Julie Ann Blog #3
January 8, 2014
Yesterday, we spent the day and night at Mae Kam Pong Homestay. This was an incredible experience and one of my favorite parts of the trip so far. The village is up in the mountains and is home to a community of “forest people” who are northern Thai people. The houses we stayed in reminded me of cabins in the woods. Most of them had open porches and old cabin smells. The host families were all so hospitable and kind. I attached a picture of the woman who hosted me and a picture of me standing on my host family’s porch.
The entire village was so beautiful and is placed along a stream. All of the village houses run up a long hill split by the street. Then on both sides of the street there are paths to go down to the stream where there are gazebos and temples. I felt like the whole village was an open zoo because there were many different kinds of animals openly walking around. There were roosters, chickens, peacocks, turkeys, dogs, and cats all roaming throughout the village and along the paths. At one point, a few of us were chased by some of the turkeys, which was a little scary but also pretty funny!
On the night of this homestay, we had a conversation with the leader of the village. As I was listening to him speak, I found many connections between the Mae Kam Pong village and kibbutzim. The leader was explaining how all of the families stay in the village to work. They are their own community who budget together, farm together, and are in the process of becoming more eco-friendly. They grow all of their own food and have committees that monitor the systems and structures within the village. This communal living is very similar to the lifestyle on a kibbutz. In most kibbutzim, people also grow their own food, pool their money together to budget costs, and work within the kibbutz. I have visited kibbutzim on my trips to Israel, and the feelings around family and the values around relationships and simplicity is also similar among both lifestyles.
It is interesting that you can be half way around the world but still find aspects of the cultures and lifestyles that are so familiar. Another example of this is the tradition that Thai people do on New Years Eve. The tradition is to light a lantern and let it go in the sky. This symbolizes letting go of bad things from the old year into the universe. It is also tradition to buy a bag of live fish and then release them in the water for good luck. In Judaism, we celebrate the Jewish New Year called Rosh Hashanah. One of the traditions of this holiday is to throw bread into flowing water. This tradition is called Tashlikh, which means “casting off.” Throwing the bread in the flowing water symbolizes casting off the previous year’s sins before the New Year begins. While letting go of my lantern into the night sky on New Years Eve, I thought of this similarity and how cool it was to be partaking in a tradition of a new culture but still feel connections to my own.
Before coming to Thailand, packing was a hard task with the Holidays in mind. Although my room mate and I planned the things that we need, it was all so difficult to be limited with things to live off of. Being a newbie traveler, I had thought of all the possible occasions that I may need something, and might not have it. For example, what if on the plane ride I got very hungry, what if my luggage got lost, I must pack enough stuff on my carry on, and the list goes on. My check in luggage I was nervous might be too heavy that I might have to pay extra, but luckily it was 49.5 pounds!! YAY!! “Yay!” was no more the first couple of day since there were a lot of moving around. With a backpack, small carry on and a big old luggage, it was a workout every time we moved some where. (The uneven ground doesn’t help much either). This is a good thing, if you like to work out, but I don’t. Boo hoo!
Anyhow now that we are settled in Chaingmai for a good week and a half, I am trying to use up things that I can. Reflecting upon it, I do admit, I over packed a little. But I am going to shake it off and smile because I am learning to be a traveler, I did get a workout (which is rare these days), and Thailand is amazing. This aligns with one of the philosophies that the monk talked about. Avoid suffering, so I should try to see what came out of it. But at the same time the American way, is to see how I can improve the situation, or what can I learn from the experience. The clash of two worlds.. I can not wait for more of Thailand!!
1) First of all, the check in luggage can only be 50 lbs. Carry ons (maximum 1 personal and another small luggage or bag) are not weighed, although you want them to be lighter. I super over packed my luggage and carry ons, and had to carry everything around was quite tiring since we did move around a lot.
2) The rule “Once you think you are done packing clothes, shoes, bathroom supplies, etc, REPACK by taking out half of the things you thought you need (especially clothes)” is TRUE!! It is a good idea to share shampoo, condition, lotion, etc with your room mate so only one party needs to brings it. I brought things (clothes) that I didn’t really need, or multiple versions of the same items.
