Home to many people is a place that brings you joy or people that gives you comfort. We search for a community to belong to, seeking others to make us feel whole. Thailand for the past 3 weeks has been home to me and I think it will always be. Through the people I’ve meet, the organizations I have partake in, and the culture I’ve engaged with, I’ve reconnected with my identity and learned about cultures that I have fallen in love with.
As a Hmong-American, I’ve struggled with my dual identity. Never feeling “Hmong” enough and not feeling “American” enough. In order to fit into the “American” culture I neglected my culture and was ashamed of it. I chose to not speak my native tongue: Hmong with my Hmong peers so that I wouldn’t be looked down upon. I chose to not learn about my Shaman religion and Hmong customs because I didn’t see a reason for it. Thailand changed it all.
Pha Nok Kok Village was the first Hmong encounter I had on this trip. I had the honor to meet the Hmong people of this village and the opportunity to see their way of life. As I was translating and communicating with the Hmong elders, I realized how important language is. Language allows people to connect with one another. One of the student from the Hmong Club of Chiang Rai Rajabhat University said that “although we are from different parts of the world, one thing we have in common is our Hmong language because we’re able to feel a sense of familiarity with that”. Being able to translate and communicate with all the Hmong individuals I have meet on this trip has reminded me why it’s so important to know my Hmong history, culture, and language.
Seeing different organizations such as the Karen Village and the Hmong Club of Rajabhat University working to preserve their indigenous culture has sparked me an interest of mine which is working with Hmong Organizations to preserve and educate our youth on the Hmong culture. There is richness in every culture. Thailand has allowed me to recognize the richness of my Hmong culture and all the cultures that we have encountered.
The past 3 weeks in Thailand have been pure happiness, learning, and warmth from those that I have encountered. Thank you Thailand for allowing me to find reconnect with my identity and helping me discover a passion of mine. I know this won’t be the last time here.
For as long as I could remember, I grew up listening to the stories of a place called Thailand. I’ve always known it as the place where my parents met and fell in love, started a family, and most importantly, where my parents and grandparents sought refuge. As a Hmong daughter born and raised in the United States, I hardly saw Thailand as my home. Growing up in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, a predominantly Caucasian suburb, I was always reminded that I was different. That I was Hmong. I was always one of the two or three students who wasn’t Caucasian, and sometimes, the only Asian. I grew to become very uncomfortable with that because I never liked to stand out, therefore, always aimed to disguise myself by adjusting to the American culture. Although I’ve learned to embrace my native heritage throughout my college years, my past of allowing society to validate my identity continues to haunt me into believing that the States is my only home.
Throughout my time in Thailand, I’ve experienced a roller coaster of emotions. Our visit to the Pha Nok Kok Hmong village was a wonderful experience but it initially overwhelmed me considering my unpreparedness to translate for the entire class. This is due to a personal lack in practicing my native tongue to where I wasn’t completely confident regardless of Hmong being one of the most spoken languages at home. In addition, we learned a lot about the Hmong culture, such as Shamanism being the most common religion. Because of my affiliation with Christianity, I felt that I was unable to answer a lot of the questions that I was asked. This also resulted in my assumption that I didn’t have much of a part in explaining the ways of my culture because of the different practices that my family partakes in. Eventually after one week, which was also the longest I’ve been away from home, my feelings began to consume me and I became very homesick. I felt like I didn’t fit the description of my own people, nonetheless, the Thai culture that my father takes pride in.
After talking to Jory about my situation, I learned that homesickness isn’t necessarily something that a person has to overcome but that it could just be something to accept. Through this, I was able to accept the fact that I thought about home too often because I was convinced that I wasn’t “Hmong enough” to properly interact with the Hmong elders and families in Thailand. Although the next day, in my opinion, felt like it occurred just in time because it was the day we visited the Hmong Club, CRUU, at the university in Chiang Rai. The amount of interaction that took place during this visit was overwhelmingly comforting and marked the beginning of a new approach for me. The students and faculty members at the event were very welcoming and did not shy away from initiating conversation. I had many discussions of what life was like in the United States and overall got to know many of the students. Something that stuck out to me was the fact that I wasn’t the only one struggling to communicate in Hmong. To my surprise, the Hmong students also found it challenging to speak in their native language because of the dominant Thai culture. In the United States, it is very easy to assume that the Hmong youth in Thailand are well-immersed in the Hmong culture and language when in reality, they’re no different from us. Through this experience, I learned a great amount about my own culture that I never got the chance to, such as learning how to make the balls for ball tossing, and felt at home through the connections that were made. This was definitely one of my highlights which also motivated me to just live in the moment each day moving forward.
