Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Now here's a little story about cross cultural understanding! There's a teacher at a bible school in the village I work in just up the street. The teacher is a middle-aged American guy, who clearly has been teaching in strict Catholic schools for way too long, and I guess he had a hard time embracing one aspect of Karenni culture, which is that they have no problem with horkin' up a fat loogie.

SIDE NOTE: Actually it was pretty hilarious, a little while ago I was talking to one of the girls at work. Imagine a beautiful young woman with long hair, who is soft-spoken, shy, and has a smile that'll make your heart melt. Half of the men here have fallen in love with her. Anyway, I'm talking to this girl and I'm in mid sentence when a snort rages through her sinuses that I was worried would start a land slide. She turns to one side and drops a huge wad on the ground that would have filled a shot glass. Personally, this is one part of the culture which I think is amazing! and I have fully embraced the spitting ways! I can't wait to play the culture excuse card whenever I wanna hork back in Canada.

Okay back to the story. This teacher starts punishing his students every time they spit because he thinks it's rude, and it's not like they do it inside the class or anything, they just walk over to the window when they have to spit. The kids are at a total loss, having no idea why they're being punished. Eventually, one of the other adults at the school explains to him that in Karenni culture it's considered rude and quite disgusting to sniffle and then not spit, because that means you're swallowing it. So this guy felt like a bit of an jerk at the end of all that.

As of today the office is closed for Christmas. I've got a few fellow volunteers that are coming up to my place for Christmas. Some are staying with me since they're coming up from Chiang Mai, so it'll be a full house which should be fun. Merry Christmas!

My Mom and Sister Visited

Well it's been a while, so I guess I have a lot to catch up on. A while ago my mom and sister came to visit, and we went travelling around Thailand a little bit. Highlights included bamboo rafting, beachin' it, getting taken out on a sail boat, and going on a “short” drive to the wild sunflower fields just to get stuck out there after it got dark and winding up staying the night in an empty dorm of a small boarding school. It was pretty unreal but mostly it was just really nice to see my mom and my big sister. It really helped to recharge my batteries.

Oh! bamboo rafting: So there we were enjoying a drift down a meandering river at an easy pace with a local man driving the raft with a long bamboo pole that he used to push off against the river bed to direct us. This were going smoothly, we were laughing and joking until our local guide decides get my sister to drive. for anyone who doesn't know my sister – the last person I would choose to do anything remotely athletic or involving hand-eye coordination. In five seconds we drove directly into a rock. I literally still wonder if she even attempted to avoid it. Straight as a ruler into the rock.

Anyway, the driver took over and we were moving smoothly again, and eventually we came to a narrowing of the river where there were some kids playing and splashing in the river. I got a feeling as we passed these kids. Although I couldn't make out what they were saying in Thai, I knew they were planning to ambush us. I just knew it. As we passed, I stared into one kid's eyes for what felt like a hour and a half. It was like I was the Batman staring down the Joker while I was speeding towards him on my motorbike while the Joker is muttering, “C'mon I want you to do it, I want you to do it, C'mon hit me. HIT ME!” Then without thinking I pulled the trigger and I splashed that little kid as fast as I could. 

Totally worth it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mary Thompson's Prize

Here is Mary Thompson's video dedication. For those of you who didn't read the comments the answer to what the theme was in the puppies names was that they're the RESERVOIR DOGS!! At least I know there is one Quentin Tarantino fan out there who got it right. Anyways this one is for you Mary. Sorry it took me so long to get the video up.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Life or Whatever

Starting to spend more and more nights out in the village that I work in. I've only spent one night at home this week; a testament to how much I'm starting to love this place. We also had a new volunteer arrive. It has been really nice to have someone who is going through the same things as me. 

Life is laid back. Everyone, and I mean everyone, plays guitar as much as I do. I leave my guitar at the office now. I don't even have to ask people if they play the guitar. I just hand them a 6-sting and tell them to play a song. Knowing how to play the guitar has never been such a useful skill! To be more specific, knowing how to play Country Road by John Denver, and Hotel California by the Eagles have never been such useful skills. We'll see how much cheesy pop music I can take but so far I've been able to nod and smile at the N'Sync, or Katie Perry or whatever bull shit.

I just realized that I've never talked about what I'm actually doing here! Well, my organization develops projects on the Thai side of the boarder, and then we send our staff into the Karenni State to carry out these projects. Right now we're setting up community forest management bodies, doing research on the proposed dams that the military government plans to build, doing environmental education campaigns and researching traditional medicinal plants. Trade is blocked going in and out of conflict zones (this includes medicine) so we are trying to increase the knowledge about medicinal plants to be used as an alternative. 

Another pretty cool thing is that I'm riding a motorcycle here, and it is freakin awesome! I feel like I'm dirt biking when I drive to work. And for all of my readers who are aware of my accident-prone track record, rest assured, I have not yet killed myslef!

