Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Morning in Thailand

I tried to sleep in a little (set the alarm for 7:30). You can't really sleep in here, too noisy and someone will come to the door. At 6:30 I heard a conversation at my door. Thais don't knock they stand at your door for awhile and talk and call your name. I didn't respond, so Jim (my neighbor and aerobics teacher) came to my bedroom window (“Kar - Jim ka”). I thought about ignoring her, but she is so nice and I knew she would stand there for a long time waiting for me, so I got up. She made me two very cute dish towel holders. Reminds me of what Grandma Burks used to make. So sweet. I don't know why she had to deliver them so early, but still, very sweet. So it is almost 9 a.m. and I am eating breakfast and checking email and there are 2 little girls peeking through the front door crack (yes it is that big). I told them to come back in one hour, that it was too early. They stand out there for 1 hour. When I opened the door there was a Christmas card stuck in the handle from Kwan, Jim's very cute 11 year old daughter. The girls come in to color, do puzzles, write on the white board, and look at the few books I have still at home (most have moved to the library).
Skyping with my family and some PC buddies is the highlight of the day, along with my last bottle of wine. Good thing I am going to BKK for NYE!
Yes, Christmas is different. It was freezing cold, in the low 50s, which doesn't sound that cold, but it is windy and you can't keep the weather out.

Santa remembered me in Thailand!

Gifts from Jim

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas in Thailand

It is different! Thailand is predominantly a Buddhist country. That said, you go to any big city and you will see Christmas trees and decorations at the shopping centers and everyone knows Santa. At my adult class I explained the origins of Christmas as the birth of Jesus Christ. They had no idea. It is very interesting what part of our culture makes it around the world. I will leave the cynicism out of this…it is Christmas!
I miss the sights and the smells of Christmas – the bay all lit up, cookies out of the oven, and all the gatherings of family and friends. I knew it would be a miss, but bigger than I even knew. I LOVE Christmas.
I am glad to be doing PC. But I do look forward to reviving old traditions and starting new ones. I’m sure my kids are missing those stockings and the Advent Calendar – Santa has been good to them!! I look forward to Burks’ Christmas, Christmas Eve dinners and breakfasts with Bloody Marys.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year!

More on fb of course

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

Kindergarteners with their Rudolphs

Making fortune tellers - very funny!

Storytime kids with their Rudolphs

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Visit to Host Families Devastated by Floods

Last Sunday I had the opportunity first hand to see the devastation facing our host families due to the floods. Previously, PC had placed the area off limits to PCVs due to the danger and well, we probably would have just been in the way. A group of Thai friends affiliated with the PC and some PCVs visited the families and had the pleasure of giving each family 2,300B (about $77) to help rebuild their lives. We experienced their gratitude and heard their stories first hand. It was a day I will not soon forget. We heard about a son saving his mother from drowning as the flood waters quickly rose to over 5 feet. We heard how many families were out of their homes for 2 to 3 months and have just recently moved back – back to a home and possessions pretty much in ruin. We heard about businesses still closed, rice fields still flooded, and families still scattered. I personally cannot thank my friends and family enough for your generous support. I am honored. I know all too well the pull on our charity heart strings.
I would like to share with you my family’s story. Having a one story house, they had nowhere to go to save their possessions or get out of the water. They built platforms to save what they could and my host mother, Sisunee, still sleeps on one. Her son lost his job until his factory reopens, which will be several more months. Her husband had to return to BKK to his job and her grandson, who had lived with her, has moved to BKK with his mother. It is just too big a mess for a child to be in. Sisunee showed us the ugly gash on her leg resulting from jumping from the platform out the window and missing – you can only imagine how dirty the water was she landed in. The flood water has receded from the house, but is still next to and under the house. It will be a terrible mosquito season. The pictures reflect her appreciation, the devastation, and the mess she is coping with.
Talking with Thai friends we have heard about the government’s efforts. Each flooded family was to receive 5,000B, but many only got 80% due to the local government keeping the rest. Local foundations and groups have come in to help but apparently the efforts were chaotic and unorganized. It has gotten better. With water still on many roadways, covering many fields, mounds of debris everywhere, and farmers and businesses experiencing huge losses; it will be awhile before this area recovers.

