Crossword pic

On those standardized tests, I always have to fill in the bothersome bubble sheets…I fill in the name section, contact info, race/ethnicity, and occasionally come across the [usually] optional religion portion. OK, fine. I scan the sheet, looking for the word “Christian.” There is none. Instead, I have to mull through Methodist, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Latter-Day Saint, Presbyterian, Anglican, and maybe even Puritan. Annoyed, I immediately fill in the bubble for “Other.”

If you check on my Facebook profile under “Religious Views,” I identify as Christian. Which I am. But if I’m speaking freely (which I am, this being my blog), I’m not entirely satisfied with this simplistic label, because I adhere to other life philosophies too. I don’t like labels, because of all the assumptions about me that come with it.

Of course, this goes with anything. I dislike simplistic religious labels, personality labels, IQ labels, appearance labels, etc.

On one occasion, I was having a conversation about pretty much everything you can imagine with some people whom I now consider my close friends. Street smarts versus book smarts, the concept of rationality, and personality quirks were among the topics. Mid-conversation, one of my friends says something along the lines of “I don’t know who I am, guys.”

Which birthed an even more enlightening debate.

My almost-immediate response? “I know who I am in the fact that I have no idea who I am,” leading to this conclusion: I am a crossword – one who is still trying to figure it all out.

If you’ve ever taken the Myers-Briggs personality test, you’ll know that it gives you a pretty good idea of how you tend to see the world and react to the things in it. For example, I am an INTJ – introvert, iNtuitive, thinker, judger (not judgmental!). But even if there’s truth to this, I refuse to exist within the confines of yet another simplification.

Like the Starburst candy, I’m a contradiction – I think we all are, to varying degrees. Introvert yes, though without my standard filter, the opposite could be assumed. Takes a certain kind of person to catch me without a filter, though. As much as I like to be in control of every aspect of my life via pocket calendar, I do enjoy healthy amounts of spontaneity. While I am organized, my notebooks tend not to be; always graffitied by a series of doodles, to-do lists, and wistful words in the margins. And though I like to think I consistently abide by the laws of logic, my actions may indicate otherwise. I mean, who hasn’t made the mistake of putting aluminum in the microwave. No? Well, just me then.

The conclusion being, don’t live in a box. It’s terribly boring to fit into just one space. And even worse than boring is…normal. Ick.

Whoever you are out there, I highly encourage you to be anything but ordinary. And that means not trying to define everything about yourself. Nothing’s perfect, and not everything is meant to have a label slapped across it. The label won’t last long anyway, because the crosswords that we are will become more completed with words as we keep evolving as people.

In the words of the late Marilyn Monroe, “Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius, and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.”

Double Decade

Double Decade pic

Now that I’m doing round two in college, it is at this time of year that I usually don’t give much thought to my birthday. For one thing, most of my buddies as well as myself are prepping for the semester to pick up again, and it’s day on which I was born yes, but so were plenty others in the world. I don’t feel any older or necessarily wiser…although as I sit here in my jammies typing this, I will take this time to reflect on some of the wisdoms I have gathered within the past 365 days.

Wisdom is not just knowing the smart, moral, or dutiful thing to do, but applying it. Or, as I have heard countless times, “Experience is the best teacher!” and something about learning from mistakes making one wiser. And believe me, I officially have two decade’s worth of mistakes to look back on, laugh at (maybe), and learn from.

If current me could go back in time to the me from August 2012, 19-year-old me would be shocked for two reasons a) the concept of time travel, and b) what I’ve done and what I’ve gathered in merely a year’s time.

I could subject my readers to paragraphs upon paragraphs of all these little wisdoms, but I won’t. Just a few bullet points highlighting the most important ones:

–          They say that a situation is what you make of it. I don’t entire agree. Some situations truly suck, and there’s not much you can do about it, especially if you did not see it coming. If this is the case, then while you cannot always reverse the problem, you can come up with methods of coping and/or “escaping.” Those who know me know that I was, at the very least troubled during first semester. However, while I was not entirely elated, I found some methods of escape: 1) travel opportunities, 2) That’s Classy-fied, and 3) focusing on the good – which have become more abundant and easier to identify with time.

