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2 posts from October 2013

10/24/2013

DG Newsletter #2

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A Letter From the Editors,

Dear Family & Friends,

The following stories will hopefully paint you a picture of our past five weeks abroad. Our group has been studying several critical environmental and human rights issues across the Isaan Region. For 4 or 5 days at a time, our group stays in different communities who are impacted by a certain issue. While on unit, we are very fortunate to be able to exchange with various governmental officials and NGOs in order to gain a broader understanding of the issues at hand. While there is so much we would love to share with you all, we hope these stories are enough to help you to understand our individual experiences, and also allow you to piece together our group’s journeys throughout Thailand.

We’d also like to give a quick shout out to all the staff of CIEE for their commitments to our program. We are incredibly fortunate for the opportunities provided by this program, and we wouldn’t have them without the hard work and dedication of the staff. So thank you to all the Ajaans and Pfacs, you guys are awesome!

Sincerely, 

The Editing Team

 

Table of Contents & Thai-English Dictionary

 

Table of Contents

Title, Author

Sa-wad-dee-krap Ajaans, Austin Edy

You’re From Where, Jacob Smith 

Struck by Dengue, Marissa Stanger

Protesting to Protect the Seeds of Thai Culture, Zoe Swartz

Student Activism in Thailand, Alain Kilajian

Unit 1: Food and Agriculture in Thailand, Jane Okerman

Pictures with Paw, Mariah Philips

My Little Sister, Maggie Adams 

Buddhism: The Social Life to the Spiritual Life, Hannah Ratliff

A Prison Experience, Hannah Thompson

 

Thai-English Dictionary

Ajaan – teacher

A roy – delicious

Baht – equivalent to the word “dollar” in English; thai currency

Caw(/Kaw) toad krap/ka – excuse me/I’m sorry

Chan – I

Chok dee – good luck

Cow pbing – grilled rice patty

Cow(/kaoh) – rice, news, or color white (depending on the tone)

Daa_Grandfather

Farang – foreigner

Guiy (/Gai) – chicken

Kap koon krap/ka – thank you

 -krap/-ka – polite sentence ending for men and women respectively

Kit toong – to miss

Koon/Kun – you

Mae/Meh – Mother

Mai cow jai – don’t understand

Mai ped – not spicy

Mai pen rai – don’t worry about it

Moon –mischievous/naughty

Nong chai – younger brother

Nong sao – younger sister

Paw – Father

Pi chai – older brother

Pi sao – older sister

Pok/Pak – vegetable

Pood – to speak

Pood cha cha – speak slowly

Saam – the number 3

Sa bai dee mai – how are you?

Sa wah dee krap/ka – hello

Som tham – spicy green papaya salad

Song tow – two row truck with seats in back

Tha-lahd – market

Tuk tuk – Thai taxi cab

Tsong Taew – Thai form of transportation. Can be likened to a bus in U.S.

Vassa – Essentially “Buddhist Lent”, though the term is controversial. In some monasteries, monks dedicate the Vassa to intensive meditation. Some Buddhist lay people choose to observe Vassa by adopting more ascetic practices, such as giving up meat, alcohol, or smoking.

Wat – temple

Wai – Thai greeting/display of respect

Yai/Yiye – maternal grandmother

 

Sa-wad-dee-krap Ajaans, Austin Edy

Ajaan Nidnoi is often characterized by her smaller stature and spunky attitude!  She works in the main office on CIEE’s campus and always dresses with exquisite style.  

Q: What is your full name?

A: “Supaporn Kidkla.” Literally translates to tidy, neat girl, as well as very sweet one, she claims “but that’s not me.” Her mom picked her name from the Buddhism bible, she thought she would be a very tidy and organized girl (which she is the very opposite, she claims “I am not tidy or sweet”)

Q: What is your nickname?  How did you get it?

A: “NidNoi,” in Thai means “a little bit” which most students think she got the name from her size. She actually got it from her mom’s first sound in her name, “ni.” The ending sound is from her fathers’ name “D”.  To make it cuter her mom put “Noi” at the end.

Q: Age? Where were you born? Where did you grow up?

