Thai Cell Phone Etiquette

Two and a half years ago, while I was traveling on Semester at Sea, I was surprised when cell phones would appear in locations like the forest of Vietnam or a small village in India. It was a little bit of a surprise to me that the cell phone revolution had really spread everywhere and was changing communication worldwide, not just in developed countries. I didn’t dwell on the thought too much though. A cell phone would ring, I would think “that’s odd, who here has a phone?” and then move onto my next thought.

Now that I’m living in Thailand though, I’ve been thinking a lot more about this thought. Every single person I have met in this country has had a cell phone. All of my students who come from poor and middle class families have cell phones, all of which are far more advanced than the hand me down cell phone I use. Cell phones are everywhere and there is a different kind of cell phone etiquette, or perhaps a lack of one, that accompanies the devices.

No matter who you are having a conversation with and no matter how important the topic at hand may be, a Thai person will still answer their phone should it ring. Occasionally they will apologize first before picking it up and sometimes they will talk in an almost inaudible voice on the phone to make up for the interruption, but this isn’t always the case. I was offended by this behavior in the beginning. In the states if someone answered their phone while I was mid-sentence I would be put off and think that they were rude. It’s a way of showing me that I’m not significant enough to deserve your full attention. Apparently this behavior is not considered rude here though; it actually hasn’t occurred to most people that this might be impolite.

I was a little shocked to notice this as I was learning about Thai customs and how important respectful actions are in Thai culture. Toddlers learn to wai (bow head with hands in prayer) to elders at a very early age and a student that can be a brat in class will still be extremely respectful by waiing or helping me outside of class, for example. I found myself wondering why a culture that values respectful behavior so much would allow such impolite cell phone behaviors to continue?

During one of our first work meetings, the idea that teachers in our organization will not answer their phones in class was introduced. I was startled to find that this was even an issue. Why would a teacher answer their cell phone mid-sentence during a class in front of their students? What kind of example does that set?

The excuses started to pour out. What if the director calls us? What if our husband calls? What if my family is hurt? Waiting a half hour for the class to finish before calling a person back didn’t seem like an option to them, or at least it was an option that could only result in bad endings.

Family is so important here that the idea of ignoring a call from a spouse or sibling or parent is preposterous. The way I see it though, cell phones are using one pillar of Thai society, family, to chip away at another pillar, respectful behavior. Cell phones cause people who care about their family to become disrespectful towards whoever might be in conversation with them. But then again, nobody seems to find this disrespectful or annoying other than foreigners, so I guess if Thai society is okay with it then I should be too.

Now I only get annoyed when someone answers their cell while talking to me. I will not give up on the idea that teachers should not answer their phones in class though, that will always be unacceptable to me.

11 Days, 57 Hours Traveling… 100% Worth It

As I mentioned in my last post, I took a New Year’s vacation down south to see some friends. Hanging out with Bobby, Will, and Petra was exactly what I needed. It was  great to see a different part of Thailand,  and visiting Phuket and Koh Samui made me appreciate the Northeast much much more.

My vacation started with a six hour bus ride from Khon Kaen to Bangkok. I was expecting an uncomfortable bus ride, but much to my surprise it was the nicest bus I’ve ever taken. I should have figured this though, because every time I have expectations, Thailand shows me the exact opposite of whatever it was I was imagining.

The bus pulled out from the station at exactly noon and arrived at almost exactly 6:00PM, which was quite amazing since nothing ever happens on time here. A cute Thai girl adorned in a silver Thai silk suit served fruit juice, water, a snack, a hot lunch and some milk over the course of the journey. The chairs reclined and gave massages if so desired. I was in heaven! The cherry on top was the Thai variety show and movie that they played on the TV. Thai entertainment is as corny as Telemundo, only much worse, which means it is so much fun to watch.

My friend Dow (her name means stars), her boyfriend, and his father picked me up at the bus station in Bangkok. We went straight to a massive market where we searched the stands for the ingredients for our seafood dinner. We bought large prawns, crabs, fish, an octopus, vegetables, and desert. Unfortunately, I left my camera in the car so I don’t have any pictures of the market, but I’m sure it’s not the last time I’ll be visiting it so I’ll take some pictures next time.

Dow prepping the prawns.
Dow prepping the prawns.
Dow's boyfriend grilling the fish, shrimp, and crabs.
Dow's boyfriend grilling the fish, shrimp, and crabs.

