Friday, May 21, 2010

The semester in review

So the semester has ended. I'm home trying to unpack and organize, catch up with friends and family, figure out the last details of summer plans, and eat as much cheese and bread as possible. Turmoil in Thailand continues so I am worried about those who are still there, and trying to continue to process with those who are back in the states. The following are just some memories of the semester, anything random that I thought of, so ask me if they seem like an interesting story or add to them if there's something I'm missing:

-       Baw Kaew parade
-       Milk and Boy
-       Lectures
-       Songkrahn – all of it
o      Waking Jenna and Maggie up at 6:30 to go to the landfill
o      Hot monks that speak English
o      Losing my pants
o      Random pick- up trucks
o      Trying to songkrahn jenna in the bathroom of that coffee shop
o      Orange shirts- creeper, spying on Gianna, getting a ride home, and the other guys whose sunglases we stole
o      Cha Bar
-       Outdoors trip with my Na Nong Bong fam
-       Going to the night market a little intoxicated with Gianna that one time
-       Seeing Julia and Munny
-       Red shirts / crazy cab ride to Mahachai with Leslie
-       Maple syrup and pancakes and smores
-       P’fac house party and actually having a college Sunday the next day
-       Swimming in Tamui, going to Laos, evil sister
-       Thai wedding (meh out of control): ABLA
-       Alice and Wonderland and karaoke with the Thai roommates
-       Sunset Bar, Bong Bar
-       Bijal throwing water on Ann
-       Unit fac’ing with Bijal , Maggie, Barrie, and April
-       P’Thoy’s house
-       Buddha mountain
-       “in the mouth”
-       climbing that mountain in Loei
-       the bus ride from BKK to Loei, getting pulled over, making 6 U-Turns, hitting the wires, eating liver
-       getting locked out of the hotel in BKK because Cait was sleeping
-       School Homestay- getting sent to bed at 7 pm, genius girl, terrible breakfasts, not knowing any Thai, going to that park with Charlotte, spilling food my first night there, really amazing fish dinner
-       Loving “Everything” by Michael Buble with Gianna
-       Beer tears and processing with Becky and Gianna
-       Drunk van on the way home from copper mine
-       Eating alone at the slum: P’Maggie and P’La = BFFs
-       Absofuckinglutely single
-       Hotel in Surin
-       Cows crossing the streets always
-       Epic times at that really good restaurant downtown
-       Getting a Tuktuk ride from our Paw in Roi Et, and him calling us dumb farangs or something, going swimming with the buffalos
-       Fruit man exchange
-       Sombaidee bo?
-       Threat of evacuation and evacuation
-       Team Learning Center
o      Monkey wat
o      Aj. Poi getting drunk
o      Tukee song
-       Climate Action Plan Team: study abroad has never seen this much green
o      Taking a nap in order to conduct our experiment
-       day of three exchanges = hell
-       green market
-       Yasothon paw’s crazy sister and creepy brothers
-       Suan Siam, Rad Bar, Funky Villa, Boss Bar
-       Crying for the first time after I quit Lakewood
-       Dropping that 100 baht into the river
-       Aj. Pote- “Get in the van, babe.” “What up, fuckers?”  
-       WICKED
-     Sleeping over in the hospital with Gianna
-    scavenging
-    the cockroaches, deer, crocodiles, and monkeys at Khao Yai
-    Josh's birthday part at Rasi Salai, getting to be BFFs with Aj. Poii 
-    roosters
-    crazy Thai music videos and TV show about the grandma ghost
-    yai's in general
So that's the end of that I guess. Hope you all had a great four months. Thanks to everyone at CIEE, my 30 new friends, and everyone at home for keeping in touch. Until the next adventure. Larissa  

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Overshadowed and overwhelmed

So I just finish two amazing final projects,  have said good-bye to my Rasi Salai friends and family (at which point I practically lost it during our final meeting), and have pretty much finalized plans to head to Khao Yai National Park for the retreat time, since for me, ending my semester hiking in the jungle of Thailand would be much more productive than talking about how much more time I would have rather spent outside doing as opposed to inside talking. (The retreat was amazing I heard, and provided great closure for the students who went, but I was in my own little paradise, and my reflection there was perfect.)

And then a red shirt general gets shot in the head. And then a lot more people are killed and injured, including foreigners and innocent civilians. Trigger reads "indiscriminate bombing" and CIEE Thailand goes into red alert.

The program calls mandatory meetings in order to finalize everyone's plans and requires all of us to evacuate the country as soon as possible. Neither the retreat nor the Khao Yai trip are canceled but program arrangements are made so that we could be evacuated quickly and safely, if necessary.

It became necessary.
I was just thinking that my favorite thing about nature is that it doesn't matter where you are. The jungle has no political boundaries or national agendas. The rainforest was an amazing safe haven from any turmoil we may have left in Khon Kaen or the rest of Thailand. We could hike and camp and not worry that we were in a country whose capital was being called a warzone. Then we got the phone call. Not exactly from the source we expected it to come from (a little irrational decision making there, but it's all good), but eventually we got news that we would be evacuated from the park a day early and brought to the Great Residence Hotel near the airport where our friends would already be waiting after being flown out earlier that morning. No one would be allowed to stay in the country past May 20, and CIEE would reimburse you for any money lost or additional costs due to your changed plans. CIEE staff members would be staying in the hotel with us until every group member was safely on a plane to a different country.

By some miracle, I was one of three (out of 31) students who didn't change any of their flights once this semester. I was lucky that in March and April all flights were booked from BKK to JFK until June 15, so I couldn't change my plans to travel around Thailand after the program. So anyway, with my flight remaining at 11:35 am on May 19 (I am currently sitting on the airplane), I checked into a hotel room with April and Charlotte, and stayed put for two nights.

