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Honorary Mentions -- Women Write Stories to Inspire Other Women


In January 2008 we asked for our readers' most inspiring mini travel stories (under 500 words). In response we were flooded with fabulous tales of courage, humour, and determination from all over the world. Some of these stories made us laugh, some made us cry but all showed us how truly brave, versatile, funny, and fabulous JourneyWomen really are. The top five winners were announced in June 2008 but there were so many other submissions that deserved the title, 'Honorary Mention'. Here are five of those lovely runner-up pieces -- A Teacher Sings in Thailand, She Discovers Barcelona by Night, She Speaks Rusty French in Nice, No Laughing Matter and, A Rolling Disco in Iran. Enjoy them and keep your eyes open for more of these mini masterpieces in upcoming issues.

A Teacher Sings in Thailand

Written by Journeywoman:
Maryann Ullmann
Buenos Aires, Argentina

I opened my eyes to a giant striped gecko suckered to the wall two feet in front of my face, staring at me. It was my first day in Thailand, the first time traveling alone to the other side of the world to a country where I did not speak the language. I was a shy college student, never very good at coming out of my shell. The volunteer placement agency back in San Francisco told me that I would receive an orientation upon arrival, but apparently there is no Thai translation for orientation. So as soon as I stirred that morning, Sunisa, my host-mother and head of the secondary school’s English department where I was to teach, placed me on the back of her little wobbly moped and drove me into the school courtyard where a couple of thousand students in uniform were lunching. They clapped, shouted, and laughed at my sudden arrival into their midst.

In the ensuing months I taught without lesson plans, sang karaoke at teacher parties, was the subject of drunken love songs sung by the school principal at said karaoke parties, and was carted around in cars and sent off on trains with very little warning as to where I was to end up. I found myself by beautiful mountainsides and waterfalls, at Buddhist funerals and weddings of strangers, and in houses on stilts where I ate sticky rice with hot chilies, and shared beds with multiple people.

One day, I was delivered to an English class at another school. I was placed at the front of the room while fifty students sang that Celine Dion song from Titanic to me and presented me with roses. Then the teacher asked me to sing it. Flushed, I tried to explain: contentedly oblivious to my own popular culture, I had never in my life heard that song and did not know the tune. They blinked their eyes at me in confusion; how could an American not know that song? I fear they thought I was just refusing to sing, and that I may have deeply offended them.

So when Sunisa requested that I sing at an assembly, I could not say no. The only recognizable song in English on the Karaoke machine was Scarborough Fair, and thus the following day I was onstage dressed head to toe in a traditional purple and gold Thai silk dress singing of culinary herbs to a crowd of thousands of applauding, and laughing, teenagers.

That evening, in blissful relief that I had survived the day, I relaxed as the bugs and lizards that shared the open-air abode buzzed and crawled around us. The phone rang. It was Sunisa’s son in Chang Mai telling us to turn on the news. There I was, on national Thai television, crooning Simon & Garfunkel off-key with the camera panning in for a close-up. Forget it, I told myself. Dignity is a lost cause. The only way to handle this is to laugh at 'me' like everybody else is doing.

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