So the Taj Mahal is pretty great. We went in general unreserved seating on the train, which was an adventure in itself, then went to see the Taj Mahal and the Agra fort. There's nothing much to say except to try and give you a small idea of what it is like through these pictures. More are on facebook. Enjoy :)
Saturday, May 17, 2014
Thailand was absolutely amazing and the best vacation I have EVER had! I dont know if it is my favorite country because it is the first place i’ve been to purely for fun and not mission work, but I absolutely loved it!
My flight from India left at 5:30am, bringing me to Bangkok at 11:20 with my connection to Phuket leaving at 2pm. I arrived in Phuket at 3:20, got a shared van from the airport, and arrived at our hostel in Patong Beach to meet up with Ariel! I was starving after my day of flying, so we went out to explore and try to find food, discovering that street food sadly didnt exist in touristy Phuket. The game plan was to take a nap after eating before we went out that night (I didnt sleep at all the night before due to getting to the airport at 11pm so I could take the metro for cheap before it closed), but we also had to plan details of our Chiang Mai trip so that took precedence. We killed some time planning and giggling and catching up after not seeing each other in months, then went up to the room to get somewhat cute for a night on the town! Our hostel was specifically chosen because it was a 1 minute walk from both the beach and the center of nightlife on Bangla Road. Bangla Road is awesome, consisting of more raunchy GoGo Clubs and more bars than you could ever want in a single area. Due to the varied audience that reads my blog, I am going to refrain from giving details of my night.... lets just say it was one of the craziest and best nights out I’ve had, and sleep didnt occur until around 6 or 7am (message me on facebook if you really want the details). The next morning we hunted down brunch then threw on our bikinis for the beach. Of course it had to rain on my one beach day, but it let up enough later for us to get a bit of sun and swim for an hour or so. The airport van picked us up at 4pm, we departed for Chiang Mai at 8:20, and arrived at our new hostel in Chiang Mai close to 11. The hostel owner was very nice, staying up to wait for us then walking with us down to the local food stands so we could eat. 25 baht pad thai..... enough said. We also stopped by this hot milk stand, where you could get the sweet milk base for 5 baht then add in dried fruits and herbs for extra. Ariel got a milk with these yellow bean things in it, and I got sweet steamed bread with a gooey green sweet dip called pandan mixed with condensed milk. We also got an order of these long donuts, which we dipped in the milk and pandan mixture. Thus began our saga of eating.
Chiang Mai was very different from Phuket, as we were prepared for. Things were cheaper, and even though it was a decently large city, it didnt feel overwhelming at all. On our first full day up in the North, we got breakfast with our hostel owner at a small local shop, then headed to Tiger Kingdom to cuddle with tigers! We got tickets to go into the enclosure with the smallest and the largest cats. The small ones werent as small as we were hoping for, still the size of a large dog and not able to be cuddled like we had in mind. They were still really cool though, but we had to be extra careful since they were young and playful and might scratch or bite without realizing they were hurting someone. After smallest cats, we went to pet the huge ones! It was slightly intimidating at first getting into the enclosure with this giant predator. But the big cats were actually the most docile since they sleep most of the day and dont get playful. The tigers are still dangerous (they are predatory animals so that will never change), but they were raised in captivity and used to humans, so the danger is lessened dramatically as long as you follow the instructions of the trainers (no touching the head or the front paws, firm petting with no tickling, always approach from behind so you are not a threat approaching them head on). We got some really cool pictures, memories, and a story to tell from the experience. After Tiger Kingdom, we were hungry (surprise, surprise) so set out to sample some more delicious street food. Not much was open in the middle of the day as far as food, but we did discover a covered fruit market and decided to go on an exotic fruit binge to hold us over until dinner/the cooking class. We bought mangosteen, dragon fruit, jackfruit, mangos, and some small things we thought were lychees. It was so good eating all these fresh and new fruits (it was my first time eating all of them except mangos). Shortly after we washed all the sticky fruit juice off, the van arrived to take us to our evening Thai cooking class at Galangal Cooking School. The first stop was at the local market to explain and buy the ingredients we would be using for the class that night, which was pretty neat. We got to pick 4 different courses: an appetizer, a soup, a main dish, and a noodle dish. I chose vegetarian spring rolls, hot and sour tofu soup, tofu palanga, and pad thai. Ariel chose papaya salad, tofu coconut milk soup, green curry, and pad see ew so we would have different dishes to share and try. All of us wanted to do mango with sticky rice for a dessert dish too, so even though it wasnt part of the class, the instructor let us all do it together quickly at the end and share it. Everything was delicious, and she even gave us printed copies of all of the recipes offered to take home! I see a homemade Thai food night in my future in the US.... Straight from the cooking school, we went out to walk through the Sunday Walking Market which was a long strip of multiple roads lined with tables selling various things. I ended up getting a dress, and Ariel got a few pairs of pants. We had an adventure getting home since we thought we could walk and were being cheap as far as what we wanted to pay for a tuk-tuk. Turns out 5k isnt fun to try and walk when youre tired and gross and drenched from the humidity. Also turns out that if you are 2 foreign white girls who claim they are going to walk, the tuk tuk drivers will all laugh and talk about you amongst themselves and one will follow you from a distance until you stop because he knows it will be a matter of time until you give up.... Which worked for us because we had a ride, and he also took us for cheaper than the others were trying to get.
