“You don’t have to leave Brevard to go far.”

For the past several months, we have fallen off the map. And if you are looking at a map of Thailand, I mean that literally.

Yesterday marked the end of the first full week that we have spent on American soil. And it has been amazing. I struggle with words to describe the excitement and joy that we have felt since our plane touched down in Charlotte.

I read somewhere that life tests you by giving you long periods of nothing at all, followed by quick bursts of everything all at one time. Well, this last week has been a burst for the ages. Grocery stores and potable tap water still amaze us. You can only imagine what we felt when we got to tell our parents that Morgan is pregnant.

Since last Friday, we moved to the mountains that we love. We found an apartment to rent. We visited with dozens of friends in at least 4 different cities. We both found jobs doing what we were born to do, and now we’re looking forward to buying a house and a car and to start a family of our own. I barely have time to write this post, actually.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

I thought that writing this last Sprinkles go to Thailand entry would be sadder than it is. Our time in the Land of Smiles was amazing. It was hard and exciting and frustrating and life-changing, and I am so glad that we did it – - especially because it makes home all that much sweeter. But when I look out over the mountains in front of my house that are presently covered in snow, I am fairly sure that we found where we belong.

There is a billboard for Brevard College as you drive out of our town. It reads, “You don’t have to leave Brevard to go far.” It reminded me of a fantastic co-teacher I worked with here before leaving for Thailand. After telling her my plans, she said with a sad smile, “You know, you don’t have to go around the world to do good.”

Maybe two wiser people would have taken the advice. Perhaps you really don’t have to go around the world to see what’s right there in front of you. But we are young, and we had to see for ourselves.

Tour of a Southern Thai School

Ever wonder what a regular school day in southern Thailand is like? Yeah, we never thought about it either. But truth be told it’s kind of interesting.

The video is a project of our English Club and is narrated by the sweet little cherubs from BanNongWah School.  They wrote the sentences themselves and spent a lot of time practicing their English. But just in case they are speaking a little too…quietly, we closed captioned it for you. :) Enjoy.

5 Analogies for our Peace Corps Service

Today is #5 in a series of 5 daily 5′s.  For each day this past week, I was supposed to publish a list of 5 less-than-serious things that I been a part of our Peace Corps experience. I couldn’t get to it for a week now as the internet has been on the fritz. But today, here it is: 5 analogies for our Peace Corps service.

 

 “If my Peace Corps service was Abbey Road, ‘Golden Slumbers’ would be playing.”

I loved this idea from fellow volunteer Jeff Jackson’s blog, and thus I have stolen the idea. We are currently serving day number 734 out of 792 total days to be spent in Thailand. Almost 93% of the way through.* But sometimes, numbers don’t give a clear picture. So like Jeff’s Peace Corps Service /Abbey Road analogy (right now “Carry That Weight” would be playing), I present to you, 5 analogies for our Peace Corps service.

 

1.   If our Peace Corps service was a baseball game, we would be in the bottom of the 9th inning. In fact, there would already be one out. Which means two things: 1) this baby’s almost over and 2) the best closer in the big leagues would be coming out to sling some heat right now.

scoreboard

 

2.   If our Peace Corps service was the American national anthem (and assuming we are using the golden standard, Whitney Houston and conductor Jahja Ling’s Superbowl XXV, early 90’s Persian Gulf Salute version), we would already be well into the final word, “brave”. Though to be fair, the late Mrs. Houston does hold that note for another 10 or 12 seconds.

 

3.   If our Peace Corps service was The Wizard of Oz, the Wicked Witch of the West would be melted, and the flying blue monkeys disposed of. Dorothy would be tapping her sweet crimson kicks, and wishing for home. I know the feeling.

no place like home

 

 

4.   If our Peace Corps service was a pregnancy, we would be roughly 35 weeks into the gestation period. This means that our Peace Corps service-baby would be about 6 pounds, or generally the size of a huge, overripe papaya.

six pound papaya

 

 

5.   If our Peace Corps service was a flight straight from here to Brevard, North Carolina (going east, over Japan), we would be right over Winnipeg, heading south. We would hypothetically be over American soil in mere minutes.

mapoftrip

 

* As this blog was written a week before it could be posted, we are actually 7 days closer to coming home than all the analogies illustrate. Excitement!

