Archive for June, 2011

The Latest

Friday, June 24th, 2011

So…thus far I’ve had the most amazing pizza margarita, really good pasta with a spicy red sauce, and lots of gelato. Last night we went to my professor’s apartmet and cooked dinner: fresh pasta with bacon, tomatoes, and onions with tiramisu for dessert. We also got to get some fresh fruit at an open market, which was really nice. Today after class we all went to Orvieto underground and took a short tour about the wells and underground rooms people dug under their houses. It was amazing, just like everything else in this town. =)

I’m here!

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Sorry it’s been so long folks. I’ve had very minimal internet access. So far in Italy I’ve had the best pizza, pasta, and gelalto I’ve ever had. Our apartment is really nice and classes are going well. More to come soon!

Chiang Mai 101

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

First, I want to apologize that the comments sections on my posts were disabled. I think I fixed the problem but if it is still not working then just shoot me an email.

My first week in Thailand is almost over and I am finally getting over jet-lag. Sometimes it can be really hard to get through the day when you wake up at 4am, but this morning I slept all the way until 7 which I am very proud of. For the past couple of days, I mostly have been exploring the campus and the city while getting acclimated to a foreign place and a new routine. I understand that daily routines are something overtly American and that for many (backpackers especially) the main reason people travel is to avoid their daily routine at all costs, but I am not here to travel, I am here to learn and a routine has really helped me to overcome any issues with culture shock.  That being said, other than troubles with communication, I really haven’t had any major episodes of culture shock. Our program directors have been quite effective in teaching us the essential dos and donts of Thai and Buddhist culture which takes a lot of stress out of my everyday interactions. There is still tons to learn but knowing the basics helps a lot.

In this post I want to give a little overview about my school and the city of Chiang Mai. A little history lesson you can say. I’ll start with some background information about the school. Since Thailand was never colonized, there isn’t a strong western legacy of colonization within the country. Therefore, the first long-term interactions with westerns where through missionaries. I haven’t done much research on the subject, but from what I was told, unlike missionaries in Africa or South America, missionaries in mainland SE Asia where much more focused on the development of region as opposed to the enforcement of Christianity upon the indigenous . Therefore, those who converted where much more likely to do so on their own accord and because of the good they saw missionaries perform. This is also why you see such a smaller christian population in mainland SE Asia as opposed to other non-western regions.

Payap University was first funded by missionary aid but it wasn’t accredited until 1974 due to a Thai law banning the establishment of foreign private universities. Payap University now has two campuses. one within Chiang Mai, which is the original campus, and one about 5 minutes outside the city, which serves as the main campus and is where I live and take classes. The school is a Christian university but its main emphasis is on respect with open acceptance no matter one’s religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or other lifestyle choices. There is a mandatory dress code but that is a uniform (pun intended) regulation among most schools in Asia. The school also has a mandatory English immersion program for Thai students, so all undergrads have some degree of English proficiency.

Another thing that I have noticed while being here is that the university has an intense legacy of hazing. For example, when I first arrived the new laws students where being forced to chant, dance and then jump in this gross muddy river. Also every time you walk around campus you will surely see some sort of hazing ritual, whether it be a bunch of freshmen interlocked in a huge huddle shouting or the new english majors doing a choreographed dance for the upperclassmen. I find this very interesting because nowadays hazing is so seldom seen in the U.S. due to university restrictions.  But here it is openly accepted. I can only postulate that is has something to due with the cultural precedent of respect to one’s elders, but that is just me brainstorming.

Life at Payap is also strongly connected to the city of Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is the second largest in Thailand but it has only 1/6 the population of Bangkok. The city is known internationally and locally as Thailand’s R&R destination, where life is much slower than the hustle of Bangkok and where one can reconnect with nature. Chiang Mai is beautiful and the horizon boasts many serene mountains and landscapes but you cannot relate it to the Montana of the U.S., or the Fredericksburg of Virginia. Chiang Mai is still a very busy city based on Western standards and there are plenty of seedy parts of town. Tourism is a huge portion of Chiang Mai’s economy and along with foreign money always comes foreign influence which can be especially detrimental in a country like Thailand where sex tourism and “party tourism” is so prevalent. Although foreign influence can sometimes have negative effects, Thailand, and Chiang Mai specifically, has very little anti-farang, or anti-westerner, sentiment (other than street vendors’ dualistic tendencies to have Thai prices and White people prices). This maybe due mostly to the absence of a colonial legacy but that is also just me extrapolating.

