Friday, April 29, 2011

String ceremony

Ceremonies are all about community and a friendly and welcoming spirit. My favorite Thai tradition is the string tying ceremony. The Thai string ceremony is a wonderful ceremony full of positive energy! On special days and to commemorate special occasions, Thai’s make you feel welcome by tying string around your wrist, think friendship bracelet. String, lots of string, is cut to fit a wrist and draped on a beautiful ornate arrangement made of banana leaves. A village elder opens the ceremony with a chant as those near him touch him or the arrangement. All those behind touch the person in front so a chain is created. Then, one by one, all proceed to take some string, called sai sin, from the ceremony's centerpiece, called Bai Si. While wishing good luck, health, etc. you tie the string around someone’s wrist so that by the end of the ceremony, all wrists are bound in friendship and hospitality. There is a definite positive energy created.
Being a Thai ceremony, there is of course a hierarchy of who is closest to the center and who gets the first string tied to their wrist. As a bit of a local celebrity, I am typically in front and most participants want to make sure I feel welcome. I have had the good fortune to be included in five string ceremonies: the Peace Corps welcome dinner, my training host family saying good bye, a Thai dancer welcoming me to my site (who later became my exercise teacher, friend, and all around support system), at a healthy living conference, and today at a meeting for HIV positive patients, a group I will blog about soon. The string bracelets are meant to be kept on for at least 3 days to benefit from the good luck bestowed. Typically they are left on longer and it is a common sight to see people having many on their wrists.
It is a Thai tradition I plan to bring home to the states with me! One of many.

bai si

The ceremony begins

Thank you

The good wishes bestowed on Bobby and me

Sunday, April 24, 2011


I have a house! It was almost derailed by ghosts. But I convinced the locals (mostly my host family) that I was not afraid and I move next weekend.
That is the very short story. After looking at 17 houses (I think that may be a PC record) and losing the one I really liked (something about taxes), I was thrilled to find another I liked. Had a chat with the landlord and he was going to call and let me know. He called and said NO, that a family member was moving in. I was devastated, particularly when they then showed me a garage to live in…
I was pretty sure I was missing something with my lack of language and even more important lack of understanding of the layers of Thai communication. Soooo, I had a chat with my balat and told her I really wanted that house and maybe if I offered to pay more and/or do my own upgrades (water in the kitchen and a western toilet) they would reconsider. Wink, wink, a series of phone calls and I was told he would let me know. I even went toilet shopping that afternoon. As we were running errands, our last stop turned out to be the landlord’s house (I never really know where I am going next). The landlord, his wife and my group (4 of us) had a long excited talk (I quietly listened) and I was pretty sure by the tones and facial expressions, I was not getting the house. Then, my balat looked at me and said the house was mine, original price, and he was doing the upgrades. Go figure! I have no idea what happened.
So I tell my host family. They are happy I will only be 1 block away.
And then it got interesting. They visited my house and it turns out it is haunted and they said that I couldn’t live there. They got the nayok involved and lots of others (having no connection whatsoever to me or my house) and started a campaign against me in that house. The builder of the house did not have it properly blessed, he moved in, and died. I offered to have it blessed or even put a spirit house in front, they were not impressed. My exercise teacher and community leader and new neighbor, came to my rescue. She said the house was fine and she would watch out for me. END OF STORY! I gotta get in before something else happens. Nothing is easy in Thailand!

This will be my kitchen, honest!

Combo Thai-western style bathroom.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Thai names

One of my challenges! Along with the Thai language, remembering Thai names is difficult. The good news is everyone has chuu lens, nicknames, and usually that is the name they go by. Nicknames are typically short, one syllable words of common objects and animals in the community and are given at birth. I have a chart on my desk with the photos and nicknames of people in my office. Examples include rot (car), glaui (banana), gao (9), and mai (means about 5 things including no). In Uthai, where we did PC training, every little boy on my street had Heart as a nickname and yes, they were spoiled!
Last names aren’t used too often and years ago did not exist. As the country became less agrarian and more developed, last names were given to everyone. They are a series of short syllables such as kiatsuphimol, nakruang, and sawatdipanich. First names are just as complicated from my perspective.
My chuu len is doc care – it is a beautiful white flower and can be eaten!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Thai Social Security