5 Dissapointments of our Thai Home

Today is #4 in a series of 5 daily 5′s.  For each day this week, I will publish a list of 5 less-than-serious things that I been a part of our Peace Corps experience. Yesterday we recognized the unsung heroes of our Thai home.

Today we call out those who have merely disappointed us for the last two years.

snowman

There’s a Disappointment for Every Season

 

All Plumbing in the House

Stupid faucet.

Stupid faucet.

Nice, plumbing. Real nice. You know what I could really go for right now? How about a leaky faucet. Oh, what’s that? You have four leaky faucets?  Wow.  Thank goodness. Cause, you know, the last thing I need is to save natural resources and to reduce my water bill. Whatever. I will just buy four new faucets and replace them.

Oh? Really? You actually require having your faucets glued permanently to the cheap PCV piping, so that instead of just unscrewing the faucet like a normal person, I have to saw off the entire pipe with a Gerber tool?  No. Not a problem at all.

Jerk.

 

Every Light in the House

Maybe it's because the lights look like this that they are constantly dying.

Maybe it’s because the lights look like this that they are constantly dying.

Dum-dee-dum…don’t mind me. Just shaving my face. No, now’s the perfect time for your hardwiring to short circuit. I don’t need lights to shave. Besides, I’m already in the bathroom. I can just wash the blood down the drain.

Man, this curry’s gonna be great. Almost done stirring! *POP*  Oh. Really? I mean, there could be better times to blow out, kitchen light. No worries, this boiling hot curry should be done soon. Hmmmm….what is that sensation? Oh man. A third degree hot oil burn? Bummer. Naw, don’t feel bad, light. I’m sure you were just tired.

Are you okay bedroom light?        *pop*       oh.

Christmas lights?     *pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop.*     ok.

Night light?     *bzzzt……pop*      um….

Flashlight?…….Flashlight?!……Why are you still working?!     Oh. Made in China. I see.

Jerks.

 

Every Fan we Ever Bought

The Dead Fan Graveyard

The Dead Fan Graveyard

You know what? I don’t even have time for sarcasm. It is literally 95 degrees inside this flippin’ house right now.

You suck.

 

Golden Squash

Don't pity him. He's worthless.

Don’t pity him. He’s worthless.

There is an old rug behind the house that is quite possibly a relic from the period of the last Thai king. It is torn, faded, and obtrusive. Its putrid smell is likely the only thing preventing anyone from picking it up and throwing it away. No one likes the sight of it and since it hasn’t been in service for over fifty-some years, once it’s gone, there’s not a soul who will miss it.

And still… that rug is more useful than you.

Lazy jerk.

 

The Refrigerator

R.I.P.

R.I.P.

How in the world can we buy a brand new (and fairly expensive) refrigerator just to have it…..oh…..oh yeah….that’s right.

That one is my bad.

Sorry.

5 Unsung Heroes of My Thai Home

Today is #3 in a series of 5 daily 5′s.  For each day this week, I will publish a list of 5 less-than-serious things that I been a part of my Peace Corps experience. Today we recognize the un-recognized heroes.

President by day. Spandex wearer by night. Hero 24 hours a day.

President by day. Spandex wearer by night. Hero 24 hours a day.

I respect hard work. You may have a crappy, thankless job with paltry pay. But if you do said work with passion and determination, it’s hard for me to find fault with you.

I also admire dependability. After spending two years surrounded by products of…let’s call it a marginal reliability quotient…I appreciate things that don’t fall apart.

This post is dedicated to five things that have gone the long haul. Inanimate objects though they may be, these guys never quit. They never died, or broke , or fell into thousands of little unidentifiable pieces. No these troopers did their jobs and saw us through. And for all their toil, never did they receive the credit that they deserve. It is time that the true laborers get their  ‘kiss on the cheek’:

How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don’t know what work is.

