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Monday, January 31, 2011

The New Normal

The first semester is winding down and as I'm preparing to say farewell to my first batch of students (sad!), I've been super busy with grading and testing, so my apologies for the lack of posts! I think I've also hit a bit of teacher burn out, I'm in desperate need of a little break, some long-term traveling, and some visitors (my sister and college BFF) - can't wait! I hit a low last week when only 3 out of my 17 9th grade students turned in a project they had been given 8 days to complete, (it only involved writing 2 paragraphs!) I was so frustrated I actually walked out of class.  I think the message was well received though, I received an apology letter and the late homework at the end of the day with the students literally bowing to me as they placed it on my desk.  Although, to be fair, the bow in Thailand (wai) is just a normal part of culture so I shouldn't feel too special I suppose.

Speaking of "normal" and Thailand, I thought I'd shed some light on the "new normal" that is my every day life.  Three and a half months in, few things in Thailand phase me as they once did, I've come to accept them as my new life, but upon reflection they are actually pretty odd. Here are a few...

Sidewalks do not exist. There is no such thing as sidewalks in Thailand, the word for sidewalk in Thai is the same as street, and apparently that applies to how they should be used - when walking down a sidewalk I'll often have to avoid motorbikes cruising down the block, avoiding the perfectly good road that's right next to me.  I also have to avoid overflowing "restaurants," trash bins, phone booths (they actually still get used here!), stray dogs, dried fish vendors, roosters, etc. I used to love taking long, meandering walks but with the lack of space to do it, I've put those on hold until I'm back stateside. Sidewalks and streets: same same, but different.

5 Star restaurants have a whole different vibe.  I'm quite certain that the best Pad Thai in the world is produced daily by my local street vendor affectionately known to the farang as "Pad Thai Lady." It is unbelievably good, made fresh right before my eyes, and costs about 80 cents for the meal.  She also makes several other delicious dishes that I've come to adore: phat grapow gai, pad see ew, khao phat gai, the list goes on. The building itself, however, is nothing like any place I've ever eaten, or will ever eat in the States due to health codes.  There is a cat that frequently jumps from table to table, a swarm of flies and mosquitoes (most restaurants in the Soup actually provide customers with bug spray at the table), no front door, no clean water, and twice this week mid-meal a man on a motorcycle drove into the restaurant and parked his bike next to our table. This spot is no exception, this is what most eating establishments in Thailand (especially outside of the big cities) look like, but when the food is this delicious, it just doesn't matter.

A good night's sleep is a thing of the past. After a long day of teaching and fighting off the 90 degree temperatures that keep creeping higher, some days I long for a comfy night snuggled in my bed.  Alas, that will have to be a dream deferred, and reality is harsh.  Each night before I get in bed I first cautiously scout for bed-bugs, mosquitoes and geckos that might try to hide under my covers - trust me, they do.  On a quick count today, I woke up this morning with 26 red, itchy bites (really - jing jing!).  I sleep on a rock of a mattress-- there is zero give to this baby, when I flop down I can literally bounce right back up. There is also a mysterious smell that lives in the pipes of all the apartments in our building, I don't understand it, and I've tried everything to get rid of it, but some mornings it's so bad it actually wakes me from my sleep when it seeps into the room.  Good day, sunshine.

Squat toilets. I don't even know how to describe this experience.  Whenever I enter a public restroom I immediately check to see if there might (please!) be a Western style toilet, but all too often they do not exist.  Bathrooms in Thailand have a bring your own toilet paper, bring your own soap kind of deal, and they usually cost a few baht to enjoy.  Once you enter you are greeted by a hole in the ground contraption that involves some interesting strategy.  These toilets don't feature that state of the art invention called a flush so there will be a bucket of water sitting next to the toilet with a bowl that you fill and then dump into the hole until you think it's sufficient.  All I can say is...yikes daddy. Thank goodness for a steady supply of Charmin' to go t.p. and scented hand sanitizer that never leave my purse.


  1. What an adventure, Sarah!! Your writing is wonderful (your English profs must be very proud). Great story about the assignments that weren't turned in; sounds like you made your point. LOVE your take on local 5 star restaurants. Can only imagine how good that Pad Thai tastes! Great to hear your voice. 911 isn't the same without you! Love from Mary Ellen & Kenny

  2. I don't know you, but I came across your blog and I may need to pick your brain about Thailand someday. You have already sold me on the need to visit but I'm interested in what you're doing over there. Neat.

  3. @Clark would love to share some deets on Thailand, I love living here, it's an amazing place to explore. Feel free to shoot me an email if you've got other Q's. (sarahrall@gmail.com)


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