A: “I am 26 years old.  I was born in Surin Province, a province in southern Isaan near the border of Cambodia.”  She grew up speaking Higher Khmer, it is a mix of speaking Cambodian plus some Thai, but also speaks fluent Thai and English.  

Q: Relationship Status?

A: “I have a boyfriend, we have been dating for 2 and a half years.” They went to the same high school in Surin Province.  He is living and working in Bangkok as a banker.  They are able to meet once a month, she claims it is not hard considering they talk a lot, 4-5 times a day.

Q: Do you have any pets?

A: “Mai Mee” (don’t have). “I am not a pet lover because I am clumsy and not good at taking care of animals.”

Q: What is your official job position?

A: “Office manager, Thai language teacher, I take care of the finance budget for the office, take care of student welfare, do anything dealing with documents, since 2012 I have gone to Cambodia to help run a summer program for CIEE.”

Q: Where did you go to college?

A: “Khon Kaen University.”

 

Q: What was your major?

A: “English Major, with a minor in Tourism Management”

 

Q: What is your dream job?

A: “I want to be a journalist” it has been her dream job since she was in high school.

Q: How long have you been studying English?


A: “Basic English since grade 3 (A,B,C’s and such), started more complex English in year 4 or 5.”

Q: Have you ever been to the United States?

A: “Never been.” But she “Absolutely wants to go.”


Q: What other countries have you been to?  Which country is your favorite?

A: “Cambodia, Laos.”  She doesn’t have a favorite country she has visited yet.  Thailand is still her favorite because “there is no place like home.”

 

Q: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

A:  “I Love going to the gym, I go to the gym every other day. It has become behavior.” “I also love singing Karaoke!”

 

Q: What kind of television do you like? Favorite show?

A: She enjoys watching Thai soap operas.  “My favorite show is ‘The Voice-Thailand’ and ‘The Band’ where musical bands compete with each other.

 

Q: What genre of movies do you like? Favorite movie?

A: “Romantic Comedy.” Right now her favorite movie is “About Time.” Her all time favorite movie is “A Little Thing Called Love” (English Translation).  It is a famous Thai movie.

 

Q: What kind of music do you like? Who is your favorite artist?

A: “Older music, because I do not stay updated with new music.” Her favorite artist of all time is Britney Spears because she is the one who inspired her to study English when she was younger.

 

Q: What are your interests?

A: Likes to read articles about exercise and understanding the body more.

 

Q: One interesting fact about yourself?

A: “I go to bed like a baby.” She claims she falls asleep at around 9 pm and wakes up at 6 am to exercise in the morning.

“I also have quite a good talent of hula hooping,” she likes to hula-hoops while watching TV, reading, or talking on the phone with her boyfriend.

 

Q: What is one thing you are proud of in your life?

A: “When I was in college I was an English tutor.” she would tutor high school students on Saturday and Sunday from 9 am-8 pm so she could make extra money to pay for school.  She was even able to buy her own computer and send money back home to her family.

 

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Official Fashionista on CIEE campus, Ajaan Nidnoi never ceases to impress

 


You’re From Where?, Jacob Smith

As our van pulled into Rasi Salai district in Isaan (Northeast Thailand) I didn’t know what exactly to expect. It was the beginning of our third unit of the semester, which focused on human rights issues caused by dams. The villages Where we were to spend the next 3 days are located on the banks of a river and have been directly impacted by the dam’s presence. However, it seemed like my house mate Austin and I were in for a different experience.

When the van pulled into the village that half of us would be staying in, the excitement in the van was palpable. It was finally time for our fourth home-stay, and none of us could wait to meet our families. We stepped out of the van and were directed to a roofed outdoor pavilion to wait for our families to come pick us up. Our families arrived one by one, taking two of us with each of them, until only Austin and I were left. At this point our teacher explained that our family would actually be in a different village, and that it was only a short drive a way. When we finally did arrive at our home, it was like no home I’d ever stayed at in Thailand. There was a fence surrounding the property, with a green lawn inside and a large pick-up sitting in the driveway. The house was large and had two full stories. Waiting for us outside the door of our house was our host father, and if I thought I was shocked at the sight of the house, it was nothing compared to the sight of this man. Outside the house was a short, white man with red hair.

