As of this week, I am officially in Sing Buri for the rest of my Lumos project. Koh Tao and Sing Buri could not be more different. Sing Buri province is about 2 hours north of Bangkok. This beautiful countryside varies from epic mountains, to rice paddy fields, and rivers. Last year, this region of the country was flooded severely, but luckily, new dams have been constructed. The monsoon season here isn’t terribly heavy, but it rains far more than it ever did in Koh Tao.
Also, the volunteer company here is far more involved with their participants than my last location. This week was our orientation week and I have a meeting with one of the coordinators tomorrow to talk about lesson planning and gradually easing into teaching full-time at a local English camp. Currently, I live with a British roommate, Kate, and there are about 19 other volunteers based out of the Green Way center. Having this volunteer community to live with and eating meals together is a huge difference compared to being almost completely on my own in Koh Tao. I miss walking all over the island at will, but it is really nice to have a supportive group to talk with new experiences.
Though I am familiar with many of the things that the orientation week is introducing, it was nice to learn more about traditional Thai culture in a more structured way. We took a Thai language class, a Thai cooking class, and made traditional coconut bracelets. I found out that the word for night in my parent’s language (Malayalam) is the same in Thai- rat-tree. My knowledge of the Thai language has become much better. In Koh Tao, I learned much of the vocabulary from Thai friends or other Thai teachers. The Thai cooking class was wonderful. We learned how to make som tam (papaya salad) which has been an eternal mystery to me.
This week was so action-packed I’m going to try to organize it by day:
We spent the day getting to know the nearby Sing Buri town and how to get around. Going places like the department store, banks, and grocery store helped to set up house at the center. The volunteers attended a short Thai language lesson too. After we came back to the center, the local school kids came to the center and performed in a welcome party for us. During the last dance, they asked the new volunteers for the week to come up and dance with them. Most of the other volunteers were scared to dance with them for fear of embarrassment, but I just let loose and had fun with it. Sure, we didn’t know the moves, but maybe the point wasn’t to know the moves. 😀
Riding in the back of a truck with benches, the 4 other new volunteers and I visited Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya is one of the former capitals of Thailand. The four periods of Thai history are organized by capital: Ancient, Nanchao, Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, Thon Bun, and Bangkok.
Ayutthaya became a trading and cultural center matched by no other city for 400 years. Due to European influence many Asian nations were fighting among themselves for access to trading cities and European weapons. Ayutthaya was the location of one such battle from 1765-1767. Because the outlying vassal states did not support the capital strongly, Ayutthaya was brought to ruins in 1767, burned and obliterated by the Burmese. All that is left of the once thriving ancient city is the one temple that became the base for Burmese troops. All other parts of the city are rubble.
One of the monks at the remaining temple blessed the volunteers and gave us a bracelet of embroidered, white thread. This bracelet is a blessing that we must wear until it falls off by itself.
Personally, I am always interested in learning about the history of a country. I think that it is fascinating that some of the same political issues that existed then exist now. There is something unreal about walking through an area that now lays in ruin as your brain is trying to put the pieces back together to imagine the grandeur of that same place.
Nearby the ruins, there was a large market called the Floating Market appropriately. There were shops, food carts, and petting zoos at the Floating Market. We visited there fed Koi/Carp with a baby bottle filled with liquid fish food.
The volunteers, our coordinators, Phil and Mathiw, and Bum visited one of the local schools Wednesday morning. The school was a temple school, which meant that it is government-funded. The grades who attended the school ranged from 4 to 16 years old. Wat Tha Kam School was so much larger than Koh Tao School. The school grounds had signs with English and Thai proverbs on them. One of my favorites was Don’t Forget Crisis is an Opportunity. In some ways, I think that traveling makes these mini-crisis situations occur more often. The children were really sweet. We would visit classes and play games. I really missed my old students at Koh Tao, but I know that next week, I’ll get the chance to be back in the classroom again.
One of the most interesting things we learned about Sing Buri was its significance to Thai culture. A museum and memorial were constructed in honor of the 12 Bang Rachan Heroes. The farmers of Sing Buri came together to fight the Burmese in the name of their country. If it wasn’t for these 12 great heroes of Sing Buri, then Thailand as it is now would not exist. The battle of Bang Rachan was helpful for Ayutthaya to buy time to fortify their city for battle. Without the bravery of these civilians, Thailand as it exists now would not have a chance. The people of the Sing Buri region are respected for their ancestors’ bravery to this day.
Orientation week would not be complete without a little monkeying around would it? Well, we did just that after visiting Saraburi. In Saraburi, there is a legendary Buddha’s footprint revered by all Thai people. According to the tradition, if you put a coin in the footprint, you will go to heaven. The footprint is about the size of a large bath tub in the center of a temple covered in mosaic pieces of shiny blue, gold, and red. Also, there are staircases leading to the temple that are lucky for receiving wealth, love, or good luck if you run them at least 3 times roundtrip. Finally, there is a small, adjacent temple housing a 20-lb lead elephant that when lifted up by a single finger gives the person one granted wish.
Next, we went to see the monkeys of Lopburi. Lopburi became a center of Thai power after Ayutthaya fell. The town center consists of 3 stupas that were a Hindu temple once representing Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. The temple was later converted to a Buddhist temple, but the monkeys who inhabit the temple have been there for generations regardless of the creed of the sacred area. These monkeys have made Lopburi famous. It looks a little like a real life version of the monkey city in Jungle Book. It was a little crazy how desensitized the monkeys have become to humans. There were monkeys doing everything- eating, sleeping, preening, fighting, running, playing. The baby monkeys were everywhere too.
(Friends, I would post pictures, but my internet connection here is incredibly slow right now.)