One by one my classmates left, only a handful staying in Southeast Asia to travel outside of Thailand. It was painful to say goodbye; every time someone left, it felt like I was losing an appendage. But it was also hard to comprehend, since we had thought we were saying good-bye for the last time so many times before. Having lived out of a suitcase for the past three weeks, in case of immediate evacuation, it was hard to believe that I was actually packing for real this time.

Never mind that a whole new dimension had just recently been added to the weight of this program. The country that we had grown to love, where we could speak the language, and share stories with people whose provinces we had been to, was now in political turmoil, a crisis that directly affected many of our host families and friends. We had completely taken over the hotel restaurant, camping out with our computers in order to read the news together and figure out what was going on. It was really strange to be around other foreigners, who had no personal investment in Thailand, and showed no interest in the turmoil surrounding them.

I was seriously upset and pained after every conversation. My heart hurt and I had to leave because I couldn't hear anymore traumatic stories or accounts of smoke, fire, death, and hatred. All I wanted to do was talk to people who had no idea what was going on, people back in the states, but everyone was so concerned for my safety, it was hard to convey deeper emotions. The director of my program is heavily invested in Thai politics, both in a personal and academic sense, and hearing him so upset and talking in such distress, made me feel so much for my new home, Thailand.

Never once was I scared for myself- CIEE took such great care of us, Ajaan Jeab and Ajaan John especially, coordinating flights, rides, rooms, meals, and relieving stress by remaining upbeat. The program was not only concerned for our safety, but our emotional well-being and making sure we would leave the country with closure and reflection from the entire semester. I was never in danger, but my heart was seriously about to break. Not only was I saying goodbye to my newest friends who I have spent every minute of every day for the past 4 months with, from whom I have learned so much, and I've grown to love almost unconditionally, but I had to say goodbye to my new country in a completely new light. The country I arrived in is not the same country I am leaving.

Less than two months ago, I spent a weekend in the middle of the red shirt rally, where signs reading "Non- violence" and "Peace" were posted everywhere. The majority of the protesters thought they were returning the next day, because their leader was currently in negotiations with parliament. I thought it was so cool to be experiencing such a cultural, political event, talking to everyone I saw. Just look back to my previous blog about the rally, and compare the tones. I can't believe where those feelings have come. Negotiations haven't been made since March 30, and non- violence is no longer the mantra. What I thought was such an interesting commentary on Thai politics has become a huge tragedy, dividing "The Land of a Million Smiles" into a million different facets. With no end in sight. Should the fighting stop and the Red Shirts compromise their position and yet again be politically marginalized? Or should the fight continue until all parties are satisfied? Are people really on such different sides from one another or can negotiations be worked out? Who believes what exactly and who exactly is benefiting from this?

The following is really what scares me. I cannot let these past three weeks, and especially five days make me forget the rest of my time in Thailand. Everything I have worked for, every moment I spent with my families, Thai friends, or American companions, is not lost because we had to evacuate the country. Our pass-ons for next semester are still created, and our families are still intact in Isaan. It doesn't worry me that I will not remember the lessons I learned from my first three and a half months in Thailand; I am most concerned that people at home are too worried about my safety, so the political turmoil will overshadow the rest of the semester for those with whom I wish to share stories and lessons of my journey. I don't know how to say enough times that I am safe, but the country of Thailand is not, and that the most important aspects of my semester have nothing to do with politics, but with community, education, self- determination, reciprocity and sustainability (not only in an environmental sense.)

This has been the strangest way to end such a semester, where I have been stretched and molded in ways I never expected. There must have been a time in Thailand where I didn't understand what my program was all about, but I can't remember it. Any uncertainties I had are associated with pre-departure in the states. Now, I'm sitting on the plane, remembering the anxieties I once had about being in Thailand, meeting new people, and getting thrown in to a new educational model, and thinking about the anxieties I now have of things returning to the way they were four months ago. It's really hard for me to separate who I was when I left versus who I am now. I didn't really change fundamentally, but I know that I have subtly adapted some idiosyncrasies as a result of this semester. Will they stay or will they go? Am I even aware of what those adaptions were? I don't have a clue. It's absolutely overwhelming, but reverse culture shock, here I come.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

the beginning of the end

It's been so long, and I appologize, but thing's have been absolutely nuts here. I left you off a few days after the end of my last unit on mining. Since then (not in order), I've created two pretty hefty documents, ate pizza, missed my Ivies skype date, had a Bowdoin alum visit me, visited my Unit 4 dam community and family, and managed to ride out the political commotion to a point where I am confident a trip to Laos is not in my near future.

I leave in 10 days, which is just an absurdly little amount of days. You can almost hear the man counting down the rocket blast-off. We've been given the option to stay from the 15th - 19th for a retreat, or we can be done with the program on the 14th. As valuable as I think the retreat would be, those 4 days are a surprise travel period for me, since I was not able to change my plane ticket later than the 19th. I do have critiques of the program for my own personal interests, but I don't think I'd really want the program to change much. I am so appreciative of the program for whatever crazy contemplative education it was, and I'm glad I experienced it for four months. As challenging and uncomfortable as it may have been for me at some points (really not that often), I would not want to change it to anything more aligned with my learning style or personality. The program has some amazing, but quirky structures, goals, and teaching methods, and although I often challenged them, I think they are all essential to my four months here.

