New places, new people, new thoughts…

Well, here I am sitting on the train… I’m taking the night train from Milano to Vienna, and I don’t think there is a better time or place to write my very first blog post. So here it goes!

First of all, thanks for reading! I have always enjoyed reading the blogs of students both on campus and abroad, and I thoroughly appreciate the time that you are now spending to read this. Grazie mille, i miei amici!

As of today, I have been in Europe for fifty-two days. It has been quite the adventure thus far: full of moments drenched in joy, thoughtfulness, stress, anxiety, and a good helping of adventure. Before settling down in my current location of Milano, I was travelling around Europe will my dear ol’ dad, Tim. We went Copenhagen, Prague, Budapest, and Venice, with a night in between here and there in Berlin. Nearly all of it by train, some of it by boat, and lots of it by foot! Each city we traveled in, we tried to walk to most of the places that we wanted to visit. Because of this, we saw so many beautiful things: street art (I hope to dedicate an entire post solely to street art), buildings, churches, FOOD, people…all the little things that make a place truly special.

After seeing so many things and having some time to settle into a totally new and foreign place, I have come to some very humbling realizations. I am going to dedicate the rest of this blog post to one specific realization. Worry not, I will write in more detail about the things I’ve seen and done at a later date, hopefully soon!

One of the most humbling and wonderful realizations that I’ve had after seeing so many people, is that people are essentially the same, everywhere. Everybody wants to be happy, to be loved, to have security, to be able to do what they want to do, to have freedom. The words I just used are not as precise as I would like them to be, but I hope the point is understood regardless.

Stereotyping happens to all types of people, and it certainly affects the way that we experience certain peoples and cultures and potentially limits our experiences and the way we interact with the world. Stereotypes allow us to create barriers: we think of our relationships to other types of people as ‘us and them’ or ‘different’, and these ideas create grounds for thinking in terms of superiority.  Yes, groups of people have certain characteristics that make them outwardly unique. For example, Italian stereotypes include that they eat a lot of pasta and pizza, are loud, and use lots of gesticulation. Yes, all of these are true in some ways for some people, but there are plenty of Italians who do not relate closely to these stereotypes. All the Italians (and other people) I have met are more similar than different to most of the people I know back in the States.

Mostly what I’m getting at is that yes, groups of people are characterized in certain ways for a reason, but really we all need and want the same things and we just express these things in different ways. We speak different languages and act different ways, but we’re all saying the same things! To me, this is such a wonderful thought. It means that no matter who we are, we can all relate, human to human, face to face, with loving kindness.

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Adelphian Tour 2014 (alternate title, Everything Is Awesome)

Today I finally got home for spring break, after spending four wonderful days traveling around the great state of Washington with the Adelphian Concert Choir. I. Am. Exhausted. (And possibly starting to get sick… I’m amazed I managed to dodge the tour bug as long as I did.) But it was a freaking blast.

Some of the best experiences of tour, in no particular order:

-The homestays. We had some amazing UPS alumni and Adelphian friends volunteer to house us for the nights we stayed in Walla Walla and Spokane, and these people were seriously amazing. In Spokane I got to stay in a beautiful house that had been transformed into a bed and breakfast, where I got the best night of sleep I’ve had in a long time. Then in Walla Walla, I stayed with five other Adelphians in a lovely home where we were provided with Oreos, tea, cuddly  dogs, comfy beds, a giant walk-in shower, and biscuits and bacon for breakfast. My homestays were so awesome that at first I kind of felt bad for Adelphians who had been housed at other places, but then I heard about homestays where there were cinnamon rolls for breakfast and pet chinchillas to cuddle. From what I heard, all the homestays were just as awesome.

-We had all brought our swimsuits so we could hang out in the hot tub at the hotel in Wenatchee, but when we arrived we found that the hot tub was, in fact, a cold tub. But did that stop us? Nay! After some initial disappointment, we said “screw it” and went swimming in the pool instead, and probably kept the entire hotel awake. (At least, until 11:30 when we were kicked out for being too loud.)

