“A dream come true!” or “what have I done?”
I have been in Chiang Rai, Thailand for over a week now. I am finally settled into my own apartment and beginning to find my way around the small college town on my motorbike. I have just now been able to take the time to reflect on my journey to Thailand and the first week here. Now, as I fall more in love with this spunky town and the people in it, I can finally laugh at my first few days here and the unsettling feeling that I had made a terrible mistake.
Picture it: A lonely American standing underneath a street lamp in her pj’s at 1am crying, while desperately trying to make wifi work in the only place with a signal. The needed wifi was for attempting to facetime anyone who would reassure me that I had not just made the worst decision of my life. As I stood in the dark surrounded by beautiful mountains, bugs, and stray dogs, I certainly felt I had lost my mind. When I accepted a teaching post with Princeton in Asia I did not consider what these moments would feel like. The moments when I would feel utterly alone, in the mountains of Northern Thailand, thousands of miles from my loved ones, and my little hometown in Kentucky.
Those of you who know me know that I am adventurous, but also a family person who loves being home. This makes for a dramatic combo. After moving to Philadelphia last year alone, 2 months after graduating from college, I thought I could do anything. Moving to Thailand, distancing myself from family, friends, English, chipotle, medical school interviews, all seemed like a grand plan. Now, many days later, I am reminding myself that it was, and still is. But lets be real, its not going to be easy. I get that now, and I am trying to embrace the difficulties, for I know that I will only grow from them.
Thailand is a wonderful place. When I arrived in Chiang Rai, it was everything I had hoped it would be. There are mountains and temples, and it is isolated, rural, and radiating with kindness. The baggage claim had students playing traditional music and orchids were everywhere, a perfect way to be welcomed to Thailand. The university I am teaching at, Mae Fah Luang, is unbelievable. I am still looking for the words to describe it. The university was named after the princess mother, the name given to the current mother of the King by Chiang Rai locals. According to the Bangkok Post, the university, from its inaugural class of 64 students in 1998, has become Thailand’s fastest growing post-secondary institution with an enrollment of just under 10,000 students. It is well known for its high-quality teaching, research, and service to the people of the north, as well as Thailand. The princess mother is loved in this area of Thailand. At one time, the whole area had been deforested and opium was grown by the hilltribes. Now, there is no bare land. Everything has been replenished and the princess mother convinced the hilltribes to stop growing opium and instead start growing coffee, bananas, coconuts, and pineapples. Now, there are many lovely coffee shops in the area selling arabica coffee made from local coffee beans. I start teaching in the coming week, and I am looking forward to working at the university.
As for life in Thailand… the food is wonderful, but spicy of course. Luckily, I have been gifted with the “white medicine” I think it is basically a Thai version of Pepto Bismol. It has become my most valued item. Chiang Rai is in a very beautiful part of Thailand. The northernmost part of the province is located in the Golden Triangle where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos touch. This area was once considered to be unsafe because of drug smuggling, however, now this area is rich with fruits and arabica coffee beans. The culture of northern thailand is distinctly different than the south. This includes differences in food, art, language, etc. This region is known for a variety of hill tribes, and the culture of the area is known as lanna. Akha tribe, originating from Tibet and southern China, is the most populated hilltribe in the area.
I do not anticipate standing under a street lamp at 1am crying again for the rest of my time here. Instead, I anticipate many exciting adventures to come while living here in Chiang Rai.