Moz Days with Morgan

Scuba diving along Two-Mile Reef in the Bazaruto Archipelago.

The adventures of Kassie and Morgan continue!  After being delayed a week due to the combined forces of the U.S. and South African postal services, Morgan finally made it to Mozambique.

While he’ll only be staying for three weeks, we’re determined to make the most of his time here.  To be honest, the first week without him was hard.  The first two years of our relationship consisted of us being on two different continents, we lived together for a year and a half (in South Africa and then in Thailand) and now we are actually switching continents (I’ll stay in Africa while he heads to the United States).  It won’t be the longest we’ve been apart (I’ll see him again in December), but it’s a testament to us and also, our love of adventure.

For now, we’re just enjoying being together in Vilanculos.

Heading out for the first dive of the day.

Diving!

Morgan working hard to clear more land for farming at the preschool this morning. He’s been so great with the kids.

Standing on top of a sand dune on Bazaruto Island.

The agenda for this weekend?  After working hard all week with a great new group of volunteers, Morgan and I are going to have a date night tonight with dinner and a movie (on laptop, of course) in a hotel by the sea.

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My First Week in Mozambique

My first day of preschool in Africa.

I can hardly believe that I arrived in Vilanculos, Mozambique only seven days ago.  Here’s a recap of my first week working for African Impact.

 Tuesday, April 24th:

Flew in from Johannesburg (after a 25-hour delay) and moved into what will be my house for the next eight months!

Wednesday, April 25th:

Little Wilma taught me how to get water cans ready for hand-washing at the preschool.

Thursday, April 26th:

Went for the first of many visits to Bernard's Orphange. The kids there are incredible!

Friday, April 27th:

After a very intense beach clean-up, the preschool kids went for a swim!

Saturday, April 28th:

Day off: Taking some time to sit on the beach and do something very difficult...find internet!

Sunday, April 29th:

Horse safari on the beach? Yes, please!

Monday, April 30th:

Went for an run before work and watched the sun come up over the Indian Ocean.

Tuesday, May 1st:

Public Holiday! Rode in a microglider airplane over the Bazaruto Archipelago. It was abstolutely breathtaking!

Not a bad first week of work.

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Durban Days: Back in South Africa

Cruising around Durban in his car like when we first met.

Put simply, Durban is my second home.

Morgan and I started dating here in Durban (*see post An African Boy and an American Girl to read about our cross-continental beginning).  I have friends and a second family here in Durban.  I can even rattle off an extended list of my favorite Durban restaurants and coffee shops.  So naturally, this is where we returned after spending a year in Thailand.

We’ve only had two weeks to spend time with family, hang out with friends and readjust to living life at a faster-than-Phuket pace.  Judging from just a few photos, I don’t think we did half-bad.

Shopping at the Shongweni Farmer's Market with Morgan and Lulu.

Look at all that cheese! One of several cheese stalls at the farmer's market.

Guess who we found in Durban? Will and Greta treated Morgan and I to dinner at an authentic Thai restaurant here in South Africa.

Post-dinner drinks at a rooftop bar. How awesome is this girl?

Friends and former neighbors of ours when we lived in the Glenwood area of Durban. Catching up with Debbie and Travis in Dover Lodge.

What trip to Durban would be complete without lots of downtime with Tex and Lulu? Look at how much they love their boy.

Like any trip home, it’s never possible to see everyone and do everything that you’d like to, but it really has been a wonderful two weeks.  Now, it’s time for the next adventure.  This week I start working as the Project Coordinator for African Impact in Vilanculos, Mozambique!

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Outdoor Markets and Elephant Rides

The photo-friendly stealer of bananas.

Our year in Thailand ended with one last stop that Morgan and I both agreed we couldn’t leave the country without making: a trip to Chiang Mai.

To put simply, Chaing Mai was an organic experience.  It’s the polar opposite of everything that is Bangkok or Phuket and in that respect, it was one last fantastic breath of fresh air in Thailand.  Instead of rowdy beach-goers, there were hippies.  Instead of cheaply manufactured trinkets in the markets, there were handmade crafts.   Instead of fifty baht for a meal, we paid twenty-five.

It was nothing short of amazing.