– from “You Don’t Know What Work Is” by Phillip Levine

Beer Can Toaster

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Beer Can Toaster, from the day of your conception you have never failed to make my bread warm and crusty. Though your beer cans be blackened and your wires twisted and rusted, you continue to singe, crisp, and ready that sole food which marks me as an American.  But your prowess is not limited to bread alone. Tortillas, naan, vegetables, and all variations of Thai treats have graced your metal ringed shelf. And yet never a complaint have you made. Thank you, rusty friend.

Water Bottle Filler

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Water Bottle Filler, you routinely have a 25 pound water jug thrown upon you. But still you have a soul forgiving enough to help make refilling my glass but a simple dream. With one swift pull, you give birth to whatever amount of that sacred cocktail of hydrogen and oxygen I please, from a tender rivulet, to a gushing deluge. And after seeing countless other volunteers struggle with uncooperative bulky bottles (and alas, no one nor contraption to help) I need to make clear how much I appreciate your reliability.  Thank you, my metal mate.

Giant Wok

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Giant Wok, there have been many a day wherein you’ve labored every meal of the day. Morning, noon, and night, you were forced over intense heat, slathered in smoking oil, and made to hold whatever gastronomical concoction we chose to spill upon you at the time. And for two solid years, you held strong. From stove to sink to hook and back to stove, day after day you gave your all. Thank you, sizzling sidekick.

Rice Cooker

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Rice Cooker, your name misleads those who do not comprehend your true generous spirit. Rice yes, but beans also. Spaghetti sauce. Thanksgiving stuffing. Brownies. Chili. The list could go on. And to compound your struggles, you have worked for others before. We are not the first volunteers to reap the fruits which ye hath sown. A hand-me-down perhaps some would say. I say an heirloom or an old family friend is much more accurate. Thank you, my boiling buddy.

Water Heater

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Water Heater, you are the quiet little workhorse in the corner of kitchen. Through the long static day you receive the electric life-giving charge, like a sentinel who at all costs shan’t let me go thirsty for tea, nor want for coffee, nor wait for MaMa, those great Oodles of Noodles of the East. When dawn breaks and the damned rooster just under my window doth call forth the day, the humble *click* of your thermostat tells me that the world continues to turn and the morn shall henceforth bring life anew. Thank you, my chaud chum.

5 Bands, Albums or Record Labels That Have Gotten Me Through the Peace Corps

Today is #2 in a series of 5 daily 5′s.  For each day this week, I will publish a list of 5 less-than-serious things that I been a part of my Peace Corps experience. Today is musical.

"I long to see those hills where I come from / Listen the engine's rattle 'n roar, carryin' me back home once more / I'm southbound"

“I long to see those hills where I come from / Listen the engine’s rattle ‘n roar, carryin’ me back home once more / I’m southbound”

1.   The Beach Boys

If you thought ‘Surfin USA’ was the extent of this band’s talent, then you were mistaken as I was. The release of “The Smile Sessions” shared a whole new world with me, comparable to Princess Jasmine’s carpet ride.

Key Lyric:

I’m gonna be round my vegetables
I’m gonna chow down my vegetables
I love you most of all
My favorite vege-table

If you brought a big brown bag of them home
I’d jump up and down and hope you’d toss me a carrot

–from “Vega-tables”

2.   Billy Ocean

 Being a music snob, I surely didn’t see this one coming. Who knew that that 80’s could produce something as awesome as Billy Ocean? There aren’t many things better in life than a Friday night spinning your cat around the kitchen while singing “Get Out of My Dreams….And into my Car!”

Key Lyric:

Lady driver

Let me take your wheel

Smooth operator

Touch my bumper

 –from “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car”

3.   Smithsonian Folkways Records

Folkways is a record label owned by the Smithsonian Institute that helps to collect, preserve and publish folk music from America and around the world. I was a fan before I left for Thailand. But being so far from Appalachian soil, Folkways’ superb collections of Mountain Songs and Old Time Music were some of my best links to home.  Not only is the music superb, but the variety is inexhaustible, the artwork is carefully done, and the entire label is a non-profit organization. There are not enough good things to say about Folkways Records.

