Monthly Archives: October 2015

Kuala Lumpur, Baby!!!

I want to add a random note before I talk  about my trip to Malaysia. Numerous friends and family members have asked if I need them to send me money. You’re all incredible, and I am so grateful to have such a supportive team on my side. I think that in a previous post I might have given the wrong message about my financial situation. I have saved up a comfortable amount for this trip, but I have just been a total cheapskate since I’ve been here (thanks, Thailand!). While living here, it’s easy to get into the mindset that $6 is an expensive meal, $10 is an expensive pedicure, and $20 is an expensive day trip. I want everyone to know that I’m doing just fine, the only difficulty that I’m experiencing is coming to terms with being able to spend money on fun. I’m not broke, I’m just cheap!

I have spent the last 4 days and 3 nights in Malaysia, and I don’t even know how I’m going to keep this post from becoming a whole chapter of a book. I went into Kuala Lumpur (KL) with no expectations, and ended up having an amazing experience. I could try to explain the trip in a chronological order, but this post would never end.

The overarching theme of my trip was the haze from the Indonesian forest fires. It was literally overarching.

On the plane ride over, about 10 minutes after the captain had announced to prepare for arrival, I looked out the window and it didn’t seem like we were descending. All I could see were clouds, and the cabin started to smell like imagefire. Although I had anticipated the haze, I had no idea how bad it was actually going to be. Before I could even see the ground, the wheels came out from under the airplane and we landed.  I have no idea how it was possible for the captain to even see the runway. It was much worse than I thought.

I reserved an apartment through Airbnb that was right outside the downtown area. I booked the place because it’s about 1 mile from the city center, and it had stunning views of the Petronas Towers- the tallest twin towers in the world. The drive to the place took about an hour, but my taxi driver was awesome, so it went by really fast. He spoke English very well, and we mostly talked about the haze situation. I quickly realized that the Indonesian fires are not only an environmental catastrophe and a general inconvenience, but a serious human rights issue.

The driver told me that he hadn’t seen sky in two months. Apparently he was used to it, as he said it happens every imageyear, although, he said that this time was worse than any he’s ever seen. He had sores on his eyes and a lung infection. As I have mentioned in previous posts, the fires were started for slash and burn agriculture for palm oil production, but quickly grew out of control due to the dry season and the nature of the fires. They’re peat fires, so they are able to exist at 25 feet under the ground. Small, contained fires are legal, but it’s tricky to keep them contained and manageable. My driver told me that even though the Indonesian government claims to want to keep them in control, they always turn their head and give the corporations a slap on the wrist when the fires lose control. Slash and burn agriculture is much faster and cheaper than the alternative, and the corporations and government alike make some serious cash off of palm oil production. Indonesia is going through an exceptionally dry season, so there is no end in sight for the haze situation.

Schools nationwide have been cancelled for over 14 days of the month of October, and they’re not even in the same country as the fires. Children in Indonesia have died from respiratory infections resulting from the haze. I could rant and rave about this all day. It’s absolutely unbelievable. Sigh. Sorry to be super heavy, I’ll switch it up and tell you about my trip now.

imageMy taxi driver from the airport was awesome, and he was definitely an exception to the rule of taxi drivers in KL. In the city, it is illegal for a metered taxi to fix the price of a trip and not use the meter. It’s posted on signs in both Malay and English on their taxis, yet, it’s hard to find a taxi that will actually abide by the rule.

I was used to haggling prices in Phuket, so my first few taxi rides were based on negotiation. Without realizing it, I was being charged double the normal rate. In front of the place I was staying, the taxi drivers were all congregated in front of the building, and they all offered me rides by quoting a price. I had intended on using my GrabTaxi app, but it doesn’t work without cell service. Once I had the information about taxis being required to use a meter, I tried to point out to the drivers that I knew what they were doing was illegal. I was astonished at their reaction.

Each time I pointed it out, I was met with an incredibly offensive response. To put it into perspective, here is a list of things that happened when I mentioned it was illegal to forego the taxi meter:

-A man spit at my feet

-One man burped in my face

-I was told to “F off”

-I was completely ignored and shooed away

-They tried to tell me that during high traffic, the law doesn’t count,

-The law doesn’t matter after sundown,

-The law doesn’t exist in the city of KL, and

-They don’t have to use a meter on the way to tourist attractions

To humor myself, I asked a police officer if any of the things these men were saying were true. I simply asked, “hey, is there any circumstance in which a taxi doesn’t have to use a meter?” The cop looked really concerned, and said, “who said those things to you? Please show me who. This is highly illegal, and we want to tell them it’s wrong!” Considering that 90% of taxi drivers in front of tourist attractions refused to use the meter, I was extremely doubtful that this cop was being sincere. I eventually found that it was most effective to flag down a taxi that was already driving, and say “meter, please” as soon as I got into the vehicle. I only ran into 1 driver who refused to use the meter, and I simply rejected his offer and flagged down the next one.

imageThe apartment I was staying in was great, but the whole setup felt like it would’ve been a disaster if the building were to catch on fire. For starters, the building’s fire alarm was going off the entire time due to the haze. They couldn’t turn it off, so they just turned it down. There was a quiet beeping throughout the duration of my stay. Additionally, the key card that I was given was required to get through the front door of the building, into and out of the room with the elevator/stairs, to access the elevator/stairs, and to access the room I was staying in. It was great security, but I’m not sure anyone would be able to make it out of there in a hurry without their key card.

The whole purpose of my trip was to renew my Thai tourist visa for another 30 days until my work permit is approved for a 1 year visa. The night before I went into the embassy, I was double checking that I had all of my paperwork in order when I realized I didn’t quite have enough cash for the visa itself. I went down to an ATM to withdraw cash, and my card was declined. Since I’ve been out of the country, I’ve had to call my bank at least 5 times to remind them that I am not in the United States. Granted, I am glad they are keeping a close eye on my account, but it’s become quite a hassle. In Thailand I am able to call internationally with my phone, but I didn’t have service in Malaysia. If I was unable to go to the embassy the following morning, I would’ve had to wait until Monday to complete the process. Needless to say, I was in panic mode.

I had WiFi at the apartment I was staying in, but there isn’t really such thing as free international calling, even if it’s through WiFi. The internet connection was horrible, and it took an hour to download an app that promised the first 10 minutes were free. After having downloaded the app, I got a hold of my bank and explained to them my situation.  “Thank you for calling First National Bank of Omaha. My name is David, and I am happy to assist you with your inquiry today. May I please start with your full name, the last four of your social, and a good number to reach you?”

GAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!  “Yes hi, David, despite having told the bank 100 times that I now live outside of the country, you all continue to leave me without access to MY OWN MONEY!!! I’M GOING TO BE STUCK IN MALAYSIA FOREVER!!!!!”

Just kidding. I didn’t say that. Call center employees do not deserve the wrath of anyone’s frustration. I politely explained my situation, and he said “Everything appears to be okay on your card ma’am. Oh wait, I do see here… let me put you on a brief hold while I speak with another department.” After waiting on hold for 9 minutes, I watched as the free 10 minute call dwindled away. I felt hopeless at this point. To be incredibly dramatic about it, I felt like I was Rose from Titanic, letting Jack slip away into the ice cold water. DON’T GO!! I begged. I couldn’t buy another 10 minutes through the app because my account was on hold.

To make a long, winding, overly dramatic story short, I ended up finding the app “Dingtone” which gave me a free 30 minute phone call (thank you Dingtone!! I’m forever indebted). Apparently the bank decided to change my debit card to a “compromised” status, because I had “tried to use it in Thailand.” I had a wonderful 20 minute wait for them to tell me that they’ve temporarily changed the status of the card to active, and they’ve sent a new one out in the mail for me to use when I got home. I reminded them that I won’t be home for another year, there should be a note on my account, and they said, “Oh, really?” Yes, really. Someone find me a new bank.

After two and a half hours of dealing with them, it was 12:30am. I went to bed but had a hard time sleeping, wondering if my card would work at the ATM the following morning.

The Thai embassy in KL is only open from 9:30am to 11:30am, and I had been advised by multiple people to show up at 8am in order to be able to process everything on time. I left my apartment at 7:30am and had a taxi take me to an ATM to withdraw some cash. We went to 4 different ATMs before we found one that accepts Visa. A tip to anyone considering a trip to KL- bring a MasterCard.

I arrived at the embassy at 8am and there were already 9 people ahead of me in line. It’s not like you can arrive and take a number and sit down. The line is at the gate in front of the building with standing room only. This was the only time I was grateful for the haze, as the sun was merely a red dot for decoration. It was about 80 degress out, when it should have been 90+. I had brought my Kindle, and the time went by quickly.

Directly behind me in line was a Buddhist nun. She had her head shaved and was wearing a white robe. I was previously distracted by my reading, but I wish I would’ve struck up a conversation with her sooner. For the past year she has been living in a Buddhist temple in Chaing Mai, Thailand. She was born in California, but has spent the majority of her life in Japan and Australia. She was such an interesting woman! Currently, Thailand does not allow a woman to be ordained as a monk, and trying to be a female monk is considered rebellious. She continuously has to leave the country to renew her tourist visa, because the Thai government will not allow a woman to stay on a meditation visa. I was so intrigued by her story.

At 9am, two men and a woman in their twenties walked up to the front of the line at the gate. Everyone was giving them the death stare, as we had all been waiting in line for an hour already. The Buddhist nun walked right up to them and politely told them that we had all been waiting, and suggested they head to the back of the queue. I was absolutely shocked to see that these people were incredibly rude to her, and basically told her to go away. The woman walked back to her place in line and said, “Some people are just going to be that way. Don’t let it ruin your mood.” LET THIS WOMAN BE A MONK ALREADY!!!  (p.s. Once I got back to my Airbnb, I read a very interesting article about female monks in Thailand. Now that I’m back in Thailand, I can’t access the site because is blocked by the government. If you’re curious, google “female monks in Thailand” and click on the “daily mail” link. It’s incredibly interesting).

The line-cutters (Russians, go figure) got into an altercation with the woman at the visa counter, and they ended up having to wait much longer than anyone else who had been in front of them. Processing my visa only took about 15 minutes once I had got in, and I was on with my day. If you have any questions about the Thai visa process in KL I would be happy to answer any questions you may have via e-mail.

Moving on!

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Chairs made from 100% ivory

Another major part of my trip was experiencing Islamic culture. In Malaysia, roughly 50% of the people are Muslim. Coming from the U.S. (especially CO), culture shock was definitely real. I knew that Islam was dominant in Malaysia, but for some reason it didn’t really sink in until I arrived. I will admit that this trip increased my knowledge of Islamic culture 110%.

I saw on TripAdvisor KL that the Islamic Arts Museum was the #2 attraction in the city. I decided it would be a good place to learn. After having visited, I can understand why it is so popular. The museum cost about $1 to get in (I used my old CSU ID for a discount, haha), and has four floors packed full of artifacts from different Islamic Empires throughout the centuries. I learned about  everything from ancient jewelry to environmentally sustainable mosque construction.

The National Mosque of Malaysia is right across the street from the museum, so after spending 2 hours in the museum, I decided to have a look. It is open to tourists on and off throughout the day in hour and a half intervals (they close to non-Muslims to allow for prayer). I was dressed conservatively enough for a Buddhist temple, but showed up under-dressed to peek inside of the mosque.  Right when I showed up, a woman grabbed a robe for me and got me dressed. I didn’t even have time to react. I got the full on hijab.  Oh man, I was out of my element. I had a guy take my picture, and after I’d looked at it, I had to try really hard to keep from laughing. I don’t think twice about it when I see a Muslim woman dressed like that, but I felt ridiculous wearing it as a non-Muslim.  Chalk one up to the experience, I guess.

The mosque itself wasn’t really extraordinary in terms of architecture. I wasn’t allowed to enter the prayer hall, so I really only walked up and peeked in. The whole ordeal took less than 10 minutes. I picked up some brochures to gain a little insight into the Islamic faith. Let’s be clear here, I picked them up because I wanted to know more about the unknown. I think the most interesting quote from all of the brochures was, “Women will never reach true liberation until they stop

You can tell by my face that I was definitely out of my element here.

You can tell by my face that I was definitely out of my element here.

imitating men and value the beauty of their own God-given distinctiveness.” I’m not here to condemn the religion or say what’s right or wrong, but we’ll just say that I wouldn’t last long as a Muslim.  I hope you appreciate the picture, because I really had to talk myself into posting it. I know I’m not going to live that one down.

The most awkward part of the entire ordeal was taking off the robe and headscarf once I was outside of the mosque. The men that were standing outside had an absolute field day with it. I was getting cat calls and kissing noises, and was incredibly uncomfortable. After living in Central and South America I have learned to ignore the behavior, but it was something I have yet to experience from Thai men. I’ve never been shouted at or harassed since I’ve been in Thailand. KL was an entire different story.

The majority of women in KL were dressed extremely conservatively. I was dressed very modestly by American standards. One of the days I was out walking in a sleeveless shirt and jeans, and a woman called me a prostitute. I saw many non-Muslims who were dressed less conservatively than I was. The whole thing was intense.

imageAs for the sight seeing in KL, there is a “hop on hop off” bus tour, which is like any other city’s big red bus tour. The ticket lasts for 24 hours and costs under $10. It was a great way to sight see and hit the major tourist attractions with limited time. My only problem with it was that sometimes it was faster to walk from point A to point B because the traffic was so bad. Also, as nice as it is to sit on top of a double-decker bus, the haze was burning my eyes and making me cough.

