Two in Thailand

After raising three children and watching them graduate from college, Bob and Carol decided to leave the educational field and pursue a dream that had been put on hold for 35 years (since graduationg from the University of Northern Iowa). "Two in Thailand" is the journal dedicated to that dream - to serve in the Peace Corps. This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed within do not necessarily represent the views of the Peace Corps or the United States Government.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The ordination of a monk.

Our host family took us to the ordination of a monk. Our host mother is on the left. The gentleman with the shaved head is the new monk. All males in Thailand are expected to serve as a monk for a minimum of 3 months. Many leave after three months but some remain monks for their entire lives. We also met the first female monk at a Peace Corps meeting earlier in the amazing woman full of insight and wisdom. Looks as though the Buddhists are one step ahead of the Catholics!


This doesn't look like the celebration of a monk's ordainment. At least, not what we expected. We expected a solemn event with a lot of religious chants. But when we got there we noticed the drinks were flowing well before the ofiicial celebration began..... and then to our surprise, scantilly dressed women came onto the stage and girated to American style rock n' roll.

Bob gets all the women!!!

The Thais love to have "sanuk" (fun)!!! After the ordination of the monk, the farangs (foreigners) always get asked to dance. Bob is always the center of attraction. It's common to be offered a second wife, but Bob explains "One heart, one love!!!" In case you are wondering about the older lady with the black teeth. The older generation of Thais had very poor dental care. The women mix a batch of herbs that have the qualities of novacaine as well as producing a "high". They smear the black mixture over their teeth to lessen the pain and seem to be "hooked" to the medicinal effects.

After a few hours, our host father took us home only to return to party with the Thais into the early morning hours. We noticed during our 2 1/2 year stay in Thailand that these events last through the night with giant speakers causing all the houses in the village to reverberate to the music ..... and nobody complains!!!! The Thais no how to party!

In your Face!

A few days after the monk ordination celebration, we attended a celebration in which everyone travelled to two
different wats and danced around them 9 times. A lavish feast was accompanied by live music and the center table contained the face and feet of a pig. Bob ate it, including the ears which were very crunchy. Needless to say, Carol went hungry!

Fabulous Wats (Buddhist Temples)

Part of our assignment is to understand the culture in addition to learning to speak the language and,in turn, teach English (sawn pasaa Angrit). We visit Wats as part of our training! There are probably about 30,000 wats in Thailand so we should be quite busy. If you "left click" the photos you might recognize us in the photos. We are astonished at the beauty and the serenity of these temples. Some of the ceremonies seem to have some common threads with the Catholic church.


"Grocery Stores" in Thailand

This is the local "grocery store" in Uthai Thani. Hy-Vee, Von's, Stater Brothers, and Safeway do not exist in most Thailand cities. However, the cities that are extremely large do have "TESCO/LOTUS" and "Big C" (two British chains). We have a "7-11" store but no stores that sell canned food, packaged food, frozen food, or refrigerated food. The market opens around 5 am in order for people to get meats and other perishables before they spoil during the day when it heats up to 95-100 degrees. Everyone at the market greets us with smiles and cheap prices. A meal for two will usually cost about $1.50. We will soon be leaving for our permanent site which is so small it doesn't have a "7-11", so we will have to travel to the "big city" (about 40 miles from our assigned village) and stock up every few weeks. There will be several small "restaurants" which are usually open air stands with tables outside. Looking forward to it!!!!

Bob's 58th Birthday!!!!

Our host family threw a birthday party for Bob. They invited some of the community college students to join us for a meal and cake. They used something like a fondue and cooked chicken fat in the center and boiled vegetables in the water around the edges. Bob then cut the cake and Carol had to feed him the cake. Each of the students gave Bob a flower, and Faa (in the light blue top) gave Bob a pair of Thai fisherman shorts used to lounge around in after his ap-naam (bath).
This was the first of three birthdays that Bob would celebrate in Thailand and everyone of them was a special gift in a special land.

Wisteria Lane, Thailand

The Thai people are the most friendly people in the world. Within 5 minutes of meeting you, they will offer you their home to stay in or at least give you water and fruit. They want to get your phone number and e-mail address. These are a few of our neighbors who like to visit with Carol and admire her white skin. Some of the older ladies will meet Carol and immediately start stroking her forearm. Thai women want light skin because dark skin is interpreted as a sign that you are poor --- you must have worked in the rice fields too long. We have seen a lot of skin "whitener" products for sell at the local 7-11.

Mat Weaving Group

As part of our community building skills program, we travelled to a small tambon (village) on the outskirts of Uthai Thani and met with a group of "Cutters and Weavers". Approximately 20 people harvest, cut, and dry the local bamboo. A group of 12 ladies cut the harvested bamboo into strips and weave the mats. They work all day under an open air pavilion from 6:00 am to 8:00 pm and receive about 55 baht ($1.50) per day. They are a proud group of people who seem very happy and content. Carol enjoyed meeting them and helping weave the mats!!! Peace Corps encourages volunteers to explore the communities to which they will be assigned in order to discover groups that may benefit from the presence of a volunteer or that may be a resource to the local project that all volunteers are expected to complete.


HIV / AIDS Treatment Center

In March, 2006, we visited a world famous treatment center for AIDS patients near Lop Buri, Thailand. Ashley Judd and Miss Universe had just visited the site before we got there. In Thailand, although the HIV incidence is extremely high, AIDS victims are shunned. This is one of the few places that offer refuge and hope for the victims. Last January, 8 people died and 14 people got well enough to resume their lives. Thailand manufactures its own retro-virus medicine (despite President Bush's threat to place an embargo on Thai products). The site is run by a priest who is from New York. Carol and I thanked the priest for dedicating his life to helping people in Thailand. This picture is just a small section of the sprawling compound.


The Rewards of Teaching in Thailand!!!!

Carol finished her "practice teaching" last week. The students gave her gifts and created a small scrapbook with all their pictures. The Thais are very generous, appreciative, and are a very "giving" group of people. They have a great sense of humor and love to participate in activities that are fun or crazy. Despite having far less than their American counterparts, the "happiness factor" seems to be much higher in Thailand.

East Meets West

It is late-March, 2006, and we are in Bangkok, getting ready to meet with our Thai counterparts and preparing to be sworn in. This is Ronald McDonald "Thai-style" with a greeting customers with the traditional "wai". KFC and McDonalds are found in only the large cities in Thailand that cater to a lot of tourists.
On our first few visits to Bangkok, we gravitated toward the American franchises, but we've got to admit that Thai food is growing on us!!!! During later trips to Bangkok, we hurried right by these fast food restaurants in our search find a noodle stand on the busy streets. Consequently, we started losing weight (about 25 pounds) and started feeling a lot healthier.


Swearing-In Ceremony

At the end of March, 2006, We worked with our supervisor, two of the four teachers with whom we will be co-teaching and one of the four principals for two days in Bangkok. We have to admit that we were very apprehensive the night that our supervisor (Khun Sura on the left) drove 5 hours to our new village. The support network (fellow volunteers and Peace Corps staff) that we had grown to depend on was immediately severed. To say the least, it was scary!!! Going to sleep in a strange house, and waking up in a strange village in a foreign country without a familiar face put a strange lull on our adventure. Little did we know that we were just beginning the best two years of our lives!!!!!