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!

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