Sunday, December 20, 2009


Where to start?

I had a Youth GIG (Global Initiative Group, that's the Peace Corps sub-group that I joined) meeting in Bangkok on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Several other meetings were being held, and all of the group that came the year before me was in Bangkok discussing the near future as they would be preparing to complete their volunteer service. So we had a Thanksgiving dinner, too.

About a month(?) in advance, one very on-the-ball (not me) made contact with the important people in the Sizzlers of Thailand and arranged for all of us to have a dinner at a particular Sizzler restaurant, and got a 10,000 baht group discount (woot!). That was followed by visiting a few drinking establishments, then a 5am bus back up north (that was a rough morning).

Then December started. Classes rolled along, though preparations for Sports Day became more and more apparent (other volunteers talked about whole days of classes being canceled for practices). I started making plans for some Christmas activities to do with my kids, and then Nathan arrived.

"Wait, what? Who's Nathan?" That's what you may be asking yourself. Nathan is one of my number one homies in all the world. And he is my first visitor (of many I'm sure, right?) from my old life. It's pretty awesome. We spent a couple of days in Chiang Mai getting him acclimated, then headed to Issan to visit a few volunteers to give him a flavor of Peace Corps life, and for me to see some more volunteers situations (and check out the "deep south of Thailand"). It was a great experience. It was very "same same but different," and we got to try eating rat. By the time we were ready to head to my village, I was feeling a little homesick.

Since we've gotten back here, we've spent some time with my counterpart, walked around my village, gone for a sweet bike ride through the farmland, run with my students and eaten a lot of really good food. It sounds like tonight a couple of people who work at my local government office are going to come over to practice English (which I started doing recently and is a lot of fun), so that should be fun. I figure since Nathan doesn't speak Thai (though he's picking up stuff really well), it will be a good opportunity for them to practice. It was really cool yesterday watching my students talking to him. It made me really proud to see the students having the courage to try talking to a new farang.

And then I decided to do a little update on here. Soon I will have been here for eleven months, and then we will be getting together in January for our mid-service conference right before the one year mark. Yow. Time seems so strange.

Life is pretty strange and awesome, eh?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Loy Katong

Loy Katong is essentially the Thai Thanksgiving and is celebrated during the full moon in November (if it happens to be a month with two full moons, I guess it happens on the first one). This is when people give thanks to the rivers for the water and way of life they provide.

There are several parts to the celebration, but the big one involves floating lotus-shaped banana leaf constructions with candles and incense on the river, to be done with loved ones ("loy" means float and "katong" is the lotus-craft). Many people make their own katongs, and they range from pretty simple (like the one I made) to ridiculously elaborate.

The other parts of the celebration are the sending off of kom-fei (paper hot air balloons), which looks awesome when everyone does it together and you have a full moon for a back drop; a parade where each village in the area decorates a truck and has a girl (or girls) sit on it who participate in the ensuing beauty contest; and the parade ends at a festival with drinking and singing and dancing and the afore-mentioned beauty contest.

Just thought I'd do a quick little "cultural sharing" post to fulfill that third goal of the Peace Corps mission statement (to share the cultures of other nations with Americans).


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Laying down the law

And lay it down thick, I did.

So yesterday, a few neighborhood kids came by. They are kindergarten or first grade students at one of my schools, and they come by to see what the heck I am doing and get me to play with them every now and then (more often lately since they've been on bpit term).

It started out typically enough, with a little banter in our mutually hard to understand Thai, then proceeded to a game of checkers (Thai rules are far superior to American). One girl, however (who wasn't as familiar to me) was being a punk though. At first, she kept stepping on my feet. In the beginning, it was funny and I didn't mind. But then she kept doing it. And I told her to stop. So she started pinching me and pulling my hair. I told her to stop and go away. She kept doing it. I tried to distract everyone by getting out my frisbee, figuring if we all played together, she'd leave me alone. But then she started poking me in the butt (which Thai kids apparently like to do). I told her to stop again, and when she ignored me, I grabbed my toys, walked in my house and shut the door.

They stood outside calling my name for a couple minutes, but I just ignored them. Apparently fearing that I had gone deaf, they opened the door and came inside to yell some more. I walked over, told them to leave, then locked the door.

Then I got out my mandolin (which has sat gathering dust for far too long) and started trying to tune it. And the kids started banging on my window and door yelling my name, asking if I could hear them over and over. Now, tuning the mandolin is hard enough for me, but it was next to impossible with all the interfering noise. And when they didn't stop after about ten minutes, I started to get frustrated. My first inclination was to yell at them, but I quickly decided continuing to ignore was better, but I really didn't want to sit in my fish bowl with them staring and banging and yelling, so by a stroke of strategic brilliance, I went upstairs.

I finally gave up trying to tune the instrument (I don't know if I'm just inept or if the strings warped or something from sitting too long, but as soon as I would think I had it OK and tried to strum, it sounded more like the local dog pack than a purty li'l chord) and just hung out in my room. After a total of twenty or thirty minutes, the kids gave up and went away. Score one for patience.

Now I just hope they have made the connection between my initial decision to go inside and the one girl being naughty and not stopping when I asked her to.

Calm like a bomb.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bpai Tiao!

Just gonna point out that today officially marks the completion of my first third of my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand. If I'd had a bun in the oven when I left the states, it'd be about done by now, what what?

Anyhow, "bpai tiao" is when you go somewhere for fun (as opposed to for seriousness). Sometimes I bpai tiao when I wander around my village, sometimes I bpai tiao when a Thai person says a bunch of stuff to me in Thai, I smile and nod, then am ushered into a car (we call that being "Thai-napped"), and sometimes I bpai tiao when I intentionally decide that I want to travel somewhere and then I do.

During bpit term (the month-ish break between semesters), my fan (that's Thai for "sho'ty") and I did some touring, hitting three points of interest: Ayutthya, Sukothai and Pai.

Ayutthya and Sukothai were pretty amazing. Sukothai was the first official capitol of Thailand when Thailand became Thailand (though they didn't call it Thailand at the Thaim, I mean time), like 700-ish years ago (I think, you might want to wikipedia that, I can't be bothered to fact-check all my claims). The king (or I suppose one of the kings) from that era is responsible for developing the written alphabet. Eventually, a king decided to move the capitol to another big city more centrally located (called Ayutthya) and Sukothai just got old, until it got old enough that people wanted to come see some history and they started to charge money to see it.

Ayutthya was cool to visit for many of the same reasons as Sukothai (old stuff is awesome, and the US doesn't really have anything comparable). In the 1700s, Ayutthya was attacked by the Burmese, and so the ruins are in shabbier shape than those in Sukothai. I don't know a lot of details about this conflict (sorry), but apparently the Burmese were repelled (or shortly thereafter booted out), since Thailand is Thai today. The destruction of Ayutthya prompted the relocation of the capitol to Grungtep (or Bangkok for all you farangs out there).

And now I will take this opportunity to rant for a moment. There is a fairly common practice at tourist attractions to have different (higher) prices for foreign tourists than Thai tourists, like anywhere from 3 to 20 times the Thai price. Usually, the signs announce the entrance fee in English with Arabic numerals, and then in Thai, with Thai numerals, it tells the native entrance fee, so probably many foreign tourists don't realize there is a different price. A small part of me understands this practice, but for the most part, I really don't like it. I think it reflects poorly on the Thai character. It brings the assumption across that all foreigners are rich and that Thai people just want their money. Bah. I have more feelings on the matter, but it's difficult to articulate. In any case, upon becoming a PCV and receiving our Thai ID cards, we were told that by showing those cards, we could expect to pay the Thai price for things, and it has worked at the zoo and national parks, but it did NOT work to see the ruins. Just to let any other volunteers who might read this know. And doing the chicken dance did NOT convince the lady that I was sufficiently Thai, though she did laugh.

After the old stuff, we headed to Pai for a couple days. Pai is a beautiful area in the mountains a few hours north of Chiang Mai, and it made me kinda sad. We stayed at a very nice guest house a few kilometers outside of the town of Pai, which I was quite happy about, as the town of Pai is a perfect example of everything that is wrong with tourism. Fortunately we were not there at the high season (as far as tourism goes) when the population of the area is approximately 90% farang, and it was only 60-70%. Heavens know, when I go visit a foreign country I'd hate to see local people doing anything besides selling me stuff and taking me on ATV tours. There were signs advertising "Go where most tourists don't go!" So everyone who wants to go see "real" Thailand will go there, and then someone will build a 7-11 and a pizza place there, and then they will have to find a new place to take people where "most tourists don't go!" Just a series of rapery until Pai is lame and people don't want to go there, and the tour companies go find a new place to exploit, and then the local people who have centered their economy around catering to tourists have an empty town full of guest houses and farang restaurants (because I hate eating local food when I travel). And I couldn't help but think that probably ten or twenty (or five, I dunno) years ago, Pai was just a quiet farming community until some businessman from Bangkok or Chiang Mai (or a farang businessman is just as likely) happened to wander through and say, "Boy! This would make a great tourist destination!" But our guest house was very nice and we had a great view.


Anyhow, traveling was fun, but it was definitely nice to get back to my site where I'm more than just another farang with money that I need to leave in Thailand.

Eli OUT!

Edit: So, I just clicked the publish button, and I felt kinda bad, like this might sound pretty harsh, and I suppose it is supposed to be a little harsh, but don't let it fool you. I still love this place, and y'all should definitely come visit. I just encourage everyone out there to practice responsible tourism.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


So I recently figured out why there is a perpetual stream of red ants run the length of my house, up my kitchen counter, around my sink and off to who-knows-where. The answer presented itself in the form of what I had previously thought to be a snarl of leaves of the viney plant growing up the side of my house next to the kitchen window, but upon closer inspection revealed itself to be a nest serving as the terminus for the endless parade of Hymenoptera.

