Friday, September 30, 2011

Thai Retirement

Today is the day Thai government workers who are 60 years old must retire. It is called ga-si-en ayut rat-cha-gaan. Government workers pay a tax, like Social Security, so they receive an income when they retire, medical also continues. Some local cities supplement the government retirement, mine does. About 10% of our city budget goes to retirement. The amount retirees receive is a complicated formula based on years worked and salary received. Also, workers can pay extra into the fund. We have 6 people retiring today. The top officials are visiting their offices to thank them for their service. Their offices will have parties for them.
Private sector workers do not get SS or retirement unless they work for a very progressive company, rare. Most Thais are farmers or work in a cash economy – they are vendors at outdoor markets or own a restaurant or work for a small company that pays cash. As they age, most depend on their family for income and housing. As Thai society becomes more western and less village centered, this system is less and less effective.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Boat races

It was Sunday morning; I was enjoying a slow morning, getting some chores done around the house. A few neighbor kids were over coloring and looking at books; very peaceful. And then Eid (I work with Eid) showed up with her family. She invited me to go boating and with her pantomimes it was either canoeing or kayaking. Sounded like an adventure so I said sure, when? Now! So Thai! So I said 5 minutes and quickly got ready.
We drove 45 minutes to the next province and as we approached and I saw the hoards of people I knew I had something wrong. I clearly was not boating. It turned out to be a Long Tail Boat Festival with a snake show, lots of vendors selling stuff and boat races. These festivals are held all over Thailand in September or October when the rivers are full from the rainy season. We watched the snake show for a few minutes, one race for a few seconds and left for lunch which turned out to be 15 minutes away at the house of the girlfriend of one of the guys who went with us. We spent about 4 hours at her house with lots of kids and assorted people and a very long lunch. We took a walk down the street to a neighbor who raises crocodiles for shows and zoos and raises and sells dogs, parrots and porcupines!
We finally left and headed back to the boat races in time to see the winners announced. A typical Thai field trip!

The snake show was a big hit with the cobra eliciting oohs and aahs. Each of those crates had a snake in it.

Each boat represented a different province. They were beautiful boats. These 2 are approaching the finish line.

There were about 100 crocodiles. Who knew there was such a big market.

Baby porcupines are pretty cute!

The jerseys worn by these racers said NO to drugs, alcohol, and smoking.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Youth Day

September 20 is Thai Youth Day. The focus this year was Be Number One. It is a project of the Princess to encourage kids to excel at their passion and avoid smoking, drugs, and alcohol. If you read my Blog, you will not be surprised that the day started with a parade. You will also not be surprised that I didn’t always know exactly what was going on!
The day before Youth Day I was told that there would be a parade and a bike ride to start the event. I was told to be at the high school at 8 a.m. sharp (hmmm…Thais are never anywhere “sharp”). So I arrived at 8 a.m. sharp as the students were arriving. No bikers, no tessabaan officers, no evidence of a parade. One teacher knew nothing and another said everything starts at 9 a.m. So I waited until 8:20, still no one, and called my balat (city manager) thinking maybe I was at the wrong school. No, I am at the right spot and she said, “My officers are not there?” I said no one was there! Finally, about 8:45, people started arriving, but no one on a bike. One of the paraders (a volunteer) said the bike ride was canceled. I called my balat again and she said she didn’t think the bike ride was canceled so no don’t take my bike home. Finally, a few officers arrived on their bikes, funny, because I know that was not their plan. They got a call from the balat saying get to the school, on a bike, Karen is alone! They take care of me!!
We ended up with about 12 riders and as it turns out, the ride should have been canceled. The parade consisted of a police truck clearing the road, the high school marching band, the banner announcing the bike ride and parade, and then the bikes. Do you get the mental picture? How slow this ride was? It was more a bike walk. Following the pitiful bikers were volunteers and then the students.
Once we walked the 2 kilometers to the park the official ceremony opened with all the government officials welcoming each other, giving the long speeches no one listens to, making the proclamations and finally turning it over to the students. It was all theirs at that point and they did a good job MCing and keeping the show on track – even in the rain.
There was a folk music competition, some pretty talented and some not so much. There were skits about not using drugs, alcohol or smoking. There was contemporary singing. There were soccer matches. Lots of youth (defined as high school students) participated and the audience was actually pretty attentive. The day ended with the winners receiving trophies and all performers received kanoms (snacks) from the dignitaries, which of course included their local farang!

The parade begins

The high school marching band

Students made posters on the evils of smoking, drinking, and drugs

My aerobics instructors did a demonstration along with the senior hula hoopers

This student was by far the best folk singer and did not win a trophy, the good looking one who reminded the students of a Korean rock star won

Monday, September 26, 2011

September 26, 2011

I went to the wat this morning, to honor and remember Dougie. I brought a gift in his honor. It is a Thai/Buddhist tradition to honor family who have passed away. They have special days to do so (see 2 posts ago), but I don’t know if they do so on the anniversaries of someone’s death. Being away from family and friends who knew Dougie, I wanted to find a way to mark the day for myself.
It turned out to be the perfect place to reflect on his life, our relationship, our children. It is a beautiful, peaceful setting. There is something serene about making a trip just for this purpose, like visiting his grave and bringing flowers. It is a time you set aside from the typical daily routine to mark something of significance. I think it is an important thing to do. My children, in their own ways, are also marking the day, sharing it with each other and friends and celebrating their dad. I am doing the same with this post.

