Monday, August 20, 2007

New Address and Phone Number

Well a few things have changed in my life since I moved "on top of the mountain" as my Thai friends fondly like to call it. Given that there is limited cell phone reception I had to change companies and therefore I have a new number. My number is now 0850341275. Once again, if you're calling from the States I think you may need to drop the 0 and the country code is 66. My new address will be:

P.O. Box 381
Chiang Mai 50000

This is a bit simpler than the last one. I hope to hear from whoever has been brave enough to continue reading my blog!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

My Village!

I get to watch this nearly every night. My life is not bad!

Just another one of my mountain roads that I bike on everyday.
A Buddhist shrine on the top of the mountain near my house.
A view from the mountain which is literally out my front door.

Yes, the insects are supersized in Thailand. This moth was larger than most small birds.

Me doing the dirty work with the SAO staff and some villagers

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Huck Finn Thai Style

The other day I had my first adventure with some of the local kids. It was a grey rainy day and I had decided that venturing out of the house would take a whole lot of convincing. I decided to go to the SAO office and type some emails and along the way I was soon accompanied by my two new friends. While I used the internet they made the most of the time by seeing who could ride my bike the best. Given that they were small twelve year olds, my quite large bike was somewhat of a challenge for them. Soon they had overcome the difficulties and were inside urging me to go outside and watch them ride my bike. I went and watched for a little while and then went back to my emailing. Soon they were in the office asking if I wanted to go on a “by-teeow,” in other words a little adventure (literally translated as “taking a trip”). I told them to wait a few minutes and would go with them.

We set out down the road and they suddenly veered off into a meadow. They asked me if I had ever been out there and then asked if I wanted to go. They were very conscience of my well being and comfort and I would here those two phrases multiple times before our trip was done. We rode our bicycles, me on mine and the two of them on one, through paths that wound through rice patties and forests. Soon we reached a point where our bikes would do us no good given that we were going to head off through newly planted rice patties. We followed a path for a while and soon they saw a tree and told me that the giant bean pod looking things hanging from the very top were great to eat. They took off through the brush and soon were at the base of the tree. One boy hurriedly scaled the tree and about three quarters of the way up he stopped and began shaking the tree violently. Soon the bean pods had been flung off and the boys were collecting them and stuffing them away in their bags. The adventure continued.

We got to more rice patties and had to cross them on the ledges that held the water back from the higher patty. After a few minutes of sloshing through the patties we arrived at another tree. This time the tree was substantially bigger but was full of fruit. The same boy scurried up the tree with seemingly no effort at all. He chopped off one of the lower branches and soon we were tasting the red, yellow and green fruit. It seemed that the fruit was either not ripe or over ripe. The only fruit that I tasted was very bitter but they assured me that normally they are “a-roy mak” or “very delicious.” By the time we were done with this tree it had begun to rain fairly hard. They were asking me if I wanted to climb the mountain that loomed in front of us. I stated the obvious, that it was raining. They responded with “mai bpen rai” translated as “it doesn’t matter” or “don’t worry” among others. I convinced them that maybe it would be better if we climbed the mountain another day when it wasn’t pouring rain. They readily agreed.

On the way back we passed a grove of bamboo and I heard them chattering in Karen, but obviously didn’t understand what they were saying. They raced toward one of the shoots and exclaimed in Thai, “There are two of them!” Soon they had two gigantic beetles in their possession. I asked them if they bite and they told me, “Of course they don’t!” This held true for about five minutes until when the one holding them let out a little yelp. They quickly revised their statement saying that their long proboscis could suck and hurt. At this point in time we were trudging through the rice patties again and I was saying to myself how nice it was to have my Keen sandals on. It didn’t matter if they got wet and they were protecting my feet from at least some of the animals that were living in the rice patties. My thought was rudely interrupted by a slight pain in my foot. I look down and I had several leeches stuck to my feet. I pulled them off while I cussed myself for wearing Keen sandals. We made our way back to my house and I promised them that I would go “by-teeow” with them again another day.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Village Description

Today represents my official first whole week at my new house and village and it is quite, well pretty much like most other days. This blog is going to be a small dictation of my life in my village now that I have actually experienced it. It is hard to determine where to start because there are so many varied subjects that at least merit a small description. I suppose the subject of weather would be appropriate given that it is almost universally the default subject in an ephemeral conversation.

The weather here can really only be described as absolutely perfect. My house is only a little over 1,000 m in elevation but it is absolutely amazing how much this can affect the weather when you are located in the tropics. Everyday is it 75-80 F and given that it is the rainy season, it rains most days, although almost never all day. It is really astounding how much a 60 km drive and a mere drop in elevation of a few hundred meters to the town of Pai can change the weather. After spending time in my village, Pai seems to be a sweltering chaotic tourist town. Ironically, quite contrary to my perception, it is known throughout Thailand as being the most laid back, cool, mountain tourist destination that Thailand has to offer.