My first thought was, "Swell! Now I can get rid of these guys!" But then I started thinking a bit more. These guys have been around for a decent while now, and while I don't really like them, they bite me very rarely and aren't causing any real problems. Besides, to get rid of them, I would be committing an act of genocide and would surely be attacked in response.

The conclusion that I've reached for now is to let them be and see if I can find someone who really likes kai mot dang (red ant eggs) to come make a meal out of them. That would sit much better with me than simply exterminating them.

Hm. A nice short post about a single topic that isn't just a running narrative. I kinda dig this.


Monday, September 21, 2009

If blog entries were library books, I'd own this one by now!

I'd like to say that the reason I haven't posted anything in over a month is because I've been oh so busy. In fact, there have been numerous opportunities, but not much to say until these last couple weeks (and then, opportunities these last couple weeks HAVE been rather scarce). And there came a period where I just didn't feel like writing, and then I started and slowly I dragged this out of myself.

I think I'll start filling y'all in with the sanook sanaan (I'm going to translate that as "party") I attended at one of my schools in honor of myself and another new teacher. I arrived at school around five in the evening and met one of the head monks from the temple next to the school. He was a big jolly guy and greeted me by shaking my hand (which I later learned is- well, not taboo, but un-traditional). At that point, the paw-aw (principal), a few other teachers and a couple older men were the only ones there. They had the new teacher and myself sit in front of a great big centerpiece type thing made out of rolled up banana leaves and flowers (I'm not sure if I have pictures of one or not, but they're pretty common at any sort of Thai ceremony) and a man (not the monk, I think he was a retired monk) recited the long chant to welcome us and bless us and give us good luck. By the time he finished, some more folks had started to show up and people started tying strings on our wrists. By doing so, each person is drawing bad energy out and putting good energy in, and you end up with a massive torque of string wrapped around your arm.

People continued to arrive, and as I understand, they were various important people from the village, though aside from the elected guy, I have no idea who they were. There were also a lot of mee-baans (housewives) in attendance, and several of them thought to mention to me that they had daughters (one actually said, "I have a daughter your age, but she is not beautiful"). The best part of all of this was definitely when Wandii, my counterpart's wife and my mother told me in English, "You are my son, you are part of my family, I love you, I will take care of you." (That's paraphrased, but that was the general spirit of her words). This was especially touching because prior to this I had only heard her say "My name is Wandii, I speak Thai, I don't like to speak English," and a few random words here and there. It made me feel very good.

After a while we were told to take seats at tables and food and whiskey started to flow. The physical education teacher decided he wanted to drink with me and started pouring whiskey pio pio (straight). And didn't stop. I believe I have noted before that drinking with Thai people is dangerous because it is common practice to refill someone's glass for them whenever it is empty, or less than 2/3 full, making it difficult to gauge how much you actually consume (this is anytime, not just with alcohol). I had an idea of what this evening would entail in advance and had decided to allow myself to consume to the point of intoxication. And so I did. I sat at all of the tables, toasted everyone, and eventually sang the Thai song I've been practicing when the karaoke got going hot and heavy. In the end I walked home and regretted my actions in the morning.


Shortly after my sanook sanaan the other school I'm teaching at hosted a science exhibition. This was probably one of the coolest things I've seen here. Seriously.

The day began with a lot of that old time religion (it was a wan prat, and this school takes Buddhism pretty seriously) [right now is the Buddhist Lent and every full moon, half moon and new moon is a wan prat, or "monk day," and involves going to temple and making of merit]. On this wan prat, the temple came to the school. Four monks and most of the community came for a morning of prayer and bestowing food and gifts upon the local temples. Naturally, as soon as I arrived my paw-aw (principal) had me come up in front of everyone to sit with him (I'm getting used to this kind of treatment, though I still feel weird about it, but it's kinda fun sometimes). After the chanting and speeches and whatnot were over, the science extravaganza began. Began with some kids from another school in the area doing a sweet dance with drums and cymbals and play-fighting! And then some grown-ups from the area who are into model remote-controlled airplanes showed off their stuff. It was pretty cool, but what really struck me was how excited people were about this. It also made me realize that in my time here at site, I haven't seen any machines in the sky. Would an airplane flying over be a big deal out here? I am pretty sure the majority of my neighbors have never flown. Anyhow, I really appreciated the purity of the audience's wonderment. Not jaded at all.

When that was over, the students spent the rest of the morning going around and looking at projects they had made. A group of my matayom 3 (that's like 9th grade) boys built a 3-person bicycle that people were riding around (of COURSE I went for a ride!). In the field, students were blasting off water rockets they had built from soda bottles. There were a few other stations with pretty typical experiment things, and a math and science fact contest in the cafeteria. And that was it (aside from the snack and drink vendors who showed up). It was simple, it was mellow, and it was fun. The students got to show off some really impressive work they had done (I'm still amazed by the bicycle, and the water rocket launching contraption was super sweet). But most of all, like with the planes, it was the atmosphere that made the day for me.

My next destination was the Youth Conference. I'm pretty sure I have mentioned that I joined the Youth GIG (I'm pretty sure that stands for Global Initiative Group), and our primary responsibility is to host this conference each year. In addition to us, 12 volunteers from all around the country came, each bringing one Thai counterpart (mostly teachers) and two students ages 13-18. The conference was hosted at a little place in the woods (although the "log" cabins were in fact made of concrete) a couple hours outside of Bangkok. The theme of the conference was "Dream, Believe, Achieve," and for 3 days we ran activities designed to get students thinking about their future, setting goals, and thinking about the things they need to do to reach those goals. Which means they built models out of random household items to represent their dreams, played team-building and problem-solving games, did some journaling and debriefing, talked with a panel of Thai professionals and danced silly dances.

I feel like there's a lot more to say about what we actually did at the conference, but to really understand you would have to have been there.

In any case, I feel it was a lot of fun and pretty durn successful. And it's got me thinking about what we'll do next year. There are definitely a lot of things that I think went well that I would like to emulate, and a few spots that I think we could improve upon. But I don't really wanna think too much about that right now. I'll just say that many of the volunteers who were there (myself included) have made comments to the extent that participating in that conference is/has been one of the most fulfilling parts of being a volunteer. This is because it is specific in whom it is targeting and applies to and works directly with those people, and because the benefit is so obvious and visible. A lot of the things that we do as volunteers are questionable as to whether or not they have any real value, and even if there is value, it may be hard to see, or may not show itself for a long time.

The last stop on this whirlwind blog entry will be Doi Tung, the home of the king's now deceased mother. It is located on a small mountain in the north of the province of Chiang Rai. The location is significant because one of the queen mother's (I THINK that's how you refer to her) big projects was to reduce drug trafficking in the Golden Triangle, and she had a lot of projects working with the hill tribes doing things like introducing alternative crops to grow instead of opium. Anyhow, we drove up this mountain and parked. Around the base of the peak (does that make sense? The house was right on the top of the mountain [and by mountain we mean really big hill], and the area just below that is what I'm talking about) is a pretty nice flower garden. I'd love to say more, but I'm really not that critical and couldn't rate it any more specifically than that. I'll post some pictures and you can see for yourself. Then we headed up to the house.

I had no idea what to expect. Pa had used the word "palace" when describing it, and I was kinda dreading something big and gaudy and western-styled. To get up to it, I had to borrow some pants (shorts weren't kosher), then we walked up a long driveway. And I was tremendously relieved. The palace was a big wooden house. We took a tour (the tour was in Thai, but they gave me a pamphlet in English to read with information about the house). The style was a fusion of Thai and Swedish (sounds odd, but the king went to school in Sweden when he was a boy and ma had a place in the mountains), so the aesthetic style was alpine cabin, but the form was more typical of Thai buildings. And all the pine paneling was from recycled packing crates, and on the ceiling of one room, the lights made a scale model of the solar system with everything positioned at the time of the queen mother's birth (astrology is kinda a big deal here). But we weren't allowed to take pictures inside. Then we got to check out the awesome views that she enjoyed and it was time to head home. I would say it was a really good trip, as it bolstered my opinion of the Thai royal family (not that I have any issues with them), as this "palace" could have been as over-the-top as you could imagine, but was actually incredibly modest (a ridiculous house by common standards, but considering royalty had lived there for 10 years, very humble indeed).

And I'm going to call myself caught up for now. There's ALWAYS more that I could say, but I'd say that's enough. I'd like to do some journaling in my personal journal (which I haven't been doing at all), so I think I'll make a date for some forced introspection, say tomorrow evening on the balcony? Great, see you then!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

6 Months in the Peace Corps

As of today, I have been in Thailand for 6 months.

I can definitely say that my experiences are not at all what I expected. Then again, I also tried really hard to come without expectations, so I can't say if that is good or bad.

I don't have anything specific to write about right now, so maybe this is the perfect time to just ramble a bit. It just seems kinda like a momentous occasion, and I really ought to say something.

More than anything, I am impressed by the Thai people. There is a near universal sense of genuinely caring about the well-being of others. Sometimes it can come across as nosy ("Why these fools all up in my business?!"), but it's important to remember that the concern/interest behind the question is legit.
There is also a feeling that everything has value. There is no sense of futility, and nothing is wasted. This means that work is done efficiently and with care. Priorities might get in the way of some projects, like road work but put on hold indefinitely, but others, like planting rice fields and building houses rally the community to roll up their sleeves and help one another.
No cut of meat cannot be turned into dinner (I can't emphasize that enough), and no one is to poor to smile, dance or sing a song.
I'm sure this country has it's share of lazy, ne'er-do-wells, but they just don't stand out here.

On a less positive note, I am becoming more and more disenchanted with the role of English teachers on a continuous basis, especially in the countryside. If one of my students works very hard and learns English well, they can... go to one of the cities and sell crap to tourists? Yes, they could do other, better things, but the likelihood is exceedingly slim. And really, what's wrong with being a farmer? I feel like I'm supposed to think there's something wrong with the way the people in my community live and that I'm here to make everyones' lives better, but I just can't do that. They have been fine for a long, long time without me, and they will continue to be fine after I am gone.
So I have more or less decided to not care if my students learn English or not. Instead, I will spend my required time in the classroom, and try to build my relationships with my co-teachers to develop teacher trainings for non-English teachers. I have posed the idea to my teachers and they sound interested, so now I need to do some brain-storming and planning and keep pushing this. I also have some other ideas, but I think I've talked about these before. And even if I haven't, I want to keep my mind rolling right now.

