Post by Joe Cardomone

Ever since entering this mystical country, I find myself looking at who I am as though I am a distant bystander observing another person. As an observer looking in, I see a foreigner. I do not fully understand any of the languages or the customs or the ritual behaviors of the Thai people yet. I have learned what they are…but I do not UNDERSTAND them. I am a boy who is completely lost in a place where it is so wonderful to be lost. Our experience thus far has primarily been in the city of Chiang Mai. Viewing myself in this bustling city where western and eastern culture meet in a very explosive way is entertaining to say the least. I have struggled with the idea of bargaining at markets. I have pointed to things and used what feels like futile hand gestures to demonstrate a point in the face of a HUGE language barrier. I have put food in my mouth I never could have imagined I would. Plus, the smells– they are so strong and confusing. I get disoriented just thinking about all of this and the rest of my experiences on the other side of the world.

My favorite educational aspect of this trip as of now has been the mental health lecture at a Psychiatric hospital facility in Chiang Mai. We learned about the approach psychologists in the institution take to treat mental illness, what avenues they use for financing and supporting the endeavors, and how mental health is perceived in Thai society in general. The fascinating thing about the Thai perception of mental health treatment is that psychologists create many opportunities within the setting for their patients to establish a community and perform duties that make them feel like they are contributing members of society. In other words, they give patients the freedom to grow and learn and the confidence to believe that they can and will recover within the walls of the facility. Everything from gardening to sewing to playing music is utilized. The treatment plan itself is excellent. The real problem is getting patients to that point. We learned from the lecture that Thai society seems to have a problem understanding the existence and gravity of the situation with mental health. We discussed that this may be because Thai people are so open and accepting of so many lifestyles… they do not perceive mental illness as a problem, but rather “another way of living.” The presenters at this lecture were both very engaging and spoke excellent English, so I enjoyed it very much.

I will continue to post further on some of the highlights of the trip, what I am learning in the form of families and the health care system in Thailand, as well as the current status on my personal growth.

Travel and Transportation

As I had mentioned before, riding in any kind of motor vehicle gets me pretty nervous. Cars, buses, trucks, or even a three wheeled Tuk-Tuk, it all feels the same. The past couple of days we have been traveling through the northen part of Thailand and even though I have been on many buses before I have never experienced anything like this. For starters, the roads here are very narrow. Some times I think they are oneways, but instead they are two ways with literally maybe 6 inches between passing cars. The roads also have many twinst and turns, especially in the mountains. Many times when we were taking a sharp turn I closed my eyes only hoping that there were guard rails. Some times I wonder if I could even drive my car on these roads let alone a bus.

Aside from the roads making be a little queezy, the bus itself feels like a rollercoaster. From my observations I think some of the buses in Thailand are definitely taller than most of the ones I have ridden in back in the states. This makes it feel a little top heavy resulting in a constant swaying from side to side and a constant feeling of tiping. I find myself bracing myself on every turn with my arms and legs to stay centered with gravity. Kind of like my mom used to do when I first got my permit. I can definitely see how it can add some stress to a person’s life.

Even with the travel and transportation being a little difficult to adjust to, I am taking in as much as I can each and everyday. There is so much to learn and see and I am ready to continue this journey!

Thailand…the first few days.