I'm thinking of heading to Khao Yai National Park with some other non- retreaters. It's going to be strange not to end the program with all this reflection that we've focused so heavily on, but I honestly feel I'm in a really great place with the program and my semester, and I would absolutely love to spend my last 4 days in Thailand out in nature.

That being said, I've started processing the fact that I only have 5 days left in Khon Kaen and with some of my best friends. You start thinking, "What have I done this semester? What didn't I do? How did I spend my days, my nights?" Munny came to visit, and I honestly couldn't show her around Khon Kaen or KKU, because we're never here, and when we are we very very rarely leave our little office/ dorm bubble. In two days, she knew more about my university than I did. But would I change any part of the program to give more free time for exploring KKU? Probably not. I'm excited to take the semester as it was and not regret anything I didn't see. Every time you do something, you're not doing a whole billion other things, but it's the experiences you have and the choices you make that are valuable, as opposed to regretting what you missed out on.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Unit 5

So between a wedding, a ton of homework and the need to pack in case we have an immediate, emergency evacuation to Laos, I have yet to find time to write about our final unit in the gold mining communities.

This unit was the right one to close with, because it brought all of our questions of development to a head. Whereas most of the natural things that we have destroyed for our development purposes can be somewhat restored, there is no way to put the top back on a mountain. People in Loei province rely on the mountains as the entirety of their sources of food, water, and livelihood. Without that mountain, people are no longer self-sufficient, must work as lottery sellers, and have to buy all their forms of sustenance.  At the same time, the things that are coming from these mountains, copper, gold, and other minerals and metals, are used in all of our every day products that we consider necessary, such as computers, cell phones, and cars. Even my Na Nong Bong family had two motorcycles, a pick-up truck, a computer with internet, three cell phones, and a digital camera. That's the dilemma that needs some complex solving. Besides reducing personal consumption, I don't really have an answer for you at this point in time.

The issue that is not at all complex and really quite obvious. If you are ruining people's entire livelihoods in order to mine some minerals, you should help them out a little bit. For example, try not to put your chemical tailing pond on top of their groundwater source, so all of their water is contaminated with cyanide and everyone gets seriously ill. Even if you're going to do that, provide people with clean drinking and bathing water so they don't have to pay for really expensive water, when they've already lost their income and their source of food. And then when people go to the city to protest for the water, you shouldn't make promises that you're going to give them some if you aren't planning on it, or just provide it for 2 months and then stop. This is all just mean and unjust.

People who Conserve their Hometown (PWCTH), the group that Na Nong Bong villagers formed to fight against the gold mine has amazing organizing and strategical techniques, and a really strong group of youth who are helping the adults in the communities and the NGOs conduct health research and spread awareness to other youth. So in previous semesters all the CIEE students would stay in PWCTH's strongest, most active community, so that we could get a sense for the activism that is already occurring. However, this time around, we were spread out in 6 different villages, one student per house, so that PWCTH could begin building relationships and spreading awareness with these other villagers that were previously not involved. On our last night in Loei province, we went to a baisee string tying festival. Little did we know it was really just an organizing strategy, bringing all the different villagers together to not only bond over having students stay with them, but to also listen to a very conveniently planned talk from the NGO and health representative. We were straight up used, but it was brilliant. 

So there's a community in which a copper mine is supposed to be built. We had an exchange with the villagers and a tour of the mountain. They've already started organizing and protesting, so that the mine isn't built. They did an interesting thing. In Buddhism, you cannot kill living things. That includes all the trees an animals that you would be blowing up for the creation of the mine. The ultimate sin would be to kill a monk, the most respected and holy men in the Buddhist religion. The villagers have begun ordaining all the trees on the mountain, bringing in an odd number of monks to do the ceremony, and wrapping the traditional orange material that monks wear around the trunks of the tree. If the company still wants to create the mine, they'd have to kill monks, and they would be consequently punished through kamma.
I've had an epiphany about development in an academic sense, in that I've finally found a way to combine environmental studies and psychology. After the last unit, I had to answer a question: "What does development mean to your major?" Well of course, this program, entitled Development and Globalization, has been teaching me about how development relates to Environmental Studies and looking at the pros/ cons of economic, political, and environmental global development. However, although I have learned about all these concepts in ES classes at Bowdoin, the only classes that have actually had the word "development" in the course title have been developmental psych. I know the definition of development is completely different in these two cases, but something is to be said for using the same word in both instances. This program really focuses on the downside of development, how political and economic development can really be harmful for communities who are perfectly happy and capable of being self- sufficient. However, this gets turned on its head once you think about human development. Everyone develops, our brains develop and change constantly, and humanity itself develops and evolves, and this must be taken into consideration when we consider development in terms of more political issues, as well. Human development is not stagnant and our constantly changing. There's a reason we are no longer a hunter and gatherer society and why the Ancient Roman empire fell. No one came down from the heavens and dictated a revolution. Humans changed. Like educational and other institutions change as one transitions from childhood to adulthood, as the human species develops, our politics and economics must develop with us. The global political and economic system needs to strike a balance between keeping up with human development and speeding past it. I don't know exactly what to do with this, or whether research comparing development in these terms has been completed before, or if it is even logical or worthwhile. But I've been searching for my psych/ ES connection all semester, and even if it's a dead end and I don't come back to Bowdoin with a clear research project connecting my two disciplines, I finally found it. I've been reading some crazy crack-pot evolutionary psychology articles and books, and as crazy as they are, I'm beginning to pull out connections between evolution, economics, and development. Maybe this will help us solve issues related to mining, electricity generation, and general consumption.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sawadee Songkran! Len Nam!!

