Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Home sweet home... and adjusting

It has been over a month since I got off the plane in Cedar Rapids, IA. I was warmly greeted by friends, family, and a gorgeous bouquet of flowers. My uncle wouldn't stop taking pictures, my mom started to tear up, and then I, of course, started crying. It was an incredible welcome and it felt great to finally be home.

I only had four days in Iowa City before I had to move into my apartment in Grand Rapids. The majority of my time was spent at the dermatologist. On my last course, I got bugbite/pus-oozing spots on my feet and legs and Pi Ben (course instructor) cleaned them and bandaged them up, but then I continued to get more and more... a total of 10 nasty spots on my body. They were pretty painful and constantly oozing. (Pi Ben put me on augmentin for 5 days) When I got home I showed them to my mom, who then took me to a dermatologist. My dermatologist had to do a punch biopsy, which is where she cut out a section of the skin for testing and then she followed up with stitches. I was put on Cipro and another antibiotic because they were concerned that I might have a parasite. The following morning, I woke up unable to bear any weight on my leg and the biopsy area swelled up to bigger than a golf ball. I was put on crutches and sent back to the dermatologist. She took a blood sample and culture and was worried that it might be Pyroderma Gangrenosum, which causes skin ulcerations and then we waited for 5 days to hear the results of the biopsy. Luckily, the results showed that I had staph infection and then I was given a stronger antibiotic, but similar to augmentin. The stitches were in for two weeks and had to be covered 24/7 because they constantly oozed. Pretty disgusting... but today I am STAPH FREE!!

My first few days in Grand Rapids were filled with moving into my apartment and wedding plans. My brother got married on June 22nd to an amazing woman. The wedding was beautiful and a whole lot of fun. Everyone from the Hausler clan made it, too!

Since the wedding, my days have been filled with job searching, filling out resumes and applications, interviews, etc. And still no luck! It is not exactly the summer that I had planned out, but it is still quite enjoyable. However, all of my free time has allowed me to explore Grand Rapids, make a surprise visit home to Iowa City, catch up with friends, house sit, hang out with my Young Life girls, and even go to Traverse City with my cousins. It has also given me time to think and process everything I learned this past semester.

Some of my thoughts I would like to share with you all:
First of all, I loved my experience in Thailand, but I don't want to go back... at least not for awhile. The experience I had was amazing because of the people I met. My instructors, host families, and fellow students were incredible because I learned so much from each and everyone of them. I was challenged on many levels and sometimes pushed beyond my limits, but I grew a lot from it all. Today, I am more independent and confident in myself. I have discovered new passions and affirmed old ones; I am more informed on environmental, political, and social issues and I care about my place in it all. I am blessed to have been able to spend 4 1/2 months in Thailand and I would not have been able to do it without trusting God. There were times when I struggled a lot, but God was always faithful.

I cannot thank you all enough for your support, encouraging letters and emails, and prayers. I would love to share pictures and stories with you all!

I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Psalm 16:8

ally j

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I'm almost home...

I have only a few hours left in Chiang Mai... I am having a very relaxing day. First I am spending a few hours at a spa! Then I am meeting some girls for lunch at one of the best thai restaurants in the city. And then I am ending my time in Chiang Mai at a hair salon and getting my hair washed. It should be wonderful and sabai. My flight schedule is the following:

Friday, June 12, 2009
Thai Airways 117
1 hr 10 min
Depart: 7:15 pm Chiang Mai INTL
Arrive: 8:25 pm Bangkok, Thailand (BKK)

United 0890 6 hr 10 min 2,887 miles
Depart: (June 13th) 6:50 am Bangkok, Thailand (BKK)
Arrive: 3:00 pm Tokyo, Japan (NRT)

United 0882 11 hr 25 min 6,274 miles
Depart: 4:55 pm Tokyo, Japan (NRT)
Arrive: 2:20 pm Chicago, IL (ORD)

United 63551 hr 3 min 196 miles
Depart: 5:20 pm Chicago, IL (ORD)
Arrive: 6:20 pm Cedar Rapids, IA (CID)
I hope you are doing well and I am looking forward to sharing pictures and stories with you all.

Maybe I will see you at the airport :) Spaghetti dinner at my house afterwards!

ally j

Saturday, May 23, 2009

My classroom for the next few weeks: The deep, blue, mysterious OCEAN!

Wow. Tomorrow I leave for the last and final expedition course. I know I have said this in past blogs, but I can’t even grasp how fast this semester has gone. I will be away for about two weeks and then when I return to Chiang Mai the semester will be over. So this next course is one that really drew me to this semester abroad program at ISDSI. I have expressed my excitement about this course to some of you already and I don’t know exactly how to put what I will be doing into words besides saying…Sea Kayaking, Skin Diving, Snorkeling, Fish, Coral Reefs, Beaches, and the OCEAN! Since this doesn’t really give you a detailed idea of what I am going to do, I decided I would copy my course overview from my syllabus:

“Mangroves and the zone between land and sea are a key component of global biodiversity and sustainability. This course will examine the ecology of coastal zones, as well as the human communities that live and depend on the rich biological resources of coastal areas. The majority of this course occurs off campus. Students will be required to be flexible and motivated learners, working to study and understand the material at hand, while traveling through the coastal landscape. Both the physical and cultural environments will be changing—over a week of travel will be by sea kayak, and the final portion of this course will be in a small southern Thai fishing village.

By the end of the course, students will have an understanding of the major issues surrounding coastal ecology and resource management, with experience in and understanding of mangrove and near coastal ecosystems, including sea grasses and reefs; as well as an understanding of the unique challenges and struggles of the human communities that live in the coastal zone.”

So that pretty much sums it up… or I think it does! I have been waiting to be on the ocean for so long! It will be wonderful to run down the beach and splash into the water. The water is supposed to be really warm, so we won’t need any wet suits, and we won’t have to worry about hypothermia… which is always a plus. Yep, I am excited! Tomorrow we board a bus, which looks like a “pimp my ride” bus because it is a double-decker tour bus with crazy lights and colors and in addition, it has a karaoke system on the bottom floor! We will be riding it for 24+ hours to Southern Thailand. Then we will be kayaking for a week… what a life.

I will be home really soon. It is a bittersweet feeling right now, but I know I will be ready to come home on June 13th. I am looking forward to sharing stories and pictures with you all. Thank you for your support and please pray for safe travel and for focus during these last few weeks in Thailand. See you soon!

ally j

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Forest Course Pictures

I decided that for this course... I would explain it through pictures in hope that it would be a little more exciting :) I hope you enjoy it!

This is my backpacking group on our hike from Pa Ko Lo village to Hua Nam... We made a grand total of 30 river crossing and hiked for about 5-6 hours. In the village of Huay Hee, they practice shifting cultivation... this is a rai that is waiting to be planted. The pink bag is a handwoven Karen seed bag. They plant rice, pumpkin, papaya, cucumbers, beans and so much more on the mountain side.
Sweet bug on a chopped down tree in the middle of the rai. Hiking Doi Pui... the tallest mountain in Mae Hong Son. We are all pretty excited.
The view was gorgeous on the top of Doi Pui. Mountains everywhere!

