Well here I am in Chicago safe and sound, if a bit hungry. I have, in my packing fervor, forgotten that most simple but useful thing: my wallet. It lies in the glass topped box on the edge of the kitchen counter, wondering how in God’s name I could forget it. I sit wondering the same thing, my stomach still growling. It doesn’t help seeing all the people around me eating McDonalds, but hey; this is the month of Ramadan and who says I can’t do without a little fasting myself? Luckily on my flight to Tokyo, about two and half hours from now, I will receive not one but two complimentary meals. The first of which will be most delicious, I imagine.
I will update in Tokyo, time permitting.
07/08/2011 2.40/ +14.00
Time has indeed permitted. I am here at my gate after only a very few minutes of walking in the Tokyo Narita Airport. It is not a small airport; rather I just got lucky this time. The first meal was filling, if not delicious. I actually ended up having more like three meals. There was a snack which consisted of a sandwich and a “biscotti” and a mint and then the third meal. So I didn’t go hungry. I did manage to sleep a good bit on the flight which I am pretty glad about. Something you might find interesting: when going on a flight that traverses the pacific ocean, you don’t make a bee line for your destination but instead go in an arc from the north keeping along the coast going up to Alaska and Russia. I don’t know that I would rather be dropped in such cold temperatures instead of in the ocean, but I guess it’s safer that way. The internet service offered here is the same one as was offered in Chicago: one you have to pay for. Obviously I am passing on that.
Next stop, Bangkok…
07/08/2011 12.15/ +12.00
The flight from Tokyo was uneventful. I slept as much as I could on the six hour flight. I was also fed yet again. After getting through customs, a breeze if you are prepared, I met with two Rotarians- after being momentarily intercepted by a lady with some hotel no less- who introduced me to the third one present, a guy who I am now sharing a room with and who speaks very little English; a great match for my ability to speak very little Thai. I have been brought to a surprisingly unimposing hotel for a few hours before I have to go back to get ready for my next and last flight. First thing I did was took a shower and yes they have showers and hot water that doesn’t come from a boiler off the stovetop. They also have flushing toilets. This is Bangkok, however; there is no guarantee that my area will have these same amenities. Oh, fun to know; my charger fits fine with the outlets here and my computer did not blow up. Yay right?
Well next I will be off to Ubon Ratchatani where I will meet my host family. I have high hopes.
I made it safely to Ubon Ratchatani and met my family just outside of the airport, which was quite small I will add. They had a large sign that had written on it my name and I was greeted by a very friendly Thai, whose name I cannot recall, friend of Pinky’s if I am not mistaken and Pinky herself and her two brothers, Best and James. Their father was driving the vehicle around to pick us up. The Thai friend was very talkative and he made it very comfortable because his English was the best of everyone and without his English skills the atmosphere would likely have been a bit awkward at moments. The first thing we did was to go eat breakfast. We ate in the city at a neat little restaurant that I was told is only open for breakfast. They serve mostly Chinese and Vietnamese dishes here. The first thing that was brought out, without anyone’s prompting I might add, was fried dough, much like a funnel cake. Condensed milk was provided to dip it in. Soon after our main dishes were brought and I ate a Vietnamese dish which consisted of a mini skillet filled with two fried runny eggs covered with sweet Chinese pork and not sweet Vietnamese pork and what I believe are called chives. On the side came an almost hotdog bun with one strip each of the respective types of pork. I had hot Chinese Tea with my meal. Oh and by the way, I am a giant compared to my family. Just for some context. Also, my family is of Chinese descent and so there are words they use still that are not Thai. The first and only example I have been told about is the word for father. The friendly guy told me I could call my host dad pa or pah. I know it’s hard to read that and get an idea of difference but basically one sounds a bit more nasally; that one is the Thai version. After breakfast we were off to the temple. There were dozens of Monks huddled around in a couple of different groups not doing much of anything. As I stepped out of the car I noticed everyone was just standing there but it didn’t really register at the time. Turns out it was eight o’clock, time for the National Anthem when no one is supposed to move. Of course I moved and the friendly guy told me stop. We then went inside the temple and kneeled in front of a huge gold Buddha statue and prayed. Everything else in Thailand so far except for Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok and the Temple I went