It’s amazing how humans can adjust. Take for example, the ability to adjust to things like squatty potties and cold dip showers in the middle of the cold season. I’ve experienced those before, but in the past few years, I have become someone who really, really enjoys hot showers, and even more than that, hot baths when possible. Also, the longer I live in Thailand, the wimpier I get when it comes to anything cold.
So for me, one of the challenges of coming on my internship in a village called Saohin in Mae Hong Son province was cold showers. The very thought of them made me shudder and I indulged in hot baths in Chiang Mai as long as I could. (Amazingly enough that rickety house even had a bathtub!)
When I arrived in Saohin the third of January to do my internship (the last step before I graduate), I realized there was more to adjust to than squatty potties and cold dip showers, but those other things are harder to pinpoint and measure my progress. Sometimes I still cringe and hold my breath and gasp as the water cascades over my back, but for the most part, I think little of it. The squatty potties themselves never really scared me. It was more the lack of toilet paper…… And I am getting used to that as well.
So, I marvel at what we humans can adjust to when we need to. Given the choice, we often prefer to stay with our old habits and routines, but it is extremely beneficial for us to be jolted out of our safety zone once in a while.
I’ve been here at the village for about a week and a half. I am still adjusting and there are still fears I battle at times. Fears like, what if I am faced with some kind of ethical dilemma and fail God. What if I do something that angers the other teachers? I am slowly learning to shoot down these fears with God’s word and focus on Him, reminding myself that even though I feel very alone in the village, He is here with me.
Adjusting takes energy too, I realize. At first, just getting up in the morning and figuring out how to live and where things belong and what my next move should be left me panting. I gave myself grace that first week when at 8:00 pm I felt exhausted and ready to flop into bed (even though no flopping is done on this bed. I might break a bone).
In the past week, I have had a full schedule of English teaching to the school children. They are delightful to teach. Far from perfect, they are a group of very lively, yet shy students, who are not addicted to cell phones. This non-addiction works wonders for their concentration and retention skills. These are forest-born children who know how to find minnows in the streams and weave baskets better than they know how to introduce themselves in English. Yet at the same time that I am teaching them, I find myself learning hundreds of things I never knew were there to learn.
Every day I need to write reports for my intern advisor. The first slot is for, “Things I learned.” I often find myself stuck at this point. I learn hundreds of things every day, but most of those things don’t really have anything to do with an English Communication degree.
- How to build a fire to boil the water for the coffee in the morning. You stack and lean the little pieces of kindling onto a larger stick and you light one small piece and hold it UPSIDE DOWN and stick it in there. You also have to scrape out the ash from the fire before, or there won’t be air for it to breathe. If you want it to light very quickly, you use a piece of pine wood.
- How to boil rice on an open fire. First you need to wash the rice, and then pour out the water. You might need to wash it again. You then guess the amount of water and rice, but make sure there is plenty of water. You pour the rice into boiling water on the fire and then stir it until the outside is soft but the inside is still a little hard. You then pour out the water and put the kettle back on the fire and close the lid for it to finish steaming.
- How to catch minnows in a stream. You walk from downstream to upstream with a net and carefully overturn rocks and catch the minnows in your net as they escape.
- How to make field rats for lunch. I only saw the part where you hold them over the fire and scrape off the skin as it roasts, and then you gut them. I didn’t see the later part where they cut them into pieces.
- How to see if the greens beside the stream are the ones that you can eat or the ones that make you dizzy.
- How NOT to say a certain Karen word that I thought was the word for “book” but was a word for a certain unmentionable body part.
- How to say the names of over 60 students, some of the villagers and some of the policemen from the nearby station.
- How to wash your clothes by hand. I’ve done this before, but not on a regular basis. I still try to wash them while no one is watching to see how the funny farang does it.
- How to live with a minimal amount of privacy. My room happens to be directly off the kitchen, which is where any cooking, socializing, or work goes on…..
- Learning about a new drink I’d never had before called Green Mate. It’s a sweetened coconut juice that is refreshing on a sultry day.
- I’ve learned how to go to bed early and get up early. It’s not unusual for me to be in bed by 9 PM which is a miracle in Chiang Mai.
- How to make fried eggs Thai style. I never knew so much oil goes into Thai cooking.
