Before coming to Thailand, I was expecting to be in a very busy place with very busy people. I expected the people to very fast pace like the place. I was wrong. Every person I met during the first week in Thailand was very calm. Even in the midst of the busiest time, I noticed something calm about Thai people.
During the cooking class when the moths came and flooded the area and everyone was freaking out, the instructor kept her calm and continued to teach us how to cook. I felt like it was a very busy moment because everything and everyone was so chaotic with the insects. There were moths landing in the instructor’s hair, near her face, the food, on the people in the audience, and everywhere that I could think of, she and her husband kept going and did not lose control. Even though I was terrified and scared, I noticed how smooth and controlled she continued to talk. They took the situation really well and I felt like their harmonious reaction influenced everyone else calm down.
Not just the cooking instructor, but everyone I’ve encountered think about what they say before they talk. I didn’t realize this until we had the monk chat with KK. KK is a very humble monk and I noticed how he thinks every question and his answers through before speaking. He paused a lot to think. He also took his time to talk and spoke slowly. It seemed as if he wanted to make sure he didn’t say anything offensive or wrong. After the monk chat, I started observing how Thai people speak and it’s true that the majority have quick pauses before they speak. This made me reflect a lot about myself. I am quick to answer and ask things but I never consider how the people I am talking to feel or interpret my words.
Reflecting about what I thought prior to this trip, I learned that Thai people are very cautious of what they say and how they act around others. Even though they are in a very busy setting, I find that they balance it out with their calmness in how they act and talk.
May 21, 2016
Pride is a common thread that runs through Thai culture. I’ve seen the pride of ethnicity, culture, food, and nature in a handful of interactions this past week. In the Hmong village, the village leader spoke of his community with great love and conviction. He praised their ability to peacefully coexist within a religiously diverse space, their sustainable agricultural practices that pave the way for other hill tribes, and the impenetrable bond that allows the youth to study in the city but then feel moved to return. Shamefully, I must admit that when I was walking around the village I felt impressed but also very sure I wouldn’t want to reside there. HOWEVER, I also came to the realization that the people in this community CHOOSE to live here.
This situation reminds me of a book I read last semester called “The Art of Being Ungoverned”. The book discusses the hill tribes residing in the mountains of Southeast Asia and challenges the narrative that they are the “forgotten” ones who were skipped by modernity and civilization. Instead, the author recounts the agricultural practices, choice of crops, and reliance on spoken languages to actively resist the state and it’s imposed practices. Basically, the communities living on the periphery actively chose to resist “civilization” because the conditions under state law (poverty, indentured servitude, disease, pollution) hindered their freedom and decreased their quality of life. They have the option to live in the cities and in “modernity” but choose not to. THIS is why the immense pride voiced by the Hmong village leader cries not for our pity of their perhaps antiquated technologies and way of life but of praise to their ability to lively freely.
(This may have been a tangent)
- Throughout our time here in Thailand so far, I’ve noticed how different the markets and interactions between consumers and vendors are from the United States. The most prevalent difference is the presence of open air markets. These take the form of food markets (mostly for those living here) and markets like the Night Bazaar catered to the tourism sector. By looking at the differences between these two markets, one can see a huge differentiator between American and Thai culture: materialism.
Although we all already know that we as Americans value material things, it’s amazing how the people of Thailand have come to not only accept this difference in the people who come to their country, they capitalize on it. The entire Night Bazaar is catered to the things that tourists buy and want in souvenirs. Tourists spend tons of time walking around and bartering with the vendors to buy the things they sell. In comparison, the food markets that people who live here shop at are for necessities. We also saw from the elderly home and the Hmong village that people live much more simply and with a lot less. The sociocultural aspects are much different between Thailand and the United States; and the Night Bazaar shows how Thailand has come to realize this difference and the people can use it to their advantage.
