My Study Abroad Blog

Hello, all! I am studying with the International Sustainable Development Studies Institute (ISDSI) in Thailand for this fall semester. For the first five weeks I will be in Chiang Mai at the institute and staying with a host family. There after, I will be taking my field courses: Agroecology, Forests, and Oceans. Each course if 4 weeks long. During the first week of each course, we will live in apartments in Chiang Mai, continuing Thai class and taking seminar class on the topic. After, we will be in the field for 3 weeks with NO internet/phone/etc. I plan to keep a journal during field courses and upload stories/etc. when I'm back in Chiang Mai!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Oceans - Ban Jao Mai - Day 6

Cave/family day
I am skipping a bit because today was so great…for the most part! I am still in my four-day leadership block. Today was day 3! We went to a place called Emerald Cave which was supposed to be unbelievable. It was cool but my expectations were too high. We went in and it was really dark. We kept swimming until we saw a light opening! We swam out (in less than 5 minutes) into a canyon looking beach. All sides were surrounded by rock and it was beautiful. However, I was under the impression we would see cool fish/corals. We saw that all the tourists come in were attached to a rope and their local tour guides were pulling them! Today we learned about tourism…I’m never going to be ale to be a tourist again without feeling ridiculous. Although, I don’t think I have ever done anything that absurd!

The rest of the day was family day! Brendo and I had to talk to the P’s about our leadership and tomorrows plan. Brendo and I were told that we need to be more assertive and decisive. Today wasn’t so bad but yesterday was extremely frustrating. Everyone definitely loves to hear themselves speak which I s a challenge but we are working through it! Leadership is awkward when you are leading your peers. I definitely am not trying to mess with the group dynamics so I am sticking to my more understated leadership technique that the P’s are not so fond of.

Anyways, we ate lunch and then Roz and I walked back to our houses because we made a swimming date with Salina but it took forever to rally the troops and get out! This was a little frustrating because we had to write our 8page midcourse essay tonight because it was due tomorrow! Today was the only time to work on it. It got moved up because Ajan Mark came in today because he is getting interviewed for a famous television program, which is taking place here instead of the next islad where we were supposed to have midcourse. Bummer because these are our last days with the family! Eventually, we swam and played! I love all the kids but they can be so annoying! After an hour or so we headed in! I took a shower and went to Roz’s to work...

Unfortunately, Bookah followed me so I had to deal with him! Then Roz and I had to find a place to work because the kanom shop at her home was still opened~ By this time, all the kids had found us. We had told them a million times that we had a lot of work. So, we told them we were going to work on the beach ALONE! They followed. Then we decided to ignore them. Salina was NOT happy. I feel bad because we had to be very direct with her because we had such little time! I guess I took the P’s advice to be assertive!

Salina was the least of our worries. Over the course of an hour or so…we had more kids come. Everyone I had ever met and more! At one point, about 10 boys came and started shooting fire crackers out of coconuts or whatever they could find! These boys ranged in age from 4-10…all had lighters!

We had good starts on our essays but we had to head back to Roz’s house (mine is infested with kids). But of course, her uncles came to distract! I gave up and went home for dinner! I wish someone had explained this assignment to the families because they kept asking if I was done…noooooo! I worked in the middle of the floor for a while until Mah Ni said it was time for dinner. I ate alone but Mah sat with me and talked. Then all her friends came and sat around. Dinner was pretty gross and I wasn’t very hungry but they were all watching me as we talked!

After dinner, I was determined to finish my essay because there was more music and dancing tonight! Last night we had music and dancing as well but it was pretty weird… I went outside to work on the porch because there was a light but Book and a little girl who is always around came over! They wouldn’t leave me alone because they are only 2 and 3 years old. The girl even sat on my notebook! AYYY!! I had to go back to Roz’s. Somehow I whipped it out in an hour!

It started pouring and I headed back home. The music had already started but Mah said they weren’t going because of the rain. Eventually, I found someone to take me and luckily a bunch of friends were there. It was way better than yesterday! There was a huge stage. Everyone was dancing in the rain. The weird dancer girls were back but not as stripper-esqu.

P’Jack led us up on stage and we danced! So fun! The second time we went up one of the Mahs told us we had to go because some guy was getting aggressive. So the boys left but Roz had just arrived so I stayed with her. Good decision! A gay guy came up to us asking us to dance! He was so fun! But I said we weren’t allowed. He told us about his farang bf! Then my aunt grabbed me and brought me up to dance with her! So fun! So me, Roz, Jennica, my aunt, some of Mah’s friends, and the gay boy all danced! My aunt taught me house to dance and we just had a great time! 

At one point, a guy came up to me and obviously wanted to dance but all the Mahs grabbed him, yelled something at him and then shoved him away! It was really adorable. They take such great care of me! It was endearing and it made me realize how much I don’t want to leave this family! Everyone on the pier knows my name, talks and laughs with me, and takes care of me!!

Oceans - Ban Jao Mai - Day 4 (12/1)

Today was my first leadership day! It was actually a pretty solid day! They first part was great! We just explored wildlife on this mudflat during low tide. We found millions of soldier crabs the would walk around in huge packs but if we walked towards them they would immediately dig holes and bury themselves in the wet sand. We found huge starfish, sand dollars, etc! I never see them at the beaches I go to for vacations. There are way too many people for any wild animals to come out or even live! After a while, Kat and I just sat n the wet sand and made drip castles on my legs. We also talked about how much this beach made us miss our beaches, home, and America a little! I have gotten pretty homesick in Thailand but I am finally feeling pretty settled. Too bad I’m leaving in less than 3 weeks!

I hate goodbyes and this program forces me to do them constantly! This host family will be the hardest. Salina is currently laying next to me in bed! She’s so great! We always chat and she’s so patient with me and so good hearted (jai di). She’s only 12 but she takes care of me!

Anyways, back to the day…we came back and went to the Natural Resource Management Department. It was really interesting because it was so scripted and they really have no power to do anything effective.

Oceans - Ban Jao Mai - Day 2&3

Kiddie Encounters
I am still just as happy but I have no had time to learn a bit more about the village! They are not all fisherman and they are not necessarily saving the ocean! For example, I was carrying a kayak to the sea and I see a little girl finish her bag of chips and toss it on the street! First of all they have TONS of little kanom shops/convenience stores all around! Second, she just tossed it! So I said ‘mai di’ (not good!) and she picked it up with a grin. I’m sure the minute I turned back around, she just tossed out out again. Also, the other thing was that no one fishes! Still haven’t figured out what everyone does here and neither has the Norweigan guy who has lived here for 5 years! He’s pretty cool. He can’t stay away from the water and he found this place exploring, loved it, and stayed. He has a pretty cool mindset and lifestyle but I’ll spare the details.

Right now, I am sitting in the living area doing my reflections that are due tomorrow. It’s times like these that I realized how incredible/ridiculous my situation is. Mah I running around the village chasing fat Bookah and she comes in and puts out a little wood floor table for me to do my hw. Then she asks if she can go chase down Book. I am sitting in this thatched house writing about how the coastal area shapes this village while listening to the children yelling outside, adults chatting, and Mah yellng after Book. The monsquitoes are terrible and I am being eaten alive. Mah just put out the incent to repel the mosquitoes. This is really just a surreal experience because it is completely immersive.

