School finally ended and after two short days of “exams” (I didn’t have to take them so I just sat in the art room) the summer holiday became a long waited for realization.
But it wasn’t all freedom. I was quickly booked for english camps runnning so close to eachother I barely had time to breathe.
For example after my class trip I only had a half an hour to re-pack my bags and shower at home before going to Bangkok for a YES meeting. So literally my week looked something like this: English Camp in Saraburi with another school for 3 days–> two day break–> two day class trip to Phetchaburi, same day choose to go home and shower then scramble over to Bangkok–>next day walk around Jutdujak market and then go back home with Liz and Marei–>day after that wake up early to help at another english camp (with my own school) for 5 days–> come home on day 4/ but end up spending the night in Bangkok to meet up with 2 firends,Tyler and Sage –> Manage to get home by 7:30 in the morning for graduation (which meant waking up at 5:30am!!),unpack my bags, iron my uniform,shower, and go to school, Surprise! I’m a half an hour late and my adviser looks like if I were another minute late I would get kicked out of the country (but I was told the ceremony would start at 9 and I got there around 8:45), my class 6/4 has a good-bye party, I planned to leave that after 12ish, stayed until 3 and remembered that I had to drop by the bank, consulted my other adviser who says the bank will close in 5 minutes, 3 minutes later I show up sweaty and red faced after a mad-dash from the school and wait inside, 10 minutes go by and my number hasn’t been called yet. My train would leave at 6, and I still needed to pack! Screw the bank- I don’t need money- catching a train is slightly more important at the moment. I take a motorcycle taxi back= the fastest and most convenient form of transportation. I get home, run up stairs, and throw as much clothes as I can in my bag as fast as I can. Run down stairs, and get my younger host sister to send me to the bus stop via bicycle. I try to balance while holding overweight bags in my arms with my legs tucked awkwardly on either side, and my sister’s heel scraped against my shin as she tried to pedal. We reached the end of the neighborhood, and I say goodbye and jog to the bus stop. I don’t even wait 5 minutes until the next bus pulls up. Sitting at last I observe a strange tingling sensation and discover my right shin is bleeding. “Just a flesh wound”. I make a few phone calls; my friend is already waiting at the train station, luckily she was with a relative. I also called another friend to check on her because the other night she ended up sleeping on the beach because there were difficulties getting a hotel. A teacher from my school discovers that I”m on my way to the train station and takes me to a bus headed towards the Hua Lompong Station. I end up getting off past the JutduJak weekend market because the traffic becomes mare stagnant than a rock in the middle of winter. Seriously I waited 10 minutes and at most the bus moved 10 meters- No way I’ll get to the train station on time at this rate! I hop off and of course right when I reach the BTS(Bangkok Sky Train) station the traffic begins to move at a normal rate again… I needed to take the BTS to Silom and transfer to the MRT(Mass Rapid Transit). I arrived with 30 minutes until the scheduled departure time! As I arrived I spotted a group of 3 Italian exchange students who were going to the meditation camp too! However they had tickets for a train leaving an hour later I met up with Alise, from Latvia, and asked if she would be cool if we changed our ticket to the later train. She thought that was a good idea as well. However, if we wanted to change our tickets we would’ve had to do that up to an hour before the scheduled departure, and by now there were only 10 minutes left! We could always cancel our tickets and buy new ones…but 217 baht? We decided to catch our train as planned.
*Journey to meditation camp*
3rd class train tickets aren’t so bad after all, I thought to myself as we sat down across from a young family. In fact, this reminded me quite a bit of the trains I took with my family in India…without the cows blocking the tracks. The large windows were opened, and there were little fans on the ceiling, the one closest to us was supposed to rotate but it was stuck in the opposite direction. At first the train was too stuffy and hot! But as the train began to pull away from the station it began to cool down. Unfortunately, the train stopped often and the a few hours into our journey it stopped completely. Before this, Alise and I decided to have a look around. As we were returning to our seats a crazy and unkept old man attempted to get us to buy his snacks made of coconut milk and egg. We weren’t interested, and told him so in Thai which impressed and he decided to talk to us in Thai…and try to get us to buy the “kanom”. He told us a story about how he got a lady from england drunk last week and she kissed him… “jub ti ni (she kissed here-pointing to one cheek), ti ni (and here- pointing at other cheek), leh ti nii duai (Here as well!- pointing to his mouth containing only 3 rotting teeth). Poor dear, must’ve been so wasted. Nobody, not even somebody who IS drunk could even imagine kissing that face! He had long straggly hair that couldn’t have been washed since a few weeks at least. His mouth, like I said before had only three teeth (that I could see at least) all yellow or brown in color, and looking dangerously close to falling out as well. This guy had to be over 60, and survived by selling “kanom” on passing trains, and I guess he enjoyed getting foreign visitors drunk. ew… He tried again to get us to buy his snacks, but we said we didn’t know if it was even delicious. So, HE TOOK A SPOON OUT OF HIS POCKET AND SPOON FED US! Then asked of if it was good, we replied “Chouy chouy” meaning more or less, which obviously meant we were in the mood to buy the whole thing now…not. Well, he thought so and asked for 30baht. What could we do? He opened the package already and it’s not like we could run away. Just as we got out our money to pay, a sailor from the Thai navy handed the money over to the seller. He and his friends were sitting across and watched everything. Then he told the seller to go get something to drink, the seller disappeared, and we began talking to the soldiers. This was when the train broke down. An American by the name of Oliver came to where we were and claimed that a family was sleeping where his seat was and asked if he could sit with us. He told us he had just came from the dining cart when the train disconnected- cosa?- that’s right, disconnected. Gotta love Thailand. We were waiting for the engine to come back, which took over two hours…