Village kids were always following us around and as soon as we pulled out a camera they instantly dropped what they were doing and smiled.

WEAVING DAY: Mugah teaching us how to spin cotton into string... then we took the string and dyed it using natural things like bark, plants, dirt, etc.

One of the village kids watching while we learn how to weave.

My curious little host nephew. So adorable.

These kids would run up and down the mountain road playing with their cars and wheels for over 2 hours.
Our host mother with her grandson. It is not uncommon for Karen to carry children this way.
My host siblings in Huay Tong Kaew. Always smiling.

My future job: Blacksmithing!
Patti blacksmither watching over us as we try our hands at hitting metal... mai di.

This is a typical Karen roof (inside view)... it is made out of fan palms. They are put together when the fan palm is still green, then it has to dry out until it is cream colored. Over time the roof changes color as a result of the kitchen fires. In most Karen homes, the kitchen is located inside of the house and everything is cooked over open flames. So everything inside becomes a nice deep red-dark brown color.

Huay Tong Kaew's traditional medicine man and healer. He taught us about which herbs, roots, plants, and bark can heal someone or prevent an illness. Side note: he is also the midwife.

Mugah Kanom (Mother of the treats). Everyday we would visit her treat shop and buy various sugary snacks. After awhile we didn't even have to tell us what we wanted, she just knew.

My beautiful host mother is one of the most loving people I have ever met. She spoke very little Thai, but was extremely excited to teach me about her culture. I have never seen anyone shower people with love and care the same way that she did. She taught me so much. Thank you.
My little sister (Supava) learning how to embroider a traditional Karen shirt.

The pink bumpy thing is a chicken. We nicknamed it Meat. Yes it is alive.
A beautiful ecological gem... 900+ ft waterfall about a 2 hour hike from Huay Tong Kaew
Teacher of traditional ritual songs used by Karen people to sing to their lovers.

Teaching us the correct way to ask a lover out. haha

Pi Pookie: The basket queen.

My whole family in Huay Tong Kaew. So wonderful.

Neon purple flower in Mae Hong Son

I have so many more pictures, but this kind of summarizes a lot of what happened on the last course. If you have any questions or comments, let me know!

After we returned from the Forest course, we had a block break (2 1/2 days off + weekend). It was a great time to think things over, take some time to myself, and relax. On Thursday, I was 100% sabai (translates to complete relaxation and happiness). I went out for breakfast with Aajan Mark and then hung out in a really comfy chair and read Eat Pray Love. Then I met my roommates for lunch and had a grilled veggie pesto sandwich (aroi maak... very delicious). At 1:00pm, I met Laura and Acadia at Urban Spa Thailand and spent four hours getting a massage, body scrub, facial, and foot massage. The best part was this whole spa package was only $60.20... you can't even get a good pedicure for that much in the states!! For dinner we went to Mi Casa, which serves amazing Tapas andMediterranean food. Our waitress liked us so much she even gave a free after dinner liqueur. It was a wonderful day and it was spent with wonderful people.

Today, we started our first day of the Coast course. This week is an introduction to what we will be learning when we go out into the field. We will be in the south of Thailand learning about mangroves, reefs, and coast ecology. I'm stoked. I will tell you more about it later this week. Have a wonderful day! Thanks for the prayers.

ally j

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Karen Pride and My Pride

Before this course my only perception of the hilltribes of Northern Thailand was a quite negative one. I had heard that I would have to take part in strange rituals and spiritual ceremonies, eat weird foods, and live with long-necked people. All of these assumptions have proven to be false time and time again. The Karen people are some of the most kind and caring people I have ever met. They also have a lot of pride in who they are and where they come from. The largest aspect that has had an impact on me is the Karen's sense of place.

Growing up I never had a strong sense of place in Iowa City, Iowa. I always wished I was somewhere else besides the corn capital of the world. The Karen care about their community and the environment around them. Huay Hee (and other Karen villages) practices rotational cultivation in a way that allows the environment to thrive. Their cultivations incorporate long fallows to ensure a replenishment of nutrients in the soil and regrowth. As carer's of the environment, they understand the importance of preserving the forests and keeping them diverse and healthy. Throughout this entire semester-but more specifically this course- I have grown to admire how the Karen care and understand the area around them.

In addition, the Karen display a lot of passion for their community. This passion is seen in how the families work together in the fields, help take care of each other's children, eat together, pray together, etc. Their passion allows organization to be possible. It seems that Community Based Tourism (CBT) has thrived in Huay Hee because the villagers are willing to work together to help each other and their community prosper. On the hike to Doi Pui, the headman explained how the organization of the villagers enabled them to keep two building ideas from happening (a tunnel through the base of the mountain and 3 million baht tourism spot on the top of the mountain). Huay Hee is not the only Karen village that displays this kind of passion and sense of organization.

Every time I see this passion it makes me think about my own place. I constantly reflect on what aspects of my place make me feel happy and excited; what is happening that makes me sad and want to do something; what about my place am I passionate about? By thinking about these questions, I feel a greater sense of love and pride for my place. At this very moment, I love Iowa City, Iowa. I love how our soil is so rich in nutrients that I can have a garden full of big juicy tomatoes. I love that there are more pigs than people. I love that sweetgrass smell on a hot and humid summer day. And I especially love the deep red, purple, and orange sunsets that are smeared above a farmer's field. I now believe in the importance of understanding your place and having a sense of pride for that place. I have really thought about having pride in a place; especially now that I have one year left in college and then I have a whole world of opportunities. My roots and my foundation have a strong tie to Iowa. I know the culture, the language, and the norms that distinguish Iowa from any other place. Each village we have gone to I have spoken with at least one or two people who went off to college and then decided to come back and live in their village. They care about their community so much that they even turn away other offers and choose to go home and help the place they love. I have a strong urge to do the same and it almost seems foolish to not.

My reason for applying for this semester at ISDSI was not because of the environmental aspects of the program. However, now my views about the environment have become a lot clearer. I could not tell you very much about environmental issues in the United States; in fact, right now I could probably tell you more about Thailand's issues than America's. This will probably change when I return home. I am learning through the Karen a lot about the forests and understanding what they do and how they live in harmony with their surroundings. It amazes me that I can point to a tree and ask one of the guides what kind it is and they always know, or I can pick up a seed off the ground and they can identify it right away. Seeing this has struck a yearning in myself to better understand my own surroundings at home and learning about the issues that are negatively affecting the environment.

I want to hike through the forest in my backyard and figure out what trees and plants occupy the area. I want to learn about and explore the watershed. I want to become more informed and have a greater sense of pride for my place.

