What is Success? Part II

Saturday, July 18, 2009

This is part II of my "What is Success?" piece. I don't really have a good introduction for this one as I did for the last. I tried a number of times to get this thing off the ground and failed every time. Finally, while waiting for a bus at a small tea shop, I scribbled these thoughts down on pieces of paper used to wrap up meat and poultry. I ended up missing my bus but at least I finally got these thoughts out of my head.


Meetings were set up in March. The idea was talked about openly as early as February. Get started early in order to stave off the impending doom of self-defeat and failure. This has become the mantra. Surprisingly, it worked. With subtly whispers of an idea at first, I began to plant the seeds of my purposed project back in late February and by March it seemed as thou the wheels of progress were slowly beginning to turn. This had to be done in haste as time was against us… right from the beginning. The school year was ending and if my project wasn’t thrown into some sort of supersonic planning and preparation stage before every one left to go on vacation, I knew the whole thing would be a waste. A turd slowly circling the drain, down the pipes she goes.

What began as casual and then serious discussions (do they understand what the hell I’m talking about?) about my project soon progressed to meetings with the directors of both schools I currently find myself occupying. I explained the basic idea and following a number of grunts and nods, both directors appeared to give me their approval. This was wonderful though annoying as I knew this meeting would need to be repeated again and as it turned out, again and again and again. This would be the first of many snags, tears, and general fuck ups to occur throughout the planning stages of my projects. To understand the nature of this particular snag, you must first understand the nature of my project.

Being a TCCO volunteer, I’m expected both by Peace Corps and by my Thai counterparts to participate in and host English camps. Participate, this part I’ve done. Host, not as of yet, but this problem would soon be resolved. The basic idea of my project was simple but some how I always manage to over complicate the sucker each and every time I attempt to explain it. If, after finishing this I realize I’ve managed to mangle the thing again, then I’ll just draw a picture. Cartoons and stick figures. You’ll get the idea.

So the idea was simple. A typical English camp is hosted by one school with surrounding schools participating. My camp would change this formula some by having each of the participating schools host one day of the camp. This would at first seem impossible if one imagines each school in the district hosting one day of a continuing English camp. The thing would never end. Trainers would go insane from lack of sleep and the near constant use of low level pigeon English while the students would likely turn on us at some point due to our lack of new games and activities. At some point we would run out of ideas and would begin to recycle. The students would soon pick up on this and our authority would wane resulting in near certain mutiny and the children running off into the hills and forests to live a most tribal lifestyle. Never to speak English again. No, such an outcome couldn’t be allowed. What the hell was I talking about? Is it time for a pictures yet?

To avoid such Armageddon, this camp would be a local’s only party. Only the schools from my community were to be invited. The schedule was to work like this… School A would host the first camp with schools B, C, and D attending. School B would then host the next camp with schools A, C, and D attending. And so on and so forth. The 6th graders from each school would attend every camp and so every student would get the chance to play host at least once. The camps would be tied together with the central theme of practicing and focusing on the four basic skills of English; One camp for reading, one camp for writing, one for speaking, and another for listening. And just to make sure the trainers wouldn’t be over stressed or worked due to four straight days of English camps plus changing venues every night just to set up again the next day, the camps were to be planned for every weekend of a month yet to be determined. At the time, I was thinking May. This meant the first Saturday or Sunday would be reserved for the first camp to be hosted by school A. The second Saturday or Sunday would be school B’s chance to shine. You get the idea. Or at least that was the idea.

This was all done in the name of community collaboration. A belief and sense that something was amiss within my community and that this project might be a way to help. While I live in Ban Triam village and teach at Ban Triam and neighboring Ban Bang Wa Schools, my community is actually much larger. Being 15k north of the town of Khuraburi and 10k south of the even smaller town of Suksamran, my community consists of a cluster of four to five villages between these two hamlets along highway 4, the artery of the south. Ban Triam lies smack in the middle and because it is one of the larger villages and possesses a wide-open football field at the school, it often hosts all community events, festivals, and celebrations. This is both logical and sensible, a rarity in Thailand. Perhaps because of this, an underlying sense of strife has emerged among the other community leaders of the neighboring villages. Village envy if you will. My purposed English camp was an attempt to ease the tension, to allow each village and school to not only participate but also claim ownership in the camp. It made sense at the time at least.