*Getting it together, Learning to focus at Suan Mohnk Retreat*
The train stopped at Chaiya, a sleepy little town in Surat Thani, in the south of Thailand. Alise and I got off and were able to find a Songteaw that took us right to the temple. We registered and sat in the dinning hall taking advantage of our last hours without the silent rule. The AFS exchange students got our own dorm, seperate from the other meditators. We began on the 30th, and ended on the 11th. We had a set schedule to follow. We woke up at 4:30 in the morning to begin our first meditation session, and then “Mindfulness with Movement” the most simple from of yoga imaginable! 2 meals a day. But not so bad actually, and we even got hot cocoa or tea in the evening. There were even hot springs we could relax in at the end of the day. I learned a great deal about Buddhism and also about myself.
Meditation is not simple. I’ll get into that more later, but now I’m sitting in an internet cafe, where I’ve been for the last 2 hours actually! See what happens when just about two months go by and I haven’t blogged? I’m not even on Facebook… very rare occurance. Anyway, I have to go, because it will be dark soon and this place is going to over charge me if I stay even a minute too long… blah. I promise to finish later. So many stories! Until then “Peace on you”
*Heather Namwan Jackson ❤
ps. I recommend watching “The Italian goes to Malta” if you haven’t seen it yet, def. check it out! 555
Monday morning. I was tired from the weekend, but excited to see my other AFS friends. Every exchange student from the Central and Southern Regions came up to the AFS office. We had a NINE hour bus ride up to Chiang Mai, which included stops at gas stations for snacks and stuff. We watched a few movies on the way up: Hangover 2, which I found appropriate for the occasion because the story takes place in Bangkok; The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, James Franco made it just that much better J ; and The Fast Four, like its name, a fast paced movie that kept most of us from nodding off. The remainder of the bus ride I talked to my friends, including Luigi and Giovanni, who taught me some “useful” phrases in Italian. We got to the hotel late. I unpacked and met up with some friends before curfew.
Tuesday consisted of counseling sessions. All of us traded experiences, opinions, feelings, whatnot about our host families and communities. By now many of the exchange students have built comfortable relationships in their schools, some have had to change schools and families already, a few have changed multiple times. I am happy to have stayed with my original host family, but I think it would’ve been a good experience living with another family for a week exchange or something- either during the flood, or right after. Actually, many of the exchange students who lived in areas affected by the flood moved in with other exchange students in dry regions. I hate to say it, but I am a bit jealous. Although I built a very strong relationship with my host family over the month of November, there were times when I wished I could have met up with some other people. AFS had offered to help me with a week exchange, but I wasn’t sure when we would really be returning home, and I knew I wanted to be there for the clean-up process.
Now I know my mom is dying to know how the actual city of Chiang Mai looks! Wednesday and Thursday were considered adventure days. The staff took us out to the temple Doi Sutep,as well as an umbrella factory, and hot springs on Wednesday, followed by dinner at a classy joint with a traditional theme complete with various Thai dances. This was a bit of déjà vu, as I recognized some dances that just a week ago my friends and I performed at the 50th Anniversary Gala Dinner. Elephant show, river ride on bamboo rafts, as well as a ride in a Guongzhi cart pulled by oxen up a mountain, and an elephant ride back down consisted of the activities for Thursday.
I really liked the elephant ride, it was rather long, but we even crossed the river. I had rode an elephant once before in India; my family sat on the backs the same way one rides a horse. This was fun, but after a while the legs can get rather sore. This time I sat on a little seat resting on layer upon layer of pads and blankets, while the driver perched on the elephant’s head, resting his legs behind the ears. Gemma and I sat together. It was fun, and a little nerve racking at parts as our seat swayed from side to side, sometimes tilting in such a way I thought for sure one of us was bond to topple out. While crossing the river, we were joined by a mother elephant and her baby, to our surprise the elephants began making a deep grumbling. Pun Pun went the baby. Graaaa went its mother. Brummmmm went our elephant. Gemma and I asked what our elephant’s name was. The driver responded Ngong which means puzzled. An interesting choice of name… A fitting name I suppose, at one point our driver jumped off the river bank, my camera in hand, and began taking photos. This was going fine, until Ngong began walking away upstream! The driver had to call Ngong back, and we continued on our way. After dismounting our elephant, Gemma and I wanted to see some baby elephants, but we didn’t have enough time.
