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.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Thailand did it again. Our weekend in Kanchanaburi, hereinafter referred to as K-Town, was most excellent. We arrived around 7 in the evening after a bus ride from Dan Chang that took us through some serious back-country. We are quickly realizing that the best way to see Thailand at it's core is to take the local buses. This means you never reach a speed of more than 37mph, stops to pick up and let off passengers are completely arbitrary and the electric fans that substitute for air-conditioning work for less than 1/3 of the trip. Its cheap and slow, but gets you there...eventually. Our accommodation for the weekend was the Pong Phen Guesthouse, great rooms and a very friendly, hospitable family running the place.We took in a late dinner after a shower and beer, hence my first showerbeer of the trip was had!

Then a few of our fellow teachers joined us later in the evening which soon became early in the morning and before we knew it the bar was closed and I had a nice, peaceful, easy feeling. Saturday morning was less than an nice, peaceful, easy feeling for my stomach, but the refreshing waterfalls
and pools of Erawan National Park was the quick cure. The park is about an 1 ½ hours from K -Town and is one of the most popular in Thailand. Home to wildlife of all sorts, including tigers and monkeys, the park is best known for the seven tiers of waterfalls you can hike along, eventually leading you to the top of a mountain stream that is the beginning of the falls.

Our Irish friends, Gerry and Noni McAndrew, accompanied us on the trek to the top. Stopping at each of the separate falls to take pictures, swim and relax was a great way to spend a Saturday. There were fish in many of the pools that were a bit too eager to nibble at your toes and other appendages if you didn't keep moving. I found the trick was to sit directly in the waterfall, like a grizzly bear, to avoid being a living buffet for the fish. We were blown away at the fairy tale like appearance of the waterfalls, the pictures do not do justice to the beauty of the park. You must visit.

We treated ourselves to a dinner of pizza and steak. I had the filamion (that is how the restaurant spelled it) and Deb went with a cheese and pineapple pizza, not too shabby a meal for $14, beers included. It was an early night for us as the trek, the heat and the big meal wore us out.

Before departing K-Town on Sunday we stopped at a museum dedicated to the history of the Burma-Thailand railroad, aka The Death RailRoad. Built during World War II by prisoners of war and native Thai people, the construction and maltreatment by Japanese guards led to the death of 200,000.

The museum was very detailed and we were thoroughly impressed with it, again, you must visit if ever in K-Town. We also walked through a cemetery filled with the remains of allied POW's who died while building the railroad. It was a grim reminder of the sacrifices so many made during World War II. The local Thai community keeps the cemetery in immaculate condition, not a blade of grass too long or any noticeable aging of the headstones, truly a fitting homage to those who did not survive.

Our bus ride home was fascinating, we passed through small hamlets, rice paddies, jungle and farm fields. Each locale had a distinct smell, some very pleasant and others were reminiscent of my athletic days when the locker room was filled with 150 hockey and football players.

Deb's highlight of the ride home and my trauma filled, nightmare scenario lived out, worse than you can imagine ordeal occurred. As I sat quietly and calmly in seat 13c on the number 325 bus to Dan Chang I was attacked. At first I thought it was the heat, sweat dripping down my leg has not been uncommon and when I went to wipe it off, there was not sweat, but a lump!

As fear invaded every bone in my body I slowly applied pressure to the lump on my upper-inner thigh and much to my horror, it moved...Ice cold sweat began pouring down my face as my mind raced with thoughts of a scorpion, centipede or worst of all a pit viper attached on my upper-inner thigh. I elbowed Deb and said in shaky voice that there is something up my pants and its moving, she told me not to be inappropriate. When I assured her it was not my juvenile humor coming out, she got a littler more interested.

