Monday, December 27, 2010

Happy Holidays!

I hope everyone had a lovely holiday and will continue to enjoy themselves as we bring in the New Year all over the world. The holiday season was quite funny here in the sun away from the hallmarks of America. As a Jewish girl I've always found the overplayed Christmas music that begins around Thanksgiving in every store, restaurant and phone operator to be quite annoying. I'll admit its always made me a bit of a grinch around Christmas. This year was different though, I actually felt a bit nostalgic for these traditional reminders of the time of year, the snow, the love in the air and all the joy that everyone wants to spread.

I got together with a group of friends and we had a lovely holiday dinner on Christmas day full of crab curry, watermelon salad, tomato pasta, sweet potato mashers, samosas, sweet basil chicken, pineapple, and sangria. One of the more unorthodox Christmas dinner's I've ever had, but we kept with the tradition of having more food than people could eat, leaving the food out for 5 hours for nibbling and being in good company.

So really why I'm writing this post was because of the stellar mitzvah I did on Christmas Day. There is a german magician Dan Berllin (who I highly recommend by the way) that I have been able to coordinate coming to Coconut Club to do shows for the children. In passing he had asked me if I knew of any good places to perform on Christmas Day. In theory I hadn't, but it initiated me to then go ask around to my Thai friends and perform a little research on the less fortunate and lonely on the island. So I found a special school located about 40 minutes north of me and a elderly foster center located in the same block.

The special school had sent the children away over the holiday. Similar to Kamala School where I work, many of the students live at the school because they come from a very poverse background and often additional complications have made them orphaned or have unstable home lives. They therefore often cannot go "home" or to a distant relative who can take them in unless its a special occurrence such as a holiday. The teacher at the school explained to me that there were 200 students living at the school and that they had to send them away for two weeks to give the teachers a holiday. Many of these children come from the poorest families on the island, are deaf, autistic, have down syndrome or other developmental disabilities. Since it was holiday there were only 4 children remaining at the school, all of which were deaf. Dan did a couple magic tricks for these students and we gave them a couple good laughs but we are planning to do a big show with all 200 students in a couple weeks when they return from holiday break.

After the special school we stopped by the Foster center for the elderly. Its called the "Social Development and Welfare for Elderly Persons Center" This place was amazing! It was created to provide social welfare and support to the elderly population who are homeless and abandoned. The qualifications to join included: thai nationality, no contagious diseases, homeless, or abandoned. None of them had anywhere to be sent to over the holidays so they were indeed permanent residence. We therefore had a huge turnout. They were so excited to have visitors and especially a magic show to give them a good laugh. It was obvious that they rarely receive visitors or get to enjoy an activity outside their daily routine. They laughed at literally every little joke Dan did and recited some caroling of Jingle Bells to exhibit their knowledge of the English language and awareness that it was Christmas cheer we were bringing them. I think this may have been the most memorable Christmas I've ever taken part it.

Below are pictures for some enjoyment:

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Welcome Back!

Hello all! Its great to be back online. Between traveling around SE asia and getting married, I've been a very busy bee these last 2 months. We did not have an official ceremony or celebration, we are saving the good party times to share with all our family and friends back home when we return to the North West. I will try to fill you all in the best I can since so much has happened!

In the start of October Steve (my husband) and I took off for Vietnam. It was the most difficult traveling experience I've ever had but also one of the most educational. The food was incredible, the people were beautiful, and the landscapes were astonishing. I say it was the most difficult place I've ever traveled, because the people were not especially warm towards us foreigners. I could feel the struggle and anguish in the country, from years of war, invasion and persecution. There is such a vast disparity within the generations of the people. Many have accepted western ideals and are working to integrate them into modern society while many continue to push against them, are quite hostile and wish to reclaim Vietnam without outside influence. Its strange to be in a country that has so many modern ideals and social structures at work, yet is perceived as having characteristics of an underdog nation. I've always been taught through public health studies that often with oppressed nations comes poverty, disease, unemployment, war and economic decline. This was not the case in Vietnam, although they're extremely poor, the people have created a stable economic flow, have eradicated many fatal illnesses that plague underdeveloped nations, and have created a large overhead of jobs. With this playing a strong role in the country, patriotism was heavily at heart with a large sense of pride for their heritage everywhere we traveled from the North to the South.

We started in busy Hanoi where we ate some of the best meals we've had in all of Asia so far. We happened to embark on the cities 1000 year celebration, which was quite an exciting time to visit! I discovered a little hideaway local vietnamese spa and enjoyed a refreshing 3 hours of a steam room, sauna, oak barrel herb tub, jacuzzi, scrub, and massage topped off with complimentary food all for 12.00 USD. One thing I can assure you is that the prices are unbelievably cheap deals. It was guaranteed that if something was suddenly expensive we were most likely getting scammed. It wasn't long before we left Hanoi to travel off to the many places possible to visit from this central northern hub. We began by heading to Ha Long Bay, a beautiful tourist attraction of caves, scenic waters and limestone rock on a pirate-like junk boat. We enjoyed the site seeing but it was a bit too overly-packed in touristy for our personal taste. We then headed further north to Sapa which was my favorite place I visited in Vietnam. Sapa was absolutely beautiful and even majestic in a way. The little town hidden within the expansive rice paddies and hillsides was almost french victorian with little coffee shops and boulangeries. We rented a motorbike and spent a day traveling the back roads though small villages and tribes meeting H'mong, Dao and Tay people. These people have their own language, customs and religion disassociated with Vietnam that has received more influence from China since thats where most have migrated from.

