Tag Archives: Isaan

An Afternoon Snack (short film update)

UPDATE: This video will appear on the Travel Channel in the pilot of “What’s Your Trip?” hosted by Anthony Bourdain. It will air Monday, May 21st, 2007 at 8PM and 11PM.

Original music by Brandon Follett, singing with a pig.  Check out his other music projects.  weirdosmusic.com

This video was filmed in the rural, low-income, rice-growing region of Thailand known as Isaan, where few foreign travelers venture. We went there two weeks into our Thailand travels in order to volunteer on an organic farm.

Before traveling to Thailand, a Thai friend in the States warned me about our plans to volunteer on a farm in Prakonchai, Thailand. She wrinkled her nose at the thought, saying that the people of northwestern Thailand talked funny and ate gross food, such as fermented fish. She said this region was like the Texas of Thailand.

For ten days, we stayed near Prakonchai, working on the farm and living with a Canadian man, his Isaan wife, and their two children. Our farm work included cutting rice, raking straw from the rice fields, and scooping up water buffalo manure to mix into compost. Since we don’t speak Thai, we couldn’t tell if the people spoke standard Thai or not, but they do speak their own local language in addition to Thai. The food was good, but it was definitely different from the meals we’d eaten at Thai restaurants in the U.S.

One afternoon, our hosts took us with them to the local market. The fruits and vegetable stalls were piled high with various shapes and colors we’d never seen before. The meat section was fresher, bloodier, and included a lot more animal heads than we were accustomed to seeing. We were also fascinated to see all sorts of fried insects for sale, with the vendors sitting nonchalantly behind their neatly organized displays of fried bugs. Our hosts’ five-year-old daughter loved the tasty snacks and munched her way through a bag of fried insects while her parents did their shopping.

Brandon also purchased a variety bag of bugs and enjoyed their flavor and crunch. He wanted to share his delight on camera, so we filmed “An Afternoon Snack.” The film was made in a moment of pure Follettry.

Special thanks to Stacy McBain for giving the English language the word “Follettry.” How have we managed for so long without it?

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Ban Kumuang School located in rural Isaan, Thailand

Why are you trying to make me FAT?
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My belly is getting bigger. Not that it’s news worthy that an American is getting fatter, but never thought I’d gain weight as a result of eating rice, eggs, fruit and vegetables.

I always figured it was fast food and processed food that made people fat. I thought people got fat from slurping down soda, licking sugary ketchup off their fingers, wiping the fat from burgers off their lips, and pretending white bread with some injected vitamins has nutritional value. When these people couldn’t get enough fast food, they would then super size meals, call Domino’s Pizza, buy a Twinkie at the convenience store, or lose themselves in the isles of processed food found at the supermarket.

All my life people told me to eat healthy by saying no to processed food and yes to fresh and local. While volunteering Ban Kumuang School in rural Isaan for a month, I ate breakfast and lunch with the teachers, and dinner was at the home of the director and his wife. With no processed food in sight, I didn’t think twice about watching my waistline.

Within a couple of days of starting my job, the Thai teachers noticed the chicken feet and spoon-sized frogs left uneaten on my plate. I’m vegetarian, I explained. Then next day, and for the rest of the month, eggs became the substitute for meat. The omelets became like the endless soda machine at Taco Bell. I never felt a minute of hunger while staying in one of Thailand’s poorest provinces.

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Getting fat off eggs, vegetables, fruit and rice came as surprise. I told the Thai teacher, “In the U.S., food corporations and fast food restaurants treat me the same way you indulge me. They try to get me to stuff myself with product. You put omelets in front of me and say, ‘eat, eat, eat.’ Then when I’m full, you put more omelets in front of me and say, ‘eat some more.’ Food businesses are always trying to get me to eat more than my stomach can handle. The food and drink marketers use coupons, two for one specials, happy hours, super size, buffets, and sexy women to sell large quantities of merchandise to make a profit. You, on the other hand, push food and drink on me with the same intensity as the corporations, but you don’t make me pay. Why are you trying to make me fat?”

The teacher replies, “Thai hosts are happy when you get fatter. It means they are taking good care of you.”

Luckily, my weight gain was not the cause of someone trying to make a buck off my consumer-dulled mind. My weight gain is a testament to our Thai hosts’ generous hospitality.

Omelet Review located near Warinchamrap, Thailand

The Westerner Suffering from Mental and Sanitation Travel Sickness

Basically, if you’re a Westerner visiting Thailand and can’t laugh and smile while your vegetables are cut on a fly-infested cutting board, then you’re mentally going to have a hard time.

