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Chiang Mai!

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.

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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.

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