Monday, February 18, 2013


Hi everyone! Since I have been extremely busy lately and have been slacking on my blogging, I figured I would post something that I already had to write for my project.  As part of the project we are required to right a cultural reflection essay about how we have grown personally and professionally and the lessons we have learned since we have been in Thailand.  

I will try to post later this week about the adventures I have gone on since my last blog post! Sorry to disappoint my loyal followers with my lack of posting! I'll catch up eventually! 

Until then, here is my essay, just to warn everyone, it's a little personal and sappy, but enjoy! haha

“Mai Bpen Rai”
Learning a New Way of Life

Thailand Cultural Reflection Essay
Kaily Connor
February 13, 2013

            Before I came to Thailand, I had heard about this common Thai saying, “Mai bpen rai”. It can mean a range of things like whatever, no big deal, don’t sweat the small stuff, your welcome, and more. I believe for Thai people it goes even further. It truly reflects their culture and way of life. They don’t get upset about the little things, they are happy a large majority of time, and they really live in the moment and enjoy life.  Although I had heard about all of these things previously, I never knew how true it really was, and I certainly didn’t believe that this way of thinking could ever become part of my life, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
            Up until the moment that I arrived at Logan International Airport, I thought for sure that I would be a sobbing mess when I said goodbye to my loved ones and boarded the long flight that would take me to Thailand and over 8,000 miles away from home and all the comforts of my everyday life.  However to my amazement, although I had expected to be crying the whole flight to Heathrow, I didn’t shed one tear.  Instead, I was filled with excitement and a sense of adventure.  This would be the first thing that really surprised me about myself and it certainly was much different than what I had “planned”.  Upon arrival to Bangkok, roughly 22 hours later, I still had not become upset. It was not until dinner that night, when it all finally hit me.  I am so far from home, in this foreign city, where I am the minority and everything is overwhelming to say the least.  Here I was at dinner, trying to eat a new type of food, with many people I barely knew at all, and I could feel the knot in my stomach starting to take over. As I began to cry in silence, and try my best to hide it, I thought, “what have I gotten myself into, what was I thinking coming here”.  In that moment, and really for the next few weeks, those feelings seemed like they would never go away.  Everyone else was excited and happy to be there, and here I was, just trying to cope and “plan” out how I would make it through the next two months.
            I slowly came to realize, that “planning” was part of the problem, not the solution. I wasn’t staying in the moment and trying to enjoy where I was, right that second. Instead I was focused on thinking about what it would be like to go home, how I could possibly make it through the next two months and complete the project, what my group would do if I had to leave.  All of these negative thoughts were consuming my life and I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, despite how desperately I wanted to figure it out.  However, I still had a little fight left in me.  I was always told that asking for help was a sign of strength, not weakness but I had never felt that way when it came to myself.  Somehow, I did ask for help, and I couldn’t have made a better choice.  Eventually, I was truly able to come see the strength in myself and believe that I could make it, and not just cope, but actually thrive.
            As time goes on I am able to reflect about the experience I had the first few weeks of this trip and really look at it from an outsiders perspective. I have seem myself grow in so many ways.  Going through the hard times really helped me realize how important the idea of “mai bpen rai” was going to be in my own life, now and for many more years to come. I use to become very anxious about all of the little things, and I really let them get to me sometimes.  But during the first few weeks of being here, I was so upset in such a consuming way that the little things didn’t seem to matter any longer. For example, I sat on and broke my brand new, expensive sunglasses that I had gotten for Christmas, and I dropped my laptop, denting the corner.  Normally, both of these things would have upset me and I wouldn’t have been able to let them go or forgive myself for a long period of time. However, because I had many bigger problems, these small problems became insignificant.  As I continued to improve, throughout my journey here in Thailand, I have taken this lesson with me.  Even though I am no longer upset, I still don’t let the little things get to me.  This is a remarkable change for me, for someone who would always become anxious and worried about every little thing that might go wrong.  
            With this I have learned how important staying in the moment is, an important aspect of Buddhism and Thai culture.  My whole life I have been a planner.  Before, almost anything I would do, I would go through the logistics in my head, think about what it would be like, and what the end result would be.  Although in some aspects of my life, like schoolwork, planning has been a useful tool, it has also been a negative thing that has been a source of stress and anxiety.  I never thought that traveling to Thailand would teach me this important lesson.  I have truly learned how to stay in the moment and really take everything for what it is and make the most of whatever life throws at me. For example, every weekend that I have traveled, not one aspect has been planned more than a day in advance.  In the past, this is something I simply could not deal with. I would have decided not to go if I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen.  However, I have learned how enjoyable it can be to just take everything as it comes and live in the moment. It has been such a source of excitement and joy for me and I hope I can continue this new way of thinking when I return back to life in Worcester.
            I learned early on in college that in order to grow, one must push themselves outside of their comfort zone.  This is one of the reasons I wanted to come to Thailand, however I never knew I would go through such tangible growth, so quickly.  In both personal and professional aspects of my life I have seen myself change for the better.  I have become more confident and independent, and I am truly being my own person, not worrying about what anyone else thinks.  I really feel that I have learned and developed the essence of “mai bpen rai” and I look forward to taking these valuable life lessons with me when I return home to the U.S.  I will always remember my experience in Thailand fondly, the overwhelming good and the overwhelmingly bad.  I look forward to being able to bring my friends and family to this amazing place, and be able to share the Thai ways of life with them.  