As I am writing, all the little kids are shooting at me with fake guns yelling Pi Don Caow (my name)! Don’t worry, I stopped writing this to play for a bit. They come after me every day! Pi Don Caow is their main vocab. Bpai ti nai???

One of the little boys (Ja ron) just jumped on me with a gun in my face! They love to play! I love it too but sometimes I need a break! They are still yelling my name! In the morning too! They come in before I leave for the pier asking Pi Don Caow, ti nai?!? Where are you??

Now, one of the kids just grabbed my whistle from around my neck and blew it (we have to wear them for safety). I should get back to work but I wanted to explain my surroundings as it happens because otherwise its hard to understand or explain!

Oh ok!! Can’t stop yet…Nong Salina just came in and said Pi D.C. tam gan ban (do hw) and she slapped the little boys and they started crying! Anyone could tell it was all Ja Ron could do to keep crying and then the little one started. I felt so bad! They just wanted to play!

After this fiasco, I just did my work, I listened to Salina speak/read Thai to me and realized she was trying to figure out what I was doing tomorrow (going to the Natural Resource Management office). It was so funny because the booklet was in Thai and English and I saw national park and said ‘oh ani!!’ She was so proud of herself!

Day by Day
The past days haven’t been very academic heavy! Today (11/30) we sea kayaked for the first time. We were driven by longtail boat to the mouth of the river tributary and then we did some transect study of mangroves in the river and kayaked throughout, back into the ocean and back to the pier. We tested pH and looked to see what invertebrates, tree types, etc were around and had to ID them all! WE had to do forest and field transects already and this was by far the most fun!

Yesterday (11/29) was family day! I went to the school with Mah to give the ids lunch! I felt like a celeb because they all wanted to talk to me, touch me, play, etc. But they were also really shy! So cute and so overwhelming. I knew some of the kids from the village who are always at my house! When we got back and the kids came home, they were all so excited to see me and they never leave me alone! After school (only an hour of the day), I asked Mah if anyone around fished and she basically said no which was confusing! I was trying to understand the village…the point of family day!

**when I explain conversations, I explain in English but they are ALL in Thai…which is why sometimes I have awkward/confusing situations!
Since I couldn’t do anything related to fishing, I just walked around to find other friends! Eventually, I found Janelle and then Caro and Grace! We just swam in the ocean for 3 hours or so, which was great! We then had to meet back at the Ran Ahan to learn how to wet exit kayaks!

Oceans - Ban Jao Mai - Day 1

I am laying in my cute little bedroom and I am SO happy! I think this is the happiest I have been in Thailand…

We started the day at 8am and our flight down south was at 10:30. We had to fly as opposed to taking the train because of the flooding in Bangkok! Very little good came out of that flood but our potential 19 hour travel day turned into a 2 hour flight and 3 hour van ride! Can’t complain.

I have been excited for this course forever but today I was SO excited. We got to the village around 5pm and the sun was beginning to go down. We ran over to the beach…one of the most gorgeous beaches I have ever seen with huge limestone rock formations all around. We walked into the water and t felt amazing. It was warm but not too hot and such a beautiful color. Because the sun was going down, the water shimmered gold. The beach extended so far and was empty except for some local kids playing soccer!

I have to say, I am very lucky because there are no other study abroad programs who can do what we do and have the connections that this programs has. I heard that this village doesn’t do other homestays.

Basically we all just reveled in the beauty. Everyone was so happy. We also met our host families in the sala! We had chicken curry and some weird seafood dish. All I know is that whatever I ate had tenticles. I am nervous for the food but honestly, I cannot even worry about it because of where I am!  It is all so local and fresh so I think I can handle it! It didn’t even taste that bad! We sat down to eat with the family and there was an adorable cubby boy sitting there too! I haven’t seen too many kids this chubs. His name is Nong Bookati and he’s only 2 years old!! I also met Nong Salina, my 12 year old host sister who’s birthday is today!!
After dinner, we got in the back of a pickup and headed to our homes!  I have my own room (Nong Salina’s room, I think) but it’s the most comfy bed I have had! They even put new sheets on! Anyways, I drew with the Nongs and Roz for a while using my oil pastels which are now lovingly worn and my paper is tragedied.

Everyone here is amazing, so friendly and hilarious! They are all muslim and ISDSI was very strict about dressing conservatively so I assumed they would be more strict. No way!

Oh another funny thing! As we were making up my bed, Mah stuck nails in the wood around the door, grabbed a sarong, and poked holes in it with the nails and attached it on. Guess Salina doesn’t usually get too much privacy!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Oceans - Ban Jao Mai - Day 7 FINAL DAY

Sunday was a full day and my last and most frustrating leadership day of the block. We had a goat slaughtering, a TV crew, dress up in muslim outfits and finally our ceremony with a few things mixed in.

I'll start with the morning. I woke up early to do laundry because it needed time to dry! First thing of the day was a sacrificial goat slaughter. We all circled around the goat. They laid it down, tied its' feet, muzzled it, and slit its throat. This was possibly more disturbing than the pig because we basically watched the head just fall off. Something I've never seen. Also, they didn't knock the goat out. When we got to ask questions, I asked why they didn't knock it out or do it in a less painful way. They said this was the least painful way and they must kill the animal themselves and drain the blood so they can't just shoot it. There are a lot of similarities between Judaism and Islam. After they killed the goat, they took care of burning the skin off, etc.

The rest of the day was very "fluid". We were supposed to have midcourse but Ajaan Mark didn't want to rush our day and we were able to do it in Koh Lipe anyways. Aj. Mark was here because he was being starred in an episode of a famous Thai TV program with the famous "Andy" who interviews and follows certain Farang who are living in Thailand and doing Thai things. Aj. Mark asked for some people to pretend to look for seagrasses. At first I wasn't going to go but then I realized I may be missing a out on this cool opportunity so at the last minute, Aj. Mark took me in the van while the others rode in the back of the pickup truck...I felt special to ride with THE "Andy". We basically "acted natural" for a long time. For me that meant looking at everything in my magnifying glass. We had a good time making jokes and being filmed. Eventually the storm came in and I would say that Andy isn't the toughest man around. he was ridiculous. We headed back and I realized that Brendan and I had both left the group (leadership day!). Aj. Mark took me back in the van again because it was raining! He told me that, really, I was a good leader because I was going back early in the van with them (good thinking....the pickup was just behind us).

We ate, learned about Islam and then headed back home to our families so they could dress us for the ceremony. A few frustrating leadership things happened and the group was just obnoxious and unaware, which is pretty common with this group.

I headed back, showered, and waited for Roz to come over so they could make us up! Roz got the "big" outfit and it was pink and sparkly. I got a dark blue one but it was very pretty. Then Roz's pi made us up. More makeup than I have ever worn and it was everything I hate...all pink makeup! But ohh well...different ideas of beauty for sure! Then we got dressed and she redid or added to our makeup. I didn't even recognize myself.

We headed over to the ran ahan all done up and on to the beach for pictures. Unfortunately the camera crew was there again! Everything is more uncomfortable when they have been around. We took tons of pictures and headed in to eat. Salina wanted more and more pictures. Bookari wasn't feeling it. I hadn't been feeling well so I decided not to eat too much and only eat veggies. Good choice for sure. The food looked weird. After dinner, we all said things to our families and they said things to us in front of the group. Both me and Mah Ni are shy speaking in front of the group so it was nice but the next morning was much more heartfelt. During the evening, she basically said I like to do the dishes. I said I love playing with all the kids and she cooks well, etc.

