Thailand

So, here’s my blog telling y’all about my trip to Thailand.

I flew in from Incheon (the primary international airport in Seoul) to Hong Kong and from Hong Kong to Chiang Mai. The flights went by fairly quickly and the tickets were relatively cheap, though from what I saw of Hong Kong and the surrounding islands, that’s definitely a place I need to go back to. As far as places I absolutely want to go, Chiang Mai is now off the list. So my list, as it stands, is this:

  • Chiang Mai – Thailand
  • Japan (possibly this summer when my parents visit)
  • Okinawa (possibly during the holiday for Buddha’s Birthday) – Japan
  • Jeju (possibly during the holiday for Buddha’s Birthday) – Korea
  • Bangkok/Phuket – Thailand
  • Angkor Wat – Cambodia
  • Great Wall – China

Other travel possibilities include (some of these are long-shots due to expenses, but if I can afford it, I’d like to do it sooner rather than later):

  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Israel
  • Brazil
  • Philippines
  • Malaysia
  • Indonesia

Ok, now here’s a picture of the islands around Hong Kong:

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Once I arrived in Chiang Mai, I was picked up by Tim and Sondra Armstrong, old friends of mine from Germany who are now working with a Bible-translation organization in Thailand. I stayed at their house the entire time I was there, and it was very helpful as far as transportation, travel recommendations, eating, hotel costs, and laundry. You know your adventurous vacation might be a little too cushy when you come back with clean clothes, but it was nice to be able to take a break when I wanted to (I was getting a much belated vacation) and they made that a very possible thing to do. 

So, on my first day I wandered the city and took the opportunity to book some tours for the coming week. I saw all kinds of temples and other wonderful sites in the city including a remaining section of the wall that used to surround the downtown portions of the city (and a moat still surrounds that area). Then after lunch I went to a marketplace where many of the hill tribes would come to sell their wares and found all kinds of cool stuff (I now actually have an idea of how I could decorate my apartment and find it worthwhile, and I have the materials to do it). I now have a comfortable satchel bag that I can use when I don’t want to lug around a heavy backpack. This is a very good thing for me, as I have been wanting one of those for forever. Here’s one of the temples I saw on the first day:

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The second day I took a temple tour that took me to some of the major temples in the city of Chiang Mai, all of which I hadn’t gotten to the day before. The temples in this country are fantastic and I enjoyed taking pictures of them. My favorite was probably the one with the massive crumbled stone shrine. It was enormous compared to the other shrines in the city and was the largest temple compound that I saw inside the city. Then later in the day I wandered the city some more, found some more temples, and had a lot of good food to eat at the night market in front of the old eastern gate.

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The third day I went to Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand, and got to see a hill tribe village, a few waterfalls, the summit, a hill tribe market (and their wine which looks rather much like soda by its packaging, but doesn’t taste like it, for obvious reasons), and a temple/shrine dedicated to the king the mountain is named for. That tour went well, but started a little oddly as I found that the agency had dropped me with a tour group from Israel and I was the odd man out for the trip. That being said, they were wonderful people and by the end of the trip they had made offers to help me come teach English in Israel should I ever have the desire to.ImageImageImage

Then on the fourth day we went on a hill-tribe tour close to the border of Burma and saw Chiang Dao cave, where the Sleeping Buddhas rest. On that trip I was with a British man and his new Argentinian wife. Apparently they had met back in 2010 in Brazil, her last day, his first day, they hit it off, kept in touch, eventually began visiting each other, and got married on the beach in Pukhet a week before my meeting them. One of these days I’m sure hollywood will get ahold of the story and make a movie of it. The hill tribes were interesting, and have made me aware just how very much tourism can encourage poverty for local populations (many cultural practices and locations are continued not for the preservation of their culture or because they have to live that way, but for the sake of tourism, for example the long-necks of the Long-neck Karin tribes). Chiang Dao cave and the surrounding temple compound were exquisitely beautiful. Thailand as a nation is very photogenic, and even so, their temples and shrines consistently stood out as places of beauty and wonder.