As we continued southward through the country we stopped in Hoi Ann a small french colonial town charming in countryside, culture and spectacular food. We saw My Son, Old Town and ate at the best asian cuisine restaurant I've ever landed upon, Cafe 43. We stayed in Hoi Ann for 3 days and ate at this place everyday it was so phenomenal. Hoi Ann was a lovely recoup after the hustle and bustle of Hanoi, but little did we know Saigon would be a similar whirlwind.

Our trip to Saigon wasn't the most relaxing to say the least. We were so excited by the 13.00USD over night bus that would arrive mid-day next day (supposedly) that we didn't even stop to think about how peculiar it was that we were the ONLY foreigners on this very "local" bus and perhaps maybe the deal was too good to be true? Our 16 hour bus ride easily turned into a 29 hour hell ride, of stopping, starting, cramped in the back upper seat without AC in the middle of the night, a bathroom that smelled like cigarettes, a bus driver who would take 4 hour opium party breaks and the vietnamese dubbed Jet-Li movie "The defender" re-playing 4 times in a row in the speaker above my head. Not to mention, that the Vietnamese still hadn't warmed up to us and and enjoyed making it clear that they were making fun of us in Vietnamese. The cheap deal was definitely too good to be true!

In thinking when we got to Saigon all of our troubles would be over we were swamped with hostile, scamming con artist and fear that our things would be stolen the moment we turned our backs. It was exhausting constantly standing up for the fact that "no we don't have money to give you" or "please charge us a fair price". And if we wouldn't buy what someone wanted to sell us, the person treated us an though we should be ashamed, sending us nasty looks as though we should feel guilty and buy some strange souvenir we didn't need. The war museum obviously didn't make us feel much better about being American. We floated through there with lumps in the pit of our stomaches reading statistics and horror stories that you could only imagine in a fictional war film. I think by the end of that day I had turned to Steve and remarked something like, "I feel like we shouldn't be here". Its the feeling of being an uninvited guest into somebody's home, but it's their country, and while you try to slip under the radar and be as polite as possible, everyones stares at you like they know you weren't invited inside.

I'd like to visit Vietnam again someday, maybe in 10-15 years after the people have been left alone for awhile and have been given the space to rebuild on their own which is quite obviously what they want. When they're less tired of fighting, and when they feel like the rest of the world sees them as a strong race and respects them for who they are rather then tries to overtake it or change it. The beautiful landscapes, the rich history and the amazing food are three reasons enough to desire going back again. I feel like I only got a mere glimpse into the mind of a very wise old soul.

After Vietnam, Steve and I journey onward to Cambodia. We began out trip by visiting Siem Reap the home of Angkor Wat one of the most well preserved religious temples in the world. First hindu and dedicated to Vishnu the temple is now buddhist and home to the pagoda orphans and monks looking after them. Angkor Wat, the temple itself was amazing to see. We got up at 5:00 am to catch sunrise and took some beautiful reflective photos from the lighting and pond out in front of the temple. There are other temples to see within the historic city but Angkor Wat is the most well preserved in the area. Siem Reap which lays about 5.5 km outside the city of Angkor is where we stayed and enjoyed a wonderful night life, Khmer food and Cambodian culture. The Khmer people were much more friendly than the Vietnamese but very pushy about selling things unlike the Thais. Everything in Cambodia was also in American dollars which forced us to double take on several occasions. At first glance when you see silk scarves only 3.50 it seems so cheap in USD form, but when put it into context when you live in Thailand and can barter a silk scarf at 50 baht (1.50) you realize you are often paying double. This was very confusing to go back to the dollar especially since we hadn't used it in months. We continued to Phnom Phen where we saw the Killing Fields and Tuel Sleng museum- the historical sites from the Khmer Rouge. This was very devastating and sad to see but also educational. We learned interesting facts such as, the man who resumed full control and power over the torture and horribleness at Tuel Sleng, is still on trial and hasn't yet received a sentence. Also we were surprised to learn that Vietnam bailed Cambodia out of the war and because of this they own most of the tourist business within the country and resume much political influence over their government. I'm glad we went to see these historical sights as gruesome as they were, I think it's important to know the truth and see the pain and oppression that the country has struggled with, its quite eye opening.

After the intensive traveling and many days of bus rides and trains, we decided it was time to recoup on a beach or else I would be returning to work needing a vacation still. We found an Oasis (literally that was the name of the resort) in the middle of Koh Kong just 30 minutes from the Thai boarder on the Southern tip of Cambodia. Its nestled within a valley of the Cardamom mountains submerged in a rich ecological paradise close to many white Island beaches of Cambodia. The Oasis Resort was literally alone within a jungle surrounding with a spectacular pool. I would go back to this place and highly recommend it to anyone wanting to travel Southern Cambodia. The town of Koh Kong, is not very interesting, but the surrounding areas are very beautiful. We swam in the well-known Tatsi Waterfalls, rhode a motorbike into the mangrove forest, ate at a crab shack on a white sand deserted beach for sunset and spent a day on the lovely Krong Koh Kong Island just 2 hours south of the mainland. Cambodia was relaxing, fun and a great place to rejuvenate before heading back to work.

