Bali Intermission: End of the Year Assessment Or How I Learned to Let Go of Teaching Expectations and Actually TEACH

A brief intermission from the Bali adventures….

This week marks the finals week of the 2011-2012 school year. The foreign language department of roughly twenty lovely Thai teachers is a roller coaster of silence and noise, inactivity and frantic flurries. For a few intermittent hours, the office is all-but completely empty while the teachers proctor the final exams. Then for a brief hour here and a brief hour there, the office is abuzz with teachers nattering and analyzing student performance, gaggles of giggly students clogging their teacher’s desk while they ask about grades. People burst in and trickle out.

Amid the rustling and bustling, I’ve been thinking about what my students have learned this year. More importantly, what I’ve learned this year from my students and fellow teachers.

Patience. At the beginning of the year, a fresh-eyed eager teacher was swimming through the classrooms of 13 year old and 17 year old students, expecting high-level conversations from most students. I jumped right into the deep end and was frustrated when, at midterms, my students still weren’t participating in or understanding my lessons. Their skill levels varied so widely, I had to redesign everything. I slowed down and showed them patience by repeating lessons that were confusing. By the end of the year, one of my worst-performing classes was surging ahead. Woohoo!

Simplify. English is a complicated language with convoluted rules, exceptions and ridiculous pronunciation patterns. Best tool: simple lessons with easy-to-practice patterns. Students are more likely to talk in class if they don’t view language as complicated but as a set of tools to use in various situations. Like a plug and play game.

Sanuk. It’s the Thai word for fun and everything here revolves around some level of sanuk. At the beginning, my classes were serious. I was frustrated when the kids goofed off, were distracted and didn’t do their homework. Scolding was ineffective. Guilt didn’t work. Then I was lucky enough to embarrass myself a few times in the classroom–unknowingly painting my forehead with chalk, tripping over my own feet, saying something with terrible Thai grammar to which my students would burst into laughter. I realized their laughter at my expense meant they were interested, listening, wanting to participate. Suddenly, when Teacher Katie embarrasses herself, they want to join in and poke fun (in English) too. A tough lesson for the teacher to learn. But from then on I tried to capture the kids’ interest by using goofy antics, jokes, cartoonish miming and funny faces. It worked. The kids kept goofing off in class, but in English. They’d participate, crack jokes and quit resisting my worksheets.

Ahhh… success. Even the teacher can learn a few new lessons.

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Bali Holiday Chapter 4: Writers, monkeys and a trek into the wild

The next few days were spent basking in intellectual fervor at the annual Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, a week-long event of writers, readers, and everyone involved in the sphere of writing-reading, sitting in a cafes, restaurants and balconies surrounded by lush tropical foliage, bemoaning the state of the current publication industry, expounding on ways to get published, inspiring young writers, finding your own inspiration and, all in all, scratching each others’ intellectual and writer-ly itch. After living in a town with no English books readily available or easily accessible, I was in heaven, surrounded by novels, poetry, writers, readers, wordsmiths, captive audiences of the word.

One particularly dynamic panel, titled “Worlds, in Words” featured four authors– an Aussie writer who spent years working with people in Papua New Guinea, a journalist who traveled to Montreal to work with women refugees, an Indonesian writer who spent 3 years in Afghanistan, Kazahkstan, and Mongolia, and a famous Aussie novelist with a razor-sharp wit and a splendid storytelling voice. Listening to their travel tales beneath the drumming of an afternoon rainstorm just outside the gazebo was a mesmerizing way to end the event.

Since the festival is held in a tropical venue each year, it tends to draw the travel-savvy. On one panel of travel writers, a heated topic about the responsibility of a traveler and particularly a travel-writer, emerged with particular relevance to an island whose dependency is on tourism and on writers to wax poetic on the little island with the goal of drawing more tourists and more money.

