Thursday, December 9, 2010

Open Mind Projects Orientation, Nong Khai

On November 16th, I arrived at the Open Mind Projects house in Nong Khai around 8am after taking an over night ice cold mini van bus, which left me near the Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge instead of the bus station. A tuk tuk took me to the bus station, because the man had no idea what I was talking about when I pointed at my print out map to the house, and then I walked with my large backpack for a very long time in the early morning watching this small and pretty town wake up. Then I was awoken when two huge house dogs ran out of their gate growling and barking at me - they were literally at my crotch. I yelped. Some of you may know that I have an entirely irrational fear of dogs, which has dramatically decreased now that good friends have great dogs (Anna, Ursula). This "attack" did not help my fear. Thailands streets and temples are peppered with dogs, mostly those who have been abandoned. It is not the stray ones that I fear, but the ones who have a home to protect...but come on, I'm just a lonely blond girl with a backpack!

Moments after this I arrived at the house! Phew!

I met the great Pai and she left me to nap in the most amazing room I had been in in Thailand thus far. I slept soundly for one hour when I was awoken to meet two other freshly arrived volunteers: Ros from Australia and Cushla from New Zealand. After a brief tour of the Open Mind Projects grounds, the girls went biking while I handwashed some clothes, went for a glorious, serene bikeride down the Mekong River, wrote in my journal as Thai boys skateboarded and did tricks (things never change) and generally came back to my senses - the overnight icicle buses always do me in.

Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge in the distance
It is so cool to be able to see people on the other side of the river and to realize they are on a different country. You could just swim over.

Front row: Toto, Natacia, Ros
Back row: Me, Cushla, Pai, Leontien, Fernanda, Kai


That night, my new Open Mind friends (volunteers and staff) and I went out for a delicious dinner together (Aroy! Aroy!) followed by milkshakes and juices, although everything I wanted was unavailable!!
Natacia and Ros ordering food.

Kai, Pada, & Pai teaching

Day One of the orientation (Wednesday, November 17th), we learned how to greet, count, and order food in Thai. Then we went out to apply our knowledge by ordering food. It was great for me as I was already minimally learning the language, but could not grasp the numbers. Truthfully, I did not learn the numbers perfectly until I arrived in Krabi Town and had to use them all the time (with students, at the market, taking photos "Norng, Sorng, Saam!"), but it was great to be forced to learn them! So useful.

Day 2: We met Sven, the founder of Open Mind and got to hear about their mission and development over the years. Open Mind is a small organization and runs right out of Thailand with volunteer opportunities here, Laos, and Nepal mostly for teaching positions in poor communities and villages. While, yes you pay a fee to volunteer, it is a small charge compared to other organizations who have opportunities in Thailand - I met some volunteers in Krabi Town and they pay $1,500 a month! Their organization is huge with offices all over the world, but sounds like a easy and slightly unfair way to make some money! I like Open Mind because it is local. While Sven is a Swede with the most almond skin, who lives most of his days in Nong Khai, everyone else (Toto, Kwan and the trainees: Kai, Pai, Pada) is from Laos and Thailand. The dream, from my understanding, is for the trainees to learn English and then bring it back to their communities....

Oh, and they are all so lovely. Pai and Kai are the sweetest ladies and you would never, ever guess their ages. Toto is the resident dreamboat. Kwan is hilarious and I miss his smile. And Pada became my true friend! We stayed up one night trying to decide what movie to watch ("Up to you." "Up to you." "No, up to you." "No, no. Up to you.") and wound up talking about everything under the sun including philosophies. He tried his hardest (successfully) to make me understand his views, while I fumbled with my Thai-English phrase book trying to explain that my old job was in "HIV" "Safe sex" "drugs", etc, etc. It was wonderful. (We settled on the beautiful Heath Ledger in A Knight's Tale. Pada understood 50%, while I secretly bemoaned the loss of someone I never met.)

 Day 2 also included us going to Sala Ke Kou - a Hindu Buddhist Sculpture Park in which every small and gigantic sculpture was built by one man. How? I have no idea. Unfortunately, we could not spend any solo time exploring, but I heard that in the museum building, the sculptures dead body is on display. Lovely. It is a wonderful park and I would definitely recommend visting it if you ever find yourself in Isan - just do a couple of nights in Nong Khai. It's so peaceful.

Christian, Natacia, Kwan, Pai, Cushla, (behind her is Sven's sister), Sven's brother in law, Ros, Me sitting
After a visit to Wat Phochai, we were separated into food making teams. Christian, Anika (Sven's sister), and I were going to the market to buy ingredients for papaya salad, while Cushla, Ros, and Natacia (with help from Pai!) made a delicious fruit salad. Obviously my team won, I am a winner ;). But in all seriousness (and Thais are never serious), it was very fun to put together Thai language and culture knowledge to make some yummy food!

Team papaya salad
Learning to dance like a Thai girl
That evening we were entertained with great food, ladyboys (women, as we would call them in PC America), and karaoke. Us 5 new volunteers (along with Leontien & Fernanda -old time pros having been in Nong Khai for 3 months) were given white thread bracelets for good luck and flower necklaces.
Me and Pada!
Girls can sing Backstreet Boys too
Most of the crew went to sleep but a few of us stayed up late into the night drinking rice wine (best. thing. ever.), singing karaoke (Christian: "When I was a little kid, my friends and I had a Backstreet Boys gang and we knew all their song." I have never seen an over 6 foot tall, skinny boy sing Backstreet Boys songs so happily and well! It was a truly fun night and a great welcome to an exciting journey ahead!!

Pada, Fernanda, me, Leontien representing.

Note Ros' excellent drawings.
Kids love when you can't draw.
 Day 3: We taught. We were all split into twos and assigned the task of creating a 15 minute lesson plan to do in front of a class at the near by school. Ros and I chose body parts! It was so difficult at first to come up with a lesson plan without knowing the level of English the kids in the class knew, but I think we nailed it. I was surprised that I was not nervous, and Ros told me I was a natural. I am glad I have had a year to get back in touch with the very, very clownish and silly side of me. It has come in handy in this country. There is just no time to be serious - at least not in public! Everyone did a really good job, and we all provided good feedback for each other afterwards, that I still hold onto when I teach in my school. HOWEVER, teaching at my school is faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar different from anything I was prepared for. But that is for another blog post.

Kai, me, and Kwan
Fernanda and Leontien with some
teachers who worked with Leontien!
 And for our last night, Fernanda, Leontien, Christian, Cushla, Natacia, Kai, Kwan, and I went out on the town - after I was lucky enough to get a massage (thanks again for being so kind, you guys). We went to a reggae bar, and I have resigned to the fact that reggae bars are the place to be in Thailand. Then we went to the Riverside Country Bar to hear what Fernanda described as Thai country music - but really it was a mix of rock and pop cover hits. We danced. We sang "Chimi Chimi". We laughed. It was wonderful. I had a great four days in Nong Khai and have taken everything that I have learned to my placement and my ongoing adventures in Thailand!!

Rock out.

For those of you who have not yet been sent the link to "Chimi Chimi", you are missing out. This song is wonderful and has gotten me very far in this country, because how many foreigners (farang) request a Thai song in a Western bar on the beach in Railay (among other tales)?

1 comment:

  1. Awesome blog =) you got writing skills! Dominating it! I see you still laugh at me calling my BB crew a gang. Well FYI, we were like hardcore so yeah... I was in a Backstreet Boys gang, what of it :P

    anyway, hope your stay in Krabi is a lot of fun, have a good time for the rest of your stay in Thailand.