Spring Break Part One

I know, I know, its been forever since I last posted. But I have been a very bust lady. SO busy that I am going to be writing about my spring break in two, possibly even three installments.

Spring break started off strong with Songkran, the Thai new year where everyone takes off three (or more) days of work to revert back to their childhood selves and spray everyone in sight with water, particularly those unsuspecting tourists that obviously don’t want to get wet (hint: that was not me). 

As Chiang Mai is surrounded by a giant moat, it is the perfect venue for this city wide water gun fight. And when I say city wide I don’t think you can actually comprehend how city-wide this event actually is. The neighborhood kids that live behind your favorite mom and pop bar chase you as soon as you step out of the comforts of your building, the professional photographer that took your last minute passport pictures cackles as he aims his high powered water hose at your face, the kind street vendor comes by and smears powered sunscreen all over your face so your skin won’t darken, the familiar songthoaw drivers strap industrial sized trash bins full of water to the back, everyone is a target and everyone is smiling*. 

Highlights from Day One of Songkran:

We started off the day meandering down Nimman and ended up at the newest mega mall in Chiang Mai, Maya. The outside of Maya was bumpin’ aka there were huge posters, two very large stages, very loud music, plenty of people around, huge “water refill stations” which are crucial during Songkran, and an MTV camera crew, so obviously we headed over. We were the only farang around so we filled up our guns and started dancing around squirting people on the stage and basically acting like the crazy people we are. Pegeen proceeded to jump into one of the refill stations and a camera crew rushed over to film the crazy farangs, so obviously we took advantage of their interest in us and started hoopin and hollerin and spraying everyone near us screaming “HAPPY SONGKRANNN!!” So basically we became thai MTV Splash superstars and you should check out our work. It’s pretty artistic and moving. 

We headed to Tae Phae Gate because we had heard that it was nuts over there and were overwhelmed by what we found. There were stages lining the outside of the gate, all blasting their own music with over 50 people spilling over each stage. There were so many people it was nearly impossible to move. Walking just two blocks took us over 45 minutes but we finally came to an area that was a bit less crowded so we decided to stay. And then we noticed a truck with six Thai guys in uniforms (pink shirts and sweatpants, if you can call that a uniform) standing in the back. The truck was playing some great music so we asked if they wanted some company and climbed aboard. We spent the next hour and a half dancing on a stage on the back of a truck spraying everyone that walked past and occasionally dumping buckets full of water on their heads. It was certainly the highlight of my water fight. I only wish I could find the pictures that the company took of us to share them with all four of my fans.

Favorite quote from the festival is from our friend Jack while he was being pelted with water from three Thais, he smiled and said: “I just feel so connected with all of humanity,” oh Jack… 

We spent two days doing Songkran in Chiang Mai and then took an overnight train to Bangkok for the final day where we trolled around the mega malls (no really, they’re more mega than you think) with Ally’s parent’s friend from college, Tip. She was great and treated us to a delicious lunch and let us sleep at her house for four hours before we had to wake up at 3 am to catch our flight to Bali. 

this is the end of spring break part one but here is a preview of part two:

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Till next time. 

* except for the aforementioned unsuspecting tourists that looked like they were about to cry

Lady! Buy now please!

My regrets for the lack of posting, but I hope the pictures in this post will make up for it.

I just returned from a weekend visa run to Cambodia! Since I have a multi entry visa we are given 90 days in Thailand where we then have to leave and re-enter to receive another 90 day stamp. My first 90 days would expire two days before leaving for spring break in Bali so obviously I just had to visit Cambodia.

Alessio, the 18 year old Italian high-schooler on our program, Peegen and I spent a total of 46 hours traveling for two full days and three nights in the bustling town of Siem Reap. The town literally sprang up to accommodate the mass numbers of  backpackers and tourists visiting the ancient temple complex of Angkor Wat built in the early 12th century. It is hard to grasp the quantity and scale of the temples until you see them in person, it is truly unbelievable. The little details that covered every single surface would have taken years to complete let alone the actual construction of the mountain-sized temples.

