Thailand Reflections

Tan the motorbike taxi driver

Tan the friendly motorbike taxi driver

They often say that you won’t live anywhere better in the world as an expat than in Thailand, the Land of Smiles.  Having now lived and worked here for over 15 years I have definitely seen many people come and go, such is the transient nature of the expat and especially international teachers.  One thing that I have noticed is that people do usually return to Thailand, whether it is to visit friends, to holiday or to work again.  I had no idea what was in store for me or what to expect from the Thai people, their culture and their kingdom when I first left for Thailand in 1999.  I know that we will return, Thailand is our home, the place where I got married and also where my three children were born.  It is of course going to be difficult to leave and let go of the many pleasures that we have become accustomed to and take for granted but we also realise that it is time to re-connect with another home, we like to think that we are becoming a global family.

Love that Thinglish!

Love that Thinglish!

My oldest son likes to compare new countries that he visits with Thailand, to observe what is similar and what is different.  He is going to be in shock mid-November in the north west of England when the obvious differences hit him!  What makes Thailand such an amazing place is how easy it is, especially for families.  The Thai people are so welcoming and they love young children.  I will miss speaking Thai with them and getting myself into trouble as I get lost beyond the second sentences of a conversation.  I admire their appreciation and tolerance of a foreigner making the effort though, especially my local barber who I have had the same conversation with (in Thai) four times a year for the last eight years.

What a sandwich!

What a sandwich!

The Thai food is awesome of course but I have to say that one of my all time favourite discoveries on arriving in Thailand was Au Bon Pain.  The chocolate croissants are to die for and the steak and swiss cheese sandwich is mega – I couldn’t believe it when I found out they delivered as well!  I have had two of the sandwiches this week for old times sake and savored them as much as I did in the early bachelorhood days when they were part of the daily diet.  Au Bon Pain always got my mothers blessing as well whenever she visited as she always said, “they making a piping hot cup of tea.”

Ciao Khun John's

Ciao Khun John’s

The first place I ever drank a beer in Thailand was Khun John’s restaurant on the banks of Lake Mabprachan.  The Friday football lads took me there after my first sub-tropical kick-about and I had no idea where I was – I knew I was almost dying of heat stroke though.  The Heineken came in these huge bottles and seemed to be bottomless.  All I can remember is that I was told not to eat or drink after midnight as I had an important medical the next day.  The following Monday I got a note in my tray informing me I had failed the medical and had to attend another one that coming weekend.  I didn’t go to Khun John’s after football that Friday!  I have been many times since though as it is a family favourite eating place.  Any Thai food you want, it is tasty, quick and good value.  We went for the last time this week and coincidentally the waiter told us that Khun John has apparently sold up (after all these years) and it will become an Italian restaurant next month.  I can’t imagine Thailand without Khun John’s it has been a constant in our lives.

The shop that sells everything

The shop that sells everything

I am looking forward to the UK village shop again and buying a daily newspaper and a bag of Walkers Crisps (I have got to stop saying chips… and candies… and cookies) but it is not going to be Janya Mart.  There is something special about the Thai family shop that sells everything.  It is sad that a lot have struggled to survive since Seven Eleven has swept across the country but there are still a number out there and I always make the effort to use them.  Janya Mart is our local village shop and it is one of the best ways to connect with the local community and to use your Thai.  It is set up (like all other Thai family shops) to focus on social interaction with benches and tables outside and always an array of tempting snacks to choose from – it is the hub of the community.  You can buy a beer at anytime of the day, sit down on the bench and watch the Thai world go by. You can even drive your motorbike up to the shop and fill it up with petrol from a selection of bottles usually precariously placed on a wooden framed structure. Janya Mart has been a regular calling point for the last eight years and I will miss the interaction and constant smiling faces of both Janya and Nui who have witnessed our family grow and devour – God knows how many ice lollies!  I have explained to them that we are leaving on Monday but I am not sure if they have really understood, I will pop in before we go, wai, thank them and say goodbye.

If you liked this post you may also like this: 15 Years of Stuff

15 Years of Stuff!

Where is the Ark?

Where is the Ark?

To read this post with sound effects click here.

