Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Highlights from the past few weeks

- I went to Chiang Mai for Songkran Festival, which was amazing.
- I rode on an elephant, and guided it around by siting on its head
- I went bamboo rafting
- I swam in a waterfall
- I got completely drenched for 4 days b/c of the festival
- My friends and I bought buckets, along with the rest of Chaing Mai, and positioned ourselves at the moat around the city so we could throw our buckets in, get water and then dump the buckets on everyone/everything passing by (ask me for pics of this later, words cannot describe it)
- I went on a homestay with a family who is fighting against the construction of a Potash (potassium) mine. My nong sao (little sister) was 5, and we got really close. But I got a cold from her since she was sick and was playing with me the entire time i was there
- We had a bunch of amazing exchanges during this unit, but my two higlights were with a group of Core Leaders in the community, and with a man named P'Suwit. The Core Leaders were so full of fire and passionate that I was laughing slash wanting to scream "Amen" for the entire meeting. They kept screaming "YOU KNOW WHAT THE WORLD'S BIGGEST ADDICTION IS??? CHEMICAL FERTILIZER!!" "WE WILL BE ANYWHERE WHERE THERE IS POTASH TO PROTEST!!" They were pretty amazing. P'Suwit is an NGO (NGO's can be one person, who knew?) who basically wrapped up all of the things we have been learning this semester, since this is our last unit. The exchange really made me think about my role as an American and as a young person. He is a really cool guy who was a Marxist when he was young, and then became a "gangster" (according to him) and shot someone - we don't know who - and then decided that being an NGO was the way to help people. So he tries to help inform and organize villagers about the problems that they face. I have a lot of cool quotes from him that I can share at a later poitn b/c they are written down in my room.

Alright, that is all for now. I am about to go work on my Thai Final, Core Course Final, Thai Video and all the other assignments that are due in three days.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Almost break time!!

We have finished unit 4 - looking at dams and the effects that they have had on different communities. It was really interesting to evaluate the use of dams and similar policies of economic development from a villager perspective. These villages are now being forced to move our of their place of residence, because the dams flood their crops and land, causing them to not be able to farm anymore. They had a lot to say, including a few really moving quotes:

"If they cover everything in cement, how will we be able to find our roots?"

"Policy makers only see trees and water on a map, not people."

The assignment for this unit was to reflect on what the past 4 units have meant to us, in any way possible. Some people drew paintings (which were amazing, and i would probably buy them for a lot of money in the states), some wrote poetry, some choreographed dances, some made products which will be used in this Human Rights Festival we will be attending and co-coordinating in May, some wrote letters to loved ones, and a lot of other things. Along with a small group of other students, I helped make a "Sustainable Pass-On," providing information for future semesters on how to live sustainably on the CIEE program and in Khon Kaen. It included restaurants which use organic/local food, useful phrases in Thai, such as "I do not want a plastic bag," compost instructions, etc. It will be something that other semesters can add on to as well. It was so cool to see everyone present their projects, because you could tell that everyone was in their element and put so much effort into their work. It made a bunch of us emotional, and really brought us even closer as a group. It is weird because I already feel so close to people that I have only known for a few months. I think it is partially b/c we are with eachother literally 24 hours a day, in addition to seeing both personal and academic sides of each other. It is like rooming with 29 friends and then attending all of your classes with those friends, eating with them, and going to all of the same extracurricular activities together. Obviously we have Thai friends as well, but we are super tight as a group.

I'm really excited b/c a few of my friends and I are leaving tomorrow night to take an overnight bus to Chiang Mai for Songkran Water Festival. We have our only BREAK!!!!!!! starting the day after tomorrow, lasting for four days. Songkran is the biggest festival of the year, celebrating the New Year, and basically everyone throws water (colored and non-colored) at eachother for the entire 4-day festival. So I expect to be drenched the entire time I'm away from Khon KAen, which I am fine with since it is SO HOT here, and is almost to the 100's on some days.

Alright, I'll write again soon!!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Interesting weekend

So a few things happened this weekend. First, my gold mine team discovered that this issue we are trying to depict in our human rights report is a lot bigger then we originally thought. There has only been one other report written about the negative impacts of mining practices in Thailand, and they were sued for a lot of money. And a lot of the information we were getting about the levels of water contamination were apparently stolen by a government worker, since the government was not giving the community information about their water. This means that we cannot directly cite these sources. All in all, we found out that the project is too big for us to finish in the time allotted, and we will probably have to continue working on the report until we leave Thailand. Kind of a bummer, since I like to complete things, but also a good thing, since this report will be a lot more thorough and therefore effective in making the government compensate for the water contamination.

This weekend was also our first real hang out with all of our Ajaans and Interns, including all of our Thai professors and the director of the program. The Ajaans paid for us to get Thai massages yesterday afternoon, and then we all went bowling as a huge group. We all ate a lot and drank a lot of beer at the bowling alley, and then most people left, but the Ajaans and a few of my friends stayed later to bowl more. At the end of the night I was on a team with my friend Tany, Ajaan Dave (the director of the program) and Ajaan John (Thai teacher). All of our Ajaans were pretty drunk, which was really funny.. and I got six strikes during the night!! All of us seemed to get better the more beer we drank, which doesn't really make sense. After leaving the bowling alley, we went to our usual bar, where I sang "I will survive" with Ajaan John and his band and played the tambourine for awhile. It was an amazing night!!!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

human rights

Who knew writing a human rights report would take so long?? We are now on our 5-6 draft, and still going. I finished my part of the project - profiles and case studies for each argument (violations of the right to water, right to food, right to work and right to health) two days ago, so I am now on layout. I feel really badly for the "report" team, because they are in charge of basically all of the writing in the Human Rights Report - Overview, Synopsis, Regional context, National context, International context, Chronology, ICESCR overview (International Covenant on Human Rights is divided into the ICCPR and ICESCR), and then writing all of the arguments, then the notes and appendix. Basically a ton of writing. They finished their final draft yesterday, and we were supposed to put it into the layout, but we found out extra information yesterday when some of the villagers came to do fact checks with us. SO, at 10:30 last night, our teacher told us that we had to re-format, and therefore re-write basically all of it. And the deadline is today. So basically they started at 11 and did shifts of 2 hours, all of them sleeping in our classrooms. Hopefully we will be finished today so we can put it into layout and send it off to the printer tonight. I have free days tomorrow and on Friday, but I don't think I am going to be able to take them if our project needs to be revised tonight. 

