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Published: November 26th 2011
On our last night in Kanchanaburi we went for a back-roads motorbike ride at sunset. It really made it hard to say goodbye.
Well from my vantage things have been so busy the last week, or two, or however long its been since we left Kanchanaburi, that I can hardly get my head around it all. We have done so much in so little time that I was reminded of a verse from a song "like a ten minute dream in the passenger seat, while the world was flying bye, I haven't been gone very long, but it feels like a lifetime." So much has happened, and I'm hoping now that I can at least get some semblence of it down on paper. The last time I sat down to write we were in Kanchanaburi, planning to reassess our situation. From our perspective, ATI and Innovative Solutions had let us down. From the very beginning of the program we had been promised a placement away from Bangkok, and that seemed to be the only option they were now willing to place on the table. So Friday afternoon, as I recall it, we decided to part ways with ATI and Innovative Solutions and make our way as best we could on our own. We contacted several schools and posted our resume on a
few teaching websites, then decided to leave for Bangkok to stay with a friend so we could be closer to wherever it was we might end up. .
Upon arrival in Bangkok we were immediately reminded of why we didn't want to be there. The bus station was a large, bustling sprawl of activity, a mini-metropolis in its own right (and I'm told this was only a "temporary" bus station as the main station was closed down. As we hauled our luggage up the busy road/highway, it became very apparent that for whatever reason, cabs did not want to take us where we needed to go. After 10-12 unsuccessful roadside discussions in fractured Thai and broken English, we managed to find a police officer who arranged our 5 minute ride for 400 baht (about a two nights stay at our place in Kanchanaburi, or twenty road-side meals, to put it into perspective). The driver kept trying to allude to some water just ahead, likely to justify the outrageous price he was charging us, but it
simply never materialized. Once we arrived at our friend's condo, however, the perks of living in Bangkok became apparent. The Condo was enormous, equipped with a kitchen, white leather furniture, a balcony and, of course, two olympic sized swimming pools with waterfalls. We also managed to see Bangkok, which is even more awe-inspiringly sprawling (though surprisingly spread out) than one would imagine. The endless streets of various ethnic foods and delicacies and the sidewalks paved with vendors selling any and everything you might imagine, was truly unreal. We met up with some friends from the ATI program and it seemed like a good old-fashioned reunion (having been split up for all of two weeks), had some great food and some pricey drinks and it was an all around good time. Bangkok definitly has it's perks.
Saturday afternoon as we were wandering through the Big C (picture Wal Mart with a food court, sit down restaurants, hundreds of random independent clothing and apparel vendors, arcades, cell phone companies, etc) when I received a phone call. Tara and I were being offered two jobs, in the same town, for more money than we would have received through ATI in a decently
Launching the floating boats during the Thai festival.
large city called Nakhon Sawan in central-Thailand. Better yet, we had been considering paying $500 each for our certificates through ATI (because by their logic, since we didn't want to wait an indefinite amount of time for a hypothetical job, we should have to pay for our certificates), but our would-be employer informed us that the certificates are basically worthless and totally unnecessary. Good to know! After some research and considering other options, we phoned back and confirmed that we would take the job. Then things started to get interesting.
Step one, we need to get to Nakhon Sawan. Monday morning we hauled our roughly one-hundred and twenty pounds of luggage up the two stories to the sky-train headed for the Mo Chit bus terminal. We arrived, got on the skytrain, located our stop and things seemed to be going well. When the train stopped at Mo Chit however we realized that the flooding had indeed reached Bangkok. The entire street was flooded with close to two feet of water and, needless to say, the cabs that would be required to take us the rest of the distance to Mo Chit were not available. The only vehicles going by
were Thai army vehicles jam packed with people, but we were told they were evacuating only and were not travelling to Mo Chit. In essence, we were stranded. After wading through water carrying every posession we have to our name in overstuffed bags above our waist (and the luggage is so heavy, that "we" means I carry mine to one side, go back to grab Tara's and then carry hers across) we got to a subway terminal that ran under the road. We were told that if we crossed under to the other side of the road, we may be able to catch an army vehicle on the other side. Upon arrival to the other side, we realized that this was simply not the case. As we stood contemplating our situation, a middle aged Thai man approached us and in nearly perfect English asked us where we were heading. His name was Tom (well, Tom is an Americanized version) and he was a government worker currently on vacation due to the fact that his building was totally underwater. He tried to communicate to the military vehicles for us to see if one was heading to Mo Chit, to no avail.
This is our new motorbike. There is simply no better way to travel in South East Asia
As we stood there he asked us where we were from, what we were here for, where we were heading, etc. We responded that we were from America, that we were english teachers and that we were headed to Nakhom Sawan to teach. "Nakhon Sawan!" he replied, "that is my home town, what school will we be at?" When we told him, it turned out that Tara will be teaching at his alma matter. "I understand now, that I will help you, it is destiny, I think, that I have met you today," was his response. And so with Tom as our leader, we headed back to the subway terminal.
