Thai Day

We celebrated Thai Day at Banjodnatan School today.

Students sang, danced, and presented Thai tales that were as familiar to the audience as “George Washington and the Cherry Tree” or “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”

The audience and the actors enjoyed the day.

Introductions before the individual dance contest.

 

Second grade boys dancing.

Teachers dressed in traditional Thai clothing and were recognized for their accomplishments.

  • Capturing memories of the day.

My Counterpart received an award for our Paw-aw (Principal).

 

Most teachers rented outfits for the day. A Thai teacher loaned me wonderful clothes (and helped me get dressed).

 

Today was great. And tomorrow may be even more interesting. We’re driving to Bangkok overnight. On Friday well join thousands of people to give tribute to the King who died last October.

I’m living the good life in Thailand.

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New Habits

Actions that looked and felt odd when I first arrived in Thailand eighteen months ago have slowly become part of my daily routine.

Removing my shoes. Eating with a spoon. Bowing to show respect.

These new habits may stay with me when I return to America.

 

Removing my shoes before entering a home now feels natural.

Thai people remove their shoes before entering someone’s home or a temple. Students remove their shoes before entering the classroom, lunchroom, or library. Teachers remove their shoes before entering a meeting room.  Shoppers at small boutique stores remove their shoes before they begin to shop for traditional Thai clothes.

It only takes a second: Children run toward a classroom and remove their shoes mid-stride with hardly a pause as they pass the threshold. Adults also remove and replace their shoes quickly. But removing my shoes (or putting them back on) is a more time-consuming process: I stop, bend over, and fiddle with the straps to remove/replace my shoes. My fastest time might match the children’s slowest times.

Shoes outside the P2 (second grade) classroom.

Don’t tell my Thai friends, but I make exceptions to the “no shoes” guideline at my house. If I’ve put on my shoes to leave for the day and then notice my water bottle on my desk, I tiptoe back in (with my shoes on!) to grab the forgotten item. If I arrive home after dark, I walk right into my house and take eight steps to the light switch – without removing my shoes.

But when Thai friends come to visit, they ALWAYS remove their shoes before entering my house. No matter what they may be carrying. No matter how far into the house they plan to go. No matter if I say, “Mai bpen rai! (It’s OK!)” to try to make their entry easier.

“No shoes in the house” keeps the house cleaner and makes the space seem more special. Almost always, my barefoot pitter-patter on my tile floors and my shoes stay by the front door – ready to be worn outside. When I return to America, I’ll probably remove my shoes at home – although perhaps not always immediately when I enter my house.

 

Before arriving in Thailand, I typically used a fork to transfer food from the plate to my mouth. Eating with a spoon is so much easier! Thais use a fork – in their non-dominant hand – to push food onto a larger-than-average spoon. Food that might slide off a fork easily stays inside the large rounded spoon. And the same spoon can be used to get another serving from the communal dishes.

Instead of using table knives, Thais use the edges of spoons to cut food into smaller bite-sized portions. Forks or fingers are used to keep the food in place while slicing it with the spoon. Pairs of fork-spoon sets are sold in stores; table knives are sold separately. I’ve splurged and bought two table knives – to spread butter or peanut butter on bread or toast.

Asian restaurants in America often provide chopsticks or small bowl-shaped spoons with short v-shaped handles. Chopsticks are not typical in Thailand, but small spoons are standard utensils.  The small spoons work great to eat rice, soups, fruit, stir-fry, nuts, or anything else.

I now eat with spoons more often than forks. Naturally, I use a spoon to eat oatmeal, soup, or yogurt; I also use a spoon to eat lettuce salads. When I eat my morning fried-egg-on-toast, I use a spoon to cut through the egg and bread and scoop the bite to my mouth. I use a fork to spear chunks of watermelon, pineapple, or dragon fruit; I use a spoon to eat diced mango or papaya.

Using a large spoon to cut off a bite of omelet on toast – and using the same spoon to eat – avoids leaving bits of food on the table for the ants to find. Sometimes I use a fork to push food onto a spoon.

I have a dozen small bowl-shaped spoons and I may buy a dozen more to bring back to America. I’ll probably continue to use a spoon to eat in America – especially in the privacy of my home. And although I love the communal feeling of using personal spoons to serve from serving dishes, I’ll probably provide serving spoons to serve food at the table when friends eat at my American table.

A few of my daily utensils.

Bowing to show respect has become a habit. The bow usually includes a “wai” (sounds like “why”).  The standard greeting is palms together in a prayer position, fingers together and pointed up, thumbs touching the face, and a bow with the words “Sa-wat-dee.” (Good morning. Good afternoon. Good evening.)

Respect is increased based on the depth of the bow and a higher thumb position. Royalty is greeted with a deep bow and thumbs on the forehead. Monks are greeted with a slightly more modest bow and thumbs on the bridge of the nose. Casual acquaintances are greeted with a slight bow and thumbs on or slightly below the chin.

Each morning, teachers greet each other with a bow and wai. At the beginning of class, students wai the teachers. If someone arrives late to or leaves early from a meeting, they wai to the other participants.  When children receive something from an adult (a serving of food, a worksheet, an eraser), they wai as they say thanks.

We often nod our heads in America to greet each other and show respect. I’ll probably continue that tradition. But I won’t be surprised if my hands automatically go to the wai position to recognize and acknowledge others.

 

I’ve adapted my actions and adopted new habits in Thailand.

Removing my shoes. Eating with a spoon. Bowing to show respect.

It’ll be interesting to see how my habits change when I return to America in eight months.

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Three Quick Whys

Sometimes my morning activities encourage me to reflect on why I take specific actions.

1) Why I always turn on the bathroom light and look in the toilet bowl:

“Help me, please!”

This critter was struggling to climb out for at least 20 minutes this morning. When I last checked, he had disappeared from the bowl. I assume he swam down to safety. But I’ll be actually squatting on my squat-toilet instead of sitting for the next few days so I can keep a careful eye on the water in the bowl.

 

2) Why I sweep the floor every morning:

I can only imagine how much more debris I’d sweep up each day if I wore shoes inside my house.

My windows don’t have screens. The kitchen windows are a series of decorative bars to which allow fresh air to drift in and cooking heat to drift out. Whenever I’m home, the open windows catch breezes, cool my house, and allow feathers and dirt to drift in.
Perhaps what I have always considered gecko droppings are actually mouse turds.

 

3) Why I love the rainy season:

Part of today’s breakfast.

Although the rainy season is hot and humid and I sweat like a pig from places I didn’t know had sweat glands, the hot rainy season produces amazingly delicious fruits and veggies. Steamed golden pumpkin in the middle with (clockwise from the nine o’clock position) ripe yellow mango, hairy red rambutons, and purple on the outside (white on the inside) mangosteens. The pumpkin joined black beans and rice for today’s breakfast which also included a mangosteen and a rambuton. I’ll add the mango to tonight’s salad.

I continue to love my adventure in Thailand – and considering my whys – even though I don’t often take time to update this blog.

And I hope you’re enjoying your life’s adventures.

 

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Popcorn Magic

Maruuk’s brown eyes looked up at me. Concerned. Confused.

He looked down at the small cup of yellow popcorn kernels.

“More?” he asked in English. Concerned. Confused. He didn’t have the English words for “This isn’t enough! How can I share this little bit of popcorn with my family and friends?”

“It’s OK.” I said.

He squinted his eyebrows with doubt.

But we continued.

He poured enough oil to cover the bottom of a small aluminum cooking pan.

“Put in three.” I instructed. I pointed to the yellow kernels, held up three fingers, and then pointed inside the pan.

We counted as he dropped each kernel into the oil. “One. Two. Three.”

“Put on the lid.” He followed my hand gestures to place the lid on top of the pan.

I placed the pan on the burner, turned on the propane gas and started the stove.

“Now we listen for POP! POP! POP!”

We waited. We hummed a bit. We listened. We sang the ABC Song. We listened – and heard sizzling oil. We counted to 20. We listened – and saw a bit of steam rise from the ill-fitting lid. We listened. We chanted “Wash your hands many times a day. Always use soap to take the germs away!” Before we reached the “Wash your hands before you eat” line, we heard the first POP! We stopped chanting, held our breath, and listened. In a few seconds, POP! And almost immediately the third POP!

