So an Elephant Walks Into a Bar...

Okay, so this isn't Thailand. It's the Atlanta Zoo. But it still serves its purpose.

Now that I’ve been here for a few weeks, the surroundings seem so normal, like I’ve always lived here. I’ll even stop and remind myself every now and then that I’m halfway around the world. And then there are times I cross something so blatantly different, there’s no mistaking I’m far from home. It’s like there’s an elephant in the room. And then there are times there’s actually an elephant in the room. That’s right, I was playing pool with some friends, caught something out of place in the ol’ peripheral vision, and turned around to see an elephant in the doorway. She looked to be performing a little jig for the tourists who paid money to feed her (I think it was a her because I’ve seen a male elephant before and there’s no mistaking that either). Maybe it was my imagination, but as her enormous hind leg moved back and forth, her eyes seemed really sad, like she knew everyone was staring and no one else looked quite the same. I thought if she’s bar hopping to entertain us, the least we could do was give her beer and quite gawking, maybe even let her in on the next game. But I guess her owner had other plans.


Bootlegs Aplenty

Went to a bar tonight to watch the new Simpson's movie. The owner has a bootleg copy of every Simpson's and South Park episode and each movie. He says he'll play them for us in the upstairs TV room anytime we want. Good to know I won't be missing out on the important stuff while I'm here.


Deep Thoughts ... by a Pumpkin

Like I mentioned, Thais tend to incorporate fun (sanuk) into almost everything, so nothing is ever boring here. A would-be routine trip to an office supply store today was an entertaining lesson in local humor. I went with a classmate to pick up some nametags and we stayed for an hour laughing—and scratching our heads—at all the quirky goods. My notebook reads “Life... There was a sad thing. But you are in a side all the time.” And the thought bubble protruding from a pumpkin reads “If you love what you are doing.” I couldn't swear on it, but I don't remember any profound pumpkins at Office Depot. Seems to me they need to step it up.


My Lovely Students

The course is going really well. The instructors are brilliant at what they do and extremely dedicated. We turn in a three-page essay and they give us back a six-page response. We actually started teaching on the fourth day. Our Thai students are volunteers so we get practice teaching and they get free practice speaking English. They are such a pleasure to teach, they’re so respectful and eager to learn. And their big smiles while I'm teaching make me feel so much more comfortable than I thought I would in front of a class. Thais also have such a great (slightly goofy) sense of humor and are always looking for the joke in something. It’s fun to create these funny moments in class like teaching them to say “it sucks” during my lesson on giving opinions. They got the biggest kick out of it.


New Digs

I moved into a guesthouse on a really cute street with lots of quaint bars and restaurants. Here's the view from my window.


Back to School

I started the course on Wednesday and it’s already pretty intensive. We go from about 8am to 5pm and then have a hefty load of homework. But we’re getting a lot of individual attention with three instructors to eight participants. The eight of us are a North American crowd with six from the U.S. and two from Canada. Six men and two women range in age from 27 to 56. There’s a married couple from Vermont taking a year off for something different, a man who wants to pursue screenwriting and use teaching as his bread-n-butter until he sinks a movie deal, and a guy from Oklahoma who met a girl in Thailand two years ago and finally made it over to be with her. We all gelled from the beginning, which is a good thing since we'll be spending almost all of our waking hours together.


Magical Chiang Mai

View of the Sunday Night Market from my hotel room

I arrived in Chiang Mai a couple of days ago. Surrounded by a moat, the charming city is a maze of winding cobblestone lanes lined with mom-n-pop Thai restaurants, cooking schools, Buddhist temples, massage schools (which give incredible massages), and intimate bars. Since I arrived on a Sunday, I was able to get an immediate dose of local culture at the weekly Sunday Night Market. I tasted my way through the dense streets, noshing on Pad Thai, barbecued kabobs, waffles (those are big here now but without syrup and as dessert rather than breakfast), fresh pineapple and watermelon, and what seems to be the Thai version of rice crispy treats—addictive crispy rice patties drizzled with honey.

The next day I took a sawngthaew (song-tow)—think pick-up truck with a top and benches on either side—to the nearest mall to buy a cell phone. That was an interesting experience as cell phones work differently here and no one in the store could speak much English to explain it to me. I perused the counters next to a few monks in their honey-hued robes. Somehow, through gestures and broken words, and maybe some good vibes from the monks, I got out of the store with everything I needed.