Thursday night we went to the night bazaar. This was actually our only experience inside the city of Chiang Mai. The market is very large, and is reasonably well-lit. My group spent a lot of time eating, but because one of our friends had to go back and fetch another friend who was accidentally left at the hotelL. Then after we all finished eating we walked around. I got some souveneirs for my friends at school. I attempted bartering, but I was losing my voice and the deal was already pretty good. The rule for bartering in Thailand: Look to see if there is a price-tag, if there isn’t that ask “lope rakka dai mai?” which means “can we reduce the price?”. I have discovered that many Thai’s hike up the price for “Farang” foreigners of Caucasian descent. However, speaking Thai can help bring the price down. Tyler is a lucky kid, because he looks like a “Luk krung”,half Thai/half Farang, if he mentions that he is a Luk Krung he gets unbelievable discounts! I am so jealous.
The overall camp was fun. There were highs and lows. Sadly, I began losing my voice during the camp, and for the bus ride home I couldn’t speak at allL. I wished I could’ve spoke though, because there was sooo much I felt like talking about! When I wasn’t sleeping that is. Most everyone slept a majority of the ride home.
Getting home… the bus dropped us off at the AFS office. I could’ve easily taken a taxi back, but instead I attempted to get back on my own by taking a bus from Victory Monument in Bangkok. A volunteer came with the group of us going there, but he had to help some of my friends get to Chonburi. I told him I could find my bus on my own. Usually it is really easy to find a public van going to Rangsit from Victory Monument, but that day I couldn’t find any! Exhausted and hot I wandered around searching. No results. I asked with the little voice I had, where the vans were. Some people pointed in one direction or another, but when I checked, there weren’t any! Nearly in tears I made my way to a bus stop and was going to sit for a bit before trying again, when a friendly university student asked where I was headed. She helped me find a bus, and it turned out she was going the same way as well! From Rangsit, I could find the bus home without a problem.
In January, AFS organized a project for us in the Bangkok area, but do to a sudden possibility of a terrorist threat, our project was postponed for another month. Note: There actually wasn’t an attack after all, that month. A man with Sweedish and Lebanese citizenship had been caught with supplies to make bombs. He was detained. Authorities thought this could have provoked attacks and so Embassies including The United States sent out an alert.
On Tuesday, there was a series of bombings at Soi Sukomvit 71 labeled acts of terrorism. Three bombs went off inside a rented home. Two people escaped immediately afterwards, and escaped by taxi. Five minutes later a man ran out after another explosion. He through a bomb at a passing taxi after it failed to stop for him. While he was running away, he noticed an approaching police vehicle. He attempted to through a bomb at it, but the bomb bounced off of a passing truck and landed right next to the man, where it exploded. The man received serious injuries to his legs one of which was dis-attached completely, while the other was severed but still barely connected. The other two have been caught. The man had to be under intensive hospital care. There was another woman who was suspected to take a part in this, but I’m unsure to if she was found guiltyor even caught.
Despite this “attack” we had our first community service project together, from Thursday to Sunday. All six of us met up at the AFS office in Nontaburi Thursday morning. In the afternoon we made notebooks out of recycled paper for the less fortunate provincial children. I had a lot of fun with this, and we all enjoyed decorating the covers. We made over 100 notebooks in total!
That evening we checked into the same hotel as the last camp, so I felt very much at home. We traded stories about our experiences this year. Everyone has had their own unique opportunities! We also were happy to be joined by P’Naim and P’Roh, AFS-YES volunteers.
On Friday, we got an early start helping out at the Rangsit home for babies, in Pathumtani. We redesigned a garden that had been destroyed by the flood. We were lucky it was a cloudy day, because we worked long hours outside. Some of our responsibilities were moving heavy animal statues off of the red ant contaminated mud-field which was once a lawn, taking rakes and attempting to smooth out the mud as much as possible while at the same time avoiding the red ants, placing fresh grass squares over the mostly smooth mud (including a slope near some bushes where the red ant base camp was), and moving the heavy animal statues back on the grass. The end result was a spiffy new garden, with green grass covering the fiercest red ant colony I ever stumbled upon, complimented by groady over-weight animal statues sitting strategically on the edge of the lawn; on the other hand there were 6 muddy exchange students and four Thai returnees, sitting on picnic tables comparing ant bites. Seriously though, these ants were killer and abnormally big too, might I add!
We went out for lunch, after washing our feet and hands. We had some noodles on a large wooden boat-restaurant. Pathumtani is known for its “Gwai diao”, specialty noodles. We also got to sample some kanom made from coconut and egg. A highlight was discovering a box of week-old puppies!