This past block was pretty challenging, not because of the backpacking part, but because there were a lot of other thoughts and ideas that I had to straighten out. I also didn't have a strong interest in the material for this course... or at least not as strong as I had for the last course. However, I learned a lot through my wonderful instructors, my hilarious Aajan (professor), and amazing discussions and conversations with other ISDSI students.

I have a 5 day block break and then I start back on Monday with Coastal course pre-field work and a week of Thai class. I hope that I will get to skype or chat with many of you before I leave for the next course. Thank you for all of your support.

ally j

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Chocolate, Yellow Shoes, Hairdryers, and Hospitals

About twenty minutes ago, I was exploring part of Chiang Mai with some of my friends and we stumbled upon one of the best places in all of the city. The Chocolate Fact. The tagline is "Live Life Chocolately" and who can disagree with that. As soon as we walk in, there is a huge sign that says "CHOCOLATE 100%." This may not seem like a very cool thing to you, but here in Thailand the consumption of chocolate is quite low in comparison to the states. I have been chocolate deprived on many different occasions and today was one of those occasions. Right next to this huge sign is twenty-five different chocolate desserts and then next to that was a huge menu of over 30 different chocolate drinks!! Definitely heaven. It took us about seven minutes to actually decide on what we wanted to order. So many options... I finally settled on a dark chocolate latte and let me tell you, it was incredible. To top off this great little place, they even have FREE wifi, which is always a bonus.

Every Sunday night Chiang Mai closes down two major streets that run through the Old City for "The Walking Street". It brings in both tourists and locals alike. The streets are lined with people's homemade clothing/paintings/souvenirs etc and food vendors. I have gone a few times before with Johnny's host family and it seems to be more of a social event then a shopping event. Well last Sunday, I was on a mission... my mission was to buy some gifts. The mission failed horribly and I got really frustrated. I ran into Rachel (another ISDSI student and one of my roommates) and we decided to stop in some clothing stores on our walk home. She is a fashion queen and has had a really successful semester in the shopping area of Thailand, which is not usually typical for most foreigners. Most stores have only two clothing sizes: extra small and extra huge. And they usually have only one size of shoes: 6.5 (sometimes 7 if your lucky). So my shopping experience in Thailand has been quite unexciting. While Rachel was trying on some clothes I found a sweet pair of florescent yellow pumas, I got really excited and tried to put them on... but of course they were too small by about 1/2 a size. Bummer. When we walked out of the store (with some new clothes for Rachel and me empty handed and frustrated) I said to Rachel, "You know, all i really want right now is a pair of bright yellow shoes that fit me. I am done trying to find clothes, all i want now are shoes." She laughed and said that she would try to help me find some. We came up to the corner of the street and on our right was a little shoe store of barely worn shoes. As soon as I walked in, I looked to my left and right there in a spotlight were a pair of bright yellow new balance shoes. It was as though they were calling out my name... I put them on and guess what!! They fit, perfectly. The best part was that they were about $5-10. It was a materialistic/impulsive buying moment, but it was definitely worth it. I wore them the next day with my uniform: black skirt, white collar shirt, and bright yellow shoes. I probably looked like an idiot haha, but I was happy. My Bright Yellow Shoes

I had a pretty scary morning last week. I almost lost all of my hair! I was late to school already and my hair was still a little wet, so I grabbed my blow dryer to quickly dry my bangs. Shortly after I turned it on I heard a click sound and then a loud explosion sound and then my blow dryer was blowing flames!!!!! AHHHH! I unplugged it as fast as I could and thankfully none of my hair was affected! It was a little terrifying and not the best way to start a morning :( Sorry Mom for ruining your blow dryer. At least I still have all of my hair :)

On Monday I started to notice a sort of rash on my knee. The next day it started to puss and pop and get really gross. Wednesday it started to spread a little and Thursday I finally decided it wasn't normal. I showed it to one of our instructors and she gave me a band-aid and said she had no idea what it was. Friday, I showed it to her again and it was decided that I should go to the hospital and get it checked out just in case it doesn't spread while we are backpacking through the jungle the following week. By then the wound looked really strange and not like a normal scratch or scab. The reason why I just told you that gruesome information is because it is important to understand the background of the wound to fully grasp the following event I am going to tell you about.

As soon as class was over on Friday (around noon), I decided to go to the hospital. I walked in and sat at the information desk. The receptionist asked me what was wrong and I said "I have this strange wound on my knee that I would like to get looked at." She asked to see it and as soon as I showed it to her, her eyes got really big and she said, "you need to go over to there (pointing to the surgery desk)." Of course I was a little confused and I said, "to surgery??" and she quickly replied, "yes, yes to surgery." Now I am sure you can imagine what was going through my head when this conversation ended. "SURGERY, WHAT THE HECK!?! I DON'T NEED TO GET SURGERY FOR THIS STUPID WOUND! THEY BETTER NOT PERFORM SURGERY ON MY KNEE, THEN I WON'T BE ABLE TO WALK FOR AWHILE, THEN I WON'T BE ABLE TO GO BACKPACKING NEXT WEEK!?!? AND I HAVEN'T EVEN TOLD MY MOTHER! AHHHHH" I looked at her and nodded and walked over to the surgery desk. As I approached the desk (which was surrounded by 5 Thai nurses) I heard one of the nurses say in Thai, "A farang (foreigner) is coming, who can speak English to her." Then a woman walks over and says in perfect English, "Sawatdee Ka, how can I help you?" I told her about my knee, showed it to her, then she took me into a room where I got my temp, blood pressure, height, and weight checked. She looked at my knee asked me in less perfect English what had happened. I then explained to her everything that I told you in the previous paragraph. She said, "ohhhhhh, please go wait in the waiting room." Still at this point, my thoughts are racing wondering if this is normal in Thailand and on top of all of that I am freaking out a little about how I am going to explain this to my mom. About twenty minutes later I am called into a room with what looks to be a surgeon. He looks at my knee, I explain the story again and then after about ten minutes of questions and inspecting my knee he says, "it looks like you may have an abscess of some sort, but you don't need to get surgery for this, so I will have one of my nurses take you up to the dermatology unit." HOLY COW, WHAT A RELIEF! No more surgery, YEAH! :) I saw the dermatologists, she put me on some anti-biotics and gave me some cream to put on my wound. This crazy two+ hour adventure in the hospital ended with a hospital bill of about $30. Not too bad, but definitely emotionally draining. haha. After, I paid my bill I went up to the tenth floor to visit another ISDSI student. She had an infection on her ankle and had to stay in the hospital for a few days and get hooked up to IV and take some anti-biotics. I think that maybe there was a little paranoia with my knee, thinking that maybe it could be something worse... but hey it is better safe than sorry. Later that night, I went back to the hospital with 4 other students to visit Anna. We brought popcorn, m&ms, and a dancing movie. This hospital didn't have any visiting rules, so we had a little movie party for 5 hours in Anna's hospital room. It was awesome.

