Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Review

If Santa found us, he surely found you and hopefully treated you well. Christmas in Thailand is slowly winding down, but never fear, the New Year is almost here! Our Christmas was definitely one we will remember and here is why. Friday afternoon was the all school Christmas show and it was expected to be done in English. We were told about this on Thursday. The scramble was on to coordinate with the other English teachers to come up with a show for the students and faculty. Thankfully, a few of the veteran teachers veteran had gone thru this before and a plan was quickly developed. My role was easy, be Santa Claus, hand out candy and make the crowds merry. Deb was asked to be an angel, not much work was needed on her part to make that happen, however, the wings, wand and little crown were icing on the cake. The Santa costume was made out of wool, how that material is even allowed in this country is beyond me. It was 90 degrees and humid and I was sweating before I even got the beard and eyebrows glued to my face. Yes, they took Elmer's glue and pasted cotton balls to my face to finish off the costume. This was some sort of sick hazing I suspect because they gave me a pillow that looked like it was used as a goat's bed to stuff under my shirt as a big belly. I entered the outdoor pavilion where the show was held at a snail's pace, fearful I would pass out from heat stroke. Deb was merrily tapping children on the head with her wand and skipping to and fro because the angel costume was a pair of wings and a crown. Things got worse for Santa as the cotton balls began sliding off my face as I poured sweat. Soon a child handed me my left eyebrow and then the beard peeled off, it was a colossal costume failure. Oh well, theater was never my bit. Never before was I so thankful to hear the final bell of the day ring, meaning the weekend was on and Santa was no longer needed at the school.

We headed to Suphanburi which is about one hour south of us. The plan called for a gathering ofwesterners at a local restaurant that is operated by a Dutchman and his Thai wife. They made a simple, but scrumptious meal of mashed sweet potatoes and pork meatballs. There was caroling, much drinking and story telling and I am pretty sure a few people were playing a game of Twister, but we never made it to that side of the room. Christmas in Thailand
came to a close sometime in the wee hours of the 26th for us and it could not have been better!

The rest of the weekend was pretty low key as we spent all day Saturday at a hotel pool. Lounging about and recovery from the revelry of the night before. Joe got a Thai massage as Deb soaked in sun and good book. Thai massage is actually pretty demanding on the body as it is more reflexology than soothing deep tissue. I would have never suspected the middle aged, 4 foot 9 inch Thai woman, assigned as my masseuse to make me yelp as much as I did. She literally threw me onto the ground, put me into a series of wrestling moves for an hour and never heeded my pleas to be gentle. She pulled every mu
scle in directions I know they are not supposed to go and worked over my feet with her elbow to the point my eyes were watering. Thinking that I would be a hunchback when she finished I resisted a bit when she flipped me onto my stomach to work on the back. Bad decision. A quick shot to an unknown pressure point ended my revolt. As the session ended I thought life in a wheelchair surely awaited me, but she sprung me to my feet in a final display of superhuman strength at patted my bottom saying “you feel much better now, yes?” She was right, my muscles felt great, the knots in my back were gone and I think I am two inches taller.

Its a short week for us, teaching only two days before heading to the sandy beaches of Phi Phi island on Wednesday. Christmas was great and the New Year and new decade is shaping up tobe pretty awesome as well. We agreed that this is the first time in either of our lives we really stuck to a New Year resolution and we are sure glad that we resolved to see the world together! Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas from Thailand

Believe it or not, it is snowing in Thailand! “Black Snow” or literally ashes from the burning of sugarcane fields has been silently falling for the past couple of days now. Most sugarcane farmers employ the tactic to speed the harvest of their crop. The ashes are not hot, usually drifting miles before falling, and do not really accumulate. Initially we thought it would help remind us of home, but nothing beats a good solid Chicago snowstorm in December. There is no catching ash on your tongue, making ashmen or having an ashball fight, but alas...

