Monday, February 1, 2010

So mountains are mountains are mountains...

...but these mountains have temples where one might expect a ski resort. As we left Bangkok in our double-decker bus, after having to make 4 U-turns and getting pulled over 3 times, we realized more and more that we were in Thailand. So get this: there are these arches just over the highway every few kilometers and flags everywhere with pictures of the king, but they change the pictures every time a member of the royal family comes by. Since the princess was in Laoi province, where we were going, as we got closer to the resort, the pictures were all of her. Could you imagine if your job was to change all the flags on a member of the royal family's route? This country pays so much reverence to their royalty. So we made it to the beautiful resort where we spent a week. We had Thai class every morning, which is so cool- I know all my numbers, how to tell time (which is the so confusing), the words for typical Thai foods, occupations, and family members, as well as basic conversations like "What's your name?" and "How old are you?" I've even managed to turn my trademark "No No," into "Mai Mai." In the afternoon, we usually had some "orientation activities," group bonding-type games to help us work on our group process, a very integral part of our program. We ran into some issues when we spent 10 hours attempting to fit every member of the group through a volleyball net-like structure, and some of us had to tape our boobs down and such in order to get through. However, the discussion that followed brought up a lot of useful points regarding body talk sensitivity and we got a lot closer after it all. On our last day at the resort I was able to go on a hike up a mountain which made my week- I loved seeing all of Thailand's flora and fauna. We saw a huge millipede and something that we're not sure if they were giant caterpillars or moldy tamarinds... Check out the facebook picture and maybe you'll have an opinion on the subject. They cooked us an American bonfire on the last day complete with hot dogs, french fries, beer, and corn on the cob. In addition the resort employees were cooking cow livers and intestines and we spent all night getting to know the cuisine and our new friends. The resort was amazing but we were in for a drastic change when we left for the Baw Kaew village about an hour away. The Baw Kaew villagers were evicted from their land in 1973 because the FIO decided they wanted to use their land to cultivate a huge eucalyptus forest. For these villagers, land is everything, as they support themselves by eating the food they grow and selling it to others. Without land, they have nothing. For 30 years, they were living without means of supporting themselves. However, they got in contact with an NGO who taught them their rights and started helping them fight to get their land back. They set up a protest village, where we stayed for a night. Although many governmental subcommittees have determined that the eucalyptus project should be stopped, nothing has happened so far. The villagers have a court date in February that they are certain they will win, but if not, they will not stop fighting. This was our first human rights lesson for the semester, with many more to come. It was amazing to stay in the humble village, help them build bricks and make clay for the meeting room they are making, and eat their wonderful food "family style." The villagers persistence, support for one another, and willingness to fight is so inspiring. We left Baw Kaew and headed to KKU finally! Of course the first thing I do is accidentally flush a gecko down the toilet - I swear I didn't know it was there until it was gasping for its last breath as I watched it drown (nooo gooood).  After receiving our cell phones, motorcycle helmets!, and learning a bit about how to orient ourselves in this crazy campus/city (it's huge!), we met our roommates. As expected, my fears were met. Tik doesn't speak much english and she is smaller than my suitcase. However, she is so so sweet and we get along really well, so I'm excited to spend time with her this semester. She brought me out to dinner where I had the best Pad Thai ever, and then we went to this agricultural fair, it kind of reminded me of Common Ground... I ate a grasshopper, which was actually really good and salty. My CIEE friends and I went out to bars afterwords and drank Thai whiskey and danced to really Thai music sang by young Thai bands. Today is our first personal day since we've arrived, and I need to do some pretty mundane things like laundry and pharmacy shopping. I think the funniest thing about school so far is the inability of anyone to say my name. Everyone here has a nickname (a chu len) so I guess I'm going to have to find one. They don't have R's so Riss isn't even going to work.... I'm sure I've forgotten a ton trying to fit a week into one blog post, but I hope it holds you over until the next time. More pictures are up, and at some point in the next 24 hours I will learn how to connect my photo albums to this blog. To everyone at home, I miss you a whole lot. It has definitely hit me that I am here for a whole semester. I have loved talking to those of you who I have gotten a chance to call, and I will do my best to contact others. Please keep me updated as much as you want. Anyone abroad, I hope your experiences are amazing, and I would love to hear all about them. Oh btw, my phone number here is country code, 66, then 0878580972.

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