Friday, January 17, 2014

Huh. An Introspective Post That Will Be Boring For Most People Who Are Not Me: I Wonder Why I Am Publishing It, Then

Hi world.

It's been... let me verify really quickly... 8 months and about twenty five days since my last post. No, I'm not in Thailand anymore. In fact, it's not even 2013 anymore. As the days go by, the farther away I get from the experiences I lived and the people I loved while I was abroad. This is okay. This change is beautiful. I'm writing this post on a (Californian) winter day. It's about sixty five degrees outside, and I'm writing from the desk that looks out onto my street. Directly in front of me are three wide windows where my friend and I fashioned a makeshift curtain out of a large piece of Thai batik fabric that I purchased around the days of Songkran back when I was still in Yasothon. It's dispersing the light quite nicely, and there is nothing physical in my life at the moment that is making me uncomfortable in any way. I am in my element-- my little dome of safety and spontaneous yet infrequent creative thought.

It's sometimes hard for me to reconcile and/or compare my thoughts on exchange with the others I have talked to. I've noticed that although everybody gets something different out of exchange, that maybe I get something... strange out of it, or that I have yet to find the people that have gotten the same things out of it that I have. Let me attempt to explain.

Thailand made me physically and mentally uncomfortable every single day. I didn't wake up once and think that I am where I am most at ease. Whether it was in the beautiful room I stayed in with my host family in Yasothon, on a thin matress on the floor of a bamboo thatched hut, tangled among mosquito netting in a dorm-style guest house with no air conditioning, or sleeping beside one of the Belgians after a late night of exploring Bangkok, I never felt quite at home-- but I got used to it, and came both to appreciate and love the excitement of what was impossible to call my own. In a strange way (although, it's really not so strange, is it?), this perpetual discomfort made room for the most insight and imagination that I have ever experienced in my life. Words flowed from my brain and onto blank pages at rates so fast that my hand cramped and my agile movements could no longer keep up with the ideas I had in store. How peculiar that in a country that moves so slowly, my conscious 'esprit' was moving at the speed of light.

Whether it be Thailand or France, exchange wrenched something from inside of me and released the floodgates of my inspirations and creativity. And what I found in puddles of ink and eraser shavings was of a variety that I had never seen before, nor of a variety that I can call upon now that I am back here, in this dome, in this crux of world that has been siphoned off especially for me since the age of four and a half. There is some thing that I can't get back now that I have returned. I am surrounding myself with golden light, warm company, beautiful music and poetry, and yet I can't get this thing back.

The only thing I can perhaps attribute this to is discomfort. It's what I don't have here in America. Everything here is conducive to me creating-- I am sitting at a wide desk, my computer is at my fingertips, and it is in turn connected to a nice radio-tuner-speaker thing that frequently blasts loud and obnoxious music at eight thirty am in the morning when I need some motivation to get out of bed. Pens and pencils and paintbrushes and paper (all alliterations aside) and ink are all here. I have everything I need-- everything I could want. Maybe that's just it. Perhaps in order to do, humans need to need something. Here, in a country that never really sleeps, my senses are bombarded by the latest technology, food, cars, and luxuries that appear in the world. Everybody is moving at the speed of sound. And my brain here, well, it's a little sluggish because of that.

Without having to fight for something it's impossible for me to take advantage of creativity. In Thailand and in France, sometimes I felt that my very existence was a question mark. I grappled with my own presence in the world on a day-to-day basis. Maybe that sounds like mild depression, and maybe it was. Mental and physical isolation seemed to follow me everywhere. These are exactly the things that pushed me not only to survive, but to thrive in the environment I was in. I was bound with regrets that only marked motivation deeper into my skin. Would I do it again? Yes, I would. Although the more I know about myself, the more I realize that disillusionment is a very real thing, and the more I understand what I am signing up for. But so many times yes, I would love to do it again-- I want to make something of myself, I want to undergo the difficulties to come out of it as a new and mature human being.

