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Koh Samet: I wish you were here, or maybe not.

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I have no intention of making you jealous, but I have to inform you that I am writing this blog post from a beach chair 4 feet from the water on the small island of Koh Samet in Thailand. It is late afternoon and the beach area in front of my resort (My bungalow is $20 a night!) is starting to clear out for the day. I personally think dusk is the best part of a beach day. The sky’s color is spectacular, the sun isn’t as intense as it was a few hours prior and I can finally tell by looking at my skin that yes, I in fact did manage to tan and not burn after hours of frolicking in the surf.

I tell you all this because upon traveling to the island from Bangkok, where I spent 3 days being social and saying goodbye to 2012, I have come to the realization that solo-travel may just be the best thing I have done so far in 2013. I admit I was a bit nervous to embark on my solo winter vacation to Thailand. I had traveled alone before but those trips were always only short jaunts from one place to another to meet friends, family or study abroad groups. Because my other expat friends in Korea did not share my vacation days and I knew I didn’t want to stick around Seoul for another week of winter, I booked flights to Bangkok and a hostel for the first night and hoped for the best.

Bangkok proved to be a bustling yet non-intimidating and easily navigable city. I’m not sure what I expected, but my desire to be beach-side and maybe Hangover 2 clouded my judgements and I hoped to leave the city shortly after my arrival. I was pleasantly surprised by Bangkok. I spent 3 nights at the Refill Now! hostel (Please stay here if you are ever in Bangkok!) and made time to explore the splendidly colorful Grand Palace via water transportation, get lost meandering the hundreds of stalls at the famous Chatuck weekend market, wander the backpacker’s party street of Koh San until the early morning hours, and celebrate NYE with a friend from home who now lives in Thailand.

After a whirlwind tour of Bangkok I was more than ready to find a map of Thailand and choose an island to getaway to for the remainder of my vacation. My friend had to return to work so I was left to travel solo and any solo-travel-nerves I might have had when I booked my trip a few months back vanished as I made my way to the Bangkok bus station. I was ready for some quality relaxation and I didn’t mind that a few couples and groups of friends eyed me curiously (I think this was just in my self-centered imagination.) on the ferry from the mainland of Rayong to Koh Samet. I think the lone traveler is mysterious. I imagined an outlandish alter identity for myself, although I do think ‘English Teacher in South Korea’ is pretty darn cool and adventurous. My 20 year old self would have been self conscious, I know it. She would have told herself everyone thought it was strange she was traveling alone and that she must be a lonely cat lady. My 25 year old self, having successfully matured (a bit!) and gained some wisdom in a large part due to her year abroad in Korea, brushed these people and their non-existent thoughts aside and realized she would probably never see them again and she was about to embark on an epic island getaway.

My first full day on Koh Samet is nearly over and I look forward to 2 mores days of sun and fun. The nice thing about vacationing alone is that you are free to do exactly what you want to do exactly when you want to do it. If I want to sleep in I can. If I sporadically decide to stay in the ocean for an entire hour flopping around pretending to be a mermaid no one is impatiently waiting for me on the beach. If I want to go to bed at 10pm there is no judgement. I have also found that the lone traveler is sometimes the most sociable. While a large group of friends may seem intimidating, when you are on your own you are more likely to be approached by others. On the ferry to Koh Samet I met 2 guys who teach in Japan and were vacationing like me. Many young people at my resort beach have also been extremely friendly.

Although I love to socialize, I am using these last few days in Thailand to relax, work on my tan (using SPF!), catch up on all the books I bought for my iPad in 2012 and recharge for the next few months of teaching in Korea. I would tell you all about the delicious pad Thai I plan to consume tonight, but a beach massage advertisement just caught my eye. A one-hour-full-body-massage for about $9…oh, don’t you wish you were here?

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running, reading & really bad tv

Hi all! I should be out at the moment (it is 11pm on a Friday night – whomp whomp – go ahead and judge me) but I have to work in the morning. Hopefully it is the last working Saturday I have for awhile. I just finished my 2nd week of teaching, well almost, I won’t consider it complete until tomorrow. I am adjusting to my new work schedule, although I have been staying up super late and sleeping in a bit too much. I don’t have to be at work until 1:30 or 2:30 each day, so it is easy to hit snooze for hours and hours. I need to motivate myself to get to bed earlier so I can have productive mornings. I will work on that next week. Can I still use jet-lag as a sleep-in excuse?

Anyway, I am loving my classes. The kids are so eager to learn and I am amazed at their focus even after being in regular school all day. I had to be firm with a few of my classes this week. They are now getting used to me and they tend to be very loud and can not sit still. I have many methods to encourage good behavior. Each student has a sticker page on the board in the classroom where they can showcase their earned stickers – they LOVE stickers! Also, I bought some cheap candy from Homeplus (like Walmart) and I entice them throughout the class: “Do you want candy at the end of the lesson or not??” Chungdahm has a points system where I can give students 10, 30 or 50 points for fantastic behavior. Students can use their points to “buy” prizes offered by Chungdahm. And of course there’s always ME. A few of the young students are always asking me: “Teacher happy??” They look so concerned and I tend to answer: “Of course I am!” I don’t even want to consider what they would say/do if I answered differently.

My students had the most trouble this week with our creative thinking project. I assumed it would be a breeze and they would love it. During this part of class students work in groups and focus on a small project that involves illustration and creative writing. Most of the students were so confused, they didn’t understand the concept of group work and kept looking for/asking me for the answers. I tried to explain that there were no right answers, that they could use their imaginations to make whatever they wanted. Still confused… Hopefully as the weeks progress they will learn to love this and have fun with it.

My free time this week was consumed with running, reading and really bad TV…I am proud of 2 of the 3. I am excited that I live so close to the river and I can feel safe running there day and night. I hope to make running part of my daily routine, or at least a habit that I stick to 4-5 times a week. I have made it through 2 books in the past week and am so happy I brought my Ipad with me to Korea. Any reading recommendations are appreciated. I have also gotten sucked into some pretty crappy TV. My internet isn’t working that well so I am unable to watch preferred movies/TV on it. I do have a TV in my room but the 3 English channels are strictly cheesy cop shows and bad action movies. Of course I love myself an old SVU marathon every now and then, but I hope to get my internet fixed soon and catch up on my favorite current shows that I have missed in the last month.

I look forward to spending more time with my co-workers in the coming weeks. This week I had dinner with one of them and another took us new teachers to set up bank accounts. I don’t see many of the teachers while I am at school because I work with the young kids 2-8pm and they work 4-10pm but I look forward to getting to know them outside of school.

Tomorrow afternoon I am headed into Seoul to meet up with people from training week. I do not know our exact plans, but I am sure it will be fun! I am a bit nervous to travel by myself from my city into Seoul. I am sure I will eventually make it there, it might just take me awhile and maybe include some helpless/confused hand-gestures. I look forward to seeing familiar faces – it should be a blast!! I went out in Seoul a bit during training week and if that was any indication of the rest of my nights in Seoul I am so ready! (see the Noise Basement photo – I stole it from a friend – thanks Simon)

Lastly, I have included a hilarious video of a baby eating kimchi and LOVING it. If you have tasted kimchi (a traditional fermented Korean dish made of vegetables with a variety of seasonings) you will understand. I have not learned to love kimchi yet, the taste is a bit much for me. I have yet to master chopsticks also. So this baby just makes me look bad.

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