After a week in Bangkok we headed back to Khon Kaen to finish out the month visiting Ali and Byrun. During our time here we were able to meet lots of their new friends. When we were covering classes for Ali, I had a chance to teach a couple of sweet teenage girls named Am and Miw. We hit it off because I am silly and have some knowledge of Korean and Korean pop music. Therefore, they were delighted to show us around their town, which isn't far from Khon Kaen. As a matter of fact, they skipped school on a Friday afternoon and Miw got her brother to drive them around in his truck. Things are really different in Thailand.
First we followed them to the Wat Phra Bat Phu Phan Kham, which is a temple that has a huge white Buddha that seems to be floating over the hillside and overlooking the Ubolrat Dam. There is a long set of stairs leading up the hill to the temple. It's deceivingly far away. I mean, it looks like it's really far away and then you climb and climb and finally you get over a little bump and realize it's even farther away than you thought. As always, it was a scorchingly hot day but that didn't stop Matt from challenging Am (the more devious and brave of the two girls) to a race to the Buddha. I have to say, he was kicking her butt. Then he sat down and it seemed like he was just waiting for the rest of us to catch up. It turned out that he was almost going to puke and passout from heat exhaustion. Oops. So the girls and Byrun hurried to the top while I sat with him and then returned with fresh water. Don't worry, he was okay.
When we got to the temple there was a spectacular view of the dam. The girls grabbed me and brought me inside of the temple to show me how to pray and give respect to Buddha. It was really interesting and I felt priviledged to be there with them. First we crouched down and bowed 3 times to the Buddha. Then we gave a small monetary offering and then we choose some flowers from a basket and some candles. Next we brought the flowers and bundle of candles over to a different altar, set it down in a pile of other such things, prayed and bowed another 3 times. The last thing we did was go to the back of the temple where they had small containers filled with sticks. You are supposed to shake the container until one stick falls out of it. The stick has a number on it and that number corresponds to a fortune. My stick had a 10 on it and I have no idea what my fortune said and the girls have limited English. What I gleaned was "It is good" and I'm not going to die. Excellent.
After the temple experience we went over for our lunch and swimming lesson. This was the main "purpose" of our meeting. Neither of the girls know how to swim and I'm no Michael Phelps but I did take lessons for a long time. I was told that most Thai people don't know how to swim. I think it might be because of what they wear when they decide to go swimming. Both girls changed into shorts and t-shirts before getting in the water. And it took a lot of convincing to get them in (especially Miw who isn't as adventurous). I guess they are scandalized by our Western bathing suits so Matt kept his shirt on and I wore a pair of shorts and a tank top over my bathing suit.
I don't think we taught them much of anything but they were happy to be there and impressed with our swimming skills. They also ordered one of the most amazing lunches I've ever had. There was a platter heaping with prawns, a huge pot of rice, another huge pot filled with tom yum soup, a big plate of som tum salad and a grilled fish. There was so much food I didn't think we had a hope of eating it all but somehow we managed.
While we were swimming we noticed that a fire had broken out on the hillside! We were concerned about it and kept looking at it and commenting on it but none of our Thai friends seemed very interested. Later when we were driving home we noticed that the fire was getting close to a school. As far as I know everything was all right. Byrun wanted to get a closer look at it so we hired a banana boat to take us on a ride. We had seen him giving really crazy, rough rides to squealing Thai children, dumping them in the lake multiple times. We weren't looking for that sort of ride, especially since Am and Miw were not comfortable in water that came to their chest. We had them tell him explicitly- we want to ride over to see the fire, no capsizing or you don't get paid. He complied and it was a lot of fun. It was a great day and I really like those girls. Now they frequently instant message me. So cute!