With an abundance of activities that our class has had the privilege to take part in during our time in Thailand, no one-day will suffice for the sacrifice that my family, as well as my people, made in order for me to be here today. One of the most meaningful moments I experienced occurred yesterday during our last lunch at the Mekong school in Chiang Khong. A man came up to me and asked if I was Hmong as I responded with a, “Yes.” We then continued to have a discussion about the Hmong population in Chiang Khong which led to his conclusion of the exact words, “Thank you for visiting your homeland.” These words were unforgettable to me because it reminded me just as to why I decided to embark on this journey in the first place. Thailand is filled with immense culture and life, and is home to my people, my family, and therefore, it is my home. I hope to bring back the lessons and experiences with me with the goal to embrace more of my language and culture, so that one day I may return with more eagerness to live and learn.
I used to think happiness was achieved when I made it to the American dream. Whether that included a big house, a happy family, nice cars, and exceptional vacations. I was happy before this trip to Thailand, I’ve been happy on during the duration of this trip, and I intend to be happy in the future. After talking with a monk named KK in Chiang Rai, achieving happiness in the future will be different from how I originally intended to find it. Western culture revolves around stress, long hours, and negative attitudes. Don’t get me wrong, there are many significant aspects of western civilization, but I feel like many people could benefit from the teachings of Buddhism.
Initially, I thought Buddhism was a religion, and to only practice Buddhism, you needed to attend temples and to believe in its God. Buddhism is a way of life, and the key to this “religion” is finding the perfect balance. The ideal balance entails finding peace between your mind and body. Before this trip, I pushed the limits on working out some days and overly stressed myself out in school. However, at the end of your lifetime, what will matter most? Will it be the experiences that you’ve lived through, the people you surround yourself with, or the amount of money that you have? When you put that idea into perspective, the hours of stressing and working long hours of the day won’t matter when you’re laying on your death bed.
Continuing, after that hour-long talk, I’m going to start achieving happiness a lot differently. I will try my hardest to have an excellent job to provide for my future family, but I will also prioritize myself also. Meditation will solely be the reason for this difference. During high school and my first half of college, my mental health and focus was never a priority. Now, when life becomes too overwhelming, I will meditate. It was the critical teaching that KK touched on and I never truly realized the importance of it.
Along with meditation, KK also informed us of the idea of suffering. Before, I would do anything in my power to avoid pain. I also hated the idea of death and fearing those that I’m closest to, passing away. But death is a part of life, and it’s important to learn how to accept it. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be sad about the person passing away, but it’s important to understand that death is a way of life. Trust the relationship that you have with that person and remember the memories that you have with them forever.
Lastly, KK talked about the idea that you can’t dwell on the past, you need to accept that it happens and move on. Hearing this statement brought me back to the times in high school where the most unimportant event occurred, and I would act like the world is ending. My dad would always tell me that I was focusing on something that was in the past and that there was nothing in my power that could change it. You can only control the future and trust that your good intentions and values, will bring you wisdom in those hard times. There is just no need to focus your time and energy in those times, and they won’t matter when you’re at the end of your life. Going forth, I will focus on the positives in my life and not dwell on the past.
Overall, these few teachings that I learned from Buddhism will help guide my future to everlasting happiness. I’m determined to return back to America with a new mindset in life, that will help focus my energy and time to what is essential, and I couldn’t be happier to learn this in Thailand. Truly a memory that will last forever and will ultimately change my life, eternally thankful.
Only one week left and I can’t believe how many breathtaking experiences have already been had! Thailand has been a whirlwind. I came into this trip trying to keep myself open to the idea of new experiences, with no expectations holding me back. I wanted to experience Thailand for all that it is and the last thing I wanted was my anxiety, nerves, or worries to rob me of an amazing opportunity. As I prepared for this trip to a country on the opposite side of the world, so different from anything I had ever experienced, I just kept this quote I had been using as a mantra in my mind. “The comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there”. This has been a super healthy mindset for me during this trip to consistently put me in perspective and continue to challenge myself. I came on this trip for new experiences, new outlooks, to learn about the culture, and to learn more about myself as well. I already feel that this trip has granted me those wishes.
