My new address is:
2/1 Soy Prachasuksan
Muang Nakhon Phanom City
Nakhon Phanom Province
If you would like to look at videos from my trip I am uploading them at www.youtube.com/user/emma1elizabeth

"The aim of life is self-development. To realize one's nature perfectly - that is what each of us is here for. "

"See things as they are and write about them. Don’t waste your creative energy trying to make things up. Even if you are writing fiction, write the things you see and know."

Sometimes my weeks are full of adventure,
And sometimes my weeks are relaxing and slow.
So please be patient with updates,
You want to read them as much as I want to write them.
Peace and Love.

PS. As this is an imperfect world and as this adventure I am on is full of unexpected surprises, I would like to apologise in advance for any comments that may seem offensive or full of frusteration. This whole experience is new and exciting for me, but there are things that I find different and frusterating. I'm not writing about them to complain, but to write the truth of my exchange, the people I meet and all of the places I go to. Because if everything were perfect, it wouldn't be an adventure... it would be a vacation.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


The long and stimulating adventure of trial and error, understanding and transition has come to an end; today I leave the Land of Smiles.

Thailand is my Land of Oz, my Wonderland; that special place over the rainbow where life turns from black and white to a frenzy of hypnotic colours, dancing munchkins and never ending tea parties. My life has changed from that of a normal Canadian teenage girl to one most people can only dream of. Though I will be returning back up the rabbit hole to that land of black and white, I will bring my own colour - I have learned to do that much from this magnificent country. I am a different person; I am a person who will forever see the world differently, who will think in a different manner and speak with a different tune. When I left Canada I did not know what I would come upon, what changes I would feel, how different I may become. It was a fear, a nervousness and an excitement that drove me towards the plane. The same emotions rush over me as I contemplate my return to Canada. I return to I country I once knew, a country that will have forever changed, with a mind open and ready to see my country in a different light.

I can not feel anything other than gratitude for everyone that has brought me to such a marvelous place, for what will possibly be the most remembered and treasured year of my life.

Firstly, thank you to all the Rotarians who have helped me through this year, the year before my exchange and for the future help in my return to Canadian culture. It's been a rollercoaster of a ride and I would never have made it here had it not been for you all.
To all my friends back home who patiently put up with my lack of emails when I was either too frusterated, busy or lazy to sit down at the computer. Special love goes out to those friends that even with the technological world's strong pull, kept touch by the most personal way possible - the little red post box.
To my friends in Thailand who have made this exchange not just spectacular, not just amazing, but brilliant. It's been the most refreshing, eye opening and transforming year of my life, and you all have been a huge part of my success.
My loving Thai parents, Mae Daeng, Mae Eiu, Mae Suk, Por Ood, Por Dto, Por , you mean the world to me. Your hospitality and care, compassion and understanding for everything I had to overcome amazed me, I feel so at home with you and love you like no other. Thank you for opening your homes to me, giving to me relentlessly and always looking out for you. เอ็มม่ารักพ่อแม่มากๆนะค่ะ เอ็มม่าจะไม่มีวันลืมขรอบครัวของเรา ขอบคูณมากที่ให้เอ็มม่ามีบ้านที่นอนและขรอบครัวดีๆ
Finally to the people who have put up with me through everything, spent endless hours with me on the phone, going through applications for Rotary and being there for me more than anyone this entire year. I can't thank you, my family, enough for supporting me for so long, for putting your feelings aside for mine and for letting me go on this journey even though it hurt so much for us to part. I love you all so much, and I can't wait to give you all a big hug at the aiport tomorrow. It will be the highlight of my return.

I will never forget what I have learned here.

Love your family
Care for others...

"You never really leave a place or person you love, part of them you take with you, leaving a part of yourself behind."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Keep Breathing.

It was Christmas Eve. Snow was falling in thick clumps forming a soft bed on our front lawn. Through the window I could see my family opening presents, drinking apple cider and eating shortbread while they laughed together. I came up the driveway slowly with my bags pulled behind me; I could not remember why I had come home early, but I knew they were unaware I was just outside the door. As I rapped on the door my mom's head snapped up from her coffee and spun towards where I was standing. There was a rushing and as the door creaked open, it was apparent on her face that she was just as surprised about my return to Canada as I was. "What are you doing here?!" I was unable to give her the answer.

Though I was happy to see my family, the pain I felt from leaving Thailand was a tight fist wrapped around my chest; I could barely breathe.

