Thursday, August 25, 2011

I'm Back People!

Hello Everyone,

I am so sorry that I have not been in touch for a while. I took an elongated hiatus due to many circumstances.  I am sure most of you know this, but at the end of June, I had the unlikely fortune of ending up in the hospital with Gallstones.  It was a very scary experience and I had to spend my Birthday in the Thai hospital.  However, it did teach me a lot about health care in different places and how important it is to have people supporting you wherever you go.  I have to say that the school and my friends here really stepped up to the task of caring for me. I can not imagine having to go through that all alone 6000 miles away from my family and friends. I can also say that financially, it was probably better to get sick in Thailand then in the states right now as my entire week hospitalization cost the equivalent of $1,400.00.  As my father said, this was cheaper than my sister had to pay for an emergency operation that her dog Zooey needed, funny huh!

 After this two week period, the death of my grandmother, which happened on my birthday in Thailand, hit me pretty hard.  While I knew that this was coming, and there was nothing that I could do about it, the fact that I was not able to be there at the end was horrible.  It really made me think of mortality and the fact that people will not be around forever.  In any event, I was swept up in midterms after this which was busy but good to take my mind off of all the things that were going on.  Thus, I am finally getting a break and being able to catch up on all my miscellaneous things that were put on hold during the insane month of July.

After looking over all my posts, I realized that I really have not filled you all in on exactly what I am doing here in Thailand, I promise that it is not just partying! I am actually working at a school called Satit Kaset about an hour southeast of Bangkok in the Chonburi Province.  Here, I am teaching high school level students, the equivalent of Grades 8, 10, 11, and 12.  And let me tell you, this is completely different from what I was doing in India.  In addition to the basis differences of class, the school I am working at now is a private prep school, actually having guidance in what to do and how to teach is a huge help.  However, I also find it a bit daunting, in the sense that the kids do not want to listen, really don't care about English, and frankly would rather be playing with their IPhone.  Now I am sure that those of you who are reading this and have taught before are probably nodding your heads and laughing because I assume this is not much different than what happens in the states. What I think this has shown me though, is that I really do not like teaching.  I find myself wanting to just sit and have a chat with the kids.  I want them to tell me their life stories and how things are at home. or discuss ways they feel that Thailand can improve.  I guess in the end, the social worker in me out rules the teacher.  All this being said, I still do enjoy the kids I work with and do care about each of them, I just do not think I like the teaching part oppsies haha!  In any event, it has put good  ideas into my head about what I want to do in the future and grad school.. 

Now, other than things in school, I have also just been enjoying Thailand thoroughly. It really is a beautiful country full of new surprises everyday.  The people are very nice and it is a vast and colorful culture.  The weather is good, if not a little to humid and hot, and I have seen some amazing monsoon like storms!  I even have found a boyfriend, a British boy who is also teaching English.  So all in all, I think my decision to come to this country was a great one and I am happy to be here!

I hope that you all now have a better perspective on what I am doing all the way out here and I will write again soon!  Hope the end of the summer celebrations are going good and that everyone who is going back to school next week, is ready for it!

Love and Miss you all,

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Whirlwind with a Backpack and a Stanley!

Hello Everyone,

I am finally starting to  get back to blogging now that I am settled in at my new digs in Amata Nakorn.  However, before I blog about all of the fabulous things that have happened to me since I have been in Thailand, I wanted to get you updated with my backpacking trip around India and Nepal!  As some of you may have heard, I am once again hosting the fantastic Flat Stanley, only this time he has travelled all the way to Asia to see me!  Flat Stanley is a character from a children's book who gets flattened after a bookcase falls on top of him!  He finds that he is so flat he can fit perfectly inside an envelope. Thus, he decides to visit different people in all different places and send home pictures of himself with popular monuments.  This is very popular in many elementary school classes, as the kids read the book and then make their own Stanley to send to a friend or family member in a different state.  My niece Jordan did it about 3 years ago and I housed Stanley in Boston for a month.  My sister has decided to do it again and sent me Stanley when I was in India with directions to bring him along on all my travels.  The only bad thing was that he did not make it in time for the Taj Mahal trip so I told her that Michael would have to photo shop him into one of my pictures haha!  So, with Stanley in tow, I embarked on my crazy Asian backpacking adventure!