I have never felt this invested in school work before. Ever. As a group we have been writing literally form 7 am to midnight or later every day, with multiple people sleeping in the classroom to keep writing as long as their bodies can handle it. We really want to write it well, but we also really want to get all of the information in there, since this has the potential of affecting our homestay moms and dads a ton. 

A couple of the photographers on our team went back to the village to get a cover shot for the report, and some pictures for case studies and profiles, and came back with pretty funny stories. While we were there this one man had a camera and was taking pictures of all of us and these random village members. He would drag us to different people, take a picture and then move on. Apparently these pictures have been posted all around the village, with paper-sized versions all over the walls of people's homes. Hilarious. They also saw my homestay mom, who had a picture of Tany and I in her pocket, and on her walls. So cute!!

Alright...back to work!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ban Na Nong Bong

I just had the most amazing homestay experience ever. Our big group split in half to write two human rights reports, and my half went to this community which is basically falling apart because of a gold mine. The mine was built a couple of years ago, and since then not only have the ecosystems been destroyed, but they have completely changed a community. Ban Na Nong Bong used to be mostly a self-sustaining community, though growing rice and other crops, and collecting fish and vegetables from the forests and streams around the village. But the mine now uses chemicals which are seeping into the groundwater.


As soon as the mine was built, the fish in the community died and they now cannot eat the forest vegetables, partly because the water is completely contaminated and poisoning them, and partly because the mine is blasting the tops of mountains off and tearing down forests. Now the community members cannot drink or shower in the water safely, as shown by people with skin rashes and cyanide poisoning, among other health issues. In order to get clean water and food, they now are spending all of their savings. People are having multiple jobs just in order to live.

For my human rights report, I am on the profile team. This means that I conducted 7 interviews with different people in the community on their lives and how they have been affected by the mine. My profile team and I interviewed a woman whose baby is suffering from skin rashes from showering in the contaminated water, a man who was a farmer and is now working at the mine in order to act as a community informant or spy, a teenage girl who is actively writing letters to others about the conditions in the community, a man who lives next the mine and literally has to hide in his house at noon every day, for the boulders from the mine dynamite blasts shower on his fields, an elderly man who usually conducts ceremonial customs which require food and water, my homestay mom whose water has arsenics, among other chemicals in it (which I showered in daily! yummy!), a community organizer, and a woman suffering from cyanide poisoning. This woman's symptoms include regular fainting, migranes, eye sores, etc.

Our report is focusing on four human rights violations: the right to work, the right to food, the right to health, and the big one: the right to water. I cannot even express how connected I feel to the community and how much I am in awe of their strength.

The day that we got to the homestay we went straight into an exchange with the Mine officials. After a 3 hour discussion and a tour of the mine, we left feeling that there were no human rights violations. The mine's PR team is pretty amazing. They showed us around the facilities, and really made us confident in their work. We then got to the community, where the story was completely different. As one of the girls in my group said, we felt like we were on Scooby Doo. We were all detectives into the situation, since this community has absolutely NO information on what is going on. This is because the mine is so incredibly corrupt. 

The board in control over the mine is made up of government officials. The president of the board is the retired general of the Thai military, who was basically responsible for the 2005-2006 coup against Thaksin (old Prime Minister). Because of this really strong connection between the mine and the government, the community has little to no access to information about the condition of the water and their health. They have been asking for testing on their water for more than a year, and got their first water test just a month ago from the Ministry of Public Health. However, the test was taken during the middle of the day from one source, where cyanide can evaporate from the water. Therefore, the test only showed arsenics, cadmium, and other chemicals (which are also incredibly harmful to health). Also, the local public clinic is not providing village members with information on their health, only treating their symptoms, and not doing tests on their long term health conditions.


Basically things are effed up. The morning after we got to the community 6 of us went to a protest with the community members. We were told that we were going to the Governor to present a letter to him. So we all get dressed up and walk to the car, where we are given neon green T-shirts with "NO MINE!" and other Thai words on them (as shown in the above pics!). Then we realized that it was a real protest. We piled into the back of a pickup truck with other village members, and started this caravan through neighboring communities and picking up people on the way. It was pretty amazing - at one point we were on the highway with more than 20 pickup trucks all full of neon green t-shirts and signs. There were around 300 people at the protest. Pretty cool sight to see. 

When we got to the protest, we were told to stand back, so it wasn't a Farang protest. However, it was kind of easy to spot us, partly because we were white, and partly because we were a foot taller than everyone else. Anyway, we did interviews with different newspapers and TV news channels, and one of my friends was on the front page of the paper the next day. But yeah, we were at the protest for around 3-4 hours, during which a lot happened. At the beginning a security guard for the Governor came out onto the lawn where we were standing, and requested that a few people come inside and negotiate with the officials. People refused, and said that they would have to come outside. They said "We are all here together to fight the issues." Later on, when nothing was happening, we all moved closer to the Governor's building, and then moved all the way up to the steps. My homestay mom was awesome. She walked straight up to these government officials and demanded their attention. One good quote was, "Standing in the sun for a few hours won't kill us. But drinking our water will."  

Anyway, after a little we saw some of the representatives from the mine walk out of the building, who had obviously heard what the community was doing, and decided to get to the Governor first. We talked to them, and they were very cordial and fake, saying that all of these people made up the menial 5% of community members who didn't oppose them (false.). 

After awhile, the Assistant Governor and a representative from the Public Health office came out (The Governor was not there. coincidence?) and told all of us protesters that this was the first time he had heard of the health effects of the water. They said that they would provide more free water to villagers and that they would do more testing. We were happy that they finally dealt with the situation, but who knows when these changes will occur. 

