The next few posts will be a day by day chronicle of my recent adventures in Malaysia! I apologies in advance for any discomfort some of these stories might cause( specifically on day 3). I just call them like I see them ;-)
This trip is my first real international backpacker experience. I even borrowed an authentic "backpacker" backpack specifically for the occasion! I strapped as much as I could fit into this huge pack on my back and set out to the airport with my travel mates in tow. Getting to the airport and through customs was a breeze (luckily my back didnt exceed the 15 kilogram weight limit), and soon we found ourselves in Sunny, Malaysia! Even finding the guesthouse we would be staying in was a piece of cake! So we decided to get some food and explore! The first thing we came across was china town which had a really great market!
Once food was eaten and China town was explored, we decided to head to the "Golden Triangle" which is the "monument" part of Kuala Lumpur. In it lives the Petronas Towers, which holds the tallest bridge in the world, the Menara Communications Tower, which is the 4th largest of its kind in the world, and the central market, which is a huge desiner mall right underneath the Petronas Towers. We went up into the communications tower and took an audio tour around the observation deck. It was really really intresting. and we got some beautiful pictures of the Petronas towers from super high up.
We stayed up at the top long enough to see the sun set (though there was a rain storm coming and we couldnt get a good sunset shot). After we came down we went to a cultural show at the tower that was preformed by the youth of malaysia! It was such an amazing show! The kids were cute and very talented, and they preformed the traditional Malaysian dances beautifully. There was a set of identical twins dancing in the cultural show and it made me miss my sister a how lot. I watched the two boys dancing together and it brought me back to all of the things my sister and I would do together. All the sports and activities that made us, us. I miss that a lot, and those boys made it come rushing back. But i kept it together enough to get a pretty good picture of them doing the "bowl dance". All in all it was a really fun first introduction to the country. We went back to our hotel and got ready to head out again for day 2 of our malaysian adventure!
I recently went on a long bike ride into my Provincial city which is about 16 miles away. I embarked on this journey partly because I wanted to see if I could do it and survive, but really I just wanted to get some Fruit Loops and spaghetti sauce because I had been craving both for like 2 months and there was no other mode of transportation at the time and nowhere else to buy those items. So I set out on my journey determined to make it to my destination before high noon for fear of heat stroke. Not only was this ride challenging do to the fact that it was so far away, but it was even more challenging because I didnt have an ipod to distract my mind. I somehow lost the only cord I had to charge my ipod and it had been sitting in my closet dead and unused for weeks. I was left with my own thoughts and had to find alternate means of entertainment. So I simply began to count. I counted everything I could keep track of. And when I finally got home that night I made my list.
During my 32 miles of extreme (for me anyway) bike riding, the following is what I saw.
72 Motorcycles 32 Trucks 27 Temples 42 Rice fields 17 Bright green houses 25 Dogs (about 7 of which gave chase) 4 Cats 13 Snakes (4 living, 9 dead) 18 Frogs (2 living, 16 dead) 7 Seven Elevens 6 Vilossa Raptor looking lizards 5 Bridges 8 Buses and 3 turtle
So after 2.5 hours, 32 miles, 2 t-shirts and some very sore lady parts later, I made it home with my spaghetti sauce and Fruit Loops!
I have reached a milestone in the evolution of me. Its the first I can actually point to since I've been here in Thailand. But now I can honestly say that I am no longer afraid of spiders! Amazing, I know! It was a long hard fought battle but in the end I can say I came out a winner, or a loser depending on your perspective. You see, Thai spiders are nothing like the spiders you will encounter anywhere else (well maybe in the amazon but thats beside the point). They come in many different shapes, sizes, colors, sounds and physical attributes. Some hiss, some click, some are the size of an ant, others the size of a softball, some jump, others run, and they are all everywhere. I swear these spiders have more powers then Spiderman, and I can honestly say that I have encountered most of them during my stay here.
