A Fine Day In Thailand!

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Where do I file for overtime?

This past weekend I went to a conference called Youth Serving YOUth.  In Saraburi, Thailand, 11 groups from all over the country attended.  The focus of the conference was to get students to develop a project that they could use back in their community.  Projects like youth groups, job creation groups and environmental groups were some of the great ideas developed at the camp.  With the help of my counterpart my kids developed a 10 step plan on how to increase recycling and better waste management in Pradu Yuen.  The camp was a ton of fun!  

In a few short weeks I have gone from bored to overwhelmed with work.  I have two projects that I am working on currently.  The working with new recycle group along with planning a camp to teach about different cultures is taking up a lot of my time.  My next 3 weeks are packed with meetings and other activities.  On top of the projects at site, I am involved in a Peace Corps project caller Thai Youth Theater.  

What is TYT?  Well my friends, I shall explain.  In January we will be holding a theater festival where schools from all over Thailand will present a short play or musical that students have been preparing for months.  The shows will be completely in English!  The three day festival will also have theater training in areas like stage fighting and direction.  In a few weeks we will be asking for donations to help fund the festival.  I will post more information on how to donate once I know the details.  Any amount is greatly appreciated!!

For more information check out http://tytproject.wordpress.com/

I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving.  I’ll be thinking of all the delicious food you all get to eat.  Make sure to have an extra portion for me.  

Until next time.

Nov 7

I can’t sit cross legged and I live in Thailand. What’s wrong with me?

I can speak Thai (my host mother said 100%, I say 30%).  I can seed, maintain and harvest rice (pointy cone hat and all).  I can eat 5 peppers with my food (although Thai people think this is impossible for a farang).  I can drink beer with ice in it (I highly recommend this for crappy, already watered down brews).  I think I am getting close to full assimilation.  This is a nice feeling and makes life easier around the village.  However, there are always those moments when I realize: “I am really white”.

- I cant sit cross legged for 2 hours at a funeral… it hurts.

- I cant listen to Thai music and/or monk chanting without developing a headache during those 2 hours… unless its Issan music

- I cant give a speech about the person who has passed… I cant even pronounce the persons name correctly (really awkward… but flattering).

Today:

I watched (American) football in the morning.  I had a cup of instant Starbucks coffee.  I even played a round of (online) golf while chatting with a friend from the states (I dominated 4up in 6 (don’t judge me)).

Today, I did not feel Thai.

Ban Pradu Yuen takes home the gold

This week was sports week in my community.  Each village (12) played soccer, badminton, takraw, boccie and a few other sports.  My village (moo. 2, Ban Pradu Yuen) took home the first place.  I was on the soccer team.  Needless to say, I had many adoring fans cheering me on.  The announcers talked about the farang for most of the tournament.  I even got in on the commentating.  It usually went something like this: “number 12 is running, he passes to number 14.  Number 14 is running fast.  He shoots.  The ball is out of bounds. (turning to the other commentator) What did you eat for breakfast?”.

This past month has been pretty bad.  I went to Singapore to play ultimate and ended up getting injured in the first game.  I hobbled around Singapore for a few days and spent lots of money.  The upside was that I met a lot of awesome people.  After Singapore I had to stay in Bangkok for a week with a bunch of hospital visit.  During this time I gained an eye infection that lasted over 3 weeks and experienced blurry vision for a week.  10 medications later, my eye infection is gone and I can run again (although still not 100%).  It was a trying month that I am glad is over.  Special thanks to all the PCVs that made my time in BKK more pleasant (I’m sure none of you are reading this).  

I am excited to get back to work.  I am currently developing a report to present to my work.  It will discuss my projects over the past 6 months and then focus on the next few months.  I hope this will get me back on track and get the ball rolling once again.  If not, I just found out about a new coffee shop in town that has cake.  

Thailand 124 volunteers are beginning to get invitations to serve in 2012.  I have been here for almost a year.  If any of you have somehow found my blog, I look forward to meeting you all!  

Friends and family, feel free to shoot me an email at FineAndy@gmail.com and let me know how you are doing!

Oct 2

The good, the bad and the ugly.

I was instructed by my Mother to write a blog post.  Sorry for getting lazy!

