This post heralds our arrival in Thailand (a little late) and the end of the first vagabond leg of our trip. How can you tell? My backpack is empty. We actually arrived here on Saturday and have decided that Pattaya is maybe the least attractive city we've ever seen while also being the most welcoming place we ever imagined. It's not pretty; the buildings are stark and soulless, and the streets are practically crawling with pseudo-couples where one half is old, fat, and white, and the other half is young, pretty, and Thai. It is di.stur.bing. It is true that some of those couples may actually be legitimate, but it's also true that they're probably not. They suck. It's gross and repulsive and I don't know how these old men can face themselves every day. Blech. On the other hand, Pattaya is loaded with the sort of creature comforts we've been lacking for the past few months, namely Western supermarkets and, of course, Starbucks.
Our home away from home at the Father Ray Foundation are positively luxurious by our standards, with an ensuite bathroom that has a flushing toilet and hot water shower, television, fridge, air conditioning, and daily cleaning service. We may never leave at this point. We are fed three times a day, and our fellow volunteers seem to be lovely people. The gardens are lovely, there's a swimming pool, and we have bicycles to ride around in. However, all of this pales in comparison to the work being done here. The Foundation runs a School for the [sic] Disabled, a School for the Deaf, a School for the Blind, a Home for the Aged, a drop-in center for street kids (and a home for them too) and up until very recently, the Orphanage. The Orphanage is no longer being managed by the Foundation, but volunteers are still welcome there, which is how we found ourselves being swarmed by toddlers on Monday morning. There's nothing like a crowd of toddlers grabbing your hand, hugging your legs, and generally crawling all over you to make you feel loved. Later that day we hung out with the babies and witnessed as their masterful nannies put all 30-odd babies down for a nap; this is no small feat, as you can imagine!
While we're here, our primary responsibility is going to be teaching English classes to the Orphanage kids who are on summer vacation from school. We've been instructed to keep it "fun"; having never had English and fun simultaneously, we are at a loss as how to make this happen. Please advise!
In the afternoon we spent some time at the drop-in center. This is sort of like a transitional home for kids who are just coming off of the streets or generally have no place to go. We played dominoes, coloured, played marching band, and tag. It was a good day.
Today we met some of the residents of the Home for the Aged and went on an excursion to the nearby shopping plaza for a coffee. In the afternoon we had plans to take the kids from the School for the Blind to the beach, but inclement weather had us swimming in the school pool instead. You have not seen mayhem until you've seen ten blind primary school kids in a swimming pool with eight fully-clothed, full-grown volunteers. I hadn't seen an expression of such joy until some of these kids got in the water and kicked their legs. At the beginning of the session, one girl wouldn't let go of my hands even though she had on a flotation ring and held a styrofoam kick-board. Half an hour later, she was moving herself along the length of the pool without me. I think I'm beginning to get this whole "good deeds" feeling, and it's pretty damn addictive.