After a week an a half of learning about the culture, foods, history, politics and taking classes to learn how this information can make us stronger counselors, I am even more interested in learning more about Puerto Rico and other cultures as well. We have been part of seminars, workshops, a conference, classes and have gotten to know my way around San Juan, Old San Juan, learn about the history. We also visited Orocovis the first week which gave us the opportunity to interact with people there, their lifestyle, the experience was great! Looking forward for the next few days we have left in Puerto Rico and hope to make the best of it!
Second day of waking up to sunshine! Yes, that’s right. It’s our 10th day in beautiful Puerto Rico and we’ve only woken up to sunshine twice! Luckily, we have the day “off.” Furthermore, the overcast skies and intermittent rain has allowed us to engage in interesting things without the nagging feeling that we really should be sitting at la playa! Now, on to some important things… On Thursday, we had the privilege of meeting with Dr. Toro-Alfonso, a professor of psychology at the Universidad de Puerto Rico. The goal of the meeting was to learn about his research related to the immigration of homosexuals from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico. However, we spent little time talking (en Espanol, of course!) about this specific topic and more time discussing the broad topic of homosexuality in Puerto Rico.One of the most interesting points that Dr. Toro-Alfonso shared was that his research has found that in Puerto Rico, there is no direct relationship between self-identification of sexual orientation and sexual behavior. That is to say, people will identify as homosexual but engage in heterosexual behavior and identify as heterosexual but engage in homosexual behavior. He went on say that Latinos (living in Latin American countries, not in the US) have no need live congruently – they are comfortable self-identifying as one and behaving as the other. This issue of living congruently seems to be impacted, at least in part, by the lack of a clear and concrete “gay” identity and group affiliation in Puerto Rico. In the US, it is common that one’s sexual orientation dictates a whole set of life style choices, so that a homosexual person may be more likely to live in a particular neighborhood, socialize in particular bars, work in particular professions, etc… However, this does not seem to be the case in Puerto Rico. Dr. Toro-Alfonso referred to the US pattern as ghetto-ization, while stating that in Latin America the homosexual community is more integrated. This is an interesting distinction but it does not seem to be a hard and fast rule. As Dr. Torres pointed out later, it may be less common to see clearly identified communities (think Rainbow flags draped across the street welcoming you to “Boys Town”), there is still often a subculture to which homosexuals gravitate in order to find comfort and a sense of identity. I should also point out that Dr. Toro-Alfonso was clear that both the Latin American and US societies are, in general, homophobic, but the organization of homosexuals and heterosexuals tends to look differently. I think there is more to discuss in terms of the psychological implications of this research, but we’re off to Old San Juan now so I’ll be back to share more of my thoughts…
We are now in San Juan, after spending a week in Orocovis, where we learned about the rural life in Puerto Rico and connected in a special way with nature. The University of Puerto Rico has received us with open arms and we are learning a lot from them. I can’t wait to share the many stories in person.
After breakfast we boarded our buses and headed to the Population & Community Development Association, in Chiang Rai. There, we were introduced to brief historical backgrounds and customs of different tribes and to the community-based family planning project. It was an eye-opening experience to get exposure to this comical (and if I must add very effective) approach that the organization took in attempting to increase awareness regarding safe sex. We had lunch in a restaurant named “Cabbage and Condoms” that was run by the organization. We each spent a few minutes exploring the art work and comical phrases written on the walls of the restaurant which underlined important facts about the practice of safe sex. Following lunch we headed to the Chiang Rai airport for our flight back to Bangkok. During this short and cozy flight, we tried to make sense of why we ever took a 12 hr long and painful train ride to Chaing Mai when we could have easily taken a flight? (maybe this was just what was occurring in my mind as I still struggle with features of PTSD from the train ride) :0). Upon arrival to Bangkok, we transferred to Unico Grande Silom Hotel and some of us spent the rest of the day at leisure while others explored on their own. “The girls”, a name that Lilit and I acquired on this trip, went on exploring different spas and scheduled traditional Thai massages which were amazing. At night, we met for our farewell dinner at a local restaurant where, as a result of peer pressure, I found myself participating in karaoke singing “My heart will go on” What a perfect way to end this great trip.
Kesjana Cake- aka Aria
After visiting the village we drove to a children’s home called Child Life. This is a home for displace children from bordering countries in northern Thailand. Child life began ten years ago, the headmaster is the founder of the program. When he fist encountered some children in the street they were begging for money and as he told us, he thought something a long the line of “Too bad for them” He said that his attitude changes after a dream and he understood the importance of helping these children., Children in this part of Thailand have a very difficult situation because they are originally from bordering countries, they come into Thailand, sometimes with a substance abuse problem, if they get in trouble with the police they are often taken back to their native country and left at the border. It is a cycle that unfortunately keeps repeating itself. What Childlife does is it creates a safe place for displaced children of other countries that end up in Thailand. It provides them with food shelter and an educations but most importantly a loving environment that is constant. Children that have substance abuse problem do not receive any kind of treatment other than encouragement and talks with the staff. They are constantly being persuaded to change and to imagine the possibilities of a new kind of life. Because it was a school day we were unable to interact with a lot of children. However, there was a group of about ten children, that were too young to go to school, who were playing on the bed of a pick-up truck. They were shy at first but after a few minutes they began to smile and I tried to introduce myself. At the end they were taking pictures with our digital cameras and even began to speak a little English. By the time we left they waved goodbye and had big smiles on their face.
