Friday, February 27, 2009

Bangkok again

On Thursday we walked down to get Russ and Fred's tailor made suits. On the way we stopped at a Technology Mall. OMG. It was electronic heaven. Four floors jam packed with shops selling everything imaginable for fulfilling your electronic needs (or shoud I say wants), all at rock bottom prices (almost as good as Ebay). It's a good thing that I have no room left in my luggage for anything more, it was very tempting.

In the evening we attended a tradional Thai puppet play. I was very impressed. All of the puppets and their costumes are hand made.The art of puppetry almost died out here, but was revived by a few dedicated folks.

On Friday we traveled via river taxi one last time to tour the National Museum of Bangkok. It was filled with Thai history, art history, archeology, etc. The most impressive exhibit was the one on funeral "chariots" used to transport royalty during their funeral processions. Unfortunately no pictures were allowed.

We will be meeting a friend of Fred's tonight for dinner on our last night here.
Can't wait to see everyone. Not looking forward to shoveling though.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Thai farewell

After one last picture of everyone in front of the school, we got a late start for the train station in Uttaradit. We arrive at 8:20 for an 8:30 departure only to find that our train would be 2 hours late. Not only that, but we find out that it is not an air conditioned train (remember that the temps are in the upper 30's C). So Ceasar quickly dashed to the bus station to inquire about a bus to Bangkok. We were in luck. A bus (air conditioned) was leaving at 9:00. So we cashed in our tickets, loaded up the cars and rushed to the bus station, arriving just in time.
As Mr. Chusak is so fond of saying "Wait 5 minutes and our plans will change". You really have to be flexible here.
Everyone said a teary good bye and we pulled out of the bus station at 9:07. Of course everyone stayed to the bitter end to wave good bye as we were pulling out of the station. I don't know who is teaching their classes, all 8 are teachers and Tawin and company had at least an hour or more drive back to school. I guess flexible means flexible.
We arrived in Bangkok around 4:00. I forgot how noisy it is here. You can't have a conversation walking down the street. We will be here for two days and leave early Saturday morning.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Last day in Si Satchanalai

Today is our last day in Si Satchanalai. I gave a farewell speech to the students and teachers at the morning assembly. It was very sad.
We will be leaving for Bangkok at 8:30 in the morning by train. Another long day of traveling.
Ratree and family gave a great farewell party for all of us tonight. Fortunately, Russ did recover enough to attend. We ate more great Thai food, watched slide shows of our trip,( I think between everyone here we must have about a million pictures), and had one last night of karaoke. We were presented with some farewell gifts, everyone gave speechs, and maybe a few tears were shed. It was a great time.

I am excited to return to the States and share everything that I have learned here in Thailand. I think many people in the United States think of Thailand as a 3rd world country, but after being here for three weeks I have learned that that is definitely not true. In some ways it is a more simple lifestyle. Farms are family farms and many people make their living by selling fresh produce and meat at the open air markets. But that only means that the food you get is very fresh and locally grown, and I am sure not loaded with pesticides/herbicides. The cost of living is much less than in the United States, with many things costing a third to a fourth of what they might cost in the States. But it is a very technologically advanced society. Computers and cell phones are everywhere. Their highway system is very good (and we travelled many of them!!). They take great pride in their cars, in fact they make jokes about "old" cars like we make jokes about dirty cars ("wash me"). The teachers are highly trained. They must complete a 5 year undergraduate program and one year of practice training before they can teach. Their schools may look different, but the school sytems are quite rigorous. They do track students here, with each grade level divided into 5 or 6 levels, depending on ability. Only those students in the upper levels will go on to college. From what I heard, there is an extensive university system, with many branches located around the country. There are also many vocational opportunities for both high school age students as well as post high school. I have been very impressed with what I have seen and learned. It is also a very beautiful country. I feel very lucky to have seen as much of the country as we have in the short time that we have been here.


Today was our last teaching day at Muangchaliang school. It has been very fun sharing our country with the students. In the afternoon Russ and I were dressed up in traditional Thai and Japanese costumes. What fun. At the end of the day we were treated to a performance by the Thai students in their Traditional Thai music group. They voluntarily participate in learning the traditional instruments and singing. It was amazing to hear. I can't wait to share this with teachers in Superior. Fortunately I had my video camera with me.
In the evening the director (principal) of the school hosted a dinner in our honor. Unfortunately Russ had to miss it because he suffered from heat stroke. I think it got up to 38 C today, their hot season is approaching. Russ actually ended up in the emergency room last night. He's better today, but pretty weak. Emergency room visits in Thailand, 100 baht. That is less than $3.00. Wow!!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Displaced people of Myanmar

I would be remiss if I did not speak of the Karen people of Myanmar that we encountered on our weekend journey. The Myanmar government has decided to eradicate the Karen tribes of Myanmar. As a result, many have fled to Thailand and are living in refugee camps. Some have been there for as long as 15 years. We drove by one of the camps. About 10-15000 people live there. The housing is substandard, crowded and they rely on the Thai government for assistance. I don't know a lot of the details surrounding their plight, but I intend on finding out more, and also finding out what we can do to assist them. The pictures do not do justice to the acres of the camp that we saw.

We also visited a village where the "long neck" Karen's live and work. They survive by selling souvenirs to tourists and having their pictures taken with them. The long neck tradition is in part being perpetuated by tourists like us who visit their camps to "sightsee" the long neck Karens.

Northwest Thailand

On Friday afternoon we started our trip to northwest Thailand by travelling to Chang Lai. There we went on a night safari. We viewed many species of animals from all over the world in a very expansive park with spacious, natural enclosures for the animals. It was quite impressive.
Bright and early the next day we departed for Mae Hong Son, along the Myanmar border. The journey took us through beautiful mountainous areas, with many a hairpin turn. Along the way we stopped to tour the Tham Lod caves, making the tour on flat bottom boats on the river that flowed through the caves. The caves were huge.
We visited a night market in Mae Hong Son that evening before getting to bed early, as we were leaving bright and early at 5:00 the next morning.
Our travels on Sunday took us through even more remote regions of Thailand. I felt like we were at the edge of nowhere. We travelled many kilometers, but we saw areas of Thailand that I don't think many visitors get to see.


I thought I should share a bit of what Muangchaliang school is like. The school has grades 7-12 and all students start the day at an all school assembly at 8:00. All sit outside for the flag raising and sing the national anthem and school song. After that there are announcements. Somedays awards are given. Sometimes discipline is given. Sometimes some of the students stay and do exercises. All students wear school uniforms. On Monday, teachers wear uniforms.
The school consists of many buildings, so student travel between buildings for different classes. Class sizes range from 40-45 students.
We did presentations to four classes per day Tuesday-Friday and will be again on Monday. The older students understand English fairly well, but some of the younger students have that deer in the headlights look. They enjoy the pictures though, especially the ones about winter.