Things that are awesome:

1. Vacation.  Sometimes I need a break from site.  Quality time with my Peace Corps friends is a must.  Communication barriers make site lonely sometimes.  If it wasn’t for books, torrenting and my guitar, I think I would go crazy. 

2. Work.  I am still working on building playgrounds in my community.   The first playground is about 90% done and 2 other plans are underway.  I think it will take all 2 years to build these playgrounds.  I am on a committee that is planning a theater festival for children in Thailand.  It will be held the 3rd weekend in Thailand.  Everyone is welcome (tickets are free).

3. Thai music.  Hit songs in America change every few months.  Over here, I haven’t heard a new song… ever.  My next goal is to be able to sing a Thai song for karaoke.  After that, I plan to become a Thai pop star (seriously). I can’t wait to come back and annoy all of you with my Thai music collection. 

4. Old people.  I can rarely understand a really old person (mostly because of lack of teeth).  This one Yai (grandmother) at a favorite restaurant of mine likes to watch me eat.  She just sits there and smiles throughout the entire meal. After I eat she usually gives me more food to take home for later. I am loved.

5.  Everyday adventures.  The capital of my province is severely flooded.   No one told me that to get back into my community I would need to load a bus that would drive through 2-3 feet of water for about 5-7 miles.   This whole process took over an hour.  We stopped along the way and people would get off of their boats and onto the bus.  We also stopped to give food to some of the people living on homemade rafts in front of their house.

Things that are not awesome:

1. Rain.  People are dying, houses are ruined.  It needs to stop soon.  All the volunteers are safe.

2. Thai animals.  These aren’t your average cats and dogs.  They fight every day/night. 

3.  Lack of seasons.  I am jealous of all of you back in the Northeast.  Fall is my favorite season.  I miss my walks around Walden Pond. 

4.  I can no longer speak English.  I frequently cant think of simple words. Thaiglish (Thai-English) is a terrible addiction.

5. Lack of good beer.  RIP October Fest.  I just read a book on brewing.  I can’t wait to brew when I get home.  I am also debating if making beer in Thailand is a good Peace Corps project…

6. My ankles.  They are a mess.  Luckily, I can claim workers comp and never have to worry about paying for any medical bills related to my ankles.  EVER!

Things that just SUCK:

1.  The Boston Red Sox.

That is all for now.  I promise that I will try to write posts more often.  All is good over on this side of the world.  

Adventures in July: Part I

It’s been over a month since my last post.  I apologize for not writing, but I wasn’t near a computer for most of July!  Where to begin?

First off, I should introduce my two friends Jim and Pam.  They have been good friends of mine since college.  We played ultimate together (in the ancient times of a Hofstra co-ed team.  This was the blossoming of a beautiful relationship.  When they heard that I was going to joining Peace Corps Thailand, they decided that they might be able to visit me in the summer of 2011.   After months not talking to me or vacation planning, they decided to blindly book the flight to Bangkok for July! This month has been full of great adventures, delicious meals and beautiful landscapes shared with some great friends.  This month has certainly furthered my hypothesis of Amazing!= Thailand.

In late June, Jim and Pam arrived in BKK.  After spending a day on their own, I was able to meet up with them.   When I arrived in BKK, they were already tired of the big city and ready to get off the beaten path.  We decided to take a weekend trip to the islands close to by with a few of my Peace Corps buddies.  After a long days travel we got a hotel on the mainland before venturing to the island the next morning.  It was an excellent weekend full of: planking, fire dancing, lazy days on the beach, crazy nights at the club, beautiful henna tattoos of dolphins and barbed wire and Marley’s… there is always Marley’s.  This weekend was a perfect way to kick off Jim and Pam’s 6 week adventure in Thailand.  After a few days on the Island, we had to split up.  While they trekked further into Thailand, I was off to a 10 day conference in Supan Buri.

Reconnect was the first time that all of the volunteers would… reconnect.   The conference was composed of additional language training, sharing individual site stories, generating potential project ideas and a counterpart conference.  The counterpart conference was incredibly helpful.  During the 3 days, each volunteer had a Thai counterpart from their site come to the hotel.  It helped our co-workers realize what we could do for our communities (ie NOT just teach English… In fact many of us have degrees in something very helpful to Thailand).  The conference gave many great examples of projects done by volunteers in the past.  After the conference, volunteers were excited to get back to site and get to work.   Most volunteers (including myself) focused on building relationships and connections for the first 3 months.  After the conference many volunteers realized they would start to accomplish more projects. 

