Sunsets

It’s not often that I get to spend time watching sunsets at the ocean in Thailand. Often I see the sun set on my evening walks where the sun is bright red and setting slowly over acres of rice fields or rubber tree plantations. It’s beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but it makes those oceanside sunsets that much more stunning.

The first two photos are from when I was camping on the ocean side with a friend. We camped at a National Park in Phang Nga. At the same location where the tsunami hit in 2004. It’s hard to imagine the devastation that was once there as the place is now quiet and peaceful. It was a new experience for me, camping on the ocean, both fun and a little scary. We were the only campers and there were often fishermen who would climb up and down the hill behind our tent to access the ocean at odd hours of the morning and evening.

The other two photos are from the beach near where I participated in a Brighter Thailand Foundation Camp. The memories from there are complex, comforting and full of emotion. I spent six days at the camp with youth ranging from 5th to 7th grade, Thai ambassadors (College aged students) and Global Ambassadors (Peace Corps Volunteers). It was a challenging, but rewarding week. The last night of camp, the Peace Corps Volunteers took a swim in the ocean and were amazed by the lights from the boats in the horizon and the clarity of the stars above us. We nicknamed it the Rayong lights.

I think that the ocean can be a symbol of my relationship with Peace Corps Thailand. With Peace Corps. With Thailand. The tide comes in and out, the water is still, the waves are huge. Nothing remains the same except for the fact that the ocean is ever changing–Just like my Peace Corps experience.

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Khao Lak-Lamru National Park, Phang Nga อุทยานแห่งชาติเขาหลัก-ลำรู่

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Khao Lak-Lamru National Park, Phang Nga อุทยานแห่งชาติเขาหลัก-ลำรู่

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Laem Son, Klaeng, Rayong Province หาดแหลมสน อ.แกลง จ.ระยอง

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Laem Son Beach, Klaeng, Rayong Province หาดแหลมสน อ.แกลง จ.ระยอง

 

 

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Jingle Bells

( I wrote this back in December..)

I wasn’t sure what to expect for Christmas this year. I’m back living with my host family and we have been talking for weeks about having a Christmas party at our house. A lot has changed-location, food, drink, games, gifts, people- since the first time we talked about it. It was drawing nearer and I was getting a little anxious about it.

I should have known better, to have faith that things would work out.

I woke up Christmas morning and my Aunt came by, she asked, what other things we needed for the party. I was really worried, because multiple people had asked if we were going to liang kao (make dinner). In all the plans we made we just talked about making a bunch of different snacks and getting cake. My Aunt said that we would have plenty to eat and not to worry about it (turns out she was right and all the children went home with leftovers).

After talking with my Aunt. I enjoyed some facetiming with my family in the states. My little sister is always awesome about facetiming me in for some part of the Christmas Eve celebration. This year I got to sing some carols. My Uncle came over to pick me up to run some errands, but I invited him to say hello to my family first. He ended up sitting with me for a while, listening to the carols, asking questions about Christmas and saying hello to my family.

After that, we were off. I spent most of the day running errands with my uncle to get ready for the party. We needed tables and chairs, lights and sound equipment. We needed to buy and prepare food. Decorate the house. Wrap presents and get ready for the children to come.

Later in the evening, the children showed up. First my cousin Gam. She was excited because on Christmas Eve she put her sock outside on the tree for Santa to come and when she woke up it was full of surprises…toothpaste and a toothbrush with a little note that told her not to forget to brush her teeth…and then a small bag of laundry detergent with a note reminding her to wash her smelly socks. She loved this and was so excited to share what Santa brought her!

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We played some balloon games and musical chairs. Each of them decorated a nose to play Pin-the-nose-on-the-reindeer. They each guessed how many pieces of candy were in the snowman jar. And then Santa showed up. (My host dad, wearing a Santa suit) The children sang Jingle Bells to welcome him to the party. Santa came and handed out Reindeer lollipops to each of the children.

After that, we did a gift swap. Here, everyone writes their name and puts it in a hat. We started with the oldest person (my Aunt) and she picked a name. My name. So she got my present, from there I picked another name and that’s the present I got, so on and so forth until all the names are picked and presents distributed. Get this, none of them ripped into the presents to see what was inside! They waited until they got home!

