All That Glitters

Finals season is upon us! I have not been writing blog posts because I have been writing finals. I told myself that I would do nothing until my finals were written, no reading, no writing, nothing until I had finished my exams. There was a lot of staring at a blank page on the computer screen. Writing multiple-choice exams is very difficult; there is a gap between what I think the students should be able to do, what the school thinks the students should be able to do, and what the students can actually do. In addition, the school had me write a 50 question multiple-choice exam for incoming M1 students in the English Program. It was a nightmare to write, again because of the me-school-student gap. I added readings from Harry Potter and some Finding Nemo references, because writing exams is boring.

Valentine’s Day weekend, I went to Bangkok to see Chinatown. I was hoping there would still be a few leftover festivities for the Chinese New Year. When I was teaching in China, they gave the whole month of February off for Chinese New Year. The actual Chinese New Year was February 7, and February 8 was an unofficial day off school, meaning I showed up, signed in, and left because there were about a fifth of the students there. I went and got ice cream at Central Plaza in Chon Buri. The next day some of my students told me they had seen me at Central that day. You never know where you will run into students—they are everywhere. Back to Chinatown in Bangkok, I stayed in a different hostel this time; it was a bunch of colorful shipping containers stacked on each other to create the hostel. It was so welcoming and cozy, positively adorable.

I had looked online how to get to Chinatown, and even looked up a walking tour to hit all the sites in Chinatown. Armed with this knowledge, I set out for a fun adventure. The Internet suggested getting to Chinatown by water taxi, which is exciting. It said the cost of the taxi ride would be 15 baht. When I arrived, they charged me 40 baht for the tourist boat. The tourist boat was nicer than the normal water taxi, and they had an English-speaking guide pointing out points of interest along the route. Still, sometimes being a farang in Thailand has its rough spots, there is no blending in for me. As students have pointed out, I am very white. The tourist boat dropped me off at Chinatown at a different pier than my walking tour said to start. There was a handy map on the pier so I was able to orient myself.

Part of Chinatown in Bangkok is all of the street stalls; it is said you can find anything you want on the streets of Chinatown. Which is very true, I followed my maps and found the main selling street, however trying to follow my walking tour, I managed to get off the main selling street on to another random street. Eventually, I realized I was somewhat lost. Somehow, I had gotten out of Chinatown and into the Indian Market (Little India) which is next to Chinatown. The amazing thing about the Indian Market was it was mostly fabrics. There were whole shopping malls for fabric, and not just normal run of the mill fabrics, but some of the most beautiful fabrics I have ever seen—lace, beading, applique, sequins, and silks. There was one store I wandered past that was all crystals and trims. There were mannequins in beautiful dresses, which upon closer examination were just draped in fabric so it looked like they were in dresses. The mannequins had signs, which said no pictures, but I snuck a picture of a mannequin with a gecko on it.

I managed to reorient myself and tried to find the flower market, instead I ended up back on the selling streets of Chinatown. Then, I missed my turn to go back to the pier and ended up somewhat lost again. Using the river to reorient myself, I made my way back to the pier. I had gotten lost in a historical part of Chinatown, so it was cool to see the architecture, read the interesting historical facts, and see the street art. I got back to my hostel safely. When traveling, you just have to roll with things. I did not have anything planned for Valentine’s Day except travel back to Ban Bung. Spending the rest of the day in my apartment alone did not sound too appealing to me. Instead, I went to Central World to see Deadpool. Inside the mall, there was a Valentine’s Day market set up with vendors having sales. One of the vendors was selling brownies, and it had been about six months since I had a brownie, and it was Valentine’s Day, and they looked so good, I had to buy two. I snuck them into the movie, and they were delicious.

This past weekend (February 20-22), we had a three-day weekend. I was going to take a scuba class to further my scuba instruction but I was sick the week before and sickness does not mix well with scuba diving. It was probably stress sickness since I started feeling better, when I turned in my final exams and the 50 question exam, still no diving for me. There was no way I was going to stay in Ban Bung for three days, so I made an impromptu trip to Chanthaburi.  [Side note: Thailand is confusing. I live in the providence Chonburi, in which Chonburi city is the capital. It can be spelled Chon Buri or Chonburi, depending on your mood. Chonburi is not to be confused with Chanthaburi or Kanchanaburi. They are all separate locations, pronounced similarly. As a tourist, many Thai’s “can’t understand” when I try to talk to them so they will direct me to whichever –Buri is closest.] Chanthaburi is either four hours away or six hours away, depending on the route you take to get there, and is most famous for its weekend gem markets.

