Thursday, May 29, 2008
Our first stop was Doi Tung, which is the queen mother's summer house. She passed away in 1994, so the house is more of a museum now, and has beautiful gardens and an orchid breeding/ research lab. The flowers and plants and fountains were all spectacular. Because Thai culture is very reserved about clothing, when you entered the queen mother's home, you had to be wearing long pants and shirts with sleeves to the elbow. If you didn't arrive in that, you were given a shirt and pants to wear over your clothing! I'll have Scottie post some pics of my sweet outfit.
After Doi Tung, we spent the afternoon at a teacher friend of hostmom's, in a traditional Thai style house (which is mostly open, all hardwood, where sit on mats, eat on the floor around a short table)... delicious food, lots of fruit and fun things to try. We played puzzle games and relaxed on the patio/ deck outdoor area for a few hours. They took us to the campus of Mae Fa Luang University, which is very lovely, and all the instruction is in English. We visited the statue of the Queen Mother there, and also the Chinese Institute.
Sunday evening we met the rest of the host fam at the Night Bazaar downtown Chiang Rai for dinner, more Thai dancing, and a little shopping.
This blog must be cut short, because it is definitely gonna rain in the next few minutes and I have to try to beat it home!
You can ride an elephant two ways: you can sit on its head, which is actually quite comfortable and sturdy compared to the second way, riding on a bench which is perched on its back. It feels very precarious to be up so high, and you wobble with every step. We rode for about an hour, during which I tried both ways of riding, and we ended our ride by coming back through the river that we had just arrived on.
After lunch, we had a surprise endurance hike for two hours up a mountain through hill tribe villages to a waterfall. Granted, we knew it was a hike that would last two hours and that we should wear "comfortable walking shoes". For some cast members that choice was flipflops, which they regretted about a fourth of the way up the mountain. It was incredibly hot and very steep, and a great experience to push yourself to your limit. The reward was an impressive waterfall called Houykeaw, where we swam and slid on the rocks, before hiking back down the short way, to get rides back into town.
The day ended at a delicious restaurant in Chiang Rai, where there was a two-man acoustic band who played top 40 hits with a little Thai flair. We also had guest performers: the arts and culture group from the clay house, most of whom are from the Akra tribes in northern Thailand, performed traditional song and dance for us. It was a picture perfect regional learning day, and something that the whole group will not soon forget.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
As we were in the midst of our super-long travel day to
Before we could even wonder what to do, the airline found the phone number for the consulate and let us talk to them. We were then escorted around the airport by a delightful woman who not only helped us navigate the red tape, but also made sure that we had a map and all of the information that we needed to get as quickly as possible to the consulate. Getting into
Without wasting a moment, we raced back to the airport in hopes of getting on a new flight. Now, we fully expected to have to pay a change fee, but with a kind woman at the Cathay Pacific desk, she spoke with her manager and had the fees waived. She put us on the next flight that left in 45 minutes and wished us well. With no plans of what we were going to do once we arrived in
So here I write from the humid, tropical paradise of northern
Friday, May 23, 2008
On Sunday my family took me to visit the White Temple. It is modern Buddhist art in-progress... the nationally acclaimed artist has dedicated the rest of his life to building the nine building temple complex. He knows it won't be finished in his lifetime (he is 55) so he has trained disciples of his work, one group aged 16 and the other aged 24, to help complete it.
It is intricate mirror mosaic set into cement, in the curving, ornate shapes of the traditional Buddhist temple. There's also definitely some odd modern flair- the mural inside (which unfortunately I couldn't take photos of) includes Keanu Reeve's character from the Matrix, along with other memorabilia from the movie- the electronic bugs and cables of the matrix, all painted alongside Golden Buddhas, and three-headed snake dragons, etc. Wild.
We walked among the workers who were putting together future pieces of the temple, whose mosaic cement shop was set up under a large tent at the back of the grounds. The dream of the artist is for it to be a modern Buddhist masterpiece, his gift to his country. The white temple is treated like a temple inside, though there were way more tourists than monks visiting the day I was there. Fascinating, and a bit bizarre.
Our first Community Impact day in Chiang Rai! We are helping to build a clay house at the
This center houses a few of the girls, who travel to tribes to educate other young people. They also create art in workshops, and the traditional clay house that we are helping to build will be used as an art gallery.
Today we chopped down bamboo, split it into eighths lengthwise, and wove it to make a grid that will be the infrastructure of the clay walls. Then we helped to break up the dense chunks of clay mud, mixing it with water and grain to make it the correct consistency for building the walls.
Stomping in the mud, on a tropical May day. Does it get much better than this?
Maybe… we’re riding elephants and hiking to a waterfall tomorrow.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Imagine an enormous, durable rosebud, the size of my fist, with white petals. We peeled each petal back, folded it into itself once, and then into a point. We did this with all the outer layers until the center showed.
Each of us carried one flower, along with three sticks of incense and a lit candle. We gathered in front of one of the Buddhist temples in Chiang Rai, along with hundreds of our Thai neighbors. We listened to a loudspeaker of what was going on inside, which I was told was the head monk of the temple speaking, followed by the governor of Chiang Rai Province. Then they came out and led a procession around the temple. The older men monks led, followed by two rows of young boy monks, all dressed in the bright orange robes that wrap over one shoulder. Then the governor, his wife and party, and then the crowd of people. We all walked around the temple three times. There was a mix of chanting and singing, and people bowed towards every Buddha statue that we passed on our route.
