Category Archives: SE Asia 2021

Thailand Excerpts

Poetry by Lindsey White

September 16th, 2021

A constant struggle of silencing my own thoughts. 
This is the most consistent thing that lectures provide me with. Privileged to be in my 18th year of education and yet I still haven’t succeeded in the most challenging task of quieting the spinning thoughts. 
Sometimes I silence too much. 
Then there are no thoughts. Just static. Numbness. 
There doesn’t seem to be a happy medium. 
Shouting but never quiet. 
Static but never hum. 
This constant struggle of determining whether or not I should put effort into focusing on the lecture or if I should just let my mind wander is never easy. 
Do I let time pass quickly? 
Whipping thoughts in all directions. Whatever comes to mind tossing and turning until there’s no more time left in the lecture? 
Do I let time pass slowly? 
Crawling thoughts of General Mai and Chinese Wars over Communism?
I try to focus. I really do. Even with my mind fighting with all it’s ideas. I try. 
But sometimes according to academia, I fail and my mind wanders.
With that failure comes some of the most beautiful results. 
My curiosity and creativity flow with freedom unconstrained by tests or rubrics. 
How can anyone sensible possibly view this as a loss? 
In my mind I won. 
Even if academia doesn’t view it this way. 


October 6th, 2021

Chatting as we pass across uneven sidewalks and weave through food stands pouring onto the street.
Wandering about for supper from street stands near our roundabout. Glancing over hopeful eyes.
Smiling through opaque masks.
Causal “sa-wa-de-kah‘s” floating in the air mingling with smells of food cooking along the grill. 
No ties. 
No close connection.
Then a deep feeling of comfort comes as I connect eyes with a woman selling soup. 
Her movements reminiscent of movements I’ve seen my entire life. Her eyes crinkle in a way I’ve watched since I was born. 
In another life this woman would be my grandmother. Selling soup on the street in Thailand. 
Of course it is. 
Why else would I feel the deep sense of security and longing? Comfort and nostalgia?
Of course it is her. Why else would I feel this way? Just in another life. 
Beads of sweat dripping down my forehead. 
Noisy traffic of morning commute surrounding me as my feet pound against the sidewalk along the north side of the old city. 
Conversation between Isaac and I had died down now that we are single file along this section of the sidewalk. 
Left with my own thoughts. 
My watch says we are a little under a mile into the run. 
An opening forms through traffic and we cross the street towards the inside of the old city. 
I hop up onto the sidewalk ensuring that my footing is secure.
There, a woman is walking towards us. 
This feeling rushes over me again. 
A familiar stranger. 
Quite possibly my mother in another life. I’m sure of it. 
As I run past, I turn my head to look at her closer as we have now passed her. 
She’s also turned back to look at me and our eyes meet for a brief moment. 
Then it is over. 
The day continues. 
Our lives carry on. 
Yet for a moment they were connected. 
A complete stranger. Barriers and layers of complication to separate our lives. 
Yet so familiar despite it. 
Stramiliar: a familiar stranger. 


October 8th, 2021

A gentle soft greeting from our driver met with my jagged ungraceful one as we climbed into the rusty Rot Dang. 
I made sure to check this time before telling the five others to jump in since my previous experience left us with the incorrect driver and a complicated situation. 
With only a few of us, I easily secured a spot standing on the back hanging onto the ambiguous bars welded to the main body. 
We swiftly moved from a bustling street of lively Friday night energy to quiet residential housing on back streets. 
The city came to life again as we moved onto the streets of the old city and gained speed. 
A wave to a fellow motorbiker.
A gentle nod in return. 
The dancing of shadows intertwines with the air moving around me. 
My hair alive with the delight of this adventure into the night. 
Though short, an adventure it is. 
Hundreds of bricks stacked upon each other remind me of the rich history these streets hold. 
Everything feels warm. 
Zooming towards a stoplight changing from yellow to red with no intention of slowing. 
Soon red is bold. Prominent about the intersection before us. 
Yet off we go. Right on by. Continuing. 
A turn onto another back street. 
Swift changes from scooter filled street lanes and bustling markets to shadow filled streets and stray cats roaming, speed slowing.
I begin to feel sad. Our adventure is over. 
We turn again. Another sign of a near ending. 
How can it continue past our arrival? 
What do we need to do in order to bring the adventure with us? 
Familiar questions I’ve asked myself as I think about this time in Thailand with the unavoidable return back to EMU. 
No answers to fulfill curious thoughts. 
One final turn into the YMCA. 
A clear end. 
One final gust of October air. 
A quick “kap-Kuhn-kah” to our driver before turning away. 
Now the fun part. 
The challenge of continuing the adventure. 
If I can master it here, I can repeat it for our inevitable return to Harrisonburg as well. 
I didn’t master it tonight. Not yet. 
But maybe the goal isn’t to master continuing the adventure but to reimagine what adventure looks like. 