One of my favourite movies of all time and also an excellent final scene, although apparently it is mostly a painting, is the vast warehouse we see two men wheeling a large box into before the final credits of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Somewhere amongst the thousands of boxes the Ark of the Covenant has been hidden safely away by the government forever (or has it?) much to our hero Indiana Jones’ frustration.  Well I have news for ‘Indie’ the Ark of the Covenant could very well be on a ship somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean as this was a similar (not painted) scene in our Thai house not so long ago when we had the packers and shippers in.

Which one is it?

Which one is it?

I came to Thailand in 1999, over 15 years ago, to teach computers to primary students for two years.  I promised my mother I would be back in Derbyshire before she knew it! Now 15 years later I am finally returning home, back to the UK; with a wife, three children and 91 boxes of stuff!  I can’t believe it, where did it all come from and what are we going to do with it in the UK?

Stuff!

Stuff!

To be honest I am a bit embarrassed about it and we keep saying to each other, my wife and I – why on earth did we ship that?  During the last few weeks that we have been without our 91 boxes of stuff, things so important and vital that we felt they needed to be shipped half way around the world, there is only one item that has been consistently missed and commented on by all in the family.  The toaster!!  We do miss our toaster.

There it goes...

There it goes…

My own reflections during this transition process have made me realise how much material possessions we accumulate, especially just returning from Vietnam and spending time with family there and seeing how simple but easy daily life can be.  I know it is a cliche but who is actually happier?  In fact both sets of family are probably just as happy but I know which one has the more complicated life.  The irony is that we are going to have to keep most of our stuff in the 91 boxes for the best part of 6 months until we find somewhere big enough to live permanently and then move it all again – but this time just up the road.  I hope my wife remembers which box she packed the toaster in!

See you in 6 weeks!

See you in 6 weeks!

Thinking about (our) stuff and the pressures of consumerism reminded me of a couple of resources that I would like to share on this post, I have used them both on numerous occasions in the past for Geography lessons and also Global Citizenship workshops / sessions, take a look – I hope you like them:

The Story of Stuff.

Hungry Planet: What the world eats.

 

 

Poppy Mulford receives the Round Square Kurt Hahn Award in Jordan

A Public Speaker

A Public Speaker

Our very own Global Catalyst Poppy Mulford has now returned from the Round Square International Conference hosted by the King’s Academy School in Jordan.  Invited to the conference as the recipient of the prestigious Kurt Hahn Award for her contribution to service, Poppy was also the youngest student delegate in attendance. Before receiving the award Poppy delivered a 15 minute speech and presentation to over 500 adult and student delegates including HM King Constantine, the President of Round Square.

Poppy presenting at the conference

Poppy presenting at the conference

 

She confidently outlined her commitment to supporting young Thai deaf children, in particular a young girl called Yok and showed a video of her 450km Temple to Temple bike ride from Ayuthaya to Angkok Wat (Thailand to Cambodia).

 

 

Poppy and Nat - a very proud father!

Poppy and Nat – a very proud father!

Congratulations Poppy on a thoroughly well deserved award.  Good luck with your studies this year and we look forward to hearing about other global citizenship award Identities that you achieve as you go for your Global Entrepreneur Award.

 

Reflecting on the start of a new adventure

Being reflective

Being reflective

I am Manoj Chapagain, 19 years old and I am from Nepal.  After spending five years in Thailand; where I not only got my high school IB Diploma but I also had the time of my life. It was honestly the best experience so far because not only did I get my education but I also met so many people who helped to shape my life in a different way.  I got the opportunity to travel to many places and many other experiences which will always be part of my nostalgia.

manoj

I am currently a freshman at Westminster College, in the United States, Missouri, Fulton.  The life in Fulton is very different to my high school in Thailand. My school was near the city, which was designed for tourists, so there were lots of activities to do. Whereas here in Fulton, there is not much to do at all and it is a very small town.

Taking in the local sport

Taking in the local sport

College life is very different than I had imagined, you have got a lot of free time and you have to make sure that you do everything that is necessary for you to do. Which I am finding not very easy as I was used to relying upon someone telling me what to do during my high schooling in the boarding house, etc. Not only that, college is tougher than I though it would be.

