Nong Sang

It’s been an awesome week spent in my first village stay in Nong Sang. Nong Sang is a village 45 minutes from Khon Kaen and is one of the wealthier villages we will visit. This site visit is for my community public health class. We were in the village to assess the needs of the community. Each person spent the week interviewing and observing villagers to learn about a topic that interested them. With the information we gather and the input from the villagers, we will determine the priority needs of the village. When we go back in November, we will do some intervention based off of this information.

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Testing how well I know Thai with a villager


My topic was diabetes management in rural Thailand. I learned a lot about diabetes in the village but the most memorable part of this week for me was spending time with the villagers. Me and four other girls in the program lived with my meh (mom), her 5 year old grandson and her parents in her home. We slept on a mattress, surrounded by our mosquito net that saved us from waking up with hundreds of bites. Our shower was outside in a hut with two containers of water and a bucket to pour the water over you. What really made the experience was the cockroaches, lizards and spiders in the hut with me.

During the days everyone in the program met at one of our family’s home and we all helped our mehs cook the meals. The food was always fresh and delicious and there was always more than enough food for all of us. If I wasn’t meeting with people in the village then I was either at the primary school, helping out on the guava farm, visiting an integrated farm with bananas, passion fruit and rice or enjoying the slow village life and taking a nap.

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Cooking vegetables and pork to be put over sticky rice


What stood out to me in the village is their strong sense of community. The focus here is the village’s needs not the needs of each individual villager. They are self-sustained and one of the few things they rely on from outside is bottled drinking water. Each week the villagers meet at the temple, most of the families own a farm and everyone’s home has an “open door policy”. Independence isn’t an important thing and it would probably negatively impact them since so much of their village relies on helping each other.

I should be used to it by now, but I was again surprised by the their hospitality. All of the villagers were kind, selfless and welcoming. The mehs woke up at 5 a.m. so they could get their chores done and still start getting breakfast ready. There was a death in the village in the middle of the week but everyone was just as friendly. I felt like a burden to be there but their friendliness and effort to make us feel welcome never changed.

We came to Nang Song to address the needs of the community. There are definitely things that should be changed to better the village’s health like the use of pesticides, the diabetes prevalence and garbage disposal but in reality, they actually have it figured out.  Everyone in the village has a smile on their face, the kids run around like any 5 or 10 year old would, the mehs got together one night for one of their birthdays and drank Chang and the older villagers relax on their porches.

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Students with our mehs, our ajans, and the dog “go”


 

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Learning Thai

In addition to my public health and community health classes, I’m taking a Thai language class. We have three classes a week and a peer tutor one night a week. Learning the language helps with my everyday life in Khon Kaen and will help me communicate with my host family once I am in the community.

At the beginning of our first class, our “ajan” (professor) gave us a disclaimer that the past few years she has had someone run out of the first class crying. Luckily, our class was the exception but I quickly realized where the frustration came from. The class is setup very different from how I taught Spanish. All the words for the day on the board are in Thai writing and the ajan doesn’t translate the word or phrase to English at all. Instead there is a picture that they point to and we write down the phonetic translation in our books.

The Thai language is different in many ways from English. One of the biggest challenges is Thai being a tonal language. There are five different tones – rising, falling, middle, high and low. If you use the wrong tone with the same pronunciation of a word, it means something completely different. For example, “gly” in falling tone means near and “gly” in middle tone means far.

I thought that already having learned another language would help me with learning Thai but it has actually caused confusion for me. When I am trying to speak Thai, I’ve noticed many times that the first thing that comes to mind is the Spanish word. It’s like my brain knows that I’m not trying to speak English so it chooses what it knows next best. I didn’t think I still knew so much Spanish until now. Even with these challenges, learning the local language has made me feel more welcome in Khon Kaen and helped me connect with my roommate.

 

Chiang Mai

This past weekend I spent three days in Chiang Mai, a city in the mountains of northern Thailand. The trip was planned by CIEE and our transportation and hotel were already paid for by the program cost. So everyone in the program left Khon Kaen Friday afternoon together for our flight to Chiang Mai.

There was only one thing planned the whole weekend with the program so we had time to go off and do what we wanted. I walked around and visited temples in the city Friday afternoon. For dinner I was craving something other than pork and rice or some variation of that. We went to a fun Thai restaurant and took full advantage of the drink menu, which doesn’t extend beyond Chang or Leo beer in Khon Kaen. Friday night we went to Zoe in Yellow, a popular bar for backpackers and foreigners.

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep


Saturday morning we drove to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a temple in the mountains around Chiang Mai. It was a 45 minute drive along a windy road in the back of a hot songthaew but the beautiful temple and views of the city were worth it. Later on a few of us took another songthaew ride to Bua Thong “sticky waterfalls”. We got there late in the day so we had it all to ourselves. It’s called sticky waterfalls because the rocks under the water aren’t slippery and you can climb up. The top of the falls gave an amazing view of the jungle, which pictures don’t do justice.

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Climbing up “sticky waterfall”


Sunday we wanted to get back into nature and the plan was to go to Doi Inthanon national park and do some hiking. We got up late so our songthaew driver suggested something closer was more realistic. We went to Mae Rim, a district north of Chiang Mai. Our driver brought us to the top of a mountain, which overlooked the hills filled with farms. A few of us decided to explore and went on one of the trails. We bushwhacked a little (whoops) and found ourselves a secluded area with just the views of the mountains and the sounds around us.

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Viewpoint in Mae Rim


My flight back to Khon Kaen was Sunday afternoon. The trip was a nice getaway to enjoy things I couldn’t get in Khon Kaen but it’s nice to be back in our city, little known to tourists.