A Presbytery in Thailand

Chiang Rai is one of Thailand’s northernmost cities in all of Thailand. With only a $6 bus fare and three hour trip separating me and Chiang Rai, it seemed only fitting to venture up north. I was incredibly surprised with how nice the accomodations were despite the bus’s low fare. They offered us more food and drink than one would receive on a domestic flight within the USA! Upon arrival in Chiang Rai, we scoped out the location of our hostel. Since we always intended on traveling to Chiang Rai, we booked a hostel in advance. With that, during check in, the hostel manager needed to check all our reservation information as well as scan one passport for his records. One of my group members, Kasey, had one easily accessible so she handed over a passport to the manager. Thankfully she did because we learned it was not her passport. With this knowledge we had to change the entire trajectory of our stay in Chiang Rai. Kasey had the passport of another group member, Lauren, which doesn’t sound like an issue. However, Lauren was leaving Chiang Mai and returning to Hong Kong the following day; clearly, she is unable to do so with someone else’s passport.

With this unexpected turn of events, our stay in Chiang Rai was shorten. We went to the White Palace and the weekend night market. We had to depart for Chiang Mai the next day to make the passport transfer. We were planning on going to the Golden Triangle, which is the location where the borders of Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos all converge. Though shorter than I anticipated, it was still a nice place to visit and a much needed change of pace.

On Sunday, an hour before heading back to Chiang Mai, I managed to find a Presbyterian church five minutes from our hostel. It was so strange to find a church of your specific denomination in the middle of South East Asia just in time for Easter Sunday. I could only attend the first part of the service with the impending bus ride, but it was so interesting! It was rather contemporary with a huge band leading the congregation in song. The minister, who spoke impeccable English, warmly greeted me and made sure that I felt welcome and accepted. This was an Easter I will hardly forget.

Postcard Giveaway! Guess the correct artwork.

I just bought a great piece of art at a local night bazaar. I thought it would be fun for you to guess which artwork I selected for my apartment next fall. The first person to correctly guess the artwork in the comments of this blog post will receive a postcard!

Those that have received postcards feel free to participate, but I have to spread the love to someone else.

Here we go!

 

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Doi Suthep: A Thai Religious Experience

As Easter is here we remember the death of Jesus Christ for our sins and his later resurrection. As most refelect about their relationship with The Lord on this day, I felt it necessary to share my recent experience at Doi Suthep, one of the tallest mountains overlooking Chiang Mai. The view was not particularly great given both the haze and the country’s constant struggle with pollution. Nevertheless, it was abundantly clear that we were high above civilization despite the mere fifteen minute jeepney ride.

Though the view is beautiful (weather permitting), the true incentive to attend Doi Suthep is the temple, which is exactly 301 steps up the mountain from the common tourist meeting area. It’s initially incredibly overwhelming! Locals. Tourists. Monks. Things you’ve seen at every other market. Doi Suthep contains the foundamentals of any tourist trap, yet it is still enticing.

Walking up the stairs was a treat. We were greeted by little girls adorned in native clothing leading us towards the dragon scultpure banasters. After paying the minor entry fee, we were free to roam the temple and its surrounding areas. The first place we naturally gravitated towards was the temple. There were droves of tourists, locals, and monks present. Many were bringing white flowers to the center of the temple presumably as a sign of good faith or a peace offering. Around the central hub of the temple there were subordinate temples where monks were performing rituals on those praying. At one point, the monk started throwing water at those praying ostensibly to absolve them of their sins, but I am not entirely sure. Given Sangkron (Thai New Year) was days prior, water is evidently a focal point of Thai culture. I presume it symbolizes  physical and spiritual cleansing as well as an indication of new beginnings. 

I must honestly admit I was incredibly overwhelmed by the whole process. Yes, it was a beautiful reflection of Thai culture and some of their religious practices, but, at times, I naturally felt out of place. I am usually one to never hesistate to bring my camera anywhere to document anything, but religion is so personal that it was more difficult to capture such footage than I anticipated. I empathized with the locals  praying for the basic fact that I wouldn’t want my encounters with God to be documented for pubic consumption. There are certain parts of my life that I feel are rather personal, with religion being one. I don’t feel the need to overty employ my beliefs on other people. In short, people can and will believe in whomever they choose. With that philosophy in mind, I tired to remain as respectful of their rituals and ceremonies as much as possible while trying to remain as noninvasive as possible. 