I have been in Thailand for just over a week now and have experienced and seen so many incredible things; ranging from riding on an elephant to traveling to a hill tribe of indigenous people. All of my experiences have been wonderful and I am lucky to have been able to take part on this trip. I must admit at first when my mom mentioned traveling to Thailand it was not a country that was first on my list of places to see, however once I looked more into it I was extremely intrigued and could not wait for the adventure I was going to embark on. Not only was I going to be able to travel to a country very different from my own but while I was there I was going to be taking part in activities and lectures I would not have had the opportunity to experience otherwise. The trip has been amazing thus far and worth the 20 plus hours of travel. When we finally arrived in Chiang Mai the hotel was beautiful, snd the manager and workers were so friendly…we would soon see that Thais are friendly and from my experience very welcoming as well. I was not sure what our next week in Chiang Mai would be like but it was remarkable. The first night we headed into the town and experienced the night bizarre, it reminded me of shopping in Mexico/ New York because of the set up and how busy it was. Because we all were exhausted from flying the first night was an early one for everyone, we all were in bed by 9 with the cooking class in the morning to look forward to. I am very happy we took part in the cooking class and that it was right away in the trip, it helped knowing what was in the food we would be eating over the next few weeks. We cooked curry, tom yum (soup), pad thai and a steamed banana cake, all of which were delicious and if I say so myself some of the best food we’ve had;). The cooking class was preceded with a visit to our first temple, this was something I was greatly anticipating for I did not know much about the Buddhist lifestyle. While at the temple we were able to talk with a monk and ask him questions, he was extremely friendly and surprisingly very young; 21 years old. Prior to my visit I had thought monks were older around 50 + so talking with him was very interesting. I learned a variety of facts about what it is to be a monk and how it works, but I am still intrigued to learn more about the monk lifestyle and buddhism. Earlier that day we had heard about the Royal Flora, a flower show that is held yearly in Chaing Mai we decided to head there after the temple. The show was beautiful, there were different exhibits through the area. The setup was much like the state fair you walked from one flower exhibit to the next. The designs were remarkable, there were hanging Mosquitos, to women whose dresses were made entirely of flowers. We spotted a ferris wheel and headed that way, the view was unreal. We could see the whole Royal Flora and up into the mountains, I saw what looked like someones house perched at the top and I thought how marvelous it would be to live there and wondered what that view must be like. I am extremely glad we were able to go to the show; even thought I did take a lot of pictures I don’t think I was able to capture the essence of it all. Friday we went to a mental health center, the setup was remarkably different from any mental institute in the u.s ( at least from what I know). The patients were able to be out and about together in the institute and could partake in various therapy activities for example gardening or playing the piano. I found this to be very unique but I believe extremely beneficial as well for the patients. Later that day we visited Chiang Mai university where we were able to tour the nursing school, the setup reminded me of my CNA course I had taken in the sense of how the students learned and practiced their studies. I found the university visit very interesting and looked forward to having another visit the following week and learning about the trauma center. As far as outside of our scheduled visits, Friday was our first night as a group we went out to experience the town. We headed to the riverside area that had been recommended to us, I was not sure what to expect normally while traveling the places I go to are mostly tourists however this was different, and it was quite nice. We were one of the few non thai groups in the restaurant, the place was packed and we were seated along the river. It was gorgeous, lights hung above us there was a thai cover band playing and everyone around was enjoying themselves and it was our first night to get to know one another. From the start I could tell our group was going to get along really well and I was right. Everyone was very outgoing, talkative and welcoming and coming in the trip knowing nobody I wasn’t sure what to expect but the experience with the group has been wonderful. As the night went on everyone was getting to know more about everyone and the bonding began we left the restaurant and went to another area in Chiang Mai. Traveling in Chaing Mai from one place to another was extremely easy, you had the option of tuk-tuk, bed of a pick up truck (there were benches and a cover) or there was always the walking option. The evening was a lot of fun, Chiang Mai was lit up, and tourists, expats and Thais were out and about enjoying themselves. It was cool to seen how well everyone could mesh together, when we were out s couple approached a person in our group and was very friendly and talked with us the rest of the night. My first few days in Chaing Mai were great and experiences I will never forget. The culture here is so different from ours, there are homes made from bamboo, toilets which are used like that of a bush and you can ride on an elephant in a forest. The culture here is wonderful, as being a foreigner there has not been a moment I have not felt welcomed into the country. By coming here I have learned a lot about an entirely native culture to me and also about an entirely new side to myself. I am seeing the way of life everyone lives here and how happy they are, the in the moment living and overall the buddhist lifestyle. I find that I am being pulled towards learning more about this way of life. I believe it would be beneficial to learn more about buddhism and fully intend to, it is something I would like to try to implement once home. There are so many more things I have to look forward to, I am so blessed to be here and be learning so many things about the Thai culture,and myself it is a wonderful and life-changing experience. Hopefully you enjoyed my first blog, I’ll be continuing to blog throughout the trip about all my experiences and thoughts. Until then…Sawadee-ka.