First of all, as all of you know me, I am sure you are all saying to yourselves, that Alyssa an Backpacking just don't go together; and you would be correct in thinking that! Upon leaving Jaipur I had a rather large rolling suitcase, plus my small rolling carry on, and my normal purse. However, my suitcase was quickly replaced with a large trekkers backpack once I realized just how sore your body could get from walking up and down the train station stairs with all of those things.  But I survived and, while it was exhausting, I had blast and would not be opposed to doing some backpacking throughout the southeastern peninsula of Asia later in the year!

First Stop, Mumbai:

This really was a beautiful city with all the possible modern necessities anyone could want!  The malls were crazy, the nightlife was fabulous, and the history was wonderful to learn about.  However, this city also showed the epitome of Indian life, as there were giant hotel adjacent to the largest Indian slums I have seen yet (imagine "Slum Dog Millionaire.")  All in all, it is probably the only city in India that I could live in long term!

This is Stanley and I in Front of the Mumbai Skyline.

Second Stop: The Backwaters

The next stop that we took was into the famed Backwaters of India.  The backwaters are a series of waterways throughout the central area of the state of Kerela, one of the two southern most states at the tip of the Indian Peninsula.  The al the waters meet at the town of Allepey, often called the Venice of the East. We travelled to this tiny town and hopped upon a houseboat.  On the boat, we travelled throughout the waters and spent the night docked in the middle of them, eating delicious food.  We got to see many facets of the Kerelan way of life, where the river dominates, the fishing industry strives, and there are some lazy days in these little tiny villages on the land strips that make the famed waterways.  It was a beautiful trip and I could see myself parking up next to a coconut palm and living the days away haha! 

BTW, it was during this part of the trip that Stanley took a dive into the water and had to be rescued by a Kerelan fisherman in a small canoe. Thank god he is a good swimmer lol!

 Drinking a coconut!

One of the canals within the backwaters!

Third Stop: Varkala

After traveling through the backwaters, we proceeded farther down the state of Kerela to a tiny little beach hub called Varkala.  Here, we spent 5 days on a beach holiday taking in the sun and some waves in the Arabian Sea.  It was extremely relaxing and the view was amazing.  The town is on a high cliff that over looks the Arabian Sea.  It has a small main road that boarders the cliff and a series of spots that have stairs going down to the beach.  I certainly enjoyed the time sitting on the beach and drinking a Pina Colada!

 View from the cliff

At the beach, in front of the Arabian Sea!

Forth Stop: New Delhi

Now, since my good friend Sarah lives in New Delhi, this was not my first trip.  However, this was my longest stay and I got to do a little more touristy things!  This is another one of my favorite places in Indian and the heart of the government and independence fight!

This is the India Gate in Delhi! One of the most famous landmarks in India.  It stands for all the people who died in the fight for independence from the British.

Fifth Stop: Varanasi

Our final stop in India, before crossing into Nepal, was the ancient city of Varanasi.  This is a very famous Hindu city as it signifies the crossover between life and death.  The city lies on the Ganges River.  Many Indians come here as a pilgrimage and to burn the bodies of their loved ones after they have died.  It was a very interesting place to see and portrayed the true facets of the Hindu Religion.  On all of my travels, I have not seen a more truly Indian place!

 The nightly Hindu Ceremony at the banks of the Ganges.

View of the Ganges during the day time.