As in America, Thailand takes care of its senior citizens, beginning at age 60. Part of the Thai New Year celebration is honoring the seniors. The first SS payment is giving the day before New Year’s along with a gift, this year a water cooler. Local dignitaries honor them and the health volunteers talk about how to stay healthy. At our celebration there was a gal in her 70’s hula hooping, doing tricks!
Financial support (and food) is also provided to all pregnant women, encouraging a healthy pregnancy . The new moms get three months off work. There are 2 pregnant women in my office. They are well cared for and recently one showed me her report from her last visit, in Thai of course, but looked impressive!
Nice system.

My host family grandfather at the New Year's Celebration honoring seniors

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Wai Naam! (Swimming)

Always an adventure in Thailand! I thought I was going swimming with my friend Eid and her 2 kids for a couple of hours on Sunday. Turns out it was a party consisting of Eid’s family (her husband is a policeman) and 4 other policemen and their kids. First we went to the pool, about a half hour drive. We got there, got settled in a thatched roof cabana and 10 minutes later it was decided the pool was too small. So, everyone packed up, loaded the pickups and headed to the river, about half an hour away. Thai kids are soooo patient!
The River Chi is lovely and is the longest river in Thailand. Good news/bad news, I learned after our trip that there are leeches! I am happy to report, none spotted. We spent the day in a thatched roof cabana built over the river and enjoyed the water, the kids, and of course the food!

A relaxing afternoon!

Cabanas on the water, cool breeze, and lots of food!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Songkran – Thai New Year

Songkran festival on April 13 is Maha Songkran Day - the day to mark the end of the old year, April 14 is Wan Nao which is the day after and April 15 is Wan Thaloeng Sok which the New Year begins. Songkran is called the “Water Festival”. Water is believed to flow and wash away all bad omens during this time.
So how that gets translated is a 3 day water fight with the addition of baby powder. Some parts reflect the strong family and Buddhist values of Thailand and some not so much. Of course there are parades through the village and circling the Wat 3 times. Naam homme, water scented with jasmine, is brought to the Wat in every conceivable container. It is poured on all the Buddhist icons as a blessing. The monks line up sitting in chairs with senior citizens doing the same. People go down the line pouring the water on the monks’ hands without saying anything. We then pour it into the hands of the seniors but this time with a wish for good health. Jasmine leis are made (very fun) at home and worn and given as gifts to dignitaries, such as farangs! Lots of music, parades, and dancing. Seven women are chosen to ride on a float representing the 7 daughters of a king long ago. I asked, how are they chosen?, thinking of a contest of sorts. The answer was something along the lines of, I pick you and you and you…too funny. So all that is fun and makes sense. Now for the rest of the story.
As you walk along on the parade route, by standers have a great time throwing water on the walkers/dancers. They squirt water from hoses and super soakers and dumb it from buckets. Not too bad cause it is so hot, but then the baby powder comes out, from what I saw mostly by obnoxiously slightly drunk young men. One in particular took great joy in coming up to me and saying “Culture” as he threw the powder. He was already not my favorite.
Away from the Wat, people are out along the road throwing water at every car, motorcycle, and bicycle going past. It is a crazy holiday. I did a lot of local travel with friends that kept me out of some of these situations. Every village along the way has traffic checks set up to watch for drunk drivers, a big problem during this holiday. Never saw anyone stopped, but I am sure having the police out in force is somewhat of a deterrent.
So in 2 days I attended 3 Wat ceremonies that included all the above. So done with Songkran and I have another day to go!

