Tuesday, December 24, 2013

12-20-13 an 12-21-13 The Race to Kanchanaburi and the Ensuing Awkwardness

     Today, we had a really easy day due to midterms. The students filed into the classrooms, took tests that lasted an hour each, and they had to remain silent the entire time. Oh, sweet, blissful silence... how I miss thee...

     So the old me would have packed overfilled bags of clothes for an overnight trip, but the new me is really getting the hang of packing the night before and tossing a very small amount of actual useful stuff in my bag immediately after school. It took only 2 times of running around with way too much weight on my shoulders to teach me that lesson.
     After school, I ran home and two of the teachers helped me call a taxi to take me to Mo Chit 2 (the Northern bus terminal that I’m always having so much trouble getting to). Jess planned to leave from Sai Tai Mai, the Southern bus terminal. Even though I reached my terminal first, I had to sit around to wait for my mini-van. I left maybe 15 minutes before Jess left hers...
     And thus began our race to Kanchanaburi.

Jess's status:
Racing with Jen. Let’s see who gets to Kanchanaburi first ;)

Our conversation, almost 2 hours later:
Me: I’m supposedly 20 min away
Jess: I’m about the same.
Me: It’s on.
Jess: Lol yes it is.
(These conversations made me laugh really hard, so I looked a little insane because I was traveling alone and laughing at my phone.)

     But it doesn’t even matter because I won. Because winning is the only thing of importance in this lifetime. :D Haha just kidding. I did “win” but only by about 5 minutes. She found me as I was clumsily making my way into the very wet and gross bathroom at the Kanchanaburi bus station.
     Google Maps on my phone told me that our hostel, Sam’s House, was only about 2.4 km away from the bus terminal, so we decided to walk it in order to avoid paying the taxi drivers around us. However, my phone must have gone berserk because we walked for 30 minutes to the polytechnic college, only to find out that that was NOT where Sam’s House was located. We asked for directions (thank goodness I’m not a stereotypical man, especially with my lack of directional sense because I would be lost all the time... and not asking for directions either. I guess that’s not too different from my current situation though, even when I do ask for directions because I’ll be lost either way.)
     A strange man gave us a ride (don’t worry, he knew the security guard we were talking to) and dropped us off at Sam’s House, which on Google Maps, is spelled Saem’s House. Gosh darn it, Google Maps... lol
     We got a very cold night’s rest because there was no heater. Jess said that there might be mold in the room too because as we breathed the night away, we were heavily sniffling... ewwww. But otherwise, the place was decent to stay in, especially as compared to other hostels and their much higher prices. Plus, the design outside of the room was adorable; maybe it would have been better to sleep outside and freeze there instead.


     Alright, now I’ll split the day into two different blog posts because otherwise, you’ll be reading a novel here. And what’s better than one novel? You’re right! Two novels. Stay tuned! lol jk :)
     We rented motorbikes and mine had Pikachu stickers on it! We rode to the Death Railway, which is also known as the Bridge on the River Kwai (and other names such as the Burma Railway and the Thailand-Burma Railway. There is no definite name for it). This was the historical landmark I wanted to visit not only for its physical beauty but to learn a little more about its history. 
     It was built during World War II when the Japanese empire took over the British project of building a railway between Burma and China, although the Japanese only wanted to connect Burma with Thailand. The line was meant to stretch for over 250 miles, but the Japanese allowed about one year for its construction (even though they estimated it would take 5-6 years to actually complete), as the railway would help transport war supplies and men to the Burmese front where the Japanese were fighting the British. Allied prisoners of war (or POWs) were responsible for building this bridge, and they worked in horrid conditions. Prisoners faced cruelty in the lack of sufficient diet as well as the brutal treatment they faced from their captors. Diseases ravaged the masses, the soldiers continually beat them, and they worked for over 12 hours a day on top of that. Perhaps about 100,000 died building this railway. It was so terrible, that “when looking down on the wok area at night, it looked like working in the ‘jaws of hell’-thus the workers gave it the name ‘Hellfire Pass.’” 
     Similar to the Great Wall, the POWs also built over bodies of the dead. That way, instead of taking 5-6 years as originally estimated, it instead took a mere 16 months. Unfortunately, a lot of people’s hard work never made a difference because the Royal Air Force bombed the railway often. After the war, the Thai government only reopened one section of the railway, which operates today: Nong Pladuk to Nam Tok. 
     It is a fascinating and haunting story, but the bridge stands as a testament to time, showing that some, if not all, of the effort the prisoners put into it still made a difference. I was both awed and saddened by the sight, especially as it stood so still and solid against the calm, blue water beneath and the Kwang-Im Temple in the background.
     While Jess and I took pictures of the bridge, and I looked increasingly awkward in  my stretched-out shirt, some guys tried to jokingly photo-bomb our photos. When Jess walked away, one of them approached me and we spoke a little in broken speech. He thought I was a university student, so I tried to tell him I was a teacher. I found out he was a boxing instructor, and he pulled up his shirt sleeve to show me his muscles. As soon as Jess noticed that this guy was creeping on me (although I thought this situation was hilarious), she came over and bluntly said, “Oh, so we’re going to be late.” 
     I almost fell down laughing at how awkward it was. Even the guy backed away immediately and apologized. Plus, the tone she used and its implied message was so obvious, which just added to the comedic timing. Hahahahahaha :D 
     For the rest of the time we spent at the Bridge on the River Kwai, many guys kept staring at me. I believe one or two guys during the day asked if I was Japanese (not necessarily on the bridge). It was incredibly annoying, especially as I looked like a bum, and so next time this happens, I’ll do a creepy stare at them. No harassment toward me, please! :) I’ll be the harasser, thank you very much. 
     Even at the temple, this one younger gardener was staring at me. Have they never seen females before??? Some guy at a gas station called me “beautiful” too. Hey, I know I should be flattered, but I would rather be judged for my awkward personality than my looks. Haha... 

