Category Archives: Sing Buri

How To Say Goodbye…

I have learned so much in the process of being here in Thailand in ways that I still cannot count.

I have thought of how to say a nice, wrapped-in-a-bow version of goodbye to this place, but I do not think I can do it. This week at school, it was extremely hard to say goodbye to my students. They all gave me cards with sweet “I love you” and other versions of adoration and praise. In many ways, that is enough to return home with and feel accomplished. My coordinator gave me a sweet certificate that listed creativity and enthusiasm as reasons for why I was appreciated at the school. Okay, so maybe the alphabet and telling time is not rocket science or the arguments about abstraction that I am more accustomed to, but these were the building blocks that I had long forgotten.

In addition, I have gained so many new friends in so many cultures and from so many different traditions. My closest friends at the center range from England, France, Thailand, Germany, and the Netherlands. I have grown a much deeper appreciation for simple language because that is the language that we use to communicate. Before I left home, I leaned much more to sophistication only because that was the main part of my environment.

I have also lost many things as well. I have lost my fear of traveling alone. I have lost my guarded sensibilities about what composure means. I am happier with abstract notions of structure instead of the rigidity of my overanalyzed plans for the future. I can approach the world as it comes with a much happier, less stressed perspective.

I cannot say thank you enough. This trip was a gift and an a priceless opportunity. I am so grateful for every person that has helped me get to this point in my life. I am so grateful for every person that taught me a new piece to the puzzle of Thai culture. In terms of generosity, I have never seen so many totally random, different people come to the aid of a clueless foreigner more than what I have been a part of for the past 3 months. I will miss Thailand. I still do not think I know enough about the Thai culture, but I want to come back one day.

So long Thailand... I came here to make a difference in this world and walked away also being taught.

Mental Work vs. Physical Work

The longer that I’m here in Sing Buri switching between the orphanage work and the school, the more time I have to consider the differences and value of the two forms of work. Both the orphanage work and teaching at the school are signficantly tiring in their own ways. Both are signficantly rewarding in their own ways. Both are important to the local community.

Working at the orphanage, I have learned to become a mason. I help with a few other volunteers to build a wall that will protect the children. Because the children are on school vacation currently, there are only two kids to play and work with there. We mix cement with a spade by hand, pour it into buckets, and sit for hours discerning the shape of the wall. If it is too concave or uneven, the whole thing might fall. All the small pieces of cement and stone built brick-by-brick must be considered for its individual importance.

There’s an odd form of mental meditation that happens whilst staring into the red and gray in front of my face. With sweat streaming down my face, I finish a few rows and return to my spot after lunch. After the work is finished, I can feel the aching from my back as a testament to leaning over a vat of cement while mixing it and then bending over the wall to check each brick for correct placement on the half-built wall. My legs are covered in remants of cement dust, my hands with ant bites, and my feet with more particles of half-dried cement.

In complete contrast to the physical work of the orphanage, teaching at the Wattoei Summer Camp means more mental and intellectual work trying to find the right way to reveal a whole new world of language to the students. The summer camp consists of about 30 children from the age of 7 to 14. With such a wide range of skill levels, the lessons have to be just enough to make the oldest ones learn something new and not push the inexperienced younger ones too far. Each day, I make a rough outline of what I would like to do with the class, but because I know they will show the cracks in their knowledge, what we end up learning about is more up to the day’s revelations. Before I started teaching here, I never though it involved this much improvisation. I always have a few educational games in my back pocket to help them review or master a concept. Each day is an hour-long lesson followed by a range of controlled practice through team or partner games.

By the end of my day, I am thinking more about the details of how I use language and how I can make it easier for my students. My brain is reeling with “maybe I should try this” or “maybe I should do that”. I walk away knowing that the children are really learning and look up to me. I feel like there is an immediate return on the investment I make at summer camp because Birs (one of my students) might hug me at the end of the day.

Just in the examination of the two tasks alone, one can see how my days are so different here. Both teach me so much about who I am and what I am capable of doing for the community surrounding me. Despite the fact that I don’t speak enough Thai to express it, I think they know that I’m really trying to do something good. Ultimately, if each metaphorical brick of my wall is placed correctly, that’s all that I could ever ask for.

Note: My computer charger broke this week with some kind of electrical issues, thus I do not have any pictures for the time being. I ordered a new one from a store in town, but we’ll see if it is actually working/authentically an Apple product on Wednesday...