And so back to the turd. During my many casual, and then serious, conversations with co-teachers at both Ban Triam and Ban Bang Wa Schools, I made sure the point was driven home that this was to be a community based English camp with input and participation from the neighboring villages essential for success. My hope was to set up a meeting with the directors and English teachers from Ban Huaysap, Ban Suan Mai, and my won schools of Ban Triam and Ban Bang Wa. This way my idea could be purposed and explained with questions being answered all in one meeting. Logical? Yes. Hence the high probability of failure.

Meeting with my own schools director was easy and both meetings, Ban Triam and Ban Bang Wa, I reluctantly participated in. Following those meetings, I stepped up my prodding of my co-teacher, Moosa, at Ban Triam to help set up the meeting between the teachers and directors of all fours schools. By this time it was mid March. School would be out soon and wouldn’t resume again until mid May. June was the best chance now for the camps. I continued to insist that Moosa help set up the meeting and continually inquired as to his progress in that endeavor. Finally, in late May I rode my bike nearly to Suksamran to meet with the English teacher and director of Ban Huaysap School. Moosa had assured me that they had been informed of my project proposal but a meeting had not been planned yet due to scheduling conflicts. When I arrived, to my surprise they had never heard of my project. It was the same story in Ban Suan Mai.

Once I had made my proposal, both schools expressed their eagerness to participate. This lead to a meeting quickly being set up which would be held at Ban Triam School. I quickly called my co-teacher at Ban Bang Wa School to confirm the date and time and that was that. Upon returning to Ban Triam School I informed Moosa of the date and time of the meeting and thanked him for his help. Thais don’t understand sarcasm.

I should have learned an important lesson that day. I should have learned that lesson two months ago when the meeting failed to be set up and individual meetings took their place. My trust in Moosa, and Thais for that matter, and faith that what needed to be done would be done would be tested and broken time and time again. Clearly Pavlov’s dog is smarter than I because I could never quite figure out what that damn bell was for.

What is Success? Part 1

Sunday, June 28, 2009

This will be a multi-entry essay covering my recent attempt to hold an English camp in my village. This project was a labor of love and brought me to the brink of total collapse. Giving up and returning home was in my head numerous days following this project for the first time ever in my Peace Corps service. I'm choosing to write about this experience because I believe it is a perfect window into what Peace Corps service is truly like. I don't want this experience to fade with time and I don't want the details to slowly bleed together and then be forgotten all together. Finally, without my girlfriend Christine, I would have never been able to come out of all of this in one piece.

What is Success?

Part I

I’ve started this story at least a hundred times in my head and perhaps a hundred times more on paper. In my head it is fluid, as if just one of many passing dreams which grace my pillow and then just as quickly fall away again. And yet I can’t seem to transfer what my mind is able to do with such ease into words. Perhaps a drill and a cup of some sort would do the trick. A container of some kind will obviously be needed to catch the spillage of these liquid thoughts, which seem awash in my brain. A dixie cup should do. I’m not that smart. Shouldn’t need to hold much.

The story is simple, really. As a Peace Corps Volunteer here in Thailand, I wanted to hold an English camp as I was expected to hold such English camps at some point during my service. I planned said English camp, English camp turned into mammoth cluster fuck, students never knew the difference, and so English camp was technically a success. This is the basic outline of what happened. The problem is that my English camp was not a success. Not as it was originally intended to be. And yet it was. I had never seen my students so excited to be learning English or to be at school for that matter.

A complete mental collapse occurred roughly a day or two before my English Camp was to take place. This was due to the cluster fuck issues, which were referred to above. These will be addressed later. At this point my body was running on autopilot and 3 in 1 instant coffee. Finally, with the camp complete and everyone having gone home for the day, I got the hell out of Dodge resolving to take some time off to get my head straight. To figure out what just happened and what the hell was I really doing in this country. Everything needed to be reevaluated.

