Happy Camper

Sunday, June 9th, 2019

8 more teaching days with my 20 kids. Bittersweet. Time is flying faster than I’ve ever experienced before. Feels like just yesterday, I was in my hotel room, studying for my TEFL quizzes and trying not to panic about what I was going to be doing in the following months. Panic attacks happened, meltdowns, and many times I wanted to raise the white flag and give up.

But I didn’t. I kept going.

It’s been 7 months since I had my travel-life crisis, and now every day is filled with laughter, learning, and snacks.

I still don’t quite know exactly where my path is going to take me in the future long-term. As for the near future (which will fly by as if it were a week), it includes more traveling, teaching a new class, and continuing to grow and evolve.

Over a year ago, I was on Vashon Island and I wrote something that I came across today and it made me so happy.

“Being on an island for a week definitely stirs up my creativity. The vision board I made a couple years ago is sloooowly coming to fruition. So I decided to make some more visions in my daydream journal that I can carry around with me.
I keep stressing that I don’t have a concrete goal in mind right now. Feels like life would be easier if I knew exactly what I wanted to do career-wise or exactly where I wanted to settle down. But after thinking about these visions and then physically creating them, it’s clear that I *do* have goals. Maybe not super specific, but as long as I’m near water, learning, traveling, and exploring, I’ll be one happy camper.”

I still am not too sure on my career or location goals…and that’s OK. But I’m happy. And at the end of the day, that’s what matters most. Life has been unraveling in a magnificent way and I have no doubt that my visions will keep coming to life.

Just gotta keep going with that flow…

I am indeed a happy camper…

Sending love to you all – I hope your days have been filled with smiles and snacks!!

Same Same But Different

Saturday, June 8th, 2019

While I was in Bali, I had a little recurring bit in my blog called “Things Cheaper than a Starbucks Tall White Mocha.” I was amazed at how cheap everything was in Bali, and it also rings true here in Thailand.

My mind has officially converted to driving on the left side of the road, the 24-hour clock (I finally had to learn what 18:30 meant…), and also the Thai currency: baht. I no longer think in terms of the American dollar, which is a little bizarre to me. I’ll be at a restaurant and the meal will be 150 baht and I’ll think that’s too expensive…even though it’s only $4. I’m really trying hard to save money while over here, and it’s easy to get carried away spending a lot of money if I continue to think in terms of dollars. So that’s why in 8 months (I’ve been in Thailand 8 months!!) I’ve only purchased 2 Starbucks white mochas. Thankfully, pretty much everything I eat and drink here is cheaper than a Starbucks white mocha…

But I want to start a new “bit” for Thailand. There’s a common phrase in SE Asia that says, “Same Same But Different.” Everything here is very similar to the Western world, just a liiiiittle different. For example, Thailand has your classic junk food snacks. They’re just a tiny bit different (and DELICIOUS!).

Another example of ‘Same Same But Different’ is the actual Starbucks white mocha. There are a few Starbucks in Chiang Mai, and I’ve only visited them twice when I was missing home and needed a taste of Seattle. Once you walk in, it’s like you never left the PNW. The decor, the vibe, and the taste of the drinks are exactly like home. But here in Thailand, they ask, “For here or takeaway?” If you decide to stay, they serve your drink in an actual mug. I can’t really describe how much it amplified my experience at Starbucks here – so fancy!!

But the most recent experience of ‘Same Same but Different’ has been breakfast. Thai’s take their breakfast very seriously. I’ve noticed the Thai staff at my school are always eating throughout the day – they’re always carrying bags with hearty meals that they snack on all day. But their biggest meal of the day is breakfast.

The other day, I walked to the school’s coffee shop early in the morning and decided I wanted to get an iced Thai tea with milk. It’s 25 baht (about 80 cents – my wallet is happy!). The woman at the coffee shop making it said confusingly, “Teacher….first order.” She gave me a funny look and I was slightly perplexed… First order of the morning? That can’t be possible. There were already plenty of people walking around with their coffee cups…

Then I went back to school and my co-teacher who is Thai asked, “You got a Thai tea?!”

Uhhhh, yeah? It’s tea. It has caffeine. It’s a break from my occasional lattes. What’s so weird about that?