Same, Same but Different.

Teaching in Sing Buri has been a completely different experience this week as well. I began teaching at Wattoei School, helping as an English teacher. Because the kids are at the end of the term, they weren’t terribly serious about their lessons, but we still had a good bit of fun with language practice. Next week, I begin teaching at Wattoei’s English Camp over their break. Because of Buddhist holidays two days a week, I will only teach 3 days a week. The other two days I will spend working at an orphanage/boarding school doing construction and renovations.

At Wattoei School, the teachers are very curious about my story. I shared pictures of family and friends with them at lunch trying to build friendships. Toe-Wee-Cho is the main teacher helping to guide me in the classes. The students are much older. Generally, I teach students between the ages of 11-14. Their English is better than the younger children that I taught in Koh Tao, and generally, we can play more games and do creative projects because they’re more eager to listen. Even with their longer attention span, there’s no way that they can sit down for the whole 2 1/2 hours that one class has with me in the afternoon. After about 2 hours of language practice, I go out with the kids to the playground for hopscotch, a game of duck, duck, goose, or jump rope.

Wattoei had a going away party for one of their teachers on Tuesday as well. The students were moved to tears while bringing cards, bowing to her, and giving her hugs at a school-wide party. The sense of respect in Thailand is far more visible than I’ve ever seen it portrayed in the States.

The students saying goodbye to their teacher...

At the party, the school provided karaoke, sang by the teachers of course. They asked me to sing with them; which I hesitantly obliged the request. They brought up “Hotel California” and in front of all the kids, I attempted the Eagles cover. I think after that they started seeing me as more than just another volunteer, but rather someone who could have fun with them too.

Another one of the teacher singing a traditional Thai song for the kids...

The food for the farewell party was amazing. There was Thai-fried chicken, som tam (papaya salad), laab kai (boiled ground pork with spices. All so incredibly tasty and made lovingly, batch-by-batch in a mortar and pestle made from wood.

This is one of the teachers making som tam:1- grinding garlic, chili, lime juice, fish sauce, 2- folding in fresh green beans, and 3- finally folding in massive amounts of shredded papaya and carrots. I think I’ll be dreaming of this stuff when I get home.

The orphanage construction work is completely different from teaching. I spend most of the day working with other volunteers to paint, lay bricks for a fence around the school, or do general cleaning around the building. From time to time, the kids come up to us while we are working, so we’ll play with them for a bit. It’s nice to have such varied work all week- from alone to group work and mental labor to physical labor. Unfortunately, I do not have any pictures from our orphanage work this week, but I will continue with that this upcoming week.

When I left Koh Tao, many people told me that heading north was going to be starkly different and would be more “real” Thailand. There are many shared points and different points between the south and the north, but I am glad that I get to help and experience both as if I were a local. I miss my friends from Koh Tao quite a bit. There I spent much more time with Thai people, but now, I spend more time with the other volunteers at the center. All forms of kindness that I am lucky to have in my life. One of the coordinators at the center loves to repeat a local Thai phrase when describing all things: “Same, Same, but Different.” I find more daily that this joking statement is actually a disguised truth.



Adventures in Thai Culture and History

As of this week, I am officially in Sing Buri for the rest of my Lumos project. Koh Tao and Sing Buri could not be more different. Sing Buri province is about 2 hours north of Bangkok. This beautiful countryside varies from epic mountains, to rice paddy fields, and rivers. Last year, this region of the country was flooded severely, but luckily, new dams have been constructed. The monsoon season here isn’t terribly heavy, but it rains far more than it ever did in Koh Tao.

Also, the volunteer company here is far more involved with their participants than my last location. This week was our orientation week and I have a meeting with one of the coordinators tomorrow to talk about lesson planning and gradually easing into teaching full-time at a local English camp. Currently, I live with a British roommate, Kate, and there are about 19 other volunteers based out of the Green Way center. Having this volunteer community to live with and eating meals together is a huge difference compared to being almost completely on my own in Koh Tao. I miss walking all over the island at will, but it is really nice to have a supportive group to talk with new experiences.

Though I am familiar with many of the things that the orientation week is introducing, it was nice to learn more about traditional Thai culture in a more structured way. We took a Thai language class, a Thai cooking class, and made traditional coconut bracelets. I found out that the word for night in my parent’s language (Malayalam) is the same in Thai- rat-tree. My knowledge of the Thai language has become much better. In Koh Tao, I learned much of the vocabulary from Thai friends or other Thai teachers. The Thai cooking class was wonderful. We learned how to make som tam (papaya salad) which has been an eternal mystery to me.

