Tuesday, June 28, 2005

puppies in paradise

I'm in Ko Samet!! This place is astoundingly gorgeous, and my body and brain are completely relaxed and removed from the past few weeks. We stay in small bungalows right near a small, white beach that gives way to gently undulating and warm teal water through which you can see all the way down to your feet! Since arriving, all we've really done is relax and play. The beach, fairly sparsely populated all the time, is covered with tiny crabs who make hundreds of little sand-spit-balls, and the occasional washed-up ten-legged starfish bigger than a frisbee. There is also a litter of just about the cutest 2-week-old puppies ever, who keep us constantly distracted with their antics and their sandy little faces. The place is quiet and perfect. A short walk up the beach reveals plenty of restaurants, and there are also places to rent motorbikes (i'm too chicken), kayaks (hopefully tomorrow), and snorkeling gear. Sitting on the beach, we are occasionally approached by people selling fruit, som tum (spicy papaya salad), sarongs, or massages. i think i'm going to get a massage today. there is really nothing to possibly complain about. of course, i don't even feel like i'm in thailand at all anymore, which is partly a relief and partly a shame, and it will be an adjustment to re-enter BKK and a few more weeks of thai life.
today we did our presentations of our experiences to one another, as a dry run of whatever we end up doing in the fall. the group trip officially ends tomorrow, even though we're all hanging around here a bit longer (i can't believe i was originally planning on leaving the 29th!).
anyway, i can't possibly sit in here any longer on this perfect afternoon. hope all is well at home! talk soon!

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Back to Shoes and Bare Shoulders.

Wow. I had so much to say until I got here. I will try again later, maybe. I definitely want to write about Pathom Asok. But I left today, which was an oddly sad experience. After about 10 days there, I finally was starting to become a fixture. Funny, because at the beginning I wasn’t sure I’d make it a week. But by today, I feel like I’d found my niche. So many people would walk by and ask if I’d eaten yet, or “bpai nai, ka?” (where are you going?), or whatever, and the kids, so shy, were just warming up to using their English with me. At the beginning when people asked how long I was staying, I’d say “1 or 2 weeks” and they would just nod politely, but at the end there, when I told people I’d be leaving soon, they actually seemed disappointed. One lady who really took a shine to me (our names sounded kind of similar), always asking if I was happy there and telling me she wanted to see me every day, and I should stay a long time, told me to beware of danger, and take care. Just this morning I was walking and wai’d to a tiny older lady I met on arrival and saw around, and she sort of sang as she rode her bicycle past Claudia and me, “You are veerrrry niiiiiiice, SOOOOO NIIIIIIIICE” with this big grin on her face. Leaving was strange because I didn’t get to say bye to everyone I met or thank anyone formally… I can’t believe I may never go back there. Of course all the kids gave me their addresses and everything.
Anyway, the last few days there were the best. We got to teach several English classes, which is a lot of fun. The best was a class of 6 kids, 3 about 10 years old and then 3 really little ones… it involved a lot of giggling, running around, and clapping hands. So much fun!
I’ll also miss the food there—nowhere is it easier for a vegetarian to eat delicious, healthy food!
So now-- one night in BKK, where I just have to hit the grocery store for snacks and book my train tickets to and from Chiang Mai. The group is all back together for the first time in a while (this time plus Allison and minus our India buddies), which is really nice. It’s great to hear everyone’s crazy stories. Tomorrow we all head down to Ko Samet, island beach resort with white sand and, they say, not many white people, for about a week, before we all scatter again for the rest of our adventures. Tomorrow is the 3 week mark since I left, which is hard to believe, and also marks the halfway point of my trip. The next 3 weeks are exciting, but I will also be glad to put my feet back down in MD—reading emails from people today, I got a twinge of homesickness. Can’t wait to see everyone when I get back home.
Have so much more to say, maybe things a bit more thoughtful, about Pathom Asok and just everything I’ve been thinking about lately—about censorship, rules, social structure, cultishness, styles of learning, ways of interacting, sustainability… but somehow right now I don’t feel like writing it all. Maybe later tonight, or just once I’m settled down at the beach. I think I’ll go find some food.
Miss everyone, keep writing!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Refreshed....