The air was full of candlelight and a strong smell of incense. It was so surreal to be walking in this large crowd of Thai people, at Buddha's birthday party, and I couldn't help thinking, "how on earth did I get here?" Its one of my favorite things about these crazy cultural experiences... something I would never know to put on my life list, but was so glad I was here to live it.
We finished the walk by putting our still burning incense in large clay pots, pulled our candles out of their holders and melted wax to stick them standing up on the tables on either side of the temple entrance, and added our flowers to the large piles... our birthday presents for Buddha.
We went inside to pay our respects, and then went home to have some dragonfruit. It was a birthday party like no other I've been to!
So I've been in Thailand for a week now, and it is definitely the muggiest place I've spent an extended length of time. I came ahead of the cast to help the advance team ready the Community Impact projects... so I've spent the week in meetings, confirming times and details.
The cast finally arrives tonight, and today we've been making copies of memos, buying toilet paper and water, and now we're headed to the temple, where they will spend their first night in Thailand sleeping on mats just like the monks!
They are scheduled to get in around midnight, so we will have them meet their host families tomorrow.
I bike about 20 minutes every morning to our beautiful tropical office, where I sit on a steamy patio, and have to weigh all my papers down with mugs and water bottles, because where the Thai people lack in AC they make up for in fans.
My host family is wonderful- my actual host mom and her husband live across the street. She brought me home and across the road to the house where her mother and two sisters live, along with their two daughters. Five Thai women and me, and they are excited to host Scottie too, starting tomorrow.
They don't speak very much English, but we have fun communicating.
Their favorite game is to buy Thai fruit, and have me try it...
Mangosteens, Durian, Dragonfruit, and something that sounds like "naw". Some are delicious, and one - Durian, the king of fruit, was terrible-- mushy and rotten tasting... I gagged, which they thought was hilarious.
Chiang Rai is in the northern mountainous area, though around the city it is pretty flat, and very green. Lots of mosquitos, and gorgeous flowers. It rains almost every day, and the air feels like its going to any minute most of the time. My first gift from my host family, a long plastic raincoat that I can wear while biking... luckily I've timed my rides so I haven't had to break it out yet!
Sunday, May 18, 2008
New Braunfels also has a beautiful underground cave system that is open for tours. While I usually think of caves as cold and damp, this cave system was actually hot and very humid because it was originally enclosed and they chose to keep the same climate. The formations were amazing as you can see in the pictures below.
I had a truly fantastic time with my host family there and the week was full of incredible conversation and food. It was sad having to leave, but I know that I will be in contact with this wonderful family. To top things off, my roommate and I went to the local waterpark called Schlitterbahn! Really fantastic times were had here including a rollercoaster-waterslide. If you have not been on one, please close your computer right now and go find one because it is truly an experience that everyone should have.
Sunday, May 4, 2008
We have been on the underground wrestling circuit and meet in unlisted locations to hold our bouts. Recently we met in an abandoned cock-fighting arena and let loose the thunder of pure wrestling mayhem. You can imagine the pure joy of the crowd members as the luchadors showcased their magical moves. I hope to be able to share more details with you sometime in the future.
So, Juan Pablo, older brother age 25, and Memo (real name Guillermo) who was 15, were our main hosts for 6 of us. Juan Pablo's car was an ancient navy blue Volkswagon bug (as seen in the picture above...it looks a bit yellow, but is really blue), and he had to do two trips to be able to drive us anywhere! He ran around the first night borrowing mattresses from friends to have places for us all to sleep, and we ate dinner when pizza came around 11pm.
Needless to say, the week was an adventure, and was exhausting, but we had a good time.
The staff prepared cast appreciation for this city! We had a long staff meeting where we rehearsed and planned a fun mockery of our show, made appreciation signs, and plotted on how to pamper the cast on show day. Our show facility was an amphitheatre in a beautiful park, and we had no security for our equipment to set up the night before. The solution: we slept at the amphitheatre! We set up the stage in the evening, rehearsed our silly show, and then slept onstage and in the dressing rooms until the cast arrived the next morning. It was a lovely evening, and though the cement floor left something to be desired, it was a pleasure to do for this fabulous cast. And they were so surprised!
My favorite moments from the week:
An activity we call "World Values", where we give small groups index cards with 18 values they can choose to give the world. They need to prioritize them in order from the first thing, or most important thing, they would give, all the way to the least important. Things like: equality, wisdom, salvation, health, family security, pleasure, a world at peace, true friendship. Each group only got 20 minutes, and it was an intensive and enriching debate.
The city anniversary celebration in the main square: a perfect, warm spring evening with a symphony and fireworks... I was staying in the hotel with Yui, Wouter and Mitch, and we went and had dessert at our favorite Italian restaurant and watched the fireworks.
It didn't start off as fun, but I was proud to help (afterwards...): The last time UWP was at the university our lights damaged their gym floor, so this time they decided that we had to rig our lights to hang from the rafters. The lighting crew had to stay late to set up, but then the students needed to go home, so we hotel staffers got called in at 9:30pm to come help set up the back light truss. All I wanted to do that evening was watch a movie and go to bed, and instead I went to the facility to 1am to put up lights and learn dances for our cast appreciation! I had such a cranky attitude going in, but ended up feeling very satisfied with helping the tech team.
Hometeam Olympics planned by our awesome 2nd round interns! Silly team competitions that made a spectacle on campus, but was a really good time.
Puebla was fast and furious, and set us up well for...