Hi everyone! My name is Alina and I live on the St. Johns River most of the time. I can say “on the river” because I live on a boat. My family and I just go wherever there is a body of water. I live with my mom, step-dad, and the newest addition to our family, Booser, our new puppy. My dad lives in Fayetteville, NC and his family lives in Alabama. I have a lot of fun visiting my dad and my numerous cousins.
My mom is always trying to keep up with my busy schedule. This year, I am proud to be a cheerleader for my school, Fleming Island High. Last year I was on the dance team for Fleming Island. For nine glorious years prior to that, I was a competitive gymnast, making it to level 8, practicing sometimes 5 hours a day and going to almost 100 meets on the weekends. I also enjoy helping to support the Invisible Children Club at my high school. Making chances, taking risks, and discovering my limits, is where I excel the most.
As I sit on the boat which I call my home, I reflect on past experiences and look out over the horizon. I think of the fantastic journey that lies ahead of me. I am so ready for my next journey as a Rotary Exchange Student. I cannot thank Rotary enough for giving me the chance to go overseas and experience a new culture. Thanks Rotary!
August 17 Journal
Alright so I've read mostly everyone else's journal and they all seem to be so insightful. I thought I'd just give you the plain old facts of Thailand and my experiences. So I guess there is no better place to start than the beginning.
OK. The failure to depart on the first day dampened my spirits a little. But the excitement was still there on the second attempt. So Chris and I left on Saturday and the plane ride was exhausting. When we got to Narita, Japan they told us that our flight on US Airways to Bangkok had been canceled so they transferred us to Thai Airways which was nice, but already I was afraid to eat the food. You would think that if shown a menu that had tuna sandwich on it, it would be, you know, the chicken of the sea. But no this tuna sandwich was two pieces of bread with a raw slab of tuna in the middle. This was on the flight. OK ok so when we finally arrive in Bangkok at who knows what time, Chris and I went out to get our luggage because that was his last flight and I was to spend a night in a hotel because my flight wasn't until the next morning. So when we get to the baggage claim, it's so hot and there is no air conditioning. So we wait for our bags and we wait and wait and wait and wait and then there are no more bags. So we find someone to help us and this really nice Thai guy takes us into an office and gets our information to send us our bags. After we settle the whole baggage thing we go to find Chris's host family and the person who is supposed to be taking me to a hotel. So we go through Customs and we find our way through the Bangkok airport and find where everyone is to be picked up. There is a sign that says Chris Foley but no Alina Walker. So we go to the Chris Foley sign and the family greats us with extremely broken English we both get flowers and then we try to explain that our luggage was lost, but they didn't understand so they tried to take us through the whole process again. Then finally we got through to them by saying "already...already". So after that ordeal I didn't want to hold Chris and his new family in the airport any longer so I said my goodbyes to him and I went on my way to try and figure out what my sleeping situation was going to be.
I had thought about getting a hotel room close to the airport, but my flight was at 7:30 the next morning and it was already almost 1:00am. So I decided to rough it in the airport. I showered in the sinks of the airport along with another lady from who knows where...we didn't speak the same language. I said hello and she said something weird. So then I tried to get back into the terminals, but they wouldn't let me without a ticket. And yeah the ticket counters didn't open until 5:00am. All of the restaurants were also in the terminal except for one, which said it was open 24 hours, but had construction tape all over it. So scratch that. Thank goodness I didn't listen to my mother about packing so many sweets. So I found a bench to myself and dug in on the sweets that I had brought with me on my carry on. All I have to say is thank God for butterfingers!! By then it was about 2:30am so I decided it was safe to try and catch some Z's. At about 4:30 I wake up and I am surrounded by sleeping people on benches all around me. So I decided to stay awake and find the line for my plane ticket to Phuket. So it takes me an hour to find the darn line and then they tell me there is another line and that I am in the wrong one. So I tell the person behind the ticket counter to get someone to take me there and he did which I am very thankful for. And I finally got my ticket and all of the panic was lifted...just a little though. I got through the gate and met some Australian guys who were very kind and took me to breakfast. They were also going to Phuket, but on a different airline, but the same time. So we stuck together until 7:15 and then we split telling each other that we would see the other in Phuket. Which we did because, as my luck would have it, I didn't find my family for about 20 minutes which was a total panic. But they stayed with me until I found them.
