Thursday, February 24, 2011

Nesting Storks

I hope you can see this. These are nesting storks - hundreds of them near my friend's house. It is an amazing sight.

Thai Field Trip

Lesson learned today…do not assume because you can pick up a Thai word or two that you know what is going on! I went on a field trip today with my tambon to Gulf Power, thinking it was to share information between my host father’s power company in Bangkok and Gulf Power two and one half hours outside Bangkok. Wrong on all counts. Gulf wants to build a new plant in my area and part of the EIR is to host a tour of those who will live near the new plant. There were about 100 of us on 2 double decker tour buses. You may notice in the bus photo the speakers lining the roof – it was so LOUD. Music videos blasting for an hour and a half. Breakfast was provided by my family and was delicious – rice and shredded pork. We were assembling box breakfasts from 4:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. It was a long tour and was very interesting, even in Thai. A couple of employees spoke some English and that helped. Gulf served us lunch and showed us a very professional video. And then it really got interesting. I was very proud of my area’s officials, even though I understood very little, they were clearly asking detailed pointed questions that took a lot of explanation from Gulf’s PR guy. I would love to know more details. I had a few minutes in Gulf’s community relations room and asked some questions regarding environmental impact. Either they did not understand (this group spoke English pretty well) or did not want to answer. My corporation distrust coming out! It will be interesting to follow in the next couple of years. They can use the power, but will hopefully stand their ground to make sure Gulf is a good corporate citizen.

A spirit house in front of Gulf Power. Even big corporations won't risk offending the spirits!

Friday, February 18, 2011

My bike ride to school! Banana trees lining the path with rice fields on both sides.

Thom, this one is for you! A pigeon in Thailand.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sounds of Thailand (at least the area I am living)

My favorite is the birds (excluding the roosters!). You hear them at all hours making very distinct chirps, cheeps, coos, tweets and many I simply cannot describe. It is very typical for Thais to have caged song birds and to compete in contests for the best ones. We have one. There is one bird that makes a very loud noise (something like ) at night that sounds like it is in my room. Deborah, PCT, lives in an area with hundreds of nesting storks. You turn down her dirt road and are instantly surrounded by an amazing chorus. Geckos also make sounds and I hear them throughout the night, doing their job eating the bugs. One lives in my room and is very much appreciated. At night there is a cacophony of crickets (think Washington DC in the summer) and frogs. A cat had kittens in a protected section of our roof and I hear them mewing at night.
My least favorite is the dogs, which is sad for me. At night they fight and howl and cry loudly. In the village they are pretty much left to fend for themselves so they are fighting for food and mates. I don’t much like the roosters either, who start crowing around 4 a.m. and continue until morning and occasionally you hear them throughout the day.
Then there are the man made noises. Monks chanting is the most peaceful and very prevalent. Motorcycles, trucks, and buses traverse tiny roads at high speeds beginning in the early morning and making lots of noise. School bells and announcements are very loud, even the Thais hold their ears. Vendors selling from numerous vehicles have loud speakers announcing their wares. I saw one live show on Thai history and again the narrative and music was so loud, everyone was holding their ears.
I am amazed, at night I have learned to sleep through most of it!
PS I think I have learned to include photos in my blog however the current issue is lack of adequate internet to download them!

Monday, February 14, 2011

2-12 to 2-13

Mid Term Progress Review went well – I get to stay! We all individually sit down with a core staff member and evaluate several areas of competency: motivation, technical competence, emotional maturity/ability to adjust, cultural respect/awareness, language, health, safety and security. I am pretty sure as a group we all did well, although PC is very good at keeping confidence and it would be very private if there were issues…but I think it would be obvious.
It was Carl’s birthday, a PCT. He turned 70! A small restaurant many of us frequent gave him a snow cone kind of dessert with candy on top…so very sweet and so very Thai!
Kyle, another PCT, gave a computer workshop, sharing his excellent skills with those of us not quite so techy. You can probably guess, most attendees were the older crowd! If there are photos attached to this blog and the previous one, then I retained something. Thank you Kyle!
Sunday I toured with my Thai Family. We visited the National Museum, ruins where every Buddha’s head was cut off by the Burmese Army when they sacked this area of Thailand around 700 years ago (I think), and the Floating Market. Met an English author who writes for Lonely Planet. He has been in Thailand for 7 years and is thinking about studying Thai!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Week 5 – 2-7 to 2-12-11

