TERM IN ASIA STUDENT LETTERS
September 15, 1996
Greetings from Asia!
Apa Kabar? That's "how are you?" in Indonesian. We are having a fabulous time on our journey thus far. Indonesia was an incredible experience, epitomizing "culture shock." The streets of Medan were packed with shops, people, pollution, traffic, color, and smells. It was overwhelming to say the least. Muslim mosques, Buddhist temples, crocodile farms and the Sultan's palace were just a few of the many stops we visited. Our hotel was conveniently located across from Nommensen University, which is a small Christian university struggling to survive in a predominantly Muslim society. We had lectures about Indonesian history, traditional Batak culture, modern family and work, and recent development issues in Indonesia. We enjoyed learning about Indonesia through the lectures, group outings, traditional Batak food and the local people.
In contrast to Medan, Lake Toba was a quiet rural relaxing area where we topped off our time in Indonesia. Activities included a stop at a monkey preserve, participation in traditional Batak dancing, swimming in hot springs and scooter rides around Samosir Island.
Presently we are studying Chinese Art at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which will be very helpful as we travel through mainland China. Hong Kong is a whirlwind of activity. On the surface it appears western, as a result of the British colonization, but close under the surface lies a traditional Chinese society where many people meet for dim sum and mahjongg at lunch, and Cantonese opera at night. Although the group activity in Hong Kong, thus far, has been a trip to Lantou Island to see the world's largest outdoor sitting Buddha and an eight course vegetarian meal at the monastery, individually we have been experiencing many sites of Hong Kong. Some of them include: Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Chinese Opera, the jade, bird and night markets, Victoria Peak, and a Canto Pop Concert. We have ten days left in Hong Kong before our Chinese debut. We have a quiz and a small paper left in our class, and a harbor cruise and final dinner with our art professors. As you probably can tell from our letter, we are having a marvelous time. We will keep you updated on our travels throughout Southeast Asia and look forward to hearing from you as well.
The 1996-97 Term in Asia Students
23 September 1996
Chinese University of Hong Kong
Dear Parents and Friends,
I am writing to you from the basement of the post graduate dormitory where we all do our laundry at CUHK. It is a time of enforced rest, if nothing else, so I will turn my thoughts to you and let you know what the group has been doing. It has been wonderful to watch all the students stretch and grow from all of their various experiencesPthere have been many adventures since we all gathered in Los Angeles so long ago.
On the practical and experiential side, they have learned not to leave their complete pack of airline tickets lying around (rescued from the phone booth at LAX), to carry the addresses and phone number of the local hotel in the language of the country (so when you are lost you can call back or at least explain to where you wish to return), how to bargain for the purchase of necessities (bottled water, chocolate, laundry soap), how to safely pet a (well-trained) crocodile, how to cross a street in Medan and how to maneuver the subways and trains of Hong Kong. Individually they have done a variety of things, from exploring the "China town" section of Medan by bemo to find topi (farmerUs hats), to hiking on Lantou island off Hong Kong, to explore wet markets & night markets, to attending orchestra concerts and the opera.
On the intellectual side, they became very interested in Batak culture while in Indonesia and were challenged by their discussions with Nommensen University professors about being Christians in an Islamic society and living in a developing nation. It was probably the first time any of them had to be concerned with the frankness with which a friend was critiquing his country and its foibles. They were humbled at how much many people knew about the U.S. and how little they knew about Indonesia in return.
They asked for basic language lessons and made use of their skillsPwith greetings, purchasing terms and thank-yous.
Hong Kong challenged them in different ways academicallyPtwo or four hours a day trying to learn about various arts developed in a tradition covering thousands of years. They learned about jades, bronzes, ceramics, painting, calligraphy, music, architecture, and gardens, and although there was time only for a basic introduction they were able to place pieces seen at the HK museum of Art chronologically by dynasty and knew a bit about the general significance of shape and glaze or which type of calligraphy a poem was written in. We had lectures on the changes 1997 will bring to Hong Kong and, at their request, recent developments in China. They have been reading their text, guidebooks, and articles from news magazines of a variety of perspectives voraciously and, despite the challenges of language, many have met a variety of local people and had interesting discussions. In summary, they are a great group of students, they complement and support each other well, and they are a delight to teach and lead. TheyUve made great use of their first 5 weeks and I'm looking forward to the rest of our journey!
To finish, I thought you might like to hear directly from the students. They have been writing academic journals for my class--processing their experiences in a variety of writing styles. Each month, they are asked to turn in 4 types of entries:
I've selected one item from each journal and, in the interests of brevity, most are impressions or sprints.
I hope you enjoy them. And, one last word, please do keep your cards coming--they rely on mail tremendously. More soon.
August 21 Indonesia--Hotel El Bruba (Impression)
Condensed, fast, smog, close call, a bus should not fit in there, room dirty but not, friendly (why?), vendors in the street, 3 wheeled bike, un-socially advanced, no space, worn out.
August 27 Medan, Indonesia (Sprint)
I think bus tours are a bit bizarre. Looking out the window is like watching TV, except every once in a while one of those faces responds. They are school girls and boys, taxi drivers, shop-owners, mothers of young children.
Now I am watching the school children. Some of them point and giggle to each other about the strange people with fair skins. Others are lost in their own little games and are indifferent to the bus with white faces.
I'm trying to imagine a bus like this driving by my home--the passengers looking in curiously on the American way of life. At 2pm--the time it is now as we travel outside Medan--my home in America would be empty. Both my parents work outside the home and don't arrive back until the late afternoon. It is very different here.
August 30 Streets of Medan, Block Party Dinner Indonesia (Impression)
Open sewers, ugly dogs and cats running wild, crazy drivers, noisy traffic, stares glares smiles and questions left and right. People dancing to Batak music and rock music. Children in costumes, no English spoken, pollution from tuk tuks and bemos, karaoke, overcast, rainy, hot and humid, hot peppers, boiled water, rice and shrimp chips, cheap little stands, stores and shops everywhere.
Everyone selling, nobody buying. And Pete in the beautiful topi!
September 10 Indonesia (Sprint)
Women in The Market Place
Women sitting, standing behind counters
Kleenex packages, bottled water, candy, crackers
eyes scanning passers-by
movement slow yet persistent
Who is she among society?
I pass by her shop
retrace my steps, and enter
under her shelter
She doesn't understand
Ah! Reaches out for the water, stacked in rows behind a glass counter: through the glass
in the split second of her life
A bridge over an open sewer is the least of objects separating the lives of our 2 worlds
Where are the men? the children? in school perhaps?
How do families survive
So little becomes so much
I cannot enter in
The water I buy becomes
my perspective; I see yet
cannot enter in.
A store front is just that
a front; her work is her life yet
August 27 Medan after Lake Toba (Sprint)
(This poem is for all those men who gawk at us American girls)
To those who call me beautiful
Because my skin is as luminescent as the white moon light
My name is as much a distant mystery
I am a far-fetched dream under a spar spangled night.
They say "I love you" because they know no other words
They see only that I've come from the other greener side
Daughter of their great uncle, I am their ideal bride.
I'm on the other side of the fence,
Far away from my Father's familiar land
And I've anticipated foreign differences,
But did not know I would be marked
By an "American woman" generic brand.
So look behind my smile
And see the cigarette grit on my teeth
You won't find beauty or true love on my skin,
Unless you recognize everything beneath.