So maybe purposefully, maybe just ironically, immediately following CIEE's water unit is Songkran, the Thai New Year. A celebration of new life, and as a means to relieve everyone of the scorching and mildly unbearable heat of mid- April in Thailand, Songkran is the holiday we all wish we celebrated when we were little. It's a festival of water-- people are either standing on the sides of the streets soaking anyone who drives by with water (sometimes ice cold) or you're in the back of a pick- up truck throwing water at anyone on the sides of the street. I have not been dry for more than 4 hours at a time (the longest I've slept) but I've also managed to keep cool in over 100 degree weather.

Although the Songkran festivities didn't truly start until the 13th, our vacation started on the 11th, so we got a head start. We've explored downtown Khon Kaen, visited communities we've stayed with, and spent all day in the back of a pick- up truck and in different lakes and reservoirs, playing with our landfill families. And now, granted that it's still the 13th, I'm off again.


My last night before I have to get back to reality of school life at KKU. I have just returned from Yasothon, visiting my family from the Agricultural unit. The past 5 days have blurred together into a sort of timewarp that feels like both an eternity and a millisecond of my life. As I try to recount the events of each day to myself, I will do so for you as well.

Saturday, April 10:
- finished classes before break
- program sponsored bowling, with steph and i splitting a turn and failing at complementing each others' bowling skills or lack thereof. there was a point where we went three frames without hitting a single pin between the two of us. but when we were on, we were on, i guess.
-headed out to Rad Bar, 1/3 bar, 1/3 dance floor, 1/3 strip club. Cait's 21st birthday, Jenna obsessed with terrible punk rock singer, and Shayne finding out that we thought she and Miles were dating. Mit, Aj. Dave's daughter hangs out with us. Gianna and Barrie fall asleep on the TukTuk back to KKU.
 Panda's a pro- Girlfriend, not so much

Sunday, April 11:
- a group of us head down town Khon Kaen to get our water throwing started
- walked around and sat at this really cool bakery and cafe (tried to songkran Jenna but could not figure out how to collect water in my hands and turn off the sink at the same time- i was in no way about to waste water letting the sink run as i splashed her)
- found some kids on the street corner and joined in their fun
 some kids we found for our first water throwing fun
- ate salads at central soaking wet (much needed)
- wandered around Khon Kaen looking for the slums we stayed in during Unit 2- made it to Nong Waeng where I stayed. visited Sam's family first, and len nam'ed with her host sister and friends. as soon as we showed up, they switched their music from traditional Isaan to American Pop, including Party in the USA, ironic as we were not in the USA. Chilled with my chillens
 back in Nong Waeng
- made it back down town in some random kid's paw's song taew. on the way back some peeps with amazing aim managed to hit our song taew and every person in it as we flew by
- some went to watch the Thai equivalent of Step It Up 2: The Streets, but I went home to change before coming out again
- went back to change and came out again down town
- Sam, Becky, and I meet Gianna, Ben, and Abe at Cha Bar, our new best friends- confusion ensues regarding whether we can drink our own drinks there, but my ben rai fixes everything in the end- were told to return at 2 pm the next day to really start the Songkran water fun
- get a random ride to UBar from people who figured it'd be easier to drive us than tell us how to get there- thank you
- girls hang out and chat at UBar for a bit, then leave to find the boys. Ben, who's on a "real- life exchange" kick finds some norwegian guy to chat with who is unimpressed that i do research on finnish babies, so i hang out with a 19- year- old from holland who got screwed by the dutch university lottery system so he's just traveling before starting school next semester. we talked politics and before we knew it it was 4:30 am and time to go home. the 5 americans still out managed to pile into a tuktuk and called it a long day.

Monday, April 12:
- CIEE Sustainability meets to further investigate the spreadsheet we will use to create our Climate Action Plan. After getting through all 40+ tabs, we figure out what information we have, what we still need to figure out, and what is irrelevant to our project. We split up some Next Steps, including budget info, gas efficiency, staff commutes and travel, and particular student air travel to and from the program.
- head downtown again. meet up with our new found friends at Cha Bar and splash water over anyone who passes by
 getting ready to soak an innocent couple on a motorcy with a bartender from Cha Bar
- April, Ilse, and I decide to go on a tour of Khon Kaen via back of pick - up truck with some people
 Ilse on the back of a pick- up with a new friend
- after hanging out getting soaked on Cow Neow Road, we realized we were starving and headed to a nice restaurant in our tour guide. i had an amazing curry, but poor April ordered her food four times and never got what she wanted
- although most were exhausted and headed back to KKU after dinner, I stayed out with April, Ben, and Gianna and met a group of Thais who we dubbed "orange shirts." they were super drunk but super fun and actually spoke a lot of english. we talked with them for 2 hours-  some were super nice, but a few were super creepy, especially of course the two guys who decided to talk to me
their shirts say Stop War on the front in English, Love Peace on the back in Thai
- an elephant came by and everyone started running in between his legs
- april and i spied on gianna when she walked to the bathroom with some guy that she was flirting with. completely infantile
- april and i got tired eventually and got a ride home. gianna and ben went to some party at a mansion
- didn't realize european time had switched so i missed my skype date with molly :(