     Next blog post will be about our visit to and from Erawan National Park! :) I am so proud to say that I visited it because the place is so beautiful... just wish we could’ve spent more time there :)

I couldn't read this. I still can't discern what it's supposed to say. War Wall?

The railway

Don't get run over!

The Death Railway

Sad that such a beautiful place has such a sad history.

Afraid of heights?

Hey, my creeper is the one toward the right with the sunglasses.
I didn't do too shabbily, did I? :D

Guan-yin in the background

Looking back upon whence we came.

You had to walk on the tracks for a while because the railings were gone.

Jess and I walked toward the temple and saw a pheasant(?)

And peacocks in cages :(

The park was so pretty.

Looking up at the bridge

Someone playing "Staying Alive" by the BeeGees on a violin :)

The train's coming!

Soldier's helmet atop a mound

The houses on the river

Don't get run over, for real! lol

Some random scruffy dog

I finally reached the temple.

Beautiful :)

This garden is so pretty and almost seems to make the 
past of the railway disappear in the sunlight.

2 monkeys

2 snakes

1 dragon. How coincidental!

I liked this one because of the baby. 

Dragon on the staircase.

Looking down from the top of the stairs onto the temple grounds


Inside the temple

Next to the temple

Guan-yin :)

So serene and so elegant framed against the sky

I really liked this temple! :) The grounds were so pretty :)

We then went to eat at a restaurant. I loved the wooden theme.

Pad see eiw thalay

Goodbye for now, Railway!

Monday, December 23, 2013

12-17-13 to 12-19-13 Improptu Visits and Some Holiday Cheer

     Another little random anecdote. This was from a while back, but either way, I believe our gym teacher monitors the back gate traffic every morning before school. One time, I was walking and looking terrified of the traffic, and when the cars slowed down, he blew his whistle, pretended to stop all cars, and went like, “Teacher, cross!” 
     I couldn’t stop laughing because he made it all dramatic, like he was stopping everything just for me. That made for a very splendid morning :).

     One of the items on my agenda for an extremely long time has been to visit Central Mall again, except instead of going there to shake in fear like I did during my first visit, I needed to visit True Move so they could fix my increasingly-irritating phone issue. So far, on most of our weekend trips, Jess has been the one using her phone’s Google Maps to track where we are and figure out directions to where we need to be. My phone has just served as a time-keeper and for texts and calls, just in case we can’t locate one another. 
     Before I begin my story, I have to explain that sometimes all my logic flies out the window. I sometimes still respond to my neighbor, and since I was still hesitant about going to the mall by myself and he has been inviting me to have Vietnamese food with him, I decided to go to the mall with my neighbor. 
     He is a nice guy, though; it’s just his facebook messages that are a little too pushy and a little over persistent. (Unfortunately.)
     We went to the mall, ate some “Viet” food, which was really Thai food that looked like Vietnamese food... I tried to enjoy my “pho” and the “la lot.” The la lot was definitely pretty similar, so I enjoyed it, but these Thai-style foods just made me miss Tank Noodle back at home. Maybe the next time I teach, it should be in Vietnam instead of some Cantonese-speaking place, which was my next goal. Argh, who knows. Maybe I should just stay in Chicago for the vast variety of foods! :) 
     My neighbor paid for the taxi ride and my food, so when he suggested we eat ice cream, (even though I clearly said I preferred GELATO), I insisted that I cover the tab. I ate about half of the cookies n’ cream ice cream along with brownies and the waffle bowl, and when we got up to pay, I saw him pulling out his wallet. HECK NO. I demanded in English to the Thai guy behind the counter, “TAKE THIS ONE!” and surprisingly, the guy actually listened to me. Thank goodness; I hate the feeling of knowing I owe someone. 
     I also ended up buying the book “Phantom of the Opera” because I really feel like reading and I seriously miss reading!