August 30 Central, Hong Kong Island (Sprint)
The Business - Driver
They rush past me:
the business driven robots
with a glazed-over stare,
only seeing the road ahead
and never looking back.
Out of the office
and on the street,
but still no loosened ties,
no smiling faces,
no empty brief cases.
A beeper clicks, a mobile phone rings.
Does it ever cease?
Whatever happened to work and play?
Socialization unrelated to work?
Now on the subway:
Exhaustion prevents conversation.
A beeper clicks, a mobile phone rings.
Sounds and words streaming from earphones
Keep the business-driver still
in their own busy minds,
in their own non-stop lives.
September 3 Kowloon - a wet market (Impression)
live frogs skinned and gutted, a women's blood covered fingers, a tired woman's blank stare into a pile of leafy green vegetables,
counting a mound of change (coins) out loud, the delicious smell and then crispy-sweet taste of a hot waffle, the rejection of a
photograph, the inappropriateness of a camera in someone's livelihood, the frustration of no Cantonese in my head, a bad tourist?
September 3 Hong Kong (Sprint)
Indonesia vs Hong Kong
Rubber time Time is Money
Standing around and never moving far Hustle and bustle, always going somewhere
Pollution and smog-- Pollution and smog
Poverty as way of life-- Wealth and money as way of life
Very few with lots of money-- Very few with little money
Dirty, smelly, not much hygiene-- Everyone stylish and well-dressed
Americans stick out as elite and rich-- American stick out as clunky tourists
Not much education-- Everyone is educated
Cigarettes and fruit stands-- Cellular phones and beepers
Public transportation=bicycle carts-- Public transportation= efficient, speedy, and polluting motor scooters clean KCR, and MTR
Air conditioning as luxury-- Air conditioning as normalcy
Motor scooters everywhere-- Mercedes everywhere
But which society produces true happiness?
Or better yet, which society would I be happiest in?
? ? ? ? ?
September 10 Hong Kong subway (Sprint)
"Please stand behind the yellow line" a voice booms from behind the MTR; the train is about to arrive. I find the yellow line with the
least people behind it, just as the doors open people come flooding off in a humongous human tidal wave. Beepers, cellular phones,
headphones, briefcases, and business suits abound; I scan the crowd around me and see only a few who look alert and exuberant to
be alive - the business suits reveal sharpness, tidyness, organization; faces reveal tiredness, exhaustion, stress from a long day of
I follow the human flow into the already packed train car - no places to sit, as usual. They are already taken, probably at a much
earlier stop. Scanning the drooping postures and eyes I see the exhaustion from hard work: what motivates people to work so hard?
The backbone of Hong Kong's success, riding down the MTR, tired faces, droopy eyes; bring.....bring....Hello? Cellular phone
interrupts the calmness within chaos of the evening ride home.
Wednesday September 11, CUHK (Sprint)
I knew when I came to Asia that I would have to give up some of my personal bubble in public places. My experiences with the
mass transit systems here in Hong Kong have been ridiculous though! The other day I boarded an already packed MTR car and
watched in horror as twenty or so more people followed me. Luckily I was sandwiched between two people I knew. My
uncomfortability with the situation was something which pointed me out as being the American who likes that personal bubble. The
feeling is heightened by the act hat I am from suburban mid-west. We have lots of space there. Hong Kong is not this way.
September 12 Hong Kong (integration)
While sitting at the watering hole making conversation with a young Hong Kong couple, I was faced with a question that made me
really evaluate the United States. The question that they always wanted to ask Americans was, "Why do people (Americans) call us
chinks?" When I didn't answer right away he proceeded to put his fingers up to his eyes and pull his eyelids at the sides. I felt
disgusted, to say the least, to be an American. I was astonished. What was I to say that could possibly compensate for the ignorance
of Americans in the past. The best answer that I could think of was based solely on the ignorance of Western education and students.
I gave him examples of our schooling techniques and how we were not educated on diversity as such: not having a foreign language
requirement until college, learning only American history and the rarity of sociology and cultural diversity in western education
standards. I proceeded to talk about the reason I was traveling in Southeast Asia, and that was to give the rest of the world a taste of
an educated WesternerPnot an "ugly American." I told him that people are, oftentimes, ignorant when faced with diversity in the
United States because the states allow individualism. This individualism can be abused by letting freedom of opinion, speech, etc.
infiltrate the acceptance of diversity in a homogeneous Western society.
On this trip, I have been faced with many new questions for which I don't know the answers. The big question that I am working on
answering now is "What is it that makes a person an American?". I know that I am an American, whether I like it or not. I am
beginning to understand the culture, as well as the values and beliefs that make all Americans, so AMERICAN. I am encountering
differences every day, which is exhilarating and emotionally draining. The countries we have visited, so far, have been comparable
to the dynamics of Yin and Yang. Indonesia made me face the reality of a third world country struggling to exist within a modern
world. The scenes from Indonesia that distinguished me most as an outsider were the presence of (open) sewers, the pollution, and
the people's attitudes toward Americans--all of these were things I could not get away from. They were differences that I
encountered every day distinguishing me as an outsider. I suspected that Hong Kong would be the opposite side of the spectrum and
I was right. Modern day Hong Kongers are chic, stylish, fact-paced, intelligent, and Chinese. Although their culture is more
accepting of Westerners, I almost felt less welcomed. I feel like a clunky American; someone of great wealth with too much time on
their hands. Other times when Hong Kongers look at me I wonder what they think and then at times I stop and think, "What do I
think of myself?". I am a Westerner whether I choose to accept it, or not. What does this mean to me? And what can I do to improve
Americans' status and image in the Southeast Asia societies? This is a question that I will continue to answer throughout the duration
of this trip.
TERM IN ASIA
4 November 1996
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Dear Parents and Friends,
Below is the letter the students started while leaving China. Unfortunately, its delivery to you was delayed by intensive Thai lessons,
moving in with families, Halloween party preparations, etc. But they got it done and it was handed over to me on Friday. I have
attached more journal entries (from all the students) since you expressed your appreciation of them. Know that everyone is well, and
having a series of adventures ranging from elephant rides to mastering phone conversations in Thai. I'll have them write again after
our trip to the Karen village over Thanksgiving. Please keep your mail coming -- it means so very much. And a big public thank you
to Sarah's folks who express mailed Halloween decorations in time for our first major thank you to our hosts in Thailand!
Oh the sorrow, oh the woe of having to leave our second third world destination. With only a brief glimpse into China, we flew
away ready to settle down. Reading-meaning prepared for our next endeavor in Asia-Thailand. It will be a place where we will be
able to establish a home base for the next few months, a very appealing idea after being guided all over Eastern China for the past
two weeks; staying in one place for no longer than three days at a time.
As China expands its economy with the new Open Door Policy, things are in transition. New buildings, renovations and other
development run rampant. We entered with a prejudged attitude of oppression and leave with a feeling of slight confusion. Speaking
with Chinese students, the idea of starving Chinese farmers disappears, and their optimistic aura overtakes you. It's hard to make
any conclusions, though, because for the most part, our time was spent at scenic spots filled with tourists: The Great Wall,
Tiannamen Square, The Forbidden City, plus various gardens, temples and museums. All were spectacular, but leave us with little
knowledge of what daily life in China is really like. One thing that we are certain of is simply this: Bikes are everywhere in China.
Traffic jams are still frequent due to the large number of tour buses and other public transportation vehicles.