The rest of the day consisted of a lot of errands in preparation for our future days in Thailand. We had to procure bus tickets for a quick trip up north to Chiang Rai, book another hostel in Chiang Mai after our return from Chiang Rai, and send out some postcards. Hopefully my penpals receive their postcards. That’s always a major fear when sending postcards internationally.

Chiang Mai part one was amazing, but I look forward to what Chiang Rai and the latter portion of our Chiang Mai explorations offers.

Until then,

Happy Easter from Thailand!

~ Chris Hickey

Adventure Time: Thailand Edition

A few days ago was a full on Thai adventure tour. While two members of our groups opted to take a cooking class instead, another friend and I rode elephants, trekked through the jungle, ate lunch aside a waterfall, and navigated down the river rapids in a bamboo raft. Needless to say, we were not lacking any daily activities.

Our journey began around 8:30 in the morning where our tour guide, Tom, transported us from location to location. Tom offered a great inclusive deal far surpassing the pricey travel agents luring in tourists for unreasonably high fares. We first stopped at an sustainability reservation called Elephant Poo Poo Paper Park. As the name implies, the park was full of poo; however, it was in various forms. The entire establishment was both a work place, where locals were harvest cow, horse, and elephant poo and making it into paper, and a tourist attraction in its own right. Silk screens filled the reservation’s courtyard with an vivid array of paper. I was rather tempted to purchase one of their hand-made cards or notepads as a joke gift for a friend, but I was fearful, given the paper’s frailty, that it would not last the duration of the trip.

After witnessing the recycling of elephant byproducts, my travel partner and I hopped in a jeepney en route to an elephant reservation. There were six others in the jeepney and a few stuck on the roof. It was quite a diverse group with Canadian, English, Argentinian, and French travelers. Exchanging experiences with other travelers, especially those from your own country if possible, is invaluable. It provides an outlet for you to get all the details on what the best sights to see are and all the associated logistics. Also, as most know, I LOVE to talk, so meeting new people is a dream! Another person with opinions, insight, and potentially some commonalities makes the hours in a bus pass by much faster.

Let’s be honest. Who doesn’t love a good story?
I’ve learned very quickly that strangers have some of the best ones!

The elephant camp was fun. My friend and I were immediately segregated from our travel group since we were only doing a one-day elephant tour. We received a bundle of small, barely ripe bananas, climbed up a bamboo latter, and mounted the elephant. As we traversed up the mountain it became apparent that the elephant developed a learned behavior of flinging its trunk over the elephant trainer’s shoulder nearly every few steps in pursuit of two bananas. Apparently the trainers neglected to teach the elephants about portion control. We ran out of bananas nearly two-thirds of the way into the trek. It would continue to flail its trunk back towards us looking for a banana, yet neither the elephant nor the trainer spoke English. Aside from the elephant’s incessant need for bananas, guilting us in the process for not having enough, the tour was amazing.

The next portion of our day was an hour and a half long, roundtrip trek to a beautiful waterfall. The trail was not really too steep at any juncture; however, the real challenge was remaining hydrated and cool in such humid weather. After trekking for nearly forty-five minutes, we arrived at the waterfall, a much needed break. The water was so fresh and cool. I felt completely refreshed, prepared to venture back the same route we came. Prior to leaving the falls, our tour guide Tom handed out packed lunches! We all dined on pad thai at the waterfall. This made the entire trek even more worth while. The trek back was so easy after being rejuvenated that I was ready to go rafting. 

As an honorary West Virginian, since WVU is my alma matar, I naturally have some experience in a raft and rapids. I am not suggesting by any means that I am a water all star or an Olympic rower, but I am fair at water sports. By fair, I mean not make a complete fool of myself given my innate lack of most physical abilities. Given my mediocre at best skills, I anticipated to heavily rely on my fellow rafters. My English counterparts were not as quite grasping the concept of rowing in unison or paddling forward and backwards. I just tried to not be that try hard in high school gym class that everyone loathes and just paddle at an average pace relative to my teammates. Towards the end of the tour, we actually managed to work in tandem, so progress was made.

