Back in the Day

I got back from Thailand about two weeks ago and it’s like I’m just now coming to my senses. It’s kind of like when a body part goes numb and it takes a couple minutes to stretch and shake it out and feel normal. My immediate family will verify that I, like the 200,000 returned PCVs before me, have started talking about “Back in the day when I was in the jungle/village/tropics I ….”

I’ve been flipping through photos to send to various people, and I found many that I never shared but wish I had. Here are a few of those:

 
My parents and my “yaai,” my Thai grandmothers. April 2012.
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A jackfruit tree on my way to school. August 2012.
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The first pet animal loves of my life. August 2012.
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Students engaged in academics at school. July 2012.
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Vacation. October 2012.
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One last helping of “Tom yam goong.” February 2013.
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Play time. September 2011.
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At the temple. March 2011.
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Building risers for sports day (“sports day” is code for “sports month”). November 2011.
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Students washing dishes in their scouts uniforms. November 2012.
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Celebrating the new year with PCVs in Chiang Mai. January 2013.
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The Home Stretch

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Weekday wedding across the street. I ate wedding food and took pictures … and I was still the first person to arrive at the 8 a.m. test preparation shindig.

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Eat Rice

I’ve touched on this before, but I don’t think I’ve done rice justice in my blog.

Rice is an integral part of life. The most common greeting is “Have you eaten rice yet?” (rather than “Hi.”) If you are in the process of eating rice when someone walks by, the greeting becomes, “eat rice!” If there’s no rice involved, it’s not a meal. It’s just a snack, or literally, “play eating.”

So…. some eating related pictures.

There is a picture of a slightly bloody, skinned pig being chopped up, if you’d rather not see it. It’s the eleventh picture from the top, after the one of a three-year-old with a machete.



Rice harvesting is just about over. The primary school students harvested their little plot of land. Imagine my surprise when, at the end of class, everyone took those rice-cutting hooks out of their desks!



Some students eating lunch in the field.



Rolling in watermelons (Those other things are overgrown coconuts.)



There’s nothing like starting the day off with fried fish, raw fish and chilies ‘soup’, fish curry, raw veggies that you might mistake for weeds, coconut water, fried bananas, bananas in coconut milk, watermelon, papaya salad so spicy it’ll make you cry… and of course endless baskets of sticky rice. We had all slept at a temple, and we ate this meal around seven a.m. The other women had been up since four, chopping and pounding and frying. I, the lazy one of the bunch, rolled off my straw mat bed around 6, in time to go present breakfast to the monks.



Presenting a morning meal to monks. On the morning I described above, I was too busy being honored with the job of handing the food over to take pictures. The picture below is from my first month at site. The monks sit in a row. Lay people take turns presenting each dish of food to the head monk, who takes some of the food and passes it on to the next monk. There are usually four or five monks present, but it depends on the temple. There’s a lot of “wai” -ing involved. Preparing food and presenting it to monks is one of the many things my Thai friends do to “make merit” and ensure good things for this life and the next.



Large celebrations, large pots. These ladies are preparing for one of many meals in celebration of the marriage of my neighbor. They hired someone to cook, but all the women neighborhood women were involved in the chopping, pounding, chopping, pounding…



The wedding celebration preparations took over the entire street. Mom, dad, and Aunt Bunny fit right in… (this was last April). The ladies were put to work wrapping rice and bananas in banana leaves. These little packages are boiled, and the rice and banana become gooey.



Host mom and host grandma making another variation of those boiled celebration treats. This version has pumpkin, coconut, and a rice flour paste rather than whole grains of rice.



Fried chicken and ant-egg salad. Yum.



I’ve tried hacking open coconuts many times, with little success… so I turned the job over to my 3-year-old host nephew. (Not really. He already had the machete in his hands when I found him. I took it away after I took the picture.)



There’s something to be said for preparing your own meat (although these guys needed a lot of whisky to get through the process.)



And, to balance out the gross-cute factor… I tried to train the kittens to wash my dishes…



Then there’s Bangkok.