I am very aware of there being a LOT of things that I WANT to do, and a lot of things that I am NOT doing. But, I need to remember that it's important to take things one step at a time. For example, I have just decided to take a walk around the neighborhood when I'm done writing this. It's something I did a fair amount when I first came here, but I've stopped doing lately. Yes, I've been busy(ish), and after a first meeting, I don't have much to say with my Thai, but, SNAP. It's the effort that counts.

So now I'm antsy to go out for a walk. I will finish with some general thoughts on the Peace Corps.

Does Thailand NEED the Peace Corps? Of course not! Peace Corps is here because Thailand has requested our presence. That is WHY the Peace Corps sends volunteers to countries. Am I going to revolutionize teaching practices and cause a dramatic improvement in student performance in my area? Probably not. It IS possible that I will find one project that will have a positive, lasting effect, and that is my current goal, probably something with a youth group (or maybe agriculturally related). But what I DO know is that when I leave, a few hundred or thousand people will remember a farang who lived with them for a few years. And he didn't come here to find a Thai woman to take care of him, and he made efforts to learn the language, and... I don't know what. That's the part that I think matters. That's the part that I can count on happening. The rest is valid and worthwhile, but whether or not anything actually comes of it is highly questionable.

While I was out of site for the second round of training and everything, we watched the movie "Volunteers" from the 80s, starring John Candy and Tom Hanks who play Peace Corps volunteers in Thailand (though I like to say the ended up in Peace Corps Generic Asia). I don't know that I'd recommend it to anyone who wasn't in the Peace Corps (in Thailand, gah-dai), but it did kind of strike a chord. The project they were sent to their village for was to build a bridge over the river. In the end, they have to blow up the bridge to save the day, and when Tom Hanks apologizes to the villagers, he is informed that nobody cares, because they never really wanted the bridge in the first place! This really emphasizes the need to align your goals. I may come up with the most brilliant project idea ever that will revolutionize and improve everything around me, but if nobody wants what I'm selling, it doesn't matter. And again, who am I to say that my "improvement" will actually make anything better?

We also got the line, "Lying, malignant stink-infested yankee Peace Corps! Ptui!" from the communist contingency in the movie, so that was good, too.

OK. Time for that walk.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Big cities.

So I've been out for a while, no joke. About 3 weeks. And now I'm back.

I began by heading over to the neighboring province (up in the mountains) to help out with a fellow volunteer's English camp. On the bus ride over, as the bus wound through the mountains, with the grinding of gears and the brief backwards slides when the driver changed gears, I gained some new insight on the practice of slash 'n' burn farming.

When I first visited my site back in March (jeez, I've almost been here for 6 months!), the air was super hazy, and it was explained to me that this was a result of the hill people burning the mountainsides for some free farmland. My initial reaction was, "Man, that sucks. Look at all this smoke. This is bad for the environment, makes the area less beautiful, and it hurts my lungs. Slash 'n' burn is bad."

When I returned to my site a month later to stay, it appeared that the season's burning was finished, as the air was much clearer. At that point, I stopped thinking about the slashing and the burning, as there really wasn't anything to make me think about it. Out of sight, out of mind, no?

And then I took a bus ride through the mountains and witnessed the results first hand.

As I watched a woman holding onto the slope with one hand, surrounded by neat rows of young green shoots, hacking at a stubborn root with a machete, I decided that I could no longer simply say, "Slash and burn is bad." It's just not that simple. Certainly it is not ideal environmentally, but how can you NOT respect and admire the effort, love and tenacity that it takes to clear, plant and harvest a slope that would be difficult to simply walk on, let alone make a living from?

And then I was through the mountains and my thoughts returned to myself. I became more disillusioned with English camps, but I had some good ice cream, so I figure it all balanced out. I've probably said this before, but it seems to me that there are two values to English camps: as a mini-teacher training (where teachers can see some fun activities to maybe use in their class, or course this is completely undermined when they teachers just use the time to hang out and don't observe, which seems to happen as often as not), and to give kids a chance to have FUN speaking English (because they certainly aren't going to learn and retain much from these). It's just frustrating that so much of the focus seems to be on show and ceremony, and knowing the tens of thousands of baht that are spent on these instead of a new computer or something that could have a more practical and long-term benefit. But I'm not going to be able to change that, so I will have to do my best to find ways to add some value to these camps I find myself involved in.

Oh yeah, apparently Michael Jackson died around here, too. It was a weird feeling. He was definitely an important part of my childhood, and I still admire what he did, it's just really too bad things got as weird as they did those last-- 15 years or so? But yes, America, Thailand noticed.

After the camp, my associates and I headed to Khorat for PST2 (the second round of training, still called pre-service training, though we were sworn in a few months ago...). On the way, myself and a number of other volunteers (about a dozen of us) went to check out a national park, intending to camp there for the evening and hike around before 2 weeks of meetings and whatnot.
We made it to the park, but did not end up camping when we found out that campsites were some 20-ish kilometers inside the park, and it was starting to get dark and rainy. So we hitch-hiked a few kilometers back up the road (hitch-hiking is WAY easier here, and feels way less sketchy) and ended up staying the evening at a resort.
The next day we hitch-hiked into the park, checked out a waterfall, became very glad when we saw the campsites (since there was no place to get food or beer which I guess had been expected) then spent the rest of day traveling back to the site of our training. Oh, and everyone got a tiger t-shirt (a sua sua, if you will, the words for tiger and t-shirt being identical except for a difference in tone), except for me, I had a lion shirt (because I'm a rebel) and we entered our first session of training chanting "sua sua sua!" to the tune of "Eye of the Tiger." Because we are awesome.

And then we had training.

Things started out with a second counterpart conference where we went through essentially the same activities as we did at the end of the first round of training, though with a different counterpart. Of course, my counterpart didn't show up (she'd had some recent drama and decided not to come, and I supported and defended her decision), so I got to do a lot of brain-storming and whatnots by myself, but I came out of it with some good ideas for projects (recycling, AIDS, and trying to find a way to get enough water to produce two crops of rice every year, if you have any ideas [besides damming the river], HOLLAH!), and questions about the actual value of teaching English instead of working on community projects. But I'll work it out. I think as far as my work with the schools go, I want to get involved with more teacher trainings and get a youth group going. Anyhow, yeah.

Then the counterparts went home and we got some more language instruction, which was awesome. We also got to go into Khorat (it's a big city, I heard the second biggest in Thailand [no, Chiang Mai is NOT the second biggest, it's just famous and stuff] though I can't say for sure), which was a pain to get to from the hotel we were staying at (we were kinda in the middle of nowhere), a LOT of people got sick (I had a pretty nasty bout of food poisoning), and we took over a local bar called Hank Over (the 'g' and 'k' final consonants are pretty much the same in Thai, and I'm assuming that's where the name came from, or maybe it's actually something more meaningful). Which was awesome. We went over there on the 4th of July after our No-Talent Show at the hotel and danced to American music for a bunch of hours. The place filled up with Thai people watching us, and I went around putting American flag stickers on them (the Thai people, they got a kick out of it). Then an awesome Thai band came out (there are some really good musicians here, but the consensus is that the music itself isn't very good). They played "Happy Birthday America" for us, took requests for the few Thai songs we knew, then went into their set. We stuck around for a bit longer, but we'd been there for a while already and were pretty tired and headed home.
And there really isn't much more to say about training.

When training was all over, about twenty of us headed back to the site of the FIRST round of training to visit the ol' host families. It felt really good see them again and speak slightly better Thai and show them pictures of my new home. I also felt really guilty as they pointed out that I don't call and I tried to explain that I don't like talking on the phone in general, and it's REALLY hard to try talking on the phone just in Thai, but I think I'll be making an effort to drop a line every now and then, tell them what I've eaten and tell them I miss them. It'd be worth the effort.

Then I spent a few days in Bangkok, as the Peace Corps medical staff decided I should see a doctor about my food poisoning. I still don't really like Bangkok, but this was definitely the most enjoyable visit I've had yet. We stayed at a guest house located right next to a BTS (the sky train) station, so it was really easy to get around, and I just feel like I'm getting a slightly better handle on the city. It was just nice to feel a little more in control. There were also some folks from 120 (the PC group who've been here for a year already), and they're fun to hang out with, and they know fun places to go.
And then the doctor told me I'm fine and I headed home.

Did I mention that right before I left site (at the beginning of all this), my computer crashed and I had to format my hard drive? I got a bunch of music from other volunteers, and I still have most of my favorites loaded on my ipod, but it's a little sad that there is a lot of good music I like that I won't be able to hear again until I get back to the states. Ok, you can stop pitying me now. It really isn't a big deal. But this DID prompt me to get a external hard drive in Khorat to back up stuff. When my computer initially crashed my biggest concern was that I would lose all of my pictures, but I managed to get into safe mode and copy those before it stopped letting me load at all. So that was good.

So now I'm back at site. I just did a load of laundry and now I'm just going to chill out for a while. I definitely am taking today to recover from being gone for so long. Do some reading, maybe nap a bit. This evening I'm going to go help my counterpart coach our two champion speech kiddos (the regional competition is sunday!), and then I guess tomorrow is back to normal.

It's kinda reassuring how life just keeps on going, isn't it?

Eli OUT!

Oh wait, my Prathom 1 (first graders) can't say Eli, so they call me Kruu Arai (basically that means Mr. What?)

Kruu Arai OUT!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Moral Stories. Thai-style.