Looking back on these last two weeks I have learned so much, and really seen myself grow as a person. There has yet to be an experience I feel that I did not learn from, but there were a couple specific experiences that really stand out for me during this trip. The first significant experience for me was the trip to Wat Suan Dok, a buddhist temple in Chiang Mai.I have never seen anything like this in my entire life.The temple was gorgeous, all white with a gold tower in the center.It is the biggest temple in Chiang Mai and utterly remarkable. We explored the temple for awhile, and after enjoying the temple we settled down in a room where a Buddhist monk, KK, came and shared the Buddhist philosophy and Monk way of life.This was a discussion that really hit me hard.It was everything I had been trying to embody.Everything I was trying to change, in order to take care of myself, and overcome my mental health issues. Each thing he said made so much sense and I just felt like this was knowledge that would help me longterm, and help me live and healthier, happier life overall. A few of my biggest takeaways from KK’s teachings include the importance of balance, mindfulness and the understanding of self, and the toll of attachment and dwelling. The Buddhist philosophy is all about balance, balance in your life, and more specifically balance between the physical being and the mental being. We do so much to care for our physical being, we exercise, shower, eat, sleep, but in what ways do we care for our mental being? This is something I had never considered before. Additionally, the Buddhism philosophy embraces the idea of self knowing. When our mind has unhealthy or unhelpful thoughts we need to know ourself enough to be able to overcome them. Using mental self care to establish the development of wisdom (knowing yourself), self awareness, mindfulness, and learn to be able to easily let things happen, and easily let them go, never to dwell. I was so surprised how much this session with KK meant to me and how much I would take with me once it ended. I already feel positive changes starting to happen in my life and I believe that all starts with a healthier and cleansed mind!
The second experience that really sticks out in my mind is the visit to the Karen village. Going in I really had no idea what to expect. But the village as a whole was so welcoming and warm.They were so sweet and eager to show us their culture.They were excited to share every aspect and even more excited to see us participate and engage in the activities they do on a daily basis.It was amazing to learn through this experience. We worked with the elders in the community, as they showed us their weaving projects and looms, the work they had done was amazing. I couldn’t believe the craft, dedication, and time these women put into these fabrics and embroidery. They had such kindness in their eyes and such patience to be working with us, even given the language barrier. I really felt accepted and wanted there. I learned so much about what it means to be a truly authentic person from the actions and lifestyles these women live. It was truly inspiring and I hope to be as much of a badass in my old age as the women who hopped in the back of a pickup truck like it was nothing and then proceeded to climb a mountain. Mind-blowing!!
There have been so many more events in my mind that make this trip one that I know I will cherish for a lifetime. I can’t imagine the possibilities for this last week in Thailand, but I’m sure they will be just as worthwhile as these ones have been. I cannot wait to share my experiences with my friends and family once I’m home, and also fully get the opportunity to process my time here.
Throughout my journey in Thailand I have learned about the culture through experiences and observations. In this blog post I will be focusing on the atmosphere and way of life I have examined in the Thai markets and how they compare and contrast with markets in America.
When we first arrived to Bangkok, I ventured down the street with some of my classmates to explore the area near our hotel. My first observation was there was an overwhelming amount of stores and produce stands in a compacted area. I began wondering how certain stands compete with one another in the produce market due to similar products offered. My second observation was the prices are extremely cheap, and many stands give the same prices for produce due to a price competition. In Bangkok the stands and markets have minimal setup costs and most of the business comes from fresh produce, which is rare to find in Minnesota unless you find a farmers market in the summer. In America, it is often hard for small pop up businesses to stay in the market because of the competition and high prices to keep a store running. For similar products in America, the prices can vary if the stores are not close to one another.
The market area in Chang Mai was larger than the market I observed in Bangkok. There were more products offered such as art, clothes and other items being sold. When my classmate and I were walking down the street, the vendors were extremely aggressive and were trying to pursued us to purchase products at an extremely high price. Acharn Cat informed us to bargain with the vendors in these types of markets, because most of the time the price markup is excessive. After bargaining and purchasing a few products I wondered if locals are used to bargaining with vendors on the daily. I have never bargained in America; the price of a product is usually non negotiable.