The temples weren’t the only impressive thing about Cambodia. I thought the best part was the sky. Literally. We haven’t been able to see the blue sky in Chiang Mai for at least a month and I hadn’t even realized that I missed it until the Khmer sun reflected off the fluffy white clouds to make the blue sky almost as hard to look at as the sun. Siem Reap was just cleaner than Thailand (although outside of Siem Reap and Angkor the trash everywhere was WAY worse than what I’ve seen in Thailand).

Another testament to how tourist-oriented Siem Reap is was the sheer number of people that spoke English! Everyone we encountered- tuk tuk drivers, restaurant waiters, street food vendors, market stall owners, children running on the street- spoke impeccable English! And they sure did use it to their advantage, everywhere we turned we heard: “Lady, where you go? You want taxi?” “Lady, 10 postcard for $1, you want? They very pretty, see, look. So pretty. Buy now please.” “Lady, I give special price for you, business bad today, please buy now lady.” Children would swarm you from all angles, pleading for all the “ladies” to buy whatever they were selling at that particular time. While it was flattering and quite amusing to be repeatedly referred to as “lady”, its very hard to say no to a 6 year old girl holding an infant child in her arms (read: reasons Olivia will likely not have children)!

Nonetheless, we had a fabulous time gawking at crumbling stone wall after crumbling stone wall.

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Alessio and his teddy before getting on the first of four buses

Our adventure was short but sweet, with very little spice. No really, the Khmer don’t like spice. We had to keep asking for extra chilies at meals! But now we are all safe and sound back in Chiang Mai, dutifully writing papers (or blog posts) and waiting for Songkran to start on Sunday. Time to go buy a super soaker and a waterproof bag!

Till next time.

Lost In Translation? Not Lost In Translation?

Remember how I said I was going to explore Burma this past weekend?

Yeah… well I didn’t.

I messed up the whole visa situation and was thus unable to enter the country. So I’m an idiot. But I guess we already established that fact when I rode a bike head first into a moving vehicle.

Good stuff.

Anyways, this is just a quick anecdote from teaching last week. Thanks to Christina’s wonderful teaching skills (especially in contrast to my complete lack of competency in this area) our students split into groups to write a short story that contained food words and this/these/those words. What did my group come up with? A love story. And it went a little something like this:

This is a love story about a man whose name is John. John is a good cook. He lives in Chiang Mai. One day John bought some carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, and pork. The salesman was a beautiful girl. John asked the beutiful girl, “What is your name?” The beautiful girl said, “My name is Susie. Why are you buying these vegetables?” John said, “I can cook for you. Will you come eat with me?” Susie said yes and they lived happily ever after. The end.

Needless to say, I was very proud of them for coming up with such a wonderful story and I was put in an excellent mood. My mood only improved when a student from another class, taught by my good friends Becca and Ally, performed a song he wrote for his teachers. I can’t recall the exact lyrics but he sang “thank you teachers for coming to teach us, you are so kind and wonderful” while strumming along with his magical guitar. My heart melted. And I however cheesy, I thought to myself, its these kinds of moments that I will remember forever.

Anyways, that night warmed my heart so I thought I would share it will y’all. Oh, and did I mention we taught our class the word “sassy” that day too? Yeah, it was perfection.

Till next time.

Adjustments

A good friend of mine (Hey Angela!) asked if Thailand had become normal yet or not and it got me thinking about all the small things that were startling at first but are now becoming just another part of life.

First of all I’ll start with the language. I came knowing how to say three things in Thai, by no means have I spontaneously learned the entire language, but I know how to tell a songtao driver to take me back to my dorm for 20 baht and order my favorite dishes. The language barrier is probably still the most poignant cultural barrier. Its really difficult when you’re just strolling around Chiang Mai, exploring the neighborhood when you start getting yelled at but a very aggressive Thai man and all you can understand is “wat….wat….wat.” To be fair he was the first aggressive person I have encountered and he was trying to tell us not to go up the temple steps because there were crazy rabid dogs, but how were we to know?

Anyways, onto other differences- the mattresses. Oh man. The mattresses. I thought I liked firm beds until I experienced an actual firm bed. My mattress has a 1/4 inch give to it before it feels like wood. It’s definitely not a cheap mattress, its normal, mattresses are just VERY FIRM. I prefer to say that I sleep on a rock, because thats what it feels like when I wake up every morning. So you can see that I have not quite adjusted to the beds yet, but we’re getting there… I think.

