The Margarita Dance

Trip Start Sep 03, 2012
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Trip End Oct 15, 2013


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Flag of Thailand  , Chiang Mai,
Monday, December 31, 2012

This morning I had the pleasure of watching the sunrise from the top of Doi Pha Tang Mountain, where the Mekong River forms the border between Thailand and Laos. So I suppose staring east we were watching the sun rise over Laos. As I stood there at 5:30am with three of my co-teachers and their families, the coldest I have been yet in Thailand, I got to watch the sun break through the fog and slowly make its way into the sky. From what I was told this is a traditional way for Thai people to celebrate the New Year, camping and watching the sun rise together. The weekend was about spending time with one another and enjoying ourselves: Eating, relaxing, and sharing in something special together. In other words, it was very Thai style. As I stood at the summit, surrounded by 360 degrees of natural splendor, I just turned in circles looking at everything and couldn't help but think that if your life really does flash before you when you die, I am sure going to have a beautiful slideshow. My brain is going to have quite a challenge in picking the most beautiful moments, because at this point I feel pretty blessed to have so many of them, and I hope the database is not quite full yet. And I don’t know exactly how it worked out that I get to be a part of such beautiful things in the first place, but I do know that as I stood there every bone in my body felt good, and I wished that it was a feeling I could share with the important people in my life. But then I catch my mind beginning to wander into thinking about all the possibilities for bringing people here later on and sharing these moments with them then, and when I catch myself doing that sometimes I have to take a step back and remember that this is not a moment that is meant to lead to another moment, it is simply a moment to be enjoyed for precisely what it is now- in this case a particularly beautiful moment. And I think that this is one of the greatest things I experience while traveling. I feel as if I have overall more gratitude for things. It is as if each moment and each experience is more precious itself simply because I am more mindful of the fact that it cannot be repeated. It’s hard to explain that sentiment right now, but I guess what it really comes down to is I feel very grateful to have shared this moment with my Thai teachers, and if this is any indicator of 2013 it is going to be a good year.

Also, I have confirmed that I really do love camping. We left Saturday morning together, and our "three hour" drive took about six hours because we stopped for food and snacks every 30 minutes. That’s the cool thing about traveling with Thai people, things generally do not feel stressful. In other words Sabai Sabai, these things are meant to be enjoyable, not under a tight schedule. So we munched on goodies, sipped on lattes, lounged out at a park and had some Som Tam (spicy papaya salad), and eventually we made our way up the mountain to our campsite. Many people were camping here for New Year’s, but it was great because people just set their tents up anywhere. It’s not like Mount Lemon where there are set areas and payments and what not, some people were literally setting up their tents in the parking lot if they wanted to be near the toilets. We got a really great spot. So we set up our tents and then I hiked around with one of the teachers, P’Nok, and all the boys (there were five young boys who were the sons of the other two teachers). By the time we got back dinner was underway of course, and I use the term dinner lightly because I think we literally ate all day so it’s hard to distinguish meals. We had what they refer to as 'hot pot’ for me, where you cook your own meats on a mini grill and the juices spill into a broth where vegetables and noodles are also being cooked. It is really tasty. This week alone, because it has been a celebratory week, I think I have had it four times. It’s also fun because it takes a long time to eat because you cook just a little at a time. So everyone is sitting together, cooking together, and prolonging the eating process (once again all very Thai style). Then we roasted marshmallows, which cracked me up because they were mini-marshmallows and they put one at the end of my stick that was so small I didn’t even know it was there (picture included). I think they would get a real quick out of our American Jumbo marshmallows because they are so big. Portions here are generally much smaller. Not that you necessarily eat less during the day, just smaller portions. The other day they took me to see the new Jackie Chan movie (entirely in Thai with no subtitles…. Wouldn’t recommend that), and they had a special promotion for a bucket of popcorn that would compare to the size of a large popcorn in an American theater. Anyways, one guy bought the bucket and was carrying it in and my host teachers were pointing at it and laughing because they thought it was so ridiculously large, and I was just thinking Ohhh yeah I would NEVER even think about ordering so much popcorn, gross. Not. Anyways, we just ate dinner and tried to carry Thainglish conversations and then we went to bed. Also it was cute because one of the teachers brought some Heineken and gave it to me in a special bucket so we could do a New Year’s cheer. I am afraid word has gotten out that “she can drink beer.” Sorry Thailand, it is true, sometimes I can. Then in the morning we were hiking up the mountain at 5:30am, and by 7am we were back and eating breakfast. Some grilled pork, rice, and cup of noodles. To summarize the day, we drove home stopping three times for food along the way, and once for a waterfall, and food there too of course. One of the meals was a sandwich that was just two pieces of white bread with a bunch of condensed milk poured inside it… yikesss. I stayed away from that one. The last meal was at a prawn farm, and it was a little rough for me because they ordered three large platters of grilled prawns, but they were REALLY fresh out of the water prawns. Like my eyes are staring right at you and my legs are still wrapped around all my glistening orange eggs kind of prawns... tasty. I can do Casa Vicente prawns, but this was just one step higher and I was struggling a little. I was doing okay until the boy next to me split one open and blood spilled out on his finger, (I didn’t even know that could happen), and he just wipe it on his napkin and popped it in his mouth with some of the eggs getting stuck on his lip, and around that point I conveniently decided I was full from the accumulation of food from the weekend. So now I am back home, and after washing the campfire smell out of my hair I am snuggled up in bed and pretty tired, but I still wanted to mention a few of the interesting moments from this last month that I never got around to writing about.

