Thursday, December 11, 2008

Home Sweet Home

I moved into a new house a few weeks ago and love it. I have 3 wonderful roommates: Maggie, Emily and Colette (well, 4 right now - my friend Jordan is visiting from Canada for about a month and has joined "Orchidhouse" as Maggie has dubbed it, due to our love of the plants).

It's a 4-bedroom old Thai house with beautiful dark wood floors and wall panels, and a huge kitchen which we have made use of for both a housewarming party and a dinner party!

We have an awesome blue gate

and a beautiful mailbox...well okay it's not beautiful, but in case you want to send things to it, my new address is 
21/18 Moo 2
T. Changpuak, A. Muang
Chiang Mai, Thailand

Friday, December 5, 2008

Loi Kratong

A few weeks ago was Thailand's Loi Kratong festival. 'Loi' means 'to float (both air and water)' and 'kratong' are small floating rafts made of wood and banana leaves and decorated with flowers, candles and incense. Thai people set them off in the river.

During the festival you are supposed to 'Loi' a 'Kratong' to release the past year and bring happiness and good fortune in the new one. You put a hair or nail clipping on your raft to symbolize new beginnings, and a 1 baht coin for good fortune.

The festival starts on Saturday when hundreds of people gather to release Khom Loi (paper lanterns with wax candles that float them along), 

and continues Tuesday - Thursday with endless fireworks (yes, day and night -don't ask me why)

lights, paper lanterns, and candles decorate the city

there are nightly parades and thousands of people gather at the main bridge in town to Loi Kratong, party and set off more fireworks.

I went by myself because I enjoy exploring crowded areas like festivals on my own (I get claustrophobic if I have to worry about not losing people). I like be anonymous and watch the goings on. I was thinking as I walked around how I could possibly describe this festival on my blog, but it's utter craziness and I'm sure I won't do it justice. Just imagine a huge, crowded celebration in honor of the river goddess... the entire city lit up with all manner of decorations and people setting off fireworks constantly everywhere (preferably in amongst large crowds of people) like on this bridge:

It was beautiful, and shocking, and exciting and overwhelming. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fun for Linguists (and other people too!)

I always enjoy the creative/interesting translations on signs, menus, etc. 

Here are some favorites:

a new cafe near my apartment:

A memo I received:

"Dear Colleagues,

In order to avoid any inconsistencies regarding final grades, extra attention should be given to the recording of scores.

English Department"

so, in order to do my my job? thanks.

The title slide in a powerpoint at a departmental meeting:

"The Implementation of the Regulation Pertinent to the Quality Control of Teaching and Learning Procedures of the Examination Processes."

The title of one of the courses I teach is: 

"English for Specific Purposes"

....we're not gonna tell you what they are, but they're specific

Think it says "Lay" in English? My friend Ted pointed out that they did a really great marketing job because it also says "Lay" in Thai! What looks like an 'L' to us is an elongated 'sara ee' the which sounds like the way we say "A", what looks like the letter 'a' to us is the Thai 'L' (the vowel is written before the consonant but is still pronounced after it) and what looks like it could be a 'y' with a really curly tail is pronounced as a "y" in Thai (but usually looks more like a backwards 'B')

Sometimes I teach vocabulary, and I usually try to learn the Thai word after I have taught the English. Last week I spent several minutes in class explaining what a buffet was. I even mimed getting up and helping yourself, and said that it came from French, etc. Then I asked if they understood, and they nodded like they always do, even if they have no idea what I'm saying. I was skeptical. "Okay, what's the Thai word for buffet?"

(in unison) "buu-fay"

When shopping in the market, the nice ladies I buy produce from always suggest different things. I bought some pumpkin (ฟักทอง "fak-thaawng") and they offered me some of a long, green squash I had never seen before, "very good for soup!" I asked what it was called and turns out its ฟักเขียว "fak-khiaw" (yep, sound it out...)

and 2 classic examples:

Caution! Be Slip Down

Latin Club: A dancing club where adds you a hotness in the fashionable and elegant atmosphere with professional dancers who will make you fascinate in a hot step.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Missing Fall

This week we had a cold snap, and it has felt quite autumn-y in the evening and at night (despite still being 85F/29C during the afternoon). The shadows are a little longer, the light a little more golden, and there's a cool breeze that makes me crave hoodies, pumpkin pie and apple cider. All this has left me missing Fall, and so in the spirit of honoring life cycles and the earth's seasons, my goal for the week was to celebrate Fall. To me fall is squash and cranberries, apples and cinnamon, golden fields and early sunsets, but I'm looking for some new ways to get into Fall. So how do you celebrate Fall? What does this season mean to you? Do you have any beautiful Fall pictures you want to send me to make me jealous?

