March 23, 2010

    We are only visitors on this floating island amongst the stars. This mortality, it seems, has always driven people of different eras and places to travel. The earliest people sought food for survival, others looked for the infamous fountain; still others ventured out to guide lost souls or find themselves. I am no different. I have realized my mortality. My moment upon this earth is indeed brief, and so I take my leave yet again. I do not seek survival. I do not quest for the fountain. I do not claim to save souls or even search to find myself. Instead I hope to strengthen old friendships and create new memories with my two companions: One, a fellow Catawba Alum Joe Brooks and the other, an old high school buddy, Ben McCreary. My next stop: the mysterious and beautiful Thailand.
    Be it the lush tropical jungles, quintessential beaches, or the under rated Thai cuisine; Thailand is by far the most impressive country I have come across. Situated just above Malaysia and in the heart of South East Asia, Thailand is a favorite destination among my once fellow foreign teachers. Eleven months ago I found myself departing South Korea three months earlier than my teaching contract said. A little miss communication between my school, headquarters, and the ROK Government (pronounced rock by the local ex-pats) lead to an expedient exit. A few days later I found myself spending nearly 30 days backpacking the country of Thailand. I traveled by boat, train, bus, and tuk tuk. I stayed in everything from hostels to bed bug infested shacks. And yet, Thailand still holds that special something in my heart.
    What is it about Thailand that makes me go back? Maybe it’s the architecture – the old world meets new look. One could find magnificent Buddhist temples towering above houses and local eaters or dives. Maybe it’s the “Thai spicy” food that surpasses any eatable heat rating of the Americas. What about the melting pot of culture Indian, Malay, Burma, Chinese, Filipino - the list goes on and on. Maybe it’s the attitude in which much of the county seems to live its life – what the French would call “c'est la vie” or the Costa Rican’s “pura vida” attitude. Could this be it?
    I just don’t know, but one thing is true. Whatever the reason, Thailand somehow satisfies the urge to travel and see the world. After all, I am only a visitor here, and there is still much to see.

~ Jon Rhodes
Catawba Alum 2008

March 11, 2010

A Promise Made and Not Forgotten

    There is something different about my friends tonight.  I can see it in their eyes, afire with life.  There is a glimmer of apprehension and exhilaration.  I notice the change in the way they speak rapidly -  excitement pushing forth words faster than their thoughts.  I can see it in the way Joe's fingers rhythmically tap the steering wheel. A nervous twitch made noticeable only today? And then there is the sudden prolonged silence of my ADHD, fast talking, easily excited, surf buddy Ben - a rather unusual change.  This was odd indeed!

     It is not often that one sees such changes to those so close.  I have been witness to such a change before, when first time travelers return from epic adventures.  They have the same giddiness as they recount tales of voyages to far away lands, as they describe mythical creatures they encountered, and cultures strange but wondrous.  This must be the difference I have noticed.  This is the reason they walk so swiftly onward to the airport check-in lines.

    You see, the farthest from home Ben has ever traveled is Florida, a trip from my freshman year.  And Joe is still fairly new to this international traveling.  He has South Korea and Costa Rica under his belt.  But what makes this trip so interesting is how it all came to be; a promise from long ago...

    Ever since I've known Ben, he has expressed incredible desire to experience the world.  He is smart, very friendly, and open to new things.  But, he lacked something, he didn't have the desire, the motivation to change his world.  So, I made him a promise.  I said, "Ben, I'll make you a deal.  If you ever get the courage to acquire a passport, I'll stop what I'm doing and join you."  That was three years ago.  I got a phone call in late January, Ben got his passport and fate came a calling.

    In less than a month we decided a destination and added another friend.  In my typical international travel preparations, I waited until the last moment to pack.  I throw enough clothes for 3 full days (a 10 day journey), the list of items my girlfriend requested, my wallet, and food.  On the way out the door, I realize a missing necessity, and run into the house for my passport.  Yes, my typical travel preparation...

   What was even greater is we arrived at the airport at 2 AM.  A message from earlier that day indicated we were leaving at 4.  I assumed this meant the flight.  However upon arrival at the empty kiosks I soon realize my error.  Our excitement peters-out when we learn that our flight is actually at 6:10 - a whole 4 hours later.  Well, at least we are on time...

    What a start, what a journey this will be.

March 02, 2010

The plight of two teachers

A deeper look into the plight of two once upon teachers...

    The teachers’ room was adorned with our usual school colors, bright greens, light yellow gold strips, blues, and whites. Our desks were a cacophony of class materials, language books, novels… the usual paraphernalia expected for an English teacher. The two Korean Teachers had already arrived preparing their class’s lessons and organizing the report cards that our limited Korean could not contribute to. Even our third Korean teacher had arrived early, supposedly getting in hours to avoid staying late. The only thing missing - us the two native English speakers.
    Oh yes, on this beautiful spring day – we were in a meeting. It was not the typical meet with the director pep talk, nor was it this is how you need to improve. This meeting was something else. With an artificial calm and transparent composure our director confronted us with a situation. He said, “I think we have a problem. Immigration needs to talk to you.”


     Wait a second Jon, take a breath things are ok.  Well, I guess he is calm should I be? I wondered to myself: how soon will we need to see them? After all, we have class in 15 minutes; maybe tonight after work or probably tomorrow.

    As if reading my mind the director said, we must go… NOW. That’s when it hit me. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. Suddenly all the horror stories of "Locked up Abroad" flickered through my mind like a whorl wind. I would not end up like that… or at the very least, I’ll have a book, my cell phone tucked away, and my I-pod with me.

    With little time, Aileen and I went to our apartment grabbed our essentials, a book, a change of clothes, tooth paste, toilet paper, the usual things one might require if thrown in jail. Oh yeah, and we empted out our entire Korean bank accounts just in case we needed to show we meant business - and by business, we meant the ability to purchase a ticket outta there, and by the ability to get outta there, we really meant bribery if it came to it. 

    Now we were set. We had our supplies, we had our money… nothing else in the room were REALLY necessary. We had practice thinking this through just in case the nuclear threats from Kim Jong-il ever came to fruition. Yes, we were as ready as one could expect from a 15 minute notice. We were officially wanted by the South Korean government, we were renegades, outlaws. I felt like Robin Hood, wanted by the state, and a hero to the people… and I still didn’t know why we were headed to immigration.  All I knew; this was going to be one hell of a bumpy ride.

to be continued…