Hit the ground running

July 18, 2016

in Asia, Lauren Raasch, Summer 2016, Thailand

*I have stopped trying to keep track of the days*

So school is really hitting a lot of us now that we have finally arrived at the university and settled into the campus a little. Here is a bit of a schedule:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
9:00-11:30

Microbio Lab

 

9:00-10:00

English

9:00-11:30

Microbio Lab

 

9:00-10:00

English

Excursions?

Or, no class

10:15-12:45

Microbio Lab

10:15-12:45

Microbio Lab

11:30-1:00

Lunch

12:45-2:00

Lunch

11:30-1:00

Lunch

12:45-2:00

Lunch

 
1:00-2:30

LCA 300

2:00-3:00

English

1:00-2:30

LCA 300

2:00-3:00

English

 
3:00-4:30

LCA 300

3:00-4:30

LCA 300

 

So, we have a full day. This study abroad program will give us a total of 5 credits with 1 counting for the global health field experience. So, it makes sense that this is packed.  The thing that is the most time consuming, in our opinion, is the LCA 300 class. The main thing that is nagging at all of us right now is the final research paper on health and development in Northern Thailand. The English time frame you see is a special part of our LCA 300 class where we visit Thai Freshman classrooms and help the teacher’s assistants give the students advice in terms of vocabulary and pronunciation. A huge trend right now in our IE (intensive English classes) is for the freshman students to take pictures of their American TAs and post them on Facebook without our knowledge. Today we actually came across a 20-minute video that a student posted of one of us trying to teach the students how to pronounce their end syllables…

^Mae Fah Luang Campus, view from a walkway on my way to my afternoon class

^Mae Fah Luang Campus, view from a walkway on my way to my afternoon class

The days are long, yes, but ending at 2:30 or 4:30 gives us all time to eat dinner together, visit the markets, and try to squeeze in some school work. The reason I say “squeeze” is that, as Madison students, we are used to having a plethora of libraries at our disposal pretty much whenever we need. At Mae Fah Luang university, however, there is one library that only stays open until 6:00 pm. Another study spot is M-Square which only stays open until 8:00 pm. These two locations are the only two (of which we are aware) that have air conditioning and access to outlets on the entire campus. “Why don’t we go off campus to work then?” Well, the only downside to that is the shuttles stop running around when everything closes up. So, even if we wanted to go off campus we would have to get a taxi back to the university which tends to be a hassle. Overall, after exploring numerous options most of us have just opted to do late night work out of our rooms until one of us comes across a better/more accessible study spot.

Accessibility is the big difference between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. In Chiang Rai, whenever we want to leave campus, we have to catch two individual shuttles just in order to leave the grounds, the later of those two only leaves you at the gates to the university. From the gates of the university you then have to catch a taxi if you would like to go anywhere in the city. This is further complicated by the fact that the shuttles are very few and far between given the large demand for shuttle accessibility. The shuttles will hold 13 students max (there are a few thousand freshmen on campus right now) and the shuttles are always full unless you catch them at the station itself, which is by our hotel on the edge of campus. Because the station is so close to our hotel, catching a shuttle to class isn’t that hard.  It gets complicated when we want to catch a shuttle home.  Often, we have to walk. As Madison students this should come as no problem, but as students in Thailand the heat and the stiff uniforms make the walk pretty uncomfortable. I feel like it’s also just something we are going to have to get used to though.

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I know right now it sounds like I’m droning on, but being an upper classman at a very liberal university, the lack of “freedom” per say comes as a bit of a shock. I had to vent.

Sorry, I know I got really boring there for a minute, but I promise there will be much less school jargon from here on out.

So this past Friday and Wednesday were excursion days! And when Ajaan Anthony does excursions, he goes all out. Wednesday afternoon, instead of having LCA 300 as usual, we went to Rai Mae Fah Luang Museum and got a guided tour from an ingenious art curator named Rebecca Weldon or Becky. Rai Mae Fah Luang is an art and culture center in an area of Chiang Rai that used to be a large rice paddy.  Originally, the space functioned to support and preserve the craft of the Hill Tribes in northern Thailand.