A small gecko, little more than 3 inches long had crawled up my pants at some point. When our eyes met, mine and the gecko that is, pandemonium ensued, I screamed like a school girl when asked to homecoming by the captain of the football team and the gecko hightailed it off my leg to the safety of the floor and God only knows where. Needless to say, every Thai person on the bus who witnessed my sad little display did the only thing they knew how, they laughed. The mother and child in front of us moved to another seat and Deb just rolled about, laughing with them all. Long story short, I am wearing rubber bands around my ankles from now on and I do not care how bad of a fashion statement that is. No more geckos in this guys trousers!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dan Chang 5

Another day, another Thai baht in the ol' bank account. We will wrap up our work week in a few short hours and then jump on a bus to the jungle town of Kanchanaburi. It was a very hot and humid week here, temperatures in the 90's most of the day with 80% humidity were the norm. I sweated so much in one class the children offered me their water, in America the children would be rooting for heat stroke to overcome the teacher and get a free pass for that class. I think we have won some of the children over with our antics, mainly mine. I have started to only give high-fives to the kids when they run up to us looking to touch the exotic “teacha Daab and teacha Doe”. I have witnessed a number of awkward high-five attempts from one student to another, lets just say some eyes have been poked and the phrase “high-five” comes out more like “ha-freev”! I appreciate the attempts though. Deb is much better working the crowds than I am, her blonde hair is the envy of most of the little girl's and I suspect a few teachers as well.

The highlight of the week for both of us came on Tuesday when we were perusing the aisles of the local pirated DVD store. The owner of the store asked us to sit and look at the 100 or so English DVD's she had available. She then asked us about why we were in Dan Chang and upon learning that we were English teachers she began negotiating with us to tutor her daughter, Lyn and her friend JJ. It caught us a bit off guard and we settled on a wage that is below market value, but the experience thus far has been great. On Wednesday we held our first tutoring session with Lyn & JJ and afterward JJ's famil
y invited us to dinner with them at a local restaurant. They took very good care of us, their older daughter speaks very good English and helped translate the conversation for the evening. Much of their perception about America is based off of movies and other media which do not give an accurate portrayal as they were shocked to learn Deb and I worked at a placed that cared for homeless and abused children. We further smashed their notion of the “great and good, USA” when we told them that there is not health insurance for many American's. Maybe by the time we get home, that statement will no longer be accurate. Politics aside, the night was great as we learned much about Thai culture and truly felt welcomed by a local Thai family. They have offered to show us around town more,
even take me fishing with their grandma, although they warned me that she drinks a lot when she fishes. I will heed their warning, bring a six pack for her and one for me, no worries granny!

Other highlights of the week included watching a performance of Thai dance and storytelling at our school. It was a big event and much of the town turned out fo
r it. We are glad to have attended even if we could not understand much of the show, plus I got BBQ chicken on a stick for $1, in fact I got 2. Deb had boiled peanuts and an orange soda, the new dinner of champions I believe......I am playing a daily game of ping-pong with a 1st grader named Mun and he kills me every time and yes I am trying to beat him...
Deb found another dish at the campsite she can eat, that makes 3 now...I have a six pack of beer in the fridge...We found a jar of JIF Creamy peanut butter, life is a-ok!

Have a wonderful weekend and look for an update early next week about our travel in Kanchanaburi.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Deciding where to visit on our first weekend in Thailand was not simple, but we chose well. Our choice of the ancient capital of Thailand, Ayutthaya, was most excellent. Arriving in the city known as The Venice of Asia because it is surrounded by rivers, you cross into it via water taxi, was beautiful. It was sacked by the Burmese after a 400 year reign as the region's trading hub and the capital was moved to Bangkok where it remains today. Ayutthaya (i-yoo-tee-a) is still a bustling city and has done a remarkable job of ensuring the many Wats (Buddhist Temples) are properly cared for. A number of the Wats are still being used by the monks and have been in continuous use for hundreds of years. Our tour around the city brought us to many of them and they are quite impressive. Images of the Buddha are everywhere, mainly in stone sculpture or bronze statues that have gold leaf covering their entire outside. There is an air of peacefulness in एंड around each of the Wats, similar to when you tour a church in the west.

