The Mad Ones

As the school year in Thailand is winding down, it is time for final reviews, exams and projects. Teachers can understand and commiserate that during this busy time of the school year personal reading and/or writing for pleasure become exponentially more attractive. Some may define this as  “procrastinating”. Okay, everyone defines this as procrastinating… but I can’t help it and I promise I still get my work done on time! We had a long weekend for the Buddhist holiday a few weekends ago (which happened to fall on Valentine’s Day). Jackie, Erin and I decided to visit our close friend Kevin who we went to WVU with. He teaches at a university about an hour away from us and we have heard countless stories about his town and living situation. It was something we couldn’t leave Thailand without experiencing first hand. It turned out to be an absolutely comical weekend, filled with lots of wine, whiskey, stares from locals, delicious food, rap/guitar/harmonica freestyles, heart to hearts, moped rides and tons of laughs. Since our backpacking trip we have gone on several other weekend trips to close by cities such as Bangkok and Ayutthaya and spent weekdays grading papers, teaching, working out and trying to get back into a routine to make life feel “normal” again. We often discuss and marvel at the fact that we live and teach in Thailand. It is still mind blowing some days. It is absolutely incredible how quickly human beings can adjust and morph into members of a new group of friends, community, and even a country. In my day to day life, it becomes increasingly difficult to pick out things that are “different” than life in America. Of course when I think about it, the list goes on forever but for right now this is my stomping ground and I am becoming very comfortable with that.

Here are some highlights from the past month. They prove to be a hilarious balance between “Teecha Susie” life and 20-something Traveler Susie life.

Sensation White– My Suphanburi teacher crew (who have quickly become my close friends and traveling partners) and I went to a world famous music festival in Bangkok. It started in Amsterdam but has spread to all different countries around the world. It was an awesome experience with famous DJ’s from all over the world, a “wicked wonderland” theme, and of course an endless sea of people dressed in white. It felt great to dance the night away with my girlfriends. Oh, and of course eat Mexican food in Bangkok. Any chance we have to eat good Mexican food is an instant burrito party.

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Field trip to Ayutthaya– The English Program took a fieldtrip to Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand, and had the privilege of having our M-2 (8th grade) students be our tour guides. Each foreign teacher got a group of 3 or 4 students and they led us around the temples, historical landmarks, and museums for the day while spouting off more facts than I could possibly process. My group was absolutely adorable and I learned so much. I loved all of the ghost stories they told me and found out that Thai people have many tales about ghosts that are passed on from generation to generation.  Field trips in Thailand are NEVER disappointing!

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College besties booked their trip to Thailand – Some of my best friends from college finally bit the bullet and booked their flights to Thailand in April. I am SO EXCITED to play tour guide and already made a color-coded itinerary for our jam-packed 10 day adventure! I am blessed to have such great friends who are willing to trek half way across the world to see me! Love you guys! It’s going to be EPIC!

Kasetsart University trip– As I said before this was a hysterical weekend with too many laughs to count. It reminded me how important good friends are and no matter WHERE you are, the company you keep is what matters the most! ❤ Love you guys! ImageImageImageImageImage

Thailand’s National Storytelling Competition– One of my favorite students made it to the national storytelling competition that took place in Bangkok. We have been practicing her story since October so she asked me to come along and watch her at the grand finale. It took place in a huge convention center with thousands of people and I could count on two hands the number of foreigners who were in attendance. There were also political protests going on right across the street and everyone seemed extremely casual about it(I was slightly freaking out). All in all, it was awesome day chalk full of Thai culture, shopping, and bonding with my student & coworkers. She took home 6th place overall and absolutely rocked her story. I am so proud of her!

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First Suphanburi FC Football match– Personally, I never understood other countries fascination with soccer (football). I never played in high school and I only followed it on TV when it was the World Cup. When I first moved to Suphanburi I heard that we had a professional football team that was very talented and well followed. My crew and I decided to attend the first match of the season since some of them will be moving away from Thailand after this semester. Let’s just say… I GET WHY PEOPLE LOVE IT! It felt like a college football game at WVU!Despite the fact that we were the only 5 white girls in a stadium full of locals…The whole town was decked out in orange and blue jerseys, and cold beers, and food vendors were everywhere. The whole shabang! It was SO fun, despite Suphanburi FC’s loss; they definitely gained a group of new loyal fans! GO SUPHAN!