This week was so action-packed I’m going to try to organize it by day:


We spent the day getting to know the nearby Sing Buri town and how to get around. Going places like the department store, banks, and grocery store helped to set up house at the center. The volunteers attended a short Thai language lesson too. After we came back to the center, the local school kids came to the center and performed in a welcome party for us. During the last dance, they asked the new volunteers for the week to come up and dance with them. Most of the other volunteers were scared to dance with them for fear of embarrassment, but I just let loose and had fun with it. Sure, we didn’t know the moves, but maybe the point wasn’t to know the moves. 😀


Riding in the back of a truck with benches, the 4 other new volunteers and I visited Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya is one of the former capitals of Thailand. The four periods of Thai history are organized by capital: Ancient, Nanchao, Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, Thon Bun, and Bangkok.

Ayutthaya became a trading and cultural center matched by no other city for 400 years. Due to European influence many Asian nations were fighting among themselves for access to trading cities and European weapons. Ayutthaya was the location of one such battle from 1765-1767. Because the outlying vassal states did not support the capital strongly, Ayutthaya was brought to ruins in 1767, burned and obliterated by the Burmese. All that is left of the once thriving ancient city is the one temple that became the base for Burmese troops. All other parts of the city are rubble.

One of the monks at the remaining temple blessed the volunteers and gave us a bracelet of embroidered, white thread. This bracelet is a blessing that we must wear until it falls off by itself.

Personally, I am always interested in learning about the history of a country. I think that it is fascinating that some of the same political issues that existed then exist now. There is something unreal about walking through an area that now lays in ruin as your brain is trying to put the pieces back together to imagine the grandeur of that same place.

Nearby the ruins, there was a large market called the Floating Market appropriately. There were shops, food carts, and petting zoos at the Floating Market. We visited there fed Koi/Carp with a baby bottle filled with liquid fish food.


The volunteers, our coordinators, Phil and Mathiw, and Bum visited one of the local schools Wednesday morning. The school was a temple school, which meant that it is government-funded. The grades who attended the school ranged from 4 to 16 years old. Wat Tha Kam School was so much larger than Koh Tao School. The school grounds had signs with English and Thai proverbs on them. One of my favorites was Don’t Forget Crisis is an Opportunity. In some ways, I think that traveling makes these mini-crisis situations occur more often. The children were really sweet. We would visit classes and play games. I really missed my old students at Koh Tao, but I know that next week, I’ll get the chance to be back in the classroom again.


One of the most interesting things we learned about Sing Buri was its significance to Thai culture. A museum and memorial were constructed in honor of the 12 Bang Rachan Heroes. The farmers of Sing Buri came together to fight the Burmese in the name of their country.  If it wasn’t for these 12 great heroes of Sing Buri, then Thailand as it is now would not exist. The battle of Bang Rachan was helpful for Ayutthaya to buy time to fortify their city for battle. Without the bravery of these civilians, Thailand as it exists now would not have a chance. The people of the Sing Buri region are respected for their ancestors’ bravery to this day.


Orientation week would not be complete without a little monkeying around would it? Well, we did just that after visiting Saraburi. In Saraburi, there is a legendary Buddha’s footprint revered by all Thai people. According to the tradition, if you put a coin in the footprint, you will go to heaven. The footprint is about the size of a large bath tub in the center of a temple covered in mosaic pieces of shiny blue, gold, and red. Also, there are staircases leading to the temple that are lucky for receiving wealth, love, or good luck if you run them at least 3 times roundtrip. Finally, there is a small, adjacent temple housing a 20-lb lead elephant that when lifted up by a single finger gives the person one granted wish.

Next, we went to see the monkeys of Lopburi. Lopburi became a center of Thai power after Ayutthaya fell. The town center consists of 3 stupas that were a Hindu temple once representing Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. The temple was later converted to a Buddhist temple, but the monkeys who inhabit the temple have been there for generations regardless of the creed of the sacred area. These monkeys have made Lopburi famous. It looks a little like a real life version of the monkey city in Jungle Book. It was a little crazy how desensitized the monkeys have become to humans. There were monkeys doing everything- eating, sleeping, preening, fighting, running, playing. The baby monkeys were everywhere too.

(Friends, I would post pictures, but my internet connection here is incredibly slow right now.)