Just got home from a night out shopping at a night market. It was so much fun! After all of our activities today (more on that later), we had a free evening to do whatever we wanted, so another girl named Maggie and I decided we wanted to hunt down the local pool and go for a swim. However, we got a little lost and then we saw lightning, so we decided to turn back. It worked out for the best, however, because I then wrangled up a group of 6 girls to go to the night market in a part of Bangkok a little further south. It’s basically this huge outdoor touristy-type market that only runs at night (6pm-midnight). We took a cab there- about a 15-20 min cab ride which cost only about $5. We were told earlier today that the Thai people love to laugh and smile and our cab driver was living proof of that- first he laughed when we told him where we were going. Then he almost hit a motorcyclist and that sent him into another giggle fit. And when we thanked him in Thai at the end of the ride, he thought that was just hilarious. And it wasn’t in a creepy way either, he was just genuinely entertained by all of this. He was so funny. The market was really cool and the best part was getting to bargain for everything. I got some good deals on some gifts (yes, Jared, even some for you) and some lights for my apartment room next year. Things here are so cheap and if you’re polite to the people but firm about the prices you want, they’ll make the prices even lower. We had a really good time and came back just pooped.
This morning was AMAZING! First, our in-country program director, Pimsuda, started off with a little introduction and then we met the landlady of the house/next door neighbor. She absolutely loves the volunteers and invited us over to her house to have coffee and play with her dogs any time we want. Speaking of dogs, there are stray dogs EVERYWHERE. Just laying on the side of the road. It is so sad and some of them look dead, but then they wake up if you get close enough.
Anyway, after that we did this cool activity where they broke us up into pairs and each pair was sent out into the neighborhood on a mission. They purposefully did this without giving us any Thai language lessons first so that we would just have to use what we could to find our way around and interact with the locals. We are in a very typical residential neighborhood, which is really cool to see the non-tourist side of things. My partner was Olga, a girl born in Russia but you wouldn’t know it because she has lived in the US for a long time and doesn’t have an accent or anything. She’s from Missouri which makes us the only 2 midwesterners here, so we bonded over that. Our mission was to go to a local Buddhist temple and explore and then participate in the rituals in the temple if we wished. People of any religion are welcome in the temple and are free to participate in the prayer rituals there. We decided to go for it. In order to go into the temple, you must be dressed properly- no low cut shirts, short shorts, etc. We took off our shoes outside and entered. The room was fairly small with a large golden Buddha inside. We each received 3 incense sticks, a small candle, a lotus flower, and a small gold leaf. Very confused about what to do, we knelt on the ground in front of the Buddha. We must have been pretty obviously oblivious because a very nice Buddhist nun came over and showed us what to do. First, we lit the candle from another candle and then set it upright on a little shelf. Then we took the incense and lit it (I lit the wrong end first, but the nice nun politely extinguished my incorrectly-lit incense and lit the correct end for me. I’m hopeless. Then we followed the others by holding the lit incense and lotus flower between our palms and said a little prayer to Buddha. I asked him for a good stay in Thailand and not to make any more of a fool of myself in his temple. Next we placed the incense in a holder and returned the flower, then headed further into the temple. Here, we followed what the others were doing and shook a can of bamboo sticks until one fell out. Each stick has a number on it. We then matched the number on a stick to the number of a fortune on a little piece of paper. Mine said something about a bad omen, and that I have no children forthcoming. Well, you win some and you lose some I guess. Next, we stuck our gold leaves to the Buddha before leaving a small amount of money and exiting the temple. The experience was sooo cool and it was amazing to get to experience it first hand instead of just learning about it in a class or book.
After wandering around for awhile through a small local street market and purchasing small cakes from a local bakery, we got on a tuk-tuk back home. A tuk-tuk is a small cart attached to a motorized scooter. It is cheaper than taking a taxi and WAY more fun! The guy goes so fast and there are no seatbelts and you feel like you’re going to fall out but it’s awesome! Even better than Disneyworld!
When everyone had made it back, we all talked about our missions and got to know the neighborhood a little better. Our was by far the coolest one. After lunch, it was time for our first Thai language lesson (Sawatdee Ka, everyone!) and then a brief lesson on the history of Thailand. We took a little tour around our neighborhood and I bought some dried seaweed chips at a local health food store. They tasted and smelled life fish food, but actually weren’t too bad. I considered bringing them home to Francisco.
Dinner was a shrimp curry thing and then we all headed off for an evening of fun!
It is officially way past my bedtime, so even though there is sooo much more to tell you, I have to sign off for now. Hope you’re all doing well. If you have any special requests for Buddha next time I’m in the temple, please don’t hesitate to let me know and I’ll see what I can do for you!
Lots of love,