Posts Tagged With: Indonesia

Welcome to Baliwood!

So I made it to ‘Bali Wood’ Hah, ok, not quite but I just couldn’t resist putting this as the title!

Wow, so it felt like it took forever to get to Bali…The Ozzies were saying it’s only a 3hr flight from Australia but mine felt more like a 12hr process but then again, I am on a budget so opted for the slow mo options ho hum!

Game of Chinese charades anyone?

So I left Australia on Thursday evening and arrived in Bali Friday afternoon. During my connecting flight from Kuala Lumpur, the air crew handed out arrival cards and I had that De Ja Vue feeling when I was faced with familiar questions such as “Are you bringing in any meat, poultry, fish, drugs, pornographic material!” I actually had a comedy moment that I WISH someone had filmed…it will be one of those ‘you had to be there’ moments but I’m sure this would have given Catherine Tate some new material haha! Ok, so basically, I was sitting in the middle seat sandwiched between 2 Chinese girls (I later discovered that Bali has a lot of Chinese visitors but I’ll cover that bit later). So, picture this…everyone is now filling out their arrivals cards apart from the 2 Chinese girls next to me. Once I’d finished mine, the girl to my right (who was called Chi), asked me to help her. Chi could hardly speak English! I soon discovered this because she was copying my answers on her arrivals card, yep, everything from my name to my DOB! “Woah, woah! That’s my name!” I chuckled. “You put your name here and your birthday here!” Phew, she finally got that bit but the next part turned into a game of charades, it was so funny! I pointed at things like ‘Are you bringing in any guns?’ It must have then looked like I was rein-acting a scene from Platoon or something, oh dear! Chi did this cute little giggle where she’d put her hand over her mouth and laugh. Great! So she understands me signing in the air looking like an idiot haha! So you can imagine that for each question, I had to act something out so she understood it all hahah! For the drugs question, I just smoked an invisible cigarette, squinted my eyes and then smiled like a Cheshire cat! I knew Chi understood me because she did that cute giggle from behind her hand once more. I found out that Chi and her friend were going to be passing through Ubud so I said I’d probably bump into her! Once we’d touched down, Chi gave me her email address so I’m guessing she wanted to meet up but I assume the poor thing won’t understand it anyways hah oh well!

Touch Down! 

WOW! The heat surrounded (and suffocated) me as soon as I’d stepped off the plane, my word it’s hot! I reached for my shades to stop the sun from completely burning my retina’s to buggery and then followed everyone into the arrivals lounge. Most of us headed to the VOA (visa on arrival) booths which were located to the left of the arrivals hall. The first thing you must do is pay $25 US dollars for the actual visa…the staff then hand you the paper visa which is lose in your passport. You then walk over to the Immigration who assess your passport and review your visas. I was told I might have needed to produce my onward flight ticket just to prove I was going to leave Bali (guess they have a problem with people wanting to stay haha!) but I got away with it and I’m glad I did because my ticket was deep in my backpack which I hadn’t yet collected!

After my visa was stamped, I then walked over to the baggage claim area. Be careful here as there are porters readily waiting for everyone’s luggage to come round the belt so they can collect it for you which is fine BUT if you want them to haul it around (which of course they are more than eager to do), they will expect silver to cross their palms! I was aware of this from previous research so was readdy for them haha! They are easy to spot…there must have been about 5 waiting by the luggage belt and they were all wearing awful grey, well, off white uniforms with small square hats! I rushed over to the belt and actually saw my invisible man just coming round…the pink scarf still miraculously hanging on for dear life even after all these months haha! So on the trolley the bag goes and I’m off. As soon as I was outside, I was surrounded by the all so familiar airport hustle and bustle…families and friends greeting their loved ones, the usual chorus of “Excuse me Miss, you want Taxi, special price for you!”, Car horns tooting away and the hoards of men and women holding up tatty cards with their customers names….oh and hang on….”HELEN READDY’ Yippee….there’s my prearranged taxi! Handy (the hotel owner) was there ready to pick me up and whisk me off to his B&B so pretty ‘Handy’ really boom boom!

And WOW! Bali is absolutely beautiful! These were the first words that came into my head; ‘Green, lush, jungle, hot and humid, tropical, rice fields, hippy, yoga, chilled, spa’s, massage, taxi’s’ It actually reminded me of Chaing Mai in Thailand but just had a slightly different vibe. I’ve been told that Bali and in particular Ubud has a ‘magic’ to it. A lot of people come here for the yoga and the spiritual healing side which of course was one of the things I came here to do myself! I could see women carrying huge and heavy looking bags or baskets on their heads which still to this day amazes me how on earth they do it! I could also see masses of bright and colourful shops all lined up next to each other displaying either shoals / scarves, wooden carvings, paintings etc.. oh and then there were the all too familiar mangey looking street dogs! Oh no! I really don’t like street dogs…just takes me back to the Monkey School when that dog tried to bite me in the butt remember?! Nevermind, I will avoid them like the plague (or rabies hah!). Not too many street food stalls but then again, that was fine by me as I’d been told to avoid the street food altogether as this was one common cause of the ‘Bali belly syndrome’ haha!

Pulling into Ubud was just stunning! It was different to the other towns we had passed on the way and I knew then that I had picked the best spot! It is literally surrounded by forests and jungles which is a Helen haven! Other places such as Sanur, Kuta and Jimbalin just seemed way too touristy for what I was looking for.

Once I’d arrived, Handy gave me the key to my room and I immediately jumped into the shower, told Mama and Popz I had arrived and then flopped on my traditional Indonesian looking bed and crashed!

Saturday I didn’t really do too much at all, I kept this day free to explore my surroundings and get a feel for what I was going to do etc..I soon got lost in the many alleys, side roads and cross roads! “Right, must get a map sorted out” So that’s pretty much the first thing I did actually. Great stuff! I was soon getting to know where the cafes, bars and restaurants were as well as where the ATM’s and local convenience stores were situated too.

One thing I did notice is how Indonesia smells! It is lush! They are permanently burning incense sticks which is all part of their daily ritual.  Balinese people make small offerings to their Gods each and every single day. The offering is basically a banana leaf which is carefully (and magically) made into a square shape…the inside of the square is then packed with 5 different coloured flowers, rice and anything else they wish to place in there. The offering is then placed in front of temples, statues, in front of businesses (for luck) and in front of their homes etc and it is finished off by placing a burning incense stick next to them. I did in fact accidentally step on a few in the first week oops! But then so many other tourists had done the same because I could see many a squished offering along the pavements hehe! But how beautiful Bali is! And yes, it really is true that they wear flowers in their hair and also round their necks! Even the men do it is just so wonderful to see 🙂 They really are lovely people who seem so down to earth and of course to nature.

Volcanic Climb! 

Saturday evening I had gotten a good idea of what day trips I wanted to do so got cracking with booking up my week ahead. The first thing I wanted to do was see a real life volcano…but hang on, this tour says you can climb a volcano but more to the point…an active one! Omg, what a thrill! So I got onto the tour operators and booked it. “Thank you Miss Helen. It will be a 2am start” Came the reply from my email. “2am, are you sure! That’s rather early!” I was quite shocked haha…it was already 8pm Saturday evening you see so I knew I had to get to bed pretty sharpish if I was to be up and out by 2am. “Yes this is correct. It takes a few hours to drive to the volcano and then at least 2hrs to climb to the top. We must be there in time for the sunrise”. Wow, now this I have to do!

1am my alarm went off, yep, both of them haha! I was up, washed and outside waiting for my lift. I must admit, it did feel rather dodgy waiting outside for a man to pick me up in the dark…and who was I looking for? Oh no…street dogs! I kept crossing the road and tried to avoid them incase they could smell my fear haha! Suddenly a 6 seater mini van pulls up…I instinctively knew this was for me, well, I think it was the ‘Bali Adventure Tours’ on the side of the bus that gave it away hah! Out jumps Dewa, my driver. “Hello Miss Halan! I am Dewa, we go to Volcano now” A rather plum but very jolly man jumped out and opened the door for me to hop in. “Thanks Dewa” Dewa wouldn’t stop talking all the way to the Volcano! He was lovely though, totally harmless and full of life! The Balinese people do seem so happy (well, the ones I’ve met so far). Actually, his accent did uncannily sound like that character from Fonejacker George Agdgdgwngo! (My Dad’ll know who this is lol!)

A few hours later, Dewa parks up and tells me we’ve made it to the volcano. I couldn’t see a darn thing though but it was 3.30am! I met 2 other people who were also on my trip…a lovely couple from Austria oh and then our guide showed up and I kid you not, he looked about 12 hah! “Hello please. I am your guide. Please, each take a torch” I forget his name but I shall call him Mowgli because he looked like that cartoon character from the Jungle Book! Mowgli each gave us a torch and then ordered us to follow him. Ok, so it’s dark and it was absolutely freezing! The first part of the walk was fine, nice and flat! The ground at that point felt more like black sand but Mowgli said this was ‘volcanic ground’. Wow, so here goes!

We’d walked along to the base of the volcano and it was then I realised just how much of a trek this was going to be. We couldn’t even see the top because it was still so dark. Being not quite so full of beans at 3.30am, that was the moment I knew I was going to feel so drained once we’d reached the top! My inside chatter was trying to prepare me for this huge feat…’You can do it Hels! C’mon, it’ll be so worth it up top!’ Then it began.

To start with it was fine. Feeling like I had an advantage in my hiking boots, we all stormed onwards and upwards. It was a gradual incline which felt nice and easy but then suddenly the black/grey sand disappeared and gave way to huge grey rocks! The climb then got steeper and steeper until it literally was turning into a ‘climb’ Lagging at the back, I was getting short of breath but I didn’t want the others to notice hah! The Austrians were like super humans, they just didn’t stop! ‘Oh god, I can’t stop now! I’ll get left behind!’ Stupidly worrying about what they were thinking, I kept going. I had to whip my jumper off because I felt so hot and sticky from the climbing!  Then my legs were feeling heavier and even my hiking boots were starting to feel as though they were giving up on me! Each step became more challenging…you had to almost strategically place your feet in the ‘right places’ because the rocks were so lose…they would just give way from under your feet as though they were trying to escape being trodden on by my huge size 8’s! As soon as a rock would roll out from under your step, it would make your legs work even harder to try to stick to the uneven ground once more before you face planted into the nearest rock haha!  Eventually we stopped for a break! Phew! Glugging my water down and catching my breath, we were then ready to carry on. It was more of the same…lose rocks meant lose footing and even more trickier boulders blocking the ever increase incline of the volcano meant we had to help pull each other up. Looking over our shoulders, we could see a line of moving lights! “We must move quickly to beat the crowds. That is other people climbing up to the top!” A competitive sounding Mowgli urged us to keep going as quick as we could. I think he just wanted us to get the best spot up the top!

The climb just seemed relentless and the ground unforgiving! I was desperate for the ground to start feeling more ‘flat’ but of course this was never going to happen until we’d reached the top right! ‘At least let there be a clear path! These rocks are killing my legs’ I muttered! But then, there we were! An hour and a half later and we’d made it to a clear, flat part of the volcano. “Well done everyone! Now then, would you like to keep going to the crest of the crater?” Mowgli gave us the option to go right to the tip of the crater so we could actually look down into it! Well, what the hell, you can’t come all this way and not do it right! “Yeh sure, lets keep going” We all replied in unison! “Ok, it’s another 30 minutes climb!” Mowgli could see I was tired so he held my hand to the top.

