Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Day the Innocence Died

It was a hot summer day like many before. Only it wasn’t like any day before. I was minding my own business when the unthinkable happened. Something so horrifically unexpected. It was on that day that I learned never to trust again. It was the day the innocence of my Peace Corps service died, and with that innocence a little piece of my soul.

I had foolishly believed that I was going to be an exception to the Peace Corps rule. That I would escape that dreadful fate that had stricken so many before me. “It’s not if, it’s when” they say. Naively I believed myself to be above such horror. I was wrong. So very wrong.

The day had started out like any before. Perfectly nice and normal. I had woken up, gone for my run and bucket bathed. Besides the lack of running water there was nothing that could get me down. While enjoying my morning coffee I decided to have some fried rice for lunch and made plans to visit my local market stall for some deliciousness.

“Extra peppers, please.” I asked. Such a good call, the rice was amazing. Flavorful and filling. I cleaned my bowl and spoon in a happy shroud of satisfaction. It was time for music to play, laundry to wash, and dancing while waiting. “Ahh, nothing like freshly washed bed sheets I thought as I hung them out to dry in the warm breeze.”

I winced.

“What was that?” I wondered. “Probably nothing.” I decided, not realizing it was a warning sign foreshadowing the impending plot twist in my life. Checking the faucets to see if running water had returned I was left a tad disappointed. But just then my jam came on. It was time for a dance party, just me and the bathroom mirror.

I was making eye contact when it happened. I placed my trust where it shouldn’t have been. I miscalculated like so many Peace Corps volunteers before me. Holding eye contact with my reflection the horror slowly spread across my face. Shock. Disbelief. Anger. And finally acceptance. It had happened. After 3+ years as a PCV it had caught up to me.

I broke eye contact. I started to laugh, slowly my laughter built until I couldn’t breath. Of course it would happen to me. Of course I wouldn’t escape! I laughed at myself. I laughed at my reflection. I laughed at the hilarity of it all. I was a mere three feet from salvation and I couldn’t make it. I laughed because...

Too real for you?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Peace Corps Cribs: Thailand Edition

Well it only took me 10 months to get around to but yesterday (in a fit of boredom) I finally sat down and got to the business of filming and "editing"  Here you have it, my cribs video of my house here in Tha Mai, Chanthaburi.

If you're interested, here's the two cribs videos I made while in China.  Obviously I've been very lucky when it comes to housing situations!  

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Welcome to Sleep Away Camp!

Truth bomb: Thailand is weird. Like really, incredibly, unbelievably, massively weird. Normally I can take Thailand’s eccentricities in stride. I’m a strange dude and they’re all just part of the experience right? Well you know what else is weird?  Sleep away camp.

Sleep away camp: fun as a child, a bit of work as an adult, incredibly trying for someone who doesn’t speak the language and somehow has to manage 80 kids.

I can be very caring and fun with children. I’m quite the entertainer given the inclination and opportunity. It’s just that I need decompression time to build up that inclination. Time that a sleep away camp doesn’t provide.

The only problem with that was, I wanted the kids to have fun. So I had to be on point. I had to put on that face and act until I felt it. No matter how annoyed I felt, I had to plaster on a smile and deal with a crowd of munchkins all vying for my attention. They had fun, they loved it. Me on the other hand? Ehhh? I was pretty annoyed much of the time.

So what got me annoyed? Perhaps it was the inappropriate things that the teachers kept doing? For example:
  1. Encouraging 12 year olds to dance “sexy.” 
  2. Literally being mounted for a “motorcycle demonstration” by a fellow teacher in front of the students (please don't do that). 
  3. Asking me if I wanted a Thai woman to be sent to my room for the night. 
  4. Encouraging the students to pretend shoot one another/me (really?). 
  5. Excessive proselytizing by a fervently religious teacher. 
  6. Being asked if I was wearing underwear, via microphone. 
  7. Attempting to hide a scavenger hunt item in my pants (ask before just diving in!). 
Surprisingly enough the students were my favorite part of the whole camp. They actually tried hard to learn. They were outgoing and confident and had some serious attitude. They didn’t shy away from volunteering or asking/answering questions. They lined up when I was running to give me high fives and some of them joined in on my runs. Basically, they were awesome. I can honestly say that I actually enjoyed being with the kids more than with my fellow teachers, which is saying something given my general ambivalence towards children.

Camp in a nut shell: inappropriate, confusing, heartwarming, fun, frustrating, overwhelming, and rewarding all at once. Basically it was a tiny microcosm of Thailand.

