Intro to Asia
The primary reason I wanted to teach English abroad was to introduce Kaitlyn to expat living, specifically in Asia. I credit a lot of who I am today to the fact that I was able to spend five years of my childhood in China and two years of my young adult life in Cambodia. I wanted Kaitlyn to see first-hand what I have been raving about basically since the day she met me. Our time in Thailand was a perfect introduction to living abroad for her and for us as a couple.
A Shared Purpose
I think it would have been hard for us if we went to live abroad somewhere without at least some direction of what to do with our days. Teaching English through ILP gave us a purpose every day for a few hours. We only taught a few hours per day, but even having that little bit of direction helped the hours where we weren’t teaching feel meaningful. It also helped that Kaitlyn is a literal pro at teaching and immediately shined in her role. For me it was a learning experience with a sharp learning curve, but I eventually got the hang of it. I actually kind of looked forward to teaching the older kids by the end of our time there.
The first time that I taught the 11-year-old class there was one kid that stuck out because he just wouldn’t stop talking. The entire science class, Atom seemed so bored and above the level of the class material. So instead of focusing on class he would yell across the room to talk to one of his friends or try to get me off topic talking about videogames or dinosaurs. The next class he asked me what I studied in school, and I told him I did computer science. His eyes immediately lit up. He said “I don’t believe you. I bet you can’t even write a for-loop.” Well, for-loops had nothing to do with the different types of soils we were learning about, so I told him to wait until after class. He didn’t want to wait. The whole 40-minute class Atom peppered me with questions about programming and hardware and which tech youtubers I like to watch and what kind of computer I had. After class I wrote a Python for-loop on the board, but he wanted a Java for-loop, so I obliged. From that point on I think I was his favorite teacher he’d ever had.
Every time I taught, Atom would try to make the class all about programming or cryptocurrencies and I had to learn how to ignore him for the sake of the rest of the students. But after school we were able to talk about all the things he was interested in. He showed me pictures of his cryptocurrency mining operation that was set up in his room and all of the robotics projects he was working on. I learned that his mom is an anatomy professor at the big college an hour away and had a friend in the computer engineering department that tutored some high school students. When Atom was nine his mom asked her friend to tutor Atom. The tutor said no, he is too young, but Atom’s mom begged him to just try one lesson. Of course, Atom turned out to be smarter than most of the other high schoolers and so for the past two years Atom has been learning college level computer engineering every Saturday and Sunday for three hours. You can probably tell I think Atom is super cool. And what a fitting name, huh!?
One time I needed help soldering a little pollution sensor that I was building, so Atom and his tutor took one of their lesson days to set it up and solder it for me. Here is a cool timelapse of that:
I told Atom to not forget me when he is rich and famous and if he ever wants a referral to work at Microsoft, I would gladly hook him up.
New Friends at the Stadium
For our last two months in Thailand we had to teach online because of a spike in Covid cases. Teaching online was novel for the first week or so, but after that it became hard to not contrast the experience to our real in-person teaching before. During online teaching we also only taught about one hour a day, so we needed to find other things to keep busy with.
One evening we decided to ride over to the city soccer stadium. We had been past it a couple times before and saw people exercising around and in the stadium, so we thought we’d join. The stadium is a pretty weird phenomenon coming from America. At about 5pm every evening, every person in the whole city who wants to exercise gathers and starts doing their thing. Some people jog in a loop outside the stadium. Some people play tennis on the courts in the back. A group of older dudes play monkey in the middle with a soccer ball on the soccer pitch for hours. There are always a couple old, Chinese couples using the run-down Asian exercise tools in the park out front. There is Zumba class in the parking lot that starts at about 6pm. It’s crazy. We have ridden down basically every street in our town at every time of day and have never seen anyone exercising any where but the stadium. I love it. The sense of community there is so strong. It’s got the small-town vibes where everyone knows everyone, and they all just want to get some good exercise in. We went for the first time about two months ago and didn’t miss a day until we left.
One of the earlier days, Kaitlyn and I were jogging around the soccer pitch on the track while the local amateur soccer team, Phichit United, was practicing. A couple of balls got launched out near me and I had the chance to be a good ball boy and pass them back. A couple of other joggers saw me and immediately started calling me “Liverpool Academy.” LOL. Every day the guys would ask me if I wanted to play monkey in the middle with them. I learned that there was one guy who spoke pretty good English so we would chat while jogging around the track some days. It turned out that he is a referee for the Thai national soccer league and for FIFA! Very cool. He showed me a picture of him with the FIFA commissioner.
When I told them we were leaving, he and his friends got me some going away Phichit United merch. I never learned his name until that last day when I told him to add me on Facebook, but we were friends nonetheless.
Little Tennis Kids
We found that a few students from our school had tennis lessons everyday at 5pm at the courts behind the stadium. 5-year-olds playing tennis are so cute, by the way. We went to say hi and watch the cuteness a couple times. One time some of the moms asked us if we wanted to play a bit of tennis with them while their kids had lessons. We agreed and found that they were just about as bad as we were, so we fit right in. We went back to rally with them almost every day. We would rally for about an hour and then the kids would finish lessons and want to play with Kaitlyn and me. Sometimes we’d take them over to the stadium and we’d all run laps together. Sometimes they wanted me to be a zombie and chase them around the tennis courts. A couple times I took them walking around the stadium and did some follow the leader parkour challenges like my older brothers used to do for me and Joe.
Picha, Author, Prab, Pran, and their parents became our best friends in Thailand. Everyday the kids would squeal “Teacher ma laew!!” when we’d arrive and jump up and down. Their moms would bring English books with underlined words they didn’t understand, and we’d explain and help them with their pronunciation. Pran’s mom owned a bakery that exclusively baked brownies. Once we figured that out, we ate a lot of brownies. Kaitlyn went to Picha’s house one day to bake an apple pie, but it fell on the floor when they took it out of the oven and Picha was so devastated. So, Kaitlyn went back the next day and made another. The last week we were there those families took us out to dinner three times to say goodbye.
We will miss our friends we made. It was hard to say goodbye. But it felt good to know that we could make such strong friendships in such a short amount of time, even across language and cultural barriers.
I have some experience with moving. From Texas to Idaho to China to DC to Guam to New Mexico to Cambodia to Utah and now to Thailand and Seattle. It never really gets easier, but there are things that help to make it smoother. I was telling my mom the other day that my moves away from China and Cambodia were very different, even though I loved them both so much. I feel like, at the time, I didn’t properly mourn leaving China and all my friends there. With Cambodia I was able to mourn leaving while I was still there. My last month in Cambodia I felt the weight of leaving a place I loved so much grow on my shoulders. So, every morning I would wake up and just sit on my front porch for half an hour and think. I would listen to the sounds of the rice porridge lady pushing her cart out to the street. I would smell the fumes from the factory next to our house start to waft in my direction. I would watch the sun rise and all the people around me rise with it. Being still and taking it all in slowly and deliberately I was able to appreciate my time there for what it was. With my move from China, I had decided to gloss over my sad emotions, forcing them down with thoughts of my future destination. This backfired because it took me a lot longer to push through my sadness and appreciate the great memories.
I don’t know if Thailand has been properly mourned by Kaitlyn or me yet. I tried to be present those last couple months at the stadium and take it all in. It will likely continue stinging for some time because of our great memories and close friends. I know, though, that those memories and friends far outweigh the sadness of leaving them behind.
This blog post is a small step in my mourning process. Thank you for reading and being a part of our journey.