About Me


Saturday, May 30, 2009

Chiang Mai 101

Hi everyone! Sorry it's been a bit of a delay getting this first post up- it turns out that my internet access is pretty limited (none in the house I'm living in), so I'll be updating as often as I can from coffee shops with free wifi (where I'm sitting right now). Anyways, I don't really know what I'm doing with this, so sorry if these posts get somewhat awkward- guess I just wasn't born to blog. A few random things before I get going...like I said, my internet access is limited, but I do have access at my internship. While I won't be blogging at work, I will be able to receive emails/messages so send me some whenever you feel like it- everyone loves getting messages, especially when you're 11 time zones away from home. Also, if you haven't already you should sign up to 'follow' my blog...not really sure what this does but there's gotta be some benefit, plus I'll feel cooler thinking that more than one person reads this. Alright, so I guess I'll just give you all an illustrated run-down of my first week in Chiang Mai...

So the plane ride(s) over here went surprisingly smoothly. Even the 12 hour trip from London to Bangkok wasn't horrible, except when the drunk guy next to me spilled red wine on my leg and didn't even notice. Luckily I was just wearing jeans, but got some funny looks on my walk to the bathroom to try to dry my pants off...

Got to Chiang Mai just fine. Chiang Mai is really a fascinating city, with so much history and such an interesting character. If you look at a map of the city, there is a large part of the city that is contained within a large moat, and then parts that have spread out on the moat's periphery. The section within the moat tends to be very quiet, without much traffic and very quaint street vendors and open shops, while the periphery has a little bit more of a big city feel, but still pretty quaint by any US city standard. Right now I'm actually on a bit of a time crunch (this paragraph is a bit of an add-on after I've been writing actually) and the coffee shop I'm in is going to close down fairly soon, so I'll talk about the city itself in more detail in a later post. Honestly, I could spend a whole post just writing about the city's history, character, and quirks. The one thing I will say for now, though, is if you want to get your heart racing, get into a car with a Thai driver. I was told half-jokingly that in Chiang Mai, green means 'go', yellow means 'hurry up', and red means 'go'. I thought the person was kidding, until I tried to cross the street...Check this out as a very mild example:

This was on a fairly quiet street corner, actually with several more cars following right behind, but imagine hundreds of cars doing that while you're trying to cross the street. And this isn't like they stop, look, and go, they just keep right on going...I also got that shot at the first red light I stopped at, so I'm telling you it is just common practice. Again, I could write a whole post just on the crazy driving I've seen, but as a couple more examples, people drive in the wrong direction on a one way street, lanes mean absolutely nothing (literally- even those big double yellow stripes in the middle of the road...), I've seen up to 4 people on one motorbike (and we're talking like scooter size)...anyways I could go on and on. The rides to and from work every morning are exciting at least...

When I got to the Cultural Canvas house (where I'm living), there were two girls who had just finished their volunteering and were getting set to leave the house that night. It was a bit of a funny experience, seeing them say all their goodbyes just as I'm saying hello (didn't the Beatles write a song like that for David Beckham?...) Ohhh the circle of life. Anyways, they were all teary-eyed as they were leaving, so it made me think how I'll feel when it's my turn to leave...sorry, too heavy too soon.

The house is great, with two downsides: no internet and no A/C (except for one room, where I will be spending the majority of my time). Honestly, we Nutmeggers (Wikipedia that ish) complain about humidity, and Wahoos think first-year dorms are bad in August, but none of you have experienced heat and humidity unless you've experienced South East Asia in May. Maybe TMI, but I start sweating just sitting in a room without A/C. Gross. But yeah, the house really is great, and it turns out that I have my own room (on the first floor, which is somewhat noisier but also somewhat cooler). Random sidenote- I've come to find out that this is because as of next week I'll be the only guy in the house for the rest of the summer. Apparently these volunteer programs are heavily dominated by females- possible paper topic for any of you Psych/Soc majors? Here's a few pictures of the house just to give you an idea:

A view of the air-conditioned room

A view of my bedroom, mosquito net and all. Knock on wood, I actually haven't had too many mosquito bites so far, but my skin is starting to hate me already with my daily applications of DEET. I think that fan is going to be like Wilson from Castaway by the end of this trip.

A view of the little garden/outside area of the house

I'd say the best thing about the house are the people who work there, our driver Ben and our house-mom type of woman, P'Lah. Ben takes me back and forth to my internship's office every day, and P'Lah cooks lunch and dinner for me and the other volunteers Monday-Saturday. She is an unbelievable cook. All the stories you might have heard about Thai food are all true- it is seriously some of the best in the world. I feel like I've been eating so much, but luckily it's all so healthy (lots of tofu, vegetables, etc). Adrian, if you're reading this, I now understand why you feel so strongly about your rice cooker- I'm starting to get hooked on sticky rice already. One of my favorite parts of this city is the smells you experience just walking down the street, where there are people up and down the street cooking up meats and noodles right there in their little open shops right on the street. And all of it for less than $1...

