Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sports Day

GOTTA love the awkward band members in their onesies!
Sports Day is an event that happens each year around the end of November/beginning of December. It occurs at all schools throughout Thailand, with most schools holding celebrations for three days in a row! I cannot imagine what schools do to fill up three whole days...at ACU we only had one day of festivities, which was plenty.

Students practicing cheering
Sports day runs as such: there are four “teams,” with students from various grades (1st through 12th) on each team. The team colors at ACU were blue, purple, orange and red (I was orange—GO ORANGE! Our team theme was “Halloween.” A bit late in the season, considering Sports Day happened after Thanksgiving...but that’s Thailand for you.). The teams had competed in various sports and dance competitions throughout the year, earning their teams points along the way. The culmination of all this was the official Sports Day, when the REAL competition is held—the cheering competition! Yes, that’s right, cheering is by far the biggest deal. And it’s a BIG DEAL. BIG. Like, a big enough deal that for the two weeks prior to Sports Day, all classes were shortened to make room for a 45-minute period at the end of each day simply to practice cheering.

Some of my Pratom 6 (6th grade) students
decked out for the morning parade

Track competition. Go go go!
The day was little bit boring, but there was much to take in. There was a parade down the main road of Ubon, complete with awkward high school marching band, bedazzled marchers, and slightly lack-luster flag bearers; a dancing competition for which I was a judge (although, I must say, it was difficult to judge four groups of 50 students all doing the exact same thing...); many track races on a chalk-line track laid down on the school’s soccer field (I ran in the teacher’s relay, and won gold!); primary students hula-hooping to the tune of gangnam style (I probably heard this song at least 23 times on Sports Day alone); and three separate rounds of cheering competitions.

The day ended with all students eagerly huddled on the soccer field, awaiting the results of who won sports day (which actually means, who won the cheering competition). And, drum roll please...ORANGE WON IT! I wasn’t surprised, because their cheer/dance sequence was pretty epic. Although Halloween was over a month ago in the hearts of American kids everywhere, the spirit was still alive and well in the orange team cheerers and dancers.

Mini hula-hoopers

Go Orange! These are the cheerleaders
And these are the cheerers. The students put these stands together themselves--quite impressive! I love the grim reaper lingering in the foreground

Monday, November 26, 2012

I was warned

I was warned at the beginning of this school year (by fellow teachers) that students would miss many classes due to various activities. I was warned that the first semester wouldn’t be too bad, but that during second semester school would become a bit of a joke because of the sheer number of missed classes. I was warned that this would be frustrating.

Guess what? It is.

It’s been five and a half weeks since the beginning of the term. I teach 17 class periods per week, so that’s a total of 92 classes. One day was a holiday, so supposedly I’ve taught 89 classes since the beginning of term.

How many do you think I’ve actually taught?

Due to Scout Camps, testing, Sports Day (more on this in a future post—it’s this upcoming Friday), cleaning, field trips, etc, I’ve missed 23 classes. Of the 89 classes I’ve had, I’ve only taught 66! That’s about three quarters! 75%! (Can you tell I’m teaching conversions between fractions and percentages in my 6th grade math class?)

During the first semester, I would show up every once in a while to an empty classroom, and just return to my office, shrugging my shoulders and feeling somewhat of a guilty pleasure in not having to teach class. Missing class set me back as far as class work went, but I mean, really—who complains when they find out they are relieved of their duties?

Well, now, I guess I do.

Today I arrived at one of my classes ready to go. It was my Matayom four (10th grade) English reading and writing class, and it’s my favorite. The students are awesome—little darlings, and always make me smile. I ushered them into the classroom, got them settled down, and found out how their weekends went. They took out their pens and pencils, notebooks and pieces of paper. I was at the board, writing out my first general correction for them on a recent descriptive writing assignment they had, when I heard a knock at the door.