I was so desperate for Fall leaves, I downloaded this for my desktop wallpaper:

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Seasons of Life

Although I would define myself as an ENFP (Extroverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, Perceiving) and most people know me as one, I'm actually a "closet introvert". Until 8th grade, I was very quiet and shy. Then one day (quite literally) I decided that I was missing out on a lot of fun by being shy and that from now on I was going to be outgoing. 

After that, throughout high school and college, I was much more sociable and talkative and took on several leadership roles. 

Since coming to Thailand though, I've gone back inside myself quite a bit. I've become much quieter - observing and listening, and spending a lot of time alone. I often don't even feel like communicating with friends and family at home (no offense). 

Despite my best efforts to be fully accepting of who I am, I still find this quietness/introversion a bit distasteful - a leftover from my adolescent rejection of this part of my personality. 

I think my emotional "shell --> core" reaction is caused partly by the differences of living in Asia (as westernized as Chiang Mai is), and the shock of being so far from loved ones. But partly, I'm realizing that life goes in cycles. You can't be "on" all the time or you'll burn out. 

Sometimes you work hard, and sometimes you relax, sometimes you go out and explore the world, sometimes you curl up at home with a book and cup of hot tea. Sometimes you're on top of everything and other times things pile up unorganized... happiness and sadness, energy and lethargy all have their time. I'm working on being okay with this. 

The earth goes in cycles we call seasons, and sometimes it doesn't make sense to me that we don't follow the earth's lead. There's a time for planting, growth, harvest, and rest. That makes so much sense, yet the way we structure our lives (particularly with respect to work) asks us to be harvesting output all the time, giving the same amount of energy year round with no time for the soil/soul to rest. I may be quiet and reclusive right now, but it's okay, it's not permanent; I'm just giving myself a long-overdue winter. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

You Sabai Thai Cookery Course

At the end of my vacation (yes, I'm a little behind on my posting), I took a 3-day vegetarian cooking course and stayed at an organic farm about an hour north of Chiang Mai in Mae Taeng.
You Sabai is a homestay/cooking school just up the hill from Pun Pun, an organic farm, seed-saving operation, and sustainable living and learning center.

While I was there, I stayed in a beautiful earthen 2-room hut. Every morning we did yoga at sunrise, had local organic hilltribe coffee with our breakfast, and picked veggies and herbs from the garden. 

Throughout the day, we cooked several dishes in the outdoor kitchen, ate constantly, and relaxed around the farm. There were only four of us in the course which allowed for a lot of practice and asking questions. My companions were a writer from Singapore and two chefs from France on their honeymoon.

We learned to make soymilk and tofu from scratch. 

My Pad Thai: the quintessential Thai dish,

In addition to Pad Thai, we made Som Tam (spicy green papaya salad), Spring Rolls, Tom Kha (coconut milk soup), fried rice with herbs, stir-fried cashews, bananas with sweet sticky rice and coconut milk, and several curries. My favorite of the curries is Masaman, with peanut, pineapple and indian spices. 

Our teacher Yao taught us that each dish must have the four tastes of Thai cooking: sweet, salty, sour and spicy. I also learned that each flavor can be acquired through different ingredients, depending on how much you are cooking (one portion, or a big pot), whether you are boiling (like soups and curries) or stir-frying, and whether you want a sharp or soft taste. So you can add palm sugar, coconut sugar or regular brown sugar for the sweet, you can use soy sauce, fish sauce or salt for the salty, lime or tamarind paste for the sour, and of course, any of the many different types of chilis for spicy. 

This rule of Thai flavor extends beyond cooking; when you buy many types of fresh fruit from the market (especially sour like pomelo), they will give you a small bag of salt, sugar and dried chilis to dip the fruit into. One woman I am tutoring is going to the US soon and I asked her if she liked American food. She said yes but she though it was boring because each dish only had one type of flavor! 

