Chiang Mai take 2

By Melissa Palmer and Kate Wiley

Our second time around in Chiang Mai we had a full free day and did a few activities as a full group.

First stop of our day was the umbrella factory near the city. We were able to see the process of traditional paper umbrella making as well as learn a bit about the history of umbrellas and the art featured on them in society.

The main attraction for our group was the painting area of the factory. Outside were men and women who were willing to paint detailed and vividly colored designs onto almost any thing we would like (some even offered to paint on students yoga pants, shoes, or backpacks!). Most of the group took the time to have this done some article they had with them, often wallets, phone cases or passport holders, while other went into the shop in order to get blank canvases or umbrellas to have larger creations done.

It was amazing to watch the speed in which these artists created intricate designs on all of these objects and it was well worth the tips many students gave afterwards. That was even before they got to explore the main building where the gift shop held thousands of umbrellas and fans as well as other related trinkets for purchase. Every piece was unique which made this a truly one of a kind stop.

Silk factory

After the umbrella factory we made our way to a silk factory. We were able to see how they produce the silk from the cocoon of the silk worm. This process is similar to that of one we saw at an early village early on in the trip. They boil the silk cocoon and extract the fibers from the worm itself. The worm is then disposed of or sold for consumption. The silk is categorized into three different types, each type is used to create a different type of silk texture. These are due to whether the silk was pulled from the inner, middle or outer part of the cocoon. All three types must be bleached and dyed before they are able to be woven.

The weaving process here has been adapted from the traditional methods for higher efficiency, productivity and marketability. This specific factory receives silk from Thailand, China and Japan. The ability to make the silk products faster has resulted in a higher prevalence of silk at a higher price in Chiang Mai along with a wider selection of products available. This can impact those in smaller villages that also specialize in silk weaving because they have difficulty competing with the factories that are able to mass produce high quality items.

An fun fact that was an interactive activity at the silk factory was determining the difference between real silk and fake silk. Besides the small difference in texture the biggest difference is the smell the garment produces when they are burned. Real silk smells like burning hair when it is set on fire and fake silk smells like burning plastic when it is set on fire.

Nimman Neighborhood

This area was interesting as well as oddly familiar as it was very much a “hipster” area much like Sugarhouse or 9th & 9th in Salt Lake City. The neighborhood lies northwest of Chiang Mai’s old city section and is particularly popular with expats and younger generation locals as it is close by to multiple Chiang Mai universities.

It’s centered against Nimmanhaemin road and has many shopping opportunities and unique local eateries. We wandered around this area for a few hours, taking in the newly constructed mall (it’s architecture was very old European and featured high end shopping) as well as looking into some of the more eclectic shopping in the market. We ended this part of our day with some ice cream and a Songthaew (a shared taxi in the back of a pickup truck) ride back to the old city.

The group of us that visited the Nimman neighborhood went to the older part of the city and visited Wat Chedi Luang for the monk chats. This is a daily occurrence and the monks that are stationed there come out and talk with tourists and answer any questions they may have about Buddhism. These chats happen entirely in English, so it is a great opportunity for the monks to practice English and increase people’s knowledge of Buddhism.

Katoi Show

One of the highlights of our trip was the Katoi show near the Night Market. After a busy day, it was just the right amount of fun. The show featured many talented dancers and singers who were a part of the LGBTQ community in Chiang Mai.

The show was seemingly open to all ages as we saw other young adults, older women and men as well as children in the audience. The performances were also helpful in making the venue age friendly as they weren’t hyper sexual or raunchy, but just celebrated songs and dances and their meanings in relation to the community represented. There was one song in particular that focused on the shift of someone’s sense of self from female to male which really emphasized the Katoi shows goal of creating awareness and acceptance in the class community. Other traditional songs from drag shows often seen in the US were also featured and as many of our group were there in the front tables there direct interaction with the performers, particularly for the males in the group. This made everything even more fun and created a great connection between the audiences themselves and the performers.

