Friday, December 26, 2008


Wednesday: The teachers in the English Department organized a pizza lunch to help us celebrate Christmas with some rather interesting twists to American food. The veggie pizza was absolutely delicious --corn, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes. The pictures show us enjoying the feast in the office. The second picture actually shows a bit more of the office --disregard my goofy "concentration" face, and notice the Charlie Brown Christmas tree in the background.

Thursday, Christmas day: Kirsten, Alicia, and I when to a place called Macro in search of cheese (almost non-existent here). For our Christmas dinner we feasted on toasted baguette slices, with olive oil, fresh basil, and mozzarella cheese! Oh, and homemade sangria (Alicia lived in Barcelona before, so she had the knowledge). Late in the evening, we were all able to speak with our families via telephone and skype.

Friday: Kirsten and Alicia left early for Laos! I left later in the evening. And, I'm pleased to say that after an 11 hour bus ride I am finally in Bangkok. Kali is en route, and we should be reunited around midnight tonight. Fulbright friends will be here in a few days.

Happy Birthday MOM!
Congrats on the graduation MAX!
Happy Anniversary MOM and DAD!
Happy New Year EVERYONE!


Sunday, December 21, 2008

The (In)sanity of Teaching English as a Foreign Language

Next week will be a crazy week of midterm exams. I am responsible for grading nearly 270 students based on oral presentations. This week has been crazy trying to help them prepare. Next week will be even more insane.

Just to be clear however, my sanity is not really a concern; it’s just a figure of speech. I’ve been running –my emotional and mental medicine if you will. Yesterday, I ran at night for the first time since I have been in Chiang Rai. Don’t worry mom and dad, I live at a fenced-in boarding school that is monitored by security guards. The stars were amazing, the music playing on my Ipod was wakening, and my optimism in life was refreshed. It’s amazing what such a simple activity, one foot in front of the other, can do for the human spirit.

Christmas is on Thursday! I miss my family very much. My Christmas plans include a trip to Myanmar, thanks to the kind heart of P’Tuang, to shop for cheap DVDs and red wine for the holidays. Next Friday I head to Bangkok to meet Kali –so excited! Karen, Caryn, Kate, and Zoe will also make the trip to Bangkok so we can celebrate New Year’s Eve together.

Happy holidays indeed!

Back to Doitung

Yesterday, two Israeli school administrators came to visit and observe PCC. In addition, two administrators from Mahidol School near Bangkok came to PCC. Today, P’Wan (one of the directors at my school), P’Al (a teacher in the English Dept), the three Americans (Kirsten, Alicia, and myself), and the four guests traveled to Doitung. We visited the temple, the flower gardens, and the palace. Some years ago, the King’s mother started the Doitung project. In the mountains near Chiang Rai, opium was being produced, exported, and consumed. The King’s mother created an amazing place where hill tribe people now maintain gardens, produce viable crops, make clothing, and produce other handicrafts. The palace at Doitung is the most exquisite log cabin, of Thai-Swiss influence, imaginable. Absolutely stunning –a cabin in the mountains so beautiful it would have brought my father to tears.

[photo (form left): me, Kirsten, Alicia, P'Wan]

[photo: my roommates and I at Doitung gardens]

[photo: clanking the bells again]

[photo: stray dog enjoying the sunlight]

[photo: outside of the King's mother's cabin at Doitung]

[photo: view from the balcony (off the living room) in the palace]


The second weekend in December I went camping with five Thai teachers and the Chinese teacher from PCC at Doitung (the mountains near Chiang Rai). P’Al and P’Man first took Hong, the Chinese teacher about my age, and I to Wat Rong Kun, the “White Temple.”

[photo (from left): Hong, P'Al, me, P'Man]

Camping was awesome. It was bitter cold, but very fun indeed!