It turned out my host father, Wane, was from Wales, and moved here to live with his wife, Apple. They ran a pig farm in the village and supplied pork to the villagers in the surrounding villages. It was bizarre. There I was at a home-stay, speaking fluently with my host father in English. The first night, we sat around and watched rugby games, and had the most American dinner I had eaten since arriving in Thailand. We were served pork steaks, gravy, and caramelized onions. Between the two of us, Austin and I had seven steaks. Since our host mother had to go to Bangkok to get a visa to visit Wane’s family for Christmas, we went out to restaurants next two nights. We ate at a bar that served American food in Sisaket city. The fist night I had a steak pie, and the second night Austin and I split a bunch of different Mexican dishes. It was incredible, but it didn’t feel like a home-stay.

As fun as it was to have a host parent who spoke English and could give you food that made me feel like I was back home, I felt like I was missing out when I heard all the stories about the amazing Thai foods people were eating and all the funny misunderstandings occurring between my friends and their families. Although I enjoyed living with a foreigner, if given the option, I don’t think I would do it again. It was definitely a unique experience, but not what I came to Thailand to experience.

 

Struck by Dengue, Marissa Stanger

I thought I could fight my fever naturally. I had definitely woke up with a fever, but I thought with a few extra naps, and lots of water I could overcome my symptoms. I skipped the morning’s activity, and attempted to attend my afternoon class. Almost an hour in, I headed back to my room. Two or so hours later I awoke in a daze, and finally decided to seek medical attention thanks to my mom’s pressing concerns.

I was sweating in the waiting room, which could’ve been blamed on the fever, or my fear of hospitals. (Keep in mind I had spent a night in this hospital literally the week before, for an allergic reaction to a bug bite.) Once I was called in to see the doctor, I listened apprehensively. My mind went blank after his mention of Dengue.

He tried to assure me that I might have influenza, but I wasn’t convinced. I was admitted for the night, and this time I was told to put a hospital gown on. As the first night dragged on, my blood results came back and I was told I had influenza!

Was I excited about this news? Not really. My fever was even higher and I was incredibly cranky, but at least it wasn’t Dengue.

I was woken up at 6:30 am to a nurse who stuck a thermometer in my mouth. My roommate had spent the night with me, and immediately was at my side talking to the nurses. They told her I had Dengue. I think they had accidently let it slip. The shock of it hit me hard as I lay in bed feeling extremely lethargic. I spent the next few hours reading every article I could find about Dengue Fever.

According to several Google articles, I should have had a severe headache, severe eye joint or muscle pain, nausea, and/or a number of other symptoms. I didn’t, and I was confused. Did I really have dengue? Yes, later that morning, the doctor reassured me I had Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever.

All I wanted was the comfort of my parents. I had never been to the hospital in America, and after three weeks in Thailand I was already there for the second time. So I did what I could, and cried.

Luckily I had the best roommate I could’ve asked for. She came back at lunch with a huge smile and a big bag of warm fresh food. She knew just what to do to keep my mind off the fact that I had Dengue fever. We watched a movie and talked, but when she left I felt lonely again.

Thanks to the Dengue, I was napping every 2 hours, and was able to pass the time by watching TV.

48 hours later the doctor cleared me for release and although I was really excited to get home to my friends, I felt very weak. The aftermath of Dengue left me with no appetite or energy for the next few days. Not until I developed a rash did I finally start to feel like myself. This was the rash that meant Dengue was finally going to leave my system. I was ecstatic.

I am a survivor of Dengue Fever. Thanks to all the support and love from my friends and family in Thailand and America, I beat this mosquito.

I haven’t gone a day without bug spray since.

MarissaStanger

Watching a movie with my roommate in the comfort of my hospital bed.

