Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Farang Farewell

Nong Khiaw, Laos

After spending almost 11 months in Southeast Asia, I've finally returned home to the States.  It has been over a month now since I've been back and still, I find myself trying to make sense of the experience that I had while abroad. How has this past school year changed me? Will I be back, living in Thailand again someday? Now what do I do with my life?

Mulling over these questions since being home and packing in experiences my last few months in Asia, it has been a while since I've updated my blog. It is daunting trying to summarize such a significant amount of time but there are parts of my story I can't leave out. And so, I would like to share a few highlights from the end of my abroad experience.

Shortly after my family visited me in Chiang Mai, I celebrated my 3rd New Years of the year 2015. Songkran festival marks the Thai New Year's day, which is based on the Buddhist solar calendar. Songkran lasts 3 days, April 13 - 15 and is marked by a nationwide water fight.
I was in Bangkok for the first day of the festival. Foreigners and local Thai alike literally flood the streets as water flies through the air and soaks everyone in sight. It was such a blast moving through the crowd and targeting people of all ages and nationalities. Almost everyone was in on the fun.
the "weapon" doesn't much matter.. but it's all about the ICE water!
To my surprise and excitement, the festival in Chiang Mai exceeded the expectations I had from celebrating in Bangkok. It was even more fun! The main water fight takes place around the city's moat, which goes in a square around the old part of town. As you make your way around the moat, there is more room to run around while you "len naam" or "play water". Trucks pack their trunks with friends and heaps of water and splash you as they pass by as well. I was so happy to participate in all three days of Songkran, this was easily my favorite holiday!

sunrise at main temple, Angkor Wat

Visiting Siem Reap, Cambodia at the end of the month of April was unforgettable. Angkor Wat, which translates as "Temple City" in Khmer, is the largest religious monument in the world. Tourists from all over the world gather in Siem Reap to see the incredible ruins, which are surrounded by an incredible ancient forest. The whole site was much larger than I had ever imagined and even though we spent about 4 hours going from temple to temple by tuk-tuk, we still only skimmed the surface of all there is to see.
Mr. Yin Yeng
 One of the best parts of this trip was meeting Mr. Yin Yeng, who was our tuk-tuk driver for a couple of days. A family friend insisted that we track him down when we arrive to Siem Reap and I had imagined a wise old man with a long gray beard so I was surprised to meet someone my own age. Yin was also 22 and was such a kind, peaceful soul. Life in Cambodia is hard. The days are incredibly dry and hot and the country has experienced so much hardship and is so poor. Hearing about the lives of people here, I was so struck by the bounds of privilege my life has seen simply because I was born into an American body. Yin has had to face such adversity in his life as a Cambodian. Still, even given the circumstances of their lives, people like Yin find beauty everywhere and are living examples of how to live generously and open-hearted.
the water in this reservoir is just as hot as the air!
Yin took us to the reservoir pictured above. Being the only foreigners there, it felt like a very Cambodian experience - which was a nice change of pace from touristy Siem Reap. Rows of hammocks were set up on posts stuck into the ground and families sprawled out, enjoying music and laughter and food. Children splashed and played in the water and I had fun joining them. We were so eager to get into the water and out of the heat, but really it was no cooler than the air!

The final few weeks in Chiang Mai flew by, as we all knew they would. Never have I felt so attached to a group of people - it was so hard to say goodbye. Aside from all the time spent begrudgingly finishing schoolwork and studying for our finals, we filled our last days going back to our favorite spots, soaking up the time we had left together and preparing for our next journey. 
end of the year party for Thai language class

favorite spot in Chiang Mai, The Quarry or "Grand Canyon"
Also packed into the last days of our semester was a bit of recording with my good friend Jaerett, who filmed and edited my second Thai rap video of the year! Making this video was one of the most rewarding parts of my year, and I am so pleased to share it.


one of my favorite professors, Ajarn Keat!