Success is a difficult thing to quantify in Peace Corps. The butterfly effect is in many ways, real as a volunteer has no idea what kind of impact he or she will really have on an individual or community years down the road. The current Country Director of Peace Corps Thailand likes to tell the story of how he began a small co-op watermelon garden in his village in Issan back when he was a volunteer in Thailand in the late 60’s. Little did he know that years would go by before he would return to that same village to discover that the community leaders of that village would take that idea and run with it. Now, the province of that village is the leading producer of watermelon for all of Thailand with our CD’s village leading the way. This is a great story to tell green horn volunteers as they complete their training, as the ripple effects of our presence here can never fully be measured. It’s also a horrible story to tell as it soon contributes to our own self-loathing and depression.

It has been studied and proven that within three months of service, Peace Corps Volunteers come down from the initial high of being sworn in as volunteers and arriving at site full of hope and ideas of how to make the world a better place, starting with their villages. Once those three months have passed, many if not all PCVs learn the reality of Peace Corps life, which is often very different from the commercials. After being filled with excellent project ideas for nearly 3 months during training, it can kind of be a bit of a let down when the ideas you’ve been day dreaming about are quickly shot down or ignored the moment you arrive at site. It hurts a bit… getting kicked in the balls hurts too.

Having a good idea shot down or ignored is part of life though as anyone older than you will testify. But I will argue that this is a wee bit different. Few middle management types have ever had an HIV/AIDS education camp turned down because “no one here has AIDS” even though you attended one of the village leaders sons funerals just last weekend. Cause of death…AIDS related infection. Even small improvements, which seem logical, are shot down for the simple reason that those in charge simply have their heads so far up their asses that they can’t see anything except their own stomach.

And then the volunteer is reminded of the story of the watermelons and how a simple project can have far reaching effects long after we’re gone. This is all well and good except for the fact that few people will ever tell you during training that for every project that gets off the ground, a minimum of 5 dead or dying projects were left in its wake. And then the volunteer takes another drink.

As a volunteer, it is our job to come up with project ideas with the help of our community in order to better our community. But due to the ripple effects of our role here, the impact of these projects may not be felt or seen until long after we’re gone. Because of this, a volunteer will often only see a project in the beginning stages, when the project is struggling, and near total collapse. This is why success is difficult to measure in Peace Corps. If a person were to ask a volunteer if their project was a success or is successful at the present time, the volunteer would likely say they didn’t know or would possibly reply in the negative. Honestly, who knows…

This is the fate of projects in Peace Corps Thailand and as such, the fate of the volunteers who work so hard to make something of them. My project, most recently, was an English camp. But not just any English camp, this would have a twist which I hoped would bring my community together…

Hoosiers We Are Not...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Various States in the Union have various things to be proud of. Washington State can be proud of the fact that it has given at least three quarters of every town in America at least two Starbucks, roughly a mile apart from each other. Texas has given America Tex-Mex as well as the knowledge that if we 'mess' with you, something bad will happen. The signs aren't that specific. New England has clam chowder. I think they all claim that as their own. Everyone except Vermont which is probably pretty happy with it's own maple syrup.

As for Indiana... Indiana can be proud of, among other things, it's lengthy heritage with the sport of basketball. I recently read an article that even though the Indiana Hoosiers are facing yet another loosing season, they continue to fill just about every seat of the arena. True dedication from a die hard group of basketball fanatics.

Which brings me to my next point. Indiana University is the only university in the great State of Indiana to win an NCAA Men's Division I Title. I.U. has won 5 titles in total but has yet to add a 6th title since 1987. I believe that was roughly the same year that Somalia last saw rain.

Now obviously these two events are not related nor could my own lack of ability with a basketball be related to Indiana Universities March Madness record throughout the early 90's or the weather patterns across the Horn of Africa during roughly the same time period. No. These items are not related at all but they work as a damn good excuse. Because honestly, when I think back upon it, I could have been a great basketball player if only it had just rained a little more in Mogadishu.

Two brand new nets were just installed on the goals of what could sympathetically be called my schools basketball court. I knew this was happening because I was born in Anderson, Indiana. I honestly can't remember how to multiply or divide fractions but I can tell you when basketball is being played within a 3 mile radius.

Nothing right now.

Radar is clear.

