Friday, August 29, 2008

Safe in Thailand

I don't know what kind of press the protests in Thailand are getting in the western world, but I just wanted to let everyone know that we're safe and sound. We're in Khao Lak now, where we just finished up our two weeks of volunteering. It was a fantastic experience. We're heading to a couple of the Thai islands this week and then we go to Cambodia to begin our volunteer stint with WLS.

Until our next update, I leave you with this adorable, giggly duo that we met the other day.

I'll miss Khao Lak.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Amazing Khao Lak

Khao Lak was one of the towns in Thailand severely affected by the Tsunami. The tourism industry here has suffered greatly as a result. Because the Tsunami Volunteer Center is based here, volunteers from all over the world found their way here over the past 4 years looking for a way that they could lend a helping hand. As the community is rebuilding, TVCs efforts are part of the fabric of the town. Some volunteers came here to help out and found a new place to call home in the process. Some come for a month every year. Others stop in to help out for a few days and then are on their way. But whether you're here for 2 days, a month or 10 years, it's easy for Khao Lak to feel like home.

There's not much use of cell phones around here. There's no need for it. It's beautiful out so why not just stroll up the street and see if anyone you know is at Lazy House Bar. If not, why not just chat with the people who are there and make a new friend. It starts downpouring on your way? No big whoop. It's refreshing and it'll probably only last for 15 minutes. Volunteers and locals gather together for dinners on an almost daily basis on one of the zillions of delicious places to eat. Maybe go for a swim afterwards. Or, maybe it's TVC volunteer party night. Here's Kristen and I dressed up for the Traditional Thai dress party.

John, one of the aforementioned volunteers who decided to stick around Khao Lak, created the website Check it out. And start planning your next trip. You won't regret it.

Hope. Spirit. Renewal.

That's the motto of the Tsunami Volunteer Center. On Sunday a group of the new volunteers got a tour of some of the Tsunami affected areas, significant landmarks related to the Tsunami and some of TVC's projects that have put their motto into action. It's tragic to see the devastation the Tsunami caused but very uplifting to see how communities have rebuilt in its wake.

It's difficult to see from a picture how far this police boat is on land. This 40,000 ton police boat traveled about a mile on land and killed many people in its path.

This 4 star hotel had its grand opening just 5 days before the Tsunami struck. Staff from many other areas had left their families for the Christmas holiday to come here to help with the grand opening. All of the guests and staff from this hotel were killed in the Tsunami. This dilapidated reception area is all that remains.

Tsunami Memorial Park is located in an area that was very badly hit. The wave struck from two different directions so it was impossible to run from it. The park has a gallery of photographs and a huge metal wall that symbolizes the wave. There's also a wall with memorials to many of the Tsunami victims.

When the Tsunami struck, a boat now referred to as the Red Devil traveled on land, destroyed many homes and killed more than 100 people in its path. The Blue Angel, however, didn't kill anyone. The boatman on board survived and a man carrying his 3 year old daughter was able to grab on to the side of the boat and save himself and his daughter.

In addition to the devastation from the Tsunami we saw many signs of renewal. One of the projects that came out of the Tsunami Volunteer Center's efforts is a shop that teaches children how to make batiks. The batiks are sold in a couple of stores in town and the 100% of the proceeds go directly to the child who made that batik.

A Japanese man visited Khao Lak after the Tsunami struck and met many women lost their husbands in the Tsunami and therefore, had no means of earning money for their families. He taught women Japanese weaving so they could make crafts and be able to support their families. Since then, many local women continue to weave beautiful crafts and sell them in town. Here's Kaew, who works at TVC (and is an all around amazing gal), giving weaving a try.

The TVC also began a project called Thaikea (I love a good pun!) where scrap wood found after the Tsunami is used to make furniture. The furniture at this restaurant is Thaikea-made.

The last stop of the day was a visit to a beach covered in giant rocks that were washed up during the Tsunami. I'm no geologist so I have no idea what they are, but I've never seen anything like it on a beach. In addition to the rocks, there were tons of beautiful coral and many hermit crabs that found their home there.

It sounds trite to go on about how beautiful and warm and welcoming I've found Thai people to be, and how impressed I am with their ability to continue after they've suffered so much loss. I'll just say that meeting people like this woman make me happy and make me see that there are always opportunities for hope, spirit and renewal.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tsunami Volunteer Center - Khao Lak, Thailand

Greetings from Khao Lak, Thailand. We began volunteering with The Tsunami Volunteer Center (TVC) on Monday. TVC was started the day after the December 26, 2004 tsunami hit. It started with rebuilding and construction but grew into a boat rebuilding project, handicraft education, and English education. They have hosted around 4,000 volunteers, many for months at a time and many for multiple return trips. One volunteer, Ken, actually came to do some construction, but after a while saw the need for English education since many of the English speakers who worked in the tourist industry had died in the storm. He has now been here for 3 years and is in the process of starting a new non-profit Volunteer Teaching in Thailand. TVC is actually closing their doors on September 4th. They have completed all of the rebuilding they can and will be able to contribute some of their resources to Volunteer Teaching in Thailand. I feel lucky that we got to be part of the second to last group to work here.

On our first day, we met a group of amazingly sweet, funny, and smart girls from Leeds University in England. They had been here for two weeks already teaching English at camps around Khao Lak. They shared their expertise and we began preparing our lessons for the next two days when we would be at Ban Thanun English Camp in Phang Nga, about an hour from Khao Lak. We taught lessons introducing words on topics like, my village, my family, foods, greetings, and directions. The kids were very polite and respectful. Most were very timid to speak English and participate in the silly games we had prepared. They are used to learning in a more copy and repeat format.

