Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Into the Village

The next week and half we spent in Phaitone (Pie-tone) near Phrae (I can't for the life of me get the tone right, but it sounds like a cross between Pray and Pruh) with Liz the Peace Corps volunteer, volunteering, shopping, getting Thai-napped and kicking it village-style.

After another overnight bus from Luang Prabang to the border, getting back across the border, getting to Chiang Rai, then to Phrae, and THEN to Phaitone, we were beat, so the first day or so was pretty low-key. On Thursday, I inhaled some much-missed Pad Thai and orange Fanta (I might be a little addicted to both) and on Friday we chilled, organized, and were once again Thai-napped by the adorable Ba Pat! Ba Pat took us to her house to get her nephew, Bom, who is a 19-year-old university student studying English, home for the weekend, who naturally had to practice on the THREE farangs. Bom, who we had met on the bus to Phrae by chance, is adorable too, and we had so much fun with them!
We went to a random agricultural university to look at the buildings and at their recent environmental efforts--using corn husks as fuel--and I taught Bom a few words in English. After that, we went to my soon-to-be favorite restaurant in the area, Kuma Garden. There, we were introduced to papaya salad (technically we had already tried it, but this was the first time we LIKED it), Thai fried chicken (nothing like ours, but amazing), cocoa yen (basically iced Ovaltine, a staple here) and some other dishes including another favorite, Cashew Nut Chicken. It was a wonderful evening, laughing, eating, and we left more in love with Ba Pat and Bom than ever! (And I fell in love with the puppies that were living at the restaurant, of course). They eventually dropped us off at the bus station, where we saw for the first time the Thai national sport--it sort of looks like volleyball, but you can't use your hands, and the ball is a small ball made out of a holey basket (does that make any sense?). I also unfortunately spilled my water in the lap of a fellow bus rider (shocking, I know) but we made it in one piece, and proceeded to rest up for another Thai-napping the following day!
The next full-day Thai-napping was rather exhausting. We got up early to catch the first bus, couldn't take it as it was too full, and relied on my now expert hitchhiking skills to get us a ride into Phrae (don't worry, Mom, Liz knew the drivers, and I didn't have to show ANY leg). The little family crammed us into the truck, got us water at a stop (GENEROUS) and I'm afraid we traumatized the little boy, who refused to talk or unglue his gaze from the window pane.
After perusing the shops (we do a lot of that on this trip) we met up with Ba Pat, her sister, and Bom at Tesco Lotus, a store sort of like Walmart. After being persuaded to buy coconut yogurt over plain, then being persuaded to put it back as it wouldn't last in the car, we all climbed in to visit what Liz termed the "LSD Wat." On the way, of course we had to stop and visit some local teak woodcarvers and sample some deep-fried bananas (ding ding ding!! don't worry, we got a recipe!).
As for the wat...quite a wat it was! Colorful, crazy, Buddha statues and dragon statues and little mirrors and gongs to ring and good luck to acquire...and of course, we had the best guides ever in our little Ba Pat and Bom.
After the wat, we said a sad farewell to Bom--he was going back to university--and we were unceremoniously switched to another Thai-napper, a crazy teacher Liz knows in Phrae. She had us take pictures with her all of her Saturday-school students, and we went off to dinner, listening to her outrageous music and laughter.
The restaurant was right on a pond--you could even fish for your dinner, if you wished! It also had it's own karaoke bar, another Thai obsession I'm told (in which we did not partake, although Crazy Teacher could have with her endless consumption of whiskey sodas). It was another Thai-style dinner, full of mysterious dishes and surf-and-turfing. None of these dishes caught my fancy as much as Kuma Garden, but hey, they were okay, and the fish was VERY fresh!

The next day was somewhat of a milestone for me--I took my first bucket shower! And not out of necessity; it turns out Liz's little roommate Lyette (yet another adorable Thai person) has hot water in her bathroom, so I had used that our first night. I used it because it was a million degrees, I was sweating, and it sounded great. And great it was, even though I let out an involuntary and embarrassingly feminine squeal (well, Court screamed and had me running to the door to make sure she wasn't getting attacked by the giant spider who is a resident of Liz's bathroom fan) as the first bucket full of freezing water cascaded over my head. I can see, though, how it could get old (shaving my legs was an experience I would like to avoid) and taking one in the freezing mornings, ouch! We also made pancakes on Sunday, and we watched as Liz's neighbors watched her, mesmerized, as she ate three whole pancakes. They have an obsession with food and fat and think Western food immediately makes you chubby--they won't even have a bite of peanut butter, but they inhale rice by the gallons!!