We were up nice and early the next morning because we were doing a day trip to Chiang Rai, the Golden Triangle, and the long neck village even farther North. It took about 2 hours to get to Chiang Rai, where we stopped to see the beautiful White Temple. We couldnt go in, which was very disappointing because the inside is said to be even more gorgeous, but the outside was still impressive. From the White Temple it was a bit of a drive to get to the Golden Triangle, which is the river delta forming the borders of Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), and Laos. We didnt do the optional river boat tour, so while they were on the boats Ariel and I walked around to explore the shops and have a snack to hold us over until lunch (fresh pinapple slices, yum). Lunch at a delicious Thai buffet followed the Golden Triangle, then we drove more to the northwest to the Maesai market sitting right on the Myanmar (Burma) border. It is also the farthest north you can go in Thailand. We took some pictures, I got my dad some small Thai cigars, Ariel got some small god statues, then we went to a sticky bun bakery for some taro and pandan-filled buns (because lets be honest, eating is what we do best). Following the Myanmar border was the exploration of the long-neck village. In this village, the women start off very young adding metal rings around their necks to lengthen them as a mark of beauty and decoration. We were able to read that the coils dont actually lenthen the neck but rather pushes down the shoulders and ribs to give the illusion that the vertebrae are being stretched. There were pictures showing the skeleton of an unaltered woman compared to the skeleton of a long-neck woman after 20 years of wearing the rings. This was the last stop of the day, and we started the 4-hour ride home right after that. Dinner was 25-baht delicious pad thai again, then we opted for showers and sleep instead of going out anywhere. Our last day in Chiang Mai we didnt do too much. We had planned on going down to the old town to walk around and see some temples, but the old town was more like boutique shops rather than the traditional feel we were expecting from the oldest part of the city. It was also incredibly hot, so after seeing 2 temples and a monument, we decided to go cool off in the hostel during the heat of the day. We were supposed to go get sushi from the Tuesday sushi market around 5 before our bus to Bangkok arrived, but it was raining so the sushi market didnt set up (bummer). Another market did set up though, so we got a little bit of this and that at different tables and had a picnic dinner at the hostel. We ended up with a fried mixture of bananas and some kind of root, corn on the cobb, savory crepes, a bag of salad, and some slightly sweet homemade rice cakes. We saved the salad and rice cakes for the bus ride. At 6:30pm, the bus picked us up then we were off on the 12-hour overnight ride to Bangkok. Somehow, some way, we were robbed on the bus despite all of our bags being under our legs on the floor. They took about 1,000 baht from Ariel, and my debit card. Luckily our passports were in different bags, and luckily Ariel had some baht and her credit cards in a different pocket. I also had $20 on my in a different wallet so I could exchange that at a hotel and have some money for food and transportation. Unfortunately though, that makes life slightly difficult for the next few weeks since Blue Cross Blue Shield unexpectedly took out the money for the next 6 months of my health insurance which was basically everything left in my bank account to spend in Dubai, on my credit card bill, and on gas money for when I got home. Sarah was going to put money in my account for me to access, but now the card is gone. I do still have a different debit card and my credit card though, so i will have that to use if needed.
Bangkok did not impress me. Seriously. If you ever go to Thailand, its safe to skip it. We were told that ourselves so planned our trip to only spend the day of/before our flights in Bangkok. There is enough to do to keep you busy if you have money, but things cost more than in Chiang Mai which means you will spend a lot on whatever the activity is plus the higher cost of transportation to get through the busy city. We ate breakfast at a fried rice stand after arriving, got some milk tea and napped a bit at a booth in McDonalds since we were so exhausted, then went to see an absolutely amazing temple about 6km away in the city. The temple was called Wat Arun, which means Temple of Dawn. It has a big connection to cosmology, and is the most distinguishable structure in Bangkok due to its unusual shape and the beautiful details. We took a tuk-tuk to the riverside, crossed on the ferry to get to the temple, then ooh-ed and ahhh-ed as we walked around taking pictures. Next to the ferry was a small ice cream shop, so lunch became a 3-scoop passion fruit, green tea, and cookies and cream ice cream cup. Walking back out to the road we also saw a stand selling coconuts, and coconut ice cream inside of a coconut, which meant the second course of ice cream lunch consisted of sharing that as well. It was nice to have another taste in my mouth with the coconut ice cream since I also finally tried Durian from a booth on the street.... totally gross, and also something you can feel free to skip while in Thailand. Shortly after getting back to the hotel where we left our stuff, the guys (who we met in Phuket and were meeting back up with in Bangkok) arrived. We all went to get a few beers, then back to the hotel room to freshen up before going back out to a club for some more drinking. The beer we got in the bucket was not good at all, and neither was the show. The entertainment was performers singing and dancing to popular English songs, which looked like a train wreck and resembled bad karaoke more than a show. It was a far cry from all of the sexy excitement of Bangla Rd in Phuket, but the company was nice and we all just laughed and talked.
