Photography from Thailand’s Secluded Mountains (Update Part 18)



My last two weeks in Thailand were rife with incredible caves, rewarding teaching, fascinating hikes, and dreams of chewy, cheesy pizza. So much happened that it’s easier if you look at photos instead of falling asleep reading my endless rants. Just the ride down the mountain could have me blabbing for days on end, involving almost crashing, getting stuck in mud, being laughed at by locals, passing incredible waterfalls, surviving when we rode off the cliff (kidding–we only came close to doing so), marveling at the karst caves and jungle rivers, and so much more. So here, much like my Nepalese episode, are some photos from my last few days spent in the gorgeous mountains of Thailand. [click any photo to enlarge]


It’s real



Celebrating with my awesome fellow teachers. Well, the real ones who (sort of) work hard every day (of the workweek) and live in the mountains (except on weekends)



That’s my rather large posterior on the right, rice farming. Well, I’m doing the rice farming, not my buttocks.



One of my students–an old soul


The most beautiful bug I’ve ever seen. Legendary for its good luck and something else I didn’t understand. And no, no editing program ever came into contact with this photo–these are its natural neon-like colors



Another of my young students, happy as could be at 7AM



My last shot taken while standing alone on the moutain road, waiting to be picked up by my friend. Goodbye, mountains

It’s Live Blog Friday! Sure It’s Tuesday, But Who Cares? (Update Part 15)


Dear LiveBlogAudience:

Today was just another typical Friday. You know, huge bugs, teaching foreign students alone, hiking who knows where, seeing new bug species, being left alone in a deserted mini-village, night trekking, walking over a bamboo bridge, etc. Nothing too crazy. So here’s a live-blog (if I’d actually had an internet connection) of what my day entailed. This is an honest timeline, taken from my watch and the snapshot time, of most of my day, complete with untouched, uncropped photos. Sure wish I had a true macro lens, though!


7:28AM: Because I am a bad person, I wake up about 2 hours after everyone else. My natural alarm is the delightful sounds of kids banging on and screaming against my room

8:45AM: Breakfast is late for no particular reason, which means that classes will be late as well. What’s delicious this morning? Mashed frog with chile, mashed liver of something with chile, some kind of chopped cucumber with egg, something else I either can’t remember or don’t want to describe, and the usual sticky rice. I can barely stomach any of it.

9:16AM: Classes have failed to start—or maybe they have (I’m never sure around here because the teachers and kids are always kind of roaming around outside and talking)—and my friend is about to leave for his all-day meeting. One of our students brings in a pet of his—this giant bug with nasty pincers the size of my nose—and I get a photo with it despite the fact that its grasp is really hurting my hand. I set it in a box because the owner naturally left the classroom. I wave goodbye to my friend. 


 9:48AM: What should I be more concerned about: The fact that bug-with-jaws is now lost and loose in my classroom, or the fact that my friend the English teacher wrote that today is Firday, July th27 2012?  (Update: the bug was never found)

9:50AM: In typical Thai teaching fashion, I wasn’t told what to do while my friend was gone, so I’m using the cardinal rule of “teach anything you darn please. All I do know is that I’m sure as heck not following any curriculum—not that I even would know what curriculum to use. Yesterday he even admitted that Grade 6 was behind, and he closed the day’s learning with a Grade 1 English book. Pretty embarrassing that after 5 years of English lessons, the kids still know barely more than their ABCs, a few numbers, and some common phrases. Even then, they don’t truly know how to answer “How are you?” with anything other than a rote “I am fine.” I do my own thing, essentially teaching illiterate young adults.

10:25AM: I’m so bloody excited that the students are catching on! In just a few hours, I’m absolutely positive I’ve taught them more than they usually learn in 2 weeks. It’s really exciting to teach them skills they’ll be able to use for life. I just hope they won’t forget.

12:38PM: Lunch. No one speaks English. The food is palatable.

3:12PM: Teachers are walking around outside. Doesn’t the day end at 4, I ask myself every day? There never seems to be a schedule, and at 3:30PM, all the classes let out. I’ll never understand.

3:32PM: All the teachers have roared off on their motorbikes. The groundskeeper and I are the only ones left. I wait for my friend and eat some leftovers, write a note, and leave at 4:15PM down a steep, muddy, and slippery trail in the only shoes I have with me.

 4:21PM: I see this butterfly—a new species for me! 


4:29PM: Leafy grasshopper? I’ve seen this one, but it’s still awesome. 


4:33PM: My favorite shot of the day. It’s…can I say…almost adorable? 

Stealth Attack by Kathryn Cooper, Northern Thailand

4:50PM: New dragonfly species found at a little brook! 


5:00PM: Another new one! I just got to the river and there’s lots of flying activity. How often do you see a dragonfly with green eyes and buck teeth? 


5:03PM: Wow, I haven’t seen this one either! 