In Chang Rai, the market was smaller than I expected. The main difference I noticed between the markets in Chang Mai and Chang Rai was the attitudes and forceful actions from the vendors. In Chang Rai, the workers let you browse and examine products without trying to influence you to purchase the product which I enjoyed.
The most captivating observation and comparison between the different markets and cities was the different atmosphere of the markets. When first arriving to Thailand, I assumed most of the cities would have similar markets and ways of selling products to customers but I was wrong. It depends on the location (if it is a tourist spot like the market in Chang Rai versus a local area like the produce stand in Bangkok), the amount of competition between vendors and similarities of products, and the products you are searching for. Purchasing produce and products in Thailand and America are extremely different and have more differences than similarities. Although bargaining can be exhilarating at times, I feel as if it would get exhausting to do daily. However, that is the culture in Thailand and I am still adjusting to that aspect of their communities.
We were lucky enough to visit two villages in Thailand: a Hmong village in Chiang Mai and a Karen village in Chiang Rai. Looking back on these two separate occasions, I really admire the preservation of their cultures while being away from home. In both cases, the villagers lived in the mountains and were surrounded by people of the same culture. Seeing these villages made me understand the struggles of what it could be for a culture to immigrate and start acclimating into another culture.
The Hmong culture originated from China and they are now having to adjust their life in thailand while keeping their traditions alive. It was interesting to hear how in both villages, the villagers are worried about the younger generations. It’s typical for the younger students to go the university in the city in order to get an education that can help them earn money in a job. It was really cool hearing the perspective from the elders because they are scared the younger generations won’t come back to the village and therefore lose their primary culture/tradition. Yet, I was interpreting that the reason the children leave is to help support their families back in the village. I took this as contradictory viewpoints. It seems like there is a lot of pressure on these kids to acclimate to Thai culture while still staying true to their home culture. I really clicked with visiting these villages because I was comparing my grandmother’s experience when she immigrated and how it was for my mom to balance these two cultures. My grandmother spoke only in Greek to her and expected her to work with my grandpa at his restaurant, yet my mom wanted to venture out and explore other things like sports, for example.
While these scenarios aren’t the same, the balancing if cultures really stuck out to me. Seeing two of my Hmong classmates interact with their native culture in Thailand., made me really appreciate those who integrate two cultures. I think it’s so important to stay true to who you are, but it’s also so impressive to see how these people manage these expectations from both sides.
I think this resonates with current immigrants in the US. Immigrants who come to the US are already expected to know some English and completely acclimate to the western culture but also want to keep their native culture alive while being in the States. It really is such a difficult thing to accomplish: the balance. Seeing these villages made me appreciate how much they hold onto their native culture because there is a huge push to westernize or to conform to the country’s culture. I loved seeing their traditions and daily life rituals that makes their native Hmong or Karen cultures so powerful!
I have been really interested in learning more about what special education looks like in Thailand and seeing how it compares to my knowledge of special education in the USA. It’s been really interesting to go to the various schools so far in Thailand and ask them about how their special education system is set up. I have been surprised at the variety of answers of how schools work with special education and students with disabilities. So far, I have found that students with special needs and disabilities in general are worked with differently in Thailand and the USA. When I asked more specific questions at schools, there seemed to be a disconnect of the definition of disability. From my understanding, how they view disability is more on a physical level than a cognitive level. It has been a little frustrating that some of the question I have tried to ask have been lost in translation in a way. There just seems to be a disconnect when I ask about the special education supports in schools.
The first school we went to was the welfare school and when I asked them about special education, they said that they do not really have any students in special education. They said that when students are slower learners that they will spend extra time with the teachers after school to work on the subjects they need help with most. The second school I inquired about was the school in the Hmong village we visited. When we talked to the chief of the village, he said that students born in the village with physical disabilities are often sent to specialized schools in Chiang Mai where they can receive the individualized supports they need. The third school I ask about was in the Karen village. I asked our host from the Hill Area Development Foundation about the supports in the village elementary school and what she told me was that they don’t really have special education in the village elementary school. She also mentioned that if a student has a physical or severe cognitive disability, that they will not even go to school but rather stay home and their families will take care of them. Sometimes these children will learn a trade or help their family around the house but will not compete a formal education.