Along with all of the things that I was learning about dealing with human rights, my actually homestay was amazing. I had such a great homestay mom, who I really connected with. She had the most intense eyes, and would just let you know exactly how she was feeling at the moment. She also didn't treat me as a foreigner, but as her own daughter. I slept in the same bed with her, and we all stayed up really late at night (her, me and my homestay partner, Tany) just giggling and talking about how tall we were, etc. It was my favorite homestay by far. 

 (my mom!)

When we left the community we were given this large ceremony and told that they really depended on our report, since they are deteriorating in health and their communities resources are diminishing. So basically, we all feel a huge responsibility to our moms and dads in the community to write this report in the best way possible, and maybe make a difference. It is also nice, because we are not just going in there as Farang and writing about what we think should change. The arguments are all thought up and supported by community members themselves. 

So. Now begins the writing process! We will write draft after draft, sending it in to different people for critiques, and then come out with our report (which kind of looks like a book - a cover and pictures and everything). I am so excited to get this out there, but really apprehensive because I want to do it right. I am writing about people I know, which makes it all the more meaningful to me. Let's do it!

P.S. one thing i learned this week: making one gold ring produces 10 tons of waste
           ...definitely makes you say "holy crap," right? 

Sunday, March 8, 2009

weekend getaway

This weekend was our FIRST two full days off. Around 10 of us decided to check in to the local hotel/resort in Khon Kaen. It is a pretty swanky place, that would probably be close to 1,000 dollars a night in the states, but here was only 70 bucks a night. We all shared rooms and enjoyed time at the pool, multiple pina coladas and mai thais, massages, breakfast and dinner buffets, and lounging around in our amazingly soft bathrobes. It was such an amazing weekend, but made us feel some guilt, especially after spending time in the slum and landfill communities. It is a completely different world. Otherwise, the food. was. incredible. It was really weird to be in a place that we could get burgers, pancakes, cereal, sushi, steak, etc. We are all hoping we don't get sick from all of the different tastes!

Weirdest part was coming back to the university after the hotel stay. I felt like i was going through culture shock, even though it was just a songtaew ride away. It was strange to go from all tourists to no tourists, hotel smells to Thai smells, all English speakers to no English speakers, etc. All in all, a great, and very much needed weekend break!!

Tomorrow we start Unit 3, where we are writing human rights reports. Our group is split into two reports - one on an illegal forest village, and one on a gold mine north of Khon Kaen. I am in the gold mining group, and Amnesty International has shown interest in using our report to further their research, which is pretty cool. I am leaving for a homestay in the gold mine on Thursday, which will be really interesting. Apparently the community has been trying to get CIEE students there for months to do this report, because they feel that their rights are being violated and ignored. They are hoping that this report will publicize their situation. Specificcally, I am writing profiles for the report. Some people are doing research, some are writing a feature, some are taking pictures, and I am in the group doing profiles. I will interview different people in the community and then write profiles depicting their lives and work with some sort of angle or focus. 

This is just one more example of the power of experiential education. It is so cool that we get to write these reports completely on our own, and are completely in charge over the direction we want to take with them. Basically, we learn what we choose to learn. We have been doing this for the past units as well, but this is sweet because we have a tangible report to show for it. It will look like a book kind of - a cover with a picture, and then different components inside. Anyways, I'm pretty excited!!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


This unit has been focusing on urban issues, including urbanization and development. I am a unit facilitator, which means that with 3 other students, I lead all of the exchanges and sessions with the other students. Being a unit fac is hard because you are in meetings ALL of the time, since you have to plan everything that the other students will be doing. 

To help us learn about urban issues, we did two homestays - one in a slum community and one in a landfill (both located in Khon Kaen). The group divided into two groups, where half would go to one location and the other half would go to the other location. Then, after 3 days we switched. I was in the group heading to the slum first, and my community was named Theparak 1 (the group split up further into 4 different slum communities). The main issue facing T1 was the problem of renting. A lot of these communities are located on the railroad tracks, which are run by SRT - State Railway of Thailand. SRT rents land out to homes and private businesses, but they do not allow any development within the first 20 meters next to the tracks. Unfortunately half of the houses in T1 are located in this 20 meters, meaning that half of the community is able to rent and half isn't. The half that isn't has the fear that they will be evicted from their homes. We had an exchange with the leader of the village, who said that since half of the homes are not able to rent, the rest of the village isn't renting either. The community is in full support of every village member, so if one can't rent, none of them will rent. This fact shows the strength and unity of the community so much, because now they are all in danger of being evicted.

My host mom sold this soup thing in the morning for breakfast, so she would wake up at 4:30 to go to the market and get the ingredients. We also lived with my grandma and grandpa, and two younger brothers, who were 7 and 9. The thing that stood out to me the most in my slum community was the fact that I had so many negative outlooks on what a slum looked like. I was kind of expecting it to dangerous or really dirty, and it wasn't like this at all. T1 was extremely safe, friendly, and really receptive to having us there to learn about the different issues. They expressed that it is frustrating to be seen as the crappy part of the city, because a lot of city members blame their problems on slum communities. Also, as a group, we were able to see the immense push towards urbanization, and struggled with the question: are urban slums inevitable?

After the slum community, I headed to the landfill, which was a completely different experience. Here, I stayed with a family who scavenges for a living. The landfill was really huge, and then there were houses which were directly next to one side of the landfill. These houses formed the community where we all lived. My house consisted of my mom, dad, older sister, younger sister, and  brother. The older sister worked at some beauty shop in the city of Khon Kaen, so she wasn't there during the day when I was. However, she seemed pretty pissed that she was kicked out of her room in order for Kelsey (other CIEE student in homestay with me) and I to take her room. Her room was very teenage girl, it was kind of funny. There were pictures of all of these Thai male models and things. 
(picture taken by my friend Jenny) 

The first day that we were there, my host mom took Kelsey and I scavenging from 7-11. We also went with my aunt, who had two farang staying with her. The 4 of us had to learn about what to look for - plastic bottles, glass bottles, thick plastic bags, and bags of rice to give to the chickens. The families get money for recycling the bottles and bags, and then use that money as their income. It was really, really disgusting. We picked thru a lot of maggots and parts of animals, and basically everything that we put in the garbage. It really made me think about how much we consume. It also made me realize how many plastic bags we really use. I would say that about a third of the trash there was plastic bags.