She explained to me that Thai’s don’t drink Thai tea in the morning. That it’s an afternoon drink.

Ohhhhhh, ok because that makes sense…

[quizzical look on my face]

My Thai co-workers teased me a little bit and it made me chuckle – I couldn’t believe that tea in the morning isn’t normal here.

But here’s the catch…

What they eat for breakfast? Meat, meat, and more meat.

So breakfast is huge here; but instead of eggs, toast, and yogurt, Thai’s eat meat on a stick, steamed vegetables, marinated chicken, and hot dogs.

And absolutely NO tea.

People line up for their hearty, meaty breakfast every morning around 7:00am and it’s a feast! Not sure if my mind will ever convert to their version of breakfast…

I see nothing wrong with my yummy orange tea.

Same Same But Different…

Move

Sunday, May 12th, 2019

It’s MAY already?! Where does the time go??

It’s bizarre to me how time can move slowly and so quickly at the same time. I’ve been trying to figure out how to make time slow down in my own little world. You know how we say, “Feels like that happened forever ago!”? What causes this sensation?

I had a thought after returning from vacation in Krabi on this feeling and I felt like maybe I had figured it out. I wrote in my journal, “The secret to slowing time down: GO. Do lots of things. If you just sit and don’t move, everything blends together. With many memories, it feels like you can live forever. Move.”

So here’s the past month that has felt like an eternity…

At the beginning of April, I moved out of my tiny, little hotel room. That cooking class I wrote about in March really did inspire me – I needed to move to a place with a kitchen…and a place that felt a little more permanent. So I did.

I loved this little room, but it was time to move on…

Let me tell you, searching for a new home in Thailand is SO easy and actually quite fun! It is so much simpler than America and within a day of looking, I was set up to move into an incredible condo. There are many ways you can find a new place, but I chose to visit different complexes in person and check out the spots with my own eyes. I viewed 9 different units, and opening each apartment/condo door was like opening a surprise, mystery box. You had no idea what was going to be behind each door.

My preferences: windows, good view, kitchen…and that was pretty much it.

It was a very simple process – I gave the front desk my budget, then they handed me a bunch of keys and told me to check the units out at my leisure.

This condo only had one window and no place to sit and enjoy the view.

This condo’s interior was too dark and just didn’t feel right.

This one was beautiful…

But I didn’t really want a bunch of people from the building next door to be able to look in…

I visited about 5 more units and none of them felt right. I felt like Goldilocks…

The funny thing is that I ended up signing a lease on the very first condo I visited. When I walked into this condo, my jaw dropped and I felt immediately giddy.

But I was convinced that the first place I checked out wouldn’t be the best, so I spent the rest of the day looking at other units that couldn’t even compare. None of them compared to the light and airy space I saw first.

By the end of the day, a lease was signed and I was moving in a few days later.

It’s a beautiful building, standing all on it’s own so there are no other tall buildings obstructing views. There’s a delicious restaurant in the building that delivers to my door (“Condo Service!”), it has a mini produce stand I can buy fruits and veggies, and it has a 24-hour mini mart for when I need to buy one egg or a beer at 1am.

But most importantly, it has a kitchen…and the most incredible view in town. I have a perfect view of the mountain, Doi Suthep, and the sunset. Each night, I relax on my couch and watch the show from the comfort of my own home.

Home.

I can’t tell you enough how much moving into a perfect space has uplifted my spirits. I was already happy with my time here in Thailand and my job, but now I’m excited to go home every day and cook some homemade Khao Soi or Pad Thai.

April was a great month of settling into my new space and experiencing many more happy memories in the “Land of a Thousand Smiles.”

Like…

Walking through ancient caves.

Riding a boat toward the sun.

Being blown away by an incredible drag queen show.

Having a spa slumber party with my friends.

Taking a much-needed vacation to Krabi for Spring Break.

Experiencing my new favorite holiday ever: Songkran – Thai New Year. It’s a 3-day water festival that turns into nationwide water fights. I was constantly sopping wet, and constantly smiling.

Finally fulfilled my craving for swimming and fresh air.

Beach combed.

Visited some islands with some incredible people.

Witnessed two of my friends get married on the beach.