Protesting to Protect the Seeds of Thai Culture, Zoe Swartz

Last month, Maggie and I had the opportunity to spend two days in Chiang Mai to film a protest against the proposed Free Trade Agreement between Thailand and the European Union. CIEE is testing out a new journalism component for the DG program so we went equipped with a professional news camera to cover the story. We first learned about the protest from one of our exchangees, a one man NGO from our first unit on agriculture, P’Ubon. Once at the protest, P’Ubon helped guide us to other NGOs and we were able to get interviews from a wide variety of interesting and prominent people affected by the FTA.

From our own research and interviews at the protest, we learned that the FTA is multifaceted agreement that has implications far beyond boosting trade, and will yield huge consequences for Thailand’s farmers and the poor. The section of the FTA that the protest focused on is the strengthening of intellectual property rights laws. Strict IPR laws allow companies to own strains of seeds. If farmers do not buy seeds from the corporations who own the seed patents, they could potentially be sued if the seed seems to be similar. This both decreases seed biodiversity and increases production costs for farmers.

Furthermore, rice variety is an important part of Isaan culture so if farmers can’t use their traditional seeds, they lose an important part of their way of life. In addition lack of biodiversity jeopardizes Thailand’s food security since monocultures are more vulnerable to unpredictable weather conditions that will only become more common in the wake of global climate change. IPR laws also have strong effects on the price of medicine. The TRIPS+ provision increases the patent laws laid out by the World Health Organization, preventing Thailand from preventing generic versions of drugs. Many patients were present at the protest because the passing of TRIPS+ would mean that they could no longer afford their medicine. 440,000 people in Thailand are living with HIV and risk losing access to their antiretroviral medicine. 

Being at the protest was a truly incredible environment, and despite not understanding Thai, we were able to feel the passion of all of speakers and the strife of the protestors.

We were able to be at the frontline of many of the key events of the protest as well. On the first day, NGOs met with FTA negotiators at the swanky Le Meridian Hotel and we were right alongside professional journalists. During the march we ran with the video camera to capture all of the action. At one point Maggie even snuck her way onto a roof to get footage and I pushed my way through a mob of journalists and activists to film the negotiators addressing the crowd. The whole experience was exhilarating and we were able to come away with some powerful interviews and footage. Learning about the FTA and being at the protest helped fuel our passion for the program’s material. Sometimes I forget that economics and trade are so closely related to topics such as the environment and human rights, but studying the FTA has showed me that a global issue that seems far removed from rural people can actually be incredibly broad reaching and relevant to many of Thailand’s citizens.

ZoeSwartz
Seed diversity is crutial to Isaan culture and something worth fighting for. 

Student Activism in Thailand, Alain Kilajian

On October 6, 1976, hundreds of Thai university student protesters were shot and killed at the hands of a military government. They were fighting the political oppression and social inequality present throughout their beloved nation. Their uniting cry during the protests was a call for a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Now, more than thirty years later, the same issues prevail and the fight continues.

P’Tong, 24 years old, is one among many student activists continuing this fight for a more democratic Thailand. Short for Nitigon Khamchu, he was raised in the northeastern province of Chaiyaphum, in a middle class family. His mother is a high school teacher and his dad a university teacher in Nakhon Ratchasima Province. Satisfied with their lifestyles in Thailand, they never found the need to question the foundations of Thai society. P’Tong, on the other hand, was unable to continue in the path of his parents. He did not see a Thailand full of satisfaction. Instead, he saw a broken Thailand full of social inequalities and political dishonesty.

“What I truly want is peace and justice in Thai society. The Thai political system should be based on equality where the people make the decisions,” P’Tong exclaimed as he reflected on the future of Thai society. “That’s why I want to become a lawyer. I want to fight the laws to bring the power back to the people.”

To do so, P’Tong left Khon Kaen University’s (KKU) School of Law where he graduated in 2012.  He was intrigued by the notion of justice. It seemed to him that in Thailand, the word justice was a term blurred between the lines of the Thai constitution. However, he knew the true answer lied among the lives of villagers and their local struggles. Thanks to Dao Din, a student activist group composed mostly of KKU law students, he was able to visit different villages throughout the Isaan region, where he realized the heart of the issue and found his role in solving it.