They cooked one of the most wonderful meals I’ve had in Thailand so far. There was a hot and spicy prawn soup, shrimp with snow peas, grilled crab and octopus, fish, and rice. I couldn’t have asked for a better meal. The next morning we had the leftovers for breakfast along with an octopus stir fry and some crab stir fried with garlic and morning glory.

The breakfast best breakfast I've had in Thailand so far.
The best breakfast I've had in Thailand so far.

After breakfast we walked around the garden looking at the cockatoo, the peacocks, and the Thai speaking parrot. I was confused when Dow said that we would take a tour of the house, which I’d thought I had already done. It turns out the house is on a fruit farm! I had no idea since we had arrived in the dark the night before. We took motorbikes around the farm where they had jack fruit, banana, coconut, and dragon fruit trees. I sampled a little of everything and was so full by the time they dropped me off to catch my next bus.

Thom cutting open a coconut.
Thom cutting open a coconut.
Dragon fruit trees.
Dragon fruit trees.

After waiting an hour for my bus to Phuket I finally sat down in my seat at around 7PM. I was stuck with a seat in the very back of the bus where none of the seats recline, and appeared to be the seats reserved for the people who were traveling alone since most people were traveling in pairs. It was an uncomfortable bus ride and I awoke at one point to find my blanket and purse soaked. It was raining outside and the roof above me was leaking. As if not being able to recline my chair wasn’t uncomfortable enough, now I was wet as well.

There was about a foot or so of water covering the entire highway so the bus drove slower than it usually does and as a result we arrived in Surat Thani around 7am when we should have arrived around 5. They dropped us off and we waited for an hour or two which is when we were shuttled into a van which took us to another shop where we waited for another two hours. When my bus to Phuket finally arrived I had to walk through quite a bit of water and despite my attempts to stay dry, my pants ended up getting completely soaked. I spent the next five hours sitting on the bus in wet pants.

I arrived in Phuket around 4PM after having spent 21 hours traveling. I was so excited to see Bobby and Will though, that I didn’t really care about the bus experience, in fact, it sounds much worse than it felt. That night we went to Ko Panyi, a Muslim fishing village, and spent the next day hiking in Phang Nga. My last day in Phuket we went to Karon beach, which was my only beach day of the entire trip. I had so much fun with Bobby and Will who make me laugh so much. I kept thinking how wonderful it would be if Rachel, Logan, Arin, and Des could have been there though! Next time maybe?

The view from our room on Ko Panyi. The entire village is built on stilts around one big rock in the ocean.
The view from our room on Ko Panyi. The entire village is built on stilts around one big rock in the ocean.
Sa Nang Manora Forest in Phang Nga
Sa Nang Manora Forest in Phang Nga
NO DURIAN IN THE ELEVATOR!!
NO DURIAN IN THE ELEVATOR!!

On the 30th I took an eight hour bus/ferry trip to Koh Samui to see Petra. Petra is working as a butler at an absolutely stunning resort called Six Senses (http://www.sixsenses.com/Six-Senses-Hideaway-Samui/). I highly recommend it if you are looking for a lush beautiful resort to stay at. Although I’m not sure I would recommend Koh Samui itself as a destination. It is swarming with tourists and despite some very beautiful views, the amount of development on the island took away all of the magic for me. If you are looking for Thai culture you will only find a watered down version here.

I didn’t really come for the island though, I went to see Petra. I arrived in Thailand one week before her and we call each other constantly to share both good and bad experiences. We have very different jobs and live in very different parts of Thailand, but we both have shared similar emotions and challenges throughout our experiences here.

I spent New Years Eve at some bars on the beach in Chewang. Fireworks and good luck lanterns were released into the sky everywhere. The island was teeming with drunk tourists and unfortunately some Thai people use this as an opportunity to bring out pet monkeys and even eagles for drunk tourists to take pictures with. I felt so bad for the poor animals who are brought to the loudest part of the island, where even I can barely handle to be, and are forced to take pictures with stupid tourists. It broke my heart.

My trip to Samui was cursed with rain, so I didn’t manage to get to the beach. We still found plenty of fun activities to do though. We went to the movies, for a hike, and we popped into a Zen art gallery where we met the a fantastic artist. She was a true artist at heart and wanted nothing to do with money. Her sister took care of the business end of things and she insisted that Petra and I each take a painting that spoke to us even though neither of us had enough money. I chose one with a teal mandala and some black bamboo painted on it.

