Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Farewell to Thailand

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehn, goodbye. We are down to one last day of teaching and it is hard to believe our time is nearing an end in Thailand. The children have been presenting us with small gifts all week, ranging from homemade cards to flowers and the most sentimental of all, a small key chain from a second grader who literally had nothing to give. She removed it from her backpack where it had been all year and with much care placed it in a folded piece of paper that simply said “miss you goodbye” and gave it to us. That simple gesture might just be the best way to sum up our time here. It is the small things that have made our experience amazing. Our morning bike ride that is punctuated by shouts of “good morning teacha” from students on the back of scooters or pickup trucks will be missed dearly when we are sitting in gridlock back in Chicago. Quick games of paper, rock, scissors throughout the day with many students might be the best form of communication for everyone, forget e-mail and Facebook. Walking in the blazing sun to get ice cream with our students is surely going be missed by Deb. Our time in the classroom, the reason we moved across the world, will never be forgotten.

We have had dinner with a different group of friends every night this week and each relationship has been a blessing for us. Meeting other foreign teachers from China, England, New Zealand, Ghana,
the Phillipines and Burma was not in the plans, but we sure are grateful we met them. Their perspective and more importantly, their friendship has made our time here even more amazing.

We lived in Thailand. It was not a tour or a vacation, but our home for nearly 5 months. It was home because of the people. The vendors at the market, the owner of our favorite coffee shop that treated us to many dinners and friends who helped us navigate the bus system. The children and the teachers at school made it more than just work. It is the people we were surrounded by that made it home. Our travels in the coming weeks will be no less than spectacular, but they will be just that, travels. We lived in Thailand and know that Thailand will live within us forever.

It would be impossible for us to account for all the adventures we had. The big ones like New Year's Eve on Phi Phi island or visiting the ancient ruins in Ayyuthaya are most easily recalled. The first trip on a long tail boat or a tuk-tuk ride in Bangkok will remembered with great laughter. It will be the little adventures that bring a small smile to our face and should you happen to see it, ask us. Reliving the time a little guy was arm wrestling me while I typed an e-mail might not sound like an adventure to you, but it was to me. Deb singing 5 little monkeys 5 times straight with 45 students won't be turned into a major motion picture, but it will be one of the most replayed memories of her time here. It will be the key chain moments that will stay with us for years to come.

Saying goodbye is the best way to measure how much an experience or someone has meant to you and this will be one of our hardest goodbyes' ever.

Friday, February 19, 2010

One week and counting. Soon we will be hitting the road and finishing up our travels around the world! Inciting a jealous rage is not the point of this post. If you are in the area while we are there it would be great to meet up. Ok, maybe we are rubbing it in a bit...
THAILAND (2/27 & 2/28)
Ubon Ratchanburi
LAOS (3/1 – 3/3)
Don Khong
CAMBODIA (3/4 – 3/7)
Siem Reap
Phnom Penh
VIETNAM (3/8 – 3/21)
Hoi An
Nha Trang
Ho Chi Minh City
GREECE (3/22 – 3/29)
ITALY (3/29 - 4/7)
Cinque Terre
SWITZERLAND (4/7 – 4/9)
GERMANY (4/9 – 4/13)
FRANCE (4/14 – 4/18)
ENGLAND (4/19 -21)
AMERICA – April 21st
Return to Chicago!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Amazing Thailand! We spent our weekend at one of thee, if not the, most beautiful place we have visited in our time here. Sangkhlaburi is near the border with Burma (Myanmar, for you fans of military dictatorships) and is is a hidden gem in our opinion. Situated on a giant reservoir and ringed by mountains in three directions it picturesque and then some. We arrived early on Saturday morning after an arduous bus ride up, down, around and through innumerable mountain passes. Thankfully we just finished a unit on prepositions...Anyway, the beauty of the town is found not only in the natural surroundings but also in the people that live there. Two groups make up the majority of the population, the Mon and the Karen people from neighboring Burma. Most eek out a living as fishermen, farmers or working in one the guesthouses that ring the lake. Friendly as a Minnesotan at a fish fry, the local welcomed us into their shops, homes and even their fishing boat!

