Notes from Abroad

The overseas experiences of NC State University students

Back to the Pack

Three planes and 26 hours later, I touched down in RDU on July 13th. 

The strangest thing I felt was how unreal Thailand suddenly felt. I had spent nearly 2 months there, and while my boyfriend drove me back from the airport, the trip was already starting to feel surreal- like it was a dream I’d had, and now I was finally awake. 

Being able to understand the idle conversation around me, for the first time in months, was more comforting than I would have imagined. I remembered that I wasn’t an imbecile for not understanding Thai. 

I can’t say I had reverse culture shock — I slipped back into my old routines and expectations the very next day without any stress. Though my sleep schedule has not quite adjusted, I am happy to be home. Being back in my own culture isn’t what was hard, but missing aspects of Thailand certainly have changed the way I view some of the things about being back home: 

1. I miss the street vendors. Terribly. And I miss how further my money would stretch. 

2. Our sidewalks are clean, well-maintained and even our “natural areas” are trimmed and kept clean. I miss the cobblestone sidewalks, the overflowing bowls of lilies, the untamed shrubbery that made Bangkok a much greener city than New York could ever hope to be. I miss the GIGANTIC trees that burst from the sides of buildings or mangled the sidewalks. I miss the chaos of lizards, birds, dogs and cats that were all over the city. Bangkok had more texture, had more life than the ghostly cleanliness of most of the sidewalks and streets in Raleigh. 

3. The fruit. My heart is breaking for the freshness and glorious affordability and selection of the fruit in Bangkok. Everything there had seeds, even the oranges and grapes, and it suddenly occurred to me that our “seedless” versions of everything back home, are far from normal. 

4. I will miss having movie theaters on the top floors of malls, rather than being stand-alone buildings. More than that, I will miss the vast majority of shops being mom and pop places, or unique independent businesses. The power of franchises and corporations is almost suffocating here. 

5. Despite the impressive controlled chaos of Bangkok roads, it is nice to have smooth-running traffic back home, and know you don’t have to watch for motorcycles and tuk tuks weaving insanely between cars. 

I will miss all the friends I made in Thailand immensely, and I’m already making plans to visit on my own the summer after next. Below are my two pen pals, Luck and Fisa, and I hope to keep my connections to Thailand strong throughout the next two years. 

I'm gonna miss my Thai mothers!

I’m gonna miss my Thai mothers!

I’m so thankful that I was able to study abroad, and I recommend that anyone considering it should make the decision to go. Once you graduate and have a career to worry about, it will be near impossible to get a month away (you need at least that to really absorb and become more than a mere tourist) to travel. 

I hope these blogs have been informative and entertaining. If I could upload my (literally) 18,000 photos and videos to this blog, I would. And there’s so much I could say about my experiences, but alas, time is short and I already need to begin preparations for fall semester. 

My face has been plastered on these blogs enough, that if you see me around campus, feel free to ask about Thailand! I will be talking about this trip for a very long time, I’m sure. 

Kopkunkaa so much for reading! 


Man to Monk

Through my contacts at Wat Tapan, I was told to come to the temple early Tuesday morning. What I experienced there was a ceremony to welcome a new monk to Wat Tapan, and I was lucky enough to meet his sister and other family members.

I’m really going to miss all the activity at the Wat and the wonderful people I met there.

I definitely left a piece of myself in Bangkok~

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983735_10152649908592652_2779034226436082425_n The head monk to the Wat makes the first cut, then he goes outside to be shaven and washed

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10492066_10152647739222652_4120010779459035356_n10487184_10152647746002652_772629442494630291_n10447126_10152649909737652_8801411304676041341_n Then a procession proceeds the next day, and circle the Wat three times: once for the Buddha, once for the Buddhist Holy Books, and once for the monkhood

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After receiving blessings and praying, the monk is presented with the golden robes. He sheds his white clothes, representing his virginity, and goes to change

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It was amazing to watch!

 

Wat Tappan – My Second Home

These are some photos of Wat Tapan, my home base for meeting Thai and learning about Thai culture!