The other volunteers in the house are all great. Right now there are four others living with me: Dermot and Suzie are a couple from Ireland, I think in their mid-thirties or so, Sophia is from Australia, I think in her late-twenties, and Hitome is from Japan (but studying in the states) and is my age. They are all extremely sweet, very cool people, and very interesting people (plus there's nothing better than listening to the accents in a conversation between an Irish and an Australian). Dermot and Suzie have literally traveled everywhere, Sophia was practicing immigration law in Australia, and I've actually talked to Hitome about stuff I learned in my Econ of Japan class (really lame, I know, but seriously I never thought that class would be good for anything). I'm very thankful that I've gotten along so well with all of them. Unfortuntely, Dermot and Suzie leave in just a week, and Sophia leaves a week after that, but last night we all went out and hung out at a bar so that was some good bonding time (ps there is a whole area of town with basically all reggae bars, which is where we went last night, so I can now officially get my Jamaican fix in Thailand). Tomorrow we might take a group trip up to Doi Suthep, which is an amazing temple up the mountain just outside of town (depending on the weather)- hopefully next week I'll have some cool pictures from that trip if it happens. Anyways, once Dermot, Suzie, and Sophia leave, we'll be getting I think another 6 volunteers or so in the house, so I'll have more updates on that situation in a few weeks.

So back to the chronology of my week (stay with me)...Sunday there was no rest for the weary- I spent the whole day out on the town with my in-country support guy Wad. He's an awesome guy and will be a great resource to have here. We basically just went out to lunch/coffee and he gave me the run-down of some important info I might need over the course of my stay, and then went to the mall here and picked up some random goodies, like a Thai sim card, etc. (I bought a Thai language CD...probably a bit ambitious, I've yet to open it).

Speaking of Thai language, though, I got back home on Sunday and had a 90 minute Thai lesson with my tutor Lah, the first of four I had this week. Lah is a character- to be honest she sorta rubbed me the wrong way at first, but I had my final lesson this morning and we've since become good buddies. She's said that my tones are very good (when I can remember them), and I actually surprised myself with how much I've learned this week, but I'm still very hesitant to speak to random people in Thai because a.) I'm still working on forming complete sentences, and b.) I know I'll butcher the tones and say something horribly confusing, or worse. I'm working on it though- maybe time to bust open that CD...

Sorry this is so scatttered, but back to Sunday night- after my Thai lesson the house group and I went out to the Sunday Night Market- a HUGE open air market they have in the middle of the city every Sunday night. It spans many many blocks, and people are out on the street basically from like 4pm-midnight, with everything from arts and crafts, massage chairs, and of course amazing food everywhere you look. It was crazy actually- so many people, such a lively atmosphere. Here are a few pictures I took:

On the left, a view of the market itself. On the right is from a wat (temple) located right along the street where the market was taking place. Apparently each wat has some kind of celebration once a year, and last Sunday happened to be that day for this particular wat. I need to find out more about what was going on, but hundreds of people were processing through putting flowers down and praying to a Buddhist statue. Really a beautiful experience. Also, the blurriness in some of these photos is from me playing around with my camera settings.

And a couple more...I really like the one on the right for some reason...

Anyways, I have some more pictures from that night, but as I've been writing this post I've decided I'm going to set up a Webshots account for picture sharing- maybe there's an easier way to do it on the blog but the formatting so far has been such a pain, so for now on I'll only be putting in select photos for illustrative purposes. More info on that later.

So yeah, I realize this post is getting pretty long pretty quick, and I'm probably going to get kicked out of this coffee shop pretty soon. I'll do a brief rundown of my internship but save most of my discussion about that for a later post. Long story short, I couldn't be happier with my placement. My office is absolutely beautiful, located slightly outside the city on a gorgeous piece of property, and is air conditioned!

On the right, the view from my desk. On the left, a view of the office/house where I work. I'm extremely lucky to work in a place like this everyday.

My organization (Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, 'HREIB') is really an amazing organization working for an amazing cause (again, much more on that later). For now, all I will say is for anyone interested in human rights issues around the world, please do some reading about the situation in Burma. You hear about places like Darfur all the time back home, which obviously is in critical condition right now as well, but the attrocities occurring in Burma are some of the worst in the world, and some of the least discussed. Obviously I don't mean at all that Darfur doesn't deserve the attention its getting, but my point is that if you read about Burma, you'll see that it needs just as much attention from the international community. Anyways, I'm working with some really great people (including two American law students, one from Harvard and one from Georgetown), and I'm legitimately excited about the work I'll be doing over the course of the summer.

Alright well I think it's about time for me to head home- I know there is still plenty more I need to write about and I still have plenty of pictures I still need to share, but I promise more on the city and my internship soon (maybe tomorrow if I don't make it up to the mountain temple). I'll also post something soon when I set up a webshots account so you all can see the rest of my pictures. Hope this tides you over for now though- Thank you all for your support, and like I said please post on this page or send me emails or messages- I really would love to hear from you all at any point. One week down, here's to a great rest of the journey...

PS Sorry if there are formatting issues- I've had lots of problems there- just replace "left" with "top" and "right" with "bottom" for the picture captions...