Tomorrow I leave for the province of Mae Hong Son where I will be backpacking from village to village learning about political ecology, conservation, and human rights. It is going to be pretty intense, but I am really excited. I won't have internet access until May 14th, I believe so until then please pray for our group and for the villagers that we will be living with. Thank you for all of your prayers and support and I pray that you have a wonderful next few weeks!

ally j

Saturday, April 18, 2009

PART 1 of 2: Earth Rights Abuses and the Village of Nong Bo

Spring break is almost over and the third block is soon to begin. Songkran festival was wet and fun; Sukhothai was beautiful and hot; and now I have a lot of reading to prepare for the next course, which is focused on political ecology of forests, but I am not going to discuss it in this blog J. Many people have asked me about my experience with the past course (Rivers: Human Rights and the Environment) and I apologize for not responding sooner with a blog post, but it took me a long time (and still taking me a long time) to process everything and regurgitate it all to you. So I hope this blog will give you a better understanding of what I experienced and how it all made me feel.

The course was structured as follows:

week one- in Chiang Mai to learn and understand the rivers in Thailand

week two- in Nong Bo (Fishing village) living in a village directly affected by the building of the Pak Mun Dam on the Mae Nam Mun River.

mid-block break- two days of seminar and discussion on what we learned and tools for processing everything

week three/four- Canoeing down the Yom River with 10 Don Chai activists learning about what the river means to them

The conflict that we continually learned about is the link between access to river resources and human rights are linked. The government looks at the rivers as a source of money and power whereas the villagers view it differently. The Mun river is referred to as the Mae Nam Mun, which uses the Thai word for mother. The Mekong is directly translated as “our mother.” This creates a significant distinction in how the rivers are viewed; the villagers see the rivers as a source of life and they depend on it for survival and understand it in ways other people do not. They would never intentionally do anything to harm the river because of how much they rely on it. The other view comes from the people who see the rivers as a source of convenience. Commonly, these people build “development” projects like dams because it will conveniently supply them with more electricity access and ultimately more money. The level of respect for the rivers is different between these two views.

The dams have created great issues concerning human rights and the access to river resources. Construction of dams violates this idea of earth rights: “earth rights are those rights that demonstrate the connection between human well-being and a sound environment, and include the right to a healthy environment, the right to speak out and act to protect the environment, and the right to participate in development decisions” (Earth Rights 20.) Each aspect has been violated with the creation of the dams. The right to a healthy environment is abused when a person is forced to move out of their home because of dynamiting a channel. When a river is unable to provide a healthy environment (as a result of outside influences) it directly impacts the livelihood of the people that use the river everyday. Fishermen can not survive on a river that has become environmentally unsound because if you take away fish then there is no life for people.

While in Nong Bo we spoke with Mae Jarun, a woman who was the first in her village to oppose the building of the Pak Mun Dam and she has been a leading protester since before the dam was built. Mae Jarun and the alliance of fishermen (along the Mae Nam Mun River) are prime examples of the violations of the right to speak out and act to protect the environment. Mae Jarun was condoned by the headman of her village and pressured by the governor to change her mind about the dam. She was allowed to speak out, but consequences would follow. Many people who decide to protest to protect their environment are physically abused, threatened, or killed. Before the dam was built, some villagers were talked to by the dam building committee about the projected idea for the dam and its construction. The problem arises when people are only told the “benefits” of building the dam. If both the pros and the cons are not given then it violates the people’s right to know.

Right to participation is the link between human rights and the environment. This right can be violated if there is not genuine involvement, if power is forced, and if people are not allowed to take part in decision making. The stakeholders involved wih the building of the Pak Mun Dam and many other dams alike (including projected dams) are not given equal participation. The villagers downstream of the dam were notified but their say had little influence in the dam construction. When stakeholders are lied to and not given a fair say then their human rights are abused.

The people that have been affected by human rights abuses along the Mae Nam Mun and the Mekong have been disempowered. Many have lost hope and dignity because of corruption and a desire for money. Why does there seem to be a constant link between abusing the rivers and human rights abuses?

We were given the opportunity to tour the Pak Mun Dam and learn about how it works from the engineers who control it. They walked us all around the dam and then took us down into the control room where everything happens. We learned that the dam only opens its gates for a few months during the rainy season and the rest of the year the only water flow is through the electrical turbines that run during peak electricity hours (starting at 5pm). The villagers said that every year they have to turn in a petition to open the gates in June (they would prefer the gates to be open all year round), which is time consuming and extremely stressful trying to fight against government decisions. It blows my mind how much power the government has over these people; at any time, day or night, the government can call up the engineers and ask them to open the gates (even if it is harmful), yet the villagers have to petition and protest for days on end to open the gates in June. A few days before we heard from Mae Jarun a tragedy happened. The government wanted to stock up water for Songkran Festival and they decided that the best way to do this was get it from the reservoir above the Pak Mun Dam. They sent word to the engineers that they wanted some of the gates to be opened that night, and of course, they got their wish. When the engineers open the gates they told us that they first blow a few blasts on a horn to let the villagers know and then they open the gates very slowly to both allow the flow to seem more natural and to avoid sediment contamination. However, this was not the case on that night. No one remembers the blasts and gates were not opened slowly to allow for a natural flow. Mae Jarun’s two sons went fishing late into the night a few kilometers downstream from the dam; both of them fell asleep in their boats, but one son got up to get closer to shore. On his way over to shore he heard an earsplitting, train whistle, roaring sound and then a few seconds later a huge tidal wave of water came bellowing down the river. The son near the shore was unable to yell to his brother to wake him up in time. One of Mae Jarun’s sons was killed and her other son barely survived the scariest moment of his life. Of all people, Mae Jarun, the woman who was the first to stand up against the Pak Mun Dam, the woman who has lost everything because of this dam, it just sickens me that the government doesn’t even care.

Why am I here? That is a question I have been thinking about constantly the past few weeks. These thoughts started after the community meeting and was heightened at the mid-block seminar. I definitely did not know what I was getting into when I applied fro this semester. I didn’t know that I would be in a village that has been directly affected by the building of the dams, or even see and experience human rights/earth rights abused first hand. I didn’t know that each community that I will be staying with will take a piece of my heart. I didn’t think that I would be struggling over issues that villagers have been experiencing for many years. I didn’t know it would be this difficult!

