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