Sixth Stop: Lumbini, Nepal

After leaving Varanasi, we spent about a day crossing into Nepal over land.  It was a beautiful journey that culminated in our first stop in Nepal, Lumbini.  This small town right over the boarder into the country is located in the Terrai and considered to be the birth place of Buddha  The Terai is the area of the Nepalese planes, that run across the Southern part of Nepal on the boarder of India.  It is a thin strip which produces a lot of grain products.  Once there, we parked ourselves for a night, experienced the first of many power outages in Nepal, and learned a ton of Buddhist history.

 A couple of Buddhist Monks.
Stanley sitting at the birth place of Buddha!

Seventh Stop: Pokhara, Nepal

Our next stop was Pokhara.  To get to this mountain town at the base of the Annapurna trek, we had to drive up and out of the Terai through some of the most breathtaking scenery I have ever seen.  The trip was a 9 hour bus ride that took us past many villages on the edges of the mountains and amazing views.  Once we got to Pokhara, we entered a heaven for backpackers coming to and from the treks into the Himalayas.  At the center of the town is large lake where you can rent Canoes and Kayaks.  Perhaps one of the best things about this town is the close proximity to the snow capped Himalayas.  It is possible to sit at a cafe lakeside and look at some of the tallest peaks of  the Himalayas looming over you! When I get back to Nepal this will definitely be a stop that I take for a bit longer!

 This is the view of Pokhara Lake at Sunset!
 Stanley and I after the hike up to the Peace Pagoda

The World Peace Pagoda.  It is a Buddhist Stupa that represents peace for al man kind!  At certain times of the day you can see the monks banging the drums and turning the prayer wheels!

Final Stop: Kathmandu

So, after 3 weeks of traveling and 7 different stops on the trip, my friends and I finally arrived in Kathmandu, our final destination.  Kathmandu is an absolutely beautiful city tucked into the valley of the highest mountains in the world.  While the city itself is rather developed, it still holds a charm of it's culture and people!  I absolutely fell in love with this place and could see myself spending a lot of time here! While in the city, I managed to do some serious sightseeing, look at a living goddess, and view the highest Mt. in the world after trekking to it (I wish, it was actually from a plane!)  By the end of the 10 days here, I had seen and embraced the Nepalese culture and said goodbye to some really good friends that I had made in India.
 The busy streets  of Kathmandu!
 Stanley and I in front of the most famous Buddhist Stupa's!
 Stanley and I before getting on the plane for the mountain flight!
 Attempting to take a picture with Stanley and the Mountains.  It didn't work so well!

View of Mt. Everest from the plane!

So there you have it, my fabulous backing adventure!  It certainly was amazing and I was sad at the end of it.  But there was no better place for it to finish then in Nepal and I am so happy to have been able to have the experience!

Hope you all enjoyed taking a little piece of the journey with me and stay tuned for a new blog post on Teacher Alyssa in Thailand, coming soon!!

Love and Miss you all,

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Welcome to Thailand

Hello Everyone,

I am not sure whether you all have heard yet or not, but I have had an unexpected change of events.  Unfortunately, I was not able to stay in India.  While I really did love the country, and my kids were fabulous.  I was not able to get paid there.  And as I am sure all of you know, getting paid is a very important aspect.  Thus, after having talked with the organization in the States a couple of times, I decided to move down to Thailand.  This was the best decision for me as it ensured that I got a placement and a paying job.  I am happy with the decision so far  and hope all will work out.

In terms of my travels to Nepal and around India, all turned out pretty good.  I was super stressed during some of it as I had my wallet stolen, but at the same time, India has a way of making me rather stress free, as there is not much one can do about issues.  I absolutely fell in love with Nepal.  In fact, I think I may have liked it better than India.  It had a similar culture but less of the craziness that comes with being in a country of 1.3 billion people. I also felt it was the most breathtaking scenery I have ever seen.  I ended up taking the mountain flight around Mt. Everest and that was really cool as well.  It was amazing how once you get up at that height, all you could see was a sea of snow and mountains.  They were as beautiful as one imagines and I felt as though it was a true example of how nature is in charge of everything in the end.
I am now in Bangkok for the orientation period and I am having a ball.  It seems as though Thailand is really not comparable to the other two countries in any way. Bangkok is probably the most modern city I have seen since I left NY.  It really shocked me how big the buildings were and how clean the city was.  I go to my town on Friday and am very excited.  I will be working with two other Americans to the town of Chonburi, which is about 100 KM outside of Bangkok.  It is a little beach town but I expect it to be pretty rural and hopefully a cultural experience. 
I hope you all are well and enjoying the spring.  I will be posting pictures and explaining more as soon as I get to a permanent place.
Love and Miss you all,

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Holiday Break

HI Everyone,

I know it has been a long time since I posted a blog and sadly, this will not fulfill your desires much!  I have so much to blog about.  However,  it is summer break currently in South Asia and I am going on holiday, yes I have started to say holiday.  This is what happens when you live with a bunch of Europeans haha!  Any who, tomorrow I leave for Mumbai and then head down to Kerela for a nice beach Vacation.  I then pop into Delhi once more to visit with a friend and head out to Varanasi, which is where the mighty Ganges lay.  Finally, at the end of the month, I will travel to Nepal to experience the culture of the mighty Himalayas.  One of my friends who is travelling with me asked me if I wanted to trek to Base Camp, that is Base Camp of Everest.  I looked at her like she was crazy haha!  She said it is not that bad: only a 2 week trek that anyone can do.  I thought in my head, yea right.  In fact, my Dad was very shocked when I told him that I had the option, I think he was a little worried that I would do it, he knows his daughter so well haha!  Any way, I will spend this time reflecting on my travels and relaxing.  I will also hopefully be able put some pictures up and post, while laying on the beach sipping a Pina Colada of course lol!  In any event, don't be worried if you haven't heard from me, I will probably be viewing the mighty Himalaya's with Stanley in tow.  Yes, that's right, I am once again housing Stanley for my sister and my nieces and am hoping to give him a good trip around India.  Hope it is finally warming up over there,  Love and miss you all!

Accha Ji (Good Bye),

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Most Beautiful Sight You Will Ever See!

Hello Everyone,

I hope all is well with all and that the spring has finally arrived in the Northeast.  Things on my side of the world are going rather nicely.  The weather has quickly warmed up and it is now around 85 to 90 degrees during the day.  Last night was actually the first night that I felt it was a little to hot to sleep, which as you all know, is never a good thing.  I am hoping that keeping the door open at night will help to cool the room off. My friend Sarah was in town for the weekend and that was very nice.  She is currently working in New Delhi with a TB NGO and it was great to see her.  The only bad repercussion of a busy weekend is that I somehow contracted a cold.  I feel that the colds that I get here last so much longer because of all of the pollution that is in the air.  On a normal day, there are always little specks of soot that often show up on your tissue when you blow your nose.  Thus, you can imagine a day when you are sick.  However, I am slowly healing myself and am very happy that I will not be travelling anywhere this weekend.

Now, I am sure that all of you are wondering why I gave this post the name that I did.  Well, there is really only one possible answer...the Taj Mahal.  That's right, this blog is about the majestic building that is considered one of the seven wonders of the worls.  Let me tell you, when you see the Taj in person, it is even more magnificent then you can imagine it to be.  There is something about looking at the building from the main courtyard, that makes you want to never take your eyes off of it.

The actual excursion to the Taj Mahal was done in one day.  It is in the city of Agra, in the state of UP, which is about a 5 hour train trip from Jaipur.  From previous volunteers having gone to Agra before, we knew that other then the actual visit to the Taj, there is nothing much to do in the city, thus the reason we planned it as only a day trip.  We started out the day at 6AM and took the 5 hour trip to Agra.  We arrived in the city around 11:00AM and got a Tuk Tuk to the center of the city.  After a short breakfast, we set out on our way.  Since India has such a high pollution rate, there is 200 meter area surrounding the Taj Mahal that is blocked off from any cars or Tuk Tuks.  The only things that can get in are battery operated buses and cycle rickshaws.  This is so that the beauty and whiteness of the Taj Mahal can be preserved.