I learned a lot, met some great people and fell in love with the area. The sunsets were gorgeous and stars and full moon spectacular in the countryside far from city lights. I loved it.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Yes We Can!

I, like millions of Americans, am really proud of my country right now. 
On Wednesday morning, I went to a pub in town which had CNN playing on the big screen, and watched the results come in with about 40 other anxious Americans. 

As the polls closed on the West Coast, and CNN called it for Obama, the group (and it seems the world) stood up and cheered. My roommate Maggie and I both cried; there is something about this man and this election and this time in history that is exceptionally touching. I cried when I heard he won, I cried when I saw Florida went blue, I cried during his victory speech and, yes I even had tears come to my eyes during McCain's gracious concession speech. 

Many people say cautiously "wait and see what he does now," and I agree, but must say I am happy with what has already happened. Apathetic people have been inspired, historically disenfranchised people feel a part of this victory, people stood in lines for hours to take part in this. We finally have a leader we can be proud of, and I have hope that he will be a real leader for the people. I get goosebumps when I hear him speak, and I think he just might be able to bring people together, and keep inspiring Americans to be hopeful for the future and for change.   

A Cosmic Slap on the Wrist (and Subsequent Hug)

One of my favorite books of all time is "Ancient Futures." It is about the language and culture of the Ladakh. The author weaves linguistics, anthropology, and life lessons into a beautiful story of a changing society and challenges our assumptions about "development = progress." 

I will never forget the first time I read this anecdote because it struck me as beautifully simple and effective:

"Dolma once slapped her three-year-old son as he tried to grab the hot teapot. At the same moment, almost instantly, she gave him a big hug. I wondered whether receiving such unclear signals would be confusing for the child. But after I had observed many similar incidents, I realized that the message was, “I love you, but don’t do that.”

Tonight I was leaving my buddhist meditation group and a friend asked if I was going his way. Normally I would have offered him a ride even though he was in the other direction, but tonight I was tired and apologized, saying I wasn't. As I drove away, I immediately felt I had made the wrong decision, but kept going.  

Not two blocks away, I ran out of gas (my gas gauge is broken, so if I don't pay attention, this can happen at anytime). I laughed to myself and nodded to the universe, "yup, I got the message, don't worry." Within seconds a tuk-tuk driver had pulled over and an old man on a bike had gone to get his gas can (though Thailand disregards many rules, they seem to be strict about not putting gas into anything besides specially designated receptacles). The man on the bike got me some gas and the driver stayed with me and started my ornery bike when the old man returned. I am continually humbled by Thai kindness, and the loving lessons I receive from the universe. 

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

First of all, thank you to everyone who sent cards, e-mails, facebook messages, thoughts and love to me today, and people who called or tried to call (my cell phone was in a bad mood today); I had a wonderful day.

This year, for the first time, I understood people who don't like to make a big deal out of their birthday. Usually, I like to host a big dinner party or get a group of people together to do something, but this year, I didn't want to do anything. I wanted to avoid the whole thing all together; I didn't want to plan anything and I didn't want anyone to worry about it. 

I think I was scared of what a birthday would mean so far away from family and old friends, but I was blown away by the love I felt from my friends here and the amazing community I've become a part of. 

Though I didn't want to plan anything, I was really lucky because there were already some fun things planned at Wild Rose. I got to do fun things, see my friends, and not have the focus be on me, just on the getting together. It was wonderful and I had a really special day. 

My friends Jo and Gaura were teaching a partner yoga workshop and they and Rose decided to give me the class as a birthday gift, and it was beautiful. I worked with a guy I had never met before (we were the only people who hadn't signed up with someone), and it really stretched my notions of trust and communication and letting go.

There were 16 of us and we did some work as a group and then in pairs, working together in postures and using each other to stretch and open and be supported.

After that there was a Kirtan/World Music Jam where a group of about 25 of us sang and chanted and drummed together and there was a great energy that turned the whole thing into a dance party. 

I received a few small, really thoughtful gifts that made me realize how lucky I am to know the people here that I do. A couple that I am close to (Laurence and Gaston) who are in my sangha (meditation group) gave me three beautiful photos of different stages of a lotus flower with gathas (meditation poems) written on the backs.