OH YA! Last week 3 friends from Scarborough just popped through town. hahaha! I'm on the other side of the world and friends just happen to be passing through town. Ania, Ange, Tiana and I had a pretty good time. Although there was one minor blip in the visit when Ange put a 3000 Baht scratch into the truck of the chief's wife. Stay tuned for the “Cribs” episode we filmed at my house.

P.S. A dog that lives out in the village had puppies yesterday. I'll call them Mr. White, Mr. Orange, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Blue, and Mr. Brown. Anyone who can guess the common theme in the names of the dogs wins a special video dedicated to them that I will post on this blog. Post your guesses as a comment bellow!! LET THE GUESSING BEGIN!!!

Friday, October 22, 2010


In the first conversation I had with a man I work with, he told me that 20 years ago the Burmese Military Government's army came into his town in and ordered everyone be sent to camps controlled by the Burmese Military. He called them concentration camps. This was part of the government's strategy to combat the ethnic resistance armies that opposed the military government. The logic is that these towns are where the ethnic armies get their soldiers, food and support from. If you kick everyone out of their homes, there will be no one to support the ethnic opposition armies. His family, along with many people from his home town, fled toward the Thai boarder. They've lived the last 20 years or so in the refugee camp, near where I work. There he started working with an NGO that works very closely with mine. He takes a secret path out of the camp everyday to get to work.

The guys who sits next to me at work told me his only brother died of chicken pox a little while ago. Almost everyone I've known has had chicken pox. They just weren't vulnerable enough to die from it. He lives in the refugee camp as well.

This blog entry is going to be a bit of a downer but I think I have something important to say.

Yesterday I wrote a song called “Remove Yourself” (when I finish tweaking it I'll record it and post it on this blog). The song is about how easy it is to not care about anyone or anything when you're not happy. I've been home sick lately. I've been a little depressed. I've been left in an small town, where I don't know anyone, and been told I've gotta get myself set up. I'm having a hard time meeting people, I'm having a hard time finding somewhere to live, and I'm having a hard time adjusting and fitting in at work. And yes, lately I've had a hard time caring about anyone or anything else. The other day I wanted to get on my motorbike and just keep driving. I wanted to go back to Chiang Mai, where I had lots of  western volunteer friends. Life was easier there.

I thought about the people I work with. A lot of them have lived lives I can't imagine, but they appear to be happy people. They're always joking, laughing, smiling, and I think they are happy to be working at an organization that I've wanted to run away from. They've had everything stacked against them in their life and they're working to protect the environment, and protect the people in their home state that has been brutally betrayed, pillaged, and violently oppressed by their government. How do you live a life like that and not be totally self centered?

I don't know how they've managed not to remove themselves from the plight of other people, but I clearly have a lot I can learn from these people.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Arrival at my Placement in Mae Hong Son

        I'm sitting in a cafe, that over-looks a small lake. I'm waiting for my Thai-style curry to cool off. It's dusk, and on the other side of the lake a delicate white and gold temple is lit up like a Christmas tree. The reflection of the lit temple dances along the surface of the lake. Mountains surround me on all sides. Children throw bread into water and watch the diverse collection of fish jump competitively for every last piece.  There is a month long festival going on, and people are releasing hot-air-balloon-lanterns. They look like huge golden stars over the lake. There seems to be a single appropriate adjective to describe this place– magical.

Two things are slowly dawning on me; This is going to be my home for a year of my life, and I'm pretty sure the girls in the kitchen are going to play the entire 98 Degrees album. 

So, I've finished my in-country-training in Chiang Mai and I am spending my first night in Mae Hong Son, where I'll be working. Work starts on Monday! 

I couldn't believe how sorry I was to leave Chiang Mai. I was only there for a month, but I made great friends, and Chiang Mai was really starting to feel like home. I had a great send off last night, and I've made plans to see my new friends throughout the year. For now I have the start over in a new city. I just realized that in the last 4 months I've lived in 4 different cities; Toronto, Vancouver, Chaing Mai, and now Mae Hong Son.

Lets hope the magic continues and that Mae Hong Son and I don't exhaust our honey-moon phase.

Homestay with Karen Family

I spent the weekend living with a Karen family. The home-stay was part of our culture/language training. The Karen are an ethnic minority whose traditional land is divided by the Thailand/Burma boarder. It was an exhausting, difficult, fun and rewarding weekend. I stayed with a man named Khun Watit (NOTE “khun is a prefix used before names, it doesn't have a perfect translation, but its kind of like saying “Sir/Ma'am” or “Mr./Ms.”). He works with an NGO, and he's a bit of a community leader. He's soft-spoken, knowledgeable and incredibly wise.

