Sunday, March 11, 2007

Did you miss me?

Well, I’m on my way back, typing away on the overnight train to Bangkok. So long Chiang Mai. I’m really sad to see it go, well I guess it’s not going anywhere, I’m the one who’s leaving with a head full of English lessons. I think I could sleep for three days.

Last weekend was really terrific. A small group of us English teachers (and a tutor) went on one of those touristy all day trekking thingies. We started the day with a trek to a Hmung village, then a ride on some elephants, lunch, a visit to another village, then a cool-off by a waterfall, and finally a bamboo raft ride down the river.

The hike up to the Hmung village began with an unexpected walk across a seriously rickety suspension bridge. We hiked up a steep hill to the village. The whole going to see some people was kind of weird. Everybody was just doing their own thing and it seemed pretty normal to me. But hey, a tourist thing is a tourist thing. The tour guide was great—really funny and friendly. The Thai seriously like to talk it up, reason enough to learn the language (I want in on those jokes!) On to the elephants!

I had a love/hate relationship with the elephant ride. I loved seeing the elephants in the jungles of Thailand, touching and feeding them. However, I hate the way that they are handled when they misbehave. Overall, they seem like they are with really nice people who take good care of them, but when you ride the elephants, the methods for steering them seems none too nice to me. They hit them on the head (back of their face, mates) with a hammer. Yeah I know, sounds pretty messed up right? But they say that it doesn’t hurt them and when you’re around the elephants, you really see how dinosaur-like they are—kind of lumbering and mythical. The magical aspect of them is what made me feel especially sensitive to their treatment, I’m still kind of wrestling with how I felt about the whole thing. The best part really, was when we were off of them and fed them bananas and just be a round them being elephants. The highlight for me was when one of them knelt down so I could climb on top of its head. They are amazing animals.

We had worked up our appetites by then and were treated to some Thai food, family style, for lunch.

After lunch, we cruised on down to a village that was more National Geographic. The people chewed betelnut, which makes your teeth all black, wove pretty fabrics, and they spoke a different dialect of Thai than the basic version. We had a nice visit and the tour guide told us all about the place’s history while one of the village women wove a scarf and rolled a cigarette (organic tobacco, mind you).

By that time, we were all well due for a shower and were headed off to a waterfall. After a bumpy dirt road and a steep hike downhill, we arrived at the foot of a beautiful waterfall with plenty of room at the bottom for swimming. A quick dip ant a swim in the tumbling waters brought the energy right back up.

Our final stop was probably the best part: bamboo rafting. Initially, I thought this would be the least interesting part, but by the time we were all settled onto our strapped together sections of bamboo, we were all laughing at our wet bottoms knowing that we were only going to be getting wetter. We were led down a lazy river by a trickster captian who kept splashing us “on accident” we would splash him back and soon we were passing locals taking a Sunday break by the river, drinking beer and splashing the nearby bamboo rafter. We passed elephants snacking in the reeds and jungle tree roots. It was like the jungle book story river ride at Disneyland but without the animatronics.

By the end, we were soaking wet and got out of the water at the serious local hangout. There were all kinds of little cabanas on the side of the river lined up one by one and full of revelers with coolers full of food and drinks, kids playing in the river, people singing. I loved that atmosphere and wished we could have stayed later, but of course, I ad to get back to write up more lesson plans. Another time, perhaps…

The week between then and now was filled with lots of work—I had to teach 3 lessons (that’s a lot in CELTA terms) and much needed celebration in the end. I kind of came down with a cold (I think a combination of the relief of stress, the little sleep, and treating it with coffee and diet coke), but that didn’t stop me from going out after my last lesson. And what a night it was! It was all Max’s fault (a fellow friend and teacher) since he bought a plastic pirate sword that turned into a game where whoever had the sword led us on to the next bar, and whatever the captain drank, all the mateys had to drink it too.
I became the captain second and led us to a wine bar Chris (another teacher and friend) and I had found a few nights before. It’s the only place of its kind as far as I can tell, in Chiang Mai—a little piece of San Francisco in the heart of Chiang Mai. We ended up staying there for 3 trades of captain, playing games and stewing in much revelry. We later moved on to this bar and that, and ended up at Spicy (which was basically our dance spot at his point of the story). We caused all sorts of trouble and took 2 hours of getting lost in the songtaew back.

The next day was the final day of CELTA and the feelings are hard to describe. I became a part of such a tightly knit motley crew of a family that was later called by our students: the princess and her 9 knights, I like that. Instead of our normal teaching class, we had a party with the students, we brought the beverages and they brought the food. I already miss many of those students. They were all exemplary people who were motivated to learn and easy to be with. I know if I stayed in Chiang Mai we would become fast friends. The students later surprised all of the teachers with speeches and gifts, one of them even said, “I love you”. It was really touching and connected me to the possibility that can be added to peoples’ lives when they are helped to learn a language that can help them improve their quality of life. It’s great, you don’t tell people how to live their lives; you help them perfect a tool that they can use in whatever area of their life that they choose.
Of course, the final night couldn’t end without traditional revelry and this time we had some of our students with us. They took us to this club called Bossy, which was SO MUCH FUN. Even though I’ve been battling a little cold, I couldn’t help but join the crowd. The club was in a neighborhood that had no hotels, no farangs. We were the only westerners as far as the eye could see. The entertainment started with live music with 4 rotating singers—started with slow songs and moved into dance music. During the break, we were treated to 2 hours of house music that turned into hip hop, and then more live music. The beers were expensive, but buying a bottle of tequila or whiskey was cheap… what do you think that means?

Everything in between was a lot of HARDASS work that I would describe, but possibly bore you to death in the process. But, if you ever want to know the analysis of the words some and any with a dab of meaning, form, and pronunciation tossed in, I’m you’re girl!

So, now I have a Bachelors Degree in Fine Arts, an English Language teaching certificate from Cambridge University and I look at the sky with a little bit of confusion, a few tears, and a heart filled with joy. I miss you and can’t wait to see you.