Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Everyday Life at the Mirror Foundation

Finally, I have gotten my first rolls of film developed!
Sadly though, I feel the ones in my last post were a bit more exciting
But the ones I did take, really do capture what my daily life is like at 
The Mirror Foundation
 Mirror is just a 20 minute song tow ride out of the city of Chiang Rai 

The foundation is almost a little village in itself
 that is constantly buzzing with people.
 There are four main groups of people:
there are the Falangs (white people),
the Japanese, the Thai interns, and the Mirror staff 
The Japanese have a completely separate program than we do, but they generally do the same thing--
they teach Japanese. 
And I can never quite tell what the Thai interns really do...
But that is the lifestyle of the Thai people
very laid back, and always happy
which always tends to result in extreme disorganization and procrastination.
They never plan ahead or willingly make set plans.
The first couple of weeks it drove the rest of the falangs and me crazy!
We are so used to structure and having a set schedule
but eventually you get over it and bow down to the Thai ways.
When in Thailand, right?

Sign says = Help Eachother Live in Harmony
And that really does sum up the lifestle portrayed by
everyone who lives at the foundation.
It is a non-profit organization unique to the region.
Its main purpose is to serve as teachers and advocates for
the people of the Hill Tribes near
Chiang Rai, Thailand in the hopes to decline exploitation, poverty,
and health epidemics
by promoting stability, education and reservation of the local culture.
What I do is teach the locals English,
which may seem like a small thing, but actually the reality is
 if a Thai person can become
fluent in English, it is almost a guarantee they will get a good job.
I like to think it is equivalent to U.S. citizens going to college

I will first start with a virtual tour of where I live
through the lens. 

Surprisingly, and you'll understand as you keep reading,
that the food was the hardest thing to get used to.
Every day, and I literally mean every day
we get a consistant diet of rice, veggies, and soup for 
breakfast, lunch and dinner.   
It'll vary in the type of veggie or vary in the degree of how incredibly spicy it is
But it is generaly the same for every meal.
The only break you get is if you treat yourself at the little food stand on the Mirror grounds or on the weekends.   
Luckily there is also the ice cream man that comes everyday
given it isn't the best in the world
but it's sugar!
Anything will taste good after non-stop rice.
Although I did find myself quite shocked the first time I bought myself an ice cream.
I had asked the man to have the banana flavored popsicle and then proceeded to point at the picture
he gave a little chuckle and made a peeling motion.
I didn't find it strange because
 1 Thai people love the english work banana, they always tend to giggle when it is said and then say it themselves about twenty times. 
 2. The peeling motion is often the motion we make to our students to illustrate we are talking about a banana.
It wasn't until I began to eat my popsicle that I understood his reaction
It was a mochi style ice cream stick
The banana flavored ice cream was surrounded by a banana flavored rice coding that you had to 
 literally peel
As shown in the picture.
The popsicle was delicious and I love mochi
but I couldn't help but chuckle and think about how Asian it was.   

Mom, Haley, Elle, and Emily
Especially Mom
You'll be glad to hear I will never forget to do my dishes again.
The moment you are done eating you must always dump any extra food into the pig feed bin.
Pigs are omnivores and eat literally everything
and you must wash your own plate

This is where I sleep.
Is a room with 10 beds, 3 fans and millions of bugs!

And where ever there are bugs, there are Gecko's!
Everywhere. You can't escape them!
No -- they are not as cute as the mascott of Geico.
Again like all the animals around here they scream GECKO 
at all times of the day and night.
It scared me like no other the first time I heard it.  
One got squished in our screen door last night, I wasn't that heart-broken---
sorry mom.  

And now, I am so sorry.
I will try to keep this as classy as humanly possible but I have to include it.
This is my bathroom. 