More photos on facebook.

Our ride for the day. PCVs Kelly and Joe with Yim, who helped distribute the funds to the families. PCVs are not allowed to handle donated money. It would have been a difficult day without her help.

Trash along the side of the road leaving BKK, it is everywhere.

The road into town still flooded.

Sisunee telling her story. The debris in the background used to be her restaurant.

Her kitchen!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Thailand – truly an agrarian society

Rural Thailand’s rhythm is closely tied to growing rice, Thailand’s number one industry, export, and what most people do. Isaan, northeastern Thailand is just finishing up rice harvest. During the last 4 – 6 weeks, that is what took priority over all else. On weekends, those who work off the farm, go home to help the family harvest. My storytime took a hit with many children off helping grandparents. There was no aerobics classes as the instructors were in the fields (and most of the class). School stayed in session, but according to my tutor, about half of the class was not there. They were either on their family farms or hired out as day laborers to make some extra income for the family. This is a community where already only about 20% of the children complete high school. Now that it is wrapping up, you see rice drying everywhere and big mounds stored around the community – of rice and rice husks (used for fuel and I think animal feed and in the bricks used for adobe houses).

Beautiful countryside of green, growing rice fields. In my area there is one rice growing cycle per year because there is no irrigation. Some areas have developed irrigation and have two cycles per year.

Then the floods. Many farmers lost their crops. This has been a bad year for flooding in Thailand, submerging 2 million acres of farmland. The government approved 800 million baht ($27 million) in compensation for households affected by floods. ($1 = 30 Baht), not nearly enough. Many farmers had been encouraged to expand production and now have loans they will be unable to pay. The government compensation is 2,500B per acre. Harvested, the same acre would bring in over 10,000B (according to officers in my office).

Rice ready to harvest. In my area, most harvesting is still done by hand. In some areas and on large farms, columbines are used.

Sacks of rice are everywhere. This gal lost control of her motorcycle with her heavy load. Our driver stopped to help her re-balance and safely continue her journey.

A pile of rice behind my house.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Loei Field Trip

On Wednesday of this week, I traveled by van to Loei Province which is 5 hours north on the Laos border. I had been once before with Bobby’s office (fellow PCV) and blogged about it on June 1. This time I went with my tessabaan and what a difference. Previously we went by bus and there was 50 people, loud karaoke, and lots of drinking – for HOURS! This time we went in a work van, there were six of us and there was no karaoke, no loud music, and NO drinking. So much better. The nayok is the boss and he definitely sets the tone. We went so that the nayok (mayor) and balat (city manager) could attend a meeting of all tessabaans in the Isaan area – northeast Thailand – and do some sightseeing. The plan was to come home on Friday after the meeting, however, Wednesday night, a city council member died and we came home Thursday afternoon. On the way home we stopped at a national park.
The council member died of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease caused by exposure to contaminated rat urine – I know sad and very gross. It is a problem in rural Thailand for rice farmers who frequently walk in their rice fields barefoot. Very sad, he was in his early 50s. The PC doctor said nothing for me to worry about as long as I stay out of the fields. I will take his advice!

More photos on facebook.

The nayok and me with the pee-dta-khon, the local ghost!

Mii (office lawyer), me, Balat (city manager and highest appointed official and my official counterpart), Ron Balat (assistant city manager) on the Mekong River with Laos in the background.

Dinner with the nayok, driver (who is also a fireman - a common shared job), Ron Balat, me, and Balat.

Standing around a bicycle in Chiang Khan, a charming tourist village where renting bikes is very popular.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Library Update

Went to the city yesterday (Roi-et) and bought book shelves! They look great. Waiting for the walls to be painted and the old furniture (it was previously a bank) to be moved out. We are at about 290 books – the beginnings of a fabulous library! Darien Book Aid came through last week with 30 books and the Soroptimists in BKK have a box in the mail. They are holding a book drive once the flooding is gone in the city. Some neighborhoods are still under water.

Pan and Focus playing with Maisy's Pop-up Playhouse

The new library building on a Tuesday when the dalat expands. I have been told once the library opens, vendors will not be right in front. The awning is new.

Art work from 2 girls who checked out How to Draw books.