THen it was time to dance! This was just hot and uncomfortable because of Andy and the mosquitoes. But it was alright. Eventually, we left and went home. I had to back and Salina and I talked and exchanged phone numbers and addresses. It was really cute. Then i showed my host mom a picture of my family and she asked if she could keep it. I later saw she had put it on her mirror. Really adorable. That night started my never ending stomach bug. Ugh...still have it and it's 3 days later!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Forests Part 5 - Huay Tong Kaw Village (November 11-16)

Forests Part 4 - Huay Hee Village (November 7-11)

Forests Part 3 - Nam Hoo Village (November 4-7)

Forests Part 2 - Huay Nam Village (November 2-4)

Forests Part 1 - Maehongson and Pakalo Village (Oct 31-Nov 2)

First night we stayed in a guest house after our awful bus ride to Maehongson. We were basically all crammed into a small bus made for Thai people, drugged up on dramamine, for 9 hours!! Enough said...

Pakalo (11/1)
After day one, we had a short road hike to Pakalo Village. This village was Karen and very weird! The villagers all seemed pretty drunk when we arrived! We met our host families (for the night only) and they took us "home." They actually didn't speak to us at all. I'm assuming they spoke Karen and not so much Thai. I eventually built up enough nerve to ask to shower. We all showered, ate dinner...without the family. We later found out that the Karen families serve their guests first and eat after. Sometimes they eat our leftovers....AWKWARD. We then went to a meeting. I was pretty zoned out and drew a very detailed picture of a tree because we had already had two meetings in MHS earlier in the day! ADD kicking in...

After the meeting, we packed up because we had a very full day of hiking head of us. While we were packing, our Mugah (host mom) started pulling out scarves to sell us. One of us had to buy, so I took one for the team. The start of MANY purchases...

Couldn't sleep because I was pretty nervous for the hike the following day! It was marked as "very technical" and had 30+ rivercrossings!!

Hike to Huay Nam (11/2)
The 30+ river crossing claim was proven TRUE!  I didn't actually count but it was at LEAST 30! The river crossings were awesome. Some were bigger than others but the entire time I was completely in awe. The hike was beautiful! I wish I had more time to take it all in but we were on a schedule. The entire hike I kept zoning out and taking in the surroundings! However, while zoning out, I would forget to watch my footing/be careful, which was a bit precarious on this "technical" hike. This part of the hike was my favorite part of the trip thus far! 

After the river crossings we had to get up some major altitude. So, we hiked all uphill for a while! This was NOT fun and I lost my love of the hike...however, I didn't lose my awe! Uphills in Thailand aren't like any uphills I have ever experienced. They are very steep for a very long time.  I think part of my exhaustion was explained by the fact that I didn't sleep very well the night before!!

Eventually after 6 hours or so, we finished up the hike in Huay Nam! Huay Nam was beautiful with a BEAUTIFUL view!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Agroecology Part 1 – UHDP – October 3-9

I kept a journal while I was away so I’ll give some updates from my journal!

We first went to UHDP, the bus ride was pretty rough because seats are tiny but the buses are so funny because the ceiling is a mirror with actual fans hanging. Pretty old school.

Anyways, the first couple days at UHDP (Upland Holistic Development Project) were really rough because I was really sick. I got some sort of stomach bug and just couldn’t get out of bed for a while and it lingered for a couple days! Luckily it happened at UHDP and not the villages or the homestay in Mae Ta!

Cooking Day! – Day 4, 10/6/11
On October 6th, we had a cooking day. We split into groups and collected food to later cook with UHDP staff and community. We cut down some parts of rattan trees (super sharp thorns) and skinned them with machetes. I wasn’t doing so well with the machete and I almost hit my leg twice. The machete slipped from the tree bark, I guess. Pi Jonas and the Thai member got really nervous so I relinquished the machete. We then took our goods back and found out we were also killing two ducks to eat! They brought the ducks up to a cement area in the trees and we were allowed to strangle or chop the neck to kill it. The first duck was really rough because the knife was so dull. Dan refused to cut its neck. Then Mel tried…wasn’t working. At this point I was feeling kind of sick. Then the Thai member asked Pi Ming if he should kill it…UH DUH…poor bird. So, he tried to chop its head off but the process ended up taking way to long and the poor creature started flailing when the knife went in. Apparently, when the knife hits the nerves, the animal flails even if it is unconscious or dead. I couldn’t watch anymore. Eventually, they brought the bloody bird to the host to wash it off. We later found out that this guy had never killed a duck before…kind of apparent.
Then it was time for the second duck. This time we had a sharper knife so Mel held the bird and Dan chopped its neck three times! Much better than the 10+ last time. All of a sudden the duck started flailing and everyone told Mel to let go! So, she did and the headless, bloody duck started runny right at me! I freaked out and ran around a tree and the duck followed! I don’t know if I have ever been so freaked out in my life. Eventually, I turned again and the duck continued forward off a ledge where a Thai guy eventually caught it. INSANE

We then continued to cook…I chopped meat and vegetables. And then folded it up into banana leaves and tied it with bamboo and then steamed them all! While we were cooking we had a nice snack of sticky rice in the bamboo people shopped and duck organs…I ate some heart  (tastes like salty chicken), kidney, liver, and I even gnawed on some chicken feet… First duck experience. Can’t say I really enjoyed it. After the cooking it was time to eat!! Wasn’t a fan of the duck meat and pork but the vegetables were good….might become a vegetarian when I’m back in the states. I must say, this was the most local meal I have ever eaten…everything except maybe the pork was from UHDP’s property. Tomorrow we slaughter a pig so even the pork will be local!

The rest of the day we learned how to make natural organic fertilizer compost. It’s really amazing what people can come up with using certain abundant resources. Wish it could be implemented everywhere!

Pig Harvest – Day 5, 10/7/11

Today was the day I was dreading. We were to watch a pig be killed, butchered, and then cook it and eat it! I knew that the way we were doing it was most humane but I have never seen an animal die before yesterday’s duck. I was most nervous for the scream/cry of the pig, which I heard was awful and sounded like a human scream!

We started the day by feeding and cleaning the pigpens…I thought it was cruel of them to make us do that hah. The pig in the pen that I cleaned out was a bit jumpy which was for me AND the pig. The way they care for the pig costs them very little and is very low maintenance so that was really cool!

We then went to the canteen and listened to four different hill tribe villagers talk about their cultures and the importance of pig/meat in each culture. This was probably the most helpful part of the day. I realized that the pigs are very important to their cultures and they really truly appreciated and enjoyed eating the pig. In America, we completely take meat for granted. In the hill tribes, meat is special and only eaten on occasion. At the end, they asked us about meat in America and the answer was embarrassing and disgusting. We have no idea where our meat comes from in America. Many people become vegetarians to remove themselves from the industrialization process of meat. In Thailand, there is no need because livestock is treated humanely. Sadly, Thailand is also moving away from this appreciation and connection with their meet. Unfortunate!

