Between my last post and now I want to catch you guys up all the way, so then my posts can start being recent! :)
There are a TON of markets here – we’ve gone to most of the big ones and although they sell a lot of the same stuff, they’re always so interesting and fun! We’ve gone to the Night Bazaar, which is geared toward tourists, and is definitely set up for bargaining. The boys did a fish pedicure here and couldn’t stop laughing because it tickled so much! There is a market that we don’t know the name of, a little ways down the street from us. They have so many tattoo shops! We’ve seen some cute animals there, and they sell a lot of guy’s clothes. Then there are the walking streets – one on Saturday and one on Sunday, both near the old city.
The first time we went to the Sunday Walking Street, the old USAC Resident Director, Pong, took us. She did a great job of leading us around, showing us the temples that surrounded the old city. We stood under the ancient glory of Wat Chedi Luang, completed in the mid-15th century. This was originally the largest building in the entire Lanna Kingdom (Northern Thailand) until the earthquake of 1545. I could literally feel the majesty of this temple, and all the history it has stood through. That was a breathtaking experience that kept me gazing in wonder at the beautiful ruins. Afterward, we met up with her friend, May, who is a senior at CMU. There is a great food court at Sunday Walking Street, and they are actually environmentally concerned, separating the trash for recycling. First time I’ve seen that! Saturday walking street we sort of stumbled upon, which was neat! We ate first, and right at six when the market “opened,” the Royal Anthem played and we stood still in respect, as did everyone else. It was amazing because I didn’t realize how busy it was around me until the anthem ended and everyone started up their business again. We met a couple from Oregon and told them some tips about Chiang Mai. We got completely rained out at this market, but luckily right as it started pouring, we were looking at an umbrella booth, so we stood there using their umbrellas until the rain calmed a little.
The USAC Field Trip on the first Saturday of our school week was such a great experience! We started the trip by going to the Maesa Elephant Camp. We got to spend the first half hour or so visiting the elephants, taking pictures with the babies, and feeding them. After that, we watched the elephant show where the trainers showed off the tricks they have taught them. It was pretty amazing to see how talented the elephants were! They painted, played soccer & basketball, threw darts at balloons, and did some cute tricks with their trainers. I couldn’t really decide how this made me feel. I remember seeing elephants “paint” at Six Flags Marine World back home, but those pictures were just scribbles, not actual scenes. A lot of people criticize how trainers treat their elephants, poking them with the bamboo pikes and forcing them to do tasks they wouldn’t normally do. However, elephants have extremely thick skin, and it’s hard for me to think these elephants are actually being abused. I still haven’t really made up my mind about that one.
After the elephants, we went to the Tiger Kingdom in Mae Rim. We started this part of the trip with a buffet lunch – and by buffet, I mean American style buffet where you fill up your plate and take it back to your table. This was AWESOME. Haha! The food was delicious, various Thai foods and even some pastas. We stuffed ourselves, then went to purchase our tickets to pet the tigers. There were three categories, the babies being the most expensive and the biggest tigers were the cheapest. I had my heart set on the cubs, so Fou and I paid for that. It was only about 650 Baht, so a little over $20. Not too bad. We went to the cubs’ pen and waited for our turn. We were lead in by a young Thai man who, along with a few others, watched each pair of tourists as they pet the tiger. Sometimes if the tiger would open its mouth toward you, they would smack it lightly with a bamboo stick so that it didn’t bite. I wouldn’t say these tigers were abused in any way. However, through our short time petting the tigers (they weren’t soft like Romeo which made me sad) and taking some fun pictures, we realized how calm these tigers were. I mean, they are cats, and they are just young cubs. They should normally be active and playful. But, this wasn’t the case. The longer we were in there, the more I felt a little uneasy. Maybe I shouldn’t have paid the money to contribute to this alleged “drugging” of tigers. I don’t know. But I do know that I wouldn’t go again. It’s a sad, sad thing that you hear about and read about. But, until you see it in person, you never really accept the allegations. I can only hope it isn’t actually true.
On a much lighter note, we were headed to the part of the trip that excited me the most – Doi Suthep and Wat Phrathat. Eventually after a little napping in the car, we arrived at a beautiful, green, mountainous scene. Our Thai friend, Win, walked with us up the 300 (more or less) stairs. He knew a lot about the temple, and was eager to share! Upon taking off our shoes, of course, and entering, Win continued to lead us around the artwork that lined the walls. This, just like any church art you learn about, told the story of Buddhism. Win did an amazing job of telling us each part of the history. The temple was breathtaking, it was so bright and majestic. There were Buddhas everywhere, and people were paying their respect in many different ways. Some walked around the center of the temple three times while praying, some purchased bells to hang, some burned incense while bowing to the Buddha, and some found their fortune. I did the fortune telling one, where I bowed three times to Buddha, as is standard, then shook a can of sticks until one fell out. That one had a number, which corresponded to a fortune on the wall. They were printed, so I was able to take mine home: “You are very lucky. It seems the full moon is without clouds. You benefit from your behavior from the previous life. The lover, the cousins and the debtor are very good to you. You will win the lawsuit.” Pretty interesting!