In extremely rough English, an older student asked if my students (all 39 of them) could leave class to go practice cheering for Sports Day (yes, you read that right—practice cheering. There aren’t actually sports on sports day, just a lot of dancing and cheering. Again, I’ll tell more when the actually day happens, this Friday.) After entertaining the idea for about 2 seconds, I said no. During first semester, I definitely would have said yes. I would have pretended to consider the notion, pausing for enough time to make everyone think I might say no, and then relent and let the class take off to do whatever was required of them. But now, I’m tired of missing class. I’m tired of feeling like I’m not giving my students the education they deserve because frequent random events keep preventing me from teaching. So I said no.

After shooing the older student out the door, I got back to my point at the board. My pen was about to touch the whiteboard when two more students showed up. These two were more insistent, and had better English. “Now,” one of the students said. Now students practice.” A few moments later, my Thai co-teacher showed up, and confirmed that the students did, indeed, need to go practice; that they couldn’t stay in class. So I let them go. To practice. Cheering.


I teach this particular class twice per week—Tuesdays and Fridays. They missed class today (Tuesday). They will also miss class on Friday due to Sports Day. Of the twelve classes they should have had so far this semester, they will only have attended seven.

I was warned. I was warned that missed classes would increase during the second semester. I was warned it would be frustrating. I was not misled.

My students, practicing dancing and cheering for Sports Day
(although this is frustrating, aren't they adorable? The colorful shirts and red pants are their "sports outfits," worn every Friday and days they have gym class, and the white shirts and dark blue bottoms are what they wear every other day. This is a hodgepodge of many classes, not just mine.)

My resulting empty classroom :/

Friday, November 2, 2012

Indonesia: Below the Equator, Below the Water's Surface

My dad came to visit me last month, and it was a delight and a pleasure to have him around. Before his arrival, I was nervous about how we would both react to being in such close quarters for such a long time (over a month of sleeping in the same room, eating together, making decisions together, etc), but everything worked out more than alright—we adjusted quickly and easily to each other’s company, and ended up having an exceptionally good time throughout our travels. My dad spent some time in Ubon, and while he was here we took a weekend trip to Pakse, Laos, during which we got a feel of the small city and also went to Wat Phu and Tadlo waterfall. Our big adventure, though, was our two-and-a-half-week trip to Indonesia.

Although two and a half weeks is not really much time, my dad and I were able to see a wide variety of things and places. Before arriving, we had an idea of what we wanted to do, but throughout our trip we flew by the seat of our pants, deciding each day what to do the next. This worked splendidly! Here’s a quick rundown of our itinerary:

-       Arrived in Jakarta via plane, but only spent the night (in a super creepy hotel)
-       Hopped on a train the next day, going about halfway across Java to Yogyakarta—awesome train ride, and awesome city! Saw Prambanan Hindu Temple, Borobudur Buddhist Temple, some lively street performers, and cool sights around the city
-       Took a three-day trip across the rest of Java, stopping at the volcanoes Bromo and Ijen, and getting QUITE jostled about during some very bumpy van rides along the way
-       Took a mixture of ferry, bus, and taxi to Ubud on Bali. Saw the Sacred Monkey Forest, traditional Balinese dancing, and some gorgeous rice fields.
-       Took taxi to Padangbai, on the eastern tip of Bali, and prepared for a relaxing end to our trip—the beach!
-       Took the fastboat to Gili Air—an island off of Lombok. PARADISE. Spent 5 days in paradise. (NB: Planning on moving to paradise someday.)
-       Spent our last night back in Bali in Kuta. Compared to paradise, awful. A shocking stir back to reality, but interesting nonetheless.

I could write at length about any of the many experiences I had, but instead I will focus on one aspect of the trip that I enjoyed more than any other: my interactions with people. The places and things I saw were incredible, but it was the people with whom I interacted who really made the trip for me. From stall owners to taxi drivers to hotel workers, the people of Indonesia were, in my experience, extremely helpful, friendly, and outgoing.

Three of the men who worked at our bungalows
By far my favorite group of people was the group of young men who worked at the bungalows that my dad and I stayed at on Gili Air. We stayed on the island for 5 nights, so we came to know this group a little bit beyond the 2-minute paying-the-bill conversation. I wont try to reproduce what little I learned of their lives here, but rather to convey the joy I took from getting to know a group of people as themselves and what their lives were like, and not just as a few more faces in the sea that one wades through while traveling.

