Beach Bummer

When I first visited Pulau Perhentian Kecil two years ago, I found a beach where a large monitor lizard liked to hang out. I was told that a German man came every year for a few months and spent everyday on that beach and fed the lizard. I thought that was sweet until I encountered the man and his band of beach gypsies on my most recent trip there. Read more

The Miracle of Greenitude

I love uncovering activities in Thailand where there are very few farang (foreigners) making loud ridiculous comments while toting large Chang beers that match their Chang tank tops. The International Horticultural Exposition: Royal Flora Ratchaphruek was exactly one of those great finds that the masses (foreign tourists that is) hadn’t heard about. It was foreigner friendly with plenty of information in English, but the majority of the people wandering around were Thai. Just my scene.

I was super proud of Thailand while walking around the huge horticulture theme park. The first road from the entrance, and the suggested path, takes you through the gardens and exhibits of a wide variety of government related departments including the Department of Livestock Development, Rice Department, Ministry of National Resources and Environment, Land Development Department, etc. I thought this was genius because it led people to the most educational sections first; sections they may have chosen to skip otherwise.

Dave and I were particularly impressed by the exhibit from the Department of Groundwater Resources. Read more

The Gangseo-gu Neighborhood Pesticide Motorcycle (or truck)

I’ve been waiting to post about this until I got some photographic evidence and today I finally was in the right place at the right time with my camera thanks to Dave and his keen ear. We’ve seen a motorcycle drive around our streets a few times spraying a white cloud of mosquito killing pesticide in the air. Every time we’ve seen it we’ve been almost at our apartment and have had to bolt up the stairs to safety. We don’t know what the motorcycle is spraying, but we know it can’t be good. Sprays that kill anything generally aren’t great for you to be exposed to. Read more

A Walk in the Park

Seonyudo Park

I don’t seek out parks back home. Maybe that’s because we lived in Boulder and we had access to stunning mountains within walking distance. For what ever reason though, I’ve discovered and fallen in love with parks this spring.

Seonyudo Park
Even the trash cans look nice.

The first park we went to was Seonyudo Park, to see the cherry blossoms. Seonyudo Park is a small island in the middle of the Han River here in Seoul. The island was formerly home to a sewage treatment plant from 1978-1998 after which it was converted into a stunning park which incorporates the structures left behind from the treatment plant. It’s a peaceful place for a quiet picnic and a lovely walk. Every time I go there I am so inspired by what an amazing job they did turning a place that must have looked so industrial and devoid of nature into a calm and inviting atmosphere for people to escape the city. It’s a place that gives me hope; it’s possible to turn all of this concrete into something beautiful again. Read more

Leave It at the Trash Pole

At home we don’t think about our garbage disposal system very much, and we would probably be surprised if somebody was confused by it. Some garbage systems are more confusing than others. In Thailand, the trash system was very easy to figure out. You put your trash in one of the bins on your street and can litter as much as you want because every morning the old men on the block sweep the litter and leaves into small piles, and set them on fire. I didn’t like this system too much because I can’t stand the smell of burning plastic, but it was an easy disposal system to figure out.

Seoul is a different story. For the past two weeks I’ve really felt like I was going nuts. Buildings seem to have designated trash spots, ours is a pole to the right of our building. One of our fellow teachers explained that to us, so it was easy to figure out. She also explained that by law you are supposed to buy government issued regulation trash bags. There are two different types, white bags for trash and green bags for food waste. Recycling can be in any type of bag you like. Now, I understood this easily enough, but finding the regulation bags was impossible.

We determined that we could get away with not purchasing the white regulation trash bags because the school’s cleaning lady re-bags all of our trash into regulation bags. Nobody else at the school seems to use the green compost bags, but being the environmentalist Boulderite that I am, I got very excited over the idea of an easy compost system. I wanted the green food-waste bags, and I wanted them as soon as possible.

I looked in all of the possible places to buy them; not just once, but two, three, four times! I seriously could not find them. They weren’t in the kitchen sections of the grocery stores or in the cleaning sections. They just didn’t exist. When I checked the small corner store where she said she bought hers, I really felt like I was blind. The store has a small amount of goods to look through, unlike the massive grocery stores I’d been looking in. If I couldn’t find them in there, then they must not exist. I tried playing charades with the guy working in the shop and he understood that I wanted a bag, but he pointed at a reusable cloth bag, and then we both gave up.

Last week I was telling a different coworker my problem and she said I would find them at the checkout counters in the grocery stores. So the other day I spent a good chunk of time inspecting every single checkout counter in the grocery store. I was determined to find these mysterious trash bags and in the process I’m sure I looked completely deranged. How could such a simple task be so difficult?! I finally gave up, bought my groceries, and left, defeated.

Having one ounce of hope left, I popped into the corner store by our apartment. Outside there was a trash can with a blue trash liner. I brought the woman working in the store out to see it, and she looked at me like, “Yeah, so what?” I knew it was time to whip out my awesome charades skills and give this trash bag search one last effort.

