Saturday, November 29, 2008

Random Picture of the Week #4


The entrance to the university library.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Blogging as News...

I know this isn't a new topic to those who frequent the blogosphere, but it really is incredible how social networking, including blogs, texts, and applications like twitter, have influenced the way news spreads.

I was surprised to see a sharp jump in readers on my personal blog today until I learned I had been linked by World Focus, a news agency devoted to covering international events, in their article about the PAD protests in Bangkok. This makes me feel both excited and, well, a little queasy--- how can what I have to say be news? Right? I always try to be clear about my sources and biases in regards to information I post on here and hope that any readers take my posts with a grain of salt and consult other sources for whatever they are researching. I'm also glad if I can help spread information about life in Thailand or any of the other topics I have written about here and on my other blogs.


It's good to be reminded about my responsibility when I am putting things on the web for anyone and everyone to read. This CNN article, about the effects of twittering during the current Mumbai terror crisis, explored how individuals giving blow by blow accounts of the events as they unfold can be a terrific source of information--- and misinformation, which is then recycled endlessly as word spreads and rumors fly.

This TED Talk, by James Surowiecki, highlights the positive points of social media as news specifically in the context of the 2005 Tsunami. As in 2005, social media today in Mumbai is allowing normal citizens to participate in providing information to authorities and the public and also helping provide other much needed services such as making phone calls for people whose families may have been affected.

Benjamin Haydon, an 18th century artist and writer said, "There surely is in human nature an inherent propensity to extract all the good out of all the evil."

If this is true, one good thing we can extract from the horror of what is unfolding in India today is the evidence of good people who are doing everything they can to personally help those who are in need due to this tragedy.
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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Random Picture of the Week #3

Samlor in Uttaradit.

My sweet new ride...

I bought a scooter a few weeks ago.



Up to now I've been stuck at home while Al was at work and had to depend on him if I had errands to run. I definitely miss the convenience of Seoul's public transportation system. There isn't really a taxi service here, although, someone at work gave us a friend's phone number and said they would give me rides on their motorbike if I really needed it. When you get out at the train or bus stations there are "taxis" (people who will you give you rides for money) and samlors (see photo of the week above), but that's about it in this town as far as I can tell. In the bigger cities there are far more options.

It's an electric scooter, new, that I bought for 20,000 baht. I only have to charge it once a week and I don't have to have a license to drive it. Works out great!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Random Picture of the Week, #2

A gift shop, specializing in stuffed animals, in Uttaradit.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Loi Krathong

We got to attend a really fun celebration Wednesday night, called Loi Krathong. It's celebrated on the night of the full moon on the 12th lunar month. Wikipedia can tell you all the historical details. Someone at work told me that traditionally it was meant to thank the river spirits, now it's thought of as more of a good party and a way to make wishes and shake off any bad things that happened in the year before.

What you do is put a small float made of banana leaves and flowers, topped with incense and candles into the river to float away, carrying with it your wishes for the future and any bad feelings from the year before. Some people put bits of hair or fingernails in the float to further symbolize getting rid of the old. A big party surrounds this tradition, with beauty contests, parades, music and drama performances, fireworks galore and, our favorite, the release of lanterns into the air. Our boss gave us a beautifully made float to send out.

We went to town where a ton of tents had been set up by the Nan river, centered around a pavilion and monument to King Rama V. There was a big stage with music performances and later, a beauty pageant, a huge square of food and drink stalls, an open courtyard where people were setting off fireworks and releasing lanterns, and then the pavilion to look out over the river. Under the pavilion you could access the river to set out your float. If you hadn't made your own there were plenty of people selling them; they weren't all high quality, but they were all beautiful! You could also buy little bags with live fish, eels, or turtles in enclosed to let loose in the river-- where they were probably caught earlier that morning!

The lanterns in the air and candle-lit floats in the water really gave a magical feel to this beautiful festival. We spent most of the evening there, stopping on the way home at a wat and another small point along the river where people were setting out floats. As this is a Buddhist festival (although it likely has roots with the same traditions that the Hindu Diwali Festival stems from) there was a lot of activity at the wat (temple) as well. As a fundraiser you could pay 10 baht (30 cents) to fish a little capsule out of a pond. In the capsule was a number that corresponded to assorted raffle prizes. It was good fun. As the main festival was very crowded it was nice to stop at the smaller point further up the river, near home. There, people were selling floats that I would guess were made by children for a donation of your choice. The peope we met there were incredibly sweet, so we bought another float and got our knees dirty sending it out from their floating platform.

Setting out floats on the Nan River, Uttaradit.

Children nicking coins out of floats.

King Rama V statue, lanterns galore.

The river pavilion.

Floats for sale.

Al, getting ours lit.

Hopes and dreams, floating down the river.

It was a great time!
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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Random Picture of the Week, #1

I take tons of pictures and not all of them go along with any of my regular blog posts, so I'm starting a one-a-week post. Enjoy.