Studying abroad in Chiang Mai for the school year was one of the best decisions I have made for myself. It is difficult to convey how much this experience has meant to me. Traveling in Asia put a lot into perspective - how fortunate I am, how huge and diverse this planet is, and how many different ways there are to interpret reality and to live. A year ago, I was getting ready to move to Thailand and felt pretty anxious about the prospect of spending a whole school year in an unfamiliar land. Now looking back in reflection, I am infinitely grateful I didn't let that fear stop me. Rising to the challenges that living and traveling abroad presented were largely what made the experience so rewarding. Beyond that, I feel I have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the world and life than I did previously. Though my return to the U.S. has been peppered with bouts of reverse culture shock and questions of what is to come, I am proud to be back and have accomplished what I set out to do. I know now that the challenge is well worth the reward and we are all capable of much more than we may think. I have such a love for Thailand, especially Chiang Mai, and hope to be back someday soon.

Khob khun mak khaaaaaaa (thank you so much) - Suwana

Just a few pictures from my travels in Laos and Vietnam after my semester:

kuang xi waterfall - Luang Prabang, Laos

note piggies nursing in background!

beautiful girls in Hmong hill tribe, northern Laos
Sapa, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam
rice terraces in Sapa

sand dunes in Mui Ne, Vietnam

Chok dii na khaaaa :) good luck

Friday, April 3, 2015

April Showers

Baan King Kaew Orphange

A couple weeks ago, as I mentioned in a previous post, the smog of the city was smothering.  As the hazy conditions were approaching an overwhelming climax, however, the planet responded with exactly what the land had been praying for: rain.  For 3 days in a row, we were blessed with the tears of the clouds as they wept for the beauty the smoke had been hiding for itself. 

My twin brother arrived in Chiang Mai the day after that cathartic storms. My Grandma Barbie, momma, and little brother arrived the following day. To their immense fortune, the timing of their trip gifted them with the best weather we have had in months.  So far we have explored the city a bit, visited a sticky waterfall and impressive Buddhist cave alter, and played with elephants.  Tomorrow we are going to Tiger Kingdom and I am super eager to pet some large cats! Then, on Sunday we will enjoy a morning roaming my territory and having a farewell Easter brunch.  It has been so amazing having my family here! I am lucky to be able to share this with the kin.

As my spring semester in Chiang Mai is coming to a close, I am struck with the sobering realization that my time in Thailand will indeed end.  I have been so blessed to spend this time in an amazing city with such cool and kind people and experiences.  Academically, this has been the easiest year of my life but I have learned so much more than ever before.  As I have 5 undoubtably busy weeks ahead before I depart Thailand, I thought I would give a picture summary of the first few months of the year. Most of these pictures were taken with my film camera that my gracious friend Charley gave to me. These photos represent December 2014 - February 2015. I will have more photos to share soon as my last roll of film is being developed now!

After my semester ends, I embark on my first extended backpacking adventure.  I will begin my journey May 9, traveling north to Chiang Rai, Thailand, where I will then get on a slow boat and head to Luang Prabang, Laos. The cruise will take us through the Mekong River over a period of two days. I will spend a week or two in Laos before I head to Hanoi, Vietnam over land.  From there I will have until July 3 to return to Chiang Mai for my flight back to New Jersey.  I plan to travel from Hanoi to Saigon taking however long and perhaps spending a bit more time in the south of Thailand and Chiang Mai before I return to the States just in time for America's birthday!

Thank you for taking the time to read and scroll through the pictures!

friendly forest near my abode

sjah wat dee cow

Skrillex bird gives blessings 4 journey ahead

my friend Alex visited!

view from the crib

sunset in Nepal

$1 room, 1st night on trail

Patrick Star
More from Nepal:

scuba certified in Ko Tao with bffz Adi & Jesse
Koh Phangang

Grand Canyon, Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai sunset

hate 2 leave LOL

Have a good day!

Dee kha


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Summer 2558

Kha! Hello again from Chiang Mai! Many things have elapsed since the last time I updated my blog, which always dissuades me from taking the time to update it. Instead of putting it off any further, however, I offer a brief summary of what I am up to:

These past couple of months have continued to be oodles of fun, but things in Chiang Mai have definitely shifted.  After a winter of beautifully cool and sunny weather, Thailand's summer has quickly crept in.  During this time of year in Thailand, farmers burn large amounts of vegetation to clear fields and get rid of waste.  This creates a layer of smog that encases the city, both hugging in the heat and blocking the city from the sun.  After the smogs first debut, I was lucky enough to take a 5 day vacation from the smoke and enjoy the clear air in Ko Tao.  Ko Tao is a small island in the Gulf of Thailand and I had visited once before during my winter break and received my Open Water Dive Certification.  The four days I was there before weren't nearly enough and my appetite for the chilled island vibes, clear waves and vibrant sea life was not quite satisfied. 

