Thursday, February 26, 2009

The climate here has been striking. Because this is the tropics and the sheer amout of biodiversity is greater, humans' relationship with the environment is different. In North America, for example, there is less life- creatures great and small have space to live as they please, including humans. But here things are more tightly woven. Because the climate can support more life, more life exists. It is everywhere- canopies of leaves, strings of ants, birds, bees, people, snakes, vines, fruit trees, and butterflies. All of these living, growing things exist in very close proximity to each other, unlike the living things in North America's cooler climate. This closeness, for humans, means living in a unique harmony with nature and everything nature entails. So basically, there are little gekkos on the walls of the livingroom and ants on the kitchen floor. If you sit outside, a butterfly will probably circle your head while other unidentifiable insects rest on your arm. There is so much life it's spilling everywhere.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Intense Thai Lessons and Host Families

For these first 5 weeks, we (17 students from Calvin College, Colorado College, Hamilton, Knox, etc...) are living with Thai host families and attending Thai school every day. We live all over Chiang Mai and either take public transportation (thai busses) or get driven by our host parents. The school (ISDSI) is situated a bit back from a busy highway, in a complex with lots of trees and hammocks. There are a few classrooms on the second floor and little offices for the staff on the first floor. We are in Thai school from 8am-noon, then there is a lecture in the afternoon. Our lecture subjects range from Thai politics to geography to agriculture.
So far I have learned part of the alphabet, the numbers, lots of foods, and basic verbs. Everyday our heads hurt.

My host family is very nice, sometimes hilarious.
My father is a furnature salesman. He makes copies of expensive couches and sells them cheaper. He likes using his English and used to be a streetcar racing driver (like 'the fast and the furious'. neon lights, subwoofers, and an orange steering wheel).
My mother is a nurse and cooks marvelously. I say everything she makes is delicious and she likes that. She also smiles a lot.
My little brother Net (18) is finished with high school and studying for entrance exams for the university. He is very smart, relaxed, and proficient in English. Net always helps me with my Thai homework.
My other little brother, Not (12) is 12. He likes playing badminton, online golf, and always comes home from school with stains on his shirt. If you ask him a question and he doesn't know the answer, he makes something up. Example: "Not- have you ever gotten a hole-in-one on online golf?" "Yes, yes, it is easy" (completely untrue).

And apparently when a Thai family decides they want to host a student from America, they find another family to host a student too. This way the two Thai families can get together and watch their two American students converse like furbies.
My mother works with Ally's mother, so our families get together a lot. Ally goes to Calvin, so we know each other and it's nice to have a friend. She comes over for dinner, movies, and we take the same bus to school every day. We also get iced coffees every morning for 15 baht. They are the best iced coffees on planet earth and cost 45 cents.

For pictures of the school and general information about the program, you can visit the ISDSI website-


Monday, February 9, 2009

Forced Picture Upload #1

My host family has a digital camera and took pictures of me and my friend Ally on the streets of Chiang Mai. They insist I post these pictures immediately so my home can see I'm not being starved over here.

picture #1- me and ally next to a frozen mime-statue-man

picture #2 me and ally drinking ice coffee. 60 cents and delicious as all get out.

picture #3 me and ally eating thai noodles and soup. we were sweating from the chili spices.

me and ally looking at someone selling something.

this is a crc garbage can. that may or may not stand for "christian reformed church"

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Bangkok: The Big Mango

I have only been here in Bangkok (Gurung-tehp) for two days and I leave tomorrow. But what I have seen here has made an impression. This city is intense. The air is thick with bus exhaust and heat, the jack fruit on the street is cheap, and cokes come in glass bottles. It's the kind of city where, unless you're being enticed into buying something, no one looks you in the eye (I guess like any city...). Everyone is enveloped in his or her own business, whether that be making soup on the side of the road or sleeping with a stray dog on the side of the road.
Today I went looking for a pair of converse shoes (and got 'em. 5 bucks.) and came across the craziest phenomenon. I found a section of downtown that was ridiculously developed. I'm talking cross walks, starbucks, air conditioned malls 5 stories high, lacoste, and sidewalk fountains. The area went on for blocks and blocks. Tourists (like me) were crawling everywhere. But as I kept walking, the nice sidewalks eventually ended and the tight, dirty streets began again. The change from 'developed' to 'underdeveloped' was literally across a street. If I tried, I could get people sitting at plastic tables eating soup under a bridge and Adidas Outlet in the same camera frame. The difference was so drastic, and by looking around a bit I could see posters for new planned apartments and shopping malls.
I call this a 'phenominon' because this happens often in quickly-industrializing places (like Bangkok). New markets based on tourism (good) bring new life to an economy (good). The economy expands, stuff is built, and the poor are pushed back. Granted the added wealth to a country is good and the jobs provided are also good, but at what cost? I bring up the difference between the developed and the underdeveloped not to illustrate the stark difference between the rich and the poor, but to illustrate the illusion these fancy buildings give us. Today, while strattling the street between the clean and the dirty, I couldn't help but notice how easy the clean half looked. Why don't they just redo the dirty part like they did the clean part? The illusion that building a bunch of new structures (to light, heat, and furnish) is easy and simple is dangerously misleading. All development like that comes at a cost. The reason why I am in Thailand this semester is to study how the industrial boom of Southeast Asia has raped the environment of its resources. Places like China and Thailand are 'developing' so fast that the countries' respective natural resources are being abused and ignored. Tomorrow I travel up to Chiang Mai (base), where I will begin taking trips around the rural portions of Thailand to learn more about these environmental atrocities. I don't know very much at this point and I realize my thoughts are naive and short-sighted, but I hope to better understand this place as the semester unfolds.
grace, peace, and love to you all.

Here is a bit from a book I am reading now.

"As countries undergo the initial stages of industrialization, environmental indicators- air quality, water quality, forest coverage- generally deteriorate. Then, a turning point is reached and many of these indicators gradually start to improve, although there are exceptions (carbon dioxide emissions, for instance, have continued to climb). Preindustrialization conditions may never be fully restored, but sometimes they can at least be approached.
This pattern is controversial with many environmentalists because of the prevailing assumption, particularly among leaders of industrializing countries, that societies inevitably follow this curve and it is therefore okay to put off attempts at cleaning up. Under this traditional development paradigm, the curve becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy- a result of the tendency to separate economic and environmental concerns, reflected most fundamentally in the way statistics are kept. GDP numbers account for the benefits of economic activity, but ignore environmental and public health costs. A car crash, for instance, generates lots of economic activity by sending people to hospitals and spurring them to buy new vehicles. Similarly, a polluting factory contributes its basic production to economic statistics, along with its clean-up activities and the medical spending required by victims of its pollution. But you wouldn't consider all that activity to be beneficial. As a result, the high GDP growth rates recorded by industrializing countries are misleading about the real progress being made in quality of life. "

A Land on Fire
James David Fahn

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Hello friends and family- I will be studying abroad in Thailand from Feb to August.
Maybe I will be able to keep updates here.

For more information on things, click this: