Friday, September 20, 2013


Chatting/coordinating with friends in other countries is really amusing because we have massively different schedules and daily lives. Talking with everyone at ISDSI, we all wake up around 6 and get to sleep between 20:00 and 23:00. I try to sleep no later than 21:30 every night, though it often gets pushed to 22:00. It just is funny when I start to remember that everyone else stays up much later, but most people don't have school from 8-17:00, 5 days a week. I'm just on a really different type of study abroad program, as today's activities exemplified.

Today, we went to the fish farm.  It was amazing! It actually might be my favorite of the field trips we have taken so far. Also, I have 0 pictures from today, BUT my friend Kira just posted some on FB and has graciously allowed me to share them here with you.

We went to the Chiang Mai Development Farm in the Maetang sub-district of Chiang Mai Province. It was a nice cool day for which we were all very happy. First, we were able to talk to talk to one of the women that runs the fish farm and ask questions about the organization. Our Pis act as translators for us, so conversations go from English to Thai and then back from Thai to English. This is how most of our learning is done and it can sometimes be confusing and frustrating when things are lost in the translation process.

After the introduction, we put on our rash guards and NRS water shoes and headed out to the tilapia ponds.
We all felt a bit bizzare because we were wearing baggy hiking pants with super tight rash-guards on top.

First, we saw some very baby fish. The fish are divided into 5 stages, with 1 being the youngest and 5 being the oldest. The babies are kept in small trays that have a swirling water current though them. Each little tray has 250g of eggs originally that become tiny fish, smaller than the tip of my pinky. We learned that the water swirls because momma fish keep the babies in her mouth and the swirling current imitates the motion in her mouth. Next, we headed to the outdoor ponds for our morning activity.

The morning activity was to drag a net across a large tilapia pond to catch the tilapia and move them to smaller pond. I. I actually didn't even think to ask why we were moving them, but we were.

The big pond was probably 30x30 meters big, if not larger. The water went up past our knees and the mud was deep. Walking was a serious challenge and dragging the net just added another level of difficulty since we had to keep it close to the bottom. We were all getting foot cramps. We all had to move together as one line to drag the net, but some times part of the line got ahead or behind. As we moved, fish would jump in and out of the net as well as hit our thighs. Some of the fish were huge, 18 inches and larger. After getting to the other side, we'd get all the fish into smaller baskets and transfer them to a new pond.

In total,we did three net drags--twice in one pond and once in another.  The second time we dragged the net I was on the edge and my legs sunk down till I was knee deep in the mud and could not get my balance.  I fell over THREE times into the muddy water and almost pulled down two other girls with me so I just had to drop my section of net and focus on getting to the other side.

After dragging the net and transferring fish, it was time for a delicious lunch of rice and fried fish!

Our afternoon task was to go to the smaller, (but deeper) fish ponds and catch momma fish to collect their eggs. The fish in these ponds are kept in smaller pens. The workers pulled a tarp from the bottom of the pen to the top of the lake and basically created a pool cover type thing to corner all the fish into a small section. In the pen were both male and female fish so we learned to identify the men from the women. Next, we were taught how to use the nets to capture the fish, hold the fish properly in our (gloved) hands, open their mouth to look for babies, and extract the babies. Once the babies were found or the fish was determined not to have any, you throw the fish to the other side. Throwing the fish was probably my favorite part.

My first several attempts with the net were comical and there was a lot of shrieking as I tried to grab the fish, freaked out, then tried again. The fish also doesn't lie there in the net peacefully, it thrashes its tail around and you get sprayed in the face with water. After several unsuccessful attempts, I did it! My first several fish had no babies though. Eventually, many of us ditched the nets in favor of just sticking our hands in the pond and grabbing the fish with our hands. Again, it took several tries before I could get over being freaked out by touching fish, but I caught 4 fish with just my hands and I just got really into it. My friends even commented that it seemed I had gotten over my fish freak outs.

I was determined to find me some babies since I hadn't yet. I wasn't the only one, my friend Emily at one point yelled at the fish, "WHERE ARE YOUR BABIES," which just made all of us laugh.  Finally, after searching 20 or so fish my friend Indie (short for Indigo) and I found 4 fish with babies!  To get the babies out, you hold open the mouth, tip the fish mouth down into the net and gently shake it so the babies fall out. Then the workers put the babies in a container sorted by age and you go back to catch some more fish. Emily also found some fish babies, so there was a happy ending for everyone.