With new nets, it wasn't hard to find students who wanted to try out these new toys. After a very brief lesson on how to properly attempt a jump shot, a game was organized of boys v. girls with me balancing out the girls side.

It is important to understand, realize, and know that we did not actually play basketball. To play basketball would be to play by at least some of the rules and to play by at least some of the rules one would first have to know at least some of the rules. Dribbling is a rule. Fouls make up a number of the rules. The 3/5 second lane violation...now that's a rule!

I have quickly learned during my time over here as well as with previous experiences with children that rules are bad and that games are good. This applies also to the NBA. Children, if left to their own devices, will often create their own rules. Lord of the Flies meets Bobby Knight. Now obviously I'm not going to let a friendly game of basketball turn into a hunting party for the little fat kid who's hyper obsessed with the conk shell but I'm also not going to spend the next 25 minutes attempting to explain in broken Thai and English the 'carrying' rule to kids who can't dribble in the first place.

Instead of basketball, what we played was more of a form of soccer, rugby, and basketball all rolled into one. I doubt I need to explain the rugby element as the mental image alone should be satisfactory. Still, their should have been more jump balls than the ( insert random basketball almanac statistic here ) game between the ( insert team A ) and the ( insert team B ).

The soccer element made more sense than the rugby element. The rugby element was just bad officiating on the part of the absent officials who had likely been paid off by local police. With soccer, the students just drew on what they knew and made up for what they didn't know. If the ball went out below the net, and it was the offenses ball, they would automatically take it out from the corner instead of from under the net. Their version of a corner kick. When the ball was moved up the court, the students would pass and pass and pass. Rarely would anyone ever dribble the ball. This of course makes sense as no one actually knew how to dribble.

After what felt like a good solid 45 minutes of play in the punishing Southeast Asian sun, the bell rang calling an end to the day. During the last 20 minutes, I came to realize that a surprise game of basketball with my students was not a blessing but was in fact some sort of punishment. Clearly I had sinned in some way earlier that day or week and was now being punished for my wickedness.

Either that or I am shockingly out of shape. I prefer the God theory as I'm comfortable with my body just the way it is.

On second thought, maybe I'm not as conditioned as I thought I was. But then again, these kids are in their element. I'd like to see how well they'd fair in 40-50 degree weather back home in Indiana.

As a final note to anyone who is interested; the final score was something around 7 - 5 in favor of the boys. As we were playing primarily by soccer rules rather than by basketball rules, I'm only assuming that I would have been the only individual who would have counted each basket as two points rather than as one point. It's also worth noting that as much as I tried to involve the girls, I ended up scoring all 5 points, marking a personal best for myself. If you scored the game as 14 - 10 then I blew my personal best clear out of the water.

Did I forget to mention that I absolutely suck at basketball and am completely the wrong person to be teaching these kids anything about the sport?

Radar is still clear.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Their is a volunteer in our group who publishes a blog roughly once a day. I just checked before I started writing and his last entry was dated at 21 hours ago. Before that he had another entry that was dated at 22 hours before that. I have no idea when my last entry was. At one point I was going back and attempting to write about old stories which had already taken place and then adjusting the date to make it appear as though I had really just written about it as it had taken place. Yeah. I'm really no good with this.

I don't have a plan to fix this nor do I believe I would actually stick to any such plan of my own creation. More than likely this will be my only posting for the next 3 months. And sadly I'm doing this from my schools computer so I don't have any pictures to go with this posting. But how's about this. For those of you who still check this, please feel free to fill my inbox with as much spam as you want. From hate mail to just the dumbest shit you can possibly think of. I'll get the hint. To stop the crap, I have to write. I'm serious. Who knows. Maybe this will work. Or maybe I'll just block your address and go back to watching old episodes of Lost on DVD.

That show is weird!

A funeral is a free meal in my village and typically a good one at that. The other night the surprise feast was Yum Nan Moo or Pig Skin Salad. Just as it's name suggests, it was amazing and I couldn't help but have seconds. Other staples of a traditional funeral were there including 'Back up' curry which is a traditional Southern Thai dish which is simple and easy to make in massive amounts hence its name 'Back up' curry.