Getting into the actual Taj was an adventure all it's own.  For a foreigner, the ticket to get within the compound is 750 rupees, which is equivalent to about $18.00.  This includes foot covers for your shoes, to be used once inside the actual building, and a bottle of water. After collecting your ticket, one follows a long line of people to the lockers where you must lock up your personal items as you can only  take in a camera, cell phone, and wallet.  We are then herded towards the long line of guests waiting to get into the compound that holds the gardens, secondary buildings and the Taj Mahal.  This is perhaps one of the only places in India where it helps to be a women, has there is a ladies only line that moves significantly quicker then the gents one.  After going through numerous metal detectors, we finally entered the main compound.  Now this is not the the compound where one can see the Taj Mahal, this is the pre-area that houses two secondary mausoleums.  However, one can clearly see where the entrance to the garden that houses the Taj Mahal is, as there is a giant crowd around one doorway.  As you slowly make your way towards the entrance of the garden, one can see that there is a lot of commotion going on; thousands of people trying to get to and from the entrance and take pictures while moving at a rather slow pace.  It surly was pure madness.  However, as you enter the garden, things get significantly calmer and there are numerous photo-ops.  Basically the entire walk up to the Taj Mahal is a slow stop and start of trying to get the best picture. Upon arriving at the front of the building, one puts their shoe covers on and ascents the giant stairs to wait in the 1 hour line so that you can enter the Taj.  I have to say, the actual inside of the Taj Mahal was rather unimpressive, particularly for the hour line.  But of course we had to say we actually went into the Magnificent Taj Mahal.

Here are some interesting facts about the Taj Mahal:

1) It is actually an Islamic structure despite the belief that it is a temple built for the Hindu God Shiva.
2)The Taj was built by Shah Jahn, the Mughal Emperor at the time, in honor of the death of his second wife who died giving birth to their 14th child.
3) The construction for the Taj Mahal began in 1631, the year of the wife's death, and was not finished until 1653.
4) Not long after it was finished, Shah Jahn was overthrown by his son who imprisoned him in Agra Fort.  From the fort you can see the Taj Mahal, thus reminding the Shah what he would never be able to visit again

The Entrance Gate to get into the Inner Courtyard that houses the Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal from the Main Entrance way.

View of entire courtyard and Taj.

Me touching the Taj!

All those people are part of the Giant line to get inside the Taj.
All in all it was a fabulous trip that could not be missed!  Hope you all enjoy the photos and talk to you soon!

Love Always,

Monday, February 28, 2011

Wedding Extravaganza

Hello Everyone,

I am sorry that I have not been in contact for a while.  Everything has been so crazy.  Each day goes by so fast that I find myself exhausted before I even know it.  We also often have problems with the Internet, so more often then not, when I am finally ready to write a post, I can't get online, haha.  In any even here I am again and I will try to catch you up on the things that I have done in the last few weeks.

About three weeks ago I went to the city of Udaipur.  This is a city in Rajasthan about 9 hours South of Jaipur.  It is considered to be the most romantic place in India and it certainly was beautiful.  We spent 3 days there and I just feel in love with it.  It was so much calmer then Jaipur and I felt that the relaxed way of life was contagious.  It is primarily a Muslim city, so I heard the call to prayer five times a day and this made me nostalgic for Niger.  The only bad thing about the trip was that we got stuck on a bus for 4 hours because it broke down.  This made the 9 hour trip 13 and we were extremely exhausted when we finally rolled up to Jaipur at 6AM.  The funny thing was that, while we were getting anxious and trying to figure out what was going on, as nobody on the bus spoke English, the Indians were calm as could be.  I guess this happens often here.  In any event, I really enjoyed the trip and would love to visit again.

The view from our Guest House.  It was on top of a hill and overlooked Udaipur.

