Friday, August 20, 2010

week two..three...whatever

Last weekend, I went to Chiang Mai, rode elephants, went bamboo rafting, visited two, basically not-that-authentic hill-tribe villages...well maybe that is not a correct assessment. I was surprised at the hand-made goods offered there, and though I realize weaving is a traditional art for many Karen and Hmong, the amount of things offered 'for sale' is more or less a stunning/disappointing reminder of how much of the Thai economy relies on tourism- eco-tourism in this case.. Either way, I had a great time. Chiang Mai has great wats and--- vegetarian restaurants too!! Bar-hopping there was truly a pleasure. The only person that I met during my Chiang Mai bar experience was a drunken, abrasive, rude, and somewhat rowdy american. I received a text message from my friend living in Chiang Mai (only two days ago) telling me that the guy broke his own leg somehow, after we had all left the bar. If karma truly exists, this is an example of instant karma! I pity the guy, really.

Classes are in somewhat full-swing this week, but my fellow students don't exactly demonstrate scholarly behavior. Many of them are dull, loud, and obnoxious, to say the least. Many of the students that I have interracted with personally are all good, reasonable people, but the ones in the background are annoying and tend to rub me the wrong way, for whatever reason. ECU has a questionable reputation, but I feel confident enough to say that I am ahead of the curve, at least after my most recent experiences at Thammasat.
Beginning Thai is my most challenging class, but I never expected that learning a mono-syllabic, tonal language would be easy. Thai has five 'tones'(high, medium, low, rising, and falling) that often determine the meaning of a word-- for example, the meaning of the word 'mai' differs depending on the tone with which it is spoken. 'Mai' spoken with a medium (pitch) tone may be used to formulate any question. 'Mai' spoken with a high (pitch) tone is used to make a statement negative, so on and so forth. This may not me the best or most accurate example, but perhaps you get the idea.

Hanging out with locals...and most of them aren't students...I kind of run from the other students, except the ones that seem to really understand what a meaningful stay in a host culture is all about. It is DEFINITELY NOT about going to clubs blasting fashionable american hip-hop, or shopping for material items that will undoubtedly be worthless in three months. It is also not about clinging to other international students, as said behavior will do nothing to help sharpen one's people skills. On the other hand, I suppose spending time working on a web blog dosen't really help that much either, but at least I can put this toward credit in one of my classes, and it improves my writing skills, which is essential to good communication... This is a good cue to end on.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Free Radical

Yesterday, I spent the early morning shopping, buying food, etc. In the afternoon, I decided to get a Thai massage not far from here. The closest parlor had a sign that read 'Aroma oils massages by Pretty.' I decided not to take that option, for obvious reasons, and went to the next closest place. There, a Thai man in his early to mid forties spent an hour 'massaging' me. Though it was a legitimate Thai massage, it may have been 'too legit'- in the same way that Thai food is often too spicy for one's digestive tract the first 20-30 times it is consumed. I am still quite sore, but I feel like my body is better because of the experience. A good Thai massage not only involves rubbing muscle tissue, but the attendant basically stretches you using their weight and yours. I can honestly say I now understand what a deep tissue massage is. I broke out in cold sweats at certain points during the adventure....

Today, Aoy took myself and five other students to see several wats (temples), and give early morning offerings of food to local monks. Monks are not allowed to take alms in the form of money, but instead carry large bowl-shaped satchels with lids and accept all sorts of food. In the morning, at the market the good-natured men clothed in robes of bright orange are everywhere. Also, the are many Buddhist nuns at many of the religious sites, with similarly shaved heads, but swathed in all-white. We wai (the polite thai bow) every one of them with a great amount of respect- the discipline required of these devotees is great, probably beyond most people's understanding.
Next we attended the floating market, where I drank cold Thai beer and ate hot, fresh Thai catfish, prawns, bamboo soup, papaya salad, and other tasty treats. We then hopped aboard one of the thin, long, noisy Thai tour boats and rode the canals of Bangkok stopping at a couple of other wats and eating a few other times. I had asked Aoy if she would take me to temples at some point and she promised me she would...that is THE main reason I decided to stay at the Mansion long-term. She told me today that this was the first time she had taken a group on this type of trip. Aoy also bought many of our ferry passes, and bought a meal for everyone, and even a meal for me. It is nice to feel like I have a family here. She said one day that she was like the "Amarin Mansion Mom." I have said it once already, but the kindness of Thai people is often overwhelming. We had a really great group today, though I was the only non-asian (farang) among them. I feel like a giant here sometimes.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Into Bangkok

OK...this may be a little..."raw."