We stayed a nice guesthouse on the shore of the reservoir and our first order of business after checking into our room was to jump in for a refreshing swim. It was supposed to be a quick swim, but the combination of the cool water, hot sun and beautiful surrounding made it last the afternoon. After soaking it up until the evening we arranged for a local Mon man to take us out fishing. It was something Joe has been waiting to do for a long time. We hopped in a canoe, Deb sat in the middle armed with a camera and smile. Joe was up front and had been given the lone fishing pole with the lone lure. It was quite the site as the pole was designed for deep sea fishing and lure for catching small bass and the reel was on backwards, but we made a go of it. Paddling around the reservoir at sunset was worth the trip alone, but having the opportunity to fish in Thailand with a local put the icing on the sundae. It was beautiful and even though we caught only the net of another fisherman (Joe's casting ability was a bit suspect) we had a great time. The Mon guide was all too happy for the business and a bit perplexed Joe could not pull a fish out of the reservoir that feeds an entire town.

Sunday we went to the Burmese border via the small town of Three Pagodas Pass. Simply spectacular. The town is more like a horseshoe of vendors that straddle the border, the front of their store is Thailand and walking out the back door gets you into Burma. Officially, the border is closed. The guards on either side of the crossing did not seem to mind when we slipped behind the gate to snap a few pictures and stake our claim as official visitors to the country. We did not press our luck in venturing further as we knew that Bill Clinton was out of service in terms of rescuing citizens from dictatorships। The vendors were extremely nice people and were successful in gaining some business from our group. Joe made it a memorable Valentine's day as he successfully negotiated a price reduction in a beautiful turquoise bracelet for Deb. Candy hearts were the best Deb could come up with in रेतुर्न

All in all it was a great weekend and one of the most memorable we have had. Our time is short now, two weeks to go. We said goodbye to our group of fellow teachers on Sunday and will most likely not see them until we return to the States. Countless memories have been made and it appears that even more are in the making as we set forth in a few weeks for the rest of our travels around the world.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The DC...Again.

Our past weekend was nice and quiet, which, after our week at school was welcomed. Its not that school week was overly crazy, but it did hold a number of surprises for us. We learned that we are going to be teaching three extra classes a week for the remainder of our time here. Not a big deal, but we only have 15 days of actual teaching left. This new change came from a classic VIM where Joe and a few fellow teachers expressed that classroom discipline was the reason the children were not progressing as quickly as some would like. 40+ students who use our class time as play time isn't necesarily the perfect scenario for conversational English to take place. No big deal, we will give it a whirl for our remaining weeks and see if halving our class size has any affect on the students English abilities.

As for the weekend, we decided to stay in the DC in order to plan the remainder of our trip around the world. A fellow teacher offered to take us around our province to see some of the sights we hadn't been to. The morning was set to begin at 9:30am and working on what we know from Thailand, "Thai Time" surely meant we wouldn't leave until 10 or even 10:30. Much to our suprise at 9am we had a knock on the door by two of our fourth grade youth to take us on our little tour of Suphan Buri. After a quick run through of Sam Chuck, the 100 year old Chinese Market and a bite of noodles for breakfast we were off on a boat tour of the river that connects Sam Chuck to Bangkok. One hundred years ago this river was used as the main mode of transportation as there were not yet roads, but today is no longer used for this and few reside on the riverside. The boat was similar to the buses here and appeared to be as old as the market, we soon realized the floor boards heat up just like on buses and we suspected a fire was imminent. Thankfully we weren't on the boat for to long as we jumped off to get a tour of a temple by two young Thai boys who were happy to have some tourists coming through. We were off again to a Buffalo Village where Joe was able to ride a buffalo, okay, he didn't actually ride but he did sit on the buffallo and got a picture to boot.