I definitely felt a huge sense of guilt. I felt like I needed to do something, but didn’t quite know just what it was. The seminar definitely helped channel my thoughts and understand that I have already done a lot. Just by sitting there and listening to the stories of the villagers and participating in their culture was a way to empower the community. Hopefully, I have showed them that someone cares about their village and what has happened to them. Maybe I even gave them a sense of hope and dignity. I struggle with this. Is it just a cop out to say that I did all I could by listening to their stories? They even said themselves that they are tired and can’t think of anything else to do. I think the only way that I can truly grasp this idea is by figuring it out myself with the right of participation.

ally j

PART 2 of 2: The villagers of Don Chai and their fight against the dam

For more than two weeks, I had the opportunity to spend time getting to know the people who are directly affected by the governments pressure for the building of dams. First, we stayed with villagers of Nong Bo, which is a community of people directly affected by the building of the Pak Mun Dam. Then the second half of the expedition was spent with activists who have been fighting for twenty years against building a dam on the Yom River that would end up wiping out their entire village.

There is a lot of controversy over building the dam on the Yom River. The government claims that it is for electricity and irrigation (possibly the case), but the villagers think differently. The golden teak located in the forests along the river is worth over 67 million dollars. The activists assume (and are probably accurate in thinking so) that the government and dam builders truly want the golden teak and building a dam will give them this opportunity to log it. Preserving the forest is many villagers and activists concern. Other impacts on the environment have been linked to the desire for wealth. The wetlands near the Yom River are one of the largest in all of Thailand. However, “most of the wetlands areas are becoming steadily degraded through encroachment by roads, resorts and changing cropping patterns” (Rajesh, “Local participation and the Kaeng Sua Ten Dam Controversy” Watershed, 1997: 21.) If the dam is built these impacts will increase on a drastic level. The dam would provide better access of logging and “there will be rapid deforestation of forest areas around the reservoir, an increase in sedimentation loads and more severe flooding in the future” (Rajesh 24.)

The numbers of living things that will be destroyed if the dam is built is mind blowing. “The dam will destroy the habitat of 135 bird species, the habitat of 37 mammal species, 42 amphibian and reptile species, and 60 fish species, as well as 430 plant species, about 165 of these are on the international protected species list” (Rajesh 21.) While we were canoeing with the Don Chai activists we learned all about the fish, birds, trees, and plants that are around the Yom River. The numbers previously mentioned are difficult to comprehend and leaves me wondering what will be left if the dam is built.

We performed five stream assessments—two on the Mae Nam Mun and three on the Yom River— and we learned about the importance of flow and the huge role it plays in the ecosystem of a river. A river that has been dammed does not allow for free-flowing water, which significantly affects the velocity of the water. In the Yom River there is constant and natural flow, and the velocity varies due to natural environmental impacts, typically. The Mae Nam Mu, in contrast, has a controlled flow that is managed by gates and turbines; therefore, the river ecosystems upstream and downstream of the dam are very different and this was obvious when just looking at the area.

The human impact influencing the environmental degradation is demonstrated through the deforestation of golden teak and the destruction of the wetlands. “The wetlands drainage patters are being altered, affecting their ability to act as a naturally occurring drainage for excess rainwater” (Rajesh 21.) We also witnessed the direct effects of the irrigation weir that the government put in over 40 years ago. The fish that we caught on the fishing days on the Yom River with the Paws (respectful name used for older men meaning father) from Don Chai were all non-migratory fish. The Paws said that the fish are smaller in size and the numbers have decreased since the irrigation weir was constructed. The irrigation weir has had more negative effects than positive on the Yom River. The construction of the weir was too high and not run properly. It is a prime example of the government not understanding what affects their greed for money would have on people and the environment.

The rivers have been negatively transformed as a result of poor thinking. The dams on the Mekong and the Mae Nam Mun have displayed significant problems for the ecological aspects and the ecosystem of the river. Even on the Yom River there have been negative impacts from humans. However, there are good things that are happening to the Yom River because of people’s use and interaction. The villagers of Don Chai and other fishermen demonstrated this by building a fish conservation area on the river. They do not allow any fishing here and all of their planning and action has proven positive.

The activists of Don Chai are working so hard to keep the dam from being built. It is inspirational how much hard work they put into this fight. Their community is a strong testimony to how well working together as a large group and fighting for a cause can work. For twenty years they have been fighting and they have been successful!! In the middle of fighting, they even create a fish conservation area that solves some of the problems and corruption. This community has been incredibly motivating for my own life and my passions.

This course was not extremely difficult in material content, but the emotional impact of this course was and still is difficult to fully comprehend. Each place I went I feel like I left with a new connection. The family in Nong Bo said that I am always welcome, and the Paws and other activists on the Yom River were amazing to get to know and have actually become our friends. My life has been affected by these people, and I don’t think they will ever know to what degree. Pi Kan (Don Chai activist) said at the end of our trip that we have experienced a learning experience that goes both ways. I just hope that the people we were with got as umch out of spending time with us as we got out of spending a month with them. My hope is that we were able to empower them, give them hope, and support for their struggle.

It is difficult to fully fathom what the villagers of Nong Bo and Yom River area have gone through and are currently going through. I have only spent about two weeks and gotten a glimpse of what they go through everyday. My life seems so easy and simple because in comparison I feel like I have never had to worry about possibly losing my home and my community. I have never had to fight for something in the way that these villages have, I would definitely be terrified that the government would start the dam building in the middle of the night and have no way of stopping them. It is difficult to give you a clear understanding of what I experienced, but I hope that I have given you at least an idea and I hope that these two blogs will provide you with a greater understanding of the struggles these two villages are experiencing. However, these are not the only places that are dealing with human rights abuses, so please, I urge you to learn about problems in your own community, step forward, and do something about them. If you have any questions or comments please email me or facebook me. Lastly, thank you for all of your prayers and support; the semester is more than halfway done and I am excited to see all of you again!

ally j

Monday, April 13, 2009

Songkran Festival... aka BIGGEST WATER FIGHT EVER!

I am sure you have all seen the news and know that the United States has put a travel warning on Thailand. You may also have seen the red shirt demonstrations in Bangkok or heard about the closing of the ASEAN conference on TV. But do not worry because I am in Chiang Mai and it’s a party here! Songkran Festival officially started yesterday; it is the celebration of the New Year here in Thailand. A few things that are important to know about this festival:

-Thailand is celebrating the new year of 2552, not 2009 like the rest of the world.

-The festival officially starts on 4/13/09 and ends on 4/15/09


I am not joking about this. It seems that everyone and their mother come to Chiang Mai for Songkran, so the streets are packed with cars and people. The city of Chiang Mai is set up as the “old city” and the “new city.” The old city is a huge square that is surrounded by a moat and then the new city is all around that. The festival takes place primarily around the moat and inside the old city. People line the moat with buckets and Super Soaker water guns in hand, spraying and throwing water at everyone that passes by. It is impossible to walk a block without getting completely soaked. At first when I heard about this huge event, I could not even fathom what exactly was going to happen. On Sunday, Johnny and I rode around in the back of a pick up truck—containing a huge cooler full of water and four large ice chunks—we rode through a bunch of towns outside of Chiang Mai throwing water at people. There are no limits to whom can get drenched with water: bicyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians, children, grandparents, cars, etc. People that you do not even know will pour ice-cold water down your back and all you can do is squeal and laugh and spray them back. Just imagine 28th Street (in Grand Rapids, MI) or the Coralville Strip (in Coralville, IA) packed with people and cars and water flying through the air and everyone is smiling and laughing. Some of the roads here are flooded because of the amount of water being used; seriously, every store and restaurants has a huge trashcan bucket with a hose constantly flowing into it. It’s pretty crazy and everyone has a lot of fun, especially the farang (foreigner) tourists.