This post is getting quite lengthy so I’ll save the rest of my thoughts for another time. My Human Rights class is incredible so far so in my next post I promise to fill you guys in on what I am learning. Until next time! — Bobby

The Effects of the Pen Pal Project

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Remember that pen pal project I’m doing with students?  Almost everyday I receive pictures and a letter from someone writing to their Sapgyo High School penpal. I put the pictures onto Flickr and then I write the blog entry, and take the pictures from Flickr (to save space) and put them in the blog post. Then at the beginning of every class I choose one letter (I try to pick easy to understand letters, or letters from cool places with great pictures) to share with the class and we read through it and comprehend it together. After that I show all of the pictures from all of the other letters we received that week, give brief backgrounds about the people who went them and the locations of the letter, and then give physical copies of the letters to each student. I unfortunately don’t have time to go over all of the letters in detail with the whole class, but at least this way we can read one letter together, they can see all of the pictures, and people get physical copies of their individual letters.

It’s a fun project, but I’m never sure how much students are getting out of it. They’re always excited to receive letters, but how much do they pay attention to the letters versus the pictures? I tried to get people who live in many different places and have many different jobs and lifestyles to write back, do my students understand or internalize that at all? Do any of my students interact with the project outside of class?

I just found out that yes, in fact, at least some of the students are interacting with this project outside of class. A student dropped by the teacher’s office during the lunch period and asked for my help. She’s a 2nd grade intermediate student, which means she’s very busy, and spends most of her free time studying. She put down in front of me a letter she written to her penpal in response to his letter, and asked me to help her edit it. She was so pleased with her penpal’s letter, she wanted to write one back to respond and to say thank you. I never even suggested that students should write back, this was her idea entirely.  I helped her edit it, and then she told me she would give me a copy so I could send it to her penpal. A student did work outside of class of her own free will, practicing English, because of my project. I feel really happy right now. Thanks everyone, who wrote a letter to a Sapgyo High School student – it means a lot to me, and it apparently means a lot more to them than I had thought or even hoped it would.


Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Summer is here, and just when I thought the weather couldn’t get unbearably hotter, I was proven right by what seems to be a veritable dump of all of the moisture in the atmosphere.

It’s rainy season again. I somehow completely forgot about monsoon season, and how while it barely rains in Korea for 9 months out of the year, it makes up for it in the summer. Apparently monsoon season starts today, which is awesome as my umbrella is broken. On a positive note, the heavy rains means that the students can’t practice recorder outside, and there is so much wind that I can’t hear the students practicing in their homerooms. On a negative note, the table-tents that my students set up on their desks that have their names and their stamps (my reward system) on them have flown off like six times, and my shoes are wet.

Seriously, look at this beast!


Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

Let me be candid with you for a moment:

I am a rising senior in college; I am twenty years old; I like to drink alcohol.

Please, hold your gasps of shock and horror until the end. If you can cry silently, feel free to do so. I know you’re all shocked: one doesn’t normally discuss drinking on a public blog that one’s parental units read, but let me be the exception to that rule. See, first of all, one of the great things about England is that I’ve been overage for two and a half years. Any and all drinking that I do here is legal and, since I’m a young person, more or less expected. I haven’t been carded since I’ve been here, and it’s been nice to be able to have a drink with my meal. Did you know you can have drinks at lunchtime? I’m not sure that I did.

And here’s the truly shocking thing: young people drink socially here and it isn’t a big deal.