time for another post before i leave the comfort and crowds of BKK. The post I wrote yesterday didn’t go up, but luckily I had saved it on the desktop and am at the same internet café today. I was about to panic, considering I’d spent about an hour writing yesterday. So here I am again. This break has been great—I have a whole new appreciation for bathtubs. And there is so much English spoken in BKK, it’s really easy here, even though the noise & exhaust & everything is a bit overwhelming (especially after the serenity of pathom asok). I have no great desire to spend a lot of time here, though—it’s not really that Thai. And things at P.A. are cool. Even if they are a little cultish. Which they are. But also awesome. Haven’t decided totally where along that line they fall.
I may have mentioned that our hotel, the JW Marriott BKK, is located directly next to one of BKK’s hottest redlight districts. We walked through it yesterday afternoon to drop off our laundry (they don’t have self serve laundromats here, it’s more like a dry cleaners), and the sidewalks are just absolutely lined with American and European men hitting on tiny Thai women. It’s absolutely disgusting. American parents might worry sending their kids all the way over here, but the sketchiest people here are the white men. Really. When we walked past later in the evening, one of the bars was actually playing the song “Roxane.” I couldn’t believe that. How ironic. Or maybe not ironic at all, maybe perfectly intentional, and these men feel like they are somehow special and are being helpful to these women. Pigs.
Anyway, though, there is a lot still to say about Pathom Asok. Like about how awesome all the monastic people there are. We’ve had 2 opportunities to talk with Samana Yuttawaro, the energetic little monk who loves teaching. He’s really nice and has great answers to all the questions. Sikkhamat Renfa was awesome too, and kept using the word “troubleness.” She has the same glowing eyes as Yuttawaro. Also, the monks show up periodically during work, and really get a kick out of asking me the American names for all the fruits and vegetables. I usually just have to say “mai mee, mai mee” (don’t have, don’t have), because all the plants are so different. One monk asked me if we have mosquitoes in America. A fair question, considering all the other things I’ve told them we don’t have. Everyone has so many questions about America; it’s fun talking with people who truly have no idea.
It’s also interesting hearing the differences in accent in Thai language. A lot of the people there are from Isan (northeast thailand), which borders Lao, and so their native language is actually something like a Thai-Lao combination. One of my student friends always tells me words in Thai and Isan, which doesn’t make it easier to absorb. But still, the language is probably the area where I am learning the most, and people tell me my accent’s good. That’s so gratifying; not being able to communicate is one of the most frustrating and exhausting things. I want them to know I care, too, and am not just another big Farang here with my own agenda.
I realized I also forgot to write about the fact that in Hua Hin, Ted took us to a monkey temple! That was so exciting. People are telling me that Lopburi is also full of monkeys, so I’m looking forward to going there.
Anyway, better go pick up my laundry. I’m getting really frustrated with the blogger site because it keeps telling me my really long post from yesterday didn’t go up even after I tried again, but then sometimes it says it went up twice. Let me know whether you can see that one.
Sawaddee kaa!

