We decided to get out of the village today, at least for a while. We borrowed two bikes and pedaled clumsily down the highway to a nearby town. It was probably twice the size of our home-stay village and presented a striking demonstration of life’s relativity. The shops lining the main street dazzled and impressed us, even if they only sold bike tires or shampoo. It was like seeing the neon glare of a Las Vegas strip after weeks in the desert. We cycled along the Mekong river (which winds its way snakily down from China, an Asian Mississippi) and saw on the other side, a mere swimming distance, the jungled mountains of Laos.
Later we tried to get some work done, but I was feeling lousy and tired from the interrupted sleep the night before. We contented ourselves by crocheting (Sonia) and reading (me), awaiting the time when the kids would return from school and molest us on our quiet porch. They did come soon after, and accidentally erased one of Sonia’s documents on the computer, for which she berated them. We shooed them away like animals, but like animals smelling the lure of food – in this case, computer pinball – they soon approached again. We kept the computer out of reach and played an educational game of hangman instead. I also showed them how to draw Scooby Doo to keep them distracted. Continue reading
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Woke up before the sunrise for another early departure to Phu Wua Park with Mr.Oot’s class. Our host mother Yort packed us up a bag of sticky rice and cooked fish for lunch, which wouldn’t be eaten until after several hours of hiking in the sticky heat. Back home I get paranoid when cooked food is left on the counter for more than 20 minutes, so I sensed this would end up being a beef jerky and Power Bar day.
Fish for lunch...so good even the flies like it
After some campfire-like singing, in Thai, that energized the group and lasted long enough to dull my senses, we started on our uphill climb through still-wet foliage and over damp logs. The slippery rock faces threatened to plummet us to our doom, but we still managed to hang on until the top, where we met a superb view of the surrounding jungles leading down in the valley between the Laos mountains and Mekong river on one side, and on the other to Phu Tok and deep into Elephant country. I imagined a primitive scene, not too far away, where Tarzan swung from thick lliana vines over roaring elephants and cheetahs pawing madly at the air. I know I had the wrong continent, but the reality before me was probably not too far off.
Oot led us afterwards off the beaten track, along winding streams surrounded by phallic-looking carnivorous plants which made me giggle. We joined up with the rest of the group, already wet and submersed in a nearby river which looked cool and refreshing. We were quickly thronged by gaggles of kids brandishing their teachers’ cameras. Using broken English, one teacher explained that these kids had never before taken a picture with white people. Soon after, we had them lined up in a queue, waiting their turn to put an arm around us and give the peace sign to a ready lens. We felt like Mickey and Minnie at a theme park, and gave some serious thought to charging a fee. We traipsed back together, all 70 or so of us in single file, through the jungle like African refugees. Continue reading
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Arriving back in the village after a few days of rest and relaxation in Nong Khai, a slightly larger town 2 hours away by jalopy, was refreshing. Nong Khai, which seemed fairly small a few weeks ago, is now Vancouver-big in comparison to Kham Pia village. There the outdoor markets, the fruit stands piled neck-high with rambutans and jackfruit, and the local 7-11 with its heavenly air conditioning and slurpees was reminiscent of the hustle and bustle of Robson Street, downtown Vancouver.
A pile of jackfruit....bet you can't eat just one!
We had left the village for 2 days to seek some of the minor luxuries that Nong Khai, being slightly larger, could offer, such as a shower and flushing toilets. It is eye-opening and a tad shameful to know that the majority of Earth’s 6.5 billion don’t have access to the kind of bathroom comfort, let alone running water, that Westerners enjoy.
A whole new meaning of the word "squatters"
Coming back to the village and its endless fields of rice paddies, familiar faces made me smile, as did the farm sounds we had grown accustomed to. When we pulled in, riding on the back of a stranger’s pickup truck, I felt like we were part of a Royal procession. Children running behind the truck heralded our arrival with pointed fingers, shouting “fereng, fereng” – foreigner.
"Take me home, country road"
We had barely been back for a few hours and already there was trouble! A 15 year old boy had sniffed some gasoline from Mr. Bunleod’s grass mower and then had stumbled, intoxicated, into our house. Our homestay dad found him going through our room and then scolded him and searched him thoroughly for stolen goods, such as my month’s worth emergency supply of beef jerky I brought from back home. All of this was later explained by gestures over dinner and we laughed at the humour in it. Also that day, a baby had stolen a motorcycle and drove it through town, or so we understood. Continue reading
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Since arriving in Kham Pia, a small village of 400 farmers and rice growers in Northeast Thailand, time has slowed to a trickle. Things are different than in the rest of Thailand; and I think the villagers like it this way. For the ones that don’t — the occasional number of restless young — they shed themselves of it like a skin that is too tight.
People and animals share the same living space here. This is not just limited to dogs and cats (our homestay dog shared my living space one day and ate my towel), but to livestock such as chickens, cows and numerous birds too. There are other animals also, such as lizards, which collect in corners like dust collects back home. As I type, there are at least nine geckoes on one wall, of various sizes and dispositions. One larger lizard, at least a foot long, scampers back and forth underneath a sofa. And the bugs! They are everywhere! In the morning, they cover our floors like dew. The termites are especially messy: they seem to emerge all at once, in cycles depending on the weather, and shed their wings in order to begin a new life of crawling and scampering. Their discarded wings blanket the floors like leaves in the fall.
None of these things are that surprising, though, as Thai houses are built differently than Western homes. Our homes back home are meant to seal off Nature and the rest of the world, creating a seam between the wilderness and civilization. Here, homes are built with walls missing. Where our front door would be, their entire wall opens to the street, like a child’s dollhouse that is sliced crosswise, opening on hinges. Continue reading
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Skydiving is not for the faint of heart. Neither is it for the incontinent of bladder or shrill of voice.
As a spontaneous birthday dare, my girlfriend and I found ourselves pulling up to the Victoria Sky Diving Centre one otherwise pleasant Sunday afternoon in early August, to test my fear of falling from a moving aircraft (call me skittish) and also to experience firsthand the allegedly transformative powers of this sport’s exhilaration and fear.
I signed myself up for a tandem jump. Unsure what the word meant, and too lazy to do a bit of research beforehand, I envisioned this as me jumping with a troop of Elvis look-alikes and forming elaborate shapes in the sky – a web of falling gabardine. Tandem actually meant I would be harnessed to a stranger’s crotch and that in the event that our primary and reserve parachutes failed to open, my soft body underneath would protect his fall. I was determined to seek out the thinnest instructor in the room.
Inside the office were hung various safety equipment and harnesses, instilling me with a confidence that dissolved when hearing the good-natured banter between my tandem instructor Brian and a spandex-clad videographer about which piece of my harness connected to which. The videographer’s job was to leap out of the plane milliseconds before me and capture my expressions of, in no particular order, a) Terror and Panic as I realize that I’m falling from a height higher than a tree, a response ingrained by our vine-swinging ancestors millennia ago, b) Anger as I realize this is actually worse than the teacup ride at Disneyland, as had been promised back at the office, c) Excitement, as the neurons inhabiting the fear centres of my brain exhaust themselves to submission and d) Disgust as I ingest a colony of high-flying bugs through my nose, as my body plummets at 9.8 metres per second square.
Feeling a little uncomfortable in the office about being so close to a man in purple spandex, I nervously quip that I forgot my Huggies at home, referring to a rumour I heard about first-timers from a friend at work. “Diapers are optional,” was the straight-faced reply from the receptionist.
Starting to get performance anxiety
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