Khun Watit's house is traditional Karen style. Completely made out of wood/bamboo. The roof is made out of leaves that are folded and tied into shingles. I was amazed. It poured rain for a little while but not a drop made its way through the roof.

It was amazing how closely knit the community was. There was constantly friends, family and neighbours coming and going from the house. I never figured out how big his family was. By the end of the weekend I couldn't even tell who lived with Khun Watit and who would just visit often. I'd ask people how they knew Khun Watit and they would say, “he's my uncle!” I didn't know if that actually meant he was their uncle by blood relation though, or if it just meant he was their “uncle in a friendly way. Apparently Karen families are huge!

Probably the biggest thing I'll remember about that weekend though was - Oh sheesh y'all did they ever know how to party! We put back a considerable amount of Karen whisky, I play a lot a guitar with a few other people they who knew how to play, and despite the language barrier we had a lot of laughs. It was a pretty sweet weekend, but I was also happy to crash as soon as I got back to Chiang Mai.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Chaing-Mai is Pretty All-Right I Guess (UNDERSTATEMENT)

Sa wad dee khrab. Pom chɔɔb yuu tii Chaing-Mai. aka Hello. I love living in Chaing-Mai. There's more Thai where that came from too, and where it came from was my mind!

So I'm in Chaing-Mai for 4 weeks to learn Thai before I take off to Mea Hong Son to join up with my partner organization. 

So, the second day of Thai class we were learning some pretty basic phrases such as “My name is ...” It was my turn to recite the sentence which I had proudly prepared, so I sat up straight, took a deep breath trying my best to express the proper Thai tones and said, 
“Pom chuu Brandon-khrab”. Our teacher Ah-jhan Waraya, thinks for a second and promptly says, 
“ Very good, but it's not Brahn-din (as I pronounce it with the emphasis on the first syllable), it's Brahn-dohn (pronounced like a question with a high tone at the end.)” In shock, and without thinking I responded, 
“Did you just tell me how to pronounce my own name?” I didn't mean to offend her – I was just really shocked and the phrase escaped from me. In hind-sight I think I made her feel bad.

Anyways, Thai classes are going really well, and the teacher is actually super great (I don't want to give the wrong impression).

Yesterday, I climbed up a mountain for 3 ½ hours to get to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep which is a temple. The view from the top is stunning, especially with the crippling, fiery, burn in my thighs that reminded me of my accomplishment. From Chaing-Mai at night it's especially cool when its all lit up with nothing but jungle for miles around.

Chaing-Mai is full of life, and people for the most part are super friendly and helpful. I've been enjoying restaurant meals, often for under a dollar Canadian, that will knock your socks off with deliciousness. I enjoyed a Thai massage yesterday – wow. This weekend we're going camping in the nearby National Park. Can't wait for the nature walks AND I've been promised swimming under water falls!!! I know, I thought I was supposed to be working too.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why I was shitting my pants 24 hours before I left

I was stuffing the last of my tee-shirts into my overly-stuffed bag when the phone rang. It was Katie Boomgaardt the co-op coordinator at U of T who has worked tirelessly the past two days trying to get me out of the country for the year, all the while at home with the flu – thank you Katie!

She called with the news that the Canadian Government's travel advisory, which advised against travelling in the boarder regions of Tak and Mae Hong Son, may prevent me from going to the city of Nai Soi – one of the two cities my placement will have me working in, and thus I may have to stay in Canada and look for another job in Thailand with CUSO-VSO.

This would have been job #3 with CUSO-VSO. It was 18 hours before my flight was scheduled to take off, and 15 hours before it was too late to reschedule my flight.

I found myself in a blizzard of emotions. Part of me was dying to leave, and part of me was glad at the chance of staying with my family for a couple of extra weeks. I would be able to see my friends and family again, but I'd also have to say good-bye again. I was mentally and physically prepared to go, and now the carpet was getting yanked from under my feet.

Katie said she'd send me and email by 8:30 Toronto time/ 5:30 Vancouver time. I could barely sleep and was waking up at least every hour just to be disappointed by the lazy pace of my clock.

At 6:30 Katie called to tell me that she still hadn't heard back from the Canadian embassy in Thailand, and I'd have to reschedule, but our conversation got cut short by a call on the other line. It was someone from the other side of the world telling her that Nai Soi was perfectly safe!!

So after a few more tearful good-byes, I got to the airport. I'm sitting on the parked plane to Beijing right now realizing that I forgot to call my dad from the airport. CURSES!! The good-bye from home will have to do. At least this way he'll be learning how this whole Skype-thing works a little quicker.

I'm also eye-balling the two seats across the aisle. They're still empty and I'm hoping they stay that way so I can catch some Z's on the 11 hours hop to Beijing. ACE OF SPADES!! We just started moving and the seats are still empty!! Now it's off to Bangkok for some in-country training.