I am currently on spring break to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and Songkran Festival; however, the two have very little connection here in Thailand. The most heavily practiced and recognized religion in Thailand is Buddhism, even though the government does not recognize itself as a Buddhist nation, everything is still intertwined with Buddhism. Yesterday, Anna Perks and I hung out at a restaurant all day long with her host family. The day was very Sabai Sabai (phrase used when you are completely relaxed and enjoying yourself). We had a table right next to the road, so we could “bye lynn nam” (go play in water) or “gin cow” (eat food) whenever we felt like it. Around 2:30 pm the parade passed by, it was full of floats and Buddhist sculptures and a lot of music and dancing. The parade ended around 5:45pm, a little ridiculous, but people were really enjoying themselves. The two days of “bye lynn nam” were a lot of fun, but also really exhausting. Even though the festival does not end for a few more days, I think I am pooped of water events, so I am going to Sukhothai (5 hours away from Chiang Mai) with some friends and biking around. We are leaving in the next hours J

I have another blog that I will update soon explaining the last expedition on Thailand’s rivers. I pray that you are all doing well. Thank you for your continued support and prayers.

ally j

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The last post for the next few weeks...

So much has happened in the last eleven days! Last Friday, we had a Lanna party/celebration in appreciation for our host families. It was very fancy! In my last blog I mentioned the fiasco with my Lanna outfit, but I never should have doubted the Thai seamstress because she was able to sew an entire outfit out of an odd shaped fabric and finish it in 1 ½ days. I went to the Lanna party with Johnny’s family because my parents were in another province for work, which was kind of a bummer because they would have loved it. A better name for this party would be “Lanna Prom.” Everyone had extravagant traditional Lanna outfits and many girls had their makeup and hair in updos. It was quite interesting seeing all of the girls all done up pretty because most of us get to school with no make up and wet hair. Beforehand, I was taken to a hair salon where they made my hair twist and turn and then proceeded to put mounds of hairspray and multiple bobby pins in to make my hair stay in place. When they finished, I stood up and quickly Johnny’s Mae came over to me and told me to sit back down. Next thing I knew, my face is being covered in makeup. This was kind of a nightmare! In Thailand, there is an emphasis on whiteness. The whiter your skin, the more beautiful you are supposed to be. That being so, the majority of lotion, sunscreen, and makeup found here have whitening chemicals in them. The makeup that was being put on my face in globs seemed to contain a lot of whitening chemicals. After they almost shaved off my eyebrow, made my eyes look like I got punched, put hot pink lipstick on, and made me look as white as a ghost… we left for the party. It was stressful! We stopped by the house quickly to pick up the boys, so I grabbed my own makeup to try to fix my face and not make me look so dead. The lesson I learned: I am white, I will probably always be white; therefore, never put on or let anyone else use whitening chemicals on my skin because I do not need to be any paler.
The Lanna building was built over 100 years ago and it reminded me a lot of the Swiss Family Robinson tree house. It was beautifully decorated with candles and flowers everywhere. Before the program began, we were led to the porch, which had over twenty different Lanna foods to try, and it was an experience. Half the time I didn’t even know what I put in my mouth, and to tell you the truth, I still don’t know. But, it was all very tasty. After many pictures and a lot of simple Thai conversations it was time to eat the main meal. Everyone sat on the ground eating sticky rice and various traditional Lanna foods. Delicious! The program was full of music and dancing by both Thais and students. We ended the evening giving a speech in Thai to our host families thanking them for everything they have done for us.
The following morning was move in day! Johnny’s Mae gave us a huge bowl of rice soup for breakfast and then we were off to the apartments. One of the biggest changes has been moving into the apartments/dorms. They are right in the middle of Chiang Mai in a very convenient location, so we walk almost everywhere we go. That includes school, which takes about 30 minutes. Some people decide to take a rot dang (red truck/taxi), but I have yet to take one to or from school. It is a difficult toss up, the cons of walking are you sweat a lot and you walk on the shoulder of one of the busiest roads in Chiang Mai. The pros are the good feeling at the end of the day knowing that you walked 1+ hours and it ends up being wonderful time to think and organize my thoughts.
Sunday I was able to go to church with some other students. It was definitely refreshing and spiritually nourishing to be worshipping with a lot of fellow believers. Afterwards, we were all invited to stay for the sandwich dinner. Everyone was extremely welcoming and my hope is to continue to go on the Sundays we are in the city (which may only be two or three more times). We will be able to go there on Easter though, which is definitely a blessing.
This past week was an introduction to rivers and dams. We spent everyday discussing the human rights abuses that are directly connected with dam building. There is so much to take in and process that I don’t really know how to express my feelings right now in a blog, but I am sure that after this semester I will be able to discuss it a little more clearly.
St. Patrick’s day was a lot of fun. Acadia, Laura, and I went to an amazing Italian restaurant and had a Caprese salad, bruschetta, and I had stuffed mushroom ravioli. I had been craving cheese so much and it definitely hit the spot. Surprisingly, many of the Italian restaurants here are run by actual Italians and the pasta is homemade, unlike Olive Garden in the states. After our relaxing dinner we walked to the UN Irish Pub where one of our professors was performing with his Irish band. They were a lot of fun. The experience was really strange because it was the first time in 6 weeks that I have been around so many farangs (foreigners). I was really starting to get use to the idea that in most situations I would probably be the only farang. Most of the students from ISDSI went and enjoyed St. Patrick’s day Thairish style. The best thing about the night was that it rained! For the first time in about 4 months it rained! Since then it has rained about 3-4 more times, which is really good for Thailand and the Mangos!
I have definitely had some up and down moments, but I am starting to realize that I need to make sure I spend some time by myself to reflect and take everything in. We leave tomorrow morning for the expedition part of the Rivers and Dams course. We will be in the eastern part of Thailand focusing primarily on the Mekong and the Yom River. The first half we will be living with families and experiencing life in the villages of people directly affected by the building of dams on the Mekong. The second half we will be canoeing down the Yom River, which is currently free of dams, but there are building plans. We will hear from various villages about the problems it will create for their lives. I hope you are all doing well! I will be unable to post any blogs for the next few weeks, but I would love email, letters, or messages! I pray that you have a blessed next few weeks. Please pray for group connections and dynamics, safety, and a sense of focus and understanding. Talk to you in a few weeks!
ally j

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bittersweet Endings

My last night with my host family came so fast. Unlike the other ISDSI students, my time with my host family ended today, instead of on Saturday. My Mae and Paw have to go to another province for a week and then on to Bangkok for Grandma’s operation. Luckily, I won’t be homeless; my Mae is good friends with Johnathan’s Mae, so for the last few days I will be living with them. I am a little bummed that my parents will not be going to the end of the course Lanna Thank You party on Friday, but the past few days we have had our own little house parties.

