Written by Danielle Cooney, University of Illinois
It’s funny how 12 days can change so much of your personal perspective and yet at the same time feel like hardly anything has changed at all. With such a short trip as the one we are on it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement, new ideas and thoughts and how easy it is to paint a beautiful picture of an amazing, problem and challenge-free experience. However, sometimes it just isn’t so and it’s how you react to the situation that shows the development and maturation that comes with travel and, at least for me, today I hit the wall of frustration in the culture shock development curve.
Before I share our day’s adventures I want to share two quotes that helped me push through and challenge myself to find the value in today’s experiences.
“If you are 22, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you travel – as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them-wherever you go.”
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle
This was our first morning in Bangkok, and boy was it a challenge to get up. Not only did we have a very lovely hotel suite with a very comfy bed, but it was also very muggy and rainy. Making for a perfect day to crawl back in and enjoy the comforts of the hotel. Additionally at this point, most of us are facing the challenge of missing our families and friends and wanting to be connected to wifi to chat with them longer than a few short exchanges. However, we had an adventure waiting for us to experience so persevere, we did.
This first stop was at a temple ruin in Ayuthaya. At this temple not only did you get to walk up the original bricks (kind of nerve wracking as they were well worn, steep, and grooved out, everyone watch your step!) but we also watched individuals buying gold foil to drop down into some sort of well and to also stick pieces on the Buddha structures.
The second stop was a similar temple ruin but from the result of an attack by the Burmese; seeing the remains of a beautiful site be completely destroyed by a fire.
Here lied yet another challenge: continuing to understand and respect the significance of another culture and religion. Through experiencing many different interactions with locals and different Temples we are beginning to piece together and attempting to understand what the religion holds important as well as the values and traditions associated. We are at a point where it is easy to say “I don’t care about this religion any more, it’s not mine, I don’t believe the values and I don’t understand the significance of looking at another one. The weather is so hot and humid in Bangkok. I don’t want to be here” and brush aside the experience. Yes, I was guilty of this, but it’s the going back and pushing to understand why the Thai view it as important. It’s understanding the history and significance behind the challenge they faced in establishing their country and structure. It’s understanding the foundation that governs the current actions, what they view as important and how that impacts choices they might make regarding agriculture and millions of Thai people. It’s growing outside of your comfort zone and finding value in an experience even when it’s frustrating.
Our next adventure was the floating markets and a lunch stop. What an interesting place. All the markets are on docks and some of the vendors and our cooks actually sat in boats and prepared our meal. The food was great and some of us tried some new things. One interesting thing was sitting on the ground eating off the equivalent of a coffee table. Again came the challenge of the language barrier, trying to ask what had been ordered and then my tables confusion when we realized that food and drink were paid for separately to two different waitresses. Great food, but certainly annoying to try and figure out while still remaining civil and respectful to our server trying to do their job as best they can.
The final stop of the trip was a bottled tea company. From our initial view and entrance into the company it had a very “Google like” appearance and atmosphere while boasting slogans of green environmentally friendly production. We learned that the next day was national children’s day and the company was preparing for the event where they would host local children. We then viewed a very impressive video on the output and maximization of production and market. The company’s smart start seemed to achieve and easily enter the market. Then came the factory tour. This was sure to be exciting because of the highly mechanized process that came with the company, as it only employs 200 people but can produce 600 bottles/min.
What started out as a great learning experience module, great views of the mechanized system and a really cool experience quickly became a challenge that none of us had anticipated facing: the prevalent misunderstanding of conventional and organic agriculture. Similar stories of misrepresentation of agriculture and facts we know are just not quite as accurate as the picture they are portrayed as but ones that support the foundation of some of the company’s beliefs. We had to have enough maturity to remain composed and open to what information was being shared while still thinking how we could possible bridge this communication and misinformation. We wanted to embrace and fully experiences the intensity and complexity of such a mechanized and efficient process so we continued on with the experience.
One of the interesting points was understating how they created thin and more environmentally friendly bottles for the tea and experiencing the warehouse. Surprisingly, the warehouse keeps enough inventory for only seven days before it is distributed. The only way to really describe this mechanized system is like the door system in the Monsters Inc movie! It was absolutely incredible to watch and view. Finally, an interactive game explaining a new product and a learning module developed for interactive student learning. We sampled a fruit punch green tea. It was pretty good and sugary coming from a non-tea drinker.
Finally, most of us rode the sky tram to a mall market and found dinner here. We were faced with the ever-growing temptation, challenge and choice of food versus shopping and then continue on to Thai food versus American. I know this is a small bump in the road and if I continue to persevere I can learn a lot, if not more by being challenged this way. Looking forward to the last few days of our trip and experiences, be reunited with our other Fellows and learn about their perspectives and then see our families and friends. See you soon!