Magical Day

This morning we woke up with a purpose.  It was our day to deliver sports uniforms, shoes, socks, pencils and etc. to the school.   We put on our team shirts which were donated by Festival Promotions. The t-shirts were so cute with a beaver holding a   Canadian flag and an Elephant holding a Thai flag.  Under the two country’s totems was written Friendship.   I love wearing team shirts.   They give the feeling of being in it together, bring unity and team spirit and we sure had a lot of it!  The kids put Canada maple leaf tattoos on their cheeks and we represented our country well. 

A little aside to say, that we were accompanied by Nikki and her two children Grant and Julia.  Nikki and I met 10 years ago while teaching English in Suratthani Thailand.  Throughout the years we had lost touch but coincidently have found ourselves once again on Thai soil.  I am so enjoying the rekindling of our friendship.  Her children are also great companions for Zoe and Owen.

We arrived at the school and it was hot, hot, hot!  It was the hottest I have felt on this trip and that is saying a lot because there have been some really hot moments.   It was so hot that I had the impression of melting like the wicked witch of the west when Dorothy threw the pail of water on her; `melting, melting, melting!`. 

The grand moment had arrived, the moment we had been working towards.   While in Canada we pooled money from our friends.  Some people contributed to the fundraised by purchasing Funky Mama CDs and other people donated up to $200 towards the Burmese children in the Koh Phayam School.  Jay and I felt a great responsibility in representing our friend’s generosity.  We gathered in Phillippe’s classroom with the older children and the headmaster of the school. 

In Thailand a person shows respect by waiing.  Waiing is putting your hands in prayer pose up to your chest and bowing to a person.  The hand position depends on the age of the person you are waiing to. For example, if the person is younger than you, you wai with the prayer pose at the chest, same age you wai at your chin, someone older than you at the level of your nose and a monk at the level of your forehead.

Jay presented our gifts to the headmaster and the children waied with a “Kapkoon ma Ka” and “cap” (thank you).  In Thailand men/boys say “cap” at the end of a sentence and women/ girls say “ka”.   There is a lot of cultural etiquette and I love it.  I think it is great that the Thai’ show respect to their elders.  It seems like in our society this is slipping away.

I can relate this point of the experience with the saying: “sometimes it’s the journey and not the destination that matters.”  In other words the gathering of funds, flying over here, meeting the teachers, and purchasing the goods was the most exciting part of the project and giving it was anticlimactic.  As Philippe has told us the Thai’s do not show appreciation with great fanfare as it is not part of their culture.   The anticlimax aside it did feel great to give with no other purpose but for the sake of giving.  The whole project was fun and a great success.

After the giving of our gifts we went outside and to set up the soccer nets.  I feel the need to mention that it was hot! I am always worried that the children are not getting enough water. It is so easy to get dehydrated when the heat evaporates water in seconds.   It seems like you lose as much as you consume.   Setting up the nets was not easy. Once the students were finished eating they met us outside for a soccer game.   They did well and it was great to see Zoe, Owen and Grant playing with the Thai kids.  Soccer is a big thing in Thailand and they showed great skill in manoeuvring that ball around. 

The older kids played soccer while the younger kids hung out at the table in the shade with Nikki, Julia and I, I had brought a bottle of bubbles and got busy blowing and enjoyed watching the children respond as they ran trying to catch and pop them.  As the bubble blowing was going on I was noticing a boy and a girl getting into each other’s space.  He held a plastic bottle and was bonking her over the head with it.  She was raising her leg up in the air akin to a Muay Thai Boxing kick. The only teacher in the school yard stood in the soccer field and did not notice the battle.  In my very limited Thai I asked them to stop but they pretended that I was not there.   Although I was feeling like they should not be behaving this way, it occurred to me that this game might be something perfectly acceptable here.   In Canadian school yards children are stopped from hitting and fighting. We monitor our children to keep them in check and make sure they keep in line.  Here in Thailand maybe they do not hover over their children as much.   Eventually the “poochai”  (boy) hit the girl hard enough to make her cry.  I looked at Nikki and said: “In Canada he would get a time out for that!”  Here in Thailand the girl cried for a while when finally the teacher noticed, said a few words to the boy, comforted the girl briefly and went on his merry way.  I love noticing cultural differences, it is a reminder that there are different ways of doing things and that one is not better than the other. It is only different. 