So far, I have noticed that the special education systems in Thailand does not seem as developed as the systems in Minnesota. I do recognize that Minnesota is well known for being a leader in special education and special education research. However, I have been surprised at the seemingly lack of supports in place to help students, specifically in smaller cities and villages. I am curious to visit more schools and see how the special education systems and supports look in those schools and comparing that to what I have seen and observed so far.
“Diversity is colorful things that make our world more fancy.” – Professor Hlong Suphinan
During our time in Thailand, our group has learned about different teaching strategies and the Thai education system through observation and experiences.
Ally Rock chose to focus on education in Thailand because she is interested in comparing special education here to what it looks like in America; she is also interested in learning more about the laws and legislation that Thailand has to support students with disabilities. From our experience at the local schools, Ally has learned more about the systems in place to support students with disabilities and has been able to compare and contrast the Thai and American education systems.
Kathryn Hyams was drawn to this group because she is continuing her education in a Master of Elementary Education program next fall. She is interested in comparing and contrasting the Thai and American education systems. Something that surprised Kathryn in the schools we have toured is the innovative curriculum and techniques that are used in the Thai school system.
Kendall Garvey is interested in learning about education abroad to observe how people in rural areas and villages have adjusted to globalization and the growing global education system. One thing she took away from the experience at the local schools is the energy and passion many students possess for different subjects.
Mel Leftakes is interested in education and human development in general. Human development stems from education, so she wanted to look further into what children get out of their education and how it leads to their future development. One takeaway she had from the villages was what they are able to focus on specializing skills through some tailored curriculum, rather than taking prescribed, general courses.
Megan Herzog is interested in studying education because of her background in language teaching particularly in teaching the English language to students as a second language. She believes seeing how the Thai schools implement English language curriculum into their structure while still trying to promote balance between cultures has been very interesting. One thing that surprised her was how the students coming to schools from hill tribes are able to balance their multilingualism, learning both English and Thai to market themselves in modern Thai society, with their traditional and cultural heritage.
Coming to Thailand from halfway across the world, we are noticing how small the world really is and how much we can learn from one another. We are using this opportunity to explore differences and similarities in the educational systems in America and Thailand. Because of the global nature of this experience and our collective interest in education and human development we want to share what we have learned from our research and firsthand experiences in-country. When we arrived at the airport we were surprised to see that most of the signs were written in both English and Thai. While traveling throughout the country, we heard English referred to as an international or global language. English language is a required class in all Thai schools and has played an important role in Thai education since 1891 when it was first introduced (Darasawang, 2007). However, there is an issue with how schools typically hire their English teachers, especially in villages and schools based on volunteer efforts. Many volunteer teachers, especially those native English speakers coming to Thailand from abroad, come into the system having only a minimal understanding of how English as a concept impacts communities and individuals. They are then expected to teach sufficient English but don’t necessarily have effective skills to teach the language in a sustainable and culturally empathetic manner. This causes the students’ learning experiences to be extremely repetitive and often damaging. We observed that many students at the Chiang Dao school were tri-lingual, being expected to learn both Thai and English, as well as hold on to their native tribal language, all while learning other necessary academic subjects. In classrooms that teach English, there must be a balance between promoting the students’ native cultures through activities and subject material and learning the background of English as a colonial language to become familiar with the history and culture of the language, as well as its global implications.
Another aspect that really stood out to our group was hearing different areas of studies from the students of the Chiang Dao Welfare School. Many students were interested in studying tourism in the future. They informed us that this was a goal of theirs because the tourism industry in Thailand is very lucrative and will afford them the opportunity to provide for their families and communities in the future. We drew connections between the Thai tourism industry and our American hospitality industry. Like many other countries in the world, Thailand’s need for jobs in tourism and hospitality management is the fastest growing industry (Mahidol University, 2015). It is interesting to see how students are already choosing areas of study where they know they will have a secure job in the future. This could be influenced based on the school system, parents, or even through their own observation. This is in line with a collectivist society mentality, which prioritizes the greater good over individual aspirations. Looking at students from the villages, we learned that many children leave to pursue an education in order to access better-paying jobs. These jobs are typically found in larger cities, where these children get exposed to the dominant Thai culture but are expected to maintain their tribal traditions and values. This creates tension for these students, as they are being pulled between a more globalized Thai society and their traditional way of life.
