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!!!




2 thoughts on “Monkeys, chicken tendons, and broken motorbikes

  1. John Collins says:

    Grreat job on the blog. Glad you are being careful with the scooter! Keep posting the pics. They make me hungry!


  2. Awwww…Sarah, sweet classroom! I can picture you right up front, writing on the board; something that you can quickly turn around and do when you feel that need to crack a smile, but cannot do in front of your students!

    I also had a quick vision of you being surrounded by monkeys because you could not resist grabbing a baby (because of your love for them). Phew, funny vision as well. Love you!


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