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.