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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Frequently Overheard in Thailand...

I've been living in Thailand for 10 months now, and I've started to notice some words and phrases that I find myself saying fairly frequently.  Certain aspects of Thai life that you would think by now I would be used to, but they still seem to phase me and cause some sort of reaction.  Here's a list of phrases frequently overheard in Thailand...
  • "It's hot." - I know back home in the States there has been a bit of a heat wave going on, but Thailand is permanently part of a heat wave. It is hot here. every. single. day. If you look at the weather for my town it looks the same if it's March, July, or December.  Hot. Muggy. Potentially a thunderstorm or two. By now I should probably be used to the heat - but I still find myself saying this at least once a day - maybe when I'm hoofing it up the 4 flights of stairs to my office, or a short walk to get lunch, or if I attempt to sit in my room without the AC on. I just can't seem to accept the heat here. 
  • "I'm full." - Since Thailand is all about food, I'm usually starving before every meal, and then 10 minutes into it I'm so full I immediately lapse into a food coma. It's probably a combination of a lot of rice + hot weather + MSG and other random ingredients.  Either way, it's amazing how fast I can go from famished to stuffed. 
  • "I almost just died."- It's not that I partake in particularly risky behavior over here in SE Asia so much as it is that walking around town I happen upon many potential threats - a pack of angry street dogs, a motorbike driving on the sidewalk, a frying pan spitting hot oil, a large pipe sticking out of the ground, an active power line swinging 5 feet off the ground, etc. A simple minivan trip to Bangkok can sometimes feel like the end of the world is near while the driver goes 150 km/hour around curves and rushes past trucks full of some variety of livestock. I'm pretty sure that Nell and I say this to each other at least once a week, but hey - so far so good!
  • "I have no idea what he/she just said." - I've really enjoyed the smile and nod approach to the confusion that happens daily in my life when people yell things out to me in Thai or try to have a full conversation.  Sure, my Thai has improved a lot in 10 months, and I tend to understand a lot more than I can say - but a lot of the time I have no idea what someone is trying to tell me as I pick up only 3 or 4 words from every sentence.  I just smile and nod or say "khob khun ka" (thank you) and I'm on my way.  I can't even imagine what it will be like to re-enter a society where I understand everyone and they understand me... I guess I might have to start watching what I say! 
And now for some random pictures to add a little flair to this post!

Love Thailand's flowers.
Chillin' with a baby Leopard

My new fave from Pad Thai Lady: Pad Thai Gai Mee Krob (crispy noodles)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Koh Mak: Worth It

Like many of the amazing vacation destinations in Thailand, getting to Koh Mak was quite the journey. After an overnight bus trip that concluded with a roadside drop-off at 4:30am, an hour-long songtow ride, a 5 hour wait that involved sleeping on cement benches on a pier, and an hour long boat ride over choppy waters that rearranged some of my internal organs, we finally arrived to our colorful bungalows at Monkey Island. As soon as we got there and saw the hammocks blowing in the wind and the clear blue ocean waters not 10 feet from the front door, we knew immediately it was well worth the trip.
I was joined by my friends and fellow teachers Nell, Shea, Clare and Ciana on the weekend away. It was a great group and everyone was psyched for a weekend with nothing to do but laze on the beach, swing in the hammocks and eat delicious Thai curry and lots of fresh pineapple. The bungalows were simple with a bed, a fan, and a mosquito net - but they were also only 75 Baht per person! (That would be about $2.50). It was quite the steal and since we were pretty much the only people staying at the resort (it's low-season in Thailand right now due to the frequent rain) we had the run of the place and didn't have to share the hammocks with anyone. We did get to hang out with a pretty chill rasta man who worked there and played us Thai reggae every night, bonus! We got lucky with the weather and besides a few afternoon storms which helped to cool things down, I escaped with a pretty decent tan.