One Week Down at Pathom Asok

So I came to BKK this afternoon for a break from pathom asok. I met claudia here, and we’ll go back to pathom asok together tomorrow afternoon. She had a terrible time up in Isan, I feel so bad for her. I’m actually having a great time at good old P.A., it’s just kind of intense, and when Chris took a few days to go to Hua Hin I thought a break sounded like a pretty smart idea. Internet, laundromat, post office. Plus it’s just so great to have a really nice shower and a pool for one day—it’s about 100 degrees and humid at P.A., working outside all day, and wearing long sleeves and pants. Not as bad as it sounds really, you get used to it, but I’m pretty stinky. And since we never wear shoes my feet are pretty gross too. And there’s just no time to not be all dressed! The room where I sleep always has other people in it, and you can’t walk around in your towel or anything, and they’re super modest… so that’s a little stifling. Mostly, though, it’s great. It was one week today that I got there, and when I go back I will only have 3 days left, which is actually kind of sad. I’ve learned so much, and met so many nice people. I’m especially learning tons of Thai, I can construct sentences now and kind of conduct a (very basic) conversation. Usually involves a lot of laughter, and I carry my Thai dictionary EVERYWHERE, but it’s fun. I just learned the other day how to tell time, and the system is really crazy—instead of just AM and PM, they have like 4 segments, and when they get to 7, they start over with 1… it’s weird. But yeah.
Ok, so let me give a quick outline of life at Pathom Asok. The day starts at 3:30 am, when they start ringing bells really loud for about half an hour. Then at 4 music comes on through the giant PA system and the students get up. I got up then too, the first day, and wondered why the hell I was up already up when it was still dark out and I didn’t even understand the language. So now I sleep in until a decadent 6am, then get up and go work in the kitchen for a few hours. Despite the early rising, breakfast isn’t until 10am. They play some more music and bells and stuff and everyone gathers together in the main hall, bringing their own dishes and spoons along. We all sit in rows on the floor and they send all the food around in big pots on little rolling carts between the rows. Everything is vegetarian, and a lot of it’s delicious. During that time, we all stop for some intense Buddhist praying, which the monks, who sit on a raised platform, lead, and then they begin eating first. During the meal they put on the news or play hilarious English-learning videos with titles like “The Frisky Cat in Wonderland.” From lunchtime until 12 or so is free time, when I usually just go off and write in my journal, but am sometimes swamped by middle & high school students who want to look at my Thai-English dictionary. Swamped being a relative term, of course; everyone is really mild-mannered and calm here, and I don’t think emergencies exist at all. At 12 there is a minute of silence, and then everyone goes to work at various places all around (printing shop, garden, mushroom garden, kitchen, sesame plant, shop, shampoo making area, dressmaking workshop, etc etc). I’ve helped out at most of the above, and it’s pretty fun because most of these activities don’t require much grasp on the language. All work is volunteer here, and in fact both students and monks/nuns (addressed as Samana and Sikkhamat, respectively) are not allowed to use money. Everyone works wherever they want, regardless of skillsets or whatever. The work goes till about 4 or 4:30, and then only the students eat dinner (most adults eat only 1 meal a day). After dinner I’m free for the evening because then the students go to class, so that’s my time to just journal or read or talk to people. There are some 20-somethings around who speak a little English, so with my limited Thai and their limited English, we get a lot of ideas across. It’s neat. It gets dark around 6:30 and the mosquitos come out in force, so around then I often retreat to my quarters, the Toh Fan (Dream Sewing?), and lights go out around 9 anyway. My standards of what constitutes early have totally changed. But I don’t sleep as heavily anyway, because when I go to sleep (on my straw mat on the floor) I’m sweating and when I wake up I’m freezing. Oh yeah, and the bathrooms are squat toilets sans t.p. OR butthose, with the showerhead in the same little booth so when you take a shower everything just gets wet. I’m also totally used to showering with a variety of spiders, mosquitoes, roaches, and small lizards now. There are tons of geckos everywhere, which I love. One fell (jumped?) into my lap (from the ceiling?) the other night while Chris and I were talking with a monk, and then ran up my arm, down my back, and just sat there on my ass for a while. Heh, I like them. Not so much on the ants, though. There are squadrillions of them… i keep thinking about how they can carry many times their own body weight and wondering how many it would take to carry me off bodily as i sleep. there are definitely enough. snacks are not safe, even wrapped up in my bag, from the tiny tiny tiny black ones. They’re worse than the fire ants—I’m kind of getting used to ant bites on my feet, although they’re no fun.
This past Friday Ajarn Ted sent a translator, named Joy, who’s 25 and grew up in the community. She was really sweet, and since Chris left Saturday I had her to myself for most of the time. She stayed till Sunday night and we spent a lot of time just talking, about Buddhism, the community, Thai language, what it’s like in America, and how in hell W got elected a second time. She wants to come to America but it’s incredibly difficult and expensive for a Thai—even just to apply to be an au pair, she has to pay something like $150, which is HUGE for a Thai person—just to APPLY! Sunday night I helped teach her M3 (9th grade) English class, which was pretty fun. She left early Monday morning. On leaving, she said to me, “You are very nice, and I wish you a good thing back.” Haha, so sweet!
Everyone else is sweet too. Thai people are generally pretty shy, but there are a few students who aren’t afraid to talk to me, and they quickly befriended me. Communicating with them is a lot of work, though. The Thai language is incredibly subtle—if you pronounce a word with a difference that in America could just be a difference of accent, they will have no clue what you mean until you show it to them in writing. And they find English pronunciation equally hard. It’s really fun, though. And the older women, too—even if they have a kind of sour expression on their faces, once you wai and say “sawaddee kaa” they instantly brighten up and return it, and sometimes even start a conversation. Most of the time they don’t initiate conversations, but there are a few who will actually stop and get off their bikes to ask me whether I’ve eaten, how I’m doing, etc. What a great sense of community. And of course, the wai is ubiquitous, but since so often people are riding bikes or carrying something, the one-handed wai is really common. Pretty funny.
I did decide I never want to live near a pig farm. It’s stinky.
So yesterday my girlfriends took me to talk with Sikkhamat Rinfa (sp?), a nun who speaks more English than most people there. I sat on the floor helping her unravel knotted ribbon and listening to her talk about Dhamma and stuff. I asked about non-attachment, which is one of the biggest puzzles for me—like how you can love your family and friends and still not be attached— and she said it’s not that hard because she just reminds herself that everyone has to part sometime, etc… I told her I still didn’t really understand how it works, and she said “You don’t have to understand. You just have to do it.” Understanding comes later, apparently. Of course, I don’t actually want to do it, I don’t want to neutralize my mind and calm my desires. As good as Buddhism sounds in many ways, I don’t think I could actually subscribe to it. But then again, I have problems with all major religions, and as they go, I like Buddhism.
Anyway, there is still much more to say but this keyboard isn’t very good and I’m eager to get back to the Marriott for a bath and a luxurious nap. (This is really the way to stay on a commune—get the experience, but allow yourself a day of relaxation in the middle, to write everything down and scrub the dirt off your feet.)
I still have almost a month in Thailand, but it’s going to go really fast because it’s so broken up—3 more days at P.A., one traveling/in BKK, a week in Ko Samet, another 2 in BKK, 4 or so in Lopburi, a week in Chiang Mai, and then back on the plane… to CA! Then home soon after that. Unbelievable. Is this real life? I’m still not sure. All right, I’m off to eat some lychees and relax. Hopefully I’ll post again tomorrow, but no promises.
Love to everyone at home, and keep me updated with all your news!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