Westminster Campus

Westminster Campus

 

This semester I am doing Spanish, Ethics and academic writing and a few others which are one credit classes.  They are all very interesting and challenging but the most challenging for me is Ethics. Ethics is a very interesting subject, I have learned about social norms and different perspectives of different ethics.  It can be very challenging because it requires a lot of reading and it can be hard to understand the main concept at times.

New friends (Frat boys?)

New friends (Frat boys?)

I am enjoying the experiences so far and I have made a couple of very good friends who I know are going to be life time friends already. I have also joined a Frat, I thought it would be a good way to experience American culture by joining the Frat, because it is one of the big traditions in colleges for many years.

Submitted by Manoj Chapagain; Being Reflective, Global Mentor Award

If you liked this post you may also like to read this:  The Michigan Difference

Congratulations to Jonah Crouch on achieving the Global Explorer Award

Learn to know, Learn to do, Learn to be, Learn to live together

Expressing the artist in you

Expressing the artist in you

 

To see Jonah’s portfolio of targets and reflections for the Global Explorer Award please click here.

 

Comment from Jonah:

I think that all 16 identities are really important and mean a lot to me. It took me quite a while and these identities are harder than they seem. 🙂

 

HillTribeProject034

Culturally aware and interactive

Congratulations Joanh on being an amazing Global Citizen.  We look forward to hearing about your progress and achievements in becoming a Global Leader.

Service learning

Service learning

 

The Rice Challenge – a Scottish perspective

Post contributed by Karen Partyka

buying the rice

buying the rice

Over the last few months I had seen many of my friends and colleagues do the Ice Bucket Challenge but for some reason it did not feel right for me. I had read on Paul’s blog about the rice challenge that some people were doing instead. It started in Angola where water is scarce and it would not be appropriate to waste water so they changed it to the rice. Then last week Paul nominated me to do the rice challenge. I had seen Paul donate his rice but living in Scotland I knew it would be quite different. So first of all I looked online for local food banks and found one quite close. Unfortunately the first thing I saw on their website was an appeal for urgent items, there was 5 items and 3 of these were chocolate, brown and tomato sauces. I reflected on if you were truly desperate for food, would chocolate or brown sauce be one of your top things. I suppose it goes back to poverty in the developed world is a very different poverty than that in the developing world.

at the food bank

at the food bank

I bought my rice and visited the food bank with my mum, there was no big ceremonial handing over of the rice and the people working there were polite but not particularly talkative. I had wanted to find out more about who visited the food bank, what were their situations but this was not possible.

When I returned home I remembered seeing a woman being interviewed on the BBC a few months ago. Her name was Jack and was a single mum with a baby son. She had to give up her job as it was impossible to work and look after her child. She calculated that with the money from her benefits and her outgoing expenses she had £10 left each week for food. She took a different approach from visiting a food bank, she went to the library and started looking for recipes which were healthy but also kept within her budget. She then started visiting her local shops to find out what time they discounted their food each day and with this information she started to live her life with her £10 a week. Jack started her own blog with her recipes and has built her life from quite a humble start with her son but she demonstrated that working hard and being resourceful is the best teaching tool for her son.

Her website is http://agirlcalledjack.com

Jack and son

Jack and son

In comparison to this there are quite a few stories of families in the UK who are living on benefits but who seem to spend their money on unusual things in their circumstances. One example is a family with children in North Wales. They do not work and their only income is through benefits.  Each week they spend £15 on Sky TV, £32 on mobiles and £240 on shopping which includes 24 cans of lager, 200 cigarettes and a large pouch of tobacco. It astounds me that a family would spend so much of their benefits on lager, cigarettes and SKY TV.

I remember meeting a lovely man whilst I was in South Africa on the RSIS service project, he was the gardener at the centre. He was a gentle man who was a grandfather and was already in his 70s. He was very cheerful and did not ever give you any idea of worry or need in his life. But one day through general chatting he told me that he walked to work each day as it meant he saved the money of the bus. The walk was 3 miles each way, so 2 hours of walking each day just to save his bus fare. The money he saved was not huge but he told me that it all adds up. Would people in the developed world consider doing this to save a little bit of money, unfortunately I think not.

