For the month of July, we were instructed to wear yellow as much as possible in celebration of the King’s birthday. In Thailand, each day of the week is represented by a specific color, determined by an astrological rule with influence from Hindu mythology, and is based on the color of the God who protects the day. The King is associated with yellow because he was born on a Monday and Monday’s color is yellow. Both the present King of Thailand, Rama X, and former King Bhumibol were born on Mondays.
Those of you who know me will know that I was absolutely ecstatic to hear that we should be wearing as much yellow as possible for the month of July. On Fridays, the teachers at our school wear traditional Thai dress, so I decided to treat myself to an all-yellow traditional Thai outfit.
The God who presides over Mondays is named Soma/Chandra, God of the Moon. Soma is associated with many different forms, including the sap of plants, the blood that flows through all living beings, and the ambrosia of the gods, but is very rarely depicted in full human form. As a golden-hued nectar derived from the Soma plant, the drink was considered to be a bridge between the mortal world and the Gods, with the power to bring ecstasy, inspiration and protection from fear. It is said that, as the moon, Soma became acquainted with who was originally the Moon deity, Chandra. The moon was considered the cup that held the Soma for the Gods to drink – the moon’s waxing and waning represented how much Soma the Gods consumed.
I recently began re-reading some books I previously read in high school, like Life of Pi. Although I remembered most of the story, I have grown so much since the first time I read the novel that I viewed much of the tale from a completely different perspective and took more away from it the second time around. For the same reason, I am now re-reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.
Brave New World references soma, a futuristic substance that is described as a sort of “mind vacation” without any of the depressant or harming side-effects of alcohol or present-day drugs. What a bizarre coincidence that my research would lead me to the Hindi mythological explanation behind Huxley’s word choice. What a bizarre coincidence that the reason I have been wearing yellow all month matches up with one of the key components of the novel I am currently re-reading.
The moon and its lunar calendar have historically been associated with feminine energies, so its fitting that the God of the Moon is also representative of fertility. Its said that couples who want to have a baby should pray to Soma/Chandra, especially on Mondays. Isn’t it interesting that the family around us has grown so much over the past month? In my last post, I mentioned some new additions to our family – Murphy, a soon-to-be mother, and our two motorbikes, new to us but old in age.
Additionally, our office family welcomed new members this month. Two teachers joined the Foreign Language team at LKP from China – Ms. Shao Yuming and Ms. Yang Yurong. Hearing their backstory was interesting as it proved, once again, how little the United States prioritizes education compared to other countries. While I had to pay a company in order to help me with this teaching opportunity, Shao and Yang were paid by the Chinese government to come to Thailand. The government-run company organized all the paperwork and logistics for them, just as CIEE did for Jenn and I, but paid the girls in addition to their teaching salary. Shao also told me she received her undergraduate degree in Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language and that speciality undergraduate education programs such as this are common throughout China. The girls are very friendly and speak English fairly well, so we are enjoying getting to know them and having more people with whom we can speak English.
Slowly but surely, we are settling into our home of Lomkaophittayakhom School. We’ve established quite the routine and are busier than you might think in such a small rural area as we’ve become very involved with our school. At the end of this month, there is a speech competition in Phetchabun that several students from LKP will be participating in. I am working with one of my students daily to coach her for the competition, and I’m also tutoring another student in my free time. Every day after school, John, Jenn and I go to the recreational area to work out. Do you remember me mentioning how our students make us feel like celebrities? It’s rare to get through a workout without hearing “HI, TEACHER SAM!!!!” from across the volleyball court, the badminton court and the soccer field. It’s another burst of exercise encouragement every time the adorable greeting meets my ears.
John, Jenn and I met a student teacher named Changsen who has been coaching us in Muay Thai boxing in exchange for help with his English. A former graduate of LKP, Changsen is a university student who is home for break. His mother owns a restaurant in Lomkao, so we try to eat there a few times a week as a ‘thank you’ for the training.