Anyways, back to the killing. We went to a pen where we lured the pig out with leaves. The pig faltered out and was put in a cage. Me and about 5 others carried the crate to the field. A few people (not me) offered to hold the pig down after it was hit in the head. The back legs of the pig were then tied to the back poles of the crate and the door was open. The pig started to step out and one of the Thai men slammed a rod on its head to knock it out! This was the worst part. The pig faltered and hit the ground hard, spazzing. The students pinned down the pig and the Thai man stabbed a knife into its neck, which killed the pig. Everything was so fast. I didn’t realized what was happening until after but I was shaking.

There was blood spewing out of the neck and they stopped it up with a leaf after draining some blood out. They then brought the pig to a bamboo bed and poured boiling water on it and began shaving the pig’s skin and hair. We all then joined. It was kind of hard but it was a good experience. Then we all started making jokes about shaving the pig and getting it all done up…definitely lightened the mood! After the pig was shaved they cut it open and removed its intestines, etc. into a bucket. At this point they were also cutting off the ears and tail, which they cooked immediately and fed to us. Nasty! Everything was brought up to the canteen area where we started cutting it up! This was crazy and I never thought I’d be able to do it but I got really into it. It took a little getting used to touching the skin, meat, bones, etc. but once I did it was really cool! I cut the skin off the thigh and I removed meat from the bone and muscles…etc!
Eventually we got to eat the meal! I usually don’t really like pork but this was delicious! I think the seasoning helped, as well!

Seed Bank – Day 6, 10/8/11

Today is our second to last day at UHDP. I kind of nervous to leave because we have “tame” food, company, hot water, toilets and toilet paper…everything! Anyways, today was a great day!

We worked with a organization called ECHO who does work with seed saving. There is an intern, James, who is working on building an Earthbag house to show poor communities how to build it and use it as a seed bank. It was awesome because we got to do some physical work, which felt so good! We all go really into it. We dug trenches, moved gravel, made sand bags, filled tranches, created drainage pipes, etc. Towards the beginning I wasn’t feeling it because it was SO HOT and I was completely dripping with sweat but everyone livened up and made it really fun by singing, making dumb jokes, crazy noises, and finding more “efficient” ways to do things! At one point I was pulling the wheelbarrow full of gravel and Zane came up and pushed the wheelbarrow from behind and we almost ate it but it was pretty funny and quick so we kept the system. We also kept joking that we should do work like this for Crossfit so we could be productive while doing hard laborious workouts!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Off to the fields...

We leave today for SFS course. We are going to UHDP (Upland Holistic Development Project) and staying at the center for almost a week. Then we have mid-course seminar and mid-course paper and then we switch with the other group and we go to Mae Ta (village) and stay with a family for a while and then backpack to another village to stay with another family. We will be learning all about agriculture and we’ll also be working in the fields! It’s going to be really cool and I think our Thai is going to improve IMMENSLY because we have to speak Thai with the villagers and families. But, I am pretty nervous. Be back in 2.5 weeks!!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Seminar week of Agroecology/Sustainable Food Systems

This week was really crazy and pretty intense. We had agroecology/sustainable food systems (real name, I guess) seminar and Thai class this week. Foundations was pretty chill because it was mainly a way to get us acclimated with the culture and they knew we were with families so we wouldn’t have much time to work. SFS was much different. Now we are living in apartments so they just loaded the readings on…probably because they wanted to keep us from going out and causing havoc in the apartment buildings. Well, they did a pretty good job. The readings were interesting but heavy. The best part of the week was dinnertime! We went to some cool different places for dinner throughout the week!

One day we went to this place called the salad concept. We were SO excited…we haven’t had salad or fresh vegetables in so long. So, we took full advantage. Another night we went to this really nice hotel restaurant…definitely a mistake but once we walked in we couldn’t walk out. So, we had some good American food and a few beers. I accidently knocked my glass of beer and broke it. The waitress was so sweet but I felt terrible. Saving face is a true thing in this culture. 

On Friday, our final essay was due! We had to create a sustainable food system for Northern Thailand in only 5-6 small written pages. Within those limits, we also had to explain the problem that the food/ag system has been facing. It’s funny because this assignment at CC would have taken me about an hour or two. Here, it seemed huge and everyone seemed to be freaking out. So I gave myself a reality check and Mel and I decided to go out for dinner at this cool market down the street.

We got there and decided to go to this little place where you cook your own meat and veggies on a little grill in the table. How could we mess that up?? Well, we managed. The “farang” in us struck again. We couldn’t understand the menu, luckily there were pictures but pictures of raw meat all look relatively the same especially when the menu is faded so the waitress pointed to one picture and said “gai’ …luckily we knew that meant chicken. So we ordered chicken and shrimp and a basket of veggies and a plate of noodles. The waitress looked at us like we were crazy and kept asking what else. We said that was it. Someone started our grill and she came back a few minutes later with a small plate of a few pieces of chicken, 3 shrimp, veggies and noodles, and bacon. We definitely didn’t order bacon…I have a feeling she didn’t think we would have enough food and threw in bacon because what American’s don’t like bacon? We then proceeded to put the meet on the grill as she attentively watched. Next to the grate, there was water boiling…we weren’t sure why. We started eating the noodles raw (we didn’t realize they were raw) and the waitress came up and said no no no and pointed to the water. So…I dumped my plate into the water…she bolted to the other side of the table to Mel and grabbed her plate before she could do the same. Instead she put Mel’s noodles in a utensil that looked like a ladel with a strainer. And stuck it in the water. As carnivore club members, Mel and I went to grill the vegetables. Not here…those were also to be boiled. We then took some cabbage to wrap our food in and everything pretty much fell apart. We then look to our right at the couple who had just sat down They had PLATES of all kinds of meats and vegetables and one was in charge of the grill, the other in charge of the water and they just had it down. They saw us looking in awe and laughed. We were a mess. But, the food was delicious. Mel gave me some noodles. Definitely didn’t have enough food but that just meant it was time to find some KANOM!!! We were looking for Roti (I think I explained roti before). But, the best part of the dinner was the sauces they gave us. It was sweet but sort of spicy and so delicious.

So, we eventually left and headed of to find some Roti to bring back to eat while we wrote our papers. The place we knew of wasn’t there so we went to look on this back street. We thought we were out of luck when all of a sudden I saw the stand! We were SO excited. It took a while but was so worth it! We finally got back and started writing our papers. Someone I finished that night. We also had time the next day to write but I knew I would rather just get it done.

Friday was great because we didn’t have Thai class, just seminar. We then had a long lunch and went to a factory in the afternoon. In the evening we had a dinner at the school. It was supposed to be at Ajan Mark’s house (the head of ISDSI), but because of the storms, his house is flooded! So, we couldn’t make it. By the way, the storms here are really bad and souther/central Thailand got hit hard. It moved up here but luckily we are ok. Many of the fields and areas by the river are flooded though. Scary!

Thai class was short this week because we got to start an hour later! But, it was still intense. We learned about farming terms and phrases we may need in the villages. At one point, Ajan Sithorn was trying to teach our how to say manure. She couldn’t remember the English word so she said “cow SHIT”. She taught us how to say “shit” in Thai a while ago. It’s hard to tell this story in person so typing it is even harder. Ajan Sithorn is hilarious and always tells us great stories and cool words and proverbs! 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

First day, FREE – September 24-25, 2011

The next 24 hours after the family left was CRAZY! Meredith and I unpacked our room! The apartments are brand new and beautiful! The rooms look like a really nice hotel! We have our own bathroom  (with hot water), air-conditioning, a huge fridge, huge closet, lots of drawers and cabinets, a microwave, a balcony, and even internet! Our Ethernet cord isn’t working though. But it’s really amazing. The apartment building has a pool and workout facility on the ROOF that overlooks the city. It’s unreal. I never imagined it would be this nice. So, we were obviously excited.