The waterfall at the end of our hike.
The waterfall at the end of our hike.
Petra at work!
Petra at work!
One of those fat jiggling weight loss machines from the '50s. There were two at this little gym in the middle of no where off a random little dirt road.
One of those fat jiggling weight loss machines from the '50s. There were two at this little gym in the middle of no where off a random little dirt road.

On the third I started to make my way back to Khon Kaen. Which started out easy enough but took a turn for the worst when I was left stranded somewhere in Surat Thani due to reasons that are still unknown. I may have been sold a ticket for a bus that didn’t exist…we will never know for sure though. After an hour of driving around with an off duty cop who wanted to help me, I finally caught up with a group going to Bangkok and did not have to buy another bus ticket. I finally got lucky, and was seated in a seat that reclined really far, making my ride to Bangkok extremely comfortable. It took me thirty hours to get from Koh Samui to Khon Kaen and was so unbelievably happy to be back in a city where things are cheap and people are extremely nice. I am so glad I was able to see my friends, but I am also really glad to be away from all of the tourists. This trip was exactly what I needed to appreciate the Northeast.

Sawatdee Pii Mai!!! (Happy New Year!)

Happy Holidays!

Tomorrow I’m heading down south for a ten day vacation! I’ll be meeting up with Bobby (fellow SASer and CU alum) and Will (also friend from CU) in Phuket and then heading possibly to Ao Phang Nga or some other island/beachy area. On the 30th I will be going to the other side of Thailand to see Petra (another SAS friend!) on Ko Samui. I’ve decided to take the bus since it is the cheapest form of transportation, unfortunately it’s going to be about 20 hours total each way, yuck!…but it’s only 60 bucks as opposed to the $400 round trip plane ticket. I cannot wait to see some familiar faces!

I hope the holidays are treating you well! Eat some gingerbread for me please!

Happy Hanukkah! Merry Christmas! and Happy New Year!

Love,

Danielle

Making it Snow in Thailand
Making it snow in Thailand

Never Touch a Monk

I’ve never considered myself to be a religious person, but despite my lack of religion, there is a strong amount of wonder and respect that comes over me when I see Buddhist monks. My first real encounter with Buddhist monks was on Semester at Sea during my travels through Burma. My three traveling partners, our four guides, and I woke up early one morning and watched hundreds of monks in deep red robes walk barefoot through the streets of Bago. It was a silencing experience. And now, being here in Thailand, I find myself feeling the same way. It’s a hard feeling to describe. A lot of it is respect, extreme respect.

A few weeks ago I found myself on a songtow (the pick-up truck bus system) with a Catholic nun who spoke English and I realized quite how differently I felt about Buddhist monks and Christian nuns. Nuns give up everything to devote themselves to their religion like monks do, so why do I feel filled with respect and awe when I am around a monk and not when I am around a nun?

I think it comes down to the differences between the two religions. As a foreword, I am by no means an expert on religion and I most certainly do not mean to offend anyone with this post. With that being said, Christianity conjures a defensive feeling for me. It has always felt like such a conquering and invasive religion. I know there are many good things that come out of the Christian church, but I always feel like I need to be ready to strongly defend my beliefs when I encounter the Christian religion.

With Buddhism though, an overwhelmingly peaceful aura is instantly created for me. I feel that I do not need explain myself, they are okay with who I am and no judgment is passed on me. Maybe that’s what it comes down to, judgment. I don’t feel judged for my beliefs. Whatever the reason, I really enjoy the Buddhist culture here.

This is what I have been thinking about this week after my field trip to Wat Poh with the fourth, fifth, and sixth graders of Nonthun School. The students stayed at the temple for three days and two nights. Unfortunately I was only able to go for one day because the other two days I had to work at a different school. It would have been fun to spend three days there, but I’m not sure if fasting after lunch for three days is quite my cup of tea. Anyone who knows me knows that I get grumpy on an empty stomach and dealing with kids and trying to speak Thai without any fuel is a little too much for me at this point in my stay here.

The temple was small but the grounds were enchanting. The art teacher and director of Nonthun School are amazing artists and have painted the entire area as you can see below.

