Me standing near the Buddha statue/bee-haven
We woke up at 4:30 am one morning to walk into the local village we live near. Once we were all there, we waited for the monks to come by us where we then preceded to offer them food. Luckily, after that we were able to go back to bed. Later, three monks came to our house and conducted an interview for about 45 minutes. It was all being translated but it was still very insightful to hear about their lives and what they do on a day to day basis. I was most impressed by the fact that they showed little to no emotion at all. Even when a few of the questions that were posed to them seemed quite comical, they didn't even show hints of smiling or smirking. If I were to ever become a monk, I think this might be one of the hardest parts. One of the monks that came had been a monk for nearly 30 years. I couldn't even imagine. They wake up every morning around 3 am to begin chanting and meditating. They then go around the village to collect food. Once they have gathered the food they sit down for breakfast. In between breakfast and lunch (which is 5 am - 11 am) the monks meditate and chant. From noon until the following morning, the monks do not eat a single grain of food. The only things they consume are liquids. The rest of the day is dedicated to chanting and more meditating. During the interview with the monks, little did I realize that in a few days I would be sharing a temple with them for a night of sleep...
The bar across the street from where I live. It is where we go to have a few drinks at night, and also where rats go to hang out too, apparently. I wish I was kidding.
During my second week in Thailand we spent a day and a night with monks in a Buddhist temple. As anticipated, this was one of the most unique experiences I have ever encountered. We arrived at the temple around 5 pm. Upon arrival, we walked around the small complex and quickly realized how bored ordinary civilians can become in a Buddhist temple (especially a temple in the Middle of Nowhere, Thailand). We had to change out of our normal clothes and into an all white wardrobe. We then sat down inside the open area of the temple (also our sleeping coordinates for the night) and had a thorough informational session with one of the monks who lived at the temple. The monk explained his reasons for becoming a monk and what entails in the life of a monk. We then proceeded to meditate with them (or attempt to) and chant with them. Around 9 pm, we eventually realized we really are in a Buddhist temple and no, we cannot sneak off to a bar and have a few drinks as we were so accustomed to doing at night. So we did as the monks do around 9 pm--we went to bed, on a hard concrete floor with virtually nothing between us and the unforgiving floor. It was a great experience sleeping in the Buddhist temple, albeit it was also a rough night of sleep. The dogs woke me up around 2 am with their howling. The roosters woke me up around 3:30 am, and then finally the monks woke us all up with their giant gong at 4:30 am. Upon waking up quite ceremoniously, we went straight into meditating and chanting once again. From there, we left the temple and walked into the village to collect food for the monks to eat from the locals. The reason locals give the monks the little food they have is because it is the Buddhist belief that the food they give to the monks will be the same food the locals will be able to eat on the path to heaven or hell once they have passed away. Pretty interesting to think about when it's not 4:30 in the morning.
After walking around the village, we came back to the temple and ate breakfast and lunch with the monks. Towards the end of our stay, two of our group members decided to shave there heads in a "monk style". We then got back into our bus, left the temple and went back to Singburi. Once I got home, I took a much needed shower and a much needed nap.
Henry standing by our "beds" which would resemble those of a 5-star hotel back in the US.
Posing for a photo with a monk.
The cart was filled and became very heavy towards the end, which is coincidentally when I got stuck pushing it....
My friend from England getting his head shaved like a monk, by a monk.
Chris from Germany and Chris from England with there new haircuts.
One of the most sobering moments of my entire life occurred during my second week in Thailand. We went to volunteer at an orphanage about 30 minutes outside of Singburi. The orphanage was run by monks who brought the children in off of the streets from some of the poorest parts of the country (mainly in the northern regions). After walking around the orphanage, I realized a number of things. First, I realized little children (4-7 year olds) are happy no matter what circumstance they are in. I stood and watched little orphaned Thai children running, jumping and laughing without a care in the world. It reminded me of my little cousins back home. I couldn't believe how similar the children were to my own family, however there surroundings were utterly different in almost every way imaginable.
The sleeping and showering conditions were very tough to witness. When I walked into the boys sleeping arrangements I immediately started sweating profusely -- and that was without 90 boys in there running around and trying to sleep. I cannot imagine how hot it gets when it is filled beyond capacity. Each bed, which was about the size of a twin sized bed, was for 3 boys. The room in between the beds was nearly non-existent. I couldn't stomach standing in there for more than 15 minutes, let alone trying to sleep there every night. For as long as I live, I don't think I will have the audacity to complain about my sleeping arrangements after witnessing where these children have to sleep.