- How to sit on your bed so you don’t fall off. Honestly, this should not have happened on my bed at all, since it is quite a big bed with plenty of room. It has mosquito netting wrapped around the side. Each of the 4 corners of the netting is tied to nails on the 4 corners of the room. I was sitting on my bed doing work on my laptop, then I closed my laptop and leaned back against a pile of blankets and stretched. To make the stretch better, I lifted up my legs clad in PJ’s and stuck them in the air. Somewhere along the line, my center of gravity shifted, the blankets receded from my back, and my legs went up over my head and I found myself sliding head first on my back off my bed. To make it worse I had a round clothes hangar with clips for laundry hanging on the rope that held the mosquito netting. The net, the hangar and I landed on a confused muddle on the floor. I lay for about 2 minutes helpless with laughter on the floor, wrapped tightly between the bed and the mosquito netting and trying to figure out how to get up without tearing my precious netting. I don’t know when I have laughed so long and helplessly, and at the same time, trying to keep it quite so no one else in the house would hear me. Once I was able to inspect the damage, only the one string that held the netting was broken, and that was quickly fixed, much to my relief. I didn’t want to explain to the other teachers why I needed to buy a new mosquito netting.
I am not finished learning and adjusting yet. I still have a long way to go, but it feels good to have some adjustments behind me. Instead of moving to another province it feels like I am in a different country and time zone. It feels like years since I rode my bike among the streets of Chiang Mai and ate TomYum noodles at Lung Chang’s restaurant and sat in on a class at Payap. It’s also hard to believe that it’s been a week and a half since I’ve had a lengthy, intelligent conversation with anyone in English. At the end of the month, we will take a week off and drive to Mae Sariang for our breaks. I had planned to return back to Chiang Mai for a visit, but will likely not do so because of Covid19.
This gives me a good month for adjustments before a week in town. If I learn as much in the next two weeks as I did in the first two, I will be one happy person.
*note. I would love to add photos to this post but the temperamental wifi won’t handle it for now.
The nights are growing cooler now
You would be wearing socks as you come downstairs in the morning
Hair tousled, to fix your coffee at the kitchen sink
Knocking shoulders in the narrow space between the sink and the ant cupboard
That doesn’t keep out ants any better than it used to;
With only the muffled grunts of coffeeless “good mornings”
Before the clatter of another day.
I’ve washed the blankets in the living room now.
You would be wrapping them around your shoulders as you sit
Beneath the lamplight in the living room, under the stringed lights,
Where it says “Everyday holds a miracle.”
And if the hot cocoa in our mugs would not keep us warm
The laughter ringing about the house would
I know it would.
The motorbike rides are colder now.
You would be putting on layers before you leave, bundling up
In scarves and gloves and hoodies, layered beyond recognition
And breezing through the crisp night air with whiffs of woodsmoke
Arising from sleeping homes blanketed in fog
Under the streetlights like sentinels guarding and watching
On your way home.
The nights are growing cooler now….
*”Hiraeth: a homesickness for a place which you can’t return to or never was. (noun/origin: Welsh/Heer-eyeth) This is a Welsh concept of longing for home — but more than just missing something, it implies the meaning of having a bittersweet memory of missing a time, era or person.” Credit: iamialeen.com
Could I but reach the pain–
Could I but touch the spot–
Could I but speak the aching word–
Could I but see through a clear glass, smudgeless of stain curling over the edges of reality, that burns the senses into dumbness, numbness, darkness and bleeds its bitterness into the currents of humanity—
Then, oh God, I would.
(It’s been a long day. I feel like I’ve seen a little bit of everything– innocence, laughter, pain, fear, kindness laced with subterfuge, depression, sincerity, deception, honesty. Hence the poem. From teaching 2 and 4 year-olds in the morning, to attending a college class at noon, translating for a sticky, depressing case at the station, and debating the principles of Christianity with a lawyer from another belief system, I guess I can see why I am little bit discouraged. I also don’t know if that last sentence is grammatically correct or not. Blame my PR teacher for making me doubt.)
I am beginning to feel empathy for the people of Egypt in the time of Moses. A plague of frogs seems to have hit my home.
Now, I can think of many other animals that would be worse. In fact, I actually like these little frogs and named one of them Theodore. They are cute and full of character. But they keep on popping up in the most unexpected places, especially when I am not prepared for them.
They like my sink where it stays cool and wet. I’ve discovered they can climb up walls, which explains the mystery of how they get up in there. I don’t mind as much if I find them in the sink with the dirty dishes, but I do mind when they climb into the drainer.
Episode 1 with the frogs left me laughing. I washed a load of clothes. The washer is really slow so it takes about an hour to wash a large load. When it finished, I was hanging up the clothes in the half-dark, when I saw something moving on the bottom of the washer. Here was a frog! He must have been buried in the clothes that I had piled beside the washer and then was washed along with my dirty clothes, churning and spinning around for the better part of an hour. I felt like he deserved a medal.
Episode 2 had me laughing afterwards, but not in the moment. I pulled a dress off the washline to wear the other morning, and after I slipped it on, I noticed a curious wet spot at my waistline. I wondered where it had gotten wet, so I patted my hand on the spot and felt a lump under my hand. Thinking it was a part of my pajamas that I was still wearing under my dress, I wasn’t worried right away, until it moved! After shaking the dress in panic several times, out fell a frog!! I still cannot figure out how he got into my dress in the first place, since it was hanging on the washline.