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Living the Life

Living the Life

Twenty-one months into my Peace Corps service, I finally discovered the Thailand people dream about. PaaKow and I visited four beaches. (The word that’s written as “Koh,” below, means island.)

Tonsai Bay, Railay Beach, Krabi Province

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Swimming in the Emerald Pool, also on the mainland, Krabi Province

Cute uses for coconut shells …

One of many beautiful longtail boat rides…

Sometimes there were piers, and sometimes you just had to wade in…

Climbing 1,267 uneven, mostly steep steps to Buddha … , mainland, Krabi Province

Those Lonely Planet photographers had a lot to work with … It’s impossible NOT to get a nice photo of clear water and boats! Phi Phi Island

Beach critters, Koh Ngai, Trang Province (Toucan and Water Monitor Lizard, I think)

A quick bath in some hot springs on the mainland, Krabi Province

Excited about drinking water (?)

Tired of blue water yet?

This path followed the beach, from the hotel to the town on Phi Phi Island. I thought it was neat to have a forest just feet from the beach.

Shrimp worth writing home about. Delicious!

Swimming through Morakot (Emerland) Cave on Koh Muk. The blob in the center is PaaKow entering the cave, sporting a headlight. After this it got too dark to take pictures…

Once you swim through the cave, you land here, in what used to be a volcano (We think, based on a roughly translated sign.) Our guide, “Mr. Yong,” who ended up being our friend, said that during tourist season there are hundreds of people milling about this small space.

Still in the ex-volcano, looking up.

Nursing our insides back to health after an attack of something … Phi Phi Island

Snorkeling 101, near Koh Kradan

It’s the end of rainy season, which corresponds with the end of the “low” season at the beaches. It only rained a few times, and mostly at night. Sitting on a porch in the rain, coaxing my foot to heal in a patriotic bandana (I cut it snorkeling).

Tropical paradise, or something like that, on Koh Ngai

Sunset on Koh Muk

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More school, more parades, more rice … and kittens!

Year two is well underway and the photos I take are starting to look familiar. An attempt to illustrate some highlights of the last few months…

1. A fellow PCV and I played the parts of  two legendary characters, “Nang Ai” and “Padaeng,” in a rain parade. Nang Ai and Padaeng are sort of lovers. (I didn’t quite grasp the story). It took the better part of a day to transform the farangs into traditional Thai beauties (Sorry Bobby, you’re wearing lipstick).  A very sweet woman came up to me while I was being dressed and asked if I’d ever played the part of this particular character before. She warned me that I would have to smile and wave for a very long time.

 

2. A cat family adopted me. I knew there was a litter of kittens living in the storage space next to my house. One day I got up and opened my wardrobe to find that mama cat, (“Whiner”) had relocated the family. I’d tried to keep my catladyhood somewhat secret before the kittens showed up, but come on. Look at these little guys. Meet Cantaloupe, Peanut Butter, Princess, and Jeremy…

 

 

 

3. Adobe houses. The same PCV wearing lipstick and riding the paper mache horse in part 1 of this post did an adobe house-building project at his site. I spent a few hours making bricks one day. (Mud is heavy!!) The bricks are made of mud, sand, and rice husks. They’re left to dry in the sun for a while, and then stacked, with more mud, to create the walls of the house. The roofs of the houses were woven by someone in the community.

This project was chosen to be highlighted during the  50th anniversary of Peace Corps Thailand celebrations. That meant that the Peace Corps country director and the U.S. ambassador to Thailand came for a visit. All kinds of community members came out to welcome these special guests. Every farang was presented with a “pakaoma” (Tied around our waists in the fourth and fifth pictures, below. In real life, pakaomas are used as bathrobes, headcoverings, picnic blankets, you name it…).

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. My third semester, primary school. In some ways, it feels like I’ve been here forever.

Those white outfits all the students are wearing in some pictures are “Monk/Buddha Day” outfits. Every Wednesday the students put on their white suits and meditate and/or chant for an hour. In theory it’s not a bad idea, but the student and teacher behavior is … well… lacking.