The oil was hot – ready to pop popcorn.

I removed the pan from the burner, opened the lid, poured in the rest of the kernels, and replaced the lid. To wait for the kernels to heat up, we slowly said our ABCs. When we reached Z, I put the pan back on the burner. Soon we could only hear Pop! POP! Pop! POP! Pop!

Maruuk jumped and squealed in delight.

I shook the pan. In almost no time, the popping petered out.

“It’s done!”

I turned off the flame and opened the lid.

“WOW!” Maruuk’s eyebrows shot up and his eyes widened in amazement. White kernels filled the pan. Magic. We smiled.

We dumped the hot kernels into a larger pan and added salt.

We tasted the fresh popcorn.

“Yummy!”

I don’t remember if his feet touched the ground as he waltzed from my kitchen with a large bag of popcorn to share with him family and friends.

 

Maruuk was an eight-year old neighbor in Ghana. We made popcorn together after he helped me fetch water from a nearby well. Four years later, children in my small community in Thailand have also been surprised and delighted when they make popcorn for the first time.

There are many similarities and differences between being a PCV in Ghana and Thailand. Showing children the magic of popping corn is the same in both countries.

Three students ready to eat popcorn.

Note to Thailand PCVs: Popcorn kernels are available at larger chain stores (or bakery supply shops) in big cities. Making popcorn is SO EASY – and a great healthy snack. Complete directions are http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/perfect_popcorn/.  Making popcorn with children supports Peace Corps Goal 2: To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.

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Happy New Year

“Happy New Year!”  
Along with people around the world, people in Thailand recognized the start of the calendar year by displaying new calendars on January 1. Many Thai calendars featured the honorable King Bhumibol Adulyadeej who died on October 13, 2016, after leading Thailand for over 70 years.

Although 2017 may be included on bi-lingual calendars, traditional Thai calendars use the Buddhist Era date which is 543 years ahead of the Gregorian calendar. The current BE year (2160) written in Thai script: ๒๕๖๐.

“Happy New Year!”
Like many Asian countries, Thailand recognized the beginning of the Year of the Rooster on January 28. Government offices and services remained open in Thailand while people in larger cities celebrated with lion dances and block parties. Shops in areas with large populations of Chinese took advantage of the lunar new year by selling red envelopes, lanterns, brightly-colored traditional Chinese clothing, and decorative roosters.

“Happy New Year!”
Thailand has its own unique celebration to highlight the beginning of the solar year and the official start of the summer (HOT!) season. This year’s Songkran Festival was April 13-15. One tourist web site suggests a visit during the Thai New Year will “have you all soaked into the hustle and bustle that consists of three days of fun-filled water-fights and non-stop revelries.”

Big cities have huge celebrations; specific roads are closed to vehicular traffic. Pedestrians (and their mega-water-guns) keep each other drenched and cool.

Small communities celebrate with water, too, for children and adults who want to stay cool.

But there’s more to Songkran festivities than just water play.

Before Songkran, work crews appeared to blacktop the roads in my community.

Fresh blacktop – no potholes!

One worker accidentally lost a flip-flop and stepped barefoot onto the freshly-poured asphalt. Ouch! He jumped back and quickly hopped to the side of the road to cool his right sole in the grass.

Several boys from 5-7 years old sported new haircuts for the celebration.

Young boys received fancy haircuts.

Spider man!

The fun focus: getting other people wet while staying wet and cool.

The highlight is throwing water…

In the market town, people had elaborate ways to stay cool.  Anyone who rode or walked by received a shower of water.

One of the teachers set up a pool for her grandchildren and a thankful PCV.

Vendors at the market helped customers stay cool by gently pouring a cup of water onto the shoppers’ shoulders.

The community raised money to donate to the local temple by hosting a dance. Women over the age of 45 wore colorful Hawaiian shirts and waited inside the dance circle. Community members bought tickets for the privilege of dancing inside.

Waiting for the music to start.

Dancing with the farang (foreigner).

Most of the dancers (like my landlady in the picture) had colorful skirts. I made do with white polka-dots on a brown skirt.

Dance Ticket: People paid 40 baht (a bit more than a dollar) to dance in the inner circle.