5:10PM: Okay, now this is getting ridiculous. Another new one. 


5:23PM:  Another butterfly I’ve never seen. 


5:23PM: Look closely so you can see its incredible curled tongue. 


5:23PM: Now I think it’s tripping on ‘shrooms. 


5:26PM: The awesome bamboo bridge. It’s hard to see how awesome—and potentially dangerous—this thing is. I need a photo that combines the crazy side angle, the crazy hill in the middle, and the mere two metal cables holding the thing up (aside from the fraying rope). It’s a bridge gone so wrong but so right.


5:31PM: This one shows it a wee bit better.


5:50PM: Do you see what I see? 


5:51PM: Awesome. 


5:53PM: I wish I had a better photo of this red glitter that came flying out of nowhere. It’s alive, and I have no clue what it is, but it’s a whole lot prettier in person. Wow. 


 6:01PM: Sweet! 


 6:06PM: Yes, it’s a piggyback ride. Kinda cute, too.


6:06PM: If this doesn’t look scary, then I guess cyclops-scorpion-hairy-spiderish-probably-the-tail-contains-venom bugs don’t scare you.


6:12PM: Even tiny, semi-ubiquitous bugs are beautiful here.


6:17PM: The bumblebees just have to go and be prettier than the American ones. I see how it is.


6:19PM: Back! Well that was 2 hours rather well spent, methinks! Just beautiful. And the electricity came back! Part of it, at least.

6:25PM: My friend gets back and we’re alone on the school premises. We start to prepare dinner and I ask his opinion of the Thai English curriculum. He seems to think that it works and that it’s effective in the cities, but that people are too shy to use it. He believes the village kids need motivation to learn, and that it’s…less rigorous coursework, shall we say, than in the city, but that overall it’s a good program. I want to yell about how terrible the curriculum is, how bad his English is considering he majored in it in college (though the same could be said for our college students), that city kids have a bit more knowledge but still speak with terrible grammar and vocabulary, and that the village kids don’t have a fighting chance, as they’ve taken English for five years and still can’t sound out words because no one understands what the actual letters sound like or mean. They’re not really learning, per se, but instead memorizing occasional words that have no relation to anything. That they WANT to learn and shouldn’t be seeing movies. That if their teacher doesn’t understand fundamental letter sounds, spelling, and grammar, then he can’t teach it. That if you gave me one week, I’d literally teach them more than they’ll learn this entire semester. That is pathetic. I want to argue, but I know it’s useless; he’ll make up some excuse because Thai teaching is from another planet. I am completely frustrated and want to rip their stupid curriculum in half. Which might help, actually, because they teach the letter A, then I, then H, then E and J. Seriously.

6:55PM: We sit down for dinner. I’m getting attacked by bugs and scratch my bitten ankles. Remember that I told you how people rub their feet, pick their toenails, pick their noses, rub their bellies, and eat, often without washing their hands? I told you only some of that, but really, when you’re in such a disgusting habitat, it all blends together. Plus, everyone shares from bowls of food served family-style.  Anyhow, I went to get the soy sauce to cover up the taste of the nasty dinner, and as I go to wash my hands, my friend says, “Uh, you know, if with others, you wash your hands. It’s bad you should know if you touch, you wash. Not good.” I’m ashamed. I have made yet another faux pas. I rinse off my hands, sit back down on the floor, pick the dead bug off my rice, and eat the rest of my meal in humiliation and silence.

7:42PM: One of my friend’s former students joins us for a night trek. It’s still bloody hot but I still need to wear pants and a sweater due to snakes, mud, and bugs, so we set out and I slip and slide in my inappropriate and treads-be-gone sandals. The student, who is a dead ringer for the fat kid in Up, loves using his slingshot to mame the bats, frogs, and katydids we pass. Once we hike up and then down into the rice field valley, Sanit keeps putting frogs and other creatures into my hand. I have mud all over, am sweating like a pig, and smell even worse than usual. Is that even possible?

8:36PM: The kid has hacked off some bamboo with his knife and is peeling the layers, but it appears he just wanted to show off his machete skills. Well really, Sanit has the machete (and a gun), and the kid has more of a meat cleaver. Still.

8:52PM: The next thing the kid slingshots is caught by Sanit and slurped up by him, too. I’ll never know what it was.

9:14PM: We’re back and I’m happy to change out of my muddy clothes, but not happy for the ice-cold shower. What’s the point of installing a heating system if it never has and never will work?

9:52PM: Sanit teaches me a new card game, slaughters me in it, then reveals later on that he cheated every time to win. I go to bed at 11 something, semi-distraught and with a room full of thousands of tiny, swarming flying insects. Luckily my mosquito net keeps me safe and sound. And bug-bitten, because it has GIANT HOLES IN IT. 

