A Travellerspoint blog

Getting cultural at long last

overcast 75 °F

Between getting my bearings of Bangkok and starting classes at Thammasat, I have not been able to do many cultural activities and have been so bummed about it! This past Sunday we decided to combat that, do as the Thai do, and make the excursion to Chatuchak Market, JJ for short, and explore this infamous outdoor bazaar! Chatuchak is abbreviated "JJ" because in Thai, Ch's and J's are interchangeable, as are B's with P's and R's with L's. And this is only a little preview of how tough it is going to be to learn the language. That'll just be another adventure, I suppose!
JJ Market wrapped into one word would have to be: insane. There are sections of jewelry stands and clothing, furniture and vases, but we somehow managed to get lost in the maze of exotic pets. It started out pretty simple with a lizard here and there, maybe some exotic fish. Then there were puppies...oh so many puppies! And then hedgehogs. Squirrels. Peacocks. This is when the market started to get a little overwhelming. There were so many large animals in such small cages that it just broke your heart seeing them all in a line. We had to keep reminding ourselves that it's just the culture of the people and that we were brought up very differently in America in regards to animals, sanitation, and the like.
These were too many birds in too small a cage for me

These were too many birds in too small a cage for me

When we saw a cock fight in action in the middle of the market, we knew it was time to go. The next visit to JJ will be much better though! Now that we know the layout a bit more, we can see the colorful scarves and hand-carved furniture instead. Much more my style! Of course a monsoon hit us right as we were about to venture across the street to the farmer's market section, so we waited the 20 minutes it generally takes to pass and viola! Were able to step outside and stay dry.
Coming home and having to stand on that bus after a day of such walking was a lot to handle, but grabbing street food on our block made it all worth it.
Pad see ew loaded with veggies from the vendor across the street

Pad see ew loaded with veggies from the vendor across the street

My favorite part about Thailand has got to be the convenience and price of meals. I eat at the carts twice a day, and pay no more than 30 baht per dish. That is one US dollar! This does wonders when it comes to saving up for weekend excursions! We had a nice plan to bus to Koh Samet for the weekend in honor of our friend Brian's birthday--we were going to catch a bus after class on Thursday and not miss any class Friday because schools are closed on account of the queen's birthday being a national holiday. But! Because we are in Thailand and things can change in a second, decided at the ultimate last minute that the Full Moon Festival on Koh Phangan was calling our names. By ultimate last minute, I mean that I was literally holding my phone and had 30 seconds to decide if I was in or out because the person on the other end was at a travel agency, ready to book it. We're leaving on a 12-hour overnight bus at 6pm today, catching a ferry to the island, and booking a bungalow on the spot. Sounds crazy, I know, but that is just the Thai way. You go with the flow and actually end up saving money that way! Booking in advance is almost double the price for hotels, and we are traveling in a group of almost 20 so we feel pretty confident that we can split into groups and stay sane through the chaos.
As soon as we're back (in 6 days, ahh!), I'm actually very excited to get into the routine of classes. I attended Thai Traditional Medicine this morning and our professor works for The Royal Institute of Thailand and has a scholarship from the King to conduct his pharmaceutical research! He's set up plenty of field trips to teach us about herbal remedies, including a trip to a public health facility, botanical garden, and zoo because there are some controversial drugs that come from snakes and crocodiles that are apparently a must-see.

Just a disclaimer to you all that I will be incommunicado until next Tuesday! And when I'm back home in Bangkok, I'm sure I will have a smorgasbord of island-living stories to share!

