So. . . maybe this once a month blog thing isn't the greatest idea. There is simply too much that happens in a month to A) remember and B) summarize in a single blog entry that will keep people's attention. I'll be keeping it up for at least one more month however, as with October comes our MONTH-LONG TREK THROUGH VIETNAM, CAMBODIA, AND LAO! Hopefully I'll be keeping some sort of journal or something for this, though, as there will be way too much happening to try and remember afterwards.
But with two days left before our trek begins, it seems necessary to look back and remember my September in Siam (I stole this from Beth, but as I clearly started the alliteration theme two months ago, there's no way I can stop now). Undoubtedly the biggest weekend we had was our trip to Ayuthaya - which is pretty much as Thailand as we've gotten so far. That Saturday, we had accepted the invitation of some of the younger Thai teachers to go out for dinner and drinks. None of us were quite sure what was happening or where we were going, but the Thai teachers drove their own cars so we didn't have to worry about it. After maybe an hour drive south of Bangkok, we pulled into a dirt parking lot next to a river, walked across the dock into a tiny boat (which I had to finagle myself into as I am twice the size of a normal Thai person) and proceeded to drive for about half an hour to a restaurant in the middle of the ocean. Now this is not entirely true - There are some sort of scattered marshlands that dot the landscape from the shore to the restaurant, but it remains inaccessible except by boat and as you can tell by this photo that I didn't take (as I forgot my camera), it was awesome. We sat at the furthest table out, eating incredible seafood surrounded by the calm sea. That was for the first hour or so. Then it started torrentially downpouring. This was actually pretty cool, too. They lowered protective covering so we wouldn't get wet and we just continued to eat crabs, oysters, various fish, crab fried rice that was absolutely delicious, and some more I'm sure I forgot and drink Thai whiskey while the storm raged around us. After the storm ended, we headed back to shore and ended up going out afterwards for a while to an area that was almost completely Thai - which was pretty interesting. It's not every day when you're the only white people for miles.
(not my picture - unless that is my name in Thai on the bottom)
The next morning after struggling through the waking up process, we found a cheap minibus and headed out to Ayuthaya. Quick history lesson: until the 13th century, Southeast Asia was dominated by the Khmer Empire (what is now Cambodia) - Their capital and "base of operations" was Angkor, where I will be visiting in a few short days. However, after they dissolved in the 13th century, in the area that would come to be known as Siam, several city-states rose to power (think Renaissance-era Italy). The first of these was Sukothai, which is commonly considered the first "capital city" of Thailand. However, a century later, Ayuthaya rose to power as Sukothai's power waned, and they held sway over the region until the late 18th century, when the Burmese sacked the city in a wave of destruction. King Thaksin then moved the capital to Thonburi, the city directly west across the Chao Phraya River from Bangkok (it's incredibly close, our school is on the Chao Phraya and I can see Thonburi from my window right now). As legend has it, he went mad and was executed, although "legend" may just be a way of obscuring what really happened. So General Chakri took control and moved the capital across the river to Bangkok, where his dynasty of Kings began. Chakri is considered King Rama I of Siam, and the current King is King Rama IX. Siam wasn't renamed "Thailand" until 1939.
For those who skipped over that last paragraph, Ayuthaya is a bunch of old ruins, and it was honestly really cool to visit such an historic, neat place. Also, they filmed scenes from Mortal Kombat there. (Click here and start watching at about 7:00 to see several temples from Ayuthaya in short succession.) We rented bikes for the day and biked around to the different important temples, which were strangely interspersed around a modern town. It really threw me for a loop, as I was expecting us to enter a legit "park" and wander around an ancient, preserved city. This was not the case. Bicycling through the town, we would see a 7/11, a mall, then some ancient ruins, then maybe another 7/11. It was kind of unfortunate, but not surprising. We also managed to pass some more elephants. Well I could babble on longer but why don't I just show you some awesome pictures?
Hmm, what else happened in September. . . something of significance is that my tutoree's mother (the one who is batshit insane) took me on not one, but two dinner cruises on the Chao Phraya River. First, my co-teacher showed the brochure to me and begged me to go, because Suwarat had invited both me and my co-teacher and my co-teacher really wanted to go on a dinner cruise. So I relented. Hey, it seemed pretty cool, too. However, Suwarat was unable to get reservations on the Grand Chao Phraya Cruise. Disappointment. So instead of making reservations for the next weekend, or booking us a different cruise, SHE DOES BOTH! Since I had already said yes to dinner, she wasn't about to cancel or postpone. So she steals me for two Friday nights. Tricky woman. She really is nuts. For my October trip, she gave me A GIANT BAG OF SOAP, which I preceded to hand out to whoever would answer their door in John Mary. I feel like I may be using capital letters too much in this post, but I really feel its the only way to express how crazy she is. Because there was no school on Tuesday and Thursday this week, she wanted me to tutor her kid after school on Saturday, so she CALLED ME FOURTEEN TIMES IN A ROW! My only hope that this is just her and not all Thai people is that my co-teacher is equally plagued by her ridiculousness. I recently asked her what would be the best way to tell Suwarat that I don't think it's appropriate for me to hang out with the family outside of tutoring hours, and my co-teacher simply said "Oh, there's no stopping Suwarat. She will never stop." Shit. Well, besides her, the cruises were pretty cool. Went up and down the Chao Phraya. Ate good food. One played Thai music and was all Thai people. The other played Western music and was mostly rich foreigners. It was interesting to see the other group of tourists to Thailand. Living so near Khao San, we've pretty much only seen the backpacker culture so far. Yet Bangkok is also famous for catering to wealthy businessmen and their spoiled wives, who don't seem to venture outside the downtown hub of expensive restaurants/rooftop bars and upper class shopping. If you couldn't tell, I'm not too keen on these types of tourists, but it was certainly interesting to see them for the first time.
During September, we also took a trip to our housekeeper's house for her birthday. We all love Nuan. She is extremely friendly, helpful, and always brightens our day with her smiles and laughs. Apparently, the other "janitorial" staff resent her because they perceive her job as easier, and hate that she gets to interact and make friends with the foreign teachers. Even our boss is jealous of Nuan because, well honestly, we like Nuan more. It is awfully odd to see this type of petty jealousy between school employees, but I would absolutely side with Nuan any day of the week. She's worked diligently on her English for the last couple years and is one of the few workers who can even converse with us and thus is the only one qualified to hold the job she does. Anyways, we all took Taxis out to her house, which is about 45 minutes west of Bangkok out in the countryside, and had a wonderful meal and played some games and hung out for a while. It was pretty neat to once again, be in a place that has almost remained untouched by foreigners. Also, we kinda get treated like celebrities in these places so there's an added bonus.
(picture courtesy of Beth)
So these were pretty much the extent of my September activities. I also grew a mustache. It was mostly a joke because Thai people are so indirect yet appearance-orientated, just to see how they would react to a ridiculous Super Troopers-'stache. I don't think they got the joke. Suwarat hated it, though. So there's that. A lot of time was spent NOT doing things so there would be money in the bank for October. Which there is. So I'm pretty happy with my September. Expect a much more exciting post next month.