We grew to be on such friendly terms with the owner of the bungalows that he actually took us to his niece’s wedding. It was an unexpected treat to see a Muslim wedding, and then to enjoy some roasted chicken back at the bungalow owner’s house later that night. Of course, the wine was eventually brought out, along with mango for dessert (the bungalow staff quickly learned that this is my all-time favorite thing haha), and then some easy guitar strumming and singing among friends and family on his airy second-floor deck until late into the night.

The local fare--fish and tempe in sambal, rice,
veggies, and of course, freshly-picked mango! 
Along with the owner of the bungalows, the staff was equally as friendly and open. They gave us unsolicited drinks on-the-house at dinner; invited me behind the bar to teach them how to mix a new drink or two (tequila sunrise, anyone?); readily offered a taste and even a whole plate of what they were eating for breakfast or lunch, as opposed to the tourist fare (I loved getting a taste of what the locals ate—fresh fish and friend tempe coated in a delicious, spicy sambal sauce, with rice and veggies on the side); invited us out back to try snacks they were munching on from the market in town; took us to the mango orchard a few times to try our hand at climbing trees and picking fruit (mango, coconut, rose apple); and readily sat down in their free time to play a few hands of cards, both American- and Indonesian-style. Their 
hospitality, friendliness, and familiness were striking, 
and more than I could have hoped for.

Dad getting a quick haircut (after a bit of an ordeal of trying to find a pair of scissors)

This experience made me contemplate my goals over here on the other side of the world. One of my ultimate goals is to experience other cultures. My initial assertion was that in order to truly experience another culture, one must live in it and not simply travel through it; this is why I came to Southeast Asia as a teacher and not as a tourist—so I could take a peek at the iceberg from below the water’s surface. So far, I’ve found my assertion to be true. Case-in-point: our 5-day stay at Gili Air. This was roughly a third of our trip that we spent in once place, saying good morning and goodnight to the same people every day. Even in this short span, I came to know these people better than anyone else on our trip, and in a very positive way.

Getting to know the people surrounding oneself as individuals, and not simply faces or services, truly heightens and broadens an experience. There is no higher or broader an experience can get than life lived for an extended period of time in one place. Only in this way does one come to know their surroundings and the characters of the people around them. If you’ve spoken to me in the past six months, this goes without saying, but I’m so happy that I came to live in Thailand, and I’m not planning on returning to the US anytime soon. Of course there are good times as well as bad, but all-in-all I love what my life has become—a non-stop “experience” of the highest and broadest kind. And, I suppose and hope, it will only continue to grow.

Sunrise in front of our bungalows. Did I mention this place is paradise?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Moment of Zen, or something like that

This morning (Sunday) I took a little bike ride over to an eye clinic to get my eye checked out. It’s been red, so I thought I’d go see if I could get some drops to cure whatever’s ailing it.

The clinic is open in the evenings and on the weekends, and is generally quite busy. I came to this clinic once before, and the wait time was about 3 hours (!), so this time I decided to show up early. The clinic opens at 9:30; I got there a bit after 9 to secure my spot in the queue. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that other people had had the same idea, because when I got to the clinic there was already a small crowd. Nonetheless, my wait time was significantly shorter than my last visit, and I was actually happy to wait. Why, you might ask? I have one question for you.

Do you know who else goes to eye clinics 20 minutes before they open on Sunday mornings? Old people.

I savor a good crowd to people-watch, and old folks generally fall near the top of my list. I’ve noticed this is particularly true here in Thailand because customs, dress, mannerisms, and all-around ways of doing things differ from the US in the most subtle but interesting ways. Also, there’s something different, in a good way, about watching a crowd of people who don’t speak the same language as you; relying purely on physical communication, facial expression, and gesture to interpret what’s going on is a fun and typically comically rewarding challenge.

After waiting for about half an hour in the main waiting room, my name was called and I was ushered into a second waiting room. This room held about 10 patients and two technicians at a time. The patients were made to sit on these little yellow stools along the walls, with everyone facing the center of the room—a perfect people-watching vantage point. The technicians were busy testing people’s eyesight, taking pictures of people’s eyes, giving folks eye drops, etc., all before they got called in to see the doctor. Amongst all the testing and dropping, the room functioned as such: when a person was called in to see the doctor, everyone shifted one stool to their right, and so on and so forth around the room until everyone eventually reached that exciting stool right next to the doctor’s door.