After elephants, hiking, waterfalls, and rafting, I was completely exhausted. I almost slept in the jeepney despite all the bumps and potholes in the roads. It was a long day but most definitely enjoyable!

The City With “Ratcha” Streets

Our first full day in Thailand was a fusion of ancient and modern Chiang Mai. We started off the day at quaint western bakery. I knew it was a winner after reading its banner “Bagel House”. Despite Hong Kong’s strong western influence, I have yet to find a bagel while abroad. Chiang Mai filled that void.

After a quick bagel with cream cheese, my friends and I traversed through the streets of Chiang Mai for some friends to make a downpayment for a future Thai cooking class. I purposely use the verb “traverse” because it is rather difficult to navigate this city. For instance, nearly every street begins with “Ratcha”. I kid you not. This common slang phrase is the beginning of nearly every street name making each suffix that much more important. In 90 or 100 degree heat, it’s natural that you misread a suffix and are now trying to reestablish some sense of directions.
Though it can’t describe the city, the roads can easily be categorized as “Ratcha”.

We managed to negotiate a rather low fare for a tuk tuk, which is an open rickshaw frequently used for transportation. From there we went to Wiang Kum Kam, the former capital of the northern province. The ancient city has preserved numerous ruins despite the 700 year old flood that forced locals to flee to Chiang Mai. It was a rather condense area, but we opted to take a horse driven rickshaw through the ancient city stopping at nine of the most well preserved ruins. It was really moving, especially when seeing locals paying homage to their ancestors and praying in front of certain ruins and/or temples. Image

On a complete aside, I know that it’s evident in textbooks and the media that patriarchy is the standard for nearly all cultures. This ideal was even more apparent at the ancient temples with large signs in both Thai and English stating “No girls allowed”. Though cognizant of the gender inequality still present in the world, the numerous signs just reinforced the notion that both sexes are treated differently. It makes you think how far America has come in this regard comparative to other countries and cultures.

(End Scene.)

Exploring historic parts of northern Thailand was amazing. The rest of the afternoon, however, was enjoying Chiang Mai from a more modern perspective. The Art of Paradise 3D art museum provided interesting perspective into the world of art. It was so fascinating to walk the gallery halls and notice all the two-dimensional murals, yet, from afar, certain parts seem three-dimensional. The coolest part about this artistic style is that mostly each mural created the illusions of three dimensions without having a protruding object from the museum walls. It was a lot of fun providing many laughs and photo opps! Definitely a must-see location if you want to escape the humid weather.

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The rest of the day was spent exlporing day and night markets and managing to get lost, or I as love to call it “Take the scenic route”, a few more times. We did stumble upon a smoothie joint; naturally, I purchased a $1 mango smoothie due to our inability to read a map! Who’s the winner now?

Easter Holiday in Thailand

With most of my exams, papers, and projects complete, I knew that this was a prime opportunity to travel around South East Asia during my last weeks abroad. I am currently in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which is about nine hours north of the capital, Bangkok. A city filled with golden temples and exotic culture, Chiang Mai was the obvious sight to visit when visiting Thailand. Unfortunately I arrived late in the day, which under normal circumstances would be perfectly acceptably; however, today was the last day of the Thai New Year celebration. Apparently a major New Year festivity is a large water fight. Though we did not witness this said fight nor get drenched in water, the remains of the fight were strewn throughout the streets. Large puddles of water paired with mini water pistols lined the streets. I even went into a 7-Eleven and their salesman tried to up-sell water guns. He just assumed I wanted a water gun with my mentos and tea, obvious complementary goods.

Aside from evading the New Year water fight, my travel partners and I ventured through the streets of Chiang Mai to get some local street food. Just taking it easy. It’s a new country, new timezone, and a new set of rules.

I will try and post about my experiences in real time while still documenting my journey with video. Expect some videos upon my return.

Goodnight!