There were potatoes next to the garbage bin, so I pretended to peel the potatoes into the bin. Her expression didn’t change. She showed me the blue plastic shopping bags hanging from the door and held up one, two, then three fingers. How many do you want? My expression was pained. I looked to my left and there was a green bag and pointed between the vegetables, the blue trashcan liner and the green bag. She was still confused, and quite rightly. Then I got an idea.

I was told they would be at the register, so I held up one finger, the universal sign for one moment, and walked over to the register area. I scoured the shelves for bags. There was still nothing there, just like the last time I looked, but I was hoping that she would put two-and-two together. This crazy girl is looking for green plastic food-waste bags, and now she is looking around the register. It clicked, and she turned to a small cubby behind her and brought out a folded pack of green plastic bags. YES! She got it! We were both so proud of ourselves. I never ever in a million years would have noticed that cubby or even seen the folded bags sitting inside it. It just goes to show that charades is not just a fun game to play at parties; it gives you tools for the rest of your life!

Finally, the elusive green food-waste bags are in our kitchen!

We’ve been using the bags for about a week now and I couldn’t be more pleased with our waste system. I have bags for paper recycling, other recycling, trash, and compost. It’s amazing how much food waste you produce every week. I have been keeping our bag in the freezer so our filthy cockroach roommates don’t have easy access to food and so our apartment doesn’t start to smell. I am very happy to live in a city that makes it easy to compost even when you don’t have access to a yard to set up a compost bin. I love Seoul!

Koh Tao Underwater Festival 2010

A couple weeks ago we had the annual Underwater Festival on Koh Tao to raise money for Save Koh Tao and to increase awareness of the issues facing the island. Here are a few pictures from the festival.

Caroline painting signs to inform girls to cover up when they leave the beach and to keep their tops on while they are on the beach. The Thai kids can't go swimming at their own beaches because there are too many topless women. We also made a No Speedos sign because foreigners and Thai people both are uncomfortable with the speedo especially when it is encountered off the beach in a restaurant or a shop.
My volunteers and I made this poster out of cigarette butts found in less than an hour on the beach. Smoking litter has become a huge pet peeve of mine.
Another cigarette butt litter poster we made.
A manta ray swimming through the trees. All of the giant decorations around the festival were made from paper and bamboo. The Thai and Burmese are incredibly creative.
The giant manta ray and turtle lit up at night.
The giant turtle made from bamboo and paper that I helped paint.
This is the making of a giant fish that went above the festival stage and sprayed water out of it's mouth onto the crowd.
Bamboo and paper boats floating amongst the trees and jelly fish swimming in the sky.
The jelly fish were made from straws, cratepaper, and the plastic food covers that you use to keep the flies off food. I was a little disappointed with the use of so many straws because it's not super eco-friendly, but it is very creative and cool looking.
The bar which was made from bamboo and white fabric.
These fish lined the bamboo and dried grass tunnel leading in and out of the festival. The fish are made from plastic water bottles.
Shrimp! Another giant sea creaure.
Caroline and the finished say no to speedo's sign.
My friend Lyn and me in the shopping area.
A giant sea horse.
There was a Mr and Miss Koh Tao competition. The competitors had to make outfits using recycled materials. This guy made a warrior out of beer boxes. I thought he should have won.
The only ladyboy in the entire competition. Her dress was entirely made out of paper. It was pretty incredible.
A man with swim trunks, a snorkel, and mask made from cardboard and a girl with a dress made from water bottle labels and waterbottles under the skirt to make it stick out.
Another warrior. His outfit was made from cardboard and bottle caps. He won one of the titles.
This guy also won one of the titles.
The competitors on stage. The girl in yellow was wearing an outfit made from organic corn husks. It was beautiful, as was she, so she won two of the titles.
The competitors on stage.
Cute little sea turtles!!!! These guys were released into the sea at the festival.

The Future of Koh Tao

It’s 5:50 on a Wednesday morning and I have been awoken by a “Dance for Peace” party up the road. As I laid in bed staring into the darkness, I began contemplating why I travel. I travel for adventure, excitement, food, new cultures, and to see beautiful or interesting places. I typically don’t stay too long in tourist destinations or hang out with groups of other foreigners. Meeting other foreigners along the way is definitely part of the experience, but I don’t want to see foreigners all the time. I want to see how the country I’m in really operates and moves, not the way the locals cater towards our different and sometimes absurd needs. I guess you could say I’m a bit of a travel purist. I’m sure none of this surprises any of you who know me though.

I’m not sure how this cacophony of idiotic European techno beats, loads of alcohol, and foreigners up the hill is supposed to help promote or further peace of any kind, but I’m pretty sure none of the proceeds go to a charity. I thought it would have been more of a hippie party by the title, but I should have known better. Where there are Europeans vacationing there will always be obnoxious techno music. Not that I have anything against Europeans of course, I just don’t agree with the techno “music” they find so amusing. The so called music barely changes for hours, it just fades, pauses, or kickbacks into a faster or slightly slower beat. That’s the music. I really don’t get it.