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Hua Hin

Well a whole week later, and I am finally able to post about Hua Hin. I’ve had so many adventures since then but let’s see what I can remember…

I have learned that complicated and last minute travel was not just a one time experience here in Thailand, but instead is more of a cultural norm that we have become accustomed to. We headed out for Hua Hin two Fridays ago without even really knowing how to get to the bus station. After taking a water taxi, walking over a mile, almost getting hit by a motorcycle, and missing a bus, we were finally able to find a taxi to take us to the bus station for a reasonable price. Upon our arrival at the bus station, we were able to get a mini bus to drive us 8 the three-hour drive to Hua Hin (for around $6 each). Since we weren’t able to leave on our journey until we got out of work at 5, we did not arrive in Hua Hin until about 11 that night.  We checked into our hotel, grabbed a quick bite to eat, walked around until we found a beach, and headed back to the hotel to sleep before 12:30pm.

The next day we woke up bright and early (well I did, the boys always have to sleep until at least 10) and searched the Internet for something to do.  Since the Internet didn’t provide the kind of things we were looking for (info on a secluded beach) we contacted some of our Thai partners. The result was the name of a beach that was popular among locals and quite secluded.  That is all we needed, we gave the name to two tuk-tuk drivers and 8 of us were on our way to the beach. We were very pleased when we got there, and arranged for our tuk-tuk drivers to come back at 4pm to pick us up (which we ended up pushing back until 5pm because we never wanted to leave).  The beach was amazing, and was made better by the perfect 85 degree weather with a breeze.  Not only was the air temperature ideal, but so was the 80 degree water. As soon as we found a place to set our stuff down we were all in the ocean, playing in the waves, for over an hour.  I had been feeling a little down that morning but having fun in the water was the perfect cure.  Here is a picture of the beach (sorry about the quality I only had my cell phone, not my real camera):

After turning into prunes, we decided to finally get out of the water and go find some lunch. Right off the beach was a hotel that had an outdoor dining area. I ordered my favorite dish, green curry (I am probably going to turn green because I eat it so much), and promptly began tearing and sweating as I ate this spicy Thai dish. It was still soooo delicious!  After lunch it was obviously time for a nap on the beach, I was partly in the shade and I actually got cold, which I didn’t think was possible in Thailand! Here is a picture of Trevor and JP taking naps:

The last part of our beach day was spent on a long walk to the large rock formation that you can see in my picture of the beach above.  It probably took us about an hour and a half to walk there and back, which ended up being perfect timing for our new 5pm pick-up time. There were local students there on a field trip, tons of crabs and hermit crabs, people on horseback, and even two golf courses!

That night was filled with people getting sick. There is some odd illness going on in our group (which I was lucky enough to get last week for 2 days) that seems like food poisoning but somehow several of us got it all around the same time.  One of the girls got really sick almost as soon as we got back from the beach and ended up going to the hospital around 1am after she threw-up blood. It was scary but she is all better now. Around 5am the next morning Taylor got sick and is still having stomach pains to this day, although he is feeling much better.  Like I mentioned, I got this illness last week and had to miss a day and a half of work but I am completely better now and didn’t get it nearly as bad as some of the rest of the people.