Lighting lanterns

The best weekend ever!!!!
For new years weekend we did so many things! On Saturday we rode elephants, oxen carts and went on a river raft ride.
Then we celebrated new years! A couple of friends and I walked around a night market in Chiang Mai and watched the count down in the city where there were fireworks and a lot of people. We met two English women who had been traveling on their sabbatical for two months and had another month left still!
My favorite part of he new year was lighting off the paper lanterns. There was a sign on the street that said something like they take away all of the bad things in life but they also lift up prayers for the new year. It might sound cheesy, but when I let the lantern go it was the happiest feeling that I have had since I got here. It was probably because I have never done it before but it was an experience like no other. The rest of the night we enjoyed watching the distant floating lights rise up all around us in the night sky.
Celebrating new years in Thailand was an experience to remember. Even though we are here to study healthcare and families, I think that the things that I experience outside of academia push me to learn more about the people that I interact with. Celebrating the new year among the Thai people makes me want to learn more about their lives and more about what makes Thailand so great.

Elephants & Psychiatric Hospital

I cannot believe a week has already gone by since we first arrived in Thailand. We have just arrived in Chiang Rai & our resort is beautiful here! I have already experienced & learned so many things on this trip, but know there is so much more to experience.

This past weekend our group chose to go to an elephant camp for a day. It was definitely an experience that I will never forget! I was so excited to feed an elephant, learn about them, & was definitely excited to ride an elephant. When we arrived there was a mom & baby elephant that we were able to feed bananas & sugar cane to. Next we witnessed an elephant bath in the river. I wasn’t exactly sure how the keepers were going to bath them, but the elephants actually laid down in the river– allowing the water to run over them & wash the dirt off. Next it was time for the elephant show– we got to see two elephants paint beautiful pictures & this huge elephant kick a soccer ball. It is truly amazing how intelligent elephants are. Finally it was time ride an elephant! I didn’t imagine it to be a smooth ride, but it was definitely more bumpy than I had imagined. I was actually scared at the beginning because our keeper kept telling us that we were sitting wrong, but we didn’t understand how to change our positions– we eventually figured it out though. At the very beginning we had to go down a steep hill into the river & I felt like I was going to slide right under bar, but thankfully I didn’t. It was about half & half where we were on water & then land. I honestly don’t know which one I liked better because our elephant kept stopping & refused to walk in the river & then on land it was a lot of steep hills going up & down. We arrived at our destination & it was time to take an ox cart ride back to the main camp. After eating lunch at the main camp we went on a nice raft ride down the river. Our two guides kept joking that there were alligators in the water, but we never saw any. At the end of our tour this day we were able to stop at a seven-layer waterfall. Some of us attempted to climb up the whole waterfall, but at one point we got stuck & forced to journey on the trails provided. This waterfall reminded me a lot of Gooseberry Falls up the North Shore from Duluth because it wasn’t huge, but had all the beautiful aspects that a waterfall should.

One of our cultural visits that really opened my eyes to a new view was at the psychiatric hospital. In the United States, our mental hospitals make it appear that the patients are almost under lock down & not allowed to do certain activities. At the psychiatric hospital in Chiang Mai, their view is very different. It is a very open environment compared to the United States, doors are rarely locked & patients are free to walk in their designated campuses (separated by male & female). A therapy that they focus on at this psychiatric hospital is anything that involves the patient’s hands. For example, playing the piano or cutting fabric with scissors to make into crafts.

These were only two experiences that I choose to describe, but I will be back soon to post about more.

How to fix a problem

The first experience that was truly shocking to me as far as the seminars go was the statistics that were shown at the nursing college. The effectiveness of the Thai’s to create a system to track illnesses and outbreaks has tremendously helped them make decisions about what kind of care needs to be administered throughout Thailand. This tactic seems very cost efficient and will actually protect the health of their people. The basic understanding that to take of the people will take care of the country is a concept I’m questioning if the U.S has adapted. When the discussion of how they dealt with the HIV issue once it was introduced in Thailand was the most interesting and shocking. The openness about contraceptive at a young age and the availability of resources to those who are affected by HIV was amazing. Through their statistics they were able to literally show us how they decreased the number of people being infected with HIV within 3 slides, it was the simplest presentation but I sat amazed. The idea of being practical and putting that concept into action was all it took. It made me feel like the U.S. complicates things to no end and makes everything a judgment call, a moral standard set by the deviant politicians, or some 100 year old knowledge that is as useful in today’s society as a wooden tire. The medical staff of Thailand has seemed to be able to adapt and identify what the needs of the people are make the necessary changes. It’s that simple. 