Best shower I had in Thailand! For 1,000 baht/night, Sri Pat Guesthouse offers a pool, free wifi, comfy beds and a hot, full-pressure shower. Great location to both weekend markets, too.

One of Thailand's market treasures: cheesy baby accessories.

Speaking of babies, Morgan and I sat on a bench in the Chaing Mai Zoo and watched as this little guy fell asleep after a busy afternoon of entertaining zoo visitors.

Morgan still talks about this pooch on a daily basis. 'Dee Dee' is a piano-playing puppy who, by the time we saw her play, literally laid her little head down on top of her keyboard, too tired to continue. Before heading off to bed, she put her front paws in the wai position to say goodnight.

What an elephant looks like from the top! This is also the universal elephant gesture when requesting food from passengers. We must have fed him at least 50 bananas during our trek.

End of trek photo taken by the mahout. Can you say GREEN?

Cotton weaving done by the women of the Karon Hill Tribe during our hike through the mountains north of Chiang Mai.

One of many bamboo bridges we crossed during our trek.

The best use for bamboo? River rafting! Morgan, a French couple and I sped down a freezing but exhilarating river with only a man standing and steering with a bamboo stick behind us. Best. river ride. ever.

And just as suddenly as it began, our adventure in Chiang Mai ended... on a purple overnight train to Bangkok.

Sa wat dee ka, Thailand…

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My 10 Favorite Things About Phuket

It’s official.  After living 12 months on my island in the sun, our year in Phuket came to an end Thursday when Morgan and I left on a flight to Chiang Mai.

And while I’m excited to be exploring northern Thailand, I’ve also been reminiscing about my days in Phuket.  The possibilities of what to do and where to go and what to eat on the island are endless, but here is a list of the 10 things that made my year truly unforgettable.

10.  Living in a Holiday Destination

My abuelos visited in February 2012.

Phuket is fantastic not just for the beaches and cheap massages, but also because people love to visit for those very reasons!  Over the course of our year on the island, Morgan’s parents visited (*see earlier post, Tex and Lulu Come to Thailand), Morgan’s brother and his girlfriend visited, my good friend Maddy visited (*see earlier post, Arrivals and Departures) and my Abuela and Abuelo visited (*see Mis Abuelos: 77-Year-Old Globetrotters).

9. Riding a Motorbike

The motorbike and the mustache.

To be completely honest, the thought of learning to ride a motorbike in the province with the highest road wreck mortality rate in Thailand was not appealing.  Nonetheless, I was soon won over by the same reasons people probably fall in love with motorcycles: wind whipping your hair, zipping around cars and easily maneuvering through traffic, nothing between you and the wide open road.  Maybe it’s a little less romantic on a Honda Scoopy than on a Harley Davidson, but Phuket isn’t a Harley type of town anyway.

8. Phuket Indy Market

The place to be on a Thursday night in Phuket.

Like many places in Asia, Phuket has a number of outdoor markets, some big and others small.  While Phuket’s Weekend Market is very well known for its size and variety of goods, the Phuket Indy Market is less well known, even to those who live nearby.  Nestled right in the heart of Phuket Town, the market boasts secondhand clothing, handmade crafts, leatherwork and artwork.  You can find the usual market food along the backside of the market and as you eat, you can listen to high-school age bands that come out to perform on the soi.  One of Phuket Town’s many treats.

7. Thai Holidays

Morgan and I releasing our krathong at Saphan Hin on Loi Krathong.

As proud as I am to be an American and to celebrate the generally commercialized holidays that I grew up with, I must admit that Thailand has amazing holiday celebrations.  Whether getting soaked during Songkran (*see my Videos tab), watching people slide swords through their cheeks during the Phuket Vegetarian Festival or setting your krathong on the water to release bad spirits on Loi Krathong (*see my post Loi Loi Krathong), you will be amazed by how much Buddhist culture remains on an island typically known only for its tourism.

6. Kata Hot Yoga 

The free tank top I was given for completing my 30-day challenge.

No, I’d never done hot yoga before moving to Phuket.  Yes, I too used to be one of those narrow-minded people who believed that yoga was for people who couldn’t do ‘real’ sports.  Yes, we were wrong.  (*See my posts, The 30-day Challenge and Been There, Done That, Got the T-Shirt)

5. Green Curry

One of dozens of green curries that I sampled while living in Phuket.

