The New and Highly Exciting Next Phase!
Trip Start Sep 09, 2004
394Trip End Ongoing
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Where to start? Impossible. Far too much has happened to even begin going in to so I won’t. All I can do is summarise. Things are going great over here but it’s all full-on. I haven’t had a minute to consider the travelogue, the photos, the videos, the email replies or the mass updates. Nor ‘do’ I get much of a minute these days. Not that I’m complaining. I’ve found my place. I’ve found my platform. And I couldn’t be happier.
I’m in Chiang Rai, right up in the north of Thailand and as I write this I’m glowing. I’m glowing cos’ I’m back in the real world, back in the mountains, a mere sniff away from the Golden Triangle where the Mekong meets the Nam Ruak and where Thailand meets its colourful neighbours; Burma and Laos. I'm back in the mountains, where the scenery blows your mind and the culture beams with its own unique blend of charisma and character. This is hill-tribe territory, a treasure-chest of new experiences and a whole world of potential. I may as well have stepped back a hundred years. That’s what it’s like here. Now how good is that?! No tourists. No bullshit. Just utter simplified bliss.
I’m teaching. Actually I’m doing a few things but mainly I’m teaching. And helping.
There’s a Thai NGO up here in Mae Yao, right out in the sticks among the hills and rice paddies that works tirelessly in assisting ethnic minority groups. I cannot even begin to explain the degree of help they’ve given and continually give to people, but the 'Mirror Foundation' is making a huge difference that meets a vast spread of needs. A tiny portion of this assistance is channeled through volunteers, who pay lots of money to fly half-way across the world to come and help out here. Many are young, enthusiastic and have great intentions, but a good majority of them don’t know where to start when it comes to teaching English to non-English speaking people - a lot of whom speak three or four languages already.
Now this is where it gets exciting, cos’ with a little insight, a bit of guidance, a healthy dose of encouragement and a nice twist of freshly-cracked black pepper, there’s no reason why these volunteers can’t go out and do great things. Their intentions are good and their hearts are in the right place, and so the potential is huge. But it’s not just that. It’s the opportunities that have opened up to see some of the places, the situations and the people surrounding these situations that have made this whole thing so immensely rewarding. I’d have never EVER expected to get so much out of so little. We’re talking childcare centres, schools, local hill-tribe guides, handicraft artists, village leaders, hill-tribe staff, hospital patients, orphanages, vocational schools, Montessori schools, regular schools, kids with special-needs, Monks in thousand-year-old temples, pigs and chickens and the people that chase them, hack them up and cook them. It’s all here, and I have no alternative than to be totally humbled-out by the whole thing. It’s such a privilege to be here surrounded by so many positive individuals all trying to come up with even more positive ways to enrich other people’s lives.
So in the main that’s where I am and what I’ve been doing; helping the volunteers get their heads around this whole teaching lark - where to start, what to do, how to do it and why. I’ve started doing ½ day ‘teaching workshops’ for the new arrivals so that they can make some sense out of it all and get fired-up and excited right from the off, so that they’ll float (hopefully) the minute they’re thrown in the deep end.
And all this is a mere fraction of what Paul and Thellie do. These guys put in so much and if you saw just what they did and then found out what they get for doing it, it would take you a good ten seconds or so of deep silence before even thinking of coming up with a reasonable response to it all.
When I’m not helping out at Mirror I’m teaching at the local YMCA. Actually it’s not so much teaching as conducting discussion groups. And it’s been going great. They’ve just signed me up for another eight-week course teaching another class which starts next weekend. In addition to that they’ve just, only yesterday, roped me into a new ‘English Course’ teaching a group of judicial workers and court officials in the hotel conference room every day for the next few weeks starting Monday. So right now, as well as writing this ridiculously-overdue travelogue update I’m also busy plucking the curriculum for the court officials out of thin air. All good so far. I’m getting paid peanuts but then I’m not here to make money. I never was.
Aside from this I’m serving as a private tutor to local people who really want to learn English but can’t afford much. I have two students in Mae Yao who are doing superbly. Both have come so far in such a short time. One’s a Thai-Khmer who tries incredibly hard and still manages to have a lot of fun along the way. The other’s Thai with Chinese ancestry who loves a challenge and questions everything. She’s also a fanatical cook so most of her lessons extend into whole afternoons of messing around in the kitchen and experimenting with Thai herbs, spices and her abundance of home-grown produce. No complaints there mate!
Last week I took on another two: a teacher at a local Thai school and her student. They want to do three nights a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. They seem to be responding well to the games so I’ve been making all sorts of silly things to keep things interesting. It’s such a joy to hear ‘Look, a monkey!’ in an overly-excited giggly Thai accent.