Then a few of my closest friends took me out for amazing dessert crepes (I had caramelized apples, vanilla ice cream, cinnamon and dark chocolate on mine). At the creperie, they did "watering the flowers" for me which is a practice of telling a person what you value about them, so everyone said really nice, thoughtful things to me and Laurence wrote them all down in a birthday card for me. So my love list for today is really just one thing: I love good friends, be they close or far away.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The rest of the world has it Backwards

So you know how the rest of the world works 5 days a week and takes 2 days off? Well I've decided that's backwards; I got my teaching schedule the other day and I work Tuesdays and Fridays. Yep, and then I have 5 days off :) 

I love my life.

(okay so that's a slight exaggeration, I tutor on the off days to make enough money, but I only work two days at my real job)

I've been back at school for a week and this semester is great so far, I have a conversation class (as opposed to just writing and grammar) and it's really fun, my students are all really into the class and have a pretty good level of English!
I also have the 2nd semester continuation of courses I taught last semester and several of my favorite students have switched up their schedules to come be in my section (I'm really flattered!) so that's fun. 

Here are some pictures from the party I had with my favorite class at the end of last semester. I told them they should "bring in some snacks or something" and we ended up with like 4 desks covered in Thai snacks and desserts so I got to try lots of things I never would have experimented with on my own (like salted dried mango, tamarind candies, dried squid snax, shrimp rice crackers, etc....)!

Hmm, this tastes funny...

Ko Chang Chill

The second part of my vacation, after Bangkok Dangerous, was hanging out at the beach for a week. We went to Ko Chang (Elephant Island) which is about 5 hours southeast of Bangkok (close to the border of Cambodia).

It was gorgeous weather and I spent most of the week swinging in a hammock/sitting in a lounge chair (re)reading book(s) and looking out at the ocean.

We stayed at Paradise Huts which had this beautiful pavilion with hammocks and a fountain

It was a little ways from the beach and the action but super-nice because it was quiet, and when you wanted food or party you could wander down the beach to the Treehouse (a cool restaurant with a pavilion built over the water that always had fun stuff going on at night)

We also went swimming and kayaking around the nearby islands, 

and did a little acroyoga,

This was a perfect morning: a tropical smoothie and a blank page in my notebook

it was a perfect break from work and Chiang Mai and I'm back at school relaxed and refreshed!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bangkok Dangerous

I had about 3 weeks for vacation so I went to Bangkok for a few days to visit my friend Kate, then to Ko Chang (and island about 5 hours south of Bangkok near the Cambodian Border) and then to an Organic Farm for a 3-day Vegetarian Thai cooking course and farmstay. 

I always find it amazing how, once you hit a certain city size, they all start to look the same. Except for the Thai script on signs, I could have sworn I was in Toronto (and knowing TO, there's probably a "little Bangkok" where you would see Thai letters). Bangkok is known for it's shopping, and so part of our orientation was to check out the Malls. There are several of them in one area connected by walkways above the street. You start on one end and you can walk for at least an hour going from one to the next, gradually increasing in ritzyness until you see names like Prada and Gucci. There's a lot of hi-so, rich people in Bangkok and travelers as well; and again you could be anywhere in the world when you're inside.

In on of the ritzy malls, we decided to do it right and see Bangkok Dangerous in Bangkok

While it was quite the terrible movie in it's cheesiness (sorry Nicolas Cage, you're just not professional hitman material anymore), seeing it gives you free license to use the title as an adjective synonymous with badass, like: "whoa, that was so bangkok dangerous" or "tonight's gonna be bangkok dangerous." Watching it in BKK amped up the cheesiness because in the opening scenes Nicolas Cage says in a dark, intense voice "Bangkok: dirty, corrupt, dense" and then there's a montage of city scenes that's supposed to be shocking and drive home the dirty, corrupt, scary message, but it loses a lot of it's power if you can say  "I think I ate at that street stall for dinner" or "hey Kate, don't you live down the street from there?" 

Forget the Grand Palace, forget the Reclining Buddha, the ultimate, true Bangkok experience is sitting in traffic for over two hours just to get out of the city. 