Animal balloons at the OTOP Fair market, Uttaradit, Thailand.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Correction

I made a mistake in my last post in regards to the independence of Mongolia. I erroneously said it was in 1991 but, as an anonymous reader has pointed out, Mongolia was declared independent in 1911. I definitely had it stuck in my head for some reason that it was 1991, and after looking at some of the books and websites I have been reading lately, it seems that I was associating the pull out of the Soviet Union with independence in Mongolia --- totally my mistake. I've been reading a lot lately about the resurgence of Buddhism in Mongolia and often the phrase "since 1991" and "since the early 1990's" is employed. I am new to Mongolian studies and will certainly make many mistakes. I always appreciate comments, suggestions, and corrections--- of course, I also hope that these would come in a (less hostile) constructive manner.


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This summer...

I just realized that I never finished the stories of this summer's travels. I'm really busy these days so I can't really give the rest of those experiences justice on this blog.

I'll just add some highlights here...

Mongolia:

After wrapping up in the field we said our goodbyes and headed back to Ulaan Baatar where I stayed a few more days. We had a few more get-togethers with the friends we made on the trip, both Mongolian and Western, and just had a lovely time. I really love Ulaan Baatar, despite the first impressions I had. Crumbling soviet-era apartment blocks with gers bundled in between, both bizarre and charming. Of course, seeing the city with my new friends really put it in a different light.

I was extremely lucky to be present for a special time in Mongolia--- the night they won their first Olympic Gold Medal-- ever! It happened to be an evening I was spending alone so I wandered to Sukhbaatar Square where I assumed there would be celebrations. Sure enough there were hundreds gathered and it soon turned into a huge party. Everyone was chanting Monguul! Monguul! (Mongolia! Mongolia!) there were fireworks and at one point the Prime Minister came out, flanked by a band, and spoke to the crowd before the band played their national anthem. Mongolia has only been independent since 1991-- this was a very big moment for them. I'm so glad I was there! I made some new friends at the square that night and spent the rest of the evening with them, celebrating--- a night I won't forget.

Flags were out en masse.

The Prime Minister and entourage in front of the Chinggis Khan statue.

Fireworks over Sukhbaatar Square.

China:

I took an early flight out of Mongolia to Beijing, glad there were clear skies so I can watch Mongolia roll away as we flew out. I hope it's not long before I go back again.

My friend Laura, one of my best friends from college landed a job working at the Beijing Olympics. This was a great opportunity for me to return to the city and see it at a tremendously exciting time. I was really impressed with the way Beijingers came together to put the city's best foot forward. Businesses had new signs, buildings were freshly painted, and tourist help kiosks had been erected everywhere. Cheerful old men and women (without a lick of English), sporting brightly colored vests that said "Olympic Volunteer", hovered around on the streets, ready for anything. I made sure to ask them directions, even though I knew where I was going, as it so pleased them to help out.

I stayed with Laura, in the apartment her job provided near Sanlitun. Sadly, we both got very ill my second day in so I spent most of my time that week in the hotel room-- I saw a doctor in Chiang Mai-- turns out I had dysentery!!! Yes, the disease that kills off members of your wagon train in the old "Oregon Trail" computer game. Needless to say, it is as unpleasant as it sounds. I still wrestled up the energy to see my friend Jade, a cool chick I met on my North Korea trip last year, and to go to my first Olympic competition, which was really exciting. Laura scored free tickets to the synchronized swimming finals, in the Water Cube. The Olympic grounds were expansive and the Water Cube and Birds Nest were impressive up-close. It was fun walking around the grounds, soaking up the excitement, and watching the medal ceremony for our competition, with the gold going to Russia.

The entrance to the Water Cube.

Laura and I in front of the Bird's Nest.

Russia gets the gold in synchronized swimming (you can blame Canada for this bizarre sport).

Thailand: Al met me at the Chiang Mai airport and brought me home the next day, only to bring me to the train station less than 24 hours later for the last leg of my summer travels. I had months earlier planned to meet my friend Amber, a fellow English teacher in Korea, on the islands somewhere during her once a year break (hagwons work you to the bone). These plans were made before the Beijing plans so I didn't realize how stretched out and tired I would be. I caught an overnight train to Bangkok, waited around a few hours, and then hopped on a flight to Koh Samui, where she had arrived two days earlier and booked some beach side bungalows. It was a great way to wind down after all of my adventures. We lazed around all day on beaches, both on Samui and Koh PaNgan, enjoyed fantastic seafood and tropical drinks, and danced with a bizarre group of Spaniards. Good times.

Ko Samui sunset (click for larger view)

Amber,relaxing at the Dolphin on Koh PaNgan

Boats in the bay, Ko PaNgan

Me, enjoying fresh coconut.

It was good to get back to Uttaradit after all that, to start settling in to my new home there. I'm glad I had six weeks off before starting my new job. This summer shook my life up like a snowglobe, now everything's falling into place again-- until the next time!








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Sunday, November 2, 2008

English Reading Materials

If you love me, you'll send me some of your magazines when you're done with them!

