Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Tongue Thai'd: My First Six Weeks in Phuket

And as it has a way of doing so, time has flown. At his point I’ve been here in Thailand for a little over six weeks. I’ve been meaning to get a blog up to share pictures, experiences, etc. for awhile now. Today seems a good of time as ever before my upcoming trip this weekend.

Life in Thailand is great. I love it just as much as I expected to. I love my job. The people here in Phuket are nice. My friends and coworkers are a lot of fun, extremely kind, and just absolutely amazing people. I couldn’t be happier.

I’ll start with my job first, as that seems to be the easiest. I’m in charge of our next big event on December 3rd, Black Tie Muay Thai. There’s a lot of work to do but I am hoping it’s a successful event and we raise a lot of money for our foundation. At our last event a few weeks ago, A Night At The Opera, we raised way more than we expected to – around 700,000 baht. One dollar is equivalent to about 35 baht so we essentially raised about $20k USD, which is great. I’m also working on/in charge of a number of other things so most of my days at work are really busy which I like.

I also really enjoy going to the school. Mondays through Thursdays we have Coconut Club for an hour, which is an afterschool program we put on for the residential kids. We play games and do arts and crafts so obviously I love it. There are about 175 kids that live at the school because they’re either orphans or they don’t have anyone that can take care of them. A lot of times the parents just don’t want them. It’s really sad. All the children are really sweet and cute. I just want to hug them all and give them tons of love. Their lives are incredibly hard. Poor little kids. They just don’t get the love and affection or even attention they deserve. For me, getting to go play and interact with the kids also really drives the point home on what we’re all doing here. Seeing every day, the real affect we’re having in these children’s lives really makes the work worth it.

I can't say enough good things about the teachers and my other co-workers. They all have big hearts and I feel really lucky to work along side them and get to know them all better in the next few months. The teachers especially have such a hard job and I have no idea how they do it. They do an amazing job though with big smiles on their face. It's inspiring. 

Got and Garfield being silly. Thai people all go by funny nicknames like Ploy, Pooh, Wat, Malee, Ing, etc. It makes it easier on my part though to be honest because their nicknames are usually way shorter and easier to pronounce than their Thai names. 

Some of the artwork we did at Coconut Club. 

This is Pete. I'm not saying he's my favorite... But he's really really really cute and sweet and I just wanna pick him up and give him a thousand hugs.

This is the main school we teach English at. It's right on the beach and was completely destroyed in 2004 when the tsunami hit. Luckily it hit on a Sunday so none of the children were there. 

The governor came to visit the school one day so there was a ceremony. Lots of the kids were given
new backpacks which was great.

 The kids love to use my camera to take pictures. This is Pete again.

 All of the kids love Bingo. They'll literally play ten games in a row. It's great though because it really helps them work on their numbers in English.

This is MJ, our office cat that lives with us. He's the sweetest cat and I love him way too much. He enjoys sleeping, snuggling, eating, and getting into fights with other neighborhood cats. 

My house here is also awesome. I have a huge room and my own bathroom. It’s funny this is the first time in years since I’ve had my own bathroom. And my room here is a lot bigger than the room I had in college, so I’ve essentially upgraded. I share the flat with another girl that works in the office, Erin. She got here a few weeks before I did so we will pretty much be living and working together the whole time. Erin is 25 and from Vermont. Ruth, my other coworker who just had her last day but will be hanging around in Thailand for a bit still, is 22 and from the UK. So between the three of us, we have a lot of fun. We also hang out with the teachers a lot. They’re from all over. Singapore, Italy, Russia, the Philippines, Malta. It’s a really diverse group which I really enjoy. Our director, Tina, and her husband Graham are great too. They’re from the UK as well and are wonderful people. Everyone here has welcomed me with open arms and been extremely kind.

I live in Kamala, a town on the West side of the island. It’s not a huge town and it’s not super touristy, but it also has everything you could need. There’s a big grocery store down the street, lots of restaurants, a 7eleven, tons of bars, and the beach is a two-minute walk from my house. I really like where I live.

This is Kamala beach. 

September has been a pretty rainy month. The wet season is almost over though and the weather should just keep getting better and better the next few months.

Driving hasn’t been as difficult as it could have been. I drive my scooter pretty much everywhere. I’m really lucky I have so much experience on a bike; It’s definitely made it easier. All I had to focus on was staying on the left which was a bit tricky at first. Now though I feel like I’m going to struggle to drive on the right again when I eventually get home. I’ve also started driving the company car, which is a manual and the steering wheel is on the right side of the car. The combination of being on the right side of the car, driving a manual, on the left side of the road, when there are tons of crazy Thai’s on scooters whizzing by you can be a little bit overwhelming but I like the challenge and I’m sure I will get more used to it.

Every Wednesday and Saturday there is a market down the street where I get a lot of my food. There’s a lot of strange smells, fruits, meats, etc. but it’s really interesting. All the produce is super fresh and fairly cheap as well. On Friday’s there is also a bigger market the other way up the road that has foods, clothes, and anything else you might want. I really enjoy wandering through all of the stalls. Clothes are really cheap here too.

So far everything is just going great. I don’t really know what to say. I’m really loving it to be honest. Things couldn’t have turned out any better. I love the pace of life here. Everything is really relaxed. I don’t really fix my hair unless you count helmet-hair a hairstyle. I rarely bother with make-up. I’m barefoot like 90% of the time (in the office and at home). You actually have to take your shoes off at a lot of places so it’s probably more like 95% of the time. It kind of feels weird when I have to wear shoes really.