If this needs an explanation, then you’ve never eaten a Thai green curry.

4. Beaches

Kata Noi - my favorite beach.

As a Floridian, I consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur of beaches.  I’ve seen beaches in Florida, North Carolina, California, Cuba, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand and Indonesia.  In my opinion, Thailand’s beaches are some of the most beautiful in the world.  If you don’t believe me, ask one of the nearly two million people that come to visit Phuket each year.

3. Phuket Town

On the corner where I buy pork skewers and sticky rice after school.

Writing this one makes my heart hurt a little bit.  Morgan and I lived in Phuket Town throughout the entire time we were in Phuket.  While most foreign teachers opt to live closer to the beach, my heart was always in Phuket Town.  The food stalls, the Sino-Portuguese architecture, the culture, the community – Phuket Town has it all.

2. My K1 Watermelon Kids

The picture truly captures the essence of my K1 class.

Simply put, these kids were what I woke up for in the morning during my year in Phuket.  To see more about them, just scan over my blog.    I’ve written blog posts about their field trips, posted videos of their performances and included anecdotes from their funniest moments in class.  I was so lucky to have them.

1. My Friends

Last dinner with friends at Sala Mexicali in Phuket.

Is any adventure really complete without good friends?

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Bali, Indonesia: A Cultural Wonderland

Daily offerings given to family shrines each morning in Bali.

Picture it: Warm air, good surf, romantic thatched-roofed bungalows and lush, green rice fields that go on forever.  Let’s be honest: isn’t it every girl’s dream to one day go to Bali?

So here is my account of a dream-come-true.  Due to work constraints, we only had three days to travel around the island, but I was determined to use every minute of each day.  With nothing more than Morgan’s need to leave and re-enter Thailand in order to get another 30-day visa stamp and a borrowed Lonely Planet guide in my backpack, we hopped on a flight to Bali.

Day #1

We rented a motorbike, got a map of Ubud and embarked on a self-guided tour.

Cruising around the farming communities in Ubud.

As you do everywhere in Asia, we checked out the local market. This was the first outdoor market I'd been to that was two stories tall!

Bali is famous for is its traditional dancing, so Morgan and I went to see a Kecak dance group. Through their dance, they performed the famous Hindu story of Rama and Sita.

Day #2

Up bright and early on the second day to see farmers working in their rice fields. Probably one of the ultimate treats as a tourist in Bali.

The grand entrance to one of Bali's royal temples.

Next on our day's agenda? Trying Balinese coffee! We went to a coffee plantation and sampled Balinese black coffee, ginseng coffee, pure cacao and the world-famous kopi luwak. Morgan is holding a clump of post-digestion coffee beans.

Temple on the lake.

Fed monkeys in the mountain region of Munduk.

We finished off the day with a visit to hot springs just outside the coastal town of Lovina. Rejuvenation!

Day #3

Our last full day in Bali started at 2:30 am when we woke to trek up Mount Batur, one of several volcanoes in Bali. Morgan and our tour guide were all smiles as they trekked over the bits of volcanic rock that constituted the path upward.

Taken at about 5:30 am from the top of Mt. Batur.

THE CRATER. It was an adrenalin rush, but also freezing!

The final few meters of our trek.

And what day in Bali would be complete without a coffee break? Tasting the organic, locally grown vanilla in the vanilla coffee redefined 'vanilla' for me.

Amazing Bali…

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So You Want to Teach in Thailand?

The Land of Smiles

On my last day of work as a teacher in Phuket, I’m taking the time to reflect back on the past year: the good, the bad, the funny, the kids, the islands, the adventure.  It really has been an amazing 12 months.

But I would be lying if I told you that 12 months ago I knew everything would turn out this well.

When first contemplating the idea of coming to teach English in Thailand, I was nervous.  I’m not a teacher and I’ve never been to Asia before.  Would I adapt to the culture?  Where would I live?  Would I actually  find a job?  Within weeks of being in Thailand, all of these questions answered themselves.  Naturally, however,  I’ve seen these same worries expressed in the emails and facebook messages of friends contemplating the experience of teaching here.  For these friends and others, this post is dedicated to guiding you onto the plane, past the TEFL scams and safely into a teaching position in the Land of Smiles.