Helped choreograph and performed a fun Thai dance for our school’s Songkran event. The inner-child in me was SO happy.

Learned a new sport: water boxing. I was obviously having fun…

Got blessed by our school’s founders.

Supported my friend at her poetry reading and was so inspired.

Received my work permit. This is huge. The amount of time, effort, money, and energy spent on this little booklet was insane.

Enjoyed a very low-key, but extremely happy, dinner at a market for my 32nd birthday. Grateful.

Watched countless sunsets from my couch.

Enjoyed meals with magical spirits.

Experienced an augmented reality.

Took a long ride up into the mountains and visited a village on the hill.

Took time to smell the flowers.

Shared time and space with someone who makes me smile.

But most importantly, felt my love growing for my kids every single day.

It has been a looooooong long long journey to get to this feeling.

Feeling happy, content, and grounded. My roots are certainly getting deeper in this beautiful country.

I’ve been going and doing and loving all the things. It’s been a complete time warp.

Feels like I’ve been here forever.

Time in this Universe never ceases to amaze me.

Look Past the Smoke

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

So here’s the update on Chiang Mai and it’s air quality.

We are the worst in the world by a LANDSLIDE.

So….that’s fun. Yesterday, my school was actually closed because the AQI had reached 500. That. Is. INSANE.

To see the comparison between Chiang Mai and Seattle:

Ahhh, move to Thailand where there are palm trees, beaches, and hot weather every day – “Paradise” they call it. Oh, but by the way, you literally can’t be outside for more than 10 minutes at a time for over two months.

I will admit, this smoky weather has been a challenge. And to make things worse, I’m seeing reports that “firefighters are working hard to put out brush fires with water and leaf blowers.” I’M NOT MAKING THAT UP. There are photos of firefighters using LEAF BLOWERS to ‘put out fires.’ Uhhhhhhh…….. Science. That’s what’s the really tough part about all of this – smoky season (or “burn season”) can be 100% prevented. It’s not Mother Nature causing this. Farmers are burning their farms/crops to make way for next season, and no one does anything to stop it.

Leaf blowers, people.

Anyway….despite the craziness of smoky season, life is all about perception, right? Find the silver lining…

Truth is, there is WAY more good than bad going on. I am grateful every day.

Remember how I mentioned before I was going to have lunch with a Japanese woman I had met the week prior? Well, that was just the beginning of my week where I was wondering if I was in Thailand or Japan…

My new friend is in her upper 60’s, never been married, and moved to Thailand 4 years ago from Japan. She has a kind heart, is a former teacher, and loves bicycling. She helped me order my bento box and while we were eating, I noticed her using her chopsticks in a peculiar way.

“Hmmm, that must be a super traditional Japanese way to use chopsticks,” I thought.

She must have read my mind because she immediately said, “No one ever taught me how to use chopsticks properly.” So there I was….teaching a 67-year old Japanese woman how to eat with chopsticks. It was a little surreal, to be honest.

Then my Japanese week continued because our school was gearing up for International Day. Each class represented a different country around the world, and K1B was, well, Japan!

We created passports, made karate headbands, and decorated like we’ve never decorated before! While I was doing all of these crafts, I noticed the pep in my step and the extra boosts of energy I was emoting during my lessons. It became very clear that Japan is calling my name…so this may be a “To be continued…”

We made kid-friendly chopsticks and ate our snacks using them – I was so impressed with their skill! Trying to teach them properly at a young age… ๐Ÿ™‚

Then my favorite craft… Their very own PASSPORTS. I was honestly getting emotional when we were creating them because I was hoping they would see how powerful a passport can be. Every day in class, I’m showing them the globe and where different students are from, where I’m from, and where I’ve travelled. I explained to them that the ONLY way to go anywhere in the world is with a passport. They’re 4, so naturally, they’re obsessed with stickers. So I opened my passport and showed them the shiny stickers and stamps I’ve received from China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, and Singapore. They wanted their own stickers, and by golly, they were going to get some!

On International Day, we visited different classrooms/countries and learned about different cultures – then they got their coveted stickers. By the end of the day, they were all exclaiming, “Konichiwa!” and “Arrigato!”