Since the music is this crap instead of reggae or something a little more peaceful, I’m thinking the only reason the party theme is peace is because they are either doing a lot of drugs up there or it was a way for people to justify attending a rave while in tropical paradise. It’s probably a combination of both.

All this venting is leading to a point, I promise. When I am traveling abroad I don’t get plastered. Part of it is because I’m a five foot tall girl and I would prefer having all of my faculties working so I don’t get taken advantage of. The other reason is because people usually lose money, passports, valuables, etc. when they are being stupid. And I think we all know that people are not exactly smart when they are drunk. So I prefer to stay sober when I am traveling around the world.

The other reason I have for not going out and getting hammered all the time or even just a few times, is because that’s not why I travel. I don’t travel to a faraway land because I want to party with a bunch of other foreigners. I really don’t want to spend money on events like the one going on up the road because money talks. If Thai people think that we would rather spend money on a party than going for a hike or snorkeling then they will build lots of bars and have zero incentive to keep forests or coral around the island healthy.

It’s really sad. I am sitting here listening to the crickets, song birds, and roosters competing with the music up the road and it seems like a frightening sign as to what the future has in store for this island. We all know who wins in the end. At this point I’m sure you’re thinking I’m a pessimist. But I wouldn’t be here trying to help with land conservation if I weren’t an optimist as well.

I’m just a realist. I know the fate of Koh Tao is set already. The only thing I can do is help slow down the destruction and try to protect as much of the island as possible. Koh Tao is on its way to becoming another hellish Koh Samui and although people like me will stop coming, there will still be thousands of morons who just want to party and get a tan while recovering from their hangover who would be happy to take my place. These people are not travelers. These people treat Thailand like their own personal Disneyland which is why so many people say Thailand is already ruined. I know that you the reader can’t do too much about this while you are sitting in your home reading this, this is just my strongly worded letter to the universe. Thanks for listening!

Thailand: Round 2

I’m back in Thailand again; only this time I don’t have an excruciatingly boring job in an equally as boring city. I’m doing Thailand right this time. Beaches, stunning views, and getting paid to help protect it all. Does it get much better than that?

Tourism in Thailand is an interesting animal. Anyone who has recently visited this wonderful country hopefully noticed that while an increase in tourism increases local incomes and makes the life of a traveler a bit easier since the road is already paved for you, it also comes at a cost.

While living in Khon Kaen last year, I got to live in a part of Thailand that has remained fairly untouched by tourism and learned an incredible amount about Thai culture. Unfortunately, most of my favorite things about Thai culture disappear upon arriving in popular tourist destinations. In Khon Kaen I never met an angry Thai person, but where there are tourists there is money to be made, which inevitably brings greed. We all know that money can’t buy happiness and greed seems to breed anger and resentment in some Thai folks, which goes against the general joyful Thai attitude that I love so much.

Another example of the deterioration of Thai culture in touristy places can be seen in the food. Thai food is truly exquisite. I have yet to meet someone who can disagree with that statement. When it comes to food, Thailand knows what it’s doing. Yet in tourist destinations they alter their cuisine to what they think the farang (foreigner) wants, which is not nearly as yummy and really disappointing for the hungry farang.

I could continue complaining about the changes tourism creates in Thai culture, but that is not what brought me to Thailand. This time I will be working with an organization called Save Koh Tao. I am the project coordinator for the land conservation projects that the organization arranges to help prevent and reverse the environmental degradation on the island of Koh Tao that has come with the ever-growing number of tourists.

Cultural deterioration in popular tourist locations is sad, but in this day and age it can be argued that we all are suffering from that and eventually globalization will cause some kind of global homogenization of cultures. I’m not sure what can be done about this. I studied how to help the trees, birds, fish, etc. and in my opinion, those creatures which cannot help themselves need our help more right now. If we don’t protect our environment, then cultural homogenization doesn’t matter because we won’t have a very enjoyable planet to live on in the first place.

This blog entry is getting a little more philosophical than I expected. Where I originally intended on taking this topic was to the grand possibilities that come with my new job. If the permanent residents and visitors of Koh Tao don’t start treating the island with more respect then it won’t remain a beautiful island for much longer.

Many people come here just to scuba dive, snorkel, and enjoy the beaches. If these are destroyed or polluted not only will the world lose a wonderful example of nature at her best, but also the tourists will stop coming and Thai people will lose quite a bit of money.

This is probably obvious to most of you, but you would be incredibly surprised by how many tourists and business owners don’t seem to care. I have a massive task ahead of me and I’m very excited to finally put my degree to good use. I have the opportunity to do some really great things for this island and I can’t wait to see where it leads me. There is a lot to be done here which is a great distraction from the fact that I miss my wonderful family, boyfriend and friends, all of which are constantly in my thoughts. Pictures of my new home will be coming soon. Stay tuned!