Monday was our day of volunteering in Liz's Monday/Wednesday school (she teaches at two, if you hadn't guessed). It started out interesting, as Ba Pat and Liz gleefully announced we had to introduce ourselves to the entire school over the loudspeaker. After sending the students into guffaws when I announced my Thai name, Macgaw (still not sure why--maybe I just have a hilarious face) we went around to the classrooms, teaching kids a song from Girl Scout camp (no, I haven't forgotten those, they are imbedded in my brain) called Bananas of the Universe Unite! and sort of feeling like show monkeys.
The Thai schools are very different from American--all students wear uniforms, they all have to have the same haircuts, the students have to clean up after themselves and the teachers (no janitors) and the organization pretty much ends there. But still, even though I'm not sure how much teaching I did, and how much the students learned from me or really from anyone at that school, everyone is really nice, and most of the teachers really care about their students.
We were treated to lunch there, and I discovered my favorite Thai dessert: pumpkin chopped into a coconut-sugar sauce. It sounds weird, but it's amazing! I have that recipe too :).
The next day, we went to Liz's other school, which seemed more organized, and a little more fun. We learned the Loy Krathong dance (for the upcoming lantern/river festival) and song, and taught the kids the words in music. We also taught the kids about Christmas, which was pretty cute. One kid wanted to put his stocking up tonight to see if Santa would come, and others looked at me like I was insane as I tried to describe Santa's mode of transportation (a flying sleigh pulled by flying deer DOES sound a little crazy, doesn't it?).
After lunch, and after a few other lessons in being stalked by the paparazzi--at one point kids were hiding under cars to look at us, and all the 8th grade boys were comparing their biceps and sneaking peeks at us, and many kids came up just to stare, to ask questions in the few words of English they know, or just to wave and smile, we went on an impromptu field trip with Liz, her co-teacher and some girl students to look for this old man who makes traditional rice baskets. We observed him skillfully make a basket which would have taken me three days minimum, and enjoyed the Thai-style field trip: kids all over the place, taking the long way around, picking flowers, cartwheels in the road, no parental permission, and eventually winding our way back to the school in the blazing heat.
That evening, we made spaghetti with Liz and her neighbors, which almost tasted like spaghetti from home and was a fun, hilarious time spent dancing and singing and chasing the cute kittens around (yes, I'm obsessed with the animals here, ha).
Wednesday, we gave Liz a break and didn't go to school with her in the morning, although we were invited over as honored guests (they even had food brought in from a restaurant) to eat lunch with the principal. More interesting food, some delicious, some weird, all of which I had never tried before. The fish was not so good, but some asparagus/mystery meat thing was quite delicious!
That afternoon, we learned how to make fried bananas, bid Ba Pat a tearful farewell (don't worry, we are already plotting on how to best bring her to America) and spent some time with a villager who is German. As one of the only farangs in town, he was excited to have farang visitors, and we had a little kanom (snack) fest in his little garden.
Thursday, Court and I headed in Phrae to learn how to use the traditional indigo dye. It was fascinating to be taken behind a normal shopfront to tubs of homemade indigo dye in the yard. We dyed handkerchiefs and shirts (and I dyed part of one of my shoes) and played with their adorable puppy, Sugar. We also learned about the organic fabric and all the details of the business for Court's job back home, which is in fair trade. The organizer of the little business, yet another adorable and generous Thai lady, drove us everywhere and provided us with cookies and water. The day also included a visit to the post office and a quest for coconut milk to make the pumpkin dessert I spoke of, which, despite the overflowing of the pot of sticky coconut milk all over the floor, was a success!!
That evening, Megan, another Peace Corps friend that we also love, arrived, as we were all heading to Chiang Mai on Friday for Loy Krathong!! We had a great time at the little restaurant eating Pad Thai and embarrassing the locals (at one point, Megan tried on a policeman's force ring, and the look he gave her was hysterically horrified). Megan also introduced us to Glee, and brought Oreos, so we had a fun little girl night--a good predecessor to the amazing weekend to follow!
But, more on that later, it's dinner time for me!! xoxo

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