Currently there are around 140 children in Child Life, the Thai government does not provide any help for this organization because the children are not Thai citizens and so the organization relies heavily on donations from volunteers and visitors. In fact, some of the current teachers have not been paid for two months because the money has gone to buy food for the students. If you want to donate or take a closer look at Childife please visit www.childlifemaesai.org .
While it was very sad to hear some of the stories of where the children came from it was empowering to know that there are people in different parts of the world who want to help. Whether it is in Thailand or in the United States, it is empowering to know there are people advocating for those who do not have a voice or whose voice has been quited down by a rough start in life.
Mariana Proske A.K.A Mylee
Our morning began with a small talk regarding last night’s adventure walking through the Chaigan Mai night market. Once Anan arrived, we boarded the bus for a long winding ride up the mountain side. We were pleased as Anan (Andy) told us our names in Thai. Unfortunately, he gave no meaning behind them, we are anxiously awaiting the Thai spelling that was sure to follow. Today’s adventure felt like a page from the Discovery channel, holding Teak leaves which make beautiful expensive wood to viewing water buffalo and walking through the Chiang Dao Caves was simply exhilarating. There were a myriad of shapes throughout the cave; images and stone formation gave way to Buddha’s elephant and the open mouth of an alligator. This was only the beginning of the discovery. Our peruse along the Kok River provided a breath of fresh air mixed with mother nature’s picture perfect scenery. Tranquility describes it at best. Onward to visit one of the five tribes of Thailand’s Chiang Rai Golden Triangle. Just off the river banks we exited our boats which resembled a long canoe, to explore the hilltop way of life on foot, in doing so we purchased hand made scarfs and took plenty of photos of the lively children. Our last stop before heading to our new home for two days was the tribal home of Lahu upon deboarding the boat we observed other tourists riding elephants in the river bank and the most amazing thing seen was an infant no more than 18mo old being placed in a cage with a large snake. This opened the door for our group to hold a snake and yes we all declined. We must have a little sense lol…. Oh before I forget Jennie, Jennifer, Kasjana, Lilit and I were scared half to death when our boat hit a large rock in the water, had it been filmed we would have won the ten grand for the funniest video. Overall, today was exciting as each day has proved to be more exciting than the next. Can’t wait for tomorrow’s adventures. Until then Sa Wat Dee Kha – my standard Thai greeting meaning goodbye from a female.
Sytera Lynn Sanders in Thia Sunsasani
We arrived in Chang Mai after a grueling train ride on the “Night Train” from Ayuthaya. The 13 hour overnight journey started the evening before and included “first class” accommodations in a tiny room that accommodated two passengers sharing bunk beds and one tiny sink. There was barely room for the luggage. The air conditioning started out strong, but was greatly diminished overnight to our chagrin. We also discovered a short time into our ride that most rooms had stowaway critters, specifically some friendly Thailand bugs. The promised shower on the train (in the communal bathroom area) turned out to be little more than a hose and so we did without showers that evening.
Upon our arrival from our luxury train trip, we were happily whisked to the Chiang Mai Plaza Hotel. It was a truly beautiful hotel with clean, spacious, well air-conditioned rooms and pristine showers. We all scrubbed up and had a good breakfast before heading off to the Arts and Cultural Center to learn more about the history of Chiang Mai. After our history lesson, we had a Burmese buffet lunch that was excellent. The first half of the afternoon was filled with shopping at the World’s Largest Jewelry and Gem Store and then a Thai silk factory. Our group definitely gave a boost to the Thai economy with these last two stops. We then enjoyed tea time at the private residence of author and ceramics collector John Shaw and his wife. John gave us a brief explanation of his extensive collection of Thai pottery, most pieces many hundreds of years old. We said our good byes to our gracious hosts and headed to the summit of Doi Suthep mountain and the 600 year old temple of Wat Phra Doi Suthep. Although we had already seen several temples, we were in awe of the beauty of this one. Perhaps this temple affected us so because the monks were praying and chanting together creating a moving, pious experience.
After our jam packed day, we enjoyed dinner and a variety of traditional Thai dancing. In fact, our group and many of the other restaurant patrons took part in the final dance of the evening. The audience participation number was a success except for a few over served seasoned European tourists. We ended our evening perusing various Thai wares at the Night Market in Chiang Mai.
Jeff & Christina.
Had breakfast at Unico Grande Silom Hotel and checked out for the rest of the trip en route to Chiang Mai. Our first stop was at Ban Pa Inn Summer Palace where we explored amazing European, Chinese and Thai style architecture. Most of my attire for Thailand included cute dresses but upon arrival at Ban Pa Inn Summer Palace I was not allowed to show off my cute strapless dress. Instead, I ended up wearing a traditional Thai wrap around skirt and a man’s yellow shirt with little bunnies. However, I made it work as you can see in the pictures We then headed to a restaurant on the river where we ate traditional Thai lunch with the group. During lunch we began to take note of all the little lizards running up the walls and ceiling. Even though they’re harmless and somewhat cute I can do without the little critters. For dinner we headed to a cute bar called Tony’s place. We ended up meeting Tony and talked about his time in the U.S. We also met a cute “ladyboy” who enjoyed shaking his bum for us on numerous occasions. After dinner we drove to the train station where we boarded a train for the longest 12 hours of my life to Chiange Mai.