And so, at the beginning of the month I was able to return to the fun island. The first day my friend Chloe and I arrived, I heard talk of a whale shark sighting the day before. I got excited since I would be diving at some point but the locals I spoke with assured me that people dive in Ko Tao hundreds of times without seeing a whale shark. Despite their reservations, the next morning when I took a dive into ocean blue, I opened my eyes to see a whale shark straight ahead in the center of the blue abyss.  I was floored to see the creature just below the surface but without any context I didn't appreciate how huge he was initially.  After that first dive, we decided to stay since the whale shark was in our vicinity.  We took a forty minute break to let our lungs decompress and our dive leaders radioed around to let others know what we had seen. The second dive we had to descend further before we saw him again.  This time, however, we were able to stick with him for a good amount of the dive.  At certain points, because other groups got the message and joined, around 20 of us were following him at once.  Seeing our whale shark up next to a large male in my group let me know that he was at least 9 feet long and significantly wider than a human.  There came a point in the whale shark's winding path where he was surrounded by people and unable to get out of the way.  In response, he used his nose to push a man out of the way and wiggle up toward the surface with his smaller fish companions swimming alongside the whole way.  I am still hoping to get some of the GoPro pictures some of the people I dove with have, but as of now all I have is a googled image to show what I saw:

My trip to Ko Tao was also highlighted with a day spent swimming and climbing rocks near a more secluded beach, climbing and jumping off a large boulder a deadly swim away, and meeting some people from Humboldt, California for the first time in my travels! I also got to visit the man who sculpted my nose flute and buy a couple more from him for friends and family:

Since Ko Tao, I went on a 3 day trek and rafting trip with other students in my program which was incredibly fun. We got to hike through the forest, eat delicious food, wash and feed elephants, play takraw (juggling small woven ball with your feet), and navigate hand crafted bamboo rafts. It was easily one of my favorite weekends.

Also speckled within the past few months, my Hill Tribes class has gone on field trips where we stay with hill tribe peoples in northern Thailand.  We stayed in Mae Sa Mai, which is a Hmong village in the heart of the jungle.  At night they showed us their talents with traditional instruments and performances and we got a chance to show them our talents. I first was able to boast an interpretive nose flute song and dance and then got to rap one of my raps to my friend Jonathan's impressive beatboxing.  

All of the Hill Tribe peoples have been very fun.  The next village we visited was celebrating their solar calendar new years and I had a ridiculous but incredible experience dancing, eating, and drinking with the Lisu people.  I also chewed betel nut chewing tobacco with the elder women in the village.  Betel nuts have been chewed in places like Thailand for thousands of years.  In the past, Thai women would have black teeth and red lips because of the habit and that was considered beautiful until Western standards leaked into public consciousness. Below is a picture of my friend Brice and I after chewing the betel nuts (which didn't taste bad and gave me a strange head rush):

Last weekend we got to go to the Golden Triangle where the borders of Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos intersect.  The Golden Triangle is famous for being a major opium hub in the past and we were able to visit the Hall of Opium, which turned out to be an awesome museum.  We stayed in the Akha Village and I had a blast playing with two 11 year olds who I could speak Thai and laugh with.  It was interesting to see how their village's culture is changing.  While most of the adults speak only Akha, the children speak Akha and Thai and study English and Korean.  After a quick breakfast Sunday morning we left the village and spent the day visiting two contrasting temples in Chiang Rai, the Black Temple and the White Temple. They were both unlike anything I have been to and I was especially blown away by the artist of the White Temple. Here is some of his work:

My twin brother Dakota arrives in Chiang Mai in two days and my mom, grandma, and little brother Kamden will be here the following day! I am so eager to see my family and see what adventures await as life continues to accelerate and change directions.

Thank you for your time!