This is Kao San Rd. 

otherwise known as Backpacker Row, where you can get everything from a sarong to a fake degree from Oxford. Most backpackers never leave this area, but it's really just a bunch of souvenirs shops that has more expensive version of what you can get at Chaduchak Market. Chaduchak is HUGE, and completely overwhelming, it has pretty much anything you could ever want and if I ever open a coffee shop/restaurant, I'm coming here to decorate it!

I realize that my whole life I've been buying clothes, jewelry and decorations that come from Thailand. Of course they're much cheaper here, but it's not just the import cost, I think basically you're paying someone to come through here and pick stuff out for you, narrow your options, because it's utterly overwhelming (for me) to find so much cool stuff so cheap. I've made the commitment to myself not to buy anything I don't absolutely love because otherwise I'd get sucked in by the cheapness and end up with lots of stuff and no money!

I think my favorite thing about Bangkok was watching about 200 Thai people do synchronized aerobics in Lumpini Park.

The pollution sunset wasn't too bad either. 

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Go Clean Your Room!

I feel like my internet life is a dirty room. You're too busy to clean it, and once it starts to get cluttered, it's even harder to put stuff where it belongs, you just stop trying and things pile up on top of other things and it gets to the point where you don't even want to go into your room because you can't stand it. 

I cleaned up my apartment yesterday.

Today, the internet! Tomorrow the Worl--oh nevermind...just gmail? (I actually need to spend about 3 days straight online to deal with all my backlogged stuff). 

The end of the semester was busy with grading and getting things organized and then I went to Bangkok and Ko Chang (island in the south) and then You Sabai/Pun Pun (organic farm and seed-saving operation with vegetarian cooking school) for a 3-day cooking course (funny how we are in such a rush to get ON VACATION, that we stress ourselves out and leave our life in shambles just to GET THERE), so I haven't blogged in about 3 weeks, never mind replying to e-mails, facebook messages, wall posts, past blog comments, reading blogs I follow, reading the news, or skyping people (I actually stopped even opening non-urgent e-mails a few weeks ago). So for that, I apologize (However, I DID have a great vacation!)

It's funny though , if I sneak on to post a blog so I don't feel toooo guilty and so people know I'm still alive(even if I don't have enough time to respond to personal e-mails) I know that people KNOW I've come online so I COULD'VE replied to them but didn't. I don't mean anything by the not replying, I'll get there. I guess what I'm saying is I love you all and I appreciate all your personal communication and I promise I will reply soon (snail mail too, it's coming - I swear!)  :)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Raw & Juicy Music Exchange: Try This at Home!

Hey, I've been on vacation (hurray!) and haven't posted, but now I have lots to share so there will be many in the next few days. I start teaching again on Monday for my second semester - how time flies!

Last week Wild Rose (the yoga studio I practice at) held a Music Exchange and Potluck party with the theme of Raw Food & Juice (several people in the WR family had just done a juice fast and wanted to continue that theme of food). It sort of morphed into healthy food + any form of chocolate, but I was completely okay with that. We decided that chocolate is exempt from all the rules: it's vegan, raw, and calorie-free. The idea was bring some food and the 10 best songs you can think of and share.

It was a great party, and WOW, I ended up with some really cool music. I wouldn't hesitate to say the WR community is eclectic; we have people from all over the world who have lived and traveled all over the world. It's funny how you still gravitate towards what you love though. I listen to a playlist of all the collected songs and a song will come on and I think, "hey what a great song - oh, I put this on here." In the spirit of love lists, here are 10 songs I love that I chose to share.
1. World Spins Madly On - The Weepies
2. Helen - Nizlopi
3. These Streets - Paolo Nutini
4. What About Everything? - Carbon Leaf
5. I'm Yours - Jason Mraz
6. Rainstorm - Matthew Brookshire
7. Closer - Joshua Radin
8. Collide - Howie Day
9. Tears & Rain - James Blunt
10. Wait for Love - Matt White

What are yours?

Even though I took the time to look through all my music, I could have just cliked the "Top 25 Most Played" button in itunes, because my top 10 were, of course, the ones I have listened to the most, each with a play count of over 50 (and that's just in itunes - when I get into a song, I listen to it over and over again!).
Despite my gravitation towards my own contributions, I do love a lot of the music I received, especially "Sweet" by Jehro, check it out and do a music exchange in your community!