We were fortunate enough to witness a number of Buddhist traditions, including the draping of cloth over Buddha images, people offering prayers and receiving blessings from the monks. Some of the Wat's are 3 or 4 stories tall and are an awesome feat of engineering when one considers how long ago they were built. We were able to walk around, on, over and we even went under one! It was a workout making it to the top of some and when we stumbled upon a greasy spoon restaurant serving real American hamburgers, we just had to stop on treat ourselves. The burger I enjoyed was delicious and the woman who ran the place has never been to the states, but thought tourists might like a taste of home and boy was she right. We literally ate all of her remaining burger patties (there were 9 people in our group), she closed the place after we left to find more meat. Deb enjoyed a cheese sandwich and fries, which was bliss for her vegetarian diet as cheese is a hard to find commodity over here.

We topped our day off with dinner at a local market where you sit down and shout your order to the vendors that surround the tables, its a free for all and of course delicious! After dinner, we purchased some suds and took an hour long boat ride around the city. Many of the Wat's are lit up at night and it was relaxing way to end a long day of trekking around. Sunday morning we hired a couple of Tuk-Tuk's to drive us out to a floating market and to visit another Wat. Riding in a Tuk-Tuk is like visiting your local amusement park and jumping on the most adrenaline pumping ride there is. These guys make NASCAR look slow and hold nothing back even when male passengers voices raise to soprano level as they zip between trucks packed with livestock and sugar cane. Every time your ride is over you swear you'll never do it again, but there is no cheaper, faster or more entertaining way to get around town!

Our weekend adventure is over, but the adventure that is teaching has begun again! Off to Where the Wild Things Are, we have found them, here in Anuban Dan Chang, grades 1-5!

Thursday, November 5, 2009


TGIF friends, family and well wishers! Its the end of our first full week in Dan Chang and things have wrapped up nicely. We are planning a weekend trip to the ancient capital of Thailand, Ayyuttaya. More next week on that excurision. After waiting for a few days we were given our final teaching schedule, so the planning and strategizing has begun. We are each teaching 15 hours, mainly English for Joe and Math for Deb. The students English skills are varied, but most are struggling to pick up their second language. It has been a trip to work with them on pronounciation and sentence structure. The best part of the week was having the kids create nametags for us. In Thailand most names are quite long and even for native speakers can twist the tongue. So, everyone has a nickname, given by their father. Our top 5 favorite nicknames we have had in class this week are: Man-U (as in the English soccer team Manchester United), Punch, Ice, Beam and Bam. Along with other classics like Bim and Book, the school is crawling with kids who have no idea the the chuckle we get from their nicknames.

Each of the classes averages about 40-45 kids and we now sympathize with any teacher who loses their voice. We find ourselves speaking more than we would like, but the plan is to eventually have the kids doing the majority of the speaking, we will see and report back to you.

Dogs, dogs, everywhere there are dogs! The town, school, whole dang country is full of packs of stray dogs. They are the favorite animal of the King, so no one is going to call the pound, more likely to call the local butcher...Sticking with the topic of animals for a bit, Deb and I hosted a small gathering of creatures last night in our bedroom. This was not a planned party, but Gary the gecko, his cousin Greg, Billy the Beattle and Marty the giant moth all made an appearance in our room in a 15 minute span. It was pretty entertaining until we realized that when we shut off the lights they could go anywhere, needless to say the blankets were tucked in tightly...Have a wonderful weekend and look for an update on Monday about our trip to Ayyuttaya.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Other Side of Life

Up to this point our blog has been focused primarily on highlighting the activities, sights, and experiences we have had thus far in our travels. Joe and I decided to depart from this style for an installment focused on our, uh-oh, here comes the F word...Feelings. In writing numerous emails to friends and family as well as keeping a journal it turns out we are feeling many emotions on any given day and maybe some of the more inquisitive, soap opera type readers, might want in on our ego, id and the other guy...

We seem to encounter the same 3 emotions in a given day, so taking a page from SportsCenter, here are our top 3...