In the days after the Writers and Readers Cheeky monkeys like to steal the offerings....Festival we explored the rest of the island from the base of Ubud. We ventured into the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary where the four-legged children –sometimes cute, usually naughty, downright belligerent if you deny them anything–run wild. They’re not afraid to pilfer the religious offerings made to the gods. Grooming Time

The sanctuary was used for the King’s worship back in early Balinese history and was turned into a government protected sanctuary with the support of the nearby village. The sanctuary is both a protective area for the monkeys as well as the environment and the temples located on the grounds.

Digging AroundIt’s one of the last protected natural spaces on the island where no tourist-centric business can invade to build a resort. It houses the Pura Dalem Agung and Pura Prajapati, and the Holy Spring bathing temple. Since the temples are located on the sanctuary grounds, they’re free of begging children and kitsch hawkers.

Also, the long-tailed macaques are adorable.

After a day of carousing with the apes, we trekked outside the town to explore the rest of the island. Side by side with our Homestay neighbors, a brilliant couple from Switzerland, we motored along the island’s sinewy web of barely paved roads. We drove down winding curvaceous paths, past sprawling rice paddies, through small villages where people were parading in all white to the local temple. We dined atop a spectacular hilltop overlooking a sun-drenched valley of emerald rice crops.

From the roadside we explored what life might be like on this gorgeous island. We stopped to peek inside a few temples along the way, including the main temple, Pura Besakih. Since there was an important ceremony taking place in the temple, our access was limited. But what little access we had was enough.

The complex was a maze of split gateways, stone steps, terrace-roof pavilions, towers and statues of various condition. Crowds of white worshipers filled the temple, hauling massive baskets of decorated flora, incense and food–offerings to give to the spirits.

While the temple was beautiful, the number of child beggars was astounding. They’d follow us, begging us buy a postcard or a trinket, or even worse, just give them a dollar.

I’d never been so accosted by small children before and while it was absolutely heart-breaking to ignore their pleas, I’d rather not support their dependency on handouts from tourists.

So we passed through the temple, feeling a little of the thick, haunting cloud that tourism leaves on such a delicate island. As we departed the temple with the sun-setting behind the tips of the jungle trees, the lives of Balinese and the future of the island was certainly on our minds.

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Bali Holiday Chapter 3: Ubud and the Culture Tour

After a few days relaxing and sorting out plans for the week, we hopped on a culture tour of the island. Like in Thailand, the way to get around is to meet and connect with people. So it wasn’t a surprise when a man approached us on the street, offering to give us a cultural tour of the island. We walked past the motorbike shop where he was having his bike repaired and he offered us a business card. His name was Made (pronounced “Mah-day”) and ran a side business giving tours of the arts and crafts villages of the island.

Okay, sounds a little sketchy. Perhaps a little unsafe. But, dressed in khakis, sneakers and a collared shirt, Made seemed more organized than the massive group tours booked through a guide office. Besides, it’s better to take a risk and see the island and hear about its history and culture from the perspective of a local.

He picked us up in his van at 9am during a downpour and, right away, trekked us off to a famous Balinese cultural performance, the “Barong dance.” A performance usually given during special ceremonies, the dance is now used as a tourist attraction and held daily in temples and stages all over the island.

The dance, depicting the classic juxtaposition of good vs. evil, features a giant furry spirit with golf-ball sized pupils, perky elephant-like ears jutting out from its temples and a smattering of gilded decorations that are quite dazzling when the creature prances about on stage. We tried on the costumes after the show and were surprised how steamy and sweaty they were. I certainly don’t envy the performer who sweats beneath the heavy headpiece everyday.

From the Barong dance, Made trucked us inland to the area known for its arts and crafts. We stopped at a open air display where women were giving demonstrations on the batik process. The tedious and meticulous work of applying brown wax and color to fabric in multiple stages was quite impressive. The indoor market next door was jam-packed with tourists sifting through piles of vibrantly-colored sarongs, shirts, dresses, scarves and all-things-fabric. This was definitely the place where tour groups descend like locusts and, while it’s lost most of its local charm, being able to see the batik process was fascinating.