to looks pretty dirty and run down like, but it has a great appeal about it which for 90% of the car ride around kept a smile on my face. After temple we went to drop off my host brothers at their school, still in Ubon; the city. After that we started the somewhat long ride back to my new hometown, Detudom. About a 30-40 minute ride I will guess. Before too long though we stopped off at my new school and went to meet the principal, who was extremely intimidating in his fancy office with all his fancy statues and fancy carpet on which shoes are not allowed. Ba On, the district Chair lady who met me in Bangkok said that I will need to cut my hair and shave for school. I said that will be fine. Well when I got there the principal was evidently about to make some kind of exception for me and not make me cut my hair but still shave. I said no, I will get no special treatment; and if that didn’t impress the principal it certainly put smiles on my host families faces. On our way to the car I said to the friendly fellow that the principal seems a very important man, and he said really, I think he just sits in that office all day and does nothing. Next we went shopping for me any items that I would be needing. This ended up being a couple of towels, toothpaste, shampoo, shower gel and a pair of slippers that were not easy to find because of my evidently abnormally large feet. Then we were off to take the friendly guy to his house, which happens to be about five seconds from my house, which is deceivingly large. My room is up a pair of spiral stairs. It is a very nice room with a chair and ottoman, a very large, low lying bed, a tv on a stand with about 50 or more ceramic dolls and such, an old green desk and a private bathroom. Oh and let’s not forget the air conditioner. It would be very easy to get too comfortable up here and shut myself off, which is why I am going to explore a bit after I finish writing if I won’t offend anyone here. I met my host grandmother who seemed genuinely delighted that I was living in her home which makes me feel wonderful. I also met the maid, who came into my room to do who knows what while I was meeting Granny. I didn’t know there was going to be a maid. The house is in a really random spot: the middle of town surrounded by shops and stuff. Out the window beside this desk sits a shirtless man with glasses doing I can’t ascertain what for as long as I have been in this room. I take it he is performing his job. His dog lazes beside him.
PS: Thai people drive on the left side of the road, the right side of the car.
PPS: Pedestrians don’t have the right of way.
Well lunch was a walk down the street to this little restaurant. I had pork yet again; this time with rice. Me being the good exchange student I am watched my host family and copied them. They took the little bowl of dark liquid off their plate and would use their spoon to get a bit with every bite or so often. Turns out that stuff was spicy. This turned out to be my first Thai meal in terms of spiciness: my teeth started hurting. This was also the first time I have enjoyed cucumber; turns out it’s not so bad when your mouth is on fire. There was also a hot soup that they would get a spoonful of after about every bite. I’m not sure the purpose of this but I did the same. It may have been helping subdue the spiciness; I really have no idea. So after lunch we trek off to pick up my school uniform: two light purple button downs, two pair of khaki shorts, three pair of brown socks and one pair of brown shoes. Oh and a belt. Also brown. Then we went to meet some family of his; turns out everyone in this town is my host fathers family. My host sisters’ grandma, or what she told me was her grandma, owns what appeared to be a hangout spot with couches and an air hockey or something table. She told me to come chill there in my free time. We met his cousin or uncle or someone who owns a store of sorts. The man plays some instrument and I think I am now enrolled in lessons to learn to play said instrument. It’s a culturally significant instrument. Then we went to a gas station and picked up his cousin who speaks a good bit of English and who said she would be my tour guide. So off to the temples we headed. One was really fancy and housed the candle sculpture that won third place this year in the candle festival that Ubon is famous for. The other was a nature-y temple which was really awesome. I asked if I could spend some time in the temple and my host father started telling everyone else we saw that day about it. Apparently this is happening. We went to see his cousin who owns the rice mill in town. I learned how rice is milled today. Interesting stuff that. Then we went and saw my host fathers business: a place that recycles everything. They just collect everything and separate it out and then resell it. Turns out my host father is in politics around here also. Surprised, aren’t you? Well that about wraps up what I have done so far today. It seems absurd that I just got here at around 7.30; it feels like I have been here for about a week already. Maybe in an actual week I will put up another post.