Monthly Archives: February 2016

And Then I Raced a Chicken

WARNING: This blog post contains (almost exclusively) information related to bowel movements and fecal matter, as well as no pictures. Read at your own risk.
        I just finished my second homestay and the first rural one of my study abroad experience. And what I went through the past week wasn’t culture shock so much as culture “wait what is going on???”. I stayed with another girl from my program in a house a mile or two outside a small village in Northeast Thailand. For a week we lived with our host Mom (Mea) and Dad (Pa) (both organic farmers), dozens of chickens, a cow, her calf, and a dog named Fie. And what a week it has been. I’ll bullet point some things I’ve done then dive into one ongoing interaction.
In the past week, I have:
  • Pooped twice in 7 days
  • seen my first tarantula (in the bathroom)
  • used a bucket shower for the first time (you scoop water out of a bin onto yourself to shower)
  • Eaten star fruit for the first time
  • Weeded. In five days I developed two large callouses on my fingers from helping my parents weed their giant green onion plot.
  • Studied types of farming (chemical, GMOs, organic) and their impact on community dynamics
  • Continually confused the Thai language. Instances where I thought Mea was asking me to chop chicken for dinner when she actually wanted my teachers phone number were commonplace.
  • Freely talked about my bowel movements with Mea.
I’ll focus on the last bullet point.
On Tuesday, I, again, weeded the green onion acre. However, being in the crouched, hunched position did little for my ongoing intestinal problem (see the first bullet). Our teacher came to check in on us, and I asked if he had emergency laxative pills. He didn’t, but translated my request for Mea. She went from her usual sassy self to super concerned, picked me papayas from her garden and cooking bunches of fresh leafy vegetables. She brought me warm milk right before bed, every thirty minutes asking if I had pooped yet. My failure only made her more determined for me to succeed.
The next morning, I dejectedly emerged from the outdoor squat toilet bathroom area. Mea  she asked the usual question, with the usual universal hand motions for flushing something out of your system. Again, I sadly shook my head. She gave me a can of cold milk, then a glass of water. I was then told to run. And that’s how, at seven in the morning, I found myself in school clothes and Choco sandals, running alone down a beautiful, dusty road in rural Thailand.
Now, I find most motivation to run through friends or music. I had neither of these things, as she shooed me out the door crying “run run run” before I could get music or change. Alas, the road was deserted except for a few wandering cows. And then I found a chicken. It started clucking away from me and, spying a potential running buddy, I chased it. Chickens run surprisingly fast, and I happily drew next to it and we ran down the dusty road for a few glorious seconds.

When I returned half an hour later, Mea gave me a cup of warm milk and another papaya, then walk for twenty minutes. Lo and behold, success came half an hour later. Huzzah.

This did not prevent Mea from asking me at least twice every day if I had pooped and how I was feeling. When I relapsed the next day, she gave me more milk and never let me eat white sticky rice, only red rice because it was apparently better for me. Her parting words were: “study hard. I love you. Drink lots of milk in Khon Kaen (my home university).”
But the powers of papaya, milk, and running aren’t my takeaways from the experience, nor are lessons of stubbornness, hard work and good humor. No, it was more amazing what great lengths Mea went to to help me out in my hour(s) of need, and how much concern she had for my wellbeing and happiness.
And once again I am blown away by the lack of need for a common language to connect. She’s sassy and blatantly laughs at my attempts to do even the most menial chores like sweeping (it’s done differently in Thailand, apparently). But she still loves and cares about me, wanting me to come back next year and visit. And with all my heart, I would love that opportunity.

Food; the Most Important Meal of the Day

Let’s talk about spice. I can’t handle it. As in, the “mild” grocery store salsa had a fair amount of kick for me. At least five times a week here, my lips tingle, my tongue goes numb and my eyes water. However, I have the advantage of being “farang”, or “foreigner”. At my favorite Pad Thai stall, for example, they see my pasty whiteness and don’t even add a single chili pepper. Which is lovely, because then the flavors of shrimp, fried shallots and peanuts can come out. Delicious; sometimes I get it wrapped in a thin, cooked egg (see below).