Tuesday, April 13:
- met becky, barrie, april, and gianna at 6:45 am in the lobby of our apartments. i did not let jenna or maggie get away with not going, and gave them a guilty look until they came. appreciated 100%.
- kind of knew how to get to the landfill but not really, so we asked a songtaew driver who agreed to take us all the way there for 30 baht each- head ache saved!
- shuffled to a wat to give tamboon as soon as we got to the landfill. flip flops - fail. tank tops- fail. loose low cut shirts- fail. shorts- fail. eat breakfast- success.
- maggie is openly talking about how hot she thinks one of the monks is, not knowing that he is actually from bangladesh, speaks perfect english, and no thai.
- Meh gives us all new clothes since we were not dressed properly for the amount of wet we were getting
- back of caged pick up truck with 3 or 4 different families heading to the dam behind the wat with  Buddha on top of a mountain that CIEE brought us to months ago
- witnessed one of EGAT's community projects, releasing fish into the water behind a dam via slides
- rented inner tubes. of course dam water is absolutely disgusting, but it was fun to relax and dump people's tubes over so they fall in
 Shompoo and friends play in reservoir
- headed to our next destination, god knows where we were. it was a type of festival, where we ate lunch- there were hundreds, maybe thousands of people eating and playing with water. there was some man made weir and man made lake lined with stones. it's so hard for me to describe, it felt like a water park. hmmm... there was a slanted plane, with these stone structures standing there. water was rushing so intensely, you'd get pushed between stone slabs down to the bottom of the plane. stone lining was so unfortunate for me, i ripped the entire butt out of my pants. crisis. meh had to switch shorts with me, so now i was in a completely new outfit than when i began. meh also told the entire festival that i had a hole in my pants and everyone was laughing at me
- some really drunk guy fell down a slope into the river
- grab some canomes and leave the festival. we head to another wat to give tamboon again, leave incense, and splash some water on the temple. fed some huge, huge catfish
- our landfill families bring us back to KKU
us, our families, and our mode of transportation
- i have become a lobster, and realize that from smiling (and also squinting) I have tan lines from my eye creases
- although exhausted, we manage to muster up the energy to go out downtown for Amy's 21st birthday

Wednesday, April 14:
- 9 am: meet at the office to head back to Yasothon to visit our family there (with April and Bijal - Megan and Becky came too but went to see their family in a different village)
- we all PASSED OUT for the three hour bus ride there
-  upon arriving, Paw, Meh, Im, and Oom were excited to see us. we ate and played with the girls for a little bit, and chatted with Paw. He was impressed with how much our Thai had improved since our last visit, but made fun of me for having lost my voice.
- abla all fit on the back of paw's motorcy and we went on a bai teeow (trip) all over our village. we  spent time with some of paw's friends and family. some were nice, but i wasnt the biggest fan of one of paw's friends who thought that b was a prostitute because she said she was going to work in a hotel in India this summer
- a and b were geening j (eating vegetarian) so all the food with meat in it got put on me. there was this chicken dish that was black and it really looked like just bones with no meat on it. there were a few pieces that had hair on them and i almost vomited into the bowl but managed to keep my cool and just not eat them
- after meeting all of paw's siblings, we returned home. we checked in with the cows and the pigs. we watched paw pick out and kill a chicken for that evening's dinner. he held its beak closed as he cut open its throat and let the blood drip into a bowl. the wings kept flapping because the nerves were still active. he put the chicken in boiling water and picked off all its feathers, chopped it up, and cooked it. fresh chicken. arroi mai? arroi! sep!
- i told meh the story of the piece of chicken with the hair on it and how i really didn't want to eat the chicken's head. she laughed and laughed and told everyone the story of the chicken's hair.
- we were talking about playing with water the next day and paw told us that meh couldn't play with water for some reason we couldn't understand in thai. he asked his daughter for the translation and she said "menstruation." so paw just told us that meh was on her period. tmi much?
- the daughter gave us each a stuffed animal. end story.
- the daughter showed us pictures of her younger sister who is getting married on the 23rd and 24th of this month. the daughter doesn't like her sister's fiance because he's bisexual, we think. he used to date boys and now he dates girls. paw really really wants us to come to the wedding and has the world out to convince ajaan john to let us do so.
- the daughter gave april two dresses that don't fit her.

Thursday, April 15:
- woke up at 7:30 from a really good night's sleep
- met the daughter who is going to get married and her fiance, who looks like worm tail from harry potter, no joke.
- filled up the huge tub for water- killed a baby duck in the process
- managed to get huge tub out to the streets and spent all morning throwing water on anyone who passed
- came back, ate lunch, SEAFOOD (clams and squid!!)
- said bye to meh and paw and headed out on a 6 hour long journey home
- paw didn't want us to get soaked on the motorcy so his friend took us in his pick- up truck to the main city in their subdistrict, then we took a bus to yasothon city, then a bus to khon kaen, ate dinner in khon kaen, and took a taxi home
- people are watching quantum of solace as i type here

I really didn't get one moment's rest over my five day vacation, nor did I travel to any of the places I hoped to. However, I see the sleep in sight tonight and I wouldn't trade any of the time I spent downtown with my CIEE friends or at my families' homes for time away or spent resting. I wish I could take more pictures without fearing for my camera's life, because Songkran is something everyone should experience. I'm sure these stories sound bizarre but the actual experience is indescribable. I could not imagine how much fun it'd be as a small child to just throw water on everyone, but I'm pretty excited to be dry for more than the time I'm sleeping. I say that now, but once 120 degrees starts feeling like 120 degrees because I'm not wet, I'm sure I'll be signing a different song.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Picture yourself in a boat on a reservoir

The Rasi Salai dam is sitting on top of, ruining and flooding 400,000 rai of wetlands. The Rasi Salai dam semi- successfully irrigates water to 10,000 rai of farmland. You can do the math. 