October 13th, 2021

Humming of the van engine fills the silence. 
Cascading light filters through the windows as we caravan back south.  The light of day is fading across the mountains and deep blue shadows fall across their slopes.
Their ridges smooth but jagged. 
They seem as though they could almost be the mountains I’ve seen my entire life. 
The mountains that raised me. 
For a moment I forget that they aren’t. 
The looming fog caresses their foothills just as it does at home. 
I forget these mountains aren’t my own despite:

-the passing of cars on the opposite side of the road
-thai conversation passing through the driver’s walkie 
-rising smoke trails from homes with mothers cooking supper for their families

A jagged outcropping comes into view with bright red clay in contrast to the sleepy blue slopes and I’m reminded that these aren’t my mountains.  Conrad’s voice breaks the hum of the engine.  Darkness engulfs the conversation as we venture through a country still so foreign to me. 
Evening dusk turns into streetlights. 
Pink hues fill the sky as the mountains begin to fall away into the shadows of the evening. 
No, these aren’t my mountains but they are still watching after me. 
Just as my mountains always have. 

-Lindsey White


Thailand Explained

09 November 2021

For many, “Thailand is friendly and food-obsessed, hedonistic and historic, cultured and curious.” For me, Thailand is about getting really, really confused. A couple of nights ago I was holding onto my seat as I bounced over a dark, barely noticeable speed bump. My acquaintance was driving and I was on the back of his motorbike. He continued on the dark road, following two motorbikes ahead of him. Suddenly, and with off-putting synchronization, all three motorbikes began to slow. Normally this would have been fine. I would have just asked what was going on. But he speaks no English, and my Thai is in its infancy.

At that moment I had deja vu. I remembered a time four years ago when I was on a dark unfamiliar road in an unfamiliar country with an unfamiliar acquaintance. That time had ended badly. A gun was pulled on us and we were robbed. 

I tensed. My knees gripped the bike as I considered my options. I could always drop my wallet and run. I could run pretty fast. Hopefully, they wouldn’t chase me if they got what they wanted. 

The bikes continued to slow. Soon, we were slow enough that I could have hopped off and landed on my feet. There was a bump. I looked down. It was a speed bump. That was why everyone was slowing down. I was spooked for nothing. I took a deep breath. We turned a corner. In front of us was an illuminated soccer complex with four fields and a bar at the center. We had arrived.

It makes sense for Thailand to be a place of wild interpretations. Even the language here reflects that. The word “ma” can mean come, grandma, horse, dog, or nothing at all. The only audible difference is the pitch or “tone”. Whenever I introduce myself as Isaac, Thai people usually giggle uncontrollably. I didn’t think much of it for a while. After all, Isaac does literally mean laughter. But after a while, I suspected something was going over my head. I looked up my name on google translate and it came up as NS******. All the asterisks made me suspicious. I asked my Thai friends Mark and Fahsai about it and they confirmed. I was introducing myself as “Bullshit”.

“Bullshit.” That’s what I called when some of the other students came back from their first Thai massage proclaiming the benefits of the transformative experience. “It’s just a glorified back rub, right? This is going to be easy.” That’s what I was thinking when I went to get my first Thai Massage. I even brought earbuds to listen to a podcast in case I got bored. I was expecting mediocre. I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

It costs 199 Baht for an hour massage plus a footbath before and tea after. That’s just under six dollars. I sat for a while drinking a pink drink with a flavor nobody can agree on. After that they washed my feet and led me to a room where I laid down on a mat on the floor. Too confusing for me, Jansen Miller had to tell me how to wear the baggy linen clothes they provided. My massager, a smiling Thai man, started with a prayer, and within the first thirty seconds had his hands pressed firmly into both sides of my pelvis. I’ll summarize the rest of the experience. It was painful yet gentle, awkward yet relaxing, intimate yet professional. They say that Thai massage is like visiting your chiropractor, acupuncturist, yoga instructor, masseuse, and meditation, all in one visit. I wholeheartedly agree. 

