Loy Krathong and Prasat Pueai Noi

Loy Krathong:

Loy Krathong is a holiday celebrated on November 12th here in Thailand. You are probably asking yourselves why I am posting about this so late, and I have no good excuses. I don’t know why it has taken me three weeks to write about it. The holiday was explained to me as being an opportunity to ask Mother Nature for forgiveness for all of the bad things we do to her, primarily for all of the bad things we put into the water systems. Everyone makes krathongs (little rafts) out of slices of banana tree trunks, banana leaves, and flowers. Candles and incense are placed in the center along with some money and possibly some fingernail clippings if you so desire. As you release your krathong into the river (or lake if you don’t have a river) you are supposed to say a prayer for forgiveness and I think you get to make a wish, at least that’s what I was told.

The irony of the holiday seemed to be completely lost on almost every single participant. Loy Krathong is a big festival here and is much like a county fair. There are games, tons of food, and many many shops. The amount of trash that piled up by the end of the night was horrifying. Nobody seemed to notice that on the same night we ask for forgiveness for all of the bad things we do to the environment we were also destroying it. Not to mention the obvious fact that while we ask for forgiveness for polluting the water we are putting yet another piece of litter into the water.

My float was made out of a banana tree that one of the girls who taught me to make my krathong cut down from her neighbors yard. So not only were we littering in the lake, we were also killing and stealing trees. At least our krathongs were made out of biodegradable material though. Some people make their krathongs out of styrofoam, which makes me wince to think about. Of all things to ask for forgiveness with, they choose styrofoam?!? An environmentalists worst nightmare!

Other than that, Loy Krathong was very fun. I tried a corn and coconut waffle which was surprisingly good and had a great time making my krathong. Here are some pictures of the krathong building party we had. I kept asking myself what would Martha do if she were given some pins, banana leaves, and flowers…here are the results.

My krathong building teachers.
My krathong building teachers.
The Krathong I made. I used banana leaves, orchids, lotus flowers, roses, and some other white flower.
The Krathong I made. I used banana leaves, orchids, lotus flowers, roses, and some other white flower.
All of the krathongs we made. Mine is in the back to the right.
All of the krathongs we made. Mine is in the back to the right.

Prasat Pueai Noi:

A week ago I went on a field trip with two of my sixth grade classes to Prasat Pueai Noi, which is about an hour outside of the city. I was told that we were going to “a temple…kind of,” so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It turned out to be the ruins of an old castle which was the largest Khmer sanctuary in the Northeast of Thailand, at least according to the sign at the Prasat, it seemed a little small to be deemed the largest though. It was used as a Hindu temple, which is only obviously evident by the remaining carvings of Vishnu on some of the beams.

I’m not sure the description I would give of our field trip bus would really do it justice, so here is a little video of it. I was kind of excited at first because I thought I would get to ride in the back (in the cage) with the kids, but I am really glad I didn’t because on the way back to school two kids hurled everywhere. I was very thankful for being smushed in the front with the other two teachers and the driver after that.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqSRFd8Y-zo]
Prasat Pueai Noi
Prasat Pueai Noi
Some of my students.
Some of my students.

Prasat Pueai Noi 2

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The boys love to pose for pictures.

That’s it for today!

P.S. Regarding the political situation here, don’t worry! I am so far away from Bangkok it hasn’t changed my daily life at all. Thanks for all of your thoughts though, and Jet I will totally take you up on your offer if I start to feel like things are getting bad. Thank you so much!

Fun Facts 1 and 2:

FUN FACT 1:

The Thai translation of foreigner is farang, which also happens to be the same name for a guava. If you hear farang and you don’t see any guavas, then they are most definitely talking about you. I am referred to using this word so often that my new name has not just become Dee Dee, but also farang.

Thai is not the only language spoken here in Khon Kaen. Because we are so close to Laos, the majority of the population here can also speak a language called Isan, which is very close to the Lao language. In Isan, the word for guava is baksida and does not mean foreigner. If someone calls a foreigner baksida it is considered degrading because instead of calling them a farang they are purposely calling them a guava.

Don’t worry, I have not yet been called a guava in an offensive way.

FUN FACT 2:

Just like American dogs, Thai dogs are suffering from the stupidity of the dog clothes epidemic.

Poor Dog

Learning to Eat Alone

This was written five days ago, but I haven’t had the time to type it up and post it until now. Here ya go!

It’s 11:35am. I have been awake since 6:30 even though it is a Sunday because the roosters outside my building refuse to stay quiet. I have wasted as much time on the Internet and Skype as I possibly can and now I must venture outside the comfort of my apartment for some food. I have been trying to put this moment off for as long as possible. It may sound silly, but something as rudimentary as finding food to eat is scarier than an attempt at sky diving would be for me right now. At least with skydiving you know what you are getting yourself into. Ordering food here could result in weird animal parts, food so spicy you can’t even sniff it without choking, or a really delicious meal.

