As for exciting things that have taken place within the past week or so, last weekend we got to to a Young Single Adult conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Now you may be thinking that that doesn’t sound like anything too exciting, but what was different about this one is that it combined YSA from Thailand, Myanmar, and the U.S. (shoutout to us BYU kids) which is the first one of its kind that they’ve ever had. It was held in a place called Mae Sot which is on the very edge of the Thailand and Myanmar border. Sadly we weren’t able to actually cross over into Myanmar as part of the trip, but I would be lying if I said that the thought to jump the border didn’t cross my mind a few times.
For the three days that we were there we had pretty much non-stop activities planned. One of the first things that we did was play a game where we were divided into groups and each group had to fit all of the members onto a small square of plastic, with the size of the square gradually getting smaller and smaller. We had all just gotten off of long bus rides less than an hour previous and hadn’t had a chance to shower yet… so it was a pretty good bonding experience to start things off.
That evening we had a performance night where each country represented put on a performance to showcase their culture. So of course we chose the Miley Cyrus classic of “Hoedown Throwdown” and let me tell you it was a crowd pleaser. The rest of the weekend we had many more activities, went on some hikes, climbed up a couple of waterfalls, did a service project planting trees and picking up trash, and had a couple of spontaneous dance parties.
But my overall takeaway from the experience wasn’t in the activities that we did. It was such a neat experience to see all of us from different cultures and backgrounds come together in a way where we were able to highlight others’ cultures while still being able to showcase our own. One thing that my dad wrote to me in a letter when I was on my mission is that when it comes down to it, people are people no matter where you go, and I definitely saw that this weekend. Talking with the Thai and Myanmar YSA, I realized that there has in the past been a lot of conflict and tension between the two countries and many of them were anticipating not getting along with the others very well. In the end I listened as a few of them talked about how they found that all of these rumors and stereotypes that they’d heard had been dispelled by being able to actually spend time with each other.
As part of my research here in Thailand, we have been interested in “Asian values” as well as “Thai values.” In other words, what are some values that are shared across Asia that define the people and they way they might think or behave. And to narrow that down even further, what are values that are specifically attributable to Thai people? We’re not just looking at these things for the fun of it (though it is pretty interesting), but are interested in how these values and views might shape the way that they view government and democracy in particular. I wasn’t out with pen and paper interviewing everyone, but one thing that I did notice was how those from both countries seemed to have a clear respect for each other and those that they met. They were all also very friendly and by the end of it all I walked away with some good new relationships.
We’re getting further along into our research and moving the survey that we’re working with along which is nice to see more progress. This next week we are going to be really focused on interviewing people so that we can fine tune things a bit more and make sure that we are on track with things. Thailand is an interesting place in particular to be looking at democracy because it is something that it has been lacking, even in recent years. It is currently under a military-led government with a Prime Minister who was the leader of the most recent military coup in 2014. There is also a King in Thailand, although he is more of a uniting symbol for Thailand and holds relatively little constitutional power. So it will be interesting to directly interact with more people this coming week to get a better take on how people view their current form of government.
Cut to this most recent weekend and things were a bit more relaxed and we were able to take a break from the research by hiking (I think within the past week I’ve hiked to at least 5 waterfalls) and going on an excursion to an elephant sanctuary.
We spent the whole day on Friday with elephants and it was one of the most wonderful days of my life! We even got to see this little baby elephant that was only 2 months old and it was such a cute and playful little fellow. The rest of the day we fed the elephants, hiked with them, bathed them, and then fed them like three more days. Apparently elephants never stop eating all day long and even when we were hiking along with them it took ten times as long as it should have because they kept stopping to snag a bit here and there from the foliage every couple of minutes.
Here is me having a special bonding moment with one of the elephants via me nervously petting its trunk.
And here is me being kissed by two elephants at the same time– if you couldn’t tell by the face that I’m making it was a very interesting feeling! I still haven’t washed the dirt from my cheeks off yet.
Doi Inthanon, a national park that we hiked down on Thursday, was also beautiful and is the highest mountain in all of Thailand. It had a couple of temples at the top, but unlike many of the other temples that I have visited, it was much newer and they had more of a touristy feel to them. Still beautiful, but they didn’t have the same history to them.
Until next week! (I promise that I’ll be better at keeping these blogs more weekly)