After my weekend away in Udaipur, I spent the next two weekends just laying low and enjoying Jaipur.  I find that I am in a lose lose situation because I want to see so much and yet travelling every weekend and working during the week is exhausting.  Thus, I am trying to travel every other weekend and stay in town on the alternative weekends. 

This past week was extremely exhausting because there were so many things going on.  Besides the normal teaching that I do, I have started to take dance classes on Mondays and Wednesdays.  I am taking classical India dance which is so much harder then it looks.  The dance itself is not very motion oriented but instead has a lot of poses.  You normal stand in one spot and constantly change poses throughout the song.  However, I certainly am enjoying it.

On Thursday, all of the volunteers were invited to an Indian Wedding.  I for one was very excited about this because I had been wanting to see a wedding since I had gotten here.  I feel that weddings are one of the things that best show the culture of a country; and since culture is something that I study, I was looking forward to seeing it embodied through this tradition.  If you have ever had any good Indian friends, you probably know that an Indian wedding is extremely different from any you would see in the west. There is a lot of color, a lot of people, and even more food!  The wedding that we went to was one of a family in the Brahman cast, which is the highest caste. So needless to stay, is was big in every way.  The total number of people that were there was 6,000.  You could imagine how overwhelming it was to walk into an area that looks like a fair grounds and see thousands and thousands of people.  The decorations for a Hindu Wedding are similar to decorations you would see around Christmas time in the States, minus the Santa's of course.  There are a lot of lights and a lot of bows.  There are musicians playing traditional instruments and a huge amount of food.  On one end there was a stage and on the other three ends were giant buffet tables that had all the Indian food you could possibly imagine.  I just remember going back and forth for about an hour to make sure I could get a taste of everything.  I also took this opportunity to buy a traditional Sari.  I loved getting dressed up, although I must say, having to squat in a latrine in a Sari was not easy, lol!  Perhaps the strangest thing to me about the whole experience was that it seemed that the entire celebration was more for the guests then the couple.  The bride showed up at about the last hour and there was a giant procession to the stage, where the couple then exchanges there vows.  It took her about 1 hour to get from the entrance to the stage and the poor girl almost got knocked down about 4 times.  As we were the only westerners there, we were quite a spectacle and it seemed as though people were more interested in us then the couple.  It certainly was weird for me to be the center of attention at someone elses wedding.

Me in my Sari before the wedding.  If you look closely you can see that my left arm has Henna on it!

Some of the Volunteers at the wedding!
The Groom on his horse coming in for the ceremony.

The Bride finally coming in!

The bride and her bridesmaids coming down the aisle.  There is actual gold in her Sari!

The bride and groom finally made it to the stage.  The flower necklace is similar to the rings at a western wedding.  They each put one on each other and this symbolizes the connection between the two.

Well I hope you enjoy the pictures and I will write soon about my trip to Agra where the magnificent Taj Mahal is!

Love You All and I hope Spring has finally reached you guys!


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Reflextion on Indian Way of Life

Hello Everyone,

So I find that, although I am not necessarily doing much after work, I am none the less, having problems finding the initiative to write my blogs!  As it gets hotter here, and I spend more time in India, I find myself falling into the Indian way of life style, a much calmer and relaxed way of life.  I found this to be the same in Niger and wonder if there is something about being in a non-western country that allows people to live a simpler way of life.  After all, to many Indian/Africans, life is rather simple; find work, feed your family, and live a good life according to the mores set forward to you. Now, I realize that these "simple" things are not always easy to find in a country with a billion and a half people, however the idea is there.  In the west we live chaotic lives where we always feel like we constantly have to keep moving...more work, more family, more food.  Being a New Yorker I find the Indian life style extremely strange and forgien to me and yet I am liking it non the less.  Perhaps if we could all learn to take things one notch down and live a simpler life, we would all be a bit happier.  Any who, going to reflect on this some more.  Will write later today about my whirlwind trip to Udaipur this past weekend!

Love and Miss you all,