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!