Tom got us onto the subway and decided perhaps we might catch a train. He served as our interpreter, as Tara's bag carrier, and as a source of genuine compassion, infinite patience and easy conversation. After being told we would have to wait at least three days for a train, we thought we had finally hit a wall. The situation in Bangkok was getting worse, if we waited another three days, whose to say we would get out at all. We thanked Tom, but told him we would have
to try to find a way to the bus station. "I think I have a new plan," he responded. We dragged our luggage back across the busy streets, back down to the subway, and headed back in the other direction. When we arrived at our new stop, Tom hailed us a cab and absolutely insisted that he pay because his plan at the train station hadn't worked. When the cab dropped us off, more than two-hours after first meeting Tom, we proceeded to thank him immensely and he responded "I think I will stay, have lunch with you, and see you off on the bus." When our bus pulled up we said our final farewells, Tom took out his camera to take several pictures of us getting on, and then we were gone. Only as we were pulling away did we realize that in all the frenzy, we had never taken a picture of us with the man who single handedly got us back on track. I literally do not know where we would be right now had we not met him there on the starewell overlooking the rising floodwaters in the streets of Bangkok.
When we arrived in
This is Nakhon Sawan from the hill. It sits at the convergence of two rivers, much like Binghamton
Nakhon Sawan it was late and we immediately headed for our hotel. We had no idea yet what we would be in store for in our new city. The next day brought an overwhelming wave of insecurity and discomfort. To begin we realized that Nakhon Sawan, although one of the larger cities in Thailand, has virtually no english speakers. We were yet to meet the man who had hired us over the phone and we had no apartment, no means of transportation (cabs are non-existent here), no friends and to top it off no one to translate for us. Even the signs here are in Thai, the menus are in Thai, the maps in Thai. As we wandered the streets aimlessly, it seemed as if everyone was staring wondering who we were, what we were doing here. It is amazing the way your mind can create twisted perceptions when you are in a vulnerable position. Looking back, it helps remind me the importance of always looking at perceptions and wondering "is this accurate." The situation seemed even worse as Nakhon Sawan had just suffered a flood which far trumped that which we experienced at home, and those who were forced
Yep, this is a "condo" in Nakhon Sawan
to evacuate and had the means wound up in the housing we might otherwise have been able to rent. That night, as we wandered from apartment to apartment, finding places that were either full, couldn't understand us, or at times, it seemed, did not want to rent to foreigners, we began to wonder what we were doing here. We decided to be strong and wait to see what happened. Our boss was sending us a local teacher who was going to "show us around," so we figured things would be looking up.
When we met the local teacher, he seemed exhausted. He told us he knew two places, took us to both, and upon finding that both were booked he apologized and called us a cab back to our hotel. We asked if he knew anything about motorbike rentals and he laughed, "not in Nakhon Sawan." Sweet! It was at about this point that we decided to take matters into our own hands. I went back to our hotel and did a quick tutorial on all the Thai words necessary for finding an apartment. We hired a Tuk Tuk and headed on our way to all the places Tara
This is the street we live on here in nakhon sawan
could find on the internet. After several attempts, success!, we landed an apartment. We also received word that we would be meeting our boss the next day. When we did, he seemed great, seemed organized and reassured a lot of our doubts. As we shook hands and he was about to head on his way, he received a call that I would be starting work the next day. So much for getting settled in. Tara would be left with the responsibility of getting our luggage from the hotel to the new room, and I would be scrambling to find transportation, get my clothes ready, and get myself in the frame of mind to begin my first day at a new school, in a new country. The prompt start date ended up being a blessing in disguise, or some cliche expression of that sort.
When I arrived at work I met my colleagues (and as I have previously noted, I am not using people's names) who were absolutely some of the friendliest people I could have met. These new friends soon lead to more new friends, which led to a new bar where farangs and english-speaking Thais hang out, which
Lighting off the ceremonial balloons for the Thai holiday celebration.
in turn led to some great times, a motorbike rental and all sorts of information about how to live in Nakhon Sawan. Things were falling into place so quickly, our fear and uncertainty from days not so distant suddenly showed their true nature had indeed been illusary. Since then, here is a short list of some of the things we have done / found.
There are many, many markets in Nakhon Sawan, which serve some of the most amazing food and fresh produce we have ever seen.
Our first night at the bar happened to be a Thai festival, and we lit off small torch balloons and launched boats decorated with incense and candles down the river. An unbelieveable festivity.
At the top of a small mountain behind our house there is a giant golden Pagoda / Temple and sky tower with an incredible view of the entire area. It still today looks like a large city and a few islands in an otherwise vast lake.
The local shopping mall has literally over a thousand little stores, each one an independent vendor selling its own products. However, all of a sudden, a six-dollar t-shirt at the
mall seems pang-mak
Just cruising around the city trying new food stalls (there are literally thousands), all of which are delicious. We successfully ordered three separate dishes, one vegetarian, all in Thai tonight and got the order completely right!
On the work end of things, my job seems great. The classes are small, the rooms are air conditioned, my co-workers are very welcoming and the kids are not only super friendly but also quite good at english. The program I teach in is an advanced program where most of the student's classes are taught in english, and while I am the beneficiary of all of this, the program is much more demanding than what most english teachers here are asked to do. On Tara's end, the responsibilities are much less, but her class sizes can reach as high as sixty and the students speak little to no english. There are benefits and detriments to both situations, I am sure, but at this point neither of us can complain.
Well, I suppose that is about it for now. There are so many wonderful details and stories that I wish I could share, but so much has happened
that just a summary will have to do. I hope I can muster the ambition to begin writing on a more timely basis so I am able to flesh out scenarios with more intricacies while they are still fresh in my mind. Much has happened and much more will come. As of finishing this article we have left for, and returned from, a visa run to Phnom Phen, Cambodia, but that story will need to be saved for another time. Sawatdee Khap
! (That means both hello, and goodbye in Thai, in case you were wondering).
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