Tickets up to the sky bridge in the Petronas Twin Towers were half off because the haze was so bad you couldn’t see anything. They were booked, so I opted for the Menara KL Tower. They were doing a haze promotion that was free entry to the aquarium with purchase of tower ticket. The KL tower was completed in 1996, and I have to say, the place looks like it hasn’t been renovated since 1996. It’s not like they don’t have the money, either. It’s one of the busiest attractions in the city.

The “aquarium” was a bunch of small uncleaned fish tanks that were jam packed with fish that were way too big to imagehave 14 of them in the same tank. It smelled like someone threw up a tuna sandwich inside of a city park bathroom, but luckily the walk through it only took 5 minutes. It was hardly a consolation for paying full price for the KL tower ride up. The view would have been incredible if it weren’t for the haze. They took my picture in front of a green screen and photoshopped in the normal view in the background, then wanted me to pay $10 for the picture. It felt especially fake, because I had only seen about 1/3 of the actual view. I didn’t buy the picture.

The setup inside the tower was also rundown, and I don’t think the carpet has been changed since the building’s construction. At one point I walked by the room with the elevator and watched a man spraying an aerosol can full of fragrance onto the carpets.  Despite the haze, the view was still pretty impressive, and I think it was definitely worth the trip.

My major splurge of the trip was the 96 hour binge eating food tour of Kuala Lumpur. Because it’s a big city, I was able to eat Mexican, American, Mediterranean, French, Indian, and Japanese food. I haven’t had much for food diversity since I’ve been staying in Thailand, so I was having a hayday with international cuisine. The Indian food was the best I’ve ever eaten, and I ate a four course meal at a four star restaurant for under $15.

imageI also found a breakfast place that had a “bagel with cream cheese” on the menu. I was so excited until the waiter brought it out. There are only a few things that will make me throw a toddler tantrum on the inside, and one of them is the bagel impostor. I felt deceived. I wanted to cry.

Just kidding. It was almost representative of a bagel, but not the real thing. My least favorite part about living abroad is the lack of bagels. Cry me a river.

I haven’t nearly said all that I wanted to say about my experience in Malaysia, but I have to cut this off now. Let’s just say that KL is an incredible booming metropolis that is definitely worthy of a visit. Having only experienced the major city within the peninsula, I’m now curious to discover the rest of Malaysia.

One last thing I’ll add:

Even in a city of 1.5 million people, I hardly saw any Western tourists. I had multiple people ask me if they could take their picture with me. I felt like a movie star. I made sure to get a picture on my own camera for some of them, because they were pretty hilarious. I’ll leave you with these….

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The Vegetarian Festival

Less than 24 hours from my previous post, and I decided to write again. How’s that for predictability?

Last night I went to the Vegetarian Festival right after publishing my previous blog, and I think it’s crucial to write about it now, before I head to Malaysia tomorrow.

I realized that the major factor that was preventing me from going to see the events in Phuket Town was that I didn’t want to drive through the madness and traffic. I realized I was being silly, and I hopped in a taxi and made it over there. I have recently discovered the app GrabTaxi, and I’ve found it has saved me a ton of time and money. This isn’t a plug, but they should definitely be paying me as their promoter. The app allows you to set your pickup and drop-off destinations on a map, it estimates the fare, and shows the metered taxis in the surrounding areas.  If you’re walking down the street in any part of Phuket, it’s normally very time consuming to find a metered taxi. All of the taxi drivers, tuk tuks, and motorbike taxis set their own rates, because they know they can make far more by ripping you off. For example, I was once charged 350 baht for a normal taxi to take me from my place in Kathu to Phuket Town. Yesterday, it cost me 180. That’s a difference of about $5, and $5 goes a long way here.

imageAnyhow, I was incredibly relieved that I hadn’t driven, because the traffic was out of control. The taxi driver dropped me off at the apartments that I used to stay in, and I met up with Michelle, a friend from my TEFL course. We walked to the festival with plans to grab dinner along the way. The streets were packed with food stalls offering an overwhelming amount of food. It was funny to see that although it’s a vegetarian festival, a few of the stalls had managed to make imitation hot dogs, and other food that looked like it was meat. As I usually do, I bought a little bit of everything, and then only ate about 1/3 of it. I get really excited to try new things, but then I’m way too full to eat all of it. My favorite of the night were some super spicy deep fried seaweed fritters. Everything tastes good fried.

We walked down to the end of the street where the Jui Tui Shrine is. The online schedule said that the fire walking was supposed to start at 8, and we made it there at 7:30 to secure a good spot. The festival is so noisy due in part to the sheer amount of people, but definitely the major contributor is the firecrackers being set off everywhere you look. I’ll get to the fireworks in a bit. We were standing out front of the Chinese temple, with a pretty good view of what was going on in front. There were about a dozen imagetattooed men standing in a circle, showing only the whites of their eyes, chanting and shaking their heads back and forth. They were all barefoot, and wearing white pants and multicolored bejeweled aprons. There was one elderly woman in the circle, and she was wearing a bright pink outfit that looked exactly like a graduation cap and gown. I’ve read online that the men in aprons are the mediums, that they are the ones who channel the gods during the ceremony. I have no idea about the woman, though. Man, I wish I knew.

The mediums are highly respected- any time a person had to walk past one of them, they gave them a wai (folding hands in a prayer position at the chest, and bowing the head). The height of the hands during the wai changes with levels of respect, and the people were giving them the highest version of the wai, which meant they were holy figures.

Michelle and I were taken back just watching the chanting and the head shaking. There was a lot going on, and then one of imagethe mediums turned around and yelled super loud and motioned for everyone to sit down. There weren’t any chairs or anything, everyone just plopped right down where they were standing. Shortly after we had sat down, another man yelled and pointed and there was a type of panic set off. He motioned for everyone to stand up. Michelle and I just went with whatever the crowd was doing, even though it was somewhat alarming. When we stood up, two men walked through carrying a wooden sculpture. Another man yelled at us again to sit down. He was holding a long wooden stick with long blonde hair at the end, and was waving it in the air. I made a joke to Michelle (she also has blonde hair) that it was the hair of the foreigner who didn’t follow directions. The whole ordeal was confusing and intense.

They lit off some fireworks in the center of their circle, and then they left the shrine and walked down the street in a procession. Everyone was following them, so we did too. At this point, I realized that maybe we had gone to the wrong shrine for the fire walking. This was intensely cultural, though, so we followed along with them. We quickly realized that it is protocol for the bystanders to chuck fireworks into the crowd. There were pregnant women, small children, and elderly people throughout the crowd. Nobody seemed to bat an eye.

Everyone thought it was especially funny to throw them at the foreigners. When we were near the shrine, it was impossibleimage to escape them. The narrow alleys left us really no choice but to run through them. Once we got to the bigger street, we were able to stand behind the people who were throwing the firecrackers. It was so intense that we both had our head on a swivel, and we ran at even the sight of a single firework. I remember looking up and seeing one coming straight at my face. I wasn’t sure if waving a white flag would be a sign of surrender here. The whole crowd was dressed in white, and everyone seemed pretty cool with having fireworks thrown at them.