All people have to take responsibility for their lives and to better themselves. I wonder in the UK, do people just expect to be looked after. If there was no welfare state would there be a motivation that it is up to you to better yourself, not the government to provide.

It is a terrible thing in this world that in the developed world we have people in poverty, children in poverty and families visiting food banks but there are procedures in place to ensure a child will not die of hunger in the UK. If we saw a child living on the street in the UK it would be reported straight away. In many developing countries countless children live on the street and people walk by them each day as they slowly die of hunger without a second glance behind. Each year 2.6 million children die of hunger.

Constructive paranoia

a convoy of cousins

a convoy of cousins

During my time in Vietnam and meeting new family I have been thinking a lot about a term that I read recently in a book by Jared Diamond.  The book is:  The World Until Yesterday, and is all about what we can learn from traditional societies.  The term he used was constructive paranoia and he used it often to describe a cautious approach that people living in traditional societies adopt to avoid danger or potential death even though to us it may seem an extremely low risk or even paranoid.  An example Diamond used was when he (frequently) stayed with communities in New Guinea and that they never slept under old trees at night for the fear that they may fall down and crush them.  Although the likelihood is small on a particular night, if you were to sleep under trees every night as many Guineans do then the chances of an old tree eventually falling down and crushing you increases, therefore the most constructive long-term approach is to avoid them altogether as sleeping shelters.

easy riders

easy riders

If you had asked me before our visit to Vietnam if I would allow my kids to ride on motorbikes in a country where there seems to be little regulation on the roads I (and especially my wife) would have said no way!  Nothing paranoid about that, just a total agreement that motorbikes are to be avoided if possible in countries like Vietnam and Thailand where the accidents involving motorbike accidents are high.  It is difficult though when you arrive in a situation that is totally new to you and you suddenly find yourself in the hands of your hosts who so happen to be family.  Things happen fast and people are speaking in a language that you don’t understand but you can start to gather an idea from the body language, gestures and the accumulation of motorbikes around you and triple the amount of helmets needed per motorbike!

walking in the river to the sand dunes

walking in the river to the sand dunes

Of course you think fast and make eye contact with your wife (and mother of your children) to quickly reassess the situation.  The cousins are all excited though and so enthusiastic to see you and show you around – they really want to take their new family guests to the beach.  The kids are all excited as well, the chance to ride a motorbike is a complete novelty to them and they of course believe they are indestructible.  Your heart says go with the flow but your brain is telling you that this is not a good idea and to think it through a bit more.  There is also the culture factor – do you stand your ground based on a mental risk assessment and possibly offend people that you have just met and are putting you up in their home.  Or do you shift your perspective and realise this is how people commute in Vietnam, everyone does it – you are placed on a motorbike days after birth!  Are we going to just sit in the house and feel safe and walk everywhere?

a flying sand dune in Mui Ne

a flying sand dune in Mui Ne

I know my wife’s feelings about motorbikes and what surprised me most was that she understood that this was an important time to go with the flow and to enjoy the cultural experience.  This doesn’t mean we should be neglectful of risk, still be risk aware – paranoid enough to be constructive but not averse to the opportunity.  We made sure that everyone is wearing helmets the right size and that the most experienced motorcyclists were in control of the bikes.  The cousins soon got the message that we were happy with the situation but alert to the potential risks in a subtle way.  They drove at a good speed and we always felt very safe without us having to say anything to them.

Mui Ne

Mui Ne

We ended up using the motorbikes everyday while we were in Phan Theit and Mui Ne and the family were over generous in their desire to transport us around and to spend time with us – telling us what time they would meet us and pick us up each day.  We could of course taken taxis but this would have been less sociable and not as an authentic way to see the country, plus the kids really loved their motorbike experience and each one had their favorite cousin to ride with – often sandwiched in between Oanh or myself!  If we had opted not to embrace this opportunity we would definitely have missed out on three amazing days visiting; the Flying Sand Dunes of Mui Ne, eating fresh crab on the beach, shallow river walking through a sandstone gorge, a sunset over Mui Ne bay and most importantly of all making close and honest bonds with special family members.