Luckily, we get running water.
only problem is its ice cold
Which is ironic.
They can't manage to keep the drinking water cold and they can't keep the shower warm.
And you'd think "It's so hot outside, a cold shower will feel amazing!"
well you'd be wrong.
Your body temperature is set so high because of the heat
 that when the cold water hits your body its a huge shock.
You literally can't breath the first couple of minutes. 
not very pleasant.
but you are always so filthy that you don't care.
I laugh everytime I look at my packed makeup bag.
I was so niave to think I would actually be wearing that stuff.
Looking decent is a luxury I will never take that for granted again!

Or having nice tap water that doesn't stink like sewage--
imagine washing your face with that water.
luckily, it only does that sometimes...

 And I saved the best for last
The Squat Toilets 

Unless it is a international establishment, like a pizza shop
all the toilets are squat.
There is definitely a learning curve to using one of these bad boys.
1. Your feet go on the toilet where the grooves are.
2. you must find the perfect squat position (apparently it is unique to the person)
3. As stated on the wall, you must NEVER flush toilet paper, you put in waste basket afterwards.
in fact it's only a falang thing to use toilet paper
4. If you want to clean yourself the Thai way (which I embrace proudly) you take the squirt gun looking thing that is placed on the toilet in the picture and squirt it, at you know.. yeah. 
5. To flush you must scoop water into the toilet.
I keep getting asked this when I explain this 
And, I will just simply say anything can go down as long as you apply enough water.
 Now anyways, that is my bathroom.
P.S. The shower and the toilet are in the same room. There is no drain but just a hole in the wall
 so the floor is in a constant state of dampness.

And that ladies and gentlemen is where I live :)

P.P.S. In all Asian cultures, it is rude to wear your shoes indoors.
Anytime you look outside of a house or some shops you will see a pile of a dozen shoes or so.

This is my form of transportation.
In one this size you can fit about 10 people comfortably in the back with an additional 1 in the front.
Most of the vehicles are styled like this.
All "taxis" are like these two, but they are called Song Tows

At the foundation, the Song Tows are needed to get us to all of our teaching posts--
which include a local school called Huay Fai School

This was my first day on the job
and if you can't tell, I was nervous.
I've had plenty of other jobs in between then to get more accustomed to it.
So far my favorite positions have been at the Addicts Rehab Center
which I didn't get to photograph.
But as I was leaving I recieved two papers where they had wrote "God Bless You"
and one Lady gave me a bracelet that she had made.
At that moment I fell in love with teaching English.
But in addition to the Addicts center I enjoyed going to...

The Oncology unit at the local hospital
Although this one was a bit depressing, I still enjoyed being able to help
Both were such a unique experience because the purpose wasn't really to teach the people English
but it was to just give them company and to just brighten their day.  

Things to know about Buddist monks
  • In Thailand, all males must be a monk for a certain period of time once in their life (that is if they are buddist)
  • Monks cannot make any physical contact with a woman, which makes teaching quite awkward because you must avoid accidentally brushing them at all times.
  • Woman can be monks as well, they look the same as well with a shaved head and the robes.
  • You can be a monk at any age

This is childcare at a local Lahu tribe.
It is a much more modernized tribe compared to the ones at homestay.
They had electricity and proper buidings as you can see.
Because they are so small, they usually don't understand our lessons
but we were attempting to teach them fruits and vegetables.
They loved the word banana as well.
Go figure. 

I'm sad to say I never got the name of this little boy.
The whole time I was there he just hung all over me.
I guess he just couldnt get enough of this falang.
It wasn't until after multiple times of repeating
"koon chue arai?"
What is your name in Thai
that I remembered that he doesn't understand because he speaks the dialect unique to the Lahu tribes.
So for now he will always just be that cute little Lahu boy.
I just taught this class today.
It was so much fun.
The kids were so energetic and friendly
Which is s big difference from other places because Thai people are notorious for being shy.
It was so cute, I'm almost positive one of the little boys had a crush on me.
I kept catching him staring and such
Which I am used to, being a falang and all
 but he had that look in his eye.
The Thai find white people to be absolutely beautiful--
They love our white skin.
Most of thier skin products have whitening agents in them
similar to how we have tanner in our products--
funny how that works, huh?
They go crazy for tall, white women with blonde hair and blue eyes.
  It was confirmed though when after class he asked to shake my hand and for me to give him an autograph
which was a catalyst the whole class wanting a hand shake and an autograph.
I wish I would have gotten a picture but it was so
I should come here more often.
They make me feel like a superstar! 

