Saturday, January 29, 2000

Email 4 Thailand

Hello all!

We thought we would write and tell you about our living situation. We think you’ll enjoy it.

We live near Chiang Mai University, actually, we can walk there, and it is a nice part of the city. We eat near there often because the food is cheap since there are so many students.

The building we live in is named Viangping Mansion and Condotel. It is a 14 story building and we are on the 14th floor. Floors 2 and 3 is a hotel, and the rest is apartments.

Most apartments do not have kitchens. People either eat out, or go to the market, or to one of thousands of small stands on the street and they buy ready made food to take home and eat. Why? It is expensive to cook because of the high cost of gas, and to cook you need an extra room – a kitchen and that increases the rent. It is much cheaper to eat by buying take out or going to a restaurant.

Our building is a very interesting place. The people who work here are very nice and like us, and we like them. There is a swimming pool which we use mostly on weekends after we return from one of our jaunts and before dinner. It is there that we met some of the colorful characters who live here: Lolly is a gay 53 year old retired teacher from Australia. He is looking for a job here and lives on some sort of a disability, (he got it because it was so stressful for him to teach). He does not want to return to Australia. As you may know it is a pretty racist place. For gays, Thailand is a good place because it is so tolerant. Lolly never stops talking about any subject that enters his mind. He even talks more than Peter, so you can imagine. He introduced us to the “English boys”. The English boys are about 30, gay and have shaved heads and tatoos. They have rings in their ears and noses, in their nipples, and in their navels. We do not know where else they have rings, but their bathing suits are pretty small, so we don’t think they have them anyplace else, but we’ll never find out. The English boys own a gay bar in the part of town where all of the tourists hang out. It is hard to understand any of these 3 guys because of their strong British and Australian accents.

Tom also lives in our building. He is from LA, a teacher, and looks like he is in his 50’s. He gives private English lessons to Thai’s. Tom told us he never eats Thai food, knows less Thai than we do, and comes to the hotel café early in the morning to drink coke and watch HBO. It seems that he does this most all day on Saturday on Sunday.

Our building also houses the Relax Club and the Feeling Good Club. (The Feeling Good Club is closed – we don’t know why). By the way, this is the safest building in Chiang Mai. We think it is run by the Mafia!

On the first floor there is a café which advertises it is open for breakfast, but it is closed until night when many pretty Thai women come and are hostesses to Thai men and “farangs” – foriegners – who come to drink, listen to music and …. The girls are young, and we say hello to them each night when we return.

The Relax Club is open. It is on the 13th floor. We haven’t been there because it is a disco-karaoke place where women (prostitutes) go to meet men and then go to a hotel or wherever. We also understand that it the Relax Club doesn’t attract the nicest people in town.

On the 2nd floor there is the Claissic Corner – a small restaurant where we often eat breakfast, and next door to it is the Snooker Club where young people play pool. The waitress at the Cozy Corner is a young woman of 20 – 22 who goes to business school at night. She is very cute and teaches Peter Thai, as do some of the other young women at the hotel.

Her name is Aoy, pronounced oy, and there are 2 more Aoy’s in the hotel. Thus: oy oy oy, like the Yiddish oy oy oy. We continue to have a good laugh about oy oy oy.

We are lucky to have a TV with 2 English stations: CNN and HBO. The cable is controlled by the owner of the hotel and so if he feels like changing from HBO to a soccer game, he does, and the result is that anyone in the building who is watching an exciting movie on HBO, all of a sudden without warning is now watching a soccer game until the owner decides to change it again.

Taking a shower sometimes takes two people to accomplish the job. One takes a shower, and the other one stands by to flip the circuit breaker back on after it flips off because the water heater overloads the circuit. Another thing about showers in this country is that the entire bathroom is the shower. In other words there usually isn’t a shower curtain, and the water goes all over the place, so you have to make sure to close the toilet, and keep the toilet paper out of reach of the water which is spraying all over the place. Most of the bathrooms have a step down so that water doesn’t go into the next room which also means that until you get used to the step you stub your toe and trip!

While we don’t have a kitchen, we do have a small refrigerator. We use a hot pot to heat water for coffee, and wash spoons, cups, etc. in the bathroom sink.