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Sure, we would like to drive 30 minutes to the nearest city and dine at a clean outdoor patio with misters or large fans. We would like to be waited on by an attractive server who keeps the soda water, ice cubes, and Johnny Walker flowing, while we eat an omelet with proper utensils and have the option to wash our hands with running water and soap instead of wiping them on our trousers and pretending their clean. Right now, time and money are working against us. We rely on Aidan and Robert to play the role of the attractive server.

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Despite our time and money limitations, we can afford some cheap beer, a cheap omelet and good conversation somewhere in the countryside near Warinchamrap. We get two out of three at this rural Thai restaurant, and to our surprise, we get more than good conversation and cheap beer.

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We got a four star omelet. I now know how dirty Cinderella felt when she put her warty, corned, fungus-filled peasant foot into the clean slipper. The omelet was my slipper. My dirty hands were like Cinderella’s feet. The moment when my fingers brought the omelet up to my lips and my tongue reached out and tasted the bursting flavor of peppers and egg, I felt like a princess.

The other day, I was reading Ancient Wisdom, Modern World by the Dalai Lama. Here I summarize the Dalai Lama’s words about health:

Sickness is a product of the environment. If you come from the West, the sickness tends to be mental and stress related. If you come from the East, the sickness tends to be water-borne and sanitation related.

I imagine a journal entry from a Westerner suffering from mental and sanitation sickness:

Dear Journal,
After eating the disease-riddled omelet, I got diarrhea. I attribute my discomfort to poor sanitation practices used at the restaurant. Squatting over a hole in the ground has made my thighs sore. I have come to agree that Western toilets are for out of shape, lazy people. Now I wish I was in better shape and hadn’t spent so much time at the beginning of the vacation sitting by the pool looking at the ocean.
Signed,
Suffering Sam

Dear Journal,
I’m still sick; I get depressed looking at my dirty self in the mirror. I came to Ubon to volunteer at a school. I teach kids about Christ through English Camps. When I look at myself, I no longer see Jesus in my face. I resemble the heathens he was trying to save. In all the pictures of Jesus I’ve never seen him dirty. (Maybe bloody, but that can’t be attributed to his personal hygiene). The only thing whiter than Jesus’s face is his robe. I’m no longer Christ-like. I’m dirty like the devil……..Save me, Jesus!!!!
Suffering Sam, the dirty sinner

The journal ends, but Sam’s story is only beginning. Like the diners who must drive to the café instead of taking a ten-minute Saturday morning walk, Sam is in too big of a hurry. Like the omelet eaters who cannot wait for their tomatoes to ripen in season, Sam can’t wait for Jesus to impress upon him that everything will be all right.

His fast-paced heart lets the anxiety of dirtiness grow big and tall in his life.  The grim reaper waltzes Sam’s depressed thoughts over to a gun. His dirty fingers smudge the white ivory grip. He can’t put the barrel in his mouth because he’s afraid of catching a cold from the last person who might have blown his or her head off. His Western mental sickness of being afraid of objects that don’t smell lemon fresh saved his life.

The gun fires but only takes off his ear.  Friends find him passed out from shock, lying on the ground, with one hole still suffering from sanitation sickness and a new hole suffering from mental sickness.

English Crazy Club: Where your inspiration begins!

English Crazy Camp is a booming, action packed, emotional roller coaster. It’s the five-minute movie trailer that will get students jazzed, excited, and wanting to learn more English.

English Crazy Camp is run entirely by volunteers. University students in English Crazy Club prepare songs, games and activities for the weekend camps as a way to practice their English. English-speaking foreigners are recruited to help out, and they get a chance to see the heart and soul of Thailand. Without the volunteer staff, rural schools with small budgets would otherwise not be able to host English camps for their students.

The camps last for two days. During that time, the campers sing songs, learn everyday English phrases, and practice conversational English. At the end of the weekend, everyone is happy from two days of fun, and sad to say good-bye.

Below are pictures and podcasts from two different English Crazy Camps, at Chumchon Ban Nayia School and Patumratchawongsa School, both located in Isaan, Thailand.


the bus ride to the school


arrive at the school and stay up late preparing for the next day


university students get the campers jazzed and excited to learn English

 
English-speaking foreigners, Gabe and Andrea, are exhausted at the end of the day but happy to help out! For anyone looking for cool volunteer opportunities like this one, check out www.helpx.net.

Short film clips:
the foreign staff entertain everyone with Sexy, Naughty, Bitchy

English Crazy Camp staff doing a crazy English cheer

Campers singing the banana song

the Thai staff perform a fun Thai song

Photo albums:  
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photo album of the two English Crazy Camps

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photo album of the students at Patumratchawongsa School

Steve Calls it Ice Cream (short film)

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click on the picture to watch the film

A short film showcasing the entrepreneurial spirit of a rural Thai woman. Filmed in Buriram, Thailand.