We headed to Gat Luang to get stuff we needed for our rooms. That took a while but eventually we got everything and headed out. We got back to the apartment, and decided to go swimming!! We packed the pool. Everyone was just so excited to be free so we were all discussing what we would do for the night! People had different ideas so a bunch of us made plans to go to a nice dinner for Meredith’s birthday on Nimman Haman street (the high street) and get some drinks. It was a GREAT dinner. I only spent about 400B ($13) on a really nice dinner of chicken parmesan, hummus, a mojito, and a large beer! NEVER IN AMERICA! We stayed for a while and then headed back to the apartments. We passed a Roti place (sort of like crepes but better) and all got DELICIOUS Rotis. I ate SO MUCH. I asked the waiter for his recommendation and he said the “Thai Sweet” Roti. It was delicious. Although, it had a weird kick to it and realized there was a good chance that there was some sort of crab flakes added to it. So, that was weird.

We continued the walk back and hung out in the apartments for a while with the group! We went up to the roof and had some beer and just chilled and talked for a while. Then a few of us decided it was time to go out! We had heard of this club called “Warm Up” that all the Chiang Mai University students go to! So, we headed out and a bunch of people decided to come along, as well. We walked all the way back up Nimman Haman street and found the club. This club was crazy! There were many parts to it. The inside had American music and there were groups of friends drinking and socializing around buckets of ice/drinks. Not very much dancing… But we had our hearts set on dancing so we did it anyways. Definitely not appreciated and I sensed it…so I decided I was done with that and we started to head out. As we were walking out, the rest of the group came in! We went to a different area where there was a live band (boy band!!) playing. We all went to the front and a few of us got RIGHT front and center and got really into the music and danced A LOT! I had a great time!

After a while, we headed out of that area and back to the main area with the bar and tables and we found some more people from our group who said the rest were in the “lounge”. So we walked in and it was all crazy lights and dup step! Of course, we couldn’t pass it up so we danced there for a while too! We even tried out our Thai with some of the locals! I think they sort of understood. It was a cool experience but I’m not sure how often I am going to take part in this scene. It’s a little intense.

Meredith, Mel and I took a Tuk Tuk (3-wheeled motorcycle with an attached seat and roof) back to the apartments! We immediately fell asleep and woke up LATE the next morning. First time sleeping past 8am!! We were not feeling so hot in the morning so we got smoothies and breakfast and then it was time for homework. We had to do our homework early because we all wanted to go to Walking Street Market (the one I went to with my family and LOVED).

Walking Street was a little overwhelming today. It was much more crowded and we were so exhausted from the night before. So, we got massages on the street (60B/$2 for a half hour). Massages here are SO CHEAP! There is a spa outside our apartments that have a full body, 2 hour massage for 200B (<$10). I will definitely take advantage! We ate dinner, shopped a little, and then took a Tuk Tuk back. Tuk Tuks are my new favorite way to travel. They are so comfortable and you get a great breeze and the view is great.

Agroecology starts tomorrow! It seems like we haven’t been in school in forever…LONG weekend! But, it was a good one. I could live here for a while.

Last night with the family – Friday, September 23, 2011

I was a little nervous for my last night with my family. I wasn’t really sure how to act. Should I be really sad or hug them? I had no idea. I was definitely excited to have some freedom and fun in Chiang Mai in the apartments but at the same time, leaving was definitely going to be kind of sad! Big change! So, we headed home, I took a shower, and then I biked over to Meh’s house. It was kind of awkward. We didn’t really talk, just watched TV. Then it was dinnertime and I decided to give my family their gifts! I had a book with picture of DC and I had gotten pictures printed and bought a frame to give them. I had also made Nong Not a friendship bracelet. But, I think the best thing was my card! I spent 3 days of breaks at school with Ajan Sitorn writing a card. The first day I figured out how to say the sentences and wrote in English phonetics. Then I went home and tried to spell each word in Thai. Then Ajan helped me to correct my Thai! I put A LOT of effort into the card.

So, I gave them the presents (wrapped) and they just put them aside. This is normal in the Thai culture and they said to expect that. But I told them to open the card! Paw read it and I said “tuk mai?”…meaning, is it right? And he said no. I was REALLY disappointed. Then he came over and proceeded to show me every little thing I did wrong. I didn’t really take it well…I was kind of annoyed. I think he noticed and then said, “but it ok…I can understand.” So, that kind of threw off my mood. I know he didn’t mean any harm. He is always a little hard on me and I think it is really because he wants me to improve. I got over it because I wanted to enjoy my last night!!

When I said goodbye to Ba Plun (my aunt), I was REALLY sad. It hadn’t really hit me yet. I really like her. She is a hard one to explain. She was kind of serious but in a loving way and would sometimes be really sweet and funny. I think the best way to describe her is that she just has a strong personality. But she always spoke Thai to me and tried to incorporate me into things, which I loved. Anyways, I hugged her goodbye and said goodbye to Lung Tong (my uncle), who I also really like. My grandfather was in bed but I “whyed” him (said sahwaticah and put my hands to my chest) and he had a huge smile on his face! He always does when I come in. I wish I could have spoken to him!

Anyways, I headed back to Paw’s and packed…took FOREVER! I hate packing. I had SO MUCH STUFF. The next morning, they all made fun of my bags. They were huge and heavy. Meh made an amazing breakfast, which I helped with a little. First Paw and I had rice in a banana leaf and I thought that was it but then he said Meh was in the kitchen. So, I had a feast!

While we were waiting for breakfast, Paw gave me a rolled up canvas. He said he had taken my painting off of the frame and rolled it up for me! He also rolled in one of his paintings! That really made my day and was the BEST gift he could have given me. Now I wish I had worked a little harder to finish the painting!

Then, I put my bags in the little red car. ISDSI told us to buy sheets and not to accept sheets if our host families offered them to us. Sure enough, Meh whips out a brand new package of orange and green sheets (she knew those were my favorite colors). I said thank you but ISDSI said we should buy our own. Paw and Meh couldn’t understand why and were a little bit mad. I walked outside and Meh brought out a bag of pink sheets with teddy bears. I again told them what ISDSI said but Paw said, “why would you buy??? You only have 3 week!!! Too expensive!” Sheets are about $5 (by the way). I didn’t have the heart to say no so I took them. Sorry, ISDSI!! I am now sleeping on pink sheets with teddy bears…Thai style.

Anyways, I put all my bags in the car and got in and the car wouldn’t start! FIGURES! So, we had to take the bags out and put them in the pickup truck that Paw borrowed from a friend. Meh, Nong Not, Paw, and I all stuffed in the tiny cab in the front and took off. We got to the apartments and Meh and Nong Not made my bed in my new/old sheets! I unpacked and then eventually they left! The goodbye was a little awkward and I got a little emotional. But, I’ll see them again before I leave so I got over it pretty fast and was back to the excitement!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Goodbye Party

Last night was our goodbye party with our families! It was great!! A bunch of us got there early so we got a headstart on all the food. It was DELICIOUS. We had amazing kanom (desserts). Some of them were just like the ones I made the other week with my family. My Thai class (five of us) has been learning the song about the beautiful girl at the hotel asking an admiring boy where the bathroom is. I think I explained the song in another post. Because we love our professor so much, we decided to do it for the talent show part of the party! She was SO HAPPY! It was adorable. Katherine, Hish, and Meredith sang while Andrew and I acted it out. It was so embarrassing. I pretty much just "gracefully" walked across the stage pretending to strut...but graceful isn't really my thing.