These past two weeks have spoiled me. The teachers I work with have been around for every meal I eat, so I haven’t had to order food on my own. Now it is the weekend though, and I finally have the much needed free time I have been longing for, but that free time has brought me to the realization that if it weren’t for my pointing and grunting skills I honed on Semester at Sea, I would be starving in Thailand, a country full of tasty food.

As I finally venture out of my apartment I pass my favorite food stand. The sweet smell of taro doughnut holes and fried bananas rolled in crushed spices fill my nostrils. I decide that maybe I can just live off these tasty fattening niblets until I can speak Thai better.

The doughnut man and I are buddies now, even though the only thing either of us understands is when I try to say banana in Thai and when he tells me how much I owe him, also in Thai. His treats make my day and he has a kind smile, so I have decided that we are great friends.

I buy one bag of doughnuts and pop one into my mouth. Instantly I feel a little more relaxed. I watch the paper bag slowly soak up the grease from the doughnuts and convince myself that I need to find a healthy meal to justify this indulgence.

Close by my beloved doughnut stand is a hole in the wall selling some sort of dish with duck. I know this only because I see two ducks hanging in the front. I have always loved duck, but in the States it is always out of my price range.

So duck it is. I stop and clumsily point at a bowl and hope they understand. They say a few things in Thai to which I just say yes to and hope for the best. I also throw in a “mai pet” (not spicy) for safety because it would be so disappointing if my duck were too spicy for me to consume.

So here I am now, eating non-spicy duck and rice in the shade. The weather is perfect, not too hot, and I have managed to feed myself successfully. My fear has subsided and I am extremely proud of myself. Dinner is in a few hours and I will have to go through the same experience all over again. Is it possible to get lucky twice in one day? Let’s hope so.

**I have successfully eaten on my own several times now and the fear is almost all gone. Although today I was chowing down on some chicken and realized that I was trying to eat a foot which kind of freaked me out.

***Last night was a festival called Loi Krathong. I will post about it soon.

A few photos

Everyone that traveled with me on Semester at Sea knows that I usually forget to take pictures and I also usually don’t like to. I am trying to work on this flaw since I don’t have anyone here that I can steal pictures from like I did on study abroad. That being said, here are a few photos from the past two weeks. The second picture is dedicated to Haley.

This was the family I stayed with during my first homestay on my second night here. Four people are missing from this picture. I woke up all nine of them on an 11pm emergency bathroom run. It was one of the most uncomfortable nights ever. The teacher in this photo is P'Jum. She teaches Pratom(AKA grade) 5 and 6.
This was the family I stayed with during my first homestay on my second night here. Four people are missing from this picture. I woke up all nine of them on an 11pm emergency bathroom run. It was one of the most uncomfortable nights ever. The teacher in this photo is P'Jum. She teaches Pratoms (AKA grades) 5 and 6.
The most awkward picture ever! This was the family I stayed with on my second homestay. They wanted to take a picture, but nobody wanted to stand close to me...
The most awkward picture ever! This was the family I stayed with on my second homestay. They wanted to take a picture, but nobody wanted to stand close to me...
Halloween in Thailand! Two ninjas, a lion, and a fortune teller on the way to the Halloween Party at Sunset Bar. Sunset Bar is outside the city and if you call they will come pick you up with their truck. The bar is like an artsy/woodsy version of the Sundowner for all you Boulder folks reading this.
Halloween in Thailand! Two ninjas, a lion, and a fortune teller on the way to the Halloween Party at Sunset Bar. Sunset Bar is outside the city and if you call they will come pick you up with their truck. The bar is like an artsy/woodsy version of the Sundowner for all you Boulder folks reading this.
Lunch was taking so long that P'Nok got behind the stand and started helping out. It never would have occurred to me to go pick up a knife and start chopping vegetables at a food stand to get my food faster.
Lunch was taking so long that P'Nok got behind the stand and started helping out. It never would have occurred to me to go pick up a knife and start chopping vegetables at a food stand to get my food faster.
English is fun. I swear.
English is fun. I swear.
The little boy holding the dog flashcard is one of the cutest! His name is Man. The teacher in this picture is P'Jit, I work with her on Tuesdays. She teaches Pratom 4.
The little boy holding the dog flashcard is one of the cutest! His name is Man. The teacher in this picture is P'Jit, I work with her on Tuesdays. She teaches Pratom 4.
Some of the boys from Pratom 4.
Some of the boys from Pratom 4.
The Thai dance teacher, P'Daang, and I. Everytime I see her I try to learn a few Thai dance moves. Her class is next to mine every Tuesday. Hopefully by the end of the semester I will have flexible Thai dance hands and I will have a few good dance moves!
The Thai dance teacher, P'Daang, and I. Everytime I see her I try to learn a few Thai dance moves. Her class is next to mine every Tuesday. Hopefully by the end of the semester I will have flexible Thai dance hands and I will have a few good dance moves!
Chan rat koon. This is what all of the girls from Pratom 4 tell me. It means I love you.
Chan rat koon. This is what all of the girls from Pratom 4 tell me. It means I love you.

