by Kelsey Stauffenberg
Thammasat University, Thailand
Well it has been an eventful week and I have not gotten a chance to write till now. The school took us on field trip after field trip, some being overnight stays where I did not have my laptop. So, field trip one was Chiang Mai, the Northern region of Thailand. This trip was so amazing, words cannot describe but I will try to put some to my experience. We went for 5 days and 4 nights. The school organized 3 days of activities for us and then a lot of the students stayed there for 2 extra days. The first day we went to an art school in the country. This was by far my favorite traditional Thai experience so far. We made naturally died scarves. They showed us the process of using herbs and roots and things to dye clothe and then let us design our scarves with patterns and colors. I was really in my element on this day because I am so creative and artsy. I loved it because everyone really took notice to my creativity and it just feels good to be noticed for my most cherished characteristic. Next we made clay sculptures. This was super fun because the man teaching us was so good at it. He made all kinds of things and you could really see his love for the art of sculpting. I love when you can see the passion in people. After that we learned how to cook a traditional Thai dessert. This was made with coconut filling placed in a dough we made ourselves and then wrapped in banana leaves and cooked on a fire. I cannot get over the resourcefulness of Thai people. They use woven bowls to hold their rice and banana leaves to plate food. We could really take a lesson from their connectivity and protection of nature. To eat food from a banana leave then give the leaf back to nature gives you such a great feeling, much better than throwing a paper plate away. After dessert, which was delicious, we went to paint tradition Thai designs on umbrellas. This is funny because as a child I was dead set on decorating umbrellas, I ruined a very nice white one my mother bought for me as a child. This time I was determined to make it beautiful and presentable. The man teaching us was very nice and helpful. I really enjoy the giving nature of Thai people. They want to give you anything they can to make you happy and comfortable. He saw that some people were upset that they were not very good at painting and did not like their umbrella, so he walked around and fixed all the pictures so the people would be proud of their work; it was really quite amazing to see him reach out like that just to help someone he does not know because he could see their suffering. After that we ate dinner, which was prepared for us by very talented cooks. It was delicious and we ate outside while a traditional Thai band played for us. Our professor and the other Thai people standing around us were entranced by this melodic music. All of the students, including me, were also speechless at the beauty of the music. I wish there was a way to put words to the sounds I was hearing but there is no way to explain the true spender of the sounds. I could not look away and the sound lifted my spirits and cleared my mind. We all sat there and enjoyed a perfect moment to end our perfect day.
I will miss this, getting to see such astounding things, people, and places almost every day. The coordinators for this summer program are amazing, Jane and Kun King. I am so grateful for all they have done for us. We are all going to do something for them before we leave; we wanted to do something American but it was funny because we could not think of anything American to do for them. How easily you forget your own culture when you are so engulfed in another. I feel like my culture shock did not come when I came to Thailand, I never really experienced anything like that but I know when I go home I am going to receive a huge shock. Though upon reading an article from my home institution, Maryville College, I have come to realize that culture shock does not have to be negative. I feel like in that sense, I have experienced extreme culture. I have been filled with overwhelming emotions of gratitude and happiness. I have thought about the possibility of not coming home right away. I thought about what it would be like to live here instead of the states. It is interesting to fall in love with a place that you had very little ideas about only a short month ago. Thailand will stay with me in my heart, mind, and soul for the rest of my life.
Getting back to Chiang Mai, on the second day we went to an elephant camp and rode the elephants and oxen. This was a fun experience but we felt bad for the elephants because they are obviously not in their natural environment. But, this camp was approved by Thammasat and I am certain they would not take us somewhere that mistreated their animals. The third day we went to see some art work and I was blown away. The paintings were of traditional Thai symbols such as the lotus flower, water, demon guardians, and mythical creatures. I wish so badly I could describe the glow these painting had to them; they were emanating positive energy and peacefulness. To look at a piece of art that clearly shows the love the artists has for his/her subject is just a feeling I cannot describe. The artist clearly had a connection with these images and their meanings. The artist opened up his home for us to have a look around. His walls were covered with artwork. Artworks, finished or still in the process, were stacked against all walls and laid across furniture. To live with what the work you do is something I want to do. I want to be surrounded by what I love doing and committed to living with my work. He was so humble and his passion was clear. I can take such big lessons away from all the amazing Thai people I have had the pleasure of meeting.
The next day the coordinators left us to go back to Bangkok and we decided to go to another elephant camp. But, this one was more like a reservation. They took very good care of their elephants and all the elephants there had been rescued from a bad environment or situation. Me and my friend Haley got our own elephant to take care of for the day. His name was Tong Nung and I really got a sense for his personality while spending the day with him. He was not like the rest of the elephants. His movements were less deliberate. He tended to walk in a slow and drawn out zig-zag line. I really enjoyed getting to know him and take care of him. We feed all the elephants and then rode Tong Nung through the jungle to the pond where we bathed him. It was so amazing getting to be so close to such amazing creatures. I felt so safe standing in the water with him, even though he was so much bigger and heavier than me and could have squashed me at any time if he so chose. To see such large creatures be so gentle and peaceful really gave me inspiration. You do not have to be a certain type of person to find peace or to be gentle or to take your time or to walk however you please. You can find those things in yourself, even if it does not feel or look like you could be those things, have those qualities.
For dinner we went to an Italian restaurant. I know, I know, Italian while in Thailand but sometimes you just miss the variety of food when you are eating only traditional food from one country for almost a month. The restaurant was interesting because it was managed by an Italian man but all the workers were Thai. So, I did some research to find out about this dynamic; I figured out that a lot of Europeans and Americans will come to Thailand to open traditional western restaurants and train the Thai workers how to prepare the food and all of that. I thought that was pretty interesting and the food was excellent.
After we got back from Chiang Mai, I was ready to be back in my own room. It is funny how I can miss my make shift home here when I am away from it for a few days.