When we visited the Chiang Dao Welfare School we learned from the principal that they offer three main vocational programs in their school. Within the school, the students have the option to focus on different industries they are interested in and can potentially pursue a career in later on in life. Students can further their education and focus on subjects within the food service, agricultural, and mechanical industries. Students may pursue agriculture to support and provide sufficient business knowledge to help their families advertise their produce; they can also learn skills regarding farming, catching fish, and more. Within the mechanic education, students can learn exemplary skills regarding woodworking, welding, and construction.
The principal of the school mentioned one of the main reasons they implement the vocational education system is because of the quality gap between teachers and capital in the cities versus schools in rural areas. The government funnels a large proportion of education funds toward schools where students already have a high likelihood to succeed, which disadvantages smaller and more rural schools (Rattankhamfu, 2016). He stated the staff does not want to put pressure on their students to compete with students that are exposed to more resources and networks. However, many students choose to continue their education in a university. The American educational system has moved away from the vocational school system model, while many rural schools in Thailand persuade their students to follow these career paths. This is beneficial for students who are not planning on furthering their education in the cities. They receive a high school diploma and have a considerable amount of background information on topics that can help their villages sustain their way of life and potentially further their specified knowledge within those subjects.
When we visited the Chiang Dao Welfare School in Chiang Mai we were lucky enough to see a demonstration from the elementary-aged students on an innovative curriculum approach called brain-based learning (BBL). In the video below, the students were practicing their multiplication tables in Thai. They would recite the numbers while hitting cups on their desk in a rhythmic motion. The children had memorized these routines of sorts, and the students nearest the walls were new to BBL and were just observing today. So, why BBL? The teachers explained to us that BBL is an effective educational approach because it combines physical movement with oral recitation, which helps the students retain information longer. It also injects more fun into the classroom and helps them get out energy, too!
We were able to draw comparisons between BBL and a similar technique in the United States called total physical response (TPR). TPR also combines physical movement with mental exercises. TPR works to simulate the experience of a young child using observations, such as sights and sounds, to make cognitive connections (TPR Teaching System, 2013). This approach then helps children grasp educational concepts more naturally.
It was an unexpected observation that the Thai classroom incorporated such innovative and creative learning techniques. Anecdotally, we were informed that there is also a lot of rote memorization and more traditional teaching approaches, so seeing BBL was very exciting. Chiang Dao is also a welfare school, which means that it is government funded. All of the students who attend the school must have families that make an income below a set poverty line. While the school’s staff was self-admittedly underpaid and resources could be hard to come by, they were still unquestionably dedicated to the children and their quality of education, which was highlighted through this new, modern approach to learning.
While observing several different schools that served different cultural groups, all of them appeared to have a common theme regarding students with different abilities. When asking the various schools about their programming for children of varying abilities, many responses said that most schools cannot accommodate diverse ability levels due to a lack of resources resulting in many students being sent to specialized schools in major cities to receive necessary supports.
Students who are Thai and need specialized services are able to attend government-funded schools while non-Thai students needing special education services typically attend international schools in larger cities (Chambers, 2012). One of the main differences we observed was that the Thai educational system did not appear as inclusive to students with different learning abilities as the current American educational system. In the United States, students in special education are required to be in the least restrictive environment when appropriate. Many of the schools we visited were not as physically accessible as schools in the United States, too. In the U.S., accessibility features are required by law in public places. These features make education more accessible to students with different ability levels and limitations. One example that is found in the U.S. are ramps to enter buildings. At the different schools we visited in Thailand, many of the buildings were only accessible by stairs. In Thailand, the education system is making great strides towards being more inclusive of students with disabilities in the mainstream classroom but still has a ways to go toward reaching full inclusion.
Throughout our time in Thailand, we have been exposed to many aspects of the education system. We will continue to observe and investigate further similarities and differences between the American and Thai education system and are looking forward to visiting more schools in the coming days!