Koh Mak is definitely a bit of a trek from Suphan but so worth it and so beautiful.  I love how many gorgeous islands Thailand offers - I've hit up a few but there are still many to explore - what a lucky country!  The way home was not nearly as stressful, except maybe for the poor puppy and box full of chickens that had to tough out the boat ride with us, and we made it back to Bangkok in time for a 3-D screening of the new Transformers movie before we hoofed it back to Suphan. The countdown to the next long weekend is already on!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

It's All Coming Back to Me Now

Lately I've been struggling to get out of bed to get to school and I take an extra deep breath before I walk into each classroom to face a room full of rowdy students. I find myself daydreaming for the summer days when I was globetrotting across Asia and exploring new places. Thank goodness this weekend we have our first break in the semester - a four day weekend - holler! Nell and I are off to the island of Koh Mak, a very small island in the Trat province near Koh Chang. If the Google Images of the island weren't enough to convince me, I discovered that every beach bungalow for rent seems to feature its own hammock outside - sign me up!

To reminisce a bit on my summer of freedom, I put together a video of all of my trips in the Tour de Asia - Thailand, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam - it's all coming back to me now! Check it out below...

Summer Vacation, Asia Style
Starring: Nell Riccio, Meghan Hart, Emily Rall, Amy Wallace, and heaps of cool locals. 
Song: "Go Do" by Jonsi

Summer Vacation: Asia Style from Sarah Rall on Vimeo.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Music Monday: Love Me, Eat Liver.

The latest song that will never get out of my head is by Thai artist Teng, and the name of it is "Gin Tab" - which means "eat liver." I'm not sure I could tell you exactly what this song is about but the refrain is pretty catchy. If you watch the video below it gets especially exciting around the 1 minute mark, there are some amazing dance moves going on (as with most Thai music videos I've seen).  I also really appreciate the American flag scarf that one of the dancers is rocking.  As I said, I don't really understand (mai kow jai) exactly what he's singing about, but my Thai co-teacher Fon translated the meaning to me as this: "It's just like 'love me, love my dog' but in this case, it's 'love me, eat liver.' The man is singing about how he goes on a date but the woman only wants to eat som-tom or other foods and she won't eat liver, so he can't love her."  So there you have it, "love me, love liver." The music video also shows scenes from a movie that features the song, I love that it's starring a few monks, I'm probably going to need to make a trip to the theatre for this one.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Happy Birthday to my Homeland!

This Monday we threw a party for a very special birthday... America! Happy 235th to my homeland! I've celebrated my favorite day, the 4th of July, in many places- the Mall in Washington DC, under the Arch in St. Louis, and with the Boston Pops by the Hatch Shell - but I've never celebrated the 4th out of the country until now.
I was bummed that I had to work - hello? Don't they understand that no one in America works on the 4th!?! I didn't let teaching stop me from celebrating, though, and I rocked my festive attire to school and had my classes sing "Happy Birthday" to America. We also indulged in some fun games and puzzles,  the students were grateful for an easier day and I was happy to share my love for America.  The Thai staff at our school marked the occasion by ordering the Americans some Kentucky Fried Chicken with mashed potatoes and egg tart (this must only be on the Thai menu...) and some Pepsi for lunch, finished off by a Dunkin' Donuts treat brought in by friend Clare from Australia.  It was a wonderful multicultural celebration of America's special day.

Since there are a few American farangs in Suphan, we decided to create our own party that night by taking over my friend's restaurant and filling the grill with American goodies like hot dogs and burgers.  We also whipped up some pasta salad, puppy chow and other peanut butter chocolate goodies, cheese, and a few bags of American style chips - no spicy squid or seaweed flavors at this party! My sister Emily had sent over a box full of decorations including necklaces, a headband, a festive tank top, a lantern, and some garland - so we really set the mood at the restaurant.  Nell mixed up an amazing playlist that featured the Star Spangled Banner, God Bless America, Proud to be an American and even Country Grammar by Nelly. It was the perfect way to bring a bit of America to Thailand, the only thing missing was fireworks, which is actually surprising since it seems like there's always someone shooting off fireworks in Suphan - just not on this day! I hope everyone in the USA had a grand ole' 4th (and a not so terrible 5th if you had to go back to work!)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Suphan Kind of Weekend

It has recently dawned on me that my time in Suphan is slowly coming to a close - I've only got 3 months left in my little corner of Thailand and there are a lot of people, places and things I'm really going to miss. Since I'm attempting to save as much money as possible so that I can travel for a month before I head back to the US, staying in Suphan on the weekends has become more of a regular thing.  Sure, there's not a whole lot going on here, but we make the most with what we have and this weekend was no exception.
Friday night we had a welcome dinner for 2 new teachers, both from Wisconsin, that have joined our staff for the summer.  Like all school functions, and almost any party in Thailand, it featured a lot of karaoke.  Usually I try to stay away from the microphone, but this time I took the stage for "Stop" by the Spice Girls and "The Call" by the Backstreet Boys, and I was pretty, pretty good.

