Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What I Wish for My Niece

My niece's arrival is imminent and will probably happen sometime in the next 12 hours, depending on her preference of birthdate. I've never been an aunt before, have never had this role. But I can't wait. Already, even before her birth, I have so many hopes for this little girl. And so, in no particular order, here are those hopes, little niece of mine:

-that your favorite Disney princess is Belle, because let's face it, Belle kicks some serious ass. Not only is she the only princess who is an active reader, but Belle blows off Gaston because she clearly wants way more than some pretty boy (cough, every other Disney prince, cough). She refuses to let the Beast order her around, fangs or no fangs, AND at the end of the movie she comes to the Beast's rescue aided only by a teacup and some major gumption.

-that you make every man's head turn when you walk into a room and make their heads spin when you engage them in conversation

-that you can (when you're 21 of course) down a beer, crack open an oyster and take the meat off a whole chicken

- that you find the coastal South, whether or not you ever are a full time resident of it. Even if it's just on some vacation as a little girl, when you play in the sand or stare out the window of a car driving over a tidal marsh, I hope you find this place because a life without the coastal south is not a life at all in my opinion.

-that you love the ocean and find peace whenever you are near it

-that you believe in all sorts of irrational things, Santa and God and love and happy endings

-that you love snow, especially because you will be born when there's still a good bit of it left on the ground

-that you make mistakes, not big, tragic ones, but those little, ultimately unimportant mistakes that really define a life

-that you follow beauty, because out of everything in this world, sometimes I'm convinced that beauty( the soulful, honest kind, not the superficial, surface variety) is the only thing that really lasts in this world

-that you read anything and everything, that you fall deeply and hopelessly into the big woods and open plains of Laura Ingalls Wilder and the cozy New England home of the March sisters. I hope you sit with Francie on that fire-escape in Brooklyn and sail down rivers with Huck and Jim. I hope you swear to never go hungry again with Scarlett and discover magic alongside Harry. I hope you one day watch a bullfight alongside Hemingway, ache for true love next to Gatsby, fall in love with that typical bad boy, Heathcliff. I hope you are equally comfortable in the worlds of Jodi Picoult and Ian McEwan. I hope you befriend that hungry caterpillar and the oh so spoiled Eloise. I hope one day you cry with Anne Frank and mourn Charlotte along with Wilbur. I hope you believe in the world on the other side of that wardrobe as much as you believe in chocolate factories run by tiny, magical men. For that matter I hope you read every book Roald Dahl has ever written, because no childhood is complete without James and his peach and the BFG and Matilda. I hope you swoon for Mr. Darcy and follow Marlowe into the heart of darkness. I hope you discover Indians in your cupboard and castles in your attic. I hope you find solace and comfort and inspiritation and all of those wonderful things you can find so easily in books. I hope you crease your pages and wear down your covers and treat your books as old friends.

-that you can one day quote Casablanca and Zoolander in equal measure

-that you love chocolate

-that you see every single corner of this world

-that whether you're Buddhist or Catholic or Muslim or Agnostic you believe deeply in an all encompassing love, a force greater than yourself

-that you go to Paris when you are young and still a little bit naive

-that no boy ever breaks your heart but that you always leave your heart open to be broken

-that you sing along, loudly, to your favorite songs, and that you never think you're too cool to sing loudly along with Journey

-that you have a best friend

-that you have one perfect dance at a middle school or high school dance, with that boy to that song, trust me, you'll know what I'm talking about when the time comes

-that you obsess over at least one boy band, preferably more

-that you go to your first concert and scream and sing so loud that you're hoarse for days

-that you watch Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink, preferably all at once, and realize that it doesnt get much better than the 80s

-that you discover Beverly Hills 90210, and realize oh wait, it did get better than the 80s, in the 90s!

-that at some point you watch every single episode of Saved by the Bell

-that you cook only if you darn well like to cook, stay home with the children only if you darn well want to stay home with the children, and realize how blessed and fortunate you are to even have these choices

-that you can curse like a sailor around friends and act like a perfect lady in company

-that you are at ease in stillettos or sneakers, dresses or sweatpants

-that you never diet or think you're anything other than beautiful

-that you will let a boy open a literal door but metaphorically open your own, that you realize that you can be whatever you want to be, and that anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool

-that you act foolish and young and silly on many, many occasions

-that you have at least one slumber party where you stay up all night

-that you have at least one slumber party where you and your friends hold a sceance and/or try and levitate someone and/or play truth or dare

-that you realize that no trait in this world is as important as human decency, that one kind person is worth more than a hundred cool people

-that you're smarter than your aunt and accept that "popular" means absolutely squat, that you never try to be someone you're not in order to get in with the cool crowd, trust me on this one kid

-that you're always good to your momma and sweet to your daddy, no matter how old you are

-that you never act dumb to impress a boy, also trust me on this niece of mine, any boy who likes you because he thinks you're dumb is a waste of your time

-that you believe in fate and destiny and all of that stuff that adults have a hard time believing in

-that at least once you ride a really big roller coaster

-that at least once, as a pre-teen or teenager, you spend an entire day at the mall with your best friend

-that you not text until you're 20

-that you not Facebook until you're 30

-that you realize that one human connection is worth more than 1,000 facebook friends, that you leave the cell phone in your purse during dinner (on silent I might add), that you never text in company unless you ask the person you're with if they mind

-that you're a dutiful grandaughter

-that you NEVER agree to go out on a date with a boy if he asks you via text/Facebook/gchat/any other way wherein you do not hear his actual, live voice

-that you hold your ground and wait for boys to ask you out on proper dates, not hang-outs, not meet-ups, but an honest to goodness date. I don't care if this is the year 2025 or 2030, dates will never go out of style, you're worth it

-that you watch a lot of TV (just don't tell your mom and dad!)

-that you love politics and fashion, celebrity gossip and sports, that you never let anyone tell you that you can't love all of these things simultaneously

-that you have that one teacher who changes your life

-that you really love food

-that you're never afraid to ask questions

-that you identify with Buffy and think Bella is a vapid, idiot

-that you're not afraid to dance, even if you're a spaz, especially if you are a spaz

-that you find a dream, whether it's to be president (you are a DC child after all) or to study rare birds on some tropical island, find what you want to do, what you love to do and fight for it

-that you understand that class is a conscious choice, not an income bracket

-that you say the word "y'all"

-that you're opinionated and stubborn as a mule

-that you stay away from box hair dye

-that you never come within a ten foot radius of Sun-In (if they even still make that stuff)

-that you watch Titanic before the age of 12 and absolutely weep

-that you're just as happy playing basketball as playing dress-up

-that you realize that Barbies are not representative of the way women actually look

-that you realize that models are not representative of the way women actually look

-that you realize actresses are not representative of the way women actually look

-that you have a stuffed animal to sleep with

-that you're happy and healthy and loved every single second of your life

I hope all of this for you and more little girl. And I can't wait to watch you grow up.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Traveler Tales: Part Two - Railay

 Raily was always too good to be true. That much was obvious from the moment our boat struck off from Krabi Town and within minutes began to pass looming limestone cliffs so big a small village could fit on top of one. The pea soup thick mist surrounding us and the method of transportation only made things more surreal. You see, there are no ferries to Railay. Railay does not have any kind of harbor or pier. To get to Railay one takes one of these.

This is a longtail-boat, and it makes an inordinately loud putting noise, so loud in fact that you have to shout to be heard over it. My two lovely traveling buddies here, Tara and Caitlyn, and I, along with about 100 pounds of combined weight in backpacks and other assorted carry on items (we did not pack light) rode this little vessel the forty-five minutes or so to Railay. Now if you're picturing an island in the United States, you would assume there would be some way of transferring oneself and one's luggage to land without having to literally jump off the boat into the water. But Thailand is not the United States. Thai people don't eat peanut butter sandwiches or live in the year 2009 (I swear I am not lying about this). And they also don't stay dry upon arrival at an island.

To be fair, our boat driver warned us. At the Krabi Town "pier" we sat surrounded by a group of Thai boat drivers, half joking amongst themselves in Thai, half conversing with us in English. Low tide, they all repeated. No good to go to Railay at low tide. Must swim. Okay well maybe they didn't say the swim part but their looks inferred as much. So really it's our own fault. We pulled up to East Railay beach, a crescent moon of shore surrounded by sheer, craggy, monstrously huge limestone cliffs. None of really noticed that a handful of other long tail boats were stopped a football field or so away from the sand. We were too busy "ooing" and "ahhing" and OH MY GOD ARE WE REALLY HERE -ing. But then the boat driver stopped the boat, cut off the engine, hoisted a little ladder onto the side, and looked at us expectantly. Luckily I had already been in Thailand six months at this time. If this was pre-Thailand I would take one look at the ladder leading directly into the Andaman Sea, and be all "excuse me? you expect me to back-stroke the rest of the way?". But I was fully ingrained into the often humorously bonkers aspects of Thai life. So I shrugged, hoisted myself over the ladder, hitched up my dress, and took the splash. I nearly fell over into the knee deep water but managed to stay aloft. I had visions in my head of a casual, breezy arrival at Railay, wearing a sundress, sunglasses perched jauntily atop my head. Instead I was going to be slipping and sliding my way down "the road" (as our driver called it). The road = a slim, slippery completely underwater concrete surface extending all the way from the beach to where the boats were. And I was going to be doing all this with a 25 pound backpack on my back and a laptop case held frantically over my head, all the while muttering to myself "please don't slip and fall into the water with all of your possesions and laptop". In the rain. Did I mention the very moody and atmospheric mist had turned into a full fledged monsoon? And when I say monsoon, I don't mean it in the way some people say monsoon when it's raining a tad hard. I mean an honest to God, rainy season, South-East Asian MONSOON, people. So taking baby steps, one by one, me and my friends made our way down the path. And then we went back out to the boat to do it again. So by the time we had all of our stuff on "dry" land, I was drenched to within an inch of my life and covered in sand and mud.