While we were scavenging, our families found some pretty sweet stuff. I found a purse, which my mom kept. She also found 5 baht, and a garbage bag of nice clothes, which a bunch of the families split up and took home. After 4 hours I was completely drenched in sweat (we all were wearing long layers and boots) and smelly. In the afternoon we came back and took showers, and rested with the family. My host cousin was 8 months old, so we played with her a lot. That night we went to bed at 8pm, in order to wake up at 11pm and go scavenging at night. This was a completely different experience for a variety of reasons. First, it was a lot cooler. Second, there were no other people scavenging on the landfill, so it was a lot quieter. Third, we had to wear flashlights because it was completely dark. And fourth, there was lightning and thunder, which made it kind of eerie. We worked until about 1 am, when we took a break, and Kelsey's battery exploded. She was wearing one of the flashlights that they had given her, which included a headlamp portion and a battery pack on her waist. The battery pack started oozing, and burning her skin, so we had to go back to the house to have her change pants. As soon as we got back it started to rain (first rain during the dry season!), so we didn't end up going back up to the landfill. 

The next day was all resting and relaxing. Kelsey, my friend Katja (who was staying at my Aunt's house) and I all hung out the entire day, not leaving my house once. We did crossword puzzles that I brought, played with my 8 month old cousin, ate, slept, read, etc. Our families did the same. It was kind of interesting, because when people work in the States they are always busy and doing things during the meat of the day. But the families we stayed with worked really hard, and then rested when they needed rest. The negative result of them staying at home was not getting any money for the day. But they recognize when they need that rest to recharge. One big thing that my group struggled with after leaving both the slum community and the landfill community was: how can we fully understand their lives when we are only staying for a few days, and they have to live with these issues every single day. I especially felt this way after scavenging, when I would literally feel sick to my stomach while sorting through people's crap, and knowing that my host mom did this twice a day, every day. 

After returning back to Khon Kaen, we had three exchanges in one day. One of them included meeting with the Mayor of Khon Kaen, where I facilitated the exchange. I had to meet with him by myself a little before the exchange, which was really intimidating. During the exchange it was clear that he had completely different opinions about what was needed in the lives of the people in the slums/landfill. He disregarded their needs and concerns, saying "If they want to leave, they can leave." People were extremely frustrated after the exchange, which I think is good, because it shows how passionate we have become about these different issues.

In the next couple of days, I have to plan the last Unit workshop, where we conclude the unit and wrap up all of these different things that we have all been experiencing. After that, I have two free days (!!!), where my friends and I might go camping. Or, we might just hang out and sleep. Both sound great!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

kao neeow

Kao neeow is amazing. It is a sticky rice that is used basically for every meal up in the Isaan region of Thailand. It was especially abundant in this past unit and homestay focusing on sustainable agriculture!

This homestay was a really amazing and completely different experience than i have ever had. I had a family with another girl on my program in this small village, which had never had any farang before. They had seen white people previosly, but had never had them stay in their houses. Our family consisted of our mom, dad and little sister (cutest 4-5 year old EVER.). However, kit took us awhile to find out that this was our immediate family because the community ties were so strong where we were staying. Everybody was related in some way, and if they weren't related, they acted like they were! the first night we got there, there were about 10-15 people all sitting on this little platform where we eat dinner. They all were talking to us, asking about our families, where we were from, how old we were, etc. WE finally had to ask who our mom and dad were, because there were so many people! Sarah (other CIEE student in the homestay) and I slept in a room with our mom, dad, and little sister, but their space was separated from ours by a big dresser. 

The families that we all stayed with were part of the AAN, the Alternative Agriculture Network. this is a NGO which helps farmers switch fro mono cropping, and using herbicides and pesticides, to organic farming. The whole unit exposed us to the harms that the Green Revolution had on these small communities, because it switched the culture form one which supported integrated agriculture and self-sustaining farming, to one that relied on mono cropping in order to produce yield for exporting to other countries. Mono cropping made the land less fertile, because it got rid of a lot of native plants and species, and put herbicides and pesticides into the soil. These families are now trying to revert back into self-sustaining ag through organic farming and the formation of a green market. 

It was really amazing to see how strong our parents were. Sarah and I helped them herd cows (where I got licked by one of the bigger cows), and organize vegetables to sell at the green market. The market happened on Saturday, where we got up at 2 am to drive to a neighboring city and set up the stalls for the market, which went from 6-9 am. I usually end the day around that time, so it was definitely a change to have my day start at 2 in the morning! The green market is a combination of different farmers in the AAN, who all grow different vegetables organically. All of the families support each other in different ways, and our parents said that they have become a lot more involved in the community since they started organically farming, because they now worked with and relied on other people, instead of competing against them when they were producing for yield. 

In addition to the AAN, we had exchanges with government officials (who said that they supporting organic farming, even though they do not fund families like the ones that we were staying with...that exchange was kind of frustrating..), families in the AAN, consumers and organizers of the green market, an herbal healer, and two men who have been working on promoting sustainable agriculture. All of the people that we met really made me think about the way that I view food in the states. Is it better to buy from a large organic company, where you do not really know where your food is coming from and how the farmers are being compensated, or from a farmers market, where food may have been grown with herbicides or pesticides? I went into this unit thinking that the first was better, and came away with the opposite answer. I think it is really important to know WHERE your food is coming from. When we walk into a grocery store, and see the little organic symbol, how do we know who grew it? We don't know anything about that food, other than its status as organic food. However, when you buy food from farmers you know who you are supporting. It is incredibly important to support small-scale farmers, and you can do this through buying local. In addition, we read some really interesting readings that said it is worse to be a vegetarian and eat mass-produced soy and beans than to eat locally organically farmed meat. Food for thought..(haha)

My family supported this saying, "We grow what we eat, and we eat what we grow." These families in the AAN are living from the food that they grow and the food that their family members and neighbors grow. We would go down the street and pick some plants up from a random house's garden and then come back home and use them in our food. Really makes you think about what you eat in the states. 