 

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Nit, Fisa’s friend who knew English fairly well– she taught me a lot of Thai words and had me try a lot of Thai food

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Me and Fisa, the second day at the Wat. She really took a liking to me, thankfully enough

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Me and Noon, who used to be a monk for a long time, but now he helps out the monks around the Wat

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Me and Ying, one of Nit’s daughters, riding in a tuk tuk!

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Noi’s Local Market

 

 

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While we were in Kanchanaburi, the owner of our guesthouse, Noi, turned out to be a rare find. She routinely teaches her guests how to cook Thai dishes, and takes them to a local market to sample all kinds of authentic Thai food, for 10 or even 5 baht a piece. She buzzed us through, bringing up handful after handful of delicious and ridiculously cheap sweets, snacks and grilled meats and vegeatables. I wish I could list everything I tried, but it was one, succulent blur of spice and zest. Everything was good.

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She also showed us the countryside, golden with ripening rice fields (something I had never seen before) and humming with the sound of buffalo and cattle grazing. I always forget how big those animals are in real life, and I quickly understood why the elderly Thai man we met carries a slingshot when he’s around the buffalo.

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Noi also told us about her concerns for the future, such as younger Thais preferring Western fast foods to traditional Thai veggies and spicy meats, the over-abundance of plastic bags being used in retail, and disorganized recycling system and how many rural Thais are still ignorant about proper recycling and trash disposal methods. She really was a forward-thinker, and we were all grateful for her honest input and guidance through the market!

The Snowball Effect

Anthropology books like to describe this concept as a serious strategy that professionals consciously conduct in the field, when in reality it is just what tends to happen.

Once you get to know some Thais, you are likely to meet their friends. Or, if other Thais see you hanging around a Thai, they are much more likely to initiate conversation.

Below is a rough chart of all the Thais made contact with during my time abroad:

Chart

 

What is interesting to me is how a few of these Thais that became good friends of mine, do not know enough English to be “good informants” per se. Fisa, Noi, Ying and Noon all were very nice to me and gave me presents often, but they needed Nit around to communicate effectively.

I met Maitri and his wife Bow at a park while they were feeding fish (which gave me an opportunity to engage with them), and then he invited me to Toey’s gallery opening, where I met most of the cluster.

Fisa, the woman at the Wat that sells the incense, candles, flowers, and other temple items was my anchor. The accepted me right away and paved the way for so many other Thais to get to know me. I’ve learned through other Thais that she loves me like a daughter.

Although not every Thai I met could speak much English, avoid the habit of merely seeing people as “informants.” Though I was lucky enough to meet Nan, Noi and Pla, all of which were happy to explain all kinds of things to me, you will still learn a lot from watching Thais that won’t impart knowledge as obviously. For me, even getting on friendly terms with the security guards or wait staff at local restaurants was important, because it is a huge confidence boost and a king of emotional safety net.

I am incredibly happy with what I have been able to accomplish here in Bangkok, and I’m really going to miss all the friends I have made!

Kanchanaburi

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Me with our tour guide Angie. She taught me how to write my name in Thai

 

Kanchanaburi was my destination for our 4-day weekend off to travel on our own. This place had so many spectacular sights, and I hope I can go again someday!

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I rode a 50-year old elephant through the jungle. What impressed me is how this lean Thai man controlled such a huge animal with only his hands and his voice — he hopped off in order to take picture of me in his spot, and with only a few words, got the elephant to pose. That level of control without the use of force or a sharp object was amazing to watch. They loved their animals there, and if I could, I’d love to go back and make a research project out of their way of life.

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We also went to THE Bridge over the River Kwai, which happened to be within walking distance of our guest house.

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The Erawan Falls are another breath-taking location in Kanchanaburi, which is where I met another Thai local that I became particularly fond of:

Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya is a monumental maze of ancient ruins beside modern restaurants and housing. Here, on the other side of the river, was the original capital city when Thailand was called the Kingdom of Siam.

We went as a class for a lesson in Thai history.

I couldn’t believe how much of it was still standing, especially after the floods, fires and destruction when the former capital was sacked.