Breakfast.

Pancakes, waffles, omelets, muesli, overnight oats, oatmeal, cereal, grits, bacon, sausage, and eggs in general. Thailand has waffles, omelets and even some yogurt and muesli; but they are all considered dessert.

Mm, s’cuse me? (Sidenote, typing that sentence of breakfast foods just made my stomach do cartwheels of desire). A lot of places go on Thai-time meaning that they open whenever they feel like it, which is usually not until 11 am. When you have 7 hours of class in one day with a start time of 9 am, no breakfast just is not an option. So I started trying Thai breakfast and I actually LOVE it. I’m all about the rice now. It is fantastic, super filling, and you can put sweet chilli sauce all over everything, its like my new maple syrup. Wow, did I just say sweet chilli sauce is the new maple syrup? #abroadprobs

Next is toilet paper, or the lack thereof. Well, the lack thereof in the restrooms, there is plenty of toilet paper on restaurant tables! Thais use toilet paper like napkins which is convenient when you’re out at dinner and forgot to put some t.p. in your purse, you just grab a few napkin sheets and you’re ready to go!

Speaking of potty talk, squat toilets are another matter. My dorm and CMU both have western style toilets that flush but a lot of restaurants and the Migrant Learning Center have squatters. After many summers spent going to the bathroom outdoors, I feel pretty comfortable using squat toilets. Its actually the lack of soap at the bathroom sinks that gets me the most. Germ theory people!

Next, we have paying for water. It is definitely something I have taken for granted in the past. Especially after growing up in rural Virginia where the well water is still the best water I have ever tasted- and yes, different waters taste different (don’t even get me started on how much I dislike Aquafina). However, filling up my nalgene has been relatively easy and convenient. There are fill-up stations, called “Reverse Osmosis Station”s, every few blocks and it costs 1 baht to overflow my nalgene and quickly walk away before anyone notices that I’ve left a puddle. And then there are a select few restaurants that provide unlimited self serve water so I’ll fill up my nalgene twice before leaving.

And then there is the traffic. I am significantly less jumpy than I was right after the accident but I would still never, ever, want to drive in Thailand [refer to my previous post Tis A Mere Flesh Wound] . First of all, they drive on the opposite side of the car and the opposite side of the road which is quite confusing. The first night I was here, I tried to get into the taxi driver’s seat, where he then laughed profusely. I’m still getting used to looking right-left-right rather than left-right-left. Then there is the actual act of driving. Cars drive straddling the two lanes, motorbikes weave in and out of traffic, everyone will drive half on and half off the road in order to get ahead three feet and they will pass pedestrians when they’re a mere ten centimeters away! And then there are those pesky bicyclists that think they can swerve wherever they want and not get hit (I’ve come so far, I’m even making jokes about myself!!).

The Vietnamese girls on our program said that driving in Thailand is refreshingly calm- remind me to never to go Vietnam.

Well thats about it for the adjustments in Thailand. However, I’m going to Burma for a few days so it will be interesting to see the differences that 50 years of dictatorship and very limited outside influence can do to a country!

Till next time.

The Golden Triangle

First of all, thank you to the [very] few people who are keeping up with my blog, since my accident my readership has dropped to a dismal 3-6 hits a day. Come’on people! No but thanks for reading.

Last week our entire group went on an excursion to Northern Thailand. Aren’t I already in Northern Thailand in Chiang Mai? Well, technically yes, but we took it to a whole new level of northern this weekend.

We departed at 9 am on Wednesday for Chiang Rai, a three and a half hour bus ride through winding mountain roads. We stopped fro lunch just outside the city and looked around the infamous White Temple or Wat Rong Khun. The interesting part of the white temple, besides the fact that its white, is that it is a work in progress. This one artist, I forget his name at the moment, designed, built, and decorated the temple. Since pictures speak a 1,000 words I’ll let them do the talking but I was not allowed to take pictures inside the actual temple part because its an ongoing piece of artwork blah blah blah but it was pretty cool as the artist has incorporated pop culture images and symbols into the classic buddhist art (aka superman, spongebob, and machine guns were prevalent).

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Welcome to hell.