We have to work both the 24th and the 25th, but will head to Suphanburi and celebrate with some fellow teachers on the night of the 25th. The plan is for a run into Bangkok on the 26th to find a turkey or at least some pizza and maybe a bit of shopping. Regardless of where you are in this world Christmas season should be celebrated accordingly if you dig the birth of Christ and the associated festivities. We are going to have a scaled down version here, but be assured there are a few presents
to go under our tree as Santa found us! A recent package included homemade cookies and candy. Christmas has been saved! Thank you Mrs. Goggin.

The children at school have helped decorate our office with pictures and banners celebrating the season. We fully expect to say “Merry Christmas” 1,000 times on Friday as the kids are only to eager to use their newest learned English phrase. This is our second Christmas as Mr. and Mrs. Wronka
and its probably going to be one of our most remembered, this point has not been lost on us. We have been blessed with an incredible
trip so far and can only pray that 2010 will be as wonderful as 2009. Thank you to all our family and friends for the support and
love you have provided us. You will be toasted numerous times this side of the world in the coming days and we hope you will do the same for us!
Merry Christmas!

Deb and Joe

Friday, December 18, 2009

Everyday Life

We are planning to stay in Dan Chang for the weekend, it will be only the second time we have done so since arriving back in October. Our travels of recent and a long week of work have worn us out. Kicking it with the local's for the weekend will be nice, we hope.

If you are living vicariously thru our travels this may not give youmuch of a fix. Give it a try though. The idea here is give you a look at our home and the town we live in. Hopefully the pictures answer outstanding questions as words can only capture so much.

Our campground/home is located about fifteen minutes (by bicycle) outside of the town of Dan Chang. Its like living in a highway motel without the highway nearby, we are in the jungle. Its one bedroom. The campground has a dining hall that we can eat at if we choose. Since we are the only permanent residents along with a young woman from China, the menu is short and not very big. In fact, Deb has a choice of two items and Joe can get three
different dishes. It should be quiet we thought, being out of town and in the jungle. Not true, the dogs bark all night long and as the sun comes up the local temple begins prayers over the loudspeakers that are found on every light pole in the area. Its a bit strange, but we are slowly getting used to it.
The bike ride to work is always a blast, especially when the giant trucks that are overloaded with sugarcane come barreling past at 60mph. There is a fairly good chance we are going to take a stalk of cane off the head at some point.

Teaching continues to be an adventure and one that we are usually prepared for. It has been difficult to make significant language strides with the kids as the classrooms are overflowing with them. Most of our classes have about 40 students and the desks are so packed together that we cannot walk the aisles. It makes it difficult to help two children who glued their arms together, seriously, it happened.

Classes are rarely quiet as the children use their time with the foreign teachers to catch up on the latetest school gossip or play a game of Pokemon cards. We have given up on complete silence in the class and tend to operate on a “louder than those of you talking voice”, to get our lesson across. The children are not to blame though as we have attended a number of professional meetings where it is not uncommon for adults to hold conversations or pick up the phone when someone of authority is speaking. The Thai culture loves noise, that is the only conclusion we can draw.

All in all, the days go by fairly fast and its hard to believe we have been here for two months now. We will be spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day working and then taking a 4 day vacation to the island of Phi Phi. Watch the movie “The Beach” and that is where we are hanging out.

Hopefully this post has answered some of the questions you may have about our day to day here in Thailand. If not, email us and we will get you an hour by hour log of our activities sent to you ASAP.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Chiang Mai

WHEW! That was some weekend we had. It was long, which after the strenuous week of we had (see previous post) was well deserved...OK, probably not well deserved.

Anyway, we jumped on an overnight bus in Bangkok and headed to Chiang Mai, in the far northwest of the Thailand. My record of not wearing a long sleeve shirt since October came to an end as the AC on the bus was set to just above freezing and I buckled much to Deb's delight about an hour into the ride. My record of not wearing socks since October 16th still stands!