And I could have cared less. Because I was in Railay. And like I said before, Railay is simply too good to be true. And we were on the "ugly" beach, as if ugly has any meaning in a place like Railay. Ugly in Raily means that the limestone formation over there doesn't have as much green on it, and that beautiful clear water has a few mangrove trees cluttering it up, and that sea turtle has really let himself go. I mean seriously. Loaded up with luggage, we checked out the "road signs" (a wooden post with hand written signs pointing to the different hotels and restaurants). Then we set off on foot down the path leading off the beach. There are no cars on Railay. There are no roads on Railay. It is wonderful and perfectly tiny and quaint. So we pack muled our way over to where our hotel was, Railay West, the "pretty" beach. And as much as I joke about East Railay being ugly, well when you get to West Railay you sort of see what the guide books mean. You almost want to nudge the person next to you and say, "my GOD that last place was a real dog." Because West Railay would make the French Riviera seem homely. It's like walking onto the world's most realistic movie set, and even though you can smell the salt water and feel the ocean breeze, it has to be fake. There's no way this could be real. The three of us arrived at West Railay and stood there like cartoon characters, our mouths wide open and jaws on the sand. It didn't matter that it was monsooning and that we'd just taken an unexpected dip with all of our belongings. Nothing mattered except that we were there, staring out at this (albeit a rainer view of it).

This place is the kind of beautiful that changes you. It's the kind of beautiful that can never really be summed up by a photograph or post card. It's the kind of beaitful that isn't supposed to really exist. And I do not understand how the Thai people who live here or near here can stand all this beauty all the time. After a certain point wouldn't your head explode with too much beauty? I was there four nights and five days and my head nearly exploded. Before we came here I read a lot in guide books or on websites, saying that Railay was the most beautiful place in Thailand but that it had been "ruined" by development. Well clearly the people who write for Lonely Planet or Travelfish have never been to Myrtle Beach or anywhere on the US's eastern coast for that matter. Because Railay may have a handful of tasteful hotels and beachy bars and restaurants, but they would have to build a 10 story Planet Hollywood globe to ruin this place. And maybe my persepctive was skewed. You know there is an advantage to traveling during monsoon season. There were some tourists on Railay but compared to the beaches I'm used to back home during the summer, this place was barren. Unfortunately the few tourists who were here happened to be of the European speedo variety but what can you do? Those men will never wear any swimsuits that do not look like they were made for a ten year old girl.

The whole place was just so unabashadely wonderful. I loved everything about Railay. Our first night we ventured back over to East Railay (we took a "shortcut" in the dark that unfortunately led straight through the rainforest, but we made it out alive). West Railay may be the pretty gal on the block, but East Railay is backpacker central. And you know what, yes, backpackers can sometimes be painfully obnoxious and loud and rude. I cannot tell you the number of drunken Australians I encoutered during my travels (seriously no nationality gets drunker than Australians, doesnt matter the time or the place, you could be on a 7am nature hike and you will run into boozy Australians). Yet part of me loves these backpacker enclaves. I love the sense of community. Any backpacker area, particularly on an island with no cars, is guaranteed to feel like a drunker version of summer camp. You run into the same people again and again. You strike up conversations with total strangers, because everyone has one important thing in common. In the case of Railay everyone was there, in this place of places. We had a drink at one little bar, with those cliffs looming just as largely at night as they did during the day. Then we ventured farther down, passing Bob Marley bars (there is always a Bob Marley bar at any SE Asian island you go to), passing completely empty bars with thumping club music (ditto). The water was at high tide and so there was about a foot of walkable sand. The mangrove trees cast long shadows on the sand underneath an almost full moon. And then we made it to the end of East Railay, to what was literally called, The Last Bar.

Oh, the Last Bar. I could write a book about this bar. I could dedicate a poem to it. In my mind it's up there with Casablanca's Rick's Cafe, with Cheer's Cheers. This bar was nothing more than a cement floor, a few dozen tables and chairs, a little stage. But it was in my mind, the quintessential backpacker, expat, traveler summer camp bar. That's one thing I really miss, a good expat bar. You can't get that at home. You can't get that bittersweet feeling of sipping a cold beer in a foreign country, listening to Western music, surrounded by other travelers and foreigners, knowing that you're not the only one who is both deliriously happy to be there while at the same time missing home. There's such a great collection of people in these places. There's the aforementioned boozy Aussies. There's the Eurotrash, all short shorts, long nails, leathery tans and blindingly white blonde hair, so brittle looking that you want to touch it just to see if it really is that crispy. There's the adventure sports guys; you can always spot them. These are the boys (and sometimes girls) who follow waves or sharks or big giant rock formations around the world. They're bruised and scarred and give off that undeniable look of health and vigor. There's the older Western guys, in from other parts of Thailand, often sitting with a very young Thai girlfriend. There are the Thai people of course, smiley and happy and even from a distance, just glowing with kindness. And there are a hundred other types, and at The Last Bar, they were all in attendance. We met a shirtless, heavily tatooed British man who was the only Western full time resident of Railay. He provided us with a hookah and shisha (don't worry mom its legal!), and told us about the other Railay, during high season. He informed us that at high season every single room is booked, to the point where people slept on the floor of the bar. We met a charming, young gay man who had just come from Kuala Lumpur (one of our destinations) and happily gave us advice. We sat sipping cold beer for hours, practicing our Thai with our waiter, and by the time we left we felt like we had been coming to this bar for years.

We went back every night for the remainder of our stay. The first three nights everyone pumped us up for this AMAZING singer who would be there the last night. The older Thai lady who worked there assured us he had the voice of an angel and would make us sob. How could we not go? And so we went, for only the fourth time, but what felt like the 400th. We took our usual seats, ordered some cold ones (and some of the only cheaper Thai food in Railay), and waited for this vocal phenomenon. Finally he came on, along with a band, and launched into one of the most entertaining musical sets I've ever listened to. The guy had a good voice. I wouldn't necessarily call it the voice of an angel. My eyes stayed dry. But in that setting, in that bar, it was about as perfect as you can get. He played songs from home, the way all of these Thai bands do at Western patronized bars. And he played them well, oldies and not so oldies, everything from the Beatles to Jason Mraz. By the end of the night we unabashedly sang along. When he busted out Take Me Home, Country Roads, I sang that song like he was singing about my Virginia, instead of that less cool Western counterpart. Looking around, at all of the assorted nationalities, at all of the misfits and restless souls, I fell in love with this place. Because at a good expat bar you're simultaneously home and miles from it. And The Last Bar, as far as expat bars go, was the best.

Now before you start worrying about me, let me tell you that I did not spend all of my time in Railay at a bar. Oh there were days of lying on beaches, of sitting besides beaches eating fresh fruit picked off the trees above my head. There was the time at night where the entire ocean glowed, something about phytoplankton and algae. I can't define it for you in scientifc terms, but I can tell you that it doesn't happen that often and we were there for it. Picture swimming in the warmest waters, looking down, and every time you move a hand or a foot the entire ocean erupts in shimmering bubbles of light. Picture the waves crashing and a thousand tiny flashbulbs go off. It stormed pretty much once a day while we were there (again rainy season, go figure) but I didnt care. We stayed on the beach until the clouds came, and then we moved up to the hotel's restaurant right off the sand and watched the storm move in. Even the storms in Railay are off the charts beautiful, these big, rapid explosions of rain that leave as suddenly as they come.


At dusk, as the freckled, sun burnt Westerners left the beach to shower and cool off, the Thai contingent would move in. The first day we could hear this insane shouting and screaming from our bungalow. We walked up to the beach to investigate and saw that it was full of Thai people in jerseys. There was a game of volleyball next to a game of soccer next to a game of some sport I had never seen before. Apparently this was the Railay games, where presumably the staff of the hotels and bars (there is not much in the way of a Thai town or permanent residences here) ferociously compete against each other in different sports. This could have been the World Cup, the way these people cheered each other on. Me and my friends would sit at tables with icy fruit shakes and watch these games as the sun sank into the sky, the end of another day as long and perfect as the best day of summer.

