Thursday, April 4, 2013

Life experience is priceless...

I've learned more about Thai culture in the last few days then I ever thought possible. Every day, our eyes are opened more and more about how people on the other side of the world live. In the last few days, we have ridden the back of a motorcycle, driven by a 57 year old Thai man named Pee-wee who didn't speak any English, to the top of a rocky mountain. We have participated in a ceremony where a young man became a Bhuddist monk. We traveled to a Thai sheep farm where we fed the sheep and the farmer named his new 3 day old lamb James after me, and then cooked fish soup made from fish that we caught with a net that day. We have learned Muay Thai at a small gym where half of the students are orphans and live in a shack next to the open air gym, and then climbed in a bus with them to travel 3 hours away to cheer them on at a competition. It's been a busy few days.

We've been helping our host, Peetim, teach English for the past few days to an office who's job is giving government assistance to poor Thai farmers... I think. The boss, Peemoo, is one of our best students and really likes Courtney and I. By the way, the prefix Pee- means that it's a nickname that is easy for foreigners to say. Thai names are long and complicated, so they introduce themselves with a nickname. We've met Peetim, Peemoo, and Peewi (Pee-wee) so far.

Peemoo liked us so much that he wanted to show us everything about Thai culture. When he heard that we wanted to visit the Monkey Temple in nearby Lop Buri, he offered to take us there on his motorcycle. Being the adventurists that we are, we agreed. We showed up at Peemoo's house early Saturday morning, where he had a number of motorcycles lined up and ready to go. Once he realized that we didn't know how to drive a motorcycle, he said, "No problem!"

Enter the Enduro Motorcycle Club of Thailand. Peemoo and his friends ride almost every weekend, and were happy to take us along on a 120+ mile trek across Thailand. Courtney rode along with Peemoo for the day, and I hopped on the back with Peewi and we were off to Lop Buri. Lop Buri is about 35 kilometers from Sing Buri, and has a temple in the middle of the city where there are hundreds of monkeys. They are EVERYWHERE!

After that we headed to another temple that was filled with Peacocks.

Once we left there, we headed out to the base of a mountain for lunch at the Enduro Motorcycle clubhouse. After a tasty lunch of rice, egg, and sausage, I latched myself firmly onto Peewi's back and we began to climb the steep "road" of dirt and rock. Some parts where just plain terrifying, but we eventually made it to the top without incident. The view was simply amazing.

Once we had our fill, we headed back down the mountain, and managed to make it with only one minor spill at the end. The bike and both riders came out without a scratch, and we began our long 60 mile ride home. For those of you who don't ride motorcycles very often, 60 miles is a very long trip on the back of a small motorcycle built for small Thai people. There is no comfort after the 10th mile. The last 50 is a constant struggle of trying to put your butt is just the right spot to keep your back from seizing up and thus falling off.

The next day, we met Peemoo early again. This time, we headed to the local temple to take part in ceremony where a young man became a monk. Almost every Thai male becomes a monk when he turns 20 years old. This is a big deal for the community, sort of like a wedding where all of his family and neighbors come out to send him off. The man can spend any amount of time as monk, from 1 week to the rest of his life, but most choose to stay a monk for around 3 months. 

The man wears white robes until he is accepted by the other monks. The ceremony begins with a long parade of friends and family escorting the new monk down the road to the temple. There is music and everyone dances as they slowly meander their way. There are also trucks following the procession filled with gifts for the new monk, gifts for the other monks, baskets filled with coins that are individually wrapped up with ribbon to look like flowers, and refreshments for the parade of people.

Once inside the temple walls, the new monk says a short prayer in front of one of the statues, and then takes one last picture with his family (And any white people that happen to show up. I think he was confused as to where we came from). After that the new monk leads everyone in a slow walk around the temple building. Three laps around to the right for a wedding and becoming a monk, three laps around the left for a funeral. The gifts are carried around as well. Courtney and I each had a basket full of the flower-coins.