Maybe at this point I’m just extremely culture-tolerant, but I feel really at ease here. I didn’t really have any culture shock and just fell right into the swing of things without a second thought. I feel like Phuket is a happy medium between Prague, an ancient capital city in central Europe, and Nosy Komba, a small, extremely remote island off the coast of Madagascar. Somehow Phuket fits right in the middle of those on the culture-scale. It’s pretty developed here, but still definitely not the States.

The food here is really good and cheap, too. I eat lots of pad thai, curries, and fried rices. I’m trying to taste it all. I rarely eat meat. I never buy it and usually order my food without it if possible but that’s nothing new. I haven’t had any issues with things being too spicy. Sometimes I even have to add more spice myself. I think the cooks know to leave it out whenever they’re cooking for us ‘Farangs’ – which is what Thai people refer to white people as.

Above: Panang Curry
Below: Thailand's version of 'fried ice cream' that I got at the market. They take fresh cream and all the other ingredients and spread it out on a giant, frozen slab and then chop it and spread it around as it freezes. Then they scrape it up into pretty little rolls. 

A few weeks ago, Ruth, Erin, Diego, and I went to the other side of the island and visited a gibbon reserve and did a short hike to a waterfall where we went for a swim. Super fun. I also never knew how loud gibbons are and how many insane and different noises they can make. Really crazy.

Last weekend was Erin's birthday. On Friday we went to Patong, which is a town about 10 minutes south of here that's well known for being a wild a crazy tourist hotspot. It's almost like a smaller, asian version of Vegas. You can get seven shots for $3. People are everywhere. It's a lot of fun. Since we didn't get back to the house until 5am, Saturday was reserved as a recovery day. Sunday however, Erin, Ruth, Tina, and I went to an elephant reserve. All of really cared about going to an ethical reserve where they didn't ride elephants or make them do tricks, etc. It's inhumane and just horrible for these beautiful creatures. We were lucky actually because the first elephant sanctuary in Phuket just opened up a few months ago. All of the elephants have been rescued from circuses, riding centers, or work camps and given a new, safe home where they're well taken cared of. We started the day off by helping to prepare their food. We mixed together rice and pumpkin and formed them into balls. We also prepared pineapples and bananas for them. If you didn't already know this, elephants eat a lot. A lot, a lot. After feeding them, we gave them a mud bath and then rinsed them off. It was a lot of fun. They had a five month old baby elephant that was possibly the cutest thing I've ever seen. It was even silly and clumsy like any baby animal.

Lunch was really good. They taught us how to make pad thai and also gave us curry and rice.

 Is that not the cutest thing you've ever seen?!

 Tina, Ruth, Erin, and I with the mahoots who take care of the elephants.

The Vegetarian Festival has been in full swing this past week. Last Friday night, we went to Surin beach and watched as trucks full of Thais arrived. Soon the spirits began coming in over the ocean and possessing people. The basic history of the festival is that it derives from Chinese Buddhism. The Chinese community believes that ‘abstinence from meat and various stimulants during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar will help them obtain good health and peace of mind.’ It doesn’t stop there though. Everyone begins by wearing white. When people arrive and become possessed, others adorn them with fancy, traditional and colorful robes. On Friday we witnessed the beginning of the ceremony. 

Monday evening, we went to Bangtao to watch observe more of the festivities. We stood in the temple and watched again as people became possessed.

This morning, we woke up super early and went the final event of the festival, a large parade/spectacle. In order to show everyone that they are possessed, people give themselves crazy piercings, usually through their cheeks. This gesture is if to say "Look I'm definitely possessed and I can prove it by sticking these things in my body and it doesn't hurt and I don't bleed." It's pretty crazy. And kind of gruesome. People had crazy objects like two swords, or poles going through their cheeks. Here are some pictures I took to give you an idea. Pictures don't do the event justice though. Seeing these things in person is just insane.

The Parade started with men being brought in by trucks and then parading down the street to the beach where the ceremony was performed. There was lots of drumming and the lit incense and performed some type of ritual from what I could tell.

This man had hundred of piercings going down both of his arms. 

The festival and cultural traditions as a whole are really interesting. It’s eye opening to experience such a different religion compared to the staunch yet plain Christianity I was raised around. To see people worship in such a different way is fascinating to me. I feel like most people fail to realize just how many religions there are in the world and how varied they all are. And yet, everyone continues to believe that their own religion is the only one that is or ever can be correct. It’s beautiful and captivating and enthralling to witness another religion, especially one so singular, first hand and I wish everyone had the opportunity to experience it. I think it really puts into perspective one’s small place in this big, diverse world. I think having the opportunity to travel and be immersed in other religions allows you to have a lot more of an open mind. In fact, the town I live in is 90% muslim. We can hear the call to prayer a couple of times every day.

Anyways, I'm headed to Chiang Mai tomorrow with Erin and Ruth for a long weekend. I'm looking forward to a change of pace and seeing another part of Thailand. 

"Sunset" is more than a daily occurrence here. Since we live on the Western side of the island, we get a great view of the sunset. Having drinks on the beach while watching the sun go down is my favorite after-work activity.

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