People had set up shrines in front of their restaurants that were in the path of the procession. As everyone was walking, some of the mediums would come over and bless the shrines. The children lined up on the side of the streets in a wai position, and the mediums would come over and bless them. All of my pictures turned out blurry, because I was taking them while dodging fireworks.  image

After it was clear that it was the end of the procession, Michelle and I headed back to the temple to see if maybe it was time for fire walking. I was pretty sure we’d missed it, but part of me was holding out hope that we’d get to see some. They had some projector screens setup, and they were showing clips from the face piercings earlier in the day. Upon seeing them, I realized that seeing them on a screen had been overwhelming enough, and I felt okay that I hadn’t seen them in person. I wasn’t even too concerned about seeing the fire walking anymore.  At this point, my ears were ringing so hard from the fireworks that it was painful. Next year I’ll bring earplugs.

We walked back to the temple on a side road, as to take a break from the fireworks. The ally was quiet, and we walked past a sweet old man sitting on his porch. I nodded my head and smiled, and just as I looked up, the old man had a lit firework in his hand. Before I could finish a “what the….?!” he started laughing and tossed it right at my feet!!! Of course I screamed and started running, but he got me good. I didn’t get burned, but I did feel the pings of them hitting me.

With enough excitement for the night, we decided to head home. I walked with Michelle back to the apartments, and then decided to walk a little ways out of the street to try to catch a taxi. I walked out and down a road that I knew had enough imagetraffic to have a taxi, but figured it was far enough away from the excitement. I was wrong. I walked straight to a different Chinese temple, where they were using the big boy fireworks to shoot them at each other. I quickly ran into a narrow alley for shelter, when I heard too little boys giggling. I looked down and saw both of them looking up at me with their ears covered, one of them with a lighter in hand. What the….. boom. These two little boys were all by themselves in a little alley, lighting off fireworks of their own. There was literally no escaping the boom.

Instead of waiting for a GrabTaxi, I walked straight up to a motorbike taxi (yes, they provide helmets), accepted his overpriced fare, and got the hell out of there. I actually got what I paid for with this guy, though. He is in a reggae band, and he loudly sang reggae the entire drive home.

I slept like a baby last night.

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Wat Chalong

Yikes, guys! I didn’t realize it’s been 6 days since I’ve last written. I’ve been slacking.

imageOn Wednesday I went to visit Wat Chalong- or Chalong Temple. I had seen it as I drove past on my way to the beach one time, but was improperly dressed an unable to go in. Wednesday morning, I woke up for a Thai lesson at 9am. After my lesson, I had decided that I was going to cover my knees and shoulders, and head to the temple.

Guided tours through the temples are available, but they end up costing around $45 per person. I gassed up my scooter for a whole $3, and found my way there. It was about a 20 minute ride through 100 degree sunny weather, with about 80% humidity. I’ve gotten used to the fact that if I’m going to be outside for longer than 10 minutes, I should plan on imagebeing smelly for the rest of the day. It’s hot here. Upon arriving at the temple, I realized that it wasn’t critical to show up with everything covered. There was a man at the entrance handing out sarongs to the people who weren’t properly dressed. I wish I would’ve known that before I had gone. I had passed the place multiple times, but turned back because I didn’t think I was wearing the right clothes.

Wat Chalong itself is considered the most important Buddhist temple on the island, and it is comprised of multiple structures. The original building is believed to have been constructed between 1802-1840, but the actual date is debated. There wasn’t much reading material as far as history went, so I basically just walked around and marveled at the architecture and artwork.

The temples all strikingly beautiful, and the site is well kept. I really enjoyed touring them, but couldn’t help but feel awkward taking pictures while people were praying. There were multiple stands to purchase offerings for the shrine. Common offerings include flowers, water, and cherry soda. Many people will bring food, small gifts, etc. The gifts are purchased specifically for the gods, and are left untouched at the shrines. Side note: At the place I had previously stayed in Phuket Town, the shrine at the restaurant next door always made me smile. The women brought so many shots of whiskey to their shrine. Occasionally they’d leave a plate of food, but it was almost always whiskey.

imageIn addition to people giving offerings at Wat Chalong, there were many people who were lighting incense and leaving them, chanting prayers, and leaving slips of paper throughout the cracks of the statues. I felt intrusive, and tiptoed around the whole thing, only taking a few pictures of the insides of the temples.

The main structure is huge- three floors high. It was a quick steep climb up the stairs to the top, but the view was outstanding.  I love the details of the structure themselves, and have somehow always been drawn to foreign architecture. In the bell tower of this temple, there is a lotus flower sculpture, surrounded by a glass casing, with holes to insert donations. I couldn’t believe the pile of money that was surrounding the area. I can’t imagine how much it costs to upkeep the temple though, as many of the Buddha statues are plated in gold.

After Wat Chalong, I decided to drive to the famous Big Buddha statue. The Buddha sits on top of a mountain, and it’s approx 148 feet high and 82 feet across. I’ve seen it multiple times driving through the island, but have never made it to the top of the hill. Well, I can say that still stands true now. I never ended up making it to see the statue, because I took a wrong turn and ended up at the opposite side of the island (about 30 minutes in the wrong direction). It’s funny how frequently this seems to happen to me. It’s easy to get lost here, but never difficult to find your way back.

I decided to stop at a restaurant and grab a bite, and I connected to wifi to figure out exactly where I was. I was less than a half a mile from Kata Beach. My location had me in a triangle between the statue, my apartment, and the restaurant I was eating in. Rather than go the 25  minutes to the Buddha, then an additional 25 minutes home, I figured I would just go home. I was starting to get tired, and I figured I probably shouldn’t be driving all of that way with a groggy mind.

I’d have to say that my temple day was definitely the highlight since the last time I’ve  written. It’s been raining quite a bit, which makes transportation on a motorbike limited. On Friday morning I experienced the largest downpour since I’ve been here. It dumped so much rain that the streets started accumulating water, a sight which I hadn’t seen yet. I looked up the weather forecast to see how long it was going to stay around, and saw on the radar that a huge typhoon is hitting the imagePhilippines right now. A very small tail of the storm was right over Phuket, which I’m guessing had contributed to the intense downpour. It’s  hard to say, though. I’ve only been here for about 7 weeks now, so I’m not sure if it was monsoon rain or due to the typhoons.

To the right is the typhoon in the Philippines. If you look at the top of the picture, where the “c” is in “dtac,” and then follow it straight down to the first little bit of red, that’s where I’m at. I’m definitely grateful that we’re not being significantly impacted by the storm.

I can’t believe this time has gone by and I haven’t checked out any more of the Vegetarian Festival!!! I’ve been kicking myself about it. Tonight there is fire walking and bladed ladder climbing, so I’m going to go check it out.