During my 30 minutes or so in this second waiting room, here are a few of the observations I made:

One technician was trying, with difficulty, to take a picture of an elderly man’s eye. I’m not sure what his eye problem was, or why it was apparently so difficult to take the picture, but at any rate there was a lot of talking... or rather, there was a lot of yelling, because the man could not hear well at all. I had to suppress my laughter at the sight of this young female technician yelling instructions (in Thai, of course) at this old man, trying to get him to adjust his head and eyeball alignment so she could capture the picture. A few of the other people sitting nearby were trying to help in some way or another, gesturing this way and that or attempting to reiterate what the technician was saying.

There was also a middle-aged man was there with an older woman who was presumably his mother. At one point, he was blocking the line of sight for people getting their eyesight tested. He was focused on getting his mother safely onto one of the very short stools, and wasn’t really paying attention to what was going on around him. The technician was politely but loudly instructing him to move out of the way, other people who were closer to him were trying to relay the same message, and the two people closest to him were trying to help by nudging him out of the way. Of course, the only place on his body they could reach from these little stools was his rear-end, so they were pushing at his bum to get him to move. After an inappropriately long time reminiscent of a Family Guy episode, he finally realized what was being asked of him, and moved out of the way.

It was also quite comical to watch all the people try to keep up with all the stool-changing. Sometimes a person wouldn’t be paying attention, and would not notice that it was their time to change stools. Of course, all the people around them did notice, and were eager to change stools themselves to get closer to the doctor. I watched as the people who did notice the stool-change look around to see if anyone else was thinking the same thing as them; then get a little shifty in their stool, perhaps trying to trigger some sort of awareness in the non-stool-mover and get them to move along; then as a last resort mumbling something to the non-mover to move along; and then finally having the satisfaction of moving stools themselves, thus bringing themselves one foot closer to the doctor that they showed up here so early to see.

All in all, it was a pleasantly amusing morning. And I got some eye drops for my eye. Success.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Candle Festival and Long Weekend Adventures

     This past weekend was a four-day weekend in light of the Candle Festival—a festival that marks the beginning of what is essentially Buddhist lent, when all monks stay in their temples for three months. It also officially marks the beginning of the rainy season. Ubon is known for the candle festival it puts on, with events going on both Thursday evening and all day Friday (thus the long weekend).

     My Candle Festival activities began about two weeks ago, when I went to one of the temples to see people actually making one of the candles (see pictures). Traditionally, people offered candles to the monks to provide them with light during their 3-month retreat from society. Today, the candles are a tad bigger than they used to be, and thus are primarily made of metal framing and paper mache, with only the outer layer being wax. Like the temples they come from, these candles are incredibly detailed, every inch of their surfaces covered in intricate hand-carved designs. Each candle tells a story as well. Luckily, when I went to see the finished candles the night before the big parade, I had a Thai friend with me who was much more knowledgeable about the candles’ stories than I was. It was great to receive some insight into what I was looking at.


One of the candles being constructed two weeks before the festival at one of the big temples in town.
Same candle, this time all done and out on the street for all to see on the night before the parade
We couldn't figure out what this creature was...any thoughts?
Some candles were a dark orange, and others a much lighter yellow. Not sure why

At the parade on Friday morning
Thai dancers on one of the music floats
Dancers from the school I teach at...I was so proud!

     The parade itself on Friday morning was quite a spectacle, but after a while of standing around in the heat, it became clear that once you’ve seen one gigantic candle and ensuing group of dancers, you’ve pretty much seen them all. Especially when they’re moving at a laboriously slow pace, and often not moving at all. The more I watched, the more I felt bad for those who were actually in the parade—they seemed to be melting in the heat right along with their makeup. I enjoyed the festival for what it was, but the true highlights of my long weekend were in the following days, out on the boarder of Laos in and around a city called Khong Chiam.