Since the new term has begun, I have taken on another part-time work load of teaching 8 English Classes. I'm very much enjoying teaching, since it's a natural strength and something I got to practice at as a T.A. through college. I'm teaching 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade and 6th grade and at two different schools: most in Kalim, which was the original school the Foundation began their program at so the children are much further along, and then a few classes in Kamala where our other teachers teach and I run Coconut Club. I enjoy the change of pace and getting to teach at our original school. Its much smaller and more family feeling than the huge 600+ public school in Kamala. I'm excited for the skills teaching abroad will given me, I have already encountered a rather interesting incident just last week:

I start my class by doing a lesson with the children as they come into the room, with my p1 class I often will show them a letter in the alphabet on an index card and they have to tell me the letter and sound in makes. As I was doing this class opener at the doorway last tuesday, a boy came running through the hallway and rammed into two of the students I was quizzing at the front of the line and knocked me and them backwards. I became disgruntle with the boy and told him that was impolite and to go away in Thai. He kind of ignored me and drifted to the other-side of the hallway slowly. I wasn't sure what to make of this so I continued to focus on my class. Once I got the children in the room I then began the daily lesson when suddenly this boy came running through the room like superman yelling and laughing with his arms spread out like a bird. I told him to get out of my classroom considering he looked about twice the age of my students and acted disruptive, but one of the students said, "he's in this class teacher." I then became puzzled. I became angry and scolded him for misbehaving and disrupting class I told him to sit quietly and listen. Later I turned my back in class and he had pulled a bunch of toys from the play kitchen onto his desk and began making loud noise and talking to himself, all the children around him became distracted and consumed with this boy's agenda. When I took the toys away from him, he stood up and began knocking around the papers on the other-side of the room angrily. At this point I was extremely confused as to what this boy's deal was. I brought him to a fellow Thai teacher and explained to her the situation of him misbehaving and me not understanding why he's so rude, can't sit still, or listen. She laughs at me sweetly and hugs the boy (now I'm really confused) she looks at me kindly and says "He's Autistic". Wow did I feel like an ass after yelling at him for about 40 minutes. She told him to run along and play and then began telling me his situation.

I learned that he loved English, loved my class and so she wanted him to be in it. I explained to her I had no idea how to support an Autistic child. She confessed that he would never be quiet and understand the lesson but pleaded with me to allow him to participate. I find this to be a very troubling scenario. There is no structural support in the educational systems where I am, for conditions such as Autism that require special needs. I do not have the resources to teach an autistic child in a class of 26 loud and wild 8 year olds, but also don't want to opt him out from getting an English education. It made me really sad to learn that there really was no resolution to this issue. I simply have to send him into the hall or give him a book to read outside class if he can't participate in the lesson. While I'm happy to do this, I find it sad that he doesn't get the same lesson that the other students get to learn. While I often think how ahead Thailand is, how westernized Thailand is, and how progressive it is, I encounter these moments that I'm reminded I'm in a developing nation. I'm reminded that these children get far less than the children I grew-up with, that they don't have special programs, or on campus tutors to work one-on-one with students who need extra attention. I remember my public elementary school had a program like this in it. I wondered at the time why certain classmates would get pulled out of lessons to go work in the library with tutors and have now learned as an adult that they had a learning disability and couldn't focus in the classroom environment. This is surprising to realize when I've also come to learn that public schools get the least funding in America. Its important to be thankful for all these little things we take for granted in America that give a larger population of people a chance to succeed and create programs where people who are not mainstream America are given a chance to be supported. Even if it still needs work and funding, I'm glad the concept of disabilities is even recognized and acknowledged in our society.

Alright thats all for now because my hands are beginning to cramp... I will write sooner than later as to not leave anymore partial novels on my blog. I hope everyone is great back home, miss you all! Lots of love....

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Farewell Thailand hello Vietnam

Bangkok oh Bangkok, how do I begin to describe you. One minute fruitful, delicious and full of highlights while simultaneously an overburdened touristy party zone for foreigners. No I don’t want to see a ping pong show thank you, no I don’t need a tuk-tuk, didn’t I already tell you no?! Oh right, so your meter isn’t working today, ey? What a whirlwind of a fun place and exciting part of Thailand.

Best Highlight: Chinatown was amazing and by far the coolest thing we went and did. Our tuk-tuk driver told us it was closed on the way trying to persuade us to go somewhere else to promote a friends business. In case you go to Bangkok let me reassure you, it is NEVER closed, the thing is like ridiculously big take San Francisco multiplyx1000 and cut all the prices to a third. Oh and the dim sum yum yum! Its crowded and smelly and sometimes you see parts of the animals you never wanted to or fish you didn’t know existed let alone edible- but its all well worth the experience.

Other than Chinatown, skimming around the granddaddy of Thailand’s huge markets was how we spent most of our time, night markets, day markets flower markets, floating markets, fruit markets, clothes markets…..

We didn’t get to go to the Grand palace or see the Emerald Buddha we will have to visit that on the way back into the country before heading home to Phuket.

We really didn’t take our holiday to visit Bangkok though, we arrived in Hanoi today and off to all sorts of places here after.
Check out this link- Steve is doing an excellent job posting pictures since he’s arrived in September and ongoing throughout our journey to Vietnam Cambodia and Lao. Tomorrow 8am off to Ha Long Bay a night on a junk boat, swimming, with caves to see, kayaking to do and beautiful limestone to discover. From there we go to Sapa the renowned gem of an indigenous village 9 hours outside Hanoi and the south we will head toward Saigon stopping at beaches along the way.

Lesson of Mai Ben Rai

First off thank you everyone for the extraordinary feedback you gave about how to deal with the Coconut Club break-in and my sincere apologies for my extended lax in replying to your lovely personal emails and addressing your responses. I hope no one is mad at me I love you all dearly! I appreciate your reassurances as well, you made me feel confident with my intuition which is great support when in a position to make tough decisions on my own.

So, what happened you ask? Unfortunately, nothing! Such a disappointment. I couldn't get a consistent confirmation of the students who broke in and therefore I didn't take it to a level of action and punishment. One Thai teacher says its some 6 students while another says its only 4 of the six students. The student all split blame one another. So what can I do, I can't punish the innocent. I guess take it from the Buddhist and have compassion and no worries- i.e. the philosophy here Mai ben rai.

