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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Thank you.. Take Care... Goodbye

For the past year, nearly each weekday at 11:30  I’ve  walked  across the soccer field to the school cafeteria under a canopy of circling dragonflies.  I eat a nice lunch with my colleagues as they chatter in Thai and make my way back to my classroom through lines of children brushing their teeth and powdering their faces. School is over and I’m prepared for my upcoming transition to the capital of Cambodia.  It’s  dynamic mix of emotions: sadness,  relief, anticipation, wistfulness, glee over superior project management skills  and a renewed belief in both timelessness and change.  
Aon greeted me with a barreling exuberance and a grand slam hug to the hips on most mornings.
Aon greeted me with a barreling exuberance
and a grand slam hug
to the hips on most mornings.
My co-teacher Koy and I demonstrate big and small during the school's field trip to the Forest Temple Across the Street.
My co-teacher Koy and I demonstrate
big and small during the school's
field trip to the Forest Temple Across the Street.
During my last bike ride around the ancient city of Kamphaneng Phet, I hear the blind man playing a lyrical jakay at the night market, notice the dogs lying on the traffic median near the town roundabout and smell the carburetor-rich engine fumes of a small pickup pass me as I pedal around the field within the old city walls.  Everyone in the truck bed faces the incoming breeze: three children standing above the cab and two Saint Bernards and a mutt stretching  out around the sides.  My unspoken acquaintance,  an older man racing his ten-speed on the loop around the Ancient Forest Temple Across the Street, rings his bell in our ritual greeting as we pedal around at sunset.  The chorus of frogs in the rainy season and the wading ibis, heron and pelicans in the rice fields and the busy house spiders will remain long after I leave.  
Pinky and Jam were two of my students that arrived to the school courtyard holding hands every morning; the boys photobombed.
Pinky and Jam were two of my students
that arrived to the school courtyard
holding hands every morning;
the boys photobombed.
Yet, there has been so much change.  Since this time last year, I've stopped worrying as much, my self-reliance has deepened ( a mixed blessing)  and I feel more grounded in this journey. Physically, I've gotten leaner, my hair is more gray and I have officially entered the third age of womanhood. I'm routinely winning the expert level on the Sudoku app; I've read nearly 50 books and watched Emmy-winning dramas.  I have survived some cavernous bouts of isolation and loneliness, experienced moments of destined synchronicity, communicated without words, tested the limits of my skin and reveled in the bountiful affection of children 10 and under. 



My students have grown; their gap-toothed smiles changed as the permanent teeth emerged over this last semester. Most of them can read some English, others can answer questions that are not scripted and a couple are starting to combine their new English words with Thai in wacky and highly amusing new sentences.  They failed their English mid-term because I focused on speaking and listening but they use Rock, Paper Scissor to make decisions, know the meaning of burb and fart, and recognize Grover.
Saipan was my best student. A keen intellect that was woefully underchallenged in the rural Thai classroom.
Saipan was my best student.
A keen intellect that was woefully
underchallenged in the rural Thai classroom.


Meen was one of my students from last semester.  She often came by the classroom looking for an English worksheet.
Meen was one of my students
 from last semester. She often came by the
 classroom looking for an English worksheet.
Finally, on the last day, they know I am leaving for good.  For my friend Mon, who adopted me during Thai aerobics to practice her English and then took me on a temple tour last month, it was it was easier to just tell her I was going back to America (not true) to help my mother with her recovery  from knee surgery (yes, having surgery but it’s orthoscopic) and that I didn’t know when I would be back (true) .  My neighbor Kongdej took me out for my first American style pizza of the entire year, combined with many Leo beers on the rocks and the silent flashes and jagged spears of lightning in the mountains in the south.  “No one ever knows what will happen in the future,”  Kongdej says, “but I hope we meet again.”  

These are the spirit houses for the school.  These are common throughout Thailand as a way to honor the spirits of the earth upon which the buildings rest.  The orchid blossoms and marigold garlands are refreshed a couple of times a week.
These are the spirit houses for the school.
These are common throughout Thailand as a way to
honor the spirits of the earth upon which the buildings rest.
 The orchid blossoms and marigold garlands
are refreshed a couple of times a week.
The leaving is bittersweet.  For many of the past few evenings, I’d come home from work to find a line of ants making their way from outside, marching across the tiled living room floor and up the wooden bookshelf that stores my kitchen.  They tried to build a nest underneath the old coffee maker on the top shelf, crawled their way through the screw lid of my plastic jar of Muesli, pierced through a ziplock bag of unpopped popcorn and drilled into a mylar package covering a black sesame bar.  On occasion, they make their way into my bed.   I’m hoping the masses of insects will be somewhat diminished when there isn’t a swamp in the backyard.  I'm also hoping that the change in work environment will help my beleaguered immune system. 



Thailand and her children taught me invaluable lessons.  Escort insects and amphibians out of the house. Little geckos poop a lot.  Slow down, smile often, exercise, enjoy just a little dessert, and create meaning in this one life. It’s okay to wear your pajamas on a motorbike late at night and early in the morning once and a while.  Be kind, pee carefully when there's a squatter and always check your closed toe shoes before you put your foot in.   Steward your immune system.  Being clueless and releasing control is not such a bad thing.
Always take a little extra time to be presentable, relish the shade and words are a lot more fun when you sing them. 
Ubon on the karaoke vocals while JeJee and I dance away during my  going away dinner party on the shores of the Ping River. All the teachers came.  It was a blast.
Ubon on the karaoke vocals while JeJee and I dance away
during my going away dinner party on the
shores of the Ping River. All the teachers came. It was a blast.
In the end, my year in Thailand was all about love.  I learned to slow down and open my heart, take a few minutes each day in gratitude and give myself a break.  The  love of the children at my school have strengthened me for further adventures; this place will always be a home.

A few weeks ago I was writing at my table on a Saturday evening, watching the papaya tree and the bamboo swaying in the evening breeze, when the front yard suddenly lit up in a glowing pink. I checked it out and roused my housemate from her bedroom to watch.   In the sky, a single cloud amidst many was glowing alpenglow in the setting sun. Juxtaposed across the middle of this special cloud was a rainbow.   I hesitated for a minute thinking about racing for my camera.  Then I realized that this moment was so fleeting, so ephemeral and so timeless in its beauty, that it was paramount to summon my full being to bear witness. Gawk at natural beauty, create human kindness, be still in your heart.   This year, a singular experience in my life, will never repeat. I am sad to see it fade, but have a hopeful anticipation for this next step.
“ Sing, sing a song. Sing out loud.  Sing out strong.  Make it simple to last your whole life long.   Don’t worry if it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear. Just sing, sing a song…”
(photo from Pentax.com)
“ Sing, sing a song. Sing out loud. Sing out strong. Make it simple to last your whole life long. Don’t worry if it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear. Just sing, sing a song…” (photo from Pentax.com)