(Saturday January 16, 2010, Thai Time)
Right now, I mean NOW now, as I am writing this, I am sitting in the Bangkok bus station, waiting to go back to my site. I have a few hours to wait, and I'm pretty due for a post, so I'm going to write this now and type it up when I get back home.
I've been here in Bangkok for almost a week for our Mid-Service Conference. Yeah, that's right. MID-Service. Like middle. In truth, it still hasn't quite been a year (that anniversary won't come for 12 more days), and I have about a year and three months to go after that, so it's not exactly mid, but it's pretty mid. Pretty wild, huh?
As far as official Peace Corps functions have gone, this one was very relaxed. I got in monday morning for our medical appointments (a flu shot and quick chat with the PC medical staff), then a dental exam at the hospital. And that was an experience.
A volunteer from the pervious group (will be going back to the states soon) warned few of us about a female dentist from last year who is very concerned about gingivitis and works quite painfully. When I entered the exam room, I noted that my doctor was a woman, she told me she was going to check me for gingivitis, then began carving up my gums. Not only did she dig painfully, but she carried on a conversation with her assistant, not always watching what she was doing. More than once, she (presumably accidentally) dug her tool into the meat of my gums and dragged it up onto the surface of my teeth. In spite of the pain (my hands remained tightly clenched in my lap for the duration), I had to fight to resist laughing when she explained that the blood whenever I rinsed was "because of gingivitis."
When she was finished with my cleaning and exam (this was the first time I'd ever had the actual dentist do my cleaning), she told me my teeth looked good, then launched into a long lecture on what gingivitis was and what it could do, breaking out big models of teeth to illustrate. She wrapped up by telling me not to eat raw meat at my site, because people eat with their hands where I live and doing so could put me at risk to contract hepatitis. And that was my trip to my Thai dentist, my only real dissappointment being that they did not take x-rays.
On Tuesday I went to the dermatologist and had a mole on my back removed (he showed me the removed chunk when I asked about it, which was way cool), which turned out to be, um, NOT melanoma, but at risk to become bad, so I'm glad it got taken off.
On Wednesday, all of us moved from wherever we had been staying (it was up to us during the medical time) to a hotel to have our meetings. And that was all the official business for the first three days of MSC. It was nice to have some free time (or a lot of free time) to re-connect and relax with other volunteers.
Our actual meetings, when they began, were quite laid back, with lots of opportunities for us to share and discuss our experiences, successes and frustrations from our sites. In the evenings we all continued to get our big city fun (though in more, smaller groups than in the past which I found interesting), and I nerded up and played some of the most enjoyable Dungeons & Dragons I have ever experienced with seven other volunteers.
On the last night, I went with five other volunteers (a pretty small, comfortable group for us) to have Muu Ga Ta, which is an awesome meal. They bring charcoal braziers to your table, with metal things that go on top shaped like a big cake pan with the middle area bulged up into a big dome. You pour broth (or maybe plain water, I'm not entirely sure) in the trough around the edge, and get raw meat and vegetables and noodles and sauce from a big buffet. You put chunks of fat on top of the bulge to flavor the water, grill meat on the rest of the exposed bulge (or boil it) and boil vegetables and noodles and meatballs and tofu in the water, making an awesome soupy meal that can just go on and on and on and on and is fun to eat and prepare. And there was a fat guy in neon green tights on a stage singing happy birthday every five minutes or so. He also sang "Zombie" by the Cranberries (a song I'd never heard before coming to Thailand), replacing all of the lyrics with the words "Happy Birthday." It was amazing.
Then we went back to the hotel and had a couple beverages in our rooms (and rounding up some more volunteers) before going down to the hotel bar and singing karaoke until they closed and asked us to leave. Definitely my best karaoke experience to date, and I've had some pretty good ones.
Then today we wrapped things up and one thing led to another and I found myself here, in the cafeteria at the Bangkok bus station (well, one of the bus stations), waiting for my bus. And I will say that this has been my most enjoyable time in Bangkok. Usually I'm anxious to leave after just a day or two, but this time I don't NEED to leave. Although, I do look forward to getting back to my home and not spending anymore money in Pangkok. Hah. That's my new joke that I just made up, and it's funny because "pang" means expensive.
Hey. It's six o'clock. Being the bus station at six o'clock is awesome. Every day on TV and radio (everywhere in the country, on every station) they play the national anthem (at eight in the morning, too, but it's evening now). Back home that doesn't mean much, but at the bus station, with a large group of people, everyone stands and all activity stops for the duration of the song. It's relatively quiet, and you can hear the song clearly. Then it ends and everything resumes as if there were no interruption. Awesome. Literally. Like awe-inspiring.
Anyhow, this relaxed, low-pressure Peace Corps week has felt like a mandatory mental health break, and I've enjoyed it. I've had some enjoyable new experiences in Bangkok and found a few more places and things I like. I've had a good time re-connecting with other volunteers.
The new Peace Corps group will be arriving here soon and I will be a senior volunteer. And that's a trip. I remember meeting volunteers from group 120 and being really impressed with their language skills and their ability to navigate life in Thailand, and soon that will be me. Yow.
I suppose I could say more on that topic, but I feel like I have more reflecting to do and I think I'll save that for my one year anniversary post.