 

 

Getting to know your family

old photos

old photos

I met Oanh almost 15 years ago in Thailand where we were both working as teachers. Over 35 years ago she left Vietnam as a small child with her father, mother, three siblings and members of her mother’s family in a small boat seeking refugee in a new country following the war that ravaged Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s. Many thousands of ‘boat people’ didn’t make the treacherous journey into the South China Sea and were sadly lost to storms and piracy.  Oanh and her family were picked up out at sea by a Thai shipping vessel and were taken to Thailand where they were granted asylum and stayed in a refugee camp for a number of months before being flown to Australia and welcomed as new citizens to that country.  Oanh’s father tells me that his family were the first Vietnamese to settle in the New South Wales city of Newcastle and they have lived there ever since. His wife’s family moved to Queensland in Australia and his family remained in post war Vietnam and he has not seen them since they left that dark night in the small boat.

Family lunch

Family lunch

To be able to come to Vietnam and to meet my wife and children’s family and to get to know them has been a huge privilege and I am thankful and excited that they will have such welcoming and caring family to connect with in this part of the world for the rest of their lives.  Oanh and I keep suggesting to Jonah that he has the ideal base for a ‘gap year’ when he has finished school – but I don’t think he realises the value of this quite yet.

I have taken a back seat during our visit and left Oanh to get on with all the conversation and catching up.  They definitely have plenty to talk about!  It has been great for myself and the children to see her in full Vietnamese flow and using her native language.  It has encouraged the kids and I to also learn more Vietnamese and to use it with the family.  Jonah especially has made a good go of it and has been improving his Vietnamese numbers on a daily basis.  I have loads of questions to ask about each uncle, aunty and cousin but need to bide my time and I am enjoying just trying to make the connections and map the intricate network of families through my own observations.

Coconuts are a good way to break the ice

Coconuts are a good way to break the ice

Food is such a central focus of Vietnamese (and other countries in SE Asia) culture and social cohesion. Whenever we return to Australia to see Oanh’s parents we are always treated to a Vietnamese culinary delight, it has been the same here in Vietnam staying with her family. Oanh explains that it is the way in which they show love and affection. In fact Oanh’s mum says the secret to cooking good food is to think of the person who you are cooking it for, as it helps ‘flavour’ the food!  My children especially like the coconuts that Aunty Tam brings out for them mid-morning for a snack.  I wonder if they have brought them specially for our visit and are treating them?  They probably are.   Their love of children and family are obvious.

cousins on the beach

cousins on the beach

It has been good watching our children interact and gain in confidence with their relatives.  They have grown affectionately close to a number of the older cousins and there have been plenty of hugs going around.  Some of the cousins have their own children of similar age to ours and it didn’t take long for them all to start playing together and causing chaos around the house – language (or lack thereof) is not a barrier as it seems to me that you only need to learn a first name and then everything else is universal.

Jonah with chu Hat

Jonah with Chu Hat

We have been staying with one of Oanh’s aunts, BaTam, her husband Chu Hat and a couple of their daughters ( I think they have eight children in total – I know one daughter is a nun in Italy and the youngest two are twins who are studying in Saigon).  It has been great staying there and getting to know them and we have really appreciated their hospitality and kindness.  Chu Hat works especially hard for a construction company and has already left for work when we wake up in the morning and doesn’t finish at the end of the day until late.  He does pop home for lunch though and is always smiley and chatty (he speaks some English) and has a beer with me!  The two daughters that we have met are a great credit to them and it has been lovely getting to know both Thien and Nhung, I hope we see them again soon in the near future.

Zoe getting her hair done (again!) this time with Yung and Jonah

Zoe getting her hair done (again!) this time with Nhung and Jonah

It is hard not to reflect and to think about the ‘what ifs’ when learning about the past and the present in such an authentic way. I am looking forward to asking Oanh all the questions I have stored up over the last few days as we head back to Thailand.  I am sure she has done much reflecting herself and I will be keen to discover how her memories and perceptions have changed since her first return visit.  I wonder if one day we could or should live and work in Vietnam or if my children will ever consider the possibility when they are older?