It was chilling to climb up steps that were built in the 1300s, long before the United States were even a thought.

Though just ruins now, so much of Ayutthaya still had a lot to say. It’s just that history speaks with a soft voice, we have to listen close if we want to hear it.

 

ayut ayut2 ayut3 ayut4 ayut5 ayut6 ayut7

AnimaToey Update

I promised to update people on my interview at the gallery being on TV.

The link is below, but it doesn’t seem to load very well back in the states: (skip to 13 minutes in)

http://clip.thaipbs.or.th/file-12459

PBS

Nevertheless, here is a screen-cap of me during my 3 seconds of Thai-TV fame.

Afterward, Toey invited me to attend the Landmark conference with him, and I met more of his friends! The program is about self-actualization and removing the mental blocks and excuses we give ourselves for not living our lives fully or reaching our dreams. I was honored that he invited me, and it was great to talk to more of his friends and listening to the testimonies of some of the graduates.

 

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Rapport Through Roaches

I wish I had more photos to accompany this post, but in the excitement I didn’t have the chance.

Honestly, I don’t have photographs of most of the most memorable things I have seen in Thailand. Either I didn’t think I should take the shot, such as the old man sleeping outside in Ko Kret, or the moment blew across me too quickly to react.

It is an interesting sense that I’ve begun to develop over my stay here, (more, of when I think i can take a pic and of what, or how to do it discretely) but sometimes, the opportunities approach, like deer, out of nowhere and I can either enjoy it then, or risk tangling things by pulling out my camera.

This was definitely one of those times. I was eating lunch at an Isan place down Rang Nam, and just as I finished up my meal, storm clouds jostled in the air, dumping torrents onto the street.

rain

 

In literally five minutes, distant buildings were smudged out by the white haze of heavy rain. I hadn’t brought an umbrella, and with the wind swirling and the street-water already a few inches deep, I decided to wait out the storm instead.

 

The roads flood quickly here

The roads flood quickly here

And then other things started retreating to higher ground. Roaches of alarmingly large size started scuttling in, and at first no one seemed to care, so I tried to discretely smash as many as I could that wandered too near my chair.
Soon, rainwater was seeping underneath the storm shutters, so I helped the waitresses put the chairs on the seats, because I felt bad just sitting there. Then three of the employees, equipped with brooms, started sweeping the water off the sidewalk and the roaches with it. Encouraged, I got up and started actively hunting the roaches that I could while the workers laughed.
I’m not sure what they were saying, but they smiled and laughed with each one I got. I heard “good worker” from someone, but I’m not sure who said it.
There was a Thai man sitting, waiting for the rain to stop also, when he flinched because a roach was on his shoulder. I yelped, swatted it off, and stepped on it. In response, he immediately stood up and asked his friend to take a picture of us. The couple that I believed to be the owners, offered me a plastic bag for my head once the carnage had ceased, and said “see you again na?” before I headed out.

Armed with brooms, the gatekeepers try to hold the line

I never thought I’d bond with Thais over our mutual hate for roaches.

 

A Chance Encounter

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Since the field-school ended, I have spent a lot of my time at Wat Tapan, the local temple near Rang Nam Road. A few days ago, this woman walked up and spoke with Fisa, the lady I first befriended. She turned to me and spoke English well, and told me she could speak Thai, English, German and French.

Fisa cannot speak much English, and as per usual, she’d found something else to warn me about and fret over. After some attempts at charades earlier that morning, I had gathered that Fisa was trying to warn me about people drugging my drinks.

This kind lady, who I dwarfed when stood up to take a picture with her, helped explain things more clearly. She also warned me not to follow any children that try to lead me somewhere, and to generally not trust anyone that’s too friendly outside of the Wat.

Then she took out a good luck charm and tied it around my wrist “to keep Buddha with me,” and even offered a few more to give my family back home. She told me not to take it off, and I haven’t.

The way she was talking to Fisa made me think they were friends, so when I realized I hadn’t gotten her name, I asked Fisa later on. She shook her said and motioned that she didn’t know either.

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That kind stranger made me feel so cared for. I hope she stops by again.

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