Upon my return to the United States, I fell back into routine simply and without much reverse culture shock after a couple of weeks went by. I was free, independent, and able to harness the energy that had been building up within me for the last ten and a half months in order to make myself into phase V Carly, post-Thailand. A new person. And as this new me continues to blossom, I realize how unbearably lucky I was to have been awarded for the YES Abroad scholarship, because exchange is really just a series of mistakes that you learn from, and nobody can ever be truly prepared for that. I'm so indebted to the people who made this possible for me, because they took a chance on who I was as a person, and hoped that it would change for the better. I certainly believe that it has, and I hope that I can do them all justice in the future.

I am glad to be in the United States for a while-- I am taking advantage of this comfortable life I live to try to create a new identity for myself-- but I can't help but miss the part of me that I lost upon my return. It's lying dormant within me, I can tell. And in times of strife this little thing resurfaces just barely and makes its presence known, generally in the form of art or writing or music. This life can sometimes just feel like a sequence of emotions and attitudes that cycle in and out of me, coming and going, and I am trying to be the best parenthetical (Buddhist) I can be and accept the fact that at this point in time, the work that I put out in the world may not be as insightful or as beautiful as the work that I once did, but occasionally I can't avoid longing for a return to the stable instability of Thailand and France so that I can truly create something new and worthwhile.

I suppose those are my two cents for a while... I wish I could write everything I have been mulling over about Thailand, but it sure is hard to keep track of it all.

Love,
Carly

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Southing, Northing, In-Betweening...

Hello folks, it has been a while since we had a one-on-one conversation. You know, I speak to the computer screen, you read it. Just like me and you are having a nice little chat, except that you don't really respond. Well, in any case, it has been some time, and I apologize for that. But ever since the beginning of March, I have had no time! The school year in Thailand runs from mid-May to the end of February, and so, since the beginning of March, I have been trying to get as much traveling into my stay here in Thailand as possible.
I love Yasothon, and I have made so many good friends here in the Northeast, but I also think that since I have been given such an insane and lucky opportunity to come to Thailand, I might as well try to see some of the rest of the country while I am here. With some luck, I have been able to travel with friends and AFS people and have gotten to the south, Bangkok, and most recently the north.
I can easily say-- easily because I have still not seen all of Thailand-- that my two favorite places in this country are the extreme North and the extreme South. In early March I went back to Koh Lipe, the place I visited back in October with YES Abroad. Amina was also there, and Augusta, and some other friends from Yasothon and Chiang Rai. Although there were more tourists, being there a second time only confirmed my thoughts that paradise does exist, as long as you discount the sunburns.
I think that island culture transcends borders and countries. The people we met on Koh Lipe-- mostly Thai people running small businesses and a few tourists, were all so relaxed and laid back, living their lives from moment to moment, in almost a meditative way. There is so much to be said for the dichotomy of cultures in Thailand. The people I met on Koh Lipe are considerably so "Thai," yet so different than the Thai's I know from Yasothon or elsewhere. It might be good for me to mention how small Koh Lipe is. Here is a map of the island, it might put things in perspective:



As you can see, it must not be wider than one mile and longer than three. It is a bit hilly, as all islands should be, but it isn't much of a deterrent, and you can get from one side to the other in a good twenty minutes. Imagine for a moment that you lived there. Imagine living on such a small little piece of displaced Earth in the middle of the ocean. It's total isolation-- yet the whole world is within your grasp. My German friend and I met two really cool Thai guys who did fiery circus tricks, and at one moment I realized how sad it would be to be them, in a way. They meet really nice people every day from all around the world, have good conversations, and then, the next day, their new friends disappear forever. The sad thing is that my friend and I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to them after having talked to them consistently for a few days, and just like everyone else, we disappeared without a trace from their lives and will most likely never see them again.
So maybe that is why island people become so laid back and "mai pen rai" about life. Meditation is about accepting what /is/ in the moment and then letting it go. What better example than Joe and Alif, our two friends from Lipe who spend their days playing with fire and meeting new people, only to wake up to exactly the same but also an entirely different island every day, with tourists coming and going in the hundreds.
I want to go back to Koh Lipe one day, and I want to see how it is constantly changing. Like Thailand itself. It was basically unheard of fifteen years ago, a natural preserve owned by the state, and has slowly but surely grown into a crazy tourist destination that is enlarging by the minute. It saddens me as I see it changing, becoming more commercial, and being taken over by bungalows and private beaches (that we use nonetheless), but I also must realize that this is maybe Koh Lipe's inevitable path to take, and that one day, it wil all be taken back by the government and closed to visitors, becoming once again a beautiful landmark full of the memories of so many people.
My other favorite place is almost as far a possible from Koh Lipe, and takes about 30 hours by bus to reach from that far South. My other favorite place is called Pai, and it is a town nestled in a canyon among the magnificent and giant mountain range called the Shan Hills right next to Myanmar. Here is a map of Thailand, and on it, Satun(the province to which Koh Lipe belongs) and Mae Hong Son(The province that contains Pai) will be marked for a little perspective...