This unit was really amazing for me, because I had never felt a personal connection to food and agriculture before. Even though I have had family members interested in the topic/who are farmers, this opened up a new window to look at the issues. Some of the people that we talked to had been really sick when using chemical farming, and as soon as they switched to producing organic food, no longer have to go to the doctor. We also got to see families who are now finally getting out of debt because of the AAN and their self-sustaining philosophies.

On a different note, the family that we stayed with was hilarious. They would make fun of Sarah and I allllll of the time, because we talked so slowly. They were originally from Laos (as a lot of the NE of Thailand is), so they spoke mostly Lao, or Thai with a Lao accent. This one woman (who hung out at our house a lot, but I don't think is a family member) would say "faaarrrraaang" or "kaaaiiiii taaaaaaahhhhd" to make fun of how we said "farang" or "kai tahd." Kai tahd s fried eggs, which we had every meal because they were SO GOOD. She was pretty hilarious. 

I also got to do a profile of the Herbal Healer, P'Klaengsak. We each have to do a profile piece of one of the people that we meet in the first 2 units, so I chose him. He runs this Herbal Medicine Center in the province, and has a really interesting history. One of the coolest things about him is that he doesn't make his patients pay him. He doesn't want to see his center as a business, so he has his patients pay him in plants instead of money. He accepts donations from people, which is how he is able to live well, but he won't make people pay what they can't afford. I had my interview with him at his house, which was really sweet because it had all of these different plants, roots and herbs all lying around. He gave me different things to eat before and after the interview, so hopefully i'll remain healthy. He also said I looked like Brooke Shields, which is completely not true and kind of funny.

Alright, now that I have written a long essay, I will just conclude that the homestay was completely amazing, and really changed the views that I had on organic food and different forms and effects of agriculture. Good times!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I just finished my orientation paper, reflecting and analyzing different things that we learned throughout the lectures that we had last week. These lectures were done by visiting professors and were about Thai history and politics, Human Rights, the Livelihood Model, and Thai Social Structure. I'm glad the paper is finally done, and now I have a day of preparation before I head to a homestay for our first unit on food and agriculture.

The Thriller performance was awesome, although I didn't perform because I missed some of the rehearsals since I was visiting friends in the hospital. We have now had three people in the hospital - one with salmonella, one with food poisoning, and one with appendicitis. It's good that the health care system here is so good and cheap! Here, people do not go to doctors for minor things, they always just go to the hospital. So our Ajaans keep having to remind us that even if we are having a stomach ache, we can go to the hospital and they will take care of us. It is a hard thing to understand, because we all see the hospital as such a serious place to go. 

I am also getting closer with my peer tutor, and am not surprised anymore when she shows up at our apartment and expects me to go out with her. We can never really understand each other on the phone, so she just shows up sometimes in her bright blue pick-up truck, and we all hop in the back. It is so nice to always have open-air transportation here - in the states we would never just ride in the back of a truck with 10 other people. She really wants to take a few of us shopping before we head to the homestay, which should be amusing, since her and her friends are so much more fashionable then we are. I feel like I am going to come back to the states with a lot of collared, frilly, and patterned shirts. She also got really excited when I told her that I liked to sing, and mentioned that she LOVED kareoke. So she is going to take me out to do kareoke with her friends and sing her favorite two songs: As Long as You Love Me by the Backstreet Boys, and My Heart Will go On by Celine Dion. Should be a pretty amazing time!!

I am on the editorial team for our combined blog with another study abroad group called CGE in Mexico. We had a meeting about it today, and I am really excited to get going with the process - I set up a link to our blog on the right side of this page. Our two groups have similar focuses of development and globalization, so we are going to blog back and forth to see the similarities and dissimilarities of our experience. As an editor, I edit the blogs and help find other programs throughout the world that we can hopefully connect with in the future. We are trying to make the blog into a space where people can discuss the issues that we are learning about/experiencing. In addition, it will be a place where past CIEE students can write about how they took what they learned in Thailand and applied it to their lives at home. Should be really interesting, so check it out if you want!

P.S. "BAHHHG!" means "OH MY GOD!" in Isaan (the type of Thai that we are learning). You have to scream it with your eyes wide open. Our peer tutors taught us this the other night when we were all out at a bar, and it is basically the funniest thing I have learned here. You say it when you are extremely friend Justin said it today in Thai class and my Ajaan fell on the floor laughing. She is usually pretty strict, so it was a really, really funny thing to see!

Friday, February 6, 2009

End of orientation

This week in Khon Kaen has been a lot of fun, yet really busy at the same time. Our group has class from 9-12, an hour for lunch, and then class from 1-5. In addition, some nights we have extra work or Thai lessons at 6. Therefore, we have a limited amount of free time to go explore the city. But at the same time, the classes that we are attending are really interesting.

We have had two more academic lectures this week - one on Thai history and one on human rights, mainly focusing on SE Asia and Thailand. In addition, we have had some Thai classes, and are now preparing for our Thai midterm on Sunday! It is kind of weird to have a midterm not even 4 weeks into the program, but as we progress throughout the months, we have less and less Thai classes, so it is proportional. The Thai history class was really interesting to learn about, especially when talking about the important role of the King and the Les Magistrate law. In addition, we talked about Buddhism and cultural values in the country and how they have been influenced by different regimes. 

Occasionally for Thai class, we have a thing called "Thai Fun Activity." These are amazing - the first one was spent drinking and learning numbers with our Ajaans (professors), the second was learning songs and body parts with children during our second homestay, and our third (which happened yesterday) included a scavenger hunt in downtown Khon Kaen. All of the items that we had to purchase were written in Thai, so we had to come up with their translation in English, and then get all of the items within 45 minutes. For example, one of the requirements was to get a signature and a photograph with a policeman. Another was to buy a yellow shirt. We have been learning how to read and write Thai in class, but it was still hard to figure out what the clues actually were, let alone find them in 45 minutes. The winning team (which I was not on, unfortunately) got a free dinner with the Ajaans. Our Thai Ajaans (there are 3 of them) are all really funny and friendly, so a lot of us were jealous that people got to have dinner with them!

