Saturday, February 14, 2009

Let's Do the Time Warp Again

Happy Valentine's Day!


(Renee just left us each one of those little Valentines you pass out to your class circa third grade complete with temporary tattoos…I got back from cooking class and it was stuck on the door to my room…cute!)


Anyway, I just saved this document under Blog –February 14th and realized the last one was titled Blog – January 30th (my creativity is infinite, I know). I have the exact opposite feeling than the one I had the last time I blogged – it seems likes it's been close to no time at all and here I am just over two weeks later. Oops.


Well, ignoring the time warp I seem to be stuck in, I have quite a lot to recount and expound upon so do bear with me and flex your skimming muscles. Here goes. Captain, enter hyper-speed.


I spent most of my last week in Ban Huay Hee working on Alexandra, Katie C. and my media project. Our third and final interview was Monday morning and from there through Friday afternoon all mornings and nights were spent editing editing editing. iMovie HD can put out a reasonably good product (probably one much better than ours will seem as ours isn't very showy) but it is absurdly idiosyncratic. Oh, why be polite? It's stupid. It does things like cut clips without asking and not let you rejoin them or, even better, magically regenerate a clip you're doing your utmost to delete. I have, in the past few weeks, truly seen the magic of Control+Z (or, actually, on a Mac, it's Command+Z which, for those of you less versed in the computer shorthand of my generation, is the undo button). Nevertheless, we had fun, even resurrecting MASH (that other relic from the third grade) while waiting hours for clips to upload and transfer. If anyone wants to look me up in fifteen years or so I will apparently be living in London on a poverty wage (which explains why my home is a shoe) with my one child and husband who is a Russian version of Mr. Darcy. I will be a successful actress. If you think about it, that isn't entirely illogical. Back on topic, though – media. We did eventually finish our project, adding the finishing touches early in our enrichment week, and it should be up on the website any day now. The summary of our core country time in Thailand is also courtesy of yours truly; the Koh Tao summary is courtesy of Alexandra. I highly, HIGHLY encourage everyone to check out all of the media pieces. I quite like ours, but I'm also a big fan of the rest. Our new media project group selection method is vastly superior to any of those previously tried. This is a very clear example of the fact that we first year TBBers are very much guinea pigs for the program. That's alright with me. While it would have been nice to have better this or that to begin with, the way I look at it, I'm learning about starting a business and crafting a curriculum in addition to international development and what not. Plus, Robin and Sandy and Beth really listen to our feedback. What we say will actually have an effect on the way TBB works next year and the year after that and forever onwards which is pretty cool.


Hyper-speed apparently cannot be reached without intense tangent interference. Sorry about that. Moving on.


Much of the rest of the week passed similarly to the previous one. I ate meals mostly with my family, had Thai class and seminar in the afternoons. I sort of stopped paying much attention to Thai the last week or so. I felt a little bad for our instructor, Ajan Danai. I would honestly describe his teaching methods as fun, but even so, attention waned. The problem was that no one in Ban Huay Hee spoke Thai at home or around the village. If they knew it at all it was for tourists and going into town. Learning the words for animals or bodyparts in Thai seemed exceptionally futile when I could just point to them and learn the Bawkinyal term. The thing that surprised me was that I found myself picking up not only words in Bawkinyal but grammar and sentence structure. I always thought that if I wanted to really learn a language, I would have to sit down with my textbook, memorize the grammar and then go for it. That's how I learned Spanish, after all, and it was really quite easy. I was wrong. Without anyone telling me, I figured out that "ah" is a question word and that "lee" means something to the effect of "already." It's a past-tense word. I can pick up languages! How cool is that?! I'm sure it hasn't hurt that I've now had introductions to grammar and structure in both Chinese and Thai, but still, very snazzy.


Certain noteworthy things did happen, however, and I shall now turn to an account of those. (One of those things, apparently, is that I have become British and leaped several hundred years backwards in time…an unconscious reaction to the Salinger short stories I'm reading perhaps?)


Thursday night at dinner, Fifa was an absolute terror. (My little host brother's name, henceforth, is Fifa. I finally heard several people call him that despite the fact that on direct questioning, my mother gave some other, longer name. Maybe Fifa is a nickname. In Thai culture everyone is given a name and nickname, often an animal, at birth. Or perhaps Fifa is Bawkinyal for Devil Child? I could be cute and call him Rosemary's Baby, but I won't. Now I'm being a little mean. To be fair, he could be cute. If you only saw a photo, you would think he is absolutely adorable.) Anyway, Thursday night he was certainly not cute.  He was the antithesis of cute. He threw multiple tantrums and peed on the floor. The pee, incidentally, was just left where it was to dry up. Ick.