And then there was the rock climbing. If you know me you wouldn't necessarily picture rock climbing and me in the same sentence, or even just the same general vicinity. But Railay is world famous for their rock climbing (rememeber me talking about all those big limestone cliffs, well they're there for more than just to look pretty), and my friend wanted to do it, so I thought what the hey. We rock climbed the second day and after one day in very tropical sun I was a nice, healthy magenta color. But I soldiered on. We met our Thai guide, got our harnesses and special shoes (you can't just wear any old shoes to rock climb, doncha know), and walked along the shore until we got to an area with a handful of other climbers. I saw people on the ground with harnesses on, fiddling with ropes, and thought, well this can't be that bad! And then I looked up. High, high, so very high above me, were people, human beings dangling off giant cliffs, at the complete mercy of a harness and the person beneath them holding the rope. And that's when the first little alarm bell inside my head went off. I was supposed to do this, risk life and limb climbing up a jagged piece of earth. Why would I do such a thing? Humans aren't supposed to climb things past the age of ten. And even then it's trees, sensible things to climb. Who climbs a jagged piece of earth? In the rain no less! But before I had time to go into a full blown panic it was time for our first "climb". Now looking back this was a tiny, baby cliff, about as high as a fairly short tree. This was the beginner cliff designated for people who well, look like me, about as weak and unathletic as they come. My muscles are practically concave. To attach the rope our guide climbed this thing without a harness or rope. He practically did it in one leap. But at the time, I looked at this glorified pebble and saw a mountain. I might as well have been looking at Mt. Everest, so terrifed was I of this baby cliff designed for dogs and toddlers. And that's about how I acted as I climbed it, all shaky and "please don't let me FALL!" and "SWEET JESUS I CANT DO IT." I admit this with no pride and with a great deal of embarassment. It was not my finest moment. Here I was, surrounded by world class climbers, people who were hundreds of feet up in the air above me, whistling and solving complex math equations while they did it, and I was having a nervous breakdown over something that could have been in my backyard. You know the scene in Spinal Tap when they perform on stage and this big, dramatic replica of stone henge is supposed to come down and instead its this teeny, tiny thing which can easily be trampled by the dancing dwarves. This cliff might as well have been that teen, tiny stonehenge.

The ground is about two feet below my feet, and I was shaking. I couldnt even reach the top. I came down and tried to avoid eye contact with anyone who witnesses this travesty, while loudly talking about how slippery the darn thing was, and of course I would have been able to climb it if not for the slipperiness people! And this was the beginning. There were three climbs left. Now my flight response was in full effect. But what other time would I get the chance to rock climb a  limestone cliff in  Railay. I couldn't just give up. Embarassment be darned. I would embarass myself repeatedly if I had too. And I did embrass myself, to a lesser degree the next climb and to an even lesser degree the one after that. The rain was really starting to come down. You'd look up and see a hundred tiny specks of water shoot down from the far away top of the cliff. My hands were scratched. My legs were bruised. But against all odds I was starting to enjoy myself. And then the fourth climb, the hardest one.For this climb we'd have to arch backwards for part of it, climb up and out, very tricky with the whole gravity thing. But two miraculous things happened. The first, my friend Cailtyn, told me she'd buy me a drink if I made it to the third of these ledge things in the rock, fairly high up. And well for a backpacker with limited funds the promise of a free drink is quite the motivator. The second miraculous thing that happened is that I stopped being scared. The first teeny baby climb I was terrified of falling. I knew I was in a harness. I knew there were ropes and a very strong Thai man controlling the ropes. But still, it's hard to push aside that basic human instinct that falling off a cliff is a bad thing. And if you're scared you can't climb. You're afraid to reach up and balance your foot on that miniscule little outcrop of rock. You're scared to arch backward. So you do the wrong things, try and pull yourself up with your hands (a big no no in rock climbing). But after my 3rd or 7th fall (who's counting), I finally got it. I didn't need to be scared. I had fallen off a cliff repeatedly that day and I was fine. Every time I fell, the harness caught me and I would simply dangle and spin in the air like a broadway actress playing Peter Pan. And so for this fourth climb I just went for it. I listened to my guide. He said to lift off with my right foot and put my left foot in that tiny little crevice, well I was darn well going to do it. And I did fall, but as soon as I fell I kept going. And you know what, I made it to that third ledge, AND I kept going. And from far below me I heard claps and cheers. Now this may have been delirium (by this point I was probably the most physically exhausted I have ever been). It may just have been that these nice people felt sorry for me and they were clapping for me the way you'd clap for a small child who goes number 2 in the toilet. But honestly, I dont care.

You know how people always talk about a runner's high? Well I've always thought runners were insane and that was just crazy talk. But I totally get it. I was doing something so physically demanding that the next day my arms hurt just hanging limply at my sides, but I was loving it. I pushed myself beyond anything I could imagine and it felt awesome. The rest of the day I couldn't stop smiling. That night at The Last Bar, bruised and battered, we ran into two Scottish rock climbers who had been climbing with us that day. Both of these men were experienced climbers who come to Thailand once a year just to climb. One of them turned to me and said "you did pretty good out there." It was one of the best compliments I've ever recieved.


And then, cruelly, impossibly, it was time to leave Railay. This time we walked quite a distance out into the water with our stuff, then climbed into a long-tail boat (which is impossible to do with any dignity I might add) which took us out to deeper water to get onto a ferry. But maybe it's good they make it so hard to get to and leave Railay. It's fitting you have to earn this place a little bit. Railay shouldn't come easy. It's too beautiful, so beautiful in fact that I still can't really believe it was all real. Of course I'm being overly sentimental and nostalgic. I'm building Railay up into this mythical place. It couldn't really have been that perfect, right?

I tell myself, logically that it couldn't have been. But maybe forget that rule that everything in life has to have a flaw. Forget that we have to be reasonable and practical, that nothing and nowhere is perfect. Maybe Railay quite simply was.

Friday, December 18, 2009

snow :)

Lord I sometimes miss Thailand. There are moments where I ache for that place. But tonight, as the snow falls down softly upon my Richmond, as the white of the sky and the white of the ground create a different shade of night, I can't help but be ridiculously happy to be home.

I hope I will always be madly, truly, deeply in love with snow. I hope it always makes me feel this way, because tonight, even in the midst of such change and uncertainty in my life, I am filled with a renewed sense of wonder, connected to that thread of childhood hope that is so often missing in the adult world. I hope the sound of snow falling always breaks my heart in this, the most wonderful way. Because my God, is there any more beautiful sound on earth, that soft half silence as the world stops?

Snow is one of my favorite things, if not my absolute favorite thing. It makes things new and fresh and beautiful. It makes everything quieter, gentler somehow.

I never want to see snow as a nuisance or a bother or inconvenience. I only ever want to see it as that singular, perfect thing that keeps me standing at the window, unable to get enough of the sight of it, unable to ever want it to end.

Friday, November 27, 2009


Tonight I am thankful for many things, among them;

  • The existence of my niece (even if she's techincally still in her mother's tummy)
  • My loud, beautiful, big extended family who fill a room with energy and warmth. It has been far too long since I've been in their presence.
  • The freak November thunderstorm outside. I fell asleep so many nights in Thailand to the sound of thunder. Lightning lit up the sky and rain lashed against the windows for hours and hours. Without realizing it these noises became a comfort to me, something I expected, something that made me feel safe and secure a million miles from home. Hearing them tonight brings a tiny piece of Thailand to me, back across those million miles.
  • Turducken. No explanation needed.
  • Lee Brothers Mac n' Cheese-basically some elbow macaroni and 5 tons of cheese, including just the right amount of funky aged gruyere to keep it from baring any resemblance to the macaroni you get out of the box.
  • Live tennis on television. And not just any old live tennis but the top 8 players in the world competing. Oh how i missed watching this, the most beautiful and wonderful of sports, when I was gone.
  • Reading three books simultaneously including David Sedaris, Elizabeth Gilbert, and the new Agassi autobiography
  • Pictures of my beautiful Charleston on my wall, and knowing that in about two weeks I will return to this place I miss with every fiber of my being.
  • Scarves and tall leather boots and other cold weather items.
  • Sparkly cardigans.
  • Flats.
  • Mashed potatoes.
  • Fresh, practically right off the boat seared tuna on the Thanksgiving table (tuna you ask? yup that's how my family rolls)
  • The scar on my knee from nightswimming in Ko Samet. I rammed my knee into an underwater rock. My purse was stolen with all of my important belongings. But I'm fairly positive I wouldn't change a thing if it meant I'd have to give up the memory of that warm water, how good that ill advised swim felt. My scar will always remind me of it. I wouldn't want it any other way.
  • New oppurtunities.
  • Not knowing where I'll be in a year.
  • Reuniting with friends, both old and new.
  • The dozens of handmade cards from my Thai students, all incorrectly spelled and poorly punctuated and absolutely, unassailably beautiful.

I am thankful for these and a million other reasons. I am thankful that over and over again during the last six months, I found myself overwhelmed by gratitutde, bathed in it, smothered with it. I lost count of the number of times I found myself too grateful to even speak, forced to close my eyes and simply breathe an unspoken, fervent, even desperate prayer of thanks. I should feel that way every day. Every day we have so many reasons to be overhwelmed by our gratitude.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

the perfect ending

So this probably came on television a really long time ago, but I was out of the country and I missed it. It's the series (or at least Zach Braff version) finale of Scrubs and I watched it tonight on hulu and it's pretty much the perfect ending to a show. I loved this show, and even though I haven't been as loyal a watcher in recent years this made me bawl like a baby. Yes I'm still in kind of a sentimental place after leaving Thailand, and the absolutely gorgeous Peter Gabriel song playing doesn't help, but well, just watch.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Traveler Tales: Part One

I filled out a lot of guest book ledgers in the five weeks I spent traveling through South-East Asia. Always I filled in my name, my passport number, my nationality, etc.. When I reach the vacant spot for "occupation," I would hesitate, but only for a moment. Then in one swift motion I would fill the blank in with the only possible word to describe myself at that moment, "traveler." I wrote this down as my occupation so many times that I started to convince myself it was an occupation, that a life could subsist on hotel rooms and passport stamps and one gorgeous, soul altering location after another. Of course this isn't true. There are several minor details such as money, overstays on visas, those kind of trivial things. But for five beautiful weeks I was a full time traveler. That was my place in this world, my mission, my agenda, my raison d'etre.