The wetlands were commonly dubbed a "supermarket" by the villagers living in the Rasi district in Sisaket province. They provided food, medicine, income, and livelihood for many communities living near the Mun River. However, the Thai government has this perception on Isaan as being dry, parched, and in need of water. Therefore, they initiated a ton of irrigation projects to help the poor, helpless farmers, who needed the government to help them sustain themselves. Unfortunately, the government did not realize that villagers in Isaan were self-sustainable, and needed nothing less than political intervention. The natural flooding cycles allowed farmers to take advantage of both the wet and dry seasons, and now the wetlands are always wet, stagnant, dirty, and inaccessible. 

Over and over this happens. The Pak Mun dam provides less than half of the electricity it was supposed to. However, villagers and NGOs have been able to community organize and protest against the government to some extent after very long fights. The Pak Mun dam is currently open 8 months of the year instead of 12 and Rasi villagers have received some compensation for lost land. Hua Na villagers have been able to keep the gates of their dam open completely (the dam has never actually been used) until a Social Impacts Analysis and Environmental Impacts Analysis is completed and the dam plans are modified accordingly. The Hua Na and Rasi communities work together to support one another. Rasi is a sort of mentor to Hua Na, so that Hua Na can prevent the harm that occurred in Rasi. In exchange, Hua Na villagers protest with Rasi villagers to show support and solidarity. People from each village set up a protest village together at the Royal Irrigation Department for 189- days in 2009. 

I spent three nights in Ban Puung, with a family, whose Paw was the village leader for the Rasi Salai dam group. He is in charge of bringing back information regarding the dam from meetings either locally or in other districts or Bangkok. I attended a whole village meeting, where some leaders and NGOs spread awareness regarding a group of people who are telling villagers that if they pay 1000 baht, this group will help them in their fight against the use of the dam. Instead, the scammers just take the 1000 baht, give the villagers a white t-shirt, and sayonara. After the whole village meeting, all the leaders get together to evaluate that meeting. The lack of village participation was a concern, and it was suggested that leaders should work to get more people involved and aware. Sounds like group process to me. 

We have already started working on our final project with Rasi, the project I have committed myself to for the last two weeks of our semester. The Rasi and Hua Na communities have received money and land to build a learning center, where they hope to promote awareness about their culture and struggles, and educate visitors and future generations. They hope we can help them come up with a long- term plan  for the Learning Center that incorporates environmental education (love it!), cultural preservation, historical background, environmental restoration, and agriculture. We researched some environmental and cultural LC around the world, and presented the ideas that we thought would best be applied to Rasi.  Now we need to concretely decide where things are going to go, when, and how this project will be completed. I am so excited about this project; I always knew I was going to be interested in water issues, so when we first visited Rasi and became aware of how they could best use our help, it was amazing that  Environmental Education was first on their list. After taking a class on EE at Bowdoin sophomore spring, I have realized the importance of hands- on, take control of your own education, that connects you to your own land and surroundings. I will be applying everything I learned with Kara for this project in the up-coming weeks, so more to come. 

Oh. P.S. got to go on a boat. and I caught an eel. so cool. 

After leaving Rasi, we left for beautiful Tamui village situated on the Mekhong. It was the most beautiful village we have been to yet. The river was clean and clear, and the rocks and sand that lined the shores were undisturbed. Tamui has not yet been affected by a dam, but six dams are planned to be built along the shores of the Mekhong between Thailand and Laos. (Yes, I was across the river from Laos, swam halfway across the Mekhong to Laos, and CIEE took us on a boat trip to Laos, no documentation required...) If these dams are built, this entire beautiful community will be flooded and the villagers would have to move off their land. Since they are all fisherman, continuing their livelihoods would be an impossibility. 

Even though the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand has no plans to build any more hydropower dams such as the one that would affect Tamui, the Thai- Italy Comany (a huge transnational corporation) got the Laos and Thai government to sign a secret contract allowing the construction of the dam. Who signed this contract? The Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs; seems a bit out of his area, no? The Thai- Italy Company was offering villagers 5M baht to sign a petition to allow the dam to be constructed; of course to be paid afterwards (so probably not at all). They bought the headman of the village over with 20M baht. 

Dams are being developed in China, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma, and Thailand as a part of the KhongChiMun project (the Mekhong, Chi, and Mun rivers are the three major rivers that run through that area.) These dams will attempt to divert water from the Mekhong in China to the Chi and the Mun and their tributaries. However, water scarcity is going to be a major problem. If all the water is blocked near the top of the river, no one is going to be able to get water downstream. Since China is the most powerful, developed country and at the head of the Mekhong, it will benefit much more than any of the other poorer, down stream countries.

I really connected to this unit above any other. Water has always been so important to me, just in terms of recreational uses between swimming, kayaking, canoeing. In addition, Maine runs on 40% hydropower, which I always believed was a better alternative than coal- powered plants. I always knew the environmental effects of dams, but never the community effects, maybe because in Maine people have been living with dams for 100-200 years that those impacts have been mitigated by now. I called Eileen, the director of Bowdoin's ES program for a completely different purpose, but she informed be of a project that Bowdoin and two other Maine universities are getting starting. It works with communities who are going to be affected by dam decommissioning and river restoration. I can not wait to get started. Now that I've worked with communities who have been negatively impacted by river work in their homes, its going to be interesting to see what issues may arise surrounding such positive work. 

The difference in the water in Rasi Salai and Tamui was stark and undeniable. The Mun river was filthy, and there was a layer of boiling hot water and really cold water underneath, because the water was so stagnant and unmoving. The Mekhong was clear, cool, healthy, and you could find multiple varieties of fish swimming around. Although dams upstream have already impacted the river, the current state is far better than the Mun reservoir. 

Water and the things that live in it are our most sacred resources. People need water, the earth needs water, and making clean water inaccessible or expensive is a human rights violation and murder. 