Along the same route, we stopped at a woodcarving store with men and women lounging on the outdoor patio, whittling away at creatures made of crocodile wood, ebony, sandalwood and other native Balinese wood species. The store inside was packed with hand-carved pieces, even life-size horses, elephants, turtles, komodo dragons.

The next stops took us to a silver and jewelry shop, and an artists’ collective of gorgeous paintings of life in Bali–scenery of rice paddy landscapes, women working in the fields, beautiful portraits of local Balinese. Toward the end, though the tour felt more like a shopping excursion than a genuine informational tour, it was fabulous to see the talent of the islands artists.

Next stop? Lunch, which we found perched atop Kintamani, an area known for growing sweet, cherry-grapefruit tasting coffee and an array of glorious foliage and spectacular views overlooking the caldera of the Batur volcano.

The restaurant’s main table was a bar on the very edge of the platform. You didn’t have to lean far over the bar to see the foliage plunging below into the lush valley. Looking across the Danau Batur lake at the Abang mountain, you could see a tiny village nestled at between the base of the mountain and the water’s edge. That village, Made told us, was the last village on the island of pure Balinese people. As the island’s population grew and welcomed visitors–first the Portuguese, then the Dutch, now vacationing tourists from all over the world–the original islanders migrated inland and tucked themselves against the mountain.

After the gorgeous lunchtime view, we trekked back down the hill, stopping at one of the many shops along the road boasting “WE HAVE LUWAK COFFEE.”

Indonesia is known as one of the main countries where the rare and controversial Kopi Luwak coffee is cultivated. The coffee cherry, once harvested, is fed to the civet cat, a picky eater who only consumes the juiciest and ripest cherries. Once passed through the digestive tract of the cat where it undergoes chemical changes from the cat’s acidic stomach, the beans are again harvested from the cat’s excrement, cleaned, roasted and sold at a premium.

Sounds tasty, right? Of course we bought a pot of luwak coffee, along with a sampling of other coffees grown in the region.

The spread included a pot of the murky luwak coffee, ginseng coffee, Balinese “female” arabica (peaberry), Balinese robusta, lemongrass tea, ginger tea, and fresh hot cocoa. While we didn’t see the harvesting or processing of the cherries, we did see the roasting process, which involves a wood-stoked fire, a flat pan, and about 15 minutes of slow stirring by a jovial Balinese man relaxing next to the flame. Coffee, once roasted, then is ground into a powder and brewed simply by pouring hot water on top. No filtration process siphons out grounds, so sipping the luwak coffee from the swirly green ceramic pot involved a little bit of chewing as well.

Sipping on coffee and tea from the hut atop the hillside with a view of a bamboo plantation on the nearby hillside was a great ending to our tour. As the afternoon waned, we watched the sun dip below the green hills before Made drove us back downhill to Ubud, the cultural town in the center of the island and our retreat for the next five days.

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Bali Holiday Chapter 2: Kuta Beach

About a week before we left for Bali, I was chatting with a fellow teacher from Sydney, Australia, about our holiday plans. I revealed Bali as the grand destination: Exotic! Distant! Tropical!

She sucked in a quick breath, tightened her shoulders, cringed a little, “Really? You know that Bali is, like, the dirty Hawaii for Australians, right? You guys are going straight into the thick of Aussie holiday disaster.”

Really? Bummer. As an American, Bali always seemed shrouded in a mysterious aura. It’s a distant universe. Unknown culture, curious food and strange Indonesian languages…Bali represented a vast islandic new world to explore.

For Australians, it’s right in their backyard. So, instead of a quiet getaway, we were walking right into a touristy trap. Floods of Aussies, bar-stuffed beaches, trinkets galore. What are we getting ourselves into?