The second picture down is from teacher honoring day.

The principal of my primary school decided we should have English classes for the teachers on Thursday afternoons. The sessions are usually canceled, but when they do actually happen they’ve been really good.

The “good” kids went to an English Camp last month. Carting students around in the backs of pick up trucks is normal. As you can tell from the students’ faces, English Camp was a harrowing experience.

 

 

 

 

5. My third semester, secondary school. When I’m there, the kids go to English class. But when I’m not there, they don’t (they have English teachers other than me). In a way this is kind of awesome, because it shows that the teachers are the problem, not the students… but it’s also disheartening. The minute I leave things will go to … let’s say mud.

The students can do what they want with the walls in their rooms (on their own dime). Teaching in that pink rooms is a bit overwhelming.

 

 

 

 

 

6. The main rice planting season. The women in the first picture are actually pulling up the small rice plants to be replanted. If you squint a little, you can see that the people in the second picture are replanting the rice plants in even rows.

 

 

 

7. Random pictures I like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Just Pictures

I traveled a lot during the month of March, “helping” at other PCV’s camps and activities. Some of these were taken at my site, some on the road.

 

 

Fishing is big…


by hand,

and with nets.

…mmmm dinner’s coming right up!

Just before the end of the school year … (March)


Every morning at my primary school, an assigned student reports on the cleanliness of each school room.

During the day, mean teachers like me show up to class and ask students to work.

Then it’s time for ping pong.

 
This is a good day in 7th grade:

 

 

Life in the village is as eventful as always.


“They” finally decided to “fix” the pot-hole road home…

Kiddies playing memory in my house.

Some of my latest visitors…

 

 

Camps are the go-to activity when foreigners show up at Thai schools:

Can you find me? It was tough to sell the YMCA song to a bunch of 14 year olds, but they broke down and started dancing eventually.

I’m not sure teaching little kids to type is my forte.

This little guy wrote down every word (everyone else had run off for a snack break).

Every camp includes hours of sweaty picture taking (okay maybe not hours, but a lot).

My friend Kyle convinced the U.S. ambassador to Thailand to come to his camp, Love the Body, Empower the Mind.

And then when the ambassador left…


Like everything else, camps involve lots of ceremony. Certificates…

…trips to the temple…

 

Just because it’s pretty…

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Out with the old…

And in with the new? I hope so. Since my last post, I’ve survived 308 sports days, 436 parades, Christmas Camp, Scout Camp, a handful of classes … and I think that’s it.

In early December I went to visit PCV friends and since I was there anyways, I ‘helped’ with their Saturday English class in their village. (That’s me on the right.)


One day these were my beautiful 5th grade students, and the next day… Every sports day needs a parade. My theory is that Thais love parades, so they plan lots of sports days as excuses to have parades (and miss school and stuff, but that goes without saying).

Look! Sports! This was the high school sports day.

This is the local government sports day. Sports day took over a week, but we only officially had one sports day, so that the schools wouldn’t have to report being closed and then make up the lost time later. (We also missed 2 days of school following local government sports week so that all the teachers could go watch the regional sports day that their students didn’t make it to). These girls are playing ‘dta-graw.’ It’s 3 people to a team, and you have to get that ball over the net without your hands. It’s fun to watch.

Until very recently (let’s say 5 years ago), rice harvesting was all done by hand in this area. In mid-November, I saw some harvesting being done by hand, and a lot of harvesting being done by machine (note Jo Turbo on the machine pictured).  My host grandma encouraged me to come with her to harvest. “We’re going to harvest rice!” she said, while doing the motion of cutting rice by hand. But it turns out that what she meant was, “We’re going to watch a man drive a machine that harvests the rice!” (Imagine how this has to be shaking up their world. A job that used to take hundreds of hours of work now takes minutes).

After we watched the rice being harvested, I watched the watering of the vegetable garden. I offered to help, but grandma insisted that it would mess things up. So I watched a 75-year old woman haul bucket after bucket of water from a pond, carry the buckets over this ‘bridge,’ and splash her plants.