Ok so now that I am with my host family, I am started on round one of Alina vs. Thai food! My host family never eats at home. Since I have been here I have been to a different restaurant for every meal every day. I didn't even know an island could have so many restaurants. Ok so anyway my favorite words in Thai are mai pet pet. Which means no spicy spicy!!! And they all just laugh and keep piling food onto my plate. So I have now learned the words eem lao. Which means full already. And they stop putting food on my plate. My host mother always says "just try little see if you like." But I always end up with a bowl full of scary looking noodles floating in some kind of liquid. I never know what I am eating EVER!! They tell me the name and I used to ask what's in it, but I have completely given up on that. So I just eat and eat and eat. And everyone keeps telling me you eat so little. My host mom says she is worried about me. But thank goodness we live next to a spa with a fitness room (with by the way NO AC). My host father loves to walk every where. He owns two guests houses and a gallery which right now is under construction. I love going to the guest house because the staff is so funny, and sometimes there are farang (foreigners) so I can get an English fix and help translate so that they can get the room that they want and accommodations. Today there was an Indian movie that was shooting close to the guest house, but I didn't go because I was helping my host sister pack because she is going to Ithaca, NY on an exchange, also with Rotary. My home is on a hill so the water pressure in the shower isn't that great. And when I say isn't that great, I mean the water kind of dribbles out of the faucet. But that's the hot water. The cold water pressure is great. So I've been adjusting to taking cold showers! :) Instead of using air conditioning, we just open the windows, because there is always a breeze even though its a hot one. My family says that this is one of the colder months and I am dying of heat already! I don't know what I am going to do in the summer months. I guess I'll just have to go to the air conditioned mall everyday!
Ok so places I've been in the past two weeks.. Patong beach!!! Beautiful. I like it better at night though, I have to say. Kata beach is better in the day time and the views from the mountains are amazing!!! Trang is beautiful with its giant plateaus and crazy caves with bats that are good luck. My school is nothing special. It's just a school, but the students and teachers are all extremely helpful and kind. When I got here though at first they told me I would have to cut my hair, but because my mom works at the school, she talked to the headmaster and she got me into an M-6 class which is like being a senior, so I didn't have to cut my hair, even though I was prepared to do it, but not willingly!! Anyways, we are taking my host sister to Bangkok to send her off to America and we are going to stay an extra few days to sight see after she leaves.
So that's Thailand in two weeks in a nutshell. There is so much more to Thailand and before I left, I didn't know if I was ready to be faced with such a challenge, but my family has made it so easy and effortless. Opportunities are falling into my lap with every day and I don't want to miss a thing, so I am going to wrap this up and go eat something with four legs and no head!!!
Love from Phuket,
(oh by the way they gave me a Thai name because my name with some intonations means "what" so now Alee, but always sounds like Ari means "kindness")
November 3 Journal
First I just want to thank Rotary for giving me this experience. It’s everything that I thought it would be and the people that an exchange student meets are incredible and unforgettable.
Alright so I haven’t really been keeping up with my journals so I have a lot of catching up to do. September was pretty uneventful. I just went to school every day for what seems like forever. School days here are extremely long. I start school at 7:45 and school ends at 4 or 4:30 depending on the day. However, I have extra Thai classes that I attend so I am usually getting home around 7 at night. In the class room, the students don’t change rooms for every class, the teachers do. The students in the classes have been in the same class for their entire school experience so they are all extremely close to each other. This does make it a little difficult to fit in, but they are all so extremely nice and friendly. So that was September.
October was fun because I didn’t have to go to school. The school takes a month long break after midterm exams. So I took a lot of trips with my family to the beach and to different cities around Thailand. The beaches in Phuket are absolutely beautiful. Also the exchange students from my district in Thailand came to Phuket to tour the city. We went to a few of the many islands around Phuket, including Phi Phi and James Bond Island which is one of the settings for the movie The Beach staring Leonardo DiCaprio. If you haven’t seen that movie, you need to! It’s fantastic! J We also went to a butterfly garden, museums, and a tour of the famous Patong Beach on Phuket Island. Which by the way my home is only 10 minutes away from.
