Who would have ever expected a girl from East Los Angeles to win an all-expense paid trip to Thailand? Here I am, two weeks back from Thailand with so many things to say.
When I left Los Angeles, I only expected to learn about Buddhism. It is impossible to explain the scenery as I experienced it. Not many people spoke English. I walked on roads I’ve never stepped on before. I went to places I was only able to view through the internet. I experienced things that are not said on websites nor tourist books.
I brought back beautiful images and other things that have changed my life for the better. I wish everyone had the chance to experience what I did on my spring break, Thank you L.A. Times, Korean Airlines, my teacher Ms. Lemus, and principal Mrs. Puich.
The most difficult part of my trip was flying. I had only been on an airplane once before, but it was only two hours. The plane that I boarded from L.A. to Seoul was two stories with hundreds of passengers, and I sat right in the middle. My mother was freaking out when she found that our seats were in the center.
The first couple of hours on the flight were fine. I got to take a nap and listen to some music. When we got into the fourth hour, my mother had to get up and walk around. I felt the same way as she did but I knew that there was no way off this plane. The only thing under us was the ocean. So I told my mom to sit down and tried to calm her down. I massaged her head and shoulders. For that moment I focused on my mother, trying to make her feel as comfortable as possible and that distracted my mind making me less nervous.
When we got into the last two hours, we were relaxing watching “Moana” together, my mother’s new favorite movie.
We finally arrived in Bangkok after two flights back to back. I walked out of the airport and the humidity just hit me in the face, I instantly began sweating.
My mother and I caught a cab to our hotel, which was about 20 minutes away. I was so amazed that cars drove on the left side.
All I did on my way to my hotel was take pictures. I wanted to capture every moment that I possibly could. Every couple of miles there were Buddhist temples. I got to my hotel and everyone was so friendly.
My favorite place was definitely the Ayutthaya Wat Lokaya Sutha, known as the “Reclining Buddha.” I watched as people covered Buddha with a huge yellow blanket and then pray to him. Their routine was so precise and calming. The energy was positive and enlightening. The loyalty of the Thai people have even after centuries continues to be strong. It made me feel in a sense happy.
I also enjoyed one of my days at the Grand Palace. I saw so many Buddhist people wearing all black waiting in line mourning for their fallen king.
The thing that will stay with me from the rest of my life is the poverty the people live in. I watched 5-year-old kids selling souvenirs to tourists. I walked through an alley where families lived. They had their pots and pans on the tree roots that broke through the concrete walls. The kids only had one pair of worn out sandals and a couple of pair of pants while families struggled in the heat everyday to bring food home to eat.
I am extremely lucky my mother brought me to America. I have the right to an education and amazing opportunities like this one. I have realized how much more I want to be involved in the world. I know I can not change it, but I can make a difference beginning with myself. I will continue going to school. I will continue writing and no matter what happens. I will keep working hard for what I want for myself and others.
I want to thank one last time all the people who made this new experience a reality. The one who inspired me to write this essay is my best friend, Carmen Aguilar. Carmen, I promise you that we will travel together one day and experience all this together.
I also want to shout out to someone who has helped my family and I when things got tough, and helped me three nights in a row peer editing my essay, my amazing boyfriend Joseph Garcia. Most importantly, my mother Vanessa Castro, who brought me to this country and was a willing travel companion. Because of all your hard work, I am who I am today.
Ms. Lemus, for all the encouragement and support that I tremendously needed to even attempt to write my essay. Mr. Lew, for the donations. Finally, Kyle Finck, L.A. Times HS Insider crew, Korean Airlines, and Los Angeles River High School.