The way things work for such scenarios, is take the suspected (in this case 6 children) publicly humiliate them, punish them, ban them from Coconut Club and the matter is closed within 10 minutes. It's very important culturally as well as in the religion of both the Muslim and Buddhist at my school, not to hold onto anything, not to spend elongated times of processing emotions or incidents. Its considered selfish and a waste of time and energy. Mai Ben Rai is the saying out here, "no worries". When I ask the Thai teachers to please further resolve and investigate which boys are at fault, or to help me arrange for a "cleaning day" with the boys at Coconut Club, I'm replied with this sentence as though the situation has already been dealt with and is closed. Sorry that my follow-up may seem dismal and unresolved, that is just the way of the island life here though... to move on. Maybe its a hidden lesson for us westerners who are raised with an expectation to hold onto the way we feel and be entitled to an outcome, a change or something better than what we already have.

Short story on this same subject, you're really going to hate me after I tell you this I'm just full of disappointing news for you... A boy passed away at the school the morning of 27 Sept-2010. Yes I knew him, worse he was one of my consistent Coconut Club boys. It's all very sad. He died of influenza- oh how my days of public health classes and debates of the seriousness of the communicable diseases really rile me up! Thai Teachers say "Oh he had a bad cold" and then take the next 2 days off school making the children clean vigorously to rid the infection as though its a plague. News flash colds don't need 48hrs of scrubbing and don't kill people in a short period of time at age 14 who are strong youthful. Nonononono, arg and why do I consider the study of global health an important way to spend my life do you ask?

Connecting back to the lessons of No worries, as westerners- our teaching staff was devastated. We cared for him he was kind and promising, many of us cried while others just felt internally sad. But overall we all felt similar that we wanted to acknowledge the death, honor the boys life somehow- connecting him back to Coconut Club to the other children, allowing space for us all to process our feelings. The Thai did not react to this in a similar manner, in fact they find us to be quite demented and ridiculous in our behavior of emotions. Its not that they don't care, they simply deal with emotions internally and only for short periods of time. It's considered a selfish way to spend ones energy rather than do something more productive with your day or continue on normally. Still, us silly heart filled westerners made a card for the boy and left it in Coconut Club open ended for children to sign if they wanted- of course in Thai since this has nothing to do with English. We then gave it to the Thai Administration to be sent to the boys family who knows if it will get there but we can always hope. Mai ben rai, right? Life is a cycle in this part of the world, it all disintegrates, reincarnates and then recreates.

On a super positive note to end this blog- Steve arrived this last month Yay! Our journeys on the road together begin. September was also testing month which was rigorous hours both in the office and at school, eating up my weekends and stressful to say the least, hence why I have been an absolute failure in bogging this last month. Testing denotes the end of the term and Summer Holiday. October is summer Holiday for the school the English teaching staff included. Many people have asked where do the children go for a whole month when they're orphans or so distance from their families? The children often are arranged by the school administrations to go home with local families- friends and distant relatives. This is because no one is on campus during the whole month and the gates are locked. Although the take off in the last few weeks was stressful and I must admit I fear the amount of emails I will come home to in 1 months time, I'm happy to say I am finally on vacation and getting to explore SE Asia!!!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Coconut Club Break-in

I can't sleep right now, because my mind keeps turning about what happened today- I guess it would be wise to talk about it...

Today was a hard day but another good lesson learned being new at this job. I came into Coconut Club at my normal 2:30 time to set-up for our after school daily activity only to find the place ransacked and broken into. There is a separate room inside of Coconut Club (which is a normal sized classroom). This separate room is basically an office and stockroom which I keep track of. I organize in-kind donations in this room, birthday presents for the children, new games, special toys like battery operated ones which they can play with on special occasions, nice cameras for photo projects and snacks and candy to give away when a child does good clean-up or is extra helpful. The Office had been broken into and all these things lay strung about with empty wrappers, garbage strewn everywhere, toys stolen, presents destroyed etc.. I wish I could say some mean old horrible person did this. Unfortunately the facts must be faced and truth be told, it was 6 of our Coconut Club children.

There are so many things that can be said in response to this behavior and although I cried, was angry, canceled Coconut Club and wouldn't smile at any children for the next hour so they knew how infuriated I was, I feel pity and sadness for these 6 kids. To understand what I'm talking about you have to understand Coconut Club (CC). In case you haven't understood what exactly CC is and my role in the program let me explain: Its an after-school program where the foundation does special activities for the children who live at the school (many are orphaned and many have families but they cannot afford to feed them). CC is a safe haven, a place the kids can collectively share toys, play games, have fun and be supported by adults- something they currently do not receive at school. We do arts/crafts, volunteers from off the island on holiday bring donations and toys, we go swimming, throw birthday parties, take the kids to BBQs and nice sponsoring hotel events. My role is Program Coordinator a polite way of saying- I manage it. I consider that room to be my responsibility and that office space is precious to me. When I first got here and took over this role I cleaned, organized and made the place beautiful. To have someone come in and mess it all up especially when it is someone who I have made the space beautiful for, really really hurts.

On a more constructive note is what needs to be said about these 6 children. These children who I found out broke into CC are by far our most "special needs" children. They're the kids who are failing their classes, can speak hardly a word of English, who never leave school grounds- or receive family visitations. These are the children who REALLY need CC. Which makes my job of enforcing discipline by banning them from CC sooo much more difficult. I can't help but feel turmoil and heartache over this situation. I found out who had done it because I told the 20 kids who showed up today that they needed to report any information to the teachers. In Thai culture, Stealing is considered really bad. I'm not saying that Americans condone it, but we definitely don't have the same distaste for it that they have here. The children were defensive for me and their CC space and all fingers pointed at the same 6 kids.