“Villagers don’t have knowledge about their rights. I want to be the person to bring the knowledge to the villagers. The villagers are scared because they don’t know. I want to bring courage to the villagers.”

Having graduated, P’Tong, is no longer an official member of Dao Din. However, wanting to promote the values and efforts of the group, P’Tong and other graduated law students created the Legal Center of Human Rights, located in downtown Khon Kaen. The center is supported by a large number of foundations, many of which deal with human rights issues. The students work closely with three NGO leaders of the region: P’Suvit of the Peace and Human Rights Center (PHRC), P’Ned from the Chee River Network, and P’Govit who is an Independent. 

“Students want freedom, but the problem is that there aren’t many places where they can get that,” proclaimed P’Suvit. All over the Isaan region student activists are growing in numbers. The Legal Center of Human Rights and the Dao Din student group connect with students who long to voice their opinions. With the use of social media and active protesting, they are undoubtedly getting those voices heard.

Thailand has grown tremendously in the face of development and globalization. However, its core social and political issues have seen little change. In 1976, student activists wanted a more democratic Thailand. Today, the fight is the same. And the fight continues.

AlainKilajian

Student activists from the group Dao Din, protesting with villagers.

Unit 1: Food and Agriculture in Thailand, Jane Okerman

And…we’re off! We’ve finally started diving into our development and globalization academic content focusing our first unit on food and agriculture in Thailand. Our student group tried to understand why some communities in Thailand have switched to organic agriculture, while others have not. I had the pleasure and opportunity to be a unit facilitator for this stretch of learning and would love to share what we learned.

Thailand is one of the world’s largest agricultural exporters in the world especially of rice. This being such a big industry in Thailand, it is constantly in the government spotlight for ways of improvement, as it is highly stimulating to Thai economy.

Our student group headed out to two different villages in the Yasothon province of northeast Thailand: Na Samai and Kudchum, both predominantly agricultural villages. The majority of villagers in Kudchum have already made their switch to organic agriculture so we really focused our study on Na Samai village. We used Na Samai as our model for understanding what factors influence farmers to go organic. Only a few farmers in Na Samai village have taken the plunge into organic farming, which seem to not be nearly enough in the eyes of our environmentally and health conscious band of students here at CIEE.

Upon entering into unit 1, my facilitation group and I created the research question “What is holding Na Samai village back in switching from non-organic to organic farming?” to help guide our student group’s learning. While staying in these villages we were provided the opportunity to have five exchanges with various people and villagers, including key figures and non-government organizations (NGOs). During our exchanges, with the guidance of our research question, we were able to come up with a few key answers as to why this village, Na Samai, has held back in their organic transition:

Money. Money is the main factor that is holding this community back in switching to organic farming. During our exchange with Na Samai villagers, one of our exchangees, Paw [Paw Thai for father] Long, revealed that to his awareness, farmers who use chemical pesticides and fertilizers on their crops make an average of ten times more money than those who use organic farming practices; quite a staggering difference. Our student group was faced with the question “…if you make 30-40 thousand bhat per year with organic farming versus 200-300 thousand bhat per year using chemicals, which one would you choose?” a shocking question that really allowed us to see both sides of the issue at hand.

Satisfaction with Current Lifestyle. There has been no shortage of being able to consistently sell their product that is treated with chemicals. According to villagers in Na Samai, people still buy their rice; the government still buys their rice. The day that they stop being able to sell their products is when this community will transition to organic farming. These farmers are living a comfortable lifestyle not experiencing any strain due to finances. Therefore, switching to organic farming really isn’t a pressing issue.

Lack of health issues. There have been no immediate and relatable health issues related to the ingestion of chemical treated food from the villagers in Na Samai that would lead to the necessity of this village switching to organic farming.

Although this community has been encouraged and supported by local NGO, the Alternative Agriculture Network -- providing with the outlet to sell their potentially organic product at the local Green Market -- they still have no demanding reason to uproot their lives and make the significant and risky change to organic farming.

JaneOkermann
Chemical pesticides being sprayed on a rice field in Na Samai Village.