I started out really scared of them. Bordering on arachnophobia (although back in my early Thailand days, anything thing that moved made me want to run down the street screaming and crying, flapping my arms in a disparate attempt of flight). But, no matter how hard I tried I could never escape them. They are quite literally everywhere here. They chase you, stalk you, repel onto your head, hiss at you from clothes in your wardrobe, live in your shoes and make homes and babies on your bike, but no matter how many you kill, there are 800 billion more ready to take that ones place. In the past year or so I have graduated from complete hysteria at seeing a spider, to caged fear, to watchful suspicion, to mild annoyance, and now total acceptance. I accept the fact that no matter what I do i will never be free of spiders. This was a revelation I discovered only yesterday. You see yesterday, as my morning alarm clock went off I opened my eyes to find that a spider had made a web in my left eye socket. How is this possible you might ask. Well yesterday night, as I peacefully slept, a spider proceeded to spin a thick, fully functioning web from my eyebrow, to the bridge of my nose, to my cheek and everywhere in between. Due to my relatively deep sleep and subsequent lack of movement, this spider chose to make its home on my person.
Now any normal person would freak out at this discovery so early in the morning. Even if it didn't actually happen to you, one can appreciate a certain horror in the situation. For example, when I told my mom this story she immediately screamed. And when I told my arachnophobic aunt this story... well you can imagine the tears, screams, hyperventilation and sobs that followed. Me on the other hand, with my highly evolved psyche, simply removed the spiderweb from my eye and continued to go about starting my day. It wasn't until I actually told this story to my family that I even realized that this was something worth freaking out about. In fact, my family is still freaked out that I never actually found the spider. Me, I just shrug my shoulders and keep it pushing. Because I have reached this stage of acceptance stage in evolution of me! So thank you Thailand... Thank you! I couldn't have done it without you.
Yesterday started off as "one of those days". You know those days where you wake up and just think (and sometimes actually say out loud) "UHGGG!" Well yesterday morning was one of those days for many reasons. One, I had a splitting head ache from the moment I opened my eyes, my stomach started hurting as soon as I sat up, I had once again woken up in a pool of sweat because its so damn hot inside my house, and to top it all off, I had to get up and go do the one thing I hate most in life. Thats right, you guessed it... I had to get up and teach :-(.
Now I've taught English before in another school, and quickly stopped that after about 2 months of trying to teach these rowdy, annoying, but albeit cute kids how to speak English. Once winter break was over i promptly hide from the principle for a good 6 weeks so he wouldn't be tempted to ask me back to teach English. So I know now you are asking yourself why, if I hate teaching so much, I am teaching again at another school. Well the answer lies in my kind and nurturing heart ;-). As was the case with the first school, I just felt really bad at how these kids were learning (or trying to learn). More often then not these kids are simply being told to literally sit in front of a tv and follow along as someone on the screen teaches about some particular subject. Most of the time these kids are doing everything they can to not pay attention to these lessons effectively defeating the purpose of being in school in the first place. So as you can imagine, I felt pretty bad for these kids. I would have liked to offer more then English language skills to help them, but trying to teach science in Thai is a little beyond my linguistic range at the moment. So I found myself agreeing to teach another term of English after I so expertly got out of the last teaching gig.
So I got out of bed, got dressed and headed out on my 4+ Km bike ride to school to teach English. I made it about 500 meters before my ipod ran out of battery; after which I almost crashed my bike into a rice field attempting to avoid running over a snake sunning itself in the middle of the road. This of course caused me to use my feet as an extra breaking system, and I landed right in a larger then average pile of buffalo poop... Clearly my day was just getting better and better.