Leaving Thailand was sad, and saying goodbye to Ariel was the saddest. We had a fantastic trip together and hope to do more in the future J
I was not going to write an entry for this week because Caleb and I taugh the same material for the same Health class. But I do feel it is worth at least a short entry because the kids were really great. The previous week we taught at Tagore Public School in a slum near Sainik Colony. This week we traveled a lot farther to Miracle orphanage and school. Miracle is a Christian organization run by a very nice man named Jeremiah. There are around 30 kids at the orphanage who either have no parents, 1 parent, or parent(s) who cant take care of them. The orphanage is the upper floor of a concrete building, with multiple 6-bed dorm-style rooms, a common room, a kitchen, and 2 bathrooms in a very dirty slum. The children have devotionals every morning, eat breakfast, go to the school nearby for a few hours, come back and eat lunch, have some recess time, have dinner, then have bedtime. The school nearby is where we did our classes, and has about 100 students on the roster. The school building is one long concrete building with 4 very small classrooms. 1st-7th grade is taught, with 2 classes sharing a room except for 7th having its own (I believe). The 7th grade class knew a lot of English so we were able to teach them easily and engage them with the lesson, which went so well because they knew some of the material but didnt know other parts. The younger classes were a bit harder, but we did have a translator from the 7th grade class come in which still meant they could learn and get the information. As with the week before, we adjusted the worksheets and information given based on their age. The children at the school were all very friendly and very bright. By the second day, so many different kids would ask us to come teach their class that day, and wanted to hold our hands during recess and play hand games with us. They do the same thing with the 2 IVHQ volunteers placed there, and I guess just extended the warmth to us because we were also different. I can definitely see how volunteers get attached to kids while working in an orphanage, because I was starting to care about them after only 5 days.
Every day after the school teaching this week, we went back to Tagore and worked on a second project: painting our sign by the bathrooms! The wall was concrete and had dirty paint flaking off, so we decided we needed to make it a multiple-day project and do it right instead of just painting over it. On the first day, we got some sandpaper and steel wool to remove all of the paint and old plaster on the rectangle we wanted to use. The next day, we mixed up and spread a layer of new plaster. The third day, we sanded the dried plaster until it was smooth, then painted a coat of white. The last day, I got up early before placement and did a second coat of white, then after the orphanage school we came back to actually paint on the words. We decided to write “Use Soap” in English as well as Hindi; the school emphasizes teaching English but we still wanted younger children and those not good at English to be able to understand. I was complimented on my Hindi writing skills haha. I apparently can copy it very neatly. I was quite proud of our sign, and very glad we got the chance to leave our mark on Tagore Public School.
Monday, May 5, 2014
I was quite pleased with how my project turned out this week! Success! On Tuesday, Caleb and Susan went with me to Tagore Public School and we taught the 3rd and 4th grade combined class. This was my favorite class from my week of teaching in the past, and I knew they would be good. It started off a little rougher than desired because of the language barrier, but we ended up getting 2 translators so things went smoothly after that. I had 3 worksheets for them: one with important aspects of the presentation for them to fill out as the lesson progressed, a matching worksheet of different scenarios and what they should do in that scenario, then one on vitamins and fruits. The matching sheet was only pictures so I brought markers and let everyone color it in after they completed it correctly. The kids participated in answering questions, loved the coloring, and seemed very engaged. I altered the lesson slightly depending on the class: on Wednesday I had 2nd graders, so I gave them the same info on germs but skipped the first worksheet and just did the coloring and the vitamins/fruit worksheet. On Thursday I had 5th and 6th graders, so we did all of the worksheets and it was at the perfect level for them. On Friday, I had little first graders so we only did the coloring worksheet. For the first grade class, I actually walked them downstairs and we all washed our hands together at the faucet next to the toilets because I wanted to make sure they learned and remembered.
While the kids were eating lunch on Wednesday, Caleb and I watched to see if they were actually washing their hands. Pretty much all of them went to the faucet after coming out of the bathroom, but hardly any of them actually used soap! Even the older kids were not using it! We discussed how we could buy some soap and donate it, and also wondered if we could laminate my handwashing chart to post up on the wall next to the faucet. Then one of us (I forget who) suggested we paint a reminder up on the wall! We asked the prinicpal and his daughter if that would be okay, and they said yes. The daughter was a bit hesistant and kept asking me if I was sure I would be able to paint it up there. We talked to Dr. Prabhat, who agreed to get us paint and write out for us in Hindi what we wanted up on the wall. Hopefully next week we can accomplish that in addition to teaching at a different school J
One month until I am home