Just one of my favorite shots from Pa Pae. Two girls hunting for candy as part of a Scout Camp day!
Well, I made it back to Chiang Mai! As promised, English speaking company, delicious food and a beautiful apartment were all waiting. We arrived back in the city Saturday afternoon and by bedtime I had moved into my apartment (upstairs from the new ATMA SEVA office!), gotten a much needed massage, eaten a delicious plate of pad see ew gai, and spent several hours spewing as much English as I could to Katherine over said delicious dinner. All in all, a great first night back in the city.
I have to say that the highlight of being back, other than the food and being able to communicate, was a spontaneous trip to a nearby district last night to celebrate Sangha Day, a relatively important Buddhist holiday that occurs on the full moon of the third lunar month (thanks, google!), which coincided with the dedication of the district’s new wat. We were invited to go out to this wat for a “ceremony,” which I took to mean a relatively quiet evening at the temple with the monks performing some sort of ritual. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead, this is what we encountered:
Yes, that is at the wat. And yes, that is a dance party. We arrived around 5:30pm and went straight to a party at a friend of Natch’s, one of the teachers at Wat Doi Saket. The best comparison I can give for my American readers is that it felt like a 4th of July party. There were about 30 people already there, food lined up on long tables (including a “make your own noodle soup” station) and beer aplenty. There was even a DJ with massive speakers, not a sight unique to our party. As we drove down the street, we must have passed at least ten houses with the exact same set up. There may or may not been hours of Thai karaoke involved. It was quite the event. After stuffing ourselves, and I mean stuffing- the hosts kept bringing over more and more food, including a plate of recognizably barbequed pork… SO GOOD- we finally made our way to the wat. And by “made our way” I mean literally danced our way down the street to the wat followed by a truck loaded up with speakers and disco lights. There were people stopping to light off firecrackers, Thai ladies dancing with us, and plenty of singing and revelry.
Needless to say, this was completely unexpected and, I think, a wonderful way to celebrate the dedication of a new wat and holiday that celebrates the Buddhist community. No quiet, subdued ceremony, but a full on dance party that lasted well into the night with delicious food and fun new friends.
It was a wonderful first full day back in civilization! I’m looking forward to many more random adventures like this now that I’m back in Chiang Mai. On the horizon is Songkran, arguably the biggest holiday in Thailand, which is held during the hottest part of the year and involves everyone going outside and throwing water on each other. Yup, this is a national holiday. One I’d like to bring back to America.
Until next time,
It’s funny what you end up missing. When I departed Chiang Mai a little over two weeks ago for village life, I thought I would miss the comforts of the city, like western style toilets and showers. I thought I’d start craving some random farang (foreign) food like pizza. Turns out, two weeks in, I really don’t miss any of these tangibles that much. I’ve gotten used to my cold bucket showers, taken around the same time everyday after my late afternoon walk around the village, categorizing the experience as “refreshing” rather than “frigid.” Honestly, they feel great. As far as the rest of the bathroom situation goes, I’ve adjusted to the idea of the squat toilet and now the idea of sitting on a toilet seems weird. It’s funny how quickly we can recalibrate to a new culture if we’re just open to it. It’s human nature to initially have the knee jerk reaction of “they do WHAT? HOW? Why?? I’m not doing that!!” but eventually the question flips- we start to wonder why we do things the way we do. Who decided that sitting on a toilet was a better idea than squatting over one? (This is a legitimate question.) Seeing more of the world has made me more introspective, thinking about how I do certain things and why. The whole idea of perspective starts to become a reality instead of a buzzword thrown around by world travelers.
The things that I have missed while in Pa Pae are less palpable. I’ve missed the comfort of being able to communicate easily. To have a thought and know, instantly, how to convey that idea to another human being via speech. It’s something we take for granted in daily life. This has given me a newfound appreciation for anyone who has ever left their homeland for a foreign country with no knowledge of the native language. It can be hard as hell.
But the flip side of this, or the progression, is the realization that the experience of hitting a linguistic road block actually can be great fun. Passing the handy Thai-English dictionary back and forth can make for an entertaining afternoon, with both parties learning a new word and laughing at the other’s mispronunciation (I don’t think I’ll ever get the “ng” letter/sound down…!) There’s also something great about the moment when your message is conveyed. Like the other night…
So Friday night around 6pm, a thunderstorm rolls through the hills. It didn’t hit Pa Pae too hard, but it was enough to take out the power. I noticed this at my tee bahn (home) and went back to a friend’s for dinner, bringing with me the news that the power was down. Using my limited arsenal of Thai words, I pointed to the light switch and the ceiling light and said “mai mee,” meaning “don’t have.” Of course, my hosts were confused. Holding up a finger to wait, I pulled out the dictionary and found the word for electricity. A-ha! Now they understood, flipping the light switch and exclaiming in Thai that yes, the power was in fact out. Another win for the dictionary.