Ok, so now we really were at the top! It was still fairly dark but the Mowgli promised the sunrise would soon be showering us all with its array of magical colours. So I bought a hot chocolate and waited and oh my word….the climbing, the pain, the sweating, the freezing cold air (and funny sulphury eggy stink) was worth it for there it was……..the darkness soon gave in to the rising sun and everyone watched in a stunned silence as the sky turned from a deep blue, to dark burnt orange, to reds, golden shades of orange and then pinks. There was an even bigger volcano opposite that we couldn’t see before. It was as though the sunset was a stage show curtain….it was lifting to show the Kintamani volcano in all its spectacular glory. It was just breath taking. You could even see the clouds ‘hugging’ the monstrous looking volcano as though they were the pillows for Kintamani! That’s exactly what this volcano was though – a sleeping beauty! Without moving my gaze from the beautiful sight in front of my eyes, I curiously muttered to Mowgli “Don’t the locals get scared it could erupt again?” “Oh no. They are not afraid” A short but sweet answer is all he gave but I was almost glad he didn’t give me an informative answer for that would have meant I would needed to have given him my full attention and for now all I wanted to do was stare at this magnificent backdrop!

After our National Geographic moment, we then climbed a little way down where Mowgli showed us some natural hot springs! That was amazing…hot steam was protruding from holes in the ground! It was like the steam coming out from a boiling kettle! Oh and then we saw a whole bunch of monkeys all well, monkeying around haha! I was wondering how on earth the monkeys all got up here but there were other signs of life including trees and bushes so I guess volcanic ground is still rather fertile. The climb back down didn’t take as long because we were mostly sliding down or should I say ‘sand surfing’  haha, that was quite fun!

Coffee pooed out of a cat?

Our drivers then took us to see a Luwak Coffee Farm. I’d heard about these on the TV but didn’t really know much about them. And wow, what an interesting place! We were warmly greeting by the plantation owner who then kindly showed me around.

“Welcome Helen. I’d like to show you around and then let you take a peek at how the Luwak Coffee is made. Then if you like, you are welcome to try some of this famous coffee” Juda was a nice guy and seemed more than happy for me to have a nose about. There was no messing either, we went straight to the Luwak’s ‘pen’. The Luwak is a kind of cat I think…looked a bit like a cross between a cat and large rat to me hah. They basically feed the Luwak these special red berries. Juda explained that the Luwak only eats the best of the best berries and they will leave the dodgy looking ones. The Luwak then spits out the red skin of the berry and congests the seed. This seed is then fermented inside the gut of the Luwak. Of course, the exciting bit (to the farmers) is when the Luwak goes for a poo! The seeds are excreted and then collected ready to be made into coffee. But this isn’t as gross as it might sound….the farmers actually want what is inside the seed so the outside shell is removed and the inside bean of the seed is then boiled twice over and thoroughly cleaned. The bean will then be continually tossed and turned as they are roasted for 45 minutes straight (I pity the person who has to do this job!). The roasted beans are then crushed into a powder and the powder will then be sifted into jars ready to be sold. Well, I just had to try some of this famous and rather expensive coffee. It is very dark and very strong! Phew! That seemed enough to give me an almost immediate wake up call! ‘Ping….you’re now back in the room!’ haha! It wasn’t a coffee I wanted to bring back home but they let me try all their other teas and coffees and what a range! They did chocolate coffee, vanilla coffee, ginger tea, lemon tea. I actually ended up buying some Rosella tea….a red coloured fruity tea which was so delicious! Apparently it’s good for losing weight too!? It was amazing to witness such a farm and again something else to tick off that you just wouldn’t see anywhere at home hey! I thanked Juda for showing me around and letting me try his products before rejoining Dewa to drive me back. Dewa chirpy as ever quickly showed me the rice fields on the way back and that was pretty cool. They are just stunning to see.

Turtle Island Adventure 

So I’d heard there was a Turtle Island somewhere around here and wanted to check it out. So I found a tour company who would take me and made a day of it. I was picked up at 8.30am and driven to Nusa Dua Beach where the boat leaves for Turtle Island. The plan for the day was snorkelling in the Indian Ocean, a trip to the Turtle Island itself and then a full body massage at a spa on the way home, bonus!

An hour and a half later and we’ve arrived at Nusa Dua Beach. It was packed full to the brim with tourists and surprisingly, it was mostly Chinese / Asian tourists. I was asked to fill out some paperwork for insurance purposes….apparently joking and saying ‘Is this incase I drown it covers you guys?’ wasn’t really the funniest thing to say haha….I was then kitted out with my snorkelling gear and taken to the boat and I tell you what….I was the only one on the boat = bonus!

I was excited to go snorkelling but had that nervous feeling which took me back to my snorkelling adventure on the Similan Islands in Thailand. But I did get used to it didn’t I so surely I can do it again?

The boat noisily pulled away from its anchored parking spot and whisked me away in what felt like my very own privately chartered boat! Churning up white frothy waves, we headed full steam ahead for destination Turtle Island! The boat had a glass bottom too so I was busy peering through trying to catch a glimpse of any marine life from the depths but we were going to fast to see anything. Suddenly, my leather-faced boat driver stopped in a nice quiet spot, handed me some bread and told me to dive in! Then I had a rush of nerves, ‘Oh god, here goes! I’m sure I’ll turn into a dolphin once I’m in there right?!’ Chattering to myself didn’t help though hah! So on went my snorkel and flippers and yep, a bright luminous orange life jacket. I placed one step on the rung of the ladder and went to put my other foot down on what should have been another rung but there wasn’t another one and I flopped straight in! Once more, flapping and wailing about as though I’d never seen water before haha! Oh dear! Just not a natural at this at all! I managed to grab hold of the side of the boat and held on tight. Leather face came over to see what the commotion was. “What the matter Miss?” Staring up at his puzzled wrinkly face I just replied “Oh nothing, I’m fine hah, it’s just been a while!” Eventually I let go and just let the life jacket do the work for me. My lungs went into over drive with panic drawing in as much air as they could through what felt like a narrow straw but then I just had to tell my lungs to quieten down so took long slow deep breaths until my breathing went back to normal. Phew…right, finally back into the swing of it, yay! I think it’s the shock of trying to only breath in and out of your mouth.

Oh, I completely forgot the bread that leather face gave me! I was still clutching the small plastic bag it was contained in! Sliding the now soggy bread out, I scattered all 3 slices straight into the ocean which soon wrapped all it’s wetness around the bread and gently pulled it under. Fish of all colours suddenly came out of nowhere and began ‘pecking’ at the disintegrating slices. Wow, they are in touchable distance! Suddenly something touched my leg and that was it….I let out a gurgled “Arrgghhh” and was flapping my legs and arms about like some crazy women haha! But I turned around and just caught glimpse of a shoal of bright orange fish…’Oh you silly idiot Hels!’ haha, they were only being curious and ‘kissed’ my leg hah!

Well, as much as it was fab seeing all these fishes and corals and funny sea slugs lazing on the ocean floor, I don’t think I can match the sheer beauty of what I saw at the Similan Islands you know. But it was still absolutely awesome. My time was up so I had to get back to the boat. Well, getting back on was just as bad as getting off hah! I just couldn’t seem to pull myself in. The one and only rung just wasn’t giving me enough of a leg up. Leather face came over to help me but I ended up cutting my leg on something and blood was now trickly out from my knee…well I then wanted to get into the boat more than ever now…um sharks?? Hah! Phew, all in and towelled down, Turtle Island here we come.

We moored up at a gorgeous looking white sandy beach and headed straight for the entrance. After I exchanged 10,000 Rupiah for the entrance fee, I was off like a kid in a candy shop! There were baby turtles right through to the larger full grown adults. I was amazed that you could just ‘get in’ with them and have your photos with them. I also felt quite sorry for the turtles too though because people were just getting in with their shoes on so I was thinking the water must not be all that clean for them, poor things. Trying to pick one of the adult turtles up was just impossible! They were just too heavy however, you could easily pick up one of the ‘teenagers’ so I had my photo with this gorgeous lil turtle 🙂

There were also other animals you could have your pictures with too including a snake, eagle, iguana oh and a fruit bat! Yay, I finally found something with the same hair colour as me hah! *Note to self, must sort that out when I get back to the UK! We finally left the island after spending about an hour with all the animals and turtles and headed back to shore. Yay spa time!

The driver took me to a spa where I was to have a 90 minute traditional Balinese massage. Upon arrival, I was taken to a private room and handed a pair of ‘paper knickers’ ‘Oh my god!’ That is literally all you have on hah! Bit embarrassing really but the massage was lush…I couldn’t stop giggling though because it was so god dam tickly! The massage lady was laughing too! Afterwards you are told to get in the shower to wash all the oils off.

So, massaged up and coming out smelling like a joss stick, the driver then took me back although he stopped at a Gold and Silver factory to let me have a nose about (they must get commission if you buy something?) Well, it was fascinating to see all the workers cleverly crafting the most intricate of designs from rings to bracelets to earrings etc…and then unsurprisingly, I was shown around the shop. It was funny actually because I saw one of the factory workers leave the room but he had to be scanned before he could exit! I was told the silver here is 92% pure so I guess it’s no wonder all members of staff are searched!

Heading back to the car, I was relieved to be going back to my B&B, I felt shattered hah! Sitting in the car, my butt felt like it was on fire! I was wondering if I was having a reaction to some of the oils? How strange. So as soon as I was back, I checked it out and oh my goodness! I had a bad case of sunburn hahaha…I forgot to put suncream on my butt so I guess when you’re snorkelling on your front, your butt is in full view of the sun isn’t it how funny! It seriously looked like I was wearing white pants haha!

Monsoon on Horse back! 

I decided to chill out the next day and give my burnt butt a break while I plotted my next moves. I’d read that horse riding on the beach was a must here so checked it out. I found a highly recommended company on trip advisor called Bali Island Horse. Wow, this place looked amazing. You get to go horse riding on a black sandy beach at sunset…well, the photos drew me in and sold me to the idea of it so I booked it up.

It was another hour and a half drive but once I’d got to the stables it was straight to it. There was a small group of people already getting kitted out with their hard hats so I was taken to the office to do the paper work (more insurance and promises of ‘I will not sue if….’ haha). Then the staff member asked me to pop myself on the scales! They say you can’t ride their horses if you are over 90kg’s. After all the boring stuff, it was off to meet my horse and guide. It was so funny because they had a few ‘funky’ hard hats to choose from if you wanted to be a little different! I chose the punk one oh yeh! Everyone else went for the normal standard hard hats so I found it hilarious that mine was a wicked spikey one. My guide (who’s name was pronounced Kiss!) was a really sweet and rather tiny looking man who I later found out was actually a pro jockey! Once I was in the saddle, we walked on over to the beach.

“Kiss…the skies are looking rather grey and cloudy! Do you think rain is coming?” I questionably asked. “Hmm…Yes, I’m afraid it might rain Miss Helen but lets hope not” I really hoped it wasn’t going to rain because I really wanted to see this glorious sunset on horseback but hey ho, I should have checked the weather before booking, tut tut! It was such a nice walk over to the beach on horseback..we walked down quiet countrified lanes, past rice fields and small wooden shacks selling water and other drinks and also past women carrying what looked like bundles of fire wood on their heads!