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Downtime in Paradise

I am starting to feel a little restless. “How is that possible?!” You ask. “Aren’t you in a top notch tourist destination? Why don’t you go to the beach every day? Go ride an elephant! I would kill to be in your position!”

I’m not saying that it’s anything short of awesome to be here, but my personality doesn’t like downtime. There’s always an something inside of me that feels like I need to be contributing. I’m not good at lollygagging. Also, I’ve had to stretch my budget to fit 3 months without income. I had planned for 2, hoping to get a job right after the TEFL course. As it all worked out with my poor timing, the schools are on vacation until November, and I won’t be paid until the end of the month. I’m stuck between wanting to keep busy and trying to be cheap.

The food and accommodation here are ridiculously cheap, and for that I am thankful. To put it into perspective, I can stay full on less than $4/day. Gas cost also goes a long way when you’re renting a motorbike, so I have no problem getting around the island. My ultimate downfall is when it comes to the endless range of activities for tourists on this island. If money weren’t a factor, I could start my morning on an elephant trek, then go sea kayaking through mangroves, see a imageladyboy cabaret show, and then throwback some Singapore slings while listening to live music on the beach. It sounds AMAZING. Unfortunately, that kind of day would cost me about 25% of the salary I will be making come November. For now, I’ve been trying to tackle all the freebie tourist attractions that I can. It may sound silly, but I can’t wait until school starts in November.

I must say there are still a handful of attractions here that are free and noteworthy. The first, as mentioned in an earlier post, is Monkey Hill. Now that I think about it, I think I could take a backpack full of bananas and spend an entire day there. That would sure create a sense of purpose in my life. I could become the monkey version of the crazy pigeon lady. That being said, I’m not sure I’d be able to make an escape once I ran out of bananas.

There’s always the beach. I can’t get enough of the gorgeous beaches here. I won’t go into too much detail about how awesome the beaches are here. They’re fantastic (see above). We’ll leave it at that.

Another free attraction in the area is the Kathu Waterfalls. The waterfalls are about a 2 minute drive up the road from the school I’ll be teaching in- they’re both on the road “Waterfall Road.” Last Saturday I decided to go check them out. The entrance to the park is a parking lot with a few local residences and restaurants nearby. Kathu is outside of the super touristy areas, so the place isn’t marked with a whole lot of obnoxious signs. The place was definitely constructed for tourists, though.

The climb is a long concrete staircase, with intermittent rest stops with bits of information. I’d read online that there are three waterfalls throughout the journey to the top. I climbed up a little ways and found the first. To my disappointment, it was man made. It’s my own fault for setting my expectations so high. It’s actually a beautiful park, and there were quite a imagefew local boys playing in the water.

The hike is increasingly difficult as you ascend up the stairs, but nothing too intense. It’s easy to forget that it’s man-made, because you’re surrounded by lush green jungle. Just as your mind escapes into “jungle trek” mode, you look over and see the trail of trash that’s left behind by the previous tourists. It made me really sad, because it was an absolute mess.

The 2nd waterfall was gorgeous. I’ve heard from Mr.B (my favorite taxi man) that the waterfalls are better now because of the monsoon rains. It’s not a huge waterfall, by any means, but it was serene to sit next to.

As I hiked up to the 3rd waterfall, the concrete stairs stopped and the path turned narrow, with stepping stones as a path. I have to admit, I walked about 10 feet in, and turned around and went right back out. For some reason, I got legitimately scared. I was by myself, nobody knew that I was there, and I had no idea what was tucked away inside that gorgeous rain forest. I thought about snakes, and freaked myself out. I was out.

In hindsight, I really wish I would’ve given it a chance. I was already 2/3 of the way up, and I turned back. Oh well, at least it’s just up the street, and it’s free 🙂

Another option for free entertainment is to check out a temple, or a “wat.” The architecture is incredible, and they exist on every stretch of the island. I’ve been into a couple, and have definitely been impressed. It’s required to wear a shirt that covers the shoulders, and pants that cover the knees. It’s 89 degrees and 90% humidity here, so I’ve only been into temples on planned occasions.

The Kathu Shrine is between my place and the school, so it’s very close. Yesterday was the start of the vegetarian festival,image
and I decided to go see what it was all about. The mortifying body piercings don’t happen until a few days into the festival, so I just cruised up for some dinner. I was incredibly excited for the opportunity to eat whatever was in sight without having to worry about it being strange street meat. There are tons of food stalls, but I soon found out it’s important to pick one that has posted prices for their food. I saw some fried corn & chili fritters, so I indicated that I would like to purchase some. I watched every person in front of me pay 10 TBH, and when it was my turn, the lady asked me for 20. There wasn’t a sign advertising they cost 10, so I didn’t have any ground to stand on. I smiled and thanked her. Even though she ripped me off, the difference was about 25 cents. I knew the 25 cents meant more to her than it does to me.

During the vegetarian festival, attendees traditionally wear all white. I completely forgot, so I was in normal clothes. I was worried about standing out, and then I laughed and realized that I stand out no matter what I’m wearing. I did see quite a few Thai people that weren’t following suit. Nobody was sticking to the “sleeves” rule, so I felt okay.

I saw a Thai family struggling to fit themselves into one selfie with the shrine. I walked over and acted out that I would take their picture for them, and they were super happy. I took a few, and then one of the men grabbed his camera and indicated that they wanted a picture with me. They took quite a few. I thought it was hilarious. I even got my camera out and insisted that I have a copy of the same picture. Look at how adorable we are:image

Being the only foreigner with all of the chaos of the festival was pretty overwhelming, and I felt a huge push of culture shock. The small children were lighting off fireworks and throwing them into a pit. I watched a little boy (maybe 2 years old) wander into the pit when nobody was watching. Right before another boy threw a firework into the pit, another boy ran into it and dragged the 2 year old out. Everyone was laughing about it, but it scared the crap out of me. The festival is fantastic for people watching.

I could’ve stayed longer, but I was pretty overwhelmed. I’ve got 8 more days to check it out, so I have plenty of time until I leave for Malaysia on the 20th.

About that….

Today I received a call from Steve, one of the directors at the school. He is my contact for work permit/visa issues while Bronwyn is back home in South Africa. Steve is from the UK and to be honest, sometimes I have a hard time understanding him. Yes, we both speak English, but sometimes I feel like British English is a whole new language. Regardless, Steve had some bad news.

Apparently the application process for a work permit can be a pain in the ass. The timeline to get my work permit, visa, and teacher license is a stretched out process, and there are definitely setbacks along the way. I was initially told that my paperwork would take less than 2 weeks to process, and I cleared it with my supervisor that it was good timing to set my flight to Malaysia for 2 weeks out. I have to go to Malaysia to get my visa, and I have to have my work permit before I have my visa. I have to have my work permit and visa before I can get my teacher’s license. Steve got a call today that there was some issue in the review process, and my work permit won’t be ready for 3 more weeks. It was a bunch of political jargon that Steve was describing, and he basically just said, “I’m horribly sorry. I know it’s a pain. Welcome to Thailand.”