Ko Samui Airport, Thailand

First things first: make the decision to come to Thailand.  It sounds like it’s the easiest part, but for many, it can be the hardest.  Many of the people that come to teach (like myself) aren’t career teachers and the thought of breaking from your career path, even for a few months, can be scary.  Others that come have never been away from friends or family for more than a few days.  Whatever it might be that is holding you back, you have to make a decision.  An old-fashioned ‘Pros vs. Cons’ list can never be overrated.

My alma mater.

Great!  You’ve decided to come.  Now, you need to review your qualifications.  In order to obtain a work permit to teach English in Thailand, you must have a bachelor’s degree.  It doesn’t matter what you studied in college, but it does matter that you be able to provide a copy of your degree and college transcript.  While you’re at it, make sure you have an up-to-date resume to hand potential employers upon arriving.  Copies of relevant certificates and a police clearance form from your local police station stating that you have a clean record are also big pluses!

Another big plus is having a degree and/or certificate in teaching OR having a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate.  While it’s not necessary to have a TEFL certificate in addition to your bachelor’s, it is looked favorably upon, particularly for those with no prior teaching experience.    You can complete a TEFL course online, but as with most things, you gain more from a TEFL course conducted in a traditional classroom setting.  A TEFL course can be completed in your home country or once you arrive in Thailand.  If you’re looking to do your TEFL course in here in Thailand, I’d recommend Island TEFL, based in Ko Samui.  It’s a trust-worthy organization based on a beautiful island and they usually offer several promotions to make enrolling more cost-effective.

If you do choose to enroll in a TEFL course, beware of courses or companies that guarantee you job placement.  From my own experience and those of friends currently teaching with me, this is one of the biggest scams out there with regards to teaching in Thailand.  As I stated previously that a TEFL certificate is only a plus, you don’t need a company to set you up with a job.  In fact, schools here only hire foreign staff by way of an interview with one of their in-house staff members – not a contracted company.  Beware.

Motorbike it.

So what’s left to do?  Get up and go!  While I have heard of people being hired as teachers in Thailand prior to their arrival, many schools refrain from doing this out of fear that the teachers might never show.  Your best bet is to get here first and start the job hunt.  A great first step in your search for a teaching position in Thailand is to create a profile on ajarn.com.  You can upload a picture, your resume and any other qualifications you might have.  Include your email and phone number in Thailand and – speaking from experience – you will have schools from all over the country contacting you in a matter of hours!

Once schools start contacting you, you’ll have to decide where in Thailand you would like to call home.  During our job hunt, Morgan and I knew that we wanted to teach in Phuket.  Unfortunately, we didn’t receive any responses from schools in Phuket based on our ajarn.com profiles.  So what did we do?  We got on a bus, arrived in Phuket, rented a motorbike and took the job hunt into our own hands.  Dressed in business casual attire and with copies of our resumes in hand, we drove all over the island… for about a week until we both secured jobs.  (*See earlier post, Motorcycle Diaries from Phuket to read about our first days looking for work.)

Scooter fun with Kassie and Morgan.

More useful information when considering teaching in Thailand:

  • The Thai school year starts in May and ends in March, so the best time to come is March/April.  There is also a mid-year break in October, so this is another great time to come looking for work as many foreign teachers leave after the first semester.
  • An average English teacher salary in Thailand is 30,000 baht per month, which is equivalent to $1,000.  Schools in rural areas might pay a bit less while schools in areas popular with foreigners (such as Bangkok or Phuket) generally pay a bit more.  While this doesn’t seem like much compared to salaries back home, the cost of living in Thailand is also much lower than in other countries.  In how many other countries can you pay $1 for an entire meal?
  • If you’re looking for work in Phuket, try Satree Phuket School or Kajonkietsuksa School.  Both schools have large English-teacher staffs (Satree has about 30 English teachers; Kajonkietsuksa has over 100 English teachers) and are almost always in need of new teachers.
  • The work week for English teachers is generally 7:45 am – 4:30 pm Monday through Friday.

My kindergarten class in Phuket, Thailand.

The best piece of advice I can give is to try to be the best teacher you can be because to your kids, you are the most qualified teacher they know.  Life in Thailand is different, but adapt!  Take time to get to know the kids in your class, travel and eat lots of Thai food.  I can guarantee you that you won’t regret a minute of it.

