All posts by Bohemia Chronicles

Workaholic

Hi, my name is Shannon and I’m a workaholic. Not even just a little bit but a lot. If I’m not working, I’m anxious, I’m annoyed, and overall just a not fun person to be around. But guess what? When I am working, I’m anxious, I’m annoyed, and still not a super fun person to be around. I know my love of work and consistent search for it comes from my family. You see, what had happened was my corporate work obsessed father met my physical work obsessed mother and came out with me, someone who not only has ten internet tabs open for various projects,  12 word documents opened almost all of them named Document#, two excel sheets being added to, and a printer that runs more than Usain Bolt but also someone who could likely win a speed-walking competition while balancing 5 margaritas on a tray and lift 3 boxes of beer over her head. (Disclaimer, the lifting ability is gone. I really messed up my back doing that. Lift with your legs people)

Now obviously this tendency to dive into work is not healthy. My wake up recently came in the form of a stroke and a fall. My father at 47 years old had a stroke and my mom (a trainer and wellness coach) fell on the treadmill and busted her back for a solid month. But for me the overworking manifests itself in depression, anxiety, and pain in whatever muscle I’m messing with. Or the alternative, completely burn myself out and have a mental breakdown.

Quick past on me, prior to Peace Corps I was happily/miserably working in the restaurant industry and if you’ve ever been in the service industry you understand that contradiction. When I left to the Peace Corps my boss lamented, “You can’t go. I have to hire 5 people to make up the work that you do.” He wasn’t lying and I’m not patting myself on the back. He owned three restaurants, I worked in two of them, I would wake up and go open the one at 9am, wait on tables until 1pm then drive and eat lunch (drive thru) to the other location and bartend there and close at 3am. I did that 5-6 days a week. Except on rare and exciting occasions when I got a day off. My record though for days without a free day was 24 days, and no, that’s not exactly legal but if you’ve got a couple of sketchy managers you too can make it happen. Eventually I had to stop because I started falling asleep standing next to the chip and salsa station. Even then it took one day off and I was back on it. But just like an addict I would still be going to coworkers and asking for their shifts, my managers were always so impressed with my work that they would even let me cover two shifts at once. But no lie I ran on two 24oz coffees (One Cuban Roast the other was called “Mocha Wakeup: Extra Caffeine, for all my Wawa fans), and various RedBulls throughout the day.

I was and still am a bit proud of that. That’s not healthy. No one should work themselves to the point where their physical, mental, and emotional health is compromised. In my mind at that point the healthy choice was the “Sugar-Free RedBull” and looking back I am appalled with myself for those decisions, even when people were gently warning me I never took it seriously “I’ll sleep/relax/go home when I’m dead,” was always the response, and it’s not like I cared about that job, but it filled the day and it kept me occupied and didn’t make me worry about the future, cause you don’t have time to worry about the future when it’s the dinner rush and you’re short-staffed. But the best part at the time was the compliments from customers. Even if I wasn’t their server people would give me tips because of how well they saw me work, mostly when I was bartending and would make 12 margs at the same time. (weird brag I know.) The compliments on my work ethic validated it, it made me feel good and worthwhile despite burning myself out.

Peace Corps is making me have to find ways to slow down and stop working. There’s no linear schedule for anything so my work and projects are constantly being put to the side, and I’m not going to sugar coat it, that’s a nightmare for me.  My work addiction is totally still there and I don’t intend on really letting it stop entirely. But I can take a step back every so often. My sleep schedule is improved, I’m vegetarian and that feels nice. Am I the picture of health? No way. If I lay down wrong, I’m out for the foreseeable future and I get Charlie horses more often than I’d like to admit. But my heart doesn’t feel like it’s going to explode, my feet aren’t covered in blisters, my hands aren’t as jittery, and I can sit for a minute and enjoy the day, and even better once in a blue moon I reject a project. My “addiction” manifests itself in better ways. I take on projects that I really care about rather than just learning how to make 50+ margaritas and other beverages (but I still know them so heads up midservice), I make genuine connections with people now because I say more than “Hi, welcome to Margaritas, my name is Shannon, would you like to try our Taco Gigante? It’s more than two pounds!” or “Didn’t I tell you five times to bus table 14?” or my favorite, “I swear to god if you seat me with that kid’s birthday party, I will end you.” The physical energy presents itself in random dance parties with my students, faking muay thai with my mattayom boys, and baton throwing with my mattayom girls. But all together I’m happier with my work, my work means something now and that’s a satisfaction I never had before.

Being Dolittle

I believe in looking at nature for a lot of answers. My grandpa and I would watch the birds flying and the lizards climbing in Puerto Rico and he’d be able to determine what kind of weather was coming; then taking the time to actually smell the air and look at the clouds, he could tell if the Sahara sand would be coming through. (It’s a real thing. Wind carries the sand from the Sahara to the Caribbean creating a haze).In my service and as an animal lover (I call a lot of the local animals Puan which probably concerns a lot of my community) I try learning from the animals around me, what do they do and why? What habits could I pick up from them and here’s what I have learned.

