As of yesterday, I have been in Thailand for two months: one month in Chiang Mai and one month in my home for the semester, Klaeng. Has it really only been two months? It feels like six… (I will do a proper recap of my time here shortly, stay tuned).
Today (or rather tomorrow in the States) is Thanksgiving. I do not usually like the “What are you thankful for?” question my mother always poses at the dinner table. It is an important question of course, but it always feels forced and awkward.
But this morning, it feels appropriate to share a few reflections. In this moment, I am reminded of how thankful I am to be in Thailand. I miss my family and friends at home and will likely shed a tear tomorrow morning when I video chat to say hello during their holiday dinner. And while I may slightly regret missing this family affair, made even more special this year by the arrival of my first nephew and the impending arrival of my second nephew, there will be many more happy holidays to share with them in the future.
Today, I am keenly aware of how special and unique this Thanksgiving is, precisely because I am not at home or in my country to celebrate. Instead, I was lucky enough to witness and participate in Loy Krathong over the last two days, a festival holiday in Thailand during which locals pay respect to the water goddess, ask for forgiveness and make a wish for good things to come. To me, it translates to a combination of atonement and thanksgiving – how appropriate.
I am so thankful to have celebrated this holiday in Sam Yan, the downtown of my city, Klaeng. I felt like a local walking through the festival and launching my Krathong (floating basket made from a banana tree and leaves, flowers, candles and incense) among my students and the many families of Klaeng. It would have been lovely to celebrate in Chiang Mai where you can also launch lanterns into the sky, but that regret left me as I realized how special it was to celebrate in my community.
Ever since I decided to leave home for some time abroad, my emotions have existed as if on a pendulum, constantly swinging back and forth from very high highs to very low lows. I will elaborate on both in later posts, but suffice it to say, I have experienced many ups and down since arriving here in September. The highs have certainly outweighed the lows, but sometimes during the toughest times I have had difficulty seeing the light at the end of the tunnel of the suck.
Well, after a rough few weeks (extended culture shock, catching a cold, waging war against the cockroaches taking residence in my room, etc.) the pendulum has swung back in the positive direction and today there is a clarity I have not felt since earlier in the month. I am elated to be here. Or perhaps content is the right word. When I arrived at school this morning I felt very at peace. Instead of going directly to my office to get ready for class, I took advantage of my morning off and walked around the grounds. I took stock of how beautiful my school is. I visited the large golden Buddha by the front entrance and watched the students mill around waiting for classes to begin.
I also joined some friends on a coffee run. We went to the same restaurant/coffee shop one of the women took me to on my first morning in Klaeng, a refurbished gas station with an Italian flare. To be terribly cliché, it felt as though I have come full circle. During that first visit to the coffee shop I was out of my element and reeling from my move to this lovely but unfamiliar town. Now, a month later, it feels like home. Today is mostly definitely a “high” compared to the “low” I experienced last week.
A friend just told me about her and her boyfriend’s Loy Krathong experience last night – they stumbled upon a festival near a lake by their apartment, where they joined in and were brought up on stage to dance in front of the town. I laugh because that is so Thailand…you never know what will happen and it usually pays off to simply say “yes”.
So today, on Thanksgiving and Loy Krathong, as I sit here writing in a gazebo in the courtyard of my beautiful school, I say yes to this experience, yes to the highs and the lows and am ever grateful for the opportunity to be exactly where I am.