Sunday, December 18, 2011

What Christmas Feels Like

I’m not sure if it feels like Christmas or not. A couple of days ago, I decided it didn’t feel like Christmas at all, and I was okay with that. On the contrary, I thought to myself, perhaps I never want to feel Christmas again. Followed by the thought that everyone is going to think that totally morose and view it as not moving on.

But, maybe I just don’t want to feel Christmas the way it’s felt since 2007. I want to feel Christmas the way it was in 2006 and before that. I’m speaking of course, about losing my father at holiday time, Christmas 2007/New Year 2008. Anyone that’s experienced grief knows the holidays are hard. But they’re even harder when that’s the time of year your loved one passed. And that’s the foundation of my Grinch attitude, but I try to tone it down.

Last night I went to a holiday potluck. Almost everything had cheese. My friends with the vegetarian, non-dairy Thai food saved me on that one. It didn’t really feel like Christmas, but it was social, it was merry, and I guess that’s as close as it gets when you’re an expat away from your family and culture. It was nice.

On the walk and motorbike taxi ride home, I marveled at the ridiculous Christmas lights, fake reindeer and sleighs and what not decked out for the shopping megaplexes. While that looks neat, it doesn’t feel like Christmas. Just commercialism. But, I suppose we don’t do a good job separating the two.

I received a Christmas card today from a good friend.
And it felt a little more like Christmas.
My Uncle Steve told me he is sending Uncle Jim’s famous Christmas cookies and cards for Christmas and my birthday. Family. Christmas.

I have a pile of un-mailed gifts sitting on a stool in my apartment. When I realized it would take two months to ship them; I figured well, I’m already late I’ll get to it after some other year end business. And it won’t matter that it won’t be there in time for Christmas, because the sentiment is what really makes it so.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Oh Where does the Time Go

So here we are, December. Where has the time gone?
Well, I’ve read so many books I feel I might be close to on par with my 7th grade self’s bookworm abilities, and perhaps a little improved. And I’m quite happy about that.

I’ve re-examined and re-confirmed the plight that is being a serially monogamous white female feminist in Bangkok. But I’m not going to write a book about it, because it would be shallow, and everyone wants to hear about the men and their Asian girlfriends and wives any way. I’m so getting spammed for that last paragraph.
But regardless, let’s sum up some of where I’ve been.

I’ve been to Penang, Malaysia, where I witnessed a Daoist celebration of the God of Prosperity’s birthday. I shared a ‘steam boat’ (in Chinese, ‘hot pot’) dinner with a group of no less than 9 nationalities in a newly opened art gallery. I got to see a fellow artist and friend currently working in Penang. I hiked through a National Park with some Brits I met at my hostel, to Turtle Beach. We missed the turtles. They showed me an interesting British sitcom that seemed like it should be viewed, and was probably created, with the help of LSD. And I did try ice kachang and that other noodle dish I was supposed to try. Oh, and frog. Penang has so much food; you could spend months there and never try it all. Maybe someday I’ll try.

Within the span of one day I found out school’s opening was pushed back yet further, and I turned around and booked myself a ticket and got back to Chiang Mai with less than 24 hours between landing back in Bangkok after Penang. I landed just in time to catch some good Loy Krathong festival photos, coming into Chiang Mai evening of the event with my acquired that day tripod. I win. Photographers note: Don’t shun the Starbucks when it has a third story balcony overlooking the parade where you can set up your tripod above the crowds. I didn’t even have to buy anything, I just waltzed on up.

I went mountain biking for the first time. I’m talking shin guard elbow armor mountain biking. Yes, it was the beginners trail, but it wasn’t anything to scoff at. Especially as I cannot recall the last time I rode a bicycle, 2009 back at Purdue, on sidewalks? I started counting how many times I fell. And then I thought to myself. How many kilometers are you biking? And what percentage of that is going to be taken up by your falls? So who cares? You just went mountain biking. That’s pretty awesome, regardless of how many times you slid and fell. One of the guides told me some people give up and walk their bike down the mountain, taking until 6pm for a ride that should end between 3 and 4pm. Sometimes I had to rest, or walk my bike over a bunch of boulders, but I always got back on. And oh goodness do I understand why serious cyclers wear padded shorts.

So I sit here and reflect, and wonder how I will phrase my words to keep from being cliché. But the fact is, I’ve learned more about myself this past year than I’ve learned about Thailand. I’ve learned a lot about Thailand, don’t get me wrong. But there are so many things I’d never been able to do before moving over here.

Thanksgiving this year was a smaller group, but we came together, laughed and ate. It reminded me that I miss that family tradition back home; but we all reminded each other how thankful we are to be in Thailand. Where I have a job. Where I can get medical treatment and, in my income bracket at least, know I’ll be able to receive and pay for treatment. And where I finally have room to just breathe.

My students will be back on Tuesday, December 6th, the 5th being the King’s birthday. After the October break and an extra five-week break due to the flooding, a friend of mine was right, “long break makes not just students lazy, but teachers too!” It’ll be an adjustment. But it’s time. We won’t be doing essays this quarter. I might be setting up a blog and requiring my students to publish their flood stories in English. Though I clearly know how to set up a blog, multiple authors is a bit trickier, and I’ll be consulting my 15 year old computer gurus on this matter. I will shamelessly ask you to read some of their stories.

I’ve spent some time tutoring a flood refugee at school. It’s hard going, but it’s more fulfilling than sitting in the office (teachers have still had to appear part of the time despite the students being pardoned for the flood), playing windows solitaire. I can hardly believe it’s December. In this tropical climate, you lose all sense of seasons, having grown up with all four. But I’ve done a lot, starting with my goal of living in Thailand for a year. And I’m not done yet.

In the words of Matchbox 20,
“Let’s see how far we’ve come! Let’s see how far we go!”