This week has been tough for a lot of people, because it is our last week of orientation. Since we have all been here for 3 weeks now, there is a general consensus that we want to get out into the communities and learn more about the issues pertaining to NE Thailand. So orientation activities on group building and goal setting can be a bit long, but all of us are psyched to be here and can't wait to start our first unit next week. Our first unit is focused on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Rural and Urban Trends. We are doing exchanges with Green Market Organizers, and doing a homestay as well, so I am really looking forward to get that going. 

One thing that did go really well this week was our first meeting with our peer tutors. These are students from Khon Kaen University, who are paid to come in and basically just have conversations with us. Going into the tutoring section, I was really nervous and kind of just didn't want to be there, because we had been in class for more than 8 hours that day, and we were doing the session from 6-8 pm. But my tutor was AMAZING. She was hilarious and really honest with me the entire time. She helped me a lot with my tones, in addition to getting my phone number so that I can go out with her and her friends this weekend. I met a couple of her friends, who are also peer tutors, and they were very interested in getting all of us to "try out Thai guys." Kind of funny, but really in line with how American girls are perceived here. We are thought to be extremely easy, which is difficult to deal with sometimes. It is just weird to not be able to walk around alone after 7, or to not be able to talk to guys, without people thinking that you want to sleep with them. Kind of different than the US!

We are about to head over to an "International Night," where a bunch of us are performing Michael Jackson's "Thriller" dance. Should be hilarious, and I am really excited to see what people's reactions are!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

One more thing...

I forgot to include one experience in the post I just wrote...

One day, instead of Thai class, our whole group met up to do an exchange with an HIV/AIDS organization called Ban Rom Yen. We met them at a hospital about an hour away from Khon Kaen, and got to learn about their organization and their hopes for the HIV/AIDS situation in Thailand. They told us that it is a really hard to promote safe sex here, because of a lot of relationships between husbands and wives. Although this is not the situation for all Thai marriages, one of the women we talked to said that a lot of the time husbands will have girlfriends on the side, get infected by HIV/AIDS and then pass it on to their wives. She said that some women have no control over their husband's sexual partners, so they are trying to campaign condom use, so that husbands will use condoms when they go outside of the house for sex. It was kind of surprising to hear that, although we know that many Thai women nowadays have more control in their marriages than before. We also talked to a few volunteers in the organization who have HIV/AIDS, and got to hear some of their personal experiences - how they contracted the illness, how their communities reacted, and what their hopes are for the future. 

After the exchange, a couple of the volunteers had us participate in activities and then gave us one of the sex talks that they do around the region to promote safe sex. This talk was pretty funny, especially because it was being translated by one of our Thai teachers, and was highlighted by one of our guys being asked his penis size, to which he replied, "Um..I don't know it in metric."

We then went on home visits to people who have been helped by this organization. We went to two different houses, the first one being to a woman who was blind and had a VERY drunk yai (grandmother), who kissed one of our guys fully on the lips. It was a weird experience, because there was the funniness of the drunk yai mixed with the very real and sobering conversation with the woman with HIV. The next house had a man who was all skin and bones - maybe 80 or 90 lbs - and couldn't sit up without help from the volunteers who were with my group. He was also blind, but gave us a much less hopeful portrayal of the illness, which was hard to hear at points. The whole day made me want to get involved in this struggle to help PLWHA (People Living With HIV and AIDS), because it is something that is very real and present in Thai society, but is hard to deal with, because of the blame that comes with the disease. A lot of the people we talked to did not contract HIV from sex, and many of them talked about being shameful, because they did not want to be seen as prostitutes. Anyways, I really hope to become more involved with the movement as my time in Khon Kaen goes by!

Back in Khon Kaen

I am now ending my second "personal" day of the program, and I feel like there is so much to say since I last posted! My homestay this past week was amazing. I had a little sister named Bem, and I went to school with her every day this week. Her family was really large, compared to my experiences in the US. She had two older brothers, one older sister, mom, dad, and the moms parents all living in the same house. The house was converted into a convenient store, with a screen between the store and the living space, so that is where I spent most of my time. She was really shy, and couldn't speak much English, but she was the cutest girl EVER, and we became pretty close over the week. We slept in the same bed together (ie mat on the floor), and she helped me learn and study Thai. The family was so incredibly warm and friendly, and we spent the majority of the week laughing at our inability to communicate. It was so refreshing to not have any control over what I was doing as well. Since I couldn't understand almost anything they were saying, I just had to go with the flow and go on bike/motorcycle rides without really knowing the destination. It was amazing!

There a couple of things that stood out during the week. First was a night when I was playing outside of the store with Bem. We were just hanging out, and then two of the girls from my program rode by in a song-taew (which my friend Melissa's host dad drove for his job) and they stopped when we saw each other. Melissa's host dad called out if Bem and I wanted to go to "Big C" and my host mom just went "Ka! Ka!" (yes! yes!), and we piled in the back. Song-taews are basically pick up trucks with benches in the back, so they are completely open-air, like most transportation here. Our host kids were SO excited to go to Big C, and kept screaming the  name for the entire car ride there, so we were trying to guess what it was. Turns out it was their version of Walmart. Except it has a ton of fresh food and free samples, which Bem decided that I should try. So she ran to every stand with a free sample, and by the end of our tour through Big C, I had two handfuls of free samples, ranging from squid bites, to bread, to dried up papayas. It was a good meal!

