Friday, January 30, 2009

A Typical Day at the Mirror Foundation

There are currently 20 volunteers working at Mirror (mostly all farang - foreigners, or to put it more accurately: "whiteys"). This large group makes for lots of free time (less work than we may have expected) as the work has to be divided between all 20 of us. We all have the weekends offto wander around Thailand together, which makes for a much less isolated travel experience
(this weekend we are heading to Bangkok to renew Jamie's passport - woops!)
Each day is roughly the same...
7:00-8:00 Wake up time, Anna attempts her morning cold shower.

8:00-9:00 Breakfast, which like all meals, is spicy, savory and served with white rice (but usually quite delicious. This is followed by Morning Meeting with all of the Mirror staff (all in Thai) and then the volunteer meeting, where the work is divided between the 20 of us.

9:00-12:00 Sometimes we teach, such as ICT (speaking English with the Thai IT workers for an hour or so), Top Kids (after school English classes with kids who speak English good. hehe), teaching the special needs classes, or teaching at the big school in town. Other times we create lesson plans (On Monday, we wrote our first lesson plan for two 5th grade classes and taught on Tuesday afternoon: our first really rewarding teaching experience so far. The children had surprisingly advanced English skills and were very excited to participate. They seemed to take education more seriously than kids at home, or at least respect the teachers much more.)

12:00 Lunch and ice cream from the ice cream man. Yay!

12:00-6:00 Afternoon teaching (if we have classes to teach) or lesson plan preparations in the office. Before dinner, Jamie attempts to play soccer with boys from the local village (who all started calling him Beckham, until they saw him play) and then sprints off to take a cold bucket shower (this is exactly what it sounds like: dumping buckets of icy cold water over himself).

6:00 Dinner

7:00-10:00 We usually hang out with other volunteers and Thai interns (young Thai university students who work at Mirror for 3 months at a time). A couple of nights we have had bonfires with the Thai interns, who bring out all kinds of Thai food to share (spicy papaya salad, sweet coconut sticky rice, etc.) and lots of Thai beer.

10:00 We head to bed (we rarely stay up past 10:00) .

On Wednesday night we had a huge going away party for many of the Thai interns. Each group of workers at Mirror (the volunteers, the interns, the student teachers) had to do a performance for everyone (will post ours soon) following our feast of a dinner.

It's a lot of fun here and we've decided to stay an extra week. Check back again, because we plan on adding more to this post in the next couple of weeks...

Volunteer dance performance (based on a popular Thai music video)

Jamie's bathroom (shower is the pink bucket)

We hand wash our laundry!

Jamie's stone bed


Everybody at the office

008 (an intern) playing guitar at bonfire

Anna's house (along with 30 other girls)

Goodbye party


Our wonderful cook

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Matching Tevas

We've begun our first week of volunteering...though it wasn't a typical week. All of the Mirror Foundation staff were away for an annual staff meeting in Southern Thailand meaning we, the volunteers, were sent to "work" somewhere else. After our 1st two days of orientation (sitting around) at Mirror, we all headed off to a small village outside of Mae Chan and stayed with Mr. Van, who could sleep and feed all 25 of us (the richest man in the village - his house is built above all the other houses symbolizing his status in the community).

Day 1 We were told, much to our disappointment, that we had the whole day off to relax. We were given a tour of Mr. Van's unbelievable house (which he built and wired himself!), discovered his mom lives in Oakland, and enjoyed the first of many of his delicious home-cooked meals. Anna spent the week sleeping on a dentist chair, as the only other option was the cold stone floor, while Jamie slept on a soft mattress.

Days 2-3 The work finally started. Our task was to build cement bases for the school playground (don't ask us why). We got to chop down bamboo trees with machetes, which were sliced down to strips and used as tensile support for the concrete. Next we mixed cement with rocks and sand and water (with changing proportions each time) and finally we poured it. We're not sure what this does for the playground but it was satisfying work for us.

Day 4 It was our group's day to teach the childcare down the street (basically a preschool ages 2 to 6). While we were only scheduled to teach in the morning, the regular teacher decided to take the week off so we taught the full day. The day started off calm, with structured art projects and "the Meditation Song" (don't get it stuck in your head!), but ended in chaos, with children clinging to every limb and a boy crying because he pooped his pants.

Days 5-6 For whatever reasons, all work was canceled so we sat around, read books, took walks, and watched crap-amazing movies (Mr Van owned DVDs purchased at the border which each included 36 different films under genres such as "Beauty Action Spy Movies" or "Mel Gibson v.s. Colin Farrel").