Confusion-For Joe this has always been a daily part of life (lefty loosey, righty tighty, etc). But its been intensified for the both of us considering the language barrier that exists here. We have a few, very basic Thai phrases in our pocket. Unfortunately, Thai is a tonal language (see previous posts for full-on description) and even when we think we know what we are saying it comes across to our Thai compatriots as complete gibberish. So we revert to Thai-glish, you know, speaking slowly and raising our voice in hopes this will allow them to comprehend. It does not. We frequently are given the following answer to inquiries of any nature, “no, yes, okay” they speak slowly and get louder as they go thru the 3 English words they know. The Thai language does not use the Roman alphabet, this makes it impossible to even try and figure out where you are, bathrooms are especially hard as they have not made the great leap to using figures of men and women yet outside the toilets.

Chaos-There is a common phrase used here, Thai Time, basically it means it will happen when it happens. No worries mate, hakuna matada, chill out, etc...For two pretty organized individuals who like to have a little idea of what is coming around the corner this has been a hard concept to subscribe to. Example, we have been at the school for a week now and have no formal teaching schedule, nor any idea of what classes or grades we will be teaching. Also, the structure of the day is like that of a 3 ring circus, children run wildly around the buildings at all times, even after the wind chime sounds for the beginning of another class period. We watch the same 4 boys play-fight for 45 minutes in the morning and then they come back for round two in the afternoon, all of this occurs 3 feet from a classroom door. We are going to video tape it and sell it on pay-per-view as a Friday Night Fight.

Minimalism-Getting philosophic now, right? We are loving and disliking this emotion. Dislikes include the minimal choice of food we have to eat at our cabin's mess hall. The cooks are not easy to communicate with (see feeling 1) and over the weekend we had 3 meals to select from for 3 days. No heels or hair straightener for Deb have been a source of some grumbling, but Joe is a whiner of epic proportions when college football highlights fail to download from the web. We love the minimal material possessions we have. Having no TV or internet at the campground has been great for us. Lots of Cribbage, laughs, reflection time and naps are had. Spontaneous dance parties are becoming more and more common as the shuffle feature on iTunes finds awesome hits like Whoop There It Is and anything Jefferson Starship gets Joe out on floor.

Of course our days are filled with many small wonders, having hundreds of little people run up to you each morning and say “hello teacher” makes a person feel pretty good. The reality is this is beyond a travel adventure, its a job, a opportunity to enrich the lives of young people and to enrich our own lives. Experiencing a completely different culture than the one we lived in for 28 years on a daily basis reminds us of the great opportunity we have been given. Spending this time with each other, knowing that one day when our hair is silver or not there at all, we will have memories of confusion, chaos and minimalism to make us smile...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Dan Chang 3-Loi Krathong

Loi Krathong (Loy-Cratoong) is here and everybody's full of cheer! The big festival celebrating water came to and end yesterday with an incredible finale. The whole town, school included was decorated for the Monday celebration. As foreign teachers were expected to sing a song, what we were not expecting is that it would be sung in front of about 5,000 people. It was the closest we will ever get to winning a singing contest, losing one in my case. The whole celebration had the flavor of a county fair, complete with games, tons of food and lots of people watching, unfortunately, mullets are not a style to be found in Thailand.

We were received warmly by the crowd and even the children seemed to like our simple song. The kids performed some really great routines and their costumes were quite intricate and impressive. Deb and I were able to sail a Krathong (small banana leaf boat) down the local river for good luck and answers to our prayers. The party lasted well into the night, we heard the last fireworks around 2am. Needless to say, school is pretty quiet today, the kids are hungover from the copious amounts of sugar they ingested and the teachers are plain tired from preparing for such an event. I am bright eyed and ready, Deb is more of Pink eye and ready. That's right, Deb came down with Pink Eye on Friday evening, but a trip to the doctor and $2 worth of antibiotics later, she is feeling better. We spent the better part of the weekend around our cabin as we didn't want to spread the sickness to anyone else.

Our teaching assignments still have not come down, we are in a bit of a holding pattern still. We are starting to feel like firefighters, waiting for the call to run and teach English at a moments notice. The bummer is that there is no brass pole to slide down when the alarm rings.