–          People can surprise you – both positively and negatively. After being surprised negatively a few consecutive times, I became skeptical or cynical of almost everyone and their intentions. Perhaps people saw me with those same eyes. I regret this. Fortunately I’ve learned that the best can be found in the most unexpected places, and the ones that are in it for the long haul will in fact, be there for the long haul. The ones who bring out the best in you might be an old high school friend you only get to talk to occasionally nowadays, or be that random person who checks in on you on the random.

–          I used to think that if I wasn’t a certain way, I had to change myself to fit into whatever situation it was that I was in. Obviously, this is a lifelong struggle for everyone, and anyone who denies it is lying. But I came to this conclusion – no one can make me inferior without my consent. I eventually learned to not give a (fill in the blank). If you like me, you’ll support me, and I’ll for sure return the favor. If not – well, like I said – I won’t give much thought to you.

–          Call it cliché or straight from a movie script, but I’ve re-discovered that life is indeed beautiful. Not all the time of course, but I would have seen it more often if I had stopped to look. The forthcoming years are full of possibilities, vibrant, fantastical possibilities – yet they will be unpredictable too. As I said, old me would be surprised by new me’s adventures. And next year me will feel the same about current me. Somehow, even as a born type-A planner, I find beauty in not knowing exactly what comes next.

Some friends ask me the obligatory “So, do you feel older?” question each year. Truth is – no, not really. I don’t necessarily feel more confident due to age, nor any more sophisticated or invincible. That all depends on my mood. Some days I’ll look like a seventeen-year-old, feel like a thirty-something, act like a twelve-year-old with my friends, talk like a senior citizen, but still have the heart of a continually learning double decade-r.

Thai Ten (composed for week of July 22, 2013)

Thai Ten pic

Planning on globetrotting? Have an urge to jet-set overseas to Asia? Sadly I cannot provide much expertise in this area, unless you’re booking a trip to Thailand…even then, I’m no expert. Despite this unimportant detail, I have composed a list of my top ten “Thai tips” for you soon-to-be “farangs” (foreigners) from a fellow farang:

  1. Motorcycles can drive on the sidewalk. And they do…ALL THE TIME. I’ve seen kids as young as twelve driving them, and mothers holding the accelerator with one hand and cradling baby with the other while driving a hog. If I die here, it will probably be from getting run over rather than acquiring heat stroke. Kidding, Mom.
  2. 30 baht = about $1 U.S. Pretty much every smoothie or dinner I’ve had equates to 30 baht each. And the merch sold in the outdoor marketplaces that I’ve purchased were as low as 10 baht, not exceeding 500 baht. I’ll let you do the math.
  3. The toilet and shower in our hostel occupy the same floor…welcome back, freshman shower sandals. And more often than not, toilet paper is used as paper towels in many public restrooms.
  4. As is the case with many foreign countries, no one drinks the tap water. Bottled H2O is the way to go! Also, I’ve noticed that almost everyone uses a straw, even for bottled drinks…
  5. Wai-ing is the name for what people here do when greeting someone older, or of high regard, which consists of folding one’s hands and making a slight bow of the head. I thought I (the young American) would be doing most of the wai-ing, but one of the surprise perks of teaching is that I get wai-ed to on a fairly consistent basis, and it feels awesome.
  6. Obviously one of the great things about Thailand is the food. Sadly, as a girl looking to lose some of the hated extra poundage, I must clear away at least half the rice or pad Thai from my plate before digging in. Carbs run rampant here! And I have to remember to order non-spicy food or else my nose will run like the Nile River, and my eyes will be as watery as a hormonal pregnant woman’s. On one occasion, I made the mistake of assuming the green pepper on my plate was a green bean. I quickly learned that it wasn’t several tissues and tears later.
  7. When I do get the chance to scope out the Bangkapi Mall, I notice that a lot of fake name brand merchandise is sold by the vendors. I’m a sucker for anything pleasing to the eye on a cheap scale, so it doesn’t take long for me to ask “Tao rai kha?” (how much). I be buyin’ that [fake] Louis Louis Gucci Gucci Fendi Fendi Ray Ban here since I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to sell fake name brands in the U.S.
  8. Simply put, if you’re a recovering shopaholic, do not come here. Shopping opportunities are EVERYWHERE. At the mall closest to our hostel and where I teach, it’s about four stories high. I had to come up with clever tactics for not getting lost in it. Right next to the mall is an indoor market…followed by a large outdoor market. Across the street, there’s another mall – again, surrounded by another cluster of vendors and booths. The temptation is not only tangible, but omnipresent. Fortunately, I’m frugal with money, but even I have been drawn to many a vendor because they basically line the streets, going on into an eternity.
  9. In Thai culture, feet are considered the lowest part of the body (both literally and metaphorically). Thus, feet do not go on the table, or really anywhere elevated, for that matter. Which makes sitting on the floor (which we often do) tricky business.
  10. People here are nice. I know that sounds very basic, but just imagine a foreigner trying to figure their way around a large American city, say Los Angeles. How helpful do you think most Americans would be to their plight? In much of the U.S. where it is essentially taboo to not speak very good English, the fact that I only know four –ish phrases of Thai to get around with is much more forgivable here than it would be elsewhere.