Some people had some really great talents. Everyone who performed was awesome and just did whatever their families had them do! My mom couldn't go because she felt sick so Paw's hippie friend who I went to Tak with last weekend came to fill in! I am obsessed with him. He's hilarious and laughed at me the entire time. He told me I have a "Thai smile" because I smile a lot and he loves that. So, I was really glad he came!

Other than that, we had a really great time and we all sang the "sticky rice" song together, which was a lot of fun!

So, an update on the week! This week the field professor from each field course had a day to give us an overview of the course and the last hour was given to us to write an essay about what we had learned in the overview and how it relates to what we learned in Foundations. Agroecology sounds like it is going to be SO interesting. It is all about food systems around the world and in Thailand and how they could become more sustainable. We visit farmers and an NGO ( I think). Forests sounds cool but I didn't really understand the goal...but we will be backpacking to all the different hill tribes and learning about their cultures. Sounds really cool! Oceans is going to be the most aesthetically pleasing for sure! We go to the coasts and islands south of Phuket. Half the time we spend on the coast learning about mangroves and the ecology and people of the area. We stay with families on the coast. The other half of the time we spend sea kayaking and skin diving everyday and traveling to the different islands with locals to camp on the beaches! Apparently its hot and uncomfortable but I really couldn't care less. I'm SO EXCITED. These field courses are going to be really cool.

If you want to see more about any of the classes, you can check out the ISDSI website!

Also I just realized that ISDSI has a blog also where they post pictures they have taken of us!! So that website is

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Last week with the fam!! – September 20, 2011

I can’t believe I have been here for almost five weeks! The first week went by ridiculously slow but every week since has flown by! Five weeks marks the end of my homestay! On Thursday we have our going away party/talent show. We all have to sing a song translated as “Sicky Rice Children.” This song is completely in Thai. So, everyday this week for the last half hour of Thai class, all the classes join together to practice and Hish plays the guitar. I’m sure anyone who speaks Thai would think we should completely ridiculous so I’m sure our families will be amused. Some families taught their student Thai dance/song to do at the party. Paw said that he doesn’t know how to do anything except paint so he thinks we should get on stage and paint together. I’m not sure how well that would go over. The best part about the party is that we get to dress in traditional Thai attire. We get to wear a sarong skirt and a light tunic top. Some people had to go out and buy outfits but Meh had one picked out for me to wear!

So, that is my update on the going away party! Today, Meh and my aunt told me I should come back to visit when I am in Chiang Mai! YAY…they must like me a little haha. I actually have recently gotten much more comfortable with them and confident about speaking. I can now understand most of the things they tell/ask me and can usually put together some sort of response. This is a huge step that occurred in the past week or so. So, I’m kind of sad to be leaving now! But, when I visit, I’ll be even better!

I haven’t talked about Crossfit for a while so let me enlighten you on my newfound heavy lifting and intense workouts. My bootay is DEFNITELY going to be in shape after this program. Today our workout consisted of 2x 50meter prowler pushes and then Burpees and Sledges where we go all out for 20 seconds and then have a 10 second break, 8 times each and then an extra set of Sledges. Now, let me explain what this all means. You may have heard of Burpees. You start standing and go down into pushup position (must touch ground with chest) and then jump up and clap hands. Once we had a “death by Burpees” workout. But, that’s a whole nother story. Sledges are pretty self-explanatory. We have 8-12 pound sledge hammers and have to hit a huge tire for 20 seconds. Prowlers are AWFUL! They are basically these huge contraptions that have two poles sticking up to put weights on and to hold. Then, we push this huge contraption on the cement driveway for 50meters (or however far our workout states). I usually push 70 pounds but the big guys and some champ girls push up to 180ish. This is one of the MOST PAINFUL workouts. Literally, my hold body pains and if you stop or lose momentum, the workout gets a million times worse. This exercise is definitely meant for larger people who have more body mass…not exactly me. This is just the main workout. Warm ups are another story and harder than most peoples full workouts (they have a shirt that says that hah). We have to run 400 meters, 10 pushups (chest to ground), 10 squats, and 10 wall ball squats…4 times with no rest.

This is just one example of a workout. If you were curious, death by burpees means you do 1 burpee in 1 minute, 2 in 2 minutes, etc…until you can’t make the amount in the designated time. This is much harder than it sounds. I made it to 15, which was actually farther than most and ended up being about 105 Burpees in 15 minutes (I think)! After almost every workout I always feel like I’m going to pass out.  We all kind of dread Crossfit! Haha. We have also started heavy lifting and I can squat with 105 pounds (almost my body weight…which is my goal)!!

Well, I don’t have much else to report on now. I had a great last weekend with the family and my week is going really well, too! It took a little while but I really think I have finally connected with my family and it’s going to be sad to leave. It’s also going to be weird to have so much independence! But, I also really can’t wait to be able to explore Chiang Mai and just hang out with friends in the city. Saturday is definitely going to be fun.

Also, just a heads up on my schedule and access to communication… I start my Agroecology course next week! We spend the first week of each block (course) in Chiang Mai and stay in our apartments. We continue Thai class in the morning and then have seminar on the course topic in the afternoon…and then crossfit. For the remaining three weeks of the block, we are out in the field staying in hill tribe villages and backpacking between villages. During that time I will have no phone or any kind of technology. The villages don’t even have electricity! So, I’m planning to keep a journal and then post some updates when I’m back in Chiang Mai for the seminar week of the next block. I leave on October 3rd (I think). 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Weekend trip to Tuk!

I still haven't written about Friday's hike up Doi Suthep mountain but I'll just have to do that tomorrow. 

Today was, hands down, the best day of my home stay.  Yesterday (Friday), on the motorcy ride home, I asked Paw what we would be doing this weekend. He said he was going away all day Saturday and most of Sunday so I should make plans with a friend. Meh doesn’t drive. Well, we were a little too late to make plans…it just isn’t that easy here. So, after a ton of calls and wrong numbers, I thought I was out of luck. I guess I seemed a little frustrated because then Paw said well maybe you can come with me. Originially Meh didn’t want me to go because she was nervous something would happen to me. So, Paw called the woman in charge of homestays at 8pm the night before we left and she said YES! So, 6am today, I was up and ready to go to Tak. I didn’t know what we were doing except it had something to do with painting and a bunch of his friends were going and Tuk is another province and 2 hours away. So we head out…

We first stop at Paw’s friends house to ride with them. Good call because I was definitely wondering if Mr. Rickety was going to make it all the way. Anyways, Paw's friend and his son are probably the coolest people who live in the sickest house. They are obviously artists and the hippies of Thailand. The house is all wood and impeccably decorated. The father is a wood sculptor, painter, and musician and the son is a metal worker and wood carver, as well. The four of us had tea and headed off in the pickup truck.