One opportunity we did have at seeing real daily life in China was going on a bike ride through a village in Yang Jo province. Free
from the tour bus, we cruised through the countryside and got a look at farmers in their rice fields, women doing laundry, and
children walking barefoot. An occasional television set was juxtaposed inside a family's house as a sign of modernity in this very
China has a very dynamic social structure. In our short two week tour, we simply received a small taste of Chinese culture, but many
of us leave this country with curiosity, intrigue and the desire to learn more about one of the world's oldest civilizations.
Kristen and Eric for the Term in Asia Group
From journals (same writing assignment as before) and in chronological order:
Sept. 24: Impression, Bike Ride in Yangshou
Jutting green mountains, workers in rice fields, choking on truck exhaust, constant work of everyday life, tiny alleys separating
rows of homes, one room-concrete-no furniture, guilty feelings as an American, curious stares of village people, school children
giggling, so much character within the faces of workers, dusty gravel roads, surrounded by scenes from landscape paintings.
Sept. 26: Impression, Plane ride from Guilin to Xi'an
"Cool, we're sitting in folding chairs..." A little sketchy, cigarette holes in seat, peanut shells on the floor, stale smoke lingering in
the air, handing out fans to cool ourselves, sure signs of an adventurous flight.
Sept. 27: Impression, Terracotta Warrior Surroundings - Xi'an
Bursting color expands from the seams: reds yellows orange blue and green rival the sun in their brightness. Eager ladies crowd
around Sarah pushing, competing for the closest space to her eager eyes, overpowered ears. "Hello, hello..." Next door a hundred
stalls, aspiring chefs tempt with dumplings, hard breads. "Postcard." "Postcard." 10 yuan? CHEAP! No, 5! Walk away...Okay,
okay. I give you 5. What? Where were we? I almost forgot. The terracotta warriors were incredible, too!
Sept. 27: Impression, Xi'an
Masses of people moving; by car, by bike, on foot. Dust and pollution clouds everything. Dumplings are hot but disappear quickly.
Flaming soup followed by (Sarah's birthday) cake. Families gather to enjoy the full moon and good food together. Bell tower glows
under bright lights.
Sept. 28: Impression, Beijing
Lunch in the Midst of a Wedding Party. Americans the only people not part of the wedding party, loud voices, shouting, laughing,
singing, roaring laughter, pounding on the tables, smoke so thick burning my eyes, guests drunk with beer, shots of rubbing
alcoholesque liquor, my head pounding, these people are crazy.
Sept. 28: Impression, Beijing
Chairman Mao larger than life, the way he liked it. Kites dot the sky, a clock counts down the seconds (until the return of Hong
Kong). People stare -- students ask for photos, parents ask for photos with their children. The sun sets on stone peasants, stone
students and stone workers. Sun sets over China.
Sept. 28: Impression, Beijing
Flying Kites at Tiannamen Square. The sky is dotted with color, red, yellow, blue...dragon flies, butterflies, the dancing fish, and
the long-tailed dragon, people smile wide at the performance above, and my eyes spinning around at all there is to see while my
stomach and my head twist with irony in the knowledge of why I know this place -- images from "To Move a Mountain" dark night,
screams, gunshots, bodies bleeding -- where I am holding a string, and flying my own fish kite -- where students of my age were
shot at with guns by their own government. Curious strangers shoot photographs of me. I'm smiling along, tangled in mixed up
realities, the naive laughter of the running children, the heavy presence of the older generations.
Sept. 28: Impression, Beijing
Sunset on Tiannamen Square. Sinking of the red sun, night fall crawling the stairs where students lay, a light shining bright over
Mao's enormous face, a red flag lowering. Peaceful as if erasing the past memories, night.
Sept. 30: Impression, The Great Wall
Traffic jam on the hill, bathroom break in the weeds, chaos, thousands of cameras clicking, vendors everywhere you turn, climbing
up stairs, climbing downstairs, walking up 80 degree slopes, camel pictures, Chinese tourists videotaping American tourists, our
stylish "I Climbed the Great Wall" t-shirts.
Oct. 2: Sprint, Beijing
Tourism: Good or Bad?
As I travel through China with the help of guides provided by travel services, I am constantly torn between feeling that tourism is
good for the world and feeling that tourism is destroying the world. In China as a tourist I am helping their economy, giving people
jobs, and generally encouraging an industry that employs thousands of people who would otherwise have to find work elsewhere.
From this economic/ employment angle, tourism is helping the world, and I feel good about my position as a tourist in China.
The destructive side of tourism cannot hide itself from my eyes though. It screamed at me throughout our day at the Great Wall of
China. Yes, it is true that beautiful and wondrous places all over the world should be seen and appreciated by the world's people, but
why does that have to destroy them? At the Great Wall, buses and cars, too many to count, filled the air with raw pollution, making
the air unbreathable at times. The public restrooms were unspeakably filthy as a result of too many tourists pouring in to use them.
The Wall itself was nearly hidden in spots by the ubiquitous t-shirt/Chinese handicraft stands, which sell mostly junk in my opinion,
but exist for the tourists. Who created this mess? Did I? The destruction of the stark beauty of the Great Wall at the sections most
heavily touristed disgusted me. I could not wait to leave the Wall.
Similar scenes of heavy tourist traffic (we could also call it commercialization) blanket the earth. The pollution and filth in the
countryside that is touched by the touristed areas of the Great Wall reminded me of similar situations in the United States. Our
National Parks handle thousands more tourists each year, and these beautiful and wondrous spots cannot survive untarnished by
tourism. Last year Yosemite National Park had to close for a weekend due to the thick smog that settled into the Valley...
On the other hand, I want to see the world. I want to see the Taj Mahal and eat Greek salads and talk with sheep ranchers in the
Australian outback. I want to travel and learn about other peoples. But I don't want to see them through polluted air and tacky
billboards and junky souvenir stands. And I hesitate in my wish because I don't want to contribute to this commercialization of the
world's beautiful and wondrous places. Will any place escape the changing hand of tourism? At the same time I see the benefits that I
previously mentioned that tourism brings. I remain torn, and I do not know if I will ever settle this question of good tourism/bad
tourism within myself. I do not know if I want to settle it, for I can see both sides.
Oct. 2: Impression, Train ride from Beijing to Shanghai
warm glow of the setting sun on fields of corn, swathed corn stalks, wooden two-wheeled carts pulled by donkeys, a few goats, a
few sheep, the occasional old, small tractor, only red brick buildings with green wooden doors - many brick communes - men in
large navy blue shirts and grey pants, a small girl in pink watching the train go by with her grandfather (?), the greens and golden
yellows reflected in the canal and my sheer wonder at it all. A brilliant-white flock of geese waddling on dull brown dirt, and the
future of these corn pickers, these donkeys, these wooden carts, as China modernizes - ?
Oct. 3: Sprint, Shanghai
Mao's face is everywhere -- paintings, statues, cigarette lighters, t-shirts. I'm thinking of an essay by Vaclav Havel -- founder of
democracy in the Czech Republic. He talked about the way communism worked before the Revolution there. There was very little
actual oppression, rather there was a pervasive psychological pressure to conform that all the people felt. Shop owners would put
signs in their windows: Workers of the World Unite, not because they wanted to, or because they believed the slogan, but because
they feared what would happen if they didn't put up the sign. Everyone knew who had the power, and no one wanted to test the
party with his own assets. This is how the Mafia would control neighborhoods -- mostly by psychological pressure. Does Chairman
Mao's likeness work like the shopkeepers sign?