Our ride through Sukhothai

Among the most impressive and grandiose historical sites in Thailand can be found in Sukhothai. So after having a luxurious night in the Le Charme Resort, we set out to explore the ancient city of the Sukhothai empire. The fastest–and most enjoyable–way to see the park is to bike. The Sukhothai Historical Park is home to the remains of several temples, the most impressive being Wat Mahathat, which stands at the center of the kingdom’s ruins. The sites exhibit rich architectural forms and styles.

Immeadiately, the first thing that I noticed was the incredible trees that line the pathways. Scraggly and beautiful, the probably centry old trees were an unexpected bonus to whole experience.

The first part of the park that we explored was the famous Wat Mahathat. One of the most noticeable architectural designs was the use of bell-shaped stupas, as seen as in the image below. Influenced by the split from the Khmer Empire of Angkorian architecture, Sukhothai is unique in design. Most of the temples outer wood structures were burned and destroyed with the fall of the Sukhothai empire around the 1400’s, but the strong stone and artistry remains.

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Wat Mahathat in the Central Region

 

The ruins that I personally found the most interesting was Wat Si Chum. The site is quite popular with visitors and for good reason. As you approach you can see PhraArchana (“He who is not frightened”), the largest Buddha image in Sukhothai through a small slit between two pillars. It stands at almost 11 meters high and was restored in the later half of the 20th century. You can see the large and incredibly detailed (golden fingers, decorated chest, seated position, etc) Buddha image fully.

another sukhothai picture
PhraAchana

 

The meaning behind the name Sukhothai now makes sense. Translating roughly to “dawn of happiness”, the park itself reminded us all of a beautiful sunrise. Even though we did not see the empire in all its glory, being able to catch this glimpse of its splendor was an incredible experience. All in all, we had a wonderful day full of breathtaking sights and a lovely bike ride through history.

~ Emily Moyer and Teagan Feeley ~

Chiang Mai Impressions

May 25, 2018

                We arrived in Chiang Mai and we were happy to see how nice the Suirwongse hotel was, especially after the homestays in Kalasin. Since we had never been to Chiang Mai, we were not sure what to expect. Other people had told us nothing but good things about the city, but we had to see it for ourselves to fully understand why it is such a loved destination in Thailand.

                Once we got settled in our hotel rooms, we headed straight to the night bazaar. We immediately noticed the differences between Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Even though there was a lot happening at the night bazaar, Chiang Mai felt less overwhelming than Bangkok. There’s plenty of things to do in the night bazaar, such as getting a traditional Thai massages, eating street food, and dancing at the local clubs. As for us, we saw a fish pedicure station and had to do that as our first activity in Chiang Mai. Following that, we got street food (some were braver than others and ate a scorpion) and then finished off the night at a club in the center of the bazaar.

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May 26, 2018

                After an entertaining first night in Chiang Mai, we woke up early the next day and headed to the Hmong Village, which is in the mountains above the city. We were told to take Dramamine and expect a windy road, but we had no idea how bad it was actually going to be. There were many students who experienced getting carsick for the first time that day. However, it was worth the drive because of the culture we got to be immersed in. The views from the village were breathtakingly beautiful, including many colorful flowers and a waterfall. Some students decided to spend time shopping, while others continued to explore the area. It was a unique experience to be able to see another aspect of the city that we had not yet seen.

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                After this, we traveled down the mountain to a popular temple, Wat Prathat Doi Suthep. This temple was different compared to the other temples we had visited in the past. It was much more crowded with tourists, but also the level of detail in the temple was greater. There was a lot of gold coloring and intricate art used throughout the entire area. We were amazed at the view of Chiang Mai from the top of the temple as well.

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                To wrap up the first part of our Chiang Mai visit, many of us decided to go to the Saturday Night Market. It had a much different atmosphere than the Night Bazaar. Since it is only put on one night a week, it seemed to be much more crowded than anything we had seen the night before. Everyone found a lot of gifts there to bring home (and maybe some stuff for themselves as well). In the middle of our shopping excursion it started to pour rain, so we headed over to Nimman, another part of the city, to get some yummy Kao Soy. This was a unique dish that none of us students had ever tried before, but we were sure happy that we did. This was a wonderful way to conclude our first couple nights in Chiang Mai.

