This is just a stop sign I pass on my way to the HUB.  Nothing special, but cool to me, because it's the same as what I'm used to in the States, but different because I'm over here in Thailand!
I had an interesting thought on my (bumpy) ride home, about the pictures I posted last blog.  I think I'm already assimilating a bit (they're doing a great job with our Pre-Service Training!), because normally I'd have posted pictures I took alone on my commute across the rice fields, or when I was wandering about without many other people near me, but these were pictures of the family and house that I shared with you.  Over here the culture is more about unity than individualism, and I just thought that it was interesting that I was sharing a more family, communal aspect of my life

I have discovered the long-sought secret to vitality!  Be a bad@$$!
This is Grandma, whom I walked out of the house to see wielding an axe as long as MY arm, splitting wood on Saturday afternoon.  I've seen her hanging and taking down her own mosquito netting, napping in those rag-hammocks they have here, so I knew her balance and everything was still good, but I was surprised to see her splitting wood with accuracy and effectiveness.  She thought it was funny that I thought her activities were photo-worthy!
Everything is great here, but I feel like I ought to be doing more chores...not dishes, but sweeping maybe.  I do some laundry (they have a machine for the big stuff that they use while I'm away, so I can't really help there), but I think I could do more!  If Grandma can be outside splitting wood, surely I can find time to sweep up a bit!
Just to reassure you, on election day, Sunday, we're not even leaving our houses.  We're nowhere near the center of activities, but as we're not sure where polling places are they've asked us to just stay at home, and as I have plenty of homework (and the Perry Files on my computer), I don't think it's a hardship.
Happy New Year!
Okay, I know it's small, but I'm learning here!
This is Kun Lek's house, where she, her pii sow (older sister) Kun Bek and her meh (mother) live.  You can see that it's wooden and on stilts, right?  Just to the left of the stairs, that box-looking thing on the ground, that's a foot bath filled with water that you use to wash the dust off your feet after you slip off your shoes at the bottom of the stairs (again, really small, but you can see a pair of pink flip flops at the bottom, at the base of the blue railing, right?).  The path up to the stairs is just a few boards that have settled into the ground, I'm guessing when it's rained and they've sunk.  Oh, I think you can tell that the roof is corrugated iron sheets; you should hear the cats on it at night!  So loud!
The bright colors are something that Kun Lek's house has in common with many Thai houses, outdoors decoration often includes shell wind chimes and garlands I'd usually save only for the Christmas tree.  It's beautiful, and much bigger than it looks from this tiny, tiny picture!
More pictures later, but I've got to go before it's too dark to see the road!

Again I’ll try to be short, but I wanted to mention some basic differences noticed in my short time here.  Firstly, bananas are peeled from the non-stem end down.  They’re chubby and short and taste totally different (because they’re picked when ripe and not when they’d bruise less during shipping?  Because they’re a different kind of banana?  Both, I expect), and they are amazingly yummy.  Secondly, the houses here, at least the older ones, don’t have walls that go all the way up to the ceiling and hold up the roof, the floors have huge cracks (and we’re on stilts, remember), and the windows shut but don’t close air-tight.  This is to say that mosquitoes just float around like we’re sitting outdoors at campfire!  It makes sense, from a too-hot-to-insulate standpoint, but it really is like being outdoors  while watching one’s soap opera.  Thirdly, the wildlife that comes into the house, spiders, geckos who watch you shower, bugs, whatever, are just a part of life and not a big deal.  Back home it’s so different, but maybe that’s a country/city thing and not so much a Thailand/America thing.  Fourthly, I had to ask today if Thai people’s internal gyroscopes are just better than Americans’, because though the bathroom and wash house have tile floors that we continually bucket clean (so they’re wet), there aren’t any non-slip mats or stickers or anything on the floor.  Clearly it’s not a problem over here, but it looks like an opportunity for a personal injury lawsuit to a Californian!  Just as the different sidewalks in front of stores that are inches different from the walkway leading up to them look like a health hazard and something our city planners would never allow (or would bill then rip up), that’s another basic difference I’ve seen (thinking about it…we say America’s all individualistic and Thailand is more communal, yet it’s in Thailand that a shopkeeper can express themselves or choose how to display their shop with more freedom.  In America it’s more homogenized).  Really hard beds/thin mattresses, that’s another difference, but that’s one I can get behind and shove; I’m sleeping really well on them.  Smile, also, there’s a lot of corrugated iron used in the construction of this house.  When a meo (cat) gets on the roof, you can really hear it, as there isn’t really another layer of anything between their paws and your hearing!  Oh, 7th or 8th-ly, toilet paper isn’t provided in bathrooms for wiping, but napkins for eating are the consistency of bathroom tissue, and often when eating at home there will be a roll that’s used for wiping the face.  Paper towels I’ve seen at the Tesco/Lotus, but aren’t in widespread use, not in bathrooms for drying hands, not in houses for mopping up messes (not a lot of counters here anyways, there’s a water cistern, a propane tank for the flame under the wok, and a small, low stove top that fits a kettle and one other pot, but that’s it.  Chopping is done on a board on the floor, and most mixing is done in the wok, I think.  Not a lot of bread dishes or things that would require batter at home on a regular basis, but probably that’d be done in a small bowl on the floor, like everything else), and while that’s very environmental, it’s not what I’m used to (yet).
I'm having a great time and hope to figure out how to put up pictures soon...but that requires me to actually take photos first!  ...I'll also want to ask my family if it's okay for me to put up pictures of them online, I don't want to make anyone uncomfortable, and I know how I am about pictures online.