The title of this entry refers to another entertaining exchange involving a 23 year old Lawa man telling me repeatedly that he was Polish. I was confused, trying to figure out if this was possible or if he was mixing up the word (hey, how do I know, maybe a Polish person came to visit Pa Pae once? Maybe I found a long lost relative!) Eventually, and I mean like 30 minutes later, we figure out with the help of a friend that he means police. Not Polish. Ahhh, bummer.
It’s little moments like these that I’ll look back fondly on, not for any special reason, just for the unique and utterly exotic experience that they represent. My stay here has been both extremely challenging and very fun, often at the same time. Sometimes I find myself thinking of the common interview question “tell us about a challenge you faced and what you did” and think that I’ve found my answer. I mean, after this, grad school should be a breeze!
I have two more nights solo here before Katherine and a new friend of Atma Seva arrive on Wednesday. Despite the fact that I’m now comfortably living here on my own, I’m looking forward to a friendly face and some English-speaking company! And then we all head back to Chiang Mai early Saturday, where I’ll move into my new apartment!! Stay tuned for more news as my Thai adventures continue 🙂
Check out my first post for the official ATMA SEVA blog! In addition to my own personal blog, I’ll be contributing about once a month to the organization’s blog. Check out the “photography corner” for some sweet shots from other ATMA SEVA members taken all over SE Asia! Some of my shots from Pa Pae will be up there within a couple of weeks.
I’m Jamie, the latest on-site intern with ATMA SEVA! I’ll be in Thailand for four months helping primarily with social media, and also some program development.
My first few weeks in Thailand have been quite the whirlwind! I arrived to a balmy Chiang Mai night in late January and was greeted at the airport by several familiar ATMA SEVA faces- David (programs director), Nid (Lawa village director), Katherine (on-site intern), Alexis (on-site intern), and Natch (English teacher at Wat Doi Saket). From then on, it’s been non-stop action, with a few curve-balls thrown in (despite Alexis’s repeated refrain, the title of this entry!) Some of these include an unfortunate, but relatively minor, motorbike accident involving Alexis and Stu (another friend of ATMA SEVA who has his own charity stuandthekids.org), getting stranded in Chiang Mai after finding out that the songthaews (a kind of a shared taxi) stopped early…
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Despite the lack of posting the past week or so, I am alive and well. I apologize for the delay, but I have been busy, how you say, living. Thank you to everyone who has told me via email, FB, skype, etc. that you’ve been following along and enjoying reading about my adventures! With no one commenting (hint hint?) I never really know who is reading. So thanks 🙂
So just to get everyone up to speed, I’ve been living in Pa Pae, a small, rural hill tribe somewhere in the northwest corner of Thailand. Here. It’s been a busy week, both physically and mentally exhausting. The biggest challenge is the language barrier, namely I speak about maybe two dozen Thai phrases clearly and most of the people here speak somewhere around the same amount, or slightly more/less, of English. I’m teaching English to 8 classes of students, which is fun but also tough considering communication difficulties. I’ve never taught before, so going in front of any class is daunting enough! It’s certainly a challenge, but everyone here is so welcoming that it’s hard to stay panicked for long.
One of the hardest things to wrap my head around is the idea of remoteness. Here I am, on the other side of the world, in a village, in the middle of NOWHERE (the nearest town is about an hour and a half away by treacherous, half-paved road) and I’m sitting in my room on wifi. Half a world away, and still plugged in. I simultaneously hate it and love it. I don’t know how I would feel about spending three weeks completely removed from the English speaking world, but at the same time it saddens me that our world has shrunk so much. “Remoteness” in the true sense of the world is becoming a thing of the past.
Life here is quite exciting. My school day starts around 7:30 am when students begin blasting music from the school, which is located conveniently right outside my non-insulated wall. Song of choice? Sexy Lady, a painfully catchy Asian pop song. Oi vey. As much as I roll my eyes, I actually don’t mind waking up this way. It’s like the revelry played at summer camp. Rise and shine, Pa Pae! And I’m usually already awake, courtesy of the 4 am chicken chorus.
Actually, living here feels a lot like summer camp. I live in a cabin, I have a bug net, there are kids everywhere, food is prepared for me… it’s kind of nice. It’s a mix between summer camp and Sturbridge Village, if you happen to be from southern N.E., brought back to life. Oh and throw in that I don’t speak the language. I’m still wrapping my head around how unique this environment is and how utterly different it is from any place I’ve ever been. I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts at the end of my three weeks, but for now, I’m just enjoying taking each day at a time and slowly improving my ability to pud pasa thai (speak Thai). It’s slow going, but some of my favorite times so far have been sitting on the floor of Pee Pon, one of the villagers, and playing with her baby, slowly and tentatively teaching each other the Thai and English words for various objects. Latest word mastered? Sohm= orange! Aroy mak (very delicious) because they grow them right in Pa Pae.
