Thursday, May 22, 2008

I Hand Washed My Own Laundry!

So the laundry place at the university had been closed all last week and I ran out of clothes. One day I walked outside and saw the group of Pilipinos (who are living in the international dorms too) hanging laundry outside. So I decided to join them. I pulled up my sleeves and washed my clothes in my little bathroom sink and them hanged them out to dry. I was very proud of my self. It took two days for the clothes to dry and when they were dry they were super wrinkly and smelling…darn. Luckily, the laundry place opened up. I gave them three loads of laundry and early the next morning the laundry was clean, dried, and folded…So how much do you think I paid for this service? 90 baht ($3). That’s right. It costs $1.75 to use a washer and dryer on one load of laundry…and you have to do it yourself. I love this place…and I’m going to come back even more spoiled than I already am.

My Lovely Rash

Okay, so apparently you can't be in a foreign country without getting some sort of weird sickness, right? Well, I am praying that this is the worse I get...but about a week and a half ago weird bumps started appearing on my lips. I thought it was cold sores from all the pineapple I was eating, but then the bumps spread to the skin all around my mouth and then my mouth started to swell. Weird and gross. The picture doesn't show it very well, but it was pretty sick. We finally decided that I was allergic to something and that the weird bumps were a rash and not cold sores.

Jul drilled me on what I had eaten the past week. Fruit, rice, fish sauce, coconut milk, and a bunch of other stuff. She still seemed puzzled. "Did you put anything strange on your mouth or peel anything?" Earlier in the week I had put on lip plumper that is rumored to contain snake venom to irritate the lips so they swell. Jul wasn't convinced that the lip stuff (made in America and approved by the FDA) was the cause. "Hmmm, well I peeled a mango with my teeth a few days ago." Jul's eyes widened, "That's it!" Apparently mango peels have some kind of acid in them that can cause skin irritation...on top of that, I didn't wash the mango before I peeled. Oh Madeleine Mahoney: where was my old roommate, who is obsessed with washing fruit and veggies, when I needed her?

Hike to Wat Doi Suthep

This was one of the coolest things I've ever done. Last Sunday night was Buddha's birthday, the anniversary of his enlightenment, and the anniversary of his death. Starting at 7:39pm (9 is a number of good fortune) thousands of people began climbing a winding mountain road up to the Wat Doi Suthep (a 17-mile hike). We started at 9pm and I guess my adrenaline kicked in because I had tons of energy going up, but it still took me 3 hours. Vendors lined the road selling rice, noodles, water, candy, corn, fruit, and marajuna (even though there were tons of signs with an anime characters giving 'thumbs up' saying "No Smoking Alcohol"). Old women dressed in white, children, teenagers, adults, monks, g'toies (transvestites--very popular in Thailand), rich people, poor people--the crowd was very diverse in age, social status, and cultural beliefs. However, everyone was Asian...that is, of course, except for us. We stuck out like sore thumbs.

I was pretty proud of myself when I finally made it to the top of the mountain. I thought the hard part was done; now all I had to do was ascend the stairs...turns out there were 300 stairs up to the top of Wat Doi Suthep, and to make matters worse thousands and thousands of people were trying to go up to the Wat. I have never seen anything like it in my entire life. People were squished right up to each other trying to push through the crowd to worship in the Wat. Half way up I couldn't handle it any more. I jumped over the side of the stairs into the jungle and climbed up the steep hill leading to the Wat. I grabbed on to vines, branches, and anything else I could get a hold of to keep me from falling to my death. I wasn't the only person hiking up this way, but I was definitely the only white girl--everyone was laughing at me. It took about an hour to get up the steps.

So I made it to the top. Wahoo! Once I walked into the Wat I joined a procession of people circling around the sacred pagoda in complete silence. Old women were asleep under sacred statues. It was a once in a life time experience.

