Dinner and a protest

September 2011 marks the 4th anniversary of the Saffron Rebellion in Burma.  This Rebellion was set off by the unannounced removal of subsidies on gasoline by the Burmese government.  An already stressed economy deterioration even more and caused extreme inflation.  Bus prices raised.  Food prices raised and the people suffered.   In response to the mass hunger and oppression that was felt by the people, Burmese monks took to the streets and led peaceful protests requesting that the government pay attention to the well-being of the people.  These monks marched through the cities of Burma chanting the Burmese phrase for ‘loving-kindness.’  Civilians joined the movements and the protests grew by the thousands.

The military/government responded brutally.  Despite being Buddhists themselves, the soldiers raided monasteries, beat monks, imprisoned, and even killed them. On September 27th the government issued a warning that the protests were to be broken up within 10 minutes or extreme measures would be taken.  Monks encouraged the people to remain, to sit where they were, and the monks declared their willingness to risk their lives for democracy as well as the betterment of the people.

The government fired into the crowds.  Thousands of people were imprisoned and killed.

Since this day, those soldiers involved in the murders of innocent civilians and religious leaders have been granted amnesty and have not been held accountable for their actions.

On the fourth anniversary of the Saffron Rebellion, Burmese humanitarian groups and some who escaped the oppressive regime in Burma led a candle light vigil and rally in Chiang Mai.  Today, many people are still imprisoned in Burma for their participation in the Rebellion.  Organizers and attendees of the rally called on Burma to release these prisoners and to make real change – not just play public relation games.  The International Community today may be under the impression that Burma is undergoing changes that will the lead the country to Democracy.  Speakers pointed out that for several reasons this is merely cosmetic and not truly happening in the country.

There are still thousands of people imprisoned in Burma for their involvement in the Saffron Rebellion – about 220 monks and 2,000 prisoners.  Ethnic minority groups are still being attacked by soldiers and forced to live in fear of the government.  And human rights abuses are still committed regularly throughout the country.  On top of those, individuals who are responsible for all of these infractions of Democracy are the among the leaders of the country.  Thus, with these points (which are only a few of many) it can clearly be seen that Burma is not genuinely making change.  The rally called for people to put pressure on their governments to see through the public relations maneuvers and actually push for real positive change in Burma.

It was an amazing event with probably around 200 attendees.  The program was given in Thai, English, Burmese, and Shan and was presented by leaders of both the 1988 uprising in Burma (where thousands of people were killed) and monk leaders from the Saffron Rebellion.  I was able to speak with a Burmese Buddhist monk, Issariya, and hear a bit about his experience with the rebellion, escaping from Burma, and living in a refugee camp in Thailand (Mae Sot).  I am hoping to visit him and the library that he has established in Mae Sot called the Best Friend, where people can meet and discuss Burma-related issues freely.  I met some really great people and this whole event was truly inspiring. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I can’t believe that I have already been in Thailand for one month, and what an amazing month it has been!  Every day has been so jam-packed with activities that by the time I reach my bed I am far too exhausted to record my day.  And thus, being a month into my travels, thinking of all the experiences that I would like to share on this blog seems rather daunting, and probably impossible.  Luckily I have taken many pictures through which, in order to avoid overwhelming both you and myself with words, I would like to share my last month.

I arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand on August 19th.  I arrived in the middle of the night and in the middle of a rainstorm.  The song tao ride from the airport to the dorms was a mixture of emotions – “I’m in Thailand” was all I could say to myself.  Believing it was another story.  From the back of the song tao I could see that the rain was drenching the poor motorcyclist who were grasping at their raincoats in their attempts to both stay dry and to see the road ahead.  “Dangerous” was what my American knowledge of road rules told me but road rules didn’t seem to apply here.  Motorcycles and mopeds weaved in and out of traffic, horns honked, the rain came down, and I was in Thailand.  A giant billboard of King Bhumibol Aduyadej confirmed this.  And this is where the next chapter of my life begins.

Shortly after arriving, Payap held a ‘freshman welcome’ ceremony that invited all new students to participate.  The ceremony opened with a live band, speeches (in Thai), and traditional Thai dancers. 

Although at home a welcome ceremony would have contained some of these elements – music, fun, laughing, and dancing, this assembly was different from any I have ever experienced as it was intertwined with spirituality and ritual.  After making a speech, which I could tell was very moving by the reaction of the Thai audience, the president of the university commenced the sukhwan ritual.  Many Thais in the northern part of the county believe that the body is composed of more than thirty spirits. While traveling some of these spirits may become side-tracked by such things as beautiful flowers, delicious foods, and enchanting aromas.  It is believed that when these spirits leave the body and become lost one is more susceptible to falling ill.  Thus in order to call all of our spirits back to our bodies a prayer was recited.  After the prayer a string was tied around each of our wrists individually to ensure the spirits remained in our bodies so that we could have a healthy and happy semester.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2 semesters in Thailand

August 18th marks my arrival into Chiang Mai, Thailand.  After nearly 20 hours of travel I finally made it to the destination that has occupied my thoughts and directed my actions for the last 2 years.  Nearly 2 years ago I made the decision that I would like to study abroad – although anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I have always wanted to study abroad and to live in a foreign country.  Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated by cultures and places unique from my own.  By my peers I was considered a bit odd.  While many of them spent their allowances on cute new school clothes from Old Navy, I was sponsoring a young girl from India, named Komali, and dreaming of someday wearing a sari.  This decision to study abroad was not sudden or unexpected but rather just a matter of time and money.

After much inquiry and contemplation I decided that I would like to spend a year abroad in Thailand.  This decision was based mainly in my interest for Buddhism, from which I acquired in my interest to learn about Komali’s culture.  This decision can also be attributed to a college course called Peoples of Southeastern Asia.  This was my first introduction to anthropology and to Southeastern Asia but an influential one at that since I am on the path to finish my degree in anthropology while in a Southeast Asian country.

And so the decision was made – Thailand – the next question was, ‘how do I get there?’  I was merely a student with an income hardly enough to support my already frugal lifestyle.  I was able to save a little each month into my Thailand savings account but at the rate I was going I would be 30 before I could actually go.  And thus my impatient spirit led me to seek scholarships to assist with my study abroad experience.  In my search for financial assistance I came across the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship.  The purpose of this scholarship is to promote international understand and goodwill through the sponsorship of students to foreign countries.  Not only would the recipient of the scholarship be provided with a generous grant but he/she would be included in the worldwide network of Rotarians who do so many wonderful things.  The objectives of the scholarship – to improve health, support education, and alleviate poverty by increasing awareness of and respect for cultural differences and through the motto of ‘service above self’ – matched my own personal interests and philosophy.  This was my answer.  If I was privileged to receive this scholarship I would be enabled to study in Thailand and I would be able to make a difference in my community at home and in Thailand.

I contacted the appropriate Rotary members and with the assistance of many wonderful Rotarians – John McGuire, Laurence Gebhardt, Darl Bennett, Jorge Aguilar, Paul Link, Terry Gilbert, Kathleen Simko, the members of the Centennial Rotary Club, and countless others I completed, interviewed for, and received the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship.  And wow, what an honor it is.  I owe so much to all of them for taking an interest in my dreams and ambitions and for providing me with a means to make these realities.

Within minutes of being notified of my selection for the scholarship I was applying to the university in Thailand on which I had my sights set – Payap University in Chiang Mai. This university offers a program called Thai and Southeast Asian studies.  In this program I would live, breathe, eat, and study Thai culture all day every day – the ultimate immersion into all things Thai.  I was accepted into the program and here I am, in Thailand, the land of smiles as it is often known – and rightfully so.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A day for pessimism…

Although I am very excited to study abroad in Thailand, there is one aspect I have been dreading, an aspect that I have heard horrible descriptions and have had numerous nightmares about – vaccinations! A former missionary to Thailand described the needle for the typhoid vaccination as being four inches long. This needle could only be handled by one muscle in the body, and yes it is the one you are sitting on. I was told that after the vaccination was injected a bump the size of a tennis ball would be left and would last for a good day or two. As I sat on the exam table I tried not to think about the long needles, the painful injections, and the aftereffects that would follow.

When the doctor finally came in, I held my breath…

“Oh good, it looks like you are caught up on your hepatitis shots, your occupation is not that of a veterinarian so that eliminates several vaccines. That leaves only typhoid prevention.”

I closed my eyes…

“And that simply consists of 4 pills that you need to take every other day, no side effects with this one.”

How could I get this lucky???

“Oh, and be sure that you get some good bug spray. The insects there come in quantity and in quality (when it comes to size that is)!”

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Interview for Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship

A common cliché saying used by photographers and scrapbookers alike asserts that a picture is worth a thousand words. Examination of this photo may ‘tell’ of sincere happiness as not a smile is feigned. These smiles tell of an event gone well and several eyes twinkle in affirmation. The closeness of the individuals pictured is not due to the necessity of fitting each person into the camera’s lens but rather closeness built from enduring friendships. While this photo accurately ‘tells’ of these aspects, the photo fails to point out the ‘stranger’ amongst the group. It is not evident from this photo that this is my (the smallest individual of the group) first personal interaction with these people but due to their attitudes of acceptance and kindness I felt instantly befriend. These members of Rotary embraced my ideas as well as my person and it is through their generosity that I am enabled to study abroad in Southeast Asia. If a picture is worth a thousand words then those must be a thousand well thought out, concise words as a novel could not accurately depict the ambition, kindness, and generosity found in the eyes of these members.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment