Sawatdee khrap! Man, another week down- I guess I'll just jump right in to my week since the last I posted...I think I mentioned this in my last post, but on Sunday I headed off to the ruins of an ancient city called Wiang Kum Kam with Hitomi and Sofia. Last week I also mentioned how the current provinces in Thailand each used to be their own kingdoms back in the day- well Wiang Kum Kam used to be the capital of the Lanna province before Chiang Mai took the title. It's actually a pretty amazing site- the reason they moved the capital to Chiang Mai was because Wiang Kum Kam was highly prone to floods. Turned out to be a smart idea to move, because back around the 15th century (I think...) there was an enormous flood that not only wiped out the city, but also brought in so much soil and earth with it that it left the city pretty much buried for the next 500 years. If you can tell from some of my pictures, the ruins look like they're in a sort of pit almost, like a mini-Mad Bowl if you will...basically just the visual evidence that once the excavators dug the buildings out (which was only about 30-40 years ago), they found the original ground level to be about 8 feet below what it is today. Anyways, that took up most of our Sunda- the different structures that you see in my pictures were all spread out (it was literally a whole ancient city), so we rented some bikes and just rode around the area for a few hours.
Not much else in terms of site-seeing this week. Tuesday night we had a big group go out to this jazz club type of bar inside the moat. It happened to be a sort of open-mic night, where they let anyone who wanted to get up on stage and jam with the band. Luckily everyone who got up was pretty legit, and they had some actual musicians there jamming with them. It was a pretty eclectic scene, and a lot of fun to just sorta chill and jam out to the jazz improv. I had literally just finished "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac (great book by the way, thanks for the recommendation Ric), and all I could think of were the scenes from that book where Sal and Dean are jamming out to jazz musicians in 1940's bars across the U.S. Speaking of "On the Road", after reading that book I've decided I'm taking a cross-country road trip at some point when I get back to the States. It's getting kinda old taking to foreigners and having to admit that I've never even been to the Grand Canyon or California. Who knew that most people in the world have never even heard of Connecticut? So yeah, if anyone is interested, I'm taking applications for co-pilot.
So this week we've had a bit of turn-over in the volunteer house. After Suzy and Dermot left last week, we had a group of five more volunteers come in. Liz from Scotland, Naomi and Kiera from Ireland, Verena from Germany, Katie from Alabama. They're all really nice and it's good to meet some new and interesting people from all over the world (though I gotta say, it's kinda nice having another American in the house- I don't think the Fourth of July is really big over here, but maybe we'll go wild and make some burgers or something).
Speaking of burgers, a lot of you have been asking about the food over here. I've been true to the experience and have had Thai food for literally every single meal since I've been here. What that means, though, is that I've basically had rice with every single meal since I've been here. It all really is delicious (and I'm developing a taste for spicy food- but man can Thai food be spicy- I bit into a chili last week and my mouth was on fire for a good 10-15 minutes...it wasn't just uncomfortable, it was seriously painful), but I gotta say I'm kinda starting to crave a good burger or steak. I guess I'm a bit of a carnivore, but all this tofu sometimes just doesn't stack up to a double stack. So for anyone in WeHa reading this, go to Max Burger, order the Fatty Melt, and appreciate it for all its glory.
More things American, I've had some pretty amusing conversations with the guys in the office this week. We've come to learn that Aaron (from Georgetown) is pretty much neurotic/paranoid about everything under the sun, but in a really funny way. He comes up with some conspiracy theory for every thing out there, and we had a pretty funny lunch the other day when we found out that he refuses to "open his mouth in the shower" because he's scared of getting some sort of disease. He's a really good sport about it though, and keeps us entertained. Oh and really random fun fact- yesterday at lunch we spent about an hour (gotta love working for free) debating whether the word "forte" (as in 'Singing is not really my forte') is properly pronounced "fort" or "fortay". Turns out, to our surprise and probably to yours, that "forte" when used in that context is actually supposed to be pronounced "fort". Does that blow your mind or what?
Sad note- Sofia left this week- she's off to travel the world some more (going to Malaysia, Spain, then eventually London- apparently Australia has some amazing vacation deals in their employment contracts).
Happy note- I just found out yesterday that in two weeks I'm going to be taking a long weekend to travel to Ko Samui! Yeah Google Image that one- I am unbelievably excited, especially since I'm actually going to be travelling with some (A)WeHa peeps (Molly and Ari, if you're reading this I seriously cannot wait). So yeah, I should have some gorgeous pics in a couple weeks from that trip.
Work is getting busier and busier, but more interesting every week. This week I got underway with the trafficked children project I mentioned last week. It's really fascinating reading through all these case studies, reports, etc. but at the same time it's a bit mentally reading about so many tragic stories. I really don't think I could have fully comprehended the fortune of living an American/Western life before reading study after study about the thousands of children from India, Southeast Asia, Africa, etc. who are abducted every year and trafficked into the sex industry or extremely hazardous working conditions. Even in the 'not-as-bad' cases, children sometimes 'voluntarily' leave their home before their 12th birthday, travel across a near-by border and work in a factory or on a farm because because their parents can't support them back home...