So, the Prathom 4-6 (~ grades 4-6) and Matayom 1-3 (~ grades 7-9) went to a temple for a few days recently, and I was invited to go along. Naturally, I said, "Yes!" This is what I knew about the trip: The plan was for them to leave Thursday morning, stay Thursday and Friday night at the temple, and go back home on Saturday. The wat was about a 25 minute drive from the school.

Since I was at my other school on Thursday, we made plans for me to get a ride to meet everyone at the wat Thursday evening. Wednesday evening, I found out that my counterpart at the wat-bound school had had her house broken into and her valuables stolen. She was rather distraught and was deciding to skip the trip to get things straightened out. At that point I had to decide whether to bail on the trip, too, since my real opportunity to understand what was going on at the temple had just vanished. I thought about it briefly and came to the conclusion that the opportunity to build relationships with the students and teachers far out-weighed the inevitable confusion I was heading towards. Besides, I'm getting quite used to being confused (the Thai word is ngoong, I learned THAT one pretty early on), and Thai people really appreciate patience and a smile on the part of a confused farang (also something I'm pretty good at). I DID, however, decide to only stay Thursday night and head back home Friday during the day.

So Thursday night came, I ate dinner with my non-wat-bound counterpart, and he took me to the temple. I said hello to the teachers who were outside eating dinner next to a group of soldiers (apparently this trip was a joint venture between the monks and some soldiers, how's THAT for compatibility?), then headed into the hall of the main building where all the students were assembled with my paw-aw (principal). A big monk was telling jokes into a wireless microphone at the front of the room, while another monk sat next to him with a laptop hooked up to a digital projector. The students were seated on a floor that looked as though it had been carpeted with those 18"x18" carpet samples (not that it wasn't classy, it was just piecemeal and not actually attached to the floor). The monk with the mic threw in some farang jokes when I entered (or maybe he'd been telling them already), where he'd say a phrase in English ("How many?") then translate in Thai ("Tao-rai?"), then say something else in Thai and all of the students would laugh uproariously. Wish I'd been able to catch the punchline.

Anyhow, the monks spoke for a while, and I zoned out as I usually do, then my paw-aw asked me to sit on the floor. The monk with the computer opened a word document with the sudas(?) (the prayer chants that the monks do) and everyone began reciting and wai-ing the buddha statue at designated points. I spent the time by choosing a phrase on the screen and trying to read it, then listening to the chant and trying to catch when they got to what I was trying to read. I just watched everyone around me and bowed when they did. There is something hypnotic and relaxing about the chanting. I have been thinking about being ordained for a little while at some point while I'm here, but that's another story.
They did the abridged version of the chant, which I was pretty happy about, not to be irreverent or anything, but it looked like the guy was zipping past tens of pages at a time, and I can only sit mermaid style for so long (not cross-legged, because it's hard to get your forehead to the floor, and then your feet are pointing forward [towards the buddha image], which is mai-dee [not good]).

When that was done, we did some meditation, which I've really enjoyed since that yoga class I took at UofO. Of course, it was kinda hard for me to really zen out and think about nothing, since I do better in silence and they decided to play some music, and I think the monks were taking pictures of me since I kept seeing flashes through my closed eyes, but it was nice to sit quietly for a moment.

Pak! (break!) In my Peace Corps application, under interests, I stated that I enjoy sitting quietly. This IS true, it is one of my favorite activities. This fact made it into a "Getting to know you" activity where everyone was given a grid with a bit of information and we had to determine who the information was about by interviewing the other members in the group. People were somewhat intrigued about the statement that "... and he enjoys sitting quietly." and thought I meant I enjoy meditation. Here I made an important distinction. Meditation is conciously trying to think about nothing. You clear your mind, chant your mantra if you're into that, and focus on your breathing. Sitting quietly is where you sit down and you don't focus on ANYthing. You let your mind go where it will and you let yourself be aware of whatever you want. Job leeo! (The End!)

Anyway, after that, there was some more Thai, then it was time to get ready for bed. I got a sweet spot under the ceiling fan (one of the perks of being a guest) and they gave me a bed roll. I'm sorry to say that I slept rather poorly, it was still pretty hot, and the mosquitoes were rather bothersome, but it wasn't too bad. We were woken up at 4:45. I got up and took a bucket bath and went and drank coffee with the teachers and watched the sky get light (it was pretty damn beautiful). I don't know what the kids did. Around 6-ish the kids all assembled in lines and did some physical activites with the soldiers (some squats, then marching/running, and doing something with a few flags). While the students marched, one of the teachers walked around the temple grounds with me and showed me the buildings and the gardens and a variety of random things. It was pretty cool, and my first real communication since I'd arrived. After that we went back and sat with the rest of the teachers for a while and we all talked quite a bit, they asked me how to say things in English, asked me about Oregon, and all sorts of things.
Then the kids came back and it was time for breakfast (Khao Tom, rice soup, which is REALLY good. I'm trying to figure out how to make a link to my recipes that I've been posting on facebook to share those here). I impressed the teachers by popping a whole chili pepper in my mouth (I do that sometimes, people get a kick out of it), then we continued talking for a while after the kids headed back into the temple. The conversation petered out when I ran out of Thai and they ran out of questions I could answer (funny how that all happened at about the same time, eh?) and I headed back into the big room to see what was up.

When I walked in, they were watching some kind of video that had giant ghosts chasing and squashing people with swords and a chest of some kind who were running from said ghosts. After that, we got a whole SLEW of moral stories. Thai-style.

There was a powerpoint presentation about drunk driving that was a series of photos of a motorcycle accident scene from somewhere in Europe. I kid you not, we saw photos of a body that had been severed in half. Like, torso was ten feet from legs. And intestines were strewn about. Not knowing what else to do, I leaned over to my paw-aw and said I wanted to eat noodles, which, in retrospect was a pretty Thai thing to do (they like to make jokes out of uncomfortable situations to try to lighten things up), so good for me.

After that we saw some karaoke music videos that the monk had altered so that the video for one changed to a funeral and we got to look at some more bodies. Another video showed a bunch of images of hell and briefly showed all the reasons people might go to hell. Then we watched a longer, more graphic video about what hell might be like, with everyone being tortured as ironically (and brutally) as possible, based on the vice that had got them TO hell. We wrapped up with a couple videos about animal cruelty, one in which a man who was into cock-fighting abused his chickens (like making them fight ISN'T abuse?) when they lost and got his come-uppance when one of his birds pecked his eye out. But that wasn't enough. He eventually went insane, thinking he WAS a chicken, and killed himself by bashing his head against a post (a punishment he had used on chickens in the past). Then we watched a couple videos showing animals being slaughtered which reaffiremed my vegitarian ideals, and it was time for lunch!

And after lunch, I got a ride back home.

All in all, I'm really glad I went. It was a very good opportunity to spend some time with the teachers and for them to get to know a bit more about me outside of the school day when everyone is busy with something else, and although I didn't get to interact with the students much, I'm glad that they got to see me there and hopefully this will help them feel I am involved and interested in them.
But I'm also really glad I left when I did, because I don't know how many more of those moral stories and how much more Thai immersion I could handle. Phew!


Thursday, June 4, 2009


So I've been in the classroom(s) for a couple weeks now. I've been doing a lot of observing, trying to get a feel for how my co-teachers teach so I don't step on their toes too much and can try to play to their strengths as I make suggestions (and find ways to support any weaknesses). So I think that's a good thing and will ultimately benefit me, though there have been times when it got a bit boring. But I have learned some things. One of my teachers has a pretty similar style to me, and a lot of classroom experience to boot, so I will definitely be able to learn from him, and I will help him develop his student-centered teaching, designing more projects and playing games and singing songs.
My other teacher also has a lot of experience and does many things well in terms of interacting with students. Unfortunately, there is a minimal amount of spoken English used in class and the majority of the lessons I have seen have involved writing lists of vocabulary. I recently realized that she really wants the students to improve their spelling, so I am now thinking about activities to focus on spelling, but also incorporate more speaking, listening and reading, too. It's nice to have an idea of the direction to go.

Some cool things I have seen in the schools:
The secondary students have several minutes of silent meditation each morning before classes begin. What a GREAT way to settle down and focus in!
At the primary school, the morning assembly (which was lining up in front of the flag) now includes marching in place while a small student band (a variety of drums, xylophones, and these cool little keyboards with a hose that the students blow in to make noise, think accordion without the squeeze-box) plays "When The Saints Come Marching In" and the Thai National Anthem. They also do some calisthenics while the band plays. I will definitely need to get some pictures.

Today was the "Wai Kruu" ceremony at my primary school. I think this is basically like Teacher Appreciation Day, but way more formal. All of the students came into the meeting room and sat quietly in neat rows. Many students had little bundles of flowers and incense that went into a great big chalice, and a boy and a girl from each class had a beautiful little flower arrangement (they do those PROPER here) which they took turns bringing up front, knelt in front of the Buddha statue at the front of the room and wai'd (hands in front of face, then forehead to floor) 3 times. Then they bowed to the flag and a picture of the king, wai'd the principal and handed him the arrangements (he handed them back), then they wai'd the rest of the teachers and the arrangements got passed around to each teacher. Then the principal made a long speech (the kids started to get a bit squirrely during this part, but they made it way longer than I can imagine a group of American students lasting), and that was that. I think the whole thing was to pay respect to the teachers and essentially bless the school year.

This last weekend I went to Chiang Mai for the first time. I checked out the zoo, a pretty cool night market and learned that I like Chiang Mai WAY more than Bangkok. It's still a big city (though not NEARLY as big), but it just seems a lot-- saner. I'll definitely be spending some more time there.

