Scooters, Stray Dogs, and Squat Toilets

Trip Start Jul 20, 2006
Trip End May 10, 2007

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Monday, August 7, 2006

Waiting at a traffic signal in Chiang Mai brings back memories of the sounds the engines make on Tomorrowland's Autopia ride at Disneyland, comparable to that of lawn mowers. Tons of motorbikes crowd the line ahead of a few cars and I choke on exhaust, as motos and cars alike, shift from neutral to first gear. It may be healthier to just put my mouth directly up to the exhaust pipe and suck. Some people wear surgical masks as they ride through town - and some scooters accommodate an entire family of 4 - and it is this sight and these sounds that makes up the roadways, given they are not flooded, here in Chiang Mai.

It is less safe to walk on the side of the road then it is ride on a motorbike, as Thai's show absolutely no regard for pedestrians and sidewalks are either non-existent, or are lined with food stalls. It may be safer for me to walk wearing the helmet I bought for the motorbike, than to ride a motorbike without a helmet at all. Most Thai's don't wear a helmet, though I insist on wearing it even to ride around the corner, which usually warrants a few laughs from my new Thai friends.

The PNN office is in the hillsides that surround the city and in a compound of other NGO's, including the Northern Development Foundation and the Community Forest Working Group. It is a very natural and peaceful setting, surrounded by trees and infested with small, biting critters. I often find myself itching my skin only to see that yet another bite has appeared. I am told that I am "new blood" or "sweet blood" and the bugs are bored of those they have already bitten.

The actual PNN office is two rooms in a white house. The space is shared with about 10 other people, as well as a serious influx of ants, caterpillars, both domestic and stray dogs, and whatever other animals happen to be around. Lately I have noticed a family of
chickens running around outside. The office is extremely casual, so much so, that for the first time in my life, my jeans, sandals and t-shirt wardrobe preference is prefect for all occasions. Before we enter the office, as well as many stores, we take off our shoes. It takes about 5 minutes each night of foot scrubbing with a pumice stone for my feet to return to their natural color.

On either side of the office are Buddhist monasteries, and late in the afternoon I can hear the prayer bells ringing calling the orange clad monks to their afternoon prayer sessions. It is this sound, as it vibrates through the air, that adds a truly authentic feel to my experiences. I had a friend recently comment that, "I thought that bells calling Buddhist monks in orange was only something you see in movies. It's cool that you actually see things like that in real life." -Jon Brown

The first time I saw an orange clad monk was at LAX. It was the sight of these two monks waiting to board the airplane, that made me, for the first time, actually feel that I was moving to Thailand. It was also at this moment, that I turned to my step mom and brother and said, "I feel like I am going to throw up." I had felt a sort-of numbness to all the changes I had been making in my life, but this sight, was the first time I actually came to feel these drastic life changes.

Over the weekend, I watched a monk draped in orange robes, tied with a sunshine yellow sash, carrying a red umbrella walk into the internet café, sit down, and access his e-mail account. This is the vision of modern day Thailand. And, if I were to write a book on Thailand, or on Globalization for that matter, I would put this picture on the cover.

Thailand is much more developed than I had expected. I was expecting a lesser developed nation comparable to that of Costa Rica and its Central American neighbors, but such is not the case. (Although, Costa Rica's per capita income is nearly $3,000 greater than that of Thailand.) Today, I had an interesting meeting over pressed coffee and salee (a tropical fruit hybrid of a pear and an apple) with Pikgay, the Director of the Northern Development Foundation and their 4-year volunteer from Ireland, Becky. We talked for hours about the Free Trade Agreement between America and Thailand, as well as AFTA (Asian Free Trade Agreement) which today compasses 10 countries, with 4 more countries currently in negotiations. It was an interesting conversation and much like those I have had with other NGO counterparts throughout the developing world. Same story, different country- reminds me of the t-shirt my brother once saw hiking through Cinque Terre, Italy, "Same Shit, Different Day!" America is f-cking over the world with trade liberalization. They say that Thailand was one of the only Asian countries to never have been colonized, but today I was told that in 1966 America colonized Thailand. 70% of Thailand's economy is made up of exports and tourism. 60% of Thailand's products are exported to America which makes up for 45%-50% of the overall Thai GDP. The ironic and sad thing is, is that Thai exports make-up for only 2.3% of America's overall imports.

Stray dogs. I think I may go to the doctor and get a Rabies shot, No, seriously! I have yet to hear, "don't walk alone at night because you run the risk of getting mugged, raped, kidnapped" or anything horrible along those lines. But, I do hear, don't walk at night because "you must be careful for the dogs." Are you kidding me? I need to be more weary of dogs than I do people? This is a first! In Spain, there was a massive population of stray cats, here in Thailand, it is dogs.

Squat toilets are an everyday sight and because of past traveling experiences, I was not at all surprised to see them here. I was surprised however to learn about the manual flushing concept. In the US, we have the "luxury" to flush our toilets with the push of a lever. Here however, you must take a small pale, which is inside a larger bale of water next to the toilet, and scoop water from the bale into the toilet. It takes a minimum of 4-scoops to make your toilet paper disappear. My first go at this was an interesting one and I cringe each time I must put my hand in the germ infested water bale. My step mom has insisted on sending surgical gloves to assist me with this more than once-daily task. It sounds bad, and it is, but my toilet at my apartment is just like the ones we have at home.
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