Posted by jenfeen 22:07 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

"Oh, Thailand!"

sunny 85 °F

That phrase is spoken at least a dozen times every day here! When it's sunny all day and suddenly starts to downpour for an hour. When the apartment staff says they will give you your key when you come back, but then the office is closed for the night. When that thing you thought was tofu turns out to be blood. Oh, Thailand! The way to get by is to adopt the mai pen rai way of life, meaning "it's nothing" and learning to go with the flow of how Thais live life on a bit of a slower schedule. Thai time, baby.
Sarah and I just moved into our new apartment in 3J and up there is the view from our balcony! I'm so happy to finally be in our permanent place here. It really solidifies the fact that Bangkok will be our routine for quite a while! Speaking of which, the past few days have been absolutely stuffed with orientations and all that jazz. Thammasat University hosted an orientation for all international students--UC's, other American schools, Europeans--but even though the schedule was set from 8am to 5pm, the professors (ajarn in Thai) and staff were so welcoming that it went by in no time. We also registered for classes! I'm a total nerd but I am actually completely excited for classes to start up here on Monday. I'll be taking a class on modern Thai history that will keep me in tune with the politics of the country, and we'll be venturing to the Burmese border as a field trip! Another one of my classes is Thai traditional medicine, that teaches the use of herbs and massage techniques to help with certain ailments. There's also my art and architecture course, ethnic groups of Thailand, and beginning Thai! And for the first time in all of my years of school, everything I learn will be absolutely relevant to my daily life. I have the greatest privilege in the world to be surrounded by this colorful culture and learn the ins and outs of Thailand from the top professors in Southeast Asia. Thammasat has an incredible reputation--the princess even graduated from the university in 2001! Because of the respect factor that is paired with Thammasat, markets will apparently give you discounts if you're wearing the uniform and, better yet!, we won't be mistaken for being your everyday tourist. Of course we gathered all of this information at orientation, and the other international students were one step ahead!
The room of 100  exchange students dressed in the Thammasat uniform.

The room of 100+ exchange students dressed in the Thammasat uniform.

And here are us under-achieving UC students hanging out in our street clothes.

And here are us under-achieving UC students hanging out in our street clothes.

Yesterday was orientation specific to our UC Education Abroad Program, which was the one I was extremely pumped for! You see, we had all been hearing about this mythical man named Thanet through meetings at our UC campuses, via email, and from all of the UCEAP alumni, and were just dying to hang out with him. Thanet had been talked up to be the friendliest, funniest, and most helpful Liaison Officer of any abroad program--one tall order to live up to...but Thanet does. He sprinkled his presentation with the perfect amount of information about how to get UC credits for our courses here as well as noting that we should call him if we are to get into a motorcycle accident so that he can clean things up before/if we have to tell our parents (sorry, Mom! I mean, will never ever ride a motorcycle here...)
Thanet even paid for all of our ferry rides back across the river so that we could all sit down for a bonding dinner! He ordered the most aroy (delicious), albeit 12 course meal and we all shared stories of what made us choose Thailand and our plans for adventures abroad. Then, in typical Thailand fashion, those sunny skies turned into an immediate downpour and thunder storm. It never ceases to amaze me just how quickly Thais adapt to the rain; the restaurant crew had tarps tied and towels ready in 2 minutes flat!

There are a little over 20 of us in the UC abroad group and maybe 100 here through international exchange programs, and I have never met such a big group of friendly, genuine people. It's almost like freshman year all over again in that we were all thrown into this together and are ready to bond as fast as possible so that we can start excursioning together! Our first day together was Bob's birthday, and although a good chunk of us had no idea who this infamous "Bob" was (his name was the real kicker), we signed a card and were out celebrating just hours after meeting him. And last night, Thanet's assistant, Golf (once again, real name), came out with us and taught us some useful Thai phrases!
One of the professors at orientation told us that "A fish who never leaves water, never experiences water." As cheeseball as that sounds, I'm definitely buying into it. I could not be more excited to be experiencing everything I can possibly learn here in Asia, removed from the comfort of the water I am used to swimming in. However, those same professors also left us the the wise words to "lock it up" and proceeded to list the reasons why girls should choose to wear bras while in Thailand. Although I suppose both are insightful on their own levels.
Today we may embark on Chatuchak Market (JJ Market for short because J's and Ch's are interchangeable in Thai) and I will see all the pretty Thailand trinkets I can bring home to you all come December! Maybe we'll even use a little down time to plan a much-anticipated escape to one of the southern islands next weekend! So many adventures in store and so many more stories to come!