We returned to the Rangsit home for babies, to continue some more gardening. This time we just rearranged little gardens in front of a few buildings like adding new stones and brick borders. We also potted sapling trees, and placed them around the property.
Sunday was evaluation, we also brainstormed future projects. We hope to do something in the South, maybe in Phuket by the sea. Later we went to จตุจาก “Chutduchak” weekend market. We met up with P’Nut another AFS-YES volunteer. As we were walking around I happened to see Cinthia from Bolivia! She was going to fly out later that week and was doing some last minute shopping.
The month of February was extremely busy. I was planning on focusing on building relationships with my class, especially as Valentine’s Day was just around the corner and I was looking forward to celebrating!
Around the last week of January I received an Email inviting me to the 50th anniversary of AFS in Thailand. I was thrilled for the invite, as I had been looking forward to this event all year. Unfortunately, not all the exchange students were invited to attend. They selected 12 students, mostly located in Bangkok and surrounding provinces.
We met in the morning on Saturday the 1st of February. I had only a 20 minute ride in a taxi, from my house to the AFS office. There was already Hannes from Germany passed out on the couch in the main lobby, he was staying in the North-East region of Thailand and had a very long bus ride last night. Some staff let me go to a room on the second floor where I could relax until the others came. I enjoyed chatting in Thai with an intern. Rey Carlo from the Philippines arrived an hour later. He is residing in north Bangkok.
The other exchange students actually met us at Central Plaza, and Central World. There were three exchange students who I had never met before, because they were from the first wave (April- March), Misato from Japan, Valentina from Chile, and Cinthia from Bolivia. Once we met up with the other exchange students we went to a dance studio in Central World. We had a very lose audition, composed of a teacher forming some basic dance poses and us copying. I was very thankful that I had recently resumed taking Thai dance at my school, even though what we went over was indeed very simple.
I was originally placed with Silvia, from Costa Rica, along with Jakob and Hannes both from Germany. We were going to do a dance from the Central Region, but I was switched to dance with Janine, from Ohio, and Johannes from Norway. Our dance comes from the South and the girls use fans.
The first wave students were together with a dance from the North. Their dance uses traditional umbrellas.
The final dance used only boys; Luigi from Italy, Jean Ephrem also from Italy but he’s half French, and Rey Carlo. This dance uses large “peidakon” masks and is from the Isaan (the north east).
We were given about 40 minutes to learn our dances which I felt was plenty of time, then we reviewed and went to our hotel. At first I thought we would stay in Bangkok, and thought possibly the Rama Gardens because I saw it mentioned in the invite. Actually we went back to Nontaburi, and got a hotel close to the AFS office. Over dinner we tried to figure out where to practice for the remaining week, because P’Nad our AFS volunteer discovered that we didn’t have the studio reserved for everyday. After a long discussion we decided that we would try to fit in the AFS office to practice. We held another group meeting inside the hotel. Unfortunately, there was a terrible echo, and some other guests were not so pleased.
The rest of the week we practiced and had group bonding time. Really, we only needed about an hour a day to practice, and we got to check in with the professionals on Wednesday and Friday. The performance itself was on Saturday and was held in the Rama Gardens Resort. Ambassadors and AFS Staff from all over the world attended.
The day after was really sad, because we said good-bye. This was the last time for us to see the first wave students, because they returned home within the next week.
Back to school
The week after, I was at Pathumwilai School. I was looking forward to seeing my friends again, and also Valentine’s Day that Tuesday. Sadly, ALL the boys in ม6 had Lor Dor Training, which is a soldier preparation camp that lasted until Wednesday. Also, all my friends were busy preparing for the O-NETS examinations which they took that weekend. I decided to take the opportunity to try out some new classes like Thai Dance, and Thai Art. This was ok, but I would’ve preferred taking classes as usual, but ม6 had special classes in the morning and my host sister said that everyone was very serious.
Love. A beautiful thing really. Too bad some people don’t believe it exists- or at least “True Love”. But what is Love? And why should I worry about it, especially in a foreign country where I only have like 3 more months left?
First of all, people have their own definitions of “love”. Some people get all caught up in “puppy love”, and before they know it they’re head over heels in a passion pit of emotions. Every little thing their sig. other does, sends flutters in their chest and ever minute with them feels like they’re walking on a wire over an active volcano. But once they’re separated every second feels like a year, and the only thing they can think about is being with that other person.
Then there are the people who simply don’t believe in love. Perhaps they’ve had their hearts broken or were let down by someone, or many people. Maybe they just have never felt attached to somebody in the first place.
Perhaps Love shouldn’t be confined to the borders of a romantic relationship. Love can be found in family, and friends, even the small things strangers on the street do. Honestly, I believe Love can be found anywhere. Everywhere there are good people, although in some cases it is harder to find them. There are the people who volunteer their lives to strangers in an urgent and spontaneous moment. Or the people who hold the door for the next one coming through. And why? Because we as people, hope that maybe if we are kind, people in return will be kind. Or perhaps they feel it is the right thing to do, nothing more.