The ride was ridiculous…these men obviously have a sense of humor although I’m not sure what kind. Paw’s friend talks SO LOUD and constantly sounds like hes yelling and after he says anything they all laugh like hyenas. Not kidding. I actually took a video. It was hilarious. I had no idea what they were talking about but I just couldn’t help but laugh. And then I would hear them say “farang” (meaning wihite foreigner, sometimes derogatory depending on who says it and the context) and look at me or put their hand on my knee and then start cracking up again. So, I know I was part of the amusement…I just don’t know exactly what. So, we stop to eat breakfast with the rest of the crew! Breakfast was like most people’s dinners and we ate it out of the back of a pickup. It doesn’t matter where you eat or the circumstances, Thai’s always have full elaborate meals.

The artists were all hilarious and so sweet. One woman , Kwan talked to me for a while and told me that I was really great at Thai and she was really impressed! I later realized I told her I had been in Thailand for 4 months instead of weeks so when I later told her I made that mistake she was even more impressed. Her English is perfect. There were a few old women who were so adorable and wonderful. I had already eaten by the time they came and they kept saying kgeen caow??? (meaning eat mean??) and I said kgeen leow (I ate already!), and they were just so excited about the fact that I spoke some Thai, which made me feel great! I think I’m making myself sound better than I am. I know enough to get by but can by no means keep a conversation or even remember half of what I have learned hah.

Anyways, after breakfast we headed on and the cackling and yelling continued as I tried to take a nap. Didn’t happen. About a half hour later we stopped for lunch. Wasn’t hungry…but ate anyways so then my stomach hurt a bit for the last hour and a half of the drive! They planned this two hour drive to last half the day…they like breaks.

We got to the hotel and it was SO nice! It has wireless and everything! This is definitely a change and I don’t hate it. The only problem was that I had to share a room with some woman I didn’t know! Luckily, I found out it was Kwan. It has been really great. We have talked a lot about Thai culture/etc. and she’s so sweet. But we do have to sleep in the same bed and that has yet to happen.

Kid that came to paint...there for more than an hour!
So little story… One of the old women is really tiny (up to my chest). So, they were all around a truck grabbing bananas when I came over. Paw knows I LOVE bananas so he was said “ohhh don caow (my Thai name), get gruay (banana)”. The old woman grabs one and quickly gets it to me! I thanked her a lot and then I’m not sure what happed but I heard “farang” and then other Thai words and all of a sudden she grabs another banana and gives me a HUGE hug and slips another banana in the side of my backpack. It was the best hug and the first I have gotten from a Thai (my family doesn’t even hug). So, another hilarious, great moment.

So, we chilled for a few hours at the hotel and then headed off to a market. They waited about an hour to leave because they thought it was too hot outside…Thais are sensitive to heat, I have realized. So, we get to the market and Paw puts out our paintings. He brought the one I started the first weekend!  Turns out this group of 15-20 does this every Saturday. They come to this market and each have their craft (painting, wood work, making things out of banana leaves, etc!) and they bring supplies for the children of the village to take part as well and they teach the children how to do the craft. They said they do it because they don’t want children to lose touch with the Thai art culture. Love it. This is just one part of the vast market. There is a stage where the students of the town sing, dance, play instruments, all in traditional Thai costume. There is also amazing food! I really had the best time.

My new friend :)
I spent an hour or two painting and the rest of the time I just explored and tried out my Thai a little. The best thing happened while I was painting. This little girl and her mother kept coming up to me the entire time and I thought they were just amused because I was a farang (like everyone else was…people were taking pictures and everything…I felt like I was in a zoo). But, towards the end of the evening, the mother pushed the little girl towards me and she giggled and grabbed her mom. Her mom then said that she really wanted to talk to be but was nervous. She was learning English. So I told her that I was trying to learn Thai and maybe we could help each other out! So I spoke a little in Thai and then some English and she finally started talking. I found out she was 10 years old and LOVES art, also! She said she loved my painting! Then she and her mom left. About a half hour later, when I was packing up, she came back  on the motorcy with her mom holding a Thai dessert! She handed it to me and said “for you”! I thanked her a million times and took a picture with her. She was the CUTEST. Then she ran back to the motorbike with her mom and they asked if I would be back next weekend. NOW I WANT TO COME BACK L
My painting of the transport of Thailand

Anyways, this was the highlight of my trip so far. No question. It was just a really great day and I met all the nicest people. 

Week 4 - September 12-16

This week has again, be pretty much the same as the past weeks. Not too much crazy things have happened! Everything is finally starting to become pretty normal just in time to move out of the host families house and into the apartments! I only have one more week with my family!

I guess the reason the week has been so tame is because we watched a bunch of really, really depressing movies about Cambodia (The Killing Fields) and Burma and talked about development in this region of the world. The movies really put me off and threw my mood off completely, both days.  So, I mostly just went to Meh’s, ate dinner, did some homework and slept.

Thai class is always entertaining! Ajan Sithorn is hilarious and taught us some really great Thai songs. My Thai is really improving I think! The one song is about a beautiful girl who walks into the lobby of a hotel and catches a boy’s eye. She then walks up to the boy and the whole song is about the boy’s thoughts and how he’s wondering what she is going to say to him. When she reaches him, she smiles and asks where the toilet is. Pretty ridiculous song but fun to sing and we can actually understand most of it! Also, everyday Ajan gives us Thai proverbs, which usually align with some English proverb. They are pretty much consistently about love and almost always depressing hah. We always ask for more uplifting ones but haven’t really gotten any. Here are some examples…

“soi the rub, jub maii hom” – your appearance is beautiful, when you kiss it smells bad (meaning: you are beautiful on the outside but not the inside?)
“tii dai mii rrak, tii non mii tuk” – where there is/was love, there is suffering
“rrak pehh glaii cheet” - closeness conquers true love (this one took a while to unfold and she had to use examples so that was entertaining...)
“glaii ta glaii jai” – out of sight out of mind

Now the less depressing…

“ow jai caow, mah saii jaii raow” – take his heart to put in your own (meaning: put yourself in his shoes)
“puuan kgeen ha gnai, puuan die ha ya” – a friend to eat with is easy to find, a friend to die with is hard to find
“nam neeng laii luuk” – still water runs deep
We also just found out she isn’t married…maybe that explains the quotes? Anyways, she also teaches us really funny things. When a girl has to pee she says “baii dek dok maii” (to pick flowers). When a guy has to pee, he says “baii ying grad tai” (to shoot the rapid). Hmmmm…

I absolutely love Ajan Sithorn despite her very blunt and maybe pessimistic proverbs! She is 77 years old and FULL of energy and although it may not seem it from the proverbs, she is really upbeat and ALWAYS smiling. She really thrives off of teaching, which is why she hasn't stopped. Also...none of those pictures were posed. 

Also, we had full fried fish one night for dinner. They were mini so you are meant to eat the entire fish. I couldn’t handle it. I felt like it was looking at me! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Reflections - September 13, 2011

This update is mostly about cultural aspects of my trip and not as many funny/ridiculous stories! I would say this is maybe more directed at my dad… Just a heads up!