Posted by jenfeen 18:49 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

A very Thai day

rain 85 °F

I have fallen head over heels in love with Thailand. And I've been here for less than one week, wow.
It all happened yesterday when my friend Katie and I ventured to see Thammasat University, where we'll be studying for the semester. We walked to campus across the Chao Phraya river--that separates our apartments at 3J from most of Bangkok--and although the time probably passed a whole lot quicker because of the locals gawking at us farangs (foreigners) wearing shorts, I'd guess that the walk took us no more than 15 minutes. That's one huge difference between Thais and Americans: Thais do not have sweat glands. It'll be 90 degrees and they can walk around in pants and collared shirts without a sign of warmth! That'll have to be one difference that sticks because it's far too toasty out for me to suit up.
We explored all around the campus, and I cannot get over how much I love Thammasat! Here's the view of the river from the end of the outdoor cafeteria. And in case you're wondering, no, your computer's colors are not messed up. Yes, the river is tan. It is so much breezier around the river though that I couldn't care less! After browsing the bookstore for a long while (and bowing to a monk in training, which I'm now guessing you don't have to do based on his subsequent chuckles) and walking through the market at the end of campus, we took the ferry back across the river. The ride is only 3 baht (about 10 cents) so chances are I'll be taking it tons once I get lazy in Thailand! We got off at the first stop out of 90% we had no idea what we were doing and 10% curiosity to see where we would end up. However, because we landed in the construction zone of some nearby hospital, that quickly changed to 10% adventure, 90% absolutely grateful that we were lost with a buddy. My goodness, Katie and I walked back to 3J through slums and under highway overpasses with people shouting at us all the while. Crossing the street with cars/motorcycles coming from all different directions was also damn treacherous, to say the least. It's a good thing we live near a bridge because if we hadn't had some point of reference, I could have so easily freaked out.
Crossing here during rush hour=probably not the smartest

Crossing here during rush hour=probably not the smartest

I'm glad I got to see this side of Thailand so early on in my stay, even if it was borderline frightening. It was a strict neighborhood of Bangkok--families sitting around tables right off the broken road and stray cats running by, sometimes even hitting our legs as they ran. The city is filled with cats and dogs without homes, but I was still so caught off guard when I saw a dog that had been hit by a car just lying on the sidewalk. The dogs are constantly sleeping right where you need to walk, but I was hoping I wouldn't see one that had been killed and left. I've learned that living in apartments for students is almost a sheltering experience here--there are food carts right outside that can tell you prices in English, taxi cabs that always seem to understand by butchered Thai, and internet access so that I can be in touch with everyone in the world.
Yesterday was pretty humbling but I wouldn't have had it any other way. I haven't even left the city and I've been able to witness so many facets of Thai life! It's insane to think of how much more I'm going to learn through traveling and speaking to people all throughout Thailand, both Northern, rural areas and Southern, tropical towns.

Well today is the first rainy day in Bangkok that I've encountered, so I'm going to go out and enjoy it! On the agenda for today: riding a bus for the first time (they don't stop for you to get on/off) and picking up a local cell phone at the giant MBK super-mall. As much as I've learned sans-technology for a day, it'll be fun to be thrown back into a city rampant with technology and all kinds of THINGS for sale that no one ever really needs. After all, this city life is still an absolute adventure for me as well!

Posted by jenfeen 18:59 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Greetings from Bangkok!

sunny 80 °F

It's my second day, third night, here in Bangkok and I think it's safe to say that my jet-lag finally caught up to me! Here's the story of how it happened:

I arrived at my new apartment around 2 am on Wednesday and because I was without internet, decided it'd be a good idea to wake up at 6 am when the hours of free internet-use kicked in so that I could tell the parentals that I had safely arrived. That was a mission accomplished, but then I had a small problem: what on earth do I do now because no one else in Bangkok is awake! I explored outside for an hour or so, but because I still don't have my bearings of the area, was careful to stay close to home. Around 10 or so, I made my way down to the lobby of 3J Apartments to set up my internet and sign my lease with a very helpful man whose name I didn't catch. He introduced me to a kid, Marc, who is still here from the summer program, so when the man excused himself to file my paperwork, I asked Marc what his name was--I wanted to be able to address the guy who was being so helpful on my first day! Marc mentioned something about chicken, so I said "Oh yeah, we can go get some chicken later, sure!" Marc: "Oh no, that's his name. Chicken." No kidding, real name.