Although Thailand is a tourist destination, the villages PCVs work in tend to be remote and many of the villagers have seen very few if any Americans. And even though half of our group is not here to teach there will be the expectation that we are here to teach English. Most PCVs end up spending at least some of their time in a school or running an English Club. So to prepare for that eventuality, we are all teaching English this week. My group had girls aged 7 to 14 with a diverse ability to speak English. They were adorable! We taught introductions, following directions, and asking for help using lots of props, games and pictures. I think they had fun and we certainly learned a lot about teaching English as a foreign language. Keep it simple, be consistent, speak clearly and slowly, and most importantly, have fun.
We had a cross cultural session on gender differences and issues we will encounter at site. The men will for the most part be expected to drink, it will be OK if they smoke (although not good role models for Thai boys), and they will have much more independence than the women. Young women drink very occasionally and mostly at social gatherings, don’t smoke, and tend to do the chores around the house. Men and women do not show affection in public and do not touch each other. You will be the talk of the village if your friend of the opposite sex visits and you hug. It will be assumed you have a fan – a boy/girl friend. Once women hit about 45 all bets are off and they have much more freedom. At my age it is unlikely that someone will want to set me up with a Thai boyfriend and I have more liberty to drink (although as a PCV moderation is important to maintain a high status in the community). A group of us older women decided to buy a wine cooler on a Saturday afternoon. We got to the store, found what we wanted and were so excited to have a relaxing day ahead of us. I wish I had a photo of our faces when the clerk informed us that alcohol cannot be sold between 2:00 and 5:00 pm! It was about 2:30…we settled for green tea (and still had a nice chat).
On the way to school one morning, a large truck was stopped on the side of the road. Thais were herding ducks and geese out the truck onto the field. There were 100s. Their job is to eat small snails that damage the rice. Going home at 5:00 pm, those ducks were still there. All week we have seen them traveling from field to field with their handlers spending the night in make shift tents right there with them.
Half way through training!!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Week 4 – 2-5-11

Hard to believe it is February and I have been here almost a month. Not quite as homesick…Days are getting easier as everything is not as foreign. Typically, I still cannot follow a conversation, unless it is slow and contains my limited vocabulary. Frustrating at times. Smiling and nodding helps a lot as does chaa-chaa nci (slower please), mai kao-jai (I don’t understand), and puut paa-saa Thai nit nci (I speak Thai very little). I can order simple things in a restaurant, find my way around the villages, and feel more at home with the other PCTs and my host family. I have learned over 100 vocabulary words, yes I counted! Nice to feel like I am making some progress. I can even make simple sentences. Di-chan puut paa saa Thai chaa-chaa. We have a practice Language Proficiency Interview next week for an assessment. It will be a challenge.
Thai Sports Day on Saturday…a hoot. Everything from chair ball (think basketball with a PCT holding a hamper) to threading a needle to the Thai version of botche ball . Also got more advanced bike maintenance training. I am dreading the day I need to change a flat tire on the side of the road! Roger, a fellow PCT and biker extraordinaire, shared his talents today. Such a great group!
It was a very nice Saturday afternoon hanging out with the “more mature” PCTs. There are several of us and although we love the young group, hanging out with them is not the same as with someone with similar life experience. Got lots of studying done Sunday.


Tong-sii today, diarrhea. I was feeling pretty good that I was doing so well, many PCTs have had health issues. I made it through most of the day, but finally called it a day in the afternoon. My first nap and very much needed. My language group interviewed my host mother as a restaurant owner. She is a whirlwind! She loved that my puaan (friends) came for lunch and spent time talking with her.