My heart was so full. I imagined them all grown up, using their real passports, traveling around the world. I even told them to come visit me in America. “We will come to Teacher Andrea’s house!” Nothing would make me happier!

It was one of the best days all year – I loved celebrating all of the different cultures and exposing my students to different parts of the world. I can’t wait for them to fully grasp how huge our world is and how magical it is to experience cultures that aren’t your own.

The day was a big success and even this week, they’re still saying, “Konichiwa!” and “Annyeonghaseyo!” (“Hello” in Korean). And one of my tiny successes was making an origami/chopstick hair decoration (never mind that my robe was Chinese…). Again, I had WAY too much fun with this theme…

So Japan – I have a feeling I will be seeing you in the near future…

A couple days later, I was reminded that I was in Thailand when I went to a cooking class and made all of my favorite Thai dishes. Since I live in a room with no kitchen, I literally have not cooked in 5 months. [head shaking] So it felt SO good to be cutting, stirring, and tasting… So I think I’ll also be making a move to a place with a kitchen soon, because that class lit a fire under my ass. I’ve gotta get back to cooking!

Khao Soi (my favorite dish EVER!) and Green Curry.

Pad Thai. Drooling.

Spring rolls with coconut and tomato/peanut sauce. I’m not ashamed to admit I ate all of the sauce with a spoon…

So…. While the air is shit, life is still pretty sweet. It’s all about perception. I choose to look at the good. To notice the tiny, little things that make my heart swell.

Like Tutor sitting on my lap and gently examining my hands…

Like imagining where my students are going to go in this world.

Like finding a rainbow in the haze.

And then at just the right moment, when things are starting to lean a bit more on the negative side, Djung tells me she has an ouchie on her finger again and my gut is filled with laughter.

It’s moments like these that make me so happy…and completely crack up.

These tiny moments in this big world give me life. I am loving this little pocket of the world that I’m currently calling “Home.”

Do you want to see a new pocket? I encourage you to get on a plane and experience these moments for yourself. Don’t have a passport? Well, well, well….looky here! A link to make it happen! ๐Ÿ˜‰ CLICK HERE TO SEE THE WORLD (Sorry, I’d make you one of my crafty ones, but you might get apprehended at security…)

“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world, you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life–and travel–leaves marks on you.” -Anthony Bourdain

Just check the weather patterns first…

Right now, the AQI has dipped down low enough that I can sit outside for a little bit…I’m surrounded by palm trees, I hear birds calling, cicadas talking, and the fountains splashing…and the sky is turning a bright pink.

It’s all about perception. It’s as beautiful as you want it to be.

Paradise.

Belong

Saturday, March 15th, 2019

Every weekend I’m in town, I almost always make a couple visits to Old City in Chiang Mai. Old City is in the center of the city, and it’s a huge square surrounded by a mote. There are a gazillion restaurants, cafes, and shops – but I’m always drawn to a particular corner of Old City because I love the vibe. Cobblestone streets, cafes with people sitting outside, and so many trees and florals. I’ve been walking by a place since I first moved here that’s been slowly built, painted, decorated and now – finally serving coffee. It’s weird to think that I’ve been here long enough to see a cafe start from nothing to sitting inside and drinking a delicious latte. Just now, a truck delivered what seems to be the final furnishings – a couple wooden tables to go with the many chairs waiting to be sat in.

Chiang Mai has what’s known as “Smoky Season” or “Burning Season.” We’ve seen the smoke rolling in for the past month and it’s been fairly dreadful. AQI means Air Quality Index. The past few weeks, the AQI has been consistently above 150 (anything above 100 is considered dangerous), so everything at school has been done indoors. Cabin Fever is happening for sure.

But this week, it has taken a nasty turn. I can literally see smoke in front of me when I ride my motorbike. It’s hard to breathe, I sound like a man, and I have the worst cough. Yesterday, I stepped out of my classroom and the hallway looked hazy. My classroom is literally the safest place for me because of the air purifier. These days, instead of picking out which necklace to accessorize with, I’m picking out which face mask to wear…

Normally when I look out my window, I see palm trees and blue skies. This was this morning. AQI was above 300, even before 7am. The sun has been a vibrant red every day.