For starters, at one point I spent three day in Chiang Mai city with four of the other Fulbrighters, and I had a great time with them eating American food and enjoying an outside arts festival. We went to the Chiang Mai Zoo, and it was pretty huge. This is my second zoo in Thailand now, and both have been so up close and personal. Hippos are considered the most dangerous animal in the wild… well let’s just say in Thailand you get a whole lot closer then you would in an American zoo. We had booked our accommodations online for a hostel, and the whole situation was pretty comical because it was the most dysfunctional and unorganized hostel management I have ever seen, and I am pretty sure one of the girls in our dorm had the flu, and yet everything is still mai bpen rain (no problem) mentality. We came home from dinner one night and the hostel owner ran over and was like, “ohhh little problem. We don’t have a bed for you. But we have tent ok?” And basically for whatever reason they had misjudged their beds or something, and Katie and I ended up sleeping in tents that they had set up in the front of the hostel, because this is the sort of unexpected stuff that is always happening and if you can’t roll with it you are not going to enjoy your time here. Thailand does not seem to be the best location choice for the overly structured, or those who even like any set plan at all really.

The next weekend I decided to go back to Chiang Mai, it’s about a three hour bus ride, because I had nothing going on. So I stayed with Cordell and that was really nice. One day we went on a bike ride to a park where we had lunch overlooking the water, and I got to take a quick dip in the water too even. Apparently I am still a little uneasy in the big open water like that. I thought my new scuba experience might help, but this didn’t seem to be the case. The following week I did not have to teach at school because it was “Sports Week #2,”so one of my Fulbright friends came down and we spent some time together. I got to show Portia around Mae Lao, and then we explored Chiang Rai city together, visited the famous White Temple (my very first vision of Chiang Rai before I ever came thanks to Google Images), and we even went on a hike to a waterfall. Showing her Mae Lao was great because she could relate to the sort of odd things I was experiencing. For example, we were walking to my ‘resort’ when a group of visiting teachers at the school called us over, and because you generally don’t say no to invitations we stepped through the random hole in the gate (keep in mind this is supposed to keep students from leaving school- effective), and we joined them for about fifteen minutes where we just awkwardly sat and tried to make conversation, mainly just asking us if we thought they were handsome and asking us if we wanted a Thai boyfriend over and over, as they sipped on their whisky. And then we politely break away and just smile at each other because we can relate to how awkward our interactions with people can be here. Of course they don’t speak English, and we don’t speak Thai, but still everybody just makes jokes to themselves and then wants to take photos together. That’s why you have this gem of a photo you see here. I could write an entire entry on photos in Thailand, but in a nutshell I have been in more photos in the last three months then my whole life combined. Today when we went to watch the sunrise two separate couples stopped me on my way down so they could take their photo with me, and then I continue on. It is strange to me, but the other Thai teachers remind me it’s okay because I am a ‘professional’… which I assume means I sort of stand out and it’s cool people want random photos of me. Anyways, after Mae Lao and Chiang Rai we traveled farther north and toured up to Mae Salang, an ethnic Chinese hill tribe village in the mountains known for its tea. Unfortunately we misjudged our timing so I did not get to spend much time there, and also Portia had contracted food poisoning so morale was a little low, but what I did see was breathtakingly beautiful and I would definitely like to spend some more time there if possible later on. Portia stayed the night there, and I took an hour-long motorbike taxi ride down the mountain because I was teaching an English camp in the morning. So I got to enjoy the wind in my face and the view at every turn- I have decided I love being on the back of the motorbike. The English camp went well, and I got to see what another Fulbright’s school was like. It is the first time I have seen someone else’s teaching situation, so that was thought provoking. .