Due to a very important election held today in Thailand, there was no alcohol sold and most of the bars and hang-out spots were closed for the weekend, so we made our own little party on the sidewalk on Saturday night.  We grabbed some yoga mats, snacks and a few beers (snuck away from our friend's restaurant) and camped out on the sidewalk for a few hours for some life chats and funny stories. There was actually a breeze that appears so rarely in Thailand, so it felt like the perfect summer night.
Samchuk 100 Years Market
On Saturday afternoon, Nell and I had taken a stroll that basically covered the entire town of Suphan, and at one point in our wanderings, we were yelled at by someone on a passing motorbike.  This is not an odd occurrence as passing motorists will often yell out things like "farang" (white person) or "beautiful" or even "I love you!"  We reciprocated with our usual smile and they took it as a sign to pull over and ask for our numbers.   They then joined us for dinner and invited us to join them the following day at one of Suphanburi's main attractions: Samchuk 100 Years Market.  We had been planning on going there anyways so we couldn't turn down a free ride when faced with the prospect of a crowded, hot, and long ride on a public bus.  Sunday morning Nell, Liz and I joined our new friends J and Gas for a trip out to Samchuk. I had been there before and it was more of the same: checking out some of the shops and crazy snacks and desserts offered, eating some delicious green curry, and taking a boat to tour a really old house with some amazing antiques - including things like really old cameras and radios - all that still work! J and Gas were the ultimate Thai hipsters and super friendly - showcasing the classic Thai hospitality. I guess normally I wouldn't meet someone in a foreign country and allow them to take me on a road trip the next day, but Thai people are something special and they really love showing off their country to foreigners, so far I've been alright to trust them with my life! 

All in all, a simple but great Thai weekend, and a good reminder to soak up my remaining time in Suphan.
Thai desserts!
Boat Ride Entertainment

Friday, July 1, 2011

Thailand's Exotic Fruits

One of my favorite things back home during summer is the fruits that are in season - pineapple, watermelon, grapes, cantaloupe, etc.  Luckily, I can get most of these fruits in Thailand year-round due to the consistently hot and humid weather.  However, Thailand has a whole slew of fruits that are available during the rainy season that I had never seen before, some of them delicious and some strange... or maybe I should just say different. Here's a sampling of some of the fruits you can find in a stroll around the markets or in a cart on random street corners. I should note that most fruits in Thailand take some serious effort to eat - it usually requires some sort of sharp instrument and some messy fingers - but it's usually worth it.  Thankfully, most of the fruits are cut up and served ready to eat by the vendors. 

Rambutan: Possibly the oddest looking of the bunch, these super sweet fruits are similar in texture to large grapes.  On the inside they look like they could be big grapes... but the outside is a prickly arrangement of red and green spikes. 

Jackfruit: One of my favorite discoveries of South East Asian fruits, I can't find a good way to describe them, but they start as one giant prickly oval shape and are cut into little bright yellow bits.  Once again, they are super sweet (as are most things in Thailand) but not overly juicy or crunchy.  According to Wikipedia it's the second largest and heaviest tree-born fruit out there. I'm so glad that someone else cuts it up for me, because I don't think I could ever figure out how to extract the edible bits. 

Durian: Known as the "king of fruits"... and also the one that smells the most disgusting.  Many people say it smells like dirty feet before the fruit is cut open, and due to this trait, it is often banned in buildings and on public transportation. Durian also features spikes on the outside but is apparently very delicious if you can get past the smell and actually taste it - I haven't tasted it yet, but it is on my list of things to do before I leave. 
Image courtesy of Google Images
Dragon Fruit: This fruit has a fleshy inside that is full of tiny seeds and kind of resembles an artichoke on the outside... if an artichoke was bright pink.  Dragon fruit, in my opinion, lacks flavor and isn't my favorite thing to nosh on.  

Mangosteen: This fruit just started to appear around Thailand, and I'm told it's imported from Indonesia.  I've been hearing about it for quite some time, so I was eager to test it out.  It takes some effort to get to the fruit but once you're in it's pretty delicious, really sweet and a little tangy. 

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