Ch – Ch – Ch – Changs And New Years (David Bowie reference)
Chang is the Thai word for elephant. Changs adorn almost everything you can imagine in Thailand and are often in Buddhist places of worship, there is even Chang beer, and Chang water. On New Year’s Eve day I even rode a chang. I was a little saddened to see how they were treated at the “ranch” where tourists like myself came to see them. An animal that is held with such prestige in Thai culture was reduced to kitschy dances and large amounts of time in chains. Riding on their backs was exciting, but I couldn’t help but feel for them. My trainer wasn’t the kindest to the chang we were on so that may have skewed my perception. Yet, it didn’t seem natural in that the chang seemed out of its environment. Obviously it’s not natural for any animal to be “trained” but this was different than riding a horse, watching dolphins at Sea World, or even playing with cats and dogs. Maybe its just about positive reinforcement and giving the animal its space. Is this an example of how demand, likely foreign, has reshaped or changed what the very nature of Thai culture is about and if so, what other things like this might exist today in Thai society? However, I’m still very happy to have seen them and spent time with them.
New years was made special by the excitement alive on every corner of ChiangMai. The sky was filled with man-made stars (the Thai word is chrom) burning orange floating amidst a barrage of fireworks. The streets were filled with small festive vendors, delicious food, Thai beer, and thousands of happy people ready to welcome in 2012 with open arms. When the countdown began I was at the city center with two new friends where a pyramid lit up with the time. When the clock struck New Year fireworks erupted and we toasted the neighbors that happened to be English. The rest of the night we wondered the city stopping at any place that interested us while taking in all ChiangMai had to offer. At one point we stopped along the canal to simply watch it all unfold. The streets were packed but when a person wanted to light fireworks the crowd would stop to watch, some fireworks were so large they set off car alarms near by. It was something special. I wouldn’t have rather been anywhere else.
1st Night in ChiangMai
– First off, I wrote this the first night I was in ChiangMai while I was on a stroll by myself. I’ve had problems accessing the blog with the ability to post. As Professor Solheim told me while watching one of our Thai presenters have troubles with their computer, “Technology problems are universal.” –
If I wouldn’t have known I was in Thailand, I might’ve been worried. The densely filled streets may bare a mark of poverty at first glance, but quickly thereafter an elegance is revealed with the witness of the first Thai smile. It’s a beauty I can’t quite describe, it’s an atmosphere as confusing and strong as their cuisine. I can’t help but wonder if I had come here for business, rather than education and adventure, would I be so enchanted? I’ve only just arrived but I already some how feel a connection. Perhaps I’m just excited – after all my favorite classical music piece was played on the plane to ChiangMai from Bangkok – Edward Elgar’s – Nimrod from the Enigma Variations, just google Edward Elgar Nimrod and give it a listen while you read these blogs and you’ll get it. Or perhaps, Buddha has truly blessed this country. One thing is for certain, this will be a great experience. And, there are very large trees.
Greetings from Chaing Mai! First of all, I will start off where my last blog left off. On friday our group toured a local mental health hospital. I was surprised how modern their facilities were in comparison to the rest of the city. A patient played the piano for our group, he used to be a piano teacher and he delighted us with The Swan, and a composition by Beethoven. It was nice to see their utilization of crafts and music in their treatment and therapies. A common problem that the healthcare facility had, which slightly coincided with an American problem, was that they had a strong negative stigma associated with the mentally ill. Also, the public funding used for healthcare has seemed to place psychiatric care at the bottom of the totem pole. This causes many problems for patients seeking care and for facilities trying to provide the best care possible.
Later on Friday we toured the Chaing Mai University Facility of Nursing. Here we attended a lecture/discussion about Thailand’s HIV/AIDs situation. This was extremely informative. It seems that the data that they provided us showed a direct relation between mandatory testing and occurrence reduction. Thailand’s actions in response to their HIV/AIDs situation has positive outcomes that could be copied by many other countries.
On Saturday we rode Asian elephants, bamboo rafted down a Thai river, and hiked to a waterfall in the jungle. This excursion was amazing and I am so happy that I decided to participate in it. That day will always be held very highly in my memory. Saturday also happened to be News Years Eve. We lit lanterns and made wishes, and we attended a countdown at a local club. Hearing the countdown in Thai was quite an experience and we all had a lot of fun.
So, until my next post, keep safe and we will see you all soon.
Tonight is our last night in Chiang Mai. The first week has flew by, but I feel like I have done and learned so much in my time here. This experience is extremely different from anything that I am used to, but I have loved every minute of it. There are many aspects of the Thai culture that I wish our society could be more like. In my time here, I have noticed that many people don’t seem to have much. Although this is the case they are so warm and friendly; they seem to be happy with what they have and where they are. In America, I feel like our society is always striving to have more and more. Before coming on this trip, I saw myself as a grateful person, and I feel like I appreciate the things that I have. Although this is true, I feel like this experience has made me even more so. I have really realized the little things that I do have that I take for granted, especially clean water and air. I look forward to the next adventure in Chiang Rai!
My first thoughts have been simply…. Wow! I’ve had the luxury of getting to know a culture while living in it and the burden of difference. Clearly difference is not something I fear. Having studied abroad before, I truely appreciate the feelings and learning that come along with being in a new place with new people learning new things, but I’ve noticed a heightened awareness of self. As if to say before, I didn’t know this side of me.
One of the things that I pride myself in is confidence. Ive always seen myself as this living testimony and short of an open book for people to read, learn from and take from (in a metaphorical since) if necessary. Now, however I’ve noticed a different more vulnerable side of me, a side that I’m certainly not comfortable with, a side that I’m not sure I want to get to know.
Imagine walking through an unfamiliar world. Where the scent is indescribable and the people are shorter and slimmer then you. Now open your eyes and see a Black girl. With accessories to match her shoes and a shoulder bag to carry her possessions. She walks with an incredible confidence and fear but nevertheless she continues to walk. Now look to your left and right and picture those who look nothing like her. Skin, height and size all polar opposite. Now close your eyes and here the language. Not one familiar word or sound and when you open them you realize that those people were speaking about you. Pointing and questioning who or what you are. Only thing you can do, is keep walking.
Being plus size has been more of a blessing, then a curse. Ive used my confidence to promote high self esteem and the reconstruction of beauty pertaining to women, as well as art mediums to discuss social injustices and oppressive behaviors related to body images or the image of self as a whole (mind body and soul) but here I am a little weak. As if I left my travel size confidence at home next to my cell phone, coach bag and MAC lip gloss. At any rate, I will find away to navigate this world. Thailand look out for me.
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.
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!
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.