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Birth of my nephew Samuel Benjamin Bell – My nephew was born yesterday (2/24/14) weighing in at 8 lbs. 2 oz. and he is just as adorable as his older sister, Layla. I am so happy for my big brother and sister-in-law! Being an Aunt is one of the best jobs around and I can’t wait to spoil this little guy. I am definitely extremely sad that I can’t be there to meet him, hold him, and spend time with my family but I am grateful for technology and looking forward to getting to know him once I return to America! I can hear myself telling my niece and nephew stories of my adventure in Thailand when they grow up. I hope to instill a wanderlust in them and the confidence to follow their dreams, no matter how radical they may seem. Sending lots of love your way lil Sam & Bell fam!

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With a little over a week left of the first semester, I am looking forward to my summer break while simultaneously marveling at how quickly time passes us by. “The days are long, but the years are short”, ain’t that the truth! There have been many moments of nostalgia, culture shock, despair, excitement, joy, fascination, realization, stimulation, longing, and frustration in the past four months.  I have grown so close to my friends I have met here, and joined in a mutual “teacher/foreigner/American/20-something” bond that feels as if I have known them forever. As I write this I am reminding myself how incredible my life is here and how lucky I am to have the chance to enrich my mind, body and spirit in the Land of Smiles. The month of March will be an extremely exciting one as my travels will lead me to Vietnam and Cambodia with the crew. Then, my WVU friends will join me in this amazing country in April. Many thrilling stories and photos to follow! I’ll leave you with a final thought that continues to drive my actions, mind and life,

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”- Jack Kerouac

Here’s to finding the mad ones! Here’s to the ones who truly believe anything is possible! We gotta stick together! Cheers! Xoxo 

I’m dreaming of a Thai Christmas

Thinking of the holidays brought about melancholy feelings. Paired with the loss of a good friend from college, I have been battling some serious sadness the past week or so. I honestly feel guilty when I feel sad in Thailand because I am so appreciative of my life here. I love my job, I love my students, I love my new friends who already feel like family, but I can’t help but think of my family and friends back at home especially during Christmas time. I think of those who have lost their loved ones, like my friend Steve’s family and all of our WVU friends and my friend Corey, her parents and our whole Bishop Ludden community. I feel blessed to be healthy and happy, even if I am on the other side of the world. I am happy to be alive, young, and too naïve or too wise to be jaded. I am also happy because I love Christmas. I love the decorations, the food, the cheer, the giving, the family time, the music, etc. I could keep going. I’m basically Buddy the Elf Junior!

Two years ago, I couldn’t imagine not sharing such a special day in the “traditional” way. But last year I got some practice in spending Christmas in a “non-traditional” way. I spent Christmas in Hawaii with my boyfriend and his family. It definitely was not traditional but it was still incredible. I will remember Christmas night at the Royal Hawaiian for the rest of my life. I sat with Yale, Izaak, Zach and Krista all dressed up and in awe of my surroundings. The scenery was breathtaking with palm trees and warmly lit lanterns everywhere. We went around sharing what we were thankful for this Christmas. Yale went first and I was blown away by his comments. He isn’t exactly the mushy, sentimental type but his words were so honest and heart felt he set the bar high. We each took a turn sharing and I realized in that moment that Christmas isn’t about where you are or how you celebrate. Christmas is different for every family. Some Christmas’ are fancy and over the top, some are spent working, some are spent overseas in the war, and sadly, some are spent alone. Christmas in the end is just one day. The real message and meaning behind Christmas is one that we should carry with us and remember all throughout the year.

 Not only should we be grateful for what we have, but also we must remember that giving is truly the best manifestation of humanity that we possess. In the words of my good friend Dave Matthews,  “When you give, you begin to live, you get the world, you get the world…” And giving doesn’t have to mean material objects and gifts. Giving your heart, your love, your laughter, your time, or your understanding is more meaningful than anything you can buy or wrap or make.  As cheesy and cliché as it is, “the best things in life are free”, couldn’t be more true.