Religion in Thailand

Buddha

Wat Prathat Doi Kham – Temple of the Golden Mountain in Chiang Mai

 

Of the nearly 69 million people living in Thailand, the U. S. Department of State notes that the predominant religion practiced by about 94% of those 69 million people is Theravada Buddhism. 5% of Thai people are Muslim and the remaining 1% practice a wide range of other religions and atheism.

According to the Buddhist Society, Theravada Buddhism is the Southern School of Buddhism that is rooted in the scriptures of the Pali Canon. There are many different divisions of Buddhism practiced across Asia but Theravada is the type of Buddhism typically practiced in Thailand as well as in Sri Lanka, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia.  Compared to Mahayana Buddhism, which is seen in Tibet, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Mongolia, Theravada is thought to be more like the original form of Buddhism started in India. It is a more strict adherence to the teachings and rules of Buddha about monastic activities. Nearly every village and town in Thailand have a monastery. What the focus of the monastery is, however, varies based on the town.

 

Buddhism has a goal of reaching self-enlightenment through meditation and the development of morality and wisdom. The Buddha, Siddharath Gautama, is looked to as a teacher but not worshiped like a god. There are no personal gods in this religion, as all of the focus is on the individual reaching the state of nirvana, the state in which there is no longer greed, hatred, and delusion and their pattern of being reborn to suffer worldly pains is broken. Those who reach this level are considered “enlightened”.

 

Islam is the only other major religion to see a significant following in Thailand. Despite a very diverse population, most Muslims residing in Thailand are Sunni. Although for the most part the two main religious groups, Muslim and Buddhist, have gotten along fairly well, there have been expanding tensions between the Thai government and Muslims in Southern Thailand.  Attempts by Muslim separatists to form the Islamic Patani Darussalam have resulted in violence. Roughly 18% of Thailand’s Muslim population resides in the southern provinces of Songkhla, Satun, Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, a region that was once a part of the Islamic Sultanate of Patani, a Malay-Islamic Kingdom that existed from 1516-1902. The fall of the Sultanate and subsequent annexation by the Kingdom of Siam saw a long period of exclusion, oppression, and scapegoating of Malay-Muslims in the 20th century, and an assimilation campaign that sparked heated nationalist sympathy. While official stance from the Thai government has become more accomodating in recent years, decades of repression and nationalism have culminated in the separatist insurgency of 2004 that has spurred armed violence in the south of Thailand for over a decade. Both ethnic and religious tensions play a major factor in the ongoing conflict, necessitating a more inclusive and diverse narrative in the spheres of politics, religion, and history.
Sources:

Amaro, A. (n.d.). The Buddhist Society: Theravada Buddhism. Retrieved from https://www.thebuddhistsociety.org/page/theravada-buddhism

BBC. (2009, November 17). Religions – Buddhism: Buddhism at a glance. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/buddhism/ataglance/glance.shtml

Differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism. (2013). Retrieved from https://www.biographyonline.net/spiritual/buddhism/theravada-mahayana.html

  1. S. Department of State. (2005). Thailand. Retrieved from https://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/2005/51531.htm

Hunter, M. (2015) The Islamization of Thailand. Asian Correspondent. <https://asiancorrespondent.com/2015/07/the-islamization-of-thailand/#C8ZXEMko82HxVbPw.97>

 

Fun at the Ban Toong Ting School

5/30 and 31/2018 – Ban Toong Ting School

On our third day at the school we got to teach an English lesson to the children. The little guys learned the colors of the rainbow, numbers 1-15, played games (Duck Duck Goose, Red Light Green Light, and Rock Paper Scissors), and sang English songs (Down by the Banks and Head Shoulders Knees and Toes). We split up into different grades and each classroom had 4-6 Westminster students teaching the lesson. Now, May, and Am, our Thai guides, floated from class to class to help translate our wordier instructions to the kiddos. Even with their help, there was some confusion and frustration, but nothing that charades and affirmative gestures couldn’t fix. Playing with the kids was a good ice breaker, as they seemed to be very weary of us up to that point. That afternoon, we walked the kids home from the school to the nearby village. It was a 1.5 mile walk, with bumpy, unpaved roads, lots of hills, and flip-flop-stealing mud. The kids do this trek every day, regardless of weather. Walking with the kids and seeing their homes offered us insight into their daily lives. These children live in conditions that a lot of Westerners looking in may consider insufficient as they are not consistent with our Western standards and expectations of housing. Still, the laughter of kids coming home from school could be heard and whole families were out on their porches together.

