Friday, October 12, 2007

Thailand Update 04/14/04

Dear friends and family,

It’s mango season in Thailand, a heaven for mango lovers like me. Mangos and sticky rice with coconut milk (a popular Thai dessert) is easily accessible at any restaurant or corner street stall, and carts of green and yellow mangos are sold by vendors everywhere. Today is the start of the Songkran(New Year) holiday in Thailand, a 3-day holiday that in reality is a 9-day festival of food, water fights and mass exodus of people from Bangkok to their hometowns in the provinces. The water-throwing is a unique part of the festival. People stand on the street with buckets and throw water at or on whoever comes by, and some people get into the back of trucks for the express purpose of getting wet. Some people even put ice in the water to make things interesting. In Chiang Rai, a small town in the north, there are literally thousands of people on the street or in trucks drinking beer, throwing water, and eating. Similar to holidays all over the world, there is much to eat, including mangos. I’ve had mangos for breakfast, after lunch, for desert. I never thought the words would ever come out of my mouth, but I have to say it now – I have eaten enough mango.

Yes, I am still in Thailand. I had given up staying here longer and begun plans to go back to Korea when I was suddenly offered a temporary full-time job, a gift from above, so to speak. I am the new program officer for Committee for Asian Women, a regional women worker’s organization based in Bangkok. Program officer means that I will be in charge of implementing programs, mainly research projects, exchange visits, and workshops. I am both excited and apprehensive about my new job. The work itself is of value, facilitating information exchange so that worker’s organizations or unions can learn from each other and organize better. It is a great sigh of relief to have some stability in my life – job stability, meaning not having the insecurity of a freelance job and regular working hours, as well as a place of my own, a nice studio apartment in the northern part of the city. However, it is my first full time job in seven years, and adjusting to a 9-5 work environment will not be easy for someone like me, used to being able to change my schedule and having long weekends. But I’m not complaining, I’m very grateful to be here and have this opportunity. I’m sure I will learn a lot and have memorable experiences.

As usual, the last few months have been busy and I don’t know where to begin. At the end of December, I participated in a 10-day forest walk through the northern mountains and learned about the spirituality of the Karen hill tribes, their problems of land ownership and citizenship, met wonderful people, and adopted a Karen grandfather. The experience was so rich and wonderful, I find it difficult to try to summarize in a few sentences. I’m tempted to use the phrase, ‘life changing,’ but it sounds so cliché. And really, what 10-day anything can change your life? Instead, I will use the phrase ‘perspective changing,’ because that is what happened. My perspective on nature, on spirituality, on human nature, changed. I will stop here and hope I’ll be able to tell you more in person one day.

In the middle of January, I went to India for the World Social Forum, an annual gathering of activists from every sector of practically every country in the world to discuss, well, everything that interests them. Gender, music, racism, globalization, dance, internet, art, poetry, politics. I found it fascinating to sit in the venue and watch people walk by – people wearing traditional costumes, t-shirts with slogans ranging from “Free Tibet” to “Get out of the Closet.” And not just walking, but marching, shouting, singing and dancing. People from all different walks of life with different languages, ways of dress, eating, and even shitting habits, all together for 6 days. Mumbai didn’t know what hit them when over 100,000 people showed up. To be honest, the conference organizers weren’t ready either. Traditionally held in Fort Alegre, Brazil, it was the first attempt to have the WSF in Asia and I do believe it will be the last.

My favorite part of the conference was joining a group of people evicted from their homes as they marched and danced their way across the grounds. I danced with them for over an hour, and they were still going strong as I finally dropped to the ground in exhaustion. Equally great was the nightly drinking sessions with the Korean groups that I had come to interpret for. We took up almost an entire floor of one hotel, and there were at least 2 rooms filled with people drinking, smoking, and talking shit or politics until late into the night. You could ‘room hop’ as I invariably did, meeting many people for the first time. It’s funny, in the past few months I’ve been doing more volunteer interpreting for labor groups, and in the process had a lot of people tell me that I need to work in labor. Now I am. Coincidence or fate?

After spending 10 days in Mumbai (Bombay), I left for the north with my friend and spent most of my time in the desert province of Rajastan. I did a lot of shopping, hunting for good food, watched beautiful sunsets and ate more potatoes than I ever wanted to, and fell off a camel during a camel safari (that's the little devil in the picture - he was startled by a peacock).

Without disrespecting the Indian people and culture, I have to state that by the end of the month of traveling, I was so happy to be back in Thailand, eating fresh vegetables, being around laid-back people, and not having to keep an eye out for potential men grabbing me on the streets. It was that bad. One of the many times I feel extreme anger at the male race. People say that you either love India or hate it. I was in the middle, sometimes hating it and sometimes loving it. One thing it certainly is not is a place you will forget.

It’s been a week since I’ve started work and I’ve come to realize that I have an American or western preoccupation with efficiency. There are times when I want to scream because nothing works – internet is slow, computers aren’t working, someone is sick, something is closed. A whole week can go by without doing anything. To balance the slowness, people also value relationships and quality of life. Work is not the most important thing. People take time to visit their families, to see friends, to have rest. They won’t get easily upset or frustrated at you, even if you make a mistake or do things slowly. There is not as much addiction to coffee or alcohol, although that is quickly changing, especially in the big cities. If there was only find a way to strike a balance between these two things…

I will be working at this job until the end of this year and likely longer if I find another job. Please know that you are welcome to come and visit.

Take care, and let me know how you are doing.

Love from Thailand,


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