When I got back I had an awesome "community day." Each week I spend two days at the primary school, two days at the extended school with the secondary students, and the fifth day is my "community day." There really isn't anything specific that I need to do on these days, just spend some time with the people. SO, I rode the local song taew (a pickup with a covered back and two benches in the back) for the first time and met Uncle Thai, the driver of said local song taew. Then I ate some goit diao (noodle soup) at a restaraunt by the school and talked with the people there (after being gone for a while [I had been at an English Camp before I went to Chiang Mai], it was nice to be around people who recognized me, who wanted to talk to me, and were happy to see me. It was a good homecoming). Then I got some fruit and veggies at the market and told people about where I'd been (people had noticed my absence). On my way home I saw the woman I've played badminton with and asked if she'd like to play. After I took my purchases home, I went back and we played for a while, then I bought a mortar and pestle from her. As I was getting ready to head home, she pointed at a house around the corner where there was loud music playing and told me they were dancing and asked if I'd like to go see.
Of COURSE I said yes.
A few minutes later I was doing aerobic Issan dance with half a dozen grandmothers. It was fabulous. I feel like I did pretty well, and they complimented me (although it's highly possible they were just being nice), but in any case, it was a great experience and helped integrate me into the community a bit more. And I was invited to come dance again, so that's cool. I'll definitely have to go again.

It wasn't THAT hot today, which is very nice. It's also raining right now. That's becoming more and more regular. There are definitely still several day stretches without rain, but we'll also have several days in a row with a solid downpour each day. When it rains really hard, there are a few spots in my house that get puddles, which is kinda a bummer, but oh well. I haven't actually SEEN where the water is coming in, some I'm not sure if this is something that I could potentially fix, or I will just have to live with it. Fortunately I'm outrageously jai yen yen (literally cool-hearted, I translate it as "chill," and here it's a really good thing to be).

Oh man! And the other evening, I was getting ready to go to my neighbors house for dinner when another neighbor came over and told me I had some ripe bananas. She took me around the side of my house where there was a huge bunch of bananas hanging off a tree that had fallen over. She chopped off the bunch (it probably weighed 25 to 30-ish pounds?), and I hauled it around the other side of the house (by this time a bunch of other women had showed up and they warned me not to let the cut end of the stalk touch my shirt or it would stain). They cut up the bunch, made me take more bananas (that's "gluai) than I can possibly eat, then split up the rest of them. It was also pointed out to me that I had a couple of coconuts that were ready to pick, so those are chilling in my fridge (haha! get it? CHILLING? in my FRIDGE?) until I'm ready to break into them.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

School Daze

Awwww yeah.

I've been looking forward to school starting for a long time, and now that it's finally here, it's even better than I had hoped for. Granted, I'm not even really teaching yet (I am just going to observe my co-teachers for the first week or two to get a feel for the teaching styles to make the transition to team-teaching smoother and also to get an idea for what I might have to offer), but it's really nice to be back in a classroom, working with kids. Anyhow, lemme tell you about a couple rural-ish Thai schools.

My first school is a primary school, equivalent to an American K-6 school. Students appear to show up between 7:30 and 8:00 and spend about half an hour cleaning the building and grounds (um, awesome?!). When the time for cleaning is over, a song is played to signal students to gather at the flagpole where they line up by grade and gender. They sing the national anthem and raise the flag, then they recite a Buddhist prayer. Classes start at 9:00.

The English teacher (my co-teacher) has his own classroom that the kids come to. Grades 1-3 come twice a week, and 4-6 three times each week. The classroom has no desks or chairs for students (by choice, since my teacher likes to play a lot of games and people don't mind sitting on the floor). Classes last 1 hour.

Lunch is at noon, and it is by FAR the best school lunch ever. Fresh, handmade from scratch excellent Thai food. And it's free for teachers and students. We had som-tam (papaya salad), gai-yang (grilled chicken), some kind of kanom jin (that means chinese snack and refers to a whole variety of soup-y dishes with a particular kind of noodles). The head cook (who is also a teacher and my neighbor and one of my mothers) made me a dish of pad pak (stir-fried vegetables) because she knows I prefer to eat vegetarian. They also had ice cream (not free, but that didn't stop the kids. Or me).

After lunch was my co-teacher's planning time, and since it was the first day of school, there wasn't much for me to help with, so I got called into the 4th grade class where the teacher had left the class unattended (this is apparently a very common practice). So, I hung out taught a song/dance in English, played the Thai version of Duck Duck Goose (which involved a student taking off his shirt, it would get dropped on the "goose," then it had to be thrown at the "goose-er" before they made it to the vacant seat), and had them help me practice my reading and writing Thai.

I wrapped the day up by heading home in a downpour, then going for a sweet bike ride with some neighborhood kids after the rain stopped.

Today I visited my other school, an extended school equivalent to a K-9 program. The morning started almost exactly the same as the other school, with students cleaning and singing at the flag. Classes started at 9:00 again. At this school I will be working with the 7-9 students. Like the day before, I was just observing. It was kinda hard to just watch, but I feel like it will ultimately prove to be a good thing. And I didn't just sit there, I interacted with the kids a bit and talked about what I had seen with my teacher during a break. Then I had another amazing school lunch. We had laab (ground pork salad), muu waan (sweet pork), some kind of soup, and my co-teacher brought some fresh veggies that the kitchen ladies let me stir-fry up.

Wow, all the talk about food demonstrates how well I'm being assimilated here. People are really interested in what you eat, how often you eat, and whether or not it was delicious. I mean, a common greeting is, "Gin khao ru yang?" "Have you eaten rice yet?"

Anyway, after lunch there was one more class. The topic for all three classes was focused on greetings and introductions, scaled for the different levels, the older students asking more questions and giving more information. It was good to see how she used the same material for multiple classes and differentiating along the way. Good stuff. I think I will be able to work well with both of my teachers.

When I was finished at that school, I headed over to my other counterpart's wife's (my main mom here) school. I found her class and said hello (she wasn't exactly expecting me, though my counterpart had mentioned that it would be nice if I could go by there some time). Anyhow, shortly after I showed up, I was told to "teach English," and left alone with the kids. They were pretty young kids, and I had no idea what they already knew, but I decided to see if I could get them to respond to the question, "How are you?" with something BESIDES "I'm fine, thank you, and you?" as EVERY Thai student I've met so far seems to say. So we started working on "I am happy," "I am hungry," "I am sad," "I am thirsty." After a few minutes another teacher came by and dropped off her students. We kept practicing, switching between whole-group and calling on individuals ('cause I gots me some teacher skillz), and before I knew it, there were probably 40-ish students in the room (I think it was at least half the school, possibly most of the school). Did I mention I was flying solo on all this? Anyhow, I whipped out some games (and I did a FABULOUS job explaining them with my extremely mediocre Thai/English [because ideally I shouldn't need to use ANY Thai to teach, but it's a lot easier when trying to explain a game]), songs and dances and really had a fabulous time.

Then it was time to go home. I went home with my mother and we made some dinner (awesome pad pak and a stir-fried sweet radish thing that is fantastic!), talked with the fam for a while then headed home. I fed some more neighborhood kids some M&Ms, joked about turning the kittens living OUTside my house into laab (I think it confuses Thai people with I kid around, since despite the fact that they do it all the time, they seem to be under the impression that farangs are WAY to serious).

And then I wrote this blog entry.

I really hope this was a little illuminating. I feel like it might not be at all, but since I'm pretty firmly opposed to proof-reading my posts, I'm not going to sweat it. Once I really get settled into the school routine I'll talk a bit more about the day-to-day whatnots. Anyhow, you should at least realize that I'm really excited to be in school, and I think that's all I was really trying to say.

Jup jup! (Kiss kiss!)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Few Random Awesomes:

I have now seen a microwave that is used for storage, not re-heating. I think that the few microwaves I have seen here have been purchased in response to families learning that they would be hosting an American and did not exist in the home before said American arrived (because Americans only eat microwavable food). My friend told me during training that her host-mother almost set the house on fire when she apparently used her micro for the first time and put metal inside. The other day I almost laughed out loud when I saw my counterparts wife (one of my many mothers here at site) open the microwave (which I had never seen used) and remove one of several bags of dry goods that were being kept inside.

Today I made up a whole mess of beans (beans 'n' rice style) and took samples around to my neighbors. They didn't need me to provide the rice. Just a general pat on the back for myself. I got my face out there a bit more, hopefully people will like my food, and think I am jai-dee (kind-hearted). I also had a shot of whiskey (sticky rice moonshine) when I stopped by the house where a group of men were drinking, and on my walk one of the neighborhood kids started following me on his bike. We talked a bit while I passed out my food, then I went and got my bike while he rounded up a bunch of other kids. Then we paraded around town until it got dark. A while later a few other kids (who missed the bike ride) came over to my house and ate M&Ms. Thanks, mom!

I feel like I had more to say in this when I was forming it in my mind. Oh well. I can always edit it later, or just write a new one. Who said blog entries had to be long, anyway? It's probably better to mix it up, right?

School day tomorrow! WHOOP!


Saturday, May 16, 2009

My worst day in Thailand

Yesterday was my worst day in Thailand to date.

It began with a decision to just lay low, as I managed to tweak my back a couple days before and it kinda hurts when I take a deep breath.
My counterpart did not like that, however, and insisted that I come to his house to practice Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) with his relative who was a trainer who was visiting. I DID want to meet the man and learn a little something, but I had trouble conveying the nature of my pain. I figured I might be OK to learn some basics, but I began to get concerned when they said we had to go pick up some pads and training gear. This was sounding far more rigorous than anything I had wanted.
Also (I'm going out of order here, because I want to list the things that made it a bad day before I get to the punchline), between talking with my counterpart and actually going over, I found out what's up with the cats who keep going in and out of my house when I looked under the desk in the room I don't spend any time in. There are a couple of kittens living there, and the parents are presumably taking care of them. I also found two (very) dead kittens in another corner of the room, which explained the bad smell in my house and the recent increase in the fly population. Disposing of the dead kittens was very unpleasant (did I mention that they were VERY dead? I won't go into details, but I had to fight the gag reflex), but now I am left with the question of WHAT to do with the live ones. I do NOT want to take care of them, and I am not comfortable simply dumping them outside. I think I'll try to show them to my neighbors and see if any of them can do something with them. It really wouldn't bother me if someone ate them, I just don't want to see them go to waste.