Although the days were packed with programs, that did not tire us out for the evenings.  It had been almost 3 months since the last time we had all been together.  It was so refreshing to be back with my good friends.  For the past 3 months I had been speaking 90% Thai and 10% English (mostly to myself or the lizards and dogs that live in my house).  Funny enough, when we were all together there we still reverted back to Thai, speaking the language of Thaiglish (half Thai, half English).   I don’t know why, but it is almost impossible to have a whole conversation in English these days.  Anyways, on the 4th of July, we decided to celebrate in true fashion.  I volunteered to find hamburgers and grill for the 64 volunteers and our staff members (I couldn’t imagine a 4th without hamburgers).  The party ended up being a huge hit.  We had a parade, beauty pageant and dance party.  I was working in the kitchen as head chef making sure the hamburgers were prepared right.  Honestly, it might have been the best 4th of July ever. 

After the conference, I met up with Jim and Pam in BKK for two days.  Conveniently, there happened to be an ultimate tournament that same weekend!  This was my second time in 6 months playing Frisbee.  I lost in the finals for the second straight time.  Oh well, still a lot of fun.  I have made some great friends in BKK through ultimate and look forward to the next time I get to play with all of them (whenever that may be).  After the tournament, we had an AMAZING Mexican meal.  Mojitos, nachos and burritos were just what the doctor ordered.  If any of you PCVs are reading this, Las Monitas in BKK is probably the best Mexican food in town, let’s go (Mojitos might be out of our price range).  After diner it was onto the train station for an all night train down to the South! 

This was my first time down in the South of Thailand.  I had seen many beautiful pictures and heard wonderful things.  Yet, it isn’t until you actually get to the coast that you can appreciate the beauty that Thailand has to offer.  On our way down, we weren’t sure where we were going to end up.  We had decided on the Andaman Coast, but no specific destination.  I texted a few PCVs and ended up getting a good suggestion of a non-touristy island to start our tour of the South.  We decided to head to Koh Mook (Koh Meaning Island). 

Our boat ride over was an adventure in itself.  Starting from an inlet, the ocean is incredibly calm.  I was taking picture of the blue water, crystal white sand beaches and limestone cliff when I turn around and get NAILED by a wave.  In a matter of seconds, the ocean went from icy smooth to 6-8 foot swells.  Our little long-tailed wooden boat had no problems cutting through the waves.  The problem was that we were not prepared.  By the end of our journey, my jeans were 20 pounds and my luggage was soaked. Koh Muk was incredibly non-touristy.  During the 5km taxi ride over, the road went from bad to terrible (America has never seen potholes this bad).  When we arrived at our resort we were told that we were the only ones renting that night (600 B a night… or 6 dollars a person).  As we walked down to the beach, we didn’t one single farang.  It was just us, our private beach, and the incredible cliffs to out right and left.  After going for a dip in the 80+ degree ocean, we decided to rest before dinner.  While Jim and Pam were resting in the bungalow, I decided to check out the two restaurants that were within walking distance of us.  After a 5 min uphill walk, I arrived at a nice family house with a few tables in front.  As I entered the property, I was greeted by the Mother (Song) and her two children.  After a cold glass of water and a 15 min conversation with them, I realized that there was a baby monkey in their front yard.  Yes, you heard me right… BABY MONKEY (9 months of age).  SOLD.  We decided to eat dinner there for almost every single meal.

The following day we headed down to the beach to enjoy the nice weather.  After reading, napping, swimming, beach walking and conversation, we decided to go for one last swim before dinner.  As we ventured out into the clear waters, we spotted something yellow about 100 yards out.  Once it got close enough for us to swim out to we decided that we should drag it onto shore.  When we got it onto shore, we found two laundry baskets held together by rope on 4 sides.  After an examination, we realized that there was something in the basket!  After untangling the rope, we found a giant lobster squirming around inside the basket.  This thing was massive… I’m talking 5+ pounds (if you had two of these, they would be the perfect power walking lobster weights (I don’t power walk…).  We decided to march it right up to Songs Restaurant and ask her if she would cook it that night.  Along the way all the locals were all giving us the thumbs up.  We told them that we caught it with our bare hands after it attacked my foot (we wanted to be legends).   Song was terrified of the monster.  Her kids decided that they would take it in and cook it for us later that evening.  That night, the lobster was cooked perfectly and the meal was one of the best I have had so far (I find myself saying that a lot over here).  It was the perfect dinner to end our stay on Koh Mook.  After dinner, we took a night walk down to the beach where we found 1000s of hermit crabs running away from the wakes of the crashing waves.  The moon was so bright that you didn’t need any other light at all.  After listening to waves, hermit crab races and some star gazing, the clouds rolled over and the rainy season showed up.