I've never been one to agree with public punishment but this sure as heck ain't my turf. The Thai teachers felt the need to scold them out in front of the school in front of all the children, Yes I understand the cultural acceptance, but as a mother hen this was again, hard. One of the kids began to cry with guilt and confession saying sorry and bowing to me and another English teacher. The Thai teachers found this amusing and laughed. I don't know if my thinking about how to deal with children when they've done something bad is totally out of whack, but I would never laugh or embarrass a child when they already felt bad or showed remorse. I wasn't going to tell the kid, "Oh its okay (because it wasn't!)" but something about the situation just doesn't sit right. Here are six kids that need adult love and support more than ever. They do a destructive act which is obviously a cry for help (in my book) and the response is to ban them from the one place they receive that support and humiliate them publicly. So what happens after their banning period is over and they're allowed back in- would they respect me and the CC space suddenly? I don't think so. It would be even less of a home to them than it could have possibly been at one time. Or maybe I'm just too soft hearted?

Here's my idea- I will make them clean CC. They will still not be allowed to participate in activities or attend CC, but I will take them up there, outside of CC hours and have them help me clean the space. Would this not help them appreciate and love the space more? Maybe even persuade them not to mess it up. If they're really good and well behaved and respectful of me and CC then maybe I can trust to let them back in to participate. Or am I too big hearted, optimistic, idealistic and unrealistic about the nature of these children?

Feedback on this entry would be great... I know your not a commenting bunch but there's at least 40+ people out there I've confirmed are reading this, so if you have a moment hit the comment button at the bottom here....


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mothers Day and the Kings Foundation Visit

Today was one of the most memorable days I've had since I've come here. It might have been the excruciating heat I sat through for 3 hours in heavy business attire in a stuffy assembly hall or maybe the heart-warming Mother's Day tradition I witnessed that made all the sweating worth all the joyful tears.

Mothers are sacred in Thailand, really family, but I'm going to spend a moment just talking about moms. It seems that the children Muslim and Buddhist are told since day 0 years old, to be thankful and appreciate their mothers love, for they would not be alive without her carrying you for 9 months. There are 10 principals the children at the Kings Foundation school recite daily, I don't know them all yet. But two of the highest priorities are 1. Love your King 2. Appreciate your Mother. Daily they repeat this philosophy (and 8 others), similarly to the United states where we recite the pledge of allegiance daily at school.

So, mothers day assembly is a day where all the mothers of all the children come to the school and sit in a circle around the perimeter of the room as guests of honor. Then, each class of children is called out one-by-one (who's mothers are present) and their mothers are asked to approach the front stage of the room and take a seat in the chairs set out. Their children then approach them, gift them a flower and then kneel at their feet, placing their head down in their mother's lap. The mothers place their hands over their children's head and together they spend a minute praising one another and sharing a very loving and spiritual exchange of appreciation. EVERYONE CRIES, I cried. At first I thought it was more of a great anthropological observation of Thai culture, but suddenly the mothers and kids were all crying as they lifted their heads, while smiling. My heart began to fill with emotional attachment to this moment feeling overwhelmed with the beauty and love in the room.

They spend about 30 minutes doing this because the children are then invited to go to all the women in the room (teachers included) who has acted as a mother in their life and praise them. It's beautiful. One teacher sitting next to me who has a close bond with many of the residential children who didn't have mother's present, started to receive a line of kids kneeling at her feet and holding her, it was intense! Speaking of the residential children who's mothers either couldn't come because they are unable to pay for the distance to visit their children or simply do not have a mother- this was the hardest part. Working at Coconut Club full time where I only really get to know the residential children, I had a particularly difficult time with this. I had to hold one girl for about 5 minutes while she soaked my shirt bawling "no mother". All I could do was hold her and simply cry back. Many residential children would comfort each other, lying on the floor in the room holding each other crying. It was an awe inspiring moment to see all the children who I'm greeted happily by daily, be sad for the first time and get a glimpse into the true horror of their past or life as an orphan. Many outside visitors when I explain the set-up for the 150 children who live at the school say "Oh yeah like a boarding school, I went to one." The misconception is big, its more like an orphanage, these teachers Thai and English are the closest thing they get to an adults support and love. In this way, the foundation is pertinent to their lives and I'm glad I can be a part of this....

Oddly enough Mothers Day was accompanied by a visit from the President of the Kings Foundation. On several accounts I've herd co-workers say, "In the 2 years I've worked here, a man this high-up in the Kings Foundation has never visited- this is a big deal!" And it was, I have never seen the students so stoic and well-behaved, especially after such an emotional morning. But it didn't matter, a man was coming who represented the most important person in the country and that was more important than any mother in the room suddenly. I of course didn't understand anything he said, it was all in Thai, but i did understand the importance and cultural respect made due to his visit. We had every news station on Phuket and Bangkok in our Assembly hall. The Governor of Phuket Showed, The mayor of Phuket and more important people traveled from Bangkok to accompany him for this hour long speech he made to the school. The message seemed well received so I guess it was all good things he said, and our school is considered doing well by the Kings Foundation Standards. One student was talking while he was talking and he made the student come stand next to him in front of the auditorium, to set an example- he continued this as students kept talking.....