The next day once I was allowed out of the house I began my search for anything that reminded me of home. The first stop was 7 Eleven. Though 7 Eleven in Canada doesn't quite have the same smoothies, mouthwatering ham&cheese sandwiches or every flavour of Pocky you could think of, they had juice. It was at the juice machine that I saw Jared. For some reason, at the sight of him I broke into a fit of sobbing and collapsed on him. He attempted to hold me up but I just could not pull myself together; in the end we sat on the floor while I heaved and shook as tears poured down my face. My heart was broken.

I wake up screaming.

"The trick is not to rid your stomach of butterflies, but to make them fly in formation" -

Monday, July 13, 2009

Exchange Students

There's something different about exchange students. There's just a feel to them that's... right. They talk a certain way, have certain body language and they're just so easy to get along with. I'm not talking about the exchange students in Thailand. I'm talking about the Thai exchange students who have been on exchange.

A normal Thai teenager is shy, conservative and usually unwilling to phone you unless you call them first. They are afraid of rejection, what their parents might think and most of all, they are worried they won't be able to connect with you because of cultural differences. However, Thai exchange students who have been to the Western world are just the opposite.

They wear what they want, say what they feel and love to go out late at night. They drive through red lights (not that anyone really follows red lights in Thailand), leave school if they don't have class (usually a big No No) and are the first ones on the band wagon to call a falang. I don't have to call them, they will call me. They want to practice their English as much as I want to practice my Thai. So we come to a consensus and speak a mixture of both languages, always with complete understanding. It is always a good time with an exchange student, whether we are watching a movie at their house, eating at a restaurant, singing karaoke or just driving around looking for somethign that sparks imagination for our next destination.

The two AFS exchange students who have just come home from America are "Art" and "Kate". The past few days we have spent time together continuously; driving around on their motorbikes, leaving school to rent ghost movies or eating lunch together in the cafeteria. Now that most of my friends have left for University (or in Suzanne's case, another country) they are my new best friends; the people I spend the most time with and the first faces I look for when I get to school in the morning. They are the new Kate and Klao, the new Noo and Sing.

Sometimes I think this entire year has been a test; a test of letting go and moving on. Rotary tests us by putting us with other falangs for 14 days straight until we are not just friends, but family. Then they send us home to our cities and only let us visit each other under extreme circumstances. Then they push us together for a spare weekend before sending us home. The school puts me in M6 and then halfway through the year my friends leave me and I cannot go to University with them. All of these small tests are strengthening us and testing us so that when it comes for the real break, the real departure, where we truly need to let go and move on, we are ready. I can't say that I am ready to go back to Canada, but I'm used to leaving my friends. I've passed the point of crying for hours, moping around the town and steering clear of anything that reminds me of the gradually decreasing time (which, by the way is 18 days). I have adapted, I have made new friends; though I am scared to leave them, the doom is not as impending as it once was.

"Never before has someone been more unforgettable in every way
And forever more, that's how you'll stay,
That's why, darling, it's incredible that someone so unforgettable
Thinks that I am unforgettable too"
- My twin sister's Facebook page :)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ban Nong Hoi

I will never leave a plate of rice unfinished again. I will never fail to finish my dinner and throw the remains in the garbage; it is a waste. Parents always say "There are children in Africa that have no food, and here you are throwing yours away" and I feel bad about that, I do. But the truth is, I feel worse that someone slaved over planting, pulling, replanting and harvesting that rice all year, only to have it thrown in the garbage. This past week enhanced that feeling to the utmost.

On Tuesday morning, P'Dtia [P'Kaew's cousin and current housemaid] took me with her to their village to spend a few days planting rice. I stayed with P'Dtoom [I just called her Mae] and her three kids. Nong First is 9 years old and the cutest little boy I have ever met in my life. His older brothers Beer and Art are both 11. Art was adopted when he was only 9 months old. Mae looks after the three boys by herself, their father no longer lives with them. All day Tuesday I watched the boys play video games with the rest of the boys in the village. There was always roughly 20 boys in the living room, all crowded around the television watching each other play WWF, Transformers, Indiana Jones or Ninja 4. A wealthy relative of theirs in Bangkok had sent them the system and games in the mail. I wrote a lot of postcards and read a fair amount of my book. In the afternoon I went with P'Dtia to watch the parade celebrating Buddhist Lent that the boys were marching in with their school band. That evening, Nong First and Nong Art took me on a bike ride along the trail out in the rice paddies. It was one of the most gorgeous landscapes I have ever seen; the clouds in the sky were every colour of blue, as if someone had taken all the blue paintchips in the world and smeared them across the sky. The rice seedlings were a bright contrast of startling green; they reflected the light of the setting sun and shone like a chocolate wrapper in the middle of the street on a sunny day. There were people out in the fields, knee deep in mud and water, planting the seedlings in organised rows. Even more people were pulling the seedlings out of their original paddies and bundling them into neatly packaged groups. Cows and buffalo grazed in the mud filled paddies and the bray of geckos pierced through the silence of the night like a knife. Village life brings a new meaning to silence.