Once three laps are completed, the baskets are all handed up to the family who stand on the steps of the temple. The gifts and food are given to the monks, and then each family member takes a basket of flower-coins. This is where the fun begins. The crowd stands eagerly below, with the children right up front. Then suddenly, the family begins hurling handfuls of coins into the air at the crowd. At first, we thought it was just for the children, but we soon realized that the adults were in as much of a frenzy to grab the flowers as the children were. Every time I reached for a flower on the ground, a hand would quickly reach through my legs and grab it first. There was even an older man holding an umbrella upside down to catch as many coins in the air as he could.

We learned that the coins collected are kept for good luck and not spent. Once the coin frenzy had died down, we went inside the temple where the new monk was being accepted by the older monks.

After the ceremony, Peemoo invited us to visit his friends farm for lunch. It turns out his friend was one of the men who went with us the day before for the motorcycle ride. He is retired from his job at the farm assistance office and now runs his own farm with a small assortment of crops and 65 sheep. The sheep are kept only for the wool and not for eating, which we were happy to find out when he handed me his brand new three-day-old lamb. It was super cute, and when I asked what it's name was, he shrugged his shoulders and said, "James."

We fed the sheep for a while from the tree next to us, and then went to pick some fruits and vegetables for our own lunch.

We ended up with papaya, mango, and a new fruit they called a pomello. It's kind of like a mix between a grapefruit and a coconut.

This was also about the time that "The Fisherman" (We never did learn his name) showed up. He took his net out of the back of his moped and sauntered over to the small pond next to the farm. He threw his net in, and at first, I was worried he hadn't caught anything. As he pulled his net out of the water, I was proven very wrong. At least a dozen fish struggled in the net as he pulled it from the water. He pulled the big ones out for us, took the medium ones with him, and tossed the little ones back. After what we can only assume was a trip home to drop off his part of the catch, he returned and we set about chopping herbs and fruit for our fish soup.

It turned out delicious, even though we had to pick the bones out of the fish before we could eat. We had a craving for some American entertainment, so we stopped by the local Tesco (Pretty much like a Wal-mart) and picked through the movie bin until we found three that were actually in English. We ended up with Green Zone, Wanted, and Alex and Emma.

On Monday, it was back to the classroom for another day of teaching. We left a little early that day, because we had agreed to meet up with our friends from the local Muay Thai camp. We had visited the camp on Friday for some training. I ended up in the ring, and Courtney even got some lessons while we were there. We learned that while some of the students come visit the gym every day, a number of them are actually orphans. The owner of the gym feeds them and allows them to sleep in the building next door as long as they go to school and train. 

They had invited us to travel with them to a competition about three hours away, so we took a motorcycle taxi from our classroom to the gym. We waited for everyone to show up, and then headed out in the van packed full of coaches, fighters, and the two of us. I'm not sure exactly what I expected to find when we got there, but I knew it wasn't going to be close after the sixth time we stopped to ask for directions. We ended up pulling into a dusty parking lot. The closest thing I can compare it to is a very small county fair. There was a giant inflatable slide and about two dozen vendors with various sweet and savory treats. There was also a man on a loudspeaker who we could only assume was selling raffle tickets to win an LCD TV or a motorbike, and a large plastic wall around what we found out was the actual Muay Thai arena. We bought a couple beers and two plastic lawn chairs for 40 Baht (About $1.20) and plopped ourselves down to watch the fights. The students we had traveled with were last on schedule, so we had time to watch these tiny, and I mean TINY kids slug it out in the ring. 

Eventually, it was time for our team's turn, and they did awesome. The students won three out of their four fights, and the fourth one was very close. Finally, at 1am, we hopped back in the van for the long 3 hour ride home. We showed back up at our home stay at 4:30 in the morning, exhausted, but I wouldn't have traded it in for anything.

1 comment:

  1. My parents went to Thailand once and they said the Thai people are the nicest people they have ever met. My best friend from high school is Thai too. Thailand is on my bucket did Courtney do in the Muay Thai tournament? ;)