Anyway, after I got rid of the dead cats and I was rushing over to practice Muay Thai, worrying about my back, I realized, "Wow. This is probably my worst day in Thailand so far." And I was kinda pissed off. I was mad at the cats who had had kittens in my house and had broken my jar of sugar, I was mad that I was in pain, and I was upset that I wasn't going to be able to take advantage of this opportunity to learn a cool new sport.

But then a motorcycle with a family of four passed me, smiling and waving and saying hello. And then another one did (only with three people). And I smiled. I remembered that, "Holy crap! I'm in the Peace Corps! I'm in Thailand!" I remembered that this is probably the most amazing thing I have ever done, and that all the things that had me in a bad mood were really pretty trivial. Maybe I will have worse days in the future. Maybe I won't. Maybe I will THINK I am having worse days, and I hope I will be able to remember how lucky I really am.

When it came time to do it, I decided to just go ahead and try the boxing. And it didn't hurt. Don't get me wrong, whatever I did still hurts, but it wasn't really a problem for the punching, kicking, knees and elbows, and I am very happy that I was able to take advantage of this opportunity to get some one-on-one instruction. Better watch out, I'm gonna be dangerous!

A while back, we put together a bio book for the PCTH121 (Peace Corps Thailand Group 121) with photos and a bit of information about all of us, and I want to quote my friend Dan. There was a section for us to list our "Experience" (resume style was the intention). He said "Many good, some bad, all of value."


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Baw Kaw Saw

So, since moving in, I've done a little of this, a little of that, and a whole lot of nothing at all. And it's been fabulous.

Yesterday I rode the bus (rot bawkawsaw - that means the bus without air conditioning that you don't want to ride for more than a couple hours, and the seats definitely aren't made for farang length legs, but they're AWESOME) kon diao (alone) to the provincial capitol to hang out with the other two volunteers in my province. We walked around a lot, ate pizza and ice cream for lunch (yup! Though I think most Thai pizzas start out frozen, and most non-veg toppings resemble chopped up hot dogs. I was bummed they were out of the veggie pizza which came with peas and corn) and found some oats at a grocery store. I was tempted to buy some peanut butter, but decided not to since, though I LOVE peanut butter and jelly sammiches, I've been doing fine without them, and I'd probably just be bummed when I ran out of it.

I've also been practicing the Thai alphabet with my counterpart's daughter, and I am EXTREMELY proud to say that after 5 days, I pretty much have all the consonants down and am reading and writing a tiny little bit. This was something that I knew I wanted to do, but did not think would be happening for a long time. Mad props to Kruu Na-rak.

I've been trying to walk or bike around at least a bit every day, to get my white face out there, and it's been good. I've played badminton a few times with a couple ladies up the street, and I hit up the market pretty regularly. It's a lot of fun to see peoples' reactions when I speak Thai (especially when they understand me, tone and vowel-length are extremely important, and if you don't speak right you will say "mustache" instead of "massage", or "horse vagina" instead of "snow." Seriously.)

I haven't seen or heard of any parties like the ones I went to during training, which is both a relief and a disappointment. Disappointing because my presence (and dancing) at those parties really helped boost my celebrity status. A relief because after going to one or two of them every week, they got a bit redundant/exhausting. I'll just have to keep my eyes and ears open. Maybe I'll check out the cock-fighting ring by my house.

I've been doing a pretty good job so far keeping my house clean (which impresses my visitors, as does the fact that I shower at least twice a day, a must for Thai people), and I've been enjoying watering my yard in the evenings. I feel like I need to come up with a project for myself, to do something cool and productive, but I'm not stressing over it. I've been spending a lot of time at my counterpart's house, and when I'm home, I've got enough things to do to keep me busy. I am sure that I will need to find more to do to keep myself occupied soon enough, so why rush?

I've been accepted as a member of a youth development committee, so I'll be going to my first meeting on that soon, which is exciting. I just got some more information on that, so I need to read up and make sure I can find some way to contribute. I am also looking forward to school starting up so that I can start doing some more work for the immediate community. They understand that is what I am here for, but I feel a bit weird right now since I'm not apparently doing anything. But I'm not worried, yet. I really haven't had much time to myself for the last 3 months (holy crap, today is my 3 month anniversary!) so I'm enjoying having some time to really kick back and take it easy for a bit and let myself settle into my surroundings before things get kicking again.

And I still need to get those obnoxious speakers.

Ek out!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Epic Post!

Ka tor kap! (Sorry!)

It's been, like, a month? More? My access to internet has not coincided with an opportune time to write a proper post, and the longer I've waited, the longer this one has gotten. And I've probably forgotten a bunch of cool stuff. But now I'm gonna spend some time on this and try to get it all right.

I've started writing this in a text document (which I should have been doing all along, but I was lazy. Actually, it was a pain to plug in my computer because 3-prong wall sockets don't seem to exist here, and I don't have my own power strip yet, though those aren't hard to find). Anyhow, it is being written over the course of several days, so if there are issues with tense agreement or anything, you'll just have to get over it. That also means that my thoughts may sound particularly unorganized (as opposed to the usual level of unorganization), though I will try to remember to read it over and try to make some sense before I actually throw this up on my blog.

Remember Greng Jai? The untranslatable concept intended to maintain relationships by going to any lengths to avoid conflict (among other things)? I got a great quote from our Cross Cultural trainer. She said, “Greng Jai has nothing at all to do with logic.” Comforting, no? To be honest I'm really not worried about Greng Jai TOO much, since I'm already kinda in the habit of telling people what they want to hear, but there are definitely subtleties to it that I should be careful and aware of. And trying to figure out when I'm being placated. Ugh. Oh. Check this out. Apparently there are some specific words that people will use that indicate when someone is Greng Jai-ing you, but we didn't learn them because we were playing a game (that didn't work) that took longer than expected. Grrr. But you know what? Mai bpen rai.

A couple new thoughts about the difficulties of Thailand. Things that are considered rude in America are no biggie at all here. For example, there is apparently NEVER an inappropriate time to answer your cell phone. Meetings, lectures, weddings, during meals or a massage, or while on stage (seriously), it's all good. Granted, I will definitely be taking advantage of this when I find myself in the many situations where everyone only speaks Thai and I have no idea what's going on, and the choice is between texting a friend and dozing off, but it will take some serious getting used to.

Next is the issue of noise pollution, or rather, the lack of an issue. For example, people here like their karaoke, and they like it LOUD and at all hours. And that's cool with everyone. This is another one that I will probably end up using to my advantage, as I'm planning to spend a fair amount of my moving in allowance on some great big stereo speakers.

It IS, however, considered rude to raise your glass higher than someone older than you during a toast.

It is not rude to say that someone is fat (ooan), either behind their back or to their face. In fact, you can pretty much safely comment on anything that is observable. They are also quick to ask personal questions such as “How old are you?” “How tall are you?” “How much do you weigh?” “How much did that cost?” This was pretty uncomfortable at first, and I still don't like calling people fat, but it's made me wonder WHY we (Americans) are uncomfortable with such topics. The questioning may seem nosy, but it's a quick, easy way to get to know some basic (and possibly important) information about someone.

“Thai Time” is taking some getting used to. Punctuality is something that people don't really worry too much about here, as evidenced by the fact that probably 9 out of 10 wall clocks do not function. Life definitely moves at a slower pace here, and Thai people wonder why Americans are always in a hurry. I have trouble explaining, especially in Thai, but also in English. Americans DO seem to take time a lot more seriously, but are we really accomplishing more? I feel like people spend a lot of time rushing to waste their time, if that makes any sense. My perception is that Thai people simply take their time and don't rush when they do things, while Americans rush through them to get on to the next thing. And these are fierce generalizations (which I am never a fan of making, but am being asked to do so a lot), and this is also not to say that Thai people do everything slowly, nor that Americans do everything sloppily. I think you understand what I am trying to say, so I'm going to move on.

And you need to cover your mouth when using a toothpick, but you can pick your nose in public. Basically, it seems like most things are OK (especially if they are considered fun), as long as they don't disrupt the hierarchy of age and status (which are SUPER important).

A while back we took a field trip to a unique temple. It is unique because it is devoted to caring for people with AIDS. It has an ICU for patients who are doing particularly poorly, rooms for those who need some assistance, and tiny little one room houses for the ones who are able to live mostly independently. The whole place is really for those with deteriorating health so that they can live out their days relatively comfortably and respectably. And when I say respectably, let me tell you how many of them came to be at this wat. There is a huge stigma about HIV/AIDS in Thailand, with all the same reasons for the stigma as anywhere else (only bad people get AIDS, prostitutes and drug-users), but because of the collective-community way that Thai people live, those feelings are magnified countless times, because people are afraid of associating themselves with those people who are perceived to be “bad.” We have learned that 20 years or so ago, when AIDS was on the rise around the world, the Thai government was quick to act, and a lot of money and energy was spent on education, awareness and care for infected people. These efforts were very effective, and Thailand was very successful in reducing the numbers of new infections. Since then, economic downturns have reduced the budget for AIDS care, and education and prevention have been cut back the most. Medicine (anti-retro viral drugs) IS still available to the public, but in order to get it, people must officially register as having AIDS with the government, so some people are understandably hesitant to seek aid.

Anyway, many of the current residents of the wat were abandoned there by their families. Literally. It is apparently not uncommon for people to be found dumped outside the temple. The wat keeps the ashes of all the cremated bodies for families, should they choose to claim them, but that is a rare occurrence. They have created a stack of these bags of ash that consists of the remains of over 10,000 AIDS victims.

The conclusion of our visit to the temple was a cabaret show, performed by the residents of the facility. They practice dance routines as a means of physical therapy, and it was really good to see them apparently having fun and in better health than they had been before coming to the temple. They finished with a Q&A session, and we asked a lot about what WE can do about HIV/AIDS in Thailand. The general consensus (besides donating money, which we did) was to simply treat people with dignity.