Down the Rabbit Hole (composed July 17, 2013)

Down the Rabbit Hole pic

Five weeks didn’t seem that long when I bid adieu to my pals and parental unit for what would be forty days a few thousand miles across the globe. While at college, I’m generally not very good at keeping touch with people (sorry! It’s not intentional), so I didn’t think much of going away again.

Fast-forward through a 16 hour international flight – welcome to Bangkok. Where the people drive on the left side of the road, where you must be mindful about the amount of TP you use, and where the cost of living is ridiculously low (compared to the US or UK, that is).

For those who haven’t been following me or accidentally clicked on this link, here’s a quick debrief of what I’ve been up to:

Basically…I’m in the lovely country of Thailand teaching two classes of Level 1 English for four hours a day, four days a week for a grand total of four weeks to students who (at the moment) speak very little English. I’ll explain what my last week spent here will consist of later.

After just one teacher training day, equipped with some curriculum and a half-used high school notebook under my arm, I was given my own classroom, lesson plans, the title of “teacher,” and one morning and one night class where 90% of my students are older than me.

I initially thought that the fact that most of my students were working, middle-aged adults could make teaching at the very least, awkward. But age quite literally seems to be but a number, outweighed by the students’ motivation to learn the language. They wai to me (bow heads with clasped hands), listen with interest (or at least pretend to) to every boring, minute detail of my American life that I share, and want to go on excursions around the city with me, long after class has been dismissed. Already I have been regularly invited to lunch by my students, as well as the floating market. Wut…

If I have learned anything within the last eight days, it is that this is a culture of respect – age is irrelevant in my case. I guess this is one of the perks that comes with being a foreign English teacher who teaches for free! But I’m not sure if that minor detail really has much to do with the overwhelming kindness I’ve received.

I think most of us are accustomed to a very give-and-take society, where the mindset often follows along the lines of “What’s in it for me?” rather than a “What can I do for you (regardless if I get anything in return)?”one.

My students (and even those who are students in other classes) have really made an effort with me outside of class with no intention of buttering me up for a “pass” grade. It’s astounding. Because in our society, who does that?

The other day, one of my team leaders brought the above to my attention on a more personal level.

“It’s about time,” she said. I suppose in her eyes, she saw me as the one to usually give my best without expecting or getting much in return. Not trying to play the victim here, just telling it like it was said.

Because if I’m to be blunt, [most of] the Thai I’ve met seem to like me – for me. Even if I wasn’t providing a service, I have a strong feeling that I wouldn’t be treated too much differently than I am now.

But why can’t it always be like that? Not just for me, but for everyone. I don’t think we Americans are conditioned to thrive in this mindset, in fact it seems quite the opposite. Obviously no one can be nice 100% of the time, but the pure-intentioned mentality in which one expects nothing in return for a good deed – I am curious as to when that ever went out of style. Or if it ever did, and we’re all dressed out of season.

And that simple statement, “It’s about time” hit me hard. So hard that I seem to have fallen down this rabbit hole that I’m in no hurry to crawl out from.