We had 4 ponds to do, but we ran out of time and only got to do 3. I was legitimately sad, catching the fish and hanging out in the water was so much fun. Catching the fish started to become a bit addicting and it was just cool to grab all these huge fish hoping to find gold (stage 3 babies are gold looking eggs). Writing this blog, it seems that I actually learned quite a bit about black tilapia, which is kinda the point of experiential learning. Going back to classroom learning in the states is going to be quite the challenge.

The trays with all the baby fish

One of the many fish farms, this is where we caught the fish to get the babies, the blue squares are the pens. The net drag ponds don't have pens. 

Some of my friends catching fish

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Weeks 3 and 4

So the traveler's diarrhea lasted about 9 days in total and finally stopped to my great relief. It was a real pain the but (literally), but I'm doing better now--physically and mentally. Per usual its been a whirlwind of a week. (Has it been one or two since I last wrote?) We picked up the pace in Thai class and spoke faster and learned more words and phrases with less practice. We started to dig in to the material in Foundations class and this week we learned about social organization of Thai society, citizenship rights and issues, sustainability, types of NGOs and land rights/issues. We've had two guest speakers from different NGOs talk about environmental and social justice issues and sustainable development and it's been really interesting. Thai society has a lot of superficial similarities to the US, but when you dig a bit deeper things are very different. For example, on the surface it seems that Thai people wear the same clothing as in the US, but there are different meanings for different clothing. Clothing in the US is for self-expression, but in Thailand clothing is a means of signaling one's position in the world and is a matter of respect for others.

I can give many other examples of this. A really easy one is pizza. In Thailand, pizza has hotdogs stuffed with cheese in the crust and some toppings we don't have in the US. Definitely not the same.

This past weekend (Friday, Sept 13th) we also went on our ISDSI retreat to Mok Fa Waterfall in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. The retreat was an opportunity to test out gear, team-build, relax and do some more orientation as our first EFC (experiential field course) is coming up in two weeks. During free time we also got to go to the 60m BEAUTIFUL waterfall and swim around in the chest deep water. It was the first time since coming to Thailand that I actually felt cold.

Me playing at the base of the fall

My friends in front of the waterfall, you can't even see the whole thing in this pic. 

We also had PB&Js and that was super exciting.

On our way to the park we stopped at a lake area for our swimming assessment. We had to swim 300m without taking grabbing on to anything to rest and then tread water for 15 minutes. Then, we ate lunch on these amazing grass hut buildings right on the water.

During lunch one of the Pis (instructors) came around with a small container. Inside the container was basil, onions, peppers and very small jumping shrimp. Apparently, its a traditional northern Thailand food. A quick google search brings you to this blog which does a decent job explaining what jumping shrimp are. Essentially, they are tiny translucent shrimp and you eat them, live. Yes, live. I wasn't peer pressured into eating one, but I certainly wouldn't have considered trying one had all of my friends not been passing around the dish. I closed my eyes, held my nose, opened my mouth and asked my friend Sophie to throw it in my mouth. It ACTUALLY was pretty tasty, the only flavors were the peppers and basil. One was enough though. Food is definitely a mental thing for me, that's an entirely other blog post though.

Tomorrow, is the next field trip of Foundations. We are going to a fish farm, to wade chest deep in tilapia ponds setting up hatchery nets and handling live tilapia with the Chiang Mai Development Farm, a local NGO. When I read about this part of the trip months ago, I was super excited, but last week I remembered that fish freak me out. Every time I go swimming in a lake I always move around and kick a lot so the fish don't come near me. They are just slimy and weird. So that's gonna be interesting. I'm still really excited though and I think it's gonna be really cool once I get over myself. Similar to the new foods, its all mental and its about adjustment to new ways. Also, we eat fish for lunch there which will be DELICIOUS. :)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sh*t Happens: Reflections Post Traveler's Sickness

I don't think this is as polished as I would like, but its so hard to find time to write/post that sometimes you just gotta click publish. Hope you enjoy!

This week has been a rough one both physically and mentally.

I write this as the thunderous collisions fade into the distance. While it has been raining monumental amounts all week, its not the rain clouds I'm talking about, but my stomach. Saturday night I woke up at midnight to horrible stomach pains and proceeded to wake up every hour on the hour to run to the bathroom. I was on one couch or another for the entirety on Sunday.

I knew it would take some adjustment to the local foods, but I had not realized that traveler's diarrhea would consist of 3-5 days of debilitating stomach cramps (lie on the floor whimpering type cramps) and liquid only elimination. I don't think my Mae considered the implications of this particular situation either when she agreed to take in an American student. To both her and Paw's credit they have been taking wonderful care of me through the illness, letting me rest, doing my chores, and feeding me rice and water.