Love is the good feeling. We can reach it many ways. A few years ago I was introduced to “The 5 love languages”: the different ways that people feel and express love through,
Most people feel love through 2 specific love languages. I think personally, I prefer help,and touch . That’s one thing I actually miss about the States, getting hugs. ❤ ❤ ❤
Now to love in Thailand…. haha. Ok, well previously I have dodged writing about this because I know not everyone enjoys hearing my soppy stories. But due to the occasion I’ll talk a little. So, before I left I was certain that I was not interested in getting a boyfriend in Thailand. I thought about the stereo-typical Asian boy, which now I’ve gotten over. I was prepared for a year of single just taking time for me and this new culture. Then how silly I was, one fateful day to fall in love with a Thai boy. I’ll spare the details. Basically we met one afternoon, and we ended up talking for maybe two hours! Crazy! I immediately decided he was the most handsome boy in the school. We spent the next 3 months on-and-off flirting like we were in 7th grade. Then the flood came, and I was certain he would’ve forgotten me. The flood dried. School started. Wouldn’t you know it, one day I found myself right next to him! And Bam! My heart was struck by cupid again. Flirting picked up and before long it was New Years. My friends were certain it would be only a matter of time until he would confess his love! And I believed it too. Of coarse, later that week he started a relationship with another girl… Actually this is a funny story! I went to the temple with my friend and her family, and we did something to make a stick fall out of a basket, and we get a paper telling our fate corresponding with the number on the stick. My turn came, and finally a stick fell out. We went to the board to collect our fortune paper. My friend seemed to have a good fortune, she would be lucky and healthy. If only mine could say the same: In fact it was rather the opposite… It was in Thai but it translated to “You will have you heart broken”. Of coarse I didn’t want to believe it! It seemed impossible! When I got home, I discovered my fortune came true. A shock really. But perhaps I was more shocked at the fortunes accuracy.
Anyway, I’m over it now. And I’ve learned so much more since then.
This week valentines day was celebrated at my school. Of coarse almost all the boys in my grade had to go to soldier training camp. In Thailand, they have a really cute way of celebrating this special day. Some people will buy little heart stickers at the market, and then stick them on their friends student uniforms. 🙂 Narakaaaa (cute in Thai)! The rest of my class was busy preparing for the ONET-S exam, a national exam determining how good the schools are, by the students test scores. It is a big deal, and so mau 6 (grade 12) is taking this week to prepare with extra classes instead of their usual schedule. I’ve been going to art, Mandarin Chinese, and dance classes instead. But I still got to see most of my friends in the morning. We had a fun time, even though there weren’t any boys to give us roses 🙂
To those single hearts out there, don’t feel discouraged. Know that it doesn’t take a boyfriend/girlfriend to make you happy. There are so many wonderful things about life, that are only possible to see when you’re single. Don’t be afraid of Love either. To the broken hearted, don’t give up. Love is out there. Take time with your friends, and yourself. And to those in a relationship, enjoy your time, and don’t forget to tell your partner how you feel. But remember to keep your feet on the ground, it will help if you ever fall.
And to everyone. Happy Valentines Day!!
The sun hadn’t even peeked over the horizon when the soft “pam pam paaam” of the temple gong gently awoke me. What time is it? 5:30. I stepped out of my tent and into the crisp morning air. Where is everybody? Looking around I could only see the monks begin the first prayers of the day. Thinking I overslept I quickly began down the path to the temple. I came across a teacher, asking where I was going, then instructing me to go back to bed because the students didn’t need to be awake yet. Relieved to get another hour of rest I gratefully went back to my tent.
I got up around 7:30. This time I was convinced I slept in too much. I went to the kitchen where I found a classmate and some nuns. Nuns are the female monks, they where all white and keep their hair short. They gave me a choice of a cup of mama noodles or Ovaltine. I wasn’t very hungry so I chose the Ovaltine. Of course two hours later I thought that was the silliest decision ever when the hunger kicked in.
Lunch! A very important part of the day, in my opinion. Some volunteers dropped by with some food. The monks were served first. Every time the first monk picked up a new dish we had to “wai” and bow to the ground. After the monks had what they needed, we said a prayer and were excused to the kitchen. Originally, I thought we would only get a very little amount to eat, but actually they gave each of us at least two boxes of rice. I believe we had “pad-gap-pow,” a very popular Thai meal. We also got dessert, a Thai coconut jelly with a sweet and salty taste. After everyone had finished lunch we boarded the truck, and began the next adventure walk.
After a long ride (nap) in the back of the truck, we were dropped off at the base of a popular “nam-tok” waterfall. The monks led us up an improvised path cutting through the falls. I was impressed that nobody slipped. I wish I could remember the name of the falls, because I strongly recommend them. They are perfect for people looking to get away from the main tourist attractions. This place is known to the Thais and I was the only “farang” there which was an amazing feeling. If only I had brought my camera! We followed through the muddy banks, and crossed over a dam. This involved wading through half a foot of water on an equally wide cement divider, separating a deep pool from a 10ft drop. It wasn’t slippery, and we all crossed with ease, although everyone’s shoes were soaking wet. I didn’t mind, figuring they’d be dry in the next five minutes. My prediction probably would have been accurate had we taken a clearer path. Instead we bush-wacked our way through a bamboo maze, constantly trotting through mud. At one point we had to wait a few minutes while the monks made a make-shift bridge out of dead bamboo reeds in order to cross a long mud puddle. Unfortunately it wasn’t the most sturdy creation, in fact once a friend had almost finished crossing when her friend stepped on one of the reeds, which sprung up to the bottom of the girl on the other end, causing her to fall over. Oh dear!
We walked for over 6 hours, stopping only a few times to meditate. We each had our own water bottle which was to last us for the entire trek. Some people had finished theirs within the first two hours, but I don’t remember seeing the monks take a single sip of water.
The forest was incredibly peaceful; occasionally we would hear a bird call out. There weren’t any monkeys in this region, and they mentioned elephants and tigers as habitants of the area, but we didn’t stumble upon any. We didn’t talk, I’m not sure we were supposed to, although once a monk asked me some questions. In fact the leader of the monks would speak a lot, I think he might have been telling a story to those around him. If only I could understand Thai fluently, instead I had to be satisfied by the occasional words that I could recognize.
The sun had already begun to set when we arrived at the waterfall. The sky was painted in rich oranges and pinks with the first stars of the night already beginning to glint. I imagined how beautiful the mighty falls would be in the morning. However, we didn’t spend the night at the falls. Rather, we climbed up a series of steps and ladders until reaching the base of the tallest fall. Some of my friends washed their faces while others filled up the empty water bottles. A girl offered me a sip “Namwan, try it! This is paradise water!” Hesitantly I eyed the bottle before raising it to my lips. Here goes nothing. This better be clean…Well, we ARE in the middle of a forest with no civilization for kilometers and kilometers around after all. I swallowed…I feel fine!
We were instructed to find somewhere to sit, and begin “samatid” meditation. I’m not sure how long we were there, all I know is that together we were sitting, eyes closed, being showered with a light spray from a waterfall, deep in the forest of Thailand, in the middle of the night. Slow breath in, slow breath out. I didn’t know any Buddhist prayers, but I figured I could use my own prayers.
A bright light broke the darkness, stirring me from my peaceful state. Time to go. Then the inconvenient truth hit me, I forgot my phone, therefore I had no means of lighting my path. Great. Fortunately, my friends shared their lights from in front and behind. This worked ok, until as I was attempting to climb down a slope and slipped on some wet leaves skidding on my bottom the rest of the way. Actually, I wasn’t hurt at all. In fact, I thought it was rather funny. My friends on the other hand were worried and kept asking me if I was hurt. It was only after that incident when somebody conveniently found a spare flashlight.
The way back to longer, much longer. We stopped at least 4 times to meditate. One time, we had to wait for a part of our group which walked slower and lost the trail. What a scary thought, getting lost in the forest. Although for a while we did take a dirt road which made it easy to track down the others.
We arrived back at the trail head at around 3 in the morning. I sat with some friends and we took off our shoes. Of course it smelled awful, but our feet were soooo relieved. Anybody who has done some serious hiking knows the feeling. We also took off our socks, which were soaking wet because of the return cross over the dam. A brave soul collected all the socks and carried them to the trash. I am certain that the socks weren’t worth keeping; nothing could cure them of their filthiness.
Before I left for Thailand my mom had offered to buy me a new pair of running shoes, I turned down her offer because I thought that I wouldn’t be doing much exercise. Now, I wish that I had taken her back on her offer. Not just because of this weekend, but usually when I have a day off I run to the park. As I sadly inspected my tattered shoes, I wondered if they would ever accompany me on another run again .
Everyone slept during the ride home. Well, eventually slept. The youngest girl sat at the very edge of the truck bed, out of the covering, so she could see the stars. Pathumtani is an industrial city close to Bangkok, the capital; seeing any stars is impossible. The young girl was so excited to look up at the black sky with constellations of diamonds twinkling like nowhere else in the world. However, as we drove closer and closer to civilization the dimmer the stars shined, until eventually they were hidden behind the haze from the light pollution caused from the resorts and neighboring villages.
We awoke when the truck pulled up next to the brightly lit kitchen. We hobbled out of the truck-bed and painfully made our way inside where we plopped down on the floor. Woah, what a work-out! Some of us compared blisters while waiting for a nice hot cup of chocolate. Then we washed up, and retired to our tents.