It should be instances like these that tip me off to the fact that I really am in Thailand, but it somehow just hasn't sunk in yet. I met up with some UCSB girls that are still here from summer that afternoon and talked about that fact, and they assured me that it'll just take some time to adjust. They were even sweet enough to take me out to their farewell dinner with their advisors! It was the first real Thai food I've had here and it was WONDERFUL. I have no idea what I ate because the advisors did all the ordering and we shared, but the rices, stir fry vegetables, and whole fish were all absolutely delicious. We walked down to Khao San Road after dinner--this strip of outdoor markets, food carts, and oh yeah, white people. I'd say the white population on Khao San outnumbered the amount of Thais. It was such a strange thing to see when even the majority of students living in my building are Thai! However, there were plenty of advertisers asking us to come to "banana" and "ping pong" shows (which, to describe in the classiest way possible, are branches of the sex industry), outdoor restaurants playing American songs, and this guy:

He was the happiest little guy, serenading us with that guitar as we walked away. I wasn't too tired when I came back to my apartment around 11, so when some of the summer kids invited me to go out with them to a bar on Khao San, I thought why not! I ran upstairs to drop off my stuff, change clothes and dab on some makeup, and was ready to go in 1 minute--something that all of the girls form my house in Santa Barbara can attest to as being my quickest ever. We had a blast dancing to La Bamba and I Will Survive, went to one more bar, and I was home by 3 am. But, surprisingly still not tired! I watched a movie in bed and fell asleep with the AC off and window closed, so when I woke up and looked at my watch at 9:00 I figured that the morning heat was just coming in. I should've mentioned earlier that my windows are tinted because I opened them up to darkness and, oh yeah, it was 9:00 at night. I had slept the entire day without even realizing it! And the real bummer is that I didn't get to say goodbye to the girls who were leaving back to California today.

I just got back from grabbing dinner with my friend Alice, who is studying in Bangkok for the year, but because it's midnight here, I've got to get right back to bed. No more of this "I'm not tired" stuff because I refuse to sleep through a day that could've been spent with good people in a great city! Tomorrow I'm making it a plan to spend plenty of time out during the day and really getting to know the place that will be my home for the 5 months to come. Goodnight to all that are on US time are just waking up! I'll leave you with a few photos of my new home. This is what I will be waking up to come morning time. And yes, I really will be waking up when it is morning!
my bed

my bed

closet with all of my belongings

closet with all of my belongings

desk and balcony

desk and balcony

outside of 3J

outside of 3J

Posted by jenfeen 09:27 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)


3 hour layover in Hong Kong

I'm in Asia! My 13-hour flight from SFO to HKG has got to be one of the coolest flights I've ever taken. The plane was at about 1/3 capacity and I have never been on an international flight where so many passengers have to freedom to actually sleep horizontally across the rows. I swear that from this moment on, it's either first class, buying two seats, or bust. Most peaceful trip ever.

I have a little under three hours to wander until my connecting flight takes off, and I cannot get over how strange it is to be in HKG. It was practically one year ago to the date that I was here, on the way to Guangzhou to visit my grandpa's village!
My view from the Hong Kong Airport last July

My view from the Hong Kong Airport last July

Landing in Hong Kong today

Landing in Hong Kong today

I even walked past the place where my sister, cousin, and I stopped to slurp up massive bowls of soup during the wait. I'm going to keep walking around because my butt will be plopped in a seat again for the 2+ hour flight into Bangkok, but here are some tidbits that I've learned so far:
-Cathay Pacific's choice to offer cup of noodles as in-flight snacks: genius.
-Getting patted down at security when you are ticklish makes for an awkward situation.
-Security that gets around by Segway is awesome (just like the meter maids in Palo Alto). Watching the HKG security open doors while continuing to balance on that Segway is even better.

Posted by jenfeen 05:48 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

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