Category Archives: 2016 Thailand Learning Abroad Blog

#2 – The Natural Environment

imageThailand, for me, has been an opportunity for observation and comparison. I would like to stress that I am not focusing on judgmental comparisons, but instead constructive analyses between two very different cultures, the Thai and the American, in order to benefit from one another. In particular, my observations have been geared towards the natural environment and how the human built environment in working with it as well as against it. Looking out the window is where I notice the most, but also walking by and being among it all. I remember Acharn Linda saying, when we were all sharing our first impressions, that the Thai intentionally or even unconsciously maintain these “green spaces” throughout their infrastructure and within their built environments. I took notice to this as well, and I continue to see it as we travel around this country.

They seem to incorporate natural features into their city planning. For instance, the sidewalks (or more-so roadside curbs) have trees in the midst or their concrete slabs. Instead of bringing down the tree, which commonly occurs in American construction, the Thai value its presence and work around it. This is a minor aspect that I believe would be beneficial in American society in order to better preserve our natural environment.

I have also taken great notice to the water. This, through my observations, is not as thoroughly protected in Thailand. In Bangkok, their streams are not at all in their natural form and are instead surrounded by concrete which molds their pathway. This is where the human built environment in Thailand has controlled the natural one and, in this case, has restricted biodiversity. The water is not able to interact with vegetation that aids so significantly in its quality, as well as for any aquatic species that may be lurking in these waterways. In the city of Chiang Mai, it is a bit different. Green spaces do exist along the waters edge, which I love to see, but this led me to observe other aspects of the Thai’s water. The most profound, the brown, murky appearance (which is not necessarily bad) as well as the abundant liter present in many areas. The brown color is due to the soil and sediments in the river, especially due to intense rainfalls that are so common in Thailand and can sweep away much of the landscape. This is not directly linked to its poor quality, but instead turns people away, especially in reference to the views of the American, from considering it to be potable. The final aspect I will conclude with is the sanitation of the river that has been negatively impacted by the human built environment as well as some social and cultural norms here in Thailand. This is where my interest lies, however I am not yet significantly knowledgeable on the topic, especially in Thailand, but I have been intensely observing and comparing. The trash and lack of sanitation is very prevalent, but I believe the Thai people are not to directly blame. As Acharn Cathy considered, it is quite possibly the infrastructure and/or economy that is preventing sanitation from being the people’s main priority. Globalization is forcing Thailand to accommodate more people, and, especially in the city, the garbage has no where else to go. I believe this is an area where Thailand and its natural environment could prosper from implementing some aspects of America’s intense sanitation procedures into their society.

Personally, I will continue to observe my surroundings and compare it to the one that is familiar to me in order to take back with me ideas and values that I can consider throughout my life and future work. The two cultures have the capability of growing from one another in many ways. We are able to gain an appreciation for the natural environment and our reliance on its provided resources, whether it be for oxygen, water, food production, or simply its beauty.

Little reminders while in Thailand


As I reflect on my experience at the Pha Nok Kok hmong village in Chiang Mai. I noticed that there is a similarity between the Hmong names in America and Thailand. As an Hmong American women I have two names–Hmong and English. My name is Shengyeng . The Hmong spelling of my name is Seev Yees. I also have an American name as my middle name which is Emily. Growing up it was easier to pronounce Emily in grade school, so I went with that name. It didn’t bother me much, because it was easier to write. However, I felt like a piece of me was missing. I’m still on the journey to find that missing piece.

During the discussion with the Chief of the Village I was curious about why the Hmong Thai have a Thai name.  I learned about this in a recent Hmong movie that I watched. I never knew the reason why the Hmong Thai people changed their names to Thai. I wasn’t sure if they kept their Hmong name. It wasn’t until the Chief explained that ‘Thai’ is a Universal language. Since they live in Thailand it was easier to understand Thai. In order to adapt in the Thai culture they must have a Thai name, but still have their Hmong name. In addition, he even mention that sometimes nick names are given.  With this explanation from the Chief I was reminded of my own name in America. I now have a deeper appreciation of my name whether it’s in Hmong or American.


As I got older I find myself using the name Shengyeng more and more. Sometimes I feel self-conscious using the correct pronounciation to others. However, over the years I had learn to embrace my first name in Hmong. I prefer for everyone to call me by my name Shengyeng. I believe that a person’s name is their brand. It should be carried with pride and corrected if misprounced by others. It wasn’t until I graduated from High School that I was reminded of the importance of my name.

