Tag Archives: luggage

Touring Malaysia: Transitions down the peninsula

My fellow WorldTeach friend/travel companion Matt and I landed in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday. The next few days that followed consisted of roaming the very walkable streets and gazing up in admiration at the Petronas Towers, which seemed to be casting shadows on us everywhere we went. There were some delicious Indian, Chinese and Malay meals with pulled tea (an awesome pouring technique that seems rather dangerous to replicate at home) tossed into the mix, but I spent most of my time in KL in a post-rural Thailand daze. The air-con in restaurants made my food cold (eating indoors, what?). The pollution sent my allergies into a rage (traffic jams?). And I couldn’t for the life of me find fresh fruit (where are all the fruit carts?). Somewhere between leaving Nakhon Phanom on an overnight bus to Bangkok and flying down to KL, I also misplaced something. Bulky clothes? Toiletries? Souvenirs? I wish.

What I lost is much more valuable and difficult to replace than anything filling my overstuffed bags. For the past year teaching has been my life and now that I am completely removed from the environment I grew to love, I feel a loss of purpose and an emptiness where my students once were. Don’t read into this sentiment too much, though, because in many ways I was ready to go. The goodbyes had to come sooner or later. I am also very happy right now as I travel the beautiful country of Malaysia and am excited about returning home to my loved ones in a few short weeks.

We’re now in Melaka, a port city with Dutch, Portugese and English influences, in addition to the country-wide Malay, Indian and Chinese trio. The architecture is beautiful and the food is delicious. I’m really enjoying the chicken rice curry and pineapple tarts, as well as the Malaysian coffees and teas. Though my thoughts often drift to the students and teachers in Pla Pak, I am beginning to replace my nostalgic cap for a traveler’s hat, falling more into a comfortable backpacker routine by the day.

Tomorrow we depart for Penang, an island off the Western coast of the peninsula, about seven hours north of Melaka. Here is where we’ll spend the remainder of our time in Malaysia, before flying back to Bangkok and then to the States. I think it’s about time to check my laundry and assess my packing situation, as I have purchased a few more  last-minute items that will prove to be a challenge fitting in my already over-stuffed backpack!

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Thailand Tribute #4: Co-teachers

Pla Pak Noi Elementary School Teachers

Wang Yang Elementary School Teachers

Working as a volunteer English teacher in Northeastern Thailand has been one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences I have ever had. Much of this sentiment can be attributed to the small groups of people with whom I spent the most work time, my co-teachers. The relationships I have built with my co-teachers are incredibly complex; I am amazed at how frustrating their behavior is to me in one instance, like seeing the use of corporal punishment or taking frequent naps at school, and then in the next moment watching a teacher help a student use chopsticks or tend to the scrapes and bumps students acquire during playtime, throwing my perceptions of them through a loop. In these latter moments it is obvious to me that teachers in Thailand have the privilege, and responsibility, of assisting in the upbringing of students that reaches far beyond the classroom. I have heard Thais say many times over the past year that children have two sets of parents, one that lives at home, and the other that works at the school. Pla Pak Noi Elementary School in particular has an incredible sense of family; from preparing meals to cleaning dishes, students from every grade help with the day-to-day chores and the teachers act more as caregivers than academic instructors.

I am quite certain that my co-teachers gave me much more than I could have ever given. These are the people who taught me most of my Thai and Isaan, how to read basic Thai script, how to cook some of my favorite dishes, how to act properly in social gatherings, and perhaps most importantly, how to laugh at myself when my attempts at communication failed.

Well it’s time for me to get to the other things on my to-do list, which unfortunately continues to grow, despite the fact that time here is quickly winding down. I am half-way done with my string-typing ceremonies (Wang Yang on Thursday and Pla Pak Noi on Friday) then I will be in sorting, donating, packing, sending mode until my room is neatly collected in the two pieces of luggage I came with. Wish me luck!


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