One Week Down at the Buddhist Commune

So I came to BKK this afternoon for a break from pathom asok. I met claudia here, and we’ll go back to pathom asok together tomorrow afternoon. She had a terrible time up in Isan, I feel so bad for her. I’m actually having a great time at good old P.A., it’s just kind of intense, and when Chris took a few days to go to Hua Hin I thought a break sounded like a pretty smart idea. Laundromat, post office (still haven't gotten stamps!), internet cafe. Plus it’s just so great to have a really nice shower and a pool for one day—it’s about 100 degrees and humid at P.A., working outside all day, and wearing long sleeves and pants. Not as bad as it sounds really, you get used to it, but I’m pretty stinky. And since we never wear shoes my feet are pretty gross too. And there’s just no time to not be all dressed! The room where I sleep always has other people in it, and you can’t walk around in your towel or anything, and they’re super modest… so that’s a little stifling. Mostly, though, it’s great. It was one week today that I got there, and when I go back I will only have 3 days left, which is actually kind of sad. I’ve learned so much, and met so many nice people. I’m especially learning tons of Thai, I can construct sentences now and kind of conduct a (very basic) conversation. Usually involves a lot of laughter, and I carry my Thai dictionary EVERYWHERE, but it’s fun. I just learned the other day how to tell time, and the system is really crazy—instead of just AM and PM, they have like 4 segments, and when they get to 7, they start over with 1… it’s weird. But yeah.
Ok, so let me give a quick outline of life at Pathom Asok. The day starts at 3:30 am, when they start ringing bells really loud for about half an hour. Then at 4 music comes on through the giant PA system and the students get up. I got up then too, the first day, and wondered why the hell I was up already up when it was still dark out and I didn’t even understand the language. So now I sleep in until a decadent 6am, then get up and go work in the kitchen for a few hours. Despite the early rising, breakfast isn’t until 10am. They play some more music and bells and stuff and everyone gathers together in the main hall, bringing their own dishes and spoons along. We all sit in rows on the floor and they send all the food around in big pots on little rolling carts between the rows. Everything is vegetarian, and a lot of it’s delicious. During that time, we all stop for some intense Buddhist praying, which the monks, who sit on a raised platform, lead, and then they begin eating first. During the meal they put on the news or play hilarious English-learning videos with titles like “The Frisky Cat in Wonderland.” From lunchtime until 12 or so is free time, when I usually just go off and write in my journal, but am sometimes swamped by middle & high school students who want to look at my Thai-English dictionary. Swamped being a relative term, of course; everyone is really mild-mannered and calm here, and I don’t think emergencies exist at all. At 12 there is a minute of silence, and then everyone goes to work at various places all around (printing shop, garden, mushroom garden, kitchen, sesame plant, shop, shampoo making area, dressmaking workshop, etc etc). I’ve helped out at most of the above, and it’s pretty fun because most of these activities don’t require much grasp on the language. All work is volunteer here, and in fact both students and monks/nuns (addressed as Samana and Sikkhamat, respectively) are not allowed to use money. Everyone works wherever they want, regardless of skillsets or whatever. The work goes till about 4 or 4:30, and then only the students eat dinner (most adults eat only 1 meal a day). After dinner I’m free for the evening because then the students go to class, so that’s my time to just journal or read or talk to people. There are some 20-somethings around who speak a little English, so with my limited Thai and their limited English, we get a lot of ideas across. It’s neat. It gets dark around 6:30 and the mosquitos come out in force, so around then I often retreat to my quarters, the Toh Fan (Dream Sewing?), and lights go out around 9 anyway. My standards of what constitutes early have totally changed. But I don’t sleep as heavily anyway, because when I go to sleep (on my straw mat on the floor) I’m sweating and when I wake up I’m freezing. Oh yeah, and the bathrooms are squat toilets sans t.p. OR butthose, with the showerhead in the same little booth so when you take a