It is very cheap to have our clothes washed, and everything is ironed when we get it back including our underwear! Sometimes we pay by the kilo, and sometimes by the piece. At the hotel, we pay 400 baht for 80 pieces – about $9 US.

We eat breakfast frequently at a small place a block from our hotel. It is an outside restaurant with a few tables under the trees. The food is cooked on outside stoves. It is very cheap, very clean, and very good. We can have rice, eggs, pork chop, coffee, and a donut all for about $1.85. And, the owner, her husband, and her helper are very nice.

They call the man who repairs things in the hotel “the electrician which may help to explain why the toilet is still leaking.

Hope this gives you a sense of what it’s like living at the Viangping Mansion and Condotel in Chiang Mai. We love it!

Peter and Hinda

Thursday, January 27, 2000

Email 3 Thailand January 27, 2000

January 27,2000

Chiang Mai, Thailand

We finished teaching our first week of classes, and continued our interviewing of the Earth Rights School students as well.

We spent 3 days teaching a basic fundraising class and two days teaching a basic photography class. Both were excellent. At the end of each class the students evaluated the class and us, and we both felt very honored to receive high marks for how we were accepted and liked and for how much the students learned.

The students were a group of six members of SAPOWA, a newly formed Burmese refugee organization based here in Chiang Mai whose mission is to “protect and preserve the environmental and human rights of Shan people in the Shan State in Burma”. (We are stating the mission of SAPOWA because with our help, these 6 people were able to develop it over two days and nights. They still want to refine it more, but we are proud, and they are happy!)

The classes were held at the Earth Rights School about 35 kilometers north of Chiang Mai in a small village. The school is composed of several buildings on a “mini campus” with lots of trees, beautiful flowers and bushes, bamboo, coconut palms, banana trees, etc. It is very beautiful, peaceful and quiet, and because of the high need for security to protect the students, it is a perfect place. The gate is always locked, day and night. Our SAPOWA group was also very much concerned about security, but it was an uneventful week from that point of view.

We were driven to the school each day by the ERI driver, a 23 year old man who is also a Burmese refugee who attends college at night.

The actual classroom is a sort of covered veranda, very pleasant, but quite hot in the afternoons. Each day we brought treats for the group: doughnuts, fruit, sticky rice, etc. We bought the goodies at our favorite breakfast restaurant, it is a little outdoor place with a husband and wife team owning it. They do not speak english and we are not fluent in Thai so we could not explain what we did with all those treats and they couldn’t ask. They must think we eat a lot. The students loved the treats and we all ate lunch together, (sitting on the floor at a very low table). The students cooked and the meals were simple and good. The students were very thoughtful and when they heard Peter was a diabetic and I had high blood pressure they began to cook special dishes for Peter without sugar and without salt for me. Slowly we are learning to eat more and more spicy foods. The menu was Burmese rather than Thai, but the spices are just as hot in any case.

For the first three days, we taught basic fundraising. The students learned about several different ways to raise funds besides grant writing, and as a result some seeds have been planted with SAPOWA to raise discretionary money. SAPOWA was able to develop a useable mission statement, and as a group, the class developed a proposal which they plan to send to a small foundation in Australia to fund a project which they want to pursue as an organization. We developed a reality based budget, goals, and realistic activities and strategies. They felt very positive about creating the proposal as a group and learning how to achieve consensus on points and issues that there were different opinions about. They also saw how important a group can be in generating new and different ideas.

The last two days were spent in learning basic photography. Before coming to Thailand we raised enough money to purchase 7 cameras and 50 rolls of film. The cameras are durable, water resistant and have a number of useable features which people can use to document basic environmental and human rights abuses. We will use the cameras to teach all of the classes and then leave them with ERI. (We also brought two donated, but good laptop computers which ERI will use, and this is being typed on one of them!)

We taught the students how a camera operates, about various types of light and the different qualities of light, about different types of film and how they can be used to help the photographer, basic composition, how to photograph people, landscapes, documents, how to use flash, and how not to use flash, (in Burma, using flash may be dangerous). Enough time was spent on how to use the cameras that we brought with us so that the students felt comfortable handling them. Everyone was very excited about being able to actually photograph.

