Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Most Recent Journal Entry:

Today is the 19th of July. I recently returned from visiting my friend’s home who lives in a farmer community in the mountains, a little over four hours away from Bangkok. It was a great experience and gave me ample time to reflect upon many different aspects of my life. I arrived at the bus terminal at four, an hour earlier than our original appointment. I’d just come from participating in an interview with a news reporter. The report was actually about my father in-law but he’d asked me to attend lunch and make a few comments over lunch. My friend Shane arrived at 5. We sat around and waited for the 7 o’clock bus to Chaiyaphum to arrive. The bus ride was quite long, nearly four and a half hours. We mostly sat and listened to music with intermissions of conversation. My friend warned me that his house was very poor and that I’d be surprised by the standard of living of people in his village. I stared out the window to the left of me, grateful for the time to think and tune out from the outside world. Sometimes temporary moments feel as if they expand and feel more like days. Night began to set in and the images outside my windows turned into blurs as we headed up the mountain.

We arrived at the province Thepsathid of Chaiyaphum at roughly a few minutes past midnight. We stopped literally in the middle of the street and quickly got off the bus. I saw some figures in the distance sitting around a fire. We walked up to them and my friend introduced me to his mother, aunt, and uncle. We headed to a wooden truck that his uncle drove to pick us up in. I sat in the front and began to take in everything. The air was clean and made me feel like I could breathe in limitless air and scarcely have to exhale. The truck had no windshield so the wind blew uninhibitedly across my face. In the distance I saw silhouettes of mountains. We drove down the bumpy roads while I continued to breathe in and out incessantly. We drove up to a dog sitting in the road sleeping. Instead of stopping, my friend’s uncle just drove over the dog with the dog perfectly aligned between the 4 tires. The dog was completely unharmed.

After a twenty minute drive we arrive at my friend’s house. His house was one room, the walls made of tin with a wooden base and a roof made mostly from what looked like dried palm leafs. His mother’s sister and parents lived on the same plot of land. We sat and talked for a while. They mostly spoke in a Thai dialect that is specific to their region. I sat amused and listened patiently as I tried to understand at least half of what they were saying. Amazingly, whenever they spoke to me directly I understood them completely.

We decided it was time to get ready for bed at about two in the morning. Before going to bed I took a shower outside in the outhouse; a small structure also made of tin. Showering consisted of drawing water from a bucket and washing my body with a bar of soap I brought with me. I couldn’t get my shampoo pack open so I also washed my hair with hand soap. Periodically I looked up to the sky. The sky seemed vast and extremely clear. I was in awe of the purity of this place. After I finished my shower I sat and talked with my friend Shane’s mother for a while. When he came back from his shower we closed our eyes and went quickly to sleep.

The next morning I woke up to the clucking of chickens and the sound of motors. It was roughly six o’clock in the morning. We woke up and quickly started walking the dirt path to reach the small school where the bus came to pick people up once a day. We planned to go see the daug grajiaw flowers that were famous in this region. Shane’s mother waved to neighbors and spoke a few words to them as they stared at us strangely, trying to understand what a farang (term used for people with white skin in Thailand. Farang actually means ‘guava’. People with white skin were given this name because of the white inside of the guava fruit) was doing in the village. As we were walking towards the school, a woman on a motorcycle stopped us and told us that we had already missed the bus. She offered for us to take her motorcycle for the day if we would just pay for the gas. However, we gave her a little more money and were on our way.

The flowers were beautiful and the atmosphere around them was even more beautiful. The flowers were high up in the mountains. The tourist site also had different areas to go to such as ‘the end of the earth’. The end of the earth was this view site that looked over a whole mountain range beneath. It was inspiring. We walked further threw this jungle and ended up a place called ‘beautiful rock’. Beautiful rock was a place where rocks had obviously either formed from plates shifting or once been under water and left these interesting shaped rocks.