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Then, the Royal Princess Mother worked to transform the space into a school for underprivileged, gifted children.  This foundation was created to prevent the younger generation from going into the drug trade and instead cultivate their skills and gear them towards healthy stable professions in the future. The school was very successful but as time went on and schools became more widespread, Rai Mae Fah Luang (RMFL) no longer functioned as a school for the under privileged but, rather, as an art gallery.  The RMFL today has the largest collection of Lanna art (art specific to the Lanna region, or, Northern Thailand and some surrounding areas) in all of Thailand. We were lucky enough to have Becky, the main curator of the institution, as our tour guide through the entire museum. She even allowed us to photograph the artifacts (something that is not allowed for most touring visitors) and showed us the behind-the-scenes store-room of artifacts.

artifacts store room

artifacts store room

Haw Kham, built in traditional Lanna style by the people of Chiang Rai for the Royal Princess Mother’s 84th birthday

Haw Kham, built in traditional Lanna style by the people of Chiang Rai for the Royal Princess Mother’s 84th birthday

To make up for the lack of a LCA 300 lecture that day, Ajaan Anthony lectured us in a reception hall at the museum.  They served us food and guava juice while we took notes on his presentation titled “What’s the deal with the White Temple?”.  Accompanying us throughout the tour and the lecture was a group of students from around the U.S. some of which study at U.W. whitewater.

Afterwards, we went to a small restaurant on the river with our entire group.  Given the large amount of people we brought with us, the wait for food totaled about 2 hours. I ordered Pad Thai, per usual, and I still attest that the street version is much tastier. One thing members of our group have found is that the fish plates (literally an entire fish on the plate with garnish) proves to be the tastiest. I would try it but for some reason I can’t get over my food having eyes when I eat it. Due to the long bus ride and wait for food, we ended up getting back pretty late that night, but it was a day well spent.

restaurant on the river called Rimkok Terminal

restaurant on the river called Rimkok Terminal

Friday morning we met at 8:30 and took a bus to the famous White Temple designed by renowned Thai artist Chalermchai. Chalermchai gained popularity earlier in his life due to his unique art style an incredible talent. He made lots of money at a young age and spent it in frivolous ways. Because he was so popular, he was commissioned to design the first Theravada Buddhist temple in England. He originally had a budget of $5 million to build the temple and ended up far exceeding it as he continued work. Inspired by his work in England, he decided to devote the rest of his life to designing the White Temple. Where the outside of the temple is all white and silver, the interior is beautifully detailed and colored.  The symbolism of the imagery on the interior walls of the temples is fascinating.  Also, the layout and style of the temple building itself reflects a lot of Buddhist ideals and teachings. Even today, the temple is still undergoing construction, and, as Chalermchai hoped, will continue to expand for years to come.

Chalermchai’s White Temple, Chiang Rai

Chalermchai’s White Temple, Chiang Rai

After seeing the White Temple we went on a city bus tour of Chiang Rai where we stopped at numerous temples and important city markers. One of the most marked things on the tour was the golden clock tower designed by Chalermchai in a similar fashion to the exterior ornamentation of the white temple.

Chalermchai’s clock tower

Chalermchai’s clock tower

The crowning jewel to our endless tourist activity was the Black House. The Black House is, quite literally, a Black House.  The house gained popularity, however, because it was the former residence of famous Thai artist Thawan Duchanee. The main house on the property is just one of many houses scattered about the estate.  His aesthetic is dark and starkly contrasts the previous subject matter and style viewed at the White Temple.

 

Ban Daam- Black House Museum

Ban Daam- Black House Museum

It is said that Chalermchai and Duchanee were rivaling artists given that they both gained popularity around the same time.  One thing they battled over was which one could have the better bathroom in their estates.  Certain people take offense to Chalermchai’s bathroom arrangements at the white temple because he adorned the bath house with elements that are meant to be used strictly for temple purposes.