-Getting to know my choir buddies so much better. We got a lot of quality time together, especially on the bus. There was one really exciting leg of our journey where we played this great bus ride game: the people on the aisles would move from seat to seat, and our tour manager (the amazing Aaron Altabet) would ask a super creative questions to get some conversation going, and we spend would a few minutes getting to know our seat buddies. Probably my favorite question was, “If you could have lunch with a UPS professor, a famous person, and a fellow Adelphian, who would you pick?” (It’s a tough one, but I’d have to go with Mita Mahato, J.K. Rowling, and Daniel Wolfert. I just have a hunch we’d have some of the most amazing conversations about Harry Potter.)

-The food in Leavenworth. I mean, Leavenworth in general was pretty awesome, but the food, oh my. They had an entire shop devoted to cheese, and there was salt water taffy in basically every store, and for lunch I got to split French onion soup and German macaroni with a fellow Adelph. It was the absolute best.

-Meeting Adelphian alumni after our concerts. We had a concert every night of tour, and after almost every one, an alumnus or two would join us afterwards for our usual post-concert song. We met recent alumni as well as some from the seventies and eighties, maybe even a couple from the fifties and sixties, and they all joined in as though they’d been in Adelphians yesterday. Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how long this group has been around, and meeting these alumni and hearing their stories was so much fun. For serious, I feel so honored to be part of this group.

-Dr. Zopfi wearing this hat:

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A Year Ago

Last week was midterms, and it coincided with my alma mater’s third quarter finals as well. It’s so weird to think a year ago I was deciding where I wanted to go for college. That I was anxiously checking the mail and my email from any sign of the college acceptances. I had friends waiting to hear back from huge state schools, technical schools, the Ivy’s, or any school that would let us leave Hawaii (small rock syndrome we like to call it). I wasn’t super aware of checking my mail with concerts, finals, and leadership conferences to plan so the day I came home to an ivory envelope stating “Open this! It’s Good News Inside!” from Puget Sound I was instantly excited! I decided to wait to open the envelope until both my parents were home so I could share the good news with them!

A year ago I was worried about all the scholarships I was applying for, my entire senior “last” activities and actually going out and being tourist-y around Hawaii. I knew that if I was going away to Puget Sound, I would miss Hawaii with all my friends, family, food, fun and sun so I decided to soak up all the rest of spring and summer; trying to live in the moment. Now, I like to think I’m still living in the moment but I’m more aware of the future. For the 18 years of my life I knew I’d be going all the way through high school and college and then I’d really be on my own to decide what to do. That time is only three years away and I’m still deciding what I want to do, it’s crazy to think it’s only been a year since I was in a completely different place.

From applying to schools, getting accepted, deciding to go to Puget Sound, graduating, my last “free” summer, going off to college, meeting all these new, amazing people and trying new things, I think it’s been a great year. I’ve changed as a person, I was so worried about the differences in college and being away from all that was familiar but Puget Sound welcomed me into the fold and I continue to love my new home. In high school all my upperclassmen friends stressed “make the most of the time you have. It goes by way too fast!” and my senior year I took it all in, every chance I got but I think that saying applies to life. I never thought I’d be almost done with my first year of college already, that I’d only have three more years of Puget Sound and into the real world I will go. But Puget Sound has definitely prepared me for the future and I can’t wait for more opportunities, friendships and learning experiences I’ll encounter along the way.

Fun fact: the first woman to summit Mt. Rainier did so wearing an “immodest” flannel bloomer suit.

I hadn’t given any thought to the history of women’s climbing in Washington prior to a recent event I attended: Washington State Senate Resolution 8694, which honors women and girls in sports (including climbing, as referenced by the title of this post), was being recognized by the state senate.  And so a handful of Puget Sound representatives, myself included, found ourselves in the state capitol building, on slippery leather seats, looking down onto a room of senators and shiny desks and oddly flowered carpet, and heard the following statement:

WHEREAS, The University of Puget Sound athletic department offers eleven women’s varsity sports at the Division III level, giving two hundred ten female student athletes the opportunity to compete in collegiate athletics; its women’s soccer squad has won twelve consecutive NWC titles, the longest active title streak in Division III women’s soccer history; and its women’s crew squad has reached the NCAA tournament eleven years in a row….