The first destination, Kuta Beach, was certainly as our Sydney friend predicted. Even in low season the beach was teeming with scores of hungry tourists, backpackers and families alike, all battling for space on the dusty white sands of Kuta.

We arrived at Ngurah Rai Airport in the morning. Our accommodations for the evening was in the living room of a fellow couch-surfer, a Bostonian-now-Bali-resident who was at his computer programming job when we landed. So he trustingly left a key under the mat and let us make ourselves at home in his narrow, two-story townhouse.

First few days were spent learning a few lessons about the island of Bali. For one, it’s one of the only Hindu islands left in the Indonesian chain. The island is dotted with gorgeous temples and palm-leaf offerings scattered everywhere underfoot. Balinese make offerings to the gods and spirits all throughout the day by placing these palm-leaf trays filled with flowers (which correspond to the gods Brahma, Wisnu and Siwa), incense, crackers, candy, sometimes cigarettes, at the temples, on the sidewalk in front of a house or business, on a motorcycle, pretty much anywhere. The offerings illuminate the sidewalks and streets in a palette of beautiful soft colors and you learn quickly to watch your step to preserve the offerings.

Secondly, the island makes its livelihood from tourists, which can be great for the local artists and artisans of which there are quite a few, ranging from batik artists, woodcarvers, painters, jewelers, etc, Selling their creations to curious (and open-wallet) visitors is their bread and butter. Which also means that during a slow off season struggling market vendors see a big, fat green dollar sign pinned right to your forehead. So on our first afternoon on Kuta Beach, the beach known for its sleaze, I quickly learned how to haggle with market vendors. As soon as I curiously touched something, the vendor pounced with “good price” offers and “special” discounts.  When I tried to gently decline the discounts and explain I was ‘just looking,’ I received sour eyes, crinkled brows and a cold shoulder. On the market road leading to the beach, I’d disappointed a slew of vendors and was feeling guilty, but by the time my toes hit sand, I was keen to their guilt trip scheme. That’s how they lure you.  I decided it was better to eye carefully, don’t touch, politely say “no thank you” and walk away. They look broken-hearted, but don’t worry, they’ll find someone else to prey on.

The second-half of the haggling lesson came with our first taxi ride–a scorching 80,000 Indonesian Rupiah (IDR). Our couch-surfing host kindly informed us a normal taxi ride ranges from 20,000 to 40,000 IDR. Gah! We’d been duped! Alright, so we paid the tuition for Bali Haggling School. At least we could take our knowledge to the streets.

We explored Kuta’s beach-side food–Expensive!–and night market food–Awesome!  Nasi Goreng, the staple found just about everywhere, was one of the first-to-taste. While it’s similar to the Thai version of fried rice, I have to say, the Balinese mixture with chicken, egg, sometimes beans and nuts had a softer, less spicy edge than the Thai version. Easily addictive. I also lucked into avocado season on our journey. Thailand’s access to the creamy green fruit is limited, so I consumed anything stuffed, grilled, sliced or topped with avocado.

Our host showed us a local night market where we chowed on goat soup and the infamous Balinese satay, which must be vigorously fanned until the smoke wafting from the grill becomes so thick, so unbearable and so maddeningly delicious-smelling that you HAVE to stop for a bite.

After an exhausting few days in Phuket at the Vegetarian Festival we decided to ease into the island. So instead of diving right into surfing lessons, wave-dodging, beach-lounging and souvenir-shop-till-you-drop, we decided to spend the next few days on Kuta avoiding the hoards of tourists and planning the rest of the adventure on the island to escape some of the Big Beach Crowds.

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Bali Holiday Chapter 1: Phuket Vegetarian Festival

Our two-week school break began with a fascinating, disturbing, gory, and sometimes overwhelming entree into the world of Chinese Buddhist Vegetarian Festival. Think fewer vegetables, more self-impalement.Shrine of the Serene Light

The nine-day festival is held every year in the 9th lunar month of the Chinese calendar and since the town of Phuket has a decent Chinese Thai population, the town’s festival earns itself a certain reputation of rambunctiousness. So, of course, Destination One on the two-week vacay schedule was to witness the spectacular and curious rituals of the festival.