The King’s Birthday

Father’s Day is December 5, the King’s Birthday. I was feeling a little guilty that I would be missing all the festivities as I am headed to BKK to see my long lost PC buddies for the holiday. And then, walking to work down Main Street, to buy my bus ticket, I ran right into a parade! At first I was slightly offended, not having been asked to lead it, judge it, or even watch it. But then I learned it wasn’t the real parade, just the student parade! I was happy to run into and see at least a little of the celebration.

Happy Father's Day!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Youth Serving Youth Conference

Awesome weekend, for me, the students (Bo, Kat, Plai), and my counterpart (for this weekend that was Kruu Rath – my tutor, friend, and English teacher at the high school). The PC Youth Development GIG (a GIG is a PC committee that is in every country PC serves) put on the conference and they were amazing. It was well organized, fun, and provided lots of opportunity for the youth to get involved, have fun, and think critically about their communities and how they can make a difference. These PCVs are outstanding role models for Thai youth.!!

Our group: from left, Bo, our driver, me, Kruu Rath, Plai, Kat.

Working together to make a pyramid.

6 steps to reach goal - the girls choose to hold a Life Skills camp to address the issue of teen pregnancy in their school - a brave and important choice! Chris, on the right, was one of the PCV leaders.

Sharing their Public Service Announcement.

The shirts we designed!

See more photos on facebook!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Loy Krathong Festival

On the full moon of the twelfth lunar month, when the tide in the rivers is highest and the moon at its brightest, the Thai people hold the 'Loy Krathong' festival, the 'festival of light.' Loy Krathong is one of the two most recognized festivals in the country.
Loy Krathong is probably the most picturesque and beautiful of all Thai celebrations. 'Loy' means 'to float,' and 'krathong' refers to the thing that floats on the water. Originally, the krathong was made of banana leaves or the layers of the trunk of a banana tree or a spider lily plant. A krathong contains food, betel nuts, flowers, incense, candles and/or coins. Its shape represents the lotus flower. The Loy Krathong ritual is to light the candles and the incense, make wishes and let it float away with the current of a river or a canal.
Thais watch as the krathongs drift in the water, hoping that the candle will not go out. Its flame is said to signify longevity, fulfillment of wishes and release from sins. It is considered a romantic night for couples or lovers…sigh. Couples who make a wish together on Loy Krathong are thought to stay together in the future. Including coins insures a prosperous year ahead.
You actually can compare Loy Krathong to our Thanksgiving. It is a time to express gratitude and thanksgiving – different legends credit different origins, but the intent is the same, to give thanks and ask forgiveness, either to the goddess of water or to Buddha, or to ancestors. In Isaan, where I am, the origin is believed to be from Nang Noppamas, the King’s concubine in the ancient kingdom of Sukhothai in the 13th century. She floated a krathong as an offering to the river and asking for forgiveness for using the water and for polluting it.
At my site, the festival took place at the lake. Each of the 8 villages made a float representing a large krathong. There was a musical show featuring children singing, dancing, and playing musical instruments and a beauty pageant with 8 contestants, one from each village. Being the expert that I am, I of course was a judge, a particular challenge for the speaking category. My criterion was all about poise and confidence and the advice of Mii, a fellow judge and friend! Small hot air balloons were released in the air and the krathongs were placed in the water. It was a beautiful evening. As the krathongs were released, we took a moment to offer a blessing and make a wish. Very loud fireworks occasionally punctuated the evening seemingly at random times. The new nayoke and ron nayoke (mayor and assistant mayor) couldn’t resist an audience and did a few karaoke numbers, surprising the balat (city manager) by inviting her on stage. The whole extravaganza lasted 5 hours!
The ron balat (assistant city manager) ended up shadowing me to make sure I was at the right place at the right time. At the beginning of the event, the dignitaries were ushered on stage and I was off watching the balloon launch. When these same dignitaries were launching their krathongs I was photographing the village krathongs and ended up launching mine late. They wanted to make sure I was in place to judge the pageant!

A week was spent at the lake setting up. Tuk ta is beating the heat with her sun shade.

Getting my corsage. We made them at the office. I was in charge of making the bows. I couldn't mess them up too much with that job!

Hot air balloons. They held them until they heated up and then released them.

The krathongs floating away. My candles blew out immediately, not a good sign!

