Monday, March 2, 2009

Thai-style American Breakfast [Missive 2]

Good morning, my loves;

Imagine waking up and expecting some delicious rice soup for breakfast, but finding instead a plate of fried rice mixed with ketchup (or maybe fried IN ketchup?) and some undercooked hot dogs. Lately, this has been the situation. I thought I had established that I truly enjoy Thai breakfast food, but for the past week it seems my family has been working overtime to prove that they understand farang tastes. At the supermarket this weekend Paw picked up a loaf of sliced white bread, which appeared on my plate on Sunday morning. Mae was positively beaming as she whipped out a George-Foreman-esque sandwich griller and made me two sandwiches bursting with butter and strawberry jam. She really wanted me to have orange marmalade, but luckily I squelched that idea.

Don't be fooled by the summer camp-like atmosphere of my recent blog posts. Most of my time in Thailand so far has been spent in class, which isn't the most exciting content for a blog. Those four hours of intensive Thai each morning are no piece of cake. In the afternoons we have lectures with Ajaan Christina or go on field trips. Last week we visited two K-12 schools to compliment our lectures on the Thai education system, one traditional Thai school (key words: rote memorization, pain and suffering) and one International School with a more child-centered approach. We also visited Wat Suan Dok (one of the largest Buddhist temples in CM City) for a lecture on Buddhism by a senior monk.

I wish class was epic enough to gush endlessly, but for the most part I spend too much time doing homework to be motivated to blog about it. I do have some interesting information about Thai culture (so far: education, family & gender, religion, and economy) culled from lecture notes so I'll try to blog about it soon. In the meantime, enjoy the posts about magical waterfalls. Be assured I am working my butt off and not just skipping through fields picking wildflowers (though I do enjoy that-- just ask Davis).

Our field trip last week was to the Huai Hong Krai Royal Development Study Center. Supported by the King, the center is responsible for researching and demonstrating sustainable agriculture, animal husbandry, and forestry techniques. Free educational services and trainings are provided to rural villagers and school children. The center reminded me a lot of the Heifer Ranch, only much more actively engaged in research and implementation. Many Thai people are still very close to the land, so the center serves an important role in breaking the cycle of debt in farming communities and forest degradation in the mountains. My favorite part of the visit was learning about mushroom farming. Thailand has a big problem with people in the mountains burning the forests every year to encourage mushrooms to grow (right now in Chiang Mai the Air Quality Index is 120-- in Europe anything above 60 is considered dangerous). The center demonstrates how a healthy, moist forest ecosystem actually yields more mushrooms, and they have developed a system for growing mushrooms in little huts kept moist and dark. The mushroom growing workshops are one of the most popular services at the center. Because of the center's outreach, communities in the immediate area have largely stopped the annual burns, which are incredibly destructive in many ways. Local people are allowed to collect forest products (mushrooms, ant eggs, bamboo shoots, etc) from Huai Hong Krai land for free as long as they report what they have taken and agree not to cut trees, kill animals, or set fires. For the most part, even in National Parks, local people are allowed to collect resources for non-commercial use. This policy is far cry from America's "take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints."

Alright, I am going to go pray for some rain...


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