  • Suai (Monkey)

For background on Suai she is a monkey that my PST host mom has. The monkey was gifted to her and it lives in a cage which to Westerners is cruel. I think she was one of the first things that made me realize that Thailand would be hella different. Now of course because this is a wild animal, she has no interest in being in the cage, but what else can she do? Even when she resorts to anger Suai gains nothing from it.

Though at times I feel like I am in a cage, walking back and forth won’t help me. Tracing my steps will only do so much and resorting to anger won’t help.

  • Menao (Dog)

When I tell you this dog is messed up I mean it, she’s the first one you notice in the pack and that’s saying something because the lead dog is a scarred, battle-ready black lab. Her back legs are weak and she can’t carry herself long yet it doesn’t stop her from joining the other dogs on their terror missions until she can’t anymore.  When she walks its wobbly and never in a straight line, when she stands, she sways side to side. Once she’s tired, she sits down and rests in front of her (my) house. She was the easiest of the pack to win over considering how much time she spends resting.

Being a foreigner, you may always be the one to stick out, but don’t let that stop you from being a part of things. Although always remember when it is time for you to sit down and care for yourself. There’s no shame in limits and boundaries.

  • Khao (Dog)

Khao is one of the school dogs. Recently our janitor left and took a good chunk of the dog population with him. But Khao stayed or got left behind. Khao attends the morning assembly and sings loud and proud with the anthems and prayers bringing a smile to almost everyone’s face. This lesson was a simple one for me.

Sing loud and proud. You’re in Thailand and karaoke is inevitable.

But also use your voice, don’t be afraid to speak up especially when people forget you’re there.

  • Birds (various)


I honestly hate birds aside from Crows and Ravens. I think they are so dumb, and I struggle to read their emotions so that freaks me out, and when a pigeon gets trapped in my classroom my hatred for them just elevates more. They fly around not taking a minute to look at their surroundings. They keep trying to exit from the same closed window as before, and they shit everywhere in panic.

Look at the situation you’re in. Analyze what’s going on. Then make the decision that’s going to work for you, and if that decision doesn’t work, don’t do it over and over again.

But when all else fails, shitting yourself would probably get you out of a lot of situations.

  • Scorpions

Yeah, my site has scorpions, I’m never happy about that and have only encountered two, both being dead. Killed by a lizard just slightly bigger than them, in both cases the lizard was also dead. But their lessons were pretty strong.

No matter how tough you think you are, there’s something out there that can take you out.

Act in anger and you only end up hurting yourself and your causes.

Your thick skin can only save you for so long,

  • Navi (Cat)


Navi might be the most important one. She is my house cat. I fully intend on taking her home with me because she is my spirit animal. Many people say she looks like she’s on crack and I think sometimes she might be. But this f****** cat makes every day easier for me. She spends her day lounging around the house or taking small day trips with me to my school, and her night having what I and many others call “destruction zoomies” meaning just bursts of energy shown by running, climbing, scratching, clawing, biting and overall just being a weirdo. She sits bravely in front of my screen door taunting the dogs outside and when they lunge and growl at her she remains calm, often not even moving, just cocking her head slightly, then stretching out and moving to another location. But this coolness is not constant, this cat has serious separation anxiety, if she cannot see me she begins to freak out, clawing at doors and on occasion even trying to run through one to get to me (I was taking a shower and heard a series of thuds coming through the door, followed by a broken meow).           

The advice from Navi is always being added to but here’s what I got so far.

          Don’t let people see you sweat when they are trying to mess with you, but let those emotions out eventually.

          Freaking out over things you can’t control will result in some serious headaches.

          Be yourself even if people think it’s weird.

          If you act like you’re on crack, people will think you actually are and people on crack don’t have a lot of friends.

  • Elephants and Water Buffalo

Thailand is known for the elephants, but Water Buffalo are also super common and really cool to look at in my opinion. I think both of them carry themselves in a graceful manner despite being quite bulky. When you see them eye to eye and see past the grey, wrinkled skin they have the most beautiful gaze, one that seems to be full of emotion and insight, and truly if I had the powers of Dr.Dolittle I would try to talk to an elephant, (right after a convo with my cat about drugs). The message from an elephant and water buffalo would be;

Move slowly and enjoy the little things around you.

Even when you may not seem beautiful there is always someone who finds beauty and grace in you.


You may be strong, and you may be powerful, but you don’t always need to show it. Save the strength for when it is needed.

Growing up “The Wild Thornberrys was one of my favorite shows and I always pretended I could talk to animals. Today I do, and although they don’t really speak back, they are still saying something. Give nature a listen and she will speak.

(Also, can we really do something about climate change and conservationism? The world isn’t going to save itself.)

And I was running!

If there is one quote from a movie I love, it would have to be Forrest Gump’s Alabama clad accent saying proudly “And I was running!” as he’s being chased from bullies while his leg braces majestically fall to the ground. It is a quote that gets said often in my family just to either make fun of the accent or because we feel we did something good or otherwise impressive.