We arrived around 8am on Thursday morning after a restless night of trying to sleep on a bus that was traversing the southern tip of the Himalaya's. We started the day with a shot of coffee at Starbucks. Then we headed to...Oh! Should I address the fact that we found a Starbucks? Well, we did and to be quite honest it was a bit refreshing to sit on a plush leather sofa with John Mayer crooning Christmas carols and sipping a Venti coffee after being bounced around for 9 hours. After the caffeine kick and my fill of “rockin' around the Christmas Tree” we explored the old city of Chiang Mai. Situated near the Laos border and fairly close to China as well, Chiang Mai was an ancient hub for merchants on the famed “Silk Road.” There is a good balance of the ancient and the modern in the city. Surrounded by mountains that are perpetually shrouded in haze the city was and still is an oasis for travelers.

We visited a number of temples and markets, walking about 6 miles in the day made for two hungry kids. Chiang Mai has its fair share of western food restaurants and we settled on an Italian place run by who else, but a Canadian born Brazilian guy and his Thai wife. The food was decent, but the ambiance was better. The night ended early as our full stomach's and sore feet demanded a good sleep.

Outside the city, still residing in the mountains, are tribes of indigenous peoples' that continue to live as they did hundreds or even thousands of years ago. Unfortunately, few of the tribes have been able to avoid the trappings of the today and the tourism industry has not helped them retain their ancient heritage. We decided against taking a tour into their villages partly because of the exploitation and partly because of the exorbitant cost.

Friday was another day of wandering the city and we were amply rewarded for the loose agenda. First we found a great burger place called Mike's ("Converting Vegetarians since 1976") and enjoyed a greasy burger for breakfast. Leaving Mike's we were called into an tailor shop by the owner. An hour and some confidential measurements later, I am the proud owner of two new suits and dress shirts. All hand made, the suits were ready 24 hours later.
Thinking our day could not get much better we dropped into a temple and to our surprise we found a producing beautiful paintings. We got a great deal from the woman and will be bringing home two paintings of Thailand.

We then headed into Chinatown and returned with our Christmas tree. We chopped it down, for real. Ok, in my mind we walked thru the woods, searching for the perfect Fraiser Fur. In reality we squeezed our way into a small shop that was filled wall to wall with stuff and pulled down a foot tall, plastic Christmas tree.
No need to tie it to the roof, it almost fits in our pocket.

Saturday was the only day we had made plans for and it will benefit everyone, we hope. We took a Thai cooking class for the day. It was most fun preparing 6 dishes from scratch and being able to enjoy them with other participant's who came from all over the world. The instructors brought us to a local market and helped us choose the ingredients we would use for the dishes. We have a new found appreciation for the effort the Thai's put into preparing their food! Hopefully, we will be able to show off our new skills and some of the recipes with you.

Leaving Chiang Mai was not easy as the city thoroughly impressed us, but we will be back. The work week is upon us again and it will be a true work week, we think. One never really knows what's around the corner in Thailand!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Koh Si Chang

We have an excuse. I swear. The blog was not updated for the last week because of festivals, island getaways and more! Our apologies if the lack of entries caused any discomfort or displeasure.

Last week was busy. Monday night was the beginning of another festival in Dan Chang. It was celebrating the locally grown mushrooms (eating kind, not tripping) that are only
found in this region of the world. A huge concert, lots of food and games kicked off the week of festivities. We attended the concert and although we could not understand any of the songs, it still made for an enjoyable evening. Wednesday and Thursday were all things festival as Deb and I worked with 2 of our students to lead a tour through Dan Chang in English. The Tourism Authority of Thailand visited Dan Chang again. The highlight from the tour goes to the chubby 5 year old boy taking a bath outside his home, naked as the day he was born, who stood up as our tour train passed by and tinkled his little bladder out for all to see! Hysterical.

Friday we left for the island of Si Chang in the Gulf of Thailand. After 6 hours of bus travel and an hour ferry ride, we arrived. It was worth it. The
island is small and rocky, not your typical Thai island. It was perfect for us though, after a long week of classes and late nights at the festival all we wanted was to sit on a beach. We did just that. For 2 days, we drank cheap beer, ate cheaper food and swam for free. A few games of sand soccer were played with some local kids, no mercy was shown for the foreigners, and a couple of naps are the only details worth sharing. We did come across a restaurant serving whole wheat pancakes for breakfast and spaghetti for dinner, icing on the cake if you ask me.

