Tag Archives: Thailand

A Poem a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Image by Mariangela Castro (Mary) from Pixabay

I told some friends recently that I think I will no longer tell people what my plans are for the next day or week or the next month. This is because after I tell them one day, I need to retell them the next day because of the constant change of landscape these days.

Instead, I will tell them after it happens. Like last week when I actually did get the chance to make a quick trip to Saohin.

Ever since the beginning of April, life has been a pretty consistent roller coaster. If that combination of words can be put together. I just found out yesterday that I won’t start work for another three weeks. This is because of the current Covid situation in Thailand. Schools in Thailand won’t start until June 1st but until yesterday I was told that I would be working from home and perhaps doing some online teaching. Then yesterday I found out it would not be so.

So. Here I am in Mae Sariang with three weeks of “vacation” in front of me. I will be filling those weeks with some informal teaching, some teaching prep for the upcoming semester, maybe a trip to Chiang Mai or two for visa purposes and to move some items still there. Otherwise, I will be weeding out the orchard behind my new house and trying to figure out how to crack up the coconuts that fall from the tree. Church isn’t really happening currently because of the half-lockdown the town is in. Most of the fun evening markets are closed, and even national parks are closed. Many of the mountain villages (other than Saohin) have closed off their gates to outsiders.

La la la la la…..

So I am trying to find the best way to use my time wisely. Maybe I should do a week of fasting and praying. That would save money, at least, for sure. Maybe I could try building furniture from the bamboo beside the house. Or study Karen.

One thing that I have been rolling around in my mind lately is my recent lack of immersion in good, deep literature. I attribute this to several factors, one my focus on language study, two when in college and on my internship I lacked the energy and time to read deeply, and three, bad habits. One of my goals for this summer is to stretch my brain in relation to good, English literature.

So, with this in mind, I have decided for the next week to post a poem a day. This might be a poem that I have previously written and/or published, it might be a poem I have freshly written, or it might be a poem written by someone else that I enjoy, along with a bit of an explanation of what the poem means to me. I do not pretend to be a great poet, or a great poet analyst. I like poetry that makes me think, but does not make my brain do cartwheels to figure out what the author is driving at. But I do enjoy sharing poetry that is meaningful to me, as well as hearing poetry from others.

I plan to do this for a week, but if I see that its going well, I might stretch it out to two weeks. I also have been a bit traumatized (ok, that’s too strong a word but for lack of a better one) by the constant changes of plans, and so I feel a bit scared to commit to a poem a day FOR SURE. So, I will say, barring a sudden trip to Chiang Mai or Saohin, a storm and a subsequent blackout, the sudden rising of the creek (very literally if I do go to Saohin) or a wave of dengue fever or any other insurmountable obstacle, I will post a poem a day.

And I would love to hear thoughts on the poetry from my readers.

Here goes.

Home

The poem below was written in January 2009 at the age of 18. Or that’s the date I have on it, but I think I actually wrote the first draft a few months earlier in August of 2008. Recently, I opened up a copy of Echoes of Eternity, the first book of poems I published. I realized that few of my poems in that book had ever been published on my blog. Even though I feel like some of them fall below par (and I cringe when I see that), I also realize that there are some really good ones in the book. Also, there are a few that never really were good friends with me (for instance, they never seemed to quite say what I wanted them to say, or sound like I wanted them to sound) but when I returned to read them years later, I find that they are much better friends than I ever thought them to be. Below is one of those, called “Home,” mostly because ever since I left the village, homesickness has been harder.

Home

Someday I’ll travel all the world

And sail the oceans wide

I’ll climb the highest mount on earth

And row my boat against the tide

I’ll view the Alps of Switzerland

In their majesty unswayed–

Unless my little grain of faith

Reduce them trembling and afraid;

And yet I’ll still look back and see

That no matter where I go,

Near or far, wherever I roam

Across the broad world I know–

Still burn the lights of home.

I’d see them still, the lights of home,

Imprinted on my mind,

No matter how much Persian wealth

Or Yukon gold I’d find

They’d call me still and stay with me

Even as the Sphinx I’d view

I’d think of them as I’d kneel down

And wash my face in China’s dew.

If I could climb Mt. Everest,

Cling victorious to its peak-

Almost to touch the sky’s vast dome–

Still my eyes would ever seek

For the hearth fires of my home.

In Africa’s huts or Bedouin’s tents,

In the palaces of Spain,

In sunlight on the purple moor,

Or in the fog of London’s rain;

In the tropics of the south;

Or in the blinding Arctic snow,

My soul would always think of home

Beneath the elms and my heart would know

That whenever rejected by the world

Or saddened by its sin

Through the weeping rain, I’d gladly come

And always find rest within

The burning lights of home.

-January 10, 2009

Abide with Me

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide,

Light bleeds from the evening sky, and I know that
Somewhere the morning dawns. The wind rises,
Rustling the skirts of the evening’s brittle drought, the dust
Stirs.

The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide;

Smoke grays the hills and smuts colors
Of the sunset that stream on the parched forest;
The heat off the day flees on silent feet, the dusk
Blankets.