As the speaker read the names of the people attending, the senators rose and applauded.  So now I can say I’ve gotten a standing ovation from people far more powerful and influential than I am, how’s that for a bucket list item?

Disregarding bucket lists for a minute, though, I have to say that I’ve achieved far more athletically and personally at Puget Sound than I expected as, say, a junior in high school who was a bit surprised to find herself rowing in the top varsity 8.  I’ve had conversations with people here about how excited we are to see this person beat us on the upcoming 2K test and how impressed we are with that person’s progress.  Maybe I was just an exceptionally self-centered high schooler, but things like that would have made me a bit bitter a few years ago.  Watching and learning from the examples of past and present UPS rowers has both inspired me athletically and helped me grow as a person.  And, as the WA state senate has pointed out, personal growth is an integral part of athletics.

But seriously, how cool is it that the state senate has a proclamation and an event specifically for female athletes?

Daniel Wolfert Snapshot #10: Living in Circles

In which Daniel looks back at this year from the three-quarters mark.

If college was marketed to me as anything growing up, it was as a life-changing experience – not necessarily in a way that meant a single moment blatantly and dramatically altered the course of one’s life, but rather in a way that meant that the act of going through this educational system more or less independently would change the way one approaches work and life.  Yet as I consider life thus far, I am debating the validity of that statement.  I don’t think that it’s necessarily true or false across the board, but that it may be true for me only to a degree.

Let us consider the changes in my life since my first blog post that was posted on the twin side of last semester – during the fall break that divides the fall semester in half.  Once again, the time is immediately after midterms (although then the fall semester, and now the spring), and once again, I am sitting in a Starbucks as I write this (although it is now the Starbucks on 6th Avenue, rather than the one on Proctor).  Once again, I am listening to Katy Perry (although then I was listening to my favorites from her Teenage Dream album, and now I listen to my favorites from Prism), and I am still wondering what on earth I am doing writing about my life (as if it is of interest to anybody).­ I still spend almost all my time in the music building, and am taking almost the exact same classes, just increased in level and subsequent difficulty, and am involved in the same extracurriculars and student activities.

Yet a great many things have also changed.  My house, Rat Sking Thong (see Blog Post #1 if you are confused by this title), lost Isabel Chae as a housemate due to her decision to withdraw from school.  I became a codirector of Underground Sound, my a capella group, alongside my good friend Lisa Hawkins, and became the chorister (director of musical activities) of my fraternity, Beta Theta Pi.  I helped the Residential Student Association change our Director of Sustainability position to that of Director of Publicity. My family moved from one house in Raleigh, North Carolina, to another, larger and more wooded one, and my dog had her 10th birthday.  And I did not sleep through a single midterm!

It’s funny that people can so easily live in circles.  Maybe they’re just easy to become comfortable in, or maybe it’s easy to forget that you live in a circle at all – not that living in circles is necessarily a bad thing.  But I feel as if I keep coming back to writing about me writing.  Is my life really that uninteresting?  (I’ll give you a hint: The answer is yes.)  Every time I’ve watched a Puget Sound theatrical production, I feel as if I focus on the gender studies related aspects of it.  And I keep listening on other people’s conversations as I write these posts, as I am always in public places, just as I am listening to a woman I don’t know describing her friend’s two-and-a-half-year-old daughter comforting her in times of stress.  Even my mood and temperament seem to repeat across the year, as they have done every year – beginning with confident optimism in summer, increasing desperation in fall, exhaustion and despair in winter, and an almost inexplicably powerful, sentimental hope in spring. Maybe it’s the fact that school years have such a similar format each time, or I am just deeply affected by the weather.

Still, I wonder if things ever really, really change.  Probably.  Who am I asking?  Does anyone even read these blog posts?  I genuinely have no idea.