Welcome to hell.

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Then we went to a great organization called The Sold Project which provides scholarships and after school education to children that are at risk for prostitution recruitment. It is a really amazing foundation and you should definitely check out their website (http://thesoldproject.com/).

Our final stop of the day was at the “Hilltribe” Museum. And hilltribe is in quotes because its not totally accurate. We watched a movie and the manager talked to us for a while about all the terrible stuff that has gone down in the area, most of which has involved opium in some form or another.

We stayed the night in Chiang Rai and were able to explore their night market and witnessed a few different performances. Ally got a picture with one of the groups:

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On Thursday we got back into the vans and spent another hour going up an insane road (the roads are navigating the foothills of the Himalayas if that can give you any perspective as to how crazy scary and beautiful it was) to a town called Mae Salong where we had lunch and explored another market. One of the girls in our group walked away from her wallet for two minutes and it was taken. The police were notified and in a matter of fifteen minutes or so, the Thai police returned the wallet! No one was arrested, they were just told, “Don’t do that again,” a very different approach than what would have happened in America.

Relieved, we all boarded the busses and went to a memorial/museum and then a tea plantation. Mae Salong used to be all poppy fields that fueled the opium trade that funded the drug lord Khun Sa and his army. Tea was implemented as their substitute crop when Thailand wanted to eradicate the drug trade in the north.  Here are some pictures from the tea plantation:

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Friday was spent at the Golden Triangle. The Golden Triangle is where Laos, Burma, and Thailand meet on the Mekong River and was the largest site of opium trading until it was knocked to second place by Afghanistan.

We took a boat ride up the Mekong a bit but the driver said we could only go so far or else we would get in trouble with the drug traffickers… yikes. So we boated to a small island controlled by Laos (no visa needed for the island) and explored yet another market. I explored past the market a bit and happened upon a large black bear type animal in a cage. I’m pretty sure it was going insane because it kept swaying back a forth and climbing up then down then up then down. It was very distressed to say the least and it made me really sad so I had to leave. But I still don’t know what kind of animal it was.

Saturday was spent going to the border to Burma where quite a few people crossed over for an hour to renew their visas (we have to get a stamp every 90 days) but I am going to Cambodia soon so I decided to save the 500 baht charge and spent my time looking at Burma from afar.

Basically it was a trip filled with van riding and eating at markets. But it was really fun and a great experience and I CAN’T WAIT TO TRAVEL MORE!

Till next time.

Spaghetti a la Wok

My roommate, Noonar, really likes to cook and since there is not a kitchen in our building she has a rice cooker and an electric wok in our room. The other night she was cooking with our friend Sky and I mentioned that I also love to cook at home and am having a hard time without a kitchen. They immediately asked if I would cook them “American” food to celebrate Noonar’s last day of exams (Saturday) for which I gladly agreed, and then they requested spaghetti. Spaghetti isn’t actually American, but I make it fairly frequently so I figured, why not?

I traveled to the Tesco Lotus Express just down the street to try and find a can of crushed tomatoes and various other ingredients I would need, including the actual spaghetti. Sadly, there were no cans of tomatoes so I bought 18 roma tomatoes from the market thinking I could simmer them down for a while to make a delicious sauce like we often do at home. Anyways, this is what I procured from the market for my night of cooking:

Tons of tomatoes, garlic, onion, mushrooms, yellow bell pepper, green peppers, thai basil, and parsley.

Tons of tomatoes, garlic, onion, mushrooms, yellow bell pepper, green peppers, thai basil, and parsley.

And yes, it took me forever to chop up all of those tomatoes. I decided to cook the green beans separately with some garlic, lemon, and green onions, which was definitely a good call, they were delicious.  What I did not take into account is that the wok only has one setting: boil. And I forgot to purchase salt and pepper….

Noonar helping me cook

Noonar helping me cook

This is what we ended up with:

IMG_1073It was quite the dissapointment. The tomatoes were watery and the taste underwhelming. But my beans were bomb.

Saturday our IPSL group went to a “Buffalo Training Camp” where we spent most of our time planting rice. I think we’ve ruined a solid three rice fields so far. Here are some pictures from our day with the buffalo:

Ally proving that she was a gymnast as a child.