Time after time my mind is blown. One day I’m trying Thai massage, the next I’m savoring sugar apples (which taste exactly like mangos but look like scaly green brains). Sometimes it gets really, really confusing, but that’s cross-cultural – one strung-out social breaching experiment. I’m just grateful that the Thai people humor us in our unintentional bullshit.

-Isaac Andreas


One Month in Chiang Mai

In Journal Snippets
-Kate Szambecki

September 18, 2021

I am currently sitting at the laundromat. It’s outside (covered) and you must take your shoes off. It’s very nice.

We flew to Bangkok, then Chiang Mai, and were greeted by YMCA staff and university interns, and drove to the YMCA. I napped, we ate, then went to the mall. I spent the first ten-ish minutes in my room thinking we had no AC or power, which was a bit of a panic moment, but we’re all good. Fooled by the key system. The room is much less luxurious than our Phuket hotel (to be expected) but I like it. It feels like a home. I’ll miss the water pressure, though. 

Walking through Chiang Mai to the mall felt like a dream. The air was cooler, I was with friends, and we saw so many little shops and restaurants with warm, inviting lights. I am so happy to be in a city with a safe, warm home with my friends, learning new things.

I can’t wait to make friends with the university students.

September 20, 2021

Yesterday was our orientation at the YMCA. I know some of it was exhaustion, but I found myself holding back tears several times while the staff talked about their excitement and our itinerary for the semester. I could feel the importance of our presence here for the YMCA (due to COVID, they have not had any groups like this in a long time), and the excitement of everyone to have us overwhelmed me. Also, the massive list of things we get to do here… I had no idea. I think my mouth was hanging open for most of the presentation—I was just so in awe of all the incredible experiences the YMCA has planned for us. How did I get so lucky?

September 22, 2021

Today we went to a massive market after class and lunch. I loved every minute. The fabrics and handcrafted items are all so vibrant and intricate. I also had a GREAT curry at the restaurant afterward. 

I’m struck over and over by the difficult nature of most interactions here, yet, I almost always enjoy them. I know that comes from a place of privilege—my interactions are never of dire consequence, legal or otherwise—and so I am still able to experience uncertainty in a safe way. I feel grateful for this and acutely aware of how different this is for immigrants, etc.

Something else I’ve been thinking a lot about is the culture of politeness/service in Thailand against my mental backdrop of feminist thought. There is so much discourse in the US about women taking up more space, being louder and more assertive, apologizing less, etc. in order to subvert patriarchal norms. I want to explore this phenomenon here, because it is so counter to Thai societal expectations for all genders. The Thai ideal of being as least burdensome as possible to others is the opposite of our American individualism.

September 26, 2021

Last night I was laying in Nicole’s room with a fairly big group of us, and I had a very euphoric moment. I was touched by our little family—everyone was chatting and laughing, splitting the food we had just ordered—and my heart swelled. While I know host families would have been a formative and wonderful experience, I am grateful for the closeness of our group that comes from living on the same floor. 

September 29, 2021

Today I had my first truly unsuccessful Thai interaction. I was trying to ask the owner of a tea stand if one of the drinks had caffeine. I was fumbling over the few Thai words I know and motioning with my hands, and he grew only more confused. Not my best moment. Got the tea, though.

It has also been a tough last couple of days, content-wise. We’ve reached some controversial chapters in the book we’re reading, and this, paired with an intense presentation on gender-based violence and human trafficking in Thailand, has led to a lot of introspection and discussion. We have a diverse group in terms of gender and sexuality, and the lenses through which each one of us ingests this kind of information will never be aligned. It leads to solid discussions.

I’ve been struggling with the idea that in Thailand, traditionally feminine qualities are much more respected across the board, yet gender discrimination is still rampant. It almost seems as if femininity is highly regarded, yet women themselves are not. This is only a broad generalization, however, and I’m interested in exploring this more. 