After a few hours we decided to head back. My friend was worried that I was tired so he tried to take a shortcut. However, he didn’t know the jungle whatsoever. We ended up lost in this jungle for nearly a half hour. While walking through the jungle we passed many areas of tall grass. I was terrified that a snake would bite me and then I wouldn’t be able to identify it and then I would die from its venom in this small farming community. As we walked by feet were constantly beat against rocks and my flip flops started to slip from under my feet. As we walking through the jungle my flip-flop tore. My friend quickly fixed it and we ventured forward. Not long after we finally arrived back at the appropriate path. We walked another 30-50 meters and my flip-flop became completely useless. I decided I would walk barefooted. I walked barefooted all the way back to the beginning of the national park. As soon as I walked onto the road again a woman approached me who was walking with only one shoe. She said to me “See! We broke our shoes on opposite sides! I’ll give you my in tact flip-flop for your intact flip flop!” I peered down to her shoe. Her shoe was a women’s flip-flop with a slight heel and flower designs over the base of the shoe. I told her “I don’t think yours goes with me, but you can have my flip-flop”. She thanked me, took a picture with me and left quickly laughing with her friends. I now was completely barefooted and my feet were scratched and bleeding from the jungle trek. I waited for the bus with my friend while countless people made remarks such as: “I wonder where the farang’s shoes are? Is he ok?” Whenever I was close to them I quickly answered them and told them the story.

After leaving the mountains we went to the first store we could find and I purchased some replacement flip flops. Throughout the rest of the day we visited nearby waterfalls and enjoyed the beauty of Chaiyaphum. Young teens and families filled the waterfalls. A transvestite asked me to take a picture with him. We headed back to my friend’s house and relaxed the rest of the night. First we stopped at his old school, a small building with only six teachers. We discussed the school with one of his old teachers for a while and he explained to me the challenges that his school were constantly faced with. He spoke of literacy problems and children being compelled to help work the fields from such a young age.

We walked around and talked to his neighbor’s and family. His grandfather was a silent man who opened his mouth rarely and typically only to say jokes. His mother was similar. A quiet but sweet woman who obviously cared and sacrificed for me every moment I was there, quietly ordering her son to take good care of me. After chatting with everyone for a while, we watched a movie and headed to sleep.

The next morning I woke up to similar sounds. It was a Sunday. This would be the day I would help harvest rice and hoe the fields. We sat on a cart, pulled by a tiny motor and headed up a hill to their land. I was wearing a flannel shirt (borrowed from my friend’s mother) and a straw hat. As we drove up the hill, I thought about how interesting my life has become. I reflected on the last few years and couldn’t help but smirk as I traveled to this plot of land in this tiny village of Thailand.

After arriving to the spot I was handed a hoe and we started to clear all of the weeds between the plants. The plants were some kind of herb. I was terrible at agriculture. Red ants bit my feet constantly and I was incredibly slow. Luckily, my friend was pretty bad as well. As a result, he came down to Bangkok. He explained to me that he never was cut out for the agricultural life.

After helping his family for a while I said goodbye to them and walked down the dirt road to a woman rice farming. She was pulling rice out of the wet ground and putting it in piles wrapped with a string. I got in the water and helped her for a while. We had a pleasant chat and she laughed as I stumbled about. She told me that I must be open minded to come and spend time in a village with impoverished people. I felt happy that she would say that. Yet, I was overwhelmed with my experience and extremely grateful for everything they had shown me. I walked with my friend and told him that the living conditions and the wealth of his family mattered little. I told him that he was rich in a completely different way. I spoke of the warmth of his family and the communal style of his village. I also mentioned the safety of his home and said that he should be happy to come from such a place.

I kept thinking in my mind that helping ‘develop’ an area is incorrect. These people seemed so content with their lives. Their only discontent came from the fact that people told them that they had so little. It was almost as if their true poverty came when they had a point of comparison. At the same time I was aware that there are certain aspects of progression that could greatly benefit these people; for example, medication and new information on hygiene. Nonetheless, there is something that bothers me about the idea of developing a people. The idea of America being at the pinnacle of development is highly debatable. These people had much that I’ve never seen in a people. The idea of trade-offs ran through my head. Can someone who wants to live a communal lifestyle, with family, and on their family land really become exceedingly wealthy? Can someone who is extremely wealthy reap the benefits of communal living, a multi-generational family, and the safety attached to this environment?

