Friday Five

Five Things I Learned in Peace Corps– And it’s more and more evident the more time I spend in the US in my post-PC life.

Being a Minority
Being a tall, white women doesn’t quite put me in the majority in the US, but it’s not like you’re putting a round peg in a square hole. In Asia, this round peg would never fit in. I never truly considered how difficult life can be to not be a part of the accepted image or norm of a society’s makeup. And it’s not like Thais were ever really that mean to me about it! When I think about the civil rights movement of the 1950s, the open hostility some still display for those not of the pre-accepted standard of what we should look like and how we live our lives, I feel like I’ve taken a bite from the knowledge and empathy tree and relate a whole hell of a lot better with them. And realize we are them just as they are us. Even if someone is a different skin color, sexual orientation, or intelligence level, we are all people and deserve the love and respect of one another.

Lucky
Seriously though. I know people joke about ‘first world problems’ and every person  deserves to feel what they want about their issues, but the times I would think about how incredibly lucky I was for being an American and having all these rights and hopes and possibilities for my life… I can’t even count. We have life in our bodies. A plethora of obscenely delicious foods to consume. And even, hot showers. I think we, as a country and a generation, need to put things in perspective a little bit and realize, we have it pretty fucking awesome. And that’s enough to put a smile on anyone’s face.

Life Is Really Unfair
This is one of those ‘real world’ lessons that our Moms always tell us, but you don’t fully realize until your most hardworking student still doesn’t do as well as her peers despite all her effort and desire to learn. Not to mention the five brothers and sisters she’s helping raise, get to school, and manage allowances for all of them. The most she expects from her life is to be the wife of a rice farmer. And then I think of all the people who don’t take advantage of all the advantages we have or abuse the system we have in place to give a hand up to those in need… the inequality of the situation is like a slap in the face. And never has that stung so much as it does after seeing it with my own two eyes.

Get Over It
We, as Americans, get really worked up about things. Road rage, cursing out Mother Nature (true story, someone went on a rampage the other day at work), bugs in your life, someone leaving the coffee filter full instead of dumping it out… these are not things that should not produce a very large reaction in someone. At least it didn’t in Thailand. But I’ll let you in on a little secret, all problems, big and small, will eventually work themselves out. I don’t know if it was the ridiculously relaxed atmosphere in Thailand or if it comes from seeing all kinds of Peace Corps projects/ideas being a complete and utter failure, but I’m finding it’s really unnecessary to get stressed out over things that will eventually be fine. So the next time you feel a wave of worry or stress or anything in that family, take a breath, realize you’re doing pretty great considering the circumstances, and take a leaf out of the Thai book and have a beer. Even if it is nine o’clock in the morning.

America Isn’t Perfect
In the dark, lonely ‘I’ve been cooped up by myself in the village for too long’ days, memories of America and the possibility of spending time there again in the future were like a shimmering mirage of paradise. I mean, do I need to write another paragraph of how great life is for us? But if living in another culture teaches you one thing above all others (outside of a renewed appreciation for your home) is that there is a different way to do things. Some things are better, some things are worse. And while this RPCV feels an immense joy every single day spent in the US of A, there is a lot of ugliness in this magnificent place. Maybe it’s changed or maybe it’s my eyes that have been forced opened after an experience like Peace Corps. I tend to lean towards the latter. Still, I love you America, for better or worse.

‘If I Could Tell You One Thing About Thailand’

As a fun little end of the year project, I asked my students to pretend they just met someone who was curious to know more about their home. At first, they looked at me blankly saying they had no idea what to tell a visitor about Thailand. It opened up discussions about culture and we got to talk about what they think makes up their daily life. I took my definition of culture, they added to it, and here is what they wanted to tell you about Thailand. Please forgive the grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary mistakes. They wrote these sentences mostly on their own after hearing my example and I think they’ve done a fantastic job this year. We recently learned ‘will’ and how to apply it in different situations, so that’s why most of them included it in their sentence(s).

Friday Five

Five Things I Won’t Miss About Thailand– Part One of Two (maybe three… or four). These are things I generally encounter on a regular basis and sometimes pushed me to the end of my sanity rope.

Feeling Hot, hot, hot
I really like wearing flip-flops everyday. I really like not being so cold my skin turns a purplish hue. And I really like not shoveling snow. But more than all those things put together, I would really love to stop sweating 98% of the time. Going through my closet, the amount of clothes I had to toss because of sweat stains was truly depressing. And some things, I either didn’t or couldn’t wear because I didn’t want to get it too sweaty or it was too tight and made me sweat more. And I’d do almost anything to sweat less. So, so soon, the time will come that I will not need a fan on 24 hours a day and I’ll need to wear, dare I say it, layers! This tropical Thai heat is not to be messed with and I’ll happily wave the white flag to lose that battle. Just don’t get the flag too sweaty. Thailand is where white comes to die.