My tourist visa runs out on the 31st, and I have a nonrefundable ticket to Malaysia. It sounds like I’m going to have to go to Malaysia to renew my tourist visa, come back into Thailand, and then leave the country again at the start of November so I can re-enter with a Non Immigrant B Visa. It’s all a huge headache. Because it pertains to my personal visa, I have to pay for everything myself. On the bright side, maybe I’ll try Cambodia or Vietnam for my 2nd visa run. Who knows. I’m not complaining about the traveling part. A round trip ticket to these countries runs about $50. It’ another stamp on the passport!

That’s all I have for now! I’ve uploaded some more pictures of the waterfalls and veg festival in the pics section.

Someone eat a bagel with cream cheese for me. I’m salivating like a dog just thinking about one.

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Thaime for some Thai

The other day, I realized that I’ve been in Thailand for 6 weeks, and have only retained the same basic phrases that I learned in my introductory Thai class through the TEFL course. I’ve been surrounded by English-speaking friends, and not many Thai people. It’s crazy to think that you can actually live here and get by just fine without ever learning the language. I mean it’s great, but I thought I would’ve picked up more Thai by now. I also traveled here for the purpose of learning more about Thai culture.

For that reason, I decided to seek out a Thai language school and actively learn the language. I found a language school online that offers a program for travelers to Thailand who are looking to secure a 1 year visa (Non Immigrant B Visa). It’s basically a package deal that people purchase before they come here. The school arranges everything necessary for the students to travel, and it’s a way for the students to have an extended visa without having to leave the country and come back every 60 days on a tourist visa.

Anyhow, my school is arranging my Non Immigrant B Visa for me, but I was interested in joining their group lessons. I e-mailed the school to ask for their address, and it turns out I can see their building from my house. Yesterday I walked in and asked about times, prices, etc.

I spoke with the owner of the school, who sat me down and showed me the curriculum. She told me that their group classes are from 10am-noon every two days. This kind of schedule would work now that I’m on vacation until November, but isn’t sustainable once school starts.

The woman told me that in my situation, it would be better to sit down one on one and take private lessons. She said that the students who enroll in her group classes are really only studying there to obtain a 1 year visa, and so they don’t take it imageas seriously as people who are there to learn. She was definitely a sales woman, but I agreed with her. Learning at my own pace seems ideal, and the price per lesson is about $10. Granted, that’s a lot of money here, but I think it’s worth it.

This way, I’m able to set my own study schedule and show up as often or as little as I want to. In fact, when I asked the woman when I could start, she asked, “how about today?” It was 3:45, and she offered me her 5:00 slot. She said that I can schedule any time I want, including Saturdays and Sundays. I took her up on her 5:00 lesson. I was pretty excited to get started.

The school itself is in an office-type building. Honestly, I didn’t take a tour of the school. I’ve only seen the front desk area, the coffee/tea area, and the meeting room for 1 on 1 lessons. For the life of me, I can’t remember the owner’s name. She is wonderful though. She is probably in her mid 40’s, and told me that she will be there to teach a private lesson any time I’d need, unless she was busy at a weightlifting competition. She’s not bulky muscular, but I definitely wouldn’t want to get on her bad side.

Before the lesson started, she offered me some green tea. She said it’s the best green tea I’d find in Thailand. She imports it from Japan.

At 5:00 sharp, she took me into the office to start the private lesson. I immediately felt like this woman was giving me more than I had paid for. She jumped right into it, and overwhelmed me with all sorts of new information. She provided me with a workbook, a notebook, and a pencil. The first thing she taught me was the “basic” structure of Thai language. There are 40+ consonants, they’re all divided into categories of low, middle and high class, and from there, they’re divided into subcategories that depend on the tone used in pronouncing the consonant.

I immediately had a headache.

She reassured me that we’re going to take it piece by piece, but by the end of the workbook (~20hrs), she told me that I’d be able to read and write Thai. That doesn’t mean that I’d understand what I’m reading and writing, but that I’d feel comfortable with the Thai alphabet.

The next hour flew by, and I learned so much in the short time that we had been working. I have learned to write seven consonants, and about 9 vowel sounds, most of them using the “middle tone.”  She had me working on pronunciation while I was tracing the dotted outlines of them in my workbook. It brought me back to kindergarten, but I’m fascinated by the imagescript. Some of their vowels are placed on top of or underneath the consonants, depending on the word.

The hilarious thing about the tonality of the language is that it brought so much awareness to how I speak. Usually when I’m learning something new, I feel vulnerable, and I instinctively answer as if there is a question mark on the end of my sentence. In English, this wouldn’t be a big deal, because the listener still understands the word. In Thai, this isn’t the case at all. My tutor was having me answer questions in the workbook, and I was answering them with an uncertainty that changed my tone all together. Think of it as saying “three.” and “three?” In Thai, the difference in the tone can change the entire meaning of the word. I quickly learned that even if I am uncertain in my answer, I have to be uncertain in a neutral tone. 😉

She left me with about 6 pages of homework, and we rescheduled for Sunday.  Even though I only know a handful of the consonants, I’ve been looking at everything around me that’s written in Thai, and have been picking out the letters that I know. I have a bunch of free time to study Thai during my vacation, so I figured I better work on it while I can. Also, since I’m learning at a kindergarten level, I think it’ll help me sympathize with my kindergarten students who are learning English!

Until next time, here’s another fun fact I learned about Thai culture:

Teachers are seen as one of the highest respected members in Thai society. To a student, the hierarchy places the teacher above their parents and below the monks.

Monkeys, chicken tendons, and broken motorbikes

Well I might as well start by letting the cat out of the bag. I decided to rent a motorbike. Don’t let the title of this post get you all riled up. I didn’t wreck it. I’m totally fine. I’ll start from square one.

On Friday, after seeing my new place, I realized that Kathu is much more spread out than Phuket Town. There are a couple of restaurants within walking distance of my place, but not many. The school I will be working at is about a five minute drive away, and the closest grocery store is about 8. One of my buddies from the TEFL course told me about a place that has been renting him a motorbike for the last month. The guy is reasonably priced, has a good reputation around town, and delivers the bikes.

Friends and family, I know you’re probably having a heart attack right now. I cannot tell you enough how much I understand that they are dangerous, to always wear a helmet, to be safe, etc. etc. I can reassure you that I have approached this in the most responsible way possible. I can either tell you about it, or hide it from you. It would just create a lot of gaps in my stories. Also, I like to be honest.

That being said, these bikes aren’t souped up motorcycles. They’re scooters. You know, Vespas? You’d break the  bike if you tried to take them over 60mph. The speed limit in my surrounding area is 40mph max. The road to my school is about 25mph, and it takes only 5 minutes to get there. I hope that helps you feel a little bit better, because Granny Sarah drives in the bike lane. Granny Sarah always uses her turn signal. Granny Sarah drives like a granny.