Oct. 5: Impression, Free Day in Shanghai, Trying to Shop on Nanjing Road.
Pouring rain, confusion, misdirection, freezing cold, language barrier, hopeless, annoyed by neverending stares, frustration and
anger, sick of being a foreigner, wet socks, suddenly homesick.
Oct. 8: Sprint, Factory visits in China
"Which factory is this?
We enter as mildly interested tourists,
Gazing over the shoulders of women working,
How intricate the details, how delicate the process,
"Ooh, ah...isn't that incredible?"
Click, click -- the flashes of our intruding cameras.
We shuffle through, continuing on to the factory gallery,
Hundreds of finished products, prices too expensive for us,
"Where are we going now?" as we pile back onto our tour bus
Behind us the women continue,
Day after day, hunched over their worktables,
So much time and energy invested in every piece,
And so little return on their investment.
Oct. 9: Sprint, Shanghai
*A cheesy poem to sum up our China experience:
Bargaining for deals,
Carving our seals.
Taking a long peaceful bike ride,
Enjoying the beautiful mountains and countryside.
Hailing a taxi (it only took 2 hours)
Boat rides, train rides and of course those bus tours
Lucy, Mr. Lang, Ms. Ping and Mr. Peng
Singing "Um Yah Yah" and "The Friendship Song."
The Forbidden City and Tiannamen Square,
Flying dragonfly kites up, up in the air.
The Summer Palace, Children's Palace and crowded McD's,
Our paperthin "I Climbed the Great Wall" Tees.
Buying scrolls, (terracotta warrior) figurines, and farmer paintings,
Our 101 Buddha Temple outings. :)
So many wonderful places to see and explore,
I wish we could've stayed longer to see more!!
Oct. 9?, Sprint, Roller Skating in Shanghai
Troop on through a back alley, round the corner and....LAAAAA. A neon glow sort of like the light at the end of the tunnel when
you die. 10 yuan for one hour of pure adrenaline. Slight problem with the shoes, say about one full size. So with flood flow
restricted coast out on the rink. For some of these kids this is life. The only freedom they really feel, scary...
Oct. 10, Impression, On arriving in Chiang Mai
An attempt at a wai, positioning of 3 leis, sweet fragrance of jasmine, a sigh of relief, chatter, giggles, smiles, excitement in the air,
home at last.
TERM IN ASIA
December 4, 1996
Chiang Mai University, Thailand
Here is the latest in the series of letters to you detailing our activities. We expect to send one more letter in January just before we leave. I have appended
selections from the students' journals as before and added a note of my own at the end. Enjoy!
Dear friends and family,
Hello from Northern Thailand! After a busy tour through China, we landed in Chiang Mai. We were greeted at the airport by an energetic and friendly group
of Thai students and professors. Five of these students had applied to be our hosts at Chiang Mai University and have since become our good friends.
Our first two weeks were very busy. Not only did we take in many of the sites of Chiang Mai, we also spent 5-6 hours each day in an intensive Thai
language course. During this time we also rapidly learned about Thai customs and traditions. Social status (hierarchy) is very important here, so we had to
check many of our casual American habits. We learned to greet our superiors with the prayer like wai. This and other more minor social graces took some
getting used to.
After these first two weeks of intensive Thai, it was time to move in with our families. This was a stressful time -- our first real experience living away
from the group and putting to work all the Thai we had studied so hard. Since then we've adjusted well to life with Thai families. Some of us still need to
practice our Thai on a regular basis; others who live with more bilingual families speak a sort of hybrid Thai-English.
Classes are going well, but rest assured -- we are not letting them get in the way of our education in Thailand. Most weekends have been busy. As a group
we've ridden elephants, had two village stays, and climbed Doi Suthep, the mountain which overlooks Chiang Mai. Also many of us have gone on
numerous excursions with our host families and friends.
We spent Thanksgiving at a Karen (hill tribe) village singing, teaching English at the local elementary/junior high school and fishing with baskets in a
nearby river. We played volleyball, basketball and a game called dakraw (like volleyball with your feet and a small ball woven from bamboo strips) with the
students. Although they crushed us in volleyball and dakraw, we were victorious in basketball and fun was had by all.
Thanksgiving day we feasted and sang around a campfire, enjoying each other's company and all the wonderful food. We were sad to leave and say goodbye,
and were surprised that returning to Chiang Mai felt more like coming home than we had expected. The noise and the smell of traffic, millions of scruffy
stray dogs, street vendors dotting the sides of the roads, and hot weather has somehow found a place in us we thought would never be replaced by Minnesota
winters. Is it really December? We continue to ask ourselves this every morning as we sit outside among the banana trees, waiting for class to begin [having
attended a service for the first Sunday in advent in the Karen village complete with singing Joy to the World notwithstanding -- Ed.]. We wish you all a
happy holiday season. Know that we are always thinking of you.
Love, Megan, Pete and Kristina for the Group
Oct. 19, Chiang Mai, Doi Suthep hike
Walking slowly, sweaty and hot. Drink lots of water. Pose for a picture, let's take a rest. Only a little further -- the refreshment truck will be there.
Pineapple, bananas, sprite and coke. This is fun! Finally we've reached the top -- it sparkles in the sun.
Oct. 19, Chiang Mai, Doi Suthep hike
Too early, sleepy faces, everyone in their long sleeve shirts, hats, bandannas and tennis shoes, rough terrain, where's the road? Amy taking pictures, the
waterfall, pineapple and water breaks, Ace Ventura, Doi Suthep/Thailand quiz, counting the stairs, ring bells, the breathtaking view, dirt and sweat, hundreds
of tourists, 3 hours later...We made it!
Oct. 21, Chiang Mai, Thai class
AHHHH, overwhelming, Maa, Maa, Maa, Maa, Maa (all different), still sounds the same, I'm going to die in my family, sounds not words, word order,
patient aajaan (teacher), sanok maak (great fun).
Oct. 25, Chiang Mai, The American Consulate
Suddenly Thailand vanishes, a room imported, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, the Stars and Stripes, State Department literature, English-speaking white male
Americans, talk of the election, a weird feeling of having been transported somewhere far away -- Thailand is outside, inside this room is America.
Oct. 26, Chiang Mai, Meeting my family
Nervous, anxious, scared, not sure what to expect, departure from the group, lonely, chaos and confusion, ---lost in a sea of rapid Thai language, stupid
American, did I learn anything in Thai class? Aware of my every movement --- afraid of offending someone, feel like an outcast, extremely homesick.
Oct. 26, Chiang Mai, Meeting my family
Nervous laughter, go over the lines. Remember to give Mom the flowers. Is that Kristin's family? They look nice, I just want a nice family. English would
be alright. Hurry up and get this over with!
Oct. 26, Chiang Mai, Meeting my family
Patiently waiting, butterflies flittering, mind racing, family approaching, a wai, a sister, mother and father.
Oct. 26, Chiang Mai, First day with family
Hello family of twenty people who all have the exactly same name. The house is like poetry in motion. People move in and out, and I feel sort of like a show piece.
Hi, yes I'm the farang that speaks none of your language, yet you speak mine like a local and have never left your country...
Oct. 31, Chiang Mai, "A Time to Kill"
When a CMU student suggested that we all go see a movie at Kad Suan Kaow, I perfunctorily agreed, not giving a thought to what movie we would see.