The festival is meant to be a sort of cleansing process and meditative time to worship the coming of the nine emperors. Participants dress in white, eat no meat and pray with incense, candles and chanting. Certain worshipers are called Mah Song, and earn a special respect for inviting the spirits into their bodies. They undergo a meditative process at the temple, and, while in a trance, pierce their bodies with sharp objects to prove the pain is temporal.

We arrived in the middle of the nine days and decided to investigate the 7am parade procession of Mah Song from the Bang Neow temple. We arrived just in time to watch the Mah Song prepare themselves with various impaling objects. Dressed in traditional woven apron-like garments, they sit patiently while their team of sterile-gloved and strong-hearted assistants prepare their skin for piercings. The piercings ranged from spears adorned with hydrangea flowers to beach umbrellas to garden shears. The assistants calmly cut into the skin, carefully wiping the blood, inserting the objects, then curing the wounds with Vaseline. The Mah Song, now deep in trance and carrying objects impaled through their bodies, parade through the streets while white-clad spectators, often with hands in prayer position, watch the Mah Song proclaim their strength.

The idea of public impalement at a festival seemed both disturbing and fascinating. We stood on the street corner in flowy white clothes with hoards of others, watching the parade, dodging the raining firecrackers and taking plenty of pictures. Disturbing? Yes. Calming? Strangely yes. The Mah Song stride through the middle of the street, pausing almost casually for photos. Their composure certainly makes the festival seem less gory.

We didn’t see every parade. After a few hours of watching impaled men (very few women participate in the process), we felt overwhelmed and needed a long break. Luckily the Vegetarian Festival is Thai at heart and, like any good Thai festival, there’s always food. The streets throughout the city were lined with stalls covered in yellow and green flags to signal vegetarian food. Deep fried corn snacks, ice cream from fresh coconuts, rice and even imitation meat were available everywhere. Festivals in Thailand, no matter where or what sub-culture, aren’t complete without plenty of snacks.

We snacked our way through the festival, then investigated the rest of Phuket Town, a small sinewy web of Sino-Tibetan architecture that gives the place quite a bit of charm. Meandering the streets, we stopped at the most aptly named Shrine of the Serene Light, tucked in an alley just behind a used bookstore. Probably the most quiet and beautiful temple, there were few worshipers, a few of whom, Americans living in Bangkok, became new friends. We trekked to Khao Rang temple nestled in the foliage on the hillside and boasting spectacular views of the valley below. We ate incredibly well, both at the vegetarian festival and at a few of the town’s top-end restaurants (Brasserie’s Belgian beers were a heavenly treat).

For all intents and purposes, we skipped the infamous Patong Beach. We knew the beaches of Bali might have enough rambunctious drinking partiers to last through the holiday. Maybe someday the beach will make a pin point on my Traveled Map. For now, Phuket Town’s eclectic culture started the adventure off just right…

*If you’re wondering where all the awesome photos of the impaled Mah Song are, well you’ll just have to look here.  Beware! They’re not for the faint of heart.

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Teach the Teacher: Successes from My First Semester of Teaching

Imagine.... speaking in front of 3,000 wide-eyed high schoolers every day!First semester of teaching is successfully over. (Round of applause).

We’re now into our third week of the second semester at our high school teaching job and there are a few things I’ve learned from the gig itself and from my 900 7th and 10th grade students. They’re fresh, bright, eager to learn again and I’m wondering what’s changed in them over our school holiday. Wondering, how can I keep their interest throughout the semester this time? Here are a few thoughts on what I, the Teacher, learned from my own classes last semester…

My #1 Teaching GOAL: Lessons Must be Fun and Interesting.

