Pottery Village & Temple Stay

Not a week goes by here in Thailand that we don’t learn and discover something new. Just in this past week and a half we have got behind the wheel (a pottery wheel), meditated with monks, and learned the many ways of a wok.

I am thoroughly enjoying all the hands on learning we get to experience here at CMU. Our classes really bring together what we experience in Thai culture and what we learn in the classroom. Everyone has different learning styles, I personally think using a tactile approach adds a refreshing source of reinforcement, since not everyone can absorb or grasp concepts solely from PowerPoint or lectures. The well roundedness of our curriculum is teaching us all how to think independently and gain valuable knowledge, while also enhancing our cultural immersion to make our interactions more genuine and receivable.

To my surprise, art has become the class I look forward to most. It has been so interesting to learn about the role art plays in Thai history and culture. After learning the background, we get to see some of the works, and then get to make some ourselves! Northern Thailand has a history of producing quality ceramics. The finest of ancient ceramic pieces that have emerged from the area were Celadon. Celadon is a transparent gloss that is used in ceramics to beautifully highlight surface textures. Available in different colors, here in Thailand, typically the green glaze is most popular because of its resemblance to jade, an admired stone and color associated with wealth and success.

 One of our art professors, Ajarn Meem, took us to Baan Muang Goong Pottery Village. It was a small, quaint village where it was free to walk through and observe the grounds and all the artists at work. Ajarn Meem gave us the tour and explained the various niches. We got to get a close look at the kilns, where the clay objects are fired at extremely high temperatures to strengthen the mold. It was so cool to see the artists in their environment and all the innovative wheels and throwing techniques they used. In this village they make everything from big pots and vases to candleholders. Most artists were either hand building and/or throwing. A lot of the artists who were throwing, were using small cleverly made wheels that they turn by hand… or foot. After the walk through, we arrived at a house with a sweet set up of 10 small stools in a circle, each with a wheel and a chunk of clay. Lets just say we quickly had a newfound appreciation for the artists we had just watched at work. They made it look so easy! So effortless! After ten or so minutes of fiddling with frustration the instructors helped most of us finish the job so that we could have a nice, and more importantly functional, little vase to take home.

The following Saturday morning we set off for our weekend trip and headed to Lampoon, one of Thailand’s oldest cities, located about 30 minutes north of Chiang Mai. Our first stop was Wat Pra Taat Ha Ri Phunchai, a very large temple with numerous structures dating back from different periods. This temple is peacefully situated right along a river where the bridge doubled as an O-top shopping area. Many wonderful different stands set up for clothes, accessories, and snacks. Of course we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to do some great shopping! We reconvened after shopping for a delicious family style lunch. The cashew chicken was a-mazing.

Next stop was to Wat Pra Baat Tak Pha. Beautiful grounds situated on top of a hill. We drove up to the area, but the other side has approximately 400+ steps up the side of the hill that lead to the temple. Ajarn Mike mentioned that in previous years students would race up the steps and quickly a handful of people said they wanted to follow suit. Sophie, Carly, Kyle, Will, and Vincent all trucked down the many steps preparing to race back up. The stakes: winner gets an ice cream courtesy of Ajarn Mike. The remaining people in the group stood at the top of the stairs cheering on our friends, watching as they climbed in the torturous heat. When Will, whom was leading the pack, got about 5 steps away from the top he sat down. We all shouted, “Go Will! C’mon don’t quit now, you can do it!” But he didn’t get up. Confused, we watched as the second place runner came up and took a seat right next to him. Each following racer did the same. When the last person reached that step they all stood back up, held hands, and climbed up the final steps together, stepping over the finish line at the same time. Ajarn Mike had no choice, but to treat all 5 winners to some much-deserved ice cream.

Next pit stop we unloaded from the Rot Dangs to have a go at some spelunking! After a 10-minute climb up a hill, we reached the entrance to the cave. Headlamps on and in we went. The cave was filled with stalagmites, stalactites, and a ceiling of bats; it was remarkably scenic, when you could see that is.

Finally, we arrived at the forest temple where we would be staying at for the night. Upon arrival at the forest temple, Wat Doi Lung Tham, we shared a delicious meal provided by the temple followed by our first mediation session. The abbot talked to us about the practice and teachings of the dharma how they related to meditation. Two different types: The 14 step hand motion to help guide your focus, concentrating on keeping your hands in the formalized motion; The second was sitting, 3 different ways to sit. We sat and focused on our breath alone. The busy day followed by the calming meditation session made for an excellent night sleep.

