The weekend is nearly over...I begin my volunteer placement tomorrow! What have I been up to in the meantime?
1. Thai Language Lessons
It was less than a year ago I started my Spanish lessons with Proyecto Peru in Cusco...what the heck makes me think my brain is capable of learning another language now?? Well, its just part of the curriculum for one thing, but I also really enjoy it. Yes, its a struggle, and I tend to forget things immediately after hearing them, but learning a language really does make a huge impact on being able to absorb a culture and travel experience. Thai is fascinating, because it is a tonal language...one word can have several meanings depending on intonation. I struggled to get my "maa" sound right in order to say "I am from Canada", instead mistakenly saying "my dog is from Canada". The trouble is it all sounds the same to me...Its going to be interesting once I start braving the streets with my new-found vocab!
Fun fact: I blurted out "Gracias!" to my server at the restaurant. Apparently my brain has registered I'm in a foreign country, it just hasn't realized that Spanish is of no use here.
2. Tasting Thai Food
I'm sure you are all well aware of my love of food. Its one of the best reasons to travel! Yesterday the staff took me to a fancy Thai buffet to sample the country's cusine...it was wonderful! I really tried not to eat too much, but it seemed like there was always one more thing to try! How can one resist the tastebud-tempting flavors of coconut, ginger, lemongrass, sweet basil, lime, peanut, spicy chilies, and garlic? What is not to love? I've even gotten adventurous with seafood, sampling squid, mussels, prawns, and various fish. I still don't love it, but I'm giving it a fair chance.
I also tried some interesting beverages...there was a sweet coffee-like iced drink that I really liked, and today my new friends handed me a takeaway cup filled with ominously black liquid and weird jello-y tapioca filling. It wasn't terrible, and it was nice to sip on something cold, but I can't say I'm a fan.
The sweets have been interesting. I tried a warm vanilla-flavored soup with tapioca balls in it (also not a fave), sweetened baked pumpkin covered in a warm cinnamon-spiced coconut milk sauce which was surprisingly delicious, crispy sugar wafers filled with marshmallow and sweetened, deep-fried slivers of egg yolk, and a coconut macaroon-type square. Its nice that most things are prepared with a rice base so I don't have to worry about the gluten issue too much.
Fun fact: the staff were convinced I had told them I was allergic to "weed", not "wheat". It was a pretty hilarious moment when this misunderstanding came to light.
3. City Sight-seeing
Yesterday we visited the Benchamabophit Dusitvanaram Temple (I despair of ever being able to pronounce that), which was really beautiful. We even got really lucky, because it was the last day of a festival there, so it was an extra unique experience!
The 3 saff here at FFA are all locals, and practicing Buddhists (at some level, anyway), so they took part in some interesting rituals, including buying a beautiful bamboo "giftbasket" filled with fruit, rice, and water, attaching banknote, and then writing a prayer on a piece of paper to deceased family members. This prayer and basket are intended as offerings to the family member, and are given to a monk, who reads the prayer on behalf of the the giver, and takes the basket (which is then resold to the next person).
The other ritual was the purchase of some river snakes in a plastic bag, which are released back into the river after reading a specific prayer. The snakes are symbolic of good luck. You can also purchase small turtles on behalf of deceased family, or fish for protection against evil.
The festival also brought food vendors. Since we had just eaten, the most I tried was a free sample of a pork skin puff. Like a pork-flavored styrofoam peanut. Yum.
Today we did a different kind of sight-seeing...we visited some huge shopping malls! The Siam Paragon was massive, high-end, and elaborately designed. We quickly moved on to the smaller, cheaper nearby mall where I purchased some basic shoes that will be appropriate attire for my volunteer placement. I got my first glimpse of typical Thai tourist souveniers, and maybe its a good thing that I have no room in my backpack because I instantly wanted to garb myself in nothing but those infinitely comfortable-looking pants and dresses.
Fun Fact: both Cusco and here in Bangkok, the locals are so proud of their shopping malls and can't wait to show them off. Generally speaking, I try to avoid malls, and they are definitely not something I seek out when I want to experience a new country and culture. No matter where you go, malls all seem pretty much the same.
4. Sweating profusely
It is so hot here. So. Hot. Its like the entire city is a low-setting sauna...sweaty and humid. When I got off the plane and took my first breath of local un-air-conditioned oxygen, it felt like trying to inhale something solid. The heat is like a steaming wool blanket enveloping you at all times.
I am dying. And sticky. And my hair has gone completely feral.
Fun fact: the staff have been complaining of how cold it is, and they are wearing scarves and sweaters. All I want is to stand in the cold shower all day.
5. Getting Over Jetlag
My internal clock is slowly readjusting, but I've still been waking up around 3-4am, and feeling exceptionally weary at 6:30pm. Its going to take time. Jumping ahead 14 hours wreaks a little bit of havoc on a person.
Well, that's all for now! I'll check back after my first day of volunteering :)