When we returned home - tired from the 4 km bike ride along the dirt path - Nong First and I collapsed on the ground in front of the fan and watched Nong Art, Nong Beer and their friends hit each other with chairs and ladders in the wrestling ring. I never realised how much I loved or missed video games. I helped Mae make dinner [aroi mak mak!!] and we sat on the wooden platform with our plates on our laps and chatted over gayng jeud, pad pak and moong tod. Once the boys had showered and put their pajamas on, we went to vien tien [walk around the temple three times with flowers and candles] and then came home. We sat on their bed on the floor and watched a Thai soap opera for a while until the boys had fallen asleep, and then I went to bed. It was a very restful sleep.

Wednesday morning we were up at 630 to get ready to go rice farming. I dressed in a long sleeve shirt and pants, a hat and a bandana tied to cover the back of my neck. Mae, Nong First and I set out to the rice paddies with a portable radio, a bucket of ice water/cups and my camera. Our job for most of the day was pulling the rice seedlings up out of the ground and bundling them so they could be planted in the mud the next day. We started pulling the seedlings out at the roots, then bashing them against our foot to get the mud and water off of them. Then we piled them on the ground and Mae would come along and bundle them. At first it wasn't that bad, until the sun came out and soon my shirt was soaked through with my sweat [except the back which was face up to the sun] and my hair was dripping from the heat inside my hat. I didn't dare take it off - I would get a nasty sunburn by the end of the day. I switched between bending over while pulling and Thai sitting [squatting with your feet completely on the ground] while pulling; my knees started to shake and my legs started to ache. I thought to myself, "If a nine year old boy can do this all day, I will MAKE myself do this all day". After a couple hours Nong Beer and Nong Art as well as P'Dtia and her three kids had arrived to help. We spent the rest of the morning pulling seedlings out and the kids and I occasionally taking fully clothed swims in pond nearby. I have never had so much fun in my life; it was so refreshing to play with children, to toss them into the water and swim around with them on my back when they couldnt touch the bottom anymore. We made castles out of clay we dug up at the bottom of the pond, lured their german shephard to come in for a swim and ran, screaming and laughing, into the pond. After we took a short break in the pond we were back to work and continued the painful labour until lunch time when we hiked back to the village house and showered and changed for lunch. We let our clothes dry in the sun so we could wear them that afternoon. By the time our rest was over, I couldn't stand on one leg without it crumbling underneath me, and it hurt to walk or sit down. My hands were blistered and I the makings of a rediculous looking long sleeve tan on my forearms. Despite all this, we went back out to the fields and worked 4 more long hours until the paddie was cleared. At one point P'Dtia took me to go plant one of the bundles in a nearby field so I could see what it was like. You have to stand with your legs spread wide so you could rotate in every direction, and you planted the seedlings in knee deep mud that swam with hundreds of worms and little bugs. The rest of the afternoon, the children and I continued our routine of working for an hour or so, then taking a small break in the pond. The seedlings we pulled were home to many little critters - spiders, caterpillars, worms, leeches, ants, bees, beetles - and occasionally I would hear the screams of one of the girls when they saw a caterpillar climbing around in the rice they were pulling. The boys were less fearful and picked up geckos to place them on their shoulders while they worked. At the end of the day we had cleared one paddie, with 12 of us working. I did the math and figured out the following.

1. Each bundle of rice makes roughly 2-3 kilos of rice.
2. 1 kilo of rice is sold for roughly 10 baht [roughly 30 cents]
3. From the one paddie we cleared, we pulled 200 bundles of rice.

1. At the most, each bundle will make 30 baht.
2. 200 bundles at 30 baht is 6000 baht.
3. 6000 baht = roughly 200 dollars.

From one full day of working, the rice paddie would only make 200 dollars. However, the seedlings still needed to be planted and harvested in the month of November before they could sell them. I never realised just how much work it takes to farm rice, and it brings me to tears to think of the pain and effort they go through just to make ends meet. However, the thing that touched me the most is that all of the people who helped farm the rice don't get any money from it, and they know that. They help Mae and her three kids farm their fields just to be together, to help that family make money and to help make the workload a little lighter.

