Monday, March 8, 2010

Juxtaposition

So it's taken me a bit of time to write about my second personal day, but before I embark on my next journey to the slums and landfill of Khon Kaen, I wanted to get this out. The day started with my urgent need to get a new camera, so I trekked up to the sixth floor of the Central Plaza, the mall in the city of Khon Kaen. The electronics store was bigger than any I have ever seen, and there were at least 80 cameras for me to choose from, in all forms and colors. I came to a mildly fast decision (faster than usual) and was sat down at the cash register where my purchase was gently taken care of before being escorted to a stand at the front of the store. There, an employee took the camera out of its box, assembled the necessary parts, and made sure it was functioning and that I liked its quality. He went through every button and every step, and I was shocked at the amazing customer service, nevermind by my lack of aversion to it. Most people know that when I step into a store I want to spend as little time and talk to as few people as possible there. Maybe a lesson for American salespersons, maybe not.



Gianna and I then found our way to the Pullman Hotel, a very nice, expensive hotel downtown. There's a rooftop pool, which is the attraction for CIEE students on their personal days. As I walked through the beautiful lobby complete with plants and a fountain toward the glass elevator, I started becoming uneasy. I'm in Thailand to immerse myself in Thai culture and issues of globalization and development, and I'm spending my day paying to swim literally above the people I'm supposed to be learning from and about? Nevermind that I generally despite sitting out in the sun for no reason, as opposed to being active. Granted, I didn't change my mind, although I was compelled to. I sat, very productively, and read my reading packet about the slums that I was going to visit on my next homestay. I wouldn't say I tried not to think about the fact that I was sitting next to, above, within the slums that I was reading about - I was very aware of it. I went to the edge of the pool deck and looked at the slums, and then uneasily sat back down in the pool and continued reading. But I didn't leave.



As my friends got up to leave and return to KKU, I felt very unsatisfied with my day, as I usually do when I am as inactive as I was that day, no matter where I am. Days of sitting always make me uncomfortable and uneasy (I'm working on it, promise). I didn't know where I was going to go, but I had an intense desire to wander the city streets, just make right and left turns as I saw fit. By some twist of fate, the left I decided to take landed me in the slum I was just looking at from above. I looked at the street sign and it was the only one I had recognized in the past six weeks, because I had been reading the name "Theparak" all day long. The compulsion to enter was overwhelming. There were just four kids playing along the street, and I bought a candy for 2B from a man driving a candy cart alongside. I'm not sure I would have known I was in the slums had I not recognized the name, although I knew something was different as soon as I turned. The sounds of the city were completely eliminated as soon as I walked off the MetroPop (the main road in KK). You'd think sound would travel far enough to make it past the first stand, but nothing. I wonder what weird vacuum is responsible for that, because I don't have a clue. I looked up at the huge mall from where I had just acquired a camera, and remembered how many people had been kicked off their land for its construction.
 

In a week, I'm sure I'll inundate you with the details of these issues. I just needed to get this experience off my chest before hand, before my crude feelings are invaded with facts and lose some of their purity. I don't believe that I regret that trip to the castle of a hotel- in order to get an understanding for any issue, you need to get a sense for every player involved. I am excited that I was able to see Thailand, and Khon Kaen especially, as every other American would on vacation or a business trip. Bi-racial children played in the kiddie pool, European families lounged under sun umbrellas, and old white men bought young Thai women drinks at the bar. This is not the experience I am having, but in order to completely immerse yourself in a culture, you need to see it all at some point. I am equally grateful to myself for roaming around the city, landing myself in the slums without the help of my program- I would never have realized how close to home these slum issues really were to residents of KK if I hadn't. Getting more than the progressive, environmental, grassroots side to every story is actually quite difficult on a program like mine, but every opportunity I can take to see the other side, to get a more complete picture, I will seize with great appreciation.

 
the Pullman overlooks the city

 
Walking back to the mall to catch a shuttle home, a train passes the slums. 
Slum villagers are having problems securing rights to their land because development projects of the State Railway of Thailand threatens eviction. More to come on this after my unit.

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