Every day in class, we talk about the weather and for a long time I was laughing because every day was “sunny.” Felt like Groundhog Day. But the past few weeks, we look out the window and I ask what color the sky is and the replies are always, “Yellow!” “Gray!” Or “Brown!” Yuck. Every year, the farmers burn their crops to make way for their next growing season; and Northern Thailand has just gotten used to this kind of weather. When I flew to Laos, it was unreal flying over the smoke. The entire flight, I never saw the ground, and the clouds were being swallowed by the smoke. Yes, that’s smoke.

I remember about a year ago when I was talking with my friends who had taught English in Vietnam. They said what they missed most was fresh air. My mind didn’t really comprehend that because I was thinking, “It can’t be that bad! Rain and snow are way worse!” Well….now I understand what they meant. My energy is low, the city is quiet because everyone is staying indoors, and everywhere you look, people are wearing masks. It’s a little surreal…and it’s surprising that the burning isn’t regulated more or stopped. It’s technically illegal for farmers to burn their crops, but it’s one of those things that still happens every year, regardless of the law. No one stops them.

So, all my friends back home, please breathe in that fresh air for me. The snow and rain may be falling, but that just means your air is clean. Don’t take that fresh air for granted!

It’s a Saturday and I’m in my favorite corner of Old City, drinking one of their first lattes served at this fresh cafe and watching people stroll by in their fancy masks. I’m about to have lunch with a woman I met last week at another favorite cafe of mine. Last Friday, there was live music with a sitar, didgeridoo, and hand drums. I was basically in a trance until Eiko sat next to me and said hello. We started chatting and she happens to be from Japan – a country I am dying to travel to. She also happens to be a retired teacher. Meant to be… So I asked her, “As a veteran teacher, what is your biggest piece of advice you have for a brand new teacher?”

She said, “Just make sure each student feels like they belong.”

Challenge accepted. ๐Ÿ™‚

TD ate part of his snack and said, “Teacher look! The moon!” Ahhh!

Despite the smoke, it isn’t all that bad. I just remember that the smoke won’t be long…

My LQI (Life Quality Index) is far above 400.

For now, I belong here.

Discover the Dream

Tuesday, March 5th, 2019

If you know me, you know I absolutely love journaling. I love writing, drawing, and speaking of things that make me happy – and also keeping track of what makes me sad because that is equally important.

“The wound is the place where the light enters you.” – Rumi

This is why I have this blog, a plethora of voice memos where I ramble on and on, and way too many journals. Life is definitely a rollercoaster and it’s amazing having record of all the ups and downs. If I didn’t keep track, the majority of these moments would likely be forgotten. Because it’s usually the tiny moments that you don’t think are significant…that surprise you and teach you the most.

I brought an old gratitude journal with me to Thailand. When I first received it from my friend Lauren so many years ago, I would write just one or two things from each day that made me happy.

June 28, 2015

+ Had brunch by myself for first time.

+ Loved it and can’t wait to do it again!

That was back when I was afraid to do anything by myself. I had no idea how important that little brunch in a Denver farmer’s market would be. It was the start of finding my independence. Finding myself.

Almost 4 years later and I’ve lived in Bali, traveled to Singapore, Vietnam, and now living in Thailand…all by myself. And I can’t tell you how much I LOVE my solo brunch dates every chance I get!! Honestly shaking my head right now at the thought of how much I’ve grown since I started writing those little moments of gratitude!

Btw, here’s my favorite brunch in Chiang Mai…

Last week, our theme in our class was Fairytales. We read Jack in the Beanstalk and we planted some magic beans and I prayed they would actually grow. Nothing worse than a hyped-up science project being a complete dud! I convinced my students these were real magic beans, so this needed to work!! Within two days, the beans started sprouting and all of my students would run to the window and yell, “Teacher, grow!!”

It’s been a week and the sprouts are almost big enough for Jack to climb up to the castle in the clouds!!! They are magic beans. It has been truly incredible watching these beans grow tall…but more so, watching my students grow into kind and complex humans. Magic beings.

Today, I gave each of them their very own journal. I told them they could do whatever they want inside of them. Draw what makes them happy, practice writing their name, draw their favorite candy, anything they want. I also love the sense of responsibility these journals are giving them. It feels like in kindergarten, students have to share everything they have – crayons, toys, snacks, etc. “Please share!” is a constant phrase being shouted out at school. But these journals are all theirs – they don’t have to share – and that makes them extra special to these 4-year olds.