Key Lyric:

God bless them pretty women, I wish they all were mine
Their breath smells so sweetly, like good old moonshine.

 – from “Moonshiner” by Roscoe Holcomb

4.   Graceland

I would be lying if I said that we weren’t disappointed when our Peace Corps service was moved from Lesotho to Thailand. For months and months before (and even after) the switch, we romanticized and envisioned just how wonderful life in the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho would be. And the soundtrack for our service in Lesotho was going to be Paul Simon’s Graceland. We had it all planned out.

As it happened, we came to Thailand. And as it happened, we still listened to Graceland. Exhaustively. In fact, it ironically became the soundtrack for our Thailand experience.  It is a constant reminder of the road not taken. And that has made all the difference.

Key Lyric:

For reasons I cannot explain
There’s some part of me wants to see
Graceland

– from “Graceland”

5.   Super Simple Songs

I have never simultaneously loved and loathed something quite as much as I love/hate the Super Simple Songs series. This collection of super simple kids songs has been my saving grace for the past two years. As it turns out, Thai two-year-olds are not ready for complicated bilingual learning activities. So what do I do, you ask? I sing and dance like a monkey three times a week for two years. And they love it.

That being said, it would be okay if I never hear the “Hello! How are you?” song for the rest of my life.

Key Lyric:

Big and small. Big and small.
Big, big, big, big, small, small, small.
Big and small. Big and small.
Big, big, big, big, small, small, small.

 

– from “Open, Shut Them”

5 Movies and TV Shows That Have Gotten Me Through the Peace Corps

Today is the first in a series of five daily 5′s.  For each of the next five days, I will publish a list of 5 less-than-serious things that I been a part of my Peace Corps experience.

volunteers

As I have mentioned before, TV and movies have been a large part of my PC free time. This might not be how you envision volunteers in the Peace Corps spending their free time, and before coming to Thailand I would have agreed with you. However, I think the escape of TV, books, movies, and the internet is a very real (and necessary) part of most volunteers’ modern experience. This list is done partly to share things that I like and partly to document my time here.

Here are five TV shows or movies that really helped get me through:

1.  Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises

The blatant foreshadowing, the Wagnerian soundtrack, Christian Bale’s ridiculous voice change once he puts on the costume – - it all adds up to awesome. Plus each film is at least 2 and a half hours long, which can definitely help to shorten long, rain-soaked afternoons.

Check out Christian Bale’s Bat-Voice….(I kid, but he really is the best Batman yet.)

2.   Classic Disney Animated Films

This sounds funny, except for the fact that I take these films seriously. There is a severe amount of homesick nostalgia buried in every second of these movies. For our entire Nepal trip I hummed the “Beauty and the Beast” theme while huffing up and down the Himalayas. I was an active participant in the classic ‘Which Disney princess would you marry?’ battle on at least 3 separate occasions (The Correct answer? You should marry Belle, but take the proverbial one-night-stand/swim with Ariel.)

Choose for yourself. There can be only One.

3.   Louie

I didn’t immediately buy into this darkish comedy sketch show by comedian Louis CK. But after about 2 episodes, it was apparent that this show is much deeper than it appears on the surface. I really respect the way that Louis portrays the joys and perils of single fatherhood with unpolished honesty.

 If you don’t mind incredibly foul language, this is one of the funniest scenes in all of television. Otherwise, don’t click.

4.   Deadwood

It took me about two seasons’ worth of episodes to realize that there’s not a lot of action happening in this series about the goldrush frontier of the mid-19th century.  It’s a character show, and that is why I like it. There’s something special about a story where everyone is so twisted that you end up rooting for the local pimp/mob boss.

5.   The Newsroom

By far the best show that I’ve seen in a long time. The Sorkin style dialogue is so fast that I only catch half of it. But that’s okay. I like a show that makes me feel dumb; after watching Honey Boo Boo, I feel like a genius.  Also, Morgan and I love watching together because we get to watch our celebrity crushes. Unfortunately (or very fortunately) we have designs on the same person.