Making it to the beach, I just couldn’t believe how black the sand was! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a black sandy beach before but it looked stunning! Kiss scooped some up and placed it in my hand. “Look at the sand Miss, it sparkles” And actually, it did! It looked like it had glitter in it or something, wow! So you can imagine just how gorgeous this would have looked at sunset…all black but sparkly! And then suddenly, I felt a wet splodge on my hand, then another on my arm and another on the other arm until whooosh….down came the rain! “Oh no Miss! Quickly, there is a cave at the other end of the beach” Kiss then started to jog which of course made my horse start trotting. Well, I was all out of sync and my punk helmit slipped down over my eyes hah! That must have been a funny sight! Trying to lift my head to see from under it, I was bouncing all over the place. We finally made it to the cave and took shelter from the heavy rain. The cave was so noisy. ‘What is that?’ I thought to myself…woah, there were thousands of bats hanging feet first from inside the grooves of the caves ceiling! It was really smelly too with all the poop below hah. “I’m so sorry Miss, but it looks like the rain isn’t going to stop” The other group had already started heading back but even when we gave it a bit longer, we just had to resign ourselves to the fact the rain was there to stay.

Remounted and heading back to the stables, we both got thoroughly soaked through! Oh and of course not having a change of clothes meant I had to sit in the car soaked to the bone and shivering! Oh and guess what? The car’s here don’t have heaters? Just air con or cold hah! So yup, the journey back felt like the longest ever. As soon as I got back though I jumped straight into my boiling hot shower which was lush ahhhh!

Even though the weather felt like a monsoon, I still had a fab time! Just loved the horse riding on the beach. At least I can add that to my experiences hey, horse riding on a black sandy beach in torrential rain haha! 😉 And anyways, I didn’t mention that we did see a mini sunset, but it was just too cloudy to see it in all it’s glory but a teenie weenie one made all the drenching worthwhile!

Enter Fleur and Gaynor! 

Before I left the stables, you are invited to chill with some peanuts and a drink before going back to your hotels and that is where I met the lovely Fleur and Gaynor! 2 lovely ladies who I clicked with straight away. I was sitting scoffing my face full of peanuts when I heard Fleur say “Shame about the rain hey” “Ah yeh, it was a dam shame but hey, horse riding in a monsoon’s something we may not do again haha!” I replied and we then both laughed it off. Then Gaynor (the other lady)  lit up a cigarette and asked “So where abouts in the UK are you from?” “Oh I’m from the South” After a pause, Fleur then asked “Ok…so where in the South?” “Surrey” I replied….again, another pause until Fleur inquisitively probed further “So…..where in Surrey?” Once I’d told her where I used to live, she gasped…I’ve been there before and actually did business in the neighboring town! Gaynor had been there before too! Wow, such a little big planet hey! They were also coming to Ubud the very next day, I couldn’t believe it! We exchanged emails and vowed to meet up once they were in town. Fleur is a New Zealander and Gaynor a Londoner. Both ladies live and work in London. Oh and did I mention that Gaynor is like a travelling pro! She’s been everywhere so was amazing to hear her stories and gain some tips too 😉 It was so lovely to meet such wonderful people and locals at that!

Shaky Reiki session! 

The day after the horse riding, I decided to book myself in for a facial and massage to ease my John Wayne cowboy legs hah! Bali Botanical is a place I’d recommend actually, very professional in there. There was another thing I wanted to tick off and that was a fire dance and a reiki session! The Kecak fire dance was brill! Every sound and noise is made by just the mouths of the men, no instruments are used so it sounded awesome! The way they are all able to keep in time too is just incredible! After listening to much ‘Bops, screeches, chanting and wailing’ and watching men walking over hot burning coconut shells, I resided back to my room to research ‘reiki’ and coincidentally found a lady 3 minutes from where I was staying!

I booked an hours ‘Intuitive Healing’ session and couldn’t wait to experience it. As I’ve mentioned before, Bali is meant to be a sacred and magical place so I was keen to see what this session was going to be like, I arrived at the reiki lady’s house late Friday morning…it looked like Jemima was staying in a B&B but I assumed it was her ‘office’ that she hires for her clients? I was greeted by a lady who must have been in her 40’s and my did she look a character! She had straggly blond hair and I can still distinctively remember what she was wearing…..she had on, a lime green tight sleeveless top, and rainbow crystal necklace, black leggings oh and an orange tutu around her waist hehe. “Nice to meet you Helen, I’m Jemima. Take a seat and I will explain what we will be doing in todays session” Jemima offered me a bottle of water and then we were talking about why I was there etc…

So finally, we came to the session…I laid down and Jemima placed all sorts of crystals on and over me. It felt amazing! I could actually feel all the energy rushing around and doing its work hah! All seemed to be going really well until Jemima started playing on her guitar and singing to me! She called this sound healing which may well work for others but at the time I felt really silly….there I was laying down with an assortment of crystals on my body and a lady in an orange tutu serenading me with her guitar hehe….”You are worthy, you are special, just be you” were words to that effect. I was trying hard not to chuckle over this ordeal and was relieved when it finally came to an end.

After the session, we got chatting and actually ended up having lunch together. Jemima put together a training package for me to study with her however, at the steep price of 2 grand, I had to decline! I have actually found a Professional Spiritual Healers course nearby that I am looking at enrolling on. This will give me exposure to all sorts of elements of healing that I will be able to bring back to the UK with me but how cool will that be to say I’ve studied and trained in magical Bali!

Healers are funny here. I think you can meet genuinely fantastic healers or the ones I call the ‘tourist trappers’. I’ve heard of a legendary healer who lives in Ubud called Cocarda Rai who is an 82yr old traditional healer. Apparently he diagnoses by stabbing your feet with a long stick which sounds rather painful! Then (I’m guessing if you need it), he’ll mix up a concoction of herbs and plants and proceed to grind them to a pulp in his MOUTH….he’ll then squirt this herby mulch between the gap in his teeth and onto your face lol…hmm! Don’t fancy that much!

In the evening I met up with the girls and I took them to the Jazz Cafe up the road. I’d heard of this place and wanted to check it out and oh boy are we glad we did! It was such a top night! So there you go, any Ubud travellers, check out the Jazz Cafe for some fantastic live music from talented artists!

Temples and Elephants!

Fleur, Gaynor and I spent a fab few days together and it was just wonderful to have the company 🙂 We visited Gunung Kawi which is the water temple and also Goa Gajah which is the Elephant temple. Well, all temples start looking the same once you’ve seen a few I tell thee hah! One of them (Gunung Kawi) was rather impressive actually. 300 steps down and you’re suddenly transported onto the set of an Indiana Jones / Tomb Raider / Aztec movie, it was fantastic! There were mini waterfalls, trees with snake-like roots growing above the ground, local villagers making offerings, stalls selling wooden carvings, giant stones that had patterned carvings etched into them and Balinese men making structures out of wood and giant banana leaves. I was just waiting for Indiana Jones to come running from somewhere followed in hot pursuit by half naked men in masks and grass skirts hehe.

We also visited a lovely lil place called Petulu which is where the Heron Invasion is! Apparently after once of the volcano’s erupted, all these herons starting arriving and nesting in the nearby trees. There are now so many of them that it’s turning into more of a plague hah! But it really was spectacular to see all these thousands of stunning white and orangey looking herons all fighting to get onto the teeniest and what looked like the only few patches left on the heron ‘crammed’ trees! The trees almost looked saddened and burdened by these birds haha (but then again, that’s just my imagination lol!)

Then there was the elephant sanctuary! And oh my word that was just so gorgeous! The sanctuary rehabilitates elephants who have been mistreated and or abandoned in life. It was such a pleasure to see these elephants, they seemed genuinely really happy too. What we also loved about this place is that each and every elephant has their own personal keeper so they end up forming a wonderful bond together! I really did feel that all the elephants were happy to be here.

Fleur and I also managed to get our photos cuddling all the elephants too it was so so cute! One little baby elephant wrapped his trunk right around my waist, it was just so adorable awww. Oh and we were also lucky enough to spot a wedding! An asian looking couple were getting married ON the biggest elephant I’d ever seen! They’d decorated the elephant with red and gold cloth and he looked just as splendid as the bride and groom, how fantastic to see!

After much elephanting around, we all went off for a final goodbye drink in the evening for Fleur and Gaynor were off to the Gili T islands for a few days before heading back to London.

Sitting in the bar, I couldn’t help feel a little sad that my 2 fab new friends were now going to be leaving me. Travel friends are like revolving doors here…they come and they go but I know I will always keep in touch AND meet up with the close friends I’ve made. Before I waved Fleur and Gaynor off, we promised to meet up in London once I’m back in the UK yippee!

Ahh I am just loving Bali so much though ya know! I feel completely safe, now know where to go and not to go, as well as where the nicest dinners are to be had hehe! In fact, I’ve booked my remaining 3wks here! And god knows how I did it but I managed to knock my B&B right down from $25 per night to a steal at $10 per night woo hoo!

So……here’s to another 3wks of beautiful Bali if you care to join me. I feel this next part of the journey will be very much a spiritual one 😉 xxx

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Leaving the Land of Smiles – Insert sad face!

Ok, before I reflect upon ‘gushy’ sentimental goodbyes to Thailand, I must give you an up to date Readders Digest because hey, it’ll be the last one on Asia………or will it 😉

Flip-Flop saved my life….well, my foot!

Haha, ok, total exaggeration…..I will explain!

Do you know what? Ever since I have been back from BKK, my house has been ‘alive’ with creepy crawlies. It is ‘them’ now sharing their toys with me (or so it feels!). It might actually have a lot to do with it being the rainy season too. It has rained here in Thailand everyday which in turn brings all the beasties out! Huge spiders that jump, (yep, jump) enough to make even the sportiest of jumping athletes envious, giant army ants through to the teeniest of tiny ants, ginormous flying termites, geckos, lizards oh and a crab – a singular side walking crab haha! That was so odd! I stepped out my house one wet evening, torch in hand and there it was – a grey palm-sized crab staring up at me through it’s funny boggerly eyes! Of course, I had to fully inspect him with my torch all the while he was ‘eyeballing’ me right back. The crab then clasped his little claws together, repeatedly opening and closing them (at this point, I imagined his claws sounded like a chef sharpening his knives on his sharpening block!) as if to say ‘You come any closer…..I’m not afraid to use these!’ hah, so I tapped him gently with the tip of the torch and off he scuttled in a sideways motion.

Another evening back in the house, I was standing over the sink brushing my teeth….of course, still sharing the sink with the giant army ants who set up residence in the overflow holes remember hah! They didn’t bother me anymore. If you cleaned the holes out, they’d just be back the next day anyway but the ants had become a regular common ‘fixture’ just like a soap dish or flannel – they’re always there!