Front entrance

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P'Tamaron

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While the kids had classes with the monks, I practiced my Thai with the other teachers. It was the first time I really began to feel like part of the faculty, which was extremely exciting. At one point I decided to walk around and take pictures of the building and as I was doing so one of the monks started talking to me, in Thai of course. We had a conversation about where I am from, what I do, where I work, our names, and religion. It was invigorating. Not only was I having a conversation with a monk, but was I doing it all in Thai!

After he walked away, I continued taking pictures of the building. I heard him call out Duan (it means moon and is my other Thai nickname) and when I walked over to meet him I found him holding a flower for me. He told me the name of it, which translates to blue chicken flower, and held it out for me.

The next part was especially interesting for me. Monks can’t touch women. I have to sit and stand as far away from monks as I can in order to make sure an accidental touch does not happen. I found out after I went to the temple that women should not so much as hand something to a monk. If a woman is touching something at the same time as a monk, it is considered to be a connection and is not allowed. I wish I had known this before I’d gone to the temple. When this monk reached out to give me the flower I wasn’t sure what to do. The moment and the memory of it seem to go in slow motion for me. As I reached out to take the flower I wasn’t sure how to get it. In retrospect I should have cupped my hands under the flower and let him drop it into my hands, but I am still a little clumsy with Thai customs, so I lightly grabbed the other end of the flower. He then let go of his end and moved away.

Afterward I was filled with delight. This was the best flower I had ever received. Not only was it an exotic flower with a great name, it was given to me by a monk. I felt so special. Now though, after talking to a friend about the experience, I am afraid the gift may have not been as wonderful as I imagined. Apparently he should have put the flower on the ground and let me pick it up so as to make sure that no connection would be made. I did not know this before, but he must have, so I’m not sure now if this experience was inappropriate or not. It didn’t feel inappropriate for me, but then again my scale of what is appropriate or not is slightly different. His intentions will remain a mystery for me, but I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt and think that he was making a kind gesture toward a foreigner living alone in Thailand.

The Blue Chicken Flower.
The Blue Chicken Flower.

**If anyone knows the name of this flower in English let me know.

Bugs and Bonding

Here is what has being going on since my last post…

There is a tea house that is run by some of the people associated with the organization that I work for and they bought a toaster oven for me to bake in! I made my first batch of cookies last week and they turned out pretty good! I decided to make shortbread cookies with some fresh minced ginger in it. They were a success and tomorrow I plan on experimenting a little bit more. The cookies are not being sold because the tea house runs solely on the 20 Baht donation suggested on the menu.This place is full of surprises, I never would have guessed that I would be baking cookies in a toaster oven in Thailand.

Another piece of food related news…I tried some bugs at the silk fair! They were fried and didn’t really taste like much other the vinegar seasoning they lightly coated them with. Definitely something I wouldn’t have a problem eating again.

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These bugs were a little too intimidating for me to try at the time...next time for sure though!
Some bugs I tried at the silk fair.
The bugs I tried at the silk fair.

I just got back from a work retreat. We were only gone for one night and went to these awesome huts/cabins just over an hour away from Khon Kaen. The setting was absolutely stunning and the food was delicious. The highlight of the trip was the swim I went for in the Chi River. I didn’t have a swimsuit so I wore one of the sarongs that the teachers use to dry off with when they get out of the shower. The four youngsters (Liz, Soryor, Maha, and myself) were the only ones who wanted to take a dip. It was the perfect temperature outside, the water wasn’t cold, and there was no current so it was ideal swimming conditions.

The Thai teachers were terrified when Liz and I started to swim to the other bank, but we couldn’t resist. Our meetings are always long and I can only talk about feelings and sit and eat for so long before I feel like I need to go run around, so the swim was exactly what I needed. I actually swam pretty well in the sarong, but that was only because it was scrunched around my waist while Liz and I were swimming across the river. Luckily the water was so mucky that it didn’t matter.

All ready to swim!
All ready to swim!
Our simming dock on the Chi River.
Our simming dock on the Chi River.
As many of you know I am terrible at remembering to take pictures. I usually hand my camera to someone else or get the pictures from someone else. I only got one good shot of the view on my camera so I will post more pictures of where we stayed later.
As many of you know, I am terrible at remembering to take pictures. I usually hand my camera to someone else or get the pictures from somebody later. I only got one good shot of the view on my camera so I will post more pictures of where we stayed in the near future.
Liz and I swimming.
Liz and me

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.

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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.