Friday, April 23, 2010

Some recent writings:

April 20, 2010

Last week was so memorable and I will always cherish it as an amazing time with amazing people in an amazing place. About 20 volunteers gathered in the Northern city of Chiang Mai to celebrate Songkran a.k.a Thai New Year. I had been looking forward to this trip as I rarely have or will get time to spend time in this gem of a city because I simply live too far away. In fact the bus ride from there to Ubon is the longest in Thailand. Luckily I was traveling from central Thailand after a visit with my host family from training and had my friend Porscha to make the journey with me.

Songkran is usually a 3-5 day celebration in which everyone one in Thailand takes off from work to go on holiday or to return to their home villages. The days are filled with Thai traditions and culture galore grounded in visits to the temple, blessing elders, and spending time with family while watching traditional dance and song. It has also developed quite the party scene as well. I am reminded of American holidays like Mardi Gras or St. Patrick’s day as Thais embrace their crazy side in funny clothes, hats, sunglasses, you name it and as they hit the bottle. The third and final component to this holiday is that it falls during the hottest part of the year. This makes it perfectly acceptable to douse friends, family and strangers in water! The holiday is basically one giant water fight and Chiang Mai is famous for this fun.

We spent our days in Chiang Mai eating, drinking and spending time with family, our Peace Corps family. My fellow volunteers are some of the most fun loving, accepting, goofy, hilarious, and smart people I have ever met…much like my real family and I was so happy to spend this time with them. Calling it Peace Corps spring break, we “played water” (translation from Thai) for four days straight….of course we also got in a couple nights out on the town.

During the water fight we stationed ourselves by the old moat of the city filling our cheap water guns and buckets with the dirty water beside us. Eventually we smartened up and bought big buckets to fill with water and ice that double as ammunition and a place to keep our beers cold. Dressed in my “I Love Thailand” t-shirt and leopard print rayban shades, I “played water” like I never had before! My favorite part of the whole thing was the camaraderie. Looking out to the slow-moving pickups, some filled with 3 generations of Thais grinning from ear-to-ear, I truly felt the spirit of this fun holiday. All took part and all were happy. It was definitely a special week and a water fight that I will never forget!

April 22, 2010

In a better effort to keep up with friends from home, I took a tip from a fellow Peace Corps volunteer and emailed a few people a random question about their lives. I figured this was way less intimidating than asking for huge life updates on work, relationships, family, gossip, etc. I asked, “what has been your favorite meal in the past week”.

Waking up the following day I felt like a kid on Christmas morning as my inbox loaded with more emails from home than I have seen in awhile. The tactic worked! Not only did I get to hear about delicious food that I am missing but inevitable people wrote more about what was going on in their lives. I’m currently brainstorming a list of more interesting questions to ask!

Also some people chose to ask me some random questions about life here. Always eager to share more on my blog, I ask that you readers follow suit and email me or comment here on what you want to hear more about. The email is sarahd.brooks@yahoo.com….ask away!!

One of my favorite questions was, “What has been your most embarrassing moment so far?”

The reply:

I would have to say the time when I was leading a procession carrying a money tree into the wat (temple). Most anytime I go to the wat I try to get a grasp on what’s going to happen beforehand and dress appropriately (i.e. In a skirt). This time around that was not the case. My host dad had hastily picked me up at my office and we drove around town collecting money to put in the money tree (it’s exactly what it sounds like; just a fake tree with money tied in the branches). Of course being the foreigner I was asked to carry the tree into the wat. Visits to the wat make me really nervous as there are many rules (especially for a female) and customs to follow. Of course I was wearing slacks as I had just come from the office. So I gingerly remove my shoes all while holding the money tree properly and give a nod to the monks as I enter the temple. Just then a woman runs up to me, saying something I don’t understand with her hand headed towards my crotch. That’s right my fly is down…I’m leading a parade…at a temple…in front of monks….and a lady has just announced to everyone that the foreigner’s fly is down and zipped it up for her.

Pretty embarrassing, huh?

For more good stories and interesting posts please email me topics/questions!

April 23, 2010

I raced home through thunder clouds today (yay! Rain!) while those sitting under their porches cheered me on in order to get home before the rain arrived. Arriving home dry, my host mom and I decided to enjoy the cool breeze and remaining time before the rain arrived in the yard. I got my hands on an old, discarded water bottle and we successfully taught Panda (the dog) to play catch! That counts as development work right?? I think I will report it to Peace Corps as my project for the month!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Good Morning, Vietnam!