There... You can even see where I am right now, in the Northeast, pretty much equidistant from my two favorite places in Thailand!
In any case, Pai is really something. The car ride there from Chiang Mai took about four and a half hours with our coordinator driving us, and about three hours back in a van whose driver probably never passed a driver's safety course. It was like driving on some of the smaller roads on Highway 17 (If that means anything to you, reader), except that it was approximately six times longer than the time it takes to get from Los Gatos to Santa Cruz. Of course, there is no beach in Pai, but there are waterfalls, hill tribes, glorious viewpoints that look out onto spectacular views, and a whole bunch of (and I say this with all of my heart) amazing people. I have never been very good at making friends when I am alone, but with another person I am generally able to open up a bit more. Of course, the first people we met were Thais... Or at least we supposed that they were Thai, until we found out later that almost all of them came from hill tribes in the surrounding mountains and that they didn't necessarily associate themselves with our definition of Thai. In retrospect, they were also very, very different from North Eastern Thai people or central Thai people, from my experience. But they still had some similarities, such as there fanatic obsession with feeding us-- wherever you go in Thailand (there is one exception, the temple), Thai people are always ready to give you a huge meal and urge you to eat everything in sight.
Peculiarly enough, over one meal of sweet pork and rice with the Thai guys, I mentioned how I was feeling full, although I had only finished half of the generous portion of rice they had given me. Then one of them said something that changed my view of Thailand forever. Simply enough, he told me to finish my meal because the Thai people work hard for months harvesting rice bushel by bushel. Suddenly everything made sense. To me, up until that point I had been force fed for some unknown reason by my host families and other Thai acquaintances, and I had found it almost a daunting aspect of the Thai culture that they almost didn't understand the words "I'm full." But in a moment this all changed. Something clicked in my head, because I don't think that he was just making light conversation. I truly believed that this man was speaking for the countless rice farmers and harvesters that break their backs for hours and hours in the hot sun tilling and sowing and harvesting one of Thailand's premiere exports. I managed to shovel the rest of the rice in my mouth within the next ten minutes, and although it caused me slight stomach disruption, I am glad I did. I did it for the little people. I did it to be grateful that I get the chance to have a full meal. And I did it to say thank you to Thailand for everything that it has provided for me and its people.
These same guys were also some of the first people who I got to sit down with and talk seriously with about Thai culture and some things about it that I don't necessarily like, and I was amazed by their openness and their ability to say what so many others would never dare to.
In addition to the native people we met, though, Pai was also full of a colorful group of hippies and travelers who came to experience the "natural energy of Pai" as per the board in our guesthouse that also told us not to wear hot pants. Judging by the sheer percentage of dreadlocks and sarongs, I truly believe that these words were used to attract the majority of these people.
Personally, I loved meeting such a diverse range of people, all so full of character, but nonetheless, I didn't necessarily feel "at home." It is easy to fall into the rhythm of Pai, and I am sure that the slow pace of life and focus on wellbeing and peace with nature brings most people back a second and a third time. I met a lovely couple from Portland, Oregon, and one of them had come back eight times within her year in Thailand because she loves it so much. Among the other encounters were a San Franciscan DJ (I believe maybe the only person who has known where Los Gatos is in all of my travels in Thailand...?) who mixed really cool music, a traveling Frenchman who hadn't lived in the same place for over a year since he was ten, and an amazing 20 year old German girl who hitchhiked her entire way to Thailand, stopping along the way in places such as Iran and Nepal, and who is not nearly finished with her nomadic way of life.
