Monday, May 23, 2011

Fulbright Conference in Thailand

Sowat-dee Kha!

Wow! The last time I posted was three months ago and I’ll probably need a cold Cambodian ice coffee with buckets of condense milk to energize me for what is to follow. Over the past three months, I have been constantly working, traveling, spending time with family, and unfortunately sick. On top of that, my To-Do List for the next couple of months I am here is overloaded. But, I would not be fair to myself if I do not keep up with my blog. I am going to try and recite everything from March over the next couple of weeks.

In March was the 3rd Mid-Year Enrichment Southeast Asia Fulbright Conference. It was held in Bangkok and wonderfully hosted at the Dusit Thani Hotel Resort. The conference lasted for three days at which I presented at and learned an immense from other Fulbrighters in the area. In short, I presented on how to develop feasible memorialization projects and how they can contribute to transitional justice in Cambodia. Of course I spoke too fast, but I was overall happy with how much information I was able to pass on to the audience. Surprisingly, not a lot of people knew about the Khmer Rouge Tribunal as I had hoped, but it was good nonetheless that they had questions at the end because it shows that there is interest.
National Museum in Bangkok

I was not able to attend every single presentation because they were scheduled alongside each other, but I will say that my favorite presentation was from Dr. Colleen O’Neal from Malaysia on the mental health of child refugees in Malaysia. Her presentation and powerpoint not only was informative and humanitarian, but captured the essence of the culture of the refugees, who are mostly from Burma. On top of that, she has the most beautiful kids. I would say my favorite presenters were Matt and Mike, but I would be a little too bias since they are from Cambodia. Matt, if you read this, please send me the pictures!

Really concentrating hard
On top of hosting the conference, the Fulbright Thailand Commission certainly hosted an expensive and activity-filled conference. After the end of presentations, they held a Cultural Night at the National Museum, where we were able to dress like the people in the nation that we are fulbrighting (yes, I made up this word) in and learn about Thai culture. The festival was a mix of a fair with games such as the ring toss, dart balloons, and shot gunning. It was such a classic moment to see these older Thai women holding up toy shot guns and aiming them at these little stuffed creatures. 

There were also a cooking stall where you could cook your own pad thai and a booth where you could learn how to carve fruits into beautiful designs. The night continued with a traditional Thai dance performance set on by beautiful girls dressed in traditional Thai clothing with a live old school Thai band playing customary instruments.
Cooking Pad Thai!

Carved elephant taro piece

After, a bunch of us ventured out to see what the streets of Thailand had to offer us. They were filled with clothes, souvenirs, foot massage parlors, and food. The food was amazing. If there is anything Thailand should be known for, it’s the strong flavors of their ingredients and beautiful presentation.

The next day was also filled with adventure. The Fulbright Committee gave us two options of either visiting the Center of Applied Thai Traditional Medicine to learn about what exactly the center is called or a mangrove conservation center at Klong Klone in Samut Songkhram Province. Since I know much already about Asian medicine, I chose the second option and it was definitely worth it. Apparently, the shrimp farms that boomed in the 90s destroyed much of the plantation so we went to help rebuild it. It was pretty much like conservation tourism. We drove a couple of hours to the provinces of Thailand and went on a boat ride along the river. We passed by an oyster or clam plantation, feed monkeys bananas and planted some baby mangrove trees. It was quite an experience wearing these thick, knee-high socks and walking into the mud, which felt like sinking into quicksand while these little creatures and mini crabs crawl as fast as they do not get squash by our feet. I planted a couple of trees and then ran as fast as I could back to wash myself and get into the boat. I found that stepping softly and quickly helped me not sink too much.

Awesome Roomie, Lisa.
We all cleaned ourselves and had lunch on the water in this wooden house on stills. I met some pretty cool people at lunch—a Fulbrighter and her husband from Vietnam, a Thai Fulbrigher who will be at Harvard this upcoming school year and of course, my awesome roommate from Laos. Lunch was amazing. Again, I cannot stop raving about the food in Thailand. It is fitted perfectly for my palate, which was probably shaped by the food that my aunt and her Thai husband always cooked back at home. Mmmm. Delicious. Here is a sampling of what I had:

Deep Fried Fish with Sweet Chili Sauce. Yummy!
After lunch, we went to another province to see how mangrove trees can be turned into charcoal production. I was a little confused about the day’s earlier activities of conserving mangroves and replanting them, but apparently, this was in another plantation where mangrove trees are abundant? Yeah. Okay. That logic seems perfectly sound. Lets all buy hummers in the States because people in Cambodia are not driving them that much so it evens out. Anyway, the mangrove trees are cut up, placed in this huge dome-shaped oven, and fired up into charcoal. They are better than any other trees because they do not produce as much smoke when burnt and last longer. So mangrove charcoal for the win (!) even if it destroys the ecosystem.

We took what seemed like a long bus ride home and went out to explore what the food stalls had to offer us. My roommate from Laos (Lisa) and another Fulbrighter named Ben, I think (Lisa if you read this, please confirm!) took up the Thai Harvard girl’s suggestion for where she thinks the best food is in general, forget street food. It was near this metro stop and it was indeed the best food I’ve had in Thai. Even the multiple course dinner at the 5-star Dusit Thani Hotel did not compare (no offense!). I loved the flower-shaped mashed potatoes and salmon with truffle sauce at the Dusit Thani though.

The lovely conference trip ended and I was busy back at work.

Up next…Vietnam.

Thank you for reading.