The following week, on Wednesday, we were offered the opportunity to go to a local high school with CMU English Major Sophomores to help them teach English to the eighth graders. I am so glad I took the opportunity to go, because I made some lifelong friends in the process. We all hopped onto a huge bus, that wasn’t really like a bus and more like transportation from the military, with three long rows of benches and fans on the ceiling. After meeting some new people briefly, we were told to go eat lunch and were given 50 Baht from Jha Jhaa, our awesome resident director and the Thai students’ teacher. After lunch, we went to the large auditorium to sing, dance, and play games with the students, breaking the ice before we started the teaching. This was my favorite part because Win was explaining all the activities to the students in Thai, and we had to learn everything by watching and trying. There wasn’t any prior instruction, and I was right up in front! I was a little out of my comfort zone because of the language barrier, but I loved it. I got the hang of the game and even learned the dance in front of the kids. Then it was time to split up into groups. I was grouped with two other Thai students from CMU who lead the group. They asked me to read a lot in English, but slowly, so that the students could hear how to pronounce the words. That was a little hard because I really had to annunciate. It was also challenging because if a student was wrong, I didn’t want to say “No, that’s wrong,” because I know they were trying. But, we spent a short time finishing the lesson, and regrouped to have a small competition, which I was asked to lead. The kids learned my name first, and it was so fun to hear a room full of Thai kids trying to pronounce my name. I lead them in a short competition where I said a place in English (like bank, police station, department store, etc) and the students had to explain what it was in English. That was challenging for them, but I could tell they had fun from the smiles on their faces after I said they were correct. We had to end our time with the students, so Jha Jhaa gave us another 20 Baht to get ice cream while we waited for the bus. A group of girls came up to me to ask for pictures, and it was such a great feeling to know that they were excited to learn from me. I took a lot of pictures with them, and then they told me that they loved my eyes. That was the sweetest compliment, and I could tell they were nervous about saying it in English, which made it even more special. My heart was definitely happy.
Although waiting an hour or so for the bus wasn’t ideal, I wouldn’t have traded that time for anything. I met some of the greatest people in the world during that short time. What makes Thailand such a beautiful place is the people. There is definitely a truth to the phrase “Land of Smiles.” Thai people are generous and trustworthy, two characteristics that I see missing in many Americans, especially the younger generations. The Thai friends I have made would go out of their way to help me, in any way, big or small. I know I can trust them because they are open people, they share their story with you in hopes that you can get to know each other better and become friends. These people are happy, and even when they are stressed or worried, they find something to be happy about.
On the ride back to CMU, the bus was filled with chatter, and my new friend Sunday (not his real Thai name, but the nickname given to him by his parents) pointed out how that morning it was so quite, but now everyone was comfortable around each other, talking and laughing as though we had been friends for much longer. It was kind of a magical moment, even though that’s a cheesy way to say it. I just looked around a realized that in a bus full of Thai students, there I was, interacting with them and learning about them, making worldwide friends and connections. We got invited to play badminton that evening, so we attempted to join in a game or two. We ate dinner at the dorm and talked for hours, learning about each other and laughing at everyone’s jokes (it’s amazing to me how humor translates the same – I guess kids are kids in any culture, haha). The next day, Sam (pronounced like the number 3 in Thai), offered us a ride home in his Toyota City. He’s one of the only kids that doesn’t ride a scooter, besides Kao, who rides a bicycle. It was so neat that we had only met him the day before, yet he was comfortable enough to give us a ride. We were very appreciative, and he said it wasn’t a problem at all, that if we ever needed a ride to let him know. Thai people are so genuinely sweet, and even though I’ve been here almost a month, sometimes it still amazes me.
Knowing people on campus who are excited to say hi and to introduce us to even more people is a great feeling. I feel comfortable, and like I belong. They invite us to do so many things with them, and most of it involves eating and talking – the best way to get to know people! I have been able to help many of my friends with their English homework, and they help me practice what I’m learning in my Thai Language course, to make sure I pronounce things correctly. I’ve known these kids for exactly two weeks, yet I feel as though I’ve known them for years.
In my Buddhist Philosophy class, Ajaan Chris mentioned something about Buddhists believing in equal love. (It was only a short mention, so I hope I am relaying this correctly). The way he explained it was that you love everyone equally, no matter if they are friends, family, or whoever. The only difference is whom you are closer to. This relates to spouse, children, parents, family. The reason this stood out to me is because I immediately thought of my Thai friends and how they were so generous from the first time we met. I felt as though I was accepted right away, and now I feel as though I am part of their family. This concept is something I believe in a similar way, and to hear it explained and accepted is wonderful. I believe you can love your friends just as strong as any love can be, but there are different levels of closeness for each person that you love. I can honestly say that I love my Thai friends, and I am happy to know people from around the world that would open their homes for me if I ever came back to visit.
I am just overjoyed at where I am in my life right now. It’s even more amazing reflecting back on the adventures I’ve had and the friends I’ve made. Before leaving, I was unsure if I would really hang out with any Thai kids, considering the language barrier. I figured I might meet a few that knew a little English, but not many. I wanted to push myself to interact with locals, but I knew it would be harder since I don’t have any background in Thai language. I am so ecstatic to say that I have made more Thai friends in a couple weeks than I have made American friends in two years in college. I care for these friends and I know they care for me. Win even wants to take our group of six (me, Fou, Sam, Pheng, Ka & Kong) home with him when he gets his break from school to meet his mother! I can’t even express how excited I am!
I am in love with Chiang Mai. I think my heart belongs here, whether in part or in whole. Living in the moment, realizing everything as it happens, opening my eyes to the world and seeing the good in people has revealed all the beauty Thailand has to offer. I have yet to see so many things, yet I rarely want to leave Chiang Mai because this is my home, and it is a home I haven’t fully discovered yet. It is my home with countless new friends that I cherish spending time with.
I am smiling as I write this because I am truly happy.