It’s hard to believe that I’ve been in Thailand for less than one week. We arrived in Bangkok at 5:30 a.m. local time on Tuesday, May 15, 2018. Immediately, we went to our hotel to freshen up and explore a bit. The afternoon consisted of a Child Safe workshop that engaged our group in a nuanced conversation surrounding the implications of child trafficking, tourism, and volunteering in Thailand.
The next morning, we got breakfast at the hotel’s buffet and headed to the airport for a quick, domestic flight to Chiang Mai. Once in Chiang Mai, we got situated at our new hotel and went to check out our local neighborhood. Chiang Mai, while the second largest city in Thailand, is much smaller than Bangkok. Chiang Mai has a lot of natural beauty and is surrounded by the mountains. It is absolutely breathtaking.
That night, we headed to the Old Chiangmai Cultural Center for a traditional Khan Toke dinner and Thai dances from many of the regions. We sat cross-legged on the ground and were served family-style. The food was delicious and the dances were incredibly graceful.
On Thursday, we set off as a group to a local, community market. There, we were met by the owner of the Cooking@Home cooking school. He showed us around the market and pointed out some of the ingredients we would be cooking with that day. I decided this was the perfect opportunity for me to buy and try some durian (I liked it!).
Next, we all climbed back into the van and headed to the cooking school on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. There, we watched the cooks prepare a dish from scratch, tasted from their plate, and then made our own individual portion. We made dtom yum goong soup, som dtam malagor green papaya salad, khaow neow mamuang sticky rice with mango, and khao soi noodle curry from Northern Thailand. It was all fantastic!
After we left the cooking school, feeling very full, we drove to the temple, Wat Suan Dok, in Chiang Mai. This Buddhist temple was built on an old flower garden, which gives it its name of the flower garden temple. Wat Suan Dok housed a relic from the Buddha, his shoulder bone. The story says that the Buddha’s shoulder bone was brought to the temple, but on the journey, it was split in two. Once it arrived, one half rested at Wat Suan Dok, while the other was then attached to a white elephant. Wherever the elephant died that was where that half of the relic would stay. The white elephant walked up the neighboring mountain and passed away at the top. At this location, Wat Phra That Doi Sutep was built and it then housed the second half of the Buddha’s shoulder bone.
Inside, the temple’s ceilings are incredibly high. The beautiful mosaics and gold leaf that decorate the walls make for an impressive sight. One of our guides explained the significance of the Wat and demonstrated how to properly pray in the temple. Heads are considered the highest part of the body, while feet are the lowest. It is important that feet are never higher than the rest of your body or pointed toward a Buddha.
After a tour of Wat Suan Dok, we went over to the Chiang Mai university-sponsored Monk Chat with Phra Kae Kae. He discussed with us the main tenets of Buddhism, his life story, and ways to follow the middle path through moderation in all things. His one main takeaway for us all? Balance your life.
Today was our fourth day in Thailand, and the first few days were full of exciting new experiences. One of my favorite parts of the trip so far has been the food. Trying new Thai dishes is one of the things that I was the most excited for before leaving for this trip. The food has been different than I expected, but I am enjoying it a lot. Yesterday we had the chance to learn more about how Thai food is prepared at a Thai cooking school.
We began the day by going to a market to learn about how people purchase food in Thailand. We learned that Thai people generally go to the market each day to get fresh ingredients for the meals that they will prepare that day. I found this interesting, because it is very different from how people go grocery shopping in the United States. We saw how milk is extracted from coconuts. This was interesting because coconut milk is a huge part of Thai cooking. We had the chance to explore the market, and learn about how different types of food are selected and used for Thai cooking.
After the market, we went to the cooking school where we prepared four dishes: a soup, a papaya salad, a noodle dish, and sticky rice with mango. It was all fun to prepare and delicious to eat. One of the things that stood out to me the most during this experience was how fresh the food was. One of the owners of the cooking school mentioned that some of the ingredients come right out of her backyard. After learning that Thai people generally pick up fresh food each day, I was not surprised by how fresh the food that we cooked tasted. I have enjoyed this aspect of Thai food a lot.
On the other hand, I have also noticed a lot of fried food. We’ve had fried bananas, fried rice, fried dough, etc… Don’t get me wrong – the fried food is delicious too, but it’s very different from the fresh food that we prepared at the cooking school. Over all, I am enjoying the dishes that we are trying here whether they are coming out of someone’s garden or out of a deep fryer.