Anyhow, on Saturday I called the guy to see if he could bring me a bike. Only 2 hours later, he came by and we signed some paperwork to rent it to me for the month. It cost me only 2,000TBH ($55) for the month. He dropped it off right in the parking lot, and I took it for a lap around my building. I immediately felt comfortable driving it. It’s very comparable to riding an actual bike, except for this one goes up hills without a struggle.

After messing around in the parking lot for a little bit, I decided to drive up to my school. It is a simple drive, and the road is lined with my favorite kind of trees- the ones with the gorgeous white flowers on them. Remember, I’m only going 25mph. I’m not in the city anymore. Driving the bike actually brought quite a bit ofimage joy to my heart. I had this moment, one that I can only describe as a “yeah” moment. I’ve only had it 3 times- the first time I floated in the ocean in Panama, when I was dancing salsa in a bar in downtown Santiago, and driving a scooter through a street lined with exotic trees and fragrant tropical flowers. It’s the type of moment where you stop and look around, and say, “yeah. This is exactly where I’m supposed to be.”

After driving around for a bit, I felt confident that I would be able to drive from my place to the school on Monday without having any troubles.

I was planning to meet with my boss at the school on Monday at 9am. Even though it’s a quick drive, I gave myself 20 extra minutes to get there. When I went to go start up my bike, it didn’t start. I was trying everything, and couldn’t get it to work. One of the men from the maintenance crew saw me struggling and came to help me. He couldn’t even get it to start. I was very frustrated, and about to be late, so I called a taxi and then called the guy who rented it. The guy who I was renting it from said, “are you sure? Go try it one more time. I want to see what sound it is making.” I walked back to the bike and started it up. No problem. It worked just fine. Figures.

I had called my boss ahead of time to let her know my dilemma and that I was running late. She said it was okay, classes were over and we were just meeting to go over curriculum and visa paperwork. I made it there at about 9:05. From 9:05-11:30, I learned about the student’s workbooks, the students themselves, and classroom management. It struck me that the hardest part about teaching kindergarten is going to be toughening up and setting high standards for behavior. I know that I can do it, I’m just super soft at heart.

We made 4 sets of paperwork that included my CV/resume, copies of my transcripts, my university degree, a police report, and copies of all the filled pages in my passport. After that, I had to go through each set and sign each page individually.  They are thorough, but I respect the high standards. (Sidenote: one of the teachers at this school is from Colorado- he said he’s lived in Boulder and Vail! Small world!)

imageI got a chance to sit down and talk to Sarah, the girl who I’m replacing. At least the students won’t have to learn a new name! Sarah gave me a heads up about the students who have been troublemakers, as well as the students who are consistently strong. I am very excited to meet my class!

After all of my paperwork was signed, I was directed to take 3 of the sets of information to the head office of the company in charge of contracting out the English teachers. I didn’t leave the school until about 2:30, and the office closed at 3:30, so I decided I’d better wait until I had more time to get there. It sounds silly because the office is only 15 minutes away, but I wanted to plan enough time to find the new place by myself. I planned to meet with the director at 11am the following day.

The next day, I decided to leave at about 10 to allow myself enough time to find the place. I went down to start my scooter, and sure enough. No start. I called the guy who rented it to me, and he didn’t answer. I waited about 10 minutes, tried to start the scooter again, and it still wasn’t working. I needed a taxi. It normally takes about 20 minutes from the time you call a taxi until the time it arrives. It was going to take longer to get there in a car than in a scooter, so I allowed for a 25 minute drive. I had already spent 15 minutes messing around with the bike, so I decided that I needed a taxi, and fast. I called Mr.B.

Mr.B was there right away. He came and picked me up, and delivered me where I needed to go.

After I got home, I called the guy who rented my bike to me. He apologized profusely and said that he was in the hospital. He had been driving around without a facemask, and his lungs went bad.

Here’s a super long but important side note:

Right now, the island of Phuket looks as if it were engulfed in a dense fog. It is smog from Indonesia. This time of year in Indonesia, they do slash-and-burn agriculture. Some of the regions are banned from burning during this time because it is incredibly dry. Most of the corporations ignored the rules, and their fires have started a forest fire that is now out of control. They are clearing the path for palm oil plantations, and the imagepollution that is produced in the meantime is horrific. Although the fires are in Sumatra, over 7,000 schools have been cancelled across SE Asia due to the hazardous breathing conditions. Although I am in the south of Thailand (quite a ways away), I can look up at a street light and see smoke floating past. There are warnings of hazardous pollution levels posted all over my apartment complex. I feel like I should have mentioned this earlier. Sorry.

Anyhow, the guy who rented me the bike had to go to the hospital because of this. It is not recommended that people with any kind of health conditions even go outside, let alone without a mask.

To get back on track, the gentleman with the bike rental shop had sent his father out to check on my bike. He came out and turned it on, and sure enough, it started. After that I got a 20 minute lesson on how to start a scooter. They were convinced that I was the problem the bike wasn’t starting. Each time the bike hadn’t started, I had at least 4 Thai people telling me that it was a screwy bike. You can imagine my frustration when this man was giving me a lesson on how to start it. He said that sometimes women can have problems starting bikes because they have delicate hands that can’t hold down the brakes all the way. I smiled through it, and just let it go. They obviously didn’t believe me. It started to get into my head a little bit that I didn’t know what I was doing.

This morning I woke up with big plans to check out Monkey Hill- a place nearby that is famous for having tons of monkeys roaming around everywhere. I got super excited, packed a backpack, and was on my way. You can probably guess by now that the bike didn’t start! I was honestly so upset that I walked right back to my room and cried. I had quite the breakdown. I knew that there was something wrong with the bike, but I couldn’t get it through to these guys.

The man answered this time, and I finally convinced him that I wanted to switch bikes. He agreed, and said that maybe the bike had a mechanical problem. I was relieved, because even if the bike started once, I didn’t want to be left stranded on Monkey Hill with no bike. He said that his father could bring me a new bike at 2pm, and it would be a “super nice, bright pink bike!” Did he think I was upset with the color?

While I was waiting for him, I walked to a local restaurant nearby to eat lunch. I found a place packed full of Thai people, which is usually a good sign that the place is cheap and good. I asked the waiter for “gai” becauseimage I know it means chicken. He said, “yes, you want chicken tenders?” Oh yes I did. When it came out, it looked like a chicken tender that was thrown into a blender. It was small pieces of fried bits. Anything tastes good fried, right? I was excited.

After the first bite, I quickly realized that this wasn’t your average chicken tender. This was crunchy…like a tendon…. oh God. Did he mean chicken tendon? …He did. I was served fried chicken tendon. I started to eat it, trying to convince myself that it was okay and I could eat something new. It didn’t last long. I ate the rice that was served with it, and tried to spread the rest of it out to look like I’d eaten it. I think it was just about enough to convince me to go vegetarian.