Someone wanted to see "A Time to Kill" so we all bought our tickets and filled up an entire row in the movie theater. Shortly after the movie began I
realized that this was an American movie -- and was this the portrayal of America that we wanted our Thai friends to see and to believe? I must say first that
the thoughts and feelings I had while watching the movie would never have entered my consciousness if I had seen it in America. But because I was
watching it in Thailand, surrounded by Thai friends, and because I had been out of the country for four months, America looked very strange to me. I was
immediately sensitive to the way we talked, the way we ate, the way we interacted with close friends and then with strangers -- I saw American behaviors and
mannerisms looking in from the outside. It was a weird feeling throughout the whole movie. I felt ashamed and uncomfortable most of all because the film
dealt with the rape of a black girl by white men and the ensuing struggle between blacks and whites, including the Ku Klux Klan. I felt so guilty and
ashamed for being a Caucasian Christian -- the two main criteria of KKK members. Would all of our Thai friends think that we held the same prejudices as
some of the whites in the film? The movie highlighted the racial discrimination against blacks in the South. Watching the scenes of blacks being beaten up,
threatened, or cheated, I felt ashamed of my country and its past actions, ashamed of what we had done to another race of people.
I kept thinking "What do the Thai students think of this movie? What do they think about the America in this movie? Do they associate what they see on
the screen with my country, with all Americans, with me? And how do I explain the Ku Klux Klan?" After the movie, we all filed out into the mall and I
asked one of the students how he liked the movie, and he immediately answered with an honest smile, "I liked it." I said that I didn't like it, although if I had
been in America I am certain that I would have answered differently. None of the students asked about what we had just seen, and no one seemed moved by it
all that much. We all just began talking at once about this and that, but I still felt weird inside. Was this the US movie I wanted my Thai friends to see? I
guess they have seen many American films and television shows and are not too fazed by anything. If anyone questioned the "America" on screen or saw it
in a different light, it was me.
Nov. 1, Halloween Party at Aj. Kris's
100-s of cookies, chips, candy and pop, costumes, haunted house. Spitting blood, curdling screams, intestinal noodles, American fun.
Nov. 1, Halloween Party at Aj. Kris's
Decorating, blowing balloons, streamers, skeletons, a head that moves, ice cream, table full of food, haunted house, families and friends, hearing them
scream, pin the hat on the witch, who's the murderer? Wrap the mummy, Pete's Khun Pa in a US boy scout uniform, everyone having fun, giving away my
Timberwolves hat as a grand prize.
Nov. 3, Chiang Mai, Confusion over plans with host family
We're not leaving until 4:00 now? Frustration and annoyance, how rude of them not to tell me! Inconsiderate -- my plans are ruined, and it doesn't even faze
them; so this is "Thai" time and planning...turned out for the best anyway, enjoyable and relaxing trip, lesson learned in "Mai pen rai." : )
Nov. 9, Trip to Payou
Nine hour bus ride to Payou. It's only about 150 kilometers, but you've got to add time for sanuk (fun) -- a long khantoke dinner, multiple stops to look at
the vistas. In America, so long a bus ride would be painful. Here I hardly knew the time was passing.
Nov. 9, Chiang Mai, To Be a Woman in Thailand
Men work in the daytime
As do the women,
But at night, a man watches TV,
Drinks with friends,
Sleeps with a mistress.
Still at night the women work.
Cook dinner, wash clothes, wash dishes:
Take care of the children.
She cannot go out at night -
It is not
As my mother said so knowingly,
"Thai men can do whatever they want
And it is allowed, accepted.
Thai women cannot be like this.
Thai women must choose pronouns carefully
When speaking about themselves to others.
Thai men simply use "phom" for
Thai women must sit on the floor
with their legs under them.
But this is most uncomfortable -
Thai men may sit cross-legged.
Such a double standard.
My mother told me today that the
Husband of her best friend
came home at
6:00am this morning.
He had been out all night.
She is a lovely, hard-working
Mother with three children;
She lives in a beautiful home.
She is a well-educated woman.
But she has a husband who
Stayed out all night.
He never called.
He never told her where he had been,
In fact he himself
Could not remember.
But she will continue on with her life:
Work, dinner, laundry, children.
Her husband will continue on with his.
For she is a
But her husband is a
Nov. 12, Chiang Mai, Dinner with Thai Family
I find it so interesting to observe my family preparing for and clearing up dinners. Everyone in my family presumes a role in which he or she is expected to
"act out" each evening. Khun Yaay (Grandmother) and Khun Ma (Mother) are the cooks of the group. They prepare the rice, the soup, the vegetable, and
whatever else we happen to be eating that evening. The younger daughter brings the glasses out and pours the water. The older daughter scoops out the rice
onto each of our plates. Both also bring the main dishes out to the table. During this preparation time, Khun Pa is already sitting at the head of the table,
usually watching the news. Everyone has a certain seat to sit in as well. To the left of Khun Pa is Khun Ma and myself. To his right are the daughters and
grandmother. This is the seating arrangement every night. In cleaning up, the girls take all the dishes outside, where the maid washes them. It's so
interesting living with a Thai family and seeing how the importance of roles (which each family member is given) runs their everyday lives.
Undated but about Nov. 14, Chiang Mai
Riding to school this morning, Khun Pa talked to me about the difference between American and Thai products. It didn't take long for me to catch on. This
was backhanded Thai communication. Lacking an intermediary, Khun Pa had to make his point to me himself. He was trying to tell me to take care of his
things (don't let doors slam, leave light on, etc.)
Nov. 15, Bor Gaou, Village stay
After three bumpy and hilly hours, we reached our destination. Get out of the van, take a walk around town. Oh, it's so quiet -- the wat (temple) at the top is
still and serene, beautiful. Red roads lead to homes scattered on the mountain. Go to bed early, wake up early -- Be aware, it gets cold at night!
Nov. 15, Bor Gaou, First night sleeping in village
Mosquitoes buzzing, mice scampering, monks chanting, roosters crowing, rice cooking, flowers growing, hike to the fields ready to work.
Nov. 16, Bor Gaou
...Riding in the back of a red pick-up, gathering marigold tops with my younger sisters, roasting taro in the coals of an evening campfire while singing and
playing games, eating rice with peppers, red and green...PET! PET! Naam uti nigh? Quick, where's the fire extinguisher? My mouth is on fire!
Nov. 16, Bor Gaou
Green valley surrounded by thick forested mountains, dusty blue sky, rows and rows of strawberries --observing Khun Meh to see where to start, and what to
do. Breaking earth, and throwing the roots aside in a dirty purple pail. Big smile from the others working there, watching us curiously -- covered in long
sleeves, face masks and wide-rimmed straw hats -- while I boil bare-headed in t-shirt and jeans!
Nov. 17, Bor Gaou
When I first arrived in the village and saw the tiny houses and lack of material things, I instinctively thought, "Wow, they have so little." As the weekend
continued we were introduced to all of the friendly neighbors, ate meals on the floor in the center of the main room of the house, made somtam (green
papaya salad) with khun yaay (grandmother), slept on the floor under mosquito nets with the sound of scurrying mice below, awoke at 5:00am to the monks
chanting and roosters crowing, stepped outside and inhaled the cleanest, freshest air we've breathed in months, frolicked in the nearby waterfall, basked in the
incredible beauty of the mountains, trees and fields that surrounded us, enjoyed the peace and quiet away from the city, had fun with our families and
neighbors as they welcomed us into their warm and relaxing home, and realized that in many ways they have more than I'll ever have...