Monday, March 29, 2010

Red in the Land: Sua Si Dang

"Have fun in Bangkok. Be safe and do not go to a red shirt protest. PLEASE," Mike and Miles both warned at some point before Leslie and I headed off on an overnight bus from Khon Kaen to Thailand's capital city. However, upon arriving at my hostel a bus and three- hour taxi ride later, I realized the impossibility of their urges. Niras Bankoc sat behind the gates that closed off the protest area from cars and other unauthorized vehicles. I was living about twenty steps away from the hustle and bustle of the protest at the National Stadium and Democracy Monument, and it was impossible to get a taxi from one side of town to my hostel without getting dropped off on Khao San Road and walking the length of the rally. 

Before moving on, I should probably give you background on the political situation so you have some context for what this rally entails. Firstly, since 1932, Thailand has witnessed 11 successful coups and 18 new constitutions, so political upheaval is not rare and the king actually approves of every coup before it occurs. Come 2000, or 2543 according to the Thai calender, a coup brought in a new Prime Minister, Thaksin Chinnovata, the first PM to ever serve a full term in Thailand. Thaksin concentrated his governance of alleviating rural poverty, by administering a universal health care program and a drug suppression scheme.  However, his government was also highly criticized of corruption, authoritarianism, treason, tax evasion, and many human rights violations. Thaksin's government was overthrown in 2006 in a bloodless coup and consequently accused of conflict of interests. The People's Alliance for Democracy, "Yellow Shirts", mostly composed of the middle class, military representatives, and Thailand's bourgeois, emerged first out of the Thaksin controversy, protesting his rule and attempting to upseat him. However, a group of Thailand's poor, mostly farmers and villagers from Isaan, the Northeast region of Thailand, where our program does all of our work, called The United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, "Red Shirts," soon followed. They perceived the yellows as anti- poor and fought for Thaksin's amnesty from the charges against him. These groups have been in continuous conflict with one another, and currently, the "Reds" are conducting a  non-violent protest in Bangkok in hope of gaining a new election. They believe that true democracy was lost after Thaksin's rule and that the middle class bourgeois is not attuned to the demands of the entire country. 

Ajaan Dave taught our CIEE group about these recent political happenings back in February as a part of our background lecture series, and since, we have been reading about Thaksin's latest trial and the current Red Shirt rally in Bangkok through news sources such as the New York Times. However, many of us felt disconnected, as we were reading about the rally as anyone back home would. Even though our program has no emphasis on politics, it was strange that we were watching caravans of people dressed in red pass through Khon Kaen, leaving Isaan to flood the streets of Bangkok, without a mention. Therefore, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited when I realized the location of my hostel. 

There was red everywhere. On the streets, on the cars, on the motorcycles, at the temples; everywhere I went, there was someone who made the trek from their home province to Bangkok in order to show their support of Thaksin and demand a truly democratic government. Some street vendors, security guards, and taxi and tuktuk drivers, who had previously moved to Bangkok due to increased urban migration and fled the poverty of Isaan in order to attempt to make more money in the city, had now reunited with friends, family, and the like- minded and displayed their political tendencies through their daily work.

Understanding nothing about the American government except for the fact that we pride ourselves on democracy and recently managed to elect Barack Obama, the "Reds" I met were overly receptive to my presence, nevermind when I threw out a "Sawadika" ("Hello") or even better, "Sawadija," using the polite ending from the Isaan language, as opposed to Thai. Many asked where I came from, and when my response included that I was studying in Khon Kaen, I was immediately considered a friend. I asked what province they came from, and was often able to share stories of people I met and villages I stayed in Surin, Roi Et, Srisaket, and Yasothon.

I, of course, have no Thai political tendencies. I have nowhere near enough personal investment or familiarity with the issues to come close to siding with one extreme or another of this debate.  Had it been a peaceful yellow shirt protest, I probably would have addressed the protesters, asking them about the purpose of their rally, just as I did the reds. However, I could not guarantee that I would have been able to make the connections that I did at this protest, simply due to geographical location of my semester's studies.

Our group of 31 has recently been addressing issues of feeling un-immersed.  Although CIEE as a program is fully invested in the communities that we visit,  our time with our families as individuals is so short and we can't decide which Mae and Paw we feel most connected to or which community we'd like to help through our final projects. Additionally, at KKU, we sometimes spend entire days in a room with each other talking about ourselves as a group, when we could be getting to know local Thai's or exploring Khon Kaen. However, at the rally this weekend, in a completely different region of Thailand, I felt equally immersed in Isaan culture as I had all semester. Although the families I have stayed with may or may not have identified with being a red shirt or benefiting from Thaksin's rule, when I woke up to man's voice over a loudspeaker blasting "Pinong Chao Na" ("Brother and sister farmers") through my hostel window, I felt at home again. Granted, it wasn't exactly the sound of roosters, but all it took was a short trip to Bangkok to gain yet another perspective on life in Thailand's Northeast. 

How have you felt immersed throughout your study abroad program or culture at home? Do you think it's important to immerse yourself in current events of the country in which you are studying (even in the US) despite the focus of your studies or your own political beliefs, even if that requires putting yourself mid- political protest?

Most recent update of Red Shirt protest (30.3.10):
Original article on front page of NYT (14.3.10):

 Red shirts rallying at the National Stadium. Despite political tensions, everyone loves the king.

How red can you go?

 Reds and non-reds pray together at the Golden Mount Wat

 An array of red paraphanalia for one to choose from to show their support

 A red security guard at the gates near my hostel

If Thais love nothing else, it's dancing and music. Leslie and I with a Red Shirt woman at a concert at the National Stadium. 