This year was probably the best Christmas of my life and oddly enough I was absolutely dreading it. I woke up at about 5:30am and opened three packages from my parents, my boyfriend and his family. I began to cry when I read my boyfriend’s Christmas card. I loved every single gift but the card was by far my favorite. He captured the meaning of our love and Christmas so well and I felt so proud because he does not enjoy expressing his emotions through words. He says that’s my job! Once I opened everything I went on a Facetime rampage talking to my parents, Yale & his family, and my brother & niece. I was so happy to talk to them and it made me feel like they were right there in my room with me. Since I know you are reading this right now, I love you all to the moon and back. Thanks for making me feel so loved.

When I got to school I was happy to see a huge Christmas assembly being set up! All the teachers from the Foreign language department were decked out in head to toe Christmas outfits from Santa Clause to reindeers, elves and everything in between. We belted out “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” even if it was terribly off key. Jackie and I spread Christmas cheer through our office and to our students by passing out Christmas cookies, candy and pencils! Then our friends who teach on the other side of our school (non-english program) invited us to come see the Christmas festivities they were putting on.

We jumped on the opportunity and stepped out of Thailand and straight into Santa’s workshop! There were decorations everywhere and even a whole classroom transformed into a pseudo photo booth with costumes and festive backgrounds to take pictures. Jackie & I spent a good thirty minutes in there with all the students taking hilarious pictures. As if the day couldn’t get any better we got to watch part of the talent show/Christmas singing competition put on by the students. It was so cute to see the Thai students singing and dancing to our traditional Christmas tunes. I initially was upset that we had to come to work on Christmas but I truly wouldn’t have had half as wonderful a day if it wasn’t for my school! After school we decided to keep up with our Insanity regime and burn off a few of those Christmas cookies we had for breakfast. Finally we ended our Christmas day by going out to dinner with our American crew of teachers. We had a little Chinese gift exchange, a bottle of wine (each haha) and tons of Thai food. It was delicious and hilarious and even though I was thousands of miles of miles away from my family, my home, and snow, I felt so merry, bright and Christmasy. We definitely celebrated in a non-traditional manner, but it reminded me that Christmas is a lot like life. You can’t try to confine and define it, you must accept it as it is and be grateful for what you have. Comparing your life or Christmas to a status quo is poisonous to their true meaning.  

I can honestly say, I had one, if not THE best Christmas of my life even if it was 85 degrees, I had to work, I wasn’t with my family and I was in a predominately Buddhist country 14,000 miles from home. Thanks to technology I even got to see and speak to the most important people in my life. As much as our society depends and relies on technology and as much as I bitch and complain about technology taking over, today I am truly indebted to technology. I am so happy and blessed to have seen the smiling faces of my loved ones on Christmas. I am so happy to see their facial expressions, their Christmas trees, their eggnog, and their furry friends. I am so happy to hear them say “I love you”, hear their laughs and look into their eyes. If I could write a love letter to whoever created video communication I totally would. Thank you for making my Christmas complete!!

After a pep talk from one my best friends Krohl, I feel very inspired to write. His enthusiasm about reading my blog made my heart smile. I love to hear that you enjoy sharing my experience because it connects us even if we are worlds away. I hope that every one enjoyed their Christmas as much as I did. I hope you remember how lucky you are. I hope I never forget how happy I feel in this moment. Tomorrow I am leaving for a 3 week backpacking trip all over Thailand and I couldn’t ask for a better Christmas present to myself. I am going to write in good ol’ fashion journal for the extent of the trip and then update my blog when I return! Don’t forget about me while I take a break from the digital world 😉 I promise to have tons of adventure tales when I return! I hope we all carry the Christmas spirit with us today and always and remember giving, laughing and loving is the best medicine in the universe! Merry Christmas & Happy New Year! Cheers! ❤ xoxo

 

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My Thai Thankstory

I wanted to begin this post “ The root of travel and adventure is…” and then I typed about 50 different phrases and furiously deleted them. I am a very fluid style writer and I often do not change one thing until I reach the end. I couldn’t pin point the root or the heart of travel or adventure while simultaneously representing my infatuation with it. I ask you my fellow writers, readers, friends, family… what is the root of travel and adventure for you? Why do vastly different people love to travel so much? How do we seek new horizons but still value and nurture the people who helped us create our past?  