In discussing cultural adjustments and the culture shock curve there is usually a specific incident that causes the happy visitor to take a sharp downtown in emotional well-being, often feeling homesick, isolated, and /or inescapably "other." For me, it's been illness from my cold last week to the stomach problems this week. When you are physically ill, it is impossible to keep a good attitude and you yearn for family and all of the comforts of *your* home. 

When I feel good, I love it here and wonder if four months could possibly be enough. When I felt ill, I wanted to come and wondered what exactly I had enrolled myself in here. Some students become ill multiple times, and the culture shock curve oscillates so this is not a battle yet won; however, I am in a critical period for responding to culture shock.

Culture Shock describes the process from initial shock to the visitor striking back in some way. They write:

Seeking to defend his senses against the shock-waves of an alien world, , s/he searches for... a culture shock absorber. In order to retain some sanity, the visitor responds to culture shock in one or all of the following four ways: escape, confrontation, encapsulation, or integration" (184). 
The goal to strive for is to remove social barriers in order to integrate and feel at ease in Thai society, but the path to integration is not straight and narrow. 

Two interesting events occurred on Monday night: (1)I ate an apple, (2) I watched American television.

(1) I had heard that fruit was good if you needed food, but couldn't handle much so I was asking Mae Nuan what fruit we had in the house. When she mentioned apples, I lit up and asked her to please give it to me. 
The apple was the greatest apple I had ever tasted because it was food from home. I never liked apples that much in the states, but here this apple was a much needed American oasis. 

(2) After dinner, I settled down on the couch to watch some TV and found some American programs on FX including Mad Men (which I had never seen before, and now really need to watch).

On reflection, the apple was a health way to cope and feel a bit more at home. The jury is out on English television though, it has some serious disadvantages. Watching TV is one of the greatest escapes we have especially when you can tunnel vision into the show with familiar troupes, settings, and language. For a while it is great to watch and zone out, but when the TV turned off, I felt very disoriented. It was similar to the feeling of waking from a dream and not knowing where you are. While I'm certain TV provides an escape for visitors, I think watching too often would actually hinder one's integration because when the TV turns off the fantasy ends. You are not surrounded by a familiar world or language and you have to make a whiplash fast adjustment back to the foreign world. 

Ultimately, there is nothing you can do for traveler's diarrhea, but to stay hydrated. You need to let everything flow so your body can get rid of whatever toxin it ingested. There is no over under below or around it, just deep breaths, whispered encouraging mantras (I prefer, "just keep swimming!), acceptance and slow progress forward. It is the same with the challenges of travel. I have no option to quit or escape, I must persevere and I will be made better for it.

I'd like to end with a quote from Becoming World Wise:

"Cultural quakes happen. Our foundations suddenly shift and nothing--not family, not friends, not language, not customs--seems fixed any more.... although the path of transformation rarely follows a predictable and linear course, it requires that we keep walking" (156).

A Few More Pictures From Week 2

Tomorrow will officially make it 3 weeks in Thailand. It's a bizarre feeling. Week 2 was filled with many terrors and triumphs. I got sick with a cold from Wednesday-Friday, had an AMAZING Saturday, and then Saturday night got a bad case of Traveler's Diarrhea that I am still feeling the effects from. This week we(students): went to Wat Suan Dok and learned about Buddhism from a local monk, bought food and then cooked our own Thai lunches, hiked up to Wat Phra Doi Suthep, taught English at a local Chiang Mai school to 7-12th graders, and learned a ton of Thai language.

Saturday, after the cold ended and before the diarrhea started I had an amazing day with my host mom and pop and my friends Hannah and Emily. Hannah and Emily are just two of the amazing people I've met while studying at ISDSI. They live nearby and we take the song tow to school together every day and I nearly fall over from laughing every time we hang out. Mae Nuan planned a super awesome day for us. First we went to Mae Sa Elephant camp. Mae Sa was started in the 60's and has over 85 elephants today. The elephants there are painters and create some amazing artwork. The elephants there have also broken a Guiness World Record for Most Expensive Elephant Painting. Then, we went to Queen Sirikit's Botanical Gardens, then lunch, a cool mountain temple and home for nap time. To end the day, Mae Nuan taught us how to cook green curry and we ate dinner on the terrace! Amazing day.

Here are a few random pics:
Hanging with baby elephants. Soinlove

We were giddy! 

Elephant Painting

Mae Nuan jumping in for a photo

She told us to give a thumbs up. So we did