Pictures with Paw, Mariah Philips

Paw Campong is a man defined by many things.  The land he works, the village he lives in, and the people he cares for are all integral parts of the person he is today.   In the small village of Huay Ra Hong, in the Chaiyaphum province, Paw Campong has made a life for himself.  I had the fortune of being able to share a few days with him, stay in his home, help cook, and sell goods at the market.  

Paw Campong is a man defined by many things.  The land he works, the village he lives in, and the people he cares for are all integral parts of the person he is today.   In the small village of Huay Ra Hong, in the Chaiyaphum province, Paw Campong has made a life for himself.  I had the fortune of being able to share a few days with him, stay in his home, help cook, and sell goods at the market.  

However, the most fascinating activity I had the chance to do with my paw was to look through the dusty photo albums he kept in his dresser.  His presentation of each picture revealed how much he cherishes those memories; they are treasured just as much as the land itself. But now Paw Campong’s land is in danger of becoming another mere memory glued to his scrapbook.

Though the memories locked away in Paw’s dresser are a reminder of the positive aspects of his life, the concrete version of his memories, I also got a taste of some of the evils a photograph can commit.  To give a little context, Huay Ra Hong is in the middle of a land grab battle.  The Thai government, in an attempt to preserve wildlife, biodiversity, and the larger global community, is attempting to create a wildlife sanctuary that would encompass Paw’s land.   Because Paw Campong has no legal documentation legitimizing his ownership of the land it is technically government owned property.  

Movements such as this are common throughout all of Isaan.  One of the means the government has employed in order to sue villagers for trespassing is using GPS photography to document when the villagers stand on marked off land.  Sometimes they are even tricked into standing on the off limits zones and photographed just to accumulate evidence.  

This kind of stark manipulation was especially infuriating with our newly established kinship with the villagers.  It was no longer just about an issue, it was about people with their own names, stories, and voices.  I started to feel a sense of responsibility to advocate for them and spread knowledge about the injustices that these photos can commit.  That is partly why I am writing this newsletter.  The other half of it is to remind myself of the potential beauty that a photograph can have. Paw’s attachment to those photos has a deeper symbolic meaning than I can fully understand.  Land can be taken away, but Paw has a whole book of memories that will forever be his.  

On my first day staying with Paw Campong, he took me to his land and took pictures of me standing next to the corn he shucked himself, balancing on rocks overlooking the crops he planted, and eating the passion fruits that he grew.  Those photos mean something to him.  It is this sentimentality that made part of my stay with Paw Campong so special.  

It is possible that Paw could lose his land forever, and though holding an old photo of the emerald slopes of his land is nothing in comparison to standing amidst the greenery in person, it is a reminder of all the beautiful things that were.  As much as I hope I am among my Paw’s fond memories, I can say with certainty that he is forever enshrined in mine.

 

MariahPhilips
Paw Campong and I stand on a boulder overlooking his farmland in Huay 

My Little Sister, Maggie Adams

It was dark outside by the time we finally pulled into the village. We stepped out of the van and were immediately overwhelmed by the crowd of local residents excited to meet us.  They were all smiling and whispering and the first thing I hear is “Sa Bai dee mai Maggie! “I was so shocked that they actually remembered my name from when I had visited the village a month ago with Austin and Marissa. Everyone became hectic as we tried to figure out where each of us will live for the next four days. In the midst of it all, a little girl walked up to me, smiled, and grabbed my hand; and that’s where it all started.

The little girl that grabbed my hand happened to be my little sister, Nong Pom. Nong Pom is seven years old and has the sweetest smile you have ever seen. She introduced me to my Yai, Daa, Meh, and my baby brother Biy. I was welcomed with warm hugs and warm food, I immediately felt like I was home. We ate a delicious dinner as a whole family and chatted with some other villagers, as if I had already been there for days. I slept in a mosquito net with Nong Pom and as we were falling asleep she turned her curled up body toward me and said “Fan Dee Maggie”, smiled and closed her eyes. I whispered back, “Fan Dee Pom.” At this moment, I automatically felt so comfortable in what should be such a foreign place.