3) Clothes – Have a variety of clothes. Capris is the best clothing item I felt, or long shorts. Bring swim suits,
3) NEVER, and REMEMBER to not put “weapon-like” items onto your carry ons. Such as scissors
There are numerous things I wish I had known before studying abroad. I hope I can pass on what I learned to help prepare future students.
I wish I had a better understanding of what to wear and when to wear it. I thought I had to dress very conservative all the time. Turns out, it is okay to wear less conservative clothes during leisure time. I would also suggest giving yourself enough time to pack. This way, if you are questioning a piece of clothing, you have time to address your concerns with your professor. Also, listen to your professors when they tell you to pack light. You do not need a different outfit for each day. I would suggest bringing pieces of clothing that can be mixed and matched. Plus, there is a great possibility you will buy clothing with abroad. Also, even though the weather is generally warm in Thailand, it gets cool at night and in the mountains. Be prepared; bring a light jacket, pants, and other warm clothing.
As I stated previously, packing light is important. Bring items which can be tossed once used up. It is possible to purchase certain items while abroad, so only pack what you need. If you run out of something, such as a drug store item, or realize you forgot a jacket, you can always buy one.
Communication is key. If you are ever uncomfortable with something or unsure, ask. Don’t be afraid to approach your professor with concerns you have about the trip or something you are doing while on the trip. You have the right for your voice to be heard. You should feel comfortable approaching your professor, classmates on the trip, and tour guides. Also, don’t let verbal communication be a barrier between you and the natives. Be creative in how you communicate.
Don’t be afraid to try new things. This is a once in a life time opportunity, embrace it. Try not to let money hold you back. If you want to try something but think it may be too expensive, just go for it. I mean, you may only get to ride elephants in Thailand once in your life.
Advice to Future Students
Being back in Minnesota for a month has really given me time to reflect on my time in Thailand. Almost every day since being home I think about the trip in some way. Time flew by unbelievably fast while I was there. I would advise future students to do your best to keep a journal to really remember your time there. However, I also think that there is a fine balance between documenting the trip and enjoying yourself in the moment while in Thailand. Take a chance to interact with other people in the group that you normally wouldn’t. You will find that being in a foreign country allows people to let their guard down, making meeting new people a lot easier.
I took every chance that was offered to participate in the optional activities, and never regretted it. Although there was a lot of moving around from event to event, the excitement of it all kept me going and left me with a unique experience each and every time.
You won’t need a lot of spending money while in Thailand unless you plan on making large purchases. I spent around $500 USD while in country, that includes food, optional activity costs and a few small souvenirs. You will see a lot of the same items at many of the stands in the night markets, try to find the cheapest option. Negotiate prices, but don’t over do it. Many items are already priced significantly cheaper than you could ever find in the U.S. and trying to get items for pennies on the dollar is unnecessary. Don’t buy more than you can fit in your suitcase, many small items are easier to pack away than a few large ones.
Street food is cheap and the majority of stands serve tasty and sanitary meals, don’t be scared off by the basic look of the stands. Locals will assume that you cannot handle any level of spice in your food, but I found a lot of the spicy food very good. Don’t be afraid to try new things, you may have a few strange experiences but they make for good memories of the trip.
Pack light. Nobody will judge you for wearing the same shirt or pants multiple times on the trip. Bring bug spray and some anti-itch cream. Bring lightweight pants and one good jacket. Be prepared to wash your clothes in your sink/shower at least once during the trip. I used a tablet while in Thailand and found that it worked very well for what I needed to do on the trip. A laptop would work as well but the smaller the better, you will not need a lot of computing power.
This trip completely changed my perspective of Southeast Asia and the rest of the world as a whole. We as people are so much more alike than we are different, regardless of the language we speak or where on the earth we live. I have a newfound love for travel and aspire to visit new places all over the world.
Julie Ann Blog #7
“Travel is transformational—if the trip shook your ideas up, if the experience changed you, then the journey was a success,” (O’Reilly, 1999).
I wrote this quote down in my journal on the first day that we arrived in Thailand. I wrote about how I want to keep this quote in mind throughout my travels that lay ahead of me. I can say that even the meaning of this quote and how I feel while reading it is different then when reading it for the first time, before traveling to Thailand.