About two and a half weeks ago, after what felt like my 100th overnight bus to Bangkok, I set off to the airport with two friends, Heather and Kelsi, for a week-long exploration of Vietnam. As we headed towards the airport we discussed our feelings on leaving Thailand, the place we had called home for over a year now. I couldn’t help but feel those nerves and excitement that I get whenever I travel somewhere new. We arrived to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in time to see the sun set as we traveled by car to our hotel. Once there we found that $30 dollars per night got us a pretty great room in the best part of the city. We headed on to dinner and toasted our vacation with our first sips of Vietnamese beer.

We woke up early (thanks to Heather’s alarm…mine didn’t work) and headed out to explore our area. We visited a church, perused shops, and enjoyed many stops at cafes. Diving right into the conflicted past of Vietnam, we also toured the Reunification Palace, which signifies the North and South coming together. The palace, overrun by tourists, is decorated in full-on 1960s and 70s d├ęcor. I loved it!

From there we headed to the War Remnants Museum. Also overrun with tourists, with a broken air-conditioning system, the museum proved to be an interesting experience. Absolutely drenched in sweat, I learned more walking around that museum than I have ever learned in school about the Vietnam War. I discovered the atrocities of “Agent Orange” as I viewed photo after photo of generations of people affected by the toxic chemical. I read quotes from American soldiers describing the horrors of war and what it can do to your mind, and I watched videos of the innocent Vietnamese expressing their sorrow and rage at what happened to their country and specifically their rage at the American contribution for those happenings. It was disturbing, disheartening, and gave me lots to think about.

After a full and tiring day of touring the city, Heather and I woke up early the next morning to take a day trip to explore the Chu Chi tunnels about 50k outside of town. The drive took us through part of the city we had not seen and after two hours in traffic we finally broke out into views of rice fields and quieter living. Seeing these villages we couldn’t help but to compare them to our own in Thailand. Though close geographically, Vietnam and Thailand seem to be very different. Though again a complete tourist attraction, the tunnels gave us yet another glimpse of the War that we had not been exposed to before. The tunnel complex, hundreds of kilometers long, was built to hide and protect the villagers of Chu Chi from American soldiers and the VC. The tunnels consisted of very small crawl-spaces leading to a series of different rooms, including kitchens. After about 2.5 minutes crawling through the tunnels safe for tourists, Heather and I were astounded. The space was so small and so hot we could simply not imagine spending any more time down there. During the tour we also learned of simple traps to keep Americans at bay and saw a destroyed American tanker. The vibe of the tour and its signs, was definitely that the Americans were the bad guys. Being the only Americans in the tour group, Heather and I sheepishly exchanged glances whenever these references came up. It was a very interesting experience.

That evening, reunited with Kelsi, we hopped on a two hour flight north to Hanoi. We landed in rain and were immediately struck with the enormity of the whole place. Seeing the motorcycle traffic for the first time, made me feel like I was on a different planet. The sheer number of motorcycles was enough to make you never want to walk anywhere. We quickly learned that there was a method to this madness and timidly stepped out into the streets to explore. My first instinct was to run screaming across the street with my eyes closed, but turns out this is not the way to do it. One must slowly cross, with eyes open of course, giving the drivers enough time to gauge your speed so that they may just zoom around you. It’s weird, very weird, but it works.

Through misty rain we spent about 2 days exploring the city and trying all kinds of food, Vietnamese and Western. Because of the French influence, the food is an interesting and tasty blend of Asian and Western styles. We saw famous pagodas, spent time drinking coffee in cafes (all the while feeling like we were in Europe) and were able to go to traditional Water Puppet Show. Our last day we took on a full day trip to see the Perfume Pagoda. After 2 hours in the car we got into a small boat for one more hour to the foothills of the mountains where the pagoda was located. It was raining and the mist surrounding the mountains made it feel like we were in one of those traditional paintings of China. It was beautiful…..and cold (especially coming from Thailand). The pagoda complex, was not overrun with tourists but Vietnamese as it was the time of year to make pilgrimage to the site. Traditionally, those without children would go to this complex order to pray for children for the next year. Now Vietnamese, for many reasons, go here to make merit. It was a great day, filled with beautiful sites and a good way to end our trip. By noon the next day we were on our way home, to Thailand.