     On Friday afternoon, I went with a few coworkers and some other people to one of my student’s family-owned hotels in Khong Chiam, east of Ubon. The hotel is right on the water where the Mun River flows into the Mekong River; this point is appropriately called the “two-color river” because when the two rivers flow into each other you can see their slightly different shades of brown mixing together. It was pretty cool to see this out on a little tour boat, but by far what I loved most about this excursion to Khong Chiam was simply sitting out on the deck of the hotel, watching the fishermen who occupy the Y that the rivers make.

Boat from which we saw the two-color river
Can you see the different colors?

     The tranquil, untroubled work of the fishermen was in sharp contrast to the Candle parade I had watched earlier in the day. The first bordered on gaudy and was hot, stuffy, crowded, noisy, and ultimately not a true representation of real life. I mean, the candles aren’t even candles anymore—they’re just the skeletons of candles, inflated to be larger-than-life size and made much for the purpose of competing with other temples’ candles for first prize in the parade. Talk about straying from original intent... Watching the fishermen was markedly different. There was no show, no costumes, no spectators, but I enjoyed watching it so much more. It was incredibly peaceful to watch the fishermen at work, paddling and motoring their long, narrow boats through the wide, slow-moving rivers, following their nets hand over hand, and carefully and skillfully bringing up fish that had become entangled. I watched them as the sun set, through twilight, and into the night. The night fishermen were perhaps my favorite to watch, not because I could see what they were doing (I couldn’t), but because they reminded me so much of fireflies, their head lamps slowly bobbing and seeming to blink on and off with the turn of their heads. I could have watched them forever.

Fishermen on the two-color river, where the Mun meets the Mekong

     I returned to Khong Chiam on the last day of my long weekend with a friend to visit a Soi Sawan Waterfall and Pha Taem national park. After spending nearly all of the last three months in a city, it was so refreshing to visit some of the beautiful natural attractions in Ubon province. The waterfall was absolutely gorgeous, and fell into a huge collection of potholes fit for swimming, jumping, and exploring. After relaxing in the cool water and receiving a few waterfall massages, we ventured to Pha Taem national park, which has prehistoric rock paintings that are around 3000 years old. The main area of the park is a large plateau of bedrock, from the edge of which you can look out over Laos. After admiring the view of Laos and the Mekong, we followed a long, thin trail down along a cliff face to see the paintings, made of red paint and still very much intact. Just as beautiful and interesting as the paintings were the cliffs on which they were painted—the beautiful curves and colors of the bedrock reminded me of some places I’ve visited in Arizona. I definitely plan on returning to this park for a camping trip during the dry season, because other than having ancient rock paintings, it is also the location of the first sunrise in Thailand, which I am sure will be quite a sight to behold.

Soi Sawan Waterfall

The potholes reminded me of the swimming holes in the Northeast US :)
A little swimming hold at the bottom of the falls--a perfect place to relax in the cool water and get a few waterfall massages

View from the cliff top at Pha Taem national park. The view looks across the Mekong river to Laos
Ancient cliff paintings
And the cliffs themselves were beautiful as well...I kept nerding out as I tried to identify the different geological features of the cliff face.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Settled In

After my last post, something changed. Thailand went from being some exotic place that I was “experiencing” to being, simply, my home. I can’t say all the bones in my body have fully adjusted, nor do I really ever expect them to, but my initial high from being someplace new has died down, and I finally feel settled in to living my life here in Ubon.

Before I moved to Thailand, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Whenever people asked me questions about what living in Thailand was going to be like, the only response I could give was, “I don’t know. I haven’t been there yet.” I suppose I thought that Thailand would somehow be this exotic place, far from home and from anything I knew. Just the name Thailand brought connotations of tropical weather, exotic culture, and adventure.

While there are all of these things and more, I have come to realize (perhaps naively) that life here is just that—life. Everyone is just living their life, trying to get by and have some fun while they’re at it. Sure there are some pretty big differences in culture and in the way things get done, but ultimately life marches on day by day, just like it does everywhere else in the world.