After dinner, though, he was spirited away on my host father's motorcycle not to return for a day and a half. That left my host mother and I alone with time to chill. I sat with her while she ate her dinner (I always ate first, a guest right up until I left) and we did our best to communicate. Somehow, she brought up that she'd been to Canada. I acted duly surprised. I asked why (a Thai word I know that came in handy!) and she replied with many Thai words that I did not know. Then she made a gesture that vaguely resembled cradling a baby and I thought my idea of her going to Canada for medical care for a child might in fact be correct. When she'd finished eating, we headed home (or, to the other home, the one across the street where we hung out and slept). I though it would be a good time to show her the photos I'd brought with me of family and friends from home. She had the same idea. We both brought out photo albums and spent twenty minutes or so going through them. Her final album was actually a binder functioning as a scrapbook. A scrapbook of her trip to Canada. Finally, questions would be answered! It turns out that she went to Canada to attend the December 2003 National Gathering on Aboriginal Culture and Tourism hosted by the Lil'wat and Squamish First Nations. I guess she was some sort of Karen ambassador. In the age old tradition of answered questions begetting several more, I now wonder how she was picked to go. She was only 21 at the time. Maybe because her Thai was really good? Or she won some sort of contest? Whatever the reason, she clearly had a really good time on her trip. Snow must have seemed incredibly novel. (That scene in The King and I anyone? No?) She even brought out her passport to show me which I could read because it seems all passports are in English. Anyway, mystery solved and bonding initiated.


After photo time, there was still over an hour until I was due at the rongrien (school) to work on media. I don't remember who grabbed the cards, but out they came, all 47 of them. She seemed to ask me if I knew a game. Obviously I did, since I'd spent a lot of time the previous week playing cards in the Salaa during our large amounts of down time, but none of those were games I could explain without a common language. Mostly they were games that are difficult to explain with one. So I went to the fallback of all fallback card games: war. She caught on really quickly and we spent the rest of the time flipping over cards and watching our portions of the deck grow and shrink with the rhythm of the game. I got bored after a half hour or so, but on we played, through one game and into the next, which lasted a solid 45 minutes. (Every time I played war, I though of Grandma and how we used to sit outside at my grandparent's house in Rancho Bernardo and play. I couldn't for the life of me figure out how either a small child or an intelligent adult had the attention span to play war over and over again. I had no memory of epic, near hour-long games. I was so baffled that I convinced myself I'd forgotten a rule, that you're only supposed to play once through the deck, but I doubled-checked with another TBBer later and found I'd been correct in my original rules. This leaves the question unanswered.) However bored I might have gotten, we were spending time together, which was really awesome, so on I played. I worried that she was bored too and that neither of us would speak (or gesture) up, but judging by her future suggestions that we play war, she was perfectly entertained and so I was happy to join her in a game. She didn't seem to hang out with the other village women as much as they hung out with each other and I think she really liked having a girl to hang out and play cards with without a screaming two-year-old in her lap. I get that. So we played three or four other times and despite some boredom and stiffness from sitting awkwardly on the floor, it was quite an incredible and rather fun cross-cultural experience.


The last few days in Ban Huay Hee weren't terribly busy and I found myself going back and forth between being ready to leave and wanting very badly to stay. The entire community (which was mostly one giant extended family) was so welcoming and friendly and interesting that I would have been happy to stay. At the same time, I often had nothing to do and felt a little odd about eating meals with my family, maybe playing some cards or spending as much time as I could stand playing with Fifa (up to 2.5 hours) and then heading off to read or play cards with other TBBers. It was almost as if I had to either move in permenantly and become a working member of the community (which, lets be realistic, would never happen…hillside agriculture is just not my cup of tea) or move out. Still, I was sad to go when the time for leaving arrived and all the Mugahs (host mothers, but the word means Aunt in Bawkinyal) were sad to see us go. A few of them cried. My host mother apparently did, but by that time I'd lost her in the little crowd. We'd had a farewell party the night before where they sang, we sang (this time we were prepared!), we each gave thank you speeches to our families that we'd written in Thai with Ajan Danai's help and then we showed them our media pieces and they blessed our journey. It was much like our other farewell parties in structure, but felt much more intimate than the dinner in Kunming, the performance and subsequent singing of I'll Make a Man Out of You in Shaxi and even the fiesta in Bua, although that would be a close second. Our final goodbye, when we were actually loading the trucks, was similar in its difference. All the women and children and some men came out to see us off. In Bua we'd been picked up one by one in the back of Wilson's truck, in Kunming we were dropped off at the University and in Shaxi we were seen off, but we each knew only our own host families. The Ban Huay Hee goodbye was the most meaningful and the best as well as maybe the saddest. The Ban Huay Hee homestay restored my faith in the awesomeness of homestays (particularly after feeling like I wasn't even in Vietnam without a homestay, although that may be for other reasons as well) although if I ever consider doing a homestay again, it will be rural whether I speak the language or not.