This past weekend we went on a weekend excursion to Mae Ta a village in the Mountain about an hour and a half from Chiang Mai. We stayed with families that were involved with an organic farming co-op. Thursday night we arrived and were separated into pairs and placed with various families located around the village. Stephanie (ISDSI student) and I were placed with an amazing couple. They did not speak any English; in fact, they speak a northern dialect, but they spoke to us in central Thai, which is what we are learning in school. This was extremely helpful because they spoke very slow and precise, making it that much easier to understand.

Before Mae Ta, I thought that my parents in Doi Saket lived their lives simply, but Mae Ta lifestyle was even more so. There was electricity but very little running water and showers consisted of a bucket of water that you ladled out to pour on yourself; aspects reminded me a lot of Haiti experiences. The food was amazing and shortly after it got dark, we would head off to bed to sleep under our insect netting.

Our Mae laughed so hard at dinner when we were eating guavas and she said “farang gin farang” which means, “Foreigners eat guavas.” Coincidently, the word farang has two meanings and to understand which one is being used, you have to understand the context and also listen for the tone. We experienced some minor confusion and lost in translation moments, but all in all the experience was very encouraging. I was able to understand whole conversations and it seemed so natural. I also learned a helpful lesson…don’t say “Chai” (Yes) when you have no idea what is going on. It is not just used when replying “yes” or “no” but it is also used in agreement or encouragement when someone is talking. For example, a conversation with my Mae Ta parents looked something like this:

Mae: thai words thai words thai words farm thai words chicken thai words egg

Me: chai chai

Mae: thai words thai words vitamin thai word thai word

Me: chai

Mae: thai words thai word vegetable thai word

I guess I figured that maybe by having her continue to talk that I would begin to understand. Sometimes it worked, but other times it flopped. Besides some conversation flaws on my part, the weekend was incredible. Friday we spent the entire day working on the farm and in the garden harvesting for the market the next day. Everyone involved with the co-op has completely organic farms and are for the most part self-sustainable. We were given the opportunity to sell with our host moms in the organic market in Chiang Mai early Saturday morning (we woke up at 4:30am to leave!!). I found out later by one of my instructors that my Mae Ta parents were extremely successful and considered the model farm. They even sell abroad to Europe and other Asian countries. It was a pretty incredible experience. The weekend away from Chiang Mai was a nice break for our lungs (less smog pollution in Mae Ta) and it made me realize that I actually missed my home in Doi Saket.

Saturday and Sunday were relaxing and care free, and super hot (about 105 degrees). I went swimming with my cousin Yolk, Mackenzie (my farang ISDSI brother), and my mom. I taught my mom how to do backstroke and then did motorboat with her. She laughed at me and thought it was the strangest thing she had ever done in the water. I told her that when I was a kid my mom always did motorboat and whenever I teach people how to swim motorboat is usually incorporated into my lesson plans. When Mackenzie, Mae, and I got home, I started cooking my farang meal, Spaghetti. It tasted just as though I was in my kitchen at home in Iowa…Phenomenal. It will probably be the last time I have spaghetti because I won’t have access to a stove again (so Mom, could we have spaghetti as my first meal back into the USA, pleaseJ.) It seemed to be a success among my parents because they cooked some gang khiao (green curry) just in case they didn’t like spaghetti, but they didn’t even touch it once. My Paw provided the beverages, Singha and Chang, which are two of Thailand’s own beers...they are commonly compared to PBR, maybe a little better, but maybe not.

On Friday, we are having a Traditional Lanna (Northern Thai culture) party as a thank you to our host families. All of the students have to dress in tradional Lanna clothing and also prepare a few songs or dances to present to our families. It is also a time to publicly thank our family (in Thai) for everything that they have done for us this past course. I will be going with Johnny’s family and his Mae already told me that I am their adopted daughter, so I think it will still be fun despite my Mae and Paw not being there.

Buying traditional Lanna clothes was and is probably one of the most stressful things that I have had to do here. They gave us time during lunch to go to Gat Luang (a huge market) and buy the clothes, but I was unable to find one that I liked during that time, so I came back after school to find one. I was rushed for time and only had about 15 minutes to buy the outfit, otherwise I would miss the yellow bus home. There are so many different colors, styles, and designs to choose from that it becomes overwhelming. I decided that I would find the color that I liked first and go from there. The women at the market are more than willing, in an almost negative way, to help you and I still don’t know a lot of Thai to get exactly what I was looking for. I found the color and design that I liked and the lady helped me find a top that went with it. She held up the skirt fabric and told me it was beautiful and that I only need to sew up the edge and it will be perfect. However, it wasn’t until I got home and showed my Mae that I realized that not only did the woman not give me correct change back, but she also gave me a super long piece of fabric that isn’t even the right size lengthwise. I got so frustrated that I almost cried. My Mae realized that I got screwed over and took me to a woman down the road that sews clothes. The woman kept saying that it was going to be difficult due to the awkward length of fabric, but she will work her hardest and try to have a skirt and a top sewn from the long piece of fabric by Thursday. I will hopefully now have one skirt with two different Lanna tops, but at least that is better than an odd long piece of fabric.

The rest of my night was wonderful. I went on a long bike ride with Mackenzie out through rice fields and villages away from the city and highway. The endless green surroundings looked like they came straight out of the National Geographic. After a wonderful dinner of cow pad (fried rice), I thanked my parents and told them how much I appreciated everything they have done for me (all in Thai) and I gave them an Isabel Bloom of two birds. My Mae looked like she was about ready to cry; she gave me a huge hug and a Thai kiss (you put your lips to the skin and make a sniffing noise, no kissing sound like Westerners). I also gave my mom my black and pink IOWA shirt because she always commented on how much she liked it, and now she even says, “Go HAWKS.”

On Saturday we move into the apartments that are located in the city. These will be our base locations for when we are home from the excursion courses. Next Monday will be the start of the Rivers course and we will spend one week in Chiang Mai then it is out and about canoeing down various rivers in Thailand. I will probably not be able to post any blogs when I am on the excursions, but if I am able to do so, then I will definitely update you all. Thank you for your love, prayers, and support.

ally j

Monday, March 2, 2009


So I finally got my pictures to upload! I am really excited to share them with you all. A lot of them are pictures of things discussed in past blog entries. I hope it gives you a better picture of what my life is like here. I will hopefully be adding some more soon. Enjoy!

Jeremy and Kathryn enjoying sweet and sour chicken and shrimp pineapple stir fry the first day in the city.