After the harvest in mid-November, it was burning time. This is the road home from school.

Somehow we ended up having ‘Christmas Camp’ at my high school (= school-wide Christmas activity + English Camp). I stirred up all kinds of trouble, first by including academic activities in the schedule, then by yelling at the principal about being late, then by getting teachers in trouble for neglecting their assigned duties for more fun things during Christmas Camp Day.

Guess what famous scene this is? The Annunciation of course, as directed by Jeannine. Christmas Camp Day included a skit. I’m posting a rehearsal picture, because this was probably the peak of the skit experience for everyone. The actors and actresses were doing a really good job, learning the English and actually understanding what they were saying, but then things kind of fell apart by ‘Christmas Camp’ day itself.

The three kings getting ready for the performance.

Reading? At school? No way!! Christmas Camp had many weak points, but I saw kids I’ve never seen before (attendance was good, relatively speaking.  Even for the 2.5 hours of learning I squeezed into the day). Actual engagement in the English – learning activities was pretty good too.

The high school has a New Year’s gift exchange every year. Teachers participate to. This is what I got. If only it were life-size !

On Christmas Day itself, my Thai counterpart and her husband said they were going to eat dinner with me. They ended up hosting a dinner party in my house , which was nice.

The only food I prepared was rice. My counterpart’s husband cooked the rest. My guests were awed by my rice cooking skills (you cooked it in a pot!? how did you do that?) This generation only uses rice cookers, they said.

The landlord had to bring over glasses and things since I don’t usually entertain.

Every Thai student is a Scout. One day per week, all the students and teachers wear their scout uniforms to school. Then once a year, there’s Scout Camp. I resisted going, but ended up going anyways. (At least no one has found me a scout uniform.)

The students and teachers marched and saluted and prayed and marched and saluted. Thanks to my lack of uniform, I got to just watch (along with the other teachers who ‘forgot’ their uniforms).

Letting lose (had to do something while the others were off marching and saluting).



Just when I thought I’d made it through Scout Camp unscathed, it was time for the ASEAN pageant (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). So naturally I had to put on some awful stereotyped version of a Vietnam outfit and walk around the camp fire and smile.

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September, October, November

I fretted over making several nice orderly posts on different parts of the last few months, and then figured I’d never post anything at that rate. So here’s a mix.

This photo was taken in mid-October (note bright green rice field).

This photo was taken at the very beginning of November (same field as above).

And just 2 weeks after the previous photo was taken, the farmers had mostly harvested the rice.

Home sweet home (my street).

Back to PaaKow’s visit (October). We spent an afternoon with my host family. The fed us lunch, of course. (They’ll feed you lunch regardless of what time of day you show up).

Jeannine and Grandma out in the field. Farmers build these little bamboo huts where they keep things and rest during the days they’re working in the fields.

These kids were playing at the temple in my host family’s village. The girl in front goes to my primary school, although she’s not my student, and the boy in the orange shirt is my 7th grade student.

I wanted to show PaaKow a temple that’s hidden a little bit, away from a village. It’s more peaceful than the other temples around, which are located right in the villages. We ran into 4 village grandmothers, who were not very friendly at first. I had met them previously, at this same temple, but they didn’t seem to recognize me (or maybe they were just thrown off my PaaKow’s presence). They scowled at us and looked us up and down until I finally thought to tell them who MY grandmother is. Then they remembered where they had seen me before and smiled and pinched our arms to see if we were being well fed.

The flooding touched my area but not in the dramatic way it hit provinces in the center of the country (like Ayuttaya, were my pre-service training was).

(These days I really do do things until the cows come home!)

My co-teacher invited PaaKow and me to go to Nongkai with her family to see the ‘Bang Fai Payana.’ Every year on the full moon of lunar month #__, a dragon-like creature living in the Mekong River shoots up balls of fire. While the legendary fireballs were a bit underwhelming, it was lots of fun to go and sit by the river and watch people play with fire.

I forced a silk worm down PaaKow’s throat before he left (see green plate).