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How to Talk About Study Abroad in a Job Interview

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Chris Hickey:

A great reminder that there are many useful skills learned while studying abroad. Whether you realize it or not, you are always assimilating to new surroundings and learning.

Originally posted on ISEP Study Abroad:

You’ve submitted your (stellar) cover letter and (impressive) resume, and you’ve been selected for an interview. Great! As you prepare, remember that studying abroad is more than an opportunity to see the world. The challenges of living in a different country build skills that make you a valuable employee, but how do you communicate that to your interviewer? In a competitive job market, study abroad experiences make you stand out, but you have to discuss them strategically.

Preparing in advance is crucial. Think carefully about how you can use your study abroad experiences to answer common interview questions, showcase your skills and build rapport with your interviewer. Here are several suggestions to guide you as you develop a collection of stories about your time abroad:

See your study abroad through your interviewers eyes. How can an employer benefit from your new-found global intelligence? (Photo by Jessica Siffring, Universität Salzburg, Austria)

See study abroad through your interviewer’s eyes. How can an employer benefit from your new-found global intelligence? (Photo by Jessica Siffring, Universität Salzburg, Austria)

  • Did…

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Lingnan University Campus Tour

After almost ninety days abroad, I have managed to not make a video of this lovely campus I have called home for the past three months. For the record, the occasional Instagram photo (filtered or not) does not do this campus justice. I tried to showcase some of its unique features, campus culture, and some of my favorite places to relax.

I hope you enjoy this long overdue video tour of Lingnan University.

 

7 Awesome Reasons To Study Abroad In East Asia

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Chris Hickey:

These are some great factors to keep in mind when selecting your study abroad location. This is a must-read!

Originally posted on Thought Catalog:

If you are in college and considering a study abroad experience – do it. And go to East Asia.

Go to Shanghai like I did. Or northern Thailand to take in ancient Siam culture. Perhaps immerse yourself in the small but mighty city-state Singapore. Or venture off the beaten path and study in Vietnam, Cambodia or even Laos.

A single week in one of the aforementioned nations (minus Singapore, a polyglot nation where English is primarily spoken) will result in greater learning than a month in dominantly English-speaking Western Europe or Australia.

By leaving out countries in Africa, South America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East or even South Asia, I am not dishing them. I have not been to many in these regions; therefore, I cannot give a well-informed opinion. However, I am sure they all offer unique perspectives, cultures, art and most importantly amount to personal awakening.

On the…

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West Virginia International

I spent a night under and with the stars this weekend. Well, I must confess that it was just a visit to the famous Avenue of Stars at night. I know some would have hoped for video footage of my sleeping under the stars and trying to survive this Asian concrete jungle because it would make a great Survivor audition tape. Sorry to disappoint, but this trip was amusing in its own right!

Having already visited the Avenue of Stars for the Lunar New Year fireworks show, I was not entirely sold on the idea of returning. Though there is a great view overlooking the Victoria Habour with the beautiful skyline all lit up, I didn’t think there was anything else to still be seen. I adamantly agreed to go upon learning that there is a nightly light show with all the buildings. It was nothing short of a spectacle full of colorful lights, sound effects, and many tourists. All that was missing was a dance routine with, of course, jazz hands (a musical theater classical and personal favorite)!

The show was nice, but the performance after the light show was the more fascinating. There was just two local gentlemen setting up an amplifier for their microphone and piano. I stayed behind as the crowds left just to hear their warm ups. Who doesn’t love a free concert, right? Ironically, the pianist began playing a rather familiar chord. It didn’t initially sound familiar until he began playing the chorus. It was the West Virginia classic country single, “Take Me Home Country Roads” by John Denver. For those who don’t follow West Virginia University athletics, this song is always played after a victory. Students, families, and alumni clamor for this song at the end of a winning game. It’s arguably one of the most recognizable anthems of the University and  the state of West Virginia. I was not aware that this song had such an international presence. I was sitting along the Avenue of Stars overlooking the beautiful Hong Kong skyline when a man starts belting out Denver’s beloved lyrics. Needless to say, Mountaineers are everywhere whether or not that man knew the significance of that song!

 

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