Thursday, February 15, 2007

Site Placement

Yesterday I got my site placement and I couldn’t be happier. It turns out that I have the most remote site out of anyone in this PC Thailand group. I am going to be living with a Karen and Lisu hill tribe community in Chiang Mai province. The Lisu people originated from Tibet and while the Karen people originated from Myanmar. Both groups immigrated to Thailand in the last 200 years. The city of Chiang Mai is the second largest in Thailand, but my village will be 7 hours from it. This is due to the very mountainous terrain that is characteristic of northern Thailand. There is an interesting twist to this story. I will be living in one community, but the SAO where my counterpart will be and I will be working part of the time is 100 km away. The 100 km takes 3 hours, but this is only during the dry season. During the rainy season the road is often washed out and the villagers must take a different route that takes a long route and has to go through Chiang Mai. This means that I will have two houses, one in my hill tribe community and one in the town of the SAO. I am going to have to figure out a schedule where I work part of a week or several weeks on end at the SAO and part of the time be living and working in the village. The town where the SAO is located is very near to the highest peak in Thailand, Inthanon. I guess it is suiting that a Wyoming boy who grew up in the mountains gets a mountain site in Thailand. It is cool during the nights and warm during the day. I can’t think of much better as I sit here and sweat at 8:30 pm at my host family’s house.

In the packet I received it showed a small eco-tourism project in the community, which is excellent given my background working with groups involved in tourism projects. They also have a Royal Development Project that is just outside of town. At this site they are promoting and testing organic farming techniques and the methods and knowledge will be disseminated throughout the regions in Thailand with similar climates. From the pictures it appears that most of the community has just dirt roads and it is very rural. The site locator form said that “cell phone signal can be found in ‘some’ parts of the village.” This means that you should not be expecting too many blog posts from me in the future. As I say this I remember that they said that at the temporary SAO in the village they have satellite internet. I’m still not 100% sure about everything, but I will get it all figured out very quickly given that I am going to visit the site in less than a week.

Now on to a few other events that occurred before the site announcement and after I got back from Chantaburi. When I got back from Chantaburi I rode my bike home and just got settled down when my host dad told me that we were going out to a party. Well I had had two nights of drinking a descent amount of beer with my friends at the resort and really didn’t want to go out to a party, but really, how can you say no when the thing hindering you is not being timid but rather not knowing exactly how to say no! It wasn’t that bad, but soon we were on our way. We first went to another village that is about 4 km away. I’m not exactly sure what the celebration was about, but it was a big one. The village doesn’t have more than three main roads, but there sure were three large stages set up throughout the community and everyone within a ten mile radius seemed to be attending. The music was quite interesting. You have basically bad Thai music being sung by a singer who was flanked by six scantily clad Thai go-go girls. We sat down at a table and food started coming in by the dishful until our whole table was full. I guess I had better not leave out that the first thing on our table was a whole bottle of Thai whiskey. It was my first experience with Thai whiskey and I can tell you that as bad as you think Evan Williams is, you have never tried worse than Thai whiskey. We spent an hour enjoying the performances and then headed to yet another Thai funeral.

I started to wonder where we were going as we sped into the moonlit countryside taking what seemed to be totally random roads. There were no houses to be seen, let alone towns, but sure enough we round a corner and there it is. Out in the middle of the field were lights galore, a huge stage, at least 50 tables, and an abundance of drunken Thais. I don’t know if you have noticed, but this is a reoccurring theme. The Thais are definitely averse to drinking at any time of the day or for any occasion. Well the funeral had similar Thai singers and dancers for a short time, but soon it was time for karaoke. Well you know what you get when you mix karaoke, a funeral, and lots and lots of Thai whiskey: some ear breaking noise. Apparently when you are drunk you truly believe you are the best singer to ever set foot on the stage before you. Well in case you have not been in this situation, being very drunk and singing karaoke is probably fun for you but for everyone else it is just about equal to having straw shoved under your finger nails: or something like that. We stayed there until the bottle of Thai whiskey had seen its last delicious drop disappear into the depths of our stomachs and then made our merry way home. One little side note. Wearing your seatbelt in Thailand makes you a whoosey, well I am what I am I suppose. Drinking and driving is not a frowned upon thing here.