I mean, sometimes I still feel like it’s a big deal. Being raised in America, even with parents who have comparatively liberal views about the drinking age, I still feel slightly transgressive every time I saunter up to a barman and say, “I’ll have a pint of Blackthorn.”

(I say this a lot.)

This trip is sort of functioning, in terms of drinking, as a taste of what it will be like in less than six months when I turn twenty-one. Drinking before you come of age in the U.S. is a normative social behavior, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t carried out mostly in private social settings. The fact that, after class today, most of the Oscar Wilde seminar went out for an early dinner and drink at the pub around the corner was still thrilling to me, even though we’ve been here for nearly three weeks.

Drinking on a school night? I thought, tasting my first snakebite (a heady combination of cider, Foster’s, and blackcurrant syrup). But, really, it’s more than that: I’m still surprised to be treated as if I can drink responsibly. It’s a nice feeling.

Robert, me, Tricia, & Erin enjoying our pints of cider at Roskilly’s Farm under the Cornish flag!

Four Friends and Three Sisters

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

One of the big day trip attractions in Sydney are the Blue Mountains. I have been wanting to go all semester, but the timing hadn’t worked out when other people had been going. This week apartment 18 lost an inhabitant, Jonathan, Kaela’s boyfriend, and gained another, Shelby, Kaela’s friend from California. Having guests in the apartment has been great because it has forced all of us out of our studying and staying in and back out into Sydney. The first two weeks in June were cold and rainy and we thought for sure we were in for quite a miserable Southern Hemisphere winter, but when Shelby arrived she brought the California sunshine with her and it has been beautiful for the last week. Since the weather has been favorable and Jill and Kaela both finished with all their finals and classes we decided that on Monday we would take the two hour train ride from Sydney to Katoomba to spend the day in the Blue Mountains.

Katoomba is the biggest town in the Blue Mountains with a population of 7,600. It is a quaint and quiet little mountain town filled with antique shops, small cafes, and a steady stream of hikers, tourists, and backpackers who come from all over the east coast of Australia to see the Mountains. The main attraction that draws people to Katoomba is a rock formation known as the Three Sisters, viewable from Echo point about two km south of the main town. This rock formation is of great significance to the Aboriginal people of Australia, the legend of how this formation came to be (as copy and pasted from a website on Aboriginals stories) goes thusly:

“In Gondwana, there lived Tyawan of the Gundungurra people. He had three daughters, Meenhi, Wimlah and Gunnedoo. In the valley there lived a Bunyip, an evil creature who feasted on human flesh, particularly that of young girls and women. Its cry was harsh and horrible and if you heard it, the only safe thing to do was run away as quickly as possible. When Tyawan had to pass the hole, he would leave his daughters safely on the cliff above behind a rocky wall – just in case.
One day he descended the cliff steps down towards the path near the Bunyip’s hole and left his daughters chatting on top of the cliff. While they were waiting, a huge centipede suddenly appeared. Startled, Meenhi picked up a stone and threw it at the centipede.

The stone missed the centipede, but rolled over the edge of the cliff and crashed into the valley below. The sound echoed all around the mountains. Suddenly the rocks behind the sisters shook and split open, leaving them perched together on a thin ledge. The Bunyip, angry at being awakened, dragged himself through the split to see the sisters cowering on the ledge. His evil eyes widened in delight at the feast before him. Tyawan looked up and saw the Bunyip reaching for his daughters, so he pointed his magic bone at the girls and immediately turned them to stone. They would be safe there until the Bunyip had gone and then Tyawan would change them back.

But the Bunyip, angered at being deprived of his prey, chased Tyawan through the forest and up a mountain where he found himself trapped. So Tyawan used his magic bone again and changed himself into a Lyre Bird and glided away. But then, in dismay, Tyawan realised that he had dropped his bone whilst changing. After the Bunyip had gone back to his dark pool, Tyawan glided down to the forest floor and to search for his magic bone … he is still searching. The Three Sisters stand silently watching him from their ledge, hoping and hoping that one day their father will find his magic bone and be able turn them back to Aboriginal girls.”