A Life with Creepy Crawlers
Mosquitos, cockroaches, mice, red ants, scorpions, lizards, snakes and a wild assortment of bugs I don’t know the word for in English are a daily nuisance in Thailand. Discovering I’m allergic to most bug bites hasn’t been a walk in the park. Throw in the nights the mice kept me up all night or the mornings rabid dogs chased after me while their owners looked on and I’m so looking forward to living in a real ‘inside’ again. Even inside my house, in my screened off bedroom, it’s not safe. Last week, while nursing a stomach issue that literally knocked me off my feet, I had an uninvited rodent guest in bed with me that was curious as to what my back had it store for it. With my minimal reaction, it was then I realized how much I had adjusted to the pests of this country and it wasn’t exactly a good thing. I so look forward to a clean environment that I don’t have to worry if I leave some food unattended for five minutes, the things will descend or a wisp of air has me slapping at my leg in fear of the bug bite swelling up to the size of my palm.

Why?
When I get to stop asking myself ridiculous questions about my life… that’ll be a good day. Things like: Why is there a cockroach graveyard in my bathroom? Why is that teacher smacking that student? Why is that person still staring at me? Why isn’t the water coming out of the shower head? Why did my landlord let herself into my house with talking to me about it? Why am I the only teacher in the third through sixth grade building? Why is the music blasting at 5am? Why are those kids staring at me through my window? Why hasn’t the bus come yet? Why haven’t I had electricity for 36 hours? Why did the internet stop working? Why doesn’t anyone tell that dog to get off the lunch table next to us? Or maybe it’s not that I have to ask these questions, it’s just that rarely do I get more of an answer than an awkward laugh and a shrug.

The F Word
And not, I don’t mean the four letter one. I mean the farang one, that means ‘white person’ in Thai. I tried really hard to get used to it, but the prospect that I could never be shouted at for being white is something I’m swallowing with relish. Thai people group ALL white people together and call them farang. Many people I’ve met think there is some universal language we all speak, we all understand each other, we all have the same culture, we all live in the same climate, but most of all, we’re all just… not them. And for a long period of time in the village, you’re only known as farang. You don’t have a name. You are farang. You’re rich, have blonde hair, blue eyes, and are much fatter than Thai people. You eat bread every day. You can’t eat spicy food. You don’t have feelings. And that is all you will ever be to most of the Thais you meet. Since I don’t teach at the school in front of my house, the kids there don’t really know me. But they do know a white person lives in my house. So every time I walk out my door or sometimes when I’m home from school, kids will line up and shout, ‘OH, FARANG!!!’ I’ve been told multiple times, by multiple people, that it doesn’t have a negative connotation in Thai and people don’t mean to hurt your feelings calling you that. Then again, if I don’t mean to step on your foot, that doesn’t stop you from feeling pain does it? The ‘nigga’ vs. ‘nigger’ debate and who can say what has taken a completely different meaning for me. Just don’t call me the f-word.

Being An Other
One of my all time favorite TV shows, ‘Lost,’ called the group of people who did not crash with them on the plane with them, ‘The Others.’ And in Thailand, if you’re not Thai, you are an Other. Thais are known across the world for their friendliness and immense giving spirit, which I’ve relied on for the past two years. But it’ll only get you so far. Unless you are Thai or have at least one Thai parent, you’ll rarely be considered one of them (even if you’ve lived here your entire life). There is a select group of ladies that I feel at home with, but other than them, most Thais I know (which, granted are mostly village Thais and not the most forward thinking/educated bunch) see you as an alien life form. Suggestions of a different kind of lifestyle or way of thinking are hardly ever truly accepted. Rare is the time your point of view is taken into account or considered before some decision is made about or for you. When people see me here, they are almost immediately (and visibly) uncomfortable and want to deal with me as quickly as possible so they don’t have to put in the extra effort to listen to my accented Thai or cope with the unexpected. This is coupled with the farang calls. I could go on and on, and I think I will in an actual post, but I cannot wait for my existence to not be newsworthy and considered an oddity amongst the people I live around. I’ll just be a regular person, doing regular things, and no one will think I’m wrong for not being exactly like them.

Chiang Rai Video Part Two: The White Temple

Wat Rong Kun, or the White Temple as most international travelers know it as, has become one of my favorite things I’ve seen/done in Thailand. Nothing beats the back drop of the green grass, blue sky, and white sparkling temple. Once we got sight of it, I found it difficult to take my eyes off this masterpiece, designed by Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. It’s nowhere near complete being about fifteen years in to construction and an estimated fifty more to go to finish what will be a collection of temples. This contemporary Buddhist temple is a must see for any traveler coming to Thailand.

I didn’t get to take any pictures inside, but it is more explosive than the outside.

Tourist Thailand: Bangkok

The ‘kok as Manfriend so unoriginally calls it. And sometimes, that’s just where you feel like you are, in a humid, crowded place with trash, odd smells, and traffic. Much like other major cities in the world, Bangkok doesn’t really reflect how the rest of the country feels culturally, politically or economically. And it’s a lot hotter too.