The last day at the school was spent having a field day with different outside games. The games we played ranged from modified basketball to more unique local games involving produce. There were relay races, an eating competition, a water balloon toss, and team sports. This was a great way to spend our last full day with the kids and teachers. Later that night, the students and teachers had put together a farewell dinner that included two dances and a short video that the school had made to show the changes Westminster students had made to the campus in the last five years we have been visiting. It was a very powerful video, moving some to tears. Four of the older girls that board at the school during the week did a traditional Lanna dance in beautiful garb. The younger kids dressed in traditional Karen outfits and preformed a less traditional, but still very fun, dance. After the performances the students went to bed and then it was karaoke time for the Westminster students and Bong Toong Ting teachers. The first few songs were American classics, but after a few the Thai teachers were coaxed on stage where they sang a well-known Thai song that our van drivers demonstrated the dance for.

Leaving on Friday morning was not easy, as many Westminster students had become very close with the children. There were some tears and a lot of heavy hearts. It was a difficult time for the Westminster teachers too, as they have been coming here for the last five years but it is time to move on to a new village. They do plan to stop for a shorter visit next year to visit with the school they have made such an impact on next year.

Time Spent with the Students and Teachers of Bong Toong Ting School

5/31/2018 Bong Toong Ting School, Chiang Mai

By Tara Ryan and Emma Zeumer

On our third day at the school we got to teach an English lesson to the children. The little guys learned the colors of the rainbow, numbers 1-15, played games (Duck Duck Goose, Red Light Green Light, and Rock Paper Scissors), and sang English songs (Down by the Banks and Head Shoulders Knees and Toes). We split up into different grades and each classroom had 4-6 Westminster students teaching the lesson. Now, May, and Am, our Thai guides, floated from class to class to help translate our wordier instructions to the kiddos. Even with their help, there was some confusion and frustration, but nothing that charades and affirmative gestures couldn’t fix. Playing with the kids was a good ice breaker, as they seemed to be very weary of us up to that point. That afternoon, we walked the kids home from the school to the nearby village. It was a 1.5 mile walk, with bumpy, unpaved roads, lots of hills, and flip-flop-stealing mud. The kids do this trek every day, regardless of weather. Walking with the kids and seeing their homes offered us insight into their daily lives. These children live in conditions that a lot of Westerners looking in may consider insufficient as they are not consistent with our Western standards and expectations of housing. Still, the laughter of kids coming home from school could be heard and whole families were out on their porches together.

 

The last day at the school was spent having a field day with different outside games. The games we played ranged from modified basketball to more unique local games involving produce. There were relay races, an eating competition, a water balloon toss, and team sports. This was a great way to spend our last full day with the kids and teachers. Later that night, the students and teachers had put together a farewell dinner that included two dances and a short video that the school had made to show the changes Westminster students had made to the campus in the last five years we have been visiting. It was a very powerful video, moving some to tears. Four of the older girls that board at the school during the week did a traditional Lanna dance in beautiful garb. The younger kids dressed in traditional Karen outfits and preformed a less traditional, but still very fun, dance. After the performances the students went to bed and then it was karaoke time for the Westminster students and Bong Toong Ting teachers. The first few songs were American classics, but after a few the Thai teachers were coaxed on stage where they sang a well-known Thai song that our van drivers demonstrated the dance for.

Leaving on Friday morning was not easy, as many Westminster students had become very close with the children. There were some tears and a lot of heavy hearts. It was a difficult time for the Westminster teachers too, as they have been coming here for the last five years but it is time to move on to a new village. They do plan to stop for a shorter visit next year to visit with the school they have made such an impact on next year.