The departed was the brother of the wife of a man who use to be on the board of directors of one of my schools. He was in his early 40s and had just passed away from HIV. Don't let this alarm you though. My village as well as the surrounding villages doesn't have a problem with HIV as compared with some of the other villages and provinces of Thailand ( Oh yes we do! ). A total of 5 monks officiated over the ceremony which could be compared to any Roman Catholic service in terms of length and entertainment value.

The first time I attended a funeral, my mind was razor sharp and keen to pick up the subtle details that were all around me. Numerous Religious Studies courses from University taught me to be aware of both secular and non-secular symbols around me when attending any formal gathering ( i.e. a funeral ). Examples of this include the strict dress code which is adhered to of wearing only black and white. Only one kind of desert is served and is only served at funerals. A shroud is placed over the Spirit House of the resident in question. And so on and so forth.

After the 9th or 10th funeral, the mystery ceases except for the question of what will be served that evening. Sometimes the food is horrible, to be honest, while other times the food is amazing. Is it wrong to write a culinary review of a funeral? Probably. But what if the food was really really really good? A traditional Western funeral will typically involve various forms of finger foods which are served following the funeral services. A Thai funeral is a bit different. A full meal is provided to the guests, after which the services take place. This all takes place at the home of the family of the deceased. If it could be compared to anything the West has, then perhaps it best matches an Irish wake played in reverse.

The other night when I attended the funeral of which I have the clearest memory of, as it is the most recent one I have been witness to, I remember wondering if flash photography would be inappropriate. This is a line I have not yet crossed but one I am prepared to. A curious thing, Thai's never turn off their cell phones and as a result of this, at least 4 calls were received by various individuals during the funeral. Not only were these calls received but conversations were held. The monks who presided over the occasion, stoic figures, were not phased. Nor should they have been. No one was phased by this except perhaps myself. This is not something unusual for Thai culture. Voicemail is unusual. Calling someone back is unusual. Accepting a call in the middle of a funeral, that's normal.

I have been in Thailand for over a year now and have been witness to many strange occurrences. An 'elephant show' randomly showed up at my school yesterday and made camp. Three elephants romped around the schools football field, took a shit, and then left. It was "The Greatest Show on Earth!" This will probably stick in my mind longer than the tiny things I have witnessed. Cell phones being answered regardless of the situation. A family of 6 riding down the road on a moped including Grandma holding a 9 month old infant. My star student wearing a shirt that said "Fuck Off Wanker!" in a dance competition. These memories will have to be triggered in order to resurface which is sad because these are the memories which have truly been at the center of my Peace Corps experience. And funerals are just an example.

Happy New Year!!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Leadership is important. Especially in large groups. Especially during large celebrations or major holidays. Especially when alcohol is added to the equation. At 11:59pm, it was clear that the large gathering of Thais and Farangs lacked leadership. Our tiny group of fellow volunteers and friends had already become aware of this fact and were already formulating a solution to this problem.

Without question, the largest tourist attraction in the South of Thailand is Phuket. Patong beach is the tourist center of Phuket and at the heart of Patong, or perhaps it could be called its liver, is Bangla Road. Comparable to Khao San Rd. in Bangkok should it ever have had a love child with Soi Cowboy. (Google these if you're unfamiliar.) Filled with trinket shops, bars, Go-Go bars, and night clubs, Bangla Rd. also has a really good seafood restaurant just off to the right near one of the 7/11s. Good seafood at a reasonable price! Bangla Rd. is the only place in the South where you can pet a lizard and a tranny in less than 5 minutes. Then go for a burger and fries to contemplate what the hell just happened.

At some point in December, the high officials of Phuket either found or created a large Christmas tree. I'm not sure which as it was dark and to be honest, I wasn't really interested if the damn thing was real or fake. This behemoth of a thing was erected at the mouth of Bangla Rd. where the road meets the beach. This was our meeting point for our New Years celebration. It was also the meeting place of several hundred other people. Luckily for us, we only slightly looked like lost idiots. Ah hah! An advantage!

Having gathered together under the brilliant lights of the Bangla Christmas tree, we were left with the frightening realization that a stark problem to these festivities was falling into place. 2009 would arrive at 12:00am. That was in exactly 7 minutes.

10 minutes.

5 minutes.