By a year in to my Peace Corps service, I decided I was more than ok never spending a long time in the capital or going to the major tourist sites. The most I ever did in Bangkok before I had a visitor was hang out in the delightfully comfortable PC lounge (it’s like a little sanctuary of America), eat lots of western food, and frequent the ginormous JJ weekend market.

So when Momma Coop was going to be coming to town, I knew I needed to bite the tourist bullet and figure out our way there. I was pleasantly surprised. Absurdly jacked up ‘foreigner’ prices not withstanding, Wat Po and the Grand Palace are worth a visit. For the ‘templed-out’ traveler, I would still suggest making your way to both locations. Both Wat Po and the Grand Palace are easily accessible and very close to each other so you can do both in one day. Like I wrote in my other post though, I would definitely suggest starting earlier in the day so you can wander around half a day in each location. Let’s break them down.

Wat Po
One of the largest and oldest temples within Bangkok, Wat Po is recognized as the birthplace of Thai massage, the first school opening within the complex. Visitors will note it is the home of the jaw droppingly huge reclining Buddha. Along with it, there are over 1000 Buddha images, beautifully colored pagodas (my favorite part), and a nice little fountain of a waterfall (very peaceful compared to the normal experience of being on a Bangkok street).

The reclining Buddha, a must-see in tourist Thailand

The reclining Buddha, a popular must-see tourist attraction in Thailand

The intricate carving on the feet alone is worth the trip

The intricate carving on the feet alone is worth the trip

A nice little fountain right next to the reclining Buddha

A nice little fountain right next to the reclining Buddha

I had to capture this, yes the monk has an Ipad

I had to capture this, yes the monk has an Ipad

I got a little obsessed with the faces

I got a little obsessed with the faces

I really enjoyed wandering around the back portions of the complex. This was where most of the Buddha images were, along with many pagodas, animal statues, and not a lot of tourists. For this reason I would suggest going in the morning if possible before the tours and to not be on a huge tour in the first place.

I think the artist was capturing the kind of nose they wanted to have

I think the artist was capturing the kind of nose they wanted to have

The colors on these things was amazing

The colors on these things was amazing

On a crowded tour, you miss the little nooks and crannies that make a place even more interesting

On a crowded tour, you miss the little nooks and crannies that make a place even more interesting

Up close with one of the flowers on the pagoda

Up close with one of the flowers on the pagoda

There are modesty skirts and shawls for those with wearing shoulder and thigh baring clothing, but Wat Po’s standards are more relaxed than the Grand Palace. At the Grand Palace, both my Mom and I were stopped and asked to cover even our lower legs. You pick those up at the very front with a small deposit.

The Grand Palace
The official residence of Thai royalty since the late eighteenth century (though the royal family has lived in other palaces since the 1920s), the Grand Palace is a staggeringly large collection of buildings. Currently in use for only a few official state functions and ceremonies a year, it is the most visited tourist attraction in Bangkok. It’s easy to see why.

We didn't get a chance to get across the river before sun set, so this photo is from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Palace,_Bangkok

We didn’t get a chance to get across the river before sun set, so this photo is from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Palace,_Bangkok

The big attraction here is the jade Buddha. The story originally goes that a temple in Chiang Rai was struck by lightning in the 1400s and broke open an octagonal pagoda. Inside was the jade Buddha. No personal pictures are allowed inside (though people sneak all the time), but it is something to sit and gaze at the Buddha (feet pointing away, obviously). I also really enjoyed the golden pagoda and all the buildings made from tile that made it seem to have a rainbow effect.

Blue, blue, blue

Blue, blue, blue

The colors that wrapped around the entire building... sigh

The colors that wrapped around the entire building… sigh

How can you not love these guys?

How can you not love these guys?

What I imagine meditation looking like

What I imagine meditation looking like

The main event

The main event

I love the flowers and colors

I love the flowers and colors

There are a number of museums and smaller temples within that are worth a quick gander. Our favorite was the Queen’s Museum of Textiles with yards upon yards of beautiful Thai silk and utilizing it like bookmarks, magnets, notebooks, and the like. Right near the exit/entrance, it was a nice finish to our day of touring.

For those a little cultured out (or in desperate need for western food like myself), there is a conveniently located Au Bon Pain right across the street from the Grand Palace where Momma Coop and I indulged, waiting for sun set. Have I mentioned I’ve been dying for a chicken caesar wrap for two years?!

The pretzels were stale and the chicken a little funky, but I didn't care one bit

The pretzels were stale and the chicken a little funky, but I didn’t care one bit

Afterwards we wandered over to the river and digested and were quite rewarded with this shot.

Not only did we get an awesome sunset over the river, but this view was the next act

Not only did we get an awesome sunset over the river, but this view was the next act

Check out the companion video for Bangkok in this previous post.