We arrived in Katoomba around noon and after getting off the train popped into a little cafe to take stock of the town and decide what our plan of attack would be for the day. While we wanted to see the Three Sisters, the local geography includes extensive areas of dense sub-tropical rainforest and a series of waterfalls, so we had no qualms about hiking and taking our sweet time getting there while enjoying the scenery. We decided we would buy a hop on/hop off trolley ticket for $20 so we could hike when we wanted to and then get a ride when we got tired. From Katoomba we took the trolley about fifteen minutes out of town to where most of the trails begin, hopped off and started walking.

Me, Jill and Shelby

Rainforest Bridge

One of the many lookouts we stopped at

We were walked  lush rainforest-esk type foliage and every so often would emerge at a lookout point and be completely awe-struck by the majestic views we encountered.

So peaceful

Shelby, Kaela, Jill and I

In the mountains

Blue Mountains majesty

Me putting my arms up- is anyone surprised?

So beautiful

Quite an exemplary picture of our personalities

The area surrounding the blue mountains is also known for its natural waterfalls, of which there are a few. The main vegetation of the region are eucalyptus trees which are only found in Australia, but they are here in abundance. Heath-like vegetation is present on plateau edges above cliffs. The sheltered gorges contain temperate rainforest type vegetation, hanging swamps with button grass reeds and thick, deep black soil. Although it was very muddy at times, it was incredible.

Marveling at the waterfall

Conquered the waterfall

Embracing the outdoors

We hiked for about three hours hitting every lookout point and waterfall along the way before deciding that we would catch the trolly to Echo Point where we could see the Three Sisters.

The Three Sisters


By the time we reached Echo Point it was around 4 pm and the sun was beginning to set and the temperature was starting to drop. After spending a few minutes hanging out and snapping pictures we headed into a mall type area to snack on some of the food we had brought with us. In taking stock of what we had already done we decided that we wanted to see Katoomba falls before we left for the day, so after we had finished eating we went back outside to catch the express trolley that we thought would take us there. Upon boarding we asked the driver about the falls, and he gave us some generic answer about the falls being nice and we assumed this meant that his route would get us there. The bus instead took us on a ten minute loop of  the small surrounding suburb before putting us right back in front of the mall at Echo point. Confused, we asked the driver if the bus went anywhere else, he laughed and told us that yes he went into town if that is where we were headed. We thought by “town” he meant the falls, since this is what we had previously discussed, but again, we were wrong and we ended up back at the main bus terminal where we had purchased our trolley tickets earlier that day. This was a rather abrupt end to our day, but we all agreed that since it was getting colder and darker out that it was probably best to call it a day.

We wandered around the tiny town of Katoomba for a while, popping in and out of vintage emporiums and second hand clothing stores. Kaela and Jill both found some antique and vintage items to purchase.

Checking out the vintage shop

Vintage fare

By the time we were ready to board the train back to Sydney it was getting quite dark. Exhausted, but having had a wonderful day we all laughed, chatted and giggled our way back into the city.

All credit for the stunning mountain photography in this entry goes to my adorable shutter bug roommate: Kaela Brinkman.

Wearing blue in the Blue Mountains


Monday, June 20th, 2011

This post is originally from June 18th, 2010. It took me a couple days to get internet so I couldn’t post until today.

I am finally in my dorm room at Payap University with my new roommate, Tom! The journey was long and quite exhausting but,technically speaking, everything went smoothly. Last night, around 10:15, I arrived at the Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok. Suvarnabhumi is hands down the nicest airport I have ever been to. There is a unmistakably futuristic vibe to the place. It seems the airport was built solely out of metal, glass and advertisements. After my arrival, I went straight to the hotel and passed out. I figured that if I stayed awake for most of the trip and then slept when I got to Bangkok it would speed up my assimilation to the time difference. My planned kind of failed because now I’m just exhausted no matter what time it is.