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Cooking tip

Next time your cooking with your Wok, clean it this way BEFORE you enjoy your food: Empty out your cooked food and leave wok on burner while still on. Add a tbl spoon of oil and 2 tbl spoons of water, let simmer a bit while scraping the scum a bit with your wok utensil, the oil and water pull it all off as you rotate and scrap a bit. Turn off burner and dump into the sink, do a quick rinse with the faucet = clean. Thais do not use sponges or soap on their wok and definitely do not wait more than 30 sec. to clean it after they've used it. It's so darn easy you'll be surprised!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

...As of month 1

Last week I went to an amazing beach party in Kamala. There was a big BBQ, Sangrias, Fire dancing and a Miss Kamala Competition. I found out about this great party though Chickynet... a network for expat women living in Phuket, its helping me find friends and fun things to do. I met many wonderful new people, locals from Thailand and others from Scotland, Sweden, Australia and Indonesia.

The miss Kamala competition involved 4 women who had to prove their deserving of the title by surviving a water balloon toss and limbo. I took a photo with the winner- and added more fun photos of this.

Later in the evening we participated in a tradition for beach gatherings of lighting huge paper lanterns to let float away in the sky it was quite beautiful.

Fun Day was Saturday an event that I coordinated with Anampuri to come and host a festival at Coconut Club for the residential children over the weekend It was so much! Anampuri is a wonderful company that has a resort on the island and they sent staff from their food and beverage, spa and entertainment to come play with the children for the day. They played funny obstacle course games with the kids, did manicures, pedicures, hair play, coloring books, beading and brought crazy amounts of food like hot dogs, hamburgers, fish sticks, sandwiches, cake, ice cream and fruit skewers. You have never seen such little people eat so much. I've included some fun pictures:

Later that evening I went to hang at the beach and relax after a long work week. It's amazing to me, I've spent so much of my life in the woods and loving the woods. Now, I'm not going back on my words or anything, but seriously- having warm ocean water to swim in every day is pretty sweet. It's just as much of a naturally wonderful beautiful thing to soak in the sea as it is to hike in your backyard or visit a hot spring buried in the Cascades during december. I've decided its all great and I don't know what's better yet- maybe in a year I'll feel different. Heres some gorgeous sunset pix I have to share with you from hanging on the beach...

Yesterday I went surfing for the first time. The number one thing I can say to this is I'M GETTING A RASH GUARD before I go again. My belly and arms are totally red- I think two moles have been halfway detached from my skin! How would I know any different, all the local Thais get out there and ruff it in bikinis and shorts. I guess they have callouss' all over their body or something. Anyways, I think I went home with a brain full of salt - Lets just say I did the mega-netty pot. So yeah, didn't do so great. I rhode a wave and attempted to get up 3 times and actually stood up once until I looked down at my feet and saw they were square in the middle of my board (haha!)- Ker SPLASH! Whatever it doesn't matter... surfing is all about having fun. The locals are so nice, some laugh at you in a real friendly way like "oh man, you got nailed!" kinda way, or some will laugh and say, come on get that wave and encourage you to keep trying. It's really fun! When I was in Maui the locals definitely did not interact with the tourist or beginners. But don't misunderstand me, It's hard and the waves are big, its great surf and man I wish I knew what I was doing so I could ride those gorgeous waves, I'll get there...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mingling as a local

These last couple weeks have been quite a whirlwind but I've made some pretty large strides in getting to know the island a bit better. For starters, I finally got my motorbike and therefore I'm able to explore all I want. The way to get around here is mostly by motorbike, less prevalent but still existent is cars, and every so often I pass them while driving here and there- an elephant. The island is super hilly, but the roads are modern and paved. Getting around on bicycle would be very difficult considering the intense humidity mixed with insane inclines and blind turns. It's difficult to drive this time of year with the unexpected rains and thunderstorms hailing overhead with no warning.

The other night I had rode into Patong when the air was still and sky clear. After having a joyous evening I hopped on my moto once it was dark to head home wearing my tank-top and cut-offs. Suddenly the sky opened up and huge rain drops began to beat against my body in what felt like giant hail stones. I got totally soaked and for the first time in my journey so far here, I was cold, it was so strange because it kind of felt good like a breath of fresh air from the heat. Never in my life, which has been spent predominately in the wet and cold having lived in the NW, have I ever felt rain be so harsh and painful. Simultaneously, huge bugs buzzed in the opposite direction smacking me in the neck, chest and face going about 30MPH when I was colliding at 60MPH. It was the most peculiar experience. But hey, next time I'll bring a rain coat and a visor for my helmet- I think this will vastly improve the experience!

Speaking of peculiar experiences, I went to Thai Aerobics for the first time last week. Its run by locals which is refreshing. Its on the beach 5 minutes from my flat which is beautiful to be working-out outside. I have to admit, it was kind-of funny but I did sweat harder than I can remember in along time, for a solid 90 minutes. The teacher is an over 50 bombshell who looks about 30 wearing 80's hot pink, leggings and a loose white t-shirt straight out of a Madonna video that reads "I'm happy" with a heart on it. The moves are a clash of Richard Simmons mixed with a modern hip-hop pop work-out that lady gaga would do in preparation for her next show. We rock out to the Thai versions of: Blonde, Paula Abdule and whacky world reggae. I think the main element throughout the workout is to KEEP MOVING for 90 minutes straight. Her feet are just juggling in all different directions like we are learning a line dance but then just when you start to understand which direction she's moving in, she completely changes the footwork on you. The girls, Thais and expats, are constantly bewildered trying to keep up with her all the while laughing. Every once and awhile you see an obvious tourist walk by with a deer in the headlights look trying to figure out for a good 20 minutes what on earth we could possibly be doing. You just know you must look absolutely absurd!

Oh well, tomorrow is Tai Chi... we'll see how that goes.