After farming we headed back to his house and prepared to leave. I took a quick nap to catch up on the hours of sleep I’d been lacking. When I arose we took some quick pictures and headed back to Bangkok in a friend’s truck who was also heading to Bangkok to work. His mother also joined us as she was going down to take care of her daughter’s new born. As we left down the same road we came in on, his aunt said something that intrigued me greatly. I immediately reverted back to my initial thoughts as I drove down the road past midnight and also the recurring thoughts of being developed and developing that were a constant theme throughout my stay. She said simply that “I wish this road would progress; but that’s the only thing I want to progress. Everything else can stay exactly the same”. We flew down the highway back to Bangkok. I thanked his mother for his kindness and headed back to my wife, unable to articulate my experience.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

i must re member
my hands have been tied
behind the back of another day
if only i could have them long enough
to dig up my feet
which have been planted
in the soiled sheets of a harvest
that only hate could reap
i keep trying to forget
but i must re member
and gather the scattered continents
of a self once whole
before they plant flags
and boundary my destiny
push down the warted mountains
that blemish this soiled soul
before the valleys of my conscience
get the best of me
i'll need a passport
just to simply reach the rest of me
a vaccination
for a lesser god's bleak history

- from Saul Williams book of poems entitled "She"

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Recent Journal Entry

It's July 8th. I'm in Kathmandu. I'm having trouble sleeping. Perhaps it's because I drank a glass of Pepsi relatively late at night. I should've known better. I've learned that caffeine has some pretty adverse affects on my body at night. Today was a wonderful day. We woke up early, around 7:30. We called the senior missionaries and made arrangements to meet them for church. We got ready, and quickly ate breakfast and then met up with the senior missionaries. Church was very interesting. The branch president was this nice cheerful and warm man. We were greeted by everyone with warmness and great hospitality. People ran up to us from all sides to introduce to themselves. Recently there were three marriages in the branch. I believe all three men married were return missionaries. One man was asked to bear his testimony. He spoke on his surprise of his arranged marriage. He spoke about the few hours in the car that he had the chance to talk to his new wife about his religion and to explain his beliefs, his views on family, bear his testimony, and invite her to church. She was a beautiful girl, with a small black dot between her eyebrows, a quaint nose ring and a beautiful green sari. We sat by a senior couple who reminded me very much of my first few weeks on my mission. The two new senior couples have only been here for two weeks. We left after Sunday school; anxious to sightsee and experience more of Nepal. We walked down a dirt/concrete road to the main road. On the way, a young man named Arjun instigated a conversation. He was recently baptized a member in Malaysia and he wanted us to travel to his house which is about three hours away. We asked him where a Hindu temple we were interested in seeing was and he called in a taxi and got in the front seat :) We ended up at this beautiful temple. We weren't allowed in because we are not Hindu. However, the men at the gate invited us to walk around the temple. The temple was bordered by long stairs and a jungle. Monkeys (mostly baboons) were everywhere! They were all over the stairs and all through the trees. We passed by ceremonial cremation where they were burning two corpses out in the open over the river. There were people bathing beneath in the ashes as they mourned. Also, beggars filled the temple. Some lepers and others with handicaps. After walking around a good area of the bordering area, we decided we'd like to check out the famous Buddhist temple called 'Bodhnath'. We passed at least twenty naked boys playing in the river. I thought to myself, "I wonder how inappropriate it would be for an adult to play too?" We stopped quickly to rest and exchange e-mails with Arjun. A pair of young men came up to me and asked me where I was from. I told them "America". They said "welcome!" in unison and then skipped off hand in hand. We then got in a taxi and headed to the temple. Arjun got out at the half point to catch a bus back to his hometown. The temple was beautiful and full of tourists and locals. We walked around the temple and talked and soaked everything in. Occasionally we'd be greeted with "namaste!" and we'd quickly respond. After we walked around the temple a few times, we sat while these two boys played with a kite over our heads. After resting, we grabbed a bite to eat. I eavesdropped on a considerable portion of the conversation taking place at the table to the right of us. College students from America discussing boyfriends, traveling, and sharing a few stories. After we finished eating we headed back to our guest house and took a nap. After waking up we walked the streets and entered any stores that appealed to us. We didn't spend any money on anything other than food in an attempt to observe the Sabbath. Once again, it was a wonderful day. I spent my day with my best friend, experiencing a culture so foreign, yet so alluring.