I’m not easily sold on serious, fast-paced TV dramas. Morgan made me watch this, the opening to the first episode of the first season. I was immediately hooked.

Seinfeld, Cats, and Plumbing: How I’ve Spent My Peace Corps Service

New Cultures.  Community growth. Spiritual Development. Self Discovery. Yadda yadda yadda.

Sure, I got multiple heavy doses of those quintessential life-changing events. But besides my daily struggle to save the world, a large part of the Peace Corps experience is finding ways to occupy time and fend off boredom. Any volunteer who claims otherwise is either way too gung-ho or a liar.

Here are ten things that I used to keep me occupied during my Peace Corps experience in Thailand:

 

1.  Television

A common Peace Corps Volunteer observation is that we watch more TV abroad than we ever did at home. I am no exception. Sometimes it’s a ritual, like Seinfeld in the morning. Sometimes it’s family time, like when Morgan and I have 30 Rock Marathon Nights. Sometimes it’s just an escape; there is nothing more disparate from Thailand than the 19th century frontier land portrayed in Deadwood.

Either way, here’s just a partial list of the shows that I have watched while living in Thailand:

30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, The Office, Modern Family, The Simpsons, Family Guy, Futurama, Community, Animal Practice, Arrested Development, Eastbound and Down, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Flight of the Conchords, Frasier, The Middle, Freaks and Geeks, Louie, Outsourced, Party Down, The Sopranos, Deadwood, Weeds, Reno 911, Seinfeld, Sports Night, Saturday Night Live, The Newsroom, Strangers with Candy, NFL’s Hard Knocks, MLB’s The Franchise and an innumerable amount of the 2011 and 2012 baseball seasons.

Has my father's multiple readings of the Berenstain Bears taught me nothing?

Has my father’s multiple readings of the Berenstain Bears taught me nothing?

 

2. Guitaring

I can’t think of anything more “Peace Corps” than playing the guitar. To be fair I played even before I left, so I guess I’ve just been honing my skills for two years. Sad thing is….it still sounds about the same. That’s all not to say I haven’t learned anything. Some lessons I’ve learned about my guitar playing while in Thailand:

  • Thai people don’t care whether or not I am a Man in Constant Sorrow.
  • It’s difficult for me to play any song without making it sound like some amateur bluegrass riff. (This quirk especially apparent when I play Gladys Knight’s soul classic, Midnight Train to Georgia.)
  • Though in all likelihood you will never hear her sing, Morgan makes one heck of a good duet partner.
  • I will forever be both inspired and daunted by the late Doc Watson.

 

3.   Gardening

I’ve referenced this one a few times before, but in truth I’ve devoted a good bit of time to the small semi-fertile square of land in the backyard. To give myself credit, I know a lot more know about growing vegetables than I did when I got here. For example: plants generally will not grow in the shade. Didn’t know that two years ago! Also, did you know that snails are detrimental to veggies? For years I thought that they were just slugs’ slightly more endearing cousins. But no. They’re just parasites.

And eggplant? Yeah. Definitely does not have any egg in it. Such a deceptive food.

Here’s a view of the backyard, where the work gets done.

 

 4.   Cats

I used to be a dog person. Problem is, the dogs here like to bite me. And since my second best friend here is a fat, orange, feline flea-bag, I’ve grown accustomed to a cat’s natural apathy to my general existence. In fact, having lived in a human fishbowl for the past two years, being constantly ignored is kind of nice.

Grumpy Cat

 

 

5.   Darts

Question: How does a man take something usually associated with bars, beers and friends and then go and make it certifiably uncool? Answer: He plays by himself for 24 months and makes Excel spreadsheets charting the progress of his skills.

I might not have any friends, but I haven’t lost yet.

Dart Averages

My bullseyes may have taken a hit, but my “16″ rate is through the roof.

 

6.   Wine-making

How does one deal with not having friends and the rejection associated with making dart-spreadsheets while watching Aladdin for the third time?

