I have never been a good writer when it comes to being expressive or descriptive of what my idea is deeply about. I am a people person, I love to talk to people rather than write down my thoughts. When I write I feel so limited, but when I talk my words just comes out so freely. Trying to reflect back on this wonderful opportunity of being a part of this program, I really can not put the words to explain my feelings. Sad? Happy? Amazed? Those words do not even do justice to expressing my feelings.
We have visited so many places in Thailand. Sometimes I would wonder, “Why in the hell are we here and what does this have to do with anything?” Acharan Cathy and Acharan Linda gave us the experience but the connection between each of the experience is one that we would have to do ourselves. The processing each of the experience and the personal connection is what makes our stay in Thailand much more meaningful to each of us. I would be lying if I say it was a easy process. I am still iffy about some experiences but of those experiences that I processed, it is as fireworks is going off in my mind.
One particular experience was very emotional one for me. Visiting the Chaing Dao was a life changing one. The moment I walked into the auditorium and seeing those wonderful kids sitting, tears started coming down. I was so happy to see such young, bright, and beautiful students. Though they did not have much, each one of them is fighting hard for their education. Some of which leaves their family at a young age and dorm at the school. My tears wouldn’t stop as we visited individual classrooms. Some of these students seem to be five or six years old and yet they are so strong willed.
In the van Acharan Linda asked me how the visit was for me and I couldn’t answer because my voice started cracking. I will now answer that question. It was one of the most inspiring thing that I have ever experience in my life. I realized how privileged I am as an American and really take for granted that privilege. I need to slow down in life and appreciate the little things in life. These student inspires me to be a better person and try my hardest to reach my dreams because if someone like these students can rise up from close to nothing, why can’t I. I have all that I have and if I can’t reach my dreams, then I have taken my life for granted.
I am back in Thailand as an adult and as a tourist. I have more money to spend. My goals that I posted in the first blog was going to different places, eat different foods and compare my experiences of Thailand as a ‘refugee child’ to my experiences as an ‘adult tourist’ and learn from them. Now that am free to do as I wish, I bought a huge quantity of clothes as well as gifts. To others it might seem like I spent so much and impulsively. So, why do I spent so much?
Twelve years ago when I was still a child living inside a refugee camp in Thailand, I’ve never once in my life have more than 15 baht (about $0.45) in my hands. Most of the times when I go to school, my parents would give me 10 baht (about $0.30) to spend. Everyday, I will use five to seven baht for my lunch and I would use the left over money for snacks. Sometimes, I would buy rice paddy with banana inside to eat on the way to school. Sometimes after lunch, I would get a pancake in the shape of a turtle for 1 baht. Sometimes, I tried not to spend all of the money my parents gave me so they don’t have to get me more money the next day.
I’ve never wore a pair of shoes worth more than 10 baht (about $0.30). Yes, the more expensive the shoes are the prettier they are. I’ve always resisted it when my parents offer to buy me a prettier pair of shoe and declined their offer although I wanted a pair of nice shoes to match my friends. I was eight years old at the time and I was not too young to know that my parents are struggling to make money and to keep foods on the table for their six children. There were many times that my family of eight shared two pack of noodles. We would make it with a lot of water and mixed the noodle soup with rice and eat it. Most of the times, my dad would only eat a little so that his children will have enough. My dad would eat the left over foods on our plates when we are done. I am aware of this, every time he gave me a piece of meat or more noodles, I would purposely not finish it and pretended that I am full so he will have a little bit more to eat later. This was my life in Thailand from the day I was born until I was ten years old. I’ve never regret any of it but learned to appreciated how much my parents love us.
Now I have more than 15 baht (about $0.45) in my hands, I have thousands of baht to spend and have spent thousands already. I am spending to make up for all the things that I’ve never had. Still, I have no regrets for what I spent my money for.
My time here spent in Thailand has been nothing short of amazing. I had this trip planned for nearly a year and was counting down the days until departure. About two months prior to leaving, I emailed Marina to cancel my application and give up my spot on the trip. I got scared and was overwhelmed with stuff going on at home; I felt like it was a terrible time to leave the country. I then realized that I’m traveling for me, I’m learning for me, and I AM going to take this time for me. I quickly emailed Marina back a day later and restated I would be able to attend the trip and to keep me on the list.
The timing of the trip could not have come at a more perfect time. While at home, I was worried about a lot of things that were beyond my control. Finals were going to happen, I was going to graduate, my relationship(s) with my boyfriend and a friend were falling apart one day at a time, and I was not taking care of myself. I was constantly taking care of other things and other people, I completely disregarded my own well being. I decided that traveling to Thailand would give me the opportunity and time to self reflect and really figure out what I am passionate about and how I want to live my life after graduation. Being away from home would push me out of my comfort zone and really force to me adapt to environments I am not used too. I was so excited but had no idea what to expect.