We had a visiting speaker today, Phra Anil Sakya, a direct descendant of Buddha. He is from India but has spent his adult life as a Thai monk. He has a doctorate in anthropology, and teaches in England and at Santa Clara University. So interesting. I am very impressed with Buddhism and its emphasis on personal responsibility for living an ethical life and living in the moment. The Thai’s have an expression, mai pen rai, no problem or never mind – kind of like shocka!
Two current PCVs also came to present today, older women. They have both been in one year and have made it work…encouraging. Spf20

1-30-11 Sunday

PCVs have an expression – Thai knapping. You think you are going somewhere for an hour and get back 6 hours later. Our trip to the market ended up at the ruins, a beautiful Wat, and a traditional Thai outdoor market – first day I have seen foreign tourists. The ruins are 2,000 year old temples and quite beautiful. One Buddha lying on his side must have been 30 feet long. Buddhists buy gold flake on a piece of paper and rub it on the statue. The temple was the location of the Abbot, the area’s head monk. It was part tourist attraction and part spiritual center with many people present making merit and listening to monks’ chanting. I made merit by attaching a 20b to a banana tree. The traditional Thai market had Thai hand crafted goods as opposed to the typical outdoor market with more modern items (wicker hampers instead of plastic ones). I am avoiding buying stuff just yet as I will have to move it all in about a month, patiently waiting!!
Part of every tourist area seems to include feeding animals. I have fed an elephant, turtles, and all kinds of fish, huge catfish!


Thai Day was soooo fun! The ajaans did traditional Thai song, dance, and musical instruments and then a spoof on the song, New York New York. Too funny! They also fed us a Thai traditional meal. The PCTs all presented skits on their region of the USA and presented a Thai food dish. CA is fortunate because we have Chris, a talented musician who made up a song for our presentation. The women wore their pasins, think sarong, with a top. All Thai women have pasins worn to the shower, around the house in the evening, and around your village near your house. Sisunee did not think it appropriate so she gave me a beautiful traditional Thai outfit so I would be ready for the next time! So sweet and such a Thai thing to do!
After Thai Day, the PCTs in my tambon were all invited to the gam non’s house for his mother-in-law’s birthday. Of course we ate again, notice a theme! The gam non is the head pu ya bon (village head) for the tambon and a very big deal. It was like a party at home (the scotch and vodka corner was popular with a group of the ladies), but everyone sits on the floor. Also, for the most part, the ladies were inside and the men outside.
Next, we went to the Agricultural Market which was in the next big city. You may notice, I never give you city or village names. This is a PC request and is a safety and security issue. This market did not have the variety of kinds of things for sale, but had an amazing array of meat, seafood, and produce. Big tubs of shrimp you bought fresh and BBQed on the spot. We had a feast tonight with BBQed chicken, BBQed shrimp, mussels, corn on the cob, and a few Thai dishes. My readers must be thinking I am gaining a ton of weight. No scale! But I think I have lost some with all the bike riding (and no alcohol) and I am working hard to moderate the intake. With so much good food readily available, it could be a disaster…
My family’s second daughter, who lives in Bangkok, visited today with her daughter and two nieces. So cute!! Everyone is spending the night – a big slumber party on the floor.