It started to get late so we needed to get the children home. We all piled into my Uncles truck to bring the children home starting with the child that lives the furthest away. Santa came along for the ride too. We sang Jingle bells the whole trip. The best part about it was that at the beginning–for the first 15 minutes of the trip, the children only knew “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way……….hey!” and by about a half hour into the trip, they knew the words that came in between”oh what fun it is to ride in a one horse open sleigh”

When they would get tired of singing, they would take a short break and then I would hear 1..2…3 Jingle bells Jingle bells…and they started again, singing their hearts out, for the whole community to hear!

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Something about water

What is it about water, being near it, in it, or on it has the ability to make me feel so comfortable, so carefree?

I was in a very cranky mood and not feeling well last Sunday. I was tired of sitting in the car. Honestly, the last thing I wanted to do was go on another trip.  I was exhausted. I didn’t want to listen to what anyone had to say. I had helped my family sell popcorn at a big festival for the past two nights. That in and of itself was exhausting. There were hundreds of people and it was hot. The loud music and awful quality sound system wasn’t helping my headache. ha ha Needless to say I just wasn’t having it. I was in some serious need of alone time.

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But that wasn’t coming anytime soon, because we were on our way again. This time two cars packed full of family, heading to Kanchanaburi to stay in a raft house.

We got to the lake a few hours later and all my crankiness slipped away. The view was breath taking, the lake in the middle with mountains surrounding all sides. Raft houses filled the picture perfect lake. Looking to the left, there was a little village of raft houses complete with water toys and slides. Immediately in front of us raft houses were being ushered out onto the lake. On the right side and on the island, a handful of raft houses, secured along the shore.

 

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We loaded up the raft house with snacks, food and drinks. We had stuffed animals, pillows, guitars, etc. as if we were going for a week or two. We were ready for anything. We took in the beautiful view as we waited to be taken out to our spot on the lake.

After not too long, Dad and Yo started to play guitar. I watched in amazement. I’ve always wanted to learn how to play the guitar but never had anyone to teach me. So I convinced them to show me a few things and OH my fingers hurt and playing will definitely take some practice. But they taught me a few chords and I practiced for a good while.

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Anyway, back to the raft, It was huge! It had 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen, 2 generators, a little deck and a sitting area with stools, benches and a table. It was all we would need for our short trip. It took us about a half hour to get to our spot on the lake. The owner then tied us off to a few different boulders and said they’d be back to pick us up the following day around 11am. We didn’t waste much time to jump into the water. The air was cool, it felt like a perfect summer day in…wait for it…Maine. (All you Mainah’s can sigh now-I know how precious those days are!). I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to swim. I jumped in first and my fearless little cousin Gam was right behind me. The water was a beautiful green color, emerald would be the word that Thai’s would use to describe it. Can you picture it now?

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We swam for hours. It reminded me of when I was a kid, spending summers in Maine with my family, cousins, aunts, uncles, everyone. We would spend hours in the lake. And just like home, we were there, family, cousins, aunts, uncles swimming in the lake. I helped teach my little sister and niece how to swim. We would jump in, climb up on the raft only to immediately jump back into the water again. Floating in the lake, feeling so free and relaxed. Every stressed and tensed muscle in my body relaxed. My headache dissipated, my heart grew warmer and my crankiness was still no where to be found. We laughed and had a great time.

Later on in the night, after the sun went down we had dinner and settled in for a rowdy night of UNO! You know that game that families love? Well, my Thai family now loves it too! We played for what must have been 2 hours. At one point there were no more cards left to draw, so we had to start again. It was a blast. Before someone would lay down a skip, reverse, of +2, +4 card, they would apologize or say I love you to the next player hoping to soften the blow. ha ha.

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In the morning it was anything but quiet. Aunt Meow was making rice soup, my cousin Gam was playing, my grandfather was chillen, Mom and P’Kate were chatting. At around 8, my Aunt Krathai’s cat, Angelo decided to go off on an adventure. All of us took turns looking for Angelo. Dad, Yo and Namnan hiked up the mountain. Gam and Aunt Krathai looked all over the raft. Everyone took a break for a while, to have breakfast and to play in the water. A little while later, Yo and I swam to both the right and left of the raft in hopes that we would find Angelo. No such luck.

At around 10:45, the boat was on its way to pick us up. The energy on the raft was sad. The loss of Angelo really upset my Aunt. I’ve never been an animal person, but I have seen the love she has for her animals and I empathize with her. The boat pulled us away from the shore and everyone watched the mountain, hoping for one more sign. Angelo, if you’re out there I hope you know Aunt Krathai loves you!