Kalasin Day 1

In Kalasin, on Saturday the 19th of May, we attended the traditional welcome ceremony conducted for visitors. The ceremony was particularly momentous due to our group being the first western visitors to come to the village in which we’re staying and be a part of the ceremony. It was overwhelming to be the subject of such attention, and to realize the extent to which our visit is an honor to the community. Receiving visitors in the U.S. is enjoyable and a compliment to both one’s self and one’s home, but in Thai culture and this relatively small community, hosting visitors holds far greater social significance.

Our arrival in Kalasin was the first time that many of us felt that we were in a completely different culture with different values and experiences. Arriving at the village was overwhelming. Before the trip we had been warned that our presence would attract attention but we didn’t know what that meant until arriving. We were greeted by the entire village waiting for us with fresh flower necklaces and were quickly rushed to the center of the crowd for the welcoming ceremony.

The ceremony itself consisted of a man acting as a monk representative performing  Buddhist incantations in ­Pali, an ancient language reserved for use in religious ceremonies. A central component of the ceremony was a white string passed around the most inner circle which we grasped between our thumbs. Even without great depth of knowledge of the significance of each component, we felt the emotional and spiritual significance of the process deeply.

After the incantations and group ceremony had finished, all the villagers were given a bundle of white strings to walk around and tie onto our wrists to symbolize blessings and welcoming us to Thailand. Each villager had their own style of giving a blessing. Some were serious, some shy, some were even silly and joking around with each other. Even with the formality of the ceremony, we were met with an introduction to the unwavering kindness of Thai people.

Initial Impressions Ban Toon Ting School

By Emily Halliday and Naomi Shapiro

After a four-hour van ride from Chiang Mai, all 29 of us hopped in the back of back of four-wheel drive pickup trucks for the last 45 minutes up the muddy, potholed, mountain road.  Upon arriving, Han and Peter mentioned how much the school has changed since their first trip here, 5 years ago. Many new buildings, such as the girl’s dormitory, have been built, and new roofing has been installed on many of the classrooms. Since this is Westminster students’ last year here, we were told to think about what we expected the school to be like. In reality, it was much better than many of us would have thought. The school looked to be in good shape and because of that a lot of us were unsure about what work we would actually be able to do there. The digs were very comfortable.  We all slept in dormitory like quarters which we called the “Gum Drop Villages”, because it was two large rooms with gum drop looking bug nets over all of the beds.  We were very excited to get settled in for our next 5 days at the school.

Gumdrop Village

In order to accommodate families living in more remote areas, Ban Toon Ting School is pretty isolated.  Although the school’s location is designed to serve the largest number of people possible, accessibility is still an issue because there isn’t organized transportation for the students.  Those who live the farthest away board at the school during the week, but others make the journey there and back each day.  One afternoon while we were staying at Ban Toon Ting, we walked with the kids to one of the villages that the school serves (about 1.5 miles away).  Just like in the U.S., once the bell marking the end of school rings, a mass of kids head for home.  A few get picked up by parents or siblings on motorbikes, but most are part of the horde walking.  All of the students were between kindergarten and 6th grade.  I was a little bit surprised by how small some of them looked.  They seemed far too young to be walking by themselves, but then I realized that the older kids were all looking out for the little ones.  As we walked with them, I was grabbed by the hand by a pair of second graders.  We picked flowers and jumped in puddles as we made the trek to the village.  As we passed different houses, kids peeled off and waved goodbye.  It was kind of like a big walking school bus.

Ban Toon Ting

 

HIV/AIDS Hospice

Lop Buri: HIV/AIDS Hospice

By: Kaycee Gilson & Hailey Muilenburg

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•HIV and AIDS•

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that causes destruction of the body’s immune system and defenses. If left untreated, HIV can lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). AIDS is the most severe stage of HIV. HIV/AIDS can not be cured but there are treatments to prolong life and provide comfort. HIV compromises immunity and ability to fight infections which may lead to terminal infections and cancers. HIV is transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breastmilk. Common routes include vertical transmission (mother to infant) and horizontal transmission (sex between partners and IV drug use). Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is used to treat an infection but it cannot cure the patient of the virus. These drugs are often very costly and have many negative side effects. Efforts like this facility strive to prevent the spread of HIV by educating the public and reducing the stigma surrounding the illness.