shower everything just gets wet. I’m also totally used to showering with a variety of spiders, mosquitoes, roaches, and small lizards now. There are tons of geckos everywhere, which I love. One fell (jumped?) into my lap (from the ceiling?) the other night while Chris and I were talking with a monk, and then ran up my arm, down my back, and just sat there on my ass for a while. Heh, I like them. Not so much on the ants, though. There are squadrillions of them… snacks are not safe, even wrapped up in my bag, from the tiny tiny tiny black ones. I keep thinking about how they can carry many times their own body weight and wondering how many it would take to just lift me and cart me off bodily while i sleep. They’re worse than the fire ants—I’m kind of getting used to ant bites on my feet, although they’re no fun.
This past Friday, Ajarn Ted sent a translator, named Joy, who’s 25 and grew up in the community. She was really sweet, and since Chris left Saturday I had her to myself for most of the time. She stayed till Sunday night and we spent a lot of time just talking, about Buddhism, the community, Thai language, what it’s like in America, and how in hell W got elected a second time. She wants to come to America but it’s incredibly difficult and expensive for a Thai—even just to apply to be an au pair, she has to pay something like $150, which is HUGE for a Thai person—just to APPLY! Sunday night I helped teach her M3 (9th grade) English class, which was pretty fun. She left early Monday morning. On leaving, she said to me, “You are very nice, and I wish you a good thing back.” Haha, so sweet!
Everyone else is sweet too. Thai people are generally pretty shy, but there are a few students who aren’t afraid to talk to me, and they quickly befriended me. Communicating with them is a lot of work, though. The Thai language is incredibly subtle—if you pronounce a word with a difference that in America could just be a difference of accent, they will have no clue what you mean until you show it to them in writing. And they find English pronunciation equally hard. It’s really fun, though. And the older women, too—even if they have a kind of sour expression on their faces, once you wai and say “sawaddee kaa” they instantly brighten up and return it, and sometimes even start a conversation. Most of the time they don’t initiate conversations, but there are a few who will actually stop and get off their bikes to ask me whether I’ve eaten, how I’m doing, etc. What a great sense of community. And of course, the wai is ubiquitous, but since so often people are riding bikes or carrying something, the one-handed wai is really common. Pretty funny.
I did decide I never want to live near a pig farm. It’s stinky.
So yesterday my girlfriends took me to talk with Sikkhamat Rinfa (sp?), a nun who speaks more English than most people there. I sat on the floor helping her unravel knotted ribbon and listening to her talk about Dhamma and stuff. I asked about non-attachment, which is one of the biggest puzzles for me—like how you can love your family and friends and still not be attached— and she said it’s not that hard because she just reminds herself that everyone has to part sometime, etc… I told her I still didn’t really understand how it works, and she said “You don’t have to understand. You just have to do it.” Understanding comes later, apparently. Of course, I don’t actually want to do it, I don’t want to neutralize my mind and calm my desires. As good as Buddhism sounds in many ways, I don’t think I could actually subscribe to it. But then again, I have problems with all major religions, and as they go, I like Buddhism.
Anyway, there is still much more to say but this keyboard isn’t very good and I’m eager to get back to the Marriott for a bath and a luxurious nap. (This is really the way to stay on a commune—get the experience, but allow yourself a day of relaxation in the middle, to write everything down and scrub the dirt off your feet.)
I still have almost a month in Thailand, but it’s going to go really fast because it’s so broken up—3 more days at P.A., one traveling/in BKK, a week in Ko Samet, another 2 in BKK, 4 or so in Lopburi, a week in Chiang Mai, and then back on the plane… to CA! Then home soon after that. Unbelievable. Is this real life? I’m still not sure. All right, I’m off to eat some lychees and relax. Hopefully I’ll post again tomorrow, but no promises.
Love to everyone at home, and keep me updated with all your news! Miss you! Sawadee kaa!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