When I woke up on Sunday I had some visitors. A lady had come and visited me the previous Sunday, but for what reason I was not totally sure at the time. She spoke a tiny bit of English and combined with my tiny bit of Thai we didn’t arrive at the most clear understanding of each other. Well she called me while I was in Chantaburi and said that she wanted to meet again on Sunday at 9:00 am. As is Thai style, she arrived at around 9:30, but this time along with four other women and their English teacher. I found out very quick that the first time she came out she wanted to make an appointment with me to have her whole English class come out and speak English with me. Well the teacher immediately started apologizing to me not for the miscommunication but rather because only four of the 20 students that were supposed to come actually came. I tried to act as if I were disappointed! Well we spoke English for about an hour and then it was time for the ladies to take me on a little adventure. They asked me what places in this province that I knew and I assured them that I really didn’t know any places. They decided that it would be nice to go to a nearby reservoir, and off we went. The teacher had to leave to teach a class at the local university, so I was on my own. The ladies turned out to be nurses at the local hospital and were very hospitable, as have been every Thai I have met. They bought enough food to feed at least half of the 60 million plus people that live in Thailand and were relentless in insisting that I eat more and more. By the time we were done I had a stomach that was stretched out like old sock. I dare anyone to challenge me to an eating contest. We made our way back to my house and I spent the rest of the day digesting my food.

That’s all for now folks!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Youtube Site

I created a Youtube site where you can view some of the videos that I have taken. It will maybe give a little more in depth view of my life here in Thailand! The link is

Coconut Football

I have had quite an eventful week, so be ready for another fairly lengthy blog entry. I have decided that I will post a blog entry once a week, given that I really have fairly little time to sit down and write. Sunday is my day off, so it will accordingly be when I write my blog. There will be an exception this week. On Tuesday we find out where our sites will be, so I will be sure to let everyone know where exactly I will be spending the next two years of my life.

I am actually going to start with a little side note that relates directly to my final paragraph of my last blog entry about my host family. I had mentioned that my host mom had been heating water for me in the morning so that I could avoid the shocking experience of dumping freezing water on my head at 6:30 in the morning. Well the water heating ordeal only lasted a few days. After I had went with my family to have lunch in a near by village my host dad stopped by the local construction store to pick up a few materials for an undisclosed purpose (or most likely due to a lack of understanding). Later in the afternoon my host dad was hard at work installing not only a heated shower in the bathroom, but also a toilet paper roll holder. I now have a hot shower, a western style toilet, and toilet paper. All the luxuries a good American boy needs! In fact the hot shower has become a slightly diminished necessity given that it has once again “warmed up” and I now have to have a fan blowing full blast on me to be comfortable at night. The joys of Thai weather!

Last Saturday we were treated to what was presented as a “fun filled day of sports” at a national park that is about 25 km from our hub site. I think we all left the hub site with a substantial amount of enthusiasm and a lot of pent up energy. We would finally be able to enjoy a day with the Peace Corps that didn’t involve sitting in a chair for 8 hours and doing endless amounts of “flip charts”. Well I’m not quite sure how I was so ignorant. The first hour was spent discussing Thai language, not really learning anything in particular, just discussing. The second hour was spent finding out who our new language teachers would be and chatting with them about our objectives for the next five weeks. At this point I was a little confused concerning the seeming lack of sports during “sports day”. I wasn’t sure if it was due to a vastly different conception of “sports days” in the United States and Thailand or just a simple bit of justified deception on behalf of the Peace Corps. I will leave the answer to that question open. It should be pretty easy to decipher the correct answer as you read further. By this time it is 10:30 am and the sports had yet to begin. Instead of heading out the courts and playing fields we were directed to choose team colors and come up with two cheers: one in Thai and one in English. This was a 15 minute activity. We then proceeded to watch the cheers from each one of the eight groups, and to my surprise they managed to sneak in more interactive group building exercises. These included a race of passing a ping-pong ball from spoon to spoon protruding from each person’s mouth, among others. Time: 11:00; still no sports.

When the group building exercises where finished we got the official notification that the sports would begin! Four typical Thai sports were set up and two groups were sent to participate against each other at each “sport station”. The sports were: bachi (sp?) ball (Thai = pe-tong), badminton (Thai = bad-mit-tun), mini soccer (Thai = foot-sol), soccer/volleyball (Thai = taak-law). My group started playing foot-sol and had barely started playing when a whistle was blown for us to switch groups. I just loved the feeling of being like a 10 year old at a day camp. Well it turned out that at each “sport station” we were allocated 15 whole minutes of playing time. Our “sports day” seriously consisted of a grand total of one hour of sports!