Greeted by dusk with our 5am wake up. I was hesitant to unwrap myself from my blanket as we gathered with the monks and traveled down to the village where they collect alms. After 20 minutes of following them, the sky began to lighten and we entered the village where people came out of their homes and were waiting with offerings. The monks chanted blessings to the people who gave offerings. It was so humbling to the many people out so early in the morning to provide for their community. In the midst of these happenings right in front of us, we saw a whole new meaning and understanding of Buddhism and its role in the community. We went back up to the temple, and shared the food that was all offered earlier that morning. After breakfast, in our second meditation session, we got the opportunity to learn about sitting and walking mediation, with a little yoga to go along with it. After a modest lunch of fried rice and fruit we had the opportunity to take a sauna that was especially created by the monks at the forest temple of Wat Doi Lung Tham. It was the most refreshing way to complete a relaxing, but busy weekend.

Back at school in the coming week we learned about one of Thailands’s biggest claims to fame… the cooking of course! Cooking class with a Southeast Asian twist. I bet you would have never thought our first instruction was to remove our shoes before entering the kitchen, but hey that is the Thai way after all. We were excited to see all the work and ingredients that go into the dishes we have come to love. We covered all the bases. We made a soup (Kluay buadchii- banana in coconut milk); two entrées (Muu thord kra thiam phrikthai- fried pork with garlic and pepper and Kuaytiaw phatthai- fried thai rice noodles (pad thai) phatthai) and a dessert (Kluaythord- banana fritters). Not only was the act of cooking fun, but we also got to enjoy the bounty afterwards! Comparing and tasting each other’s dishes, we saw that they didn’t all taste exactly the same, but they were all delicious. Plus, we got to take home the recipes so we can make sure to bring some of this new found knowledge back to the states, yum yum!!

This week’s blog post was written by Kori Hahn, pictured above. Kori studies nutrition and dietetics. Kori is from Long Island, NY. To view the photos from this week please click the following link: Pottery Village & Temple Stay.

Buddhist University, Temple Tour, & The Love Show!

We are now ending our fifth week of studying in Thailand. For myself, life is becoming more relaxing and a slower pace as I’m settling in with my host family and becoming more familiar with my internship. This week was mostly spent attending Thai language, culture classes and teaching at my internship.
For my internship, I’m interning as an English teacher at Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University (MCU). This university is for Buddhist monks and is located right beside the beautiful temple, Wat Suan Dok. Every day I have a different class schedule, which makes teaching exciting. One day I could be in a classroom with first-year students, who know very basic English, and the next day I could be with fourth-year students, who are pretty fluent in English.
There are four other students who are interning at MCU; Vincent, Ann, Youa, and Jess. We are typically teaching in a classroom with each other, but some days we may be teaching in a classroom alone. During class time, we try to make learning fun by playing English games like Pictionary and jeopardy. The monks seem to enjoy learning this way and they get very competitive! While playing an intense game of jeopardy one monk shoouted to another, “we are not monkeys, we are monks!”. The wide range of personalities is definitely something that surprised me while interning at MCU. I was expecting classes to be very quiet and calm, but it is just the opposite. The monks have a lot of energy and love to joke with each other. They are really great students and show a strong desire to learn.
This week in our culture class, we took a field trip to visit four different temples in Chiang Mai. We visited Wat Ched Yod (Temple of Seven Chedis), Wat Chiang Mon (seven hundred years old and the oldest temple in Chiang Mai), Wat Chedi Luang (the temple of the largest chedi), and Wat Umong (a temple of meditation and tunnels). All of these temples were so beautiful and hold so much historical value. My favorite temple we visited on this field trip was Wat Umong. This temple is the forest temple, which is meant for meditation. It is surrounded by outdoor beauty and animals, making it very peaceful and serene. In the temple there are many quiet tunnels to use for walking meditation. In order to fully understand Thai culture, it is important to understand Buddhism because it is the dominant religion in Thailand. Therefore, all aspects of life in Thailand are strongly influenced by Buddhism.
For Valentine’s Day we were invited to attend a special performance, “The Love Show,” by the Interact Center at the Rajanagarindra Child Development Foundation (RICD). Our our students Carly and Will were also a part of this performance because they are interning at RICD. It was a very fun night filled with skits, storytelling, songs, and dances that were used to express how we show love to one another. Most of the actors had a disability of some kind, so it was very touching to see their love for entertaining others regardless of any mental or physical impairments. It was definitely a perfect way to spend Valentine’s Day and a great way to end our fifth week here in Thailand!
 