Sitting back down, I noticed something on the side of my rubbery flip flop. ‘What is that?’ I noticed it was one of the giant ants. Thinking I’d accidentally squished one, I tried to flick it off…..it didn’t budge. A few more flicks and the giant ant was still firmly stuck to the side of the flip flop! I took a closer inspection…OMG! This giant ant wasn’t squished at all, this was obviously one of the soldiers and it was biting the side of my flip flop with it’s out of proportionately sized head! His huge jaw like pincers were ferociously  attacking that flip flop as though his life, his Queen and country depended on it! Well, I’m so glad that wasn’t my foot! I’m not kidding but he was near on slicing into the rubber as though it was a lump of butter – yeouch haha! Finally, I gave up and just stared at him in amazement gnawing away.  I was imagining him muttering away angrily to himself (with a mouthful of rubber of course) ‘Take that, and that!’ He finally got bored and scuttled off taking his funny looking ‘big head’ with him hah!

I think I’d better think it out again! 

So I’ve finally got my butt into gear and yes, I am leaving Thailand…the land of smiles as they call it. I just can’t believe it!

I’ve had to change my plans quite a few times actually and it’s taken much thought and careful consideration. I drafted ideas to take myself off to New Zealand after my Australian adventure….then off to West Papua, Indonesia to hang out with the loin clothed and bare breasted Dani Tribes (stop sniggering at the back haha!)….then another short flight up to the North Sumatra Province (still Indonesia) to trek through the dense jungles of Bukit Lawang in search of their resident ginger monkey (Orangutans) BUT I’ve sadly had to cancel those thoughts and fantasies because the FCO (coincidentally) believe both these areas of Indonesia to be unsafe for tourists right now. And as my parents are reading this I won’t go into the details but all I’ll say is…..as the good old saying goes ‘better to be safe than sorry’ I’ve come up with plan b!

I’ve decided to continue with my plans to Oz (Thursday 8th August to be precise woo hoo!) and then jet set off to Ubud, Bali for a month and CAN’T WAIT. I have read Ubud is fairly similar to Pai in Thailand and that is one place I wanted to visit but didn’t. Pai is said to be a relaxed and almost hippy like town 🙂 In short, Ubud looks to be bustling with culture, (markets :D), scrummy food oh and yoga, massage and healing practices! Being trained in Reiki, I would really like to experience ‘Indonesian’ reiki and in fact, pick up some new techniques if I am able to have extra lessons out there! 🙂

After spending a ‘spiritual’ time hippy-ing it up in Bali, I will then fly off to Penang in Malaysia (near Georgetown) where I aim to trek the jungles of Penang State Park and also take myself off to visit monkey and turtle beach.

Then it’ll be more jungle trekking down at Taman Negara National Park before hitting Kuala Lumpur once more.

Let me clear my throat! 

Oh my goodness! What a wonderful send off I had on Friday morning! I was sooo nervous the night before because June asked me to do a ‘goodbye’ speech in Friday mornings assembly! ‘Speech!!’ I thought…..’Oh no!! “Is that Ok?” June asked, peering over the top of her familiar thick rimmed glasses. Perhaps she could sense my hesitancy by the ‘rabbit in the headlights’ expression on my face hah!

Well, I had to reply with; “Of course, I would love to!” Suddenly that injection of adrenalin was drawn up and injected straight into the pit of my stomach. I could already feel the adrenalin travelling through my system and I imagined the chemicals taking a ride on my red blood cells as though it was on some kind of ‘tubing’ adventure rushing through my veins! It brought back memories of when I did my welcome speech! ‘Oh, stop it Helen! It should be easier this time because you know them all now….right!?’ Well, easier or not, it still made me break out into that cold sweat like before haha!

So Thursday evening after I’d booked a few flights and accommodation for Bali 😀 I then went straight back to the house to write up a short speech. I thought it would be great to finish by saying something in Thai followed by all of us singing one of their favourite songs that I’d taught them…’Wherever I go!’ Ken text me some Thai words and with that my speech done it was time for bed!

Beetle Bum!

As usual I did my daily routine of shaking out my inner silk liner and then my sleeping bag because one thing I’ve learnt out here…is anything can be lurking in your shoes, under towels OR maybe sleeping bags! With everything shaken out (and nothing falling out), I got tucked up, rested my head on my brick of a pillow and soon started to slip into the land of nod…..

I woke up suddenly around 4.30am and couldnt get back to sleep. I felt itchy, hot and bothered. Trying to ignore these annoying sleep interrupters, I forced my eyes shut and tried desperately to get back to my lovely little dream of working the red carpet at the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival hah! (been on my mind a lot this week you see!).

Suddenly, it felt as though something crawled over one of my legs! ‘What the hell?’ Surely I’d imagined it and it was just my silk liner brushing against my irritated skin? Nothing can get in here, I’m wrapped up snug as a bug in this and not with a bug right!? Nope, there it was again. Scratching the back of my leg from under the sleeping bag, I tried to ignore it for a second time! This time, I felt something crawling over my butt and when I went to scratch, I felt something!! ‘AARRRRGGHHH’ I screamed haha! If only this was on tape…it must have looked so funny! Well, I was trying to scramble out of that sleeping bag as fast as I could but I was encased and trapped in the silk liner and the sleeping bag so picture this: my legs were frantically kicking about so much that I could have sworn I looked like I was pedaling one of Fred Flintstones leg powered cars hahah!!

Finally escaping the prison of my sleeping bag, I jumped up and brushed myself down….nothing on me! Ok, lets shake out both the bags….and there it was….a small black beetle GROSS! God knows how it got into the inner liner but I wasn’t happy. I spritzed the place with bug spray and then felt comforted enough by that to soon rejoin the land of slumber. But then it only felt like a few moments later when the awful electric sounding alarm went off!! :/

Graduation Day?!

Right, it’s speech time! It actually felt as though it was my very own graduation day or something. I was nervous but at the same time, felt quite sad too. I know I banged on about becoming ‘bored’ nearer the end of my time at the school but actually, I’d come to realise just how much the school had become a part of me.

So, it’s 8am and the whole school have begun congregating outside for their Friday mornings assembly. The children all walked over neatly in their lines and sat down together row upon row. All the teachers then sat at the sides so they could keep an eye on them all! Waiting for the assembly to begin, I looked around and saw all 700 little faces sitting down and staring straight towards the front. As usual, they all looked so well behaved and so ‘regimented’. Following the usual morning ritual, the first kid walked up to the front and began speaking in Thai and then the Thai’s National Anthem would be sung whilst one kid would raise Thailands’ flag up the pole. Flag now flying, June stepped up to make an announcement….I was suddenly transported back to my first day, my first speech. The injection of adrenalin was once again ready to shoot it’s dreaded concoction of poison into my system! I was waiting for my ‘turn’ and in turn, waiting for the reaction of pure fear to take over for I knew June was building up to my ‘leaving’ speech!

Moments later (which felt like a lifetime of waiting!)……

“Helen, would you be kind enough to come up to the front please?” June was now looking at me and pointing the microphone in my direction. Now over 700 faces were also looking at me! Oops, there it goes…adrenalin is now tubing on my river red so it should help me through ha!

Taking the microphone, I nervously began my farewell speech to everyone. Even though I had written a few selected words, I couldn’t help but think…’do they actually know what I am going on about?’  haha! Towards the end of my chatter, I then said something in Thai to them all….now that (I think!) they did all understand! To end, I asked all the children to join me in singing one of their favourite songs which went down well.

Oh this is what I said in Thai;

Khobkhun mak kha

Tea hai oh kas di chan

Ma yooh tee nee

Mee kwam sook

Mahk mahk kha

This basically means thank you for having me, I’ve really enjoyed staying at the school and teaching English to you all..

Afterwards, the Sub Director came up to the front and began talking to me. He’d also put together a few words together for me! It was so touching! Although I didn’t understand the first part (which was all in Thai), he ended by speaking to me in English 🙂 He expressed the schools gratitude for my help, kindness and for also sacrificing my time for them. He then also went on to say that I will always be in their memories and their hearts and I’m always welcome……*sobs! I was just lost for words after that….not knowing what to say, I just kept repeating ‘Thank you, thank you’ and glared back at him with watery eyes and a bright red chevvy chase! haha!

After the Sub Directors words, the school presented me with a beautiful handmade silk scarf that I will treasure forever. It was then that the kids thought it would be funny to bundle me hahaha little buggers 😉

Sing us one final song

Once everything had become settled and all the kids were off in their classes, I was then booked up for my final lessons too. It was so sad…the children didn’t want the lessons to end and in fact, they ran over time which of course, I didn’t mind at all.

Back in the office, I was thinking, I really should get packing once schools finished but the school had other plans….

After ‘work’, the teachers all took me out for dinner and karaoke! It was my surprise leaving party 😀 I had no idea! We all enjoyed a banquet of food along with more ‘speeches’ and more beautiful pressies! The food was delish. Star was shoving all sorts under my nose, bowls of green soup like liquids, funny looking meat balls that came in different colours (white and brown), fishy things (steamed and grilled and yup, eyeballs intact)….. ‘Helen, you must try this and also this one!’ Star wanted me to try as much Thai food as I could before going on my way but I also think she was trying to fatten me up just like all mothers do (I saw Star and June as my surrogate Mums you see aww). Oh one embarrassing thing happened…when I tried one of the spicy meat balls, I tried to cut one in half with my spoon but as soon as I pressed into it…the thing grew wings and just flew right off the plate and onto the floor! I thought no one had seen but once I’d bent down and picked the meatball up…my eyes caught everyone elses staring at me! They all then broke into laughter and yep, once again, I had rosy Readders cheeks hahaha!

The final final speeches were getting quite emotional but the last one from June ended with “If you come back next year, we would like you to join us!” Wow, sounds like I have a ‘job’ in the bag there if I really wanted one hey! 😀

Joe and M, the ladyboys of the school asked if they could play barbie with me in the morning….they wanted to dress me up in traditional Thai gear, full make up, the works! Well, hell yeh! What girl would refuse a pampering right! Only downside was that I had to meet them by the office at 8.30am. I knew it would be worth it though.

At the end of the evening, June and Star dropped me back at the house and I was dreading it for now, I had a monster job of repacking my old friend the invisible man! :/

Well, I was up until gone 2 in the morning busy making sure I’d got everything. I checked, double checked and triple checked the house. Phew, I think I’ve finally got the ‘knack of the pack’. Roll, squeeze, cram. Heavy at the bottom, light at the top and just make sure as much air is squeezed out of the bags too. I’ve actually heard some travellers will get their bags of clothes vacuum packed before they go…yeh, I can see how that will help….will give you more space too.

Finally, wrapping myself up in my silk liner and sleeping bag, I said my last goodnight to the house before drifting off……

Helen of Thai

Again, it only felt like I’d been asleep an hour or so before the dreaded mario brothers alarm shrieked at me to get up! I literally through on some trews and a Tshirt and got myself over to the staff room where I met Joe and M.

And wow! What an experience! Straight away, Joe started slapping on my make up and I had the works!! Dark black eyeshadow blending into lighter browns and 2 full sets of fake eyelashes! To finish, Joe slicked on the brightest pink lipstick I’ve ever worn haha! I was then fitted with a long black wig! Wow, the Readders with long black hair….I couldn’t wait to see how different that was going to make me look! I imagined it wouldn’t look too good against my pale skin though, I would probably look more like a vampire than a dainty Thai!