Answer: He makes his own wine. It might not look pretty. It might not taste good. In fact, if might not actually even be “potable” by modern standards. But two cups of this stuff and you’ll kinda get why we’re hooked to the concoction we have lovingly nicknamed “Cringe Juice”.

 

7.   Fantasy Sports

Baseball, basketball, and American football essentially do not exist in Thailand. And since my closest dude-friends live on the other side of a land-mined chain of jungle mountains, we play sports using the internet.

Surprisingly/Depressingly, I am better at fantasy sports than I ever was at real ones. I took the championship in our baseball league, eked out a close second in last year’s football league, and this year…well, I made it to the final four. Still better than if we were playing for real.

Fantasy Baseball

The Trang Dugongs brought home the gold this year.

 

8.   Video Games

Now before you judge, consider just how bad television can be. For every Newsroom there’s at least four different versions of The Real Housewives of Skankville, and for every brain cell earned by watching Al Jazeera’s latest critique of the Greek economy, Honey Boo Boo kills six. In this age, there’s at least something to be said for active thought processes. To wit, I have found that there are some pretty great (and intelligent) video games out there. Don’t get me wrong; they’re not ALL so cerebral. I spent many an hour just blowing stuff up for funsies.

But for a guy who truly belongs in the outdoors, I have had a great time working through the puzzles of the Portals series and playing 21st century Legos with Minecraft.

I can't decide if this giant Mo statue that I built in Minecraft is one of the sweetest or creepiest things I've ever done.

I can’t decide if this giant Mo statue that I built in Minecraft is one of the sweetest or creepiest things I’ve ever done.

 

9.   Drilling, Plumbing and Pest Control

So everyone in the village thinks that Morgan and I are the smartest most able people to have ever walked the earth. Why?

1) We bought a drill and therefore can put holes in concrete, thus creating places to hang pots, pictures, and other displayable knickknacks.

2) We figured out a priceless equation: Lots of Plumber’s Tape + Lots of Plumber’s Glue + Lots of Towels = Successful Thai Plumbing.

3) When we find something unpleasant in our house, we are quite adept at removing it. So far we have removed (peaceably or otherwise): 1 green snake, 1 large dead rat, 1 emperor scorpion, 2 cobras, a large family of mice, innumerable toads, an army of cockroaches, and 3 incorrigible young Thai boys.

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Laugh if you want. My ability to utilize a screwdriver impresses more than 70% of the old-lady population that IS my neighborhood.

 

10.   Inventing

Some say that necessity is the mother of invention. I say that boredom is her aunt.

Though many inventing projects have failed miserably (RIP corrugated steel homemade stove-top oven), some of the more successful include:

  • A toaster made of 3 beer cans, 2 metal rings, and loose w ire
  • A “lawn mower” made of a desk leg, paint roller, corrugated steel and loose wire
  • A cover for the well in the middle of our kitchen made of wood from discarded school desks
  • A handy dog-repellant stick for Morgan made out of spare bike parts, a broken umbrella and stuff I found in the trash
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Beer Can Toaster in action

My Wife Doesn’t Know

I’m writing this quickly, because Morgan doesn’t know that I’m posting this.

Over the past year or so, Mo has taken up the hobby of photography. And she is talented. Really talented.  I knew she always had an immense amount of patience (as life with me requires), but sitting by a road in the dark for 2 hours waiting for the perfect mix of fading sunset and blurry headlights while dogs bark and children crawl all over her…well… she’s made for this.

About a year ago she began an online “journal” of sorts called the 365 Project, where the photographer takes and posts a picture every single day for one year. Throughout the project, many of our friends and family (and myself, of course) have been consistently amazed by her work. I want to post this link so that anyone who may not yet have had the opportunity can see what she has done so far. As you look back through the months, you’ll also get a pretty good perspective of what we’ve been up to for the past year.

Please, enjoy. It’s good.

http://365project.org/morganthailand/365

P.S. Please feel free to pass along the link to share with your friends.

 

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