Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Prodigal Son Returns

I know that it has been a while since I posted, but I was busy with school work and attempting to keep a journal about some of my experiences. It seems that you can only write about so many things without becoming tired of them.

I am currently sitting in Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, attempting to while away another...6 hours while waiting for the Delta Airlines counter to open up at 2 a.m. (my time). I have been here since around noon today, which means about 8 hours straight at this point. It is a rather disappointing airport from the standpoint of a traveler who wishes to stay here. There are no comfortable seats, wifi is a little sketchy, and the selection of restaurants is lacking. There are also no electrical plugs that I have found yet, and no lounge where a weary traveler could close his eyes for a few minutes in peace and quiet. Then again, what's another 6 hours when I've already killed 8 here?

With the program done, I can reflect on my experiences. It was a good program, and I made some good friends, but I am ready to return home to my family. Two months doesn't seem like so long until you live it. On a similar note, i am not looking forward to living Sunday twice. I like to live my days in succession, I'll thank you very much.

This is probably my last blog post from Thailand, since my battery won't last too terribly much longer, and I should probably attempt to find food. I will see you all soon enough.

UPDATE: I'm in the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport and my flight information has changed. It is now DL 2735 not whatever number I told you whenever that was.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Update for another week

It seems that another week has slipped by in this land of strange time. Time is different when I travel. I don't think that the countries that I have visited have their own subjective times. Time, after all, is nearly immutable and makes fools of us all. I have a full stomach and a small glass of scotch, so later on I will probably wax philosophic. (That's actually a word. Hm.)

The past week dragged by, but has flown by. As I said, time gets strange when traveling. The highlight of the school week was the mini-presentation that we had to give on Friday morning. It wasn't too bad, but now I need to focus on the larger presentation which comes at the end of the program. While the one last Friday was 10 minutes, this one will be 15 minutes, 50% longer. However, it's still not very long. From the way Jeff presented it, it seemed like a bigger deal. Maybe it was back when he attended the program.

Saturday was a very dull day. I caught up on reading and did some homework, not really going anywhere except out to eat. Paula, Peter, and I ate a little Japanese style restaurant not too far from the entrance to our soi. It was good, but apparently ramen here just upsets my stomach. On three different occasions I've had ramen and then later had an upset stomach. Oh well.

Sunday, a group of us took a rot daeng to Doi Intanon, about an hour and a half away. The driver is Hmong, and since one of our students is also Hmong, they share a bond. Her husband is also here, and he and the driver share the same last name, which means that they are practically family, in Hmong thinking.

Doi Intanon is the highest point in Thailand, and it is absolutely beautiful. When we were there it was very foggy and misty. I have lots of pictures from the day that I will share when I get home.

One thing, though. The price discrepancy between the price for foreigners and Thais is, quite frankly, ridiculous. The price for a Thai citizen is Bt40, but the price for a foreigner is Bt200. Luckily since I was a student, I got the reduced rate of Bt100, but still. And here's the rub: most foreigners don't know they're getting charged 5 times the price for Thais because it's written in Thai. It's not just this park, either. Paula said that when she and her boyfriend, Peter, went to the zoo, the price for foreigners was considerably more than that of the price for Thais. She also said that it was actually written out in Thai, numbers were not used. So it was something along the lines of this:
Thai Citizens: One hundred Baht
Foreigners: Bt500
Oh, Thailand.

On a more positive note, I've decided to get a tailored suit while I'm here. It will be about half or a third of the cost it would be in the states for just a suit, without tailoring. Which is pretty fantastic, I have to say. Soon, I will finally realize my dream of a linen summer suit. Things are coming up Ike.

Today was very hot. Possibly one of the hottest days since we've been here. The sun was out, which makes it infinitely worse. The sun is the enemy here. Sunny days are nice sometimes, but not when they make you drip sweat sitting in the shade (it happens.)

I'm pretty excited to come home, I will be honest. I want to be around my family, my friends and my girlfriend.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Actual School trip and others.