My travels in Thailand have truly been transformational. I especially feel this now that I am back in the United States experiencing the culture here, my daily routine, and reflecting on all that I embarked on in Thailand. Learning about Buddhism and the lifestyle that reflects the Buddhist values and philosophies has transformed my perspective and mentality of my life at home. As I mentioned in previous blogs, Buddhism emphasizes the importance of living in the present, purifying the mind, appreciation, and focusing on the good rather than worrying and suffering. I am graduating at the end of the semester, and I have experienced pressure about where I want to go for graduate school, what I want to do with the rest of my life, what is my “5- year plan,” est. Prior to Thailand, I was feeling a lot of stress when thinking of my answers to these questions. Stepping away from my life at home and spending time experiencing a different type of lifestyle has allowed me to come back home and reevaluate my own mentality on my future. I am able to recognize the beauty of not having a set plan or a “5 year plan.” I had a great conversation with Acharn Cathy during the Mae Kam Pong Homestay about not rushing to the next step in life because it takes away from valuing the present and seeing where life will take you.
While I definitely have more room to develop, I think I have moved from the ethnocentric stages to the ethnorelative stages. Before this trip, I was stuck in the “defense stage.” I found myself polarizing cultural groups of people and thinking that other cultural groups do some things better than my cultural group and my cultural group does some things better than other cultural groups. I now find myself more in the “acceptance stage” and moving into the “adaptation stage.” I am developing cultural sensitivity and appreciation for cultural differences. My worldviews have expanded, and I am able to adapt my own behaviors to the cultural context or environment I am immersed in. I look forward to taking the knowledge and experiences I have gained from this trip to enrich my future global, cultural endeavors.
To be above the clouds, the sun kissing my skin, and the breathing the freshest air I ever had in my life, for a moment, life was perfect. Being surrounded by beautiful nature, was very stress relieving. We visited a memorial for the King’s lawyer friend who died in an airplane crash on top of the mountain, went sightseeing, and shopped at a Hmong market. In addition, we learned about the last King of the Lannas, and the lifestyles of one of the hill tribes, the Karens.
Life is very simple in the village. They work daily for the things that they need such as clothes and food, whereas in the States we work daily for our career, and we can buy clothes and food easily. Electricity was there but very minimal, and free if you don’t use a lot. Homes were made out of straws, bamboo and sticks, using as much natural resources as possible. Showering a kid was simply in a big bowl, and entertainment was playing with a puppy. The little Hmong kids we met in the mountain were so adorable, they were selling flowers for 10 baht. Then they gave us some flowers for free for talking with them. I can definitely see the philosophy of “living in the moment” here on the mountaintop.
These little kind gestures, the bright smiles, the cool breeze, the warm weather, constant learning, gorgeous natural surroundings, and great people bought me such happiness. It make me re-evaluate my life. I rely on electricity as much as food, shower must be warm, and entertainment is costly (most of the time). The people here can live without a lot of materials needs and these little simple things could make me so happy, maybe I can live my life a little simpler than it is (sometimes too).
Being here in Thailand as a Hmong American, I had many encounters where someone starts speaking Thai to me, and I just nod my head and smile, not understanding a thing. Funny thing, I mistaken other Thai’s to be Hmong, or Hmong to be Thai too. I find myself searching for interactions with Hmong and wishing I can speak more Thai also.
One of my first encounters with Hmong people here on this trip was at the Sunday Market our first night in Chiang Mai. We had a lively chat, then again with other Hmong people at the Night Markets. Then luckily again on the mountaintops, at the markets and at the restaurant where kids were selling flowers. Also at the Hmong New Year, we met some Hmong people. It’s pretty awesome, the instant connection one feels when there is something that is similar.
In many cases I wished I had more Thai vocabulary. During the home stay, communication was a little rough, but body language and a little Charades helped out with basic conversations. When we were talking with our Chaing Rai University buddies, I might have gotten super excited and asked a lot of questions, because it was great hanging out with someone my age. We talked a little bit, but she apologizedbecause she could not communicate with me well. I said no need to apologize because she knows more English than I know Thai. Man, I really wished I knew more Thai so I can get to know these people more.