After the classroom session, the students were given film and a camera, and after using up the roll, we took the exposed film to Chiang Mai and had it developed. The next morning, we gave the prints back to the students. (They couldn’t wait to see their pictures which were quite good by the way). We used their prints to show them how well they did in some cases, and to teach them why certain prints could have been different and better. It was an excellent session, and we felt they learned a lot. Then we gave the students more film, and they went to photograph again using the information they had learned from the critique of their first roll and additional information from more teaching.

It was finally time to leave late Friday afternoon, and we all wished each other well. We have to tell you that we, (Peter) felt a little let down that the students were leaving – however they will be back on February 6th for another class in non profit structure and management. We’ll tell you all about how that will go afterwards.

Attached is a photo of Peter teaching the students photography. We do not want to show their faces, and could only show you three students so as to avoid the faces of the others. Also a photo of Hinda preparing material for the fundraising class.

Thursday, January 20, 2000

Email 2 Thailand January 20, 2000

Hello to you all. At the end of this email is a copy of the report we just sent to the organization that sent us to Thailand. It will give you all of the information about what our work life is like. Now, I will tell you about our life as tourists is like. We spent the first two days in Mae Hong Son working and then the last two days playing. On Wednesday we awoke early had a great breakfast at the market, where we also discovered coconut pancakes. These are half dollar sized pancakes fried fresh as you watch and sold 4 for 5 Baht which is about 11 cents. They are delicious. We then got in a four wheel drive car with a driver and guide. The guide was a yound woman from the town who spoke english quite well and was very knowledgable. They first took us to a sugar cane farm where we watched a family pressing sugar cane, boiling it and making a candy with nuts and coconut. Of course we bought some. We then headed to the elephant camp and as you already know, from the picture, we had a great ride. We climbed onto the elephant who weighed about two tons and headed for the river. Crossed it and took a trail through the jungle. It was delightful. There were two elephants ahead of us and one had an attitude. He evidently did not like the one in front of him so he waited for the right time and as they went down a steep bank to the river, he pushed the first one into the river. The people on that elephant began to scream. It was quite exciting and lucky we were not on that elephant. By the way at the sugar farm we also saw pineapple, guava, banana, papaya and tamarind growing. We then headed for a village where the woman put copper coils around their necks starting at age 4 and steadily increase the number of coils until they are fully grown. They end up with coils weighing around 10 to 13 pounds. We did not spend much time here since we felt a bit exploitive. On to a chinese village on the top of a beautiful mountain. They grow tea here and send it all over the world. It was a truly beautiful and peaceful place. Pine trees all around, we felt right at home. On to a Thai village also on the mountain with a lovely lake and magnificent flowers. At this village they grow coffee so we had some freshly roasted freshly made coffee. What a treat since at most places when you ordr coffee they give you instant. Back to Mae Hong Son, we are exhausted. Next morning we arose early and headed for the coconut pancakes. We visited two caves, the first had many carp swimming In it and when you put some food in the water they jumped for it. The second is one of the largest caves in the world and was very beautiful. A guide takes you through with a coleman lantern and then you take a bamboo raft back out. It was a real adventure. At the end of the day we went to two hill tribe villages the Lisu and the Lahu. These are tribal villages on the mountainside. Very poor, dirty and depressing. However, the woman make beautiful woven items which they sell in the village as well as in town. Of course at every place we went like alll good tourists we bought something. Since we haven’t even been here for a month and already have many bags full of things to bring home, we will likely need to hire a whole ship to get everything home. As you can tell we are doing fine. Enjoying ourselves, Peter is taking lots of pictures, and even relaxing a bit. We miss you all and will write again soon. Love Hinda and Peter

Saturday, January 08, 2000

Email 1 Thailand January 8, 2000

Monday, January 8, 2000, 4:05 p.m. Thailand Time

Hi everyone! As we start writing this to you, it occurred to us that it is between 12 and 15 hours earlier where you are than here in Chiang Mai.

