Saturday, December 12, 2015

An Interesting Observation at the Mahidol Sports Science 10k

Sometimes your morning can start out looking a bit like this.  I would say that I look like someone who got up way too early to go to a sport that I don't think anyone likes, but you can just translate that to "looking like hell."

I have had the opportunity to run many, many kilometers around the beautiful Mahidol University, and today was no different.  It was a beautiful run and I enjoyed it a lot.  It was a somewhat similar route to what I have run before in these two different blog posts.  Post 1.  Post 2.  

While the run was very pretty, (see the pictures below), it was a realization that I had that made it very memorable.  

At the start of the race, the woman next to me was running in a hijab.  While normally, I might not find this all that interesting, with all the anti-muslim rhetoric going on in the United States right now, I found it quite nice that this woman was able to keep to her traditions and still join in on non-traditional activity.  She wore a very conservative set of running clothes (long sleeve athletic shirt and long running pants), and was able to compete in a sport that one would not think typical of a person wearing a traditional head covering.  

Needless to say, I loved seeing her doing this.  I am quite used to see lots of women in hijab here in Thailand, as there is a large population of Muslims here, but it was great to see someone who was able to mix the old and the new.  

She was also a damn good runner.  

Now, without further typing, on to the pictures:

Geocaching around Ayutthaya

I am not going to try to explain the historical or cultural significance of Ayutthaya, Thailand, nor am I going to try to explain the differences in temple structures.  Everything that I know about this complex is based on one book, a few websites, and some perusing of the UNESCO website.
Suffice it to say that Ayutthaya is very deserving of the UNESCO recognition.  While I cannot say that I have been to many world heritage sites, I can say that there is a real feeling of depth to visiting Ayutthaya.  The area is a bustling modern city with ruins that date back to the 1300's.  There is a mix of modern cars, tuk-tuks, and other "normal" looking settings, with the temple complexes playing backdrop to the typical Thai city scene. 

We were lucky in the sense that we had a lot of time in the early morning to explore the area before the typical crowds started to arrive.  

My suggestion for visiting any site like this is to show up early and leave early.  There is a real sense of beauty when you are wandering around the ruins by yourself.  For the first small portion of time, the only sounds that I heard were the calls of birds and my own feet moving along the rough gravel paths. That serenity was shattered when the first school group turned their children loose on the area.  For a few glorious minutes though, there was a real sense of calm and beauty.

The only complaint that I have about the whole trip is how many people do not understand the fragility of places such as these. There are signs in multiple languages asking people to not deface the ruins, leave rubbish, or climb all over the steps.  There are areas that are lower and are OK to walk up, but there are many places that you can tell would be both perilous to the person ascending, and destructive to the irreplaceable cultural artifacts. 

Sadly, I saw a few people ignoring these signs.  I wish I could say that it was just one or two tourists, but it seems that Thai and foreign alike want to take that extra special selfie on top of a set of 700 year old crumpling stairs.  

An interesting thing that I learned is that when you take a picture with any statue that depicts Buddha, you are supposed to be lower than the head of the statue.  This makes total sense when thinking about the cultural values, but just a connection that I had never made before.  

So, without further rambling, here are some of the better photos that I captured today.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Ronald McDonald House Charities 10.5k - Bangkok 2015

Waking up again at 03:40 to go running is really starting to make me consider that I might be just a touch insane.  

I learned a few things today though.  Just to cut to it, the first is that you should always bring toilet paper to a race in Thailand.  Granted most bathrooms have toilet paper, but there are time where capitalism is just way too easy, and today was one of those days.  Let's just say that it was a good thing that I checked to see if there was toilet paper before there was a need.  Thankfully my friend had 5baht and I was able to go and buy some.  

So remember, bring toilet paper or bring some money.  Way to go capitalism!

The second thing that I learned today is that there is a real reason that people are afraid of clowns. Asian Ronald McDonald is a very creepy looking clown.  Like, seriously creepy...

The third thing that I learned is that taxi cabs and motorcycles do not care that there are thousands of people running along a route that is coned off and had police providing some form of crowd control.  They will mow your ass down.  Period.  I watched a guy in front of me get clipped by a motorcycle vendor, and a few people also had to dodge traffic when it decided to come into the race course.  Running on the "closed-off" streets of Bangkok is a bit like Frogger in that it is more about survival than it is about getting a good time.  