After they chose their journals, they started coloring. I can’t explain the sense of happiness it gave me. Planting a seed of journaling.

Grateful.

Once Upon a Time…

Saturday, March 2nd, 2019

It’s funny how I’m technically a teacher, but every day, I feel like a student. Constantly learning. Everything feels new. Something I love about teaching is re-learning the basics. In kindergarten, we’re constantly going over shapes, colors, letters and numbers. I love asking my students what their favorite shapes and colors are. Not surprisingly, every girl loves pink and purple and every boy loves blue…or black…or green…or red. All girls love hearts and diamonds while every boy loves squares and triangles – except for Tikhong, he loves hearts. Makes me smile.

When our letter of the week was “Q” I asked my class what words start with “Q.” “Queen!” “Quilt!” “Cucumber!” Errr….well….I mean, technically no, but it does make sense.

And I cracked up when Djung got a little scratch on her middle finger and proceeded to flip the bird at me with the most innocent face in the middle of the cafeteria.

Oh, and I can’t forget about the time when Shirley saw my friend Nate who works at a neighboring school and asked me, “Is that your Dad??” He’s 25….

I love the way their brains work. So innocent and pure. I’m grateful to be a kindergarten teacher because I don’t have to worry about text analysis, grammar, or multiplication. I am introducing the most basic of concepts to my students – and what those basic topics are? Thankfully, the school allows me to choose. So I have been focusing on kindness, dreams, wishes, fairy tales, and community. My students love talking about their nap time dreams – dragons, castles, and sharks, oh my! And each of them wish for candy – and not surprisingly, their wishes always come true!

If I can prolong their sense of wonder and innocence just a little bit longer, I’ll consider my job well done.

Here are my personal moments of wonder these past few weeks…

I took a trip with my friend Liz to an island of floating houses and did oracle card readings on the dock. The card I pulled was “Rainbow Blessings.” Sounds about right…

“Feel the fear…and do it anyway.”

Surrounded by beauty.

Elephants made completely out of fresh blooms.

Elsa rules the World.

My group of girlfriends here in Chiang Mai…and some random dude. This is in one of the many markets where you can get a fresh plate of pad thai for less than $1.

I miss being near water so much. Thankful for many waterfalls to adventure to.

Be like water and go with the flow.

Went with the flow and visited a magical temple high up in the mountains. This ceiling was painted with puffy white clouds that transformed into a night sky, complete with twinkle lights. #ceilinggoals

An homage to my old life… ๐Ÿ˜‰

Preen is my superhero.

Made friends with the teeniest, tiniest frog.

Fingerprint hearts… Love grows every day in K1B.

Love love love.

Dr. Seuss Day. Oh, the Places They’ll Go…

The typo makes it better…

Big Ass Mistake…

We are currently in smoky season. To give you reference – air quality in Seattle averages about 20 AQI (air quality index). Chiang Mai during this time reaches 200 AQI. Constantly coughing, having to wear my mask, and not being able to play outside. Seattle got dumped with snow and we are in a constant haze. There’s always a crappy weather season, no matter where you go! Here are some clouds being eaten by the smoke. Wish I were joking – fires everywhere!

Took a visa run to Laos. Here are some elephants, made out of…

…dishes!

In Laos, I found a cafe called Once Upon a Time and had the most delicious crepe and latte – sitting in the face of the giant clock. It was a dream…

Speaking of Laos…let me tell you a little story.

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Andrea who wanted to be a teacher in Thailand…

So in order to work in Thailand, you have to jump through about 50 hoops to be legal. So many forms, constantly paying fees, doing police background checks and medical checks, visits to immigrations, passport photos, making appointments, etc. etc. etc. The list of things to be on top of to remain legal is INSANE.

One of the most important steps is getting your non-immigrant visa. Most times you enter a foreign country, you are on a tourist visa that lasts 30 days. You can extend a certain amount of times, but you also have to do a few “visa runs.” You have to leave the country and return on a new visa.

