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


Thailand is for Taunters (Update Part 17)


As you all know, I am quite the critical person. I am a tough judge when it comes to people, food, places—almost anything. But man, I have nothing on the people of Thailand: The Land of Smiles. During my many weeks there, especially those spent living in the secluded northern mountains with fellow teachers and Sanit’s family, was tough. Even though most knew no English, they still managed to memorize phrases or actions to notify me of my (multiple) wrongdoings. They railed on me no matter what I was doing, and the very second I did something correctly, I was ridiculed (with smiles, of course) for doing two more things wrong.

I put my spoon in my bowl wrong and offended people.

The sticky rice balls I rolled were not of the proper shape.

I wrung out my laundry wrong.

The rice I planted was not of the right depth.

I apparently offended someone because my buttocks was too high up in the air and pointed in her general direction while I was planting rice. Now I need to have policy-checking eyes on the back of my heinies, too? I can’t even farm right.

I made a mistake while hoeing the rubber saplings and left a ½”-wide, ¼”-deep cut. They somehow immediately found it and chastised me.

I ate things in the wrong order. Wait, how was I supposed to know that a bowl of a cut-up vegetable is dessert?

If I sat on the floor with my legs to the side, it was a time when I was supposed to sit cross-legged. When I sat with my legs crossed, I was scolded for not sitting with my legs to the side.

I put my boots in the wrong place and made a whole army of farmers shake their heads in disapproval.

I took the wriggling maggots out of the eggplant wrong.

I washed the edible thorn plant wrong. Though even when washed correctly, those thorns still hurt an awful lot while being swallowed.

I hit the kids wrong with my stick. No, I’m kidding on that one.

I know what you’re going to say: This is all they’ve ever done, so they’re good at it, and they’re not used to foreigners, so they’re not sure how to deal with me, and that this is my first time doing all these things, so of course I won’t be good at it. This is all true, but it sure doesn’t make me feel any better. In fact, in a really vindictive way, I almost wish some of these people could come to America just to realize how it feels to be corrected all the time. Wow, I’m a mean person. But that’s how you’d feel if you were here, too.

Then, as I’m sitting and trying not to express my true feelings, auntie comes walking in and starts pawing through my belongings. She finds everything endlessly fascinating. She unfolds almost every article of clothing to look at it, so once again I have to fold it back up and re-pack. Thanks, auntie. Oh well. I guess it uses up more time, time that would be spent with me getting criticized for washing mushrooms wrong, mopping wrong, or just, you know, living wrong.

It takes a lot to offend me and even more to make me feel dejected, but when you’re being criticized, talked about, and judged18 hours every day (even the method with which I entered and exited the mosquito net, for example, was wrong), it gets to you. They break you down. There’s no one to listen to you vent. You can’t explain the situation to anyone. Even now, you have no idea what it was like. Well, I asked for it, and they’re all good people—they’re not TRYING to break me down, after all. And really, the experience, scenery, wildlife, and everything else outweighed the fact that I cried myself to sleep every night. No, I didn’t do that.

Despite my massive sarcasm, honest feelings, and downright evil personality, I still can be counted on to write the truth. And Thailand is, honestly, still my favorite foreign country. Nepal is a close second, though. Aside from my near-vomituitous experiences with most of the food here, and the constant criticism, I really just absolutely love the countryside. I’ve been exploring backyard caves, slipping down muddy roads, hanging out in awkward situations, walking down random paths, and just loving what I get to see every day. The mountains here may be my favorite place I’ll ever go, and I’m pretty sure I’ll keep coming back for the rest of my life. With MREs, of course. 

Above: Mountain time

Below: Town time



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