I was a vegetarian for 2 years, then started eating meat again for Thailand. Food is a huge aspect of culture that I wanted to fully embrace, and I didn’t want burden/impose on my host families with my special dietary needs. And for both of those reasons I’m really glad I’m not vegetarian here. But, more importantly, I am supremely glad I get to try the street meat. Vendors sell marinated, grilled pork and chicken on a stick practically melting on your tongue with a bag of sticky rice for 20 baht (~55 cents) which is usually my breakfast.


I haven’t noticed much dessert here. That could be because sugar is in literally everything (smoothies, fried rice, and soup). But it also could be because of the fruit. The best mango, papaya, pineapple and other unknown fruits I have ever had have all been devoured in the past three weeks. And while that makes for a great dessert dipped in a bag of chili sugar, they are even better made into smoothies. Usually taken with a few large helpings of the fruit itself, crushed ice, and a few good heaping spoons of sugar. No matter what the fruit, it’s absolutely fresh and delicious.


Watermelon smoothie. Probably my favorite type, but I have yet to explore all the possibilities.

There are three foods that never cease to make me happy, no matter how my day is going. The first is coconut ice cream. Made fresh each day with coconut milk and with fresh shavings of coconut, this is heaven on earth. The vendor, a block away from our classroom, gets at least three or four American students buying her ice cream at lunch every day. 

The second delectable is banana-chocolate-waffles. My friend and I had five in two days. Mushed bananas are added to waffle batter, and the waffle is taken like a taco with chocolate syrup added to the middle.


One of the many banana-chocolate-waffles consumed in Chiang Mai.

The third amazing concoction is honey toast. It’s basically french toast with a lot of powdered sugar, chocolate, nuts, and fruit on it. It’s in most cutesy coffee shops that are everywhere around my apartment.


There are some foods that aren’t readily available in Thailand, including avocados, cheese, and garlic bread. And while I miss these foods, I have enjoyed the food I have experienced (except chicken foot soup and silk worms), regardless of if I can taste what I’m eating by the end of the meal and how I feel later on.

The rest of the images are an amalgam of food pictures I’ve taken to give you a better idea for what I eat on the daily. 


My roommate took me out for Korean BBQ. Yet another reason I’m so glad I’m no longer a vegetarian.


Banana-chocolate-crepe. With lots of whipped cream. This is my third of the day, and the enthusiasm is not lessened. At all.


We’re pretty sure this is duck egg. It, and quail egg, are available at a lot of street vendors and are usually grilled rather than hard-boiled.


A typical lunch at the U-Center; Pad Thai with chicken or egg and a kiwi smoothie.


Thai tea is not really what it is in America. It’s more of a blend of Thai tea and a foamy cappuccino.


I can’t remember what this called, but it’s a sort of pork broth with tofu, pork, egg and rice noodles that is eaten for breakfast.

Words and the Human Connection

This week, after seven lessons in Thai, I went to my very first home stay (!!!). In a “slum” community called Teparak 5, I met my host mom and dad. They speak no English, and by the afternoon of the first full day together I had completely exhausted my Thai, my most complex sentences including “my mom is a doctor” and “my boyfriend’s name is John”. But those exchanges had gone very well, especially with the aid of pictures.
On the second night I decided to go to the living room area and read with my host mom. My host mom decided she wanted a “late night” snack (bedtime is around nine thirty here) and I followed her to the kitchen area motioning me helping cut fruit, having completely forgotten the words to offer help. After much gesturing, I was handed a knife and started cutting something she called “boom”. I have no idea what it is in English, but imagine a potato mixed with an apple and a jicama.
My host mom started talking in Thai. I didn’t understand a word she was saying, but I don’t think she expected me to. She didn’t pause or look up from her “boom” cutting to see if I understood. Her tone was soft and almost sad; I think she was confiding some problem that had been weighing on her. We then sat down and ate the boom in complete silence, but it was a beautiful silence. I found myself a lot closer to my host mom than I had been twenty minutes ago. We smiled at each other a few times, a deep, full hearted smile that made me warm to my toes. It was the kind of smile usually reserved for close friends and family members, the kind that indicates a true connection to someone and full, complete trust and love.
And this got me thinking. While language is necessary to efficiently communicate needs and wants in daily life, there already exists a connection that stretches across age, gender and experiences. It can be tapped into and exposed, bringing a Thai electronics store worker and an American twenty one year old student together in the middle of the night in a small community by the train tracks.