Although I was a bit disappointed with the degree to which our sports day actually included playing sports, we were after all at a national park that had tigers, bears, elephants and one of the largest remaining monsoonal forests in Southeast Asia. All we had to do was get out and experience it! They had sign up sheets where you could choose to either: hang out at the park headquarters and relax, go to a waterfall, or go to the waterfall just to see it then go for a hike through the forest. We I chose the third option and turns out that about 40 other people did as well. Our like hike through the forest in hopes of seeing some wildlife turned into a human traffic jam with the nearest animal most likely taking refuge in Cambodia.

Once again I am using my blog to vent about my frustration with the PST portion of my Peace Corps experience. Well let’s end on a good note. Our weekly schedule showed that we were going to an AIDS training conference and we were given a schedule that clearly stated we were going to be at a beach resort. Well after sports weekend I was a bit skeptical, but my skepticism was changed to gratified belief as our bus pulled in to a very posh beach resort near the city of Chantaburi. This once again reaffirms my status as a “Posh Corps Volunteer”. The resort was right on the beach and had an amazing pool. We did have to attend informational sessions, but they were put on by current Peace Corps Volunteers and were pretty informative. I think the best training and information has come from the current volunteers that have put on sessions during out training. Too bad that has happened only three times in 5 weeks! It turns out the in 2005 Peace Corps Thailand received a grant from a presidential fund to conducted AIDS awareness conferences and activities throughout Thailand. Every current volunteer has a very good chance of receiving funding to support an AIDS related activity within his/her community and past and current volunteers have rounded up a wealth of materials that can be used in these endeavors.

Although the sessions were very good, being able to spend time on the beach and in the ocean was the true highlight. After our sessions got over on Friday afternoon nearly everyone went out to the beach. It turned out that none of us had the mental capacity to think of bringing a Frisbee or a football, but we Peace Corps volunteers are resourceful! As we were messing around in the shallow tidal flats in the ocean we found a coconut that just happened to be shaped almost exactly like a football. Soon a good game of American football was being played out in full force in two feet of water. It was a great time, as the pictures truly show. There was one slight problem. A coconut is not made of leather and dry weighs at least 5 times more than a football. As the game progressed, the coconut got water logged and all of us were waiting for someone to catch a stray coconut flying through the air right in their noggin. Well that didn’t happen, but I can confess that during one of my heroic catches the coconut managed to reach my ribs. I felt like I could puke but of course I couldn’t let anyone know that. I got up and kept playing wearing the foot long red battle wound proudly. This came to accompany at least four sand burns from being tackled in water that may have been a bit to shallow.

After the coconut football game was over we enjoyed the pool for quite some time. As we BSed we saw John relaxing like a “bad man” on the other side of the pool and remembered that this “bad man” had chosen to go ahead and wear his Dockers while he participated in the coconut football match. Well the Dockers were still being rocked and the underwater capability of my camera made it irresistible to snap a photo of John’s unique choice of a bathing suit. I’m planning on sending it to Dockers in hopes they will use in an ad campaign and I will receive some serious royalties! After getting our photo and relaxing a bit more we had a descent Thai meal and ended with some drinking of Thai beer (Bia Chang of course) and a few games of Pete’s famous card game Synch. Pete taught Anton and I this game our first week while we were at Kao Yai and swore that it was a card game specific to his county, Dubois County, in Indiana. Well Anton and I proceeded to beat him and Colin about 5 consecutive games and he wanted revenge. Well he got it, but that’s beside the point.

On Saturday we went to a development project promoted and supported by the Thai king. It is a bay that only a few years ago had seen its fisheries substantially depleted due to unsustainable prawn and shrimp farming and a destruction of the mangrove forests that bordered it. The project had revived the mangrove forests and created sustainable shrimp farming practices in the areas adjacent to the bay. We took a tour of the mangroves on a boardwalk that had been built and watched a movie that explained the whole project. It was very informative and very innovative.

I nearly failed to mention the funniest cross-cultural blunders I have gotten myself into so far. On Friday we all stayed at the hotel in our hub town so that we could leave early Saturday morning for Chantaburi. After we were done with our sessions about 10 of us went to eat dinner at a restaurant that I had frequented several times before. When we were nearly finished with our meal two groups of our friends went walking by saying that they were going to go down the street to the “Jam Bar.” After we finished our meals we set out to find the Jam Bar. We didn’t know the exact location and after walking for a short while we came across two bars that were all lit up and had Christmas lights outside. We walked up to one and it looked like it had some pretty nice sofas and a descent atmosphere. Most everyone decided that they would continue on down the road to look for the Jam Bar, but Mike and I decided we would sit down and have one beer at this place. We sat down and were served beer by one of the girls working there. We filled up our glasses and soon two girls were sitting next to us pouring themselves beer out of our bottles. At that point the ignorance was suspended and I said to Mike, “I think that it is very well possible that we are in a brothel.” Well sure enough, we were. As “admin sep” was looming ever closer we promptly finished our beers, said good bye to the hospitable ladies and made our way to the Jam Bar. Who would have thought that probably the only two American men in Thailand not looking for a whore house would accidentally ended up in one. Alright, it probably isn’t that big of an improbability given Thailand’s extensive sex industry, but I still think it is a pretty funny story.