Zoe came out of the heat from the soccer game and joined us in the shade. We’d brought a pack of Canadian flag tattoos and soon she had a swarm of children around her waiting to be tattooed.  She did a great job handling the swarm of children waiting their turn.   By then Grant came around and they were learning some Thai words and asking the children: “You tee nai, ka? “  This means:   “Where do you want your tattoo?”  Pretty soon the bell rang indicating the end of their lunch break.  It was an enriching experience to be able to interact with the local Thai children.   Although, they received things that they needed I feel like we are the ones that left with the biggest gift. 


Back at our huts we had lunch and did our homework.  The end of the afternoon came around and Zoe, Owen and Grant found themselves playing on the beach.  Julia slept on a nearby chair while Nikki and I read.  Aow Yai beach is one of those beaches where the tide goes far out before it comes back in.  It varies from being extremely wavy to somewhat calm with only a few ripples.  Today as they played the tide was slowly making its way back up the beach.  They built water pools for the crabs that they caught.  They called it their crabitat.  There was great excitement when they explained to us that one of the water holes was a birthing center and that some babies crabs were recently born.   As the afternoon wore on the sun slowly made it’s slow descent from the blue sky and into the horizon. It was the most magnificent view with colours of fire lighting up the sky.  The orange and yellow backdrop made for a beautiful painting. The sun rays cast the children as mere silhouettes on the beach.  It was magic to watch them running, playing and laughing. The only word that can describe it would be: magical.   

It truly was the perfect end to the perfect day.


Giving Brings Joy

February 7th, 2013

Fundraiser in the Works

We have been on the island a week, today.  We took these last 7 days to relax and get use to our new surroundings and now we are ready.  We are ready to dedicate the next 7 days to the fundraiser for Burmese school children.  Yesterday, Oiy our dear Thai friend drove me on her motorbike to the Koh Phayam School.   It is such a cute school with about 7 rooms.   The shutter doors and windows were wide open, so that when we entered the school grounds, I could see and hear the children talking, laughing and playing.  It was that lovely sound of children`s voices that puts a smile on most people`s faces.  If only as adults we could keep that playfulness, that resilience for being in the moment in every moment.   

 It was just after lunch time so they were lined up holding their cups and toothbrushes.  Most of the children do not brush their teeth at home so it is an activity that the school has adopted in order to educate dental hygiene. I think it`s a great idea and might consider doing this at my own daycare.

  I love Asian children. There is innocence and shyness that is so endearing to me.  They greeted me with beautiful smiles and looked upon me with their large, dark, brown eyes and my heart melted.  In Thailand children wear school uniforms with the school logo embroidered on the left side right near the heart. From what I can see younger children wear white color shirts with brown shorts and older kids wear darker brown uniforms.  As I stood watching them brush their teeth I noticed that a handful of students were not wearing uniforms but  tattered street clothes and no shoes.  I was later told that these children were admitted to the school later in the year and did not receive the government donation of a uniform. These children were to do without as their parents were unable to afford the uniform and shoes for that matter.  It is such a great reminder as to all that we have in Canada.   Some children here have no shoes and if I think of my own closet back home, I have several pairs for different occasions.   

Oiy introduced me to 3 teachers.  One was a petite Thai woman.  In my books Thai woman are very beautiful with their dark hair and skin, and graceful manners. The other teacher was a  tall, slim young Thai man and the 3rd a male foreigner from Ethiopia who`s name was Philippe.  This meeting was about establishing contact and letting them know about the great people in Canada that contributed money towards Burmese children in their school.   The conversation was mostly in Thai.  The Thai language is a tonal language with low, mid and high tones.  I could catch a few worlds here and there but depended on Oiy`s translation for the main message of the conversation.  We established that shoes and uniforms were needed, that the tattered soccer nets needed replacing and also sports uniforms could be of great use. I left the school with a list written in Thai indicating what we were to purchase.  In order to obtain our treasures we would have to go to the main land of Ranong.

 February 8th, 2013

A visit to the School

The day after my visit to the school Jay and I brought Zoe and Owen for a tour.  We really wanted them to be part of the experience of giving.  We wanted them to meet the children and teachers before our shopping trip.  We arrived unannounced and were greeted with open arms.  On our arrival students were sitting at their desks writing and learning.   I introduced Jay, Zoe and Owen to the teachers and we had a nice conversation about our project.   Philippe the teacher from Ethiopia kindly told us not to feel disappointed if the Thai`s reaction to our generosity was minimal.  It is Thai culture to not show great appreciation, or happiness when given something as this might be viewed as greedy.  It always amazes me how cultures vary from one another.  In Canada we would find it offensive to not show gratitude.  It is no wonder that throughout the ages misunderstandings and even wars have occurred at the cost of cultural differences.   I was grateful that Philippe shared with us this insight.