In our last chapter meeting, the pledges of Beta Theta Pi were discussing one of our core principles, intellectual growth.  We debated and analyzed the statement “Betas are devoted to continually cultivating their minds, including high standards of academic achievement”, considering the parallels between cultivating a garden and cultivating a mind – the necessary work, the continual labor, the necessity of love for that which is being cultivated, and the joy in the fruits of one’s labor.  But what struck me most about the chapter meeting was when the person responsible for education played a video of David Foster Wallace’s 2005 graduation speech to Kenyon College, entitled “This Is Water”, which can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TzFNh2_dSBg

Fish, he jokes, go through life ignorant enough to not even consider what water is.  This, he goes on to say, is not so unlike adults that go through the daily, boring, frustrating grind of daily life without considering the attitudes with which they perceive the world.  If we think beyond our automatically selfish attitudes, he says, if we have the imagination to see the world as an expanding place of possibility and the empathy to consider the hardship and kindred spirit we share with others, we are free to choose how to see the world.  We are free to decide whether to say that the world is a good place.  This, he says, is water.

I will say this about living in circles: I have done it for what seems like every year since middle school began, and it, in and of itself, is not what I am unhappy about.  I am unhappy that it is not my choice.

Maybe that’s what being an adult is supposed to be about.  Maybe I’m supposed to choose what circles I live in, and how expansive my world is, and how I connect with others.  But I’m just a college student three quarters of the way through his sophomore year of college.  What would I know, anyway?

The Hair Hook, and other perils of a Chilean household

The bathroom door in my new home is not quite in alignment with its frame and often takes some encouragement from my shoulder to properly close. When I do this quickly, there’s this fun little feature where my hair gets caught in the towel hook and yanks me back as I take a first step towards the toilet. “Well,” you might say, “Your life in Valparaíso must be pretty swell if your biggest problem is getting your hair pulled every now and then.” However, that is but the tip of the iceberg. Since coming here, there was a period of a few days in which there were three noticeable earthquakes (just temblors, not of the “terremoto” variety which threaten lives and property). As if waking up in the middle of the night to an extended shaking weren’t enough, I’ve had to learn to wear shoes at all times in the kitchen. Anyone who knows me can relate to how difficult this was, but after being shocked by the toaster, the toaster oven, and the microwave (which I just brushed my hand against reaching for the salt shaker) I was willing to sacrifice my toe freedom for that little rubber sole that insulates me from the ground and prevents that pesky electrical current from passing through my body.

Even considering the perils of electric shock from kitchen appliances, of earthquakes, of buses that start moving while passengers are in the middle of getting on or off, my situation here is much safer than many places I’ve been to, inside or outside the United States. My Spanish is far from perfect, but I’m getting over my fear of saying the wrong thing and now I feel comfortable in most conversations. So in this world of sun and beaches and steep hills and fast talkers, where are the challenges? Well, there is certainly much to learn about going with the flow, when classes are cancelled or moved without notice, when plans change or a given time can really mean half an hour later. There is much to learn about finding my way, waving down buses as they get close enough to read their signs and hoping they have time to brake, squeezing past others to press the “stop button,” navigating the hills and stairways and ravines and elevators on foot. Here’s one thing I’ve learned and was thinking about today as I walked with my host brother down the hill to hop on a bus going to some undisclosed location (I told him I wanted to see someplace new in the city, and he brought me to the sand dunes in Concón): that one of the great values of studying abroad is that it makes one aware of the best ways to live, anywhere. So many of the pieces of advice that I have heard from people, or read in the study abroad handbooks, are guidelines like: Don’t judge without giving yourself time to think and to understand something new; don’t assume that because something is different than what you are used to it is worse. Be open to new things, to trying every new food at least once, and to making new friends across language and cultural barriers. Do your best to respect the values and way of life of your family, communicate with them about any problems you are having, and remember to show them your appreciation. Find ways to be involved, in your home, in your school, and in your community. These are all pieces of advice that are necessary to keep in mind and follow for a successful time abroad, but they apply equally well to creating a fulfilling life. Any student who truly takes these to heart will bring their study abroad toolkit with them back home, where the challenges and dangers may be more familiar, but nevertheless where it is always good to practice openness and respect and the endless pursuit of learning.

From atop a dune in Concón

From atop a dune in Concón

 

I’ve got road trips, I’ve got gender studies… I’ve got my thesis, who could ask for anything more?

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On Friday, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Gender Studies Symposium at Lewis & Clark College with the rest of Prof. Alison Tracy Hale’s gender studies thesis class, and man was it fun.