Ally proving that she was a gymnast as a child.

Hey cow.

Hey cow.

Becca showing her brute strength.

Becca showing her brute strength.

Separating the rice is a crucial for a woman being fit for marriage. None of us were able to master the skill.

Separating the rice is a crucial for a woman being fit for marriage. None of us were able to master the skill.

Pegeen pretends to be a buffalo...typical behavior.

Pegeen pretends to be a buffalo…typical behavior.

Adam crusing it.

Adam crusing it.

IMG_0852Then I stepped on a bee.

Till next time.

 

 

Scruffy

So sorry for not having posted in a while, I think the allure of blogging dissipated once I was doing normal everyday things instead of playing with elephants. The good news is that I have done some pretty cool stuff in the past two weeks that will hopefully provide some entertainment. Just a quick update on the arm situation, the swelling and bruising are nearly gone and I have gained back about 93% motion/mobility. My friends have started making biking and run-over-by-car jokes when people do stupid things so things are definitely looking up. Anyways, on to my adventures since the biking incident…

I spent my Valentines Day with a bunch of really cool Thai lady boys, toms, and dees where we marched in a marriage equality parade through the city. I held my sign proudly as tourists and local Thais took pictures of the young farang girl in the parade (me). I couldn’t tell you what my sign said as it was in Thai but there was a pretty rainbow and lots of people smiled at me when they read it so I think it was clever. Here is a picture of my friend Adam wearing a marriage equality shirt at the parade:

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The next day there was a flash mob for One Billion Rising which is an awesome campaign started by Eve Ensler (of the Vagina Monologues) that calls to end violence against women. Every year women around the world participate in flash mobs to increase awareness and the dance is really fun. While I did not participate in the dance as I could feel the fluid in my arm move whenever I did, I videotaped many of my friends crush it. The video is too long to upload to the internet for the time being but here are some pictures for the inspiring event:

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Just this past weekend a bunch of us went to a small backpacker haven in northern Thailand called Pai. All of our Thai roommates told us “oh, Pai is sooo romantic” before we left so we weren’t really sure what to expect. I don’t know if I could call Pai romantic exactly, but it was certainly a beautiful place and we had a wonderful weekend. We stayed at the best hostel called SpicyPai and met tons of great backpackers from all over the world. Spicy was a great place to hang out and relax in hammocks so we spent a lot of time just getting to know our fellow Spicy-men.

Just hangin around at Spricy Pai

Just hangin around at Spricy Pai

All of the travelers staying in SpicyPai had heard that a group of 14 Americans were coming to stay for the weekend so they told us they were guessing at what we would be like. The most common thought was that we were going to be a group of 50+ couples, they did not expect 12 female and 2 male 20somethings to step off the bus. They decided to have a little fun with us so everyone introduced themselves as having a name beginning with F. So we met Francoise, Fi Fi, Flourien, Francis, and many more that I cannot remember. I still don’t know many of their real names. We all had a great time anyways.

In fact, one night it was one of the other hostel member’s birthday, we called him Denmark. Denmark is one of the most genuinely kind people I have ever met as he really just loved everything about life and the people in it. He regularly broke out in dance, took fabulous pictures, and even read us a story book. Needless to say we were all thrilled to be able to celebrate his birthday with him. Some of our friends even bought him a birthday shirt which he proceeded to perform in for us (picture below). Anyways, this was just to illustrate how great it was to meet all of these amazing people traveling through SE Asia.

Denmark doing his birthday dance in his new birthday shirt

Denmark doing his birthday dance in his new birthday shirt

My favorite part of the weekend was meeting one particular member of SpicyPai, the hostel dog named Scruffy. Now, dogs in Thailand are quite questionable. They are often rabid, flea infested, and aggressive but Scruffy was different. Scruff is a great companion because he would lounge around with us, play games with us in the evening, and protect us as the night went on. In fact, when we all left the hostel to go to a bar in town, Scruffy came with us! He just sat around at the bar, listened to everyone’s stories from the beaches in Cambodia and ziplining in Laos. And when it was time to go back to Spicy, Scruffy would wait for every last resident of the hostel and walk home with them. It was so comforting to be around a normal, loving dog, and really made me miss my pup.

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