We thought that we would give you an update on what has transpired so far:

We arrived in Bangkok after flying for 17 hours just a few minutes before the New Year came in, stayed overnight in a hotel near the Bangkok Airport, and in the morning flew up here to Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is considered to be one of the nicest places to live in Thailand. It is cooler than Bangkok, (although by our standards it is still pretty warm – in the high 80’s – Bangkok is in the mid 90’s now). This is a city of about 200,000 or a bit less, and is very easy to get around. Many people buzz around on motorbikes or small motor cycles, (we are still learning, but even when we do, it is pretty dangerous to drive here). Also, for 10 Bhat each way you flag down and get into the back of a “song tow” which is a small pickup truck with a covered roof and bench seats along the side and the driver will take you where you are going. 10 Bhat is slightly less than 25 cents at the current rate of exchange – about 43 Baht to $1. There are also “tuk tuks: which is a motor cycle with a seat in the back for 2 0r 3 people but is is much more expensive, perhaps 2 – 3 times as much and since we are trying to live on the Thai economy with our reduced incomes we have not yet taken a tuk tuk. We tried biking, but the bikes were too small for us and so we go in song tows or walk.

Thailand is a very friendly country – everyone smiles and is helpful.

Food is delicious and very cheap. Real Thai food by the way. Here are some examples: All you can eat Thai barbecue, that you cook at your table for 69 Baht each, ($1.72 each). Dinner for two with an appetizer, 3 entrees, and bottled water for about $3.50. An American breakfast, (for Hinda) of two eggs, ham, sausage, toast, coffee for $1.40 and for Peter, rice porridge with pork, and vegetables, and coffee for $.95. We also eat in some cheaper places. Like lunch for two for $1.50.

Chiang Mai like Bangkok is very very polluted and smoggy. Sometimes your eyes tear, and the air burns your throat. It is a pity.

We are staying in a condo hotel, ( part condos and part hotel) near our office which is near Chiang Mai University close to downtown. We have two very very large rooms, two bathrooms, on the top (14th floor) with a balcony and a view of the entire cify and the mountains, a large bed, two tables, two couches, a TV with HBO and CNN, an international phone, and airconditiong for 6,000 Baht – about $140. Oh, yeah, a swimming pool, pool tables, restaurant, and two night clubs. (Next time we’ll tell you about the mix of people there – very interesting).

We have done some sight seeing here in Chiang Mai and have been to some very beautiful temples, some quite old, perhaps 600 – 700 years old. We hope that we are taking good photographs – at least there are many interesting things to photograph,

We went to an American movie, with Thai subtitles and had to stand for the Thai national anthem and to honor the King. Perhaps, one day we will have to stand up for President Bush! Hope not!

Since this is a Buddhist country, it is very peaceful and tolerant of all kinds of people and ideas. In our condo hotel, we met two gay men – one from Australia and one from England who are living and working in Chiang Mai and Bangkok respectively because of the tolerance here.

In Chiang Mai there are lots of American ex-patriates living here. Some it seems may be veterans from the Viet Nam war who never went back, and of course, some work here. Some also live here for a few months and then live back in the USA, or some where ever they are from. It is an easy, inexpensive lifestyle here.

While we have not done much shopping for Thai things to bring back, we have bought a couple of interesting things that are distinctly Thai and are very cheap. A beautiful hand painted fan on special Thai paper for about $2.30 and a hand made elephant made of string for about the same.

With regard to work, we walk here from our condo hotel. It takes 10 – 15 minutes. On the way is a laundry where the clothes are washed by hand, dried outside, and for less than $2 we had a weeks worth of wash done and ironed, (including Peter’s underwear )!

We are getting set to teach classes in photography, fundraising, non profit management, to two separate small non profit groups. We will also teach these courses to the students at the Earth Rights School, and we will teach the photography class to the staff here. We will be traveling to the Burma border to two different towns in the next couple of weeks to teach there as well as to interview people about their experiences at the school. We have already finalized the questionnaire that we will use and are putting the finishing touches on the lesson plans we will use. Needless to say we are excited.

Anyway, that is about all for now. Sorry this got so long, but there is a lot that we want to tell you. We do miss you, but at the same time, we are very glad to be here because of where we are and what we are doing. It is a good feeling to “give”.

Talk to you soon.

Peter and Hinda