Today my body aches; I have to walk slowly, sit down slowly and it hurts to move my legs. My shoulders ache, I have a sunburn on my chest, neck and forearms and the blisters on my hands prevent me from bending my fingers. But it was worth it. Living in the village for a few days was one of the most stunning and amazing experiences of my entire exchange; it helped me to see more of the culture of a village family in Thailand. It was an experience I'll never forget, and I hope I can go back to visit the boys and Mae sometime before I head back to Canada. The peacefulness and silence in the village was something I thrive from and an aspect I wish I could grasp in everyday life. I will never forget Ban Nong Hoi village.

"What is Nature unless there is an eventful human life passing within her? Many joys and many sorrows are the lights and shadows in which she shows most beautiful." - Henry Thoreau

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


On Tuesday a Thai pop/boy band came to play a concert at my school to promote isaan basketball competition that is being held here. Students from 19 different provinces are now sleeping on the 3rd floor of the english building and have taken up the entire math building - K-OTIC came to sing some songs and open the beginning of the competition.
K-OTIC is not my favourite Thai band by far - they have more of a hiphop/r&b style which I'm not the biggest fan of. I'm more of a rock and roll type of girl. Either way, they have some catchy songs - plus it helps that I have a "mad-school-girl-crush" on the Korean singer, Jongbae.
The concert was really awesome, though sickly hot and humid - most of the students from my school as well as hundreds of students from the other schools in Nakhon Phanom were jampacked into our little gym which not only doesn't have air conditiong, but is lacking in the fan department. By the middle of the concert, sweat was dripping down the back of my legs and I had to wipe my face on my purse - quite an attractive look, I think. All of the student soldiers where there to keep the screaming girls back (some even tried to jump over the barriers blocking the fans from the small blocked off stage) and I got pushed so often, and almost too roughly for a crowd of 13 year old Thai girls.
I have met the singers before when I was in Bangkok and I had spoken with them and told them I was an exchange student. They were shocked and excited to hear I could speak Thai and rewarded me with pictures of us together. At this concert, there was no time or space to say hello, but I like to think they recognised me as the looked over, smiled and waved. However, I might just be delusional, which is completely possible.

Koen - This is the band member that I spoke the most too. At the concert on Tuesday, he was not only wearing a leather jacket, but TWO pairs of jeans. Both complete with belts. I still wonder about Thai clothing style sometimes.

Jongbae - I also got to talk to him before, but not for long. He goes to the best school in Thailand which is also an international university in Bangkok. Maybe I will casually bump into him one day if I go to visit Noo and Sing who go to school there.

Poppy - The lead singer of the band - probably because most Thai girls like him.. he's "NARAK JUNG!!!" (so cute!)

K-OTIC - There are 5 guys in the band - ranging in age from 16-20, also ranging in height from "small for a Thai person" to "falang size". The other two boys are "Tomo" and "Kenta". Though a lot of Thai girls like Tomo, I personally think he looks like a girl :) No offense.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


There's nothing like being locked in an empty white room for four days to make you resent some things about Thailand. For one, being a falang is either the best or the worst thing that ever happened to you. You are treated differently, cautiously and with more stares than a Thai person would get. Another, the fact that everything in Thailand takes 458459406804968 times as long to get done as it would in Canada. Also, because Nakhon Phanom is one of the less wealthy provinces in Thailand, the health care system is less than meteocre. Finally, sometimes [and by sometimes I mean quite frequently] common sense seems to slip the minds of most Thai people. I seem to forget these aspects of Thai culture as life goes on in a normal matter; every once in a while, something happens that is a kick in the ass and a slap in the face, all at the same time.

Two Wednesdays ago [June 17th] I went down to Bangkok with Suzanne to drop her off at the airport and send her home. She left to board early morning on Thursday and for the rest of the day, other than wallowing in self pity, I went shopping in Bangkok with my friend Mason and was on a bus back to Nakhon Phanom by nightfall.
This past Wednesday [June 24th] I started to get a head cold - runny nose, sneezing etc. By Thursday morning my host mother was waking me up to take me to the hospital. She was worried that since I had been to Bangkok recently, that I had come in contact with the "swine flu" that has recently made an invasion in Thailand's capital city. We were asked to come back later in the evening when there were less people at the hospital, and in the meantime I had to wear a mask while at home.

First of all, wearing a mask is not a fun thing to do, and secondly, it's even worse in a country with a climate like Thailand's. It gets hard to breath, the air inside the mask condenses and you're left sweating underneath the blue cloth, trying to breath normally. Not fun, at all.