October 1, 2021

Today we saw elephants for the second time, and, unlike in Phuket, I did not full-on sob. I may have teared up a little when they wrapped their trunks around me, though. And technically I did cry when I later learned that the reason these elephants were swaying around so much was because they were stressed. My deep love of elephants has been quite a surprise. 

Yesterday’s hike in the rain was an unexpected joy. Once I accepted that I would be fully soaked, I could lean fully into the chaos. I had a really bizarre moment about halfway through, when I realized that my mind had been almost entirely blank for the last five minutes, give or take. I had achieved that few times in my life, and certainly not during our meditation sessions…

October 6, 2021

Last night after dinner, several of us went to a thrift night market. It was surreal. They have a massive courtyard filled with stands, some under small tents and some with goods just spread out across the bricks. There was music playing, string lights draped across the entire place, and young, hip people everywhere. The clothes were cheap and good, and I just wandered around by myself for a while. I feel like I found the pocket of Chiang Mai that I connect with most.

October 13, 2021

I really loved our two border trips these last couple of days. I’m not sure what exactly it was about them—the long drives or the views, the light rain and sun—but I felt blissful and grateful. I also felt as though I was seeing something important. The Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet, is such a beautiful place but also a key part of Southeast Asia’s history.

I’m glad that we went after visiting the Opium Museum; that gave us important context to experience the sight itself. 

Maybe it was the brief trip to Chiang Rai (a four-hour drive north), or maybe it is just because we’ve reached about the six-week mark, but I’ve been feeling inklings of homesickness. I miss my parents and my friends, and I miss fall in Virginia. 

October 18, 2021

We’ve now been at the YMCA for exactly a month. We have visited a myriad of temples, a couple of villages, elephants, museums and MANY restaurants. We’ve learned about Thai cooking, Thai language, issues of deforestation, human trafficking, and gender and sexuality, Thai ethnic groups and culture, and Chinese history (thanks, Myrrl!). Tomorrow we learn about Thai boxing…

This place is beginning to feel like a kind of home. I feel comfortable going out in our free time to explore, and I have familiar places that I have already grown to love: the Korean BBQ across the street, the LaundryBar where we do our laundry each week, the grocery store only a few blocks away in the basement of a mall, the piano practice rooms hidden in that same mall, and the gym where I now teach (as a volunteer, don’t worry visa officials) a Zumba class to five or so locals—long story. We are looking ahead to presentations, some trips in smaller groups, and countless more adventures. I am so grateful.


Quarantine on Phuket

Posted 14 September 2021

Today, we arrived in Phuket, and I write this as I hungrily wait for dinner. I am looking forward to sleeping in a bed because we had about 38 hours of travel. Driving through Phuket felt surreal. There were pineapple stands and little shops and so many people on motorcycles. I could not have possibly taken it all in at once. I noticed that there are many shrines for the king and the queen. Is there a princess? There’s also a lot of architecture and decoration relating to Buddhism. It is interesting to see how different cultural structures differ depending on the religion of the area. Quite frankly, I am exhausted and I write in this journal with the intent of keeping myself awake. I could easily fall asleep in this chair. It is hard to believe any of this is real, and I’m looking forward to the more academic side of this trip.

– Hannah Leaman, Senior

I can’t believe we made it! I will admit that getting here was so much fun; navigating the airport and long flights, staying up late, and covid tests (all negative). The Novotel is so beautiful. We are right on the beach, with spectacular views of the ocean and mountains. About a 20-minute walk is Kamala City where we have done our shopping, eaten delicious food, and explored the sights of life here. 

We have done a lot of fun things here while also taking Thai language classes and a History of China class. We have gotten to go around the island of Phuket to an elephant sanctuary, downtown Phuket, a shopping mall, seeing Big Buddha, and a private yacht for going to different islands and swimming in the ocean. Our classes are also so much fun. We are all interacting, learning Thai in the classroom, and then going out in the town implementing what we have learned. For example, we are learning how to get around the city, order food, and go shopping. 

I am definitely coming out of my comfort zone from trying different foods to trying activities. I am definitely enjoying myself with people and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead. 

– Partha Roy, Senior