The next morning I was awake before the sun came up, given a nice warm cup of coffee which reminded me of the coffee I drink at home with my own mother and saddled up to get ready for the corn fields. My Paw drove Meh, Pom, and me on the bumpy tractor through the village and to their land. We ate a picnic that Meh has packed with fresh fruit from the trees surrounding us.  Meh handed me a pair of gloves and knife and I watched as my family picked the corn, before I started to move in. The first couple stalks, Meh just seemed to be laughing at me, but I got gradually got better as the morning wore on. Even Nong Pom was helping for a little bit! After a couple of hours, I met Nong Pom back under the handmade hut furnished with two hammocks and a big table, and I lied down in the hammock next to her for a quick nap after hard work.

Later that day, Pom and I got ready for a fun filled, tiring day, the two us. We went swimming with our friends in a pond in the rice fields! We went to a temple in the mountains that had a cave that seemed endless, and we walked together around the village. She showed me her soccer skills, and we kicked around the ball for a while. I have played soccer my whole life, so it was awesome to see her so passionate about learning from me. I felt a real connection to her. She reminded me of myself when I was her age.

After leaving the Chiang Khan Tourist district, where we gave out surveys with a couple of the villagers for hours during the night, Pom and I jumped in the back of the truck to head home. It was cold and windy outside. Nong Pom curled up in my arms, and fell asleep on the ride back. I really felt like I was a big sister, I was protective of her. Saying goodbye to her the next morning was one of the hardest things I have had to do this far on the trip. It’s tough to leave communities and individuals we connect with in villages, but I always know I can go back soon!

MaggieAdams
The flowers may not last forever, but I will never forget this girl

 

Buddhism: The Social Life to the Spiritual Life, Hannah Ratliff

This past week marked the end of the Vassa retreat, or Buddhist "Lent." Vassa is a 3-month period that many people choose to observe by adopting more ascetic practice, such as giving up meat, alcohol, or smoking. Khon Kaen, like many other communities, celebrated the closing of Vassa with a large festival spanning almost a week. Our student group was fortunate to have free time and was able to partake in a night of these festivities. On the night of October 18th we took a tsong-taew to the event.

At first sight, the festival reminded me of a typical night fair I may see in America;There was everything from amusement rides, dart games, clothes tents, to endless amounts of food stands with anything from popcorn to pad thai! Initially I forgot the meaning behind the entire event because there were so many fun activities going on around us. The significance of this night stayed clear from my thoughts until I unintentionally wandered near the river beside the festivities. Up and down the path leading to the river there were numerous stands selling little boats made from banana leaves, which were beautifully lit with candles and decorated with flowers. At the end of the path cluster of people were sending their boats assail on the lake’s edge. At the time I hazily remembered one of the P’ Facs describing the significance behind this ceremony. According to her, the boats that were being sent are said to pay respect to the Buddha and to thank the mother of rivers for providing water for their lives.

The sight was angelic. The sky was pitch-black, the moon full and radiant as the candles flickered across the calm lake. I found myself reflecting on the past 2.5 months I’ve spent here in Thailand; all the things I’ve learned, people I’ve meet, sights I’ve seen and feelings I’ve felt. I came to Thailand to not just learn about development and globalization but to live with families and to become immersed in Thai culture. That moment I was living in Thai culture, not just learning about it or seeing it but partaking in it.  

This celebration was a reminder to continually embrace every moment of Thailand. Every instant, whether it be this beautiful Buddhist lent festival or something else, is an experience that I hope I will take something from in future. This celebration is another reminder that every moment here is precious. I will continue to live in the moment in order to get the most out of my experience abroad in Thailand.

HannahRatliff
Beautiful flower covered banana boats being sold at the festival

 

A Prison Experience, Hannah Thompson

“Be ready Friday morning we are going to Khon Kaen Central”, these were words that let me know I would spend the morning of my birthday exploring a Thai prison. Going into this tour I had visions of dirt pits, torture chambers, and lots of shackles. In essence I thought I was going to walk into a scene from the American Film “Brokedown Palace”.

