We arrived in Pattaya, Thailand, on Sunday night. It was an interesting trip. The seven of us going to Thailand took a van from Sihanoukville, Cambodia, to the border. The gravel roads twisted and winded through mountains, containing potholes as big as the van itself. I have to give kudos to the driver. I am positive I would have gotten the van stuck in a hole somewhere. We would probably still be there, in fact.
When we got the Thailand border, it was mass chaos, as we had to hand over our suitcases and backpacks to people we didn’t know, fill out cards, collect visa and passport stamps, dole out Thai baht for fees (which none of us had except one wonderful woman in our group named Marilyn, bless her heart), exchange our U.S. dollars, pay more baht just to use what they call a “squatty potty” (look it up; it’s really quite amusing), and somehow locate our suitcases again along with the proper vehicle. I think we all breathed a bit of a sigh of relief when we all made it into the van with all of the correct luggage. Amazing.
Then came the brand new shock of entering Thailand. People who have experienced both Cambodia and Thailand have said that Thailand is different than Cambodia, more developed and more “Westernized.” I wasn’t expecting these comments to be so true. The second we crossed the border, the scenery changed. The roads changed from winding and bumpy gravel to smooth four-lane paved highways, the cars became bigger and nicer, the motorbikes dwindled and the shops and houses grew bigger and fancier. If it weren’t for the Thai signs everywhere, it almost felt like being in the U.S. as we made our way to Pattaya, where we have started our time in Thailand. Pattaya was originally a fishing town but, during the Vietnam War, gained notoriety as a destination for military personnel and then gradually became an over-packaged family vacation destination. It is now a giant Vegas-like resort town full of tourists and expatriates, sketchy clubs, and neon lights. At least near our part of town. I have to say, I miss the culture of Cambodia. And I REALLY miss all the tuk-tuks! But other parts of Thailand are less night-clubby and resorty, so we are excited to go see those places in our upcoming travels. Until then, we are teaching English for a time and learning the Thai language here in Pattaya.
Which brings me to my next update: We started volunteer teaching today! We have been assigned to a low-income “kindergarten” about a 10 minute walk from our apartment in Pattaya. This “kindergarten” is actually more like a daycare of 1- to 6-year-olds in which they get an English lesson in the morning and a Thai lesson in the afternoon. We are in charge of the morning English lesson.
Oh my goodness.
Let me just say that they are absolutely adorable. Thirty sets of huge brown eyes watching us? I’ve always been a sucker for brown eyes. They are some of the cutest darn kids I have ever seen.
However, let me also just say that I’m not used to this! I am a secondary teacher. My students back home are taller than me and know how to sit in a circle and stand in a row. These kids are tiny. They don’t sit. They don’t stand in a line. They need help with everything. Furthermore, they don’t speak my language. Thank goodness for songs: they love the hello song and the goodbye song and the hokey-pokey — what? If I tried to do that back home, I have a feeling American high schoolers wouldn’t be quite so enthusiastic. But, I always love new experiences, and I’ve found one.
This should be interesting.
We did have most of the older kids saying “monkey,” “tiger,” “lion,” and “elephant” by the end of the day though, so I think we’ve made progress.
At the same time.
If you’re looking for me, I’ll be wiping noses and singing the hokey-pokey in Thailand…