This week’s blog post was written by Sierra Williams (pictured above), junior Sociology major from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA. To view the photos from this week click the following link: Buddhist University, Temple Tour, & The Love Show!

RICD & the Flower Festival

We are now just about one month into our time in Thailand and it has been a challenge and a blast settling into a new culture and surrounding ourselves with new people, foods, places and lifestyles. Throughout this adjustment, we’ve been learning so much, and as Ajarn Mike says, “everywhere is class” from our interacting at our home stays, to playing sports at the university, to grocery shopping.

One of the exciting places I am getting to learn this semester is in my internship. I am doing my internship along with one other student, Will, at a place called the Rajanagarinda Child Development Foundation (RICD), which is an incredible world-renowned facility that provides many different types of therapy and care for children with disabilities from all over Thailand. We are specifically working with an organization from Minnesota called Interact, who have come to Thailand for a little over a month to help put on a play with some of the kids from the RICD program.

I am so impressed by Interact and am very thankful to get to learn about their organization as an intern. The mission of Interact is “to create art that challenges perceptions of disability” and they have been bringing that mission here to Thailand for five years now as they direct plays alongside the RICD staff. This year we are producing a show called “The Love Show” which will premier on Valentines Day. They are also seeking sustainability with Interact in Thailand by working on training the staff at RICD to continue this program once they leave. It has been great to see their philosophy in action, which is “driven by a vision of radical inclusion. [They] collaborate with artists with and without disabilities, from mainstream and marginalized communities, whose stories and life experiences are the grist for our original, ensemble-generated theatrical work, and inspire the spectrum of media that are created” (Interact website).

In our internship, Will and I have really enjoyed getting to know the kids, being present – even when we really have no clue what is going on, watching the process, and jumping in wherever we are needed. Personally, I chose this internship because I have always had a love for children with disabilities and in the future I am hoping to go into Occupational Therapy. I have worked with kids with disabilities a fair amount back home, but working with them here, in a culture so different from mine, with a language I do not understand, and in acting, which I have never been very good at, has been very different then I had expected and I am thankful for how much I am learning through those differences.

Here are a few highlights and things we’ve seen so far during our time at Interact: First we have learned patience as we watch how the staff works with the actors, having high expectations of them and treating them as professionals while encouraging them every step of the way and drawing out their strengths. We have also observed and learned from many cultural differences as we see the way that the employees from RICD work in comparison to the Interact leaders from the US and see the mixing of cultures and styles in order to produce a high-quality show. We have also learned how while the language barrier may be frustrating, it does not have to be debilitating. Especially in working with people from this population, we have realized that merely smiling, making faces, holding hands and laughing can be bridges to form relationship. Finally, we have just had a great time seeing the personalities and strengths come out in each of the actors.

Every day I look forward to acting as a mega-person-alien-monster with Mina- one of the most wiggly, adorable little girls I have ever met, to laughing at Om-Seem as he steals the show playing Mr. Valentine, to being utterly impressed by Pii Pii and Fluke’s singing abilities in their solos, and to holding hands and sitting with Pii Chow as we watch and wait for the next scene we’re involved in.

Like most experiences in Thailand so far, this one has been very unique and has certainly pulled me out of my comfort zone, but I am loving the process of it and learning a lot along the way.

In addition to our daily schedule of classes and internships and doing life with our host families, we have also gotten to do some fun new things this past week. First, we had a wonderful art class on Friday afternoon where we learned how to draw and paint traditional Thai-style Lotus flowers and dragon-fish. It was a very fun and refreshing thing to do and definitely different from the style of any of the drawing and painting classes I have taken back at home. That evening four of our students, Youa, Mandy, Kori and Sophie, joined in a Thai Beauty contest which was a part of the opening ceremony in the Chiang Mai Annual Flower Festival. Those of us who were not participating went out to the event to watch the pageant and all around it was a very unique experience. The Thai people don’t seem to do anything half way and the pageant was yet another example of that, they had fireworks, live music and even TV coverage of the event creating a very energetic and exciting environment. Our girls did a great job wearing their traditional thai outfits beautifully and making great impressions with their thai language skills and boldness to preform songs and dances. Sophie even won the Miss Favorite of Tourist, which was certainly well deserved! The weekend continued to be exciting and full of different fun activities for each of us from fish-foot spas, to riding buffalo, to going on a night safari, Thailand has not stopped bringing new and fun experiences for us!