The hotel was far nicer than what I would expect for $50 or 1500 THB a night (The currency exchange is also something that is going to take me awhile to get used to. Being an American, it is really hard for me to give away a bill with the number 1000 on it and due to this fact I must apologize to all the thai people that I have severly under-tipped so far). I got to airport early this morning so I could finish all my reading for the first day of class (but mostly because the place is so awesome) and took a Bangkok Airways flight up to Chiang Mai. I was kind of surprised that almost the majority of people on my flight where westerners, when my flight from Tokyo was almost entirely Thai people. Now, after a short ride from the airport to the University with Kai (who is awesome and speaks English very well), I am at my dorm room and in my bed. My roommate, Tom, is an utmost gentleman and has already allowed me free range to all his belongings. His also is an avid fan of the Eagles, American country music and plays bass! Communication wise, His english is very limited (about 102 level) and my thai is non-existent but body language wise, it seems like we are getting along. In about 2 hours, Kai is taking me into the city to visit the night market so hopefully I can get a couple hours of sleep in before then.

Until next time! — Bobby


Sunday, June 19th, 2011

It’s Monday. My feet are blistered from walking around Seoul this weekend. I’m drinking instant packet coffee-sugar. I think the first graders have a recorder test, because even just sitting in the teacher’s office far away from the homerooms I can hear strains of recorder floating through the windows, all conflicting with each other like some sort of gaggle of weird atonal plastic geese.

Mondays are weird. I only have two classes on Mondays and they’re 1st and 2nd period back-to-back. Today’s a giggly sort of day. In my first class (2.4, 2nd grade lower-level boys) the students had written on the board “Welcom Emily! Today let’s party!” I told them that, alas and alack, if only we could, but we had to study instead. However we could have an ENGLISH party. Crickets.

We studied “future tense” and I taught them how to make cootie-catchers (which I called fortune-tellers for the purpose of the lesson). I had the students write four sentences in English (today you will _____, tomorrow you will ____, next week and next month). It was super cute, because though my students honestly could not give a rat’s ass about English future tense, once they realized that we actually would be putting the sentences inside the fortune tellers, they worked their little butts off and finished their sentences!

In case you’ve never played with a fortune teller/cootie-catcher (sad, deprived little childhood) basically it’s a fun little origami thingamajig that tells your future. In Korea they call them 동 성 남 북 (North South East West) and instead of putting four colors on the outside flap they put the points of the compass. The students loved learning the American version, and then spent the rest of the class asking me how to spell certain colors so that they could do the fortune teller correctly [“TEACHER! HOW YOU SPELL PURPLE? P-u-r-p-l-e. AHHH thank you!], and without prompting went around to other students and told their fortunes entirely in English! I also had multiple boys call me over so that they could tell me my future. Apparently tomorrow I will accident, and next week I will die. Hmmm.

Also apparently one student is keeping a countdown of when I will leave. “Teacher, only 3 more classes yes?” “Yes I’m sorry” “Oh. Very sad.”

I had another class immediately afterwards, so I went over to 1.4 (1st grade co-ed intermediate, one of the two classes I’m doing my pen pal project with) a bit early because many of them like to chat before class. They didn’t see me come in so I snuck into the back where two boys were arm-wrestling and surrounded by a cheering mob. They got super excited and insisted on showing me their left-handed arm wrestling skills.

Creeper award of the day: one of my first grade advanced students bursts into 1.4’s homeroom right after the bell rings screaming

“teacher hiiiii!”
“Hi! How are you?”
“I’m also fine, thank you.”
He then, with absolutely no segue shouts out the name of my apartment complex and giggles
“uhhh how do you know that?” I then pretend to look freaked out, though I’m really not. Since there are so few foreigners in Yesan, almost everyone knows where I live (and I do mean everyone – the kids at my hapkido studio all know where I live too) because they’ve seen me walk in or out of my apartment complex.
“I am stalker.”

At least he’s honest?