Well, duh…. right?

This is incredibly important. My students are at the age where they don’t quite understand why they should learn something, so they don’t want to learn it. I discovered early on if my students are having fun, often unknowingly, and can play around with the English language, they’ll want to learn. I have to be both an entertainer and a source of knowledge.

1st Method to Reach #1 GOAL:  Keep it Simple, Silly.

The lessons have to be simple. There are a million reasons why. Here’s a few:

  • if the games are simple, students will understand how to play and will find it easier to engage.
  • if the games are simple, students can concentrate on practicing their speaking and listening skills instead of concentrating on some crazy scheme the teacher has dreamed up.
  • Since I expect them to play the game in English, I give my game instructions in English. They have to understand the instructions in order to play, so I keep the instructions, hence the game, simple.

2nd Method to Reach #1 Goal: The Classroom is Everywhere. Oh sure, they look all cute but the little kids can be hellions when the lesson's are boring!

Talk to the students. Everywhere. They can get discouraged easily (pulling a spontaneous sentence together in front of a group of friends is surprisingly difficult). But I persist. I start as many conversations in the hallways, to and from class. It keeps them on their toes, allows them to think of English as a social medium instead of an academic chore. Since the second semester began, I’ve noticed that not only do more students say hello, their responses have become quicker, broader and sprinkled with eagerness to speak. Ah-ha! Progress!

…These few lessons didn’t come easy. When I began my first semester teaching, I was excited, eager to introduce my students to the great beauties and nuances of the English language. I wanted to teach Shakespeare to my older students, listen to music with the younger ones. I wanted to watch movies, laugh at jokes and bask in the great world of English.  It took me all semester to realize that I couldn’t just hand them a nicely wrapped package of English. Language learning takes time and occurs best in small bite-sized chunks. I couldn’t simply bestow upon them marvelous soliloquies of the Bard, or the implied meanings of colloquial English in modern alternative rock lyrics.

I learned (slowly and painfully) that I needed to introduce the students to English one skill at a time, slowly build their linguistic toolbox instead of barraging them with academic resources and information. It’s a tricky process this language building endeavor. Not to mention takes a heavy dose of patience. I’ve developed a simple recipe for each lesson. Mix as follows:

One grammatical point per lesson blended thoroughly with a few practice sentences, (don’t forget to include all the varying English rule-exceptions), ten(ish) vocabulary words (With Pictures!), plenty of chances to hear proper pronunciation (activate Teacher Katie: The Human Pronunciation Machine!), and most importantly make it fun!  A heavy dose of fun makes the lessons a whole lot tastier.

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Eating. Official Hobby of a Foreigner in Thailand.

Thai cuisine. Known around the world, right? Since moving here I’ve been searching for what makes Thailand so famous with foodies. Luckily I have plenty of time on my hands, food abounds and eating is a favorite past-time of Thais. Even in the sweltering heat. Even though the spicy food induces a torrential downpour of sweat.

Before I moved to Thailand, I ate quite a bit of Thai food. I thought I had the Thai culinary corner pinned.  Tom Kah Gai- a coconut soup with chicken; Phad Thai- stir fried noodles with meat/tofu, bean spouts, and peanuts; Curries- Vegetables cooked in a savory and spicy thick soup. (Best green curry in Seattle used to be from a neighborhood Thai joint in Queen Anne. Believe me.)

Well, last week at lunch a fellow Thai co-worker put me in my place. She grinned and chuckled from across the table, “Green curry?! Only foreigners love green curry!”

Hmmm. Alright. So what’s the makes Thai food Thai? Let’s explore…

First thing to know about Thai food– you can find it anywhere.
Stop by a roadside pickup truck that’s ready to sell mounds of pomelos for half a buck a kilo right from their truck bed.
Plop yourself on the banks of a river for some (CAUTION: SPICY!) northern Thai food.
Meander through a crowded street festival (festivals are frequent and chalk full of food stalls), you’ll find meat-on-a-stick, mysterious fruit and vegetables (often preserved), stir-fried insects, plump cakes and the gamut of Thai snack food.