•Purpose•

The HIV/AIDS hospice provides a safe community and environment for those with HIV/AIDS. The center serves to improve the patient’s physical, social, and spiritual needs. The center also aims to educate, raise awareness, and decrease stigma about HIV/AIDS.

•Museum•

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The first part of the tour was to the HIV/AIDS hospice museum. Fourteen donated human bodies occupied this space, ranging in age from childhood to adulthood. The museum contained ashes of over 10,000 individuals with HIV/AIDS. The ashes in the museum are a final resting place for individuals whose families refused them. The oldest of the remains are 20 years old. The bodies have been donated by the individuals to serve as a source of education and awareness. The museum housed mostly male and transgender individuals, but also included women and children. Prior to ART there were 1 to 2 deaths per day. Since the induction of ART, there are 1 to 2 deaths per month. Overall, the clinic has seen a decline in the number of individuals passing away with HIV/AIDS, but also a reduction in the number of new admits. The main focus of this museum was to provide education and awareness about HIV/AIDS.

•Clinic•

This hospice center has a maximum capacity of 150 people.  It is currently hosting 144 people. The center is divided into six sectors: male, female, family, end-stage AIDS, volunteer, and monk. The clinic covers all medical care including transportation and ARTs. There is one nurse and one doctor on staff. The patients receive weekly visits from the physician that resides in Bangkok. All other patient needs are taken care of by volunteers. If the hospice reaches capacity there is often a waitlist for those new admits. Individuals may be admitted by family that is unable or unwilling to provide care or if they are unable to provide care for themselves.

•Our Thoughts•

There is a lot of stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, which is largely contributed to lack of education and cultural beliefs. The AIDS hospice provides a community free of social stigma and judgement that allows for collaboration among a select population. The patients did not seem “put off” by their location, but rather the status of their situation. The facility was kept clean and the patients seemed to be well cared for. The museum brought a lot of emotions to the surface of the students and created a very powerful statement about the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS. A facility such as this one would not be possible in the United States: medical expenses would not be covered by the government and the facility would not be open for the public to tour.

Buriram Community Projects

Manon Maurer, Mary Grace Lewis

After Bangkok, we headed to Cabbages and Condoms Resort in Buriram. We spent two days there, visiting a few different villages where we were spoken to about the different community projects and the village sustainability models. We also spent an afternoon at the Pattana school which is credited as one of Mechai’s most successful projects. We met students from 7th-12th grade at the Pattana school and had the opportunity to tour the campus, learning about the ways that the school prepares students with skills to later apply to their own communities.

The three villages we visited were improved with the help of the Population Development Association (PDA), a non-profit run and supported by Mechai. The villages would get microloans or other forms of support from the PDA to help them build self-sustaining profitable businesses. The profit that the villages procured were then used to uplift the village communities and further help other villages in the surrounding areas. Mechai’s model is unique in that it empowers the communities to uplift themselves, rather than continuing to rely on the NGO. Additionally, villages are encouraged to cooperate with each other and support each other. The second village focused on water storage and treatment and then was able to share these developments with other villages. The first village focused on agriculture, and was able to grow, produce, and sell herbal medicines. The third village raised silk worms and harvested the silk to produce high end silk products. Each village was able to use Mechai’s models of development to find a niche market or product and make money to empower the citizens and help the surrounding communities.

The Pattana school worked similarly. Students and their families were able to pay for the school by doing community service, allowing for poorer students to still get an education while supporting their surrounding communities. Students were taught skills that they’d later be able to apply to their own villages to better them and help lift their families and communities out of poverty. Students learned about business building, development and sustainability rather than memorization and regurgitation of facts. The PDA’s initial investment in the school paid off by empowering students through education and allowing those students to continue on to empower their hometowns and populations in the surrounding areas.

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