Monkey Farm

After the Butterfly Farm and Snake Farm we went to the Monkey Farm. When we walked in there was a monkey sitting with a man waiting to greet us. I have no idea what kind of monkey he was, but he was very cute and nice. In order to make sure the monkey didn’t escape the workers put an iron chain around his neck…As I looked out over the farm there were 30-40 monkeys in a large cage and they all had chains around their necks. To make things more depressing, over the loud speakers a sad sappy Thai song droned throughout the park. There were a lot of people who had a hard time at this place because it looked like a prison. We were fine with snakes in the cages, but because monkeys are so human-like it was difficult not to feel sorry about their imprisonment.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Snake Farm

Okay...This place was super cool! It was located in a small run-down, kind of "sketchy," cement building. Old cages housed pythons, king cobras, alligators, and lizards. A lot of the cobras were feisty (I have a feeling they were made to be irritated so they would give a better show). One of the king cobra's kept striking at us as we goggled him. They metal cage between us and him protected us from his deadly bite, but it bruised and cut up his face with every strike until blood dripped down his was kind of sad; never thought I'd feel sorry for a king python.

After walking around the farm we were privileged to witness the infamous "Chiang Mai Snake Farm Show!" The theme from Rocky rang through the open air facility. We excitedly took our seats on the rough wood benches preparing for the show of all shows. The emcee spoke some scripted English with a heavy Thai accent. Every time he said anything he would turn the music all the way down: that part alone was pretty hilarious. Then this super attractive Thai boy (probably 15 unfortunately) came out and threw two king cobras to the ground; they immediately started hissing and cussing (okay, they weren't cussing, but they would have been had they been allowed to speak). The cute Thai boy knelt down and poked them with a stick and jumped back every time the snakes got super mad and started to strike. All the girls sat on the back row of the stands. We were squealing and folding up into contorted positions in order to protect us just in case the snakes decided to jump 20 feet into the air and attack us.

Now I know what some of you might be thinking...they took out the poison and the fangs so the snakes weren't dangerous...but the emcee informed us that NO, the snakes still had poison and fangs and they showed us through some random demonstrations. Side note: did you know that a drop of King cobra venom will kill an elephant in one hour...yes ladies and elephant. Be grateful I survived.

The next snake they showed us was a jumping snake. It was in a wooden box at first. The snake people poked at the snake and you would see his tail flip up and then his head...and then with out warning I saw the snake fly across the room in slow motion! His teeth gnarling, venom spiting from his mouth, his body ready to strangle the neck he fell on. Luckily the snake landed on Brighten who was sitting right next to me...and luckily the snake wasn't a snake, but a rope. All of us girls screamed and flew into the fetal position while the snake guys and guys in our group laughed and laughed...ugh boys.

So all of that was pretty cool, but the coolest part was that I, yes me, got to hold a real live python! They wrapped it around my neck and it immediately started squeezing. I could not relax. I just squealed and laughed uncontrollably, but you try holding a python. It didn't help that the cute boy had a two-pronged something that he pricked into the back of my leg...ugh boys.

Butterfly Farm

On Friday we went to a lot of touristy places. The first place we went to was the Butterfly farm. This place was really beautiful, but it was anticlimactic compared to the Night Safari the night before. They had rows and rows of hanging orchids; the roots dangled two feet below in the open air. The butterflies were kinda cool, but seeing butterflies out in the open is more exciting than seeing them in a cage...that is all butterflies except these monster butterflies. They were huge!...and disgusting. They looked like a tarantula with wings.

The coolest part of the place was their gift shop. They took the actual butterfly wings or orchid petals and put them in lacquer and then made necklaces and earrings. They were awesome! I definitely think I am going to get some before I leave. If anyone wants me to get them a set I'd be more than happy to do so...

Chiang Mai Night Safari

This was by far the coolest zoo I've ever been to in my entire life. I was expecting the night Safari to be located out in the boonies: a run-down "sketchy" cement building where bugs, dogs, and lizards roamed freely--this was the common scene I had experienced of Chiang Mai thus far...However, this was not so with this night safari. At dusk we drove into a large gated property. Deer casually grazed on the beautifully manicured lawn. Lights highlighted the gorgeous architecture complete with pagodas and intricately designed statues of elephants and dragons.