And I’m getting used to life as it exists here. Going to the market is no longer an adventure; neither is picking up food from a street vendor or riding around Ubon on the back of a motorbike (ok, well, sometimes it still is ^^). It’s just my life now. I’ve settled in, and it feels good. I know I will continue to run across things that leave me wide-eyed, amazed, and let’s be honest, downright confused, but for the time being, that feeling of total awe is no longer part of my daily life.

On one hand, I’m a little sad that I don’t get that jolt of excitement every time I go someplace new or try something new. On the other hand, it feels really good to be settled into where I’m living and what I’m doing. I can sit back and take a breath now that I have an established routine and know (at least to some degree) what to expect from each day. Ultimately, it feels like I’ve begun a new chapter. If my life in Thailand were its own book, I’ve gotten past the intriguing prologue, and have started Chapter 1. The ohmygodiminthailand feeling has subsided, but now I can really get into the meaty stuff and begin the story.

And this is where my story begins every day: my apartment, or "mansion," as they're called here. Unlike mansions in the US, mansions here are a one-room apartments with a bed, a wardrobe, a fridge, and a few other small pieces of furniture. It also has bathroom off the back. I'll spare you pictures of the interior, as it's a bit messy.

My "mansion" complex. Mine is in the corner on the right, hiding behind the shrubbery.

There is it! My front door

View as a walk from my apartment to the street. Across the street, behind the wall you see there, is an airbase of sorts, or so I understand.
View from my bathroom around sunset.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Muay Thai Boxing (a descriptive story)

Driving down a dark road, wet and glistening with recent rain, feeling a bit anxious but also excited. What was promised to be a half-hour drive has turned into an hour and a half long stop-and-go journey: buying sticky rice, sausage, and spring rolls at a bustling night market for a late dinner, dropping by a 7/11 to pick up some beer, stopping at a gas station in the countryside to eat and wait for the man who is bringing us to the event, and the final leg of the journey in his car, across the provincial boarder to our destination.

Finally, the car slows down for a left-hand turn, and then there’s the familiar jolting and jostling characteristic of pot-holed dirt roads. This can’t be a main road. We must be arriving.

As we approach the building, I quickly survey the place and the people. Many cars—and even more motorbikes—are crammed into every parkable space. There are a few incandescent light bulbs lighting the scene outside, revealing the faces in the crowd. First thing I notice: very few women. Next: zero farangs. My nervousness increases, knowing how out of place I’ll be here. I reassure myself that everything will be alright, and when I hear the car’s engine grumble to a stop, I open the door and step out into the hot, humid night.

Walking from car to destination, I try not to look too much like a deer in headlights, and follow close behind the two men who are regulars at the scene—both muay thai boxing officials, one of whom was a former fighter himself. We pick our way across the muddy driveway, snake through the jumble of motorbikes, and walk past the people hanging around outside. A quick word between our chaperone and the young man sitting at the entrance, and we’re in, free of charge.

Rounding the corner of the building, the ring comes into sight. It’s a typical boxing ring, raised to be at fans’ eye level. Moths and bugs are teeming around the bare light bulbs that hang from the tin roof covering the ring. The area around is open-air and dimly lit; the floor is dirt, and muddy in places from the recent rain. The ring is surrounded by fans who’ve driven anywhere from five to a hundred kilometers to watch their friends, brothers, and sons enter the arena. I get many double takes, but am relieved to see that the fans are more interested in the fighters than the farang.

One fighter, then a second, hops up into the ring. These two are in their early teens. Their skin is glazed with Thai oil, and they wear nothing but a colorful pair of boxing shorts and boxing gloves—this is international style, so no padding. Each fighter also dons a mongkhon (a decorative headband), pra jiad (armbands), and a lei of bright yellow flowers for the wai khru ram muay, a traditional warm-up activity performed by the fighters when they enter the ring. Traditional muay thai music begins to play from an old but powerful sound system; a high-pitched reed instrument, a tambourine, and drums beat out a steady, driving rhythm as the two fighters perform their ram muay, each routine unique and beautiful.