So I think that after my day of (sort of) rest, I should be able to write coherently and without excessive detail, which I think bogs down any writer from time to time.

There has not been a whole lot happening in my world apart from the usual routine since my July 4 post. I am getting to the point where I would like to come home, now, though, please. I miss my family and friends, and temperatures that drop below 75.

Friday was the beginning of Buddhist Lent, so we had the day off. This meant that we were able to leave nice and early for our school trip to Lampang, Sukhothai and Phitsanulok.
The first stop was Lampang and a temple that had been standing there for around 700 years. It was left alone by the Burmese when they sacked numerous places because it was off the beaten track for those invasions. It was a very pretty temple, with a very pretty stupa. We had an overly long history lesson in a hot, stuffy, temple museum, and wandered a bit more before boarding the bus to go to Sukhothai.

The problem was that our driver had little to no idea where he was going. We took a route that we should not have been on. It was two-lane jungle roads that were under construction (which meant no bridges at some points. It was really sketchy.) that we should not have been on.

However, we eventually made it to Sukhothai, but we were in the wrong place. That meant that we did Saturday's activity of riding bikes around Sukhothai on Friday after traveling all day. I was tired and cranky, but I did the best I could. I've started to understand that particular phrase is a very useful one. You do the best you can with what you have. Life gave me 90 degree heat and humidity and a bicycle, so I made sweat. Lots and lots of sweat. It was really disgusting actually. It was like when a really fat person eats. It was just pouring off me. We eventually made it to a nice hotel, where we swam and went to bed.

There were lots of ruins and pretty pictures, far too many to post on here, so you'll just have to wait to see them until I return.

It seems that every trip to a foreign country has at least one trip where you see too many of one thing to really care any more. This was that trip and the things were ruins, temples, and ruined temples.

Saturday dawned cloudy (thankfully, it keeps the heat down) and we had breakfast at the hotel before boarding the buss and going to a World Heritage site. More ruins, more temples. It was interesting, but boring at the same time. We tromped around for a bit and got back on the bus to go to Phitsanulok.

At Phitsanulok, we saw another temple (surprise!) This one had a really pretty Buddha in it. We had some time after that to wander around before boarding the bus to go to our hotel. We messed around until it was time for bed, then went to sleep.

Sunday was a museum of Thai folk art followed by bus until we got back to Chiang Mai. Since then, I have been doing homework, posting photos and trying to rest from the whirlwind trip.

This morning I started my essays for my application to the Fulbright Scholarship. I figure I'm a pretty strong contender, so I might as well apply. If I get it, great! If not, that's fine, too.

I realized that I titled this post "and others" when what I want to write about is something that I can't say here in Thailand. We'll just have to see how things shake out tomorrow.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

School trip

Super tired right now. I can't even really think of posting an entry until tomorrow. It was long and hot.

Monday, July 4, 2011

City Tour and Independence Day

Our city tour was on Saturday. It was a fun time, but also a long time. We started the day around 9 and were moving until 4:30. Also: I forgot my camera because I'm a dope. So no pictures. However, others took pictures, so I'll just mooch off them.

Our first stop on the tour was the ancient part of the city which dates back over 700 years. I'm not going to get too much into the history on here because the Wikipedia article can probably explain the whole situation better than I can (You're going to want the "Lanna Kingdom"). Regardless, in 1296 the then-King of Chiang Mai moved the city from the old location to its current location because of a problem with chronic flooding.

In the ancient city we saw the Lanna version of a Buddhist Stupa, which is in a pyramid style, which is different from the later Sri Lankan style which is characterized by the fact that it looks like it could be in Sri Lanka (It's rounder). We also took a small tour truck several kilometers down the road to look at several ancient temples which had been unearthed during routine farm work. Since we don't know the actual name of the temples they have been named after the people who discovered them and who own the land that they rest on. Interesting note: a Thai temple isn't considered an actual temple unless it has 5 things. Namely: a place for the monks to sleep, a sanctuary for the monks, a place for worship for everyone, a stupa, and a Buddha image. There, you learned something in spite of yourselves today. (I'm talking to you, Becky.)