[photo: P'Pai (left) and P'Dtone (right) ready for a good time]

In the morning we went up the mountain a bit further to the temple (which I now know was built sometime around 700AD –before the history of our country wow!). I rang 103 bells. And, when I say I rang them, I mean that I clanked them with a short stick as customary. And, when I say 103 bells, I mean that I lost count quickly.

You know those paintings where all you see are shades of blue. Perfectly distinguishable shades of blue, yet faintly determinable outlines of mountains –that’s what I saw. The photograph is a mere joke as an attempt to capture the beauty witnessed by my naked eye.

Chiang Mai Weekend Trip

December 5th was the King’s Birthday and also Father’s Day in Thailand. I was in Chiang Mai with Kate, Karen, and Caryn, weaving up Doi Su Tep Mountain in the back of a utility vehicle. When we got to the top, some 4500 meters from what we considered to be the bottom, we strapped on the chest guard, knee pads, helmet, and elbow pads they provided us. Karen later described us as the colorfully mismatched and raggedy-looking Mighty Ducks crew from the first movie (perhaps a reference that can only be appreciated by a few).

[photo: at the top of the mountain; pre-gear]

[photo: "ducks fly together"]

Three hours of downhill biking later, bruised, sweaty, and happy, I sat contemplating the sheer exhilaration of my first mountain biking experience. The first hill left me with the terrifying yet fleeting thought that maybe we had signed up for something other than a beginners course. Yikes! It was so intense and so hard not to give into the fear of falling. Most of the terrain was so grooved-out and rocky it was like biking downhill on a balance beam with pebbles on it. Our guide said this: “Choose your path…and then know that it’s your path to take.” His advice to be proactive and in control of my own safety and experience helped me let go of the fear. I let go, and the adrenaline took over.

[photo: after biking; lunch and contemplation]

One of the other guides at the company particularly enjoyed speaking in English with the four of us. Nooh, his nickname, was such a great soul to meet. The five of us went for dinner, drinks, and good conversation on a river bank in Chiang Mai that evening.

[photo: after biking; Me, Caryn, Karen, Kate colorful and smiling]

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sports Day

Sports Day at Princess Chulabhorn’s College Chiang Rai:

Three days of non-stop sports at the school. Completely organized by the students! Check out the video (includes audio, same as all the videos I post).

"Chook dii see luang!" was my cheer for the week --and in English, "Good Luck Yellow!" I was on the yellow team, and am proud to announce the yellow team won first place in the parade. The red team won first place overall.

Mid-Grant Meeting

For Thanksgiving, TUSEF paid for my flight to Bangkok. The purpose of the trip was three-fold: 1) to serve as a mid-grant meeting for the Fulbright grantees, 2) to celebrate Thanksgiving, 3) to share ideas and experiences with each other (the Fulbright ETAs).

The day before our departure to Bangkok, protestors had stormed in and shutdown the main airport in the city. Luckily, Brad and I were scheduled to fly from Chiang Rai to the other airport, Don Muang, in Bangkok. Brad and I arrived unscathed, only having experienced a two hour delay before departure. Other Fulbrighters however, were not quite as lucky. Later that evening, when all ten of us had arrived, stories began to surface. Karen and Kate had to take the seven hour bus from Sukkothai, Caryn was trapped inside Don Muang Airport due to protesting masses blocking the arrivals gate’s main exit, and Zoe’s and Chike’s flight had to be assisted in landing by the air force because protestors had taken over the control tower.
[photo: near Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok]

The next day, TUSEF had prepared a trip for us to a cultural center about 20km from Bangkok. It was a really nice day which included learning about local dancing, fruit carving, cooking, herbs, rice harvesting practices, pottery making, and silk making. I also fed my first adult-sized elephant. The picture is funny to me because the Thai man taking my photograph was encouraging me to put the banana in the elephant’s mouth as opposed to putting it in his trunk. So, my face reads: “in its mouth, really?”! Just for your frivolous information, an elephant’s trunk is actually the perfect vacuum attachment –when they want food, you can actually hear the suctioning sound of their anticipation. Lunch was an “international buffet” at the cultural center. Wow! It was such great food that all of us where warning each other to save room for Thanksgiving dinner later that evening.