And so we were off to the Fern resort for our enrichment week. This was spent mostly reading, heading into Mae Hong Son to use the internet and skype and hanging out with the crew. One morning we did go elephant riding, though. I sort of imagined that we'd go to an elephant preserve where elephants were rescued and tourists were welcomed, taught about the plight of elephants and allowed to ride them to raise money for the preserve. This idea had no basis in fact and turned out to be pretty far off. We arrived at the elephant riding start point to find a group of British ex-pat kids from Singapore dismounting the elephants. After they'd all gotten off and settled, we were paired up and put into the little chair things atop the elephants backs and proceeded to take the elephants on the same trail right back where they'd come from. The male elephants wore chains around their necks and the baby elephant that tagged along at the side of the female Katie and I were riding had a chain around its ankle that dragged out behind it. The man sitting on the elephant's head, the driver, so to speak, held a stick of about elbow-to-fingertip length with a slightly curved metal spike at the tip. He would from time to time whack the baby elephant with the spike when it was dawdling. It was pretty sad. As cool a photo op as elephant riding was and as neat as it is to be able to get so close to such majestic animals, it was mostly just depressing. I kept remembering that National Geographic or Discovery Channel special I saw that talked about how elephants mourn and bury their dead. Elephants are incredibly intelligent animals and I'm sure that being chained and forced to walk back and forth on the same trail with three people sitting on my back would not be conducive to a happy life were I an elephant. This prompted pondering on where to draw the line with acceptable captivity. Cows? Ok. Dogs? Ok. Elephants? Maybe not so much. It has something to do with the fact that cows and dogs often depend on humans for their survival. It's almost a mutual thing. Although, of course, they can survive in the wild. Maybe, then, it has more to do with their being kept in accordance with their nature – dogs that herd and cattle that graze. Industrial cattle ranching? Not ok. Keeping a dog in an apartment in a big city? I don't know. It requires some more pondering.


There was also a white water rafting expedition, but I skipped out on that. I love rafting, but I needed a break from activities, some time to read up on the news and call home and blog. (See? I did need the time. I didn't even get around to blogging!)


Then Friday came the six hour drive to Chiang Mai and an expedition to the night market where many a (bootleg) DVD was purchased as a sort of last hurrah for Southeast Asia. I also got a really really really adorable elephant lamp where the body is made of a coconut and the limbs and head are wood. It's compact and wonderful and will be displayed prominently in my dorm room. Sandy got the same lamp for her baby niece which should, to be clear, be interpreted as a demonstration of the amazingly cultured adult taste of said infant and not in any other way.


Today six TBBers and I went to a six course cooking class which was really fun and resulted in very full stomachs and the possession of a yummy Thai cookbook which I intend to open again long before I reach California.


I have two more bullet points on my to-tell list: my thoughts on sustainable agriculture and about next month (before our epic 57 hour plane journey begins tomorrow evening) but I'm going to go watch one of my recently purchased DVD's now so that will have to wait.


In the meantime, new pictures are up.


Much love, especially on this, the Hallmark-proclaimed Day of Love,



friend Nancy said...

I feel like a geography flunky when I have never heard of the places you go.....but I get such a vivid picture reading your blog..... I'll be happy to visit you in London in your shoe.... and see you on stage! But I'll play cribbage with you - and not WAR... so maybe that's the ironic answer to world peace - we'll all play WAR to cut across the cultural boundaries - any bonding game that works - I'm in!!

It seems you have been away forever Rebecca...

friend Nancy said...

oops - sent before I signed off - hugs, hugs, hugs,