As soon as we got there we were directed to an open air trolley which drove us around the park to see lions, tigers, bears, deer, hogs, alligators, and cougars as they roamed in their large caged-off habitats. That ride alone satisfied our craving to see exotic animals, however, as soon as that ride was finished we were ushered off to a second trolley ride which led us to observe animals of the savanna: elephants, zebras, giraffes, hippos, and rhinos. The zebras roamed freely about the park. About fifteen of them blocked our road. We got to see the animals up close as they slowly moved to let the trolley through. It was so cool because all of the animals were out and about (most are nocturnal). Even the lions, tigers, and bears were visible, unlike zoos at home where the animals hide in their cheap plastic caves during the day.

One of the best parts of the night was our tour guide. He spoke English, but it was adorned with a thick Thai accent. He expounded on the ferocity of some of the animals warning us that if we were to leave the trolley and jump the electrical fence we would "die--forsure." As we looked at the black bears he explained that black bears will attack the first moving object so we must be very still if we ever meet one in the wild. However, if we meet a mama bear with her cubs we should run or we would "die--forsure." When we drove up to the large white tigers we oohed and awed and awaited the tour guide's explanation of how to avoid being eaten alive were we to meet a tiger in the wild. "If you meet a tiger in the wild, you shouldn't run away; you should just let him eat you because if you try to run away you will die--forsure."

I thought we were done with our night safari, but as I was adoring the beautiful open air marble women's bathroom I heard the theme from "Star Wars" blast through the park. Jessica came running in and told everyone in the bathroom to hurry out because something was going to happen. We ran out to the park's sparkling lake and lo and behold--A gigantic water screen projecting night safari images across the sky. Whoa--wasn't expecting that one. After the dramatic introduction the screen expanded, fountains started bursting out from the depths of the lake, colorful lazers and lights filled the dark purple horizon as the lake transformed into a breathtaking light show. We all laughed as the colorful swashes danced to the them from "Mission Impossible." I couldn't believe that the park chose to give this amazing presentation even though there were only 30 or 40 people in attendance that night. How do these guys stay in business?

So I thought that the light show was for sure the end of the Chiang Mai night Safari, but no...that's right...there was more! We walked through a third section of the park that highlighted more animals including fish, birds, snakes, tigers, porcupines, and hyenas. One of the coolest parts of this section off the zoo was when we disturbed a tiger. One of the big cages held two gorgeous white Siberian tigers. We were so close to them that I could have reached out and touched one. No flash photography was allowed because it bothers the animals and Jon said that if the tigers got mad enough they could easily jump the 15-foot walls holding them in...but you can't get a good image if a tiger is crouched within a dark cement cage. So what did I do? I gave my camera to my friend, Zach, and told him to take flash pictures of the animals while I hid behind Jul. He willingly obliged. The animal got angrier and angrier until finally he had had it with all the flashes. He crouched his gigantic body into an attack position and then "pounced" against the cage wall which sent a loud rattling echo throughout the park; Jul and I took off running and screaming...and can you believe it?--all of this for only 250 baht ($8).

Jungle Hike to the Waterfalls

Last Friday we started the day by hiking through a jungle to explore some beautiful waterfalls. It was super slippery and humid; bugs were everywhere. However, we hardly noticed because we were transfixed with the unique foliage that we rarely see in the States. As we were hiking I asked if there were tigers in this particular jungle. My facilitator said "probably." Ooooh...Okay, so we didn't see any tigers, but we could have...and that's the cool part.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Maejo University

After staying at the Baan Thai hotel for a week it was time to move in with my host family and start teaching, but…oh no! A change of plans. I guess the school with my host family isn’t ready for the English teachers yet, so I have been sent to live with the other BYU students in the dorms at Maejo University and I will be teaching around here for two weeks. After the two weeks we will go and live with our host families and teach at the other school. The president of Maejo University graduated from Oklahoma University and decided to make the mascot of his Thai university reflect the hero of the American west: the cowboy. It is the funniest thing to see old west icons mixed with a traditional and modern Thai culture, but I love it here and I am excited the next couple weeks.