The human-built environment in the form of markets catering to tourists allow us to see the difference in business in general between the two countries. There are few regulations in Thailand, and prices aren’t fixed in stores or areas – you barter. The appeal of the products in Thailand (beyond the price) is that a lot of them are crafts also. This is a huge trend in the United States, so it’s also popular in other countries to bring back handmade trinkets. The United States has farmers markets, but they have tons of rules and specified times when they can take place in a specific area, so the markets here are very different overall.
Consumerism here in Thailand is very different from the United States; Thai people don’t shop or buy extra things like Americans do, they live much more simply and they don’t necessarily need as many rules and regulation on businesses because the vendors are not greedy in the same way American business owners are.
After experiencing so many things in one short week, one experience has stuck with me and created some conflicting feelings within me. The day I am talking about is our visit to the Mae Sa Elephant camp.
I was excited when we arrived to the camp because I had never seen an Elephant close up before, besides the zoo. I had preconceived notions of what to expect as far treatment towards the elephants. We had talked as a group before the outing about how it is inhumane to “ride” the elephants. I was under the impression that this camp did not take part in that. After seeing this taking place I was questioning the treatment of the elephants. I also had conflicting feelings because I was enjoying the time we got to spend with the elephants and realizing how lucky I was to get the chance to be that close to such a beautiful animal.
For the most part, I think the treatment between the mahoot and the elephant was very gentle and warm. The mahoot grows with the elephant and they create a special bond together. They also took very good care of them as far as feeding them and bathing them. I liked being able to see them in the river because the mahoot bathed and scrubbed the elephant. They also were able to communicate with the elephants. It was amazing to see how smart the elephants were and what they understood. This helped ease some of the conflictions I was having during the outing.
However, it was very hard for me to know how to feel about the elephant show. The elephants were able to do so many things, but I kept thinking about them in the wild and how they would never be painting a picture. I remember feeling upset when the elephant closest to us was the last one there and his mahoot kept making him do more. I kept thinking that he had already done so much, and was one of the younger elephants. I also thought the whole experience was created for tourist. The whole day was surrounded around visitors and catering to them. The elephants knew how to pose, the show was put on to make people clap and pay money, sugarcane and bananas were provided for a price, even the “bath time” was scheduled so that people could watch. Again, all very unique and once in a lifetime experiences, but also not very realistic. I guess one could argue that any “elephant camp” would not be considered realistic, especially with a lense of wild elephants in your mind.
Overall, I am still not sure how I felt about it. I loved the experience and took pictures with the elephants like a tourist, but I left feeling unsettled about my prior knowledge to this experience.
Being in Thailand has put a lot of things in perspective for me. Back in Minnesota, going to a predominately white university, I have always felt like minority. Like I was always the one getting the shorter end of the stick. Then I come here and I realize how ignorant and privileged I am to live in a country where I have to drive 20 minutes to school and still complain about how bad traffic was on highway 94. How privileged I am to have air conditioning in every building that I walk into even though it is only 80 degrees outside.
Everyday here the sun is hot and the air is humid. Now I can finally understand why my mother has the heat turned on when it’s 70 degrees back at home. After being in the United States for over 30 years, she still hasn’t adjusted to the cold of Minnesota. Visiting the Hmong village was definitely my biggest wake up call. Things are so much different than the Hmong movies that I have seen. Both girls and boys have access to education and agriculture is so much more advanced than I had even considered. Furthermore, I was surprised to learn that only about 10 out of 200 families still followed the traditional Hmong practice of Shamanism. I thought that the conversion of religion was only a trend in the United States, but apparently that did not stand to be true.
Although so many things surprised me, I can say that I have never felt so proud of my Hmong heritage. Seeing the spinning tops, shooting the cross bow, and riding the kart down the hill really helped me embrace my Hmongness. Especially hitting the coconut on my first try! I had always known that those were genuine Hmong traditions but had never had the chance to actually do it. It made me feel like I could relate to my parents childhood. Walking around the village, getting caught in the muddy rain, and playing with the village children made me feel so at home. These are my people. This is my community. And I am their person.