My name is . . . ?

People here go by short nicknames instead of their full names. So, after I introduce myself as Danielle, I am promptly asked what my nickname is. The first time I was asked this I was stumped since almost everyone just calls me Danielle.

My first thought was Dani, the most popular nickname for a Danielle. But Dani is most definitely not my name, as most of you already know. I have been trained by all of my elementary school friends and my parents that my name is NOT Dani. There was a short period in middle school in which people tried to call me Dani. But when they called my house and asked to speak to Dani, my Dad would respond by saying “Dani doesn’t live here.” So Dani was out of the question.

My next thought was Ellie. I always liked that name and secretly hoped to go by it one day. I lived with an Elly last year though, so now when I hear that name I think of her and wouldn’t respond to that name either. Plus, L’s are a little hard for them to pronounce here.

My third idea was Dee. I have a handful of friends that call me that and I like it. So after a minute of pondering, I said my nickname was Dee. There was then a chorus of Dee Dees repeated back to me. I had become Dee Dee.

It sounded weird at first. I tried to explain that at home DD means a sober driver, hoping they would decide to drop the second Dee. They responded by telling me that Dee means good in Thai and that saying Dee Dee means very good. It still sounded a little awkward to me, so when I woke up the next morning I looked through my Thai-English dictionary to find some other words that I might like as a nickname. I could pick anything, but I didn’t find any that called out to me, so I decided to stick with the name “very good.”

I FINALLY started my blog!

Sa-wat-dee-ka! (Hello!)

 

I apologize for how long it has taken for me to start this blog. I have barely had any free time since I arrived here and I was waiting to find the perfect blog name before I set one up. As you can see, I finally came to a decision. The title of my blog comes from the Thai translation of the word excited, which is dtung ten. Dtung means wake up and ten means dance, so the translation of excited is literally wake up and dance, which I thought was pretty whimsical. Now that I have a blog title I will try to post to this blog at least once a week.

This entry will just be a little background information, but the future ones will be much more fun. I promise!

As all of you reading this probably know, I am currently living in Khon Kaen, Thailand. I arrived here on October 22nd and have a contract with the Khon Kaen Education Initiative (KKEI) for five months. During those five months I will be helping three Thai Teachers improve their English skills and develop lesson plans for teaching their English classes. In return, I will learn about Thai culture and language.

KKEI is a nonprofit started by a few NGOs and the very progressive mayor of the city. It focuses on alternative education and how we can change the Thai teaching system by helping a few teachers develop better teaching skills. In doing so, the teachers will become more empowered and it will hopefully have a domino effect with the rest of the faculty. The goal is to get to a point where the Thai teachers can teach English well and no longer need to rely on foreign teachers to teach English, thus creating a more sustainable system. So basically, if we do our jobs well, we will put ourselves out of business.

There are currently three schools and six Thai teachers (seven if you include the slightly baba bobo (crazy) teacher who nobody has told yet that she isn’t in the program) working with KKEI. There is only one other native English speaker in the program, and it turns out that she went to my high school! She was two years younger than me though, and I didn’t recognize her. Her name is Liz and she is taking a break from college right now. She will be working with the teachers that teach first through third graders and I will be working with the teachers who teach fourth through sixth graders.

The school system here stuns me. I’m not quite sure if students really learn much of anything. There is not much organization and a lot of inefficiency in the system. The concept of a lesson plan is actually unheard of! Sometimes you have one teacher subbing four classes at once, leaving very little time for them to focus on their own responsibilities as a teacher.

The Thai teachers who teach English in the schools can barely speak English themselves, which makes for a difficult work day. Even though communication is difficult at times, their spirits and willingness to learn and teach is inspirational. The schools are very chaotic, and students do not understand the concept of listening to their teacher. I have thought about suggesting more discipline, but the kids that are loud and disruptive are the ones with the worst homes. It seems like discipline would kill their spirits.

The next five months are going to be a challenge, but I’m sure that nothing but good things will come of this adventure. These past two weeks have been packed with so many new and confusing experiences, and I am sure there are many more to come.

Please write me emails about what is going on in your lives and feel free to leave comments on the blog! If you have any blog topic requests let me know and I’ll see what I can do!

That’s it for now! I will post again in a few days.

Danielle