Om Dang

Om is one of the most hyper active kids I've ever met. He's out of control! Jon baptized him a few years ago and he said it was a memorable occasion. He said, "Thais don't like water to begin with, so when you tell a hyperactive 8-year-old Thai that you're going to dunk him in water..." All of the sudden, Om jumped onto Jon challenging him to a boxing match...We all got the picture. Om is 11-years-old and he loves the BYU students. He hangs all over us (especially the girls). He is constantly running around and teasing us. Om looks like he's nine...I guess everyone here looks younger than Americans who are the same age. He's starting school tomorrow and is not happy about it. He wants to drive around with his mom and dad and show the BYU students the sights of Chiang Mai.

Sister Dang

Sister Dang is one of the sweetest women that I've ever met. She is shy but very observant. Sister Dang watches out for the BYU students like we're her children. For example, I've been wanting sticky rice with mango for breakfast, but vendors only sell it at night. I mentioned this casually and a little bit later when we passed a stand selling sticky rice and mango she worked it out with the vendor to prepare a bag that kept all the ingredients separate so that I could prepare it for myself the next morning. It really meant a lot to me that she would go out of her way to do that. Sister Dang is really good with her two boys and they adore her. It feels good to have an older woman looking out for us.

Brother Dang

The first Thai family that I've met is the Dang family. Brother and Sister Dang and their two boys are members of the Chiang Mai branch. Brother Dang is super nice and funny. He is constantly joking and laughing. Brother Dang is a rote dang driver...hence his nickname. We hire him out for a day a few times a week to be our personal rote dang driver. On Sunday he took us to the local hot springs. He knows all of the best no-name restaurants around the city and takes us there when we're looking for a good place to eat. He's laid back, but a very hard worker--a seemingly contradictory description, but this trait apparently epitomizes Southeast Asian culture. He is a surrogate uncle for all of the BYU students here.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mother's Day

Yesterday was mother’s day. I was thinking yesterday that this trip is kind of a waste because I know that my mom would do such a better job at it. If my mom were alive and participating in this internship she would have made tons of Thai friends already. She wouldn’t just know their names, but she would also know their personal stories. She was always the one to initiate conversation; I’ve always been the silent observer. I’ll sometime reach out of myself, but mostly because I feel obligated to do so. My mom naturally reached outside of herself in response to a deep yearning to learn about the world around her and the people who populate it. I’m shy so I use the language barrier as an excuse, but it would hardly hamper my mom’s ability to understand what makes someone tick. In fact, the language barrier would be a fun challenge, and she would want to know about someone that much more. But enough of this! Instead of lamenting how un-Nancy I am, I’m going to use this experience as a chance to develop the skill she so successfully perfected. She left a legacy behind, and I'm grateful for her example. I’ll have to customize the skill to fit my Alyse-ness, but now’s the perfect opportunity to do it. My taxi driver is no longer my taxi driver, but a child of God who has an interesting story just waiting to be told.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Thai Food

