Bananas, Birthdays, and Elephants!

Overview//

In the first week of October 2018, I went to Kamphaengphet’s Banana Festival, celebrated my sixteenth birthday, and took a trip to see an elephant sanctuary.

KPP Banana Festival//

I was thrilled that I was released from the hospital just in time for the legendary Kamphaengphet Banana Festival! I had been hearing stories about it since I learned what city I would be living in and it lived up to the hype. Kamphaengphet is famous for its variety and quality of bananas. Luckily, as I live on the teacher’s street, I had easy access to the event at all times.

The first time I went, four of my best friends (Mind, Beam, Baitoey, and Fhan) took me for about an hour. The streets were lit up like never before with colourful pinwheels and the town square was blocked off for the celebration. This beautiful festival is not often frequented by tourists as Kamphaengphet is a smaller town. However, the locals appreciate it every year. We arrived early, while the sun was still out. We took photos at the very beginning of the walking street, where there were stands about the type of banana that Kamphaengphet is famous for and the history of the celebration itself. The people running the stands offered me and my friends bananas and we took photos together. We strolled through the market area until my friends picked out some things to eat. We sat down at a table in the middle of the town square and I tried the food, which was delicious. We discussed my time in the hospital, about school, and my upcoming birthday. After eating, they gave me a ride home so I could be with my host family.

My family also took me to the festival, seeing as it primarily ran the week prior and would close soon with the beginning of October coming. My sister enjoyed the night performances and we had dinner there. Getting to celebrate this unique festival was very important to me and it made me feel very proud of my small town and our incredible community.

My Sixteenth Birthday//

I stayed up the night before to watch the clock turn midnight on my sixteenth birthday. I was finally sixteen! I called my mother as I was pretty heartbroken that I couldn’t have a hug from her on this special day. She answered in her lunch break and we talked until I dozed off happily, not knowing what the day would bring.

October 4th was really just like any other ordinary day. In Thailand, birthdays typically aren’t celebrated until the evening but I did not know that. My host dad wished me a happy birthday while I ate breakfast. I then spent most of my day alone but received many sweet birthday wishes from classmates online to cheer me up. I didn’t have any plans and my friends were busy with coaching cheerleading practice for the upcoming sports day, among other things. I watched movies and texted my American friends in Thailand. I took a long nap at around 2 pm and woke up in a daze at around 5 pm to the sound of “Kanda!” being shouted from my window. I hurried to get dressed and brush my hair before I bolted down the stairs. I had no idea that people would be coming over. Kru Nok was waiting for me in our entranceway, ready to videotape me. I walked outside to see my friends– Fhan, Beam, Mind, Baitoey, and Por– all holding little slices of orange and chocolate cake. They broke into a chorus of the birthday song and I was both elated and surprised to see them. Kru Nok then gifted me a beautiful patterned pair of pants and a purple yoga mat from my natural parents, arranged with the help of my advisor and coordinator. I invited everyone inside and my friends cheered as I ate my first bite of cake.

sweet 16
(L to R) Beam, Mind, Fhan, me, Kru Nok, Baitoey, and Por surprising me for my birthday

 

My host family arrived shortly after from work and errands and told me we would be going out for a special birthday dinner soon. My friends and I chatted, polished off our cake, took photos, and I thanked everyone for the lovely surprise. My host parents, Peem and her friend, and I all then went to Oasis, a restaurant I had never been to before and haven’t been to since. All of the other foreigners in Kamphaengphet had recommended it to me, as it is a Western food place run by a friendly German man. We sat at a table in a fielded area with the perfect view of the sunset. We ordered pasta and pizza, both of which were delicious. My host parents gave me a present too- a lovely backpack for travelling. I was very grateful for the backpack, but also for them hosting me in general. I was in shock that I was celebrating my sweet sixteen in Thailand, just as my mother told me I would be when she revealed I had received my scholarship. After our dinner, my host mother brought out a cake that said “HBD Kenna” on it. She lit the candles and Peem and her friend began giggling and shouting the birthday song. My host father recorded me as I happily blew out the candles. We enjoyed our cake and went home. I thanked them again and retired to my bedroom early to call my family and friends in America.

IMG_0806[1]
My host mother giving me a birthday present from my host family.

The next day, my coordinator, Teacher Suporn, unexpectedly gave me a birthday present: a gorgeous pink dress. Since moving to Thailand, my wardrobe has been very toned down. I would classify my style as “anything under 200 baht”, or 6 dollars. I stopped wearing makeup and didn’t really care about how I looked as long as it was appropriate. To me, this is usually a good thing, as not focusing on my appearance so much can be freeing. However, trying on this dress and putting on makeup for the first time in months made me feel beautiful and like myself again as I used to really enjoy wearing dresses in America.

Sweet 16
Teacher Suporn giving me an amazing birthday present.

Overall, my sweet sixteen was a very special day and I felt incredibly lucky to spend it with my lovely friends, advisor and coordinator, and my host family.

Elephant Sanctuary//

In early October, I took a trip with my advisor, her class that is one year younger than me, and my friend who is another exchange student from Taiwan to see an elephant sanctuary. We visited a temple beforehand and then learned about rice farming. Our trip to the sanctuary was brief and to be honest, I was very glad of that. I am strongly against the mistreatment of elephants and I did not like seeing the elephant show. I felt much more comfortable watching them be bathed and feeding them. Afterwards, we had lunch and made a long journey home. My highlight of the trip was getting to know the other exchange student at my school and spending more time with Kru Nok.

 

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