I must admit, when Alison first told us about this conference and broached the topic of making a class field trip out of it, the most appealing-sounding thing about it was the chance to get off campus and go on a road trip. I’m a huge fan of road trips, whether I’m by myself or with other people; and if you’re like me, enduring week after week of a long semester can sometimes culminate in a case of cabin fever. (Or I guess, campus fever.) I love UPS but I get these cravings to hop in a car and go somewhere new, and going to Lewis & Clark seemed like a decent opportunity to do so in the middle of the semester… even if it did have the downsides of preparing a presentation about my thesis paper, and attending a thesis workshop with a bunch of strangers. (Those parts sounded a whole lot less appealing.)

But when I got there, the entire experience was so fun and laid-back, I had way more fun than I’d anticipated. By the end of the day I was bummed that I’d only had such a short window to visit the conference. We got to get some vitamin D in the Portland sunshine, hang out Lewis & Clark’s campus (which is almost as pretty as ours), attend some really fun gender-related panels, and meet awesome gender studies students from Lewis & Clark and Willamette and workshop their thesis projects.

I stopped in on a panel about masculinity in rural communities, and another about intersections of gender and disability issues, both of which were fascinating and had some amazing speakers. But my favorite part of the conference was our thesis workshop with the students from other universities. While most of us in the workshop were from UPS, the other students we did meet were really great to work with. They had really useful and thoughtful feedback on everybody’s projects, and had amazing thesis topics themselves. One of the girls in my group was studying media rhetoric surrounding Justin Bieber, and another was analyzing drag culture in Salem. (My topic seems so boring after hearing about theirs, I’ll have to find a way to spice it up… Maybe if I had more primary sources with drag queens. Drag queens are awesome.)

I just love whenever I have the opportunity to hang out with people who are just as interested in gender studies as I am. Or even getting to hear them speak at a panel for a few minutes. Gender studies is such an amazing and multi-faceted academic playground, it’s hard to get tired of talking about it. Sadly, by the mid-afternoon I had to speed back to campus to be in a choir concert, instead of hanging around and attending more panels, but I’m hoping I can go back next year and maybe present on my thesis once it’s finished.

In conclusion, Lewis & Clark Gender Studies Symposium: 10/10, would recommend. You should go. Or, if you haven’t taken any gender studies classes yet, take one. If you get the chance to have any conversations like the ones I had at Lewis & Clark on Friday, I guarantee it will be worth it.

Daniel Wolfert Snapshot #9: Further Adventures in Composerland

In which Daniel attends the Society of Composer’s Conference and feels simultaneously terrified and relieved.

From March 7th to March 8th, amid the faltering late-winter weather of the Pacific Northwest, the Society of Composers – a professional society dedicated to the promotion, performance, understanding and dissemination of new and contemporary music – held their 2014 Region VIII Conference on the University of Puget Sound, featuring guest composers Steven Bryant and Joan Szymko.  While perhaps I should have prepared for this with bated breath, launching myself into any possible opportunity to assist with the conference, I most certainly did not, completely forgetting about the upcoming conference and being taken completely by surprise when it arrived.  Yet, magically, somehow, I stumbled into this weekend and managed to speak with both guest composers, Joan Szkymko and Steven Bryant, with the hope of stealing away just a smidge of their knowledge and wisdom.

Joan Szkymko was a tiny, silver haired woman of late middle age that wore brightly colored scarf and held a firm belief in the need for mature choral repertoire for all female chorus and enough energy to power the university alone.  Steven Bryant was a tall man in his 40s, with a somewhat sardonic sense of humor and a great deal of acclaim for his band and partially electronic works.  They were, of course, fascinating – and hilariously different – characters with a great deal to teach to the school ensembles performing their works, what with Joan Szymko teaching Adelphians and Dorians choirs how to approach her pieces and Steven Bryant doing Lord knows what to the bands performing his works (I wouldn’t know – I’m just a vocalist).

