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.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hi Liz, We're in S.A. with Betsy and Lucy. Looking forward to hearing about your adventures Have a safe journey home.

Bonnie, Betsy, Lucy and your grandparents.

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