Phan Thiet Beach and the Pacific Ocean

35 years years ago on Phan Thiet Beach my future father in-law made the courageous but decision to leave his country, his home and his family and took those he could out into the Pacific Ocean to seek refuge.  The fates of many lives were certainly held in the balance during that one night. I am certainly grateful that despite Oanh’s father’s paralysing fears of death and the responsibility he felt for so many lives that night, and the deep sadness for leaving the country of his birth that the quest for searching for a better future for his children over-rode those fears.  Life would have been very different if he had not done so, not only for Oanh and her family but also for me as I wonder if I would have ever met Oanh if they had not left?  As Jonah realised, “So I would not have been born if Ong had not left Vietnam?”

If you liked this post you may also like: Tale of my mum

Vietnam

Why is mum's maiden name on all the street signs?

Why is mum’s maiden name on all the street signs?


This is my fifth visit to Vietnam.  I had the good fortune to spend five weeks travelling through Vietnam over 14 years ago and have also been to the South East Asian country to play rugby and for work on a number of occasions.  I have always enjoyed my time in Vietnam and been in awe of the people and fascinated by the culture and history of the country.  This most recent visit is extra special though as it is the first time we have been able to come as a family and to meet family members that I thought we may never get the chance to meet (my wife was born in Vietnam). We have taken the opportunity to bring our three children to Vietnam and to allow them to discover and understand an important part of their cultural heritage hoping that in the future they too will want to return and visit by themselves or with their own young families.

we love our Pho - noodles

we love our Pho – noodles


We spent our first two days in Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City.  As soon as we had checked into our hotel we followed mum on a crusade to find the yummiest Pho noodles in the district, she had already quizzed the taxi driver and the reception staff at the hotel on where to find the best place.  I do wonder how they can decide the best though when you see the sign for ‘Pho’ everywhere in the city.  We love our Pho and are treated to it at home usually once a week and of course when we visit Oanh’s family back in Australia but there is nothing like eating steaming hot beef noodles on the street in Saigon – we had been thinking about it all the way over on the plane, and yes, they were delicious.  The little shop also had a couple of guinea pigs outside on the street which was a bonus as they kept the two youngest entertained whilst waiting for their Pho to cool down.

guinea pigs

guinea pigs


Saigon is an intriguing city with plenty going on and to observe.  Negotiating the traffic as a pedestrian is something to get used to, especially when walking with three young children.  The mass swarm of motorbikes that flow around the city streets seem to do so without any rules or regulations, it amazes me that there are not more accidents but they seem to have this understanding of where they are going and how to avoid each other – a bit like birds or fish in motion – but using their horns a lot!  When you cross the road you have to be confident and go for it (making sure you have everyone with you) – any slight hesitation and you could be in big trouble.  Of course on longer trips around the city it is a lot easier and safer to take a taxi and my kids loved the fact that the taxis had extra seats in the very back where they could sit by themselves.

I love taxis

I love taxis


Other than eating yummy Vietnamese food, which we are very good at, we also visited some good friends who are living and working in Vietnam.  It is always good to catch up with people you know well but haven’t seen for a long time and find out what they have been up to.  Especially when they have a lovely apartment with a swimming pool on the roof and a great view over the city and the Saigon River.  Jonah kept asking me if it was the Mekong River, which was good that he made the connection with Laos, but I had to point out that the Mekong would be much bigger as it came to the end of its journey at the coast of Vietnam.

The Saigon River

The Saigon River


We have a very early start the next day as we have to catch the train to Phan Thiet, a coastal city where Oanh’s family live and come from.  We are all very excited and are not sure what to expect – it is over 10 years since Oanh visited by herself.  We know we are coming back to Saigon at the end of the week for a couple more days and Jonah and I are keen to do some historical tours and the girls some shopping.  Sam wants to go and see the guinea pigs again!


 

The GC Award team gains two new members

We are delighted to welcome Karen and Katrin (both Global Mentors) to the Global Citizenship Award team.  They will be contributing to the website and the development of the Global Citizenship Award. To see the biographies of the two newest members of the GC Award team please click here.

Katiphoto

Remember that you too can contribute to the website at anytime and at the same time work towards your own Global Citizenship Award – just choose an Identity, set a challenging target, write up your reflection and then submit it here.