Regardless of my lack of knowledge concerning the university’s instrumental ensembles, I ended up at a Q+A held by my composition teacher, the brilliant and slightly unnerving Dr. Robert Hutchinson, as well as a little mingling shindig wherein all the composers and people that helped with the conference stood around near catered goodies.  Here is what I’ve learned:

-Have irons in many fires (money won’t come from composing; it may come from conducting or performing primarily)

-Self publishing is time consuming and is equivalent in many ways to a real job

-Use PDF-Pen-Pro to brand every page of a PDF document with your logo

-Writing for the educational market is one of the largest sources of income

-Earnings are primarily through commission, not through royalties

-Community performances of one’s work pay much better than university performance

Face-to-face contact and travelling to gigs are the greatest forms of publicity

-Morten Lauridson got his start at a Chorus of America Conference, just handing out his music

-The most important thing Joan Skyzmo learned about composing is asking “What if?”, and comes to music from an intuitive view, acting as a vehicle of the text and its expression, listening for what’s next

-Steven Bryant writes because he wants to recreate and capture the enthralling feeling of being wrapped inside a piece of music, and feels that composition is like a drug wherein, once the pieces fit together and the piece turns out as it needs to, the euphoria erases all the memories of struggle and disappointment

-WRITE ON THE CRAFT UNTIL YOU HIT INSPIRATION

Although, let’s be real, I was mostly there for the free food.

But when I was speaking to these composers, just as when I first began studying composing under Dr. Hutchinson, the question that continually resurfaced was that of “Why do you want to be a composer?”  This, they and countless others have told me, is the most important question to ask myself at this stage in my life, as if I do not believe that composing is my ultimate calling, then it is not worth the struggle.  In all honesty, I cannot fully put into words why I want to be a composer.  It has something to do with some simultaneously compassionate and pretentious idea of giving others hope in the same way that other composer’s music has given me hope, and something to do with the joy of fitting together the elements of music into a piece like the parts of a puzzle, and something to do with bringing order and clarity to a chaotic world, but all together in a ridiculous jumble.  I can say this, however, despite how ridiculous and self-entitled it may seem: I was born to compose.  This is my purpose.  There is no choice.

And so, on this delightful and possibly misfortunate path down the road to Composerland, I have begun taking another step by applying for composition programs held over the summer, and in applying, I wrote and recorded what I consider my first two real pieces – awkward, fumblingly written, but undeniably there.  Here for your listening pleasure, you will find the following tracks:

1) “Remembered Music” – An art song for high voice and piano, here performed by sophomore soprano Lexa Hospenthal and junior pianist Brenda Miller, which was a setting of my favorite poem by 13th century Sufi poet Rumi:

Daniel Wolfert’s “Remembered Music”

2) “Fantasia for Two Flutes and Two Cellos” – A fantasia performed by freshman flautist Megan Reich, junior Whitney Reveyrand, sophomore cellist Anna Schierbeek, and junior cellist Bronwyn Hagerty, inspired by Arvo Part’s Silouan’s Song and the film scores of Alexandre Desplat:

Daniel Wolfert’s “Fantasia for Two Flutes and Two Cellos”

So, what’s the moral of the story?  If I’ve learned anything from this conference, it can be summed up in these three statements:

Follow your passions.

Play nice with others.

EAT ALL THE FREE FOOD.

Is there anything else to life?  I don’t think so.  I know these things; I’m a composer.

On the Farm

I’ve now moved from Italy to Thailand, which has been quite the transition to say the least. It’s much warmer here, the people in general are friendlier, and the principal religion has shifted from Catholicism to Buddhism. Thus far I have no complaints! I have met wonderful people everywhere I’ve gone (mostly other travelers, but a few locals as well), enjoyed a little time in the Big City (Bangkok), a beach paradise (Koh Phangan), and finally spent the last two weeks working on an organic farm in the jungle of southern Thailand.

While my first two weeks in Thailand were incredible, and filled with delicious food and adventure – including eating a scorpion, seeing a pingpong show, braving a night ferry, and biking around the ruins of Ayutthaya – I will try and keep this post focused by making my time on the farm the point of discussion. I am working here through Workaway (the same program I used in Italy), but the farm is also part of the WWOOFer organization, so most of the other volunteers found it through that.

