Beyond The Woods
Editor: Megan Larson
Thailand - Expect the Unexpected
by Maria Martins
Maybe my life isn't as fascinating as some of the Elfwoodians out there, but in my case, I sure think it's unique. How many schools out there have students walking across the courtyard and looking up a tree to find a ten feet long python curled up on its branches?
I have plagued the world for fifteen and a half years in Thailand, a country below China in SE Asia, and I live directly in its capital, Bangkok. I've known people to say: "Wow...you live in THAILAND? So you travel around in an elephant to get to your destination? Are your school houses made out of bamboo?" Sadly, it's nothing that interesting, because Bangkok's very modernized, but you have to remember to always expect the unexpected. You have your towering skyscrapers, the apartment buildings, the arcades, the bars - and the beautiful golden temples surrounded by trees smack right in the middle of the most unexpected places.
Even before the sun rises in the city, there's people out there waiting for buses, yellow-clad monks walking in the streets to receive their daily tribute of offerings from the Buddhists, who also receive their daily blessings. Despite how busy it sounds though, there's something so special about a morning in Thailand, anywhere. It's just so gentle, in such a sense that brings pure tranquility to your tired body. Maybe that's why people enjoy waking up so early here - the air and the sun is like a rejuvenating vitamin.
I wake up before the crack of dawn, usually around 5:30 so I can get to school on time and beat the traffic. I've been attending ICS, an American school with a population of over 500 students from grade K-12 since its establishment nine years ago, and I have to say it's quite...different. Our campus is hardly an acre wide, but crammed to the brim with buildings, some only three years old, others about 30. Since ICS's founding, the campus had been remodeled, redesigned, but the surroundings have hardly been touched. On the right side of the school, we have our outdoor laboratory - an undisturbed swamp forest right next to the soccer field (us after-school soccer fans are usually the ones who wade into shoulder-high grass when the ball is kicked straight out into the wild). I've had classes after classes out there in the wild, either looking at the weird species of fern, naming a newly discovered (or so we though) plant organism "Edward" for some bizarre reason, and collecting soil samples. It was fun during the dry, cool seasons from September to January but when the monsoon kicks in with the constant rainfall and strong winds - let me just say that you will regret wearing anything less than a pair of knee boots.
And with the swamps, comes its creatures. We've always had weird reptiles and small snakes throughout years, and even an eel found in the sewer system. Most of them were usually caught by the groundskeeper and taken to the lab where the teachers can decide what to do with them - either let them go or stuff them for educational uses. But the one animal memory that would probably be branded in the brains of the ICS students forever would be the ultimate...ten feet long python.
"We don't have a rat problem anymore," the groundskeepers chatted happily whenever they got together. Everybody, especially the students who thrived on cafeteria food were quite relieved about the rats, not having to wonder if the pests got into the school's food supply before they ate it. But after a few days, the groundskeepers' conversation turned into the fact that one of the school cats were missing. Things were a complete mystery of why all these animals were disappearing...until early one morning.
I remembered this very clearly - I was sitting in my chair in second period Environmental Science, trying not to fall asleep when one of our students blast open the door, having returned from the bathroom. He was yelling and screaming that there was a snake up on the tree in the middle of the courtyard. We ignored him for a few seconds until curiosity got the best of us. Ignoring our teacher, we rushed out to see this "snake" up in a tree. Expecting a small green garden snake and nothing else - we were quite surprised when we saw the large, grayish silver python curled up around the tallest, leafless branch.
Bets were called on how long this thing really was, video cameras were pulled out, and the security guards called the policemen. A sturdy bamboo ladder was place on the tree and one of the policemen ascended on it, wobbling dangerously. He gave the branch a few half-hearted shakes but the snake stayed firm.
"I don't know what to do," he said. Finally, our residential security guard who had a mixture of annoyance and impatient inside him, shoved away the policemen, took off his shoes, and shinnied up the ladder. After his foot has left the highest rung, he continued to climb up the branches, not listening to the shouts of warning from us below the tree. Finally contented with his destination, he wrapped his body around the snake's branch and shook very hard. After about five seconds, the snake curled and fell to the ground. I was standing about thirty feet away with the rest of my classmates, and my views on a person jumping off a building changed right away. With about twenty of classmates swearing in fright around me, I tried to get closer look - only too see one of our groundskeepers get bitten on the hand by the frightened snake. After struggling for almost a minute, the snake was stuffed into a big sack and we were told to return to class, where 95% of all the students received detention for coming to class late (a record set). But as we all agreed on - it was worth it. I was told later that the snake was released back in the swamp area, far from our school. It won't be returning soon, that's for sure...
That is just a short glimpse of my school life in Bangkok. There's always something unforeseen, like getting flood-days instead of snow-days whenever there's a lightning storm, and wading knee-deep in water to get from Spanish class to the music room, or avoiding a broken pipe spurting water like the Niagara Falls to get to math class. And when I get home, things hardly change. There are snakes from the marshland next door, my mother chopping off the head of a Dandelion Cobra found behind our washtub, and screaming as a throng of bats flies away from a curled banana leaf in our garden. As I make war with my pencils and erasers on my sketchbook, fondly known to me as "The Battlefield of Art", I look out at the setting sunset outside my window at the palm trees and the cattails, and I see Thailand, I realize that the boost for most of my inspiration comes from this country, whether my art is based on a Thai mythology, a clichéd sword-and-sorcery, or even a piece of sci-fi hardware. This is Thailand, country known for myths, legends, smiles - and the unexpected.
I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.
All photos provided by author.
||Maria Martins is a biology-crazed student/ hermit that burrows herself in writing and art whenever time allows her.
Although based in Sweden, the realm of Elfwood encompasses the entire planet. We speak different languages, come from different backgrounds, and our daily lives are led differently. While we are all artists and writers, some of us are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Pagan, Islamic, or Atheist. We come from countries with different political policies. Some of us live day to day with war while others live in blissful peace. In spite of events that embroil our world, Elfwood goes on - but we are not left unaffected.
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