Episode 3 happened tonight. I was squeezing the dishrag while making supper and felt something rubbery. It was a frog! After letting out a yelp, I marched him out the door as quickly as possible. “Quoth the Raven, nevermore,” I said.
However, I am not sure how to get to the “nevermore.”
I love light.
When I was 12 I fell in love with the verse in Job 38:24 that says, “By what way is the light parted, which scattereth the east wind upon the earth?”
Other favorites are, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid” (Matthew 5:14). Or, “Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light” (Micah 7:8). I still remember the words of in the Christmas play we did in my 6th grade year, “To give light to them that sit in darkness” (Luke 1:79).
Below are a few of my favorite light pictures each showing different angles of light. As I was sorting through them, I realized over and over that without the darkness, the light was much less visible or desirable.
Sometimes the darkness reminds us how much we need the light.
“That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).
Maps are the stuff of dreams-
The remains of journeys past
The visions of journeys to come;
Whispering of woodfire smoke in early morning mist,
Of roosters crowing in crisp mountain air,
Of smiles flashing in dark faces.
They speak of vistas that lie beyond, beyond
Of mountains where unknown fires burn,
And roads that run like veins in twisted valleys.
Maps, they are the stuff of dreams.
My days consist mostly of teaching, studying, and volunteer translation work. Life has fallen into a somewhat normal pattern.
A year ago, I blogged about new words I had coined about life in Southeast Asia. At that time, we had never heard of coronavirus. The idea of quarantine and wearing masks was foreign to us. We were blissfully ignorant.
Now we have all been highly educated. Not only that, but with my recent travel to Thailand, I acquired a whole new set of vocabulary, including words such as ASQ, CoE, Fit to Fly, BioFire, and more.
In addition to this, here are 9 new words pertaining to travel during the Covid19 outbreak! While this is coming from the perspective of a traveler who traveled to Thailand, it may be relevant for those traveling elsewhere. Travel anywhere has become synonymous with quarantine. Thus, the words to be revealed are all related to travel and quarantine.
Plussle—the rustle of the plastic of the Personal Protection Equipment that the quarantine hotel staff wears when interacting with hotel detainees. Can also be used as “plussle-plussle.” Sample sentence: I always knew when one of the hotel staff was coming with my food because I could hear the plussle-plussle of their plastic coverings as they walked.
Certivaniphobia– A common disorder experienced in travelers, especially those who are traveling abroad for the first time, or in unnatural conditions, such as during a pandemic. This is the fear that while the traveler was not looking, the traveler’s passport or other important papers may have jumped out of the said traveler’s backpack in an unprecedented move. A common symptom of this phobia is frequent checking and rechecking of the traveler’s backpack, often checking up to 10 times within a minute. No cure is known for this disorder.
Glunge– the smudges left on the windows of a quarantine room, left by either the hands or the forehead of the inmate of the room while gazing outside.
Pasaphilia—The delight experienced by a traveler upon hearing a foreign language being spoken after being stranded in one’s home country for an extended period of time.
Solivance – The feeling of being in one’s own world, in a vacuum or a capsule in which time is static while the world continues to revolve outside. This is a kind of “wood between worlds” that C.S Lewis describes in the book, The Magician’s Nephew. This is often experienced by travelers in quarantine, especially if they are able to see outside during their incarceration.
The Squaneeze – a sneeze that is muffled to the lowest degree possible. This kind of sneeze is usually observed in areas of high security and Covid19 health monitoring of travelers. Some people who emit squaneezes try to disguise them in the form of a guffaw or the sudden clearing of the throat.
Chimeracination – Entire imagined scenes of things that could possibly go wrong from the beginning of travel to the end. These are usually experienced at 2:00 AM in the week before traveling in tense conditions due to a Covid19 pandemic.
Stickeression – this is a rare disorder occurring mostly in quarantined travelers. Signs of this disorder usually occur in the window of time between the 5th and 14th day of quarantine. Symptoms are usually seen most in Line users (Line is a popular messaging app used by many in Southeast Asia). Described in basic terms, it is an over-usage of stickers sent in the app in an attempt to release extreme feelings of restlessness.
Selfationism – the realization that you are the only one to blame for anything that occurs while being isolated in quarantine. Meaning, if there is no toilet paper on the toilet paper dispenser, it means that YOU and not someone else have not replaced it. Or if you have mislaid your favorite pen, it means that YOU were the one who mislaid it.
There are thousands of people still waiting to be able to reenter Thailand after the country closed its borders last March. I am one of those who managed to reenter on a student visa.