 I retired as a traveler two weeks ago. I hung up (literally and figuratively) my backpack. I stopped carrying around half of my possesions in plastic bags. My sun burns faded. My bug bites stopped itching and begun the inexorable process of turning into scars. I stopped wearing my weathered, dirty, travel battered watch and started relying on a cell phone to tell the time. I've spent entire days in doors, where for weeks the only time I was consistently indoors was at night (and even then I was often nearly still in nature, with lizards crawling over the walls or the sound of waves crashing in from only yards away). I don't even have a Lonely Planet in my possesion, something no self respecting backpacker would ever not have at his or her side. I have gone two weeks without seeing something new, after five weeks where every day brought something so strange and different and wonderful that the word "new" couldn't even do it justice.

It's been two weeks, but sometimes when I close my eyes, I can swear it's not over. I can almost make myself believe that I'm dirty and sweaty and exhausted, sun burnt and covered in insect bites. I can almost feel the soreness from lugging my heavy backpack down the streets of some new town, looking for a tiny guest house whose name I can't pronounce.

And it was exhausting and sweaty and full of bites and bruises and burns. But can't you understand how perfect that makes it? In my opinion if you travel luxuriously or as a true adult, your experience runs the dangerous risk of being smooth and pain-free. And that's great of course. You'll probably come back home relaxed and calm and not covered in the aforesaid burn/bite/bruise combination. But a smooth, pain free trip will never be perfect, because the only kind of perfect I understand in this world is the kind that's haphazardly created from the imperfections we experience. It's the perfect that comes together at the end of something, when you look back, and despite losing things or having things stolen or getting lost or getting sick, you understand that there's not a damn thing you would change about it. I wouldn't change a single thing about my travels in SE Asia. Because in my memory every single second of it is beautiful. Every single second of it was beautiful.

And it all started with Railay...

Stay tuned.

Monday, November 16, 2009

back to the routine of commenting on life's inconsequential things

So I know it might be a little jarring to go from a travel all the time blog to a post about the movie, Pirate Radio. But as I've been home more than a week now, it's time to get back to the business of dissecting life's pleasant little things. It is after all one of the purposes for which this blog was started more than two years ago. I fully plan on posting in detail, probably way too great detail, about my travels, but until then, let's chat about life's minutia shall we?

So last night I saw the film Pirate Radio (also called The Boat that Rocked). Which to sum up was a lot of fun and had perhaps one of the best soundtracks of any movie ever (the whole movie is a loveletter to the rock music of the 60s, so how could it not?) The cast was utterly fabulous, lots of very rakish, charming, very talented British actors plus Phillip Seymour Hoffman (who could read the phone book and still make it compelling). And depite being set primarily on a junky old ship, the whole thing was kind of eye candy.

One reason,

Tom Sturridge who plays the lead role of Carl, and who is in a word, delectable.

But other than young Mr. Sturridge, the whole movie is a feast for the eyes, full of vibrant, bold late 60s outfits that fill the screen with texture and color.

And top it all off the movie features Rhys Darby (also known as Murray from Flight of the Concords) And he is one of my favorite people ever. I mean how could you not love a man in blue, striped pants?

Friday, November 13, 2009

"As though to breathe were life"

Konchanaburi, Thailand

I have officially been home for a week. I have eaten all of, or most of, the foods that I so missed while I was abroad. I have made trips to my beloved Ukrops and Target. I have seen my lovely friends and family. I have done and eaten and seen so many of the things I missed so dearly when I was in Thailand. I have "come home".

But as anyone who has traveled for long amounts of time knows, "coming home" is not necessarily the same thing as coming home. I'm still working on the latter. I wish I could write more. I wish I could write about all of the things I saw and did in the last month. I wish I could write about those unreal waters, so blue they almost hurt to look at or the night the entire ocean glowed with the phosphorescense from plankton, the gray hulk of a volcanoe rising over the impossibly green lands of Bali, the 10 minutes of utter quiet in the middle of bustling Little India in Kuala Lumpur, when ordinary men and women knelt down in the middle of a market, in the middle of their work day, and prayed to their God. I will write about all of these things in much greater detail. For now I just needed to write something, to try and explain why seven days later, I'm still working out what it means to be back, still trying to reconcile the great joy in my heart at seeing all of these people I love with the deep sadness that comes from leaving behind an experience that was life changing in every possible way.

You see I was cursed from birth. I had the great fortune to be born a Southerner. And this means, will always mean, that a tie to land and place are a part of my blood. Southerners don't just live places. We become a part of the places we call home. The moment our feet hit the ground we start putting down roots. We will always be moved to tears by coastlines and mountain ranges and endless golden fields. We're like barnacles. We just don't know how to live somewhere and not grow fiercely, stubbornly attached.

But I was also born with wanderlust running through my veins. To travel has always been one of my deepest and most abiding loves. I love new places. I love going to a country that is 100%, competely foreign. I love strange foods and lanscapes and experiences. I love standing in the middle of a bustling, foreign city and not really having any idea where I am. I love the process of getting to know a place, the same way you get to know a person, layer by layer, bit by beautiful , weird bit.

But these two traits don't mesh. You see, every time I travel somehwere and stay for, well, let's see, more than a week, I start to grow attached. I get attached to hotel rooms which are designed to be places you don't get attached to. And when I travel to a place for a long term, for several months or longer, whether it's Paris or Thailand or my dear, gorgeous Charleston, I do put down roots. I am a creature of habit. I went to the same Pad Thai vendor at least twice a week in my town in Thailand. Every time I went to Bangkok for the weekend I stayed in the same guest house (the last time I stayed there, the week before I left, I walked in and was greeted by warm and familiar hellos from the staff and questions of where I'd been). I can't help myself. I am pathologically incapable of keeping a place at a distance, of just living somewhere. I can't help but let these places become a part of me. I let them embed themselves firmly and permanently in my heart. And so after 6 months in Thailand, it was a done deal. A piece of my heart was completely and totally lost in this land of elephants and traffic and monsoons and endless green for miles and miles and miles.

And so leaving that place did what leaving always does to me. It broke my heart. I cried a lot on the way to Thailand. And coming home, when I looked up and saw that the little GPS airplane on the screen was back in the U.S., well I cried then too. And I felt incredibly guilty. I was home, back in America. I had missed it so much. And I was back. But more than any other emotion running through my head, the most abiding one was grief for what I was leaving behind.

A week later the grief part of the whole process is starting to lessen. I'm getting more and more used to the idea that I've come back to this side of the planet. I'm looking forward to what's next. But something tells me that grief will never completely go away. It hasn't for Paris. And Charleston, well I miss Charleston every single day. And because I still can't wrap my head around all this, I'll let another writer do it for me. This is one out of about three poems that I actually like. I remember getting a little misty the first time I read it, in a English class in college. But I wasn't sure why. Now I know. This poem speaks to the person I am, a Southerner who is always in the process of creating a home, and a traveler who is always looking ahead to the next adventure. It is an impossible situtation to be in. It is the only kind of person I would ever want to be.

From Tennyson's "Ulysses". It all applies except for the whole "drunk battle with my peers" part. But you get the general idea.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vexed the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honoured of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield

Tanah Lot, the sea temple in Bali

Volcanic Mount Batur in Bali

Sunrise in Lovina, Bali

Overlooking the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia

Ko Phi Leh

Friday, October 16, 2009


Hat Railay West at sunset

Ko Phi Don

the waters of Ko Phi Leh

I've been wandering from place to place, beautifully named spots on the globe like Railay, Ko Phi Phi, and Kuala Lumpur. And there is so much to say and so much to be written. But alas the life of a backpacker is not as condusive to posting as the life of a teacher. So it will have to wait. For now these images will have to suffice.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

liz never:

thought she would grow so attached to Bangkok, a city of traffic and smog and crowds and prositutues and ping pong shows that also happens to be a city of:

-Egyptian restuarants with hookahs and hummus and tables full of Middle Eastern men with five o'clock shadows watching football

-"little middle east"-a hodge podge of streets and sois and alleys full of falafel and flat bread and women in burkas

-rain that comes from nowhere, rain that stops everything in its path, rain that demands to be listened to

-Irish bars where graying men watch football matches while young men chat with Thai women over pints of beer, all the while thick, milk shake like Guinness flows freely from the taps

-outside tables where two Thai men and three American women sit and sip ice, cold Chang beers and talk about unimportant, inconsequential things, and even as we understand how unimportant our conversation is all of us know how inexplicably meaningful it is as well, the fact that somehow these people from opposite ends of the globe sat down side by side on this night in this country and decided to talk to one another, sharing nothing outrightly importantly, sharing a million unimportant things

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Things I Will Miss About Life in Prapradaeng

me with some of my kiddies in extra class, one of the kiddies took the picture, hence the somewhat blurred quality of the picture, and yes they are holding up paper santas, i sort of rain out of ideas towrad the end of the semester

school, lots of Thai writing on the exterior and I don't know what any of it means

There are still five weeks left in this South-East Asian journey of mine, five weeks where I will travel far and wide, from the tropical islands of southern Thailand to Malaysia to Bali. I cannot wait for this experience to begin. Tomorrow I head off from my apartment, my home for the last five months. And the moment I leave, the moment my taxi pulls onto the big suspension bridge heading away from Prapradaeng, this chapter of my story here will be over.

