The first in the series of gargantuan emails to friends and family, written after my first 8 weeks of traveling and living abroad (aka when I probably should have started a blog); Chiang Mai, Thailand, January 2nd, 2012.
“It’s been awhile since I last wrote a hefty update, so I’ll try not to repeat myself but I’m sorry in advance if I do. I think my last email was from about mid-December, so I’ll start from there. The TEFL course ended well–we all passed except for my friend Drew from Texas who came down with an unfortunate case of food-poisoning and had to finish his last few lessons in January. Anyway, the day the course ended, Addy, myself, Drew and his wife Bryn, and our friend Amber headed to Laos to get new Thai visas. We dropped our passports at the embassy in Vientiane and headed back to Vang Vieng where we spent Christmas day on the river, not exactly “tubing” this time since it was much colder than previously, but still partying and getting rowdy as river culture demands. On a tragic side note, two weeks or so after this trip to Laos, we learned that a young Aussie guy that we’d partied with on Christmas died on the river…I’m not really certain about the details of the accident but I think it was a head injury…along with no emergency medical care in close proximity. You hear the statistics about how many people die on the river and you know it’s quite dangerous, but this really hit close to home. I encourage anyone who gets a chance to partake in the craziness of the Nam Song to do so, but it’s SO important to do it safely and with a bit of prudence.
“On a lighter note, we all came back to Thailand after that trip with 3-month, double-entry visas and made our way back to Chiang Mai. At that juncture I was still considering going south to Koh Samui or Koh Tao with Addy, but we both wanted to do a few things in/around Chiang Mai before we left, so we decided on January 7th (our friend’s birthday bar crawl) as the date by which we had to have our plan figured out. We went to a lovely little hippie/backpacker town called Pai for New Year’s Eve, which is about 3 hours northwest of Chiang Mai (the drive is actually only three hours long because the road to get there is so windy…there are 762 curves) and in a hilarious last-minute faux-pas, we ended up having to take the public bus that was crammed full like a can of sardines, standing in the middle and having very few options for handholds. Live and learn (then buy your bus ticket in advance). It was pretty magical to watch everyone lighting their lanterns and sending them off into the night sky at midnight, while the fireworks went off, all from the vantage point of our guesthouse deck which was conveniently located on a hill above town. Most of our friends left on the 1st or 2nd to go back to work, but Addy and I stayed in Pai for another 4 days and did some adventuring around on motorbikes. We were laughably bad at driving them on our first attempt but got much more comfortable after a few days. While relaxing in the hammocks of our bungalow guesthouse, I began to get antsy about finding a job, so I decided to start my search for teaching work when I got back to Chiang Mai.
“For the month of January, we stayed with my dear friend Marlies in her shared house, subletting a room from her friend Anna. I knew of a few places to apply for work…an instructor from my TEFL course had recommended me at the YMCA where he and his girlfriend worked, since they were about to move to Indonesia and their positions were opening up, and a couple other friends were working for a language center. I printed out a ton of CVs and cover letters, rented a motorbike, and headed out. For some reason I was never able to meet the hiring manager at the YMCA; fortunately, I was basically a shoe-in for a job at Language Corner once I told the manager I knew a few of the guys who already worked there. She asked me to start the next day! It seemed a bit intimidating at first but I soon realized that the teachers pretty much do whatever they want during the lessons. It’s primarily one-on-one tutoring, and the students have workbooks to study from, but aside from that, we can do anything as long as it involves English/is appropriate. We can read books, play games, watch videos on YouTube. Some of my students come only for conversation practice, so we just talk for the hour (or two) about anything we want, and I correct grammar as we go. I’m really liking it so far, and I’m working between 20-30 hours per week. I also met a guy in December who knew I was looking for teaching work, and he passed my number along to two Burmese friends of his, who I’m now tutoring privately for 4.5 hours a week, which is really helping me with extra income at the moment.
“Addy took off from Chiang Mai in the second week of January…after much soul-searching, she realized that what she really wanted to do was go diving (it’s pretty much 75% of what she talked about since we’d been in Thailand) so she enrolled in a dive master course on Koh Tao where she’s going from “zero to hero” (from zero certifications to dive master) in about 10 weeks. She’s been gone just over two weeks (she started literally the same morning she arrived after taking an overnight bus from Bangkok) and she’s already completed her open water, advanced open water, and rescue diving certifications. It was sad to see her go…it’s crazy how close you get to someone when you spend 24/7 with them for two months. Not to mention she was the easiest travel partner I could have asked for. On the other hand, it is nice to have some time to myself. Speaking of which, I just moved into my very own apartment today, marking the first time in my LIFE that I’ve lived 100% alone. Hellooooo bachelorette pad! It’s a cute little place, quite modest but fully furnished (including two TVs) and in a good location–a 5-10 minute drive to work, a 5-10 minute drive to the old city bars, a 5-10 minute drive to my friends’ houses/apts. My only complaint is that I don’t have a real kitchen, so going to buy a mini two-burner range so I can at least boil water. If any of you decide to visit, though, I DO have a king-sized bed. Come one, come all!
“I’m still absolutely in love with Chiang Mai. I’ve heard it gets pretty bad during the spring (they do a lot of slash-and-burning on the surrounding hills so the city gets really gross and polluted, and rainy season can get a bit old, especially when you ride a bike everywhere–ponchos only cover so much) BUT all that aside, the lifestyle here is wonderful, I’ve got great friends, and I like my job. I’m going to take each day as it comes and keep learning and growing and be grateful for every experience, good or bad.
“I miss you all dearly, but I think that goes without saying. Lastly, I HAVE to put in a shameless plug for my friend Marlies. She’s also a dive fanatic…she has entered a competition where the winner gets trained to be a dive instructor in BALI for free, which is her absolute dream. Like, more than she wants to be a princess astronaut cowboy. Oh, and she’s also an amazing, passionate person and she deserves to win. If you can spare a moment to help her out, she needs comments on her entry video. This is the link: http://www.bestdivejob.com/2012/?p=228*
Also, we are planning a scuba-themed flash mob in the middle of Chiang Mai next saturday, so the video of that will be posted to the contest page as well. If you want to see me making a public ass of myself in snorkel gear, check it out.
“If you’ve made it to the end of this letter, thanks for caring. Sending all my love!”
*For obvious reasons, that link is no longer active, but click here to see the result of the competition and then some!