We had Monday off from school this week (Father’s Day in Thailand) and also have Thursday and Friday off. Yesterday we were judging another English competition in Sam Chuc, so no class for us. Today, all of my classes were cancelled because the children were still at the competition and Deb only has one class to teach. So, if you are keeping score at home, Joe teaching English this week = 0 and Deb = 1. It is a tough life at the top. I heard there was snow in Minnesota and Chicago, we are leaving tonight for Chiang Mai where the temperature is supposed to dip way down to 66, oh my!

Sunday, November 29, 2009


It is a safe bet that most readers of the blog are satiated. Dare I say, full? It is our hope that everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend and although you cannot imagine eating another piece of turkey or one more slice of pie, do it for us.
We enjoyed the non-holiday weekend in Lopburi, however, there was a celebration of sorts. Lopburi is southeast of Dan Chang and as is common in Thailand, home to ancient ruins and abandoned temples. The main temple in town (Phra Phrang Sam Yod) is home to a troop on macaques or in layman terms, monkeys. These rambunctious animals are everywhere in the city, but mainly stick to scaling the temple walls and the occasional tourist's body! The citizens of Lopburi believe the monkeys are descendants from an ancient god and treat them very well. Sunday was the start of a week long festival honoring the fury little frolickers. The townspeople bring massive amounts of food to the temple for the macaques to enjoy, cakes, candy and soda were devoured by the troop within seconds of it being placed on the temple steps. It was quite a sight to watch a monkey crack open a Coke, grab a Doritos and look out at the crowd like we were the odd ones.

We have decided a few themes are emerging on the trip. Notably, the friendly and very helpful Thai people, the amazing sites and food and strangely enough, our encounters with the local wildlife. It was the cheeky Kia in New Zealand that stole our windshield wiper, the invading insects that greeted us in Dan Chang, the gecko in my pants in Kanchanburi and the tiger cubs nipping our heels in Sam Chuk we will remember fondly. Lopburi will go down in our animal adventures as well. Per usual, I was the victim or as Deb says “her entertainment” when Curious George's cousin jumped on my back and snatched the sunscreen from a pocket on our camera bag. Yes, I screamed like a school girl again...Revenge was mine this time, or so I thought, as the mischievous macaque was not pleased when he realized the small tube of Banana Boat SPF 15 was not the delicacy he hoped for. I laughed, his buddy jumped on me, trying to snatch our camera from my hands. Again, school girl screams from me, laughter from Deb and a monkey is spun round and round while grasping the strap of our camera. I realized he was smiling, enjoying the free ride I was providing. Only when I stopped trying to shake him loose did he jumped off and scamper away to hassle another tourist. I must admit, monkey's are one of my favorite animals so the PTSD from it will not last long...

Having our fill of monkey's and huge crowds we hopped into a cab and headed out of town to visit some enormous sunflower fields. Literally stretching for miles, the fields are incredibly beautiful. The sunflowers are giant and the vendors selling the seeds are plentiful. We had a leisurely walk in the fields, snapping many pictures along the way. A small mountain range rings the fields and we ventured up a road to visit a Buddhist temple. It was a beautiful, peaceful setting and our visit was made all the better when a worker invited us to purchase a “care package” for the resident monks. Similar to a family putting candy, clothes, hygiene supplies and other essentials into a package for a student away at college, these buckets of supplies went to the monks. Presenting an elder monk with the donation was an honor and he gave us a blessing before we left. The day ended with a good Vietnamese/Thai meal and some drinks outside with a few friends from the group.
We are back in class today and the town is preparing for a mushroom festival that starts tomorrow. One would never suspect that there could be so many festivals and events in a country, as usual Thailand has proved it can be so!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! Our version of Turkey Day will be a bit different than years past. No turkey, mashed potato's, stuffing or cardamon bread for us, but no worries we have gummy bears and beef jerky thanks to an early Christmas present from the Ritzema family! The day is not at a loss in anyway. We have been able to share the meaning and traditions of Thanksgiving with the kids and staff here in Thailand. In fact, having so many conversations about the day has given us the opportunity to reflect on what we are truly grateful for. Family, friends at home and here, the experiences we have had and will have, as well as, sharing this incredible experience with each other top our list this year.