My last official class was yesterday. I taught only a handful of classes this week, some Kindergarten classes and one last afternoon extra class. Like all endings these last classes were sad and different and strangely anti-climactic. All of my last classes were like that. For my Kindergarteners I decided to make our last classes a “greatest hits” medley of all the songs we’ve done all semester (a little London Bridge, a little Hokey Pokey, a little Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes). After the first of these 50 minute straight dancing and singing medleys (where I always do most of the singing), I now know why all of the Wiggles maintained such svelte figures. For my extra class we had a “party”. I made the somewhat evil choice to serve them donuts (two for each, but they were small) and Coke. At 4:30 in the afternoon. Let’s just say their parents were in for a fun little surprise that night. But it was the last class and if there’s ever a time to pump little children full of sugar it’s to celebrate the end of the semester.

For the last week and a half it’s sort of felt like checking things off a list, last fourth grade class, last school lunch, last time hanging laundry out to dry (hopefully EVER in my life, thank the Lord for dryers is all I can say). I know I have five amazing weeks ahead of me, where I will see some of the most beautiful places on earth (and hopefully get a fabulous tan to show off when I come home in the cold, pasty month of November), but despite knowing that, I can’t help but feel a little melancholy. These last five months have been the hardest in my entire life. And they have also been, without a doubt, the most incredible. I’ve lived every moment entirely in my skin. I’ve been proud of myself every single day, and that’s something so important in life, to live your life in a way to make yourself proud, but something I’d not really given much thought to until I came here. I’ve met these amazing, beautiful kids, who despite driving me absolutely crazy most of the time, I will miss with all of my heart.
I will miss so much about this experience, so much about my day to day life in this town. And starting tomorrow I won’t have a day to day life here in Thailand. I will be a full time traveler, a full time tourist. And that’s all fine and good and there’s nothing wrong with that. But knowing a country as someone who lives there and works there and does laundry and buys groceries is entirely different than knowing a country simply as a tourist. And I’m so grateful to have met Thailand in the way I did, to have lived the life of a teacher, to have lived here in a non-glamorous, perfectly ordinary, hanging clothes out to dry kind of way. Because from now on I’m always going to look back on Thailand as a place where I was a part of a community, where I had a home.

I will miss my little Thai home. I will miss my little Thai town. I will miss my little Thai life. More specifically;

-I will miss the rain. Okay, now I know it will continue to rain after I leave Prapradaeng (it is the rainy season after all) but rain when you’re staying in a hotel is not the same as rain when you’re in your apartment, in your bed. I think out of all of the things I’ll remember about Thailand the rain will be one of the most vivid. I’ve never seen rain like it rains here, these torrential downpours that spring from skies that were blue only moments before. I’ve gotten so used to sleeping when it rains, when the whole building seems to vibrate with the thunderous downpour. I’ve gotten used to the lightning at night, so often that it’s like someone’s turned on a giant strobe light. And the booming cracks of thunder, mini explosions reverberating through the night. I’ll even miss getting stuck in the rain, because when it rains here, unless you have an umbrella or are in the mood for a swim, you’re stuck. Every awning along a street will be lined with people of various ages and occupations, waiting patiently for a let up. I’ll miss how even after an hours long downpour, the ground will be dry within what feels like a few minutes, how the second the sun comes out it’s like a giant automatic drier has been switched on. I’ll miss how casually people here plan around the rain. All plans are dependent on rain. I remember thinking it strange the first time my coordinator said we’d go shopping on this day “unless it rained” or the time the Chinese teacher invited me for dinner “unless it rained”. But I’ve gotten used to the spontaneous nature of life here during monsoon season, the way entire outdoor restaurants open or close depending on how clear the sky is that night. People here have lived with rain their whole lives, for six months out of the year, every year. And they very smartly have learned not to fight it, to let the rain do what it must, and to plan life accordingly.

-I will miss knowing exactly where I am and how to get to and from there. It is one of my proudest accomplishments here in Thailand that I have learned my way around. I can successfully take a bus into the center of Bangkok from my town. I can take a ferry and a bus to visit my friends in a town half an hour away. I know how to navigate public transportation, which is a big deal for a girl who hasn’t taken a bus in Richmond since I was in elementary school. If I take a taxi from anywhere in Bangkok I can successfully direct them to my apartment. And this is also a big deal considering the first few times I took taxis in Thailand I ended up near tears, talking on the phone to some “translator” who the driver had called up out of frustration of not having any idea where I wanted him to go. I can take a bicycle rickshaw to my apartment from the market (I only do this when I have heavy groceries considering it’s a ten minute walk). I can take songthews. I can navigate the skytrain with ease. I know, just as I knew all those years in Charleston, that the second I see the big suspension bridge, I’m going the right way to reach home.

-I will miss my little apartment. When I first arrived and saw my dormish accommodations I wasn’t all that thrilled. But after five months I can honestly say I’ve grown attached to my little room/apartment. I like that everything I need is easily within reach. I like my little refrigerator which is the perfect size for me. I’ll even kind of miss (stress the words kind of) my bathroom where I shower and wash dishes. This experience has really taught me how little of the things I claim to “need” back home I really “need” to be happy. I don’t have hot water. I don’t have cable. I don’t have the internet (except on rare occasions when a wireless network shows up). And I’ve been perfectly happy here. Hopefully I can keep this mindset the next time I search for an apartment.

-I’ll miss how healthy I am here. It didn’t even happen on purpose. But that’s what I love about this kind of long term travel; things or habits that you’ve accumulated back home just fall away without any kind of effort. I don’t drink at all during the week (and if you know me you know how much I love a glass of Pinot Grigio in the evenings). I don’t drink nearly as much coffee (back home I had two cups just to start my day). I eat a ton of fruit. I drink gallons of water a week (the whole 90 degree plus weather sort of requires it). Sure I eat a ton more carbs than I did back home (all that rice and noodles, and ahem, sugar cereal) but living here has made the whole no-carb thing seem kind of silly anyway. I mean carbs can’t really be that bad when that’s all Thai people eat and they all weight about 90 pounds. I go to sleep earlier here. I walk more. Again none of these things I had to put effort into. Traveling just has a way of shedding things you don’t really need and replacing them with ones you do (i.e. fruit, water, sleep).

-I’ll miss coming home on a Sunday after a weekend of traveling, grabbing some Pad Thai from the vendor at the market, sitting on my bed and watching dvds. Nothing particularly special, just a perfectly ordinary evening that really is perfect in its ordinariness.

-I’ll even miss the tiny, little lizards that occasionally take up residence in my room. Again if you know me you know how different this is from how I used to be. Lizards are pretty common in Charleston but I still freaked out if one got inside. If I continued to do that here I would pretty much be in a continual state of freak out. There are just too many lizards. But the ones that come inside are usually of the tiny, adorable variety, who are terrified of me and scurry away if I come close, so I don’t mind them at all. Now the big ones on the other hand…

-Speaking of, I’ll miss the lizard noises at night, that distinct gecko cry that is just as common as the sound of crickets back home. And yes again I know there will be lizards outside of Prapradaeng but it just won’t be the same.

-I’ll miss the little acquaintances I’ve made, the girls at the Tesco Lotus express, the workers at the 711, the lady who works at the copy shop, my pad thai women, all of these people I see here on a regular basis and who know me now. Sometimes in this town I’m a little too known (you’d think after 5 months I would cease to be a novelty but apparently not), but at the end of the day it’s nice to feel a part of place.

-I’ll miss ending a day feeling exhausted but in that satisfied, accomplished kind of exhausted you get from hard work. I’ve worked harder here than I’ve ever worked in my life. I’ve had to make lesson plans and gather supplies and make copies and do all sorts of stuff to prepare for my 23 classes a week, but I’ve ended every day feeling like I really worked hard, and despite my general inclination toward laziness, that’s a pretty nice feeling.

-I’ll miss feeling tall. I’m not a tall person. In the presence of adults I am rarely the tallest in a group. But even my oldest kids are still a good inch or so shorter than me (some of these fourth grade boys are getting close though) and there’s something very satisfying about being able to reach something they can’t. I know that sounds strange, but it’s just nice for once in my life to be the tallest one in a room. It makes me feel very adult

-I’ll miss my kids. I’ve mentioned this before but I can’t repeat it enough. At various times I have wanted to strangle each and every one of them, but I will also miss each and every one of them. I’m fairly convinced that there is no such thing as an ugly Thai child. These kids are all so beautiful and so joyful and so perfect in their very little kidness. Sure it’s easy to look back now with nostalgia considering I don’t have to teach the little devils anymore, but they really were the best part of my job (and of course the most frustrating part, but that’s neither here nor there)

-I’ll miss taking cold showers (seriously!) when I get home in the afternoon drenched in sweat from walking around in the heat. I have taken more cold showers in the past 5 months than some people will ever take in their life. And I am looking forward to hot water. But, there are some things, even about a cold shower, that I will miss.

