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.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Karen Village I

The Black Karens make their living off the land. The men are hunters and the women gather fruits and vegetables. This village is so remote that no electricity is available. Thaksin (the former prime minister that was forced from the country by a bloodless coup) provided solar panels to the village through a company he owned. They do not have the luxury of a refrigerator since it would drain the reserve supply of electricity but they do have television!

Karen Village II

White Karen's get their name from the fact that the unmarried women wear white. They raise a pig and chain it under their hut as a sign to the suitor that he will also receive some ham and bacon if he chooses her.

Village Commerce

Carol is shown with the local entrepreneurs who were very persistent about selling their wares. They make purses, hats, coin purses, and even water bottle holders and push them on unsuspecting visitors who stumble into their village. We wonder if the matriarch wearing the blue shirt understands the hand gesture depicted on her t-shirt.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Giant Poinsettias

We came across these poinsettias on a mountain above Chiang Mai.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Long-Neck Women

The women wear long brass coils which are wound around their necks and may weigh more than 15 pounds. They also wear them around their legs. There are at least three theories concerning the origin of the coils: (1) the men wanted the women to look different so that men from other tribes would not pursue them; (2) it protected them from tigers which would often drag their victims by the neck; and (3) it makes the women look beautiful (through a translation provided by our guide).
Surprisingly, the coil causes the collarbones and rib cage to be depressed downward, which gives the appearance of the neck being pushed upward. The myth that removal of the coil causes death by strangulation due to the atrophy of the muscles holding the head upright is erroneous. The women often remove their brass coils to bathe and to adjust or exchange them for longer ones.

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Long-Neck Hill Tribe Village

We travelled for one and a half hours north of Chiang Mai to view the hill tribes. stopping at four distinctly different villages. The last 30 minutes of the drive was over a dirt road that wound its way through a valley rimmed by steep peaks. The hill tribes or "chao khao" (mountain people) are of semi-nomadic origin, migrating to northern Thailand from China, Myanmar, Laos, and Tibet. Each tribe has its own language, customs, mode of dress, and spiritual beliefs. The "long-necks" are refugees from Myanmar (formerly Burma) and like the other hill tribes have no ownership of the land. The hill tribes have the lowest standards of living in Thailand, which can be partly attributed to their lack of Thai citizenship. During the past decade, free education has been offered to them by the Thai government. The irony is that this may threaten their cultural identity through their assimilation into society.

These pictures show the village of approximately 50 people. The second picture shows a common area for washing clothes and dishes.

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Workday in a Long-neck Village

Everywhere we went, we noticed the women at work making beautiful scarves. The women were very serious and offered few smiles. This was in stark contrast to the other hill tribes that we visited: the Skaw (White) Karens, the Pa-O (Black) Karens, and the Akha. These groups smiled and teased us and, of course, hounded us to buy their products. (Will post pictures next week.) The long-necks did not push their products on us at all (which also included beautiful silver opium pipes), although they were on display next to them. As far as the men are concerned, we have no pictures because most of them were sleeping in the huts!

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Finally.... a smile!

Some of the seriousness was finally broken when we admired two of the women's babies. These are priceless pictures and a priceless experience.... an experience we will never forget!

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Welcome to the year 2551. Thailand celebrates it with water which cleanses everything (including people). It's a way of cleansing the body and soul to prepare it for another year.

No one is exempt! It's called good, clean fun .... but the water thrown may come from a polluted canal, so beware! (Look in the background of the 2nd and 3rd pictures. This was right across from the entrance to our hotel.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Giant Vegetation

Thailand has a growing season that is 365 days long (366 during a leap year)! We are amazed at the size of the insects and the vegetation. The bamboo in the bottom picture is well over a 100 feet tall. I'm not positive about the species of tree. It may be a banyan tree. It's circumference reminds us of a Giant Sequoia. Even though Thailand gets a lot of rain, it is mainly concentrated during August to November. The other 8 months are "bone" dry and it amazes us that the vegetation remains so lush.

Elephant Ride

Carol often talked about things she wanted to do before she died. One was to join the Peace Corps (accomplished) and another was to ride an elephant. She finally got her wish today. We road a 42 year-old female through the jungles of Northern Thailand! The first pictures show the elephants bathing and then the trainers "detailed" the elephants before we began our "elephant trek".

Soccer - "Elephant Style"

The elephants engaged in a game of soccer. This young guy blocked a shot with his rear right leg!
Interesting Note: A deer has more pounds per square inch under it's feet than an elephant. The deer actually does more damage to the forest floor than the elephant.

Elephant Ownership and Training

Thailand use to have over 100,000 elephants, however, the number has dwindled to 13,000 and they now are on the endangered list. Elephants were used in the logging industry but due to destruction of many forests (rice farming), Thailand has preserved the remaining forests. Depletion of their natural habitat has led to the dwindling numbers. It takes four years to train an elephant and trainers are allowed to keep their elephant until it reaches sixty. During that time the elephant will often out live its first owner and a younger family owner takes care of the elephant. At the age of sixty, the trainer must give the elephant to Thailand's Elephant Conservancy.

Elephant Art

The trainers told us that the elephants were going to create artistic paintings. We expected several random brush strokes. We watched in amazement as the elephants picked up the brushes that the trainers dipped in selected paints and the three different elephants independently created an artistic drawing. We went up to purchase one of the paintings and all had sold within a matter of seconds as indicated by the "reserved" sign.

Children of Northern Thailand

These pictures were taken on our visit to Chiang Mai. They are

members of the hill tribes. We apologize for lack of detailed information, but some of the hill tribes are the Karen (which includes the "long necks" and "large ears") and the Hmong.