As far as Christmas in Thailand goes- Good stuff. For a society based on Buddhist beliefs their Christmas celebration sure is vivacious. On Christmas Eve I had dinner with the teachers who live at the school, (the ones I hang out with in general), and we had a delightful dinner of hot pot, fish, and sticky rice. So I was sitting there on Christmas Eve, everybody in sombreros and one teacher in devil horns (not sure), eating Thai style on a mat placed on the ground. A microphone was passed around so everybody could sing karaoke, and behind the karaoke words a montage of Maxim models flashing on the screen was being displayed, and I thought to myself, “Well I am pretty certain I will not have another Christmas Eve quite like this." If you can watch the short video clip (with volume), it was taken at this dinner. They also took me to the ‘Snow Dome’ at the Chiang Rai Flower Festival where we got to look at some snow alongside a tunnel and take pictures with snow-themed things so it would be like ‘American Christmas’. It’s these thoughtful things people are always doing that make me love Mae Lao. And on a side note I was thinking they might be very disappointed to visit Tucson for Christmas.



School on Thursday was canceled for a full day of Christmas activities, which meant Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday classes were sort of hit or miss because people were preparing for the special day. On Thursday the whole school gathered together in the morning and gave alms to eight monks who came to our school, and then it was off for a day of Santa costumes and a skit about Pinocchio (still not sure how that plays in but it was funny to say the least).  I was told on Monday that I would be performing a song or dance in front of the whole school. As you can imagine that threw me off a little bit. But what I am learning here is that you really should only say no to the things you really can’t do… you have to use your no’s very sparingly. So far I think I have said no to blood soup, and tutoring one of the village children in algebra and taking her running every time I go “for safety”. She is nine years old. Anyways, I opted for the dancing, and when I was told I could teach my students a dance if I preferred that to dancing alone, I jumped on that option. The idea of me solo dancing in front of the school sounded pretty awful, for obvious reasons. All I could picture was that dancing scene from Napoleon Dynamite. I ended up teaching my M1 students, my youngest class, a slightly creative and spiced up version of the Macarena. This is as good as my choreography gets. It ended up being a lot of fun, and it was nice to be able to work with the students outside of the classroom in a way that does not require much language communication. I think it was a relief for all of us. So on Thursday we performed and it was pretty cute, especially because somewhere along the way ‘The Macarena’ was lost in translation and it was filmed and posted as ‘The Margarita Dance’. Same Same. And after the dance one of the teachers told me, “teachers say they like watch you dance because you happy.” And that totally made my day, and also I think it’s probably the Thai version of “Well you kind of suck at dancing, but hey if you had fun you won!”. Also, just to give you an idea of how things go here, I was suddenly handed a microphone and asked to lead an activity on stage in front of the school where I asked Thai students in Santa costumes random questions in English, so I just walked on stage and I didn’t even know how to introduce the game… so that was awkward. And then at the staff party later that evening they had me perform Karaoke in front of all the teachers. So basically there was a time that I had a comfort zone, and then I came to Thailand. Also, after a few drinks the teachers were really in to teaching me how to dance ‘Thai Style’ at the Christmas staff party. I have decided I was made for Thai dancing- Three steps forward (kick)….Three steps backwards (kick)…. and repeat the process. Check. 
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