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… 🙂

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! 😉 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.



  1. I SO love reading your posts! You would be an an excellent travel writer. Glad you are loving your adventure and staying out of the pollution. Got a good laugh at poor little Djung with the ouchie on her finger. Miss you!


  2. Your overseas experience is great to read and see! “The finger” is hilarious because it isn’t the child who is the child, it’s me. Thanks for sharing!


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