doctors done what they suggested. (He blogs about this experience and many others here.)

I know my acne doesn’t pose a death threat, but I’ve also seen the inside of two hospitals that I don’t care to revisit, and been totally ripped off at a private clinic. Plus, all of these experiences were met with doctors who didn’t speak English well enough to satisfy my need to know what I’m putting in and on my body.

Then I thought, Maybe it will just go away when I leave China? It did improve rapidly in my first two weeks away, but then it got worse again. So I finally went to a skin doctor (India’s doctors are quite reputable and they speak English) with one of my Couchsurf hosts and have been following a strict regimen since. It improved, however painfully slow, and I’m confident it will fade in due time.

I’m not confident, however, that if I return to China I can handle another four months of the acne at it’s worst. In fact, I don’t think another four months of an awesome job (albeit in a country I don’t really enjoy living in) is worth the potential scars I could be left with on the one part of my body that’s impossible to hide. I’ve decided instead to follow my heart, not knowing exactly where it would lead me. When I really listened however, it screamed for Thailand.

When my plane landed in Bangkok, I felt like I had come home. And since I’ve arrived, things have fallen into place. I’m staying with a friend who, unbeknownst to me, lives one block from my agency’s office. My old boss is pulling magic cards out of an ordinary deck to find me a job at this point in the semester (the Thai school year will end around March 15), and has promised to even hire me as a substitute for next semester, should I still be here.

Until my position is confirmed (a two-month summer camp is probable), I’ll be bouncing around the country working with English Camps (Get paid to travel around Thailand? Yes, please!), the first of which is in Khao Yai National Park. Even though I didn’t particularly enjoy the teaching part of my stay before, I’m excited to give it another chance with a different school.

So far, my heart has yet to lead me astray. I think I’ll listen to it more often. China can keep it’s (up-and-over-the-top-of-the-charts) pollution, sulfuric water, oily foods and whatever other component is responsible for messing up my face. I’ll be just fine right here. And when I’m not anymore, I’ll leave.


Goodbye, Acne. Goodbye, China.
Written by:Jessica J. Hill

The Traveler’s Itch: Next Stop, India.

It’s been years since I first experienced it. My first overseas trip was for a study abroad opportunity in college. I went to Oviedo, Spain (in Asturias, near the northern coast) and lived with an eccentric, if not crazy, host mother by the name of Angeles. I studied Spanish by weekday and explored on the weekends. After four months I was ready to return home, that having been the longest time I’ve spent away, but it wasn’t long after that I began to develop that pesky little problem seasoned travelers know well – The Itch.

CIMG3489
“See and be seen” is a motto in this part of Spain. This is Angeles in her usual outdoor attire. She liked to be seen.

For two years, The Itch ceased to disappear with the brutal reality that I couldn’t afford to travel. I could barely pay my rent each month, let alone afford an expensive plane ticket to somewhere exotic. But The Itch doesn’t care about reality, and it doesn’t dissipate when you try to relieve it with the calm understanding of “Not now. Maybe later.” Instead, it gets louder. It becomes so painful that you can’t take it anymore. Soon, you’re researching enticing getaways, from the southern coastline of Argentina to the high peaks of Tibet and everything in your body (and your more-than-amazing group of friends) is saying, “Just go. You only live once.”

But here’s the problem: When you scratch the itch, it still doesn’t go away. It just gets worse. Mine has become so bothersome that it even approaches me while I am traveling! After three or four months in Thailand, I was counting the days for my next big adventure. My feet began to dance around my tiny wooden hut as I became restless from remaining in one place for so long, and antsy with anticipation of my upcoming two months of escapades around Southeast Asia.

397400_10151070966715573_564170572_22114330_1509041329_n
Mine was the middle hut. Photo courtesy of Jon Watkins, Editor @TeflBloggers.com

When I returned to Oregon, I stayed for less than three months. I admit my departure was a bit premature – I wasn’t quite ready for the next stop yet; the newness of home had yet to wear off – but my wallet was empty and an opportunity to teach presented itself far too easily. So I snatched it. I knew that if I didn’t, in one more month I’d be kicking myself with regret and searching for a way, any way, to get out of my beloved hometown.

Now, I’ve been in China not quite four months and I’m rearing for another adventure. It sounds selfish, I know. I’m living in Asia, teaching English to an amazing group of kids at a job that requires only 20 hours a week for a paycheck more than twice that of the locals, and includes two months of paid holiday. Two months! But perhaps that’s why The Itch is back. I’ve known these two months were approaching, and that they’d be here before I knew it. I knew this back when I was battling homesickness and fighting with China, so I booked my ticket to India.

My freshmen students during their mandatory military training.
My freshmen students in China during their mandatory military training.

With the prospect of a new adventure looming not far in the future, my spirits were lifted. I knew I didn’t need to go home, I just needed to satisfy The Itch. Sometimes a plane ticket is all it takes…at least for a little while.

Tomorrow, I fly into Delhi. Five weeks later, I fly out of Chennai. The middle is to be filled with camel rides in the desert, yoga in the mountains, and Couchsurfing with locals, but all the details are up for debate. Afterward, I’m going to return to Thailand to visit my friends in Suwannaphum and get my fix of the relaxed Thai culture I’ll undoubtedly need after the hustle and bustle of India and before I return to the crowds of China for yet another four months of teaching.

After that, I know I’ll be eager to return home for yet another harvest with my family and good times with my friends before I leave for my next, slightly different but still exciting adventure: graduate school in Colorado.

I have yet to miss a wheat harvest in 16 years! Elvis is my companion.
I have yet to miss a wheat harvest in 16 years! That is my companion, Elvis, and I.

However, the more I travel the worse The Itch becomes, and I’m beginning to wonder if it will ever leave me alone long enough to stay in one place for more than a few months before the twitch between my toes returns with a vengeance.

The answer? Probably not.

The Traveler’s Itch: Next Stop, India
Written by:Jessica J. Hill