Nov. 21, Chiang Mai, Integration section (brief selections)
...The Thais often say Mai Pen Rai and simply "let go" in situations where we Americans feel the need to hang on, make it better, fix it, get it done faster,
or simply continue to worry about it. Mai pen rai is not a lazy attitude, it is the realization that some things are out of or beyond human control and there is
nothing we can do about it... These three words have made me see Americans as too rush-rush, too structured in their work and play and traffic laws (!), and
too sterile and sanitary. I eat, sleep and shower with ants and lizards, and happily eat khanam from food vendors on the streets. Never again will I freak out at
finding a spider in my bedroom at home -- here I stare them down morning and night...
11 December 1996
As you can see, your sons and daughters continue to have new experiences and benefit from their stay here. I am very proud of the ways they have sought
out Thai friends and are making use of their language skills and culture studies. For example this past weekend, Heather was a special guest at a nursing
conference her host mother attended and was in charge of games for the 150 attendees. Pete went trekking in NE Thailand with a group of Thai friends,
Kristin went to Bangkok to visit the family of one of our host students. The rest of us crammed into a van and headed north for Chiang Rai, the Golden
Triangle (nary a poppy in sight) and points of interest along the way.
Everyone is also busy with preparations for the Thai language final tomorrow (a prepared five to ten minute speech, a spontaneous role play with a teacher,
and a prepared skit in groups of three), working on final oral projects for the Family and Work course I teach, planning for the wat (temple) stay this
weekend, and thinking about topics for their upcoming History paper. We will celebrate Heather's birthday tonight.
Due to adventurous eating habits we have had bouts of "tummy troubles" lately but the Thai physicians are used to dealing with this sort of problem with
farangs (foreigners). Kristin won an overnight stay in the hospital for her food poisoning but everyone else has been able to deal with theirs in a less
interesting manner. The air pollution caused a rash of colds when we first arrived but we seem to have adjusted to the smog (and have been out of town a
great deal as well).
People's thoughts are turning to Christmas holidays -- secret Santas are beginning to get to work, instead of dreams of sugarplums I have had requests to
repeat the chocolate cream puffs I served last spring at our first group dinner, plans are being laid for greater adventures out of Chiang Mai during
Christmas/New Year's break, and everyone is happily avoiding the idea of having to pack and send all the treasures they are finding. I hope this letter finds
you all well and leaves you reassured that everyone is making the most of their time here.
Term in Asia Program
TERM IN ASIA
7 January 1997
Dear Friends and Family,
As our trip comes to a close, we've found ourselves busy with last minute papers, finals, sightseeing and making arrangements to
come home. After spending Thanksgiving in Musikee, we returned to "winter" in Chiang Mai with banana trees, coconut palms and
sweaty armpits. Amidst the hustle and bustle we spent a relaxing stay at secluded Wat Uhmong, a Buddhist temple in the forested
outskirts of Chiang Mai. With meditation lessons from the monks, we marvelled at their concentration and focus as we struggled to
sit still and free our minds from all of our thoughts and concerns. Upon return to our daily university schedules, we realized how
peaceful the wat stay had been as our previously cancelled classes were jammed into six hour sessions studying everything from
traditional spirit cults to modern Thai politics. Amidst this whirlwind of enlightenment on the educational side, our final tests and
papers reminded us of what awaits us upon return to St. Olaf.
Christmas in Thailand made us appreciate our American family traditions of eating a variety of home-cooked goodies, sharing gifts
and seeing all of you. Kristina, Kim and Kristin returned to Musikee and spent Christmas at the Christian Karen hill tribe village.
Although our group was not all together for the holidays, those of us in Chiang Mai welcomed fellow St. Olaf students from the
Biology in India program and JET program in Japan. Bringing the spirit of Christmas to our host families, we spent Christmas Eve
caroling from house to house, followed by a candlelight service at the local community church. We spent Christmas Day exchanging
Secret Santa gifts, relaxing by the pool and indulging in a delicious Christmas meal of turkey, mashed potatoes and all the trimmings
at a restaurant called the Irish Pub/Crusty Loaf Bakery. Our break from school continued through New Year's, providing us with
some free time to further explore throughout Chiang Mai, visiting the wats and marketplaces we hadn't had a chance to experience.
As we currently dip our toes off of a bamboo raft while floating aimlessly in central Thailand, we reflect upon the past five months in
awe of our many incredible experiences and look forward to our opportunities for individual travel. Pete and Eric are planning to
return to Chiang Mai and serve as a novice and monk, respectively, in two of the local wats for two weeks. Craig will be returning to
Hong Kong; Kris, Elizabeth, and Kate will journey to Tokyo for a week. The rest of us will be relaxing and exploring the beaches of
southern Thailand for varying amounts of time. Kim will then travel to the Philippines to meet her mother's side of the family for the
first time and Magen will travel to northern Japan to begin readjustment to the cold climate we have tried to forget.
We are all sad to say good-bye to the warm weather, beautiful scenery, delicious food and wonderful relationships we have formed
with Thai friends and host families. However, we are also excited to return home to the home-cooked delicacies you have no doubt
been preparing for our homecoming. We hope this letter finds you all enjoying a happy new year and we look forward to seeing you
Amy, Magen and Kristina for Term in Asia
24 November Loy Kratong (Festival of Lights) Chiang Mai
bang! boom! boom! "Loy, loy kratong!" big red lanterns aglow in the night sky, the full moon, small candles burning all around the
house, the smell of sweet incense, banana leaves, orange marigolds, purple clover, the river a mass of tiny yellow lights, a special
feeling in the air.
27 November Musikee "Karen Girls' Prayer"
murmured wishes, fluttered feelings, filtering through the candle light's warm glow. A blend of haunted mysticism and spriitual
enlightenment. These girls walk with the Spirit, and I know God is here.
---This is the sound of heaven.
28 November Musikee Thanksgiving Dinner
black sticky rice, a pig on a fire, peppers, corn, fish sauce, blazing fire, hill tribe people/native Americans, farangs/pilgrims.
1 December Sprint
Ok, Ok, not to brag or anything, but for the record, I am the only T in A member of our 9 person group who has not had the
privilege of checking into CMRam or a local clinic. Never once on this trip have I felt feverish, faint, or had the slightest complaints
of an upset stomach, Luck? Well, aside from a stiff neck and a toothache, I'd have to say yes.
However, there is one ailment which I have been battling these last couple weeks. Homesickness! I was doing so well up until now.
Culture shock has got me all over again in a funny way. I feel like I should be cuddled up in a nice warm blanket by the fireplace
with a cup of hot chocolate. And where the heck is the snow? Not to mention the -40 degree temperature to go along with it. The
Christmas tree and fake snow on top of Kad Suan Kaew just doesn't cut it. I miss my family, my friends, and (I'd never thought I'd
say this) the snow! Watching my puppy grow up in pictures isn't a whole lot of fun, either.
Ok enough complaining! I'll be home soon enough, and then I'll wish I was back in Thailand. I love it here! I love the weather, the
people, the food, and my Thai fmaily. THE SNOW CAN WAIT!