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Day 5 was adventure day. I was with a group of French families, 2 Germans, a Japanese guy, and a Finn. All we needed was a Russian and a Brit and we could have re-enacted WWII in miniature. This was the day I went elephant riding, hiking out to a waterfall in the jungle (and swimming at its base), white water rafting, and bamboo rafting. It was awesome. I spoke in German and broken Japanese, and used what little French I knew to eavesdrop on the French. So much about that trip was awesome, though I had the misfortune to go to one of the elephant camps where they mistreated the elephants. Riding elephants had been highly recommended to me by several friends who went before as well as my hosts; however, the handlers of the elephants acted like a bunch of eight-year olds with sticks. It was a bit frustrating to see the elephants being treated the way they were, especially while we were riding them. Of course, the rafting was great and the hike was beautiful. The waterfall felt great after the hike to get there, I just wish we’d had more time at the falls. 

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Day 6 was Saturday, so I spent the day with the Armstrong family climbing a waterfall at a national park near Chiang Mai and that was loads of fun. I mean, dude, I got to climb a waterfall!

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Day 8 (I took Day 7 to go to church with the Armstrongs and rest), I got to go ziplining. I met a Korean guy from Daegu (near Busan) and two Chinese college students who were there on vacation. The ziplining was a lot of fun and definitely worth the time and money (it actually wasn’t that expensive either, because Thailand is super-cheap).

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Day 9 was when I went to Doi Suthep and the Chiang Mai Zoo. Doi Suthep is the mountain immediately west of Chiang Mai and it has a temple at the top that offers some beautiful sites and templiness. The zoo actually wasn’t planned, but I saw it on the way to the temple and knew that I would have some time in the afternoon, so I decided to go to the zoo. 

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Day 10 was my final day to do stuff (I flew out on Day 11 and wanted to rest up), so I went to an illusion art museum and a cultural museum in the downtown area. The illusion museum was super cool. There was lots of good artwork and clever tricks of perception, so that was a time well spent. The culture museum was underwhelming, but there was some good anthropological history regarding the settling of the area, which was interesting to know. 

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Anyways, that was my trip to Thailand. The food was good, the cost of living is cheap, the sites wonderful, and overall an amazing trip. I realize that I only got the tourist’s glimpse of the city (though I did accidentally wander into a few back alleys and the red-light district, but let’s be honest, the red-light district was aimed at tourists – the sex-trade is unfortunately prosperous in Thailand, as is human-trafficking), but I wouldn’t mind living and teaching in Chiang Mai or a similar city. If y’all want to see the full photo album(s) (facebook can’t make an album with more than 1,000 pictures, and I took 1,160), here are the links:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10153918050475534.1073741840.668415533&type=1&l=4d4383829c

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10153934869370534.1073741842.668415533&type=1&l=51043b5f1d

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Powering Through the Cold

I realized it’s been a while since I’ve posted an update, so here it is!

January and February have definitely been the two hardest months for me here in Korea. I’ve never been a particular fan of the cold, but to top it off, I had my first major illness since coming to Korea – tonsillitis. It was bad enough that on the day I realized I was sick I began having fevered hallucinations in place of sleep. Needless to say a visit to the hospital was in order. Thankfully that week was a week when we didn’t have students, so I was able to spend that time recovering. I’m quite thankful for the cheap medical care here in Korea, as the illnesses and treatment (I had an IV and it cost me maybe $15 out of pocket) for it would have ruined me in the U.S.

That being said, I think I’ve been thoroughly broken of the honeymoon effect with Korea. I’ve begun to notice some more of the frustrating cultural differences and how they impact my life and do harm to other people here in Korea. East Asian cultures seem to have a bad habit of ignoring problems (I’ve discussed this with some friends of mine and it seems to be region wide) until they become too large to ignore. In September there was something of a minor energy crisis in Korea because 5 of the country’s nuclear power plants were found to have passed their maintenance inspections through bribery (corruption is a problem here), but is has long been known that corruption is a problem and nothing was done to address the impacts it might have on vital sectors of the national infrastructure (like energy). This is but one example of things that get ignored here, though others might be the inefficiencies of certain systems (including educational habits – schooling from dawn until dusk can do more harm than good) and the immense social pressure put on their students to succeed (and the corresponding suicide rate following the national exam time when high school students test for university admission).