Then the music pauses briefly, and the bell rings. The match has begun. It’s a beautiful, violent, captivating dance between the fighters. At the onset of this Saturday-night adventure, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about watching live muay thai boxing. I find I can’t turn away. Things start slowly, a probing kick here, a testing punch there, but as the fight progresses through the 3-minute rounds, things speed up; more parts of the body are used, contact made between fighters becomes more powerful, and through the crowd’s cheering I begin to hear the sound of foot on ribs, knee on ribs, glove on ribs and glove on head. The movement is dramatized by the water and sweat that is flung off of the fighters as their bodies are jolted this way and that.

Towards the end, it is clear that both boys are exhausted, but although they must be feeling it, their faces do not convey pain. As the punches and kicks become slower and less accurate with fatigue, one boys’ slow down more than the others’. A last hit, and the slower boy falls to the floor, unconscious. After he has been revived, the referee grabs the standing boy’s arm, raising it high in the air, signaling him as winner. The boys respectfully acknowledge each other and leave the ring. Before long, the next two hop up, and the dance begins again.

[Photos courtesy of one of the other teachers at Assumption College, who came along on the adventure]

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Visa Running in Laos

On Sunday (5/27/12) I went on a visa run to Savannakhet, Laos to convert my visitor’s visa to a non-immigrant B visa, which will allow me to work legally in Thailand (hooray for not being deported!). The trip was short—just two nights—but it was SO COOL to experience another place in Southeast Asia!

Savannakhet is the second largest city in Laos, but you would never guess it. The city does not have big buildings or the typical city bustle; most notably, there is very little traffic, and the traffic that does exist ambles along at a relaxed pace. I was thankful for this, because after I applied for my visa conversion on Monday morning, I biked around the city to see some of the sights it had to offer, and not once did I feel like I was going to get run-over!

I began my bike ride with the intention of visiting a dinosaur museum—from what I understand, Savannakhet is the only place in Laos where dinosaur bones have been found. However, upon arriving at the museum, I decided to just keep on biking instead. The afternoon turned into a slow-paced, aimless wander around the city. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:

The [open-air!] Royal Thai Consulate. Thankfully, all went smoothly.

The mighty Mekong River, as seen from the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge connecting Mukdahan, Thailand, to Savannakhet, Laos.

My sweet ride around the city, borrowed from one of my student's extremely friendly and welcoming aunts who lives in Savannakhet. It was a tad small for me, but that seems to be a general truth around here. There aren't many women my height in Southeast Asia.

There's me blocking the view of the Mekong. For those who don't know, I have a very, very poor sense of direction. But! I did not get lost on this trip, thanks to the Mekong river, which boarders the entire eastern side of Savannakhet. This made my wandering particularly carefree, because I knew that if I could find the river, I could find my way back to my hotel.

A market along the Mekong.
I huge tree on the banks of the Mekong. I'm still trying to figure out why people in Southeast Asia tie colorful scarves around really large trees.

One of the many beautiful temples I biked by. Notice the vibrant blue tiled background on the temple. Also notice the new vs old towers. The wear of the older tower (black and white, on the right-hand side) reminded me of some of the ruins I've seen in the caribbean, which has the same climate as Thailand and Laos--tropical. i.e. HOT and HUMID. 

Unlike Thailand, which was never colonized, Laos was colonized by the French. I spent most of my time biking around the older parts of the city, which had a classic French/Western look to them that you cannot find in Thailand. Many of the buildings are slowly being destroyed by time and climate, but time has also given them a sort of rustic beauty. I loved the colors of this particular building.
A Catholic church--a rare sight in this part of the world. This is the first one I've seen. 

Yet another temple, but this one's different--it's Chinese! Notice the difference in architecture, and of course, the dragons on top.
I don't think I'll ever get sick of looking at temples. They're SO beautiful!
Not totally sure if I should be taking pictures of legal documents, but check it out! My visa as a *non-immigrant* to The Kingdom of Thailand. 'Cause I live here. Booya.

There's the Friendship Bridge, looking westward from Laos towards Thailand. I headed back to Ubon on Tuesday afternoon, after picking up my passport and visa from the Thai consulate.

And to end the trip, a beautiful Thai sunset on the way back to Ubon Tuesday evening.

And so went my visa run to Laos. I definitely plan to go back, especially because my student's aunt (who I borrowed the bike from) has promised to take me to a monkey forest if I do!