Oh and the vegetarian festival is brutal! I helped give water to the people with swords through their faces. Ok so I guess I should explain the vegetarian festival. It’s this Chinese festival that most everyone in Thailand participates in because most of the people have Chinese ancestors. So during this nine day festival you can only wear white, only eat vegetables, cannot have sex, cannot drink, and pray to one or more of the nine gods. This experience was extremely scary. Some people give demonstrations like climbing a ladder of knives, getting into boiling oil, walking over hot coals and the most common demonstration was to parade around the island with swords through their mouths. But it wasn’t just swords, there were bicycles, trees, motors, fruit, really just about anything that they could fit. And it was really weird to see the same people with the things through their mouths at the store the next day and they look totally fine just what looked like a long cat scratch or something down their cheek. One of my friends from school actually did a knife demonstration. He said that one of the gods consumed him, or possessed him, and he could not feel any pain and the next day he was fine, still with no pain but a hole in his mouth.
The last week in October I went to Bangkok with my class to visit all of the universities. I feel like I got so much more close to them and I think that my time here will be even more enjoyable because of this trip. I actually might be interested in going to one of the universities that we visited. After the university stuff, we got to go shopping! So much fun! We went to Siam and then to JJ market and to the floating market!
Well Thanks again to Rotary for giving me this opportunity!
January 19 Journal
Ok so I am way behind on the journals. And Rotex told me that writing journals would be extremely hard and they were absolutely correct!! I have been so busy I just haven’t had the time to stop and reflect so I have time now and this is a reflection time.
Ok so December. School exams, what else can you say about school? Ok but other than school exams I went on a Northeastern trip with the YE’s in my district. That was a blast! The 10 hour bus ride from Phuket to Bangkok was not fun at all, but once I saw everyone waiting for me when I got off the bus, it was so worth it!! So we spent Christmas together and did a gift exchange. That was funny because we all gave presents like an electric fly swatter and bug spray (which by the way is hard to come by) some elephant boxers and slippers. The day trips were great too. We went to see cave paintings and to a Thai ranch, we went to see lots of temples and we got to see an ancient Cambodian temple. Very cool.
January hasn’t been that interesting. So I thought I would give you an insight on a typical day in Thailand. Just some things I see around here.
In the morning, after showering and having my breakfast of rice and fish, we leave the house and usually there are a few monks around the town accepting food from shop owners.
When I get to school, I am usually late because my mother goes on Thai time, I have to stand with the late people in the assembly. After singing the national anthem, and praying, and the daily announcements, I stay with the late people and our punishment is to meditate and think about why were late. I don’t understand why we have to think about why we were late, I’m late because my mom doesn’t wake up early enough. Maybe I am translating a word wrong or something. I don’t know.
After the meditation detention which lasts about 20 minutes, we go to our class rooms and stay there until the day ends. The students don’t have to go anywhere, the teachers are the ones who travel from class to class.
Lunch in the school. Any meal for a Thai person is a big deal. Not like a celebration big deal, just like I am so excited to eat and I enjoy eating so much that I want to share my experience AND my food with you, deal. So my friends and I get all kinds of different food from the cafeteria. Most of the food includes rice, different fish, curry, soup, fried eggs, maybe an omelet, vegetables, and maybe some shrimp. In the cafeteria you have to be careful for insects. Not just a few flies, but swarming bees, armies of aunts, cockroaches, dogs, cats, and the occasional monkey. Yes I have only seen one monkey, but it was not a pretty sight. Lunch lasts an entire hour and my class has a free period after lunch so we usually eat lunch and socialize for about 2 hours. Then back to class.
After school gets out, all the students rush out and go across the street to use their cell phones and wait for their parents. Vendors wait for the massive number of hungry students to get out of school, and take their money for more food. Some sell sweets, fruit, fried chicken that is cooked right there on the street and when everything is over they dump the grease into the street.
So my mom is late picking me up and so that means we will be late picking up my three other siblings. First we get my oldest sister, she is usually putting makeup on with her friends and talking about her latest boyfriend, then we pick up my youngest brother and he is always playing with his foreign friends on the soccer field, then last my oldest brother who plays basketball all the time!! And then we finally go home to grandma and the maid, and my sister and I help to make dinner. My dad doesn’t get home most nights until 1 in the morning.
Dinner is served on the floor in front of the television and we watch the Thai soap operas which are absolutely terrible. So unrealistic and the camera work is awful. But the Thai people love them. They especially like the Chinese and Korean soaps but they are translated into Thai which I find hilarious because the Chinese man will stop talking and the Thai goes on for another minute or so.
After dinner, I help my little brother with his English homework and then I am off to bed or listen to some music with my sister in our room. And that is the day in the life of Alina in Thailand.
I just want to thank Rotary again for making this experience possible for me. I am really enjoying my time here.