This weekend was my first larger tackle at hand of my coordinating. When I first arrived one of my tasks which was placed at high priority was to prepare for a birthday party (which was this past Saturday). Coordinating a birthday involves me, speaking to sponsors and local businesses and getting them to contribute games to play with the kids, cake, food, beverages and even a photographer. It also involves using a mass 190 sum student spreadsheet which has become my new-best-friend, listing all info on every child involved in our charity to establish whos birthday needs celebrating this time of year and therefore who gets to come to the party. Now, if the school has 600 students and we have 35 birthdays within that, it's quite chaotic to relay communication to these specific students (track them down so to speak), and put together gifts for these specific students to their desired tastes. As much work as it was to put together, it was a great successes and I received my first kudos. All the sponsors showed, we played Thai charades, 4 corners, obstacle courses, and musical chairs. Overall I'm quite pleased and I think I make a pretty descent event coordinator- next time I think it will be even better!

The children are so polite. When they are offered a bigger piece of cake they take the smaller one. When they win a game and receive a prize, the second time they win they pass their prize onto a peer who has not received one yet. They don't leave anyone out, you don't ever see "loners" or children sitting in corners left out or unable to participate. In one instance for example, a girl received a toy kangaroo that starts small but then expands when placed in water. Her friend once she grasped the concept of how the toy worked became ecstatic at how cool her friends gift was, so the girl just gave it to her. I was shocked at this. The girl who gave up her birthday present didn't seem to think it was that big of deal, as though "what goes around comes around". They seem to all be looking out for each other like brothers and sisters that have one anothers best interest at heart. I think these children have a lot to teach me.

Much love and all the best!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Thailand is so lovely and the people are so beautiful. Everywhere I go I get smiles, kind greetings and new friends. Everyone is welcoming and if someone speaks English they spend no time hiding it. I recall being around French students in school when learning the language, and being too timid to practice my French. Here in Thailand, it is the opposite- there is pride in speaking english and practice makes perfect. I can see why the Foundations mission is so important (to teach the children english). The economy completely depends on tourism and its extremely beneficial to the business if they speak english.

On my walk to the school everyday I pass many empty shops selling clothes, shoes, massage, restaurants and general mini marts. Currently this is low season and the owners are suffering badly with the decrease in tourism. They tell me how the ongoing alerts on traveling to Thailand over the past 2 years has really effected their business, causing many to go bankrupt. You see for rent signs and vacancies everywhere, its really too bad. They're all eager to see the bans on traveling to Thailand in many countries desists. Its unfortunate too, since whatever state society/politics may be at in Bangkok it does not play any affect on Phuket. In fact, the people of Phuket and Bangkok identify very differently. I hope for all my neighbors and their families that when high season comes around this November that tourism really picks-up for them.
I've now gone into some surrounding towns outside of Kamala and gotten to see more of the Island. Next to where I live is Surin, similar to Kamala it is a quaint beach town. The bigger town over is Bang-tao where many of our staff lives. In the opposite direction about 20 minutes is Patong. Patong is tourist capital in Phuket. Some locals call it an abomination while others call it a good night out on the town. In Patong westernization has a large presence. Suddenly white people are everywhere, the lady boys hang around every street corner, theres a Macdonalds, banks, a mall and even a giant supermarket. Patong is big and commercial with many back alleyways. I will need to get really comfortable on my motorbike before I can travel into Patong or else I could easily get lost.

I've gotten to begin to experience my work week these past few days and so far I'm really enjoying it. I get up, eat breakfast and go downstairs to the office around 8:00. I work at my desk until around 3:00, then off to Coconut Club which I'm coordinating. The hour each day I spend at coconut club, makes the stress of the office leave my mind instantaneously. Today in coconut club in light of the world cup we had the kids use pastels to create flags from each country, then we hung them around the coconut club room. This is a mere example of the millions of fun projects that are constantly rotated throughout the after school club. The kids are so amazing and so helpful. When I'm carrying activities, or equipment I'll have 5 kids run up to me motioning for me to hand them my load. At the end of the day today two children pulled me aside to a corner and handed me a special art piece they made saying "For teacher Ryanne" then asked me to take it home to keep in my house. I was very touched by this and wanted to hug the girls but of course that is not formal Thai culture, we all bowed to one another and I gave them many thanks.

Thai mannerisms are very different than American. People do not touch each other at free will like we do in America, you must be invited into a hug. The head is considered the most sacred part of the body so it is rude to touch another person's head. The feet are considered the dirtiest part of the body, so I have to be careful about my habit of bending my knees when sitting, overlapping one foot over my knee and playing with my feet when sitting on the ground. The women are more kept to themselves, polite and very conscientious of how much skin on their body is showing. Its socially acceptable for the men to be effeminate and often you find they're more sensitive, many love to play dress-up and are just as concerned about emotions as the women.

Off to the market I went after Coconut Club since it's Wednesday, yay! today I tried some fresh pad thai- at a street cart for 20 baht YUMMY! Its so easy to make fresh stir fry here because the ingredients are everywhere, I just love it! I cannot get over the fruit, it is so exotic and beautiful bright greens, reds, pinks, purples, yellows, check out my fruit bowl...

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Saturday Swimming

Today we took some girls from the school swimming. Due to the rainy season, it's not safe to swim in the ocean since there is a high risk of drowning. Therefore a local restaurant allows us to use there pool for the swimming activity we do on Saturday mornings. The girls were fantastic, we were trying to teach kick, swim and dive, it was a blast. On the way back from the pool, the overcast that frequents this time of year decided to take a break and we received a delightful visit from Ms. Sunshine. I got my first glorious photo op of island paradise in Kamala where I live...