Thursday evening we returned to the hospital and I was poked and prodded with a distance and look of distaste only a martian or harmful bacteria would get. I only ever came within distance of nurses dressed in suits - complete with: [count them] 1-2-3-4 masks, goggles, a clear face shield, black wellingtons, 2 layers of gloves, hair caps and two layers of green suits over top of their normal scrubs. They stuck things up my nose, in my ears and jammed needles into my arms without the comforting, delicate touch of a Canadian nurse. A man pushed me around roughly and prodded me in front of an X-ray while tears silently rolled down my cheeks. The whole situation was rediculous - I didn't have a temperature, sore throat, sore limbs, headache or a cough. I had been out of Bangkok for more than 6 days before I showed signs of a cold and I felt fine. When the tests and a lot of waiting was finished, I was taken in a wheelchair to the white room. I insisted on walking but they worried I was too tired to walk. I wanted to give my mom the wheelchair and I would push her to my room. She needed to sit down more than I did.

The room was empty, with white tiled walls that were rusty and grimey - the look only a rarely used room would have. There were no comforts of home, only a bed, two trash cans and a metal night side table. The bathroom reminded me of a horror movie - I clearly was not in one of the best rooms. I was left there, with the notion that in an hour the doctor would come see me and then I could go home. My mother was not allowed to stay in the room with me.

An hour passed, a nurse came and went and still I was not allowed to go home. Finally, after frequent and frantic phone calls from all three of my host families, I understood I had to stay there, for 48 hours while they waited for my blood result to come back. I had nothing to do, was not allowed visitors and was left in the room with only a simple fan and a view of the parking lot to keep me company. The 48 hours came and went and I wondered why I wasn't allowed to go home yet - they told me they had to send the bloodwork to another province and it hadn't come back yet. So I sat and waited, finished the book I was reading and tried to entertain myself by sleeping or phoning the few exchange students left in Thailand. I talked to my family in Canada a lot, which helped, but when they were sleeping and it was the middle of the day, I sat in boredom - crying a lot and attempting to sleep as much as I could.

Finally, Saturday night I got ahold of my host sister and asked her to bring me some things from home - another book, postcards to write, my journal and my ipod. They kept me sane the last day.

This morning I was let out, being told I just had a normal cold and it would go away soon. I could have told them that 4 days earlier before they put me in isolation. It was not a good weekend, I wished to go back to Canada if it meant I could leave - the nurses made me afraid and paranoid every time my throat was sore or I started to cough. I never did spike a temperature, but I started to believe I was doomed with a flu that has killed many. I missed Suzanne, I knew if she hadn't gone home yet she would sit outside my window and keep me company, bring me my favourite food and things to do, and talk to me on the phone for hours on end. I miss my friend.

Other than all the bad things, there was some good - my host families brought me snacks everyday, I got phone calls from my host moms every few hours to see if I needed anything, and Tony offered to bring me books if I ran out.

The trucks that drive through the streets blaring news broadcasts have a new piece of information to share "Be Careful... It's Here!"

"There is no remedy for love, but to love more" - Henry Thoreau

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Green Means Go

Driving in Thailand is a mission not for the weak at heart. Not only does traffic flow on the left side of the road, but there are literally no (or at least FEW) traffic rules. There is no such thing as cutting a person off - motorcycles swerve in front of big trucks and pull out of alleyways onto main streets so quickly that I personally would not have failed in colliding with them. However, Thais must either be amazing drivers, or have extremely quick reflexes. I personally believe it is the latter.

If you drive in Bangkok with a taxi driver (or tuk tuk if you are a more courageous soul) you will weave in and out of the surrounding vehicles at 130 kmph all the while, holding onto their cellphone in one hand and not managing to dishevel a single hair. Thai drivers are crazy (as my visitors and many other fellow falangs will agree).

Turn signals are not used for turning. They are used if they are pulling over a foot to the side, to indicate someone can pass, to signal a stop or that it is okay they were cut off. Almost never for turning - unless they are taking a round corner, in which case there is no need to signal... but they do anyway.

I spend a lot of time biking in Nakhon Phanom which has left me with not only nice strong legs but a good understanding of Thai driving. I would usually be too afraid to bike on the road with cars flying by, but Thailand has given me a lot of courage; if I can bike around in Thailand, I can bike anywhere. The roads are horribly paved and have big chunks of tar strips across the street that cause me to jiggle and bump as I bike overtop. Dogs chase you down the street, cars pull out in front of you even if you have the "right of way" (not that there is any such thing in Thailand) and you continually find new alleyways to sneak down to save yourself from the song taews of screaming school children.

Driving is a mission in Thailand, but thankfully I am not weak at heart.

"Lets waste time, chasing cars"