Twenty-seven hours in the air is quite grueling. While my changeover in Houston consisted of a mad dash to the next gate, the four hour stop in Narita Airport (Tokyo) allowed me to sleep awhile on thinly padded benches. I was just so happy to sleep- not sitting up, that is. I deserved the rest, considering that the flight from Houston to Tokyo was no less than thirteen and a half hours. I'm still proud of myself for only purchasing one expensive airplane beer during the whole ride. The food for the trip was actually not that bad this time- my salad included shrimp and fresh lemon, the main course themes were asian and included a fish option with japanese short-grain sticky rice, and snacks included fresh fruit. Either way, I would have likely eaten whatever they chose to place in front of me. The excitement and exhaustion that I simultaneously experienced seemingly doubled my metabolism. The flight from Narita to Sumvabhumi (pronounced soo-mwah-bhoom) was shorter, but the plane was less like a 777 and more like a sardine can. Fortunately, I was surrounded with friendly Thais and westerners for the duration of that leg of the journey. I made friends on the plane, all of them young Thai professionals and exceptionally helpful helping me around the large, unfamiliar airport
Sumvabhumi Airport is referred to as BKK, though it is located roughly forty-five kilometers north of Bangkok. Finding my luggage and ride into Bangkok itself was not a problem and I rode with two other international students, both very friendly and excited to be in Thailand. I was able to buy some beer just outside my hotel (Amarin Mansion), thanks to 'Justin,' one of the administrators at the Amarin. The proprietor of the small shop (Khai) had just turned everything off, but was kind enough to open back up in order for me to purchase a few items.
I woke up at dawn to exotic sounds in the mini-jungle just outside of and below my balcony. I took a trip out, but participated in the offering of incense and water to the spirit shrine outside of my lodging location. Every building in Thailand has one of these birdhouse-sized temples nearby, and I was glad my new friend, Aoy (a cute Thai woman) invited me along. She encouraged me to stay here long-term and promised that she would one day allow me to accompany here while she made alms to many of the local monks.
Another new friend, Nueng, was kind enough to drive myself and a friend, Johnnie to the mall and supermarket. She also translated for both of us and was so kind it was absolutely overwhelming (in the best kind of way).

Every day has been a Thai beer tasting...or maybe more aptly described as a personal Thai beer contest! Apparently there is an issue with my student account...this will get sorted out. I am instead going to focus on my name recognition skills. Today offered me a unique opportunity. Apparently the restaurant across from the hotel, (or specifically the owner, Khai) needs to find ways to boost business. A friendly photographer was present; she had a good grasp on the english language and I really feel like I offered some great suggestions. The photo shoot turned into a Thai food tasting, and all the (free) food I tasted was, quite honestly, the most amazing food I had yet experienced- from this particular restaurant. I finally e-mailed my parents, with the help of friends. Internet is incredibly slow here, and my computer will not even connect. Perhaps (computer-related) things will get better. My language grading skills are already inproving, which is good considering I have not even begun my beginning Thai course. Menu suggestions in English were easy to read, etc.
I toured The National Museum was just like everything here-- AMAZING. It would be exhausting for me to go into detail. My walk through the museum was exhausting in and of itself- sometimes everything is so much to take in that I begin to feel quite tired. I was also quite hung over from all the Thai beer from the night before, which did not help. SiamSato beer is disgusting, by the way...Archa is the way to go when you are here. SiamSoto is strong, weird and rather awful
Apparently, I prepared myself quite well for my stay in Thailand. Many people that I interact with are impressed by my cultural knowledge and sensitivity. Mission accomplished-- YATTA!-- this is allegedly a Japanese term that expresses success or accomplishment on behalf of the speaker. The uniform requirement here is interesting, but a bit of a drag as well. I am writing this at 2.08 PM, BKK time... My sleep schedule is ridiculous right now. I guess this is my own personal version of jet-lag. I drank myself to sleep last night, and woke up at 9.30, thinking that I had missed orientation, which is actually tomorrow.
Walking down the streets of Bangkok at midnight can make one quite paranoid, considering all of the things one hears about the nature of this strange, sprawling 'world city.' In actuality, my fears seem unwarranted. The only person that seemed to walk close to me for awhile on the thin sidewalk was in fact headed to his home not far from where I was staying and greeted me in his best english just before he walked through his outside gate.

Orientation for Thammasat University was today... It was long, but went OK. “That's all I have to say about that.”
Fortunately I left just in time to make it to the ferry as the afternoon rainstorm rolled in. Vendors were scrambling to get their goods and wares out of the open. The strings of Thai flags that litter the sky above the streets and Wang Lang pier were wildly flapping about in the wind and the storm was beautiful. There is nothing like watching the swirling black sky from the Chao Phraya River. Nonetheless, I was still caught in the rain and my pants were soaking wet by the time I made it back to the Mansion. I was glad that I had the foresight to carry my trusty yellow rain jacket along.
What Do? Lonnie's in the ditch! I feel exhausted from all the walking around, learning, listening to special speakers, etc. It may seem like I'm writing this under the influence of some sort of substance, but I am really just so, so, tired. I mean, it is almost 6 am EST right now, and I am plain wore out. I don't even feel like I have the energy to organize today's notes. I want desperately to go to bed, but on the other hand, I realize that I need to stick it out as long as possible in order to 'dial in' my sleep schedule... I suspect I will have little success.