 

The farm is located just outside of Narathiwat (very southern Thailand). Before coming here I was slightly nervous as there is a travel advisory for the area due to continual violence, but upon arriving I found that much of this is overplayed by the news articles and travel advisory board and it is probably no more violent than many US cities. However, there is a noticeable presence of army men driving around with AK47’s in their arms and a distant gunshot or bomb can occasionally be heard from the farm, but never near enough to cause any alarm. The town of Narathiwat itself doesn’t boast much to do, but is interesting in it’s difference to the rest of Thailand in that it is a very Muslim community, unlike the majority of Thailand which is Buddhist. It’s an odd change of pace after being in highly touristed regions, to come to an area with an entirely different culture that isn’t used to a lot of farang (foreigners) passing through. Everywhere else people are very friendly, often smiling and waving in passing, and I would so much say that people aren’t friendly here, but rather than smiling or waving many just seem to stare. That said, I’ve also met exceptionally friendly people here including “Elvis,” a performer at the restaurant we get our food from, who inquired our names, where we’re from, and what we are working on at the farm, and a family who was eating in a restaurant that I was sitting in (waiting for friends). They came up and asked if they could take a picture with me, I allowed it and before I knew it they were offering me food and beer and trying to recall every English phrase they knew.

But anyway, on to the more exciting stuff… the Farm! It is only about 10 minutes outside of town, but it really is in the jungle, you’d never know we were so close to the city if we weren’t able to hear the prayers being sung at the mosque throughout the day (beginning at 5 am and not stopping until 10 in the evening). We grow just about every type of plant… corn, cucumber beans, peppers, papaya, potatoes, cocoa, mango, etc., and there are chickens and goats, and a kitten named Lemmy. We wake up at 8, water all the plants with our 2 little watering cans, which generally takes about an hour, and then cook ourselves some eggs and toast for breakfast. Around 10 we get to work on various tasks: sowing seeds, planting, building frames, clearing land, weeding, etc. We take an hour break for lunch – rice – (provided by the restaurant across the main road) and keep working until about 5, when we water again before taking showers and sitting down to relax and listen to the jungle come alive.

 

During the day I am aware of the birds, lizards, snakes, spiders, and rats that occupy the area, but it isn’t until the evening that I’m fully aware of the number of animals that I’m surrounded by. We’ve given names to the most common animals based on the noises they produce: farty frogs, laughing lizards, ping-pong birds, and snoring birds. The farty frogs are probably the most amusing, but I believe it will be the lizards with their little laugh that stay with me the longest since they crawl about the walls of my room cackling into the night and, therefore, I never really escape their noises. However, to me I am more entertained than annoyed by the many sounds of the jungle in the evening, and the only things that gives me a bit of anxiety are the spiders which seem to always pop out of nowhere right before I’m about to walk into them. Their pretty big and have black and yellow stripes covering their bodies which just makes them look even creepier to me. I also had the lovely pleasure of finding a fat black one hidden in my shower the other day as I went to rinse off.

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Despite the occasional annoyance of the spiders (and red ants… and mosquitos), I absolutely love working on the farm. It’s incredible to see how much has changed just in the 2 weeks since I’ve been here. We’ve cleared a section of forest by the river, cleaned off a section  of river (which is covered in weeds and grasses), built a rock garden, put up a few new fences, and planted a lot of seeds. I think I am much more willing to sow seeds and work with plants here because it is so much easier to see the fruits of my labors. Things grow instantly here. Since my arrival the corn stalks have doubled or tripled in size and I have planted beans which are now about a foot tall. :)

It’s a nice change of pace whilst traveling to stop for a bit in one spot and settle into a daily routine. The things that I don’t even realize I’m missing while traveling, such as three meals a day or a task that needs to be done (besides laundry) provide a bit of comfort and allow my body to relax from the constant on-the-go of traveling. However, that said, this “break” has refreshed me for travel and made me realize that I am in no way ready to head home yet. I was exhausted every evening and found myself already bored with the routine after my 16 short days here. The time flew by, but I am by no means ready to go back to a normal schedule and face the real world, full of so many tasks. So it’s onwards with the travels. Tomorrow I will head to Malaysia for a short tour of the northern islands before heading back up to visit the west coast of southern Thailand before returning to Bangkok and on to an orphanage in Mae Sot.

(Unfortunately it appears many of my pictures of the farm and my previous traveling are too “large” to fit into this post… If I can get them to work later I’ll add them in)