I have never been a huge proponent of fighting, but I do realize the need for self-defense skills, and practicing Muay Thai has proved to be an incredible workout. Changsen has been teaching us several different sets that we are working on memorizing. He’s a great coach despite his limited English proficiency. With only one pair of gloves to share, John, Jenn and I rotate turns, but with how hard Changsen pushes us, the breaks come just in time. The three of us will be buying gloves of our own soon, both to cut down our wait time during practice and also so that we can continue practicing once Changsen returns to university in late August. John has really been enjoying Muay Thai and has already started sparring with some of the other guys. I think I’ll get there eventually 🙂
We’ve really bonded with some of the student teachers, who have shown us around Lomkao and Lomsak, particularly Lomsak Walking Street. Every Saturday night, the streets of Lomsak are filled with vendors and, since there’s not much to do in this area, practically everyone in town goes. The restaurants and bars stay open later for all the traffic and the streets are decorated with beautiful Chinese lanterns and streamers.
One of the biggest, most noticeable differences between American and Thai culture is the genuine welcoming of others, without hesitation and without question. Meeting Grain’s family is the most welcomed I have felt since I arrived, which is saying a lot.
One day, Pee Som approached John, Jenn and I in the office asking us if we would be interested in tutoring on the side. She explained that she is close friends with the top Buddhist nun of Lomkao’s local temple, Maechee Maicamgaeo. Maechee’s daughter, son-in-law and grandson all recently moved to Lomkao from Phuket. Phuket is a larger city in South Thailand where Grain, Maechee’s grandson, was receiving superior English education. As an eighth grader, Grain’s knowledge of English is extremely advanced, but the resources Lomkao has to offer are inferior compared to those in Phuket. Pee Laa and Pee Tee, Grain’s parents, really want Grain to continue with his English education, so they approached Pee Som for help. Pee Som asked the three of us to meet with Grain and his family and to consider working with Grain in our free time.
The following day after school, Pee Som took us to see the temple in Lomkao. Right behind the market, the stunning temple shines with gold, with an equally radiant Buddha inside.
As female Buddhists are, Maechee sat beautifully wrapped in pure white cloth, her face composed and relaxed, a perfect picture of peaceful wisdom. She introduced us to Grain and the rest of the family, who immediately presented us with gifts – so many gifts. Soy milk, as they somehow already knew of my dairy allergy, a grand bundle of rambutans, massive oranges – larger than you are picturing, larger than the largest grapefruit I’ve ever seen, close to the size of a cantaloupe – and juice drinks, “for your breakfast tomorrow!”
Grain’s English was so impressive that he acted as translator between his family and John, Jenn and I. Maechee had many questions for us – Where did you come from? How old are you? Are you married? Are you happy to be living here? Will you please consider working with my grandson?
I have many adorable students. When I first started teaching, I thought I had a favorite class. I definitely have favorites, but I’ve realized that it would be very difficult to pinpoint a single one. Grain, on the other hand, undoubtably ranks among the most adorable Thai students I have met. He is eager, but in a humble, respectful way, with kind, patient eyes. It is immediately apparent that he was raised to lead with love.
Pee Som explained that they could not afford to pay a teacher, but that they wanted us to consider a different arrangement. “We don’t have much money to offer, but we don’t want to hire you. We want to welcome you into our family as Grain’s older siblings.”
Pee Laa explained that the main reason for their move was so that she could open her own business. She wants to open a small coffee shop in Lomkao. She has already secured the location for her cafe and is currently preparing to open. “We can have dinner with you, you can spend time with Grain at our cafe, you can even travel with us. Anywhere we go on vacation as a family, you can come too. You will be our family.”
Part of my undergraduate degree was in Entrepreneurship. I used to work as a barista and chef at a small coffee shop/cafe. Coincidence? When I told Pee Laa, she absolutely beamed. “This is meant to be.”
“Grain is so excited. He wants to be your brother.”
A brother can not be replaced. I miss mine every single day. I miss Swayze so much that no words will ever truly encompass the loss. But as my brother, Swayze brought so much to my life, memories that I will forever cherish. Being told that I may experience another is a strange, weightless, surreal feeling.
The three of us were treated to a feast of a dinner with Pee Laa, Pee Tee, Grain, Pee Som and her husband Art. We smiled from ear to ear – a smile that barely faded even through the drive home. There is so much to look forward to.
Look at the stars. Look how they shine for you, and everything you do.