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Category: Fulbright Thailand

Learning Pottery with P’Pisan

Learning Pottery with P’Pisan

Blog Post #2 

It’s 6 am and I’m waking up to the sound of my neighbor’s rooster. For the first time, it’s not jarring, but a familiar part of my mornings.  With a few more days until school starts, I am trying to keep busy by exploring Ban Fon and the surrounding towns. It feels refreshing to actually have a plan for my day and I get ready to head off to meet my new friend. 

Yesterday evening on my sunset bike ride, I explored a little further than usual and ended up in a more remote area of town. The air was finally cooling off as the sun lowered behind the trees and I found myself at a small dirt road. My first instinct was to turn around, as it was unclear where it led and I knew it would be dark soon. Then I remembered that I promised to leap out of my comfort zone this year. I peddled on and passed by a beautiful property with tropical fruit trees and lots of pottery lying around. I decided to turn back and wandered around the grounds for a bit, unsure if trespassing is an offense in Thailand. On my walk through the property, I met P’Pisan who runs what I learned to be Lampang’s main ceramic co-op and learning center. Through a mix of broken Thai and English, I managed to ask him if he would be my teacher and give me a lesson in Thai ceramics. I was delighted when he asked me to come back the next morning to learn. 

 

Me and P’Pisan

So I woke with excitement for plans to see my new friend. In the past week, I had struggled to socialize with my limited Thai skills and I was eager to connect with somebody over a shared interest. I made sure to bring lots of fruits along to offer in gratitude for the time he devoted to me. I was happy to see he hadn’t forgotten when I arrived, and that the learning center was already bustling with people cleaning and decorating pots. 

P’Pisan and I sat at a table overlooking the garden as he showed me how to make a coil pot. My three-week crash course in Thai didn’t prepare me with vocabulary about ceramics or art methods so we used a lot of translating apps to communicate. P’Pisan seemed to become more comfortable speaking English with me as we spent more time together and likewise, I felt ready to use my limited Thai for the first time since arriving in Ban Fon. He told me about the students and teachers who come from all over Northern Thailand to learn about art and ceramics at this learning center. I showed him photos of ceramic work that I had done my first semester of college and felt so happy to be creating something again. 

After I finished my sloppy-looking coil pot, P’Pisan showed me how to use a slip cast mold to make a cup. It was so fun to operate the machinery and feel like I had control over the finished product. While we waited for the cups to dry enough to decorate, we shared the fruits I brought as I showed him photos of my friends and family back home. Afterward, we went on a walk to his office/bungalow where he had all of his paintings and ceramic works on display. He showed me little ceramic pots that his children made for him, too. Once the break was done, we started decorating the molded cups I had made. I was happy to be using typical potters’ tools and also some unique to the area; one was a stamp made from a dried out passionfruit. 

Before leaving, we made plans for me to come back in a few weeks when it was time to glaze my pieces before the final kiln fire. P’Pisan used the translate app to tell me he was happy we are friends and invited me to visit whenever I wanted to make ceramics. As I biked back to Ban Fon, I reflected on how grateful I was to have made a connection with someone new. I’ve realized that in order to survive socially here, I need to strip away my notions of “normal” interactions for the United States. Back home, I would have never wandered onto a stranger’s property or made friends with a middle-aged man. I realized I had spent half my day with this man whose language I didn’t speak, and loved every minute of it. I so am grateful for P’Pisan’s generosity and look forward to learning more from him this year. 

P’Pisan’s gallery

 

 

 

Arriving in Ban Fon

Arriving in Ban Fon

Blog Post #1

Arriving in Ban Fon Ban Fon, Lampang, Thailand 

With an hour’s worth of sleep and a stomach full of butterflies, I began my journey to Ban Fon, Thailand at 4 am. After a month of orientation with Fulbright in Bangkok, we were finally ready to head off to province and really start the year-long journey of being an English teacher in a Thai classroom. We had met with predecessors, learned the methodologies, practiced basic Thai, and explored cultural norms. Now, the Fulbright staff pushed us out the door into the great unknown. Teary-eyed, I said goodbye to all of the beautiful friends I had made this month as we departed to provinces across the country. We spent our time building a support system for the inevitable highs and lows that come with an experience like this. 