The Democracy Monument. Earlier that day, the middle part was stone, not covered in red cloth. 

Monday, March 22, 2010

a small crisis of psychology conscious

So I was talking to my small WWA group after Unit 2, going off on my typical rant regarding the impossibility and non- necessity of building consensus amongst a group of 31 individuals and how we should not be suppressing individuality because 29 or 30 of us agree, so we might as well make that person or two people negotiate and cooperate for the sake of all of our sanity. I was saying how I think it's fine that one or two people have their own opinions and the group can work well with those varied views. 

This is where I started doubting my entire college career. If I am such an individualist, why do I love to study psychology, where we work to group people into categories and classify and describe people as if they're all the same based on certain characteristics? 

That lasted me an few mildly sleepless nights, or sleepful, but where I just dreamt of psychology backfires (analyze that, Freud) until I realized the beauty of psychology over dinner a few evenings later. I mean we're trying to classify people, but if it's done right, psychology is presenting theories that unify humans despite individual differences. If sampling is truly random and representative, individual differences, although endlessly important, will pale in comparison to what we can determine about the human race, as well as different groups within our species. Individuals can flourish within the framework of humanity. 

This was confirmed three-fold over my short trip for Unit 3, from which I just returned. These examples probably don't seem very direct to you, but I'm sure you know how my mind works in some pretty stretchy ways:

For just one night, I went to visit with Rasi Salai dam community to discuss possible next steps for project period for their community. A dam was built in Rasi Salai that is pretty useless - 400,000 rai of wetlands were flooded and destroyed for 10,000 rai of land to benefit from an irrigation system- and the villagers are trying to preserve their community, as well as fight for rights and compensation. we will be returning to work with them next unit, so more to come on their issues. (bee tee dubs, we stayed in a hotel because they couldn't accommodate us for a night or i don't really know, but we're talking continental breakfasts with eggs, toast, croissants and cereal, but a bummer that we didn't get to connect to a family). The villagers are interested in developing a Learning Center with CIEE students- they want to include spaces for agricultural experimentation, a nature walk/ description of local flora and fauna,  demonstrations of local crafts, skills, and traditions, a children's section, and education regarding the area's history, struggles, and legal rights. Hello, CMEE/ Junior Ranger Programs/ Carrabassett Children's Museum? This concept of Environmental Education, which I have now experienced in many capacities within the US, Canada, Costa Rica, and now Thailand, has somehow infiltrated beyond any international borders, and has seemed equally important to people who have never met or discussed any of these theories, and people who have most definitely not read the literature that formal educators may have. What is it in our human nature that makes these issues of preserving local history, tradition, and nature important? It may seem basic and obvious, but when you really think about it, culture and its preservation is an international human phenomenon, that other species really may not have and experience as universally. 

Throughout my journey, I read a book called The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. True story, autobiography. William grows up in a poor farming village in Malawi, with no electricity, running water, and barely enough money to send him to school. When famine hits the country and the government does not respond properly, William must drop out of school because of fees and he must work on his family's farm. (sound familiar? sounds a bit like my last post regarding education in Thai landfills and slums...) Here's the kicker- what does William do once the famine has receded? Instead of getting involved in crime, drinking, and accepting his impoverished fate, he spends all day in a library teaching himself English, reading books mostly about science and electricity, and builds his family a windmill to generate power to provide electricity. Eventually, people in the international innovation community find out about his project, and William is provided with a higher education and the financial support to provide electricity and irrigation to his entire town. Sorry for ruining the book, but you really should all read it, because you need to experience the story for yourself. My point here is raw intelligence. No education after primary school, no opportunities or awareness of a life beyond poverty and farming, mid- famine ----> self- taught electricity lessons? windmill? There is some human capacity for us to acquire knowledge despite the circumstances in which we were born and the opportunities with which we were provided. Some of us have more of this capacity than others, and much more importantly, some of us have a higher motivation to promote this capacity than others. Whether or not we have the opportunity to attend school, the motivation to learn is going to play a role in shaping our future. What else could you say kept William in the library and fighting for his education other than a raw desire? His parents, although concerned, were not able to provide him with the education he wanted. His government, although able, were not concerned with providing him with education. I have a strong feeling that motivation is genetically- determined, and can be tampered with within environments. I remember having this hunch during Psych320 last semester, so maybe it's true. The nature/nurture debate can never be solved, I know, I know, but I think, because of examples such as this, raw motivation, desire, and intelligence may be leaning toward the side of nature. Nature vs. nurture is human psychology. 

Lastly, I've determined NO ONE can escape the basic psychology of the acculturation curve. Like any reaction range, you can either be mildly affected or you can get dominated by it, but I have just witnessed the accuracy of that specific psychological theory. As prepared as we were for the doom of day 45, as hard as we worked to avoid it's harm, day 45-60, pretty much on the dot, were just a wee bit harder than day 1-45 and day 60 on. Imagine 31 people just walking along on flat ground for 45 days, and all of a sudden they reach a small depression in the earth and walk along lower ground for 15 days before rising back to where they began. We all became snippier, more skeptical, harsher, more nitpicky, and quickly divided into smaller groups of friends in order to vent and complain. Just as everything was bubbling ready to pop into mass chaos comes a set of personal days, a one-night trip, and day 60, and things seem to be back to normal if not better. Our surroundings are not nearly as foreign and we've learned to work well with each others' differences as opposed to fighting against them. We've become much more understanding of how one another processes information, and the benefits of our program. Anyway, what happened doesn't matter; the fact that it happened to all of us, and Molly in Spain and Morgan in Namibia- psychology.