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.
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.
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.
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.
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.