Despite my attempts to dive into the Thai language, there’s nothing quite like having a mutually comprehended conversation in English. It’s like tonic for my brain. After tying itself in knots, an hour or two of rapid fire good ‘ol English restores it to it’s original settings. So, because of this, thank God for Skype.
Well, I suppose that’s enough rambling for now. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite pictures from Pa Pae so far…
To everyone in the northeast, stay safe, stay WARM! and enjoy the feeling of being curled up on the couch with good company (snacks included) and nowhere to go. Right about now, I miss that. So enjoy it just a little bit extra for me 🙂
Chiang Mai, Thailand. Starbucks, meet tuk tuk. (Still annoyed that the time stamps messed up all my photos that day.)
This is my response to the “A Word a Week Photo Challenge.” This week’s theme is “island.” This photo was taken on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, looking out into the lagoon. Click on the photo to check out the contest and other entries!
All in all, Thailand has been mostly what I expected. Warm/hot, loud, confusing at times, but overall a vibrant, welcoming place. There are, however, a few things that I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around…
- Cold showers are the norm. Finding a place with hot water can be a luxury. The Lawa village where I’m headed off to tomorrow for the next three weeks doesn’t have showers at all: my showers will be a bucket of cold water. Yippee!
- Toilet paper is also a luxury and definitely can NOT be flushed down the toilet. A hose mounted next to the toilet is the norm, for all your cleaning needs. I’m still adjusting to this. Toilet paper is occasionally provided, but putting it down the can is a big no-no. Learned that the hard way. Oops.
- No matter where you are, you are probably no more than twenty feet from free wifi. Your accommodations may lack a shower and a seated toilet, but I bet you 50-1 they have free wifi. I’m still trying to figure this one out.
- Traffic here makes rush hour on the Mass Pike look like a cake walk. Scooters, tuk tuks, motorcycles, cars, trucks, songtaews, and pedestrians all jockey for a place on the road. I swear to God, it’s like a real life size game of Mario Kart when the light changes (bananas occasionally included.)
- Thai people really are as friendly as they’re made out to be. When you smile, people actually smile back! If you smile and give someone a friendly “sawatdeeka”, you’re in. The other day we stopped for a drink and some snacks at a road side stand and made instant friends with three women also stopped. One even invited us to her house for dinner, anytime!
- Thai natives do NOT understand the concept of walking for fun/exercise. I can’t even tell you how many straight up crazy looks I got the other day when I was walking down the road, simply to see some sights and enjoy the exercise. Part of it was probably my farang (“fa-lahng” or foreigner) status, but man, they were perplexed.
Overall, I’m loving things here. I had a successful Skype interview with a university back in the states last night and I’m still impressed how clear the call was. Considering I literally called the other side of the world (11:30 am EST, 11:30 pm Chiang Mai time), things went really well. I might as well have been calling the house next door. This has been the biggest surprise of all- I’m as far away from home as I could possibly be, but if I turn on my computer, I feel like I haven’t even left. The ubiquitous free wifi has made it almost impossible to feel like I’m that far away.
I suppose things will be different in the village.. But then again, despite being two hours from the nearest town and having squat toilets, I’m told that there is (wait for it) free wifi. Oh technology, how the world keeps shrinking…
Stay tuned for my next update from the hills! 🙂
Today begins Day 2 of my week at Wat Doi Saket, a decently large temple complex about a half an hour east of Chiang Mai (for those of you who like maps as much as me, click here). The Wat Doi Saket project is the flagship program of Atma Seva, so I’m following in the footsteps of other volunteers that have come through the wat. Most volunteers come for a month or two (or more) to teach English, but I’m only here for a week to get a taste of the experience before heading off to a remote hill tribe somewhere north of here.
Things out in Doi Saket are much quieter than Chiang Mai. Well, maybe quieter isn’t the right word. Calmer, less frenzied. I guess this makes sense since my fellow companions at the wat are about 120 monks! I’m adjusting to the sounds of the wat, which include incessant chirping, honking (what sound DOES a boar make?), the Thai chatter of teenage novice monks, and animal sounds of an unknown origin outside my window ~3am. It’s quite fun!
The wat and surrounding grounds are beautiful, at every time of the day. I’m doing my best to get out and explore whenever I can. It’s amazing how different the same statue or monument looks at day break, noon and after dark. My favorite so far is the giant buddha:
It’s really hard to snap a picture that really encapsulates just how huge this thing is. Just trust me when I say that it’s HUGE.