8 minutes?

Their was a pack of Dutch or slow Germans who were already celebrating about 15 yards away. Everyone else was standing around. Drinking. Talking. Looking at their watches and cell phones.

Nobody knew when New Years was but what was even more apparent to our group was that the Thais in charge (were their Thais in charge?) probably didn't know either. And even if they did know they would probably be 15 minutes late, as usual. Something had to be done.

An open discussion and debate was started as to when and for how long a count down should begin/take place. Obviously we would all 'know' when the moment was right but how long should we count? 30 seconds? 10 seconds? 5 seconds? One volunteer wanted to count down from 2 minutes He was quickly labeled an idiot and was flogged to death with the man purse he was carrying. An item he insisted was stylish but in fact proved a very affective weapon against him. We then began to count down from 10.

Quickly asking if Everyone was ready, (It's the proper way to begin any exercise with students, ages 8-12, and has become habitual with many volunteers) we began to count down from 10. By the time we reached 8 we had everyone in the general area counting. By 5 we had the whole beach. 3 - 2 - 1 Happy New Year! At this point the entire beach erupted in celebration with dance and song and drink. A universal since a joy swept over everyone.

Peace Corps creates leaders.

Roughly 15 minutes later, a massive firework show erupted over the beach marking the New Year. As we expected, the Thais were late. We stayed to watch the show and later adjourned to a nearby Go-Go Bar to challenge the dancers to game after game of Connect 4.

Happy New Year

p.s. Never play Connect 4 with a Go-Go Girl for money. You might as well just give her your wallet.

Khun Peter

Monday, December 22, 2008

This is an e-mail which I sent to friends and a few family members just before Christmas. As the e-mail reveals, I didn't want close family to know of this for fear of the concern it would create over my safety here in Thailand. Please note that although the listed date for this entry on this blog will read sometime in December, the actual date of this posting is Feb 12, 2009. The holiday season has passed and I feel it's ok now to reveal to everyone what happened.

Dear Friends,

I hope you are all having a wonderful Christmas and are staying warm. As for me... I'm currently sun-burnt from spending too much time out on the beach yesterday and from swimming in my little watering-hole-style creek the day before. A few fellow volunteers are here visiting from way up north and so I'm showing them the spirit of the South. Spicy food, curry, and of course beaches and various water sports. It's about 3 to 5 C up in the north right now which is nothing compared to the winter storms some of you are facing but to me, that's just crazy. It hasn't dipped below 23 C so far this winter and I'd consider that cold at night. I mean, I wear pajamas to bed and am sure to curl up under a nice warm blanket! Don't get me wrong... the fan is always going but still. Boy it's cold over here!!

Well, now that you all hate me, I thought I'd share a quick story with you. This actually just happened yesterday so all of the details are still pretty fresh in my mind though I doubt they'll ever go away. I'm not sure If I ever told any of you about Khun Peter. Peter is one of about 2 or 3 farangs (foreigners) who lives in my village though he has lived both here in the village and in Thailand in general the longest. Born in Algeria but an immigrant to Australia, Peter has the strangest accent of anyone I've ever met. Like a cocky French Canadian with a Crocodile Dundee fetish. Add about half a case of beer and a bottle of whiskey and you've got Peter. He's been living in Thailand for over 20 years. Southeast Asia for another 10 or 15+ before that. And my small village for just over 2 years. Peter lives down by the beach in a small bungalow style shack with about 4 dogs. The true bohemian lifestyle in this tropical paradise. He was a teacher at one of the major universities in Bangkok, or so he claims, but now spends his time as sort of a freelance English teacher. He runs a small school just outside of his home where students can come and learn English during school breaks and he helps tutor community and business leaders on the side. All and all, not a bad way to live out ones golden years.

All the trouble started yesterday morning when my friends and I went out for breakfast. Everyone was talking about Peter. He had apparently been bitten by a snake though no one knew any of the details. More specifically, no one knew if he was alive or dead. Later on, as we made our way closer to the beach and stopped by a small mini mart for some water, we found out from the lady who runs the shop that although Peter was in fact alive, he had been bitten by a snake at his house that was about as wide around as a football. Imagine that if you will... At lunch that day we heard more stories about Peter which were then followed up by questions. People of course wanting to know if I knew anything about Peter. Details or information that they didn't already know. That night we went out for dinner with one of my co-teachers who had just heard the news broadcast over the local radio station. Peter was dead. He had been bitten twice by a king cobra. Once on the upper arm and once on the lower leg while walking his dogs down near the beach. He apparently tried to get back to his house but never made it. He died within the hour.