Before our trip, I had wanted to do something about HIV/AIDS during my service but I really didn't know what I COULD do. Now I know that I should be able to find a local group for PHAs (People Having AIDS) with whom I can simply go socialize, and maybe assist with any projects that may be working on, though that would secondary in importance. I am also more determined to do some work educating youth (and adults), so I will be seeking out the local health offices and discussing options with them. The Peace Corps provides us with a whole toolkit of information and activities (in English and Thai) specifically for AIDS awareness and education, and I really want to get some good use out of it.

Then we had ice cream!

Not really, but that seemed like a good transition. And I DO eat ice cream as often as possible here. The guys driving around with the great big canisters of fresh coconut ice cream are AWESOME. Did you know that beans, corn, sticky rice and candied pumpkin are all acceptable ice cream toppings here? I've also had corn and bean popsicles (not together in one popsicle, that'd be gross, but they DID have pieces of real corn and beans in them!) Corn is considered a dessert here, and it can be found in the markets in cups done up like a sundae, with chocolate sauce and sprinkles. I meant to get a picture, but I'm guessing you've probably figured out by now that I am not too quick with the camera.

We celebrated our two month anniversary in Thailand by having our Language Proficiency Interviews. Now, I'm REALLY not sure HOW this happened, but I scored pretty damn well. Better, in fact, than several people I KNOW speak much better Thai than I do, so either my interviewer really liked my attitude towards Thai (which he did compliment me on), or he had lower standards than other interviewers, or SOMEthing. I don't know. To be honest, the score really doesn't mean much to me, and it was really more for Peace Corps than it was for us, but it was pretty cool, and it made my language teacher proud, so, I'll pat myself on the back.

Training wrapped up pretty nicely, we had some end of training interviews with some of the core staff (pretty low pressure, at least, I thought so) and took a written exam to make sure we knew enough policy stuff and whatnot. Funny thing, I failed the cross-cultural portion of the exam. Apparently I don't understand Thai culture AT ALL and am bound to make countless cultural faux-pas. OR (as I prefer to think) I felt most confident with that portion of the test and spent the least time on it. When I met with the cross-cultural coordinator to discuss it, I felt that we were giving the same answers to the questions, I simply did it more concisely using more general statements. I was also seriously dinged for using the word “weird” to describe how we (and some projects we may propose) might be perceived by the locals (and I still think it was appropriate), as the word had different connotations to me than the person scoring my test. Sigh. Now I KNOW I'm a failure. I'll try not to lose TOO much sleep over it. (And yes, they ARE still going to let me be a volunteer).

After that, we said goodbye to our host families by having a big ol' Thai style party. All of the families were presented with certificates (did you know Thai people LOVE certificates? Some of the volunteers who have been here for a year like to joke that you can get a certificate for crossing the street safely) and the volunteers did several performances. I was involved in the bamboo dance, which involved hop-scotch style rhythmic hopping over big bamboo poles getting clapped back and forth by other volunteers. There was another Thai dance that involved clapping coconut shells and a lot of energy, a medley of American dances from the '50s to present, and a couple live music performances. All in all it was a lot of fun, and a lot of tears were shed by the end. I am determined to be a good son and go back and visit my family in the next two years.

The very last bit of training was the counterpart conference, for which our counterparts (co-teachers, principals, or staff from the local government offices) came together and we had a bunch of information sessions to prepare us to work together and make sure we were all on the same page. For that time, all us volunteers were back in the hotel where we had started originally, and it was a really good time for a bit of last minute American-style socialization, though this time we all knew better to sit on the stairs. Actually, I (and a couple others) tried to sit on the stairs, for old times sake, but it made us feel really uncomfortable. I guess we're being assimilated pretty darn effectively. Then we got sworn in, and it was off to site.

Today (during Song Kran), I saw a driver stop and pass an open beer and a cigarette to a police officer. It bothered me a little, but mostly I thought it was super sweet. Drunk driving is an issue here, and especially at Song Kran. Have I told you about Song Kran yet? No?! Poor, unattentive me! Song Kran is the Thai New Year (though they change their calendars on January 1, so I don't really know what that's all about), it is officially celebrated on April 13, and it lasts three days. Notice that I said “officially.” Where I am, it lasts about a week, and some people celebrate for the entire month of April. There really aren't any strict rules about it. It is presumed to be the hottest time of the year, so naturally everyone spends the days throwing water at each other. I've heard that the “big party” is in Chiang Mai, where several streets are packed with people for several kilometers in a festival atmosphere, splashing and squirting each other, boozing, and dancing. In smaller towns (like where I am), it's more like groups of (mostly) kids standing on the side of the road with hoses and barrels of water, throwing buckets at passing cars and motorcycles. Occasionally a pickup will go by with people throwing water back at the ones on the side of the road. It is also the time of year for reunions, when the younger generation who have all gone away to school or work come home. So it's a really convenient time for MORE partying! I have heard that there's a lot more to Song Kran than all this, with some mellower activities, and some symbolism behind the water and whatnot, but all I really know is what I've observed.

Song Kran is now officially over and I have in fact learned some things. The Thai name for the thirteenth is Wan Long (which means “Wash Day”), and it is a day for cleaning. You do laundry, take an extra shower or two, clean your house, whatever you've got. It's external cleansing only, though, so food and alcohol are still OK. The fourteenth is Wan Gnao (I'm not sure on the translation), but it is the day for spending time with family. Thai families get pretty big (extended families, that is, nuclear families seem pretty comparable to American ones, though that would imply that the extended families are comparable, too). In any case, the big extended families are much closer (both physically and emotionally) than I am used to. During training, I liked to joke that my village only had one family. And it seemed pretty true. It seemed like everyone I met was related in some way to my family. In the village of about 8000, anyone who asked who my family was knew who I was talking about from my father's first name and a vague gesture in the general direction of the house.

I moved into my house yesterday morning. As I said before, my house is pretty darn sweet. Much bigger than I actually need, adequately furnished, and has enough dishes for (at least) five families (though I AM missing a few key pieces, so go figure). I also have a closet full of women's clothing and a bunch of random stuff/trinkets. I have been spending the last two days going through things and stashing what I won't use in a crawl space and cleaning, and hanging out with a group of neighborhood kids who have become my posse.
Some more about that.
A couple boys showed up at my house yesterday with my pa-aw (principal), one of whom will be a future student of mine. We stood around awkwardly for a few minutes after my pa-aw left, then I ran in the house and grabbed a hackie-sack and showed them how to hack. It was a new game to them, but between football (REAL football, you foolish American) and tukraw (I think I've mentioned tukraw, Thai-style soccer that is a cross between hackie-sack and volleyball), they picked it up pretty quickly. They began to feel a bit more comfortable with me and began asking me questions (none of them were really up for trying to do any English) and learned the limits of my Thai. Over the next little while, the group of boys grew to five, and before I knew it, they were asking if I wanted to eat Goit Diao (noodle soup), and I was following them to the nearby stand. I got a chance to impress them with my capacity for eating spicy (I think I actually like my food spicier than the vast majority of Thai people, so I am pretty amazing to them), and made jokes about having 10 girlfriends. We went back to my house and I showed them my Super Nintendo games on my computer, then went back to work cleaning while they played. I also bought them ice cream. So I'm essentially the AWESOME farang in the neighborhood now.

I also got to meet a bunch of the adults in the area, had some broken conversations and received a gift of green mango, and several offers for dinner and vegetables. I love Thailand.

This morning I took a walk around the area, saw the morning market (I think I need to go a bit earlier next time, or else it's just really small), but I spoke a little bit with a couple vendors, was offered whiskey (at 8:30 AM) and bought some tomatoes. A lady also gave me some chili peppers (she wouldn't take money) when I said, “Pom gin pet dai” [I eat spicy well]. Then I spent some time just wandering around, found the local health station, and put myself on display. I feel like right now, one of the best things I can do for myself is learn my area and let people get a chance to become familiar with me, so I will probably continue to do the same thing in the mornings (because it's still cool) until school starts. I did a little walking around this afternoon, but it's pretty durn hot, and it seems like a better time to do stuff that requires less moving (like FINALLY finishing this epic post).

So there you have it. I have made it back to present, SURELY missing numerous interesting observations, anecdotes and ponderances, but such is life. My house DOES have internet (high speed, what's up Posh Corps?), so presumably I will be able to update at my leisure. And I'll get some photos up soon, too.

(That's my newest nickname. It sounds kinda like “egg,” and basically means “number one best.”)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pom bpen saparot!

That literally means "I am pineapple," and to a Thai person, it means "I'm the s**t" (I'm gonna not actually type profanity on here for the sake of my future political career or something). Anyhow, that's one of the things I learned during my time away from Peace Corps staff, so it goes to show that I can still learn Thai without my own personal teacher (though, I DID already know the words, but not the significance of the phrase).

Anyhow, before I launch into my laundry list of my fairly awesome bpai tiao (that's a trip for pleasure, and since this was also business, it might not be entirely accurate), I want to take the opportunity to air some of the thoughts of had during my many hours on busses recently.