My friend and I met her at a coffee shop that pretty much describes all of Pai. You walk in and it smells of Chai tea and incense. All the swing seats balancing from tires wrapped around wooden beams were taken, so we sat down at the next table, surrounded by books and wheatgrass. It was poorly lit but not fully covered, so outside light reached where we were by the cracks in the concrete wall dividing us and the outside world. The menu sold natural healing herbs and colloital silver in addition to food (vegan included!) and drink. She was strumming at an instrument I couldn't name off the top of my head, but sounded like a sitar, and sitting with a Russian family that looked rather normal in comparison to the other families I had seen in Pai (Turns out they live in India. Totally normal! ;) ). Upon taking my seat, I notice two books on the table-- the first is The Wheatgrass Book, and the second is called Pottenger's Cats: A Study in Nutrition. I think I have understood this place completely at that moment. I'm pretty sure I had. She started talking to us first and invited us to come sit on the swing chairs. She told us to come to the art festival that night because she would be playing. And we saw her a couple times after that, each time conversing about everything and nothing. I'll call her K, because I don't know how much information she wants to give out on the interwebs, but I can sincerely say that the conversations I had with her were so refreshing and so interesting because beneath her dreadlocks and tattoos, she is a 20 year old girl, and she didn't hide that fact. Self-taught in Setar and having covered a good portion of two continents in the vehicles of various people, her advice for me was that you can do whatever you want to do. You don't have to be "brave" enough to do it, or "talented" enough to do it, you just have to go at it with your all and it will be your reality. Although I may never stick my thumb out to get half-way across the world, and certainly not in the United States for that matter, I will keep that in mind when I think about my aspirations in the future.
Pai was wonderful. I felt like I changed while I was there, tangible changes that make me realize who I am a little bit more. I want to go back some day, but I know that it, too will be different. Everywhere will be. As we left the town in a twelve seat van headed up the mountain curves, I realized how different life was there from my time in the Esan. Oftentimes, when riding in a car down an endless stretch of Northeastern road, I am standing still, and I focus my eyes on the invisible destination ahead. Trees and road become just a part of the time warp that consumes me. all the life and beauty is irrelevant, it mixes together as my eyes struggle to find the unreachable. Leaving Pai, you can't help but look as the trees whip past you and you are once again turning 180 degrees in the opposite direction. you can't help but stare back at the place you left when you round a corner and see the valley off in the distance, surrounded by a curtain of mountains jutting up and around the civilization like a balancing act. You stare at the last bits of this beauty that you will find for a while, lingering on the memories, until you fall asleep.
Pai and Koh Lipe are so fragile, and so beautiful. They may not be the same today and tomorrow, and there is nothing we can or necessarily should do to keep this from happening. This constant change is visible everywhere in Thailand, as cities become more boisterous, touristic, and vertically oriented. The economy is growing at absurd rates, and the American dollar has gone down from 31 THB to 27 THB just in my short time here. I can see myself coming back to Thailand in several years and seeing it change before my eyes, and how I might grieve for the Thailand that once was. But it's okay. I will know where to find my Thailand, and I doubt that it will be very changed. In the small villages, in the country towns, on the long stretches of road connecting Bangkok and Chiang Mai, in the natural parks full of waterfalls and vibrant colors of green, and in the hearts of the people who call themselves "Thai." It is all there, where I left it, just waiting to be unearthed and resurrected. It may not be visible to the naked eye, but in the sights and smells of the new, my third eye will ascertain the old, dormant Thailand that comes alive to those who search for it.