While we were talking I noticed these two boys wrestling and smiled.  Although customs and cultures can separate, we are so the same in so many ways.  Here I was observing 2 boys throwing pretend punches, kicking and tackling one another to the ground.  They were wrestling in the same way Canadian boys do and other boys do around the world.   Despite cultural differences there are common threads between every culture in the world.  We all wish to be happy, to be healthy, to be loved and accepted.  We wish that for ourselves and for our family.

As we left we walked by a classroom with children talking in chorus.  Thailand teaches their children by rote and the children were repeating something in Thai.  When the teacher saw us walk by she invited us to come in.  Next thing I knew I was standing in front of the class singing: `` If you happy and you know it`` and `` head and shoulders knees and toes``.  It felt so natural and I revelled in every moment. It brought me back in time to when I taught English in Surathani.   Thai children have respect for their teachers and are receptive students.   I do not have a teaching degree and yet I taught English to young Thai children.   As Kru (teacher)  Annie, I gave it my best.  I read every teaching resource available to me and learned as I went.  I felt passionate about getting my students to speak, listen, read, and speak a language that felt so natural for me.  As I stood in front of those Burmese children singing and having fun I remembered how fun and rewarding it was to teach.

February 9th, 2013

This morning we woke up early, hopped on a moto taxi to the pier and took the slow boat to Ranong.  The slow boat is exactly that, slow. It moves tediously through the ocean waters and gently rocks in rhythm with the waves.  Zoe felt sea sick while I felt the waves rocking me to sleep.   When the kids started getting bored we played geography.  Once the boat took port in Ranong we jumped into a pickup truck to the `Thalat`(market).  I love riding in the back of a pickup truck it bring s me back to my childhood and my dad`s lime green GMC.   I got many rides in the back of that lime pickup truck with the wind blowing through my hair and a feeling of pure freedom.

We were to meet the beautiful Thai teacher and the tall slim teacher at the Seven Eleven at 12:00.  We arrived a little early so Jay and Owen stayed behind while Zoe and I checked out the market.  It was Chinese New Year and the place was just a bustling.  The indoor section was packed with stores selling shirts, flip flops, plastic toys, nick knacks, and other necessities.  It was chaotic with people walking in all directions and scooters driving through the crowd.  Zoe tried to hold onto my hand but it was impossible as we had to walk single file.  Walking out of the indoor complex into the outdoor we were assaulted with the smell of fish.   Big silver grey bowls held squid, red and white snapper, and other kinds of fish that I was unfamiliar with.  Plucked chickens lied in stillness with clawed feet sticking to the heavens. It was a far cry different from our markets in Ottawa.  In these moments of navigating through the market, Zoe hit culture shock so we walked through quickly and left for the Seven Eleven where Jay, Owen and the 2 teachers were waiting for us.

I wish I could remember the teacher`s names but alas I cannot so for now they will be referred to as the beautiful Thai teacher and the tall, slim teacher.  They brought us to a uniform shop where we purchased shoes, sports uniforms, pencils, erasers, socks, rulers, and more.  It was a wonderful experience to represent our country in helping children in their education.   The bill came to 15,000 baht which is about $600 Canadian.   So we still have money left to spend and when we go to the school this coming week to deliver our goods we will discuss as to other ways we can help the establishment. 

 In yoga we speak of Karma Yoga which means being of service to others without any strings attached.  This is exactly what our mission felt like and it felt so good to be giving for the sake of giving.  In practicing Karma Yoga one feels the joy and happiness of giving.  We put ourselves aside and know that the happiness of others brings us happiness.  So far this has been my experience in organizing this fundraiser. 


koh phayam

We  have arrived on Koh Phayam a beautiful, warm and relaxing island on the west side of Thailand. On the boat ride here we could spot Burma across the bay.  We left Suratthani by taxi van and arrived in Ranong just in time to hop onto the ferry to the island. Once we docked at the pier we took all of our many bags and found a moto taxis to our resort.   We have so many bags it is shameful.  I have never travelled with so much stuff!!!!  We even had to get an extra taxi to drive some of our luggage.   I must add here that one of our great big suitcases was filled with t-shirts for the koh phayam school children and give away stuff for people we meet along the way.  If you know Jay, you know that he has a very generous spirit and it was his idea to make t-shirts for the school children.  There is much to learn from a man who is giving and kind like Jay.