Sunday was spent in our school office surfing the web to find the best ways to cross the borders between Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam without too much hassel or being scammed। We finally purchased our Eurorail pass which must mean our time in Thailand is truley coming to an end. As we begin to wrap up our teaching and begin to pack up the few belongings we are taking with us for our backpacking adventure I begin to realize how much Thailand and it's beautiful people have grown on us. We may be leaving with a few meager pocessions but the impact of Thailand will follow us where ever we go। The impending goodbyes to the kids, school and our many new friends is definitely going to be harder than we ever would have imagined when we first arrived five short months ago... But, we hope that this is just the beginning of many worldly advevntures for the Wronka Family.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Bangkok III

The “cool” season is over apparently. Our run of low 80s and minimal humidity has ended. Back to the 90s or higher and instantaneous saturation of clothes humidity. Its a Minnesota thing to discuss the weather when you are: A. avoiding a controversial subject B. have nothing to say, but want to remain polite C. doing recon for an upcoming fishing trip. I (no we on this one) wish it was for reason C that I bring up the weather, but no fishing trips are in sight. We will go with option C and a bit of D for this one. Option D is when a blog needs to be written, but no harrowing, humorous or enlightening subjects are available. See this. I just killed a quarter page in an explanation of why this blog post might be a bit lackluster or disappointing to some. Another sentence, wow am I good at this...

We traveled to Bangkok this past weekend to give the big city another chance. I had a girlfriend in the 10th grade give me another “chance” after we broke up because I failed to drop enough coinage on our first date. Who knew that a Crave Case from White Castle and a trip to buddy's basement for two hours of Nintendo 64 (Bond-Goldeneye) wasn't romantic? Anyway, this second go with Bangkok worked out much better than the second date, an hour of ice skating in sub-zero temperatures and her paying for hot chocolate from a gas station ensured my pager never blew up with her number. Again, with the dodging of the main point. Maybe I am a Republican, err, I mean a politician deep down...

Bangkok is impressive in it's ability to lure a traveler into thinking one will cover a lot of ground and see many sights in a few days. Our plans called for a two hour journey to the city from Dan Chang, with a planned ETA of 6pm on Friday night. Leaving the DC at 4pm was all good, but when the van stopped in front of the local rice paddy for 25 minutes in what we think was the driver's attempt to ensure rice was actually growing, we knew there was trouble looming. Traffic into the city was brutal, no one was moving, even the motorcycles that speed between lanes were slowed to a snail's pace because all lanes, even the ditch were backed up. We made the drop off point at 7 and took a harrowing ride on a motorcycle taxi to our hotel. Sitting on the back of a scooter that speeds between cars is a good way to reflect on life. Deb's knee took paint off a local bus and I wet myself a little when we caught air after hitting a bump in the road. It was the quickest and albeit terrifying, easiest way to get us across the city. We grabbed dinner and drinks with some friends before calling it a night.

Saturday we had every intention of seeing as many sights as possible since we had not been back to Bangkok since November. A mix of scorching temperatures, mass congestion and an appalling lack of directional awareness on my part led to only a few of our planned destinations being reached. We saw Wat Arun, built on the banks of the Phraya River, it is very big. The ascent to the top is similar to Mount Everest we think, but well worth the burning of calories when you see the view. Boasting a 360 look of downtown Bangkok you get a real good understanding of why it takes so long to get places. We enjoyed the cool breeze on the top and even got a couple Pulitzer quality shots of two monks visiting the temple. Our Paparazzi tactics did not phase them in the least, must take all the zen they can muster when idiots like me are chasing them around the temple with a camera.

We also visited an amulet market, on display were about 2 million of very similar looking Buddha or related objects that the Thai's are always buying in hopes of increasing their luck. We did not invest in anything but did enjoy the different sales pitches of the vendors. Our favorite, “buy now and live to tell about it.”

Completely wiped out from our trek across the city and feeling a bit embarrassed we could only muster two main attractions in a day we consoled ourselves with a little snack at a German restaurant. I enjoyed a Bittburger (best German beer ever) and a liverwurst sandwich. Deb went with the classic Pomme Frites and Heineken. Our evening was topped off with a nice Indian dinner and some more soda's with a couple of other fellow teachers.

Sunday we mustered our remaining strength and visited the largest market in Bangkok (many say the world). It was enormous, swallowing up entire city blocks the place is a black hole and should be investigated immediately by NASA. We walked for over two hours and maybe covered an 1/8th of it. A few purchases were made and I declared victory when we found the exit many people said did not exist. There is little more we can remember about the market, I think some of the vendors are born, raised and die there without ever stepping out of the place. B-I-G.

Monday marked the beginning of our last month of teaching। Its hard to believe we are closing in on our last days, but something tells us there is a whole lot more in store before we leave. There are enough weekends left to travel and enough days left to teach that we should be able to keep the blog intact, if not, well...There is always the weather.