The last thing that I learned today is that Bangkok is a city in transition at about 530-600 am.  The city is recovering from the late night drinking, people are slowly and drunkenly heading home from the bars, and the city is just starting to get cleaned for the next day of debauchery.  The streets slowly transform while you are running from the lovely methane smell and debris to the cleaner streets at the end of the course.  The small army of workers are busy removing bottles, plastic bags, and other items, while the cabs are slowly, (or quickly depending on if they want to drive through the course), driving people home from their nights of drinking.  I can only hope that the drunken foreigner who decided that he wanted to yell out the window of the cab at the group in front of me has one of the most massive hangovers of his life right now.  If on the off chance that you are reading this Mr. Drunken Foreigner, I hope it hurts.  You suck at life.  

Other than that, it was a fantastic run.  Well, minus Asian Ronald McDonald.

The course loops a bit around a very pretty park before heading out into the city.  It makes a few sweeping arcs and then ends up right back where it started.  

The race itself started with a bit of a power outage - something that happens quite frequently with the lovely 220 volt cords plugged into way too many different surge protectors.  It was quite fun watching the starting gate deflate and then we were underway.  

As weird as it sounds, we actually started on time for this race.  It was quite nice to get most of the run out of the way before the sunrise.  It was also the first time in a long time that I have been able to see stars.  

I guess we look a little more alive.  I know that I was pretty dead at 03:40 am that morning.  In my defense I also had a nasty cold for the past two days, and still think I am recovering just a bit from it.  

Yeah, never mind, I look like hell.

I was also quite impressed with this man, who ran the whole race with the flag of the King.  I mean, I complain about carrying anything more than my cell phone, and he did the whole race at a nice steady pace of about a 6 minute kilometer (about a 9:30 mile).  

It was a fun race, and I got to see a part of Bangkok that I might not have seen (or some parts that I might not want to see), and got to take a great selfie with Grimace.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Wai Khru

One of the things that I am learning about Thailand, is that unless a Thai person is operating some form of vehicle or bicycle, there is an intense amount of respect and politeness that is given to people around them.  Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but almost every single person that I have had the opportunity to interact with has been both respectful and very kind.

As a teacher this sort of respect and kindness is very evident in the classroom.  Of course, I teach teenagers, so there is always the occasional pubescent hiccup, but for the most part my students are models of what I would consider "all-around good people."

From what I can gather, respect permeates Thai culture to the core.   

As someone who has now been in the teaching field at multiple schools for six years, I am used to "teacher appreciation" days consisting of a pen with the local unions name on it, and perhaps a sandwich or some finger food.  Usually it is haphazard and very evident that it is a byproduct of someone passing the buck down the chain until they decided that they would spend less than a dollar per person to celebrate our chosen profession.  

Of course this does not take into account some of the more personal actions shown by select administrator (Mr. Terri York - kudos for the nerd gift!)

If teacher appreciation in the United States consists of a pen and lukewarm food, The Thai tradition cannot even be compared or considered on the same spectrum.  

Wai Khru is a celebration of respect and education.  The ceremony itself is very scripted, but also very touching in the sincerity and authenticity of the moment. 

The whole process starts out with students working on their own time to create and design offerings that can range from the traditional to the abstract.  They are decorated with flowers and other objects and genuinely look amazing.  You can see from the pictures the level of work that the students put into these offerings.   

After all the preparations are complete, the whole school gets together to show respect for the faculty, the administrators, and the school/university president. 

The whole ceremony starts off with a few speeches and some other religious activities.  There is a bit of singing, and then the "curriculum" is brought out to be blessed by the school president.  In this case he dipped his finger into some white ink and marked the top corner of the book to give his approval.  

The faculty are all seated on the stage and the students first present the tray offerings to each of the faculty.  During this process each of the faculty members is bowed to and receives a gift offering from the student.  These will then go to be displayed at the entrance of the school, and the faculty then might say a few things to the student.  

After all of this, each student is given a few flower garlands and are allowed to come up on stage and present them to different teachers as a more personal gift of thanks and recognition.  As beautiful as the offering trays are, I would say that these more personal gifts are even better.  There is a simple and respectful feel to it, and you can tell that for the most part, the students genuinely mean and feel what they are doing.  

After the official and more scripted part of the ceremony, the school president left, but had some time to chat with a few of the seniors who were in the front row of the auditorium.  He had a great sense of humor after the whole serious part of the ceremony was done, as you will see a bit later.  

Now, for people who have wondered, selfie culture has permeated Thailand as much as it has covered the United States.  

The ceremony was both beautiful and moving.  It is rare that a thing like this actually makes me feel better about my job, but leaving Wai Khru I was more energized and motivated.  

Thailand really knows how to do teacher appreciation the right way.

Sure beats a Pen with Hawaii State Teacher Association written on the side.