Building a town
How do I get to the bus station?
Well she does...
Ping pong races! 
Our example volcano 
Volcano demonstration 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Dancing Through Mid-Service

Peace Corps staff has informed me that I’m halfway through my service here in Thailand. To celebrate they decided to host a conference, a Mid-Service Conference if you will. Peace Corps conferences: group discussions, ice breaking activities, and feeling sharing. Yay! I decided to celebrate the hump in my service in the best way I could think of: through the magic of dance!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Let’s Get Weird!

Boredom can tend to be overwhelming here. Especially in the evenings when it’s too dark to explore my community and the internet is slow. On those frequent evenings, when there’s nothing to do, I sit trying to figure out how to entertain myself.   I’ve got a couple of hours until its socially acceptable to go to bed but I’ve already done everything I need to do for the day. I’ve already watched my shows, read my book, cleaned or worked out. I’m so bored. 

You know what is the best solution to boredom? That’s right! Vigorous solo dance parties! There’s nothing like a vigorous solo dance party to improve a crappy day, to relieve boredom, or to have a fun evening workout.

“But Joel, it’s kind of late, I don’t want to disturb the neighbors.” Don’t worry reader, the best solution is headphones! “These florescent lights aren’t the most fun to dance with.” Well reader get yourself some blinking Christmas lights! All the club style lighting you could ever want!

With just a little imagination, this can be turned into...
At least a couple times a week I embrace my complete unabashed inner weirdo and let loose with a private rave. I break out the kind of moves I need several shots to do in public. 

Like this, only sexier.  
So there I am, really getting my groove on in my side yard. Enjoying the evening breezes, the bumping music, and the good sweat I’ve got going. My neighbors pull up, see this shadowy figure dancing back there and all I do is wave and say hello before going back to my solo fun. Thailand can be confused for once. 

So next time you’re bored and want something to do. Turn on those Christmas lights, strap on that iPod, put in those headphones, and get weird!

Dance Party!  

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

She Gave Me a Kanome

I’ve written about my co-teacher, Phung, many times on this blog before. Rightfully so. Phung is probably the single most important person in my service here in Thailand. We teach together, we plan together, we work together. I see more of Phung than anyone else. She’s my best friend and greatest supporter here at site. I lucked out beyond belief with her. She is simply amazing.

Despite how open and honest we’ve always been with each other I’ve always held back a little. I’ve never told Phung I was gay. So whenever we would talk about relationships I’d have to carefully watch my pronouns. Guard against letting anything slip. I’ve been hesitant to tell her because I didn’t want to risk her reaction, I didn’t know for sure how she’d react.

There have been many times that I’ve carefully hinted at things with her. Trying to scout out her potential reaction. There have been many times that I’ve almost told her, but backed down at the last moment. Letting my fears overtake me. Letting worst case scenarios run through my imagination.

I went to school today not knowing that things would be different. I was sitting at my desk working while Phung was talking with another teacher. Their conversation strayed to transexuals here in Thailand and they asked me if we have transexuals in America. They asked me the difference between someone who is trans and someone who is bi. Satisfied with my answers the other teacher left. Using the opportunity to scout out a bit more from Phung I asked her what she thought about trans and bi people.

“They’re people” she said, “as long as someone is good I like them.”

I then asked her about gay and lesbian people here in Thailand. Had she met any? What did she think of them?

“I like them, they’re my friends. I have a friend who is gay. He was very sad for a long time because he could not tell people. He told his family and friends and he is much happier now. He is my friend.”

Taking the encouragement I decided to ask her what she would think if I told her I was gay.

“You’d still be Joel. It would not change a thing.”

“Well, I am. Pom chop puchai (I like guys).”

“Ok!” She said with a smile.

The relief I felt was overwhelming. I instantly felt closer to her, that we were better friends because I had been fully honest with her for the first time ever. After being sworn to secrecy, we had a long conversation about relationships, love, and heartbreak. It was by far the most personal and honest conversation we’ve ever had. It was amazing.

Eventually lunch time came. Like always, she went to eat in the other room, and I went to eat at my desk. After a minute she came to my desk and gave me a kanome (sweet treat) smiled and walked away. She gave me a kanome. Everything was just like before. Nothing had changed. Nothing would.

Without saying anything she she accepted me for me. I couldn’t have asked for a better response. I loved my co-teacher before, but today has completely reinforced it. She’s amazing and wonderful. I’m truly lucky to have her in my life.