Last but not least, I made a video about the southern trip. I hope you enjoy! ~Comment on youtube~



Love,
Carly

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Farewells and French Fries

Life in Yasothon is moving along, as life always does. There have been good and bad times, but I can effectively say that everything here is now normal to me. Christmas and the New Year came and went without much of a fuss, that which proves to me that it is easy to avoid homesickness during these times if you just think about a holiday as any other day of the year... Score one for apathy!

As far as farewells go, there have been a couple this month. I had to say goodbye to Jana, a farang friend who worked as an assistant teacher here at Yasothon Pittayakom School. She is off to travel independently for a month, and then she will be reunited with her family in Germany! So we went to "Coffee Bar," the cutesy cafe near her house (where the owner speaks English with a real English accent! She lived in the UK for a while) with all five of us (Me, Silvia, Jana, Marine, and Natasha), to wish her good luck in the next few months and have a last little moment together.
I've also had to say farewell to somebody else. I am going to be really mysterious and annoying here and tell you much, but it was a necessary goodbye for me, and I know that it will be for the better. I don't have regrets, and my life continues moving as always-- trudging forward, through the bad and the good, not necessarily with a specific goal besides trying to find some peace of mind, clarity, and happiness in this life. As of now, I think I have found that. I am finally happy with myself.

On another note, did you know that they eat more French Fries in Belgium than in France?! That's a mind-blowing realization, folks. The two Belgian girls here are making this Thai exchange far from normal and predictable, and I have been consuming lots of French Fries and waffles. Who would have thought that I would come to Thailand and speak primarily French with my farang friends? I am certainly not complaining... my French skills are returning, and I am even hoping to mix my slight American accent with a Belgian one so as to confuse the heck out of my French host family when I talk to them next. But aside from that, I can safely assume that there will be even more French Fries in the future... for a Belgian boy named Maxime will be joining us here in Yasothon at the end of January. I am certainly excited. More French Fries, and more French speaking...
But don't worry, my Thai isn't left by the way-side with this crazy mix of languages. I have been improving pretty steadily, and I can hold simple conversations with just about anybody, as long as they don't start to speak to me in the North Eastern dialect. Hmmm.

I am not sure if AFS would approve of my situation here, consistently having five farang at one school-- but as much as my exchange is not necessarily conventional, I can proudly say that I am happy as it is, and I wouldn't want to change it. In all truthfulness, I am not an "exchange purist." I think that you should make your exchange into what you want it to be in order to make yourself happy, so long as you still make an effort to connect with the people of your host country as well. And that I do...

The last thing I want to mention is that I made a (really crappy) video!
Watch it!
Woohoo!



It may not be the most accurate portrayal of daily life, but it will show you some of the interesting stuff I have been up to... and put a picture to some of the places I mentioned in my last blog post!

-Carly

The link is not herrrr... but here I will try again:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrfVanx-P5M

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Meditation on the Rainy Season

~It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times~

For the last couple of years, I have been obsessed with the literary merit of the four elements. The easiest for me to comprehend was always water, a motif that represents not only sadness and gloom but also rebirth and purification, a symbol that truly portrays the beauty of the human condition, the inability of anything to be entirely good or evil, dark or light, etc. And since I really believe that art mimics life, which in turn mimics art, I thought that I would take a gander at attempting to look at the first third of my exchange through the various torrential downpours that graced life here in Yasothon and during my travels in this time.

I love rain, and I can recall how it lifted my spirits during my first bleak month here in Thailand. I was going through extreme culture shock and I closed myself off from the world, which led me to be as unhappy at school as I was at home. Nonetheless, as soon as water started to pour down from the heavens at school, I would immediately step outside into the covered corridor and observe as everything around me was given new life. For some, rain is a punishment, but for me, it is a gift and also a harbinger of what is to come.

Fittingly, the dark Sunday afternoon that sealed my fate to change families was also met by rain. I remember clearly having a tense conversation with my host mother in her white four-door car under the tall, pitched tin roof of a parking garage before we went to buy food for the night. When we exited the car, the rain had picked up its pace and was filling the streets more and more with every second we wasted trying to determine what route we were going to take in order to get to the supermarket. I can acutely recall the sound of the storm pounding down on the top of the parking—I had the peculiar sensation that the rain was screaming at me, its sound amplified thousands of times by the thin corrugated metal rooftop on which it was quickly hammering down upon. Later that night, we came to the mutual conclusion that I should change families.