Apart from my individual projects, it's really an amazing time to be at HREIB this summer, surrounded by all the Burmese staff and activists while some really significant things are going on in Burma as we speak. One thing that some of you may have heard about is the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, which is about to take place in Burma (supposedly in the next couple of weeks). Suu Kyi was the 1991 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and the daughter of General Aung San, who was the revered leader of Burma after the British gave up their colonial rule (and still is revered to this day). As a little side note, the country of Burma is made of seven different 'states', each with its own ethnic group, language, and culture. General Aung San had promised these states a sort of federalist system of government in Burma once the country gained independence, under which each state would maintain some degree of autocracy. He was soon assassinated, though, allowing the ruling military junta came into power. Calls for democracy eventually increased to the point where the nations students came together and organized huge peaceful protests in 1988, to which the government responded violently and killed thousands of demonstrators. In 1990 Burma held free elections, in which Aung San Suu Kyi won an overwhelming majority of the votes as the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), but the military junta ignored the results and placed Suu Kyi under house arrest where she has been ever since (for almost the past 20 years). Fast forward to this year, an American just very recently (in May) swam across a lake in front of Suu Kyi's house and stayed for a couple of days- the military government claimed she violated the terms of her house arrest and thus gave them the tiniest excuse they needed to put her on trial and sentence her to an actual prison term. If convicted, she would serve time in Insein Prison- without going into too much details, I can honestly tell you that I felt physically ill after reading a book about what they do to political prisoners in Insein and the living conditions inside the prison.
While I'm usually highly skeptical about any sort of conspiracy theory, I've actually been fairly receptive to people who've argued that the Burmese junta actually put the American guy up to swimming to Suu Kyi's house. First of all, you'd think that all the guards they have at her place would notice a guy swimming across a lake...The biggest factor, though, and the other reason why it's so exciting to be at HREIB this summer, is that Burma is due for an election next year, in 2010. If Suu Kyi is behind bars, she can't be put on the ballot. Not that it would really matter if she's on the ballot anyways, I guess. No one is expecting a democratic victory, much less the junta stepping down if the vote did indeed turn out against them. What will happen, though, is that the Burmese people will mysteriously vote to keep the existing government (reallistically out of fear for their own lives), and the government will turn to the international community and say "See? We're a legitimate government..." Part of the work that people in the office are doing right now is trying to develop a case and uncover actual hard evidence that these elections will be illegitimate. It's kinda sad, but without this actual hard proof the international community wouldn't really be able to do much about the election results, no matter how obviously illegitimate they are. It's amazing the type of corruption that really does go on- the trial was actually supposed to start last Friday, but Suu Kyi is appealing the court's decision to disallow one of her defense witnesses (out of the two witnesses they're allowing her anyways). To be honest, I would be shocked if she's not convicted- if nothing else, though, hopefully this raises some awareness when Burma imprisons a Nobel Peace Prize winner.
If you're wondering why the international community hasn't put more pressure on Burma, you're not alone. The crimes against Burma could literally be tried in the International Criminal Court (ICC) as genocide or crimes against humanity- this stuff is no joke, just the other day there were over 3,000 people (some reports say closer to 5 or 6,000) fleeing into Thailand because their villages in Burma were being ransacked by the military. At the least, you'd think that Burma might cave under some economic or political pressure. This is one of the most frustrating topics for people in the office, and anyone working for the Burmese cause. On the one hand, from everything I've read and heard, there's just too much red tape at the U.N. On the other hand, indvidual countries have gotten in the way of successful pressure. China is making use of its veto power as a permanent member of the Security Counsel to prevent Burma from being brought up on charges before the ICC, saying that the issues in Burma are merely an "internal affair." China and Thailand have also made it a bit easier for Burma to withstand any economic sanctions by continuing to buy from Burma's rich supply of natural gas (resource curse, IR majors?). Not trying to say that China is causing all the frustration...but actually yeah, it's all China. I still say those drummers from the Olympics were creepy...
Alright off my soap box- On a related note, the Burmese interns who I mentioned last week have slowly started to arrive, and I think all of them should be here by next week. I'm actually really excited about this program. Mike and Aung Myo Minh (the director of HREIB) really want us volunteers to interact a lot with the Burmese interns, so they've set up a program where pretty much every day for the rest of the summer, we're going to have two hours of exchange with them. Basically, for one hour, the three of us will teach them something "American" (really anything we want to teach or anything they want to learn about, from the Bill of Rights to MTV), and for the second hour they'll teach us something "Burmese" (again, same flexibility applies). Not only is this going to really break up the day's work haha, but I think it will be really fascinating to interact so much with a group of six Burmese people, and get to know them and their culture in a much more in-depth way than I was anticipating coming in to this experience. I think it's really cool of my supervisors to leave the program so open and flexible- I think both sides will learn a whole lot of interesting stuff that way. I'll share some of the things I learn throughout the rest of the summer.
Alright, well I guess I've already written enough for now. Sorry this post maybe wasn't as much fun as my previous ones (cause I know those were so much fun...I guess at least they had more pictures) but I figured I had to get some more Burma info out there since it's such a big part of what I'm doing over here. About to register for the LSAT now which is kinda terrifying... Speaking of the LSAT, anyone reading this take it already? I think they already had the June test...let me know how it went if you took it.
Oh quick random info: the title of this post is really random but is from another amusing interaction I had with my driver Ben- we've gotten into a habit on the rides to and from work where he will point to something on the road, ask me how to say it in English, and tell me the word in Thai. Earlier this week we passed some goats on the side of the road, and he told me the Thai word is "pad". To me it sounded exactly like "pet" which is the word for 'spicy' (Thai "d's" sound a lot like "t's"), so I expressed my confusion- he thought this was absolutely hilarious that I couldn't distinguish the difference between the two words. Both of the words also sound just like "Bpaet," which means "eight", so he got quite a kick out of the phrase "eight spicy goat", which basically sounds like you're saying the same word 3 times.
Ending on the language note, I got a new sign off this week for you all- I just learned that the phrase "law gawn" that I used last week means "see you later" but with the connotation that it will be quite a long time before we meet again.. So, new and improved "see you later":
Jeuh gan mai!