Now for the clothes. Joe wrapped the top half around me (under my Tshirt) and measured me up. It was like a beautiful silk bodice. You basically get ‘stitched’ into all the gear while you’re still fully clothed! Again it was the same for the bottom half…you get wrapped into the skirt part (over your trews) and then you have to wriggle out your trousers and Joe then popped in the final stitches so it was literally made to measure. Well, I couldn’t breathe haha! I imagined I was wearing a corset or something and that Joe had just put one foot on my back whilst pulling the strings so tight that every molecule of carbon dioxide was forced out of both my lungs hah! Once I was measured in and secured and stitched up, Joe then wrapped a delicate see through pink shawl around my shoulders to complete the clothing part. Joe and M then both ‘decorated’ me with all the traditional Thai jewellery including a crown, belt, bracelets etc…

Done! Excitedly clapping theirs hands (in a feminine ladyboy fashion), Joe and M stood me up and seemed so pleased with their ‘work’ and couldn’t wait to show me off outside to the school! I tell you what, all that gear was so heavy, I felt weighted down with accessories and I was also starting to feel rather hot in my new thick wraps but I couldn’t wait to see the finished look. Handing me the mirror, I just couldn’t believe what / who I saw! Wow, that just isn’t me! I looked completely different and couldn’t stop staring at the strangers reflection!

Walking out the office, the first person I saw was June “Wow….you look like an Angel, so beautiful!” Well, that was it, I started getting my usual and all to familiar rosy glow haha. Of course, who doesn’t like a compliment but I guess I was so overwhelmed with the whole look and with everyone’s kind comments.

The teachers all wanted their pictures taken with me, the children, standing by the schools Buddha statue etc…and Joe and M kept asking me to stand or sit in what felt to me like silly poses haha. But great fun all the same and an experience I feel very lucky to have been privileged with.  Thank you Joe and thank you M for transforming me into a full blown Thai!

Party in BKK

Finally, it came to say the last LAST goodbye to the school. Joe and M took all the gear back but I still had a face full of thick make up and I was fretting about the thought of sitting on the bus looking like a ladyboy myself haha….I pulled off the fake tarantula looking eyelashes which helped a bit and then heard June toot her car horn from outside the house.

Driving to the bus station must have taken at least 2hrs! June wanted to take me as far as she could you see which was very sweet of her. We chatted non stop all the way and it was actually this car journey that made me feel more ‘bonded’ with June than I had before…strange that and bad timing with the fact I was on my way outta there!

At the bus station, June helped me to get my ticket and gave me a big hug that felt like it seemed to go on and on. Both our eyes were welling up and June promptly said, “I have to go now, I can’t watch the bus pull away” and with that we both went our separate ways 😦 The double decker bus looked pretty empty so I zoomed straight up to the top to bag the front seat! Pulling out of the bus station, it was then I sobbed a little as I watched North Thailand disappear.

My bus was so late arriving at Morchit Station in Bangkok, it must have been 10.30pm. Once at Morchit Station, I then had to grab a short cab ride to the train station so I could catch the Skytrain to On Nut to meet my Japanese pal Tomo. Finally reaching On Nut station, the usual ‘thick’ smell of pollution and other stinky smells soon hit (and blocked up) my nostrils.  I met my friend Tomo nearby and we then both had to quickly get ready to go out and meet the others and party!

4 of us all partied hard in the touristy area of Koh Sarn Road! Walking the streets together, I looked around thinking ‘In a funny kinda way, I’m actually going to miss all of this’ The hustle and bustle, the buy one bucket get one free, the being approached every minute to come and see the next ping pong show or the ‘you want laughing gas?’ or the ‘you want to eat scorpian?’ haha! I’d gotten used to the same old lines and right at that moment, I suddenly didn’t feel like the ‘tourist’ anymore and found I kept repeating ‘Mai ao Kha’ (which means no thank you).

We all partied until the early wee hours at ‘The Club’ and had such a fun night! And one thing that did make me laugh…I actually made friends with someone who lives 2 miles from my Mums house in Bedford!! How incredible! Such a little big world!!

Ooooh you give me fever! 

Ok, so I thought it was more than likely my fault but I ended up falling rather sick 2 days after our party night. Being hungover on the Sunday, I didn’t feel anything more than ‘hungover’ but Sunday evening I was engulfed by an awful fever which ended up lasting for days. My throat was so painful, it was on fire and my temperature was fluctuating from hot to cold quicker than I could put a jumper on to then whipping it off again. When I’d actually lost my voice, I got in touch with my friend Ken for help….squeaking away like sooty and sweep, Ken and I met up and he rushed me straight to the pharmacy. I was becoming panicky you see with nasty bugs flying around such as Dengue fever and malaria I thought I could have picked something up ‘Oh great, what if I have one of these diseases?’ ‘Did I pick something up from the school on my last day?’ ‘Crap, I’d better be 100% by Thursday for my flight to Oz!!’

Well, Ken and the pharmacist were chatting away about my symptoms and I was then issued with anti bacterials, some more pills to sooth the pain of sore throats and some throat lozengers. I’m so grateful Ken was around to help! Phew! I couldn’t get over the fact that the chemist could just hand out Anti-B’s like that too….it was as though she was prescribing me skittles haha! Well, do you know what, I didn’t care if they were going to even be the right ones because at the time, I felt so ill, weak and shivery that I was willing to take anything.

Even though I’d just started taking all these pills (and probably sounding like a rattling pharmacy myself!), I developed a burning red itchy rash which started on my throat and soon spread downwards until my whole body was scarlet..then my stomach decided it wanted in on the ill action and began cramping up (felt like indigestion or something). Yep, I knew exactly what this was….Scarlet Fever! I’d had this once before when I was at college…you’d think you can’t get this kind of illness anymore, and god knows where I caught this, strange hey!

Well, a few sweaty days later…I had beaten the fever and my voice was slowly coming back! The rash has died down too and is nothing more than a few itchy patches now. I’m not yet 100% but not far off so do forgive me if my blog’s not quite up to my usual Readdy standards 😉

Goodbye Thailand

As much as I am looking forward to kicking up the pace on the running machine of adventure, I am actually going to miss the school as I said earlier and well, Thailand overall! I was starting to pick up their ‘ways’, their language (ok, so I only learnt a few words!) but I mean the way they speak, the way they talk to you e.g. the ‘Where are you going Miss?’ ‘How old are you?’ ‘Are you married?’ – which of course, in the beginning, I took all of this as being a bit rude or nosy however, Thai people have to be the least rudest people you could ever meet. They are so kind, generous and sincere and always seem willing to help you no matter how trivial the need.

My Thai friends even said I was beginning to dress and act like a Thai hahah! Although my dietry requirements could never adapt to all the spicy food…my poor tastebuds, my tummy, boy will I be glad to be leaving ‘phet’ (hot) food behind haha!

This might sound very sentimental because right now, the theme tune to Jurassic Park has just started playing on my ipod and is reminding me of when Judith and I went jungle trekking in Laos haha! Hey, maybe you should put it on while you’re reading this, music really does help the imagination 😉

So, here goes…..one door closes and another one opens (in the form of a plane haha)

Here we are! And what an incredible adventure Thailand (and Indochina) has given me but now, the time is right to go. I will soon be following the yellow brick road with my little wooden stick (white bag hanging off the end of it!) and waving goodbye with the other 😥

So when I am on that plane Thursday evening, feeling the planes wheels turning to straighten up for it’s powerful boost along the runway waiting for the plane to gradually speed up and up until the ‘super jet booster’ button is hit projecting all passengers ‘G forced’ faces back into their seats and up into the air……my mind will be rushing with beautiful memories. The elephants, the temples, the Buddha’s, the culture, the markets, the crickets (and eating of them!), my gecko family (who I wish all the best with their new batch when they finally come to hatch!), the giant ants and termites (well, maybe!), the parties, the friends, the jungle treks, their simple yet beautiful way of life, Helen’s bug hunts, the weather, the school, the food, their laid back ways (Thai time), their ‘don’t worry’ attitude and their traditions! The list could just go on and on!

I’m so so proud of myself! I can’t believe I’ve completed and survived the first leg of my journey. I know my Brother would be so proud too and I know he’s been looking after me along the way and I reckon he’d also be thinking, ‘You did it!’

I will be looking down from out the planes window, watching with watery eyes as Thailand shrinks in size until it looks nothing more than a miniature toy town…and perhaps like something that I imagined ‘happened’

Always in my heart, always in my memory, forever…..

Love you Thailand ❤

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Great Adaptations!

Wow, so I’ve now survived 3wks, nearly 4 as an English Teacher, phewie! The past 2wks have been all about adapting and learning to set boundaries. Whilst it has been a good couple of weeks, it has also left a ‘serious after thought’ in my mind. My first week was all about ‘Wow, there’s an english person here to help us learn and teach’ ‘Wow, look at the white person’ etc..but now, life at the school has had to get real. I guess, if I could just pick words to summarize the past few weeks…I would choose; ‘frustration, heart-ache, hard work, thought provoking, and yes…tears’ !!

Always on call! 

I tell ya, I have a whole new respect for teachers! Well, I mean, not that I didn’t respect them before of course, but now having played a part in their routines and lessons and ‘worn the teachers hat’, I just don’t know how they do it each and everyday! Oh my word have I been tired! Instead of being the newbie who is meant to be full of energy, I am just tired all the time! I guess this is because I am living onsite at the school so wherever you go, whatever you do, you will always bump into a kid or 3! You literally have to be on your best behavior, giving the biggest smiles and the ever attentive ears at all times! Even at the weekends, you get ‘disturbed’…the kiddies will come to the house to see what you’re doing or come to drag you out to play which is rather sweet but at the same time, I do like my own space just like we all do and all need at times. Swearing has far left my vocab now (for my Mum and Dads ears – not that I swore a lot of course haha! 😉 ) but anything you say, they will mimic and remember! Actually, now there’s a thought…why do kids always seem to remember the bad words hah! I bet if you taught a lesson swearing throughout, they’d remember the dam lot haha! Swearing the phonics at them, they’d be b****y geniuses!

Clingons….not in the star wars sense, nor any other sense!

Ok, now the serious part! It became evident after the first week that I had the beginning of a small fan club. I’m not saying this to sound big headed but the teachers did warn me that you may experience a few ‘clingons’ haha. Being new and different, the children naturally see you as a new play mate right! Well, Lek (the lady boy who I introduced you to in week 1) was my main clingon, then there is Gun, another cute little fella who is just lacking love and attention! Other followers include a few young girls who just want to play with my hair and draw pictures of me…so cute!

Lek was really my own main problem. From the start we were watching Youtube videos together almost everyday! Well I had no idea that the students weren’t allowed in the computer rooms unless they were doing homework / projects etc…oops! The students are fully aware of the rules of which I wasn’t so he took advantage of my ‘newness’! But other problems arose…Lek really wanted the DVD collection of the British hit Merlin! One evening I was skyping my Mum and Nana’s and he came over and interrupted asking them “Have you ever heard of Merlin? I want the Dvds, series 1,2,3 and 4!” Well, of course my poor Mum and Nana’s agreed to get them for him to which he replied “Don’t lie to me!” Well, in the end, I had to tell him this wasn’t going to happen for 3 reasons: 1. Dvd regions are different 2. It will all be in English and 3. I can’t be seen getting one student a Dvd and not all other 700 of them! Eventually (and even though he didn’t look happy about it), Lek understood!

