The familiar smell of coffee entered my senses as we entered into a new place. There were cats that slept on the cushions and a lady who was ready to take our order. The background music played soft French music and the colors were vibrant on the walls. I ordered a Pat See Ew, which is the best I have had so far here. The place was enchanting in its simplicity and the atmosphere it provided. I felt a sense of calm and safety in a place that was new, but yet familiar in feeling. We stepped back outside to the back alley we had wandered down and strolled to find the Night Bizarre. Tourists lined the streets and were swindled by surprisingly high prices. I then realized if you were a regular tourist the prices would probably not seem high, because you would not know any better. We looked at the various items the Night Bizarre had to offer and avoiding the more hostile vendors. We chatted with a couple vendors that were very sweet and had interesting stories. One has from Nepal, has lived in Thailand for thirty years, but his people are Burmese. Family is ingrained in the culture here, and I can only imagine how hard his life has been being away from his people.
Friday morning we went to the Hilltribe Museum of Thailand. It gave a brief overview of the traditions and customs of the different Hilltribes. The Hmong, Lisu, Lahu, Akha, and Mien. The most distinction between them is seen acutely by the people who have lived here all their lives. I cannot tell the difference, but everyone living here knows the different tribes, accents, dialect, and clothing that each tribe is known for. I noticed on the signs that the actual tribes call themselves something different than native Thai people call them. A small enough distinction that has exclusion ingrained in the standard of the culture. Hilltribes are not seen as equal as ethnic Thai people, which creates many of the issues in why they are exploited.
Time seems to slip away as one immerses into a simplistic task that calms the mind and forces the body to focus. Living a more simplistic lifestyle is enchanting. The time allowed to spend the morning making soap and the afternoon weaving is refreshing and life giving. Living amongst the Lahu and the bright ideas of Adele, I am learning how to make soap, different teas, Thai meals, and even weave. School days are busy, but the days off we can do what revives us. So I spend the days off adventuring or making something. We are currently in the process of making soap and I have been practicing weaving with a Lahu lady here.
By the scale of culture shock, I should be coming to a low. Sometimes I forget I am literally in Thailand right now. As I remind myself, I get all excited all over again. The same jitters I experienced as I was packing to actually go. I have just become familiar and comfortable with my surroundings, but am soon to move to a new place. Next weekend, me and another student will be headed to the Mekong Minority Foundation (MMF) for our practicum. I am ready for the challenge and am unsure what to expect. Here is a link to what the organization does: http://minorityleadership.com. MMF is located in Chiang Rai and we will be taking a bus to get there. The upcoming four weeks will probably be the most challenging. I walk blindly into the unknown holding onto the pure excitement of being in my dream place. Having a chance to learn and be in the culture, rather than just observing it from a distance. Thank you for your continued prayers as the adventure, the learning, and the challenge continues.