Thailand 3

Happy happy New Year everyone!!!! 

I hope everyone had an incredible 2019 and enjoyed bringing in the new decade. To celebrate the new year, we set off fireworks and lit lanterns with our Thai community. We spent midnight at the temple with everyone else from town chanting with the monks. It was such an incredible experience and I know I started the year off right.

For the past 2 weeks things have been crazy as our time in Thailand dwindles. 2 weekends ago our group headed to Chiang Mai to participate in the Chiang Mai Marathon. 3 of the boys ran the full marathon, 4 of the girls (including me) ran the half-marathon and our 2 leaders ran the 10K. The half-marathon started at 4 am (in order to beat the heat) so at 3:45 we were all stretching getting ready. I’m grateful adrenaline kicked in because in the dark city, I just wanted to climb back into bed. We ran all around the city with only stars and billboard signs lighting the way. The rest of the day was really relaxing as we were all sore. We treated ourselves to Thai and foot massages then got a fish pedicure (the fish that eat the dead skin off your feet). The entire day felt like I was ticking things off my bucket list, but I guess that’s this entire gap year in essence. 

When we arrived back in Maetha, we were hit with the Christmas festivities. We had a huge Christmas eve dinner and Christmas morning we exchanged our secret Santa gifts. However, our celebrations didn’t stop. On the 26th we had our last day as teachers at the local school. We arrived with the entire school waiting for us. All the kids gave us handwritten cards thanking us, wishing us happy holidays, and good luck on our coming travels. It was so touching seeing all the kids we had formed connections with all around us. It was a bittersweet goodbye.

This past weekend we left Maetha again to explore a new town. One other girl, Isa, and I went with one of our leaders, Airon, to Pai, a big backpacker hippie town in Northern Thailand. We took yoga classes and used our time to relax. We even went to a monastery which was so fascinating. Seeing everyone in white, wearing ‘silent’ tags, listening to the monk sitting before them talking about the Dharma. On our last night in Pai, Isa and Airon both went and got tattoos, and I’m sure to my mom’s great relief, I abstained from the activity. Holding their hands while they got authentic Thai tattoos with a bamboo needle was a cool enough experience on it’s own.This weekend was the perfect wrap up to our Thailand experience. 

Over the past 6 weeks in Thailand I have learned so much. From discovering more about my spirituality to oppression in schools. I have had my beliefs challenged in many ways. Something Thailand specific that really fascinated me was the juxtaposition of the ladyboy culture and their strict gender roles. In Thai language you are required to state your gender at the end of each sentence with saying “Khaa” for female or “Khap” for male. This huge sign of respect can be very limiting to those going through transition even though Thailand is known for being so open and welcoming. We discussed this with some of the locals and they told us how the ladyboy cabaret shows actually hurt some trans women, as they are forced into the entertainment industry. Trans people have no legal rights in Thailand, so you can’t change the title to how you identify (even if you get reassignment surgery) which leads to great discrimination in hiring for jobs. I guess it shows how limiting and harmful our single, Western- tourist perspective can be. 

Thailand has been such an incredible experience. From the beautiful scenery around us, to the cultural exposure of different beliefs on spirituality, and to working hand in hand in the classroom setting with kids only a few years younger than me, I am well aware of how much I’ve learned. I’m so grateful for this experience. I can’t wait to head off to Cambodia in just 2 days and then to Ghana a week later.

Happy new year. Love and miss you all. 

Sidra

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