So far I’ve eaten very little authentic Thai food. The first meal I had here was Pizza Hut and then we went to Dairy Queen for dessert. For breakfast we have fried eggs and toast, yesterday we went to Baskin Robbins. My first try at Thai food was a disaster. We went to a food court and pointed to pictures to order. Jessica ended up with a plate of cold fried chicken and I got tomato macaroni. Yum (note sarcasm).
However, yesterday we went to a nicer Thai restaurant. There was a large crock-pot on our table. The waitresses gave us a menu and stood there waiting for us to order. I ordered green noodles (I thought it had some kind of sauce or something) and Jessica ordered fried rice. We tried to give our menus back, but the waitress just looked at us like we were crazy. She pointed to the crock-pot and then back at the menu. We didn’t know what she was trying to say, so we ordered some more food. We looked back up at her and she just seemed confused. She took the crock-pot and our menus. So our meal consisted of fried rice, unflavored noodles, and two trays of egg rolls. We realized later we were supposed to order stuff to put in our own custom soup that would cook on our table. Whoops. Oh well, the food was really good.
Luckily that night, our facilitator took us to a buffet where they had the same kind of crock-pot only it was more like a grill. You went to the buffet and got raw meat, veggies, tofu, sauces and other stuff and you put it all into the crock-pot to cook. You put your meat on a mini grill above the soup and all the meat juice dropped into the soup and flavored it. It was soooooooo good. One gross thing: There were flies all over the place. Sticky sticks had been placed right above the food to catch the flies. Each stick was covered with huge flies covered in goop wiggling in hope of being set free. One of the sticks fell right into a pile of raw meat. The worker just picked it up and put it back in place and peole kept grabing the meat like nothing had happened. Yuck.


Central is a huge mall full of crowed shops and restaurants. It’s a cross between an open-air market, a strip mall, and a regular mall. All the buildings here have been built onto at least once including this mall. Its got so many twists and turns because of all the add-ons. And this place is huge. It got about 5 floors and each floor is monstrous. I’ve never seen so many shoes in one place in my entire life. And all of them are under $6. There are hundreds of cell phone kiosks. I don’t how they all stay in business. Central is our groups central hub. This is where we meet before heading out to our various activities.

Baan Tai Hotel

The hotel where we are staying is beautiful. It’s only $28 a night which is apparently more expensive than most hotels here. The whole thing is made out to dark wood. Wood floors, walls, ceilings—everything. There’s no door into the hotel, but everything is covered. Our room has a balcony and air conditioning. We get fried eggs and toast every morning and we’ve gone swimming most mornings. Ahh. This is the life.

Rote Dangs

When we got picked up from the airport Jon, our facilitator, had us ride in a rot dang. A rot dang is a red flat bed truck with benches, sidewalls, and a ceiling installed. The back stays open. Its really cool, and it only costs 20 baht (66 cents) to go anywhere in the city. These vehicles are how we are going to be getting around for the next three months.

Singapore Airlines

I traveled with Jessica Halsey, a girl who will also be teaching English. After riding on Delta from Salt Lake to LA the two of us were really impressed with Singapore Air. When you walk onto the airlines dozens of smiling faces are there to meet you. I don’t know for certain, but I’m pretty sure that winning a beauty contest is a requirement for being hired onto Singapore air. The only people who interacted with the passengers were female. All of these stewardesses had on matching traditional dresses (with a very complimenting slit up the side). They all had matching blue eye shadow, maroon lipstick, their eyeliner followed a similar shape, and their hair was pulled back into matching French buns.

On the plane we watched tons of movies and they fed us two meals, and served us ice cream and other snacks. The prescription sleeping pills I think were also contributors to reason why the flight was such a pleasant experience. I say next to this lady from Tokyo who noticed my thumb was injured and helped me during the flight.

When we finally made it to Singapore airport, Changi. Wow. This airport is posh. The picture above is from the airport. There are indoor gardens, a movie theater, cafes, massage salons and chairs. Everything is super clean and fancy. It looks very modern. Everything is in English. I think English is one of the official national languages.

One funny thing though, with all its modern-ness, when we ordered a cinnabon from a cafĂ© we noticed that bugs were crawling all over the food. I guess that’s not that big of a deal here. We were there for 5 hours and we were tired. We slept on red plush velvet armchairs—pure bliss.

A little later in the airport Jessica was chewing gum and I told her to spit it out because its against the law to chew gum in Singapore (they are very clean). A few minutes later three soldiers walked by with AK-47s in their hands and sabers in their back pockets. Jessica turned to me and said, “It’s a good thing that I spit out my gum.”