So last weekend, I had to do a very important visa run to Vientiane, Laos. This wasn’t an ordinary visa run where I leave, turn around and come back. In order to get a work permit, I can’t have a tourist visa. I needed to get a non-immigrant visa which requires me to visit the Thai consulate in Laos, drop off a ton of documents, an application and my passport. Oh, and don’t forget yet another payment. Then you go back to the consulate the next day and pick everything up and head back to Thailand. Well….sounds like an easy process. But IT IS NOT.

There is SO much room for error. And unfortunately, a stereotype of Thailand that holds true is there is a lack of communication and things change constantly. You can’t just google the process because there are steps that have likely changed since any article or blog was published. So the best reference is talking to someone who has recently done it (and even then, there will likely be some unknown changes).

So I sat down with my co-worker Amy and wrote out a detailed list of every step (as detailed as which window at the border to go to first – no joke, you go to window 2 before you go to window 1, because that makes complete sense, right?!). Well….I go through all of my steps to enter Laos flawlessly and enjoy my Sunday night of exploring. The next morning, I start making my way to my 11am appointment. The application says to show up 30 minutes before my appointment. I’m perpetually early, so I leave my hotel with plenty of time to be extra early. I make my way to the Thai Embassy, listening to my tunes, feeling blissful and connected to the Universe. Hell yeah, I got this.

I get to the embassy and there is no one there. Hmmmm, maybe this is the wrong building? Or maybe I’m just that early. All I see are construction workers and piles of dirt surrounding the building. Weird… I find a security guard and he hands me a map and points at the word “Consulate.” OF COURSE I WENT TO THE WRONG PLACE. It’s cool, though, because I still had 45 minutes. My bliss was gone and I pay a tuk tuk driver 50,000 kip (equivalent to $6) to drive me 5 blocks. A complete rip-off and I know it, but I don’t care because I needed to get there on time!

I arrive at the consulate with a hoard of people standing outside of a gate – there’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Someone asks me what number I am and I say, “301.” “You’re late! They’re in the 400’s!” The tiny ounce of bliss remaining instantly disappears, frustration takes over – I was 35 minutes early!! How am I late?? Then they look at my passport photo and say, “No blue background!!!” They point me to a side market where a man is taking photos for $5. Ugh. He points me to a stool with a white piece of paper taped on the wall behind it. I made the mistake of wearing a white t-shirt, so he hands me a piece of fabric that sort of resembles a business jacket if I wrap it the right way and smelled of hundreds of previous unprepared tourists. “No smile!” I didn’t even have any time to take my hair down or wipe off the sweat from my face. Bam, photo is taken and he’s cutting them up. You know how everyone seems to have a license or passport photo that they’re sort of embarrassed by? I’ve never had one – I don’t know how I got so lucky with my official photos. But my luck had run out…

I was hiding my photos when I walked up to the zig-zagging line outside the consulate. The guard rushes me in and I go past about a hundred people waiting in line (did I totally F this up?!) and make it to a table where they highlight my name and point me to window 2 (again with the window 2!!) and I hand my application and passport to a man with a scowl. He glances at it, checks a few boxes, and hands me a sheet of paper, “Come back tomorrow.”

Hm. That was surprisingly insane…and easy at the same time. Was that it? That was my appointment? I’m done already?? What are all these other people waiting for??

So I make my way back to my hotel and plan to spend the rest of the day by the pool. I felt accomplished. I noticed that Vientiane was a city where all that’s done is killing time. I kept running into the same people over and over – we were all doing the same thing. Visa appointment, then killing time until our second visa appointment the next day. I was so happy I made it to the ‘killing time’ portion of my day.

I get my bikini on and tidy up my stuff…then I see my packet of documents that I had been holding onto the entire process. The packet given to me by my school’s visa department: a bunch of documents written in Thai, copies of my degree and transcripts, sponsor letters, and background checks. That’s weird…aren’t these important? Shouldn’t someone have asked to look at them or keep them? Panic starts setting in. OMG. Did I screw up again?!?! Was I supposed to leave those documents with them?

I start messaging anyone and everyone who could possibly help me. After 30 minutes of freaking out, being told “you’re probably fine” (‘probably’ was not going to calm me down!!), and asking my visa contact if my documents had been e-mailed to the consulate and that’s why they didn’t ask for them (yeah right, but a girl can dream), I finally I get a call from an HR woman I’d never met. “They definitely need that packet.”

