Two years ago, I taught English for a year in the rural Thai province of Phetchaburi (some 100 miles south of Bangkok.) Today, 25 years old, I'd like to share some of what I saw and learned in this land an ocean away from my hometown of Ashland. I've often written of it before, but always poetically.

Phetchaburi is rightly known as the palm tree province. There's even a prestigious academic institute, which teaches monkeys to fetch coconuts from the tops of palms that grow to 40 feet and taller.

As a sort of showcase, my university, Phetchaburi, Rajabhat, is landscaped with many, many kinds of palms. Some would fit in on a California beach; others are stout and rugged, children of the fierce Thai jungle.

My first two weeks in Thailand came with many challenges. To start with, the heat was brutal. Excluding the northern regions, the whole nation was seething all year long.

And it was plain to see that the people had carved their civilization out of swampy jungle. In every direction, for as far as one could drive on a tank of gas, the most common sight was a flooded rice field with a couple of dark-skinned men working in rolled-up pants and basket hats, sometimes aided by water-buffalo or the occasional tractor.

Those tourists who accuse Thais of constitutional laziness must not look around much as they're transported from attraction to attraction in air-conditioned buses.

Few Thais knew more than very basic English. Phetchaburi province is a farming and fishing region and sees only the occasional, wandering tourist. So I, as a young blonde American, attracted far more attention than I wanted.

Every day, as I walked from my hotel to the office, I was enthusiastically greeted by most person I passed, perhaps 50 total. As any young American would have been &

strangely, most Thais held the United States in high regard at this time &

I was a walking celebrity.

During the following adventures, I came to know many Thais in many walks of life.

There was the 8-year-old boy, Tot, who accompanied me on a jungle hike, bravely walking ahead and clearing the spider webs with his bamboo staff. There was the young army cadet who loved to play the guitar and sing cheery folk songs over beer by the campfire, and the lively old cook (a woman whose Laotian ancestors were brought to Thailand as POWs), who went out of her way to learn how to make me a spinach omelet, and who always greeted me with a smile.

I was fortunate to become close friends with an upper class Thai-Chinese student of mine, Boat, who would spend hours explaining the mysteries of "the Thai way."

Then there was the local pharmacist who was fluent in American English and culture. This was because he'd been comfortably settled in California until a couple of planes ran into some skyscrapers on the East Coast. Somehow, this led to his being deported, although I suspect he was never involved in Al Qaeda, seeing as he was a pacific Buddhist.

Siam is an ancient civilization, and I only scratched the surface of the surface. What I do know is that Thai society has in recent decades been unnaturally flooded with foreign influences and technologies. Many expatriates and perpetual tourists have attitudes that I can only describe as imperialist.

From the blood-spattered video arcades to the exploitative factories making Wal-Mart bound goods, I saw things that made me wonder what blessings modernization had brought this land.

However, Thailand is full of beautiful, disciplined and resourceful people, and I have faith that things will work out for them.

Moreover, their peaceful religion and openness to foreigners might make this a nation where people from around the world come for purposes of diplomacy and peace making, which this nuclear age is bound to require in plenty.

Mai-pen-rai ("oh well," but in a deep sense).