I am saying goodbye to Suphanburi, Thailand, tonight. Grades were turned in yesterday, school is done. Last night, a final night out in Suphan brought friends together for too much Hong Tong and live music – the Thai songs we’ve practically memorized in our time here.
But as I think (and get teary-eyed) about saying good-bye to this place and these people, I’m struck with how this isn’t really an ending. It’s the first step in a journey, an adventure, after I took a leap five months ago. I’m shocked at how love and luck has rushed in to meet me, and hold me up. I have never cried out of gratitude before, and in the last two days, it just kept happening.
The whole week had that feeling of the end of summer camp — people leaving, who you may or may not ever see again, and not too much to do but wait around for someone to come pick you up. (In our case: a tuk-tuk, a minibus, or a plane.) Caitlin, Cash and I played Banagrams and Mad Libs, idling away the days — with intermittent breaks to write thank you cards or print hostel and airline confirmations for upcoming travels.
In the midst of this bittersweet monotony, Preeda surprised us and took the three of out after lunch yesterday. We have rarely been able to venture too far outside the immediate vicinity of our school and apartment, and before we knew it, Preeda had driven us to her beautiful home among rice paddies in the outskirts of Suphan. All semester I had chatted with her about her garden, and she walked us around to the back of her house and showed us her banana tree and herbs. It was beautiful. She is beautiful.
She handed us boxes of mulberry juice and encouraged us to relax in her immaculately clean home. She lives there alone, and all three of us immediately had the desire to cook with her in her kitchen, gabbing and drinking wine, learning, laughing. So we will have to do that next time.
After she insisted that we pick a fresh guava from her tree, we climbed back into Preeda’s tiny car and went to Wat Pa Lelai (Wat Pa, for short), one of the main temples in Suphan. It houses a very tall seated Buddha, and the area in front hums with activity – vendors selling peanuts, boiled yams, offerings. Without speaking and protesting our offers to pay, Preeda bought an offering for each of us: a small bunch of incense, a single lotus flower, and three gold leaves.
At Wat Pa, there are three gold-flake buddhas, sitting side by side, in front of the temple. We slipped off our shoes amidst a scattered group of worn sandals, and each of us knelt down and made our incense and flower offerings. Our three gold flakes were for the three buddhas – you use the heat of your hand to stick the flake to the part of the buddha that corresponds to what you are asking for – help with the head, the heart, the extremities. There is much more meaning here than I understand or am able to articulate.
After making our offerings, we quietly, individually, made our way into the main temple in front of the tall, seated Buddha. As I crossed the threshold into the temple, Preeda put her hand on my shoulder, and gently whispered, “Now you make a wish!” I smiled at her and we each chose our spot to sit and face the Buddha.
I knelt down. A wish. Make a wish.
The only thing, the overwhelming thing, the thing that left no room for any other thought or desire in my brain or my heart, was this: Please let me be able to return the kindness I have been given. Please let me be able to reflect this back out, to share this. If I can do one thing, let it be that.
My eyes were welling up as I sat. I was overwhelmed with the good things, the kindnesses I have been shown for no reason, the community I have been welcomed into, the honest and true conversations I’ve had while I’ve been here. The friends I’ve made, the unbelievable wonder of being in a place you never thought you’d be. But as Caitlin soon reminded me: “You were never meant to be anywhere but here.”
After visiting the temple, Preeda took us for one last stop – fresh coconut juice. She knows I love organic, healthy food and so again said to us in the car, “We will go for coconut juice! It is good for your health, Annie!” with a big smile.
So, I can’t imagine it — never having been here. I am a changed person for having lived here. Teaching 800 girls in oppressive heat, but greeted EVERY day with hugs and smiles. Eating my favorites, som tam and gaeng kheow wan, spicy enough to clear my sinuses. Never forgetting to cover my shower drain. (Keeping the weird smells and cockroaches out!) Walking to school in the already steamy mornings with wet hair in a bun and a bag of freshly cut pineapple in hand. And all of this, surrounded by kind and wonderful people who stunned me with their graciousness, their generosity.
My apartment building is now quiet. Many teachers have left already. But I am not alone.
I am surrounded by kindness and community and love.
And I am off for the next leg of this adventure tomorrow. My sister arrives in BKK and I could not be happier to see her. We will travel, relax on Thai beaches, go exploring in Myanmar, and then I’m headed to Cambodia. Then, a slight change of plans – I’ll be doing my Yoga Teacher Training at an ashram in Chiang Mai in November, instead of teaching school next semester. So I’ll be the student this time. I will do my best to post updates, though internet access will be (purposefully) limited. After that, we’ll see where my heart takes me! (South America and Australia / New Zealand are the top contenders at the moment.)
But what I do know now, with certainty, is that teaching will always be a part of my life. I have Thailand and the kids at Sanguan Ying School to thank for that. And for the rest of it — there aren’t enough ways to say thank you, the right words that mean what I want them to mean. So thank you, Suphanburi. That is all.