This week’s blog post was written by Carly Richardson, pictured above, left. Carly is a junior Kinesiology major from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA. To view photos from this week, click the following link: RICD, Art Class, & Flower Festival.

San Sri School

One unique aspect about the SST program is an internship to partner your studies– choosing from a number of opportunities, ranging from a Thai Hospital to a Buddhist Monk University. Every internship grants extraordinary chances, but there was one I couldn’t resist! The moment I saw the youthful beaming smiles and waiis[1] from Thai children at the San Sri Government School, I knew this is where I wanted to be.

This specific primary school is offered to the least fortunate children. Many come from poor tribal communities from nearby mountains, others from Chiang Mai. Our job is to teach English Language to the afternoon classes. Being native English speakers we are seen as the “cream of crop”.Ajarn[2] Mike described our presence there superbly. He explained how we bring the “best of the best” education to the poorest of the poor who would never get such exposure if it weren’t for us. We are seen so elite because any English taught to them has been from Thai teachers who had to learn it themselves, therefore having it be innate immediately makes us perfect for the job. In a school where there are slim chances of precious children ever escaping this “second class” social status, I knew the least I could do would be teach them English to the best of my ability.

Each internship offers special career development opportunities, but most importantly they are intrinsically rewarding. Each individual case is different, and by no means are any of the internships a piece of cake. They all present their own challenges and responsibilities, which is perfect because we are just as diverse of a group. We all began this journey together, but the places in which live we are coming from is a spectrum. Despite all of our individual journeys we are blending together beautifully.

After visiting places like the silk factory and Karen village combined with our Thai History and Culture class, we’ve learned the importance of weaving as art in Thai culture– it represents everything from your marital status to class hierarchy. Beyond just the physical action of weaving, the symbolism is profoundly metaphoric. Think of people as thread, each contributing their own color and texture to one unified tapestry, brought together by patient hands and interwoven relationships.

Each of us committed our time, energy and effort to learn, grow and serve in a foreign place. Every student is bringing their own opinion, worldview and personality to the group– we have such a well balanced, fun dynamic between students and leaders. Each one of us could be seen as a piece of thread, all coming from different places, but working together, building relationships and accumulating stories to complete the most memorable and exquisite piece that we will all cherish with us in our hearts and minds for the rest of our lives.

Who knows where this journey will end for any of us, but we can make everyday something great by keeping an open mind and absorbing the environment around us. I know I am redefining the term “listen” by being somewhere you understand little to nothing, and yet you can tell so much by simply watching. It’s a foolish attempt to try to predict things in our lives in ways we can never know, plus it’s actually pretty stressful trying to constantly nail down so many variables. All I am capable of doing is my best and trusting God with the rest.

This week’s blog post was written by Sophie Gianis, pictured above, top right with her students. Sophie is a sophomore Economics major from Covenant College in Chatanooga, TN. To view photos from this week, please click on the following link: San Sri School & Art Field Trip.

The Love Show at RICD!

 

You are cordially invited to attend THE LOVE SHOW

Rajanagarinda Institute for Child Development of Chiang Mai, Thailand partners with The Interact Center for the Visual and Performing Arts of Minnesota, USA to bring you a theater production exploring the many different aspects and faces of love. This collaborative project includes actors both with and without disabilities, American and Thai, radically changing the way societies view disability, and inspiring artists to realize their full potential.

Last year “The Song of Songkran,” a Thai version of “The Christmas Carol” was performed, and so well loved it was performed in many different settings to diverse audiences from around the world. This year artists were eager to participate in a new and fresh production the weekend of Valentine’s Day, “The Love Show.” This partnership is near and dear to Spring Semester in Thailand’s heart, as many of our students participate in an internship working alongside these talented actors. Directors of Spring Semester in Thailand Ajarn Mike and Ajarn Ann Leming have been instrumental in the beginning and continued production of Interact in Thailand. We would love to have you join us to see this magical production of many hours of hard work. See below for more information about “The Love Show.”

 

Tickets can be purchased at the door.

 

Show times:

February 13, 2015: 6:00pm (Thai)

February 14, 2015: 2:00pm (Thai)

February 14, 2015: 7:00pm (English)

 

For behind the scenes updates please visit music composer Aaron Gabriel’s blog.

To view a short video featuring information about this incredible partnership please visit this link.

To view a short video featuring scenes of the production process from the 2012 “Wake up & Dream” show please visit this link.

For more information in English call Mike (081-764-2391), Jenny (095-798-6965), or Mollie (090-274-1663)

For more information in Thai call 053-908-300, extensions 73134 and 73168