I have talked to some one who traveled to Italy, and she told me something that I can really relate to here. She said that when we (American) travel somewhere, you feel like the country adapts to you, but why should they. You are visiting their country and to an extent I can relate to this. For example the language. They speak such great English, compare to me, I probably know five words in Thai. That’s is one thing I noticed which is almost like a privilege . Although I felt that our group did well with dress codes, being respectful and trying to communicate with others in Thai.
For my leisure time, I sure did spend a lot of time at the market buying souvenirs for my friends and family members. Since we stayed in Chiang Mai for a while, I spent a lot of time at Chiang Mai’s Sunday and Night markets. Here was where I spent the most money. On the first day there, I was not as experience thus bought the first things I thought I liked. Little did I know there were others things similar if not cuter than the things I bought in a rush and were at a better price without the bargaining!! The items sold at the many booths were somewhat similar and sometimes the same thing, thus is sometimes takes a little cruising first. I noticed this market didn’t have many price signs, and prices were given at a higher price for bargaining. They provided entertainment for the New Year’s count down but after there wasn’t any.
In contrast, the Chiang Rai’s Market had stages with live performances. It was smaller but vendors had a wide variety of things. One thing that was different was there were more price signs here. When I spoke to some of them, most could not speak English as well as those in Chiang Mai. I was thinking maybe having signs was due to the language barriers or since it was smaller to attract people more with the prices. The market here was not as packed and was easy to move around. I also found myself not bargaining here as much as I did in Chiang Mai due to the price signs.
Bangkok’s Weekend Market was HUGE! I didn’t get the chance to visit it all but the small portion that I did cover I thought was a mix of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. I didn’t see any live performances and it had prices but it was a little higher, thus bargaining was plausible here. The items here were more mainstream, and less intricate tribal designs and such.
We hit another market on the outskirts of Bangkok on the last day in Thailand. This was my kind of place, sadly I was on the last of my bahts and too much work to exchange anymore money. In a way, I am glad I was not here long or my bank account would have gone negative! It had the cutest clothes and shoes!! Due the many variety of clothes seen, this market was targeted towards the younger generation rather than tourists. The prices were the least out of all the markets I have seen and thus I think the prices were pretty fixed. It was a rather good shopping experience for me there. I was really content with my buys here.
The whole shopping experience was definitely a great therapy after a brain cell damaging semester. I have to say, the last market in Bangkok was probably my favorite. I thought the prices were either reasonable or really good deals. There was a lot to look at, not too crowded, a good size market, and had lot of cute things. Although I did like the live music and the more cultural souvenirs in the smaller cities also. All in all, I do believe anywhere I travel to, market big or small, shopping will always be one of my favorite things to do.
We have been home from Thailand for about a week now. I am just now beginning to feel readjusted to the time change and my sleep schedule as well as my typical daily schedule. Going into this trip I did not realize the impact a three week study abroad would have on my life how life as well as the close relationships I would make. I can say this trip has opened my eyes to new perspectives and new possibilities for my future.
As advice for future students I would say go into this with an open mind and really try to be present in every moment of the trip. Take in the sounds, the sights, the variety of taste and even smells. Take on those moments that may ordinarily be outside your comfort zone. Also take time to really interact and engage with everyone you meet both in the group you’re traveling with and the local people of Thailand.
My first advice when it comes to packing would be to leave enough space and weight in your bag to bring back souvenirs. If you are anything like I was in the night markets, you will see lots of great things to bring home. Some other things I am glad I brought included: a journal, a blanket and inflatable head pillow, also travel tissue (not all bathrooms provided toilet paper). I also had an “anti-theft” purse, this helped me feel more secure when walking around the markets in the evenings. It is basically a purse with clip locks on the zippers. I also downloaded a Thai language app on my ipad before I left. I found this helpful when we would be with someone who did not speak much English. Thinking back on the trip there were times I did not have my ipad and this app would have been very useful.
Thailand is such a beautiful country to visit. I learned a lot from this study abroad experience. I hope you enjoy your time!