Finally with that drama over with another one started! “I’m staying at my sisters on the weekend. We can take you to Phanom Rung Ruins” Lek sounded really excited! My first response was “Sure” but then he asked to borrow my mobile to call his sister which I stupidly let him! “Great, she said it’s all fine! I can’t wait!” He then clapped his hands and then ran off to class. Um, hang on a minute…what just happened here? At lunch time in the canteen I consulted Tomb and Pinto…”I may have got this wrong but I think Lek just invited me to stay at his sisters house for the weekend and he’s taking me to see the ruins?!” I explained! “Can someone just talk to him for me and let him know that I’m not comfortable with that. I don’t mind a day out but not to stay over!” “Oh no! Of course, we’ll speak to him Helen don’t worry!” A surprised looking Tomb exchanged a glance and nodd with Pinto for they would deal with him after lunch! Later on in the day, Tomb and Pinto explained that Lek had been spoken to and they were really pleased I informed them both. Not sure I can go into details but it didn’t exactly sound ‘safe’ for me to stay at the house (not that I was planning to anyway) but they also brought it to my attention that even if I did have a ‘day out’ with him and his sister…should anything happen to either of us, I would be the one liable! Umm…Ok, I was thinking, can we just forget the whole thing!? I’m more than happy to take myself off to see the ruins anyway! Lek did come and find me a few days later saying how upset he was that he couldn’t take me to see the ruins but I just laughed it off. I later found out that he even asked one of the teachers to drive us both there and back seeing as I couldn’t stay over…the cheeky lil thing! Anyways, drama dealt with! Since then, Lek has backed off and he seems to be leaving me to get on and ‘teach’ which is a good thing!

It’s one thing being a friend to the students, but my first lesson has taught me that you must set the boundaries!

Summary of Week 2!

With the tiredness aside and clingons finally loosing their grip, I am now pretty much set up here! I share a timetable with Pinto so I know what I am teaching and as long as I have my lesson plans in place and enough material to last a 50 minute session I’m fine. I am treated more as a ‘floating’ teacher. If another english teacher wants to ‘borrow’ me for a lesson, I now get ‘booked’ up which is rather funny…I feel like an english consultant or something hah!

– Thai Time

Yes, there really is such a thing as ‘Thai time’ if I haven’t already banged on about it! The 2nd week was a bit of shambles in my opinion. Teachers booking me up but then either showing up 20 minutes late or sometimes not at all…well, we all know that famous saying ‘The show must go on’…well, I had to make it happen, I couldn’t just not teach right? That was funny, teaching english without having a translator in the room! I could have waffled on about anything I liked and no one would have known a thing haha. The older grades were a pleasure to teach, they wanted to learn and even though they probably didn’t understand everything I was saying, at least they tried. The younger kids however, well, they would just run riot and if there wasn’t another teacher present..they were little monsters but saying that, as soon as the bell went, they would turn into angels and fetch my paper work and other bits and pieces and carry them back to the office for me! Huh! Annoyingly cute eh!

I’ve mostly been teaching the parts of the human body and also the names of english food for all of my 2nd week. The kids no matter the age, all loved the stickers game (sticking the word of the body part on to the volunteer!) and also the part where I would invite one of them up to draw me a skeleton on the blackboard (mainly because I simply can’t draw one of those hehe!)…They love it when they have to do something be it, singing, drawing or colouring in and each and everyone of them are amazing at drawing! Are kids just budding artists the minute they are born? I remember a time when I was good at drawing cartoons…I’d love to tell them to never stop drawing, no matter how old they get hah!

Oh one little boy has stuck in my mind actually, he is so funny! I was teaching his class about singular and plural…so I would go through the body parts and point out 1 eye or 2 and invite them to suggest what the plural word would sound like. Well, every time a pair came up, this little boy would shout out really loud at the top of his voice in a monotone pitch “S”  “Yes! Correct, well done, but how does it sound with the word?” I would reply…but again I got….”S” haha! Oh dear, we’ll get there eventually (I hope). Then I taught the same subject to a different class and right at that very moment, I asked them all the same question…this little boy walked past, popped his head around the door and shouted “S” through the doorway, I shouldn’t laugh but it was so funny! One of those moments where you had to be there really.

– Dinner lady…there’s a fly in my lunch, oh and another, and another!

Yup! The School’s canteen (well, everywhere you go in Buriram is riddled with flies to be honest) may as well open a separate tuck shop just for the flies! I can think of 5 types of flies that I’ve seen buzzing about but only 2 species are super annoying. You have the normal black fly that you get back at home and then there are the eeny weeny tiny flies which are massively annoying!!

The common black flies will land on you, your glass, your forks, chopsticks, plates and of course – your food! No matter how many times you swot and sway your arms about, they just don’t give up! I’m almost certain I ate one the other lunch time, they are that determined to grab themselves a free lunch! In fact, someone told me that it’s not a bad thing?! Really!! Because apparently it shows your food is natural and not full of chemicals. Hmm..not sure if I’d rather have a mouthful of flies or mouthful of chemicals?

So you have the ‘I love food and I love annoying humans’ kind of fly but hang on…keep your eyes out for the teeny weeny flies, literally – if you don’t look out for them, they’re certain to look out for you! Yep, they have a weird fetish for the human eye ball! I don’t know why but these little fella’s are determined to get inside your eye! You are constantly swotting them away! Being a contact lens wearer it’s a ‘germ concern’ well, of course even if you’re not but they are so irritating! I sit outside of an evening to skype my Mum, Dad and Nana’s and these flies are persistently buzzing around your face, your eyes!

Health wise, I haven’t actually been 100% since I started here at the school you know. My guess is because I haven’t stayed somewhere for too long so have been lucky to avoid bugs and germs but being surrounded by children, different food and fly infested food at that…I’m sure I’ve have had more tummy troubles than a bottle of Pepto Bismol could keep up with ha! I’ve even had all kinds of rashes and some in places I can’t even reach to scratch hah! Well, I’m sure by the time I move on, I will have an immune system as strong as an ox 🙂

– Plotting and planning

Among all the teaching, I have very busy getting back to basics, yep, plotting and planning again! Lesson plans, new ideas / subjects to teach and talk about  as well as trying to think ahead…I have also been busy planning a careers workshop ‘Route to Recruit’. It was like a light bulb suddenly exploded in my head “OMG, why don’t I hold a careers workshop after school for the 18 year olds?! I mean, that’s what my job was back in the UK, to get other people jobs right?” Bingo…I went straight into see June and she thought it was a great idea. Coincidentally I was teaching the 12th graders that day so we put the idea to them…”Yes, yes!” They all shrieked! Fab, sounds like a good plan then. So in the computer rooms of an evening (whilst flitting between facebook and hotmail) I have been putting together a 4 week course for them. This isn’t about teaching english, this will be teaching young adults how to prepare themselves for an interview and hopefully what to expect. I have been allocated a translator for all my speakers notes as well as on the night as I’m sure they’ll all have questions!

I have also been (trying!) to make my own personal plans…what the hell am I doing after this…where and when?! Well, I think I almost have the where’s covered, but I just need to figure out the when’s. I’ve had one dream to visit the beach where the ‘Beach’ was filmed…yes, yes, cliche whatever you want to call it. You can’t come to Thailand and not do that ‘beach’ right! It’s like going to Paris and NOT going up the Eiffel Tower right? But we are now in the rainy season and there have been storms a plenty over that way plus there is the threat of the dreaded dengue fever in the air. I know at least 2 people who have contracted the infection since going near this place…hmmm…maybe I’ll go there for a few days and back but I can only plan this around the weather. Then I’d like to whizz over to Australia for 4-6wks and then hit Indonesia for 4wks! I’d love to do another jungle trek but this time on the hunt for the illusive Orangutan! After Indo, I’ll fly back over to KL for 2-3wks before heading home!! Wow, home time is coming up faster than I thought! *Sighs*

I also need to plan a visa run in all of this too! Being close to Cambodia is such a bonus…I will bus or train it there, get stamped out of Thailand and into Cambodia and hang about for a few hours, maybe the night? Then it’ll be a quick stamp out of Cambodia and back into Thailand for my 3rd and final stamp! I will need to have my wits about me too as there are a lot of visa scams entering cambodia. I have also heard the immigration like to try their luck and ask you for money just to exit again! I read on someone’s blog that they laid down on the floor and pretended to ‘go to sleep’  to avoid parting with any cash..well the immigration wanted to get rid of him sharpish to avoid any embarrassment but I’m not sure I’d have the guts to do that haha! I’ll have to think of something..

– Readdy for the weekend! 

Friday 21st of June was a knightmare! Everything just seemed to go wrong that day. The kids forgot to bring me my brekkie canister so I was pretty hungry by the time I’d got into the office. Then I was booked up for lessons in which again, the teachers were either late or just didn’t show at all. Oh and I even taught the wrong class haha! Only the Readders could do that right! Ok, I can laugh about it now but at the time I was pretty frustrated and totally embarrassed! I was asked to teach the 11th grade (16-17yr olds). Great I thought, a nice age and a good subject. Well, I couldn’t remember where the classroom was! Unfortunately I inherited my Dad’s shocking sense of direction hah! (sorry Papz). Mine is pretty appalling…I will sometimes go into a shop and then come out thinking…um…which way did I come in?! Oh dear haha…how have I survived travelling for this long I wonder? Well, anyway, I asked a group of passing students “Where is Grade 11, class 3?” They all pointed me to a building at the far end, “Lovely, thank you!” I replied, and then carried along my merry way! I can imagine my pony tail was whooshing and whipping from side to side at this point too hah! So, I get to the ‘building’ and I’m faced with corridor after corridor of rooms and doors! Most of them open and each filled with kids off all ages. Oh crap! Ok, ask someone…I found 3 teachers all hanging about doing well, nothing really so I asked them the same question. They soon pointed me into a room full of 35 odd screaming kids! Oh my god, are they serious? They don’t look 16-17yrs old, they looked about 10-11! Despite my protests and resorting to drawing the grade and class number in the air and asking them repeatedly “Are you sure?”, I was soon ushered into the room so I had no choice but to teach. Before the door was even shut, one of the Thai teachers ordered the little people up on their feet to do their welcome chant of  “Good morning Teacher, how are you?” Oh no…so after uttering a silent sigh under my breath, I went for it! It was terrible! Well, they didn’t understand me without a translator but to be honest, I don’t think they wanted to either! So I struggled on through and thanked the skies when bell when it went off! Then the monsters turned into little angels and helped me pack my props away!

– Sing us another song!

Finally, it’s 3.30pm and it’s Friday afternoon…school’s officially out oooh yeehhh! Pinto and ‘M’ one of the lady boy teachers invite me out for dinner and karaoke for the evening, hell yes, I could do with a beer or 3 to help dull my memory of teaching the wrong class. We had a fun night munching on grilled fish (they eat that a lot here…it’s funny seeing a huge grilled fish laid out on a plate staring up at you with it’s ‘popped’ yellow eye! You just each grab a fork and well, tuck in!), drinking Leo beer and singing our hearts out to a random selection of Thailands greatest hits to some good old classic Brit hits! M has the voice of an angel by the way! He used to enter competitions when he was younger and apparently he won every time. Well, as soon as he opened his mouth, wow! I couldn’t speak and I felt as though I must have looked like a puddle of melted butter on the floor haha! I loved it. He sang all in Thai though so I have no idea what he was saying or singing about but I didn’t care!