Love from Thailand,
05/20/16 – 7:45 pm (start time)
It’s already a week since I left home. I still can’t believe it’s been that long. I don’t exactly miss home, but I miss my little sister. Throughout this first week, I have reflected a lot about my time here, the environment I didn’t expect, and the crazy believing that I am officially in Thailand. For some odd reasons, my reflections always ended with me thinking about my parents and my hard work to be where I am now.
I didn’t expect Thailand to be so busy, have piles of trash, and run down buildings. My parents never warned me of this. These were the first things I noticed on my arrival and it really sadden me that this was a lifestyle; a lifestyle I had to live with for three weeks and acknowledge. For the first time, I felt privileged and it was uncomfortable.
Then I realized how humans, myself included, tend to capture beautiful things to show to others, but we rarely show them the complete picture. Am I worried about changing my Facebook friends perspective or am I scared that my parents might think I’m not enjoying myself? I am once again sadden by these little behaviors and ideas because I was, and still am, enjoying my time here, and I am starting to acknowledge that this is the way the people in Thailand live. Maybe this was how my parents felt as well. They probably never told me because my perspective of Thailand could be different, and maybe they didn’t want their views to change mine.
Regardless of my first impression, I have realized how much I prefer the country side over the cities. The Suksasongkrah Chiangdao School and Hmong Village taught me about their ways of living and inspired me to want to come back. I really enjoyed how successful they were on taking on their role as a student, acharn, head of the village, or a young adult. The taught me that no matter how distanced you are from everybody else, you can still survive with the people, regardless of their backgrounds, who choose to live similarly to you. In addition, there are pros and cons to everything and not one way is correct is what KK said. With that being said, I look forward to sharing my experience with my parents when I get back to the U.S.
Until next week,
I was incredibly anxious driving to the Wat Temple for orientation. I did not know what to expect, and ambiguous situations are very difficult for me. My biggest fear was ignorance and being disrespectful to the people who were so generously welcoming us into their community. I found the lessons from the monk to be very insightful. It helped clear the air about how to act towards other people while in Thailand. I also enjoyed meeting all of the other students who will be traveling with me. It helped me keep an open mind about finding friendships from people who I would not usually run into in my classes on campus.
On this trip, I would like to try my hardest to stay mindful and open across all situations we encounter. I feel extremely fortunate to have this opportunity, and I would like to be present for every moment. As I struggle with uncertain situations, my goal is to push myself into doing things I normally wouldn’t and to embrace the unknown adventures that lie ahead.
As we were driving to the temple, I was very curious as to where we were going. All I saw was nature, for a second I thought we were lost. After getting to the temple, I was very skeptical, I questioned why we were there. After entering the temple and witnessing the community that was there my opinion and skepticism completely changed. It was a really great experience to the amazing community that I saw at the temple. I also really appreciated how welcoming they were to us. One goal I have for myself is to keep a complete open mind with no expectations. My expectations of the temple was very eye opening to me which is why for this trip I want to keep a complete open mind and fully embrace the Thai culture to the fullest.
In the months and hours leading up to our orientation at the Wat Temple in Elk River, I became increasingly eager and nervous to learn more about our trip to Thailand and meet the strangers who will eventually feel like family to me (or so I’ve heard from past students who have gone on this trip). During the drive from Minneapolis to Elk River, I found myself fidgeting with the radio and tapping my fingers on the steering wheel more often than usual as I worried about getting to the temple on time and what the other students would be like. But during my time at the Wat Temple, I felt so at ease, and now I’m even more excited to go to Thailand! Being at the Wat Temple also made me realize that I need to be a lot more aware of Thai culture before we go, and I have a lot more to learn. Like, I had no idea that as a woman I cannot touch a monk, which I started to catch onto as the day went on. I also didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to point my feet towards a monk until Dr. Solheim pointed it out. I have a feeling that during this trip I will be having a lot of (good) learning moments like that, where I’m unknowingly doing or saying something improperly. Along those same lines, my main learning goals for this seminar are to become more aware of how my cultural background influences my perceptions of the world and to see the world using a different cultural lens.
I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again and getting to know you better!