Wednesday, July 25, 2012

this could be a book but I ain;t got time

On July the 11th Erin and I left our home site in Sukhothai for Bangkok. We traveled the usual route by bus and arrived in the BKK around 7 PM. The purpose for our visit was a Peace Corps 50th Anniversary Ceremony with events held at the home of the US Ambassador to Thailand and other Thai government buildings. I had purchased my first tailored suit for the occasion which set me back a dazzling 7000 Thai baht. Purchasing this suit was for a long time a point of stress, embarrassment, and uncertainty because all the Thais in my village considered the price outrageous. We are now fairly used to getting what I call the "laka farang" or foreigner price. For most things we can talk the price down, but in this arena, I was completely unprepared for that. I have only purchased perhaps three suits in my life, and never a tailored one   but I imagined it would be hard to purchase such a thing in the states for less than 1500 dollars. When I finally received the suit, I was extremely happy with the quality and fit. It turns out that while you can purchase a tailored suit in Thailand for 3-5 thousand baht, a high quality Italian wool suit is probably gonna run you closer to 6-10. Although 7000 baht for me is just about one months pay, when we decked out in Bangkok, it was worth it. PCT 50th Anniversary events lasted 3 days during which current volunteers got to chat with those who came before, some in 1969, some in 72, some in 2004. We heard wonderful stories of a Thailand before cars and motorcycles, a Ko Samoi with no boat docks, and how some of the leaders of the Peace Corps Thailand organization were taught English by PC volunteers 40 years ago. There is a very clear difference between people who will work hard as farmers their whole lives and those who will leave the village to work in a city and learn about the bigger world. A big part of that difference today is learning to speak English.

Several volunteers were able to have words with Her Royal Highness, Princess Chakri Sirindhorn. Erin was part of a select group who was able to be photographed with her. From all accounts, this woman's greatness could be felt when speaking with her. I did not really believe in that stuff until I read some accounts of friends of Bill Clinton's, but sometimes you just feel it, I guess. Meeting the princess is a huge honor in the eyes of Thai people as they revere their royalty to an almost holy level. The princess who presided over our 50th Anniversary celebration is well know for being very progressive with project ideas that improve Thailand and Thai people's quality of life.

All said, we were in Bangkok for nearly a week. I had my first meeting with the Information Communications Technology GIG (Global Initiative Group). We painted the town most evenings and stayed in a very damp yet beautiful middle eastern decorum hotel. Bangkok is a welcome relief from site because one, they sell international food there, and two there is also everything else. Arguably our best evening was the night we went to the Jazz Saxophone jazz club recommended by one of our language instructors. This is a high class place where the price of the drinks more than makes up for the lack of a cover and the music more than makes up for the price of the drinks. A posse of about 10-15 of us rolled in there dressed to the nines after the final PC event, and bobbed our heads and tapped our feet to the best sounds to pass my ears in quite some time. A brass band played all variety of jazz from latin to Sinatra tunes, the Thai singer able to manipulate his voice and facial expressions perfectly for the song of the minute. This will be an evening to remain in memory for many years as will the taste of those Paulaner Dunkels lubricating the evening and the hardened forging of lifelong friendships with our fellow volunteers. Pictures to follow soon cause damn, we looked good.

Today is the second to last day of RECONNECT. This is a second training session held after 3 months at site. We all have new progress and problems and our Thai counterparts were invited down here for two days to talk about those and other things. The training is two weeks long, and we study Thai for 3.5. hours a day. The rest of the time is spent with various guest speakers who talk to us about various project ideas and the state of Thailand. I had lunch with a couple of Foreign Service member from the US Embassy following one session and learned a lot of about their work and what sorts of opportunities might be there for someone with interests like my own. Tomorrow, I will co-present a session on environmental topics with one of the PCT staff as well as 3 other volunteers. My focus will be waste management and pollution prevention. I am excited to begin projects in these areas at my site, now that I learned a little more about the Thai "landscape" for such things. Tomorrow night, extra-curricular class on Thai cooking.