Friendly People from Veronica Jasperson

I can’t believe I am finally here! It has been an exciting start to a long anticipated trip! I have only been here for a short while, but everything that I have read about all the friendly people in Thailand has turned out to be true. Consideration for others is built right into their culture in Thailand. I have gotten great responses by the people here by just smiling and bowing. In the beginning when I started to say thank you and hello they would laugh at me because I was obviously saying it wrong, but I can tell that they appreciate the gesture of trying to learn the language and culture.

At home I know I have a tendency to over analyze peoples reactions to my gestures and stay conscious of how they react to me or how I make others feel. I have had to adapt to American culture and pay less attention to what other people think, but here I almost feel more at home.

Thai food experiences from Naomi Timm

Food in Thailand- I expected this Thailand trip to be filled with extravagant elephants, zip lining adrenaline rushes, and culture shocking experiences, but the food here is one experience for which my taste buds were not prepared.  I thought that living in Texas and being familiar with Mexican food and Cajun spice would be an easy transition to the intense chili flavored Thai food. However, my meal at the elephant farm shot that theory down very quickly.  The food was served buffet style so I tried this delicious looking chicken and green bean dish. I anticipated it to be spicy-like most Thai food is, but I thought I could handle it especially after our cooking class. Nope. That green bean dish was made my entire mouth burn! My eyes were watering, my nose was running, and my throat and tongue craved some sort of liquid to calm the spice down. Only the Chang beer and water only made it worse. I tried to tame it with bread and rice, but no relief. I ran back to the buffet line with haste and blood shot eyes from the intense curry flavor-pretty sure my intolerance for spicy food was written all over my face! I grabbed a watermelon slice and threw it in my mouth before I even sat down and finally received some liberation to the hot flavor.  And of course, because I now view eating spicy Thai food as a fun challenging game, once my mouth finally got back to normal, I took another bite of that delicious looking green bean and chicken dish.  I now have a new goal: return to Texas with an outrageously high tolerance for spicy food!

Intermountain Peoples Education & Culture in Thailand

On Monday, Jan 2nd, we met with the director of the IMPECT organization ( which stands for Inter-mountain Peoples Education and Culture in Thailand.  They describe the organization as a collective of independent indigenous groups that come together to address issues impacting indigenous peoples in northern Thailand.  The 10 represented groups are: Karen (largest), Hmong (2nd largest), Lisu, Mieng, Akha, Lahu, Lua, Kachin, Thai Yai, and Data-ahng.  The three primary issues they address are 1) alternate education and cultural revival, 2) development of the indigenous peoples network (capacity building and leadership), and 3) natural resources and environmental issues.  Interestingly, 70% of their funding comes from abroad.  The remaining 30% comes from the Thai government and is primarily focused on education.

Mr. Sakda, IMPECT director, and Ms. Mee, IMPECT program coordinator, explained how changes in access to land has impacted the hill area people.  Before they were able to practice a natural cycle of crop rotation – moving from year to year on a six year cycle to a different place for planting.  Thus, they did not deplete the soil.  However, now they must cultivate a particular parcel of land every year.  The soil gets depleted and they must now use chemical fertilizers in order to grow the crops.  Additionally, about 30 years ago, the government worked to eliminate the growing of poppies, a native plant on the mountains.  They introduced non-native crops which require fertilizers and pesticides to grow; this has created environmental issues that were previously non-existent.

Ms. Mee talked about the Hmong New Year Festival we would be visiting shortly.  She shared that at this time of year, Hmong families gather and offer food to their ancestors.  They also gather as a community to have fun.  Young men and women toss a ball back and forth as a way to meet each other.  Elders share their cultural traditions and inculcate values in their young people.  A very interesting addition to contemporary festivities is holding a gender debate to talk about the changing roles of men and women in Hmong society.  She said they focus on the good aspects of being wife and husband, highlighting the positive side of relationships in order to strengthen families during rapidly changing times.