Making my way through Asia (and grad school) one adventurous step at a time.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Adventures in Colossal Understatements...

By reading my recent posts, my reader(s) might be inclined to think that all I do here is eat, study and interact with lizards.  While that's not an entirely inaccurate synopsis of most days, I do try and learn about things going on in this corner of the world.  On occasion, my university holds events that are quite helpful in that regard.  Last week, there was a panel discussion relating to migrant workers from Burma.  The panel included representatives from legal, economic, educational and first-hand perspectives.

The panel discussion was timed to correspond with a photographic exhibition at the school by photographer John Hume. You can see some of his incredibly communicative photos here:  In Search of a Job, Any Job 

There are between 3 and 4 million migrant workers from Burma in Thailand, and they compose about 7% of the labour force.  Like migrant workers everywhere, they tend to be viewed as simultaneously essential and disposable.  The folks from Burma usually find themselves doing jobs that are dirty, dangerous, difficult and degrading.  Factory owners often confiscate workers' documents, and have workers deported for demanding safer working conditions or minimum wage.  It's frustrating, unfair, heartbreaking ... and a ubiquitous rung on the economic ladder. I doubt there is a single country in the world that can lay claim to an economic and industrial history that's free of widespread exploitation and abuse.  Even today, Americans need only look as far as Arizona, while Canadians don't have to go any further than Toronto's garment district.

I wasn't surprised that an emerging economy is exploiting the labour force of its neighbour's ruined economy.  It happens.  Everywhere.  Everyday.  After listening to stories of people working in deplorable conditions for12+ hours/day for around $1.60/day, I was angry, frustrated, seething and heart-heavy: not surprised.  What did surprise me were the gentle words coming from the young migrant worker with the brilliant smile who had come to speak with us.  While my mind was whirling with angry adjectives and vitriolic verbs to describe the stories I was hearing, this young man related his experience and softly summed it up with, "The salary's not good and it's a little bit hard job."  What an understatement.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Adventures in Zombie Lizards...

Early this morning, (well, to be accurate, it was only early-ish) I was preparing a nice cup of oolong tea and unwrapping the remains of last night's calzone.  My plan was to sit out on my balcony and enjoy the leisurely pace of a holiday morning breakfast before hunkering down with my phonology.

As I approached my patio door, I saw a lifeless lizard with only 1/2 a face on my balcony.  I thought to myself, 'poor lizard', 'oh gross that's going to spoil my calzone', and 'where's it's face?' all at the same time.  I put my calzone and tea cup back on the counter and went to fetch my broom.  Moments later, I returned with the broom ready to sweep the poor critter up; the poor critter was gone!  I opened the door and looked all over the balcony - walls, floor, ceiling - there was no faceless lizard to be seen.  I figured a bird must have swooped in and picked up an early morning happy meal to go.  I returned the broom to the cupboard, returned my tea and calzone to my hands, opened the balcony door...and nearly stepped on the faceless lizard!  It was back, and in a different location.  Slightly creeped out, I went for the broom again, only to discover that the lizard was gone: again.  

Honestly - how far and how fast can a lifeless faceless lizard move!!??  I was starting to think I may have been mistaken about the lifeless, but the faceless part was tough to miss.  I finally concluded that I had a zombie lizard on my balcony, and if s/he wanted to stay there, that was fine with me - but I was going to have my breakfast indoors.

During the course of the day, I'd peek out and sometimes I'd see the zombie lizard and sometimes I wouldn't.  I never did  see it move.  Eventually, late in the afternoon, I did see it, surrounded by a gathering swarm of industrious ants.  That time, when I went for the broom, s/he didn't disappear.  

I learned two things today.  1. Dead things, even little lizards, make me sad.  2. The only way to crush a zombie rebellion is with ants - lots and lots of ants.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Adventures in S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y...

Since today is Saturday, neither school nor church was going to get me out of my house, so I had to come up with another plan. With no scheduled demands on my time, I was free to fill my day as I saw fit.