The first thing I was confronted with after walking through the main gates was a row of prisoners who were new intakes, about to start their prison sentence. Sitting in a row they were one by one getting cast iron shackles put around their ankles, this act did nothing to give me hope about what was to come. However Ajaan Dave nudged my back and told me to “just keep grinning”,Thai prison is not the place to make enemies.

To say I was pleasantly surprised, by how the prison was set up, would be a stretch but there were no dirt pits (at least that I was shown).

It was set up similarily to a western prison, women and men separated by learning centers, health care, and dining halls. The head of the prison proudly took us around to each section of the prison showing us how progressive Khon Kaen Central was for a Thai prison. Prisoners have the access to education programs, trade schools that prepare them for jobs upon release, free healthcare and medicine, three meals a day, and ability to get a job while serving time to have spending money at the prison store. All of these qualities are things that are happening at Khon Kaen central because of new Thai policies that are requiring Thai prisons to step up and better meet human rights standards. These new policies are a result of pressure from international bodies for Thailand to start addressing the human rights infringements they are known for. Thailand who is a country set on developing has began adjusting some of their old traditions to better fit in line with global communities, and bodies such as the UN.

One of the most startling things within the prison was the presence of both pregnant women as well as mothers with their children. The Thai prison system allows for women to raise their children within prison walls until their children are 1 year old. While this sounds grim(who wants a child inside a jail?),the mothers actually are allowed to spend all day with their children inside of a penned of play area, and sleep next to their children at night. The hard part of this situation is when the children have to leave and the mothers have to deal with the absence of their baby. However I was told that mothers were provided with mental assistance if needed due to these separations.

While all of these opportunities seem great and like steps toward of improving the Thai prison system, it is important to remember that it is still a prison. Some of the women I talked to were facing the fact that they wouldn’t be able to see their children for 40 years. There is still a denial of rights as a human and the prisons still have a long way to go until they are meeting the human rights standards.

*****

 

10/20/2013

Student Video: Thailand and EU Free Trade Agreement negotiations in Chiang Mai

 

Protestors expressed opposition to a proposed free trade agreement (FTA) between Thailand and the European Union in the Northern Thai city of Chiang Mai from September 18th-20th 2013. Proponents of the FTA believe liberalizing trade will bolster both economies. But Thailand’s poor, say Thai activists, are at risk of losing their livelihood and access to affordable healthcare if the proposed FTA is passed.

Strict international property right (IPR) laws allow international companies to own strains of seeds. As owners of the seed patents corporations can impose prices. They can also sue farmers if evidence of unauthorized seed strains are found in their fields. The effect might be a decrease in seed biodiversity and increased production cost for farmers.  

For farmers from Thailand’s poorest region of the Northeast,  rice varieties are an important part of the Northeastern, or Isaan, culture, so if traditional seeds can’t be used, these farmers lose an important part of their way of life. Lack of biodiversity may jeopardize Thailand’s food security as the monoculture agriculture that may result from the FTA makes yields more vulnerable to unpredictable weather conditions that will only worsen in the midst of global climate change.

The poor are particularly worried about how the FTA may affect access to medicine. International Property Right (IPR) laws also have strong effects on the price of medicine as new trade rules may prevent Thailand from producing generic drugs. Many people living with HIV/AIDs were present at the protest. More than 440,000 people in Thailand are living with HIV/AIDs and risk losing access to antiretroviral medicine.

The trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights provision (TRIPS+) increases the patent laws laid out by the World Health Organization, preventing Thailand from preventing generic versions of drugs. Many patients were present at the protest because the passing of TRIPS+ would mean that they could no longer afford their medicine. 440,000 people in Thailand are living with HIV and risk losing access to their antiretroviral medicine. 

NGOs delivered a letter of concern to EU negotiators at the Le Meridian Hotel during the protest. Olarn Chaipravat, Thailand’s chief negotiator, and Antonio Berengeur, head of the EU delegation’s trade and economic section, assured protestors that their concerns will be considered.

Negotiations are still in early rounds and activists are still hopeful that their rights of the poor will be respected in the agreement.

Zoe Swartz, Tulane University 
Maggie Adams, Indiana Univiersity