So originally I did sign up for just the English teaching program
but since the raining season has just begun
the community was in a urgent need of dams.
So we all ventured into the rain forest and built some dams.
And just like every construction job around here,
 bamboo is used as the main resource.
It was the boys' job to find and cut down the bamboo 
and it was the girls' job to find rocks,
which may sound easy
but it wasn't.
We had to venture far and wide to find the rocks
and 50 rocks were required for one dam.
I think the men purposely took the easy job.
So in total I aided into the construction of 6 dams.

I just love the scenery out here--
So beautiful
These pictures don't even do it justice.

Weekends at Mirror are quite strange.
Saturdays are equivalent to fridays
and Tuesdays are equivalent to Mondays,
so instead of being free for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday
we are off for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.
I'm still not quite used to it.
But anyways, all the volunteers leave Mirror to soak up the city life in
Chiang Rai.

All of the volunteers stay at the Boon BunDan guest house.
Actually I should say we take over the place!
It's like a party every night with all of the volunteers around.
It's alot of fun!

These are just some pictures I collected from around the Guest house.
It's not the most developed city--
but it has its own modest beauty.
I love it.
My favorite city so far.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Adventures in Thailand

Hi everyone! 
I know long time, no posts
Now that I have my wonderful Diana Mini 
I will be blogging every time I get film developed!
Which means, I will be blogging alot.

But anyways,
I thought I'd start my first post back with my exciting
adventures in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
 I will apologize in advance, photo development in Thailand isn't the best and it's reflected in some of the photos.

So I'm not sure why, but I was feeling especially adventurous one day
and decided to volunteer as an English teacher for six weeks.
It was an impulsive decision really
little did I consider what I really had signed up for
But due to a mix up of films
My first week worth of film has not been developed yet
I will elaborate more on what I have signed up for next post
But I do have other pictures and stories to give!
lots, actually
First we will start off with half  of my tour to the White Temple
although a huge and stereotypical tourists 
it site was absolutely beautiful.

Although the temple itself is completely white,
that wasn't the case for the grounds around it.
It had dozens of pure gold buildings surrounding it 
along with
multiple Prayer Towers
Which is shown in the picture on the right
What you would do is..
Write your prayer or a name on a thin almost ornament looking thing
and then
hang it in the next available space on the tower. 
As you can see
there are thousands on one tower alone.

And what would a Buddist Temple be without some
Severed Head Statues
hanging off the trees?
Apparently, it's for protection to ward off any bad spirits.
  but it makes me laugh more than anything. 

Along with the White Temple
we visited the Black House
Which is a private settlement that is used to worship and show devotion
between you and me
its just the product of a mans' glorified ego
Inside was filled with elaborate tables and chairs made and covered with..
skins of cobras
horns of yaks
fur of bob cats 
and an array of unidentified animal products.
It was quite a sight 
The cool thing I did like though, was being able to hold a 
live ten foot cobra
but then I thought, I wonder if you're next to end up on the tables..

As a treat after the tour we got to go visit the local waterfall.
Little did we know 
it's a 4 mile hike through the rain forest to get there.
It was so worth it though and the walk was breathtaking.

Yeah, see the thunder thighs in the water
that me.

And now
The infamous home-stay
Included in the program I am volunteering through.
Every volunteer has the opportunity to serve in a Hill Tribe for a week. 
Every home-stay is different--
Sometimes people teach
or dig up rice patties
but for my home-stay
I was assigned the Hill Tribe that was so remote it took a 
6 hour all up hill hike through the depths of the rain forest just to get there.
When I say hike I mean climb.
The hills were almost vertical.
it was miserable but at least my bottom was quite toned afterwards.
 And for our job we were assigned to build/repair a house.
I use the term house very loosely, they resemble something closer to a hut.