And that’s only a handful of what I’ll miss about my day to day life here in Prapradaeng. This was only a very insufficient attempt to sum up the feelings I have, the day before I leave this place. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to sum up my feelings about this experience. It was too big, too messy, too stuffed with life. All I know for certain is how grateful I am to have lived this life for the past five months. I’ve been an active participant in my own life, not a bystander. And yes, it’s very possible to just be a bystander in your own life. If I’ve learned anything from the last five months, it’s to make sure that at all times, in all moments, you are living on purpose, doing something that fulfills you and gives you joy and scares you a little.

I will keep posting on my far flung journeys, but this is my last dispatch from Prapradaeng. I might be on my way to see tropical islands and volcanoes and mountains, but this little, non-descript Thai town will be what I remember with the most affection from my time here. For no other reason than it’s been home.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Glue + Feathers + First Graders = Epic Disaster

my darling/demonic little first graders, this is the second go round with the plate project, one that did NOT include any glue or feathers, and oh yeah don't they look insanely creepy, as I was taking this picture I was frightened

The other day while teaching I had one of these moments I like to refer to as “gonna cry in the bathroom” moments. I had a lot of these back in May, in the first couple of weeks of the semester. I would walk into a class and proceed to get emotionally and mentally pummeled for fifty minutes by a group of children. The classroom would be so loud and so chaotic and my lesson plan would be such an unmitigated disaster that I would barely hold it together until the end of the period. Then, biting back tears, I would collect my things, walk quickly to the teacher’s bathroom, close myself in a stall, and let the tears flow. These were not thoughtful tears or lasting tears. An hour later I would be tired yes, but able to look at the experience calmly, usually even with humor. No these tears were pure, reactionary release, my body and mind’s response to a figurative sucker punch, courtesy of about forty rampaging nine year olds. I wasn’t sad or depressed. I wouldn’t wallow. But in these circumstances the only thing I could do was cry for a few moments, just to have some way of release, some way of dealing with the sensation of being completely overwhelmed.

These moments have become fewer and farther between as the semester has gone on. I don’t get overwhelmed as much because I’ve gotten better at dealing with things. I’ve learned to not get angry, to have fun with my kids, to not stress out if things fall apart in the middle of a class. I use the teacher’s bathroom for its intended purpose, not as my secret glass case of emotion. I don’t shout anymore or waste minutes trying to get kids to put their little tushes in their seats. I realized that my time here was limited and I might as well enjoy myself. And the second I started doing that it all got easier. Teaching became more natural, more spontaneous, less of a lesson in self torture.

All of this being said, I did have one of my “gonna cry in the bathroom” moments this past week. And I did indeed cry in the bathroom seconds after the class ended. But this time it took me completely by surprise. Here I was, sure of my new and improved teaching abilities, a little cocky to be completely honest. I had gone weeks without turning into scary Liz in one of my classes. I was coming up with new ideas for class every day, games and activities and projects. I was Liz 2.0, fun and relaxed and easygoing. So what if the kids got a little rowdy. I would engage them with my charm and teacherly charisma! We were having fun, rollicking good times that could have easily been set to a musical montage. Cue the up-tempo pop music and zany shenanigans.

Or so I thought. You see, I mentioned that I had grown a tad bit cocky. And cockiness is not a trait that a good foreign English teacher should have. My overconfidence in my abilities had led me to forget the golden rule of teaching English to non-English speaking children. This rule is so sacred, so fundamental to any success I have had that it shames me to admit that I discarded it. The rule is to keep it simple. My first few weeks I mapped out complex lesson plans with complex games with complex rules. And then seconds into any class all of these complex plans would come crashing down on top of my head like a giant cartoon anvil. Nothing complex works. The only things that work are simple, simple, simple. Simon Says is too complex (trust me I have tried many times). Crossword puzzles are too complex (even with picture clues). Frankly the Old McDonald song is a bit too much. I never realized this before but that song has a lot going on, not only do you have to teach animal vocab, you have to teach animal sounds, and you know what I learned from my kids, animals do not say the same things in Thailand as they do in the USA, pigs here for example make a noise that sounds like OOT. Any game with more than three rules is too complicated. Any project with more than three components is too complicated. My best and most successful classroom activity is a game that requires children to run and smack taped up flashcards with fly swatters. Duck, duck goose is a model of what the perfect primary school ESL game should be. Tossing a ball around works miracles. And I had finally gotten this. I had finally come to understand that all of those fancy and cool sounding ESL games online with ten bulleted rules would NEVER work in a primary school classroom and that to try was complete and total teacher suicide.

So then why, WHY, did I decide to embark on such an ill fated art project with my first graders. It started out simply enough. Last week we did animals for our lesson. And the classes went off without a hitch because, say it with me people, it was SIMPLE. I taught animal vocab. Then we played said, aforementioned fly swatting game (nothing spices up a straightforward vocab drill than letting children hit things with fly swatters, trust me). Then I let them draw animals on the board for their classmates to guess (another teacher rule, anything where kids get to draw on the white board will always be a crowd pleaser). Then I tossed a ball to kids and had them tell me what their favorite animal was. Then we played a little Hang Man in the last five or ten minutes. Side note, if any game proves the simplicity golden rule it is Hang Man. Simplest game ever, no explanation required, even Kindergartners get it, and no matter how many times they play it these kids love it, they will run to the front of the room and literally bounce up and down to get me to call on them so they can guess a letter. So anyways, that was last week. This week I decided to do an art project. I had done coloring sheets before but no full scale arts and crafts project so I thought what the hey, let’s do it. So I decided to have the kids make paper plate animal masks, the kind we all made when we were little. Sounds easy right? Well it could have been if not for my one fatal mistake. I decided it would be “fun” for them to glue things on to their masks, cotton balls for sheep, feathers for chickens. So I spent a good deal of money and time last weekend collecting my supplies. And because I can’t just drive to Ben Franklin (an arts and crafts superstore for all you non-Richmonders) I had to improvise. From what I can tell there are no Popsicle sticks in Thailand (to tape to the plates so the kids can hold them up to their faces). So I bought place mats made of bamboo sticks (just like chopsticks), then cut the threads holding the sticks together, and voila, we have paper plate animal mask holders. I also could not for the life of me locate feathers, so in what I thought at the time was a stroke of genius, I bought four feather dusters, took them home, and then plucked them (yeah the remnants of my feather carnage are still floating around my room). I bought several glue sticks (the kids don’t have their own). I spent hours cutting out eye holes in the masks (the kids also don’t have scissors, which judging from how aggressive they are, probably a good thing). I made three animal masks for examples. Everything was set and ready to go. I imagined the joy on the kids faces as I floated around the classroom, admiring their masks and praising them for their artistic talent. It would be a calm and non-stressful fifty minute period. I would be like a kindly elementary school art teacher, making corrections here and there, helping out but mainly standing back and letting my little geniuses get to their work.

And then I walked into my first first grade class of the day. I handed out the paper plates and all seemed to be going well (except for the fact that immediately five of the boys started using the plates as Frisbees). I told them to color first and then we would attach the cotton balls or feathers one by one. I figured in fifty minutes I’d have time to walk around the room, dab a little glue on the masks, hand them the cotton balls and feathers to attach themselves, and that would be that. The first child finished coloring and I applied the glue and handed them the cotton balls. Delusions of grandeur were still dancing in my head at this point. The kids would take their masks home to their parents, pronounce the English name of the animal and the parents would exclaim in delight, “what a wonderful foreign English teacher you have, how creative and thoughtful she is!”

And that’s when it all came crashing down. As soon as the kids got wind of me giving glue and cotton balls to one kid, I was done for. You see I’d forgotten what happens to these children when they get into a mob mentality. Sure on their own they might be delightful little six or seven year olds. But put them with thirty-nine other children and they are suddenly these rampaging, destructive, tornadoes of energy. Suddenly I was mobbed. As much as I tried to get them to go to their desks and wait patiently for me to get to them, it wasn’t happening. Paper plates were shoved in my face. Bleating cries of “KLU ELIZABETH” rang out again and again, so loud that I could barely be heard above it. Kids yelled at each other. I was literally moved off my feet as they surged around me. The second I managed to disentangle myself they would surround me again. Somehow I managed to get to the kids who were sitting down patiently. But I was finding that the combo of glue and cotton and feathers was not such a good one. I tried to put the cotton balls on their desks but they clung to my glue covered hands. Then add feathers to that and my hands were just gobs of cottony, feathery, gluey grossness. I tried to clean them off but nothing was working, so I attempted to keep going. But the second I got to a new kid, a kid I had already seen was right at my elbow, tugging at my arm and pointing to their plate, demanding one more cotton ball to fill in an empty space, because apparently if they didn’t get that right that second the world as we know it would end. I weaved around the class, trying to get to kids sitting down while always, a mob of about ten students clamored around me. Feathers were flying through the air. Plates used as Frisbees whizzed past me. And then suddenly I realized that a kid I had already glued and cotton balled suddenly had a chicken mask and now wanted feathers. But that was impossible because each kid only got one plate. I only had enough plates for each first grader to get one. I had only bought a certain amount and they had been surprisingly expensive and what the what!?