2 December Musikee
We're in a crude version of a church in a Karen village in northern Thailand. Two preachers wear identical costumes -- traditional
handmade Karen shirts with colored buttondowns and ties underneath. The one with the guitar is preaching like he really means it.
Only, he speaks Karen so we don't understand a word. "We" are a group of white Americans who all go to college -- normally -- at
a small liberal arts institution in the midwest: two professors, seven women, two men. Presently someone leans over and whispers
in my ear: "Guru, six o'clock." I check my bearings and locate the object of his coordinates. Directly to my left across the room
sitting in the pews that face us, there's an ancient man. His dark brown skin is wrinkled and worn, and his eyes are calm beyond
words. He's wearing a light blue winter hat with a bright red pompom, and his long underwear is visible where his traditional Karen
shirt sleeves end.
The truest things are funny. This guy is a guru. I've no doubt he's close to what Buddhists call absolute peace of mind. And, though
I'm sure he doesn't talk much, he's full of worldly wisdom. Those eyes have seen so much come and go.
8 December Bus ride to Phitsanuloke
150 Thai nurses, 1 farang, it's a nine hour ride? Singing at 6am, sure...I'll sing Jingle Bells, non-stop chatter, sanuk (fun)
12 December Chiang Mai "Monk comes to our house"
Kruba Bonchom -- a skinny, rather small man, dressed in a dark robe -- a similar colored hat and scarf. Not more than 35 years of
age, still he walks with a cane -- more of a staff. The grandmothers have joined us here tonight, along with 10-12 other random
people. We follow him into the established "monk house" and everybody begins to chant. I must remember to sit properly. Every so
often, the chanting is interrupted by loud shouts, clanging bells, and one thud from a large gong ( no kidding!). Kruba Banchom
throws candy to us, distributes necklaces; all of a sudden he turns to me: "Farang," repeated words I don't understand. My mother
tells me he says that I am good, that I saw him at Burma, and he is telling the people that I am a good Buddhist. He gives me 60 bhat
(about $2.40) and tells me that if I keep it in a safe place, it will bring me prosperity. What a strange place to find myself in! I am not
Buddhist, I am merely respecting a man who I know has done good and brought hope to many Burmese.
12 December Chiang Mai Thai Language Final Exam
Ok. I'm going next. I haven't been this nervous since...shoot, I hope I get an easy situation to talk about. Will I be able to remember
everyting I need to say? I should have written more stuff down. I guess that if I haven't learned it yet, I won't learn it now!
Ok...here goes nothing -- gulp!
14 December Re-Entry?
I don't want to return to America. Not scared of what I will find, but rather what I won't find that worries me. In America, where are
the marketplaces, teeming with color and energy? In America, where are the selas, busting from capacity? The banana trees, the time
taken to greet a stranger, to visit a family, to STOP and enjoy the gifts that life has given.
In America, where is the life outside of the workday, month, year; where is life outside the worry of money and local newscasts?
Where is Thailand's concept of sanuk & Singha Beer & laughing until you burst your gut? In America, where is the unsterilized
color; the fruit vendors on the roadsides in all seasons, the warm weather.
In America, where is the spirit that makes Thai people Thai? I'm going to miss this place enormously.
16 December Wat Stay Meditation
Concentrate, focus on breathing...when is that map quiz? What am I going to do my history paper on? I have to get my Secret Santa
something...STOP! Focus...I can't believe Christmas is next week! I need to confirm my plane tickets. What am I going to buy for
my parents? Is anyone else's mind wandering as much as mine???
17 December Classroom at CMU
School is hell! Torture. It's the dragging out of corpses---describing them: how they acted, what they did. Meanwhile there are
people out making their culture -- living. Missed classes have been jammed into the last few weeks. That's the downside of "mai pen
rai." I say all this and I love to learn. Even to study. But there needs to be a balance.
Scared, confused, not wanting to go, feel comforable here, it will be cold, real cold, finally feel real comfortable with family, no
more big surprises, (most important) how has this trip affected us?
20 December At the Night Bazaar
Trooping through the stalls, it is hard not to notice the typical overweight, sweating lad, just noticeable farang. Then...oh look...that
beautiful, sweet, quiet, smiling Thai woman. This makes me sick to my stomach. Sure there are times that there is a misjudgment but
I think those times are rare and far in between. If the couple is together, why are they wandering the night bazaar, especiallly if they
live here? The worst part is, Thais don't think that badly of it. Sure that is our culture and of course we think our culture is the best
but still...It is like selling yourself, not a product. Different thought. I wonder if we picked up on things like this in the beginning.
Up until this time, the "Impressions" were the first things I finished. However, this time they were the last. Even though the dates
are earlier I wrote them yesterday and today. I had no great impressions. I don't know if that is bad or good. I think it will be bad for
the grade but it tells me something. I have begun to fit in and understand. Things are not a surprise anymore. Sort of ruins the fun of
being abroad but on the other hand, it shows that the trip has been successful. I am really surprised at the change. I didn't see it from
day to day but now after trying unbelievably hard to create an impression it seems evident. I'm one happy person right now...
I think I have passed the outsider barrier and have bonded with the family. I don't know how the other students are doing but I think
this is one of the most valuable things on the trip . It is so nice to come home now. It is something you look forward to. No longer
am I treated like a guest. Last night my khun paw told me I was lazy and I needed to clean my room. The way he said this, it was
obvious I was no longer on the outer circle of concern. It made me feel bad but after thinking about it, it was beautiful. Something
20 December The Marketplace
Baskets filled to the brim with sticky rice, fish still alive, breathe through cut openings in their side, gawky plastics in every neon
color imaginable, vendors selling coconut milk by the bagful.
Vegetable vendors sit behind piles of tomatoes and green cucumbers, leafy stalks and white bunches of cauliflower, people bustling
through, bundles of clear plastic bags filled with essence of the marketplace in their hands.
24 December Chiang Mai Christmas Eve
Dear Mom and Dad,
Well, it is Christmas Eve. It really doesn't feel like it. December 24th is just another day here. We went Christmas caroling to all of
our host families tonight, I don't even know if they really enjoyed it, but we all had fun. Singing did make it feel a little more like
Christmas. After singing, we went to a candle-light service at a community church. It was strange to be in a room with so many
westerners! During communion, the lights were turned down. We sang songs into the night with candles. It was at that moment that
it truly felt like Christmas. Everyone was together and celebrating. It was a good feeling. Naturally it would have meant even more if
I was with my family, but it was still good. Merry Christmas!
25 December Christmas at the Karen village
All the women in bright red skirts, black shirts elaborately embroidered with shells and pink thread, the deep wrinkles of wisdom of
the faces of the elders, the bright wide-eyed children, all the smiles (perfect, sparkling, white teeth!), singing all the songs that I
know myself, but in different words. Here Christmas is still about the birth of Jesus Christ. No commercialism, no big presents.
"Just" a spirit, "just" a feeling.
25 December Musikee
This year I am experiencing Christmas in ways I never have before. I am spending it with complete strangers in a remote Karen
village in Thailand. Although this Christmas has been history in the making for me, it has also been the learning experiences of a
lifetime, giving me new perspectives on life back home, and strengthening my spirituality.
The village was dirty, underdeveloped by American standards. Electricity had to be charged up for the evening, a karokee boombox
was used for the microphone at services, and an antique electric guitar was used for background music. Dinners were held on the
floor as were church services. Yet, with what little they seemed to have, they sure made this Christmas one of the greatest I have
experienced. The main service/party/dinner room was decorated in Christmas lights, Christmas drawings and a big Christmas tree.