I hope you enjoyed and I will be back in a few days with the anxiously awaited news about site placement. I know that Janae is crossing her fingers for me to be sent to the south next to some world class beaches and the nearest Hilton. Sorry Janae, even if that happens there will be no Hilton, only squat toilets, fried grasshoppers, and huts for you! I also want to wish Jason, Doug, Megan, and Roxana good luck with their Peace Corps departure preparations. I know it is still a ways off for Jason and Megan, very close for Doug, and unfortunately and unexpectedly a few months off for Roxana, but I miss you all and any advice you need just let me know. I am a man of infinite wisdom...or at least some say. For my Wyoming family and all my Wyoming friends I have included the picture below. Wyomingites may be few and far between, but they are still being represented!

Sunday, February 4, 2007


A week in review. This week we continued our Thai classes and went about choosing a small project to undertake with a local community group. When I say small, I mean small. We have a grand total of five days in the next five weeks to work with the community group. Obviously we have far too much “training” to do, which in all reality amounts to a whole lot of time that could be used in far more productive manners. I won’t say that everything during our “tech” days are irrelevant, but rather it could be condensed into a period that took up a quarter of the time. Enough venting. How can I vent when in all reality.....I’m in Thailand! Back to our project. Our gracious training staff identified four community groups that had interest in having us visit them and view their daily activities. For us, it was a chance to see if one of them had the potential to receive our attention for the lengthy duration of five days.

As I sit here typing I have had the luck to be greeted by a “SOLDIER, THAILAND.” The attention given to a gringo in Latin America provided entirely insufficient experience for what I am receiving in Thailand. I am a novelty, and even more so given my remote location. It is kind of nice to be away from the tourist destinations filled with “farang” debauchery and everything else that accompanies it. There are no preconceived “bad” notions about foreigners from what I have seen so far in my village. I suspect that it may have something to do with it being in the middle of agricultural rice growing region where water buffalo still roam free. No beaches, elephants, or rainforests here. All the better. I have told my new found soldier friend several times that I don’t speak English and only speak Spanish, but that has been no deterrence. He has seen it necessary to stumble over to me at least every three and half to four minutes to once more proclaim that he is, “SOLDIER, THAILAND.” A brain filled with “Thai whiskey,” something I have yet to determine its origin, and Beer Chang is not all too capable of understanding the concept of not speaking English. I’m sure that to most Thais all farang speak English. I could only imagine the anger of the French trying to enjoy Thai culture but instead quite regularly receiving the traditional greeting of “hello how are you goodbye” everywhere you went. But I digress.

The four community organizations that we visited were a women’s sewing group, a broom group, a health clinic, and a day care. From day one I pretty much knew that the day care would be our chosen project given Quilen’s fascination with local kids of the community and teaching them most importantly how to “bust a move” American style. Well Quilen has a pretty one track mind, but he sure does make things interesting. Our stated objective for the projects is to focus on the process of IRBing (intentional relationship building) and not necessarily the outcome. Well Quilen is a master IRBer, especially with the children. We visited the other three community groups, but to my surprise we decided on the day care. Granted it was not only because Quilen had sung on the megaphone “YMCA” for all the four year old children but rather because their funding from the SAO had been cut in half and they were in need of help. Our initial idea for a project is to help the day care teachers to develop materials that use recycled materials to create new materials that the children can learn with. It is in the most preliminary stage and it should be interesting to see what unfolds in the next five weeks during the five days we spend working with them. At the least it will be an interesting experience in getting ourselves involved in community activities being that our main task the first year of Peace Corps is to “ban len cha cak yan” or basically mosey our way around our assigned village on our bikes IRBing with the community. This is probably much to the dismay of the TCCOers who will be lucky enough to be teaching English starting day one!