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Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

Bye-bye K1 Watermelon.

This afternoon, I said goodbye to my babies: the 27 little Thai boys and girls that I’ve known as my K1 Watermelon class since last May.

I could easily spend this entire blog post blubbering about how much I’ll miss them, how much they’ve grown (literally!), etc… but I won’t.  Instead, I’m taking this opportunity to recall and retell my favorite moments with them – the sweet, the funny, the gross- basically anything you might expect a miniature person to be capable of doing.  Here goes:

1)

T. Kassie and Tira

Tira has been my right-hand girl throughout the year.  The tiniest one in the class with the loudest singing voice, she always loves to have little private chats at my desk during naptime when her friends are asleep.  She also explained to me, during a lesson about healthy versus unhealthy foods and the consequences of eating too many unhealthy foods, “Teacher, my daddy is very big and fat.  He eats many, many cheeseburgers!

2)

Tonnam (aka. Trouble)

Tonnam is trouble, but the kind that somehow steals your heart when you’re not looking.  One of my first lessons with Tonnam, I assumed he was playing with a crayon under the table when he was actually playing with his penis.  Despite my best efforts to get him to stop, he only decided it was best to do so when the Thai teacher threatened to cut it off if he kept up his habit.  Tonnam also enjoys leading class riots, holding his eyelids open when I ask him to close them and every so often, he does his best work in hopes that I come over to his table and say, “Good job, Tonnam!” after which he perks up a bit, smugly glances at his neighbors’ elementary coloring skills and continues his own advanced-level coloring… in the lines, of course.

3)

A real 'who done it?'

These happened frequently during the first semester and only once or twice during the second semester: poop checks.  You know how certain places have certain fragrances?  When I was little, my grandma’s house always smelled like a mixture of lavender and Japanese food.  This year, I slowly came to learn that my classroom would always smell like a mixture of farts and baby powder.  Farts are okay, but when the smell lingers, we (the teachers) start asking questions.  “Does someone need to go poo poo?  Did someone  already go poo poo?”  If no one is confessing or pointing fingers at their friends and the smell is still lingering, it’s time for a poop check.  We line them up in two lines – one of boys, one of girls – and they wait to have the butt of their underpants examined.  If they’re innocent, they can sit down.  If the guilty person is found and didn’t confess during an earlier period of questioning, they’re likely to endure some social repercussions.  “Thanks, man.  Because you didn’t feel like saying you did it, we ALL had to get our butts checked and now someone else has the blocks I was playing with.  Thanks.”

4)

Benjamin - my sweetheart.

Benjamin is the class leader, the peacekeeper and the reporter.  If something is going on, Benjamin is there on the scene to report back.

-“Teacher, Elis is beating up friends.”

-“Teacher, Jadar missed toilet and peed on the floor.”

-“Teacher, Mick ran away.”

Benjamin translates from Thai to English and understands English well enough to laugh at the inappropriateness of Mick saying, “Yummy cheeseburger!” when I ask what him what he dressed up as for Halloween.  Ben helps the girls up when they fall down and is more than happy to pull out a small plastic chair for Tira, his K1 girlfriend.

5)

T. Kassie reading, "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" to K1 Watermelon.

Some of my favorite moments with the kids are the simplest ones.  I love reading to them or taking them to the playground whenever their jam-packed curriculum schedule allows.  I love hearing them giggle or hearing them say, “I love you, teacher.”  What I love most is just having them around.

I won’t see most of them ever again, but I’ll always be proud of my babies and I’m so excited about all of the places they’ll go.

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Mis Abuelos: 77-Year-Old Globetrotters

My Abuelo y Abuela island-hopping in Krabi, Thailand.

In 1954, my Abuelo (then a 19-year old ‘Andy’) left Havana, Cuba as part of a ship crew, looking for adventure and better fortune.  He did this for a few years, returning to Cuba periodically, but he ultimately settled in New York City.  There he earned certificates in mechanics, electronic engineering and air-conditioner repair during the day (while also working full-time) and at night, he attended classes to improve his English and earn his GED.  Not long after, he was drafted into the U.S. Army for a mandatory two years.