Everyone in the village brought a gift of food for under the tree, which was distributed by none other than Santa Claus himself after
the service. A talent show and Christmas caroling were also included. Everyone was full of smiles of joy and happiness.
This village Christmas has retaught me that the joy of Christmas definitely comes from your heart and not your wallet. My first
whiteless Christmas away from home will be one to remember always.
29 December CMU
Playing soccer today -- Afterwards all the khon Thai (Thai people) neatly lay their practice jerseys in a pile. These are just shirts to
identify teammates by and any American team would toss them in a big heap. Not in Thailand, though.
Part of "rip-roy" is the mindfulness that Buddhism teaches.
31 December Impression Going Home & Blending In
No more sticking out in the crowd, no more "Hello! Hello!," "Hey Lady!" "You Look! You Look!" "You Buy! You Buy!", no one
stares, no one glares...in short - no one cares.
31 December "Thai Family"
As the end of our trip is nearing, I realize how sad I will be to say good-bye to my host family. Living with them and sharing in their
everyday experiences has been an incredible opportunity to learn so much about Thai culture. There have been several occasions
when we've learned somthing about thai society - such as Buddhist practices or spiritual beliefs - and then I've gone home and been
so much more aware of the existence of these beliefs or actions within my host family. And although my family has been noted as
somewhat "dysfunctional" by Thai standards, in many ways this has been an even greater learning experience as I witness how
Western society and values combine or clash with Buddhist culutre and practices...as seen in the daily struggles for my Thai sisters
to be "fashionable" and "hip", for one of them to make it out of the house in her trashy Madonna t-shirt without Khun pa seeing her,
for Khun pa to enjoy his hundreds of action-packed American movies although he can't always understand the story because they
speak English too fast and there are no subtitles, for Khun ma to spend so much money on imported beauty creams and make-up so
she will retain that "youthful glow" although she's a wee bit tormented because the fortune-telling monk told her not to use any
artificial products and to age naturally...just a sampling of the many interesting scenarios I've encountered within my rapidly
westernizing Thai family. But most of all I will miss them because they have been so much fun to live with and they have been
incredibly welcoming and giving as I have become a part of their lives and their home.
1 January Chiang Mai
My Thai family has been the highlight of my trip. It truly gives an inside look at a culture and provides one with an incredible,
memorable and unforgettable experience. The thing I liked best about my family was that they just took me in as one of their own.
The first day I was at the house my Mom brought me out to get my hair done, like she does every Sunday. Then on the weekdays I
would go to Mae Rim to our mango gardens. Other days, I would watch the news in Thai with my family, eat dinner at 5:30pm and
then sit around the living room reading the newspaper or chatting about the day. There were no special things that my family did for
me; it was just the little things that they did every day that made the difference.
2 January Integration Chiang Mai
This trip has given me more than I ever expected. It has shown me different cultures, customs, and beliefs as we have traveled
through Indonesia, Hong Kong, China and Thailand. It has been a constant learning experience since everywhere I am is new and
exciting. I have learned so much --- how to communicate with limited vocabulary, how to "be like" the hill-tribe peoples, how to
bargain for discounts, how to order food, take a sela, buy things, etc...These learning experiences have given me a new life. They
have opened doors that I never knew existed...I will always hold a special place for Southeast Asia in my heart, as I have learned a
lot about myself and about my culture. Being away from home has taught me many things about myself. Such as: what I can and
cannot eat, what kind of person I am, how much my family means to me, what I want out of my life, etc...I have also learned a
lesson on what it is to be an American. Loud, obnoxious, care-free of anyone's opinion but your own, opinionated, individualistic,
materialistic, and in love with gluttony, excess...Some changes in my own behavior when I return might include being more relaxed
about life, having fun in everything I do, being more accepting of all cultures, talking with my Southeast Asian foreign exchange
students, getting involved in more organizations that benefit Southeast Asia, etc...
This trip has given me insight on my future...and it's not from a fortune teller on Thapac Road. It has directed me towrads the public
health field, in hopes of helping educate all those on choices which might improve their health standards...
2 January Chiang Mai
So another year under the belt. I can't believe how quickly the time has gone by. I think for the first time in my life I can see a
noticable difference in my person from one year ago. This trip has opened my eyes a lot wider not only to the world, but to myself as
well. I have learned so many things from this wonderful opportunity which I have been given. It has taken me a while to process all
the information which I have taken in though. When I re-read my first academic journal, I had to laugh to myself. I was so
overwhelmed by everything. I could hardly even put a few words on paper. The one which I wrote way back in September, and I
still believe, is that all the pieces of this trip won't come together until I get home. The most important thing I have learned on this
trip is: although the world seems a little smaller and much more tangible to me now, there is still much which I don't know. We have
only seen a small part of Asia and have learned about only a few of the thousands of ethnic groups in this part of the world. If
anything, this trip has whetted my appetite to see more of the world. This is only the tip of the iceberg.
2 January Impression (Part 2)
I am learning that everywhere in the world is a place of paradoxes; beautiful wats, garbage in the street, beautiful mountain vista,
congesting choking traffic. Breathing in straight carbon, basking in the glow of an amazing climate. Extremely rich businesssmen
and women in their BMWs; illegal immigrants from Burma piled in the back of a pickup truck. Day in and day out. So many culutres
exist side by side in this culture, yet I wonder if they ever really integrate. What is the glue that binds this society together?...What is
it about Thais that make people Thai?
3 January Integration
One thing that has struck me on the entire trip and especially in the village is how convenient America is...At Musikee the girls have
to chop banana trees, haul them home, chop them into little pieces, mash them into a pulp and then boil them -- which is, by itself,
quite a chore when you don't have running water, or a way to heat a large amount of water -- all this work they do every day in order
to make a meal for the pigs. At home, I walk into the back closet, fill up my dog's dish with some stuff my mother buys from the
store and then I carry the dish back into the kitchen -- sometimes I throw in leftover dinner -- and my mom doesn't want another dog
because "It's too much work." My family, myself wholeheartedly included, doesn't know what work is.
And, to close off this last letter, an excerpt from the remarks of our Thai coordinator, Ajarn Pom at our farewell and thank you party,
When you gave out your Term in Asia T-shirts to our students in the beginning, someone asked what the design meant. It's a picture
of a healthy tree. The artist, our own Kristin, explained that she wanted it to symbolize personal growth that you anticipated in this
trip to Southeast Asia. Now at the end of the program, I hope you've grown. I think you've grown.
Like every year, I can't help but observe you and I am happy to find that you have the favourable attitude; you've come here with an
open mind and an open heart, because you are ready to try almost anything, even though that means we found you with an IV in a
hospital. You are patient, especially with these so-called "older people" always telling you not to do things, which might get you
confused because you're adults and not mere children to be bossed around. And you're eager to find your own
not-necessarily-comfortable ways through the Thai lifestyle, even though that meant the dog of your Thai family had to bite you first.
You've probably had both good experiences and not-so-pleasant experiences in this country but I've got the feeling that you've
accepted both almost equally as the way things are here. I think that is the attitude if you want to gain anything at all in a foreign
I'd like to thank you for being so and for making my job easy for me. If this program has or will positively affect your decisions
about life in any way, it's a success. I wish you a nice graduation and a rewarding career and I want you to know that you are
always welcomed here.