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

Farewell, India (Update Part 10)

Silent Retorts:

When traveling to foreign countries, it’s often necessary to bite one’s tongue and avoid conflict. It’s not my place to correct people on their mannerisms and practices in their own country. Not that this fact has stopped me from imagining two-liners I so wish I could mention in passing.


“Why yes madam, of course I think it’s awesome you stepped out of the public bathroom stall and spat on the floor before reaching the sink. It really takes initiative and innovative thinking to spit in the one clean area of India.”                                                                

“Thank you, stranger, for walking up to me on the street and gently pulling down my kurta (Indian dress shirt) to hide the 1.39-square-inch surface space of my waist that these miserable-fitting clothes not made for anyone without a rail of a figure had exposed. I know there are no greater issues going on in India right now as important as a foreigner commuting to work and flashing skin with malicious intent.”

“No, I definitely appreciate your offer of possibly working at this NGO’s American branch. You were only the most incompetent and manipulative people I’ve ever worked for, so I’d be happy to see how your corrupt business operations translate on American soil.”

“Sure, I’m happy to pay literally 20 times more than an Indian for my admission ticket. You sure know how to make foreigners feel welcome.”

“What do you mean we should be careful about wild elephants around here? It’s a small area and there’s no way I’d be lucky enough to randomly encoun—oh my holy mother of *&%$.”

“I love that when an English-speaking teenage orphan kindly offers to lead us through the beautifully terracing crops, you reprimand him and tell him to go a way that will afford you better photos. You are too sweet.”

“Wait, that’s not what I’m saying! I think your one-room house is very unique; after all, few families can lay claim to a giant beehive above the bed and the relaxing drone of thousands of flying critters in their own homes.”

“Now that I think of it, yes, you’re right in saying that I should stay in India and marry an Indian guy. Silly me, who wouldn’t want to give up all personal freedom, friends, living place, and educational pursuits to be treated poorly by my new husband’s in-laws?”


Oh come now, I’m not THAT bitter. Here are some tidits in the way of photos (nothing special–just friends and fun) and experiences from my last days in India.



My last two weeks in India were pretty eventful, but not necessarily in a positive way. At least I had experiences I won’t soon forget, right? After being surrounded by chanting, rioting crowds in Nepal and spending extra money on a flight home (no other way out of the country!), I spent more than a wee bit of time in Bangalore, capital of credit card phone request, health insurance denials, and Dell anti-help centers. Seriously though, I saw wild elephants, went on some small trips, realized Bangalore is only IT people and shopping malls, made amazing friends with many of these people and cannot make fun of the hard work, crazy hours, and intense criticism these folks have every day. Well, I can only make fun of it a bit. Amidst the great friends were some very traumatizing incidents that I will never forget. I was happy to get back to Hubli to retrieve my belongings and say goodbye to everyone, but wouldn’t you know it, Hubli was on strike too. It was down to a little-known but awesome port called Cochin, where I met some great people and had a wonderful last few days in India. If I ever come to India again, I will definitely visit the southern state of Kerala over the others—what a beautiful place full of less staring! I’m glad I spent my last few days of India here, because it almost erased the slightly acidic taste this country has left in my mouth.

Overall, India was…well, as challenging as everyone said it would be. And unless you’re a white female, you don’t know what it’s like. It’s different for African-American females, different for white males, and different even down to size and hair color. I didn’t feel I could be myself. Sure, I wasn’t living in Saudi Arabia, but with the never-ending stares and attention, the restricting and hot dress, an inability to exercise, and restrictive women’s rights, I often felt like a prisoner here. In my house, I was told no loud noises, no music, no shouting, no drinking, no non-veg food, no dancing, and no visitors. When my neighbors accidentally saw me in shorts several times, one could practically see them stamping the word “slut” on my forehead–I kid you not. The combination look of judgement, fear, and disdain in their eyes made me feel like a bad person for wanting to stay cool in my own home. In the office, I wasn’t allowed to laugh without getting in trouble. In fact, I think I was often the loudest person in all of India. Women on the street were so bitter about their repetitive lives of cooking and cleaning with a cut-short education that in return to me smiling, they would grimace, frown, or look disapprovingly at my outfit. Step out on the street and you were judged (poorly) rather immediately. So yes, living in India was tough, though not a shock.

Despite my constant criticism of this way of life, I still have to say that Indians are the most hospitable and generous people I’ve ever met. I got spoiled by the 99% of people who were just amazing. Friends and strangers alike would bring me into their homes, pay for my meals, give directions and walk with me to the location, spend time researching routes or time tables for me, and invite me to dinner. I can’t say enough how much people go out of the way to help someone they don’t know. Heck, no one in America would treat strangers this well.

Perhaps most enjoyable were the conversations I had with random people. The restaurant owner whose owners called him in to work at night, shouting, “The Whiteys are coming, the Whiteys are coming!” Okay, that one isn’t quite true. The families who fed me, communicated with motions, and apologized when they ran out of food for my ever-expanding stomach. The train passengers who were so curious that after a few hours of sneaking looks in my direction, they’d finally come over to ask the standard 3: My name, where I’m from, and if I’m married. Really, I know all countries have issues, and I’m now in Malaysia, which has plenty of issues itself. Still, I feel I experienced India long enough to get a good feel of its many faces. I will surely be talking about it—and criticizing it, as I do most things—for years to come.

Time for my favorite international dish: roti canai. It’s time for Malaysia!


The Best Part of India Was My Trip to Nepal

No, I’m just kidding. Sort of. Not really.

Nepal has left me pretty much speechless. If you know me, you know this is a challenging feat. I’m a tough crowd to please, but this place’s raw beauty, picturesque villages, National Geographic-worthy old folks, and (thankfully) non-fried food was twenty times more incredible than I ever dreamed. I can’t even write a normal, bordering-on-sarcastic post this time! I wanted to visit remote villages, photograph natives, see the Himalayas, and go trekking and all, but it wasn’t in the plans, felt touristy, and wouldn’t be a good choice for my still-bummy knee. But by some stroke of luck, I did all that and more the anti-tourist way. I traveled with an established Indian-French photographer (from Couchsurfing, of course) who was doing a documentary on Tibetan exiles. We explored Nepal together, and I’m still too speechless to write a real post on the country. Beauty? Try a 6-hour motorcycle drive through massive mountains and terraced crops spiraling hundreds of layers down valleys. Cooking lesson? Too touristy. Try hiking into the mountains, picking “jungle fruits,” being taught how to cook by the local math teacher and cook, then cooking them lunch. Trekking? Too expensive. Try going with your Tibetan friend’s nomadic sister up a huge series of mountains–with 4 porters, 16 cows, and a yak–to move to new pasture. I’ve already said too much, and really, I can’t put into words how much Nepal blew my mind. The scenery was so stunning that I was unable to capture it and instead tried to document the lives of these Tibetan refugees and Nepali tribes. Hopefully some of my photos will help give a hint to life here.




Photography from Small Indian Villages

On a rare day off, students invited me to take the train…and auto-rickshaw…and then bus…to visit their families in their native villages. A cow lived in one family’s kitchen, I visited a 12th century temple, and while in a local priest’s home, I learned to play the tabla. It was all amazing.


Here are a few of my favorites from the day.