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.
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.
On Monday, Jan 2nd, we met with the director of the IMPECT organization (www.impect.org) 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.
This morning we visited TRAFCORD (www.trafcord.org), an NGO with a vision to “function as a network center providing a comprehensive range of services regarding human trafficking solutions in Northern Thailand with a professional and effective operation”. TRAFCORD’s project manager, Ms. Duean, gave us an overview of their work with and on behalf of victims – reporting, investigating, protecting, rehabilitating, reintegrating, and preventing. She highlighted the links between human trafficking, immigration and deep poverty (and resulting debt bondage(), noting how those factors intertwine in this part of Thailand, which borders on Burma/Myanmar, Laos, and south China.