Thai dancers honoring the New Year

Me with the Nayok and the head monk of the Wat

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Eating Thai Revisited

Ants and eggs

So sometimes not looking just doesn’t work! I had heard about the local delicacies of sticky rice (kaao niao), fermented fish (pla ra), raw beef with blood (larb nua), insects, and spicy green papaya salad (som tam). Som tam is very delicious if you can get it mai pet, but it is typically served so spicy even the Thais cry. The raw beef is about the only dish that the PC doctor says stay away from. It is served frequently in my home and at lunches. It hasn’t been a problem to avoid it. The fermented fish is not my favorite, but mixed with rice isn’t too bad. It has a very strong flavor. Kaao niao is sticky rice which about triples the calories so I tend to avoid. Both kinds of rice are served in my home. Always white rice. I have seen brown rice in the markets in cities, but never seen it served in a home or a restaurant. It will be my choice when I get my own home (some day!!). I thought I was ready for the insects and had convinced myself I could do it. But the time came and well some of them were still alive and they were clearly beetles in one case and red ants with their eggs (makok) in another and I just decided my life in and out of PC would be just fine thank you without insects in my diet. The Thais understand that most people don’t eat bugs and have no problem with me not doing so.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

OTOP Silk/Cotton

Frequently vendors come into the office selling everything from cooked corn on the cob to handmade wooden d├ęcor. Today a special group of older women came in. They are part of the local weavers OTOP group. OTOP is part of Thailand’s sufficiency economy project to encourage local communities to use their local resources and wisdom to make a living. OTOP – One Tambon, One Product, is known throughout Thailand. The government rates the products 1 to 5 stars. 5 stars mean the quality, marketing, and packaging qualifies for export. OTOPs are like co-ops with members who share costs and profits. There is also a basket weavers OTOP in my area that specializes in baskets for kaao-nii-ow (sticky rice), a local favorite. The father of my home stay family is part of the group. He is amazing to watch as he takes a long piece of bamboo and ends up with a basket. I’m attempting to capture each step in pictures, when I finish I will post.
But, the exciting part of this story is that I bought some silk to make a suit for Kristine and Steve’s wedding. It is a golden color, fitting their fall theme, with a pattern for the skirt and solid gold for the jacket. It was quite a scene as many of the staff walked away with all colors of silk and cotton fabric. The local tailors will be busy!

Buying & selling at the office

My fabric

Monday, April 4, 2011

Kruu Rath

First day of tutoring today with my oh so wonderful tutor, Kruu Rath. She has been teaching and tutoring English for 20 years and is a lovely person. Today we worked at my office, but we will also work at her home. She has an outdoor classroom set up next to the lake and a forest of bamboo. I think even on the hottest day there will be a breeze.
After tutoring she and her husband (a Social Studies teacher) took me to the nearest city an hour away. I am beyond excited because I got an air card for my computer. This blog will be my first test. We also visited the stationery store and Tesco Lotus. I loaded up on candy for my class and fruit for my family.
PS Referring back to the blog, The Weekend, Boom showed up tonight at 8:30 unannounced to take me to another meeting. Even I was flabbergasted! I had showered and was knitting Steve’s scarf (finished Thom’s last week Em/Dody) in my PJs. Quick change and off we went to another community meeting where I understood next to nothing and again introduced myself. After an hour, a couple of villagers took pity on me, or maybe also just wanted to leave, and walked me home. Tomorrow, Boom and I are having a meeting with my calendar!!

Boom! She looks so harmless, but maybe there is a reason for that nickname!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Weekend

I was looking forward to my first weekend off really since I have been in Thailand, or so I thought! Saturday was lovely. I took a long bike ride before it got too hot, ran some errands, lunch on my own, a visit to the dalat to bring fruit home to the family, and quick easy conversations with people in the town. Sunday morning, as I was putting on my bike helmet for a repeat performance, Boom from my office arrived to take me to a meeting. No notice, not even anything I missed from not knowing the language, just no notice. I said when, she said right now, I said 5 minutes to change. And off we went to not just one meeting, but two and lunch! On the one hand it is always good to meet new people, on the other; they do see me keep a calendar and those of you who know me know my attachment to my calendar. This first month, I will go everywhere asked, however the second month I will start to set some limits.
You all know the stereotypical small town, where everyone knows your name and your business. That is clearly the case in my town. As Boom and I were driving to our first meeting, she announced that on Saturday I rode my bike out of town, went to the post office, had a phone conversation in the parking lot (a nice chat with Tiney!), ate ice cream, and bought fruit at the dalat! I do stand out, but jeez, the detail was amazing!!

Pictures with the farang are always a priority!