Yesterday I started two more: the head nurse at the Chiang Rai hospital and her daughter. They were mad keen and now want a half-day block set aside every week. The nurse is so 'into it' she almost falls over herself trying to blurt out all the new dialogue. Honestly, it’s like having a big sponge in your face constantly. Such a hunger to learn. After the lesson they took me to meet ‘mama’ and ‘grandmamma’, then drove me miles out to a place that did steaks and bought me a big fat steak. Can’t really complain there either, it’s just another big grin and another thumbs-up from me!
For the first few weeks I lived on the floor of a photocopy shop. The shop belongs to Paul and Kanchana (his wife) who kindly let me crash there for free. Just recently I moved into a cheap apartment. It’s a pink apartment. Pink. The walls are pink, the ceiling’s pink and it has a pink tiled floor. Kanchana kindly went out and got me a good deal on pillowcases, bed sheets and stuff to get me started. Of all the colours she could've come back with.
So with all this going on I needed some wheels and it didn't take long to find a decent bike. I was hoping to get my hands on the tasty-looking Honda ‘Dream’ but had to settle for a little red 100cc Yamaha ‘Fresh’ with its front-mounted shopping basket and awkwardly placed kick-start. I’m not knocking her; she’s a beaut and gets me around the hills and the rice paddies without a single complaint. They’ve guaranteed the engine for six months too and have agreed to buy it back when I move on. Yes I will be moving on, just don’t ask me when. I still have plans to help out in Cambodia and do something similar there. For now though there’s far too much positivity around here to ignore, so this is where I’ll be. For now.
Just to add a hint of pressure to my staying longer, I was asked to meet with the head of a local private school the other day who gathered up a load of my documents and took them down to Bangkok, all in an attempt to get me on a longer, more flexible visa situation. Apparently they want to set up an English department at the school for the local university students and want me to get stuck in and make it all happen. So that’s all in the pipeline too. No fixed schedules, no suffocating contracts and no complaints there either, just another big grin and another thumbs-up from me!
What’s really interesting about all this is that I haven’t really gone to any great length to seek any of this out. It’s all come and jumped straight in my lap. It’s all presented itself at just the right moment in just the right place right on cue, as if by design. I reckon that in itself deserves a bit more consideration and as I’m on a roll getting all this out and my finger tips are now square-shaped anyway I may as well carry on:
When I took the long overland journey from Laos to southern Thailand last year to take my teaching qualification it was never with the intention of using it to get a ‘job’ in a school somewhere and to slip back in to 9-5 slavery. No way. That old life got relegated years ago. What I really wanted was a starting point, a platform for doing good. After what I saw in Laos, the less-touristy areas of Thailand and a few other places, I knew there was an opportunity for this somewhere. There always was. There always has been.
Yet many people scoffed at this. And that surprised me. To want to just go to a place randomly off the cuff and create a situation where everyone could benefit mutually, simply and fairly, and with great reward - not necessarily financial - seemed to be a crazy notion to a lot of people. I’m talking about all the emails I received around that time and some of the people I studied with in Phuket. I remember watching them scurrying around with plumped-up resumes, frantically sending email after email to high-paying schools, the kind you come across in Japan, Korea and the Middle East, places with two-year contracts, health plans and big big benefits packages. I remember the panic over the whole ‘I won’t get a job, I don’t have a degree. How do I get around it? What am I gonna do?! Blah blah blah’ thing. Proper, genuine, panic.
But while this crazy notion of mine is probably too simple, unattractive and very limited to a lot of people, it’s one that is possible and can work, especially if you’re like me and have very little education, no degree and no resume. I haven’t written a resume in almost fifteen years and have no desire to be in a position where I need to write one. What I found more disturbing though was that it seemed that so many just wanted solely to earn the dollars. Gaining these tools to teach in such a positive effective way with limitless potential is an incredible opportunity, yet for a lot of people it was, and is, less to do with ‘teaching’ and much more to do with ‘earning’. A big shame.
Anyway I’m drifting again. The updates from Vietnam (LOVED IT!) will be coming soon along with plenty of pics. The only bit in between Nam and getting here was a couple of weeks in Chiang Mai where I took a course in the Nuad Bo Rarn ancient Thai massage. It was extremely testing, immensely rewarding and thoroughly enjoyable, so if anyone fancies a free massage at any point, let me know ;)
Ok that’s all I can fit in for now. Tomorrow I’m teaching in three different locations, mainly amongst the lush green mountains and rice paddies where dogs, pigs, chickens and kids all run wild. If you look closely enough you might just see me chugging along on my little red 100cc 'Fresh' machine! Life can be so fantastic. If you let it..
Where I stayed
On the floor of a photocopy shop