The beauty contestants

More photos coming on facebook.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My Typical Day in Thailand

A typical work day starts at 8:30 in the office. I spend a lot of time preparing for classes – making lesson plans, flannel board stories, flash cards, games, etc. I work on the library project – navigating the latest hurdle, looking for support, cataloging books, researching topics, etc. I research Thai topics of interest for a blog or a potential project. About half the time I go to lunch with friends in the office, usually to a noodle stand or bring food in, occasionally to one of the two restaurants in town if it is a special occasion or the balat (city manager) takes me out. Lunch is also a good time to run errands – head to the dalat (outdoor market) or post office. Sometimes I go home to have a granola bar and read. I teach one morning and one afternoon and have a standing meeting with the kindergarten teacher once a week. My Thai tutor comes once a week and I make an effort to study every day, I will admit frequently halfheartedly. I get very discouraged.
After work I go to Thai aerobics. It is outdoors in front of the fire department. About 15 – 20 people show, all ages. By the time I ride my bike back to my house, it is dark. No nightlife here. I make a simple, healthy dinner typically with veggies, rice or pasta, and sometimes an egg. When I have it, I treasure a glass of wine or a rum and fruit drink. I eat in front of my computer listening to a podcast – 60 minutes or an NPR show (Wait, Wait Don’t Tell is my favorite). A priority is showering fairly early as my bathroom (and kitchen) walls have about a 2 foot gap between the wall and ceiling – more bugs come out later!

I settle in with my hard drive and either watch a movie or TV show while I knit or create flannel stories or color flash cards. I journal a few nights a week - it is also a scrap book that I like looking through.
The weekend is about eventful as the week. Saturday mornings is storytime. Often the kids will hang out for a while. I read the book they have checked out or they color or play a game (bingo or memory). They like to color on the white board and pull out flannel stories to tell each other. I market, clean my house, go on a bike ride, read in my hammock , do laundry, iron, mend (clothes get wrecked really fast here), other chores. I typically am not too social. I actually like it that way – a break.
I get out of town every couple of months and catch up with other PCVs – good for the soul and also for some farang food and alcohol! Festivals frequently interrupt the routine. As the local farang, I often have a prominent presence at these events.

Dalat - daily outdoor market. I am lucky, some villages don't have a daily market. I buy pineapple and grapefruit (Thai grapefruit is simply outstanding) from this vendor. Her daughter comes to story time and is so smart!

Me, Kayley, Bobby, and Luke visiting a wat

Erin, Kyle, Jade, Dom at a great farang restaurant

Buddy, my dog friend

May and Ja-o at the whiteboard. The top photo is Ja-o's mother.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Kathin Kanoms

If you have been paying attention, you have noticed that at all Thai gatherings, food plays a central role, especially kanoms – sweet snacks. A typical kanom is made with sticky rice and banana. It is wrapped in a banana leave, tied, and steamed. They are delicious! I have had some with other fillings I cannot always identify, but I think banana is best. The first day of Kathin included kanom making with many of the women participating.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Kathin Festival

Last weekend (Oct. 29 – 31) was the celebration of Kathin, a Buddhist festival celebrated in Northeast Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. It is the culmination of Kao-pan-sa, which takes place the previous 3 months (August – October), when monks stay in the wat. It is said that Buddha started the tradition of the monks staying in so they would not step in the rice fields as the rice was getting ready to harvest. It included two parades – one through town and one to the wat – with monks, money trees, musicians, and Thai dancing. It included early morning prayers with monks blessing the occasion and lots of food. It included an evening of Thai dancing and karaoke with men buying the opportunity to dance with Thai women. Each event was another opportunity for the community to make merit and the monks/wat to make money. It is the biggest money making festival for the monks/wat of the year. In addition to money, people made merit by giving the monks pillows, blankets, food, toiletries and household items. It was an exhausting 3 days with no time off on the weekend. Even the Thais were glad when it was over!

Monday morning, everyone brought their sticky rice containers and walked in front of each monk (9 that morning) and put a handful in each monk's container. This photo is a perfect example of old and new Thailand!

For most of the events, the women wore traditional Thai.

One of the parades with the band and dancers.

The monks in the parade.

Counting the baht after each event.