Other blog posts about Phung:
Pushing Phung

Saturday, March 8, 2014

30 Before 30

Last October, after turning 25 I had a mini life crisis. I say mini because it lasted all of a couple of hours. But during that time I resolved to write and complete a “30 Before 30” list, that is a list of 30 things to do before I turned 30. I sat down and started to formulate my list. It was hard! What did I want my accomplishments to be? What awesome or inspiring things did I want to do? What personal growth did I want to achieve? For months I was only able to write out 13 items. Slowly but surely I added to the list until finally I realized that, f#@k it it’s only 30. Nothing too serious needs to be on my list.

So instead of deeply personal items (of which there are a few) I broadened my requirements to things that I wanted to do. Be they fun, crazy, personal, or whatever. I’m happy with my list, I think it’s a good mix and definitely achievable. So here you go:
  1. Run a full marathon (training for it now!)
  2. Complete a triathlon (training for it now!) 
  3. Get Master’s Degree 
  4. Have at least one really serious relationship 
  5. Go sky diving (get over my fear of heights/flying) 
  6. Return to Paris 
  7. Get a signature drink (both an order and something I can make) 
  8. Give an awesome wedding toast for a friend (preferably drunk and hilarious) 
  9. Visit 30 different countries (I’m at 12 now) 
  10. Move in with someone 
  11. Completely trust someone 
  12. Establish my career 
  13. Go bungie jumping (see fear of heights) 
  14. Go zorbing (like being a human hamster!!!) 
  15. Go on an awesome road trip 
  16. Learn to water ski 
  17. Go to SF Pride and be awesome 
  18. Travel alone at least once 
  19. Do a yoga or meditation retreat 
  20. Learn to drive stick 
  21. Develop a six pack/ swimmers V 
  22. Get over my body issues 
  23. Dye my hair a crazy color (get it out of my system) 
  24. Visit New Orleans for Mardi Gras 
  25. See a real opera (suit and bow tie included) 
  26. Run a race in a fun costume 
  27. Take an art class 
  28. Take up meditation and habitually do it 
  29. Attend a music festival (I’ve only been to two concerts my whole life) 
  30. Do 30 anonymous nice things in the 30 days before my 30th birthday (why not?)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ewww, Pattaya.

This past weekend I was in Pattaya for a school competition. Pattaya is pretty much renown for it’s overall sleaziness and general level of gross. Imagine Las Vegas and Atlantic City had an ill advised hookup that resulted in pregnancy. The resulting child then got with Reno, Laughlin, and Tijuana. That resulting love child with unknown parentage would be Pattaya. It’s pretty gross.

While I was there judging a national debate competition I was absolutely surrounded by speedo clad Russians enjoying their vacation with debauchery and general weirdness. This got me thinking *cough cough judging cough*.

Silently judging you.
Some random (and very bratty) thoughts/impressions based on my weekend in Pattaya:
  1. When is it ok to walk through a hotel lobby in a speedo!? 
  2. No a mesh dress over your bikini is not appropriate. 
  3. I don’t think you can wear that outside of the pool. (Are you detecting a pattern here?) 
  4. Why is your child still awake? It’s 10pm and the hookers are coming. 
  5. All of the women in this elevator are hookers. 
  6. Really? You think I’m willing to pay 200 baht for that? It’s 30 where I live. 
  7. No I don’t speak Russian. 
  8. Could you please make the process of getting a pool towel more complicated. (Sign in at the front desk, receive card, wait in line, give card to pool clerk, sign in, receive pool towel, enjoy towel, wait in line, turn back in the towel, sign out, argue with the pool clerk because she didn’t see you turn in the towel.) 
  9. Isn’t it great that all these students were brought here? 
  10. I can speak Thai. 
  11. 120 Bath for fried noodles!? 30 baht!! 
  12. Nope still don’t speak Russian. 
  13. I love how you’re yelling in the hall way at 3am. 
  14. How is this room so cold? 
  15. Why does our room smell so weird? 
  16. It’s amazing how much nicer the hotel staff are when you speak to them kindly, not demand things loudly in Russian. 
  17. Sir, please never wear that speedo ever again. Some of us value our eyesight. 
  18. Obviously I don’t understand what you said. Considering that I was just speaking English/Thai. Russian isn’t going to get you anywhere. 
  19. Nope, speaking louder/ getting angry isn’t going to get me to press the right button for your floor. 
  20. Thank goodness I’m heading back to site!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Other Volunteers

One of the unexpected perks of being a Peace Corps volunteer, besides the awesome travels and experiences, is the people you serve with. Peace Corps attracts people from all walks of life, from all across the country, from all stages in life. The people you serve with are people that you might not have ever known in the states. Or they're people that you never would have friended.

