Sitting in my warm room and looking at all of my souvenirs from Thailand, I reflect on my experiences in Thailand and how much I have grown from it.
Tonight will be our last night in Thailand. There were many more things I wanted to do but we just didn’t have time and we had to change our plans. It’s okay though because not everything goes as planned.
Our last few nights in Thailand were spent in Bangkok and Pattaya. Pattaya was like our little get-a-way from the protest that occurred on Monday. I spent the first day at the beach and relaxed. Got myself an ugly tan while relaxing but that was bound to happen. The first thing I noticed at the beach were the amount of foreigners there. There were a lot but what surprised me the most was that there were people selling things. It ranged from foods, henna tattoos, swim stuff, and clothes. I was really surprised but realized that was what they did for a living. I felt bad rejecting them but I’m sure they’re so used to it.
After returning to Bangkok, I did some last minute shopping. I was planning to finish my shopping after returning from the north but things changed. I guess it was a good thing because I would have spent a lot more money. In all, I have really enjoyed my time in Thailand and hope one day to return.
One thing mothers are usually responsible for are the clothes and food. These are some important aspects of culture that also needs to be passed down from generation to generation. These ladies, and many more out there, are doing their jobs well. I am quite inspired by the leaderships of these strong women, including my mother, to be an advocate not only for my heritage and for others to keep their own. My apprecitions go out to those representing strong leadership within the communities especially those that goes unnoticed often.
Chiang Rai Rajabhat University (CRRU)
The visit to the village near Chiang Rai on Saturday was quite the humbling experience. It was an experience that forced me to reflect on the meaning of necessity. The people of this village had no washing machine, rudimentary running water if any, no electricity and have to work hard for their meals and living every single day. Their clothes were tattered, obviously worn from years of the sun beating down on them along with heavy use. There was a young boy riding a bike around with no back tire on it, just the rim. It is hard to imagine a more opposite lifestyle than us visitors and those who live in the village. You could see in the eyes of the mothers that they don’t quite understand our lifestyle and why we are taking pictures of their children. I can only hope we were respectful and came across as friendly enough for them the put up with us. It is an experience that makes material goods seem so insignificant.
Although I was bummed to find out that we would be unable to visit the hospital and explore the endless city of Bangkok due to the protests, I wasn’t too bummed about spending two days soaking up the sun in Pattaya. As planned, I ended up having a wonderful, memorable time with a fun group at the beach. Being able to see the differences between the cultures and feel the different vibes places within Thailand hold was a huge learning experience for me. I think this little bit of traveling I have done has already opened up my eyes to the natural, simplistic beauty of the world and those that inhabit it. Northern Thailand held so much of this type of beauty while Pattaya couldn’t hold a fraction of this beauty even with the beautiful water and beach.
As my last few hours in Thailand come to a close I am glad that I have gotten to become a part of this group. During our last briefing this morning the group spoke a lot about how the Thai culture was based around the collectivism in their societies. So often, I am speaking on my own experience, we are pushed out into the world so soon to create an identity for ourselves. Like Jill spoke about, we create an identity by what we do. So often I get wrapped up in what I am doing to make myself an individual and separating myself what from what my family is doing and just plowing through life on my own. Being here in Thailand forced me out of my push to be such an individualist. I had no choice to do things on my own, it was with my group. It allowed me to open up my mind a little and learn to rely on people. Being away from my comfort zone and doing everything within a group was a huge struggle for me. When I was growing up, I was always forced to be independent so I could survive on my own, but that’s not the way the Thai’s look at it. By being so individualistic, I know what personal space is, and how time alone feels. During my travels, that was stripped from me and very hard to deal with the first week. As the trip progressed, the collectivism became a safety net for me. I was able to turn to some people during hard times and during the experiences that were difficult to face. It relieved some of the stress that I would have endured if I was just facing this all alone.
The Thai’s culture focuses on eliminating and avoiding stress and turning to their family is a very good way to do it, or they just ignore it. Sometimes doing nerve racking or high stress activities, like zip lining, is much easier to do when you have a group of people around you supporting and encouraging you. This was true for a I think more than a few of us on that experience. Relying on families like the Thai family systems do here, can make their homes run and their villages run by smoothly. This takes away the pressure from just one person to try and operate the village, reducing the stress. This is true for the village that we did our home stay in, one of my favorite things on this trip. The village leader didn’t look like he held an ounce of stress in his face, maybe he was just good at hiding it. I believe that this was because the community turned to one another to help out. They all know what they needed to do, and what link they were to complete the circle. People may think that my stress level has been reduced because they may have thought that this was a “vacation”, and some parts of it were a little taste of a vacation, but it was a huge learning curve for me. Becoming a part of this group that traveled to Thailand has given me a “family” who will understand the experiences I had. It just made me realize the importance of not being so individualistic and being more collective within my family. I believe that it will make for a stronger connection, bond, and life with our family.