When I finally made it to the school all I wanted to do was curl up into a ball and weep. But I forced myself to go teach my lesson. It was 4th, 5th, and 6th grade that day. Three hours of what was sure to be some horrible rendition of "Rugrats; All Growed Up". I literally braced myself for the impact of the day, but to my surprise, It was actually pretty nice. I decided to teach my 4th and 5th graders together so I could cut an hour out of my teaching time, but to my surprise, the kids wanted me to continue teaching after the first hour was up. They gave me a complete and obvious rationale that since they combined the classes, I had another hour of teaching left to do. Their enthusiasm astounded me so much, that I didnt even mind spending the extra time teaching.
So, at the end of every lesson, I usually ask the kids what they would like me to teach them the next time we meet. Last time I was there they said they wanted to learn animals, so yesterday's lesson was about animals. I taught them the names of a bunch of animals in English and the "Ol' McDonald" song, which they loved, and for the second hour, we learned all about the body. But I ran out of time before I could teach them the Hokkie Pokie. So at the end of this class, like every other class, I asked, "so what do you want to learn about next week?" These 8 and 9 year old kids actually said they wanted me to give them a TEST of all the stuff I had taught them in the past 3 weeks!! I was completely floored. I had to ask them again, just to be sure I understood them correctly, and they actually went and got an old test for me to look at and said "We want you to give us one of these!" I must have stood there with my mouth open for quite some time because they all started laughing hysterically at me. Later that afternoon at lunch with the other teachers at the school, I was answering questions about how my day went and how I liked teaching. I told the teachers that the students actually asked me to give them a test and they were even more surprised then I initially was. They didnt believe me at first, and asked a student from one of my classes for confirmation. Apparently it was a first for them too.
I guess this just goes to show you that you truly do have more of an impact on people then you can possibly imagine. Here I was dreading teaching, and for all intense and purposes just trying to make it through the day, and here are these students who are actually looking forward to my lessons. Partially because it is the only actual teacher interaction outside of a television set that they will get all day, or all week for that matter, and also because they were generally interested in the material. That really touched me more then anything else I have experienced thus far. Just the simple act of caring enough to do something that I otherwise wouldn't do has made a positive impact on these kids. That revelation completely made my day. The headache, stomach ache, barely averted snake/ rice field disaster, and even my ruined shoes (which still reeked of buffalo dung) were all forgotten. And I still cant believe I am going to say this, but I, Porscha Winston, am actually looking forward to teaching next week!
I've been meeting a lot of new people lately. Which surprised me because I've lived here for so long already (more then 10 months). For the past week my community has been holding community development planning meetings for each village (there are 5 in total). These meetings are part of the government's attempt to improve the lives of the rural villager by having everyday community members decide what changes they would like to see in their village. These meetings take place once every year and once all ideas are collected, it is supposed to be put into an action plan and projects should be completed within 1 to 2 years. The only problem with this is that nothing ever gets completed. Project ideas from the previous years are never started or completed, and are therefore pushed to the next years action plan, leaving little room for new activities and ideas. This is one of the things I am trying to help make a little more productive, but I digress. I say all that to say, this is how I have been meeting so many new people. I thought I knew everyone in my community, but I guess I'm not as knowledgeable as I though. I've been to 3 such meeting so far and have meet a lot of new people that I could possibly work with to make these ideas into realities.The only problem is, I have to survive their questions first.
(Me and the Community Doctor. I'm sure I was asked something embarrassing)
The average meeting starts with a Village headman opening the meeting and welcoming all of the distinguished guests (of which I am not one), followed by the community Doctor who I have been working with a lot recently. Now the Doctor thinks he can speak English, and granted he does have a larger grasp of the English vocabulary as does the average villager, but he is still far from coherent. So he always askes me to speak English with the villagers in the short time they give me at these meetings to introduce myself and what I do. I usually say a few words in English and everyone is amazed because I look so much like a Thai person, but I speak English so well. Everyone laughs and gets a big kick out of it, and when I start speaking Thai they are really floored. I have accepted my role as the "comic relief" if you will, because not only am I getting a chance to interact with people I wouldnt have otherwise, I am also getting a lot of good information from the villagers themselves and what visions they have for their community. I am quit often, the only person at these meetings taking notes, and it has been very beneficial.