What a fantastic, relaxing and traditional Thai Island.  It was the perfect way to start the vacation!  That is all for now.  I’ll finish the rest when I have more time.  Life at site is starting to get pretty busy.  Vacation Part II and my work updates will follow!  Until then, keep in touch!

ALSO, I am going to change my blog address to wordpress.com site.  It will enable me to do more with my blog posts.  I’ll let you know when I switch over!

Cruise Control

Another birthday has come and gone.  I experienced a lot in my 22nd year or life.  I graduated college, traveled across America, prepared to move to Africa, experienced unemployment and became a resident of Thailand.  I’d say that is quite the year.  My 23rd year has gotten off to a great start.  I spent the weekend with a few great friends in a little city north of where I live. We went out to a club the night of the 27th.  Much of my birthday was spent in my hotel room lounging around watching music videos and sleeping.  It was the perfect birthday.  Simple and relaxing was the name of the game.  A big thank you must go out to all of my friends and family that wished me a happy birthday.  It means a lot to know that people have not forgotten about me back home!

Three weeks ago, I spent the weekend in Cha-Am.   I went to play in a Ultimate tournament on the beaches of Thailand.  The tournament hotel was beautiful and had a delicious breakfast.  Needles to say, it was out of my price range ($40 dollars a night!)  Knowing this a month before the tournament, I had found a cheaper hotel that would be close to the fields.  During my search I came across a backpacker named Dom who offered to share a room at the Hotel California.  Such a lovely place!  Dom and I became partners in crime for the weekend.  

The tournament was about 50% Thai people and 50% farang.  Everyone was so nice and interesting.  My team (Deliciousness) won every game that day… except for the finals.  Unfortunately, my goal was to lose in the semi-finals so I could heckle in the finals!  Playing ultimate was fun, but highlight of the weekend was getting to make new friends.  Although I love my PCV friends (more like family at this point), it is nice to be able to have an additional life in Thailand. 

This weekend I will be heading to BKK to meet with my friends Jim and Pam!  They are coming to Thailand on a 6 week vacation.  We will be vacationing in the south of Thailand.  I can’t wait to have a nice relaxing weekend on a beach.  A little ocean time with some friends sounds really nice right about now.  After the weekend, I will be attending a conference for 10 days with every PCV in my group.  We will have more official language, cultural and professional training.  I look forward to seeing everyone.  After spending 10 weeks together, there are many people that I have not seen in many months. 

A few things that have happened in the past few weeks:

1.  I have started to assist in teaching English every week.

2.  I had a 2 hour conversation using just Thai… I was exhausted after.  My brain hurt.

3.  I tried to build a table.  Wood is expensive in Thailand.

4. The rainy season has started.  Every day I can expect a heavy rainfall for about an hour.  This also brings some interesting insects into the house! 

It has been a while since I have written a blog entry.  I will try to get back on track with more frequent posts!

So many bugs.  This lady was crazy.  She had been telling me all night that my white stomach cant eat bugs because then I will have diarrhea.  Its a common conversation topic.  When ever im not smiling, they ask if I have diarrhea…. most of the time the answer is yes.  I <3 Thailand.

Jun 8

My office made me a birthday video!  The song is so catchy, its tough not to sing along.  Enjoy!

It’s Raining

Today we had another downpour.  I sat out on my balcony and listened to the rain with the biggest smile on my face.  Not for any particular reason.  I was just happy.  I like smiling.  

This weekend I am headed to a little city to relax and celebrate my birthday.  I dont want to do much, just hang out with some friends.

Next Monday I will be teaching some English.  That should be fun too.

Well, I’m going to get back to my book and listen to the rain a little more. 