Besides wandering around and taking pictures of shiny things, I’ve also started some work. Looks like my Chiang Mai honeymoon week is over. Whomp. Dave and I went over a broad outline of my time here and some of the goals we hope to accomplish in the next four months. I can’t really complain, though, since our work session was held at an adorable little open air cafe over an iced latte and green tea. To give you a sense of how trusting and safe it is out here, we left our laptops on the cafe table while we took a quick drive down the street to pick up some lunch. I was a little hesitant at first, but Dave is friendly with the woman who owns the shop and assured me that they wouldn’t go anywhere (and they didn’t!) Back in the states, I barely trust my laptop alone in Starbucks if I have to run to the restroom ten feet away. I can already tell that readjusting to that when I go home is going to be tough.
Anyways, it’s a new day over here in Thailand, so I should be out exploring. I’ve been debating how badly I need a shower since the idea of washing in cold water doesn’t sound too tempting on this chilly, cloudy morning. Yesterday it was “invigorating,” today it just sounds straight up cold and unpleasant.
I’ll leave you with one last picture that I took the other day at the “mini zoo” up the hill…
Until next time,
Well, I think yesterday takes the cake for most eventful day in Thailand thus far. I managed to sleep in until 7:15am, quite the accomplishment since my first morning I woke up around 6:30 and day 2 around 6:45 (today I even made it to a little after 8am! I’m improving!)
I hung around my room for a little bit before heading over to Dave’s girlfriend Nid’s place to meet up with the gang around 10. Of course, being chronically early and certainly not adjusted to “Thai time” yet, I arrived around 9:45 and took a few laps. I made my first successful solo purchase in 7 Eleven, managed to make it rain baht all over the floor, and enjoyed a breakfast of dried seaweed and water before returning to Dave and Nid’s closer to 10.
We met up with Katherine, Alexis, Stu, another volunteer who does work with Atma Seva from time to time, and another American named Scott who just arrived two weeks ago. After chowing down on some delicious chocolate croissants, courtesy of Stu, we headed out for the day, planning on making a loop from Chiang Mai around through Mae Rim, a nearby district in the hills, and back to the city. The first 1/3 of the trip was great, incredible lush, green forest, relatively empty roads compared to downtown Chiang Mai which is complete chaos. Things were going great until Dave and I (on his motorcycle) and Katherine and Scott (on her motorbike) stopped at the top of a hill to wait for Stu and Alexis. They were suddenly nowhere in sight after we’d all been following each other at a pretty close distance. After about 30 seconds of wondering, Dave’s phone rings. Ut oh. It’s Stu, informing us that they crashed after being forced to swerve by a songtaew, or Thai version of shared taxi, that made an unexpected turn. We raced back to them and found the Thai ambulance already at the scene, cleaning out their wounds and bandaging them up. Luckily, nobody was seriously injured and an awesome bystander who witnessed the whole thing actually managed to chase the songtaew, which fled the scene, up the road and bring him back!! That guy was our new best friend. While they were getting patched up, another local kept translating for us what was going on and how we needed to wait “just few minutes!” for the driver to return. All things considered, it was pretty lucky that the crash happened literally two minutes down the road from the clinic where the ambulance is housed and that no one sustained injuries worse than some gnarly scrapes and bruises (thank you, helmets.)
Needless to say, this was not how we expected our day would turn out. Dave’s words as we eventually continued on our way, “I’m having a really hard time selling you on the whole idea of learning how to drive a motorbike…!” Um, yes. In three days, this is the second crash I’ve seen (although I’m told by others, like Katherine, that in her entire six months here, these are the only two she’s seen as well.) I also managed to give myself my first “tourist tattoo” or leg burn from leaning against the exhaust pipe of the motorcycle. Oww/oops.
So yeah, right now I don’t have such a great feeling about these two wheeled beasts. I must say, I was pretty impressed by the Thai emergency service. Not only were they efficient, but we didn’t have to pay them a thing. They got the contact info for the songtaew driver and he’s responsible for any charges, no questions asked, no forms to file, no waiting for claims to process. I also managed to get a saline soaked gauze pad taped onto my burn while we were waiting, free of charge! Katherine got some iodine for a cut on her leg as well. In America, we’d be out thousands of dollars for that little visit from the ambulance. I’m still amazed how easy the whole process was and it reminds me of how ridiculously inefficient/cost in-effective our US system can be. Annnnyways, I’m just happy that everyone was okay in the end and made it back to Chiang Mai in one piece. What a crazy day.
Stay tuned for more updates from Wat Doi Saket, the temple I’ll be living at next week!