ahoy! from Pathom Asok

Just a quick post to say I’m still alive! I can’t spend long today, but I’m briefly in town at an internet café. Since Tuesday, I’ve been living on a Buddhist commune/temple/farm/school thingy called Pathom Asok, outside Nakhon Pathom, which is to the northwest of the gulf, only about 45 min from BKK. Living there is great, definitely a different experience! At first I was pretty shaky and not sure I wanted to be there, because it’s basically total immersion—there are a few students and monks who speak a little English, but nobody’s fluent. After a day, though, I felt a lot better, and my Thai is improving pretty quickly. Everyone I talk to is really sweet, and EVERYBODY wais all the time. They’re really into respect. We get up really early and do lots of work… I’ve helped in the mushroom garden, the kitchen, the printing shop, and a few other places. Everyone is vegetarian and no one wears shoes. They’re very Buddhist. I’m not even allowed to wear t-shirts, and men and women aren’t allowed to touch one another. That part’s kind of weird, I think. But other than that it’s fun and more relaxed than you’d think, and I’m learning a lot. Anyway, that’s just a very brief description. I will write more about what I’m learning and my feelings about the place once I’m in Ko Samet or something.
Anyway, hope everyone’s doing well… keep emailing me in case I get to check it!! Miss you all.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

to Pathom Asok!

just a quick post today. we left hua hin and drove to moo ban dek, where we spent the evening, night, and morning. it's AMAZING. there are just tons of kids running around everywhere, and they're super affectionate, and they just have so much freedom. they have a council where they take care of all their issues, which is basically like a mini executive and judicial system rolled into one, and they're amazingly on top of it-- we got to go to a meeting. one case was hilarious... a kid was accusing another kid of something (hitting him, throwing trash, something like that) but the case fell through because his only witness was asleep! hahah. anyway, though, chris and i decided that for our projects the asok community made more sense. i'm really sad to leave moo ban dek and hope maybe to go back there after our project time is over. but anyway, now it's on to the santi asok place that we visited the other day. i'm excited to learn stuff there but it will definitely be intense staying there! i think i'm going to learn a lot... and hopefully improve my thai language a lot.
the weather's been ok-- tolerably hot. my butt's sweaty all the time.
anyway, gotta go but a mosquito net and head back to the place. in case you're wondering, it's right outside nakhon pathom, you can find it on a map. miss everyone at home, send me emails!

