We spent the weekend in the charming town of Annecy in the Savoie region of the country. If you watched the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, this might be familiar. There were no signs of winter however, as the temperatures reached the high 90s and everyone in town sought the water, the shade, and the refreshments.
Today after class, we visited The Center for the History of the Resistance and Deportation, which is just around the corner from campus. It is housed in the building once used for the military’s medical college and then commandeered by the Gestapo when Germany occupied the city.
Lyon was considered the most important city in “Free France” before the Occupation in 1942, and it became the hotbed of the Resistance. Various groups engaged in subterfuge, such as publishing underground newspapers, producing false papers so that people could change identities, transmitting coded messages, and hiding downed Allied airmen. Others used more military means, such as obtaining or smuggling weapons and engaging in guerrilla warfare. The Center is full of photographs, artifacts, and eyewitness accounts from the women and men who fought for Lyon, France, and the free world. It was a sobering and moving experience.
Last weekend, we rented a car and explored Burgundy. This area, so famous for its vineyards, is full of charming medieval towns and villages. We rented an airbnb on the third floor of a 16th century house on the island at the center of Chalon-sur-Saone.
We visited Vezelay Abbey, considered a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture, and were lucky enough to arrive in time for evening mass complete with singing by the nuns of the religious order there. It was lovely to experience the building as it was meant to be used.
We explored the town of Beaune, and did everything the Rick Steves guidebook said to do there, including visiting the Plague Hospital and shopping at the outdoor market and then eating a picnic on the ramparts of the old town.
Thanks to Rick Steves and signs on the highway, we discovered the Chateau de Rochepot, a “mini-castle” perched above a village. It looks just like the castle in Shreck.
Ok, now that I am wrapping up my time in Thailand (currently sitting in the Chiang Mai airport), I thought it would be fun to do a comparison of Thai and American culture. I learned a lot in my Thai Society and Culture course that was so different from the U.S., so here are a few of the things I would recommend knowing if you travel to Thailand in the future:
- Take your shoes off before you enter many shops, restaurants, and definitely homes. It is a sign of respect and when you walk the streets you see shoes lined up all along the sidewalk outside many businesses. At home, I typically take my shoes off, but it’s not rare to see me wearing my shoes around the house for awhile each day.
- The wai! You should always greet someone (depending on their relation to you) with a wai in Thai society. Americans always ask “hi, how are you?,” while Thai people will comment on something new that they notice about you rather than ask how you are. My professor did this a few times and would say, oh you have a new nail color or something like that as a way to compliment you and be attentive. Americans also love to hug and show PDA, which is looked down upon to show affection in public in Thailand. I don’t think I have seen a couple kiss in public the entire time I’ve been here! Also, Thai’s view the feet as the lowest part of the body and you should not point or try to get someone’s attention with your feet. Surprisingly, Americans do this a lot more than I would have thought! While the feet are the lowest part of the body, the head is the highest and you should not touch a Thai person’s head at all. I’ve noticed that Americans are more touchy and we aren’t afraid to touch people’s hair or tousle a little kid’s hair when you’re playing, but definitely do not do that in Thailand!
- Stray dogs
- There are stray dogs everywhere in Thailand and many of the Thai people take it upon themselves to offer the dogs food regularly. This is very in line with their Buddhist culture, but it is not uncommon for me to see 10+ stray dogs on the way to class everyday. The dogs seem happy, but I can’t help but wish they had a true home! I wanted to take them all home with me!
- Seniority and respect
- In Thailand, seniority and respect is so important in how they live their daily life. It affects how they greet one another and they show great respect to their elders or teachers. In the U.S., I would say we show very little respect to our elders in comparison to Thailand. You would never hear a child disrespecting their family members the way that many American children do. It just doesn’t happen due to the way respect is so ingrained in their society.
- Good luck trying to cross a street in Thailand. Cross walks exist, but they mean nothing! In the U.S., I just start walking in a cross walk knowing that I will have the right away, but that is definitely not the case here. I have literally stood in the middle of the road and cars still swerve around me rather than stop for 2 seconds while I cross. It was an adventure getting to class everyday, but thankfully, I made it! :)
- Bathrooms/toilet paper
- This is one thing I will not miss about Thailand, but it honestly wasn’t too bad. When going to the bathroom in Thailand, you often do not know what kind of toilet you are going to have. You may have a standard toilet like in my apartment or you could have a “squatty potty.” The squatty potty is a bit of a challenge, but manageable. It was commonly found in the villages, restrooms at businesses or restaurants. You should always carry some toilet paper with you while you travel in Thailand, as well! It is about a 75% chance there will not be toilet paper available in the restrooms outside of your apartment or on campus. They rarely use paper products, including paper towels, napkins, etc. I really didn’t mind using less napkins, but I really didn’t like not having toilet paper, but I just learned to be prepared!