When my advisor and coordinator picked me up to take me to my new hosts, I was once again greeted by the familiar windshield wipers and sound of water splashing under the tires of Ajaan Niwat’s car while nineties pop music played in the background. At that moment, even through the horrendous backstreet boys’ song that made its way to my brain through the reluctance of my eardrums, I felt like I was finally being cleansed. Cleansed of all of my mistakes for the previous month, and given a chance to start over completely new. I hugged my old host mother goodbye, and said hello to a new life.

Since then, there has been rain on several more occasions, each bringing with it a sense of purpose and a reason that I always try to uncover. One week, there were several truly prolific thunder and lightning storms during the middle of the night, and the first night, a loud clap of thunder forced me to sit upright in bed and look around at my dark surroundings. The flashes of lightning were diffused through the window shades, and I eagerly got up to look outside. Rain dove to the ground at a skewed angle because of the wind, and the boughs of trees blew every which way. Lightning was coming from not one, but several different clouds over Yasothon, and I thought back to our initial flight to Bangkok, in which we circled around about fifteen times in order to avoid an intense thunderstorm brewing just below and in front of the airplane. The thunder made the house tremble, and I wondered what it would be like to be out there right now, with what honestly seemed like the apocalypse taking its toll on the outside world. When I was younger, a scene like this would have utterly terrified me, but the strongest emotion that I felt this time was sheer fascination at the destruction and creation that the rain was catalyzing. Two nights later, I again bolted awake when a shock of thunder shook the entire house, but the storm itself was less interesting. I’ve never really been religious, but the storms those nights made me even question what I believe in.

The funny thing about storms like that is that they contain both water and fire. There is something so special about rain and lightning coexisting at the same time. It creates an odd mental image to think of fire in the midst of rain, but maybe it is just another one of the miraculous occurrences of this life.

In October, the rainy season died down in the Northeast of Thailand, but we had the luck to have a long school vacation during this time, and we, the Yasothon exchange students paired with several others from around the country, headed off to Chiang Mai in the North to a meditation for ten days. I don’t know if it was the meditation, or just the way that the rain glistened on the tin rooftops of the temple dormitories, but I have never felt so present during a rainstorm than the rainstorms of Wat Rampoeng. In the midst of walking meditation, it started to rain. Luckily, I was under a covered area, and I slowly approached the railing of the second story. Rained rushed off the roof and plummeted down to the ground below, and I could not prevent myself from breaking the repetitive lifting-putting pattern and letting my hand reach out to touch the sparkling drops. At that moment, I really felt alive.

Fast forward three weeks, and I was off to a YES Abroad community service project in the (very) South of Thailand. Now, at this point the Isaan had returned to cloudless skies, and for the past week at home, I was fairly depressed without my daily dose of the water cycle, and a trip to the South sounded perfect. When we finally arrived on the minuscule island off of the bordering province to Malaysia (Satun), all of us were struck with the idea that this may well be heaven on Earth. No amount of words will do the landscape of mountains, rocks, sand, and sun any justice, suffice it to say that it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. In the South, there is no “winter” season, or so I have heard—the rainy season continues until the end of October and even into November. This proved to be very accurate, as our time on Koh Lipe was met with several torrential downpours.

Being on Island Lipe was like being born again in several ways. During the most reverent of the storms, in my opinion, I went fully clothed (maxi-dress and all) into the 90-degree ocean while the rain was still pounding down on the choppy waters. Above the mountain on the island next to us, several clouds had convened at the perfect angle to form a halo of lightning just over the summit. This metaphorical baptism in the bath waters of the tropics was a bit of an awakening for me, as was my entire month of semi-independence and freedom.