Goodnight, Friday. Sincerely, Coop

Off to Thailand. Goodbye, Malaysia! (Update Part 13)


When I arrive in a new place, you may think the first thing I do is to sample some of the local cuisine or find some adventure activities at the nearest national park. Quite the contrary, I actually enjoy buying a newspaper, walking to the local Golden Arches, and sitting down with my international iPhone translator app in order to gain a true sense of where I am, read up on the cuisines of the region, and hunt for an additional husband in the personal ads. If FOX news and other sensationalized media have your hair constantly standing on end, I think you’ll find the honesty in these Asiatic countries rather refreshing.

Here, for example, is a clip from a newspaper tourism section I found:

The Cuisine of India: Here, it’s Our Food that Brings You Hair-Tingling Experiences

 Ah…so that’s why I got nasty black hairs in my food nearly every day.

Or take these two charming ads I found in a Bangkok daily:

Single Thai Male, 31, 5’7”. Enjoys sitting idle and rubbing feet and/or picking toenails. A lifeless look while moving hands from feet to snack food is my specialty. What gets me going? Girls who get turned on by the site of my belly showing in public. Ladies who will wear the same shirt day in and day out. If you enjoy snotting on it and wiping the day’s food remains on it too, even better. A gal who enjoys a brisk shower with no option of heat. If you’re good at hula hoop, that’s hot.

Single Thai Female, 18, 5’7” with 5” stilettos: Inspirational quote: “Tee-hee-hee-hee! Giggle, giggle, oh you so funny, tee-hee-heeeee!” About me: “Shews!””


On the subject of personal ads, I found this one to be extremely upfront and honest. And who can fault one for that?

Malay Muslim Man, either single or already married, 47, 5’7”: I’m staring at you. From across the way. No, not in a romantic way. I mean literally, right as you’re reading this, I am the creepy guy across the way who keep my eyes on you at all times, no matter where I am in the coffee shop/bus/mall. You just looked up and caught my eye, then quickly looked down. Sketchy? Yes. Threatening? Sure. Thinking of calling the cops? // If you enjoy these possibly dangerous courtship procedures and want a life with little or no power and choice, call me. Or just give me a nod, ‘cause I’m still staring at you.

And you know, I had a lovely, albeit short, time in Laos while renewing my Thai visa. I saw this advertisement on the front of a Laotian expat monthly:

Laos: When the White Man tires of the Thai WoMan, we Lao Women will step up to the plate.

Oh right, one of the guys I knew had a fling last month with a Thai woman after  a trannie cabaret show. He said he was too drunk to be sure of…well… ANYHOW, in other news, Laos is the new Thailand when it comes to lonely,  disheveled, bearded, post-divorcees wanting an Asian wife. Total stereotype,  but you can’t ignore what’s smack in your face all the time.

And finally, a welcome booklet I saw in Singapore:

Singapore: We love welcoming visitors to our future city, but make sure you read up on our rules before entering the country. To make learning about Singapore a little more fun, we’ve put our rules into a quick little jingle for you to remember. It goes something like this (sung to the tune of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” but not really):

Jaywalking  =  A FINE

Littering = A FINE

Leaving Singapore in a Singaporean car without a ¾ full tank of gas = A FINE

Gum, Firecrackers, or non-sanctioned alcohol and cigarettes = A FINE

Doing drugs and getting caught = THE DEATH PENALTY

Drug trafficking = THE DEATH PENALTY

Getting caught carrying drugs, including “just” marijuana = THE DEATH PENALTY

Anyone who does something wrong in Singapore = THE DEATH PENALTY

He he, we’re just kidding on that last one. See, we have a sense of humor, too. Everyone is welcomed who will obey!

Enjoy Singapore!


Before I got to Thailand, and after I said farewell to my brother, a photographer approached me out of the blue. She was probably curious to know why a white girl was sitting in her apartment’s courtyard, but had no idea that I, too, was a photographer. Wonder of wonders, and as seems to happen in Asia, we ended up chatting the day away and she ended up hosting me for two days. I learned so much from her—about the life of a Malay Muslim woman, about her photography, and about her as a person. Not only that, but she let me play around with her photo equipment and even had her youngest model for us during a shoot. “Baby,” as she is called, enjoyed throwing the leaves up in the air so much that I had to laugh each time she giggled with glee. After saying a sad farewell to her, I visited my friends yet again, then caught a bus up to the Thai island of Koh Tao for more diving. Dive I did, but I quickly got sick of seeing drunk Westerners crash their motorbikes, injure themselves, and general gain the disrespect of the Thai community. It just wasn’t my scene, and I was eager to escape the 100+-degree heat and visit my friend in the mountains. I boarded a bus to Bangkok…and got delayed again by my friend there, whose hometown I was visiting. My remedy? Laos, but that’s for next time. Here are some photos of the island and more, macro shots from experimenting with lenses, and one happy (and unphotoshopped!) kid.