09.28.2011 85 °F
I know that I haven't written in weeks, but I promise that I'm alive! I could spill all these excuses on you about midterms and lack of internet, blah, blah, blah, but if I've learned anything from years of filling my brain up with movie quotes instead of schoolwork, it's Rule #76: No excuses, play like a champion (courtesy of Vince Vaughn in Wedding Crashers). I haven't had any huge excursions since Cambodia, but I've been up to a whole lot of little things! Here's the breakdown and (better yet!) tons of photos so that you can see for yourself!
I cannot believe that throughout this entire travel journal, I haven't written about the most exciting thing I've done here in Thailand--teaching English! My UC EAP advisor has some amazing connections with internships and volunteer work. I let him know about my intentions to pursue an Education minor at UCSB, and he reached right in that magic bag of resources of his and pulled out an opportunity for me to teach at an elementary school! The school is an hour away by shuttle van, but I've got two program pals to make the journey with, and those kids sure make it worth it once we're there. I started my first day teaching a 6th grade, 4th grade, and kindergarten class, and had absolutely no idea what I was doing, to be completely honest. The teachers are so sweet and have so much faith in us that they literally walk us to a classroom and set us free! The first few minutes entail flipping through the kids' English language books to see what level of speaking and writing they are at, and then we get going with writing phrases on the board and teaching English songs to the classes. I've been to the campus 3 times so far, lately have been split into different classrooms from my fellow volunteers and teaching alone! The 7th graders understand a lot of what I say in English, and they're currently learning about American superheroes which, for anyone who knows me, is definitely my forte. They read aloud stories about the Hulk and X-Men while I help with pronunciation and they help my Thai in return! The kindergarten classes are a little tougher to work with because they've only got the alphabet and counting down, but man do they love to sing "The Wheels on the Bus" and "Jingle Bells." Even though it's only once a week, these kids are so much fun that they keep me going from Monday through Friday!
Thailand has a scarcity of gyms and it is far too hot/humid to be running outside, so a few friends and I found a creative answer to staying in shape--Thai kickboxing. I've got gear (bright blue Muay Thai shorts, hand wrapping, gloves, and ankle guards) and a lifetime membership to the Muay Thai club on campus and I try to work out there twice a week! After suiting up, there's a list of 10 or 11 mandatory warm up activities to complete; everything from resting your leg on the wall and doing these twist-kick maneuvers to 40 squats on your tip toes. The warm up itself always has me breaking a sweat! Then it's on to training with the owner of the club. He's around 60 years old, has countless boxing medals, and follows a teaching style that can only be compared to that of the Karate Kid. It's wax on, wax off his way or the highway. I've got to side kick him, punch, punch, upper-cut, punch, and kick him away just to start off the work out. It's killer! I do combos like that for almost an hour straight while simultaneously completing this really cool magic trick where my shirt changes colors from the sweat. It's easily the most fun way to stay in shape! I have yet to make it to a professional Muay Thai match, but maybe when I do go I'll recognize a few of the combos they throw out!
Exploring the Grand Palace
Thammasat organizes some pretty cool field trips through the Thai Studies department, and one of my favorites has been my Society and Culture class's guided tour of the Grand Palace. You can see the golden spires of the Grand Palace from my classroom windows, and they've been taunting me for weeks about living in Thailand and never actually stepping foot inside! I'm glad I waited to see the place though, because our tour was pretty darn exclusive. We got in for free because of our uniforms, and were allowed to walk around the inside of the King's living quarters at the palace. The current King Rama IX doesn't live on the grounds now, but all the other King Ramas before him walked around and held meetings on the carpets we were walking on! The palace grounds look uncannily like Disneyland to me--it's insanely clean, the lawns are perfectly manicured, and the architecture is very Western. One court is even modeled after the Buckingham Palace! Our guide took us all around the grounds with the other tourists until we reached a closed gate and were given strict instructions of how to enter and wai (bow) at the next building we were about to enter. The Princess had passed away a few weeks back, and we were actually permitted to enter the room where her body is preserved to pay our respects. We removed our shoes, wai-ed three times to Buddha, once to the Princess, and sat for a moment while monks sang these beautiful songs in the background. Her body will stay there for 100 days until the proper Buddhist rituals can be completed, so being able to see this was quite the exclusive gig. Now that I know we can slide right into the palace for free as long as we're dressed in the Thammasat uniform, I'll certainly be going back to explore more!
Another excellent field trip through Thammasat was our recent trip to explore Ayutthaya, Thailand's first capital city. Ayutthaya was sacked by the Burmese in the 1700s, and they really did take everything. The ruins still stand, but they're only stone structures now. The prangs used to be covered in gold and jewels, but the Burmese set the buildings on fire during their raid in order to remove anything valuable and take away to their capital. They even severed and stole heads from many of the stone Buddha images to sell on the black market. Apparently you can buy these bad boys in New York City these days! We hit Wat Chai Wattanaram as the sun was going down, and the lighting made the structure absolutely gorgeous. Such a long field trip, but it was with great company and I learned a ton about Thai history! And then, in typical Thai fashion of course, our charter bus got stuck on some power lines and the driver climbed out the window and up to the roof to detangle them. Oh, Thailand...you never cease to amaze me.
Midterms have been taking over my week, but I'm thinking that a nice trip to Erawan Falls this weekend is in order for a little celebration! Erawan is a group of 7-tiered waterfalls and from what I've seen in pictures, absolutely breathtaking. More travel and more news to come! Now back to those books...