Yellow flower in my Mae's water garden.

Local Market: reminded me a lot of Haitian markets mixed with a Meijer/Hyvee.

Local market: seafood counter.

Local Market: Rice counter.

Local Market: Meat counter.

On one of the Saturdays, I went to a Wat (temple) with my host family.

Retreat location at Mork-Fa Waterfall. It was beautiful and relaxing.

A natural back massage.

Up close picture of Mork-Fa during the dry season.

Anna Johnson scared to death opening the container that held the still moving and still alive shrimp.My reaction to eating the still alive and still moving shrimp. haha

Hot Springs with Johnny!

This is how you boil your eggs at the hot springs. The sign in the distance tells you how long you have to leave your eggs in the hot spring to get them the way you like i.e. 7 mins for soft boiled.

This is my Mae. She is beautiful and one of the funniest people ever.
This is where I live. My Mae is all about flowers and plants, so it is like living in the jungle :) and I love it.
Rock climbing all day. I look like an amateur.

Repelling and zip lining through a cave on our rock climbing orientation. Rebecca G is zip lining and Jeremy J is repelling. The repelling is over 100 meters.

Pi Pookie (one of the ISDSI staff) riding behind our Rot Dang (Red taxi truck). Motorcycles are the fastest way to get around the city and the streets are filled with them.

Have an amazing day!

ally j

Missing the comfortable

A month ago, I was running around doing last minute errands and saying goodbye to family and friends. It has flown by so quickly! Right now, I am in a really strange stage because by the end of this week it will be the longest time I have ever spent away from home. Things are no longer new and so they have kind of lost that thrill and excitement; however, things are not quite familiar yet. Therefore, I find myself missing aspects of my comfortable and familiar life back home.

I can’t even express how thankful I am that I was placed in this homestay with my Mae and Paw. They have made sure that I feel completely at home and help me a lot in adjusting to a completely new culture. My Mae is always joking around with me and my Paw is still always smiling and laughing. I am actually pretty stoked because gradually I am able to say more and more to my Paw as my Thai improves.

Saturday was GIRLS DAY OUT and it was so much fun. My Mae and I were dropped off at Kad Suan Keaw, which is a big mall in the middle of the City around lunchtime. In the bottom floor of the mall, there is a Tops Market where we ate our lunch. I had Pad Thai Gai, which is Pad Thai with Chicken and it was delicious. To make things better, my Mae bought coconut ice cream! When we finished our lunch my Mae decided that we should go to a movie. She let me choose between Revolutionary Road, Hotel for Dogs, the war movie with Tom Cruise (I am blanking on the name right now), or Benjamin Button. I thought it was kind of funny because on our way to the mall there was a street vendor who was selling three out of the four movies for sale for like 50 baht. I chose Revolutionary Road, which was a good movie and really emotional. During the movie, I was frequently thinking about what my Mae was thinking. It is silly but I wanted to know if she took this movie as a testimony to how American’s live their lives. The movie took place awhile back and it constantly showed drinking, smoking, and sex. Granted the movie is relevant to people’s lives today, but if I knew more Thai it would probably be an interesting conversation to have with her.

After the movie, we went SHOPPING! It was a lot of fun, especially because I was needing a nice shirt and I honestly missed shopping around and trying on different clothes. Everyone here dresses really nice and stylish. People don’t go out in extremely casual clothes like we do in the states (sweatpants and sweatshirts), instead people here always look like they are ready to go out. I did not bring any of my nicer clothes from home that I usually wear in the summer, instead I brought outdoorsy clothes (like Patagonia, Mountain Hardwear, Marmot) and sporty clothes (like shorts and t-shirts). I actually regret not bringing more clothes because now not only do I stick out as a farang (foreigner), but also a farang who can’t dress well haha. We got home around 5:30 pm and after showering we (Mae, Paw, my cousin Yok, Emilie (another ISDSI student) and I) went to Johnathan’s house for a Thai fondue party. I guess this style of cooking, which is typically in restaurants is popular among locals. It was really chill and relaxed and a great way to end the evening.

Sunday reminded me of one of the old Calvin and Hobbs comic books because it was truthfully one of the laziest Sundays I have ever experienced. I just felt like I was eating all day long and I only left the house once with Mackenzie to go to Wat Doi Saket. Wat Doi Saket sits at the top of Doi (mountain) Saket. It has one of the tallest Buddha statues I have ever seen, it is so big that you can see the back of its head from many km away. It would have probably been a beautiful view if it wasn’t for the thick smog. The past week or so there were warnings in the news against exercising outside because the air quality was so poor. I am unfamiliar with the air quality ratings, but I guess it is more than triple what Europe would assume to be dangerous. You can definitely feel the difference when you travel the 25 mins from Chiang Mai to Doi Saket. It has made me appreciate that I have lived away from the traffic and the city.

Thai is a difficult language to learn. A lot more difficult then I thought it would be. Just like with any other new languages, I get frustrated a lot, but maybe it is only making me want to work even more to understand it. The foundations course is always captivating. I love learning all about the culture here it is rich and detailed. We spent some time discussing the economic situation and learned that minimum wage is around 200 Baht a day, which is about six dollars a day!!! And it is not easy work, a lot of the work is in the factories or on construction sites. I made more then $6 in an hour and all I did was sit on my butt and guard people’s lives. The whole class I had a song stuck in my head by Amos Lee where he says, “Baby I need a plan oh to understand that life ain’t only supply and demand.” Music is definitely another thing I am missing a lot of, too.

To end this blog, I am going to address a few questions that people have asked me. First, the toilet situation… I live in a fairly westernized house, so I use westernized toilets, but most other public places are these porcelain rectangles on the ground that have two spots for your feet and a hole in the middle. Usually there is not a handle to flush, but a basin full of water with a floating bowl, which you use to pour water into the hole to manually flush. And typically there is no toilet paper, so it has become a vital necessity to have in your bag. Second, the food… I have only had Pad Thai twice. My favorite foods are all curries, Tom Yum and Coconut soup. I have rice for every single meal and it definitely fills you up. There are two types of rice that are most commonly eaten: regular white rice (which is found at all Asian restaurants) and sticky rice. They are not kidding when they say sticky rice; it is eaten with your hands and has to be rolled into balls and then dipped into each dish. I have yet to master this skillful art because rice ends all over my hands and I usually find myself resorting to the old spoon and fork method. I have been offered some crazy foods, fresh live shrimp (which I mentioned in one of my past blogs), ant eggs, fermented pork, and pork liver. But from what I have heard the later courses when we are living with hill tribes have a much more adventurous menu like monkey, wasp larva, and rats. haha. I can’t wait! And finally, I have decided to cook spaghetti for my family next Sunday!

This past week I have received facebook messages and emails and even had the chance to Skype with some people from home and it has truly been wonderful and made a difference in my days J I can’t thank you enough for all of your prayers and support.

ally j