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Tag: Chiang Mai

a new taste of Thailand

a new taste of Thailand

วัดพระธาตุดอยสุเทพ- Wat Phra That Doi Suthep  
วัดพระธาตุดอยสุเทพ- Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

สวัสดีครับ Sawadeekrap!

Welcome to beautiful Thailand! Filled with stunning temples, smiling locals, spicy food, and a tai-kadai language, this authentic culture craves study from all disciplines. While sharing my unique adventures and pretty pictures, I aim more to delve into the vast abyss that is Thai culture, too often assumed to be pad thai, pretty girls, and white beaches.  With my background studying cultural anthropology, paired with language and political science, my time in Thailand will be focused on deconstructing the importance Thais place around their food, as well as how tourism has changed the meaning, practice, quality, and importance of eating as a Thai. Since a little kid drinking ชาเย็น chaa yen (Thai iced-tea), my mom instilled a passion for Thai cuisine. It is important for us, as humans who require sustenance, to appreciate the food we choose to eat. Anthropologist Gillian Crowther, author of Eating Culture (2013), reminds us of the function food plays in our lives. “Food is our everyday creative and meaningful engagement with nature through culture…humans don’t just randomly feed; we select, fashion, concoct, and make an edible assemblage that fits our imagining of food” (Crowther 2013:XVIII). Food, therefore, is the simplest form of the selective choice of environmental manipulation for human advancement. Changing the environment from object to artifact for the sole purpose of consumption creates the basic definition of a culture; placing hierarchical importance on objective material in a human’s life. Food, therefore, is vital for understanding any culture.

My first week in Thailand was overloaded with new flavors, textures, smells, and sights. With a home base at Uniloft in the neighborhood of สุเทพ Suthep close to the campus of Chiang Mai University, I am luckily far away from the touristy center of Old Town, where authenticity within cuisine is quickly diminishing. On ซอยเจ็ด Soi 7, carts serve dishes from ข้าวซอย Khao Soi (traditional chicken bone & beef liver soup) to  ข้าวไก่ทอด Khaw Gai Koah (fried chicken on rice). At my favorite restaurant, ขนมจีนหล่มเก่า หลัง มช kah nom thien loo khaw laam ngoo, I order ส้มตำ Som Tam, spicy papaya salad–crisp, refreshing, sour, sweet, salty, and spicy, all masterfully combined together in perfect proportions, leaving your mouth in awe of its magic.

 ส้มตำ Som Tam
ส้มตำ Som Tam

All these dishes are prepared by one woman cooking on a single burner stove, with 1 wok, 1 knife, and 1 spoon. Watching these chefs prepare the 30 orders that come in at the same time is a miracle in itself. No measurements, just different spoonfuls of น้ำปลา nam plaa (fish sauce), น้ำตาล shugar, น้ำมะนาว nam manow (lemon juice), พริก prik (chili), and ถั่วเหลืองหมัก khoon loo mak (fermented soy paste). It is amazing that different combinations of these simple ingredients create such a varying palate that defines Thai food.

Since I have been here, two Thai students have reached out to help me and Christian, an ethnographic film major, with our Thai and learning the ins and outs of Chiang Mai on their motorbikes. Recently, Mew and Chitsa took us out to try a Thai dessert, ขนม kha-nom (literally ‘dessert’). This cereal of coconut milk, ice shavings, corn, stale bread, green noodles, and fermented water chestnuts coated in a waxy red sugar was devoured by my new friends. Even for my adventurous diet, watery coconut milk with salty corn didn’t sit well with me. Despite my intolerance for the dish, Mew and Chitsa were ecstatic that two Americans were willing to try something so foreign. Their positive attitude and excitement made me feel at home in such a new environment. Their smiles and laughs were parallel to that of many Thais, where my desire to share in their local culture makes thems proud of their heritage and traditions. That makes me feel great, showing someone that what makes them who they are is valued in the eyes of someone completely different from them. So, I look forward to continue try new things, learn more Thai, and become as local as possible with my three new adventurers.