I have realized that I have mentioned fairly little of my host family in my past posts and figure that a short commentary is way past due. I don’t know how it happens, but every host family I have gotten has been absolutely great. I have heard horror stories about host families stays and luckily none have them have ever included my name. I live with my “pa” and “maa” (father and mother in Thai...yeah not to hard but one of the few things that isn’t in the language) in a house that looks pretty basic from the outside but is pretty nice inside. The condition of the house means absolutely nothing if the nature of the people living inside is run down. Well the nature of the people living in my house would have to be described as a mansion. Where do I start? Surely it has to be with the food. I get amazing food and quantity is never something I have to worry about. I usually have at least four, usually more, plates of food to choose from to put on my rice, an absolute staple of any Thai meal. I thank the Peace Corps every day I eat a meal for sending me to Thailand! Although I get the same types of meals for both dinner and breakfast I manage to be satisfied. The strangest thing I have yet to eat has been the “nuu” or rat in English and the chicken heart “pat gap paow” (translation unavailable). When I finally figured out what “nuu” was they assured me that it was good because it wasn’t a house rat but rather a rat they went out and hunted at night in the fields with head lamps and guns. I suppose the guinea pig I ate in Peru is little more than an oversized “nuu.” I have eaten no bugs, frogs, or other non-western food staple up to this point, but have heard they are not all that bad.

Where do I continue? My second day here I arrived home from the hub to my “pa” showing me the new mosquito net he had gotten me. The Peace Corps mosquito net was obviously far too small and didn’t cover three quarters of my room like my new one. It doesn’t end there. I had been bringing my bathroom supplies to the bathroom every morning in my dap bag and really thinking nothing of it. Well a few days later there was a little wire hanging bathroom “thing” (for lack of a better word) waiting for me in the bathroom. My first few days here I told my family that I liked to drink Pepsi, which isn’t necessarily the truth but sure did make for a good conversation. Well everyday when I arrived home my “maa” would bring me a soda to drink. I couldn’t tell her I didn’t want it because it was always open by the time I received it. Well finally one day she asked me before she went and got it and I said that I would rather not have a Pepsi. She asked me if I wanted anything else...possibly a beer? I thought to myself, “a beer would be good right now.” As you can guess, I have been getting a liter of beer every night to cool me down after my bike ride home! I’ll have to see if I can change it up again soon. What next? Two things happened last night. With my extensive Thai language skills I was explaining how the mornings were very cold and that when I was taking my bucket bath in the morning that there were ice forming on the end of my nose. I’m going to digress once again for a short time.

I joked about being cold in Thailand in my first blog entry, but I didn’t think that outside of the buses and hotels that I would actually be cold. Well I was dead wrong. The cold season is really not that cold here, and maybe I have gotten used to the heat, but man has it gotten cold here at night. Once again, cold is relative and I’m sure that the blankets given to us by the Peace Corps (little more than oversized towels) have contributed to me freezing at night. The past week and a half I have woken up freezing cold. I am really not complaining because I can always put on clothes to stay warm, but there is usually no remedy if it is 80 degrees at night and you are trying to sleep. Cold in Thailand. I end it with that statement.

Bucket bath....After telling my little story I woke up this morning to go take a shower and my “maa” had heated up water and filled up a five gallon bucket in the bathroom so I wouldn’t freeze during my morning shower. I am a pampered soul. During the same conversation I was telling them how it never failed that a few dogs from the group of at least four hundred dogs that live in or near our house never fail to skip a night without fighting directly outside my window. As soon as I said that my host parents were offering to change my room to a different one available in the house, and even offered me their room. In the end I decided that in this respect I could probably “rough it.” Now that I think of it, I got even more out of our little conversation last night. I talked to them about fruit because that is what we had learned in class that day and today my “maa” shows up with bags and bags of fruit for me to eat. I am like a spoiled only child. Speaking of speaking. One of the best things is that my host family is really patient with my language skills, in reality lack of language skills, and spends copious amounts of time with me correcting my pronunciation and teaching me knew phrases. I got placed thirty minutes from the other nearest volunteer and am often jealous of their little communities with lots going on and other volunteers so close, but in the end I will be far better off because once I get home the only thing that leaves my mouth is Thai.....except for the random Spanish that is necessary to ward off drunk “SOLDIER, THAILAND.”

For those of you sitting at work or at home bored and in need of something to entertain you, I am glad I have helped you out with this excessively long blog entry. For those of you with little time but nevertheless have made it to this point in my blog......don’t lie to yourself! Hope everyone is well!

Friday, February 2, 2007

My Name

Just thought it was kind of interesting that I can spell out my name in Thai now. I'm learning slowly but surely how to write and talk. Garrett = เเกเร็ท. Ask me for much more and it probably won't happen!