We ended up going to the funeral that night which was held at the largest temple in the main city. A very small affair. Only about 50 or so people came which is tiny for a Thai style funeral. But interestingly, he had a Thai style funeral. I think for many of the ecco-tourists that come and go around her, they would just ship their bodies back home and quickly forget who they were. His friends and neighbors were visibly shaken and still in shock over what happened. He had a job teaching English to higher ups at one of the small factories in the village. All of the factories in the village are owned by one woman who has various elements of her family running them. He met her, she liked him, she became his patron. At the funeral, all of the traditional rites were observed. The coffin was beautifully decorated and lavishly ornate as was the small alter in front of it. Food was offered to the guests though the funeral being last minute and late in the evening, few people were hungry. In fact, for being last minute, it was very well put together. The funny thing about it though is that I think Peter might have hated all of it. From our meetings and our conversations, he hated the Thai obsession with ritual. He also had more than a few personal problems with how Thai's show respect. A common problem with expats, the idea that respect is shown to someone regardless of who or what the person has done. If they are an elder or of a higher social ranking then respect is given. This flies in the face of the western concept of respect being something that is earned. Meh... it's a Thai thing and it will piss you off if you spend enough time here... so will their music.

I'm sorry if I just brought everyone down but I just wanted to share this story. I knew Peter casually and would talk with him when I saw him but really that's it. I think it just hits closer to home because of how close this community is. Everyone really does know each other and really shares their concerns and feelings for one another. Obviously I wouldn't be dumb enough to tell family this story during Christmas. That's why I'm telling you this story. Even though a few of you are family and I really consider all of you close enough to be family, I don't want my actual family (Mom, Dad, Aunts, Uncles) knowing about this until I return home. They really don't need to know about all of this.

So yeah. Just another interesting story from the front.

Home Coming

Friday, September 26, 2008

Dad's surgery went well. He was awake and making jokes faster than I or the nurses had expected. I'm still shocked that modern medicine has reached a point that a person can have open heart surgery and be sent home, walking under their own power, the same week. Something just doesn't seem right about that.

Flying back home to Thailand, I find it funny that I catch myself casually calling Thailand home. Weeks before, I would say things like, "I'm going back to America." or "I'm heading back home to America." If I ever mentioned home I would always classify it with America being my destination. I haven't been doing that lately now that I'm heading home...to Thailand.

It was great being back home in the States for what little time I had. I really didn't expect or plan to be back Stateside until I completed my service over here. The first night back home in my old bed was the strangest night of my life. I couldn't sleep knowing that what felt like only a few hours ago, I was thousands of miles away in a remote village living a very different life. Over the next week, I tried to explain things to friends and family but to be honest, they could never understand. This place is just to different to make simple comparisons such as Chillies is like Applebees but with better burgers and TexMex. Yeah. Sure. It's just that simple. A remote Thai village on the Andaman Sea is like rural Indiana except with better rice, fish, and more Asians and less White people. It's complicated.

Korean Air has really good food. This is a reaction to the lack of western food I've consumed over the past several months. Although I consumed all of my favorites while Stateside, the tiny surprises of good food always brings a smile to my face. They do a good steak on Korean Air. Set up with all the fixin's too. It should be noted that I haven't had a steak in about a year so when that point is factored in, this is hands down the best (first) steak I've had since then. The second might place the first in perspective. I hope not though. Good memories of that Korean Air steak.

I've got an increasingly longer and longer 'To Do' list for when I finally settle back home. Need to unpack and clean the house. Do laundry. Need to prepare the end of the year reward market for my students. Should be fun. Definitely need to make sure I have enough toys for everyone and think about appropriate prices for them. Need to kiss Christine too.

Note: For the latter, repeat until dead or until world ends (which ever comes first).

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