After three hours of dancing, the Karaoke stage lit up – ready for singers.

My paw-aw (principal) sang a Thai song while several women continued to dance.

The entertainers wore skimpy costumes.

Each day a parade of people danced through the community on the way to the local wat (Buddhist temple).

As I prepared to wash clothes, I heard music just outside my house. Instead of washing clothes, I joined the parade.

Huge speakers amplified the music.

Almost 100 people circled the wat three times before entering for a service.

After the service, 20 people opened envelopes with donations for the wat.

During the service inside the wat.

Counting tubs and buckets of money

Family members traditionally return to their hometowns to visit and pay respect to elderly family members during Songkran. They pour scented water into their elders’ palms and give merit at the wats.

After creating new memories, celebrating the start of summer, and wishing their families Happy New Year, family members return to their jobs and lives in other parts of Thailand.

“Happy New Year!”

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Reflections from a Year Ago

My 27-month Peace Corps adventure is more than half-way complete. In less than a year, I’ll leave my friends in Thailand to start my next adventure.

These pictures capture memories from last year’s Pre-Service Training (January – March 2016).

One of my fellow PCVs demonstrating his skills for using a squat toilet.

Our aa-jaans (teachers) also taught us how to wash clothes in a bucket and discretely change clothes with a two-meter fabric tube as a “dressing room.”

The first of many Buddha images.

Surprise! New bike helmets!

We rode our new 24-speed bikes every day to training classes. I’ve continued to ride my bike almost daily since arriving at site.

Visiting wats (temples) provides peace and tranquility.

Our Thai language group took a field trip:

Monks always were orangey-golden robes. The bridge leads to their wat (temple)

The inside was covered in elegant story-telling murals.

Most men become monks for a short period – from a month to a couple years. Their families may host an elaborate dinner and/or sponsor a parade through the community to celebrate the young man’s initiation.

This young man celebrates his initiation with his mother.

The local fruit is amazingly sweet and plentiful.

With my host family at a local farm: selecting the best watermelons.

Babies around the world get love and attention.

I lived with this wonderful woman (technically my host “mother” although she was younger) during training.

We (20+ future PCVs) planned and conducted a STAR-themed teacher-training session.

First visit to Bangkok.

Practicum teaching with 2nd graders. “Let’s get in a circle…”

 

“Site announcement day” included a map with a picture of where each PCV would live for two years. I’m the second picture from the far right.

Peace Corps staff paid attention when I told them, “It’s OK if I don’t live close to other PCVs.”

Our swearing in ceremony capped the three months of pre-service training.

And here I am a year later (March 2017) – with the same Peace Corps flag.

My co-teacher and I attended the swearing-in ceremony for the newest Thailand PCVs.

I wonder where I’ll be and what I’ll be preparing to do a year from now…

 

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School’s Out!

The last day of school quietly slipped by this week. Next week’s graduation ceremony will honor Anubaan (Kindergarten) and Matayom 3 (ninth grade) students. The new school year starts on May 16.

When school resumes, the 23 new first graders will trade their blue smocks for official school uniforms. White blouses, navy blue skirts, white socks, and black shoes for the girls. White shirts, khaki shorts and socks, and brown shoes for the boys. They’ll move from the freedom of a classroom with lots of floor space and time for afternoon naps to a traditional classroom where they’ll be expected to spend lots of time sitting in chairs behind desks.

The ninth graders have three options after they graduate: academic high school, continuing education to learn a trade, or helping on the family farm. A few of the 18 students will attend the academic high school – located in the market town seven kilometers away. Most students will learn a trade or help support their families.

 

During the school year, all students receive lunch at school. To provide a nutrition boost over the school break, each student received 39 boxes of shelf-stable milk on Friday.

Students lined up to sign their names before receiving milk. Several students brought empty backpacks to carry the milk cartons home.

Each case contained 48 boxes of milk.

Teachers counted the milk cartons and straws.

Almost finished…

 

In addition to receiving the nutritional support, students’ families will receive monetary support – money for school uniforms to replace their well-worn mostly-outgrown uniforms. All students will move up to the next grade level wearing sparkling crisply-ironed clothes and shiny new shoes.

They’ll be ready to learn.
The teachers will be ready to teach.

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