First Stop Bangkok!

Our schedule:

July 22-25th, Bangkok (Adelphi Suites Sukhumvit)

July 26-August 9, OpenMind Projects, Nong Khai

August 10-15 Baan Tung Guesthouse, Mae Sot

August 15-23, Chiang Mai (Rachamankha Flora House)

August 24-27 Bangkok (Amari Residence Sukhumvit)

 

We got to our hotel mid-afternoon, after 2 days of traveling, and went out for a walk and to have our first taste of Thai food in Thailand.  Bangkok is awesome–the people are so nice, the food is great, and nothing about it feels like Brookline, MA! The boys loved the restaurant recommended by the hotel but I didn’t think it quite measured up to our beloved Rod Dee at home, which has set the bar pretty high. The city is hot and crowded, and smelled like charcoal grilled meat, and mango, and dampness, and exhaust.

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A Bangkok-style tuk tuk

Today we took the Skytrain to the Weekend Market, a whopping 8,000 vendors, packed with Thai families and tourists, and everything you could ever think of buying.  We decided to wait to buy the 6 foot high Buddha statue for the end of the trip, as much fun as it would be to lug that around for a month.

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The Nong Khai Express

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Marking a row of seats in the train station

We left Bangkok for Nong Khai (in the northeastern part of Thailand) on July 25th, on the overnight sleeper train.   We lounged around on our luggage at the train station, watching the people and the chaos, while we waited for our train.  There were Thai and European families and lots of backpackers sprawled on the floor waiting for their trains to be called.  The monks were barefoot, even in the train station, (although when we saw them on the Bangkok streets they usually were wearing sandals).

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Once on the train, 2nd class was full of backpackers and locals heading north.  And us.  We were next to a group of young Italian guys who were playing guitar and being Italian, and we eventually (kind of) slept in our cozy little compartments in the upper bunks, curtains pulled.  No guard rail. But no one tumbled to the floor during the night, and all was quiet.

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When we awoke in the morning, we were speeding past rice paddies, water buffalo, women stooped over in the fields–it was like a page out of National Geographic.  (My photos, however, had to be taken through the very dirty train window.)

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We arrived in sweltering Nong Khai 12 hours after getting on the train in Bangkok.  Nong Khai is a small city–very small, but real, no tourists.  The OpenMind Projects headquarters is staffed by half a dozen or so trainees from Thailand and Laos who are learning English and computer skills and working with the volunteers.  They are all lovely, and swarmed us on our arrival, taking our bags, greeting us warmly.

Our room has mattresses on the floor, and geckos on the walls, but it has an air conditioner, so we are very happy.

Volunteer Training

After a day of getting our bearings and meeting the other volunteers (an American family, a Swedish man, and women from Holland, England, and Switzerland) we all had dinner together with the staff on the banks of the Mekong River. Our training began the next day, and we spent the morning learning Thai, and then practiced what we learned ordering our lunch at a local restaurant, which we managed to do– Sam can even say “no soy sauce” (to avoid gluten) in addition to “I am a vegetarian”, and now can order everywhere for himself and Jackson.  In the afternoon we discussed culture and learned more language, finishing the day with a meal with the staff, which we helped them cook  in the outdoor kitchen.

Thursday and Friday we had field trips, more Thai lessons, and discussions about teaching.  On Friday afternoon we went to teach a test lesson to the novice monks at the temple school.  Jackson and I teamed with a 20-year-old American to teach a short unit on clothing.  The boys were about 18, and were quick to smile and laugh– it was a lot of fun.  Sam taught a lesson with the other American boy on colors and animals, and did a great job.

The OpenMind website has posted photos taken by the staff during the training.  Cross-culture and volunteer training 27 July 2011 | Facebook

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Outside our room at OpenMind headquarters

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Kai cooking in the outdoor kitchen

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Receiving the knotted bracelet of welcome from our Thai hosts

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Our practice lessons

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Jackson’s Cheeks

Jackson with Prom

Prom is a trainee at Openmind, and came with us every day to the schools where we were teaching. She helped us communicate, both in language and culture, while gaining skills and improving her English.

Thai people  LOVE children!  We weren’t quite prepared for this, and didn’t really pay much attention to it when the hotel staff in Bangkok seemed to only be interested in Jackson. Once we got to Nong Khai, however, Jackson became the star of the town. We are stopped everywhere so that people can ask him his name and take a photo with him! Women are always stopping us to touch him, and squeeze his arms and cheeks, from random women on the street, to a prostitute in a restaurant in Bangkok (we declined that photo).  At the party the Openmind staff threw for us on our second night, all the volleyball girls and a team of dancing girls flocked around him, all wanting to have their picture taken with him.

The team of volleyball players, girls all around age 13, live at Openmind, who is helping to support them while they train. At first they spent their time giggling around Sam, but eventually they gave up on him and decided to focus entirely on Jackson.  Whenever he steps out of the building, they all scream “Jackson!!!”  We passed their school the other day when they were all out in the field, and as soon as they caught sight of him they all ran to the fence yelling his name!

As we all know, Jackson is not very huggy (new rule: I’m not allowed to hug him in tuk-tuks), but his displeasure seems to be lessening and he hasn’t been scowling as much being squooshed by strangers.  With the Openmind staff all over him always trying to get his attention, I have actually caught him smiling a few times. . . . .

During a break with teachers and administrators at the monastery school in Nong Khai

During a break with teachers and administrators at the monastery school in Nong Khai

The  girls who made the final cut

The girls who made the final cut

 

Teaching English

We had so much fun teaching English together.  We went into the classrooms as a team–most of the students had never met a Western child before, and certainly had never had one as a teacher.  We taught lively 8-10 year olds in a village school, who were very well-mannered and astonishingly engaged.  We really enjoyed working with them.

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We also taught quite unruly novice monks, ages 13-18, in a Buddhist temple school.  We could not believe how much the novices were like all other teenagers we knew, hiding in the back of the class playing on their computers and cell phones, sneaking out of the class during the lessons, buying forbidden treats after lunch through the locked gates of the monastery (they were locked in during the day to prevent them from sneaking out) and of course laughing at us.

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We often didn’t know from day-to-day what we would be going into, so had to wing it in almost every class.  We spent a lot of time jumping around acting out animals, and vegetables (you should see Jackson do an ear of corn!) and other vital vocabulary.  Sam developed a fun game that we would adapt to the level of each class that involved a lot of movement–jumping, clapping, and flailing about of body parts.  Except for one particularly apathetic class of 13-year old novices, all the kids seemed to have as much fun as we did.

IMG_0414  IMG_0410We also taught the Openmind staff in the morning, which we really enjoyed because they were so excited to learn English.  In the evening Sam and I alternated teaching the team of volleyball girls, but of course, being 13, they preferred the nights Sam came in to do the lesson.

The staff at Openmind, Nong Khai

The staff at Openmind, Nong Khai

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The volleyball team (in yellow blouses) moonlighting as dancers to show us some traditional dances