Peace Corps Thailand is apparently often referred to as "Posh Corps." And for good reason. Thailand IS a tourist destination, it is reasonably well developed, and outside of Bangkok, civil unrest is esentially unheard of (as far as I know). Aside from the heat and diarrhea (over a squat toilet), the physical hardships are really negligible.
On the other hand, I understand that Thailand can be a very mentally challenging place to live and work. As it was described to us in a cross-cultural session, Thailand is a high-context culture, whereas the US is a low-context culture. That means that in the US, you can usually rely on people to say what they mean, tell you when they have a problem, and tell you what they really think or mean when asked for input. Here, however, there is something called "grang jai," which really doesn't have a good translation, but it generally prompts people to tell you what they think you want to hear (especially if you have any status, which as foreign teachers, we do), not tell you when you are doing something wrong (to avoid confrontation, the hope being that you will notice what other people are or are not doing and correct your behavior). It is also expected that you will always defer to your superior whether you have a better idea, or know that he/she is doing something wrong, or whatever. It's all about saving face. It's a confusing, difficult concept, and it seems like there are always exceptions and contradictions, and I don't know if I will ever understand it or get used to it. I will just have to be careful, persistant, and keep on smiling. And I have to remember that I can't feel frustrated if I don't feel like I'm having a huge impact, because it is likely that I won't necessarily be able to see the results of my efforts.
And then there's also the huge gaps in wealth. It seems like very few people are starving as Thailand produces a LOT of food, but there are still a lot of things people don't have. This was illustrated for me during my site visit where I observed a Sport Day. This was essentially a big tournament for a whole bunch of schools from all over the province. Among other things, I watched a relay race in the track and field events. I thought nothing of the fact that there was no actual track and the students were running in lanes drawn in chalk on the dirt field, but I was surprised at the differences in equipment the 4 teams I watched had. One team had light shirts and running shorts and running shoes. Two teams wore matching polo shirts and tennis shoes. The fourth team did not have matching shirts, and only one member wore shoes, the rest ran barefoot. There is incredible wealth in this country, and there is incredible poverty, and it's not necessarily just an urban/rural division, and I feel like it's not really recognized. There IS a strong sense of community, and good things do happen, but I don't know how well it works out for EVERYone. I think/hope this is something I will be learning about in the years to come.

There were probably other things I wanted to talk about, too, but I want to move on to the fun stuff.

Bangkok. Big and noisy. Lots of farangs. To tell the truth, I kinda missed standing out. I can already tell going back to the US and giving up my celebrity status is going to be tough. I got to see a couple of regions, eat some western food (I had a burrito and a slice of Mediterranean-style pizza) and ended up at a roof-top hookah bar with a bunch of volunteers listening to a Thai band cover American songs (and play some Thai ones) and dancing in an adjacent room with a very loud American DJ. It was much fun, though I really can't imagine wanting to spend a lot of time in Bangkok. I got to hang out with some current volunteers which was good and they helped us navigate a bit, and the next time I go, it will definitely be with someone who can show me the places worth going to.

Anyhow, traveling to site was far cooler than Bangkok. I got to meet some other current volunteers, my Northern neighbors (I'm up north, though to be prudent, I shan't be giving any exact locations in this blog) and see some of their sites. It was a great opportunity to see where a volunteer is at after being in their community for about a year. I got a chance to get comfortable with traveling (first with other volunteers for support, then solo) around the country, I saw my first cock-fight (the volunteer's neighbor hosts them in his back yard, I don't imagine attending them will become a hobby, as it was mostly sick and not particularly interesting, but I DO think it's way cool to be able to say I have been to one, and now I want to read Roots), and I got a Thai massage (which is awesome and I might have to make a hobby out of that).

After a day and a bit with current volunteers, I made my way to my own site where I met one of the teachers I will be working with, the English teacher at a K-6 school in the village I will be living in. The school has 172 students, and as I understand, I will be helping him teach grades 5 and 6 two days a week. I will also be going to a K-9 school and working with the teacher who does grades 7, 8 and 9 twice a week. My other weekday will be devoted to community projects and traveling to the equivalent of the school district office to work on teacher training-type projects. I also got to visit the high school (7-12) where I was originally requested (instead of the K-9 school), but Peace Corps decided they didn't need me, as they already have a volunteer from Japan helping with English, and their English teachers seem very highly qualified already.
I'm going to take a moment here to clarify that my role is NOT to simply be an English teacher, but to collaborate with the English teachers the schools already have to develop methods of teaching to improve students' learning even after I leave.

While at my site I ALSO got to check out my housing options. There were two houses for me to look at, next door to each other (and also very close to several teachers' homes), about half a kilometer from the K-6 school. They were both very nice, but for me, there was no comparison.
The house I chose may very well be one of the nicest houses I've ever lived in (in spite of the squat toilets [yeah, I have a bathroom and a half] and a couple of doorways I need to remember to duck and/or step over something and slightly wonky lights). It is very spacious, has a mix of beautiful wood and concrete/tile construction, is well furnished, has a nice kitchen and maybe best of all, 4 different kinds of fruit growing in the yard. I have a mango (ma-mwong) tree, a baby coconut (ma-prow) tree, several banana (gluai) trees, and a dragon fruit (gao-man-gon) plant. There is space in the back for me to make a compost heap (I need to do some research into how to make it not stink so as not to offend my neighbors) and have a little vegetable garden (suan pak), and there is a concrete parking area that I'm hoping to hit with a skateboard.
And of course, in spite of the fact that I had my camera with me the whole time, I didn't take a single picture. Fear not, though, they will follow.

And then I got on an overnight bus back to Bangkok, then headed back to my current host family for the last few weeks of training. It definitely feels a little strange to come back here now that I'm all keyed up for the real stuff. But, mai bpen rai.

Otay. Enough for now, no?
It sounds like I will actually have internet at my house, so perhaps my posts will be more regular and slightly less massive? I don't know. I must say I'm a little nervous about having the internet in my home, as I really don't want it to become a distraction for me. If I find that is the case, I think I will cancel it. There IS an internet shop located pretty conveniently, though having it in the house would certainly be MORE convenient, and it would vastly improve my abilities to stay informed on the actions of Obama (speaking of which, anything good lately? All I've heard is that people are being stupid and saying the stimulus is already a failure [because the last stimulus {stimulii?} was so much better?]). <-- Nested parentheses make me cool.

E-Rock McGillicuddy

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Elephants and English Camps!

So, on March 1st, to celebrate my first full month in The Kingdom, I finally got to see my first elephant.
I was biking out to the highway to head into town when I saw a cluster of other volunteers gathered on the side of the road. Thinking I might be able to help fix a flat, I pulled up behind them and looked around. And that's when I saw the elephant, rider perched on a platform high atop his back. The elephant was clearing brush with its trunk and eating the debris. Alongside it, two Thai people were hacking at the growth, though they worked much slower, and far less awesomely. After a few minutes (and a bunch of pictures, which I will post soon), I moved on. Thinking about it, I came to the conclusion that this man rode around the countryside on his elephant and for a small fee allowed folks to take advantage of its AWESOME POWERS.

By the way, the word for elephant is "chong," and the chong is the national animal of Thailand.

So, that afternoon, after training and I was riding back home (via a different route, I like to change things up), I saw the same elephant/rider combo walking down the road towards me. This time I got to play it cool, didn't need to stop my bike or even slow down, hollered a "saa-wat-dii!" to the rider, and passed by the two of them just a couple feet away. Aren't I cool?

So then later in the week we learned about English Camps, which are pretty popular projects for us farangs. It seems like the best way to describe an English Camp is like field day (you remember field day, right? with 3-legged races and 10-minute soccer games and all that stuff?) but with English language activities. Apparently in Thailand, the success of big events is based more on appearances than on actual value (so if you have a good powerpoint, or a cool banner, or T-shirts, you're golden), and they made a banner for us, so it was all good.

The English Camp that we put together had the benefit of approximately 6 hours of planning on our part (according to a current volunteer they usually spend more like a month planning and prepping) and had a very loose theme of "Environment." Our original plan was to have a "Captain Planet" theme, with stations titled: Earth, Wind, Water, Heart, Fire (and Health because we needed 6). We decided, however, that nobody would get the Captain Planet concept, so we switched to "Environment," but kept the station titles. My station was Wind, and so we taught the kids the vocabulary: blow, wind, balloon, airplane and fly. Then we pantomimed blow and wind, played a game to see who could blow up a balloon the biggest with one breath. After that we had the kids make paper airplanes and gave the kids a chance to throw them on the basketball court (the last few rounds we stood on the court and played "Hit the Farang!"). Then we tossed a frisbee around in a circle and quizzed whoever caught the disc on the vocabulary. And then it was time for the kids to move on to the next station and we did it all over again. My partner and I were able to keep our energy up all day, and it was a lot of fun, and I really hope that the kids actually retain at least one or two of the words we tried to teach.
I'll be curious to see what an English Camp that has been properly (and more cohesively) planned out looks like.

Today I'm gonna go hang out with some other volunteers and play some music (did you know I've been practicing the mandolin, and have learned some chords?!), which I'm really looking forward to, and then tonight I'll be attending a wedding (which I imagine will be a lot like the monk celebrations and other parties I've been to).

I'm positive lots of other crazy and awesome things have happened, but of course I can't think of them right now. Oh! I have been allowed to help out a LITTLE bit in the kitchen (I do some chopping for my mee, but I spend most of the time peeking over her shoulder trying to pick up some tricks), and I'm curious to see if I could copy some of her creations.

Oh, and apparently I'm relatively good at Thai (we had a practice test to see how we're progressing and I got a good score). Then again, I really feel like people think I'm better than I really am, so I'll take the compliments, but I still feel horribly inadequate. The hardest part is practicing. Even in the US, where I feel I have a pretty decent grasp of the language, I really never initiate small-talk. I keep hearing that I need to do this to practice Thai and get used to hearing Thai people talk (and work on my guessing skills for getting meaning out of all the words I DON'T know), but, it's tough. I dunno. I know it's something I need to do, and I DO try every now and then, but it's something to keep working on.

OH! And this coming week I will finally learn where my permanent site will be! So, that's exciting. Later in the week I'll be headed into Bangkok for a day, then out to actually see my site (and pick out my housing) which will be very awesome. I love living with my family, but I'm also looking forward to being a bit more independent and in charge of myself.
I know that my Peace Corps experience will be considerably different at site (it will probably be much more remote, and there WON'T be 50 other white folks relatively nearby to see and talk to on a fairly regular basis, and I won't be getting the super-structured language training from someone who also speaks English, and I'll actually be doing my job...), but I'm pretty confident that I will handle it like a champ and continue to enjoy my experiences.

OK. This has prolly gone on long enough.

Saa-wat-dii krap!