As of now, the rain has stopped. Occasionally I am awoken at night by the pitter patter of rain on the windowsill or a loud clap of thunder, the nightly visits verified as real in the morning when I find that my school shoes are soaked entirely through, and I have to wear flip-flops to my classes. But for the most part, life goes on. These four months (almost five) have been life changing, spectacular, morose, awe inducing, and transformational, and I think that most every person in Thailand with me would agree. Now it is December first, officially “winter,” and I will just have to wait and see how the rest of my time here in Thailand will continue to mold me into a new person.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Monthly Report Numero 3

Last Friday, in the midst of international tragedies involving western and Muslim nations, I sat on the ground of the house of one of the few Muslim families in Yasothon, sipping coffee nonchalantly, eating peanut-buttered bread, and having an experience that I will remember for a lifetime.

I was fortunate enough to meet an amazing American teacher from New York at my old host school. She has been in Thailand for about two years, and she really opened up my eyes to the beauty of Thai culture from the very beginning. Being able to talk to a person who can understand both the Thai and American perspective was honestly an amazing opportunity for me to learn, and for the first month that I was in Thailand, I frequented the English room at Yasothon Pittayasan School and talked to her about various aspects of Thailand that would go unnoticed to an untrained eye.

During that time, she also mentioned that there are a few people who I might want to meet in Yasothon. Although there are only about forty thousand people here, the city is host to several foreigners and interesting characters, including a ladyboy troupe, a Thai-American who runs an English school (And incidentally doesn't speak Thai), two Mormon missionaries, four exchange students, and at least one Australian ex-pat with a Thai wife who spends half of his time in Australia and half of his time here. So, surprisingly, Yasothon is a fairly diverse place (Within the province of Yasothon there are also two Peace Corps volunteers, one of whom I had the great chance to meet!).

Among some of the other people Teacher Malee recommended that I meet, she also mentioned that Yasothon had a small Christian and Muslim demographic as well, although most people practice Buddhism. When she said that her Muslim friends loved foreigners and would be thrilled to meet me, I gladly accepted the opportunity.

Initially, I planned on going to a Ramadan celebration with them, however, I was swept off to a bordering province on that day by the teacher volleyball team, and thus missed the event. I was a little disappointed, and in a few weeks, I had already changed host families, and the prospects of anything happening grew smaller, until I got a call from Teacher Malee last Thursday, saying that the offer was still standing to meet them.

We arrived at their home at about seven, and were warmly greeted by Mohammed at the door. Dressed in all white clothing, he urged us to come in. The house was beautiful-- the design was much different than Thai style, and I later learned that Mohammed studied architecture in school.We took a seat on the floor in the living room, and he brought us out coffee (Made with milk! This is very uncommon in Thailand), and introduced us to his wife, Fatima. I introduced myself and they told me about how their daughter studied abroad in Buffalo, New York, several years before.

They both struck me as wonderfully sincere, and I had the strange sensation that I was not in Thailand anymore. Of course, they didn't look very Thai, for the first Muslim who came to Yasothon was Pakistani, according to Teacher Malee, but it was more a cultural impression that I was feeling. I first stayed with a Thai family, and now I am with a Chinese one, and the culture from one family to the next changed a lot, but both seem "very Thai" to me. Of course Mohammed and Fatima spoke perfect Thai and had lived there for their whole lives, but something seemed different, and it was a good different.

As we carried on conversing with each other and eating our American snack, I realized how lucky I was to be able to see this flourishing subculture within my small town. The experience majorly underlined the fact that even in a place like Yasothon, I have the opportunity to learn about so many different people, from so many different backgrounds, even if, for the most part, everybody looks similar to me.

Buddhism teaches that you should respect all other religions and races, and I see that every day in Thailand. There is a Mormon Church on my street, a teacher from my old school who had monthly prayer sessions with the small Christian demographic there, spirit houses on every stretch of road, and three girls at my school who wear a hijab every day. I can only wish that one day the United States will be able to coexist like this. It doesn't matter whether you are the majority or the minority-- every belief deserves respect. Teacher Malee relayed to me on Friday a quote that Fatima had told her: "The world is God's garden, and it would be an ugly garden if all the flowers looked the same." Here, I am seeing rainbows.