I tried to record the entire progression of the building process
I was much too busy.
We had to tear down the old broken structure that was there before 
and start from scratch.
And there is a lot that goes into the construction process that you usually don't think about
especially when it's in the rain forest.
We had to manually find, chop and drag the wood and bamboo logs out of the surrounding forest
and they could range from being a couple yards to a couple of miles away
and there are lots of hills in the commute.
Now I get the term Hill Tribe

Over all 
I aided in the transport of about 100 bamboo and tree logs
Built one house/hut structure 
and built the structure above.
it's a food rack to help serve food the surplus of people there.

Speaking of people..
We were located right in the middle of the Lahu tribe
which is filled with adorable bouncing babies such as this little guy.
I may or may not want to adopt a Thai child one day.. just saying.
Holding him was who we assumed was his grandmother
and she seemed to be the head woman in the tribe.

Don't let the adorable smile deceive you!
This little girl is named Naught'ea
pronounced naughty
and boy did the name fit the girl.

You couldn't play or interact with her without receiving a couple
and punches
And that's when she isn't attempting to steal your belongings
but you still couldn't help but fall in love with the kid.
She'd flash you one of her cute innocent smiles and you were hers.

And wherever there were people there were twice the amount of animals.
This is my buddy cookie.
He loved me, and I loved him.
By the end of the home-stay I was plotting different ways to take him home with me
and he must have read my mind because he followed me home.
He walked right by my side all 6 hours.
I felt like we were Bonnie and Clyde.
We almost got away with it too-- 
until a villager passed by at the last second and took him home.

But the animals couldn't all be cute and cuddly.
I like to think of myself as an animal person
but after one night of sleeping above the pig and chicken pens
I was not so fond of them.
The pigs were the worst.
At all times of the day and night they would go into full on screaming fits
and if you've never heard a pig scream
avoid it.
For our last meal the villagers slaughtered a pig. 
I wasn't that heart-broken.
(sorry mom)

Besides the damage inflicted onto my abused body,
there was the damage to my beloved sandal.
In total my sandal has had about three minor breaks while being in Thailand,
but half way during home-stay my sandal finally broke beyond repair.
Besides my efforts to tie it together using string I found, 
my sandal would stay together for a total of 20 steps before having to readjust the string.
Worst part about it was that they were my only shoes I brought.
Imagine my fun trekking the 6 hours back home.

 If I learned anything from this experience
it would have to be the crafty ways that bamboo can be useful--
for example
On our last night as a form of celebration
some of the leaders journeyed to the nearest town and bought us all Coke.
Which normally I hate the stuff 
but after a week with a diet consisting of only rice, vegetables and questionable meats
Coke tasted heavenly.
Or maybe I was just amused that I was drinking it out of a makeshift bamboo cup--
Either way though I loved it,
and yes I know I look Heavenly as well in my goofy little hat.

Along with the coke and pork
the villagers treated us to some traditional dancing. 
The village chief played the flute and lead the dancing.
It was quite the event.
When I reflect on home-stay
 I generally share the same opinion as the rest of my fellow volunteers--
It was one of the hardest experiences of my life,
but it was also one of the coolest.
I learned so much
and I appreciate so much more.
So glad I had this experience.

Included in the program,
my fellow volunteers and I got a free
elephant ride.
Fun fact: you do it through the Karen tribe
they use elephants for everything and treat them as if they were their own children.

The ride itself was quite bumpy 
I definitely felt it in my abs afterwards
and I wouldn't suggest it for a stroll in the park.

But they were just such beautiful animals.

For a dollar I got to feed them bananas
and pet them as much as I wanted.
By the way they are very rough and have almost wisker consistency hair all over.
-not exactly snugg-able-

The picture quality may not be the best 
but here are just some of the friends I've made here so far.
They are pretty cool I guess :)