Saturday, January 28, 2012

January 28th

Hello again!

It has now been 20 days since we left the Duke city. The Peace Corps staff has spoken several times about several stages of adjustment that most if not all volunteers will experience in some fashion. We are still waiting for the "what am I doing here" stage, which follows the first stage, which is the "honeymoon" stage. The honeymoon stage consists of loving the country, feeling like you belong here and really fit in.

I don't know about the fitting in part but most of my thoughts thus far have circled around why I did not do something like this sooner. Thanks, Gary Gyure. Our schedule has been prohibitive of any seriously deep thinking so far but I am now adjusted to being awake while it is night time in the place I spent the first 3 decades of my life and I think I'm about to get started on these things.

Being immersed in Thai culture I feel a sharpened awareness. It's as if all faculties realize they need to operate at 100% in order to achieve survival now and so they do. Granted, the Peace Corps administration here has among the most sophisticated programmatic training I have ever seen, none the less, I can feel my brain growing new neuron-pathways every day. Some of these are for the processing of the strange sounds that come out of these people's mouths, some of them are making those sounds myself, but others have to do with an expanding perspective of what it means to be a human.

Peace Corps is working hard to steep us heavily in Thai culture and values (by the way, all of the staff working with us for language and technical session now are Thais). Some of that seems a little over the top, but for the most part it is eye opening to see just how different the things the Thais see as important actually are. One example: we have met probably 150 people in our district now and when I mention the first name of Erin and I's host father, they all know who that is. Maybe this is common to rural life everywhere but everybody seems to know everyone else. They are a collective. Even more striking is the absolute lack of the "what do you do?" attitude of Americans. This was a point very well explained by our technical trainers. Here, people don't care what you do, but who you are, and if you have family and where you are from. According to our THai trainers, it is perfectly allowable to leave work for any family responsibility. You don't tentatively ask your boss while afraid you are going to look bad, you go and take care of your family. I like this concept a lot, and will remember it for a long time when I'm back at work in the States.

Our schedule continues to be roughly 5:45AM to 8PM. We have had no real days off as of yet. Today was a big party with a dancing performance by us and the ajaans (teachers), singing by everyone and an very good meal. Cousin Donny will be glad to know that some of his disco dance moves have now been seen by Thai audiences. Peace Corp activities really are turning us volunteers into a brotherhood over these weeks. We do everything together from learn to eat, to play to sing. I have not before seen so much openness from so many people (52 Americans).

In the morning, my program CBOD, has language same as Erin's (TCCO) but in the afternoon this week we biked around the community and interviewed people. Our Thai is still quite limited, but we are able to ask a decent amount of questions already. To start we ask about family, then about business . This work too is exhausting. The brain is working to comprehend sounds and formulate questions as a knee might work to keep a body moving in a marathon. We learned a lot about Thai local government structure which will be important for our work later. Next week we go from interviewing people in groups to doing it individually, which I like, because I honestly find it hard to get a word in edgewise with a group of four.

I'm still working on the 401k transfer and have not quite gotten to international calling yet. I think our bills in Albuquerque have stopped coming in, and that's good because so have our checks.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

settling in at Jang-Wat Sing Buri

Internet speed here is reasonable and I have been able to get more done within the last hour than I have in the last two weeks, administratively speaking. When we were thinking about coming here I thought I would say goodbye to smart phone luxury for a while but that no longer seems prudent; I will probably get a Blackberry operational on our first visit to Bangkok in February. Live like the locals live. Just because Thais have EDGE does not mean things are all so luxurious.

We are sticky when we sleep because our air-conditioning consists of an 80s era fan. We shower at least twice a day, sometimes more, like the Thais. Unlike the Thais, we never stop sweating. I drip so much sweat that my weight surely fluctuates by half a pound or more daily. Our host family has an instant water heater but we both take cold showers. The toilet is American style, but without TP, offering instead a little sprayer similar to what you have in your kitchen sink. Squat toilets are not hard to adjust to, butt-water in your hand and soggy underpants however do require some adjustment.

Erin is getting eaten alive by mosquitoes as expected, me only in the feet (hairy is good here). When the sun goes down the vampires come out and they are not good looking older men but small winged insects. We now eat supper inside which I think is somewhat unusual, at least with our host family. In bed early to feed the mosquitoes that manage to get through our window screens, we are out of bed at 550 AM to shower before tamboon, or making merit, with the monk. This happens every day and we spoon rice into his large pot and place bagged market food into his deep silken bag. It is my understanding that the Buddhists here believe that merit can be collected by doing good things throughout someones life. They feed us tons of food starting immediately after Tamboon which is good before language training in the morning and technical training in the afternoon. Language is exhausting to learn at this pace. I have had head aches from this that can only be compared to the aftermath of some exotic drug.