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Last day at Hua Hin

It's the 12th of June, my last day at VIP (wee-i-pee) condo on the beach in Hua Hin. It's hard to believe i've already been gone a week, but it's also hard to believe that so much has happened in only a week.
After a surprisingly easy journey over, we were met at the airport by John and Wes (a leftover from the India study tour) and stayed in the J W Marriott in Bangkok (or Grungthep, in Thai) for a few days to adjust and get some language lessons. Our language teacher, Oiy, was adorable and very helpful, and i just really like learning this language. I basically can't wipe the huge grin of my face for most of the time that we're sitting there practicing saying simple phrases like "May I use your bathroom?" and "Do you have vegetarian food?" She definitely got a kick out of our attempts at pronunciation, too. The Marriott is beautiful, definitely the shiniest hotel i've ever been in, with great bathrobes. Although it's kind of like a tiny capsule in itself-- sitting on the deck of the 6th floor pool for an afternoon, it was easy to forget i was in Asia. Not so when we went out, though. The Bangkok streetscape is trafficky, crowded, full of tourists and locals and commuters and hawkers. For some reason it didn't feel nearly as overwhelming this time as last, though; Claudia and i agreed that we both had more of a fondness for it this time around. (This trip definitely has a completely different vibe than last year's. It's nice that i've been here before adn have a rudimentary grasp on some basic phrases, and am not surprised by the food and the sights. Still, things are different this time, and i'm not sure how yet.) Still, though, the air's so bad that i am never hungry and don't feel too good if i eat much. Maybe they should make a weight loss plan of just inviting people to BKK in the hot season to walk around and sweat and not want to put anything in their faces. So i was also glad to leave BKK for Hua Hin a few days ago. The atmosphere here is much slower, and the air is much more breathable.
In Hua Hin, we were welcomed warmly by Ted Mayer, an incredibly kind, generous, relaxed and knowledgeable Robin Bates lookalike (they even laugh the same way!). Over the course of the past few days, Ted has given us a huge amount of time and shared an abundance of knowledge with us. First off, we headed over to Webster University to hear some introductory lectures-- to Buddhism in general, and Engaged Buddhism in particular. We spent most of Friday (?) listening to Ted spout off information. The part that was most fascinating for me was the historical background on the Engaged Buddhist movement. I never think to take history classes, but when i do learn history i really value it; getting an understanding of the context in which a movement develops really helps me feel grounded and secure in my knowledge of it. And activist history anywhere is just really interesting to me, because it's amazing to see patterns of political and gov't actions and people's responses to them echoing one another around the world. The idea that Engaged Buddhism grew up as a third option, a road between capitalism and communism, is really appealing to me, because i hate capitalism for all the obvious reasons but am not too clear on whether a really strict and easily corruptible and systematic structure like communism is a better idea. I'm not being very articulate about this yet but i'm hoping to glance at my notes and write some more later about what i learned. Anyway, those lectures were just really helpful.
Yesterday, we piled in the van early with our awesome driver, Noo, and drove north (neua) to visit some real live Engaged Buddhists. Noo seems to get quite a kick out of our singing along to American music and our attempts to speak Thai. He has a great big smile. We soon arrived at our destination (it was a 2.5 hour drive, but when you're snoozing, car rides are never long enough). We began at Santi Asok, which is an Engaged Buddhist organic farm/commune/school community. There, we were welcomed and fed immediately, then had the opportunity to sit and talk with a monk (well, not an official monk, as Asok monks were kicked out of the Sangha, but i don't know what else to call him-- a monastic guy) whose name i don;t know the spelling of, but who was great-- with Ted translating for us. He was a really intense speaker, with luminous eyes that were surrounded by wrinkles when he flashed us his wide white smile. He spoke a lot about what the Asok community is trying to achieve and how they do it, and emphasized that it is not perfect and is a continually evolving group. He told us about the structure of the place, which is run by 3 councils: a monastic council, an adult council, and a young people's council. He emphasized the voluntariness of being a member of the community-- no one receives any kind of salary, and no one will make you work if you don't want to (although i suspect it wouldnt go over too well if you didn't pull your weight). He also told us about the way the kids are educated-- it's fairly sheltered, as they are not allowed to go outside the community on their own. When they do, it's only with monks, and they only go on certain kinds of field trips: to see other cultures and religious traditions, to see architectural wonders, to see other types of nature (i think), and to see autopsies (to learn about anatomy and stuff). Interesting. I'm not sure i agree with the sheltering aspect entirely, but what was really cool about it was that he made a point to say that the children are taken to see the practices and plaes of worship of other religions, and they are taught not to judge or look down on the members of other religions. This seems basic, but for a really strict religious community i think it's pretty impressive. The idea in Thai is expressed really nicely because the words for "to see the differences" and "to judge the differences" are very similar-- so they are taught to see the differences, but not to be divided by them. It seems like a tough balance to strike when you are living a certain way which is so demanding--it obviously takes some strongly felt reasons to make that committment, and so to be able to hold those and yet respect others' is really cool.