The weather creates an environment that is characterized by lush vegetation displaying myriad hues of green with mist and cloud enshrouded mountains providing the backdrop. Depending on the elevation, you move from lush jungle like forests with innumerable varieties of deciduous trees to pine forest with towering trees and lush undergrowth that captures the rays of light that filter through the canopy. When the sun shines it illuminates the brilliant greens, bounces off the mountains, and makes the low hanging clouds move from dark grey to brilliant gold. I have always believed that the late afternoon is the best part of the day. The low light casts shadows on every object it encounters, the wind dies down, the birds are out in force, and people are energetically enjoying the freedom to take advantage of the last of the sun’s rays after a long day of work or school. Each day during this period, with the cool air, the sense of excitement and hope, and the thought that I get to live here for another 20 months I just can’t believe the luck that life has bestowed on me.
Crisscrossing all of this amazing natural beauty are the dirt roads that battle the mountains and the rain for supremacy, and it truly is an epic battle. The soil in this area has a high concentration of clay that is able to shrug off copious amounts of water yet retains enough to make traveling quite a task, which is exacerbated by the mountainous terrain. Not only does the soil on the roads become extraordinarily slippery it also becomes a sticky red mess. Given that I have to ride my trusty bicycle to every destination I have given up on wearing long pants and long ago stopped worrying about having even a semblance of cleanliness until I can return home and shower. Off of every road there are hundreds of trails that run off into the forest which eventually lead to one of the characteristic raised wooden houses of the Karen people. These trails have proved perfect for my daily runs.
In my short week of being at site my diligent IRBing and help from Ajan Tete has uncovered
several promising projects. A group hailing from the three northern tambons in Amphoe Mae Chaem has recently received funding to start planting coffee in their mountain environment. When I first arrived in this area I wondered why more coffee wasn’t planted because it seemed like the perfect environment. This area really reminds me of the highlands of Guatemala where the dominant agricultural product is coffee. The other day I ran across the group filling plastic

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Joys of Thailand

The Great Moving Experience

I have officially made it to my village! After much anticipation I made it to my mountain paradise, and it appears my co-workers have as well. The SAO decided to create a temporary office in my village until the new office can be built in one of the villages nearby. Now for me this is a mixed blessing. It is great to have all the male staff members up here, the females are staying at the other temporary office in Mae Chaem, because I have made good friends with all of them. Secondly, the satellite internet has been installed at the office therefore I don’t have to bike several hundred kilometers in order to have access. I’m sure you are now wondering what the down side is. Well, although the SAO was able to make the plans to move the office up to a temporary building it conveniently overlooked the fact that they would need a place to live once they got up there. Since my co-workers first found out that I was going to be living in my new fairly large house they have been dropping hints that they would like to stay, or would be staying, in my house. I finally got the courage up to tell them that Americans need their privacy and they conceded to the fact that I wanted to live “home alone.” That was true until everyone moved up here with me. They conveniently weaseled their way into staying temporarily in my house until they could find other housing. A month was the planned time frame, but they seemed to have made themselves at home. It is actually not all that bad because they have taken over the downstairs and I have the upstairs to myself. The only problem is that it is a wooden house and when they wake up at 5:30 am every morning and start playing their music the noise has no problem finding its way into my room. As most of you know I am not a morning person so this kind of gets on my nerves. I suppose that if this is the biggest problem I have to face that I have a will have a great Peace Corps experience!

During my first week I got to do a lot of my Peace Corps IRBing (intentional relationship building). Up to this point I felt as if my Thai was maybe not all that good but as I was IRBing I came to a fascinating revelation. For the first three months I had mainly spent time with the SAO staff. After a short period I exhausted most of my previously learned vocabulary and interesting subjects. Therefore everything I had to talk about was something totally new and not surprisingly a real struggle. I was learning a lot but it seemed like I wasn’t because most conversations were so difficult. When I embarked on my IRBing I realized that I actually spoke a significant amount of Thai it was just simply that I hadn’t been using the Thai that I had learned because it would have been repetitive. The compliments I got from the recipients of my IRBing were great. When I speak to someone in Thailand these days they always ask me how many years I have lived in Thailand. When I reply that I have been here for six months the simply can’t believe it. Often times the truly don’t believe me. I think they see so many farangs that have lived here for years and years and can barely utter a sentence that to encounter someone who can speak in full sentences is a true anomaly.

An Island Birthday
My birthday happened to fall on a long weekend and I took advantage of that to go visit one of Thailand’s famous tropical islands. It was Morgan’s last week in Thailand so the two of us made the trip to island paradise of Ko Chang. We arrived on the island on my birthday and spent the day relaxing, drinking beer, swimming, and enjoying the scenery. We went and had Italian for dinner and it was quite an experience. The restaurant was pretty nice with white table cloths and waiters in suits, but it wouldn’t be Thailand if it weren’t for the fact that it was next door to a go-go bar with all separating the two was some lattice and a few plants! The go-go music was blasting and that’s was what we got to enjoy in the Italian restaurant as well. We went out to a club that night and ended up making friends (being befriended) by a group of Thais. We ended up hanging out with them for the rest of the night and had quite a time dancing, night swimming, and after bar party at their room.

The following day we enjoyed the sun and signed up for a snorkeling tour to the small islands off the main island of Ko Chang. We woke up the morning of our tour and it was one of those tropical downpours where it rains so hard that it is hard to see ten feet in front of you. What a day to go snorkeling we thought. We had wasted a whole sunny day being hung over and now our snorkeling tour was going to be a bummer. We headed out on rickety boats without regard to the rain and battled the high seas. It was a roller coaster ride and many people were not holding down their breakfast as we made our way to the first island. Amazingly enough, as we reached the first island the rain had stopped and the sun was trying to poke through the clouds. The day turned out being amazing and the islands, beaches and reefs were even better. Although I put concerted effort into no getting burnt my eagerness to go swimming washed off my recently applied sunscreen and baked my back like the lobsters pulled of the reef and plopped into a boiling pot. We had really wanted to do some hiking on the island but the following day consisted of rain and more rain and we ended up getting a lot of reading done. We left early the next day very satisfied with our little island excursion.