Another experience was from the “What is your name?” activity with the High School students at Chiang Dao School  This was definetely a reminder to listen. Just as Eve explained about the different languages and cultures. What I took away from the activity is that listening is important when there’s a language barrier. I had trouble learning the name of the Thai students, but with our body language and hand signals it definitely helped. I truly believe that language plays an important part in life. As Acharn Cathy mentioned from our debrief discussion, “language creates stronger relationships’.


In a nutshell, these experiences will help me grow and shape me as an individual.

Blog Post #2 — Lizzy

An overarching theme that keeps coming to my mind during this trip is the dichotomy between the environment and society. As a Buddhist culture, Thai culture greatly values the natural world and all of its beings. However, I have noticed that in both city and hillside, the filth is exceptional. I wonder where the disconnect is between the Buddhist way of caring for the Earth and the reality of Thai culture’s practice of environmental care.

Something that surprised me is that I have not seen any campaigns or signs for being “green” or environmental well-being like we often see in America. In parallel to the lack of social action, there is very limited infrastructure in place to help promote “green-living.” I have noticed that they only fly large planes here and that they often fly at half capacity. I have noticed that the number of cars and motorcycles/scooters far outnumber the number of bicycles or people walking. I have noticed that the streets are full of trash and that the only cleanly sidewalk that I’ve walked on thus far is our hotel’s.

I think that the lack of environmental effort here is rooted in larger-scale developmental and governmental progress because no country would, or could, prioritize environmental issues over high rates of poverty and homelessness. Lastly, I recognize that my perspective is severely skewed by my privilege of growing up in a country that has the ability to make environmental well-being a priority and that my observations are by no means shaming the Thai culture. I believe that many people are in a position of privilege to help preserve our environment and that we should do everything in our power, so those who are less fortunate can live on the Earth too.


Oddly enough, I haven’t taken any pictures of the filthy streets… So here are some pictures of how beautiful Thailand is (plus me and an elephant)!

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Blog #2 – Balance and Harmony

Balance and harmony permeate several aspects of Thai culture, shaping the people, environment, and my experience of Thailand.

This first came to my attention earlier in the semester when Acharn Cathy talked about how people smile a lot in Thailand and avoid showing anger in order to preserve harmonious relationships with others. Being in Thailand now, I have seen how these social norms play out. I’ve noticed how the drivers of our vans remain very outwardly calm as they drive through the city, even if someone cuts them off or drives too close to them. Of course there are exceptions, like a few times when a driver gave a quick and gentle “beep” to other drivers, but for the most part they haven’t expressed a lot of anger or road rage.

imageMeals are also crafted in a way that embodies balance and harmony in both their flavors and presentation. When we went to the Thai cooking school, the woman who was teaching us made sure to identify the flavors in each dish and how they interacted with each other, and the way she arranged her food on the plates was visually appealing. I’ve noticed similar food aesthetics in the other places we’ve eaten too, like the Garden Cafe.

Finally, I’ve noticed how  the presence of nature is welcomed into many of the indoor spaces we’ve visited. For example, the cooking school had very few walls, which allowed for bugs and geckos to freely move between the cooking area and the outdoors. We also went to the Chiang Dao school where we spent a lot of the afternoon in a gymnasium with huge arches leading to the outside

I have really enjoyed experiencing Thai culture, and I look forward to learning more over these next two weeks.


How to be a Tourist in Thailand

I have the amazing opportunity to be able to be in this country after learning a little about Thai culture from the orientation we had. As well as being surrounded with peers and teachers who are so knowledgeable. Knowing what little I knew of Thai culture before coming here has helped me to observe more clearly. I have noticed the kind natured and very generous culture show through since arriving. This was something I wasn’t used to and it brought a lot of questions to mind.

I been very interested in how the high population of tourists has affected this welcoming culture that is present. This curiosity has come about from everything, my bags being carried up to my room for me, my food brought out, or the wooden pieces of the game in the Hmong village being retrieved for us. I cannot help but wonder if this is purely for cultural reasons or if it has some effects of tourism within it.


The fact that I couldn’t help but assume that there was more to this country or their culture than met the eye has made me reflect on my own culture as well. I am used to Minnesota nice, where people say what they know you want to hear rather than the truth. I also come from America where it is largely encouraged to question and change things constantly. These ideas have made me think that the there must be more to why the people in Thailand are so generous, that it must be because we are paying them and not because it is a cultural norm.

Now if you lump all tourists into one category and ask; does this affect the culture here in Thailand? I would say yes. We bring with us these expectations of an unforgettable time and our fast paced ideals that are usually linked with more developed countries. I think that this has caused the more competitive nature in the markets, the night markets and late night things always going on. For a simple culture this can change locals daily lives. One example is the children of street vendors who cannot find someone to watch their kids, they stay out late with their parents and this may disrupt the norms of each individual family.