Following that talk we walked around a bit, and saw the sesame plant, the mushroom-growing area, and the shop area. There is a guy there with a grade 2 education who, on his own, designed and built a machine that turns shredded up plastic back into petroleum. I am fascinated by that! It really looks like something out of WIlly Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. We ought to build one at St. Mary's. (A cute little Thai girl has just come and sat next to me and is watching me type. I asked her her name and age and if she likes to swim, but then i ran out of things to say. So I'm kind of having trouble holding onto my train of thought now.) Anyway, i hope to talk to this guy more when i go back. I also met 3 14-year-old students who spoke about as much English as we speak Thai. They were really cute and went around the little store with me telling me what everything was called. As Claudia said, they probably sound to us about how we sound to Thai people-- just pulling up any phrase we can think of to try to communicate, and ending up asking questions like "Do you like fruit?" I hope i see them again when i go back.
After that, we headed over to talk wtih Dhammananda Bhikkuni, a super awesome lady who is fighting for the full ordination of women. She has a great sense of humor and is sharp as a tack. She explained a lot of the obstacles that she's come up against and her talk was intensely interesting. Unfortunately the combination of tiredness and amazement and digesting all that she said erased all my questions from my brain, so i didn't get to really dig deep, but it was still great. She was very open and honest and not afraid to say that the reason the Sangha doesnt allow the ordination of women is because of plain old insecurity. It's true, of course, even of Buddhist monks-- no one wants to give up any shred of power that they feel they've earned. It's really interesting for me to see the wide variety of styles among the Buddhist activist people we've encountered-- they are all trying to challenge the structures that exist, as Ted said, but the combination of their Buddhist peace-lovingness and their relaxed Thai attitude lead to conflicting feelings about being outspoken or confrontational. It's something i kind of struggle with too; my activist side, which wants to change people's bad habits and make them aware of stuff that may not be totally comfortable, is always up against my peace-making side, which knows that people don't like to have their lifestyles questioned and just wants to avoid conflict. So seeing the range of interpretations here is really interesting, and i don't have anything figured out yet.
After leaving Dhammananda's, we stopped at a couple of chedi (stupas) that have a local myth almost identical to the Oedipus story, with the addition of a talking cat who prevents the guy from actually sleeping with his mom. We interacted with the cutest stray puppy there-- he was so little, and he tried to follow us up the steps of the chedi and then got stuck on a steep step halfway up and didn't know what to do, and just sat there whimpering. Tarn carried him the rest of the way up and he was really scared, but totally docile and just hung out with us up there till we carried him back down. Too cute.
Hanging out by the pool at night has been a really great break from the heat and the intensity of all our stuff, but tonight's the last night. Having Wes and Rebecca along has been cool, although they left this morning to go to Angkor Wat (Cambodia) and now our group seems significantly smaller. We were also hanging out with Casey, who studied abroad at Payap this past semester and is finishing up her time in Thailand. It's funny when St. Mary's students converge on the opposite side of the globe. Anyway, though, they're all gone and tomorrow the rest of us will split in our various directions for 2 weeks before meeting back up on Ko Samet. I'm starting out at Moo Ban Dek with Chris and Sarah and then after a few days or a week, i'll head back to Santi Asok. I'm sort of intimidated about Santi Asok, but i'm not sure why. I'm looking forward to it intellectually, but i feel a little apprehensive, about what i'm not sure. I guess i'm just afraid i'll do something wrong or be lonely or something, it's so different from anything i've done before adn i don't speak the language. I think it's definitely good to step out of my comfort zone a little, though.
Anyway, i could say so much more but i think i need to go take advantage of the pool one more time before tomorrow, it's pretty sweaty in here. I may make it on later tonight to jabber on more about the ideas i'm being inundated with, but if not... till next time.
It will probably be a while till my next post, but please keep in touch. Love to everyone at home.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Ok, so i'm just figuring out this blog thingy. I hope i do it right.

I'm in disbelief that i leave tomorrow. I can't believe in 48 hours or so i'll be back in Thailand. It's incredibly exciting-- these 6 weeks or so will be my longest time abroad yet... also a little intimidating. I don't really feel prepared. But then, could i ever? I just wish i'd gotten to spend more time with the language program. But, well... oh well!

I don't have anything really meaningful to say yet. I just wanted to test out this whole thing. I've got a lot swirling around in my brain, though, so i'm sure some of it will be poured out here over the next few weeks.

If anyone is reading this, and wants a postcard, email me your physical address so i can send you one. Normally i write them but end up hand delivering them when i get home, but getting one that way is decidedly less awesome than getting one in the mail with a postmarked stamp and all. So i'm trying to turn over a new leaf.

Anyway... i guess i should sleep some. I haven't really figured out how i'm going to handle the whole sleep thing over the next few days, with time becoming irrelevant and all. We'll see.