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It was a quiet ride back to the shore. Sadness for Aunt Krathai. We were tired. And I was sad to be leaving the water, leaving this place that was so refreshing and relaxing. Something that I haven’t felt in Thailand for a long time. I was surrounded by loving family and on the water. It doesn’t get much better than that…well, except if both my families were together!

It’s alright. I’ll be back on or near the water again, feeling careless and free.

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New beginnings

Maybe you’ve heard through the grape vine that I have moved. It’s true. I’ve moved back to Suphanburi. Remember where I spent the first 9 weeks of training in Thailand?!  Yeah, that’s where I am!

I’m back with my host family, the Khammoonins!

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I am working at the same Sub-district Office where we had our training.

My primary role is to get the site ready for a 128 volunteer. That volunteer will move here the end of March. What does getting the site ready mean? Basically, I explain to all the places I work (office, schools, and community health center) what my role is as a Youth in Development volunteer. I will spend the next three months identifying potential counterparts and building a youth group for the future volunteer.

Let me tell you, starting over or well, beginning again in a new place is not exactly easiest or fun BUT at the same time it is. Are you still with me? Let me elaborate…

I went through what felt like one of the most painful events in my life last month, saying goodbye to my community in Phatthalung. I knew it would come at some point, I just didn’t realize how quick it would happen. Due to a safety and security incident, I was pulled from my community.

I had two choices, I could go home or move to a new site to finish my two years. I chose the latter, I wasn’t ready to go home. I hadn’t fulfilled my commitment.

Peace Corps then gave me two more choices, I could either go back and say goodbye and pack my things or another volunteer could go pack it up for me and Peace Corps would move it. It took me a few days to decide what to do. I was feeling so upset and angry about having to leave so suddenly. I was overwhelming myself with anticipation about what people in my community might think and say. I didn’t want to face it. But I needed to. I needed to say goodbye to them myself. I needed to thank them for everything they’ve done for me–even though I don’t think I could thank them nearly enough.

So on November 5th, only two days after my community was notified I was leaving, I flew to the south with the Peace Corps safety and security officer and packed up my one bedroom house. With the help of my co-workers, my whole house was packed in less than an hour and a half. After loading all my things into the Peace Corps van, we headed to lunch.

My Nayoke called together my community for a send off lunch. Many of my co-workers and friends were there. Some were not. There were many that I wish were there but for a variety of reasons, it wasn’t possible. I was handed the microphone so I could say thank you. I imagined that when this time came, I would have prepared something really nice to say, but it ended up being short, choppy Thai sentences expressing my thanks for them sharing their lives and community with me. Thanking them for showing me what it’s like to live in Thailand. Thanking them for giving me an experience of a lifetime. It was full of tears. It was joyous. It was overwhelming. It was loving. It was emotional. It was beautiful.

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And while it was so hard to say goodbye, it wasn’t and still isn’t the end of the world. I really think this quote sums it up:New Beginnings are often disguised as painful endings. Lao Tzu

I’m saying hello to new and different opportunities that maybe I wouldn’t have had the chance to participate in if I were still in Phatthalung. I helped out with a friends Leadership Camp in Khon Kaen, went to Camp GLOW/BROS in Nakhon Nayoke, and co-facilitated a Get to Know Uncle Sam, US Embassy camp for college students in Chiang Mai.  

Leadership Camp

Leadership Camp

Leadership Camp

Leadership Camp

Camp GLOW/BROS

Camp GLOW/BROS

Camp GLOW/BROS

Camp GLOW/BROS

US Embassy Camp

US Embassy Camp

US Embassy Camp

US Embassy Camp

On top of that, I’m now living in Central Thailand which is a new adventure. I’m back living with my family, which feels like real family most days. We disagree, we laugh, we cry, we hug.

 

Culture in central Thailand is different, there are a ton of festivals and temples. The food is different..so different that sometimes my Aunt Meow (who is from the South of Thailand) makes me southern curry! The pace of life here is slower, even the language is spoken slower. I’m living back in the country. The weather is cooler and less humid. The mosquitoes are OUT OF CONTROL when the sun goes down…so I have to hide under my net from about 6:30pm on. I’m getting to know my family better. I’m meeting new people, with fascinating stories.

It’s a little easier to begin this new journey because my language is better than it was 2 years ago, but it’s still challenging. I’m in a very different spot from my fellow 126ers. They’re all winding down, finding ways to say their goodbyes and pass on responsibilities. Meanwhile I’m building new relationships, creating a new schedule, and trying to stay motivated for the next 3 months. Thankfully, motivation comes easiest when I’m working with the youth. It’s then that I remember why I signed up for the Peace Corps in the first place. It’s then that I remember why I chose to stay to finish out the last few months of my service.