So this may seem beside the point but it’s where this story begins. If there’s anything in this world I love it’s British and Australian men, so it comes as no surprise that I spent a solid hour on my couch eating some chocolate and drinking my second box of Milo while thirsting over the Hemsworth brothers on Instagram. A common thought that runs through my head in these moments is “Damn, when I get my shit together the world better watch out cause I’m gonna get me one like that.” Then what follows is the thought “27 will be the year, it’ll be the year I get into shape.” Every two years I say a different age will be my best year, I know this because I have also said “24 will be the year.” And here I am at 24, it’s good, but I don’t think it’s my best. I lost some weight during service but I’ve still got a lot of grabbing room as wonderfully demonstrated by some other teachers and students. Which is fine cause I play it off and make jokes. But my problem is when I go up the stairs to my class and feel winded at the end, its only one flight of stairs. It shouldn’t be like this, my dad was an athlete in high school and raised me to love sports and my mom is a trainer who competes in Iron Man races. Internal conflict time.

“I’ll go running next semester. I’ll use the little gym they have and get into shape.”

“You say that all the time. Tomorrow. Next week. Next month. Next semester”

“Fine, I’ll go tomorrow before class.”

I didn’t go. Then during all my classes I felt awful. I set a goal for myself and failed before I even started. Blaming anything I could. The tukay last night kept me up. My bed was uncomfortable. My mother forgot the time difference and called me at midnight again.

“Tomorrow for sure.”

“The day isn’t done. Just go after class.”

Fine.

I watch all my students leave school that day. Waiting patiently for them to go home with their parents because I don’t want them seeing their teacher struggling after one lap. I like to present myself as strong and able and me wheezing on the benches isn’t exactly the right look for strong and able. I go home, change clothes, lace up my hiking boots cause I don’t actually own sneakers but I’m feeling ready and energized. Then I majestically fall through my front door and scratch my knee. Looking around I pray no one has seen it. But there is my landlord restraining a smile, “Teacher Bpai Nai?”

“Bpai ti rong rien, bpai wing.”

Her face shows an expression of ‘Oh shit this girl is going to die.’ But her voice says “geng mak”

Yay encouragement!

I take my short walk to school, dogs on my heels, and then as I’m getting ready to run I see a group of my students playing takraw with the gym teacher. “Oh well, looks like they’re going to watch the farang struggle and wind up on the floor.”

I start running. It’s really not too bad. Thankfully my dogs have given up on following me and the school dogs are unbothered. The music in my ear keeps me going and it’s not unbearably hot. Halfway through my second lap I look down and I see two little shadows following close behind, taking out my earbuds I hear labored breaths and I turn to see two P4 students jogging behind me, skirts blowing behind. My turning surprises them because they yell and say “teacher run!” we have a small race but I slow down when I see a gap between the two of them. One student fell behind so we slow to a speed-walking pace. I point at different things and we practice our English for a couple of laps. They go back down to the playground to catch their breath eventually. So I am back to business, running again.

“I guess this isn’t too hard.” I promise myself to work out until 5:30pm. Looking at the clock it is around 4:45. Keep running I guess. I get a variety of looks from passerby’s and the gym teacher watches for a bit. When everyone else has retired I finish my workout and move until 5:30. Goal accomplished.

Next morning, my students have heard and many of them come up to me. “Teacher said you don’t like sports.” I don’t. I hate exercise. I hate sweat. I hate any form of discomfort. But honestly Peace Corps is about embracing discomfort. So why not start exercising beside 27 is supposed to be the best year, might as well work for it at 24.

Aside from that when lunch rolls around the gym teacher sits next to me, “You do good yesterday. You run again right?” I wasn’t planning on it cause its market day and I need food.

 “Yeah, I’m running today.”

“Good, I run too.”

Yay encouragement and running partner. This is also the first time the women teachers at my school don’t intervene and say that it’s inappropriate. First for everything. My students get into line for meditation. My two P4 running buddies come to me, “Teacher run?”

“Yeah, I’m running again.”

They look at each other with excitement. I know where to find them after school. When meditation ends some of the older students who stayed behind the day before come up to me. One student who was absent for my running points at my post-lunch stomach.

“Teacher get fat.”

First off, rude. Second, wrong. It’s just the style of pants I wear they do nothing to hide my stomach pooch and they make it look like I have no butt. I wear them intentionally, not because I want to accentuate my lunch belly but because stateside, I have been told that my backside really grabs attention and it’s vulgar. Again, rude.

“Teacher mai fat. Teacher wing mak. Teacher exercise.” One of my students quickly defends me. I look at the offending student and say “Teacher chop strong. Teacher bpai exercise. You bpai exercise later?”  They all look at each other and laugh a bit, they kindly decline and when they grow tired of me harassing them with English they say “bye.”

As I lace up my shoes to run again, I feel optimistic. Yeah, maybe I won’t get my shit together by the time I’m 27 but this is a start and I’m getting out of the house more and seeing my community. That’s what really matters in this. Even if the run begins with a fall at least it began because now I can go home, call up my family and really enjoy saying “I was running!”