Since coming back was far from easy, I told myself over and over as I sorted through documents, sent off emails, and made hundreds of phone calls that I would do all in my power to help those coming behind me. I was grateful for all the help I received from those ahead of me and wanted to do the same for those coming behind. Keep in mind that circumstances change. What I experienced may not be what you will experience. Also, I applied for my return with the Chicago Royal Thai consulate . Each embassy operates slightly different, so what worked for me may not work for you. This post is geared towards Americans. However, if what I have to share is helpful, then my mission is accomplished.
The post will mostly be of links to documents and helpful websites. Following that, I’ll throw in a few tips that were helpful for me. If you want to read a more detailed experience of what it actually was like, check out my post here.
While this may be old information for some of you, here are the requirements for anyone entering Thailand as of August 11, 2020.
- A Certificate of Entry (CoE) from your embassy or consulate granting permission for you to return
- A Declaration form filled out and signed
- Fit to Fly health certificate, issued within 72 hours before departure
- Medical certificate with a laboratory result indicating that COVID -19 is not detected (COVID test must be by RT-PCR method), issued within 72 hours before departure
- Copy of an insurance policy which covers COVID and no less than 100,000 USD
- Copy of your confirmed booking at an Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ) hotel in Thailand
- T.8 form (while I took a T.8 form along, I was also given one on the plane)
Here is a page for FAQ’s for people wishing to return from the states. This is from the embassy in Washington DC. Read this first.
These are the visa types that are currently allowed to enter Thailand. It has been announced that four other types will be allowed, but it takes a while for the announcements to become reality.
Some of the consulates in the states (not all) allow you to fill out the application form for the CoE online. This is available on the Washington DC Royal Thai Embassy’s site here. It will automatically be diverted to the consulate that is in charge of your individual state.
For people in the US, technically you must book or reserve a repatriation flight before you can apply for the CoE. (This can be avoided at times. Talk to your embassy if you run into problems with this, like not being able to see next month’s flights). This can be done at three different booking agencies. The agency I used and would recommend is Hanatour of Philadelphia. They are professional, helpful and efficient. They allow you to reserve the flight without paying for it and give you a letter to submit to your consulate when you apply for your CoE. Below is a picture from the Thai embassy with other booking agencies. They may be just as professional and helpful as well.
Book your ASQ as soon as possible. While each week more ASQs are added to the list, they rapidly fill up and some are booked ahead for months in advance. In order to book an ASQ you need to have a flight. This can be a problem if you do not yet have a repatriation flight or are wary of getting one before you know for sure that you have permission to enter the country. What I did was reserve a flight without paying for it and then use that to book my ASQ. Be sure to check with the ASQ what their policy is on changing dates and times, or even canceling the entire thing. In the end, I only switched my dates to one day earlier than what I had originally planned. Here is a site that keeps on adding the hotels as they become certified by the government.
For what its worth this is what my COVID19 test results looked like and my Fit to Fly. I also was given the details of the test here to take along since the actual results did not specify that it was done by RT-PCR method. I was still petrified that they wouldn’t take it since even then it only said PCR, not RT/PCR so I copied something off the BioFire website that stated it was an RT/PCR test. My Fit to Fly I designed using the logo of the clinic that issued it and a template shared by others else who had traveled over. Most clinics in the states do not have their own Fit to Fly certificates. There are also other types of templates that have passed, but I chose this since it seemed slightly more professional. Be sure to add a phone number and address of the clinic on the header as well. Here is a template I used from a friend to design my own.
Once you are pretty sure your visa type will be accepted its a good idea to start working on insurance as soon as possible. I used AA Insurance Brokers in Thailand and got their cheapest insurance which was about $220 for one year. They were very good to work with. I would advise to start working on it soon since with the influx of people needing insurance, it can take a while for your application to be processed.
A few tips…
Try to contact your embassy about what all you need and if they have any advice for you. This is easier said than done since some consulates/embassies are notorious for not answering. Also, they are extremely busy during this time.
Start looking around for places to get your Covid19 test NOW! These can be extremely hard to find if you are not symptomatic and you need the results at a certain time. There has been some confusion on whether or not the test itself needs to be done within 72 hours or if just the results need to be issued. Others have confirmed that it is the results that need to be issued. (Or this has been the experience of some in the USA. Check with your embassy if possible. However, they did not answer my email with this question.) I was able, to my surprise, to get a Rapid BioFire test done which gave me the results in less than 2 hours. One encouraging bit of news that I heard was that some airlines will begin to require a lot of people to get a Covid test done before any kind of travel, so in the future Covid tests for travel may be much easier to get.
One thing you might want to consider is getting your own personal doctor. I did not have a doctor and in my area it is extremely difficult to get in to see a doctor if it is not an emergency or you do not have a personal care physician. Line one up now for your Fit to Fly certificate. Also, you may need a doctor’s order to get your Covid test done. These are just some considerations.
Any more questions? Feel free to ask.