————-

So, let’s look at two categories. Restaurants and Street Food.

The restaurants.
What can you expect? A little more culinary exploration and some creativity in ingredient combinations. Established restaurants also have more resources than street vendors, so you’re likely to find more spices, more vegetables and a variety in styles of Thai food– northern and southern Thai dishes mixed together, Chinese-Thai dishes like noodles mixed with curries and, of course, the perfect-for-sharing-on-a-lazy-Saturday-morning Dim Sum.  Thai restaurants aren’t much fancier or more expensive than street food but you’re guaranteed a place to sit–not so with street food.

The street food.
It’s ubiquitous. Faster than McDonald’s could ever hope to be. Usually healthier. A creative solution for savvy business owners. Most street carts are simple and mobile, ie they’re actually motorcycles lassoed with a massive covered sidecar outfitted with a cooking surface and a propane burner. Behind the glass window are piles of freshly made noodles, bowls stacked precariously on a rickety shelf and a cadre of other ingredients necessary to make their specialty dish.

Some food carts park in the same sidewalk slot day after day. Some migrate from one street to another, in hopes of barking up more business from a variety of locations. Sometimes you can even flag them down in the middle of the road if your craving is so powerful that you just can’t wait for the sweet chocolatey ice cream to cool your tropical perspiration.

Occasionally, if you’re lucky, street carts are fully outfitted with squat plastic stools and tables for your midday bowl of spicy pork soup, or, in Isan style, have thin mats splayed on the sidewalk or riverside for sitting cross-legged while enjoying sweat-inducing green papaya salad (Somtam).

The USDA would have a field day with street vendors in Thailand. The rules here regarding health and safety of local restaurants seem relaxed. I think street vendors operate on the rule of community trust. If a street vendor makes someone sick, word gets around quickly. They’ll soon be spending lonely evenings on the street. So operations are well-stocked and relatively streamlined. No frills.

So, what are the culinary highlights? Here are a few of my favorites…

Lime-cooked meat. Finely chopped chicken or pork, cooked only in lime juice and generously spicy. Best eaten with your hands using sticky rice as a vehicle. (Lap Gai or Lap Moo, chicken and pork, respectively).

Rice salad. A few variations make this a crispy and refreshing dish. One–rice mixed with just a tad of shrimp paste, then mixed with a myriad of fresh veggies and meat. Two–rice mixed with curry and topped with shredded carrot, shredded green papaya, dried coconut, chopped beans, chilies and a bit of sweet sauce on top. (Khao khu kapit and Khao Yum, respectively.)

Fish, usually snapper. Whole. Grilled. Stuffed with herbs. Not much more needs to be said. (Blah yang).

Crispy pork with sautéed kale. A guilty pleasure. (Moo grop).

Spicy yellow curry with fish. Best eaten with copious amounts of rice to cool the tongue. (Gang Som- literally “curry orange”).

Spicy Papaya Salad. This could be the official dish of our little town. Stemming from the northern part of Thailand, it’s made in a large wooden vessel resembling a mortar and pestle. Shredded green papaya, mixed with fresh long beans, peanuts, spices and fresh basil. (Som Tam).

Aaand the Award for the Most Unusual Meal goes to our 8am Saturday morning breakfast: Spicy Wild Boar on a bed of rice. By spicy I mean it was hotter than standing in front of a bonfire on a hundred-degree Fourth of July at 2 o’clock in the afternoon at a Texas chili cook-off in your grandma’s favorite wool sweater. And all the extra cucumbers to cool your tongue are not going to save you from its wrath.

Six months ago this was not quite what I envisioned of Thai food. (Boar for breakfast?!)

Sorry Seattle, but real Thai food rocks the socks off your green curry.

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