If you asked me today, about adventure  I would immediately think of my latest adventure to the tropical island of Ko Samet in the Gulf of Thailand. I would immediately feel thankful for adventure. My students went to “Scout Camp” last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday so I didn’t have any classes to teach. Our boss told us we still needed to report to school normally and use those days to plan. Mid-day Wednesday, he told us that we might get a holiday on Friday and possibly even Thursday after a brief staff meeting. Only in Thailand would a holiday from school be so nonchalant. In this instance, I was not complaining.

Next thing I know its Friday afternoon and I am on a bus to Ban Pae, a coastal town about 3 hours east of Bangkok. We booked a hostel there and would take the ferry to Ko Samet in the morning! Wait…what? I shit you not, this is how randomly this adventure came about. It was the best surprise ever. The second we left the dock and the ocean was all around me I began to consciously remind myself how lucky I was to be there. When you consciously remind yourself to be thankful proactively instead of retroactively it heightens your experience 10 fold. The weekend was full of sandy beaches, coconuts, whiskey, beer, snorkeling, boat rides, swimming in the ocean, hookah, wasabi pea eating contests, and relaxing on the beach. I was finishing up my latest read The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. I love reading on the beach but finishing this emotional account of fictitious Vietnam stories made me feel guilty for how good I felt…young, free, and careless on the beach.  But O’Brien’s words resonated with me,

“Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.” 

I should not feel guilty for enjoying myself. I am honoring the stories from the past and making them a part of my present and future.  I am writing stories of my own so that I can be a part of the future. That gives me an overwhelming sense of power and a duty to represent my generation, my family and myself in a positive and genuine manner. Hopefully this blog is my first step in doing just that!

We couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather all day Friday and all day Saturday on the island. But Sunday morning we woke up feeling fragile and facing a 40 minute monsoon…right at check out.  No umbrellas, a few injuries from the weekend shenanigans made traveling 8 hours home seem like a punishment for how amazing our trip was.  But nothing could take away the afterglow of island bliss. Thailand is simply amazing and Ko Samet reminded me how lucky I am to be a part of it. 

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This week at school has flown by and I have thoroughly enjoyed teaching my students about Thanksgiving. Jackie and I had them create hand turkeys and write five things they are thankful for. Of course we had to first teach them what turkeys were, Thanksgiving, and what thankful meant. Almost every single student wrote they were thankful for their teachers. The best part is that I actually believe them. One child’s hand turkey stands out to me, it was very typical at first but the last one through me for a loop, “my bed”. So simple, yet so heartbreaking, especially because I walk by shacks, apartments, store fronts every single day and see little children sleeping on the ground on paper-thin mats or wooden benches. I often create stories for them in my head, and carry them along with me as a travel. All apart of the things we carry. When you have very little, you are reminded what is truly important. You are reminded the abundance of people, luxuries, and experiences each and every one of us have to be thankful for. 

 Today is Thanksgiving Day in Thailand, I am at school and it feels like any typical day. My American friends and I made makeshift turkey treats to pass out to our office. We will watch Charlie Brown Thanksgiving with our ninth graders and will be teaching our 7th graders the “Five Little Turkeys” song. We decided to have our own “Thanksgiving Dinner” tonight at one of our favorite local restaurants. We invited all of the American teachers that live in our apartment complex so it will make 12 of us. We will all bring wine and definitely will eat well (although we won’t have turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy or anything remotely close). I already informed the crew that we must go around and say what we are thankful for (Momma Sus comes out where ever I am). I set up Skype dates with my family at their Thanksgiving celebration and also my boyfriend’s family. Not only is it Thanksgiving but it is also my boyfriends birthday today (November 28). I want more than anything to squeeze him and take him out for celebrations but I have a surprise planned I hope he loves. I would do anything to make him feel how special he is to me and how thankful I am he is mine. 