So there I sat, on a propellor plane at 7 am, watching the decent into the misty mountains that would characterize my new home. Haley and I watched with awe as we landed on a small runway in Lampang. We used some of our new Thai vocabulary to screech “Dteun dten! Dteun dten!” as we walked onto the tarmac and into the northern-style airport.  I took a moment to myself at baggage claim to send one last good luck message to the cohort and collect myself before opening the doors to this next chapter. 

Haley and I were greeted by our host teachers, and it seemed like every other teacher in the province. I was immediately showered with welcoming hugs, flowers, and of course snacks. I tried to keep track of all the P’s (elders) that I was meeting as we had a photoshoot to document my arrival. I was overwhelmed with gratitude that so many people would come all the way to the airport at 7 am just to welcome me to their town. After all the photos, I gave Haley one last squeeze until the next time we could make the hour-long trip to each others’ towns. 

I piled into a van with the other host teachers and started towards Ban Fon. I felt relieved to turn down a small road and head away from the bigger city. We got further into the area that would be my new home and eventually arrived at Choom Chan Ban Fon Wittaya School, where my house sits on property. I instantly felt the warmth in this home as marks from previous ETAs were left here. The walls are littered with inspirational quotes that I will need at some point this year. I teared up when I noticed that my predecessor had covered a wall with notes from my future students welcoming me to their school. As I walked through my two-story townhouse, I realized that this will be my first time living alone. I find comfort that I have other teacher neighbors nearby, but I know this will still be a huge adjustment for me. Even though this journey will be my own, I feel so supported from others in my cohort and those who have welcomed me into their community. 

I finally had a few moments to myself to let this all sink in. I began making little adjustments to make the house feel like my own and settle in to this new space before going out with my host teacher. Soon enough, we made our way back to Lampang to get some groceries and items for the house. I enjoyed a day out with Kru Oy (my host teacher) at the mall, chatting about family and our favorite things to eat. I was happy to find that there were a lot of familiar foods at the grocery store. I am sure they will come in handy when I am particularly missing home. 

When we returned, all the host teachers and some students were decorating a float for a parade that will take place tomorrow evening. Everybody welcomed me instantly and I enjoyed putting flowers and palm fronds on the display. I felt so welcomed into the communal activities and reflected on how fortunate I am to be in this position surrounded by such lovely people. 

After a much-needed nap, I decided to explore the town a little bit. My walk took me past the market, where I challenged myself to walk in and say hello to some new people. Maybe tomorrow I will go a step further and buy something at the market. On my walk, a friendly woman rode alongside me on a bicycle and asked “bpai yuu tii ka?” (Where are you going?) I told her I was just enjoying a walk through town and she waved bye to me. No matter how alone I feel throughout this year, there are so many people in the community who are eager to practice their English or just curious about the foreigner in town. I continued my stroll past cafes, houses, and soi dogs. I am excited to explore more of my town and form relationships with the shop owners nearby. 

I heard the prayer calls at Wat Ban Fon before I could see it, as today was a holy Buddha day. The temple is my new backyard, as we share a fence between the school. As the speakers blared through the town, I tried to pick up any familiar phrases. I was so excited and proud of my new Thai skills when I heard the monk introduce me as a new teacher at the school. I am not sure what the rest of the half-hour-long announcement said, but I felt accomplished for the day. 

Once the silence settled in again and I found myself alone in this new house, I leaned into the emotional whirlwind that I was feeling. After a month away from home, I let the tears flow. It was a mixture of gratitude, joy, sadness, and anxiety that came rushing out of me. While I still have a week to get ready for the first day of school, I know I have a lot to process before I feel 100% ready to take on this role. Maybe this will be a good time to practice my “sabai sabai” attitude and learn to just let go.