I left the orphanage very depressed. However, I learned so much about how fortunate I am back home. These children have nothing, not a bed to call there own nor a mother or father to seek advice and receive love from. Nevertheless, they seemed so incredibly happy with the little they had -- it was truly an image I will never forget for the rest of my life.
My little friend from the orphanage.
We went to Bangkok two weekends in a row. Both weekend trips into the capital we went with the city bus which took about 2 hours to get from Singburi into downtown Bangkok. The fare was 117 baht which equates to about 3.50 USD. When we got into the city, we found our hotel, dropped off our luggage and hit the town. Our first stop was the famous Khaosan Road where tourists come from all over the globe to buy cheap goods from Bangkok. After about an hour of walking down Khaosan I learned a few valuable lessons.
1. Never buy anything from Khaosan Road.
2. Never stop and/or show any attention street vendors who are trying to sell you anything from cheap suits to cheap women.
3. Keep a steady pace, and don't stop to look at anything because you will be attacked like prey.
4. The most important rule. Don't buy anything from Khaosan Road.
In all seriousness, Khaosan Road is a place one should visit in Bangkok, but it is also a place one should be very weary and on alert at all times. To sum it up bluntly, it's a tourist trap. On Khaosan Road I bought a deck of cards from a man who spoke good English only to later realize it wasn't a full deck. When I went back to confront the man to give me a full deck he coincidentally didn't know how to speak any English. I then gave him a piece of my mind, which I will not quote myself here because I know my mother is reading this blog.
In Bangkok a few of us found that there were many places to receive Thai massages. We walked into one massage parlor and asked for an hour and a half massage. After about 20 minutes of intense haggling, we successfully were able to bring down the price from 250 to 230, a whooping total of about 60 cents. Evidently my bargaining skills still need some fine tuning. Nevertheless, this 230 baht ( 7 dollar ) Thai massage was one of the best decisions of my life! I had heard that Thai massages were both cheap and relaxing and I was not disappointed. After a nice long massage, I was able to forget the stresses of Khaosan Road and find a new place in Bangkok to discover. As I walked the streets of Bangkok I witnessed the beauty and repulse within the capital city. It amazes me that I could walk down a street and to my left stands a beautiful, gold plated Buddhist temple and to my right stands a prostitute commenting on my Barack Obama shirt while trying to start a conversation with me. There are only a few things that sadden me more than when a female has to become a woman of the town.
We went out every night we stayed in Bangkok. One of the nights we went to a club that was creatively named The Club. There was a group of about 12 of us that strolled into The Club where we were hit with loud techno/trance music. We ended up having a great time and didn't find our way back to our hotel until around 5 in the morning.
We finally found our way to Chinatown and walked around the streets looking for a nice place to settle and have lunch. We found a great Chinese restaurant and paid a good amount (about 10 dollars each) to have an amazing Chinese lunch.
Chinatown, Bangkok, Thailand.
For the past two weeks Henry and I have been teaching at a school in Singburi. We teach a class of 6 and 7 year olds. The kids in the class are very quiet and most of them are enthusiastic about learning. The work day is from 8:30 am until 3:30 pm, however we are not teaching that entire time. I am planning on teaching at this school in Singburi for about 6 weeks, where I will then relocate in the northern regions of the country and teach in some of the poorest areas of Thailand. The school I am currently teaching at is well financed by the Thai government. The classrooms are furnished with air conditioning and a computer. However, it is very different from classrooms back home. The kids are much more wild then I remember kids being back home. The difference is that when the authority (teachers) yell at them to sit still, they do in fact sit still very quickly, unlike kids back in the states. I think part of the reason is because teachers here are in fact allowed to hit children in the hands with rulers. To give you another idea of how different things are over here, I will provide a sample of some of my students names. They are as followed:
Copter (short for Helicopter, obviously)
Again, I wish I was kidding, but yes these are their names that their parent's gave them... I have many more humorous stories from within the classroom, but that will be for another time because my fingers hurt from typing so much, I think I'm going to go get a Thai massage now.
I miss you all and I hope you all are doing well. Please email me if you have any news from back home or if you just want to say hello!