Good night… or should I say “good morning” !
On Saturday I left the comfort of my home and got in a van departing for Kanchanaburi. Accompanied by two teachers the ten other students and I were looking forward to an enlightening and peaceful weekend after the excitement of Children’s Day.
At 7:45am I got a call from my friend asking where I was. Responding “at home” caused her to worry and I added that I was about to leave. Scampering downstairs and scarfing down breakfast as fast as I could… which turned out to be slower than I planed due to attempting to swallow my hard-boiled egg in fourths and I ended up choking a little as result. Ugh.
7:52am Ha! I was on the road! Although I felt a bit ridiculous lugging a bulky white bag filled with my tent, mat, blanket, flip-flops, and water. I also had my ‘trusty’ backpack which recently got re-stitched for the second time because the straps were about to break. My friend did the honor last night after commenting on how tidy my last repairs were… that was sarcasm.
8:00am Arrived at school. On time too! But evidently I didn’t get the memo that we had to wear white and my long-sleeved purple shirt was not following suit. Ooops. I had to change quickly. Silly me.
8:30am The van departed from school. Not sure what we had waited for. To my knowledge I was the last to arrive, and although some people stopped at 7/11 to get some snacks, we still sat around until the teacher motioned it was time to go. I’m not complaining though, Transformers was playing on the little TV in the security gate. The signal wasn’t so good, and I believe it was dubbed in Mandarin Chinese with Thai subtitles, but hey! Who doesn’t love watching airplanes turn into giant robots and bombing army bases.
Around 12 we stopped at a small roadside restaurant and ate lunch. This was a pleasant surprise because I expected we would be fasting since our departure.
12:20ish Back on the road. Everybody is sleepy, and takes a nap. One of the teachers talked the whole way until lunch, and even though my moral instincts said it was rude, I found myself nodding off.
2:00pm We Arrive! It’s HOT! We gathered in a small traditional pavilion and received our first lecture from a monk! The pavilion actually served as a temple but was not so elaborate as some of the other Thai temples. It had a matted palm leaf roof with a blue tarp underneath. The floor was a raised deck also covered with a blue striped tarp. There were no walls and there were just some plastic tarps with pictures of monks on them to block the sun around the Buddha statue. The monk sat on a pillow on another raised platform made of bamboo no more than a foot higher than the one for the students. The Buddha was on the highest platform over a foot and a half higher than the monk’s. Most of the decorations were images of monks or Buddha, but on the right hand side half way between the entrance and corner of the Buddha platform was a very graphic collection of photos of assorted body organs. When I first saw them, I wasn’t really certain how they related to Buddhism…and now that I think about it, I’m still not sure…
2:45pm Time to set up camp. There were two potential camping areas, in the mountains or in the small ‘forest’. As our group was co-ed, we split up into gender separated groups, and the boys would get first choice. I was grateful to at least get a tour of the mountain, a monk took us on a trail that went into a narrow ravine and opened up into a cave. I’m seriously kicking myself for not bringing my camera…Oh my Buddha it was breath taking!
The girls went down to set up our tents in the little forest. We wouldn’t be sleeping in the cave because it was too dangerous. I figured because there was a possibility of falling rocks or something. My friend informed me there were a lot of ghosts there and so the boys would stay there instead. The forest wasn’t so bad. It was a patch of thin trees no wider than 6cm in diameter and an assortment of pokey shrubs. My tent was in a smooth patch in the middle. I was very lucky, because there were only a few good spots. After my tent was set up, I helped my friends with their tents.
Afterwards we changed into clean all white clothes. Then we met up in front of the little forest to walk. The goal of the walk is to focus your breath with your footsteps. Step right, breathe in; step left, breathe out. Each step was painfully slow. We walked around the perimeter of the forest, which took aprox. 30minutes. Note: should I have walked my normal pace it would take maybe only three minutes. We also had to have our hands neatly clasped in front, and look down.
When we all finished we went back to the temple to listen to the monk. He only spoke Thai and I tried to understand as much as I could, which turned out to be very little. He lectured for over an hour. Then we departed for a mystery destination. The monks, nuns, and teachers sat in an air conditioned van. The two boys sat in the front cab of a pick-up truck. The girls sat in the back of the pick-up.
We were dropped off in front of “The River Kwai” resort. From there we took a pathway along the edge of some railroad tracks until the path ended and the high hill we were walking on slipped down into a deep canyon. The monks took us up on the railroad tracks, which were the only way to cross the ravine. Walking on a narrow metal plank between the two tracks, with a steep cliff wall on the far right and a 45 drop into the river to the left; we realized one stumble and we could fall to our death. No pressure. I wondered what would happen should a train chance to come along. A very encouraging thought as you can imagine. The first bridge ended and we walked along the side of the tracks for a few meters only to get back on another rail-bridge. I’m so glad I’m not afraid of heights. I dared a few times to take quick glances to the left at the resorts. Karaoke mixed with dance beats echoed up to us from the festivities below. The second bridge ended and we took a path to the right leading us into the mouth of a spacious cave. When I turned around for the last time, I could see the sun setting. We sat down on a platform in front of a large Buddha looking down at us.