I left Saturday morning, taking the six-hour route from Chon Buri to Rayong to Chanthaburi by van. The four-hour route is directly from Chon Buri to Chanthaburi by bus but I did not know where the bus station is or when the busses would be running. There were no hostels for Chanthaburi on my usual hostel website so I had to do some digging to find a place to stay. I stayed in the River Guesthouse. I got a little lost getting there because there were two addresses for the guesthouse on the internet. I ended up walking frantically up and down several streets trying to find the place, as it got darker. On the plus side, there was a parade for the Chinese New Year, which I got to see. I finally found the place, turns out it was the first place I went but the sign was not on the street side of the building it was on the river side. However, if I had gone there right away I would have missed the parade.

The maps of Chanthaburi make it seem much bigger than it actually is. I decided to see the “highlights” of the town—the cathedral, the gem market, and the historical street—other things seemed too far away to see in one day. The gem markets did not open until 10 so I went to the cathedral first. Since it was Sunday, they were not letting visitors inside for pictures so I got to see the outside. Then I went to the gem market. When I first read that Chanthaburi was known for its gem market, I thought of a market similar to the food markets where they have their food on display. The gem market was a lot of desks; the buyers would sit down at the desk and the sellers would bring out the gems, piles of gemstones. There were a couple of street vendors with their tables and piles of gems on their tables. Most of the things I read about the gem markets caution not to buy gems if you are inexperienced and only buy them from reputable sellers. As much as I wanted to, I refrained from buying a small mountain of gemstones.

Surrounding the gem market were lots of jewelry stores, and they sold jewelry like I have never seen before. It looked like costume jewelry, big with lots of stones and sparkles, except (I assume) made with real stones. There were watches circled with diamonds with gemstones for the wristband. There was one store with boxes full of ring settings; you could pick your ring setting and then pick the gemstones to go in it. I also refrained from buying ridiculous amounts of jewelry, only because I plan to travel Thailand and have nowhere safe to keep precious gems. Everything was so shiny and beautiful. After the gem market and gem street, I went to the historic street. The internet said you could see the Vietnamese and French architecture in the buildings. Usually when something says to take note of the architecture, I cannot see the difference, but here I could. The historic street was nice, full of art shops and cafes. It reminded me of a river town in America, which is ironic since the historic street was along the river.

I had lunch in a little hole-in-the wall restaurant because the owner was chatting me up. Here is a little secret: I do not like Pad Thai. Pad Thai is a fried noodle dish, and most people in America absolutely love it. I do not. I find the noodles rubbery. I also stopped in an art shop/café for some postcards. The man behind the counter drew a quick picture of me on my postcard bag; it is a pretty good picture given it took him like two minutes. I accomplished everything on my list before noon, as I said the city looks deceptively big. I then decided to visit the Shrine for the City Guardian and the temple to King Taksin. A nice police officer helped me cross the busy main street and gave me directions to the places. Both places were beautiful but similar to other shrines and temples.

My map said there was a food market someplace, I tried to find it. I found a market but it was all raw foods, which was still interesting, playing “guess what that is.” I was not feeling well so I went back to my hostel to rest for a while. Around 5:00, I decided to venture back out again, this time to Taksin Park where there was a giant statue to King Taksin. Again, deceptively big, it looked like it would take about 40 minutes to walk to the park, it took me 20 because I got lost. Much to my excitement, there was a market with food vendors. I had barbeque kabobs and a smoothie. One of the things I will miss will be the fresh fruit and the smoothies.

The next day I had to leave. Before leaving, I went back to the cathedral to see inside, I was glad I did. There was a man who worked at the church, who struck up a conversation with me. He told me facts about the church. The congregation first came to Chanthaburi about 300 years ago from Vietnam to escape religious persecution; the cathedral itself is about 100 years old. Most of the materials for the church were imported, like the floor tiles and stained glass came from France. Then he directed my attention to the Virgin Mary statue they have. The statue itself is pure silver, her robes are made with 200,000 sapphires, the detailing on her dress is made with gold and emeralds, and the snake’s eyes are made from rubies; many of the gems were donated by the community. It was beyond beautiful and sparkly. I have tried to look up more information about it but the most I can find out is that the statue exists. I was so glad I went back to the cathedral to look inside.

Earlier this year, my mother mailed me a care package with two big bags of Smarties candy. I like Smarties, but not enough for two big bags. This week I had two teaching days, so I gave my EP classes Smarties. The older students were excited because it was candy, M3 was excited because it was candy though they looked a little curiously at it, and M1 was excited for candy but they realized it was not from Thailand. M1 was the only class who asked where the candy came from; M3 looked like they had questions but did not want to ask them. It is quite entertaining to watch students eat Smarties for the first time. They approach it cautiously, it is unfamiliar. You can see them wondering if they chew it or suck on it, they do not quite know what to do. Then there are the students who realize Smarties are basically sugar and scarf down the whole pack. I got many positive reviews of the Smarties.

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