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Why are you going to Thailand and what do you expect to get out of it?

Good question! And frankly, I have no idea…It all started with Sabrina Packard encouraging me to go with her on a three month internship to Southeast Asia so she wouldn’t be alone, but then she pulled out and I found myself going to Thailand with no one that I knew and with no purpose other than the fear that if I pulled out, Ralph wouldn’t give me a good recommendation on my graduate school application.

However, Ralph’s stamp of approval lacked the sufficient enticement I needed to convince me to participate in an internship half way around the world that would require me to fly over an ocean (my worst nightmare). But despite my lack of substantial reasons for going, I did have three main reasons why I didn’t want to go to Thailand. First, I was convinced that I would die (terrorism being the obvious cause, of course), second, it didn’t really relate to any of my career ambitions, and third, it meant that I would for sure be spending one more summer single. Laugh all you want, but I saw this internship as a possible death sentence, an irrelevant resume embellishment, and a marriage-inhibitor (listed in increasing order of importance).

In order to help me with the impending decision, I sought my Uncle Tom’s fount of knowledge. Instead of admitting that spinelessness was the real explanation for my hesitancy to participate in the internship, I made my uncle endure an hour montage of shallow justifications disguised as a noble deference to reason.

Tom listened politely and commented here and there, but when I was all finished he merely replied, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” Suddenly I was standing in a marble hallway with vaulted ceilings surrounded by a dozen adolescent boys garbed in gray school uniforms listening to Robin Williams declare, “…we are food for worms lads…believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold, and die…Carpe Diem. Seize the day…make your lives extraordinary.”

My uncle’s point was well taken. I began thinking, “My lack of a husband and a steady career are the reasons why this opportunity is even a possibility. This is my time to soar, to take chances, and to explore my capabilities. Destiny made the internship fall into my lap at the precise moment when I had no financial restraints, when I knew I would be free of educational and occupational obligations, and when my prospects for marriage were all but dried up. This is my time to step out into the unknown and seize the day!” I was excited, invigorated, ready to give three months of my precious youth to a mysterious Southeast Asian adventure…Or at least I thought I was until I went home and read the rest of Robert Herrick’s rosebud poem and realized that he wrote it to young virgins encouraging them to get married before their beauty decayed.

Frowny face. My enthusiastic bubble burst and was once again replaced with dramatic irrationality. Angry Thai revolutionaries, soup kitchens for the unemployed, and Sherry Dew haunted my dreams. But, in the end I have decided to participate in the internship mostly because my intense fear of not landing a successful job in the rat race, or worse, becoming an old maid at 22 revealed to me a simple truth: I have been in Provo way too long.

So off I go to visit the other side of the world, and what lies ahead is a secret waiting to unravel. This will be the coolest capstone to my major in Sociology! What better way to evaluate the struggle between individualism and social structure than in a society I know nothing about?
Although I’ll be teaching English without pay, Ralph and Jon insist that our purpose is not to offer “service” (meaning they don’t want us to engage in self-righteous attempts to impose western ideals on unsuspecting Southeast Asians), but instead to learn about and learn from a culturally rich society. That’s not to say I won’t try to help the people that surround me, but this internship is not supposed to be a self-serving vehicle used to flaunt a belief that American’s are better than Thai’s, but rather an opportunity to exchange and embrace truth across global frontiers.

I have been promised that if I allow myself to open up to these people and accept their idiosyncrasies I will awaken a deep appreciation for God’s children throughout time and space. Their idiosyncrasies will help to chip away at my narrow definition of reality and shake my ontological foundation. I suspect that by the end of my visit to Thailand I will realize that their “idiosyncrasies” are no more idiosyncratic than the “natural” and “normal” social elements that have characterized my life thus far.

With my social bearings awry I will be forced to reach outside my limited perspective, grapple in an uncomfortable sphere of relativity, and then finally discover a common thread that ties the eastern and western world together. Thank you Sabrina Packard!