Monday, July 10, 2006

" Master Painter"

A master painter once clutched his brush --
Creativity sprinting fludily throughout his being
Tearing into the empty canvas, he attacked with insatiable passion
Pausing ever so often to reflect and steer the masterpiece
Focused delicately, carefully planting livelihood
Brushes dipped in every color imagineable
Breathing life --
Colors mixed, creating unfathomable hues
Past taboos of art thrown amidst other false realities
Unprecedented beauty soaked into the canvas
A radical, a visionary, a man of exceeding wisdom!
Tranfusing truth into each movement of the wrist
Creating depth effortlessly
Devouring each moment and each second of each stroke
He painted culture --
Placed his brush on the floor and stood in awe of his masterpiece

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

During my stint as an anthropology major I was often questioned by countless people as to what the heck anthropology is. Of course, there are plenty of occupations and disciplines that face similar opposition. However, you would think that a discipline that studies inherent qualities in societies and the nature of humans would at least be known by umm…. People. Yet, this is not the case. It’s almost as if anthropology is this elite club that the brilliant people who can maneuver through its complexities are invited. Through the last twenty years, anthropology has faced a great deal of obstacles due to its obscurity. The field has also become increasingly vexed in the last decade. Agreement is hard to find within the field. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Rather, I think the contrasting opinions have led to a period of unprecedented depth. Nonetheless, I believe that anthropology as a whole is on a dangerous path. To put it plainly, anthropology needs to revamp the way they interact with the public. Anthropology needs to be made more accessible to the public. I understand that some feel that this may be a step down for the discipline as a whole. I look at it as a natural strategic evolutionary move towards adapting to one’s environment to flourish. Anthropology is full of insight and rich text, and there is definitely a place for that in the academic world. However, it would be nice to see more than a small shelf at Barnes and Nobles bookstore. It would be nice to see more popular literature written by anthropologists. It’s time to take off the secret decoder club rings and reveal to the world the knowledge and truth than can be found in the perplexing world of anthropology.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Outcry of a college student

The time has come. I’ve avoided it for quite sometime, but I think it’s time that I confront one of my worst fears: choosing a major. Now, I’m positive that I’m not the only person that has had a phobia of settling down on a major. I’ve rotated my default answers quite a few times as a response to the penetrating questions I’m often asked. I’ve told people that I’m a psychology major, anthropology major, sociology major, international relations, communications, etc. However, I’ve yet to declare a major besides behavioral science (which, as a side note, I’m not perfectly convinced I really want to major in). I’ve been in school for a little over two years, taking various classes and waiting for a major to speak so clearly to my confused mind that I give up all other options and quickly align myself with my new found love. I once did an interview with an online magazine in which I claimed that the reason for my despondency was a part of a greater confusion that pervades a distinct culture. I argued that this culture consisted of artists who were once glorified and allowed to express themselves while gaining income but due to a shift in cultural values they were no longer venerated and thus were left confused and clueless as to their new niche in society. To put it plainly, the shift towards big business and the exaltation of capitalism lead to a sort of social displacement and reassignment for artists making it difficult for them to make a living from art. Now, I’m not saying that their isn’t some legitimacy to my prior claim, but I don’t think that’s why I’m having a hard time choosing a major. I’m not even sure I would necessarily call myself an artist. So…what is the problem? Why do so many college students have such a difficult time choosing a path, even an ambiguous one? Perhaps it’s because so many of us are fickle and are terrified by the idea of permanence. I’m often told to just settle on any major because your undergraduate degree holds little significance if you go on to a masters. However, this idea has never comforted me. I don’t want to choose something because of its practicality. What do you think? Perhaps I’ll quit college and join a traveling circus (Yet, I’m not sure I’d like the circus). =)