1-28-11 Third Week Impressions

I found coffee (gaffey) without cream and sugar already mixed in! A huge accomplishment. It is instant, but pretty good and BLACK!
The weeks are flying by and I am sure my Thai will be dismal in the end. However I am gaining confidence as we visit various Thai officials and interview them. Everyone is so friendly and open to talking to us. Of course having our ajaan is an asset! I am feeling like the training is very good but that it will not be enough. We had an oral language test and it was a killer! I will definitely have a tutor once I am at site.
This week we visited a school and saw the opening of the day. They recited the national pledge while the flag was raised, sang a Thai patriotic song, meditated, prayed, exercised, listened to announcements, and were ready in mind, body, and spirit to start their day. Very impressive. Students help with all school chores and are very attentive. They wear uniforms and are soooo cute! One little boy had a traditional Thai haircut (one section on top long) as opposed to the short cuts the other boys have. It means his family is asking for a blessing for him and he most likely has a health issue. The other kids just accept his difference. Over 90% of Thais are Buddhists and many mix in animism such as the boy’s haircut and the spirit houses everywhere.
We also visited an oo paa daa (again my spelling) which is an adult school for those who didn’t finish high school and/or for occupational training. There was a job fare and the adult students were cutting kids’ hair, helping them make crafts, and cooking some traditional Thai food, always delicious! We also visited the anami (health clinic). Each tambon (cluster of villages) has one or two staffed by a doctor and a nurse. There may also be a midwife and traditional healers, and there is a volunteer health group that assists with the public health promotion and visits sick people in the community. We saw an exercise class that focused on meditation. It was a clinic day with visiting healthcare providers on hand to give physicals. All services are free. There is also a hospital in the community which is also free. Seems like the USA could learn a lesson here! A PCT was sick and experienced the health volunteers first hand. We also attended the local tambon’s annual meeting where all the local officials gather to talk about local issues and begin planning for the new year. The official government uniform for such occasions looks very much like a military uniform. We are always welcomed and brought up front so everyone can see us. I think the community is getting used to all us farangs, you can’t go anywhere without seeing one of us biking.


Actually was able to get on line today at our training school and download some blog entries. Struggling with the photos. I would love to show you so much and will soon.
We learned a Thai song and dance today. The hand gestures are much more graceful when done by a Thai! We also had two more vaccines, I have lost count. We discussed STDs and learned that Thailand is considered an HIV hotspot. We put a condom on a banana for practice! The PC Medical Officer is excellent with lots of good information to keep us healthy.

1-23-11 Sunday

We went to the Wat this morning - Sisunee, Hart, and the oldest daughter up from Bangkok. Took lots of food, baht (Thai money) and also bought a gift basket, all to give to the monk. We sat with the monk for about half an hour. Lots of conversation, some chanting with my family repeating the chant, incense burning, and a blessing. The monk dips a wicker hand broom of sorts into holy water and shakes it over you. There were lots of similar gifts in the room.
In the afternoon, I went to a mall with some PCTs and one of the host families. It was huge with lots of people and things for sale everywhere. Many American companies (McDonalds, KFC, A & W) were there. One of my goals was banking. It was very difficult and we needed a passport to change $, something we were unaware of. Lots of unhappy PCTs as it was a trek and we are not sure when we can get back.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Today is Saturday, so PC school is half day. We did community mapping, riding our bikes around the tambon (collection of villages) and locating markets, restaurants, Wats, government buildings, where each PCT lives, and other local land marks. We also located where various officials live. Thai government structure is very complex with 2 somewhat parallel systems in place. The long standing traditional system and the newer structure put in place about 50 years ago in the Thai effort to decentralize government. The smallest unit is the village, then the tambon (a cluster of villages), the district, and the province. Each one has someone in charge. Many PCVs work at the tambon level, called SAO (sub district administrative office). Many of the officials are elected and some are appointed, similar to an American elected mayor and appointed city manager. PCT families all seem to have a role to play.
It was nice to have the afternoon off. Got laundry done (we have a washer and hang the clothes to dry by the river), some studying by the river and took more photos. A Thai university student studied with me. She is studying English and thinks grammar is the hardest part. I told her I agree! Next door to my house is a drinking water station. For 1 baht (30b to $1) you can fill about a liter. In the same area is a village meeting spot and a rice mill. The rice mill turns the rice plant into: rice to eat (kaao), a smaller version used for dog food, and the outside shaft used to feed the pigs. The primary occupation in Thailand is rice farming. Thai ice cream is excellent and was delivered today by a vendor on a motorcycle. Watermelon via the back of a pick-up. Outdoor markets (balat nut) are everywhere and sell everything. Just like home, they are in different spots different days. You can get prepared food, groceries, office supplies, tools, clothing, household supplies and cleaning products. They are also a community gathering spot. The most unusual thing I have seen (at least that I recognize) is a complete pig skin, whole with face and all, but no insides. Not sure if it was to advertise that they sold pork or if it was for sale!


End of week 2. Next impressions:
Thailand is a beautiful country with a major pollution problem. Some areas have trash pickup, but many rural areas do not and burning trash is very common. Burning fields to get ready to plant is not allowed but still a common practice. Thais do not drink their water because of pollution seeping into the ground water supply. I think many of the PCTs would love to include some environmental projects in their service. One lives on an organic farm that I hope to visit soon. Westernization has its drawbacks, one being pollution, as the infrastructure does not keep up with new opportunities which create trash. My home has an old refrigerator in the corner not in use anymore. I think there probably is no good way to dispose of it.
The Thai people are very friendly and have a communal way of looking at life, as opposed to the American individualistic life style. Of course there is a continuum in both countries, but over all if a Thai sees that you need something, they provide it with no expectation of pay back or thank you. This includes labor. The villages seem very established with many of the residents relatives. Privacy is not particularly valued and people live very close. There are always people in and out of the house and visiting in the street. It is a friendly atmosphere. Farangs (me) stand out and get a lot of attention, friendly and curious. First question always, how old are you to help establish my place in the order of things. They always seem amazed at my age, in a positive way I think!
Food is plentiful and Thai people love to eat and eat a lot…and want you do. Im leeo is my most used expression, I am full! Lots of excellent fruit. More oil, sugar and salt than I am used to and it is not a meal if rice is not served. I do miss my glass of wine with dinner! Sfp 30


We made merit with 2 monks this morning. At 6 in the morning, the monks walk down the street with a pot for rice and a satchel for other food items. You wait for them with a tray with a bowl of rice and other food and drink (lots!) You are supporting the monks and the Wat and making an offering to encourage good fortune. Women are not to touch the monks, so you carefully give them the items, but no touching. Only men are monks and about 60% of adult male Thais become a monk at some point. They can do so anywhere from a few months (think of it as part of their spiritual growth) to a lifetime commitment. Women can be nuns, a lot less common. You see monks everyday (I was in line with one at the 7/11 today!) and have never seen a nun.
Street vendors are everywhere, stationary or with goods on the back of motorcycles or bikes. Tonight, one came by with a cook top to make Roti, an amazingly delicious Indian dessert. He fried thinly hand stretched sweet dough, dropped an egg on top, fried some more, folded it in half, added some flavor, folded again and fried some more. DELICIOUS served with mangos. The PC doctor said the vendors are fine to buy from as long as the items are cooked and fruits and vegetables are peeled. The Thai fruit is amazing!


PC language learning is an excellent system. Repetition, learning in context, immersion all play a role. I am in a group of 4 led by our ajaan, teacher. So far we have learned to introduce ourselves (dichan chuu Karen), numbers (ngun, song, sam, see, hua, hock, jet, braa, gao, sip – spelling very wrong), and tell where we are from (dichan muu jaak muyoung Newport Beach, rot California, practet America). The Thai language has some aspects which make it easier to learn: no punctuation, no capitalization, no verb tenses, no feminine or masculine differences in the words (although males and females end sentences differently, ka for females, and krap for males) and no articles (a, an, the). The hard part is 44 consonants, I think 24 vowels, some vowels and consonants that are not in the English language, and there are five tones. If you get the wrong tone it can totally change what you are saying. Then of course there is the Thai alphabet, beautiful and still seeming impossible.
Dinner tonight a huge success! I actually ate dinner with the whole family. Fish, caught across the street, rice of course (it is not a meal without rice), dried pork, a shrimp and veggie dish, and 2 that were “pet”, spicy. I eat just a little of those. Sa Koon, the grandfather, taught me a traditional Thai song during dinner as part of my homework. He loves to fish and is wonderful with his little grandson, patiently teaching him how to do things.
We looked at my going away book and their photo album tonight. They have 2 daughters and a younger son. Two of their kids live in Bangkok and one lives in a more local city. I think that is pretty common. I am careful not to show my homesickness when looking at photos…it is hard.