Night 6 Anna gets sick. Natural detox for 2 days (gross)

Day 7 While Anna lays on her dentist chair, Jamie (and everyone else) goes to the "zoo" (really a breeding facility for rare animals in the region). The zoo was nothing special, but the hike and its accompanying views were amazing. We caught a noon sawngthaew that left at 1:30 (Thai Time) and headed back to Chiang Rai for our weekend off.

Will post sooner, we promise.

Where Jamie slept at Mr. Van's.

The girl on the right is carrying her baby brother.

Meditation at Mae Chan winery.

Can you find Anna? (on a hike near Mr. Van's)


Chickens everywhere.

Chopping down bamboo.

Those are our sunglasses!

Kids sliding outside the school (sorry about the hand in the picture).

Mae Salong

Our first adventure outside of smoggy Chiang Rai was to Mae Salong, a tiny hilltribe town about an hour and a half north west by public bus and crammed sawngtheaw, which is basically the back of a covered truck with loose metal benches (our max so far has been twenty in one sawngtheaw). We met six young volunteers on the way, ate dinner with them and rode their rented motorbikes. We stayed in our own little bungalow for only 300 baht ($9.oo) and enjoyed the beautiful town for a night. Check out these pictures...


Anna eats a grasshopper.

Bottles kissing at a "Lebanese" restaurant in Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai bus station

An empty sawngtheaw

Our bungalow at Shin Sane Guesthouse

Thai 40

View of Mae Salong

Mr. Sane saying goodbye


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Our First Day

Today is our second day in Chiang Rai. Yesterday was our first day in Chiang Rai...yes.

We somehow made it to Bangkok Friday night after a 13 hour flight to Seoul (sweet airport) and a 6 hour flight to Bangkok. We were too exhausted and disoriented to do anything but collapse at our hotel.

When we woke up yesterday, we were in a different world: stray dogs, families of 4 riding through the skinny streets on single mopeds, street vendors and all the smells that go with a new city (barbecued meats, sewage, animals, a nearby river).

At 11:40 we jumped on a flight to Chiang Rai where we planned to brush up on our Thai - the boy sitting next to us laughed and corrected us. We were greeted in Chiang Rai by a festival on the air strip which we soon discovered (after wandering around wondering what people were staring at) was a military air show. Everywhere we looked people were staring and we were quickly struck with the realization of being foreign. After discovering that we had written down the wrong address to the guesthouse, we attempted to call Thellie (our only contact in Thailand) and failed on all of 5 pay phones in a row. A group of ten or so Thai cab drivers (all just hanging out at the empty airport) sat and laughed at us (a reccuring theme of our trip so far).

We decided to get a ride downtown and assumed we could find our way to the guesthouse 1 km away. With Lonely Planet in hand and 50 lbs of baggage on our backs we headed NE with the help of a newly purchased compass/whistle (78 Baht! - how much is a Baht?). Trucks with at least 10 children in the back passed and all the heads turned toward us. Walking around we found that with a little smile or wave or a timid "Sawat dee" (hello) everyone we passed would beam back at us. We've already discovered why this country is known as the Land of Smiles.

The supposed fifteen minute walk from downtown continued for an hour along the highway heading back to the airport and we soon realized we were terribly lost. It was time to ask for help (ah!). We stopped at a small moped mechanics shop where four or five mechanics sat staring at us with dropped jaws. As we timidly approached with our massive backpacks, tevas, sweaty T-shirts and map in hand, their awed expressions turned to fits of laughter. The head mechanic and his wife grabbed the map from us and began to pass it around and looked just as confused as we were. We finally mimed "telephone, please" and were able to reach Thellie on our second try who spoke to the mechanic for us. Before we knew what was happening, we were each on the back of a moped, speeding through the streets of Chiang Rai and were finally dropped at the guest house - which actually was just a fifteen minute walk from downtown. The mechanics' act of kindness seemed to be an expected gesture in this culture - not an inconvenience at all.

After a nap we headed to the night market, a bustling 5 lantern-lit blocks of vendors selling everything from hand-sewn pants to maggot covered sushi (intentionally). Today we take it easy, soaking up the living-in-the-present mentality of Chiang Rai. Tomorrow... trekking?

World's Most Unusual Musical Instrument

Our view for 19 hours.

Dinner in South Korea (spicy!).

Lots of herbs.

Cows in the city?!

The Chiang Rai Clock Tower.