Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

We celebrated the arrival of the New Year 10-15 hours ahead of everyone I know in the USA. Tinu (only other volunteer here besides me at the moment) and I watched the celebration in Bangkok on local television.

Think Times Square Thai-style. Thousands of people jammed the streets singing and dancing along with the performers. Thai lyrics but Western-style music like rock and rapping, interrupted by way too many commercials advertising the "good life." Commercialism is as rampant here as in the USA. Kinda sad to see. (I was so hoping for something more Thai-ish like Thai dancing.) Rapping in Thai isn't much different from rapping in English. Both are rapid-fire and hard to understand.

Locally, folks gathered at the clock tower in Trang. We didn't go because home base is a bit far from town and getting a tuk-tuk home might have been impossible. But we had lots of fireworks around us, loud music and general celebrating--with roosters crowing in protest.

And we enjoyed that gorgeous full moon silvering the landscape. (Same moon shining down on all of us!)

Welcome, 2010--hope it's a fabulous year for everyone!

Batik Art:

Jack instructing us on the fine art of batik with Khem assisting. Tinu and Amanda looking and learning.

How many times have you seen and or bought a batik shirt or sarong? Batik was big at one time in the USA so you have undoubtedly seen/bought it somewhere sometime. But I never really knew how it was made.

Now, I do.

Jack taught us how to do batik, which is elevated to a true art form here, and we got to try our unsteady hands at it. First, you stretch your piece of cloth over a frame. Then you draw or trace a design on the cloth. Then you you use hot wax to trace the design.

After that, you paint by area until the design is revealed in glowing colors. Once the paint is dry, the cloth must be dipped in an acid solution to remove the wax, after which it is dried and pressed. Voila! Batik art.

Or in our case: Batik amateur efforts.

Problems you can run into include:
1. Being basically art-challenged and unable to come up with a design, in which case you trace one. (I could come up with a design, but after that, it experience.)

2. Your wax won't run out of the wax pen pot (a pen with a little pot of wax attached to it) because it cools too fast.

3. Your wax runs all over the place and even leaves BLOTCHES on your cloth (which cannot be removed.)

4. Your paint also runs all over the place and refuses to stay within your wax lines because your wax line wasn't thick enough in that spot.

5. Your colors are muddy.

6. You don't have enough colors to create what you started out to create.

All of the above happened to me and the other volunteers, leaving us with an appreciation of batik artists who have mastered this tricky art form. I am resolved to go looking for the most perfect batik-ed shirt or sarong I can find and pay the artist twice (well, okay, maybe not twice but a good tip, anyway!) what he/she is asking for it. Batik sells cheap here, despite the hours of labor and years of artistry that go into it.)

One of Jack's batiks.

Close up of my fish--but not too close or you will see all my mistakes.

Our humble efforts laid end to end.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Snapshots from Last Day Party Described Below:

If these two could fit in my suitcase (and they probably could), I would bring them home with me! (Can always use an extra grandkid or two!)

And this one, too! (Keep going...there's more!)

Of course, as they get older, they like to clown around!

Last School Day of the Year:

At my school, Baan Kok Yang, we celebrated this day by "feeding the monks." Monks do not "earn a living" in the conventional sense. They give to their communities by praying for them and presiding over celebrations and funerals, blessing people and things, etc.

In return, the communities provide for them. In most places, the monks go out each morning with their Alms Bowls and people put food for the day in the bowls--rice, curry, fruit or whatever they have. Monks eat only one meal per day--in the morning. Then they eat nothing until the next morning.

At our school, each child brought a bag from home and the teachers each made up a bag of food. Cooked foods such as rice or soups are put into plastic bags and tied with a rubber band. But on this day, staples--including canned goods, raw rice, bottles of water, etc.--are given.

Four monks came to our school and left with the back of a donated-for-the-day pick-up truck filled with bags of staples. They chanted, blessed us and prayed for us in the new year.

Wan Li, my host teacher, is Christian and a couple of the other teachers are Muslim. They may choose to participate or not in this very Buddhist tradition. Since the monks will starve if the people do not feed them, most participate. The monks are regarded as holy men by people of all faiths.

Waiting for the arrival of the important guests: the monks. Each child has his/her offering in hand.

Chants and prayers.

Gifts for the monks.

Alms bowls lined up and waiting to be filled.

Our four monks with their alms bowls worn in a sling around their shoulders.

Monk blessing the crowd by sprinkling us with water.

Making offerings to the monks.

Monks departing with the offerings given to them.

After the monks departed, there were no classes. The day was given over to partying. Wan Li had asked me "to please perform hula" on this day, so I came prepared in my mumuuu and brought my computer which has all my itunes music on it.

We couldn't fit everyone into one classroom where they had hooked my computer up to speakers, so I have to perform again on the first school day of the New Year, next Monday.

For the remainder of the day, those who had a chance to watch the hula performance "tried out their hula moves." They are familiar with Thai dancing and some had even heard of hula (Hawaiian dancing) long before I ever got here--so I am glad I brought a mumuuuu with me and could share it!

The partying was amazing. The teachers had their own party with lots of food--and the kids literally took over the classrooms, dancing (even on top of the desks), playing games, eating, running, shouting, etc. They were allowed to do whatever they wanted. In a prim, proper Thai school where everyone lines up in the morning in front of school for the National anthem and only good behavior is allowed, it was somewhat shocking to see the complete lack of any discipline or control. The kids just had a free-for-all great time.

"Today, is just have for fun," Wan Li explained. "Be happy. No work. Is good, yes?"