I turn around and a group of children has infiltrated the plastic bag I carried my supplies in. My once plentiful plate supply has been reduced to almost nothing. I look around the haze of feathers and childrens’ arms and hands and see that some of these freaking kids have three or four plates on their desks! Kids have taken glue sticks and have dumped out half of the feathers all over the desk and floor (which is not my desk by the way, it belongs to the Thai teacher whose classroom it is and who would not be happy at all to come in at the end of the period and have her desk look like I just slaughtered a goose there). And I can’t even get a second to process all of this because the mob follows me, chanting my name. The mob has become an entity of its own, one multi-limbed, multi-headed thing that will not let me go, that is clinging to me as if these paper animal masks are their only hope of survival. Time has rushed by and there are only a few minutes left of class. How in the hell am I going to tape the sticks onto their masks in time. How am I going to locate the good, little children who only have one mask and who I haven’t been able to reach with glue and cotton balls and feathers? I am filled with anger and frustration. This wasn’t supposed to go this way. My supplies are gone. The three enormous bags of cotton balls I thought would last me at least six classes are gone. The glue sticks are in disarray, having either been stolen by the children or used up. The feathers are all over the floor and a massive mistake anyway because of how messy they are. And the plates are almost gone because these little sneaks have decided one animal face mask just isn’t enough, and that why not go into teacher’s bag and take however many they want (I mean really! Oh you have no idea how mad this made me, and I couldn’t even get across to them what I was mad about). I was covered in sweat from the exertion of trying to get through the fray. My head was pounding. I’m pretty sure I had inhaled a good amount of feathers into my lungs. My hands were unrecognizable so covered were they in glue and cotton ball remnants.

And all this time about three Thai teachers stood outside the room (there are giant glass windows that look out onto the hallway so they got a very good view of my epic teaching disaster/meltdown). Every once in a while I’d glance their way and see a mixture of bemusement and curiosity (and probably just plain annoyance in the case of the teacher whose room I was presently tarring and feathering). I couldn’t believe how stupid I’d been to think this would work, to think that the combination of glue and feathers, GLUE AND FEATHERS for crying out loud, would somehow be anything but an enormous disaster when combined with a class full of six year olds who destroy everything in their path. Time rushed by and suddenly it was the end of the period but everything was still in complete disarray. I had to clean up but every time I tried to do this I was blocked by the Mob, shoving their plates at me, shouting in Thai, wanting more glue, more feathers, more cotton balls. I had no broom, no dust pan, so I was reduced to kneeling and picking up feathers one by one, all this made tricky by the fact that my hands were still covered in a thick layer of feathers and glue. Ten minutes after class was supposed to end one of my students took pity on me and picked up my things to carry back to my office (I was still on my hands and knees at this point trying to salvage the absolute mess I’d created). I limped out of the room, trying to smile and wave goodbye. I made it to my office, dumped my stuff, and almost ran to the bathroom.

I thrust my hands in the sink to wash off the sticky mess, then rushed to the stall, closed the door and let the tears come. Like I said before these weren’t thoughtful tears or pent up tears or any other kind of tears other than visceral, reactive ones, the same kind of tears that spring to your eyes if the wind is knocked out of you. As with every other time I’ve cried this way, an hour later I started to see the humor in the situation. A good day later I could even laugh about it. Because really I’d just been such an ass to think it would work. After all this time how could I have let myself forget the golden rule, how could I have come up with such a convoluted, involved game plan when the only plans I should ever have should be simple, easy, and basic. How could I have brought feathers and glue into a classroom of Tasmanian devils? Children in a mob are destructive and aggressive and devious (ugh, still angry they took those plates), and the last thing you want is to equip them with feathers! You want to take away their means of destruction, not supplement it with more creative supplies.

But I did let myself. Because you know what, as much as I think I’ve turned into a pro, as much as I feel like I’ve improved, this is the kind of job where you’re never perfect at what you do. And the good thing about teaching is that there’s no delay in finding out what works and what doesn’t. You don’t have to wait for a performance review. You see instantly if something is a hit or a massive failure. And if you want to be good at teaching you have to be willing to change something that fails. And I do want to be good at this. I’ve wanted that all along. So I adapted. I threw out the rest of the feathers (oh to think of the wasted time I spent plucking those dusters). I threw out the mangled glues (none of which still had their tops). I chucked the rest of the cotton balls and I came up with a new game plan. My remaining first graders would still make masks, but there would be no gluing involved. Coloring would be the only form of decoration. It may not be the kind of art project you read about online. It may not be the fancy, intricate operation I imagined in my head, with the kids bringing home their snazzy, feathered masks to their delighted and impressed parents. But you know what, it would be simple.

And shock of shocks, it worked. The kids loved it. I didn’t lose my mind. So yes, after four months, I still realize I am capable of making completely amateur mistakes. “Gonna cry in the bathroom” moments can still pop up on me, especially if I start to over-think things or over-plan. I have learned a lot this semester but I realize it would take a lifetime to learn it all. But for now at least I can add one more golden rule to my list. Never, and I mean, never, introduce glue and feathers into a room full of first graders.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

More Ordinary Thailand Moments and Observations

So in my last post I talked about an ordinary day in Thailand, but there are other ordinary moments, notable in their very non-notable-ness (yes I just invented a word) that I couldn’t fit in. So here are a few more examples of what my life is like here, on a day to day basis. These don’t really fit into any kind of coherent thread so I’ll just throw them out there one by one.

My Third Graders Really, Really Love Me:
Okay now first let me say that in general most of my kids like me. This is not to toot my own horn. I am the equivalent of a bright, shiny object to them, new and different and interesting to look at. I am their American, pale, blonde farang teacher and there is only one of me and about 600 of them. As a farang teacher I would have to be really, really lame for them not to like me. Trust me, if you ever need a self esteem boost come to Thailand and teach English at a primary school. It’s hard to feel bad about yourself when there is a chorus of “I LOVE YOU” and “BEAUTIFUL” following you around everywhere. This could mean that at this very moment all of this is going to my head and I am turning into a vain and pompous person, but I hope this is not the case. Like I said, I could be deformed and painfully boring and smell bad and these kids would still like me. But my third graders, well for whatever reason, these 150 or so kids LOVE me, to an almost creepy and inappropriate extent. I’m not sure if someone told them I was some famous American actress before I came here, or maybe they’re just really good at sucking up, but these kids act like I’m a rainbow made of puppies covered in candy.

I walk into the class and I barely have time to get my bearings before I am mobbed. Little arms and hands clutch at me from all directions. I get hugged from the front, from the side, from behind. There have been times where we I am literally swept up in the sea of nine year olds and moved several feet along the floor, all of us one tangled mass of limbs. I try to disentangle myself and this takes about five minutes. Usually I end up having to pry tiny fingers off myself, and this is no easy feat. These kids are small but they have death grips. And it’s not even my own well being I’m worried for. There have been times where I’ve thought to myself “wow, this is about two seconds away from being one like one of those stampedes you read about on the news”. All the while the Thai teacher is usually still in the room at this point, a bemused expression on her face. I try to smile and shrug my shoulders, all “what can you do? Kids right?” but I’m pretty sure that all my face shows at that moment is wild panic.

The same thing happens at the end of class but usually it’s even worse. I’ve been picked up off the floor on several occasions by the stronger ones in the grade. And let me tell you it is hard to maintain teacherly dignity and poise when you are being picked up by your student. I usually try to make a quick exit toward the door, hoping I can get out without them noticing, but they always notice. And suddenly I am back in a mob, only this time they’re really hanging on for dear life because I’m leaving. I try to point at my watch and mime that it’s time for me to go. I try to explain that I’ll be back next week, that I’m really not that cool. But they’re not having any of it. I am their shiny thing and they don’t want to let go of their shiny thing. There have been classes where I’ve had to cover my head with my arms and literally run from the classroom. And on these occasions it’s very possible I might have screamed like a little girl.
My third graders also love to give me things. Now I have several friends who teach and I’ve witnessed them bring home gifts from their students, cards, little store bought trinkets, even a Kate Spade make up bag. I don’t get these kinds of gifts. I get random, crumpled pieces of paper, a midget pencil that’s worn down to the nub. I’ll see kids come up to the desk and put things inside of my little plastic briefcase, little stickers or rulers (I try to tell them, seriously kids, keep your ruler). They’ve given me little Thai comic books, miniature little toys. I’ve gotten candy (often unwrapped). One kid even gave me a random assortment of paper flashcards (in English and Thai). Sometimes I don’t even know if it’s a gift or just them showing me something. They’ll come up to me an English workbook and hold it out with an expectant look on their face. What do they want me to do? Read it to them? Finish their homework for them? Take it home? Is this some kind of offering or just them being weird, little kids. I never, ever know. I have gotten every strange little kid item under the sun and it never ceases to amaze me what they come up with to “give” me.

But the strangest part of my third graders love for me has got to be the signing. As in me signing my “autograph” for them. It started innocently enough. One class a few weeks ago, one of them came up to me, handed me a blank piece of paper and a pencil, and said “name.” I stared at them for a few moments, confused. “Name” they repeated, “write name.” Finally I did as commanded, wrote “Elizabeth” on their piece of paper, handed it back to them and tried to continue with the lesson. A couple of minutes later another one came up to me, same deal, only this time they wanted me to write my name in a little notebook. And then another one comes right after. Okay, I thought, this is getting ridiculous. But before I could think too much here comes the mob. Suddenly I am engulfed by screaming nine year olds, like I’m Miley Cyrus at a mall full of preteens. Pieces of paper were thrust in my face, notebooks, random pieces of cardboard that looked like they were ripped out of the back of notebooks. I tried to stop it, but I couldn’t really think how to say no without sounding really mean. And seriously how could you say no to a bunch of kids who are acting like little nutjobs about getting you to write your name on a piece of paper?