Upon his release from the Army, he returned to New York City in 1960 where he met my Abuela, (then 26-year-old ‘Concepcion’), a young woman who had left a small farming town in eastern Cuba to stay with her cousin and work as a seamstress in the big city.  Six months later, they were married.  Fifty-two years later, they came to visit their granddaughter in Thailand.

My abuelos have traveled all over North America, South America, the Caribbean and parts of Europe, but this is their first time ever setting foot in Asia.  About a month ago, I was chatting with them over Skype about how great the weather is, how delicious the food is and how cheap the massages are here in Phuket.  I heard my Abuela gasp… and then shriek with delight!  A week later, I received an email confirmation of their travel itinerary: they were coming to Thailand.

Abuelo and Abuela proudly standing in front of the 45-meter Big Buddha in Phuket.

To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what to plan for them to do.  Both of my grandparents are very active people, especially for their age, but at the same time I reminded myself that they are 77 years old.  So Morgan and I rented a car and decided to wait until they got here to see what they felt willing and able to do.

…And since the moment they arrived, my 24-year-old body is having trouble keeping up with all they they want to see, eat, and do!

Abuela, Abuelo and I at a smaller monument near Big Buddha.

They fed bananas to the elephants!

They jumped off a longtail boat and went swimming off islands in Krabi!

Abuela did stop for an afternoon to enjoy one of Thailand’s greatest gifts to women: spa treatments.

Abuela said she felt like a queen.

That day she had a manicure, pedicure and oil massage.  A few days later she had a facial-massage combo and pronounced, “That’s it!  I’m moving to Thailand.”  She took a moment to think about what she had just said and then offered the massage therapist, “Or maybe you come with me to the United States.”  When her massage ended, she kissed the therapist.

…And then we were on the move again.

Abuela went to see Dr. Fish and his associates for a foot treatment.

Karon Beach: where Abuelo and Abuela stayed for two days.

Beach time!

Abuelo and Abuela at Phuket FantaSea, a musical reenactment of Thai history performed within the Palace of the Elephants.

Sunset on their hotel balcony in Karon Beach.

Not bad for 77-year-old-globetrotters, no?

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Fish, Faces and Yoga Pretzels

Kun-Kun was in absolute awe.

As my year teaching in Thailand nears its end, the thought of saying ‘goodbye’ is becoming more and more bittersweet.  On days when the biggest kid in my class poops in his pants because he didn’t feel like leaving his toys to go in the toilet, it seems pretty sweet.  On days when I get to cram myself, two teachers and our 27 kids into a 16-passenger van to later hear the kids squeal with delight and stare in wonder at every single fish in the Phuket Aquarium, the thought of leaving feels just a little too bitter.

Last Friday, the kids went on their second and final field trip of the year: to the Phuket Aquarium.  (*See earlier post, K1 Watermelon’s Day Out to read about what they did on their first field trip to the Phuket Butterfly Garden.)

The caravan of four-year-olds headed to the aquarium.

As was the case with the first field trip, the bus ride there proved most entertaining.  The kids made funny faces, called out (in English) the names of all of the places that they recognized and they tried their hardest to count all of the motorbikes on the road (many of them can only count to 10, so they quickly and triumphantly reached “10!” …and immediately started over).

Counting, yelling and making faces all at the same time!

When we arrived at the aquarium, the kids clambered out of the van and stretched their little legs.  I told them that only if they could be very quiet could we see all of the fish, as everyone knows fish are scared of loud noises.  As we entered what most adults would regard as a small and unimpressive aquarium, the kids’ jaws dropped.  Regardless, they had established their mission days earlier and they were going to stick to the plan: FINDING NEMO.

Nope, not Nemo.

A group search for Nemo in the grouper tank.

Sasha found Nemo!

The kids went crazy when they finally found Nemo somewhere in this tank.

With the FINDING NEMO mission completed, the kids looked into a few more tanks and then called it a day.  Before hopping back into the van, we went outside to have a snack and do some yoga pretzels.

This takes me back to my college days when I worked as a group fitness instructor...with only slightly bigger people.

And what field trip in Thailand would be complete without a quick prayer?

My three and four-year-olds praying with their Thai teacher.

Saying goodbye next Thursday is definitely going to be bittersweet.

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