You know how when you’re so focused on the little details, you forget the biggest, most basic steps? This is what happened with me. I was nitpicking at which box to select on my application (Single entry? Multiple entry? WHAT?) that I forgot the most important step: THE PACKET. I knew I had to go back to the consulate straight away.

Shit. The consulate was only open for people picking up their visas at this time and I had no idea how I would finagle this with the frowny-face men. My contact said I’d probably have to make a new appointment for the next morning, start over, and extend my stay. NO. NUH-UH. I refused to let that happen. I went above and beyond to make sure I was on top of everything, I was not going to let a stupid mistake cause me many more problems!

So I let another tuk tuk driver rip me off because desperate times call for desperate measures, and we rushed back to the consulate. But of course, I choose the tuk tuk that only moves 5 mph. A rip-off and a slow poke. Great. But this did mean I had a lot of time to pray, that’s for sure. I crossed my fingers, I prayed, and I rubbed my lucky hamsa hand all the way back to the consulate. Yet again, another hoard of people. I explained my situation to the guard and he pointed me to the fancy building next to window 2.

I walk in and I see piles upon piles of passports. Damn, there are A LOT of people getting visas for Thailand!!! I plead with the one man who knew English to accept my documents – and he walks away and I’m not quite sure if I was successful or not. After a couple minutes, he comes back empty handed. Damn, I failed. “What’s your nationality?” “American.” He walks away again. Crossing, praying, and hamsa. 2 more minutes that felt like 2 hours went by and he comes back with my passport and takes my documents. “Come back tomorrow.” Ok, but that’s what the last guy said, and it wasn’t complete! I ask him, “Am I all good?” He gave me a thumbs up. Yesssss.

Back to the pool I go.

It took me a couple hours and dips in the pool for the adrenaline to fade away. Mistakes that happen with this process don’t just delay things or create a minor inconvenience. Mistakes mean you don’t teach anymore. You leave the country. Or you pay big bucks, use precious vacation time, and redo tedious processes over again so you can stay.

After the pool session, I went to the street market, ate a bowl of noodle soup, drank the most deserved glass of wine ever, and went back up to my room to pass out from a truly exhausting day. To ease my paranoia, I double-check my backpack and make sure nothing else was forgotten. I see my embarrassing passport photos that were taken earlier that day and I start laughing. I could not. stop. laughing. The laughing turns into full-on cackling. Even now, I’m chuckling because that morning was just so damn ridiculous. The silver lining of that whole experience were these photos… I have some hilarious souvenirs from my time in Laos that will remind me of this series of unfortunate events.

After laughing so hard, I stopped taking everything so seriously and remembered that these are going to be memories that will make for a good story…

The next afternoon, I went back to that hoard of fellow time-killers (extra, extra, extra early), prayed my number would be called, and then I could go back ‘home’ on time.

“301.” HALLELUJAH.

I pay my hefty fee and let out a huge sigh of relief when I see the giant sticker in my passport with the words, “Non-Immigrant B.” SUCCESS.

Then after multiple shuttles, busses, lines, hours of waiting for more shuttles and a plane – I made it back to my own bed late into the night.

But wait, there’s more! Of course it’s not done yet!! I had to go to immigrations in Chiang Mai the next morning to ‘check-in’ with a form that I, of course, had never heard of before. Thankfully, the owner of my room happened to return from Bangkok the night before and could quickly sign the necessary paperwork I needed so I wouldn’t get fined. I turn in the paperwork at immigrations, get a stamp, and I finally head back to K1B.

I surprise my class when they’re returning from morning assembly and they run in with happy faces, “Teacher Andrea!!!!!” I fell to the floor from all of their hugs.

This is why I am going through all of the confusing and tedious steps.

Money, time, paperwork, appointments, multiple thoughts of calling it quits, and so much sweat.

My students. My kids. My reason. Love.

So if you’re ever stressed, don’t worry too much. It will work out the way it’s supposed to. It always does. And if there’s ever a mistake made – which WILL happen – find the humor in it.

Laughter does a body good.

And she lived happily ever after…