Golden Bath House at the White Temple, Chiang Rai

Golden Bath House at the White Temple, Chiang Rai

According to Ajaan Anthony, one of the monks he spoke with in regards to the temple-esque bathroom believed that the large earthquake that happened in Chiang Rai a few years ago can be attributed to Chalermchai’s unholy use of temple ornamentation. Anyways, getting back to the black house, a few characteristics that defined the house for me was the use of antlers, skulls, and animal skins. The whole estate gave off an eerie vibe but it was fascinating to say the least.

It’s hard to believe that there is an activity that can top everything we experienced on Friday. But, as usual, Thailand is full of surprises. While at the White Temple, we ran into one of Ajaan Anthony’s former student Japa who just happens to be a tour guide in Northern Thailand and has his own website: www.japatours.com (he also happens to be quite popular on tripadvisor as well!). Anyways, he offered to give us a big group discount on one of his day hikes through the mountainous jungles of Chiang Rai.

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As a part of the trip we trekked through the mountains, fields of corn, tea, pineapples and banana trees and came across 4 hill tribe villages and a waterfall.  We experienced first-hand the torrential downpours of monsoon season through the blanket of trees while we sludged through the mud, slipped down the hills, crawled under draping bamboo and grappled our way up slick slopes. We put our complete faith in our machete wielding trek-guides (who chopped us all personal bamboo walking sticks from bamboo plants on the trail).

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At the end of our trek Japa took us to a natural hot spring where we were able to swim and clean off the mud that caked our skin. The tour took around 7 hours and we hiked around 10 miles according to Japa. When we finally came back to Wanawes (our hotel) we were all famished and exhausted. After eating we all just collapsed into our beds.

Saturday’s intense hike left us without much energy for an intense day on Sunday. Nonetheless, we managed to stay active.  A group of us ventured to the mall to indulge in the comfort of McDonalds, KFC and a grocery store that sold a few American grocery items. After our cultural relapse we took Took-Tooks to the Night Bazaar. The night Bazaar was like a typical market, lots of us did souvenir buying for family members and what not. However, the main attraction of the Bazaar for our group was the fried bug stand. We ordered a plate of fried grasshoppers and took turns trying to eat them without grimacing.

Fried grasshoppers, this picture was taken after we already ate half the plate

Fried grasshoppers, this picture was taken after we already ate half the plate

One brave soul in our group decided to try the largest bug at the stand (a bug with large wings about three inches long and an inch wide). The video of him eating the bug is super popular on social media right now actually. Even after all of our bug eating we still weren’t tired and mustered up the energy to visit the Sunday night walking street market where we ran into our Microbio professor Ajaan Jon.

The weekend was jam-packed but worth every bit of energy expended. This week, however, is already proving to be painstakingly long. It is only Tuesday and I feel like Monday was ages ago and that Friday will never come. This is mainly because this weekend is a big one for the group.  On Friday we are visiting an elephant sanctuary where we get to learn about the appropriate and healthy treatment of elephants in Thailand.  Additionally, due to the upcoming National holiday, we have off school next Monday-Wednesday (July 18th – July 20th).  Therefore, 12 of us are venturing down south to Krabi and the surrounding Islands on Saturday and extending our weekend until next Wednesday. So, in order to distract ourselves this week we are trying to plow through our school work and pack our bags for the trip so that once our super-weekend hits we can make the most out of every moment.

 

Angie Novotny July 26, 2016 at 2:54 pm

Hi Lauren, We are enjoying your blog. The White Temple reminds me of the ice castle in the movie Frozen. Thanks for sharing your journey!

Carol Raasch July 25, 2016 at 8:23 am

Sounds like every day is an adventure. Thanks for all the exciting updates. Love you and miss you.

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