When other helpers fail and comforts flee

Birdcalls echo from deepening shadows, and rasps
Of cricket’s melodies rise. Smoke from the evening fire
Drifts, and rice cooks, bubbling from the blackened pot. Fire
Crackles.

Help of the helpless, O abide with me

Night falls, the deepening watches calling forth the ache
Of wonder and hope and longing. Stars in their glory
Glisten and promise. This is the hope, the watch, the story
I live.

A Field Trip with Saohin School

Saohin School is for students from kindergarten to 6th grade. After that, many of the students head to the city to study for their education from M1 to M6 (same as 7th grade to 12th grade in the States). For each class that graduates from 6th grade, the school provides a field trip to different places in Thailand. This year, we went to Mae Hong Son town and Pai. Even after living in Thailand for over 6 years, I am still struck by the differences between Thai culture and my own culture when it comes to sightseeing and traveling, especially when it comes to taking pictures.

Kru Paeng taking a picture of Kru Duen.

I have also never traveled with such a group of carsick people.

Serm and Tukkata who both were carsick a lot of the trip. Their lively, bouyant personalities became quiet and solemn.

On Tuesday morning we started off from Saohin for Mae Sariang. Since I had driven my motorbike up from Mae Sariang several weeks earlier, I also drove it down. One of the sixth grade students, Paeng, sat behind me for the first leg of the trip.

Paeng and I a few kilos from Saohin. The air was cool and wearing a mask made my glasses steam, but with the dust and smoke, I didn’t want to take it off.

The first 32 kilometers from Saohin are the worst, where you have to cross through streams close to 20 times. During the current dry season it seriously is not that bad, since the streams are low and water rarely comes up to the gears or brake. I am slowly learning where the best places are to cross the streams and how to find the tracks of bikes that have gone before me, as well as where the shortcuts are to avoid as much water as possible. During heavy rains, crossing some of the streams becomes dangerous on a motorbike, and in some cases nearly impossible.

Once we reached Mae Je, a village about 27 kilometers from Saohin, Paeng switched with Serm, since Serm was getting carsick on the back of the truck. Surely, if Serm sat with me on a motorbike, she would be fine, so we thought.

Not so. By the time we reached Mae Sariang, I had to stop twice to let her throw up. Poor Serm had a hard time the entire trip. So did the majority of the other students, who if they were not throwing up or carsick, were groggy from the effects of carsick medicine. I clearly remember one moment when Pa De Bue was sleeping on the seat beside me, with his head resting on my shoulder. He woke up suddenly, shot me one agonized look and grabbed for his plastic bag. After that, he probably threw up another 4 or 5 times before we reached out destination.

We ate in Mae Sariang and then went off on a bunch of different errands, taking student pictures for the 6th graders who needed them to apply to new schools for 7th grade, and hitting various markets and grabbing supplies.

Squished onto the back of a truck in Mae Sariang

Shopping with 6th graders is fun. Actually, doing almost anything with 6th graders is fun.

Chawin, a bright, quiet boy who will be becoming a monk at a temple after his 6th grade studies.

We slept at two of the teachers’ houses and in the morning headed for Mae Hong Son. We visited several museums, two different caves, an electrical plant, went swimming, visited a historical bridge, a waterfall, a national park, a strawberry farm, a canyon, several lookouts, a Chinese village, a Karen Longneck village and more.

At a large cave in Bang Ma Pa. This was the first time I ever got to visit a cave, and believe me, it gave me thrills.
Pa De Bue inspecting the works at the electrical plant.
Yaut trying out the crossbow at the longneck Karen village.
Discussing botany at a national park in Mae Hong Son.
Kru Duen at Baan Rak Thai, a Chinese village from where you can see the cliffs of Myanmar towering beside the village.

It was exhausting. But so much fun. My favorite parts were interacting with the students and co-teachers, especially Kru Duen and Kru Yuri, who are two Karen teachers from the village. We slept together three in a bed one evening and shared laughs and experiences all throughout the trip.

Other than all the carsickness and the hectic schedule, it was a really good trip. We made it to Mae Sariang on Friday evening, driving through forest fire smoke smothering the valleys. I stayed there for another day or so, and then went to Chiang Mai for 4 days.

School starts again on Monday the 8th. In a few short days, we will be up on top again. 🙂

Home is Where the Cookies Are

It is possible to make cookies without an oven.

My cookie cravings of January melted away to some extent when I came down for a week break in Mae Sariang. I was able to buy some baked goods at a local market one evening, only to discover that my stomach couldn’t handle a lot of dairy or flour products anymore! After a few days, my stomach started to adjust again, but by then I honestly lost a lot of the desire for those farang kind of things.

Once I got back to Saohin again, though, it seemed like a fun idea to try out some food ideas on my friends. One Sunday afternoon I tried making pancakes. They were edible, but not much more than that. I had ordered tortilla shells while on break so I tried making burritos, which were well received among my teacher friends.

Pancakes on Valentine’s Day
Kru Paeng biting into her burrito
Kru Mii, Kru Gate, and Kru Paeng trying out burritos.

Then one evening, I started thinking… surely someone somewhere in the world has made cookies without an oven. So, one night at midnight when the internet was working well, I did some research and the next evening I tried it out.

You use a normal recipe for whatever kind of cookies that you want to make. Build your fire, let the fire die down to be burning coals, find a flat tray to put the cookies on and then either use tinfoil or some kind of lid to cover your tray. I used a frying pan that had lost its handle and a lid from another pot to cover it. I didn’t have chocolate chips so I used the last of my precious store of emergency chocolate, dark sea salt chocolate I had brought with me, and chopped it up with a knife. I didn’t have any vanilla, but we had flour and baking soda from the school supplies.

For the fire, I used the charcoal brazier that we normally use for boiling water, making rice, and roasting items. Usually for normal cooking, we use only wood in the brazier, but for anything that needs a long slow heat, we add on charcoal.

Above are the two charcoal braziers we use in addition to the gas stove. Here I am making rice, and someone is making a soup on the other brazier. It must have been a Friday since I am wearing a Karen shirt over my dress, the normal Friday dress code for the school.

First, I mixed up the dough. I didn’t have any brown sugar for that first batch, so it looked deathly pale.

A blurry picture of dough.

Then I built up the fire and after the wood was burning, I added some charcoal, according to Gate’s instructions.

Once it had cooled down to a low heat, or what I thought was a low heat, I rolled the cookies into balls, and then pressed them flat onto the pan since I felt like having them flat would be easier to bake them fully.

The first round was an almost total flop. The coals were still way too hot and suddenly before I knew it my cookies were burnt to a crisp. 80% of them were inedible. And believe me, we tried to salvage as much as possible.

Smoked cookies. Seriously, it was bad.

The second round, I took out a lot of the coals and also dropped some from the top of the brazier to the bottom. This time around, I was scarred from my previous experience and turned the heat down way too low. It took an age to finish baking them. They were good, even though I flipped them like pancakes instead of cookies.

I wasn’t sure what the rest of the household’s reaction would be to the cookies, but they were gone by late evening. Paeng asked me in the morning where they were, and since we couldn’t find them anywhere, we concluded that the men teachers and Captain Joe must have finished up the few leftovers the evening before.

I made a second batch the next evening. This time I had a more definite idea of what I was doing, but I lacked chocolate. Instead I chopped up some cheap chocolate wafers from Baa Nu’s store. The cookies were ok, but harder than I liked, but most Thai people prefer crunchy cookies anyway. The wafers ended up sort of soaking up the dough and the chocolate melting away into nothingness, but they tasted good especially with coffee. Again, they disappeared rapidly. I hope to raid the house in Chiang Mai on my break and bring some chocolate chips back to make more.

Still too hot of a fire going on there

That first evening after I finished baking cookies, the sky behind the school was lit up from the fires set on the mountain to burn underbrush. I was too full of satisfaction from my cookie adventures to worry too much about what that was going to do to the air quality the next few days.

This is Saohin

The cats love sitting in front of the morning fire to stay warm. The one on the right had kittens a few weeks ago
Yaut, on the left, is 15 and in the 6th grade. He gives haircuts to the younger students in the school since the school has a strict code on hair length.
Saa Shwii Saa (oranges)
G is for Gecko
Nitcha, or Natcha, (I can never remember which is Nitcha and which is Natcha) getting her shot from the nurse who traveled to the school to give check ups.
Aun, my star 4th grade English student, in her cub scout uniform that the students wear on Wednesdays.
Energetic 4th graders, with shy Cha hiding behind DiDi’s head. These 4th graders have a “boys against girls” rivalry going on that seems to be an international concept among 4th graders.
Ponganok, in the 2nd grade
Levi (named after Levi jeans) and Anin, both in the kindergarten class.
Football, the major pastime.
Shoes left outside the classroom.
Kru Paeng with several of the older children, doing Cub Scout activities.
Leo, in first grade.
Pirun, second grade.
Dusk
My room with its ever present, ever annoying, ever necessary mosquito net.
After school and before supper. Kru Wit with his guitar (Kru means teacher), Kru Gate at the table, and Kru Paeng in perpetual motion, fixing food. You can see the back part of Captain Joe squatting at the fire.
Cactus flowers come out strong in the dry season.
Ponsatorn, second grade.
Rice in bamboo sticks at Kru Duen’s house one Saturday night
Doing laundry.
Muu Haem from second to left. Muu Haem is in kindergarten and known for being the most mischievous child of Saohin
Lunch on Children’s Day.
My friend Malai preparing field rats for lunch.
Trees lose much of their leaves during the dry season.
Something as simple as copying something in the office is an interesting process for 5th graders in Saohin.
Buffalo on my way to church.
Pichai, one of my first graders. I found out the other day that his family owns an elephant. This is one house I want to visit.
While on break recently, we did some sightseeing. From left to right: Kru Paeng, Gate’s mom, Kru Mii, and I.

Life in Saohin

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.

Things like….

  • 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.

Hiraeth* (to my Baanies)

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

Reach

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.)