Saturday was a pretty rubbish day. The kids didn’t feed me at all that day so I was famished. There are no shops nearby, nothing is in walking distance and there are no taxi’s or tuk tuks around either. Plus there are some dodgy looking dogs just at the entrance of the school and after my experience with that dog from the monkey school in Surat Thani, I really didn’t fancy another run in. That’s the thing actually, I have developed a small fear of dogs. I believe that to be a good thing in Thailand anyways as you never know if they have rabies right? I think once I get back to the UK I will be fine. So Saturday I ended up tidying and hand washing my clothes in a huge bucket that I found on the porch. Oh and I found a yellow scorpion in my bin! Thankfully it was dead but it still sent shivers down my spine! Even though it was awesome, it was a clear reminder that these things are very real over here and apparently living in bins hah! So from now on, I always check my shoes and even my sleeping bag just incase one crawls inside for a night cap!

– Not completely ruined

Sunday was pretty cool. Beau invited me along to see the ruins – the place Lek wanted to take me to! We were to have a day out at Phanom Rung Ruins with 5 other students. So the schools truck toots outside at 10am to pick me. Beau greets me and ushers me into the truck where I see 5 excited students all sitting in the back, gossiping and taking photos of each other before they embark on their day out! Pulling the heavy truck door shut, we’re off! We stopped along the way to grab some coffee (and I was glad because I was feeling sleepy as usual hah!) and snacks and then carried on.

It took us about an hour to reach Phanom Rung Ruins. My ears were tuned in to the chatter from Beau and the students but both my eyes were busy taking in the views and sights along the way. We passed many lakes that were covered by blankets of beautiful pink Lotus Flowers, it was just like being back in Nam! They are amazing, they only open when the sun shines down on them and as soon as the moon rises, they close up for the night! Down each dusty, bumpy road we travelled, I would see locals going about their usual business, families (yep, Mum, Dad AND the kids) all miraculously balanced on their dodgy looking motorbikes and lone stray dogs either sleeping in the odd patch of shade or sniffing about the food stalls. We also pass lush green rice paddies and also another field full of plants that looked suspiciously like cannibus plants!? I was thinking to myself, if I was to hire a motorbike for the day, I’d never find my way back to the school you know! I’m not kidding, all the roads look the same hah!

So we finally get to the ruins and the school very kindly pay for my entrance fee, bonus! I guess it’s because it’s classed as an educational day out hey! I can see hoards of visitors (mostly of Asian ethnicity) snapping away with their huge Canons or Nikons reminding me why the hell didn’t I bring mine with me? Hey my Sammy will do just fine for now (Samsung!). And I can also see the usual tatty souvenir shops all lined up next to each other each displaying the same stock; ‘I heart Phanom Rung Ruins’ T-Shirts, pens, caps, keyrings and fridge magnets etc.. As soon as we walked through the entrance gates, I can see the ruins in the distance and to be honest, they look like a mini Angkor Wat. “Excuse me Miss, can I have photo with you?” Hah! Well, this is actually becoming a ‘normal’ occurrence! The Asian culture just seem to love having their photos with us ‘Westerners’ for some reason. I had this a further 4 x that afternoon!

So, we’re walking round and taking photos and generally enjoying out day out when suddenly we walked right onto the set of a music video, opps! haha! Of course, I had no idea who the singer was but apparently she’s quite well known over here…you show her picture to anyone here and they will know her. We stopped and watched for a while and the team even let me have my photo with the dancers from the video which was pretty cool! After all the excitement, we left in search of food, gobble gobble.

Summary of week 3

So it’s a new week and there’s a lot to be done. My first careers workshop is Tuesday evening so I’ve been busy adding the final touches to my introduction slides. Monday evening we had a huge thunderstorm and I gladly welcomed it…the storms always managed to cut through the blanket of hazy heat the day had smothered us in and even kept it away the following day. I was in the computer room tapping away at speed on the keyboard while the rain was hammering down on the roof. Cor, it’s like there’s some kind of musical production going on out there…the porch just outside the computer room is covered by a tin roof you see so it sounded like thousands of tin..no…iron buckets were hitting and bouncing off the roof and I could also hear toads croaking and singing to each other to come out and play, the odd chirping of crickets probably telling it’s ‘kind’ to run back inside the safety of their homes and then there are the beetles! Huge hard shelled beetles all come out and fly to any glimmer of light they can see so they’re flying under the porch and whacking themselves into the underside of the roof making a ‘clunk’ sound – but imagine a whole bunch of them all doing this…the industrial sized buckets made of iron splashing down and then the clunking of beetles banging into the tin roof haha! I had also stupidly left the door open to the computer room so of course, these huge beetles are all flying in for shelter and their lightbulb ‘fix’. I sat and watched them for a while and it did make me chuckle…I imagined these beetles were like little army soldiers wearing hard hats but their navigation systems are all out of sorts because they just clumsily (and repeatedly!) smash themselves into objects…even ME! I even found one in my hair when I got back to the house…how the hell did I NOT notice that, so gross! And they cling on for dear life! Once they’ve got a hold of whatever they’re sitting on, you have quite the job getting them off, determined lil buggers hah!

– The teacher becomes the taught! 

So we’re all sitting in the canteen having our lunch to which (as usual), I can’t really eat. Dam I’m missing all kinds of food right now. What I would give for a crispy bacon sarnie drowning in ketchup with of course, a good old English cup of tea mmmm!!! There is a selection of food in amoungst the fly infested chow to chose from..rice (as always), some kind of fermented fish soup and a plate piled high of dried out crispy fish! Oh my goodness did it smell, I actually felt rather nauseous..um, rice for me then! Laughter and chatter filled the air in the canteen with the odd interruption from a chinking fork or glass. Suddenly a man walked into the canteen carrying a big box in his arms. Everyone seemed to know straight away what was inside! Chairs screeched and scraped on the floor beneath them and teachers were practically skipping over to him! Before the man could get the box open, teachers were already extending 1 or 2 fingers at him as if to give a ‘pre’ order! I watched in curiosity as the first teacher exchanged a few baht for what was inside the goody box. A clear plastic bag full of a ‘black mass’ was handed over in exchange. Pinto came back with 2 of these bags…oh noooo! It’s black crickets! Gross! I should have recognised them. “Mmmm, delicious!” Pinto was already opening her bag and popping one straight in her mouth! My curiosity had to be satisfied…with one eyebrow raised I asked “Is there anything that us Brits eat which you Thai’s find gross?” “Um..yes, there is actually..cheese! Especially that mouldy one. Thai people can’t bear the smell, texture or taste!” Pinto then popped another 2 crickets straight in her gob. “Have you not noticed how we don’t even sell butter or milk?” Pinto was practically spitting crickets at me..I was worried I might get a cricket leg in my rice if she carried on talking with her mouth full hah! “Ah yeh, of course, that’s true. So you just don’t like dairy products full stop?” “I guess it’s just how we differ from you, we are more into our fish and rice”. “So what do these crickets actually taste of then…chicken haha?” I asked, shoving a spoonful of bland steamed rice in my mouth. “Prawns!” Pinto replied. “Oh haha…I was expecting you to say chicken! In England, we say everything tastes like that you see!” “Haha…everything here tastes like prawns!” (well, that’s kinda true actually..it’s either that or spicy to me!) June then walked into the canteen. She looked rather disappointed that she missed the ‘cricket man’ but Pinto offered her a handful with her lunch..yummy, fermented fish with a side order of crickets haha!

“Helen, I’ve been speaking with our music teacher. I realise how much you like music so I’ve arranged for you to take part in the lessons each week if you’d like?” June was already munching on her crickets before her main course (that tasty see!). “Wow, thanks June! I’d love to!” How exciting, I get to be a Thai music student. “When can I start?” I excitedly asked. “You can start after lunch today if you’d like?” “Yes, that’ll be FAB, thank you!” So that’s just what I did…

The school bell soon called me to my first music lesson and I couldn’t wait. The music department comprises of a small building stood on it’s own, it’s actually suspended on stilts hovering over a little lake, it’s rather sweet actually! Inside, the teacher welcomed me and enthusiastically ushered me to an instrument. Looking around the room before the class began, I could see an array of dusty music books, music stands, drums of all kinds – some on stands and some set on the floor. I could also see other instruments about the place, wooden panpipes, stringed instruments which were almost like horizontal violins that you pluck and ‘twang’ to change the pitch and tone..and then there were the wooden xylophones, that’s what I was learning today. Ok, doesn’t sound very exciting but it does actually produce a far from boring sound…it’s almost like a timbale but a wooden one of course hah! The instrument curved upwards at both ends so it was almost like a big ‘C’ shape. When I first hit the notes with my muffled beating sticks I thought the thing was out of tune – well, either that or I was hitting the wrong keys but no..that’s how they are meant to sound. Incredibly, when all the instruments are played together at the same time, they all come together and produce this very unique sound…the sound of traditional and rather beautiful’Thai’ music. No language was needed either, I found it rather easy to understand the teacher. The notes were written on the keys of the xylophone and the teacher would write what notes we were to play on the board. Again, I found it easy to realise when to play another bar or repeat certain lines etc..that’s the beauty of music, you just go with your gut and ‘read’ the teacher and ‘feel’ when to come in or drop out etc..I may have inherited my Dad’s appalling sense of direction but hey, with the ‘Readdys’ music in my blood, this is one trait that certainly makes up for it! 😉

At the end of the lesson I caught up with June to let her know how I got on. Apparently the music teacher had said I have a ‘good music sense about me’ 😀 “Helen, I also wanted to let you know, that we are getting the piano upstairs fixed” June sounded as though she couldn’t wait to tell me! Not sure if I mentioned but I spotted a piano here and the only one but the plug was missing..it’s an electric upright. “Ah wow! That’s great! So I can have a play in my free time!” I was rather excited..I had been itching to play again and see what I could remember etc..”I’d like to hear you play and also to the children. I want them to see you as an idol so it will give them encouragement to learn too” Um…what!! Ok, so I used to be able to play and to an ok standard (in my opinion). I used to practice everyday aspiring to play like the great gods of the music world including Bach and Beethoven but I haven’t tinkled on the ivory’s properly for some years now. It’s a great shame too. I could never read music, I really struggled with it so instead I would ‘listen and learn’ but by the time I reached grade 4, it became apparent that listening wasn’t going to cut it anymore and I had to be able to read to pass the exams, hey ho. I really hope I can learn to play again in my own time before I have a small audience hah!

I have also joined a pottery class too with the kids! Again, it was something June arranged for me..now it’s not like I’m a budding ‘potterist’ hah but it was fun all the same. When I got to the class room, it looked like the typical ‘arty’ room just like it did when I myself was back at primary school. There were ‘readdy made’ pots and vases and deformed looking animals and mugs etc..all sorts that had already been blasted in the kiln. It was quite funny, the teacher didn’t speak much english so he took me by the hand, guided me to a work bench and handed me a huge lump of clay! What was I supposed to make with that haha?! Then in Blue Peter style, he showed me a pen pot he’d made earlier! Ahh I see, so you want me to make a pen pot..ok, let’s do this! My lovely cleaned and pruned nails were soon clogged up with thick charcoal grey clay but that didn’t matter..we were all getting stuck in with our pots. Mine actually ended up looking more like a vase than a pen pot..or a pen pot for a giant and his giant stationary haha! Either way it was fun and the kids loved it and it was a great way to interact with them.