I spent the morning cleaning my apartment and doing laundry. Most of my laundry I take to have washed and ironed by a young woman down the street. Some things I prefer to wash on my own, so I take them to the laundromat downstairs. It's not the kind of laundromat we have in Canada. As you can see from the photo, it's just a row of washing machines lined up outside a cell-phone store.

After everything was clean and tidy,

I headed off to my favourite coffee shop to get some more school work done. I hunkered down in there for two hours, until my laptop battery died.

At that point, I packed up and tried out the Fish Foot Spa.

My plan was to read/study while little fishies were working hard to make my feet soft and smooooooth. The first five minutes were ticklish and prickly and squirmy and terrible. Eventually my frightened little nerve endings calmed down and I was able to relax for the rest of the hour. I did get some reading done, but I was facing a plate glass window that looked out onto the market street. Eventually, I put my book down and watched the street come to life as vendors arrived and set up their stalls.

The fish finished their work around 6pm, just in time for me to head out into the market and find myself some dinner. This is where I usually forage for my food on Friday and Saturday nights. Tonight, I opted for some of the Pad Thai and a bit of Northern Thai sausage.

I brought everything home and sat out on my balcony watching the clouds roll in over the mountain as I enjoyed my dinner. There are some lovely sunset views from this vantage point when it's not overcast. Oh, and that's the roof of the laundromat you can see in the foreground.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Adventures in Good Days...

Today was a good day. After class, I spent a couple of hours in a lovely coffee shop sipping hot chocolate and diving into an assignment that's interesting, but challenging. It's a phonological examination of S'gaw Karen, a Tibeto-Burman language. Most of what I did on it today went smoothly, but I did come across a few sounds that were unrecognizable to my ears, and I just couldn't figure out how to transcribe them. I'll have another go at it tomorrow.

After tucking my work away for the day, I hopped on my bike and headed out on the open road to run a few errands. By the time I got home, the sun was just thinking about setting behind the mountain, and the night market near my place was in full swing. I wandered through and found some new (and deliciously spicy) things to try for dinner, AND a vendor selling my Korean snacky nemesis: the fiendishly deceptive red-bean fish. It's a little cake shaped like a fish, and the cake is hot and delicious, and the aroma is divine...but when you bite into it, it's full of nasty, purple, thick red-bean paste. However, the vendor here at my market didn't just stop at bean paste - he offered chocolate, vanilla, blueberry and strawberry fillings!! What a sweet surprise.

After making my way home with dinner (and chocolate fish) in tow, I settled in to catch up on some new videos posted to and laughed out loud at the Swedish Chef (of muppet fame) making popcorn shrimp. While I was watching the videos, Thai and Prairie time zones eventually came into propitious alignment and I called my folks. I had a nice chat with Mom, Dad and Gramma, and now that I've told you all about my day, it's bedtime.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Adventures in Thai Shads...

Riding home from the gym tonight, circumstances dredged up a memory from the ol' memory bank.

Brockville, 1990: Shadflies, harmless fluttering insects, about the size of the tip of your little finger, make their way down the St.Lawrence River every year in the late Spring/early Summer. For a few days, upon stepping out of doors, I got shad flies in my face, up my nose, sprinkling my ice cream cone, and carpeting the grill of my car. In response to the sudden influx in flying insects, local residents collected as many of the bugs as they could. They scraped them off their windshields, put them in jars and took them home...because the local radio station was running a contest to see who could collect the most dead shadflies.

Chiang Mai, 2010: Flying termites (I've been told that's what they are, but I don't know for sure), harmless fluttering insects, about the size of the tip of your thumb, descend on Chiang Mai every year. For a few days, upon stepping out of doors, I get bugs in my face, in my hair, in my helmet, and plastering themselves on the front of my motorbike. In response to the the sudden influx in flying insects, local residents collect as many bugs as they can. They remove the tough wings, put them in jars and take them fry them...because they're delicious. (So I've been told.)