Christian, Chitsa, Mew, and myself
Christian, Chitsa, Mew, and myself



No Thaim till Thailand

No Thaim till Thailand

When your countdown app reaches the single digits, you know it’s real.

Hi everyone! My name is Brandon, and I’m about to takeoff in less than 9 days for a wild year in Chiang Mai, Thailand with the USAC program! I’ll be spending my sophomore year at Chiang Mai University. CMU is one of the best universities in Thailand, and has about 50,000 students! I’ll be living in an apartment with another USAC student, but I don’t know who quite yet. This actually will be my second year abroad in Thailand, since I was previously an exchange student with the Department of State’s Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study (YES) Abroad scholarship program during my senior year of high school. I lived in the south of Thailand in a coastal city called ‘Surat Thani’ (soo-raht tah-nee) with an incredibly host family. I can’t tell you how stoked I am to experience nine more incredible months of adventure, exploration, learning, weird smells, strange foods, elephants, and constant smiles. This time, I will be way up north in the mountains, in Chiang Mai. From what I’ve experienced already, the culture in Chiang Mai is far more relaxed than Surat Thani (Surat Thani is known as a fast-paced city with a lighting-fast dialect of Thai spoken), so I’m interested to see how daily life differs. And, of course, I will blog the entire year just like I did the first year! Before I make it to Thailand, I’m going to Toronto, Canada, to spend a week with my best friend in the entire world, Vinny! I leave the USA on August 11th, which is coincidentally the same day I left for Thailand back in 2014. Summer classes are almost done, flights are booked, visas are ready, and all I have to do now is pack my bags and say my goodbyes!

Most of the classes that I will be taking this year will apply towards my Political Science and International Studies majors, so I won’t be doing much with Neuroscience until I return to Loyola in 2017. Here’s what I’ll be taking this semester:

– Diplomacy in Southeast Asia

– Global Health Issues

– Reading and Writing Thai Language

– Sustainable Development

– Thai Civilization

– World Economic Issues

I’m probably most excited about Global Health Issues and Sustainable Development! While I’m abroad, I’m planning on working with the Chiang Mai ‘Care For Dogs’ Foundation, where I’ll just be volunteering and taking care of some sweet pups. I’m also planning on interning with a local hospital and the U.S. Consulate. One of my goals this year is to occupy my time with any and all opportunities that are available to me. Last time, I wasn’t as progressive with going for opportunities as I was so swamped with college applications and preparation, exams, and other things. I know for sure that I will be doing things that I don’t know about yet.

As for how I’m feeling about leaving for another year, I do have to say it’s a whole lot easier. I’m not exactly feeling very nervous or excited either, I’m just ready. I am however, feeling pretty blue about leaving my friends and family. That part hasn’t gotten easier. BUT, I do get to see my host family a few times this year, and my best friend Ashley Cox is coming all the way to Thailand to backpack with me around Southeast Asia for Christmas break. Also, my roommate this summer, Noah, is coincidentally planning on doing the Chiang Mai program as well next spring, so I’ll get to see him! I’m sure I’m going to meet so many incredible people this year, and I absolutely cannot wait; that’s one of the best parts of living abroad in my opinion.

Possibly the best part of my experience this year will be all the countries that I will be visiting. I received an awesome travel grant to work with, so I’m excited to get exploring! Here’s where I’ll be going this year:

Canada, Taiwan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, India, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, France, Netherlands, Germany, Iceland, and Canada (again)!

Some of these destinations will be random weekend trips, some will be during my winter break, and the rest will be part of an around-the-world trek I am undertaking by myself while on my way home from Thailand. I know it sounds astronomically wild and maybe a bit dangerous, but there’s so much world to see and I’m taking this opportunity and running with it! It’s going to be a blast!

I will write again right before I depart!

Until next time,