To those who visit here, we wish a safe journey and the joys of discovery. -William Sanford Nye.
I arrived in Thailand on May 22, 2015. On February 29, 2016, just a week away, I will leave, and go to Nepal, and then home. My time in Thailand (258 days as of my departure) has come to an end.
It’s been an experience better captured by the blog posts and pictures I’ve already shared than by any reductive passages I might come up with now to try and summarize nine months of experiences. Certainly, what you’ve read and seen here have been the highlights of the year, the high points on what has, in all fairness, been a rollercoaster…
As in all year of life, the past year has not been perfect. I’ve struggled in my capabilities as a teacher and against some ugly aspects of my personality that undoubtedly made me difficult to live with at times. But thankfully this particular nine-month rollercoaster has had many more rises than drops.
I’ve met many friends, learned a little of the Thai language, experienced life in a Theravada Buddhist nation, experienced an odd sort of ostracism as a farang (this is difficult to describe), but also been embraced because of it (equally difficult), and connected with my students in a way I did not expect, especially with Om Si. I’ve went on daily alms rounds with monks, seen the ruins of the ancient capital of Siam, and eaten not one but two grasshoppers. I also took unforgettable trips to India and Cambodia (bringing my total count of days abroad to 283). I drove a motorcycle every day. Thanks to a combination of healthier diet and more constant exercise regime, I lost 30 lbs.
If you’ve followed along since May 22, you know most of those things. Here are a few experiences I didn’t write about, either because I was too lazy or too busy to do so:
- In September, I coached a sixth grade student named Towan to sing the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” for a local competition. He placed third…out of three. We were both sad about the outcome. In our defense, there were some technical difficulties during his performance. He has long since recovered from the disappointment and now we have silly play-fights every morning when he arrives at school. That, or he actually wants to punch Teacher Paul…
- In mid-January I was driving to school and a soi dog (Thai strays, they’re everywhere) suddenly sprinted in front of my motorcycle. It was too fast for me to react. We collided, and the dog died. It was a gruesome scene and gave me an immense weight of guilt I still carry. I know it was not my fault…but it is still haunting.
- I ushered in the New Year doing the same of what I’ve done so darned much of here: listening to monks chant their beautiful and monotonous mantras.
- I have been an object of display for Anuban Bunditnoi 2 School at several sports days and school parades. This is related to the dual nature of Thai’s outlook on farangs (ostracism/embrace) I mentioned above.
- During the second semester I taught not only English (with Thai Teacher May and then, when she left after New Year’s, Teacher Ya, neither of whom speak much English), but also Math and Swimming in Bunditnoi’s brand new (freezing cold) pool!
- In November I made my own Krathong, a small candle-boat made from various parts of a banana tree (a disk taken from the trunk, decorated with cuts of its leaves) and flowers. This was in celebration of Loy Krathong, a Thai holiday which pre-dates the arrival of Buddhism and which is based on the worship of river spirits. On that day, everybody makes a Krathong and then gathers at the nearest rivers or canals at night, lights the candles, and then sets them all afloat. It is an enormously beautiful occasion.
I also finally made it to one of Thailand’s famous islands! When my parents came for a visit earlier this month, we took a jaunt to Koh Chang and enjoyed the island life. We basked in the sun, kayaked around a remora island, did some yoga, and spent lots of time reading good books. It was a relief to see them again after so long away from home, and much needed.
It is partly because I just had such good quality time with my parents that I feel comfortable considering extending my upcoming stay in Nepal from one month to three months. More on that—and, as always, everything else—to come.