This ate up the majority of the morning, and so we climbed back into the van and drove through Chiang Mai to the Empress Hotel, where we were to have lunch at an all-you-can-eat buffet that had a number of tasty dishes from several different cuisine traditions. Incidentally, the Empress is a very nice looking hotel and the room rates seem very reasonable. We met the owner before attending the buffet and he seems to be a very happy man. For those interested in ever staying at this particular hotel, rates and lists of amenities can be found here.

After lunch we traveled the traffic-packed streets of Chiang Mai to the Chiang Mai museum. It is what most museums are, rather dry. Our guide was a very nice young Thai girl nicknamed "Mouse" (in Thai), and the Ajaan that had been showing us around both explained much of the information in the museum. It covered the history of the region from pre-history to the present. There was another floor that we didn't get to because of time constraints, but it is what it is.

While at the museum, we ran into a very famous Ajaan who is on the faculty at Chiang Mai University. He invited us to watch a ceremony at a nearby hotel. It was a ceremony of calling in a spirit, and it involved drinking liquor, dancing, and mock hunting.

After this, we returned to our guest house and spent the rest of the evening in relative quiet.

Sunday was devoted pretty much exclusively to homework and talking to family.

Which brings us to...

Today is the 4th of July, which means it's Independence Day back home in America. This is the first time I have been out of the country for this particular celebration, and it has caused me to think about how I relate to my home country.

For much of my teenage and college career, my relationship with America was a stormy one. It didn't help that our President got us into two wars, plundered our education system, and allowed corporations to run amok, eventually ruining our country's economy. During this period, I hated my country. I wanted to live anywhere else. I just wanted to get away from the crapshack our nation was becoming.

Now, however, I really do love America. Years ago, during my anti-America/Patriotism/etc. phase, I read Al Franken's book Rush Limbaugh is a Big, Fat Liar (1. it's a play on how Rush always uses ad hominem attacks and 2. he kind of is, guys). Although I'm not sure how much of it is actually true/applicable (I've since learned to take everything anyone says about this with a grain of salt) one thing did ring true. He said that, yes, patriotism and nationalism share many similarities, but the difference is patriots love their country like adults love, while nationalists love their country like children love their parents when they're very young. What does he mean? When you were a kid, could your parent do anything wrong? Ideally not. I realize in this day and age that it's not entirely a blanket statement, but bear with me, people. When I was a kid, my parents could do no wrong (except vegetables. Oh, and not enough ice cream), I wanted to be exactly like my dad and everything was sunshine and rainbows. However, adults recognize that no one is perfect. People, and countries, can have flaws, but we love them anyway. And, over time, with help from everyone, we can work to shore up and polish out those flaws. To make an overly long explanation short. America is great. Not perfect, not by any stretch. There are so many things that mar her beauty, rampant poverty while the rich have enough wealth to make Solomon blush, environmental issues that a quick fix can't solve, and I could go on and on, but I won't. Despite all these things, I still love living in America. It's a great place to raise kids (It's a damned sight better than Mars. Mars is cold as hell.)

What happened, then, to change my mind? I'm not sure. Perhaps it was a combination of growing out of adolescent rebellion and living in a foreign country that instilled this in me. Regardless, I don't know if I'll ever feel truly at home outside of the U.S. Of course, it doesn't help that I have lived in countries where I stick out like a sore thumb, but I digress.

There are those that pooh-pooh Independence Day, but I love it, now. Independence Day picnics, fireworks, all the things that are America are Independence day. Community, love, food, laughter, and happiness. At least to me. You can take whatever you want from Independence Day, that's your right. That's one of the things about Independence Day, you have the freedom to not celebrate it.

Did I have a point in there somewhere or was I just rambling? I don't know. It feels good to say that stuff, though. It feels good to say something else, too. This 4th of July, July 4, 2011, when our country is more fractured that it has been in many years, put aside politics and work to create a better country. One where babies like the one my sister is having can grow up and not have to worry, and have the freedom to live their lives. A place eventual grandchildren can be proud of.