I Took a Tuk-Tuk

Saturday night Sarah and I went for beers at a bohemian-style rooftop jazz bar with great views of the city. Then, we skytrained it over to her old street, Soi Rangnam, known for its great selection of Thai restaurants. I'm looking to find an apartment in this area when I return from the month-long training in Chiang Mai because of its proximity to two parks and an incredible, serene gym. We ate at Sarah's favorite restaurant and it didn't disappoint. It's custom in Thailand to share dishes so servers automatically bring extra bowls and utensils. By the way, Thais usually use a fork to scoop food onto a spoon and then put the spoon—never a fork—in their mouths. We followed dinner with my first ride in one of the ubiquitous tuk-tuks, a rickshaw-like taxi. Sarah swore to me not all drivers were as wild as this one; she supposes he was trying to show off for Westerners with his James Bond-like moves. Tuk-tuks are actually a little more expensive than a regular cab ride because they can weave through traffic and get places faster. Even faster are the motorcycles taxis; just get on the back and hold on. That's where I draw the line, though—at least for now.


Rock-a-Bye Tourist

One of Sarah's students gave her two passes for a boat cruise last night. The view from the river at night is spectacular: tattered, multi-hued houses on stilts, lively disco clubs, and the brilliantly lit Grand Palace. Ours was a quiet boat with only nine passengers and a few crew, a contrast to the party boats we passed. It must have been the combination of the gentle rocking motion, the slight breeze against my face, and the soft sound of waves lapping against the boat that caused the effects of jet lag to set in big time. As my head kept violently losing its fight with gravity, I longed to curl up on the floor and give in to sleep. And that's when the idea hit me: a nap cruise complete with cots and Tempur-Pedic pillows. At least if teaching doesn't work out, I have a back-up plan.


Mai Pet

Sweet Jesus, my luggage arrived. The guy delivering the bags spoke almost no English so Sarah and I hurried across the street with the cell phone to enlist the services of Jed, a Thai native who runs the coffee and waffles stand. He let us know the guy was minutes away. Jed also gave us a restaurant recommendation for the evening. We walked about ten minutes, ending up on a quiet street where shops transform into their owners' homes at night and you can see them eating dinner and watching TV through the big glass windows. Then out of nowhere a swanky lounge appeared. Inside a jazz trio played to a lively crowd of Thais. We were the only farangs (foreigners) so we knew we hit a good place. No seat left inside so we sat on couches around a table outside. None of the servers spoke any English so again we called on a local friend and Sarah's boyfriend ordered for us over the phone. Lemon chicken with lightly fried seaweed was delicious. I'm sure the Tom Yum soup was also, but my unaccustomed taste buds were reeling from the heat. I forgot to use the phrase I'd been so diligently practicing: "mai pet", which means "not so hot." Sarah, who's been in Bangkok for a year, is so used to the spicy food she was drinking the soup like milk. Maybe I'll get there in time, but until then, mai pet, mai pet, mai pet.


First Night in Bangkok

Sawatdeekah everyone! I'm writing my (very!) first blog post from my friend Sarah's apartment in the bustling Ari area. The streets are lined with vendors selling grilled corn, fruit, freshly squeezed orange juice (as seen in my hand) hard-boiled eggs on a stick and countless curiosities that will take a while to identify. Sensory overload is the best way to describe my first morning walking along these streets. I've traveled through Europe a couple of times, but these sights, smells and sounds are unlike any I've seen before. During rush hour, a sea of pedestrians dodge broken areas of the sidewalk and compete with motorbikes and cars (driving on the left side no less) for the right of way. The traffic is loud, but you don't hear anyone laying on the horn; instead it's the constant sound of short beeps, mostly from cabbies signaling their availability. The weather today doesn't seem as stifling as I had expected, although I immediately stuck my head in Sarah's freezer after returning from the walk--and that was 9am.

My arrival in Bangkok last night was all the sweeter given a beastly flying experience. Short story: thunderstorms in Phoenix led to a missed flight, unplanned stay in San Fran hotel (sorry Steph, I would have called had it not been 3am), and about 45 hours door to door. My luggage has yet to be located (please let the flying gods look down on me; I've always been a pleasant passenger who's never complained about the food or two-gulp drink sizes). Needless to say, I was happy to lay eyes on Sarah, a complete doll for picking me up at the airport at midnight. She had her camera ready to capture my first reaction to my new surroundings (video to come). We stayed up a while chatting over Singhas. Then it was sweet relief to rest my wayworn head on a pillow and fall asleep singing "first night in Bangkok..." to the tune of "One Night in Bangkok". I wonder how long that song's gonna stay in my head.