A Weekend in the City

Can you believe that it is already May?  Sorry I have been slacking on the updates!  The less I write, the busier I am over in Thailand!

The last few weeks have been very exciting.  I spent 4 days in Bangkok (BKK) which was an amazing experience.  As I stepped off my bus and ventured into the heart of the city, I found myself completely overwhelmed.  4 hours before, I was safe and sound in my rural village walking past rice fields and friendly neighbors asking me where I was going (literally everyone I passed).  Once I stepped foot in BKK the city person in me took over.  Much less smiling, more aware of who is behind me and attempting not to look like a tourist.  As uncomfortable as this feeling was, it quickly changed when I met up with my friends. 

I was in BKK for a VAC Meeting @ PC HQ with PC’s CD, AO and PTO (we love our acronyms).  This is a meeting held quarterly for 8 volunteers to share the issues and concerns of PCVs serving in Thailand.   I really enjoyed the meeting and learning about the future of PC Thailand’s operations.  In short: PC has a great relationship with Thailand and I’m sure that PCVs will serve here for years to come!

After the meeting, everyone decided to stay in BKK for the weekend and have a little rest and relaxation time.  Let me just tell you now that I did no relaxing and very little resting.  The hotel (just shy of a 1 star hotel) that we all stayed at was right next to the BKM, Siam Center and Discovery World malls.  These 3 malls are HUGE.  Bigger than any other mall I have been to.  There were so many farangs, fast food joints and cheese products.  I didn’t know what to do with myself.  However, I quickly realized that this was not the place for me for 2 main reasons.  1) I’m on a Peace Corps budget… I can’t be spending 3 days worth of food allowance on a hamburger.  2) I hate shopping.  I spent the majority of the weekend in the enjoying the AC in the hotel, walking around aimlessly on the streets and searching for good and cheap meals.  However, I did break twice and enjoyed a delicious hamburger and split an amazing burrito. 

BKK was my first time meeting many 122ers (the group before me) and it was a great experience.  They were all really nice people and I’m sure over the next year I will get closer to many of them.  On Friday night we all went out to a club.  Some of my friends had met the bar owner the weekend before so we were treated like VIP.  They set 20+ farangs up in the back room and gave us free drinks.  Just as I walked into this stunning club, I realized that I had never been a VIP at a club.  When applying to the Peace Corps I knew that I was going to have many new experiences… this was no one of them. 

On Sunday I decided to catch a late bus back to site and run a few errands in BKK then play ultimate!  The errands were all unsuccessful.  I couldn’t find a replacement battery for my laptop and my feet are too big for most cheap shoes made in Thailand.  Then on my adventure to the fields to play ultimate it started raining pretty hard.  After a 45 min walk I get to the fields to find an awesome soccer shop/ cleat shop.  The owner and workers in the store were all really nice.  They had all studied university in an English speaking country and were very welcoming.  They gave me an amazing deal on a Liverpool soccer kit and let me hang out in their shop for a long time.   The next time I’m in BKK, I’m certainly going to call up my new friends.

Ultimate was great!  There were 40 people ranging from 20 to 50+ out there to play ultimate.  Everyone was friendly and really interesting.  It was weird to speak English to so many Thai people. They all would laugh at me when I would say things in Thai.  I couldn’t help it… it is natural for me to speak in Thai when I see Thai people.   After ultimate I hitched a ride to Mo Chit (bus station) and went back to site.  On the way I met a bunch of B-boys from Chaingmai.  They wanted me to go up North with them and learn how to break-dance.  Certainly a great idea for my next adventure!

This weekend was a ton of fun.  However, I did have a guilty feeling lying over me for most of the trip.  While other Peace Corps Volunteers may not get to visit cities for over 2 years, I have access to many cities including the worldly city of Bangkok.  I couldn’t help but think: am I having a real Peace Corps experience?  I have high speed internet, constant electricity and running water, all amenities that I did not expect or need for my 2 year service.  I have felt spoiled in one way or another throughout most of my life.  I was expecting this experience to be a bit different.

I expressed these concerns with some fellow volunteers who felt the same way.  We discussed that we were not sent to Thailand to live under harsh conditions, but rather to assist the country in its development!  I guess I’ll just keep enjoying my internet and occasional burgers in BKK.

Until next time!