I have decided that my comfort on the motorcycle is a pretty solid symbol of my comfort with Thai (family) culture. The first days when I was introduced to the “motorcy” (as Paw says), I was pretty uncomfortable and clung to Nong Not or the back ledge for dear life. As the first week came and I was dressed in my school uniform (tight skirt), I realized that I would have to ride the motorcy sideways, as many Thai students do. I was terrified and CLUNG to Nong Not and she held my arm the entire way home. Eventually I was able to ride sideways and just hold the back ledge but was still nervous, as I had to balance my posture with the weight of my backpack. After the first couple weeks, I was able to ride without clinging to the motorcy but I was still very conscious of my posture and positioning. I am proud to say that I have now ridden the motorcy in all weather (including todays rain storm), in all attire, and all positions (ask far as I know…) and I am not nervous in the slightest and don’t even need to hold on. The 20-minute motor cy ride through the village is actually one of my favorite parts of the day (probably because I think of things like this the entire time…it’s really the only time I am able to have personal thoughts).

Now, for the connection. My first weeks I was constantly nervous and always clutching to any comfort that I could find. As school started, I had to adjust to my new schedule and I was still nervous in most situations and always very aware of my actions and surroundings. As I got more comfortable with my family, I started letting go of some of my security blankets and was willing to open up and try to speak the language and integrate myself into their culture. I have now been through many experiences that I believe have led me to my current comfort level. I am still culturally aware and always looking to find new aspects of Thai culture but I am very comfortable with the aspects I already know and I have learned to relax in most situations and just let the, very different, Thai culture be exposed. This may sound kind of cliché but this is what I thought about my entire motorcy ride home today (in the pouring rain). I am now relatively comfortable with the Thai culture that I know (in my family) but when I move out into Chiang Mai and head out to the field courses, I believe I will go back to the state of uncomfort as I would if Paw were to take me out on the highway on the motorcy. But, I believe that because I have had this homestay experience, comfort will come sooner and I will adapt faster. HOPEFULLY!

Anyways, now that explained my comfort level, in depth hah, I have some other interesting cultural things that I have learned recently!

In Foundations we are discussing development…very broad. So, yesterday at dinner, I asked Paw what he thought about the development in Thailand. After finally understanding the question he said “bad, bad, bad”…many times. I asked why he thought that and he said that Thailand is trying to develop with a western mindset, which he believes is not applicable to the Thai nation. He says that the buildings and city life is not the way of traditional Thai culture, which is why he moved from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and eventually to Meh’s village (that she grew up in). He says this village has even changed a lot in the past 50 years. Meh used to hear wolves and all kinds of wild animals from her house (which is why her house is risen and many of the original houses are, as well). He believes Thailand is moving from the self-sustained way of growing ones own food and trading within the village. Paw believes that soon there won’t be enough food which is ridiculous because Thailand’s hot climate is ideal for farming. This explains a lot about the way I have been living with my family. I am lucky because I get to experience the traditional Thai culture that is may be turning into a rarity. I have obviously expanded upon Paw’s slim English vocabulary but this was the main idea.

Paw also explained that he hates to go back to Bangkok because of the pollution. He grew up there with 7 siblings in a small apartment. Many of his siblings are still down south but he rarely sees any of them. He says the Bangkok mindset is very different from the mindset here. But he says Chiang Mai is moving into a similar monetary mind set. Life in Bangkok is very focused on money (which accounts for much of the prostitution and trafficking in/through Bangkok…for many, it is the only way to earn money). Paw Peap is very wary of money driven way of life and dreads the day when it consumes Thailand. Although, he believes Thailand will continue to change and developing in this way.

I have also have some observations about traditional roles within the family here in Thailand. As I have noted, my family is relatively traditional. I have explained that Meh’s father is very sick and cannot care for himself. So, Meh and her sisters and brother all take care of him. Her older and younger sister sleep in the house (most nights) and someone is always there to care for their father. He is definitely a primary focus of the family. This is very different from America. People are way to busy to be able to focus completely on an elder person that is completely incapable. Meh does not work and her older sister is a seamstress and her younger sister is a masseuse. Both of which are not necessarily time consuming jobs. The women do ALL of the cooking and cleaning. The men (Paw and Lung Tong) have no part in cooking/cleaning/laundry/housekeeping/etc. When I asked how to do my laundry (at the beginning) Paw said he didn’t know and that Meh would have to show me. I have never seen Paw in the kitchen or clean up from any meal (in any way). This is interesting because gender roles in America are definitely much looser. Here, there are very rigid roles and they are very much fulfilled. Many of my male classmates aren’t expected to do their laundry or clean their dishes. I do all my own laundry and my job is to washPublish Post dishes after dinner.

These are just some of my observations…I could go on for pages!!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Fourth Weekend – September 11, 2011

Well this weekend definitely went through its’ ups and downs! But, in the end I think it was a good weekend! Saturday we did, in fact, go to hot springs AND a Wat (temple). The Wat was beautiful and a great experience. The hot springs weren’t like any hot springs I have been to. People don’t really swim in these. Little kids swim in this fountain man-made river thing but adults don’t. And it was more of a spa. The first area we went to had food stands that sold eggs. I wasn’t sure why until Meh and Nong Not took me back to this big fountain that was meant to boil the eggs we bought! It was 105 degrees! After we boiled the eggs we went back and ate them. Delicious. We also had papaya salad which I love but is always spicy…I’m getting used to it.

Then it started to pour so we took cover until the rain stopped. I then thought we were leaving but Paw asked if I wanted to take a mineral bath. This was the spa part. So, Meh, Nong Not, and I went and took mineral baths. We all had our own little rooms and bathtubs. I just sat in the tub for about 15 minutes. It was very relaxing. Then we headed home. The ride took FOREVER because the roads have tons of potholes and it’s a very rundown car so we had to swerve around them all. I fell asleep. The rest of the day was pretty boring and I tend to get homesick when I’m bored so that was definitely the negative of the weekend. I really wanted to go to this Sunday market called the Walking Street Market so I decided to ask Paw. He said we would have to talk to Meh. I had figured out a way to go with a friend or to take the taxis because I assumed they wouldn’t take me all the way into the city but after a lot of Thai and confusion, I finally communicated what I wanted with Meh and she said we would all go! Paw didn’t feel like translating I guess…

So, today is Sunday and I actually had a really great day. I was nervous because I didn’t know if we were for sure going to the market and what we were going to do all day before (because the market doesn’t start til 4pm). By the way, days are LONG because sleeping in is 8am at the latest. So, I woke up and had breakfast, studied for a while, and headed to Meh’s house. At Meh’s all the women (including me, Nong Not, Meh, and my three aunts) made a HUGE batch of wonderful dessert. It was basically sticky rice mix with flour and tropical fanta wrapped around this brown sugary mix and folded into palm leaves and the baked. Then you open the palm leave and the dessert had turned into wonderful tasting gelatin with the sugar in the middle. But the process of making this is LONG and interesting. I learned to very precisely fold palm leaves around the dessert. It was fun!!
After leaving Meh’s, we headed to Walking Street Market. I am obsessed with this market and can’t wait to go back. Everything is so cheap here. Really nice pants/shirts/etc. cost like $2-$10max. Jewelry, scarves, decorations, etc are also insanely cheap. So, obviously I went for it. The food is also delicious! If anyone has anything in mind that they want, let me know! I’ll definitely be going back.

So, that was the gist of my weekend. The downs were really just homesickness during downtime but could be much worse! The rest of the time was great. I guess I didn’t have too much to be nervous about and I underestimated my host parents!