After Friday, RECONNECT will be over and so will the good breakfasts and other fringe perks of this nice hotel we are calling home. Erin and I will head back to the Khothai and try to get back to work and being the only Americans for miles. When we return, we will have been gone for almost four weeks. This after living in our new home for only two, still not making a full shopping trip yet. 

The next time we will see our fellow volunteers in an official capacity will be for mid-service in another eight months. By then, group 123 will be packing their bags for home and the 125s will have been here for 3 months. The world turns.

Special note to my boy P-Dimas who is now finishing the second week of his mid career hiatus and touring the red crescent to the north, con diao (alone). Proud of you brother. And also my boy Deeds whose son just decided to show up to this clown show we call life. Congratulations and give Aldice a head sniff for me.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Yu song con

One week in our new home, one 5 foot snake crossed the road, one palm sized arachnid on the wall and one very severe case of streptococcus. Today, which is July 4th in Thailand, is approximately one week before our 6 month anniversary here. Next week we will depart south to celebrate 50 years of Peace Corps presence in Thailand with a few American and Thai dignitaries as well as many volunteers presently serving and from years past. Following the anniversary ceremony, our group, 124 will be meeting in another suburb or the BKK for our second training session which will last another two weeks. All said and done we will be out of our site for close to the rest of July and have a chance to swap stories and talk about progress with the rest of these crazy people who think they belong out here. While we have made some very close relationships at site, and are even able to communicate a little more than where we are going or coming from now, it is always nice to see some fellow Uh-mericans and get an idea of who has been more effective than you out her so far :)

Since we last spoke...
We have gotten out of under the wing of our host family for better or worse. We are eating a lot less MSG. I am now weighing in at just 64 kg, which takes me back to sophomore year in high school statistics, I think. No bread, no cheese and very limited beer has got me in the slim trousers. Our new house is quaint, cute, and now has drinking water, rice, a bed, and a bunch of tables in it. For me seems like a pretty good set up but for Erin seems like it needs a lot more work. We spent a good chunk of our "readjustment allowance" on the purchase of a nice queen size bed which ran us about 7,000THB. Our host mothers response when she heard about this price was that she has never seen or heard of a bed that cost seven thousand baht. Most of the Thai's that we live with sleep on what we have heard referred to as Thai beds. These Thai beds are spring-less mattresses about four of five inches thick and were a cause of many poor nights of sleep for us before we bought our new "ti-noan" (bed). I know that for many who may be reading this the word: "princess" or question: "what about hardship" may be coming to mind right about now. You can save it. There are plenty of other things to make someone miserable when living between jungle and rice paddy at 17 degrees latitude. Last week I discovered one in the form of a Thai strep throat virus. It started with a migraine level headache that lasted approximately 8 hours and then declined into a sub-migraine level headache that accompanied a fever for another couple days until turning into a sore throat that prohibited sleep throughout the weekend. As any one who has lived close to me can attest, although I am a person who likes to imbibe on fine barley and malt beverage, I rarely take medication, even Advil. Well this fix had me begging the the doc for something stronger that 800 mg Ibuprofen I was eating like PEZ. It has been a very rough week.

So six months in and how else are things besides sick again? Things are good. We continue to find ourselves in situations of incredibility and every so often it looks like I might actually have some serious work to do. While Erin is chugging away at the schools, I am still working on building relationships with various members of the community. We are taught that we must first create trust with people before even beginning to understand the issues and help with the solutions. It feels like I'm getting there. The public health workers I am now spending a lot of time with, have many good ideas and even specific plans for programs pertaining to topics I was brought here to help with. As soon as we return from the south next month, I am scheduled to begin teaching a class to all of the district public health workers. The idea is that I will focus on interaction between health and environment with related English terminology. My pressing goal is to get a local Thai tutor to further my speaking and reading skills. In our first visit from Peace Corps personnel last month, the office I am working in agreed to provide funding for projects; now I just need to get to writing them up and pounding the pavement (dirt road) some more.

Happy Fourth of July everybody! Put another piece of cheese on that burger for me.