The kids were so adorable we wanted to snatch a few up and bring them home. Thai's tend to have really long names so they tell foreigners their short versions. Some translated to some English words. We had a Bus, Pond, Porn, Poo, Pup...each one cuter then the next.

The students would repeat exactly what was said to them. I was going over "places in your village" words and when I got to the last word I would naturally say, "and, police station". The kids would repeat with a smile, "and police station." It cracked me up every time. The next day my topic was "people in our family" and the kids were learning to say, "I have one brother and 2 sisters" or whatever the case may have been for them. Few of them spoke with much confidence but this one kid, in the most confident way, said, "I have one son!" My partner Laura and I couldn't help but giggle at the thought of this little boy with one son. Laura and I were both speaking English but with very different accents. We would sometimes get perplexed looks from the kids like, "um that is not what she just said."

The goodbye ceremony we recieved was full of gratitude and emotion. The kids were even asking for our autographs! Kawp Kun Ka!

I look forward to the next week and a half....

Sunday, August 17, 2008

New Friends

In between our volunteer gigs, we've done some sightseeing, exploring and meeting new friends. After leaving Hungary, we went to Turkey for about 10 days. We explored the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya in Instanbul, had a failed attempted walk to Asia (only to realize you can only drive over that bridge), took in some sand and surf at the insland of Bozcaada, explored the ruins in Bergama, explored more ruins at Ephesus and amazing calcium walls and thermal pools at Pamukkale and then bussed it back up to Istanbul. Along the way, we met many incredible people. There was Hilmi, the friendly and intelligent man at the bus stop in Bergama. We chatted about politics, books and the cultural differences and similarities as we waited for our bus to Izmir. Then we had the hilarious Italian duo of Stefano and Fabrizio. The four of us toured ruins, hit the beach, crashed a Turkish wedding with Mustafa the gracious hostel owner (where we drank apple tea and played backgammon- it was a mellow wedding), all while chatting about music, relationships, travel and cracking each other up. In Selcuk, me met a bevvy of friendly folks including Dave- the serious but funny Aussie, Oli- the savvy young traveling Brit, Nuri- the sweet and very funny gal from Korea, and Jessica- the bold solo traveler from Canada.

On our last night in Turkey, we had the great fortune of meeting Maurizio and Paola, our instant friends from Travino, Italy. They shared their dessert with us and the rest was history. You'd be hard-pressed to find a kinder, funnier, more perfectly matched duo.

From Istanbul we flew to Bangkok with a layover in Dubai. Azam, our flight attendent on the way to Dubai, became a new friend too. That guy was hilarious. And then we arrived in Chaig Mai, Thailand, where we were met by Nong. This gal tops the new friend charts. Seth, the team leader from the Habitat trip, hooked us up with his wife Nong, who lives in Thailand. She was the best tour guide imaginable. Nong drove us into the mountains to visit a Hmong village, showed us the Queen's Palace, and took us to amazing Temples all over Chaing Mai. Nong taught us a lot about Thai culture and Buddhism. And then there was the food. We ate incredible Pad Thai, Tom Yum Soup, crispy fish, green curry, red curry, and delicious fruits of every variety. The highlight was going to Nong's family's house. Her parents and sister Mai were all just as kind and welcoming. The food was amazing but the hospitality was what I'll cherish the most. Nong is gearing up for a move to America soon. I hope her family comes to visit the U.S. so we can attempt to offer them the same hospitality that they showed us.

Now we're in Khao Lak, Thailand. We begin our two weeks of volunteering with the Tsunami Volunteer Center tomorrow morning. I'm excited to be put to work and make some more new friends.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Kristen and Harry on the roof

Kristen and Harry
Originally uploaded by mc973
Our group of volunteers was jam packed with great folks. It's probably not right to pick favorites but I did. We all did. Harry is the best. He lives in a town of 500 in the Northern Territories of Canada. Teaches special education. Brought us all pins. Has the greatest stories. Is kind and hilarious and the snappiest dresser in the crowd. Not to mention an all star on the work site. Harry would walk out on a limb, literally, to get the job done. Harry is the kind of person I feel truly lucky to consider a friend. Just another reason why Habitat for Humanity is so darn cool.


Originally uploaded by mc973
One of the best parts of the Habitat trip was meeting other volunteers. The other volunteers included people in our group, homeowners, and local volunteers from Hajdu. Erica lives in Hajdu. She's 18 and came to work on the site every day from 8am to 5pm. She wants to practice speaking English and found that working with the English speaking Habitat groups has helped her. She was also the Superstar worker bee. Erica never wanted to leave a project unfinished and begged to skip lunch so she could just finish insulating a wall. Inspirational, to say the least.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Leopard house

Leopard house
Originally uploaded by kristenkk2
And it is finished!


kristen 035
Originally uploaded by kristenkk2
I never knew how houses were insulated before and I have no idea if this was just the Hungarian way, but we spent many hours climbing the scafoldiıng puttiıng up this white styrofoam insulatıon all over this house. It not only covered the outside walls, but also the floor inside. We became "experts" at measuring to the centimeter, guessiıng upcoming angels, and giving Hungarian haircuts. A Hungarian haircut was when all else failed in the measuring department and we just needed a tad off. Since it was styrofoam, we could rub off the excess. Again, perfect construction skills at work. We got very excited when we cut a "miracle" piece on the first shot. Our team member, Danıca, got had three miracles while on the highest of scafolding...not an easy task! Anyway, I hope that the family in this place might not be too chilly this wiınter.