Spirituality in Thailand

What an incredible week it has been in this beautiful country! Each day has held a new adventure and learning experience. Exploring in Bangkok, Thai cooking lessons, monk chatting, school and village visiting, fraternizing with elephants and spending quality time with some old souls of Thailand are just a few of the experiences that have moved me in the short time I have been here. Throughout all of these activities, one key aspect of the Thai culture has stood out to me the most. The prominent role that spirituality plays in the lives of Thai people has been apparent to me since I landed in Bangkok.

While driving to my hotel from the airport upon landing in Bangkok, the first thing I noticed about this country was the attention to detail surrounding artifacts of significance to the Thai culture. Right away, I could tell spirituality was a huge part of their lives. The highway was decorated with well-tended flower boxes displaying a large, gold Buddha. As we drove deeper into the city, I kept noticing  beautifully decorated little houses outside of every building and home. I figured these houses were praying stands for those practicing Buddhism. However, I learned they are called spirit houses and are not part of the religion.

I was informed by my Thai cooking instructor that the people of Thailand believe spirits protect their buildings and houses. They put spirit houses outside on the property and decorate them with flowers and bright colors. These houses provide a place for the people to leave an offering for the spirits who protect them. Thai people leave water and fruits on the stands of these houses for the spirits that inhabit them. This is how the people give thanks to the spirits for protecting them from harm and bad luck.

What I find most interesting about these spirit houses is the placement of them. They can be found outside of every facility in Thailand. I think it is so unique to have such an ornate structure amidst such an ordinary setting. Concrete, advertising and garbage surround these beautiful spirit houses. I have even seen them under large trees and on the outskirts of forested areas. It shows that spiritual belief holds very strong to the people of Thailand. Even as the country moves towards globalization, the people hold on to the spirituality that outlines their culture.


Yes! It’s Thailand!

I was fascinated by how respectful the students in Chiang Dao school are. I remember when we step into the building, where we will be watching the students perform one of the students smiled at me and wai to show respect. They really show respects to their older peers and adults. I was very shocked to learn that the students here in Thailand really have the skills that can help them to live independently without depending on their parents. As for the students in America we were not taught the skills to live by ourselves other than focusing on our education, ourselves and find which career we want to do. I also learn that schools like Chiang Dao has goals of making sure after their students graduated the students are able to find a job and have the skills to live independently. I noticed that in Thailand the main language is Thai but then there are also other tribes that still speaks their native language.

I noticed that the climate changes as we go higher up the mountains. When we were in Bangkok the weather was very hot and the air is very thick. If we are not in a room with cool air conditioning it will be hard to breathe. However, when we went up hill to Pha- Nok- Kok Hmong village the air is more refreshing. Although it may be a little bit humid we can survive because of the refreshing air and breeze. I also noticed that uphill in the mountains it is more green then in Bangkok and where we stay at. I think the reason for this is because it is less populated where the tribes live.


On our first day when we arrived to Thailand we went to a cooking class called Cooking at Home. This is where I learn about how families are in Thailand. I remember that our cooking instructor’s husband told us that they own their own business at home. When it is not busy it will just be their family running it but then when they have like tourists like us come, their neighbors will also come to help them as well. This is something that I was very surprised to had learned about. Because in America our neighbors will not help us like how the neighbors will help this family.

Blog #2

imageIn just the past few days, I feel as though I have gained so much life experience and so much insight into the way in which others live and perceive the world. Through the monk chat to the Hmong village, we have already observed the lives of others immensely that we can apply to the Human Ecological Model.  The Human Ecological Model consist of four lenses: the sociocultural, the family, the human built environment, and the natural built environment. The experience that I have chosen to apply to this model is the visit to the Hmong village.  In the Hmong village it was facinating to observe how the homes were built into the mountains and structured around the natural enviorment and the way in which they adapted to the nature that surrounded them. The crop designs and green house were built around stairs that were structured specifically to avoid erosion. This displays the human built environment, how the people built their lives around the nature. It was such a profound experience to observe how the village acted as a collective family with smaller units within it. The village survived and thrived based on the connections they had with one another. Every individual portrayed strong family values, they took pride in their village and the simplicity it was made up of. I felt that when they spoke about their village and then way they live it was almost as if they were privileged to have this village, to have the opportunity to live simply, without materialism, without chaos. To have this extremely rare and unique opportunity all to themselves. There was an interdependence within the family, the sociocultural, and the human built environment lenses. How they only went to the city when they didn’t have a choice, for necessities such as education and essential economic resources. Even when the young adults went off to college, they were eager to return once they were finished their four years Eager to return to the solitude, the nature, and the simplicity and peace that they found only in their village.  Continue reading Blog #2