Friday, July 2, 2010

My New Job

The last 48 hours have been a nice preview into my job and what exactly it will all entail. My office is downstairs which I'm really enjoying so far, making me constantly in the loop and accessible to new friends and co-workers. I have my own desk I sit at, and the room is shared with 3 other desks: Tina, who has more jobs than possible making her superwoman, Arati who is our secondary superwoman dealing with all accounting, and Graham who deals with our sponsors and many other networking connections. There sits the fourth desk, mine, who is in charge of volunteer coordinating, coconut club and filling in for sick teachers. I hear I might be picking up a class or two but maybe my job in the office will be too much for having a permanent class (we will see).

I visited Kalama school where I met the children for the first time and sat in on my first coconut club. The children are the greatest it's instant love! The school is a Kings school which means it is funded by the King providing the children a free education, schoolbooks, classroom supplies, lunches etc. (There are approximately 45 schools within the Kings program in Thailand). Kalama teaches around 600 children. approximately 120 of those 600 are orphaned and live on the school grounds permanently, like a boarding school. These are the children that the Foundation focuses their energy on. The school has given our foundation 4 classrooms where we employ 4 English teachers through our foundation to teach these 120 resident children English. After school the resident children hang around the grounds bored before the school provides dinner, which was how Coconut Club was founded.

Coconut Club, is a newer development of the Phuket Has Been Good To Us Foundation, which is a program for the kids to help foster English Learning while also providing fun after school activities. Yesterday the activity was Skateboarding (which is very popular here) and the kids who stay in the classroom played twister, where we focused on learning colors and body parts. Many volunteers who help with the foundation participate in Coconut Club, either running an activity or helping assist an activity. The foundation sees volunteers for 3-6 months, 9 months, 3 weeks or sometimes even passing through for the day. One of my tasks as a coordinator for this fabulous bunch, is to ensure that their time spent with us is beneficial to the children and the foundation.

Oh by the way, Burmese food is incredible, I've never had the real deal until last night. I think it might be the best food ever!

Okay more later, I must go now to see the man who has everything.... (thats what they say)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Sawatdee kaa!

Greetings from Phuket, Thailand and sa-wat dee which means Hello! Thank you all for the last minute send offs, I made it safely after leaving Monday evening from Portland and I'm now writing to you Thursday morning Thai time.

My takeoff from Portland was an epic, long romantic goodbye, and no I'm not referring to Steve. I've never seen anything quite like it. As we climbed into flying altitude, I put my headphones on to relax after airport chaos only to find Portland had brewed up a special farewell for me. To my left among the empty seats on this tiny jet liner headed to Vancouver, was the most beautiful coral, pink and purpuled horizon sunset shinning in, to light up the plane. To my right out my window was Mt St. Helens so close I wanted to step out the window and sit on it. In the back of Helens sat Mt. Hood enormous both glowing from the pinks and golds in the sky from the west. Gig In The Sky roared in my ears selected at random by my ipod as if the moment couldn't have gotten any more glorious. Then the Giant Mt. Rainier came rolling in at what seemed like an arms length distance. Cheers to the North West in all her beauty she is truly Magnificent!!

It took a whole 27 hours between layovers and 4 flights to get here and although I lost both my bags along the way, I wouldn't trade it for the unforgettable scenery when I flew over Hong Kong, or my meeting with my final destination, which has already exceeded my expectations. Phuket is adorable, tropical, underdeveloped, friendly and relaxed. The people smile and greet you everywhere you go. My bosses Tina and Carl picked we up from the airport which is approximately an hour from my home and our office in Kamala (pronounced cam-a-la). Driving for my first hour on the island was hilly, winding and beautiful. Palm trees mixed in with giant tall shady pine looking trees and blooming flowers. The normal 3rd world unregulated road rage frenzy is well in place here although I must say they are quite more upscale having paved concrete, designated parking spots and sometimes even yellow lines. I think I saw a handful of people use their blinkers on my drive in.

On Wednesdays and Saturdays there is a local farmers market, lucky for me since I arrived on a Wednesday I could pick up some groceries before heading to my new home. The market is a ghetto structured layout of vendor booth after vendor booth clustered together in a zig-zag format. The smells are so aromatic it will make you hungry even if you just ate a feast. People passed me with coconuts split in half filled with the milk, some nuts, lime and some spices which they ate with a spoon. I followed Tina to her fruit man where mangos came in three varieties all for 1.75 per kilo. Tina said this was considered expensive and most often the varieties were different week to week. I saw about 4 different varieties of lychees, passion fruit watermelon, papaya, limes etc... Off to the Vegetable woman where I bought 2 carrots bigger than any carrots I've ever seen, fresh mint, coriander, scallions, ginger with the stalk still on in, fresh lettuce, cherry tomatoes, baby sweet cucumbers and large cucumbers, fresh broccoli rab, huge golden yukon potatoes, yellow onion, sugar snap peas and limes all for 120 baht (thats like 3.50). Then I went to the meat stand where I saw the freshest, cleanest looking chicken I've ever seen. You pick out your own meat from the different cuts lying out on on a huge table and put them in your tray which they then charge you like 50 baht for a couple kilos (1.50). There were shrimp, prawns, fish, pork, coconut milk, rice, eggs for 1 baht, egg noodles made the day of, and in case you get hungry from all the beautiful colors there's people frying the ingredients around you in huge woks making beautiful food everywhere you turn. It's a farmers market heaven out here- all they need is a bakery ; )

My apartment is quaint, and larger than I expected (so quite nice). So far I'm enjoying it very much. I have a big bed, basic kitchen amenities for cooking, two bedrooms, a shower, an air conditioner, a nice balcony and my wonderful neighbors downstairs of course (My office) : Phuket Has Been Good To Us.

Today I'll take some pix of work and apartment for you and try to find me a motorbike!
La gon!