I am glad to be returning to my home and life, but I am returning with a new perspective and am ready to share that with my family. I will miss my friends that I’ve made and look forward to other adventures with them!
Pattaya. A tourist hotspot where you see more foreigners than Thai’s. Where old foreign men and young local girls seem to be the best of friends. Of all the places we have visited in Thailand, this was definitely the one I was most eager to leave. Despite the gorgeous beaches and wonderfully warm weather, there was a darker side to this place. The men showed little to no respect to the women, and staring for extended periods of time seemed to be the norm. Even though I was not the target of these stares, as someone with three younger sisters, I could barely stand by and watch it happen to the girls in our group. I don’t know the customs in these tourists hometowns, but much of the behavior I witnessed would be enough to get a visit from the police back in the United States. There were less smiling faces and more vendors shoving goods down your throat, hoping to make some easy money from the foreigners. A few days to soak up the sun on the beautiful beaches was great, but Pattaya will not be on my list of places to return to. However, the visit taught me a lot. It showed me in a more drastic way than any of our other destinations that you cannot make assumptions about an entire country based on any one city. Every country has some shady areas where the low life’s hang around, and Pattaya is definitely one of those cities in Thailand.
It never ceases to amaze how we, as individuals, perceive beauty. During our ride to Pattaya’s beach, there was constant chatter about sitting under the radiant sun rays to get a nice tan. Once we arrived at the beach, I was in awe. As my eyes squinted across the sandy beach, I could not help but notice how many foreigners were at the beach tanning away. Shockingly, some foreigners tanned until they turned a rusty baked orange color! Honestly, it was a bit scary how over baked their tan was.
But as I was standing there, I started thinking about the idea of beauty for both foreigners and the Thai people. I could not help but wonder, what makes tanning so appealing to me? Ms. Nok mentioned that Thai people prefer to have lighter or “whiter” skin because it shows that they do not work in the farmlands. This to me was particularly interesting because of how contrasting our views of what skin beauty was. Growing up as an Hmong American woman, I never quite understood why the idea of tanning was appealing in the states. I always resisted tanning because my skin color was beautiful to me (although, for some odd reasons I wanted to get tan that Sunday). Going back to the states, I will definitely bring back this idea of contrasting cultures along with thoughts to ponder why Americans are inclined to tan.
As we headed to Pattaya we were told about how big of a tourist attraction it is and how we need to be careful. These words did not give enough justice to just how different Pattaya is. The hotel we were staying at was full of people from other countries, especially people from India, and as we sat on the beach I noticed most of the people in Pattaya were from other countries as well. Being in Pattaya made me feel the most unsafe I had felt here in Thailand. The foreigners would stop and watch us as we walked. Some of them even took pictures of us without our consent.
During our one night in Pattaya a few of us decided to go out to a bar. We finally managed to find one place that was semi cool there was even karaoke. As we sat and drank our beer I noticed quite a few young Thai women hanging around older white men, and when the women started dancing on stage the older men started taking pictures and videos of them. At one point a guy even started singing and dancing with one of these women and I noticed he had a wedding ring on.
Seeing what these women have to do for money really made me realize how privileged I am. These girls have to do things that I would never consider so they can send money to their family. I felt sorry for these girls, but most of all I was angry with those men. How could anyone use a person in that way and be okay with it. I am glad I got to experience this part of Thailand, but I would never suggest going to just Pattaya if someone wanted to go to Thailand. The northern part of Thailand is where the real culture is.
Now I’m not saying Pattaya is a bad place to go. The beach there is beautiful, and there are so many water activities to do. The seafood is a must as well. They catch fresh fish from the ocean daily just make sure it is cooked in front of you so you don’t get sick. One thing to make sure of though is to have enough sun screen. The sun in Thailand is much different than the sun in Minnesota many of us got burnt. Overall it was a great experience and I wouldn’t mind going back as long as I can go to northern Thailand as well.