My first day here was Loi Krathong. It was a perfect day to start. I spent it at school making wreaths with the children. We made 200 of them to sell at the temple later that evening. The wreaths are made from many different local resources such as bread, banana trees, leaves, flowers, etc.

As we pinned the leaves and flowers together, the children sat quietly whilst the teachers engaged in conversation. Thai children are generally shy when meeting someone new for the first time…but as time went on, the children began to ask more and more questions–Where are you from? What’s Southern Thailand like? Do we have a funny accent? Do you miss home? What’s the weather like there? How many siblings do you have?

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Later that evening, I arrived at the temple with my family and within minutes was whisked away by five children from school. They grabbed me by the arm and brought me around the temple to look at the different booths, stages, food, and finally to pay respects to Buddha. Like I had never been to a temple before, they taught me all the important things about paying respects to Buddha.

Inside the temple, there is a cup full of sticks. The object is to get one of the sticks to fall out of the cup. On that stick there is a number and that number corresponds with a fortune. It took one of the children less than 30 seconds to get one out. Me on the other hand it felt like 30 minutes. At one point almost all the sticks fell out and I had to bring it back in. We all laughed and the children patiently waited until I got one to fall out. They quickly ran to get me my fortune and read it to me. After that we were on our way back out to help sell the wreaths we made earlier that day.

We continued to laugh and chit chat. That’s when I knew I’ll be just fine!

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One big happy family!

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Sart Thai Day or as the South calls it…งานบุญเดือนสิบ

Festival of Offerings to the Dead (Sart Thai) วันสาทรไทย

This year, Sart Thai day fell on October 12, 2015. It is on the 15th day of the waning moon of the tenth lunar month, which happens to be around the middle of the Traditional Thai year. Folks here in the South of Thailand call it งานบุญเดือนสิบ (ngaan boon duan sip) also called ประเพณีสารทเดือนสิบ (bra pae nii sat duan sip). This festival happens all over the country and is called something different by each part of the country.   In the North the name of the festival is ประเพณีตานก๋วยสลาก (bra pae nii da guay sla). In Isaan this is called การทำบุญแจกข้าว (gan tam boon jag khao).

I am writing about what I have learned here in Phatthalung, in the South of Thailand.  

Sart day can be seen as a Memorial Day, in that it is a day to remember deceased ancestors with prayers, rituals and making merit. 

You will hear Thai’s saying “Bpai rap Dtaa Yaai, Bpai song Dtaa Yaai”  which translates to receiving grandparents and sending grandparents. There are two days of similar events, on the 28th of September 2015, families gathered together made traditional Thai desserts and went to the temple to receive their ancestors.

Fifteen days later, on 12 October 2015 families gather again, this time to send off their ancestors. I was able to participate in this festival which was really fun. Each family or village creates a หมับ pronounced Mahp, but I will call it a masterpiece, because well, that’s what they are! It is a tray or bucket full of thai desserts, candles, incense, salt, money, fruit, flowers, etc. It looks a little something like this:

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Village 4’s Masterpiece!

After praying in the temple, the different villages pick up their masterpieces and go outside.

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P’A’s Masterpiece!

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They split up into groups of the smaller villages. After making a circle, those who made the masterpieces take the snacks and other things outside of their bags and place them in the middle. All the members of the community kneel around the masterpieces holding a stick of incense as they pray. I joined in with my village, #9 because well, it is my family. I’m so grateful that they take me in and give me the full experience during community events like this.

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After praying is finished, it is a free for all and everyone tries to reach for the stuff in the center of the circle (like scrambling for the goodies from a piñata!). One of my grandma’s told me that the kids usually go for the money and the elders for the food and fruit!

It was a beautiful thing to watch, it was so quiet as all the groups were praying and then one group at a time it would get loud and then louder. Laughter was all around and voices filled the air.

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Madness begins!

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They were very excited about their winnings!

On 11 October (before Sart Thai Day) my counterpart and I gathered some youth together with a few elders to learn about the meaning of the traditional Sart Thai desserts. We spent the afternoon learning about the different Kanomes, how to make them, made them, and then created our own masterpieces to be delivered to each of the two temples in our community.

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There are five Thai Desserts and each of them special meaning.