I walked back to my place and met with the man to switch out my bike. I am so pleased that I did. The new bike is fantastic. I gassed it up, ($2/tank) and headed for Monkey Hill.

Monkey Hill was very hard to find, wasn’t crowded, and turned my day around 180 degrees. When I say it wasn’t crowded, I mean that I was the only person there besides maybe 2 other people who were Thai, and jogging.

I was surprised because it’s normally a tourist destination. It’s a road up a hill lined with parks and viewpoints, and it’s notorious for being jam packed with wild monkeys.

I headed up the hill and came across a stray male monkey. I knew he was the alpha, because of his massive dangling testicles  (sorry) and his sheer size. I saw up ahead that there was a huuuuge pack of monkeys in the imagemiddle of the road. I was actually quite scared. This alpha looked like he was guarding them, and I definitely didn’t want a monkey attack.

I pulled over and watched him. He didn’t seem to have a problem with me, so I hung out and waited to see if anyone would drive past. A man with a bag of corn drove up the hill to the pack, and fed them a bucket of corn. It became clear that this is how they keep it a tourist attraction.

I drove past the monkeys without a problem. They seemed to be very accustomed to bikes driving past. It was amazing to watch as the mother monkeys snatched up their young at the sound of my bike. I was astonished at how close I could get to them. Some of my friends have been up there and have fed the monkeys right out of their hands. I didn’t have a rabies vaccine for this trip, and I was alone, so I watched from a distance.

Once I got to the top of the hill, there was a viewpoint overlooking Phuket Town. Unfortunately because of the smog, I couldn’t see anything. A jogger came by and asked if I wanted a photo at the viewpoint. I obliged, even though you can’t see anything.

Overall, I think this is the longest blog post in the history of my blog posts, but I had a lot to say. I am excited to be have the next few weeks to enjoy the island in all that it has to offer.

I’ve uploaded a few pictures of the monkeys under “pics,” so make sure to check it out!!!

 

 

 

Moo 2 Kathu

We’re not in Phuket Town anymore!

Thursday was the final day of our TEFL course. We all went in and did a course evaluation, listened to a final spiel from our instructors, and then received our certificates and took a group photo.  I am classphotopretty relieved that the class is done!

Friday was the day that I moved out of the Phuket Center Apartments. It was actually kind of sad. I lived there for a month, and had gotten to know some of the staff. To anyone looking to travel around Phuket Town, I highly recommend staying there.

Before I packed up and moved, I went back to the photo shop because I needed pictures taken for my teacher’s license, work permit, and Non Immigrant B Visa. A few posts back I had mentioned that I went to her for a CV photo, and I was pretty impressed with how she could photoshop the sweat from my face in the wrinkles in my shirt. This time I needed 12 photos- six 6×5 cm and six 3x4cm. The guidelines for the photos are pretty strict- hair must be neatly pulled back, no jewelry, no smiling, blue background, and you must wear a collared shirt. I didn’t pack a single collared shirt, but she assured me that she could photoshop one on.image

Whereas last time I waited 5 minutes in the shop, this time the woman told me to come back in about 15 minutes and they’d be ready. I really wish I could’ve stayed and monitored her editing of the photos. When I came back to pick them up, I was trying so hard not to laugh. She could’ve at least asked me which shirt I wanted! Why did she have to make me so pale?! Why is my head so much smaller than my body?!?! I was laughing hysterically inside, but I politely smiled and thanked her. This lovely picture is going on my teacher’s license, work permit, and visa. Fantastic.

Packing and moving was pretty easy. When I left the US, my suitcase only weighed 33lbs. I really haven’t bought much since I’ve gotten here.  I started to neatly fold my clothes and arrange them in my bag, until I realized they were coming right back out in less than 1 hour. I shoved them all into the duffel bag, and sat on it to close it.

The area I moved to is called Kathu (pronounced ka-too).  Neighborhoods or residential zones are called “moo,” and I’m in the 2nd one, so my address is “Moo 2 Kathu,” which I think is hilarious.  Moving into my new place was exciting, as is moving into any new place. I realized pretty quickly that I needed to do some shopping for things like hangers, trash bags, shampoo, etc., so I decided to go to Tesco Lotus, the Walmart of Thailand. The Tesco Lotus here is bigger than any Walmart I’ve ever been into. They have anything you could think of. There is a religious aisle in the store where you can purchase gift baskets for monks.  (Side note: I haven’t learned too much about Buddhist culture yet, but I know that as a lady, I am not supposed to offer a gift directly to a monk).

When I was done shopping, I found a taxi stand out front with set prices on a list. I asked one of the men how much to go to my apartment complex, and he pointed at 300 TBH. I knew it was way overpriced, and so I haggled him down to 150 (which is still overpriced), but I got him down from $8 to $4, and I was ready to get home.  And I had a lot of stuff.

The driver spoke English pretty well, and he talked a lot.  He is a sweet old man who likes to practice his English, and told me that if I ever need a driver, he would come pick me up. He told me to call him Mr.B, and he is quite the character. During the 10 minute ride home, I had learned that he had an English teacher named Sarah who was from Michigan. He recently lost his wife to stomach cancer, and he is always looking for new friends. He told me that he would take me to meet a woman who could teach me how to cook Thai food, and he would translate for me.  He gave me his phone number, and had me call it to make sure it worked. It all sounded like a sweet deal, but I took it with a grain of salt. Unfortunately I probably won’t be taking him up on his offer, because I’m just not sure I can trust him. I saved his number in my phone in case I’m with friends and in need of a ride, though.

imageOnce I got all unpacked into my place, I went down for a swim in my new pool. The pool is huge!!! It isn’t terribly deep, but it’s ideal for swimming laps or relaxing. The trees that line the perimeter of the pool produce a gorgeous white flower.  These flowers are amazing. Here they fall off the trees and float in the pool, and it’s absolutely serene.

These type of flowers remind me so much of a friend that I lost a couple years ago in November. She would always wear one of these flowers behind her ear. The first time I saw them on a tree, I got pretty emotional that I couldn’t write her and tell her that these flowers are everywhere in Thailand. I really miss her.

Anyhow.

Tomorrow I am going into the school to fill out all of my paperwork for the teacher’s license, work permit, and visa. Classes are out until November, but I’m going to be working on redecorating my classroom. The school year is only halfway done for the students, so it’s going to be a big change for them. My boss told me that the children are going to test me, so I have to be incredibly strict. She told me, “no smiles until Christmas.” My property manager told me that Thais love foreign teachers because they won’t hit the students. Corporal punishment is still a thing here, but unfortunately I’m not in any position to say anything about it. I’ll know more about it once I’m actually in the classroom.

That’s about all I’ve got for now. I made a video tour of my apartment for your viewing pleasure. It was awkward for me to talk to myself during the tour, and it’s painfully obvious in my voice. Enjoy!

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