And this has become a tradition. It doesn’t happen every class, but every once in a while, that one kid will come up to me, often at the most inopportune moment, like when I’m trying to go over flashcards. And as soon as that one kid starts, here they come. I have been backed into a wall by these kids and their requests for me to “sign.” I have been shoved into a corner, trying desperately to fend them off. They elbow each other and hit each other in the face with their notebooks. I’ll try to sign one piece of paper and five more are shoved at me. I’ve had to turn my back on them and write on the wall, but even this doesn’t really stop them. I’ve had kids beg me to sign their hands (this is where I put my foot down, no way am I stupid enough to sign my students and have them go home to their parents that way). I cannot tell you how bizarre this is. I want to say to them, “look kids, I don’t know what you’ve been led to believe, but I am not famous. I am not cool. I am just a random American and trust me, there are plenty of us.” But at the same time, of course it’s a little endearing. Of course it’s a little flattering. Again I warned you, this whole experience might be turning me into a terribly vain person. At the very least I’m getting well prepared in the event that my life takes a strange twist and I’m suddenly famous (my guess, my fame would come from falling into a tiger enclosure at the zoo or something equally embarrassing).

So that about sums up my third graders. They are completely, unreasonably, head over heels in love with me and I have no idea why. They blow me air kisses and hug me and cling onto my arm if I walk past in the hall. They cheer when I walk in a room and try to prevent me from moving when it’s time to leave. They ask for my autograph for God’s sake. And I would be lying to you if I said their bonkers, silly, very sweet behavior wasn’t one of my favorite parts of this job.

Thursday Nap Day:
Oh Thursday. I could write a poem about you. I could sign you a song. You are so beautiful...to me. But seriously, Thursday afternoons have become sacred to me since I've been teaching here. I look forward to them almost as much as I look forward to the weekend, because napping on a weekday is just so much better than napping on a weekend, isnt it? There's something so decadent and improbable about it. And my Thursday naps are the epitome of decadent.

Here's the thing. I can't nap Mon-Wed. I start work at 8:30 and go until 5:30. Not techincally I have a break in the middle of the day where I could nap. But on some of these days I'm busy doing teacher stuff, going to town to make copies, buying supplies, making lesson plans, etc. And even if I do have nothing to do I'm very wary of naps where I actually have to wake up for something. I'm not good at waking up period, but waking up from an afternoon nap, not a pretty picture. I'm usually so disoriented that I can't even remember what time it is, or what day it is, or you know, my name. Half the time I think the alarm is in my dream and I am come this close to sleeping through it. If I do manage to wake up, I'm always groggy and cranky and that is no way to take on my extra class (which requires full alertness and minimal crankiness, seriously if I go into this class cranky there's a good chance I might throw one of my kids through a window). So napping is kind of out for the first three days of the week. But then comes Thursday, oh Thursday. I start at 8:30 like every other day and teach four classes. These happen to be my most taxing classes of the week because three of the four are first graders. First graders are nearly impossible. English wise and age wise they're only a step up from kindergartners (but with the first graders I have no help) but attitude wise they might as well be preteens. And they always cry.

I hate the crying. I never see what starts it, but am suddenly surrounded by a gang of first graders all talking in rapid Thai and pointing to about five different people as the "cause." Even if I did see who started it what can I really do? Wag my finger at them? Lecture them in a language they don't understand? I could techincally send them to sit in the hallway but that makes me nervous. I don't want to be that farang teacher who sent a kid out into the hall one day only for that kid to never return. So usually I walk over to the crying kid (almost always it's just because one of the other students call him or her a name or took his or her pencil, and they definitely play the tears up), pat him or her on the back a few times, console them (once again in a language they don't understand). Then I look very sternly at whoever I think is responbible (and who the heck knows if I even have the right kid), and walk back to class and try to commence teaching. Sometimes this works. Sometimes the kid keeps on crying and I somehow ridiculously try to keep teaching while 99% of the class is occupied with the crying student. Sometimes the kid who caused the crying starts crying also either out of guilt, embarassment or because I made them give the other crying kid back whatever he or she took in the first place (and who knows who it actually belongs to, I can never really know for sure). And so then I have two kids crying and I feel like some heartless robot for continuing teaching but my only other option is to sit down on the floor and start crying myself. So what can you do?

I deal with physical fights amidst my first graders, way more than any other grade. They clobber eachother. The other day this one adorable little kid in glasses was standing in the back of the room with a heavier set, bigger kid. The bigger kid just wallops the glasses kid, sends his glasses flying across the room. I yelled in a very loud voice at the bigger kid and tried to make them sit on opposite sides of the class, but about five minutes later the same thing happens, and then again about five minutes after that. I don't know what tiff was going on between these two, what blood feud was started between PE class and arts and crafts, but they were locked in mortal combat all fifty minutes of the class. My first graders don't understand me. I don't understand them. It's a very tricky situation. And so I crawl through three fifty minute classes of this on Thursday. By the end of it I am a battered human being. I have literally been through war, and war between six year olds is not a pretty thing. Who knew they were so violent? What are they feeding kids these days? Steroids? Can a first grader have roid rage?

So anyway, I make it to the end of the day, and unlike Mon-Fri when I have an extra class at 4:30, on Thursday afternoon there is nothing in my way. The afternoon stretches before me like an endless rainbow (yes I just used the word rainbow, but such is the depth of my love for Thursdays). I walk home, the heat weighing me down, my feet sore from running to the back of classrooms to break up fisticuffs. I get to my building, walk up the stairs, down the hall. I get to my room, turn the AC on, change into a tank top and boxers. Then I lie down and in an almost horizontal position eat a giant bowl of cereal (weirdly being a teacher has returned me to my student habits, I always pigged out on cereal after school when I was younger). I maybe watch a few minutes of a TV on dvd show. And then when I'm full and the room is cool, I climb under the covers, close my eyes, and instantly I am asleep.

There is no alarm on Thursday nap day. Alarms do no exist on Thursday nap day. I sleep until my body wants to wake up, or more often than not until my stomach gets hungry for dinner. I rarely sleep less than four hours. I've napped for five. I could nap longer but my hunger wakes me up. This is no nap sprint. It is a marathon people, one that I have trained for my whole life. All of my naps have led me to these Thailand naps. Before napping was just an hour or two, a little break, a siesta. Now my naps are intense, coma-like states of being. I love these naps the way a fat kid loves pie. Sure I usually can't fall asleep on Thursday nights until midnight, but since I have no class until 10am on Friday it doesnt matter. Its as though the whole universe is working to give me the perfect scenario for these naps. And it gets even better. Since it's rainy season there's always about a 75% chance that it's going to storm in the afternoon. And if you're a true napper you know there is nothing better in this world than napping during a storm. You lie there as the thunder and rain starts, comfy as can be, and suddenly every little worry fades away. The only important thing in your life is that you're dry and warm, and never before have you truly appreciated those two things the way you do right then. You have no where to go, nothing to do. Other people might be scurrying around outside with umbrellas and wet shoes, but you, you are in bed, hours of sleep stretching before you. The roar of rain surrounds you and you close your eyes. Heaven. Oh, just my little, perfect slice of heaven. I'm fairly certain naps may never again be this good.

One of the reasons little kids are way more awesome than adults:
They haven't gotten good at hiding who they are. Because really that's what people do. The older you get the better you become at keeping your mask on. Sure you might show glimpses of your true self, to family and good friends, but isn't it true that we're all in some way, at most times, acting? You change who you are, even if in small variations, depending on who you're with. You're yourself, of course, but not really your self, that indivisible, untarnished self that we're all born with, that informs all of our decisions, but which is covered up by words and habits and all of the debris we accumulate through life.

Kids start to learn how to be other people, even at a young age. The way they act with their friends to be cool. Their ironic attitudes, the over it thing. I see all of that even in my youngest students. But here's the best part about kids. They haven't perfected it yet. Their masks, their alter egos, the faces they want to show to the world, all of those things slip. They can't keep it up all the time. Their true, perfect, little kids selves poke through, despite all their best efforts. Like when the two second grade boys in my extra class, who spend so much time joking around and acting up and acting tough, get intently, earnestly into coloring and cutting out paper butterflies. Or the fourth graders who ignore me on purpose most of the time, and sit with bored looks on their faces, suddenly get really into a game to the point where they're jumping up and down and screaming. Even my "thug" kids, the ones who start fights and hit and act like little monsters most of the time, they have these moments where all of that fades away and suddenly they're just themselves, beautiful and honest and perfect. You can see it in their eyes, or the careful, precise way they unpeel a sticker to put on an art project, or their wide, toothy, smiles when I give them a high five for winning a game. Kids may start learning from a young age how to be different people, how to construct these masks we humans make for ourselves, but the best part about kids is how often they forget the masks, how often they let that guard down. Sure two seconds later they're screaming at each other or trying to take things off my desk behind my back, but you kind of put up with it because you've seen what's underneath all that. You've seen who they really are, and you realize how rare and wonderful that is.
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