- The water is safe to shower in here, but is not safe to drink. Something I noticed that was challenging to me was most people just buy bottled water every time they need more water. I liked having my reusable water bottle and would just have a large jug of water that I used to refill. It feels like such a waste of plastic and resources to use that many plastic water bottles all of the time! It’s important to be aware of ice cubes and the sweat from your drinks, as well. All of these have the possibility of making you sick due to the water not being sanitary.
As I get ready to board my first flight of a 38 hour travel day, I just want to say thank you! Thailand has been such an incredible place to live for the past 5 weeks and I have loved my time here. Thank you, Boise State for allowing me to participate in this opportunity. I have learned and grown so much from this experience and Chiang Mai will forever hold a place in my heart. I am forever grateful. :)
I officially leave Thailand tomorrow and I am in denial. I cannot believe how fast these 5 weeks have gone! I have made the most of my final week in Thailand and have tried to take advantage of every opportunity to soak up everything this country has to offer during my time here.
Last Sunday I jetted off to Krabi, Thailand for a few days in the islands. I was greeted with a monsoon and had a few days with lots of rain, but was able to meet up with some other USAC students while I was there, which made the trip a lot of fun! It was nice to just relax and be in another new area of Thailand for a few days to celebrate being done with classes!
I returned to Chiang Mai on Tuesday night and spent the day Wednesday seeing a lot of new spots around town. I visited a few local art and coffee shops near the Ping River, where I had to resist buying a lot of art pieces that definitely would not have fit in my suitcase! My friends and I visited the Royal Park Rajapruek that afternoon, which is basically large botanical gardens, palace, and nature exhibits owned by the Royal family. It was beautiful! We also visited the Night Bazaar, which is another local market that we hadn’t made it to yet!
On Thursday morning we headed to Mae Kampong village as a getaway sponsored by USAC. This was meant to be a little retreat into the mountains to relax and celebrate the end of our classes for summer session I. It was a wonderfully relaxing two days where we had the opportunity to get Thai massages, sit in an herbal sauna, lay on hot banana leaves, make tea leaf pillows, go hiking to a waterfall, stay with a local family in a homestay, do some community service, and participate in tak bat (offering to the monks). It was a great way to end the trip!
On our way back from Mae Kampong village, we stopped for a farewell lunch! It was probably one of my favorite Thai meals so far! Ah I’m going to miss the food here so much! I can’t believe tomorrow is my last day in Thailand, but I honestly could not have asked for a better experience here. :)
I started the packing process for Viterbo today. I would show the pile of material so far, but prefer not to post panoramic photos. It’s a little bittersweet to leave family, friends and colleagues, but I know they are thrilled to see me go.
And now for the “study” part of Study Abroad. Classes began Tuesday. I am taking French Romantic Arts and Basic French Conversation. Both are invigorating and challenging.
Let me just say that it has been so fun to be in the classroom with these students as a student myself rather than a teacher. They are from all over the US and range from sophomores to seniors needing this class to meet their credit requirements to graduate. It has been fun getting to know them. And there’s something about having to do homework (instead of having to grade) that’s just a little bit more fun. Tomorrow we are looking at a key moment in the French Revolution, and I have to play the role of a member of the Jacobin Club. Since I don’t even know what the Jacobin Club was, I had better get busy!
As I prepare to head home in 4 days (soooo bittersweet), I’ve been reflecting a lot on this experience. I have been so fortunate to experience so much in the last 5 weeks and I thought I would share a few of my favorite things that I will certainly miss about Thailand. :)
1. $6 Massages
I have gotten so spoiled here having a full body Thai massage every week for the equivalent of ~$6 USD. Somehow it has become to normal to text my friends and ask to meet up for dinner and massages?! The Thai massage is a technique I will definitely miss this when I’m home! People come from all around the world to train in Thai massage here in Chiang Mai and there are endless massage businesses in the city. We have found a place we really like that offers us pineapple cookies and tea after the massage, so we were sold instantly! :)
2. $1 taxi rides
I will never get over this. I can hop in the back of a red truck/songthaew to go literally anywhere in the city (5 minutes or 50 minutes away) for about 30 baht (~$1 USD). It has been SO nice to get around and explore the city in an affordable way!
3. Never ending food options
I love being able to walk out of my apartment and find literally hundreds of food options within walking distance. Sure, there are some questionable food options (like fried crickets) or meat that has been sitting out for awhile (do not eat this!!), but the street pad thai is SO good. I have grown to find some favorite Thai dishes and just make sure to ask for them less spicy so that my American tastebuds can handle it. :)
4. Buddhist culture and temples
I still can’t believe I have been able to learn so much about Buddhist culture while being here. It is truly a way of life almost more than a religion to the Thai people. I find Buddhism fascinating and it has taught me to be mindful, present, and enjoy life’s smallest blessings. It has been the perfect fit for me to be reminded to find the joy in everything throughout these 5 weeks.