The next night I went bike riding with Bem, and ended up at Melissa's home stay house, picked them up and then rode to the school we all went to during the day. At the school we did two-by-two bike races in the lawn of the school, which was hilarious and completely terrifying. The kids would ride the bikes, and Melissa and I were standing up on the back wheels, trying to hold on as our kids raced down the rocky terrain. Then, we got back to our houses, where I was told we were going to a "Soy Festival," but instead ended up at the agricultural fair again! It was awesome to experience the fair in a completely different way than the first time. This time, my host mom and sister brought me to certain parts of the fair, and taught me Thai names for things. At one point we walked past the insect stand, where I ate the cockroach before. Melissa and I were trying to explain that we had eaten the insects before, by my mom thought that we wanted them, so a half an hour later she showed up with a bag of cockroaches, scorpions, and crickets. Since it is incredibly rude to refuse food here, we ate them all again! It was also funny to see our host siblings, who ate an entire bag of crickets as a snack. I now think that I have satisfied my bug appetite for awhile!

During the week, I walked to school with Bem, and then had Thai class at her elementary school with the other CIEE students who were at the same school. Our study abroad group was split up between two schools outside of Khon Kaen (where my dorm also is) - Nong Waeng, and Nonchai. Nong Waeng, where I was staying, was lower class and only had 10 students staying in host families, while the other school catered to more upper class students, and the other 20 CIEE students went there. It was weird to compare our experiences at our school to those of the students at the other school, because of the socioeconomic differences. They got huge presents from their families, and had more western appliances, while our homestays were more like the first homestay that we all went on. All in all, I am really happy that I was at Nong Waeng, because my sister was so friendly and her family was incredible. At the end of my stay with the family, they told me that I could come back for dinner or for a night of sleep whenever I wanted to, so I will prob go back and visit soon!!

Although I really loved the homestay, I am happy to be back in my room at Khon Kaen, where we will have a week and a couple of days before heading off to another homestay. We went out the first night back to downtown Khon Kaen, which was a lot of fun. We went dancing at a bar around 6 pm, then had dinner, then went to another bar, and then went to a club, where they had random American Top 40 hits, which were kind of funny to hear. Then last night we went to a Khon Kaen University production of West Side Story. It was maybe the funniest thing I have ever experienced. The girls in it were really good (one of my friend's roommates was Anita), but overall it was just hilarious. It was all in English, and they tried to mimic American mannerisms, mostly just having the girls act really ditzy and stupid. Also, the singing was kind of intense and one of the actors kept making eyes at audience members. It was put on in a classroom, and our CIEE student group was the core of the audience, which made it even more amusing. Some of the parts were really good, but it was completely over-the-top which made me laugh A LOT. 

Today was our free day, which I used to visit Melissa in the hospital, since she has Salmonella and is staying there. Getting to the hospital took a lot of time, since our tuk tuk never came. So three of us wandered around to find a Song-taew, which we took downtown, and saw a hospital (which we thought was the one she was at) and got off. Turns out it wasn't her hospital, so we found another song-taew until we saw a tuk tuk, and got on that. I feel like I am always having crazy adventures to accomplish basic tasks, which makes this trip all the more exciting and funny to express in words. My friends and I are going to go back to the agricultural fair again (for the 3rd time!!) for dinner, since it is the last night of the fair, and then going to go out because our friend Justin turns 21 tomorrow! I will write soon with more updates!!

Sunday, January 25, 2009


I had an awesome time today, so i just thought I would write before it gets forgotten with the passing of the program! Today was our "free day," so I ended up sleeping in late (first time waking up past 6:30 am while i've been here!), washing my laundry (in the sink), going to an optional Thai class, going to a food market, and then going to this really cool agricultural fair on the KKU campus. This university is HUGE - it could take more than an hour to walk across the campus. We took a "cab" to the fair - which was us sitting in the back of a pick-up truck - and the whole thing was like state fairs at home, but Thai style. There were ostriches, a ton of really cute puppies for sale (only about 1 or 2 US dollars...tempting!), Buddha statues, crocodiles, a deer in a cage, really nice furniture, clothes, and OF COURSE, bugs to eat. i ate a cockroach, and it was disgusting. However, a couple of my friends and I made a pact at the beginning of the program that we would try anything that was presented to us. So, I tried it! It was crunchy and kind of tasted like a weird form of banana. But the thing that really got me was the legs sticking in my teeth. eewww. My group of friends also ate scorpions, crickets, and other bugs. Although this pact has led me to try really gross foods, it has made me eat things that I definitely wouldn't otherwise, so that is a good thing!!

That's basically it, I am off to bed soon and then I have to wake up early for KKU day, where we have to dress in our polite finest (skirts below knees, collared shirts, no sleeveless shirts, etc) and get our IDs for the university. Then we head off to our homestay! i am really excited because there is a kid in my family who is pretty young! The first homestay didn't have any young children - just a 15 year old boy who was really scared of us hah - so i am bringing coloring books, and clay to play with them. Alright off to sleep on my exceptionally firm mattress! Hope all is well with everyone!

sawatdee ka

I am now in Khon Kaen, which will be my homebase for the rest of the trip. Since I last wrote there have been many adventures, but I will highlight a few. First, during our orientation in the mountains, some of my friends and I decided to go into "town" when we heard music from our resort. We heard a drumbeat and folloed it over a fence, and down a road for 15 mintutes where we found a group of Thais singing kareoke and drinking. They were cleaning up the party when we got there, but as soon as we got there they yelled "FARANG!" (foreigner), and gave us beer. In true friendly Thai fashion, not only were we given beer, but as soon as we took a sip of it, they would come over and refill our glasses to the brim. It was one of those random spontaneous experiences that I know I will remember for the rest of my life. We danced with them (they kept doing the chicken dance - i think that's what they thought americans liked to do hahh), drank with them and they got us to do kareoke - a good mix of madonna, backstreet boys, and other classics. Then, after drinking and laughing at our lack of Thai language skills, they asked for our phone numbers (which we ddidn't have) and wanted us to come back and meet their families. Oh, and it turns out that one of the men we were talking with was the mayor of the province where we were. We didn't end up going with them, but it was a great time!!