– Readdy to Recruit!

My first careers workshop is upon us and actually, even though I am a little nervous, I’m really looking forward to getting started!

Ready with my slides, speaker notes and handouts, the time has come for me to walk over to the allocated room. Along the way, I meet Beau who is my translator for the evening. I hadn’t actually seen the room so wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought maybe it was going to be just like any of the regular classrooms with a blackboard and few wooden desks? Well oh no…Beau unlocked the door and I was quite surprised at what I saw….

The room in my opinion was ‘President ready’! Everything looked so shiny and new! There was a raised platform ‘stage’ area with a huge pull down screen, a projector, a laptop, a speakers stand AND microphone! Omg! This was a full on professional conference room! When we first walked in, there was actually a movie playing from the laptop which was being projected onto the big screen. The Dolby surround speakers echoed and bounced the action scenes all around the room as though we were in a mini cinema! Well, they’ve certainly kept this little room a hidden gem! I suddenly felt super nervous and slightly under prepared. I wish I knew about the projector, I could have loaded a USB stick with my presentation rather than printing them but nevermind..it’s the quality of the pitch that really counts tonight hey.

So I’m busy getting ready and switching on the microphone and making sure all of my notes were in order. The microphone was awesome! My voice boomed from behind the speakers stand and it seemed as though my dulcet tones shot right to the back end of the room and straight back into my face hah! (I could imagine my hair blowing backwards at this point looking just as it would if you were riding up front in a convertible car haha. There goes my imagination again!) I actually really wanted to belch down the mic for a laugh! But of course, not very professional of me hehe. I think I was then punished for that thought as I then got a small shock as I twiddled the mic towards me. “YEOUCH!” Beau told me to put my shoes on (in Thailand, you must leave your shoes at the door you see but the electric shock let me off). Outside I could hear a storm brewing so I wondered what the turn out was going to be like. Maybe the kids will want to stay tucked up in their dorms rather than listen to me rant on about how to get a J.O.B? But then suddenly the door swung open and a few of the grads waltzed in, then a few more, and a few more until 30 odd filled the now not so vacant seats in front of me. Gulp..I’d better not freeze up here..mini pep talk going on in my head as usual ‘C’mon Hels, you can stand up and welcome 700 kids, you can do this too!’ Phew..a couple of rather large gulps from my pint of water (yes, yes, was totally wishing it was a pint of another kind!) Beau then looked at me and gave me the ‘nod’ to make a start!

“Hello! Good evening everyone. Thank you for joining me tonight for the first stage of ‘Route to Recruit'” I then started clapping, I don’t know why but it felt right..plus, it was almost biding me more time to think of where to take it next hah! Clapping is so infectious isn’t it..just like laughing I guess, it’s one of those things that people just instinctively copy. Before the clapping died down, I quickly scanned my notes to get the evening started. I was a bit nervous and you could probably hear it in my crackly voice over the super sonic boom mic but actually once I’d got past the first introduction and course outline, it was fine, well, it went great infact if I may say so myself haha! To finish, I asked the student to apply for one of the graduate jobs from my ‘fake job ad’ that I had created! The students at the end said they really enjoyed it and could I present stage 2 that same very week! So just like the weather outside, I guess you could say Route to Recruit went down a storm haha! So with the next evening / time agreed, I shot straight to the computer rooms after to make sure I had enough material for stage 2. I ended up working on stage 3 too so I could stay ahead.

The second stage again went well with the students. I loved it too because once the initial oh my god I have to talk to them about work fear was over…It became more about the ‘I really want to help them and I hope they find this useful (and take it in hah)’ Stage 2 was their interview invitations (from the fake job ad they applied for a few days earlier) and the ‘how to’ prepare for an interview / research etc. The 3rd stage will be ‘how to’ prepare themselves (i.e. what to wear), greeting the interviewer, body language and attitude and the general do’s and don’ts. The final stage will be all about the interview, the typical questions, how to answer them and then of course…the mock interviews woo hoo! I’m sure they’ll be looking forward to that one, not!

– Back to the Big Smoke!

With the end of the week approaching, I decided to escape for the weekend for a much needed break! As I mentioned, being on your best behaviour for 3 wks 24/7 is very tiring haha! So I arranged to meet some Thai friends and go party in stinky Bangkok woo hoo!

It was very sweet actually but June dropped me off at the bus station late Friday afternoon and she even chatted to the ticketers for me to make sure I got on the right bus, bless her. I didn’t have to wait long, within minutes my bus pulled in and immediately I felt like a kid when I spotted it was a double decker woo hoo…well guess where I’m going to sit..yup, up top of course haha! So minus the invisible man, I clamber on with a small kitchen sink haha… yes, even with my mini rucksack I still manage to bring everything I DON’T actually need but want and end up paying the price! So kitchen sink and Sammy slung over one shoulder (my Samsung camera!), it’s up top I go. Ah dammit, the front seats have all been nabbed…oh well, as long as I get a window seat I’m happy! June waved me off right up to the point I couldn’t see her anymore haha, she was like my stand in Thai Mum that day aww. On go the headphones, out comes the book and I’m sorted.

Half way there, I’m staring out the window deep in thought as usual when…oh great…just seen a dead dog slap bang in the middle of the road! It’s eyes were open and still twinkled in the sun so it must have just happened! I couldn’t get the image out of my head 😦 I’m surprised it’s still there actually..In Vietnam that would have been made into a hot pot already! You think I’m joking, dog is quite the dish over there!

Finally I arrive at Bangkok bus station and immediately before I’ve even stepped one foot onto Bangkok territory you get the chants of “Excuse me Miss…where you go…taxi Miss!?” Grrrr…I’ve learnt to never get the first ones you are greeted with..take a bit of a walk and you’ll soon find a whole bunch of registered (and metered) taxi’s. Again, just be careful to watch the meter thing – as you’ve probably realised in amongst my bloggings somewhere that some taxi dudes will try to rip you off by either setting a price to ride or just won’t bother turning on the meters at all. Metered taxi’s will always be cheaper. I love telling them no nowadays haha! They don’t get offended, just be firm with them and don’t get angry as they call this ‘losing face’. I’ve also learnt that if you upset one Thai, you upset a whole bunch of em! I witnessed a fight brewing in Koh Sarn Road between a German guy and a Thai tuk tuk driver. Things were getting a bit heated when a local joined the tuk tuk driver making it 2 against 1. I asked my Thai friend what was going on etc and he said the other Thai guy who spoke to the Tuk Tuk driver was basically saying ‘If you want me to hit him, let me know!’ It died down in the end but just goes to show hey! Anyways, sorry, going off on one as usual. So I get to my hotel, unload and unwind! Ahh a nice hot shower, beats the cold one at the school haha! Oh nooo, I realise I’ve lost the tablet to my charger! Well, either that or it’s rolled out my kitchen sink and under one of the chairs on the double decker! But I wasn’t going to let that ruin my mini break hah!

I had a great time! I managed to pack quite a few things in such as the cinema, bowling, karaoke, clubbing, a visit to the Saxophone Bar, a Thai massage, watched a break dancing contest oh and a little bit of shopping. Hey I even very randomly spotted a guinea pig in a bush by the MBK Mall!! Yes, a guinea pig in a bush! I walked over to it to see if it was alright?! Very strange, was this where it’s owner let it live or had it escaped? I grabbed the attention of a nearby security looking official and pointed at this ginger guinea pig…”Look, look!” I said waggling my index finger at it. He didn’t even batter an eyelid! There was in fact a rather large stick of cucumber tucked under the bush next to him so um…I guess he lived in there? But before I could do anything about it, the security guy ushered me away from it so I didn’t really know what to do !?

Another very random thing happened in the Mall…I walked past this lil cute kid and as I walked on, I heard his Mum say “Go on….” the next thing I know, this lil fella was standing very wobbly next to my ankles and he just stared up at me! haha…His Mum came over and said hello to me. “He wants you to pick him up. It’s strange because he never lets anyone pick him up or even touch him but he pointed at you as you walked past and wanted a cuddle!” Um…I was thinking…’Ok’ so I picked him up and made a bit of a fuss of him haha. I think I was blushing a bit because so many Thai people  were glancing over and even taking photos! My friend Ken was with me at the time and he offered to take a photo of me and this lil dude. Hey, maybe the kids can sense I work in a school now haha!??

Anyway, I managed to get a new charger for my tablet! Later in the evening, I plugged my new charger in to power up the tablet overnight and what a disaster! I was in the middle of watching a film, The Hunger Games (great film btw!) when suddenly….. ‘POP!’ What the hell!? Everything then blacked out! I was in total darkness for the lights, the fridge the TV…everything had completely shut down! Oh crap! The power had gone…all that was left was a stinky, burning plasticy smell. Um…must be the charger?! I opened the door and saw everyone still had power..yep, def something to do with in here. Carefully I unplugged the charger and it was burning hot..the plug was singed to a dark smokey grey…oh no…haha, I’m going to have to report this at Reception! Well it was all fine in the end. It was something to do with a power ‘reverse’ but they sorted in a matter of minutes…good o’, I wanted to catch up with my film haha..

– Back to School 

After a weekend of much partying, chilling and socialising it’s time for me to head back to the school and there is a lot I need to do right…for the careers workshop needs finishing and I must get on and get prepared for Oz and Indonesia! Then there are the visa’s to sort, oh boy! Cambodia run and Oz application! I’m sure it will all come together, it always does.

My bus is 30 mins late but again, I grab the Nakhorn Chai Air from Bangkok to Buriram. They are good these buses because you get given a bottle of water, a small dinner (usually chicken and rice) and then a carton of soya milk before you get off. They are nice and roomy too oh plus, the seats are massage seats haha! You just press a few buttons and away it goes…feels bit creepy to me though lol! Just be sure to take your headphones because they usually play a film but it’s all dubbed in Thai 😦

My bus arrived at Nang Rong Hospital where a lift was waiting for me (well, a motorbike). It was really nice actually because the school had left me 2 bags of shopping outside my house for my arrival..there were bottles of water, 4 packets of biscuits, a tub of butter and also a loaf of bread. Yesss butter! Now I can have a butter and jammy sarnie hah!

So I am now in my 4th week at the school! Wow. Well, it has certainly been easier than staying in the monastery and it’s gone a lot quicker too hah!

While my brain is still whizzing away like it always does, I will give your eyes a rest because for me now it’s plot, plot, plot! My next installment of the Readders adventures may be the last one from the school and more about my future plans? Lets see how it goes for sometimes things don’t always go the way you planned them BUT sometimes, the best things really are the unplanned ;)………….

oh and p.s…update on the gecko family living in my house..they ate 2 or 3 eggs, 2 still haven’t hatched and they’ve laid another 3! Watch this space, I’m determined to catch a glance (and photo) of a baby gecko so here’s hoping! 😀

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