After my initial speech (in Thai) of who I am and what I do, the floor is opened up for questions. The most common question the villagers ask of me is if I have a boyfriend. I am constantly trying to be married off to a Thai man so that I wont have to go back to America when my time in the Peace Corps is up. Those of you who know me, know why this could never be (though I have seen a couple of Thai men that were worth a second look, in Bangkok of course). They also ask me how old I am, what my family does, if one or both of my parents are Thai, and what country I'm "really" from. To this day, even people who I speak with everyday and consider close friends have trouble believing that I am American. And if they finally consed that I am truly a person born of the United States, then they are convinced that I was born white and that the hot Thai sun has simply turned my skin this color. I guess you cant win 'em all.
All in all its been a great learning experience both for me and the villagers who come to these meetings. I've even started telling jokes at some of them to help me get through the questions and of course, to faithfully play my role of the "awkward farong" to the best of my ability. And I think I'm doing a pretty good job! Already I've began developing possible literacy, drug abuse and agriculture projects just from the information I was able to get out of these meetings. And I guess having to publicly turn down marriage proposals from parents and defend my nationality is a small price to pay for productivity.
(Me, Pi Mai, And the Village Headman for Village 5)
So here it is, I've finally started a blog of my peace corps adventures now that I am half way through with my service. I would have started one sooner, but I quickly realized that when you open this site from a computer in Thailand, all the tabs and directions on how to start a blog are in Thai... Hence my dilemma. But now that I know how to read thai a little better, I finally found the "translate" button. To be quite honest, I was a little embarrassed at how very little I felt like I had accomplished up until about a month ago. I have been in Thailand for 1 year 2 weeks and 4 days and I have just begun to feel productive. That's not to say that I haven't had experiences. I've probably experienced more in the past year then I have in my entire life to date. I've been able to make friends here that I well likely have for life, and that in itself is amazing to me. I came in as an outsider, and now I am as much a part of the community as anyone who was born and raised here. And this is where I've been having problems. I feel like this relationship with my villagers is completely one sided. They have been able to give me such great experiences, and up until recently, I feel like I have not held up my end of the bargain.
I am a Peace Corps Volunteer. Inherently I am supposed to enact some type of positive change in my host communities. That's what I signed on for and that is exactly what I expected to get, but as things often do, it sounded a whole lot easier on paper. So far the biggest challenges i've been faced with is how to be productive. Sometimes I feel like if I was in a more needy country, life would be a lot easier(development wise anyway), but then of course, I'd have to give up my internet, running water, air conditioned 7/11's, and crazy nights in Bangkok... On second thought, how needs real peace corps experiences?? POSH CORPS ALL THE WAY BABY!! Life here definitely has its ups and downs, dont get me wrong, but I look at my friends in PC Panama, Morocco and Cambodia, and cant help but thank my lucky stars that I dont have to live like that, no matter how envious I sometimes am of their experiences.
Anywho, now that I've began to actually pay back my community for the kindness and hospitality they've shown me, I figured I should start to document my time here in Thailand, while I still have some time left. I should preface this by saying I AM NOT A WRITER. There are few things I like less then sitting down and writing my "thoughts" down. I can definitely appreciate those who can and do enjoy doing it, but I myself never really had a knack for it. Non the less, I will force myself to be as faithful with this blog as possible, if not for anyone else, then for my own documentation. There's nothing like finding an old diary from grade school and reliving those experience through the eyes of a younger you. And all I ask for is that when I become rich and famous ;-) I can look back at this blog and remember all the things I learned about my self and those around me while I was here.
Name: Porscha Home: Chai Nat, Thailand About Me: The opinions of this blog are mine, and mine only. They do not reflect the opinions and/or views of the Peace Corps or the United States government. See my complete profile