Being so far away at a time that is all about family, friends and togetherness is in no way easy but it truly is teaching me what the holiday is about. When I try to explain Thanksgiving to my students or my coworkers from Australia, Thailand and China I picture my Aunt Shelly’s house and everyone running around the kitchen drinking homemade beer and wine, laughing, dancing, and Aunt Shirl cooking up a storm. I hear my Noni’s Norwegian prayer swaying softly in my ears(even if we botch up the words). I can’t even think about how damn good the food tastes or I will slobber on my keyboard.  

But most of all I tell them, it is a day to truly celebrate and appreciate everything you have, no matter if it is 10 feet in front of you, across a few continents or no longer in the physical world. My friends and family at home, I encourage you to be extra thankful this year for being able to celebrate with people you love… Don’t take for granted those precious moments with your siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, lovers and friends. Those moments are what Thanksgiving is about. Those moments are what life is about. Don’t let the hangover from TGE or the football distract from the essence of the celebration. Today (and everyday) I feel gratitude, I feel nostalgia, I feel love and I feel thankful.

I could travel the whole world 10 times over, but nothing can replace the bonds of love, support, laughter, and the feeling of home that the people I care about the most embody. For now I will take O’Brien’s advice, cling to the stories to link my heart and mind to the past and the future and I will take my own advice for the present and be thankful proactively instead of retroactively. It’s a good day to be an American, a Mountaineer, a Bell, a Donovan, a girlfriend, a friend, a traveler and a teacher, wherever you may be. Happy Birthday to “That Guy” I love the most & Happy Thanksgiving. I am thankful you are a part of my story. 

Party in the USA

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The last few months have been quite the adventure themselves leading up to my Thailand adventure. I have been busy traveling visiting family, friends, and beautiful places all across the country. It is so amazing how many beautiful places are on the East Coast. These photos give you a taste of what I saw including Southern West Virginia, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Pittsburgh, Boston, NYC, Long Island, West Virginia, and Syracuse, NY. The fact that I am traveling into such an unfamiliar world has given me a fresh set of eyes for the world that surrounds me; especially the people. I know I will not be able to see them, drink a glass of wine with them, laugh with them or hug them for a whole year. It is honestly scary but I thank my lucky stars for Skype and all of the technology we have in society today to make things easier. I also appreciate the opportunity to go away because it reminds me how much I value these special people in my life and how lucky I am to be surrounded by such supportive, intelligent, loving, funny individuals. The joy that my family and friends get from watching me succeed makes my success and desire to conquer new continents vastly larger. I am so happy to have this outlet to stay connected to the people who matter the most to me because I presume the time difference and busy  life schedules will make communication challenging.

I leave for NYC this Friday for one final reunion with family, friends and my boyfriend. I am so excited but so overwhelmed to have to say goodbye to so many people I care about all at once. Then I am flying out to LA with Jackie to visit our friend from WVU and break up the long journey to Thailand. In TEN short days, I will be hopping aboard the 19 hour flight to Thailand! I have been looking forward to this trip since February! Now the nerves and an anxious giddy feeling is building up inside of me! I know how amazing this adventure is going to be; but truly as much as I can talk about how much it will change my life and how incredible it will be; I don’t know how it will change me as a person, what I will learn, who I will meet, what I will see or what I will feel. I sit here in the home I grew up in as I write this, safe and comfortable but yearning for more. Yearning to touch, to see, to feel, to dance, to shout, to climb mountains and ride elephants, teach children and let them teach me. I would start running to Thailand this very instant if I could, but for now I am soaking up the precious moments with those I love the most and will miss very much over the next year. The greatest gift these people have given me is the confidence in my self to embark on this journey, the love and support. I feel you cheering me on from all over and that is the only reason I am able to go confidently in the direction of my dreams.  Thank you so much. I will leave you with a quote about adventure that sums up my feelings at the moment,

” Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you’ve never been to,perhaps more homesick than for familiar ground”- Judith Thurman

Catch me if you can! CHEERS ❤ xoxo