We had a quasi Thanksgiving dinner with some other teachers last night, it reminded me more of a United Nations meeting, though. There were people from China, England, Scotland, Germany, New Zealand and Ghana around the table. The food was good, plenty of laughs and drinks were had, and it will go down in the Wronka family annals as a truly Thai Thanksgiving!

The children enjoyed a few activities centered around Thanksgiving, it seems their favorite was the coloring in of the turkey, although we had to remind a few it was a turkey and not a peacock! Their art work now adorns the wall of our office and in some of their classrooms. A few of the more confident kids have been wishing us a Happy Thanksgiving morning and “enjoy mash turkey potato's” was a greeting I received early today. We will miss the football, the belly ache, the nap and the leftovers and mostly miss sharing the day with family and friends. Enjoy an extra slice of pie, scoop of stuffing in our honor and feel free to blame us when eyebrows are raised at the amount you have eaten.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dan Chang 6

We had just got into a routine last week when bright and early on Monday morning we were summoned to the Museum of Local Wisdom at Anuban Dan Chang (this is no joke, the place really exists) to help prepare a few of the children to give a tour in English for some visitors. The visitors turned out to be employees from the Ministry of Tourism in Thailand.

They were scouting the local area for the potential to market as a tourist destination. I believed we had helped the children prepare as much as possible when the director of our school asked us to stick around and join the group for the day. We were most definitely the token westerners'. It would not surprise us if our picture ends up in a "Visit Thailand" brochure down the road. All in all it was a good, strange, but good day. We had a semi-private tour of such attractions as the Suphanburi College of Agriculture and Technology as well as the Kasieo reservoir and dam, sure to be hits with any honeymooning couple...

On Wednesday our school hosted a English language competition against three other schools in the area. We dominated them all, like the Minnesota Vikings! The range and scope of skills varied, but at the end of the day, Anuban Dan Chang was winner. Apparently we have now moved on to the region contest in December. A few of the kids Deb and I teach competed and they won, no need to thank us I told them, just make sure a few extra baht get put in my wallet!

This past weekend we stayed in Dan Chang, kind of. On Saturday, we went with the family of girl's we are tutoring to visit an aquarium, zoo and 100 year old market. We had lunch at a small restaurant overlooking miles of rice paddy and sugarcane fields. Being in the company of the family was a privilege and enlightening. They take very good care of each other and as their guests for the day, we were first in line for everything, including going into the tiger cage! That's right, they sent us into a cage full of tigers! they sent us into a cage full of tigers!Okay, they were tiger cubs and we enthusiastically went in. It was amazing! We were able to feed, hold, pet, wrestle and run with tiger cubs, thankfully mother (6ft long, 400 lbs) was in another cage.
Tigers' in Thailand are being hunted to extinction and unfortunately only a few hundred remain in the wild. It was a much better weekend for animal encounters than last weekend!

Visiting the 100 year old market in Sam Chuk was pretty incredible, many of the buildings and even vendors themselves are 100 years old, for real. Wandering through the narrow streets that are crammed with vendors hocking every imaginable
item or food was surreal. The aroma of food being prepared was constant and so was my hunger, thankfully many of the vendors have samples of their delicacies available and I grazed my way thru much of the market, usually having very little idea of what I was eating.

I did come across a friendly woman who insisted I try some of her “home brew” and much to my and later Deb's delight, it was was delicious. Called Kosato, it is made from sticky rice, and the flavor is similar to Saki. For .75 cents we purchased a bottle and enjoyed it later in the evening.

Sunday was spent walking around Dan Chang, doing a bit of grocery shopping and preparing for the week ahead. The temperature is cooling here and thus the constant sweating is subsiding on my part, much to my students delight! This weekend we will head for Lopburi and the Monkey Festival! As a fans of Curious George books, Deb and I are pretty excited about this one.