 Koh Phayam is very small and has no roads so the main modes of transportation are moto scooters.  The road is not really a road but a wide side walk.  There have been so many firsts for Zoe and Owen and the moto taxi ride was one of them.  The laws are loos here in Thailand and helmets are worn by few motorists. So here were a convoy of 5 moto taxis and none of us wearing helmets.   I made sure to tell both Zoe and Owen’s drivers to drive slowly and to my great relief they did.  Owen had been looking forward to riding a motto so his smile shone from ear to ear.  Zoe being more cautious held on tight to her female driver and enjoyed the ride nonetheless.  

We are staying at Ziggy Stardust a resort on Aow Yai Beach.  Ziggy is a small family owned business and the bungalows are clean and well maintained.  There was a little adjustment when Zoe and Owen first saw the bungalows.   They were expecting it to be a resort of resorts kind of like the 5 star ones in an all inclusive.  Things here are about simplicity, less is more sort of thing.  It is great for my kids to live simply with few belongings in a beautiful calm atmosphere.  Where it’s not about what you’ve got but about who you are.  It is also about the ocean, the sand between our toes, the ocean water against our skin, the smiles from the Thais, the friends from different countries and the time we are spending together.

 Owen’s first walk to the ocean had him wearing his snorkel, goggles and fins.  He walked with his duck feet all the way from his bungalow to the ocean in snorkelling gear which is about 300 yards.  If you have ever walked in fins, you know that every step has you lifting your knees in an exaggerated motion.  All the Thais and other tourists were laughing at the sight of the falang boy walking with fins, snorkel  and mask.

Time slows down here; things are done at a different pace than what we are use to back home.   Things happen at their own pace here and it’s great to switch gears and slow down. We live such a busy life style in Canada that at times we forget that things can be different from the race of getting things done.  Here there is no to do list, there is no schedule only the rhythm of the waves and our appetites.   We wake up and the day unfolds as it should and without effort. 

The sun rises, the sun sets and the space in between is about us spending time together in this tropical place of beauty.  It has been a long time since we have spent such condensed time together and I am enjoying getting to know my kids all over again.  This is what memories are made of.  There have been so many magical moments.  Zoe and Owen have never seen the ocean before so their excitement at swimming in the crashing waves, at chasing crabs on the beach and finding sand dollars has been priceless.  Every day they give me a reason to smile and feel gratitude for being here.   Through them I see the beauty that surrounds us with new eyes. 

At bed time we are lulled to sleep by the crescendo of crashing waves. In the morning we are met with cooing doves, barking dogs, calling roosters and the symphony of insects and birds.  We slowly rise have breakfast which for Zoe and Owen consists of chocolate pancakes and Jay and I porridge or fruit salad with yogurt and muesli.  We eat at the seaside restaurants threaded along the beach.  One of our goals is to find the best fruit shake on the island. So far Ziggy wins with it’s chocolate shake.  The shakes here are made with fresh fruit and pulverized ice and make for a great afternoon snack.

 Jay and Owen go on daily adventures.  One morning they went to a nearby temple and donated money to the monks.  In return they got an orange bracelet for good luck. Owen is really taking this trip by the horns and loving every minute of it.   On this adventure he learned the concept of enlightenment. Thailand is a Buddhist country so there are Buddha statues everywhere.  These statues are a reflection of the Buddha nature that lives within all of us.

Zoe and I go on our own adventures.  I am cherishing my time with her.   It is what we need in this space and time of our relationship.  She is only getting older and I am learning to navigate this world of hormones and change.  As a parent things are always moving and shifting and at times it is difficult to stay one step ahead of the game.  In this way this trip is good to reconnect and form stronger ties.  This is true for all four of us.  

Yesterday was a big, big day.  Uncle Tim (Jay’s long time friend) showed us how to manage the waves on a surf board.  We all got up to standing and it was exhilaratingly fun.  Owen was transformed into a fish and would not leave the water until the sea lice drove him out.  Have you ever heard of seal lice?  They are microscopic jelly fish that sting you and it feels like needle pricks.  It hurts and itches.  They are most prominent at the hottest time of day and at low tide.  We have nick named them ” thinga ma jiggers”.

In order to get an internet connection we have to go to the other side of the island.   It’s nice to have a little vacation from cyber space and all the stimulation from back home. 
we will check in soon.