After a brief “samatid” meditation, we opened up the booklets provided by the monks and began reciting Buddhist chants. I can tell you now, there is nothing that compares to how it felt to be right there.
I don’t know how long we were there, but when we came out the sun was down, and it was nearly pitch black. Thank goodness for flashlights…oh wait… I didn’t bring one. Not the most convenient thing to forget , especially when you have to cross over the rail- bridge. At least I brought my cell phone with me and used the minimal light it provided to see. Step by step, deep breath, focus, oh look I made it! Relief flooded over me when I could finally step on solid ground. We walked along side the railroad tracks until reaching the road.
Walking in the dark= How we spent the next four hours.
We took one break and meditated/napped while sitting, for 20 minutes, before continuing on.
Around 1:00am We arrive back at camp. Everybody collapsed in the kitchen and drank some chocolate milk and cold water(our dinner) before going off to sleep.
In front of my tent was a cat. And it scared the socks off me at first. “Tok Jai” Surprise! I tried to make it go away, and then tried to sleep. Pat pat pat, the cat paced around my tent . It’s just a cat not a ghost, there are no such things as ghosts, why won’t that cat go away? I resolved to ignore it, and before long I was fast asleep.
To Be Continued…
Thailand is about 80% Buddhist. Although I practice I separate religion I am intrigued by the Buddhist lifestyle. My host school is a public Buddhist school and the students take some Buddhism classes throughout the week. Unfortunately, last semester I was unable to attend religion class with my host sister because we had separate schedules. This semester I decided to officially join her class- a quick word about the Thai school system, which is structured similarly to elementary school in the States. The students are put in a permanent “room” or class depending on their interests and testing scores for “mau” 4(grade 10) through “mau” 6(grade 12). They are given a schedule which I think resembles a university schedule. There are 9 potential hours for class. However, not everyday is completely filled with classes. Take for example my class, which has and average of 6 hours a day. On Wednesday we only have four hours only in the morning, but on Thursday we have 8 hours, and Monday has a free hour after lunch. That said, we don’t have continuous classes over the week although for the more important classes we will study for more days. Sometimes, the teacher doesn’t show up and the students get free time; and vice-versa if none of the students go to class, the teacher will not teach that hour. Generally, the students will be punctual and only if there is a special event like exams for university or the day before, will they opt out of school. –
This semester so far has been very busy and slightly hectic. Due to the flood, we have school on Saturday to make up for the lost time. I actually don’t mind the extra day of school, because I get to see my friends! Also due to the flood the GAT/PAT exams for universities had been postponed to mid December *note this was two months since they were originally scheduled for* when exam week came it was like a ghost town because hardly anybody in mau 6 showed up as they were all studying. Recently, I had my first official Friday classes. My class is taking Buddhism third hour, which I find very exciting even though the teacher doesn’t speak English. But I have enjoyed attempting to meditate and do the special “wai” at the end of prayers. This week I was surprised when an art teacher invited me to go along to a meditation camp in the forest for three days! She said the monks would be very happy to see a foreigner participate. I think the foreigner is very happy to be invited to participate in such a inspirational and truly cultural event.
My current feelings about the camp: It is this weekend, so soon! I have to borrow some clothing and a tent from my friends. We can only wear all white or other solid, basic, colored clothing. I’m fine with this. Eating: we are given a small breakfast in the morning and maybe a carton of milk at night. This may be a challenge for me but I know it is do-able. We have to bring our own water but are limited to one bottle a day for drinking and cleansing. Which takes me to cleansing- which I figure will be mostly spiritual. As we will be in the forest there will be no running water, also I suspect there is some significance to not showering for the duration of the camp although, of what, I am not certain. We CAN bring soap- but no face wash, perfume, or lotion. I think during the bulk of the day we sit and meditate. The teacher mentioned that in the evening we will walk in the forest. She also mentioned ghosts. Thai people are strong believers in ghosts. Now, I do not believe in ghosts. I believe that sometimes people can get feelings like something of a different nature (either uplifting, or frightening) passes through them, but the Hollywood version of folklores ecto-plasmic spirits of the dead are not something I think I will ever see in real life. The teacher said that we shouldn’t freak out at night if our tent starts blowing fiercely in the wind-it is not a ghost. But sometimes when people meditate they see faces… eerie. Actually, that’s why my oldest host sister doesn’t want to go, she is afraid she will encounter a ghost. Don’t worry, if I have any supernatural encounters I will be sure to blog about it when I return. And if I don’t have any supernatural encounters, I’ll blog anyway!
รัก น.ส. น้ำหวาน ริ้วดำรงค์ “Namwan” Heather Jackson