Yes, it was.

Wan Li on the left and a teacher from one of the lower grades on the right. She asked me to teach her some basic hula.

Students waiting for me to perform hula. This was one of the most unusual hula performances I have ever done. The kids kept bursting into applause all through the dance. I had explained first that hula always tells a story and told them to see if they could pick out the motions for ocean, waterfall, mountains, flowers, etc. that the song, "These Islands" is about. I chose that mele (song) because Thailand also has all of these things, and I hoped they could relate to it--and also learn some vocabulary words. They got very excited when they could tell what the motions were saying.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Glance into Buddhism:

This was a young novice monk who locked up the temple after us, when we left.

Late this afternoon we visited a monk at a temple in town. He told us about the tenets of Buddhism. Jack and Khem translated. We ordinary folk are bound by by only five Buddhist "rules for living a good life": Do not kill, lie, steal, have an affair or drink alcohol. Buddhist nuns who wear white, not the orange robes of monks, have 8 tenets to follows, novice monks have 10, and full blown monks who have devoted their lives to Buddhism have 227.

The monk who spoke with us became a monk when he was 15. He taught us how to meditate in the Buddhist way--sitting and breathing in a certain manner, while pushing away all thoughts and emptying one's mind. If we do this often enough, we, too, could hope to one day find enlightenment, which is the attainment of wisdom and knowledge. Monks who reach enlightenment are sometimes able to see into the past, present and future in a special way--some can even predict the future.

Before we left, we signed the monk's book and gave him our contact information in case he ever comes to America. He would like to do so one day so that he can teach his people about it. The monks maintain many schools and day care centers here and some of the volunteers work in them.

During the rainy season, they generally do not leave the temple grounds. Mosquitoes are present then and monks do not kill anything, even mosquitoes. Guess by staying home they avoid the worst of them!

The temple grounds also are hangouts for many dogs, who know they can get a free meal and won't be mistreated. You can hear chanting in the temples morning and evening as the monks perform their rituals.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Twenty Minute Walk:

Within walking distance to home base is a temple—not surprising considering that temples or “wats” are plentiful in Thailand. I strolled the grounds and wanted to share these treasures with you. What may be commonplace here remains exotic and amazing to Western eyes like mine, and I haven’t even seen the major wats in Bangkok yet! Temple grounds are a peaceful oasis amidst the busy, blaring city life surrounding it—and the opulence to be found in the temples along with the ornate architecture contrasts sharply with nearby humble homes and shops. (Be prepared for lots more wat photos.)

Temple Entrance

A shrine or smaller temple off to the side.

Two monks relax on the temple grounds.

This beautiful gong stands outside the main temple.


These two mischief-makers ran after me calling "Farang! Farang!" (foreigner). But I discovered they knew how to say "Hello," and "How are you?" too.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Internet/Phone Problem:

FYI: Internet and phone both went down on Saturday. Which is why I answered no emails and posted no posts. Phone still is not receiving data but internet is back.

Don't panic if I seem to "disappear" for a couple of days. It's probably just a technical glitch. If there's a problem, I'll get ahold of someone some way!

Thai Baht/Monarchy:

This is a 100 baht note. The exchange rate is about 32 baht per dollar. The King is pictured on this note as well as on all other denominations and coins.

He is 82 years old now and very much revered--to the extent that it is considered disrespectful to scrunch up your money or even fold it, because the King's picture is on it. Portraits of him are everywhere. He has four children, the oldest of whom is a daughter who married an American and lived in America but has since returned to Thailand to live.

Considered a genius, he is an inventor, musician and composer. Mention the King to any Thai with even a rudimentary understanding of English, and he/she will recite a long list of things the King has done for his people.

Disrespect for the King and his family is all but unknown here. Thais do not understand how Americans can be so critical and disrespectful of their President. "Cutting down" our leaders whenever we disagree with them appears to be a distinctly American (Western?) phenomenon.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Home Base:

Gateway to home. This drive leads back to home base. The gate is kept locked and there is a night watchman named Mao who keeps an eye on things every night. I think this is CCS policy and not necessarily because we need to fear break-ins. (Although I could be wrong, of course, since we Americans are deemed to be "rich" no matter where we go and no place is truly "safe" anymore.)

Trang home base seen from the driveway into the compound.

Living-room where classes may be held, we can watch Thai television, stretch out on mats and pillows to relax, read any of the books from the large library, etc. Various teaching materials are stored in plastic boxes and you can search through them for something you might need for your classes or daycare activities.There are also two sofas for those who don't like the floor.

Each volunteer has a locker for locking up valuables such as laptops, cameras, etc.

This is the nearest thing to an inside kitchen that we have. Most of the cooking is actually done outside, on the other side of the windows shown here. Our "cook" is Momma T and she does a great job. Meals are served buffet style from this table, then we take it to a larger table to the right of the "kitchen." (not shown) We make our own breakfasts and do our own dishes. All the table legs are sitting in bowls of water to deter ants who would take over if given half a chance. (This is typical of tropical areas; we did it in Brazil, too, and Hawaii is not exempt from ants either.)

My bunk bed is the lower one. This bedroom can sleep six volunteers. Three of us have been using it. We have the only bedroom with an attached bath--a really nice feature at 3:00 am. We each have a wardrobe and a large plastic case that fits under the bed, where my suitcases also reside.

The Bath House has showers and restroom facilities for both men and women. It also holds the Laundry room. (Yes, we have Western-style toilets, washing machines and a dryer.)

This is a small house on the property where staff can stay over. It has also been used to house couples who volunteer together.