Then, we went to our homestay, which was in an amazing community of about 40 - 50 people. This community, Nong jan, is illegally located in the national forest preserve. I guess what happened is that they had been living there forever, but the government decided that the land needed to be preserved, so they told the community that unless they could come up with legal documents proving that they had been there for more than 50 years, they would have to move. Of course this place, which doesn't have electricity or running water, does not have legal documents, so they are in a constant worry of whether they will have to move. This town was incredible - they are completely self-sustaining (raising cows and chickens, getting milk and eggs from that, large gardens providing vegetables, etc). It was so cool to see a place that is completely independent, but at the same time completely dependent on its members. I had a host mom who didn't speak any English, but she taught me how to cook som tam, a classic green papaya salad in Isaan (province in the North-East of Thailand), in addition to pig liver, fish-pepper paste, and other SPICY foods. we have learned that an important phrase is "mai pet" (not spicy), even though what they consider not spicy is probably spicier than any food at a Thai restaurant in the states. We also got to shower..A LOT. Thai women shower 2-3 times a day, so as soon as we arrived in the village we were told that we were dirty and needed to "AP NAM!" My host mom was so nice and so smart, and really welcomed me into the home fully. Having experiences like that makes you think about the hospitality in the states, and how we can be so cold to people. These men, women and children met us, and within 5 minutes were hugging us, teaching us how to cook, and asking us deep personal; questions about our lives. All in all, it was amazing homestay, anmd i wish we coul;d have stayed longer!

We got to Khon Kaen yesterday, and I met my rooommate, who is a French major at KKU (Khon Kaen University). She is really nice and shy, and doens't speak almost any English, so I will learn a lot of Thai! We went out to a bar with our roommates last night, which was a lot of fun. I love how in one night you meet 20-30 people here just because they are all so friendly! Tomorrow we leave for another homestay for the week, so I will write next weekend probably.

Hope everyone is enjoying the winter - it is "winter" here, and yet it is 80 degrees every day! But the Thais still wear winter coats! Alright, ill write soon!

Sunday, January 18, 2009


I am finally in Thailand! It is an amazing city, and really cool to look out of our hotel room and see temples and shrines, instead of only typical city buildings. I got here a day before my program started, and met up with a few of the people from my program who also decided to explore a little beforehand as well. There were about 8 of us there (my program has 30 people), and we spent the first day (Friday), walking around the city. The best part of the day was going on a boat ride through Bangkok, which went to a "floating market." We found out later that the floating market was closed that day, but we still got to tour around for 2 hours and see parts of Bangkok that are usually not seen by tourists. We also got to meet up with some of the program interns (people who went on this program in college, and are now working for CIEE after they graduated) and went out to dinner and a bar. One funny thing that happened at the bar was an interaction with a little boy (he looked about 8 or 9) who was selling roses. In the States, when people come up to you to sell stuff on city streets, they are usually just brushed away. But here, everyone was so friendly that it really took me aback. We talked to him for 5 minutes about where he is from, where he usually sells roses, etc. And then, when Tyler (the guy on my program who he was trying to sell to) said he didn't want a rose, the boy said that he would thumb wars him to see what happened. If the boy won Tyler would have to buy two roses, and if Tyler won the boy would give him two roses for free. Needless to say the boy won, which was pretty funny. .

Yesterday was the official start of the program, and was CRAZY busy. we started our orientation by doing name games (of course) and then did this game where you have to pile fifteen nails on top of one nail which is stuck in a piece of wood. My group came up with this way of piling the nails on top of each other to balance on top of the first nail, which came at a shock to our program director, since the game was supposed to be impossible and teach us about teamwork or something. But yeah he said that it had never been done before so we felt like champions for awhile hahah. We also went through the schedule of the program and we are SO BUSY. Our first"free day" is two weeks from now, so it is kind of overwhelming.

Tomorrow we leave for an orientation site in the mountains, where we dont have internet access or anything. Then, on friday, we head into a homestay for a couple of days. After that homestay, we go to Khon Kaen, where I will meet my Thai roommate and get settled into my room. However, we are only in Khon Kaen for a day, and then move into another homestay for a week. We also got told about the past programs, and it is really impressive what this CIEE Thailand program has accomplished. I guess they assisted the Thai government in coming up with the first human rights contract ever in the country. Program students have also helped set up a wide variety of NGOs in the Isaan region (where Khon Kaen is) relating to farming rights, HIV/AIDS education, etc. Basically this program is exactly what I am interested in, and I am so excited to really get involved in the community. The program director, who is hilarious and really cool, is really committed to getting us into the villages, and having us meet people, so I am pretty much psyched to get this semester started. The kids on my program are also really friendly and have similar interests as me...many of them are mini Mother Theresa's, which is kind of intimidating, but we are going to have a good time!

Sooo...that was a long tangent, but yesterday was a lot of fun and was highlighted by our night time fun. A bunch of us decided that, since we are in Bangkok, we had to go to the red light district just to explore. So we went last night, and ended up at a club playing 90's covers. It was a really fun night, and I can provide some pretty good stories later on if people want to hear them. Then today, we all went on a walking tour of Bangkok (most of the sites I had seen on my first day here), but we got to see a couple more markets, which was fun. We also went to the Grand Palace, which was AMAZING. We had a really funny tour guide, who showed us around for a couple of hours. Everything is covered in gold, diamonds, and jewels, and is absolutely beautiful. Although the King does not live there anymore, he still visits, so everything is constantly being renovated (they have to put new gold sheets on when they fade). I completely forgot to bring my camera, but I had friends take pictures for me so people can see then later in they would like.

Alright, that is a lot of writing for now, but I won't have internet for a week or so, so it will be a bit until I can write again! I am pretty bummed that I am going to miss the inaguration, but the interns are trying to figure out a way that we can see it when we are out in the mountains. On a side note, Obama is HUGE here. It is cool to see how much people are in support of America right now. Also, just to dim any worries, Bangkok/Thailand is completely safe, and everyone I have talked to here is really friendly. Everybody is always smiling and wanting to hear about who you are and where you are from. It is such a change from the States, and I love it! Alright I have to go, miss you all!!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Headed to Thailand

Alright, so I'm kind of new to this blogging thing, but I figure it will be a good way for people to see what I am up to. Sooo...enjoy!