That's what my packet of instant coffee says, that it contains 'Nature Identical Flavor'...but it doesn't really specify which flavor in nature it is identical to...  Smile.  Obviously, I'm loving it over here, as I've found a way to feed my coffee habit (when I can order a soy latte with two extra espresso shots, that's when you'll know I'm not coming back!).  We're at the HUB site right now, well away from all the excitement in Bangkok, in the middle of some rice fields, actually.  I can't help thinking about Val and Jim as I bike here in the mornings, as it's a birder's paradise!  Every morning I see herons and egrets by the dozen, as we bike here off the main roads, on a (bumpy, rocky, narrow) dirt trail that winds through the fields.  Sometimes we see netted-in areas on the canal where people have caught fish, as well as any number of fishers, farmers and parents taking their kids to school.  Tomorrow we're going to be doing training at various other places in the area near this site so we can do more small group work, and I'm just hoping that I don't get lost on the way there!  I say that with a bit of a grin because I'm biking with 6 other trainees who live in the same Tambon (village) as I do, and if I stay with the pack, I'll be fine.
I just went out to lunch on a new bike, as my assigned bike had been acting up.  There was a problem with the front de-railer that they thought they had fixed after I'd had an earlier mishap, but yesterday biking here the chain came completely off the gears, and on the way home I took a bit of a tumble.  Nothing beyond a few scrapes, but communicating to my host family (and everyone that we ran into, as my host family knows everyone and may be related to something like half the Tambon) that I was fine was difficult with the language barrier.  Unharmed, just covered in dirt.  I was also supremely grateful that I had a waterproof laptop bag (thank you, Monkey!), because that meant that it was dirt and dustproof as well, and super-duper grateful that the laptop is a lenovo (thank you Meggles!) and could withstand an unintentional spill with me!
Oh, one of the things I wanted to mention about lunch (delicious noodles with veg that I made very spicy) was that it was less than a dollar.  Not only is the dollar really powerful over here (30 bhat to 1 dollar), but things are cheaper as well.  Just another interesting thing; it's clear to me that I kind of won the lottery in getting assigned to Thailand!
Okay, just a short one because I'm supposed to be eating lunch before meeting my homestay.  I'm excited!  I'm nervous!  I'm wondering about the bathroom facilities, if there are going to be pets, about how many people are in the family, everything!  ...And a mosquito just died in an attempt to steal my blood.  Ha!
H'okay, so this is my first blog post in quite some time, and I don't have tons to say today, save that it was bike day and I had oodles of fun!  Yes, I caused two (embarrassing to me) delays because the bike I was on was having issues with its gears, but that was the machine's fail, not mine, and after I simply decided to leave the gears alone (it's pretty flat here, not like Queen Anne or in The City or anything) and pedal harder if I have to, things got better.  I haven't been out on a bike in quite a long time, as when I bike at the gym I get to watch foodnetwork and don't have to worry about what the weather's doing, but this was fantastic.  I was riding around with the widest smile on my face!  A good sign, as the distance we biked today was to prepare us for biking to the hub for lessons these next 3 months while we live with a Thai family in the area.
Biking was especially nice because there was a mix of familiar and unfamiliar elements in the scenery.  We were riding on the left hand side of the road, which was new for me, but we were encouraged to ride single-file (like SandPeople!), and that's a good idea back home, too.  I saw lots of bougainvillaea and ginger, egrets and herons (and I think I heard a loon!) which was familliar, but balancing that was some waterfowl I couldn't identify and passing trees laden with bunches of green bananas!  I really enjoyed biking past banana trees, I think the end of the banana bunch is a large reddish-purplish blossom, as we saw a few of those wilting in the sun.  It just seemed so exotic, to be riding on the left hand side, single file except for when I needed to pass someone, past banana trees.  A fun day, smile.


    These are the personal opinions of Spook, and do not reflect those of the Peace Corps.


    January 2014