For Thanksgiving dinner, we found ourselves at the remarkably impressive high-rise apartment of Khun Ann, PR Officer of the U.S. Embassy and TUSEF board member, and her husband, also with the Embassy. Dinner was fabulous, as was the wine. The company was exceptional. I was happy to spend time with P’Tip and P’Kee, as well as other TUSEF staff members, in a more personal setting. When you surround yourself / find yourself surrounded by such intellectual and motivated people, conversations are almost always enjoyable and motivating.

The next day was of the bulk of our mid-grant meeting. We spend the day in a boardroom at the Q House in the financial district of Bangkok, high above the commotion of Suhkumwit Road. The meetings were both informative and inspirational. As the day came to a close, I realized that I would go back to Chiang Rai with new ideas on how to be a more effective “agent of cultural exchange.” I was refreshed. I was ready to go home with a new sense of belonging –belonging to both America and Thailand, and having the cultural knowledge to help bridge the gap.

That evening, Kate and Caryn and I meet my friends P’Ko and P’Tu in the city for Mexican food. P’Ko and P’Tu are perhaps the wittiest Thai women I have ever met. I met them through contacts of my Uncle Steven (thanks, by the way). After dinner we went to P’Ko’s bar on Khao San Road. Yep, you read right, she owns a bar. In fact, her house is located behind the bar, where her three children were sleeping while we enjoyed some frozen concoctions. Apparently P’Ko’s family had always lived in that house, and it was only in the last forty years that Khao San Road has become backpackers central. The bar was crowded and fun! Zoe and Karen also met up with us later that night.
[photo (from left): P'Ko, me, Caryn, P'Tu, Kate, at a glorious mexican food feast]

The next day I was invited for lunch by Kate and her host family (remember the home stay experience I blogged about?). We had lunch at Fuji, which officially concluded an immaculate weekend of eating!

[photo: view of Khao San Road from the second floor of P'Ko's bar]

The return to our provinces at the end of the weekend was by bus. The airports remained closed for the next six days or so.

Much love to everyone at home,


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Winter Festival

*It’s been so long since I last posted an update, that I’m not even sure where to start. The absence of details about my life in the past weeks is not due to an absence of activity. Matter of fact, so much has happened recently, that it may be hard to fully capture all of my experiences and reactions to recent occurrences. *

Let me start with Winter Festival.

Winter Festival was my first real glimpse at how events are organized at PCC. As if this school were a University, students are responsible for and run events on campus, down to the very last details. It is quite impressive when you think about all of the details that go into these events, such as food, equipment, costumes, musical performances, clean-up, schedules, and then realize that 800 teenagers are in charge. I put together a short video (2 minutes) of some of the pictures I took before dark that evening. The pictures show a large grass field, which is where the event was held on campus –in the background is one of the two male dormitories (PCC is a boarding school). For Winter Festival, the students organized a parade, a modeling show, a beauty pageant, a mascot competition, and a song and dance competition. What I found exceptional was that some male students dressed up as females for the modeling show and not one person seemed offended by the situation; not one person had anything negative to say, or even so much as a scowl on their face.  In fact, the picture you see in the video that reads “Ready for the runway,” is a student of mine in M.4/1 (10th grade). His name is Soju (which means gecko in Thai) and he is a very dedicated student,  energetic for class, and kind. The point is, sexuality is not bashed here in Thailand, it is not hated or even disliked, and students have the freedom to simply be themselves. I have actually confirmed this concept with three other Fulbright ETAs who account for similarities in their schools throughout central and northern Thailand. Each grade (there are six at PCC) M1-M6 also organized food booths and sold Thai desserts, sticky rice, and an arrangement of fried meats, eggs, hotdogs, etc –notice the sign of the group that sold ice cream at the end of the video.

Happy Holidays,