     Ashley, house guest #3, came to visit! I do miss my twin and wish I could see her more often... She is actually going to Vietnam during winter break on her own, so her visit to me was impromptu, as she had to head into Bangkok to visit the Vietnam Embassy. Honestly, I admire all my friends for being so independent and knowing how to plan their own trips. I still have so much trouble walking downstairs to buy food on my own, yet they can travel from country to country and adapt to other cultures so readily. I look forward to the one day when I can hopefully do that...
     We strolled my market, ate an omelet (told you I feed this to everybody, lol), and then we made it back to my room to watch the Big Bang Theory and the Mindy Project. Sweet and low-key; just how I like it!
     Last time, I ended up buying 2 dresses during Lindsay’s visit. This time, I bought one dress... (Actually, since I’m typing retrospectively, I do end up buying another dress when I’m out with dress. I should probably stop seeing my friends if it means I’m going to be blowing all my money on dresses haha)

     I was sad to leave Ashley in the morning, but I had to make it to school. Ashley cleaned my drain--she was the second house guest to do that. Actually, if they keep doing that, maybe it’s worth it to spend money on dresses if they’re all cleaning my house for me. :P Haha just kidding! I don’t know how on earth I can return all these kindhearted souls’ help. When I visit them, I’ll treat them or clean their houses too :) I’ve been meaning to try to make myself useful anyway...

      Class 1D made Christmas crafts! 

Plato working very hard on his Christmas connect-the-dots

Ou showing me his Christmas tree

Baitoey working on her Barbie ornament for the class paper tree

Peach and Aim designing their trees as well

This is the first time I've seen Herb working so hard in my class.
At least I know he enjoys coloring very detailed pictures!

Khow-hom and Nano doing some intense coloring artwork

This is Rich, not listening to me. I told him to make a Christmas
card for his parents. He proceeded to cut every single piece
of paper I gave him because I taught them how to make
snowflakes a few days before... Bad idea haha!

Proud of her completed art!

All the finished coloring pages! :)

Some of the finished Christmas trees and 1D's ornaments hanging
on my very, very fake Christmas tree lol

Because we were cleaning up our classroom, I decided to give the
students their turkeys from Thanksgiving. They actually made it a day
before the holiday, so I never bothered hanging them up. I really do
love how creative each student was with what I gave them though. :)

Baitoey's was very pretty!

     After school, we had a Christmas party too. It was fun, but I was just not in the mood for it because there were other things going on in my mind, like going to the mall to have my phone fixed before I went on my break. As I saw it, I was going to be somewhere for the weekend starting on Friday, so I would have only Monday, since I would be taking off for my winter holiday on Tuesday... so what would I do if I went to the mall on Monday and my phone refused to work???
     And yes, thank goodness I left some time during the party because I reached the mall with plenty of time to spare. There was also only one English-speaking representative, whom I feel like I bothered for an hour. But it’s okay! (Well, for me.) He ended up being able to get my phone to run on mobile data. I did have to pay for some type of plan, but it was monthly, just like back at home with the 1 or 2 GB cap. YES!!!

The Filipino teachers sang Christmas carols. Their voices were very melodic!

We all sat around the food table like we were at an awkward 8th grade dance.

That tree was where we plucked angels that contained numbers.
Each number corresponded to a different prize. I stayed through 1 round
of games: the first being an acting-out of popular Christmas characters,
(I hid in the bathroom for most of it so I wouldn't have to participate).
I left during the second one because I wanted to go to True. It was a game
called "Ha ha, he he, ho ho." The objective of that one was to be the last one
standing--the catch is that you have to repeat those in that order from person
to person, but you can't smile or laugh... or you're out.

     The games would have been really fun had it not been for my level of stress. I'm glad the school held this for us though :) Oh! I forgot to mention the prize I won from plucking the angel. It was a car air purifier. It is definitely useful for me here in Thailand... haha :P I gave it away to a fellow teacher who actually has a car. :)