The wat has several areas where individuals can "make merit" to Buddha, the king and queen, or their ancestors. I like this little area because it is more enclosed than most and just seems cozy, like you are surrounded by positive energy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

English Camp

A PC tradition, I believe worldwide, is to have an English Camp. This is typically a 2 – 3 day affair when several PCVs get together and teach English to students. The goal is for the students to have fun while learning English to motivate them to continue their studies. Lots of games are played as vocabulary is taught – Simon Says, Hokey Pokey, Red Light – Green Light, Musical Chairs variations, etc. The vocabulary at this camp was the human body, fruits and vegetables, greetings and introductions, clothing, and action verbs. The students were from 5 schools all concentrated in the Saraburi Province in Central Thailand and were 10 – 13 years old. We had 5 PCVs. I took a bus 7 hours to get there but I wanted to leave on a Friday afternoon and there was no bus back. I had to go to Bangkok first, the wrong direction, on a 3 hour bus, hang out at the bus station for 3 hours, and then take a 10 hour bus over night up to my site! Traveling in Thailand…always an adventure. It was my first camp and I enjoyed it very much. I met 2 PCVs from Group 122 (the group ahead of mine), Zerina (it was her camp) and Kari and got to work with Dom and Jacob.

Zerina, Dom, Jacob, Kari

Teaching the human body

Receiving a thank you gift from the paw aw (principal) of a towel and 1,000B. The 1,000B is not really payment (PCVs cannot accept payment) but to help cover expenses of coming to the camp, primarily transportation and food (oh, and a little wine!)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Wan Boon Khao Saak

This weekend, neighbors brought me kanoms, sweet desserts wrapped in banana leaves. Not an unusual thing to do. At work this morning (Monday), along with my coffee and water, I was served more kanoms (as pi in the office, the oldest, I get served every morning). Again, nothing unusual. But then the Ron Balat (Assistant City Manager) brought me kanoms (very unusual) and I noticed anyone not in an officer’s uniform was in black and white (except for me who was clueless)! Turns out today was Wan Boon Khao Saak, the day to remember your dead ancestors. Everyone goes to the temple in the morning and brings small items of green food, usually kanoms, and hangs them from trees or places them along the walls. The ancestors are there waiting and you don’t want to make them wait or hurt their feelings, so you do this first thing in the morning.
You can find kanoms any day in the dalat, outdoor market, but it is unusual for everyone to make them on the same day.

The small pyramid shaped ones (one is open)are made from shredded coconut and peanuts and sugar. The small log is made with sticky rice and bananas. For both, the mixture is brought to a boil and simmered and then wrapped in a leaf and then steamed. Aroy mak!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

TC Children’s English Library

First two boxes of books arrived this week! What a joy - for me, for my co-workers, and mostly for the children. Friday night, I cataloged the first 60 books (12% to our goal of 500 books) so Saturday I would be ready for the story time kids to check them out. We did the flannel board story Itsy Bitsy Spider first – we always do one new story. For the second story, they take turns choosing a story. Today, Zaw chose 5 Green and Speckled Frogs (a favorite). Then I showed them the library and explained in my oh so inadequate Thai that this is the new haung sa mut and they could check out the books. Usually one mom stays during story time who speaks English which is very helpful – she wasn’t here today. But…they got it and all nine checked out books. Well hopefully they got it, we’ll see if they come back with a book in hand!
In my mind 2 success stories stand out. Donus, a shy girl of about 9, took her English storybook to school to sing a song for her teacher (5 Little Ducks). Her teacher was astounded! Donus has very little confidence in school, especially so in English. Nont comes to storytime with his older brother and younger and very cute sister. Stuck in the middle (like the Green Kangaroo and KayKay), Nont is rather shy and did not volunteer (not like KayKay!) to help with the stories. In fact, when we played Duck, Duck, Goose after reading that story, he would not be the goose. The last 2 story times he has volunteered to help with the flannel board and did the hand gestures of the stories (Itsy Bitsy Spider today) and when one of the girls suggested we play Duck, Duck, Goose, he enthusiastically participated.
I hope all you book donors are giving yourselves a pat on the back – you are doing good work!!
PS Sunday, the first book came back and she checked out another! We’re on a roll.

A group with their story books. We add to it each week with the new story.

First books checked out!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Water Buffalo

Thais have a special fondness for the water buffalo and Thai folklore is filled with stories about these animals. Considering what an important role they played in the agricultural cultivation of Thailand it is not surprising that the Thais have a special nickname for them, jao-tooy, while the literal word for the animal is quai. You see them everywhere along the side of roads, grazing. I have asked, what are they used for and was told they help the farmers. I have never seen one pull a plow! It seems all farmers use motor powered plows these days. They (the water buffalo) never seem very happy to see me and have a menacing stare, as opposed to the friendlier cows. This mom was not too happy with the attention I was paying to her and her baby. Her final solution was very clear!