Along with the tendency to ignore problems, Korea is rather xenophobic. For as many Koreans as I encounter that are friendly and welcoming, I encounter many that see me as a target that they can rip off or simply as someone who has no place existing in proximity to them. The looks I sometimes get make me feel as though the very space I occupy is being tainted by my existence. It’s been something of an eye-opening experience being in a place and culture where it is impossible for me to blend in with the local population. In Europe, if I altered the way I dressed and my body language, I could be “just another person” when walking along the street. However, here in Asia, it is impossible for me to blend in simply due to the color of my skin. I’m not saying that this is an exact parallel (I was not born in this country, I know I’m a foreigner here), but I have to wonder how much this happens to racial and ethnic groups back in the States. A lot of the reaction I get isn’t overt or explicit, it’s in the brief facial expressions that slip through the mask before being covered up. So many of the expressions say “You don’t belong here” and I think I’m getting an idea of how that must feel for people who get those same reactions from every 5th person they see in a country where they were born, grew up, and see as their own. It’s frustrating to feel like your existence is offensive to someone else, even if it isn’t every single person giving you that look. There’s just so many looks over the course of the day that by the end of the day you just start staring people down to remind them that you see these looks. Eventually you get used to it and learn to drown it out, but every now and again it’s just so obvious you can’t help but see it. So yeah, as wonderful as Korea is, it has its frustrations.

As for the other stuff I’ve been up to, teaching has been fairly usual, though I did get to write some new curricula for a special group of students that had attended our school just a month prior to coming again and that was quite fun. I don’t know what it is, but I find making a well-prepared curriculum for a group of students or series of lessons is very satisfying. I’ve also uncovered a British product that is made entirely of villainy and lies. Introducing caramelized biscuit spread, packaged in creamy and crunchy and made to look entirely like peanut butter:

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Lies… all of it, lies! They place it right next to the peanut butter in the foreign foods section of the grocery store and it has been quite vexing. 

We’ve also had a recent batch of new teachers arrive here in Korea, so it’s been wonderful getting to meet all of these new friends who have arrived from all over the U.S. There are lots of wonderful new people, and a few old ones who I knew from college who are now here teaching with us in Korea.

One of the first things we did with the new people was take them to Seoul and experience our first jimjilbang (bath house). For those of you who aren’t familiar with the jimjilbang, they’re a mix of hostel and bath house, and they are very popular in Korea. You can go just for the hot tubs (some of them have herbs and other stuff mixed in) and sauna, or you can go and stay for the night. You take off your clothes, put them in a locker (you’re given a uniform thing that you can wear around when you aren’t in the baths) and then you shower and hop into the hot tubs. The idea is that they are supposed to help you relax and are good for your muscles and skin and all that. Then you shower again and go upstairs to the sleeping rooms where you can spend the night for fairly cheap. The uncomfortable thing (for most americans) is that while you are in the baths (they are separated by gender) you are completely naked, so you will see lots of naked people. But such is life in Asia, it’s best to just roll with it. Here’s a picture of some of the other stuff we were up to in Seoul (if you want to see the rest of the pictures, go here)

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Finally, I’ve recently become part of a small group/house church started by my fellow English teachers. It has been wonderful, as good English-speaking churches in Cheonan are hard to come by, so finding a Christian-community has been a bit tricky. I’ve been very blessed by this group and am so glad to be a part of it. Of course, I just got back from Thailand, but that will be a blog post all on its own. As it stands now I’m still sorting through pictures and videos (I took over 1,000 pictures… wow…), but that should be coming soon.