5. Spirit houses
When I first arrived in Thailand, I began noticing these little temple-like houses at the corner of many people’s property. I was obsessed with them and their beauty! I was so intrigued by these that I did my final class presentation on spirit houses! I assumed they were a ritual in Buddhist culture, but ended up learning that they are based around animism. Animism is the belief that a spirit world exists and that the spirits can be powerful, controlling, and can bring a lot of blessings. Before Buddhism was introduced in Thai society hundreds of years ago, animism was the primary spiritual/religious belief.
In the cities, spirit houses are often placed at the entrance to gas stations, government buildings, apartment complexes, shopping malls restaurants, and local markets. In the countryside, wooden dwellings blend into the landscape on rice fields, bridges, barns, large trees, and Buddhist temples.
There are complex rituals and rules to construct or take down a spirit house. These decisions are made by an astrologer or a ritual expert (Brahmin priest). They are able to communicate with the spirit world and invoke the land guardians into the statues (little figurines) that are placed inside the spirit house.
Daily offerings of food and drinks, garlands and incense are given to the spirits to ensure they feel content in the Spirit House and Thai’s believe that if the spirits are properly provided for then they will not only abstain from haunting the house or business but will bring wealth and prosperity. It has been so fun to see these around Thailand! They are all so unique and beautiful!
6. The PEOPLE
I have met so many wonderful people in Thailand. There’s definitely a reason they call Thailand the land of smiles! Everyone has been so kind and always says hello back to me even when I probably pronounce my Thai words strangely. I love seeing the barista at my favorite coffee shop every morning. I love saying hello to the lady on the street who sells mango every day by my apartment. I love stopping by to grab a fresh smoothie from Mommy Thailand (her actual smoothie shop name) and getting my palm read (she’s a jack of all trades). I love going to my class and hearing Ajarn Keat talk about his life for literally hours and laughing every single morning. I love the USAC staff and students who have treated me with nothing but kindness.
As I flew back from a short trip to Krabi this week, I was smiling as I saw the temple on top of Doi Suthep and how I could recognize where my road was from the sky. I felt like I was truly coming home to Chiang Mai. It reminds me so much of Boise with the temple at the top of the mountain, so similar to Bogus Basin or Table Rock that you can see from anywhere around town. I have fallen in love with this city, the people, the food, and I am so sad to be leaving so soon. I can’t wait to make the most of my last couple of days here before my long journey home.
I finished up my last class and final presentation on Friday, so now I have a week of exploring to do before we have our final USAC trip next Thursday! I decided to do a full day tour of Chiang Rai, which is another city in Northern Thailand (about 3 hours away). I booked with a local tour company and they took care of everything including transportation, lunch, temple tickets, etc. We fit a lot into the full day trip, but it was a wonderful experience!
Our first stop was at Wat Rong Khun, which is more commonly known as the White Temple. I have heard about this temple for a long time and was so pumped to finally see it in person. It is a unique temple in that white is typically not used in Buddhist temple designs, and this temple bridges the gap with modern design and the Buddhist culture. It was stunning! You cross a bridge to get into the temple and there are these hands reaching up supposedly from hell to try and get in to the temple. It was very interesting and the temple design elements were just amazing.
We headed to the next temple for the day, Wat Rong Suen Ten, most known for being the Blue Temple. This temple was designed by a student who studied under the designer of the White Temple. It was another modern, contemporary design and the interior was the most stunning temple I have seen so far. It was magical!
We headed to Baan Dam (Black House), which is a museum showcasing the Lanna woodwork of a famous Thai artist, Thawan Duchanee. There were 40 buildings on the property to explore, all of which Thawan Duchanee designed and built. The craftsmanship and woodworking was incredible!
Our final stop was the Golden Triangle, which is where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet along the Mekong river. We took a boat over to Laos and were greeted with some very strange Laos whiskey (I did not drink it – yikes!!). We spent about an hour in Laos at the local market and then headed back to Thailand to make the journey back home to Chiang Mai!
On our first morning in Lyon, the USAC staff arranged a walking tour (both French & English) of Vieux (Old) Lyon. This was a lovely way to be introduced to the history of the city. We covered a lot of ground, literally and figuratively, in two hours, more than I could pack into one blog post, but here are some highlights:
The view from the Basilica Notre Dame de Fourviere:
(More on the Basilica and on Fourviere later, because we will go there again.)
Traboules: these are fascinating passageways — complete with courtyards, stairways, and balconies — hidden between buildings. Some of them were created intentionally as shortcuts and others were created as a by-product of construction. They turned out to be very important over the centuries for the safety of the locals during times of conflict and war. Townspeople saved many church treasures during the religious wars by hiding them there, and the Resistance used them for hiding during the Nazi occupation of World War II. Now, they serve as both tourist curiosities and as entrances to private residences.
And after that, it was time for our first traditional 3-course lunch. The stripes on our faces are to show that we are rooting for France in the World Cup. Neither of us actually cares about soccer, but the game was a big deal here. Later that afternoon, when we were back atop Fourviere, we could hear a collective cheer rise from the city when France won the match.