Thursday, March 30, 2000

Monday, March 20, 2000

Final Thailand Email March 20, 2000

March 20, 2001

Chiang Mai, Thailand

At the Earth Rights School

Hi All,

Well, this will probably be our last email letter to you before we spend a week in Bangkok beginning March 24th, and then return home on March 31st.

We are just finishing up our training to the students at the Earth Rights School. We have had 8 students in all three of our classes: Fundraising, Non-Profit Organization, and Photography. Actually, we had met them all before we started teaching at different times during our first couple of months here, and so it was like a little reunion to start teaching them.

The photography training was very successful and all of the students did well. We were pretty pleased to see how well they learned in such a short time. Their photos during the critique session were really good. Today, the last day of the training, all of the students dressed up in their ethnic clothes and took pictures of themselves and us with them. In fact they gave the both of us some of clothes to wear, and you will enjoy seeing some of those photos when we return home. Actually, some of these students will be taking the cameras that we brought here (with the help of some of you) out in the field with them to various refugee camps and even into areas of Burma where there are Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) living under very harsh conditions in the jungle. The IDP's are ethnic people who have become displaced from their villages in Burma by the repressive Burmese military regime and army and who fled to the jungle rather than become refugees in Thailand. To say that their living conditions are primitive would not even begin to describe the situation that they are in.

In the fundraising training, the group produced an actual proposal to travel to Burma to an IDP area to do "backpack training" in Human Rights, and Environment, and along the way provide people with medical problems with basic care and medicines. They are currently sending the proposal off for funding. We have been given a copy as well and have asked to help. We may be able to help them get some of the medical supplies and when you learn more about their proposal, you may be able to help as well.

One of the students told us that many of the children in the IDP areas in Burma do not have such basics as clothing, pens, and notebooks, and many of the women are in dire need of clothing as well. We were able to obtain a small supply of pens and notebooks which are now on their way to where they are needed, and when we return home, we will try to collect some used, but useable clothing for women and children. We have been asked to make sure that the clothing is "modest looking" which of course we will do.

Last Sunday we made a swimming party for the students and the teachers at our place, and bought lunch for everyone. It was a lot of fun. None of the students had ever been in a swimming pool before, and none had ever been as high as the 14th floor to visit our apartment. None of the students had bathing suits so some of the women wore shorts and a tee shirt. One of the men borrowed a pair of Hinda's shorts, and one borrowed one of Peter's bathing suits. Imagine those small thin Burmese men in our clothes! We all had a wonderful time and Peter taught them how to do "chicken fights" in the water. Even though it is not "non violent" it was fun.

On Thursday night we will attend our last staff meeting before we leave Chiang Mai for Bangkok. All in all, it was a tremendous experience for us, and we have gotten nothing but positive feedback from the folks here. Who knows, we may even come back here. Chiang Mai is a very easy place to live for a few months a year.

Now, here are some other interesting things:

This morning while waiting to go to the school. An old man with no teeth came into the lobby of our building selling something in bottles. We found out that it is home made honey, and bought a bottle for the school, and one to bring back with us. The bottles were formerly Scotch Whiskey bottles. He showed us the following test: He dipped a wooden match in the honey, and it didn't sink at all. Then, even coated with honey, he was able to light the match to prove that there was no water in the honey. One of the women who was watching told us that if Peter takes a teaspoon of honey each night with some lemon, (actually lime), he will become very handsome. The bottle of honey cost about $2. He told one of the women there who wanted some that he would come back in another year with some more. We're glad that we bought ours before he sold his three bottles to someone else.

Now we can drive elephants, cars, and motorcycles. However, we are still afraid to drive the car at night without lights. We are still getting used to other vehicles driving without lights, especially when they are coming at you the wrong way on a one way street!

Each day for the last couple of days all of the people who work where we live count the days to when we leave. We will be sorry to leave them, and we are sure they will be sorry to see us go. We all like each other.

A couple of weeks ago, one of the women invited us to her house for a Thai BBQ. It was a singular honor for foreigners to be invited to the home of a Thai person because many feel that their homes are small, etc. "Sai Rung" lives with her mother, husband, father, and daughter "Kreem" which in English means cream, e.g. hand cream. Sai Rung means rainbow. We went by motorbike and were able to come home alone at night without getting lost. We ate until we were stuffed. The food seemed enough to feed an army. We ate family style: out of a common bowl with common spoons and forks. Thais eat mostly with a soup spoon using the fork only to put food onto the spoon. Some food like noodles in soup is eaten with chopsticks. We had delicious spicy transparent Thai noodle salad, pork balls, sausages, and the Thai version of sukiyaki called moo mak Thai. We brought along a little handmade doll made by refugee Burmese women for Kreem who fell in love with it immediately. She is 6 years old and very beautiful. Peter played badminton with Kreem and her 5 year old cousin until they hit all of the shuttlecocks on to the roof.

That is about it for now. We are looking forward to just sightseeing in BKK and finally home to you.

Love from Peter and Hinda

Email 5 Thailand March 20, 2000

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