1 Week Reflection: values

This past week in Thailand has provided a lot of food for thought.  It was very intriguing to compare and contrast changing culture here to that in minnesota (and the US). I noticed traditional values of simplicity in daily activity, particularly during the visit to the Hmong village and in the relaxed, patient outlook of Thai society. Some of this simplicity stems from collectivism, sharing and accommodating woven into the cultural fabric. For instance, as guests at our hotel in Chang Mai we have been served breakfast with the intent if never leaving a guest unfilled. This intent results in a lot of food leftover with each breakfast. When we attended the cooking class, water falling from the roof was used as a method of cooling. These approaches to treating guests went above and beyond our usual expectations of how to please guests. I am intrigued from a sustainability standpoint on how to take only what I need (values of simplicity) without being wasteful. It was extremely encouraging to see the strides in sustainable agriculture in the Hmong village. It serves as a great example for the complex simplicity I see everywhere here in Thailand. Detail is placed to add meaning, such as on temples, but also creeps into daily life subtly through rich plant life between buildings.

Taking such care of visitors comes from different ideals from what is familiar to me, centered on sharing what you have and receiving joy from the joy of others. Although changes from globalization are adding faster-paced industry and technology to Thai society, individualism appears slower to catch on. This is in part due to core values of family and grounded patience.

We saw values of family in how both communities and businesses are run. The school itself is a community, one that contains students from very diverse backgrounds living as siblings with their teacher acting as a parent, nurse and companion. It seems that lines between societal roles are blurred so that everyone within a community work collectively. I look forward to spending more time in more traditional cultures in the next few days! Here are two pictures of the beautiful landscape, examples of IMG_2212FullSizeRender (1)cultural practice informed by nature.

Children = The Future


As I reflect learning about the children in Thailand and their futures, I see that there is a glimmer a hope and prosperity in their futures. However, learning about the children trafficking, the poor educational system in place that makes it hard for families to afford schooling for their children, and also learning about how Hmong villages only provide primary school, or not even, a standard education for their children saddens me.

First off, learning about the children trafficking in Thailand and forced child labor really intrigued me because I wanted to truly help the future generations. However, I witnessed first hand children working at the night market that same day we learned about the 7 tips to stop and prevent child labor. These two innocent girls were selling peanuts and flowers to tourists and natives at the night market. It was about 9:30PM already and still, from what it seemed like these two girls were forced to sell these items before the night was over, when they should have been sleeping to get up for school the next day. I sat there contemplating if I should have called the help line, or just observe and absorb my emotions as I watched these two girls sell their items. There was no smile, no motivation, and no emotion on the faces of the two girls. My heart was crying, but the tears of reality didn’t come out.  These girls are the future of Thailand. They need an education in order to succeed and not have to work on the streets to earn a living. There are other ways to get past the hardship that they may encounter, but this seemed normal to the natives here. Although there are child labor laws in Thailand, why aren’t they doing anything more? I noticed that at the night market, there was little to no police or security enforcing these laws.

Another incident that made me truly value children and education is when we visited the boarding school Chen Dao. These children come from different backgrounds, different tribes and villages, and yet they seemed to co-exist as a community. Learning about how these innocent children can be saved through education and school from issues of sex trafficking, drugs, child labor and orphanage is so powerful to me. I truly believe that school and education can lead the way towards a better future for these children and that no matter the differences, educating each other about how similar we all really are is the glimmer of hope we all want to see in the future of these children. It was so welcoming to me to see how easily these students welcomed us and wanted us to co-exist with them as they have co-existed with each other in school. I was also amazed on how smart and intelligent these students were when we played our game charades. The true meaning of happiness and joy from these students was truly getting an education and going to school, and it brought me joy and happiness seeing the smiles and laughs on the student’s faces.

However, there are so many unanswered questions I still have as I absorbed my thoughts and feelings of seeing these children struggle.  Seeing the struggle to have an affordable education and the struggle of making it through the trafficking and child labor issues in Thailand made me realize how privileged I am to be in America. Sometimes I feel like we take things for granted, such as free primary and secondary school. There are numerous cases of high school drop-outs in the U.S. and still, these children in Thailand would do anything in their power to even get a chance to go to high school, like the kids in the Hmong Village.  We take for granted that the U.S. has financial aid services that help with college tuition and that we don’t necessarily have to pay college all on our own.

I can now understand and truly appreciate children and education from witnessing these two cases while in Thailand. It is no wonder why my own parents always encouraged me to go to school and get good grades at a young age, because my parents lacked a formal education while growing up in Thailand and in the U.S. Our future in the hands of our children, and we can all work together to overcome these barriers that take children away from these privileges they deserve.