After spending three weeks traveling around Thailand, I have grown in ways that I never thought I would, and I have learned so much more about who I am as a young American woman. Being in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar faces and not having access to all the “things” I do when I am at home freaked me out a little bit. My open-mindedness and ability to feel a sense of comfort was tested. For a while, I was constantly worried about what was going to happen next but I got tired of asking questions and decided to just go with the flow. Eventually, the only thing I ever really wanted to know was what time I needed to meet up with the group, otherwise once again everything was beyond my control. Also, being in a group of people with such different personalities was really difficult for me as well. I am someone who has a small circle of friends and not being able to rely on those friends for the past three weeks was tough. I was forced to make new friends and create new relationships. I was forced to live in the present and accept everything that was happening day to day. Some days were more frustrating than others but I also had experiences I will never forget. In every moment I tried my best to understand why I felt the way I did and what triggered that feeling. There were days where I was really happy and there were other days I was super tired and everything annoyed me but I always reminded myself to have gratitude.
The challenges I faced over the past three weeks really helped me grow and understand a little more about who I am. Though I only listed a few above, there were many more. Some more personal than others and some so minor that people would probably question why I am even being challenged. With that said, I confronted each of those challenges head on and faced realities I never thought possible. I am so grateful for the time spent in Thailand and all of the wonderful people I got to meet. Working towards finding a balance between the mind and the body is really pushing me to reevaluate my own way of life. Challenges come in all shapes and sizes. Some grow from something really small and others are a complete surprise, but at the end of the day its all about how one acts and reacts when faced with challenges. Thank you all so much for going on this journey with me!
Brights lights. Busy traffic. As a girl growing up in the city, all I’ve known of is the city life. Back at home, life is always busy: work, school, appointments, time, and money. Life moves fast in the city. So I didn’t know how prepared I would be for this Thailand trip. On our first night, we arrived in Bangkok. Bright lights. Busy traffic. Nothing too different. But as we flew to Chiang Mai and Chiang Khong, things began to change.
I want to focus on the Mekong School we visited in Chiang Khong, which focused on educating people on the preservation and sustainability of the Mekong River. Hearing them speak about their purpose in life was inspiring. Back at home, I never truly appreciated the natural environment. Honestly I didn’t really know what it was. The Mekong School and people in Northern Thailand have a way of coexisting with the environment. They flow with the natural pace of mother nature. While I experienced a glimpse of their life, I felt a sense of freedom that I had never felt before. I felt like I could breathe for the first time.
The same feeling overcame me during our 2nd home stay in Amphawa. During the night, we took a stroll on a boat to see fireflies. Naturally, I’d be freaking out about the darkness and bugs. As we drifted about the city looking for fireflies, I closed my eyes and simply listened to the music of nature. The sound of the paddle in the water… the insects buzzing around… the sound of my breath. This is what beauty is, and this is what’s missing at home. During this trip, I’ve learned to not only appreciate the the beauty and power of the natural environment, but to find a way to show others that beauty. I’ve learned that bright lights can come from fireflies and the moon and busy traffic from all the animals and organisms colliding into each other. I learned how to breathe for the first time.
I can’t believe today is our last day in Thailand. It’s crazy to think that I’ve been here for three weeks and have seen and learned so much. Even though I loved it here, I can’t wait to go back home.
It’s been over twenty-five years since my parents immigrated to the United States as refugees from Thailand. They haven’t been back since. Though my parents still have friends and family here and in Laos, they haven’t found the time and opportunity to come back to the place they grew up, the place they once called home. Being assimilated into the American lifestyle, they still keep a part of Laos and Thailand with them through gardening, farming, raising chickens, going to local Hmong markets, practicing Shamanism, etc. It’s hard sometimes, but they still do.
Even though I am the only one here, I feel that this trip was also for my family; in every picture I took, my dad, mom, uncles and aunts would comment on the things: “Good choice to go as an American.” “Is it fun?” “The Mekong River is still big.” “Be safe and always be aware.”
I’ve always wondered about my parents lives before the United States – do they miss it? What did they do as kids, as teenagers? What kind of struggles did they have? What kind of environment did they grow up in? Even though the places we went were definitely not exact replicas of the way they lived, I’m truly grateful that I got to experience the things I did, such as sleeping on hard mats, squatting toilets and walking through the woods. Each time we went out and explored the city or learned about the environment and agriculture, I kept my parents in mind and connected it with them. In a way I did have this experience with my mom and dad, but I wish they could’ve been here with me to see everything. I know they would talk about what’s changed and what’s the same, and about how different the American lifestyle is from what we see.
It’s been three weeks since I’ve been home, and I miss it. I miss the beautiful lakes, I miss the view of the skyline of downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, and I miss the businesses down University Avenue. It’s been over twenty-five years for my parents; I wonder what they miss?