For My Father

Sunday, June 19th, 2011
My father is a long time collector of comic books. He has boxes upon boxes of comic books neatly filed and collated sitting in our basement, and even though some of them have been valued at a few thousand dollars, he cannot bring himself to part with the last remaining relics of his childhood. A Marvel man through and through he devoured dozens of these graphic novels as a child and has since come to emulate many of his comic book heros in his adult life wether he realizes it or not.
The Riddler
When speaking with my father no question is ever simple and no answer is ever clear. He enjoys the run-around of teasing an banter, often answering questions in song lyrics and  film quotes, and sometimes just avoiding questions all together. Trying to get a straight answer out of him is like trying to get into DC at 8am on a weekday, its a slow, tiring, and exhausting process. My father is a Riddler.

The Joker
My friends have been known to come over to my house not to hang out with me, but to sit in the kitchen and be entertained by my father. He is constantly making people laugh, sometimes even intentionally. The trouble usually comes when people have trouble telling when he is and isn’t joking. His jokes are brash and sometimes go to far, but he is quick on his feet and is always trying to get the last laugh.

Just like the Dark Knight my father likes to hide in the basement where no one can bother him. He keeps to himself in the dark and moves around the house at odd hours of the night while the rest of us try to sleep. When he doesn’t have to work the next day he is almost completely nocturnal, much to my mothers annoyance. Just like the famous caped crusader he likes to do all manner of odd things in the middle of the night like work out, ride his bike, order things off television, and sometimes he gets really wild and balances the checkbook. Perhaps he isn’t out saving all of Gotham City but he certainly enjoys his batcave and shuns the daylight.

He doesn’t swing from building to building, but he certainly swings back and forth between activities and conversation topics so quickly that no one can ever keep up with him. He weaves a complicated web of conversation and while he scurries across it with expert ease the rest of us are left to sort through a sticky mess. Just like Peter Parker he was the nerdy kid in high school who somehow ended up with a great girl who loves him despite his oddities and incredible A.D.D.

The Hulk
With all the miscellaneous exercise equipment that has come through our house and ended up at the church bazar over the years my father should look like the Hulk by now, but he is only the Hulk in his mind. He thinks he is capable of lifting just about anything and thinks that somehow his workout regime of ten minutes on the Total Gym every third week and a protein power shake in the morning has him on the way to the perfect Hulked out body. My father may not look like the Hulk, but you certainly won’t like him when he is angry. He has HULK SMASHED quite a few things over the years. If you ever find yourself in the kitchen in our home you will notice that we keep our fruit in a pile on the end of the counter. It used to be kept in a ceramic bowl…..HULK SMASH!
Every morning that my father has to work he showers and puts on his white shirt and dark pants and suddenly becomes a completely different person. Gone is the man who takes nothing seriously and can’t focus, and in his place is an efficient and productive adult.  His labcoat is the superman cape that transforms him into the serious Pharmacist who I barley recognize as my father. In this clever disguise as a serious adult he saves lives by ‘dispensing life saving medication’ and it is only until he returns home again that the labcoat comes off and he is back to his human alter ego.

Having been the only male in my immediate family for quite some time my father has been the butt of many jokes over the years, but he takes it in stride because in his mind he is a God, which God? Why Thor of course. His hammer has been many objects in our house, shovels, meat mallets, steak knives, and even occasionally a broom, but regardless of the device he can usually be found picking up random things and shouting to anyone who happens to be in the room “I AM THOR, GOD OF THUNDER!” No matter how much we may pick on him he will always be a Norse god in his own mind, and therefore he is unfazed by whatever joke he finds himself on the wrong end of.

While he grew up idolizing super heroes in real life he is just my dad. An unbelievably intelligent man whose heart is bigger than his mouth, even though it is hard to tell because his foot so often occupies that space. He adores my mother and despite his wild and unruly nature my sister tamed him at the ripe age of six. He is a man of simple pleasures, whose idea of a perfect day off is to balance the checkbook, listen to AM radio, eat a bagel and read the paper. To him I owe my sense of humor and my ability to laugh and talk my way out of just about anything. He may not save the world but he certainly saves our lives from ever being dull.
Happy Fathers Day, I love you Dad.