I'm not going to sign this one with "God Bless America" as one would expect of a post all about patriotism and all that jazz because I think that 1. If there was a God, he should bless everyone, not just one country and 2. I don't think a belief in God is necessary to be an American. Who cares what you do or don't believe in? Therefore, I will use a far more ancient blessing of a people far wiser than I,

Live long and prosper.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Warning: Poop Jokes ahead

Let's talk about bowel movements.

Ok, now that I have your attention and you hopefully have taken some aspirin for your whiplash, let's seriously talk about bowel movements.

"How low-brow!" You say, "I never thought such a fine, upstanding young man would need to stoop so low to get readers."

Well, yes and no. Seriously though, the Ajaans ask if we have diarrhea with the glibness and flippancy that we would ask someone if they had the time. It's remarkable. I understand that they're concerned about our health, (Believe me, no one is more concerned about his health than me. I hate getting sick.) but man, it whips your head around fast enough that you can hear the crack.

Most of the time, the days pass slowly, but the weeks fly by. Already I'm 25% through my course of study here, while it seems like I just got here. I did, but never mind that. It's only been 11 days since I stepped off the plane in Bangkok, but it feels like I've been here forever.

Yesterday was very, very long. It was the first of our activities: going to the market. Not just any market, either, no, it was a huge market. It had three floors and stalls spread throughout several surrounding streets. It was rather confusing, to say the least. However, I bought an outfit for Bethany’s little boy for US$5 (150 Baht). It’s a little outfit that is traditional among the hill tribes in the surrounding countryside. I hope it will fit him. I have resisted buying a lot of things because I’m always afraid that the vendor will try to fleece me. This, however, seemed like a good deal.

Back in the winter when I had an independent study with Dr. Collins, she lent me a documentary called “Buddha’s Lost Children.” It’s about an abbot in the woods somewhere near Chiang Mai at a temple called Temple of the Golden Horse. I would like to be able to visit it, and I hope that it’s feasible. I’ll ask the Ajaans about it.

Not too much happens on a day to day basis. (See previous post) Therefore, there isn’t a whole lot to tell you guys right now. Look for a big update on my Sunday (your Saturday) because we’re going to tour around Chiang Mai and see the sights.

Miss you all.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

It's been a couple of days since the marathon blog post, so I figure it's about time for another one.

Things are starting to settle into a routine. A routine filled with sweat, heat and culture shock. The culture shock isn't so bad yet, actually. I've only been here a few days, I guess, though it seems like an eternity. I suppose that feeling is compounded by the fact that each day of class is about a week back home, because the entire program is about a year's worth of Thai.

These past few mornings I've woken up around 6:30 and skyped Kelli before taking my first shower of the day and sterilizing my water bottle. I've been drinking between a liter and two liters of water a day, and only eating a couple of times. Yesterday was the first time for a full three meals. More on that later, though.

After first shower, I get dressed and head to campus with the other people who live in the same guest house. We normally stop and get food either on the way, or in the canteen on campus that's not far from our classroom building. I try to eat something different everyday. Class lasts from 9 to noon and is divided into three hours, each with a different teacher. After noon most days we're free. The exception is Wednesday. On Wednesday afternoons we have an activity: going to a temple, going to a market, etc. Yesterday we didn't have one, so it was pretty quiet. I mostly did homework and chatted with friends.

Around 7 yesterday evening I met some friends and we went to a restaurant called "So Lao" which serves Lao and Issan food. The food was good, and I would like to go back, it's just that two of the members were really loud and obnoxious. Paula and I decided we weren't going to go out with them again. It's for the best.

This afternoon I met with my Advisor, she's supposed to help me learn Thai more effectively, in addition to helping me with my final presentation.

This heat is really taking it out of me. Tomorrow is supposed to be hot again, but then it should drop to around 82 and hang in the 80's for a little while.