We need to get home soon so a few more quick ones: Chang, Singha, and Heineken are cheap and available. We ride about 10-15 miles on our bikes per day. The thing about Thai people being super friendly could not be more true, they are awesome.

Until next time, RED


So, we've been here for about two weeks. Time is a bit of a squishy concept when you consider that we travelled for about 24 hours straight to get here, crossed 14 timezones in total, and arrived at about 3 am local time, only to be in orientation at 9 am the next day. So you'll understand we're still not quite clear on when we arrived. :)

Below, find what we were thinking when we were en route here:

Josh: We are now about seven hours into our flight to Narita airport, Tokyo. Our flight, which was scheduled to leave Detroit Metro, or McNamara airport, at 12:45, did not get airborn until about 1:30. Still better than a month by boat or whatever the common mode predecessor to the 747 was.

So far, I have seen the movie Moneyball, listened to most of the Black Violin album I acquired the day before we left Albuquerque, read 1.5 chapters of the final book in the girl with the dragon tattoo series, slept for two hours, read half of the Delta airlines brand Sky magazine, went through the duty free in flight catalog once and the menu for in flight meals three times, had my first airplane food, drank two free Heinekens, and pee'd once. I have a lot of music and the latest film version of Jane Eyre just started but i am already suffering some internet withdrawl. The thought just crossed my mind now that we are probably over half way there now and the world again, through modern technology, has been made to feel like a pretty small place...Tell that to the next six hours. OK, snack just arrived.

Back; OJ instead of Heineken this time. Time to start trying to figure out the time difference between Tokyo and Albuquerque (which is still the time on my watch, hey, MST is as good as any at this point, right?). This is going to involve that thing we did before everyone got a smart phone and data plan: thinking...I'm gonna need a minute.

Erin: Erin now. We have three or four more hours to go on this flight and then another two hours in tokyo before we board the seven hour flight to Bangkok. We'll have to find a world map soon so we can figure out what the route was; currently we're flying over mountains that seem to go on forever, a completely snow covered range that also includes a substantial frozen river...

Now for a gross generalization borne out of a lack of sleep and a detest for the airlines' sardine-seating policy. Asians have a distinct advantage when it comes to sleeping on airplanes, I've decided. I haven't slept a wink (Josh has the aisle seat) but I'm presently and jealously observing the old Japanese woman who has been comfortably curled in her seat, sleeping restfully forat least ninety percent of the preceding ten hours.


Back to the present, our second Sunday with our host families. We finally managed to find an internet cafe in the market in Bang Rachan, which is in Sing Buri province, and about 6 or 7 km away from where we're staying.

(Erin) Our host family consists of our paa (father), Boonlert, who is 66 years old, and lives alone. He is part of the local village council, though, and his house is a hub for business and socializing at most times in the day. His niece, Koong, lives next door, and speaks very good English, although we still have plenty of miscommunications. She's been instrumental in helping us to integrate and to understand what we should be donig and why. She and Boonlert picked us up at the hotel in Sing Buri where we spent our first 5 days, and brought us home by car. Since then, however, we haven't ridden in a vehicle. My biking skills are improving every day, almost to the point where I can keep up with Josh.

Every morning we get up between 5 and 6 (depending on how late the rooster sleeps). We try to make it to the shower and then outside to the back alley in time to feed the monk, who comes every morning at 6:15 to receive his alms. Boonlert goes to the market to buy food, and we scoop the first portion of rice into his large silver bowl every day. Everyone squats on their feet with their hands raised in prayer position, touching thumbs to forehead, while he gives a blessing after he's received all the food.

It's still dark then, or just barely getting light, so we'll go back inside to eat or wait until the sun comes up and the mosquitoes dissapate. By that time, we'll have had coffee (3-in-1 instant coffee, sugar, and milk....) and fried dough--a little like doughnuts--and then Boonlert will try to feed us rice, eggs, meat, and fruit. And then we leave for 4 hours of language training, each in separate places.

Erin's language class meets in a school next to a wat (Buddhist temple), and Josh's has so far been held at the home of one of the other volunteers. The language instruction is divided by program, so Josh meets with other volunteers in the Community Based Organizational Development group, while Erin meets with other teachers. Each class is taught entirely in Thai, with a lot of miming and gesturing, pictures, and various other types of guesswork, repetition, and reinforcement. At home, we each try to compare notes, and then practice what we've learned.

We have an hour and a half for lunch, and then we meet back in Bang Rachan at the city's municiple building for technical training. Biking in the 12 pm heat and humidity is INTENSE! However, the sights and the smiles from everyone make it worth it. This area is sustained by rice farming and fishing, and there are canals, the River Noi, and green, green fields everywhere you look. The pollution on the roads is something to get used to, especially while biking, though.

Check out the album for a few of the sights we're enjoying:


Monday, January 9, 2012

Hello and good-bye

A spaceholder blog to let you know.... We're on our way. This is where we'll be posting our adventures. more to come.