  1. Kanom Pong (ขนมพอง)-this is sticky rice that is sun-dried two times and then deep fried. It represents a boat
  2. Kanom La (ขนมลา)- this is made from flour, sugar and water and fried. It represents a blanket
  3. Kanom Baysam or Diisam (ขนมเบซำ|ดีซำ)- this is a deep fried, donut shaped dessert. It is made from sticky rice flour, sugar, water and oil. It represents earrings and rings.
  4. Kanom Baa (ขนมบ้า)- This is made from boiled potato mixed with sugar, sticky rice flour, and water then deep fried. It represents money
  5. Kanom Tien (ขนมเทียน)- Is made the same as Kanom Baa, but is wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. It represents a pillow.

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If you follow this link, you’ll find a couple pictures of the different Kanoms! 

Also, this link will take you to a news clipping from this years festivals.

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Khaojeak Making You Smile! เขาเจียกเรียกยิ้ม

Once a year we have Khaojeak Riak Yim. It’s an effort to bring the community together in a fun and educational way. This event is designed and put on by youth with the support of adults. It’s name Khaojeak Riak Yim translates to Khaojeak Making You Smile! I know for a fact, that my face hurt from all the laughter and smiles that day! I hope by the end of the post, you are smiling!

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The youth are responsible for planning the activities, reaching out to people in the community to help/have a booth at the event, and bike around and invite youth and families in the community.  All of the decorations are designed by the youth!

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These are the key players in making the event become a reality this year! From L-R Nong Nat, Mai, Pin Pak and Teacher Jae. They are truly inspirational and dedicated to the youth in our community. 11800241_452195831633925_3726011209932145734_n

This year we had a variety of shows… drumming, Manora dancing, and a band.

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Each of the villages had a space where they could share with the community whatever they chose; a snack, craft, or game. The adults were there to teach them how to make the snack or how to do the craft giving the children a real hands on experience.

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We had a post card station where families could write postcards and send them anywhere they wanted for free! I got to send a couple to the US too! These post cards are special because they’re photos taken by local photographers Manoon and Win from Buffalo Bear Photography. Some are photos of Khaojeak Community, others are photos from around Phatthalung that show life here.

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This is Manoon

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This is Win

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Here is a video showing many events in Phatthalung where he has given community members the chance to send postcards all over the country (and well…world!). At around minute 4:23 you might see a familiar face!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7y8s4X0LRo

Staff were asked to wear traditional Thai wear. Women Patoongs and Men Pakamas.

IMG_8173This year I was fortunate to have two great friends visit and be a part of this event. They wore Patoongs too! It was fun for my community to see us wearing Thai wear!

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Then of course we had to take plenty of silly pictures! 
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Did you smile?! I hope so!

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The Little Things: Elders.

I went on a trip with the ผู้สูงอายุ (Puu Suung Ayu, which means elders) in my community. Each year our Municipality is given a certain amount of money to take the Elders on a trip. It could be for anything really, but Khaojeak chooses to use it as an opportunity to see more of the south, tour different temples, and learn about different things that are going on whether it’s festivals or different projects through other municipalities.

This year I was able to go with them, we went to Ranong, Surat Thani and Nakhon Si Thammarat. I went because I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to get to know the elders in my community better. For them to learn about me and what I’m doing here, but also for me to learn about them. I was secretly hoping that they’d feel more comfortable with me and encourage their grandchildren to come participate in activities with me! 🙂 Sneaky, huh? It was exhausting but rewarding. I got to meet some of the greatest grandmas and grandpas that my community has. I learned about what life was like when they were growing up, how Khaojeak has changed over the years, and what their hopes are for the generations to come.

Here are some pictures from our trip!

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Checking out the Rakswarin Hot Spring in Ranong. This is the biggest and is the Father Spring.

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Photo Op! At the Hot Springs!

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At the Ferry Port, Myanmar in the background.

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Just being artsy! Here I am with Baa Meek and Daa They own a little shop around the corner from my house where I get my bottled water and eggs!

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Before listening to the Buddhist lessons at Suan Mokkh Temple.

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Baa Meek, P’ Ree and Daa. This family holds a special place in my heart!

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Yaa Chim waving excitingly as she is climbing the hill to the temple!

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Group photo in front of Wat Ngao in Ranong.

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More from Wat Ngao.

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At Porn Rang Hot Springs, Ranong. I was the only one who could reach the water.

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So of course I splashed everyone!

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Yaa Chim and I in Surat Thani at Suan Mokkh Temple.

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