I have access to an eclectic collection of classics and fiction novels but nothing current and no magazines to enjoy over coffee on the weekends.

Any genre will do.

Send to:

Language Center
Uttaradit Rajabhat University
27 Injaimee Road
Amphur Muang
Uttaradit
Thailand
53000


THANK YOU!!!!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Chiang Mai, again

Well, we had a short break, during which I had to go to Chiang Mai for visa stuff.

So far, I've found the documentation process to work here to be rather annoying, and more expensive than I expected. I really don't like having to pay to work someplace, so I'm also rather unhappy with myself for not making sure the school covered those expenses. I came in on a tourist visa and then, after hanging out in Ko Samui, went to get a "non-immigrant B" visa, the first step in getting a work permit. I didn't know, and the school didn't warn me (and I've never heard of this) but I had to have at least 20 days left on my first visa, I only had 19. Yep, one day off. Had to pay 2,000 baht (about 60$) for an extension and then another 1,800 baht for the non-immigrant visa, which is only good for 3 months. Then, you get to apply for a work permit which cost me 800 baht. Get this. The work permit is only set until the visa expires (the three month non-immigrant one I JUST GOT), so I then have to go to Chinag Mai or Bangkok to extend my non-immigrant B to when my contract expires (Oct 2009)-- another 1,800 baht. Now that I have completed that, I have to get my work permit extended to Oct 2009 as it is only good for my old visa. Fun!

Luckily, since Al had time off he could come too so we really did get to have a little fun.

We usually try to stay at a different guesthouse every time we go as there are endless options. This time we stayed at Your House Guesthouse where we got an aircon room for 500 baht (about $15). It was sparse but clean with good hot water showers. The family that runs the place were very friendly and helpful. I had read a few reviews indicating that they pressured people to book treks but they didn't do that to us at all.

So far, no place has come close to beating Three Sis, a lovely guesthouse filled with open spaces, waterfountains, and Lanna art, located in front of Chedi Luang.

Anyway, we got a chance to walk around the sunday night market and have a nice glass of wine at a quaint little antique store-- old records, Buddha statues, and wine? Of course.

We did do a trek, although just a short day trek. I can't say if I recommend it or not. It was right for us as we just wanted to get a taste for everything. We had a private tour, which was ideal as we didn't have to stick to a strict schedule. Our guide, Lulu, who is actually from a hilltribe himself, took us to sites when he knew there would be less people. This payed off as we really did seem to miss the busses by a few minutes at each stop.

Even though it's called a trek, we didn't do any "treking". We wewre driven in an air conditioned car from place to place, starting with the orchid and butterfly farm. It was small, and souvenirs were a big focus, but the displays showing how orchids are farmed were interesting and of course, the flowers were beautiful!

Next stop was an elephant camp. As it's in the mountains it's rather atmospheric seeing the elephants (this camp hosted 75 of them) amongst the trees and playing in the river. However, these are captive elephants, trained to put on a show every day and cart falang like us around every day (falang= foreigner). I'm sure it beats logging though, which is how the elephants used to be employed before it was banned in 1989. The show was definitely entertaining, my favorite part being the man vs. elephant dart tournament.

Next stop was to see the hilltribes. This part we had mixed feelings about. There's a lot of controversy about visiting hilltribes, on one hand you are disrupting village life and potentially causing a dependency on tourists on the other hand, it is the 21st century so isolation is a bit of a dream (in Thailand anyway) and, supposedly, many tribes welcome the income opportunity. The "village" we went to was a creation for tourists, which was clear as soon as we pulled up. There's a welcome sign and everything. Eventually our guide explained to us that the people we were seeing only come here during the day. They demonstrate how to make their handicrafts and sell things, then return to their real villages at night. People from the Black Karen, Lisu, and Longneck Karen tribes were represented here, each in their own section of the "village". At first we were dissapointed, but really, this sort of setup helps prevent our intrusion into real village life and made us feel less awkward about taking pictures (always ask first!) and asking questions. Our guide knew some old ladies there and we were happily the only tourists invited in for lunch. Spicy stuff!!! One of the ladies kept giggling at me and htting my arm, good times were had by all.

From there we went for a jungle elephant ride, followed by a small bit of river rafting (only a level II) and some bamboo rafting. The bamboo rafting, to me, was terrifying. You're just sitting on bamboo, which sinks a bit so the water is flowing over and around you. You are in the horrible, brown river (which I imagine has horrible creatures in it. I was glad to get out.

Well, a good day of adventure anyway!

We're back to work now, I'll let you know how that's going in a later post.

Orchids


IMG_0102, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

At the orchid farm.

Karen Longneck tribe.


IMG_0138, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

This woman spoke English better than most of my students.

Hilltribes


IMG_0141, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

Through the rice fields to the "village". It wasn't a real village, more of a living museum with representative people from different tribes, selling their wares and giving weaving demonstrations.

Chiang Mai Hilltrek


IMG_0166, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

Yay, elephants!