Despite the crazy amount of differences, with the pressure cooker that is PC service, you end up bonding and becoming fast friends with your fellow volunteers. The intensity and quickness of PC friendships is a freakish thing. Volunteers see each other at our best and at our worst. When we're rocking a camp or half marathon together and when we're sitting around drinking and bitching about everything.  There is no such thing as shame between us, because we've all been there or will be there soon.

Ahhhh!  What happens when PCVs get together...

Yep, about right.
We've had this conversation at least a million times.
I've been blessed, with both my services, to serve with some truly amazing people. Because of Peace Corps I've met the most genuinely kind, well meaning, passionate people. The kind of people where one minute we're discussing projects and our hopes and dreams, and the next we’re making the most inappropriate comments about anything and anyone.

Volunteers serve as each others support system. We're there for each other. We challenge and push each other to be awesome. Peace Corps advertises itself as "The hardest job you'll ever love." But I think it could be "The greatest people you'll ever meet."   

Always there for you.
Many of the people I've served with or am serving with are going to be life long friends. They're the greatest and most depraved people imaginable and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Water guns, water balloons, and birthdays
New Years on the island
The Nordic Edge!

Halloween 2011

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Joel’s Weekend of Inexpensive and Family Friendly Indulgence!!

This past week was a stressful and busy one. I taught my normal classes, tutored in the afternoons, taught at my SAO (local government office), and maintained my training for my 25k. To top it off, Thursday was a Thai day in rare form that left me annoyed and longing for a relaxing weekend. Thus the idea for a “life’s little pleasures weekend” was born. 

Up first, deal with my dire and most shameful lack of hammock. My friend, another PCV, had been lobbying me to get a hammock for quite some time and I stupidly thought I could go without. What a gross misjudgment. I set out on a 40 minute round trip walk to the nearest hammock supply center that I knew of. 
This is how I walk everywhere.
As I was walking down the road what wonderful oasis appeared on the horizon? Shimmering in the distance was a dirty old beat up truck. Sprouting from the bed of the truck was a quizzical smashing machine and tall stalks of the most delightful plant ever. It was a sugarcane juice truck!

Sugarcane holds a special place in my heart, I first had it in the middle of Phnom Penh on a trip with some China PCV friends. It was the most delightful, simple, and refreshing beverage I had experienced. For those of you who have no experience with sugarcane juice imagine Aphrodite came down from Mt Olympus with a tall glass of nectar. Into that nectar she squeezed one sweet tear and a wedge of lime. Using ice from only the most ancient of glaciers she shook it to icy perfection. Then she threw that crap out, because it doesn’t even begin to compare to sugarcane juice. Thats how good it is.

The single greatest beverage ever.  Except for tequila.
Well I got my hammock, I hung it, and it was the greatest thing to happen here in Tha Mai since the cotton candy blizzard of ’06. I proceeded to spend the rest of my Friday napping and swinging in the warm breezes. Serenaded by the sounds of the wind blowing through the trees and my nemesis the jungle rooster. 
Sabai sabai (relaxed relaxed)
Yesterday, I blasted out my run and got down to the business of pleasuring myself. Not that way you filthy pervert. I got back into the weekend of life’s little pleasures. On the docket was a trip to my big city to purchase nori for sushi rolls and some KFC for lunch. The best part of this trip downtown was that I got to ride on a songtaew (open truck) for 30 minutes each way. I f**king love the songtaews, they're so much fun! With the wind blowing, my legs swinging, music blasting, and the truck swerving down the freeway I smile the whole way. It’s such a simple thing, but it makes me so happy. 

That's me being very happy.
I got my nori rolls, I ate my KFC (which speaks volumes about how low my standards are now), and I returned home to my hammock. I decided to stop into my local market and pick up some tape when I saw that mentos were on sale. Mentos! Mother clucking mentos! Also known as the most delicious and inexpensive candy available to me. I bought two packs. One for the minute walk home, and one for the hammock. I again spent the day in the hammock. Reading, napping, listening to podcasts. I made my veggie sushi rolls, which were an absolute delight! Watched Thor and crashed.

I still blame you for my Mento addiction. You know who you are!
Now, Sunday, I plan on getting my laundry finished, and tackling that hammock again. I can’t let it miss me too much. I enjoy being a hermit and hiding out at home. Traveling is fun; but hanging at site, chilling, and doing nothing much of anything makes for a happy Joel.

Of course I'm a classy hermit.
Relaxed and ready for next week, I declare the weekend of life’s little pleasures to be a success!