PaaKow and I spent some time in Khon Kaen (It’s the 4th biggest city, I think). We met up with some other volunteers there. Khon Kaen is a little ugly (see background).

I’m on the ‘ICT GIG’ (information and communication technology global initiative group). We’d planned to meet in Bangkok on Halloween, but that didn’t work out because of the floods. So we met in Khon Kaen on Halloween to discuss the very important business that is ICT.

I ‘helped’ at another PCVs English Camp in Ubon Rachathani province. It took place at a beautiful national park.

This semester (which started the first week of November) is off to a much better start than last semester. The students still try to pull “can we go to the bathroom?” on me, to which I want to scream “don’t insult me with your lame tactics for playing hookey after attendance has been taken!” but hey, at least attendance has been taken (most days).

The school director at my secondary school decided that we should have English lessons for teachers at lunch. There’s a lot of talk about ASEAN and the fact that English will be the common language. Well, the English@Lunch ‘project’ has brought teachers together to eat on Mondays and Tuesdays (usually there are very well-defined lunch groups) but… the teachers are even worse at listening than the students.

I’m working really hard on the Peace Corps look.

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School Time (Part 1 of many, I hope)

I work with two Thai English teachers at two different schools. One is a primary school, with about 230 students ranging from pre-school to 6th grade. The secondary school has 300 something 7th through 12th graders. In theory I co-teach in 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 12th grade classrooms every week. It keeps life interesting. On paper, I also spend quality time planning with my counterparts, preparing materials for class, and  helping with English club and morning English activities at both schools.

Thank you, co-teachers, for working with me and letting me express my opinions.

I spend at least a little time every day drafting an incisive report in my head on the shortcomings of the school system here (the working title is Everything That’s Wrong with Schools in Rural Thailand According to Jeannine. The thing is rather bogged down with anger). Sometimes I also convert this report to conversational form, and I imagine carrying out this conversation with some revolutionary school administrator (in my daydreams I speak Thai perfectly).

Now for the photos:

This post is heavy on the little kid pictures because they’re definitely the cutest part of school.

At the beginning of every class the students are supposed to stand up, wai and say “good morning, teacher.” The teacher says ‘Good morning. How are you?’ and the students say, in a sad, drawn-out way, ‘I’mmmm fiiiinnneeeee, thannnnkkkk youuuuuu and youuuuuu?” The teacher says “I’m fine. Please sit down.” and the students say “Thank youuuuu, teeeaaaaaccccchhhheeeeerrrr.” These are the 4th graders. There are 32 of them. They’re mostly 10 years old.

 

 

These are 7th graders. They’re about 13 years old. This particular class is an absolute zoo (I take at least partial responsibility for that fact). At this moment in time they were relatively engaged in English learning… (they were supposed to be standing up and walking around).

 

 

Academics are on the very bottom of the priorities list. Everything else, including cleaning the school, teacher meetings, decorating the library, Buddhist ceremonies, and ping pong practice for sports day takes precedence. (Then teachers whine about how poorly the students do on standardized tests. I don’t necessarily think they should worry about the tests, but HELLO???) The day I took this, a teacher had asked my counterpart if the 6th graders could miss English class to finish cooking. There is something to be said for teaching practical things like cooking, but the adult supervision was zip, which leads me to wonder if they were learning anything new.

 

 

I’ve been hearing about the rough life of teachers for nine months… if the kids aren’t providing shoulder massages, they’re rubbing teachers’ feet, plucking out teachers’ gray hairs, or doing teachers’ makeup.

 

 

Teacher worship day back in May. Class was canceled to prepare for teacher worship, and then of course again on the day itself.

 

 


Look who it is! My counterpart and I were teaching important things like ‘There is a bed is in the bedroom.” and ” There is a toilet is in the bathroom.” On the test (given last week, the one and only graded thing the students were asked to complete all semester) I got much more creative sentences: “There is love in the bedroom” and “There is a father is in the Jane.” (I’m pretty sure they just couldn’t remember the vocabulary they were supposed to be using to fill in the sentence.)

 

 

Sometimes I take well exposed, focused photos.

 

 

Supervised rice planting activity that happened during the activities period! Good job, teachers!

 

 

When the students were told they could go home, they just climbed the wall and left.

 

 

The primary school students all live within walking distance of the school Many of the high schoolers ride motorcycles back and forth (regardless of age), and most of the others ride in these pick-up trucks with benches that are payed for by the school. There are these four girls, who live in my village, who seem to walk home for fun.

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Posh Corps

I was recently informed that volunteers in other countries refer to Peace Corps Thailand as ‘posh corps.’ Part of me is screaming ‘are you kidding!?! But, as you’re about to see, there’s some truth in that title.

In May I moved out of my host family’s house and into a large rental house that came complete with lots of things. Many of them are good for nothing but collecting gecko poop, but I’m enjoying my tile floors, refrigerator, cell phone reception, microwave, and U.S.-style tables with chairs.

THE ROAD HOME (from school)

Turning the corner from the ‘main road’ onto the smaller road that leads to my village…

 

The road that goes to my village is 2.5 km long. It doesn’t have an official name, but some teachers at my school named it the ‘pothole road’ because there are, although not in this picture, a gazillion potholes in this road.

 

There are rice fields on either side of the road.

 

This is my street. My house is behind the plants on the right. Somehow only one chicken made it into the picture.

 

THE HOUSE…

Snazzy, huh? (I wasn’t into living in such a snazzy place at first (perpetuating the ‘rich American’ assumption), but then I had a very difficult time getting a steady supply of drinking water delivered to my house and tried to do dishes without a sink during a thunder storm and decided I was sufficiently ‘roughing it.’ (My counterpart chose this house for me. A married couple of PCVs lived here for a few months previously, but went home because of digestive problems).

 

This is the back of the house, and the house with the red roof belongs to the landlords. My kitchen is under the awning. That heap of green stuff was burned later this day (thank you, landlords, for ensuring a smoke-filled life) and there’s been a 24/7 construction project going on back here. I’ve had an attentive audience (now that the parade’s over I’m on a stage) of construction workers for over a month now.

 

INSIDE…

This is the hallway, much of which is taken up by cabinets full of things that belong to the landlords, including satin boxers. The the windows on the left open into a storage area that belongs to the whole world. This is CLEAN, by the way. It doesn’t look it, but take my word for it…

 

I mentioned a construction project happening outside my kitchen. Well this is a house being delivered to my house on a truck. That’s Mr. Landlord watching from my front porch. (I’m taking the picture from my living room).

 

This is the view from my doorway when there’s not a house being shoved through the gate. (The rainy season has arrived).

 

The cleanest quarter of my living room. The landlords graciously provided me with those pink shiny curtains, which I am slowly replacing. That’s my bedroom through the doorway.

 

This is the kitchen. The floor is my sink. That big jar holds water (but there’s no way to drain it and it’s too heavy to dump!)

 

My stove. This was the day I rode my bike to town and bought what I needed to cook my very own sticky rice. Many people in my life are incredulous when I tell them I make my own sticky rice. I’ve had more than one person shout in my face ‘NO, NO, WHO COOKS RICE FOR YOU!?’ repeatedly until some other Thai person who has witnessed my rice steaming abilities confirms that I can indeed put rice in a basket and stick it over a pot of boiling water.

 

My lovely bathroom. I recently stuck a hose on the end of that tap and abandoned the true bucket shower (I was tired of things dying in the basin and not being able to drain the thing). The hose method hasn’t made the water any less slimy. I keep meaning to google ‘slimy water thailand’ to see if I can figure out what makes the water taste like it’s from the ocean (I don’t drink it on purpose).

 

BATHROOM FRIENDS

This is George. I haven’t gotten to the point where I can kill scorpions yet (big crunch, big splatter, I’d imagine) so I just let them be and they don’t bother me (although I hear that scorpion bites are badddd.)

 

There are too many of these guys to name them. They also enjoy my bathroom. (I have cleaned all the dirt and cobwebs away since this picture was taken).


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