Anyway, on a lighter note, Sunday in Hua Hin we went to an amazing waterfall.  Some how Taylor still wanted to go to the waterfall we had planned to go to even though he was sick and not really feeling much better yet. It took us about an hour by mini bus to make our way out to the waterfall called Pala-U. This is another one of those places that is really hard to describe so I will show pictures instead…

There were 11 levels of this place. It was not just a giant waterfall (which is kind of what I was expecting), instead it was more of complicated hiking paths with small waterfalls and a river flowing down.  I was not well prepared and decided to stop with Taylor at level 5 since I was wearing very slippery sandals and was worried that I would fall.  The other 5 that went with us continued up as high as they could until it started to downpour. Some of the only rain we have seen in Thailand came on a day when we were stuck outside with no buildings around. Luckily by the time it started to rain heavily, Taylor and I had made our way back to the beginning of the trail and were able to sit at a picnic table with an umbrella while we anxiously awaited the safe return of the other 5.  They eventually made it back about an hour and a half later, completely drenched and with stories to tell.  Needless to say it was a long and uncomfortable ride back to Hua Hin in the van that we had gotten soaking wet.  Here is JP post soaked from the rain:

After that we found another minibus to take us back to Bangkok around 7pm and were back at our hotel (eating pizza) by 10:30pm. We then had a short 4 day work week (even shorter for me since I was sick 1 ½ days) and instead of heading out Thursday night for a long weekend in Chiang Mai, we opted for a weekend spent in Bangkok with our Thai friends, which you will have to wait until next time to hear about…… J


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Site visits, malls and markets.

This weekend was a lot less adventurous than my birthday weekend but it was still a lot of fun.  Saturday morning my project team had a site visit that we had to leave for at 7:30 (which is even earlier than we have to be at work on the weekdays), so that was a bummer. However, the site visit went extremely well. We were able to meet with Boonharn Ou-Udomying, the executive director of the largest tire reclaiming company in Thailand. He made a presentation, we interviewed him, and then he showed us around the factory and testing lab. It was very informative and pertinent to our project plus we were able to get a lot of good pictures (which can be seen on our project website here). We found out that there are actually closer to 400,000 tons of waste tires produced annually in Thailand, which is much closer to our own estimates then the 85,000 number that we were given. We also learned that there are in fact no regulations specifically regarding waste tire management, and Mr. Boonharn (Thai’s are always referenced by their first name) has been trying for 10 years to basically convince the Thai government that these types of laws are needed. This was both encouraging and discouraging because it shows the importance of implementing regulations but a the same time, they have already been trying for 10 years so will a student research project really influence the process, probably not.

After our site visit we returned to Bangkok (the company was about 45 min away) and went to Siam Paragon (one of the many malls in the immediate area) and ate lunch with our Thai partners. Now I am going to sidetrack a little bit and talk about all of the malls in Bangkok. So many of the malls here are the most elaborate, expensive, fabulous malls I have ever seen. I’m not even sure where to start.  But one of the coolest designed malls (for lack of a better term) is Terminal 21.  It has an airport theme but every floor/section is decorated as different places from all of the world. It is hard for me to describe how truly amazing it is and the level of detail they put in to it. For example, every bathroom is decorated to the theme and every single one is different. We had to walk into everyone we saw just to take it out (I am going back some days to just take pictures because it’s that cool)! I can’t even imagine trying to focus on trying to shop there because I couldn’t do anything besides look around at all of the amazing architecture and design. There is even a very inexpensive food area with great food. So on the top floor of this high end, literally jaw-dropping mall, is a place to get dinner and desert for only a few dollars, doesn’t seem quite right to me but that is Bangkok for you. 

I could go on about all of the mind-blowing malls here for pages but I’m not going to do that right now. But for any of my shopaholic blog readers, you should check out these malls too. Siam Center is new and the only way I can think to describe it is modern meets industrial meets pottery barn. I absolutely love the interior design (and really can’t wait for my pottery barn-loving mother to see it)! There is also Siam Discovery and MBK as I mentioned before, all within a half mile.  And there are a countless number of malls in other nearby areas.

So before sidetracked to the insanity of which is malls in Bangkok, I was talking about what I did on Saturday. After lunch (and ice cream) with my project group, all of us WPI students went back to the hotel to nap (one of my favorite past times).  After laying in bed and sleeping/ talking to Taylor and my roommate Mary for hours, we finally decided to get up and get dinner. We went to the pizza place (yes real pizza) next door and had a delicious barbeque chicken and onion pizza that was made in a brick oven (my stomach is grumbling now just thinking about it). After that Trevor, Bryan, Taylor, Mary and I went to Royal City Avenue, which is a big nightlife and clubbing street. We put on our dancing shoes and went to a club called route 66, it was fun to finally be able to dance here.

The next day (after finally getting to sleep in for the first time in weeks) Trevor, Taylor, Mary and I left around noon for a day of shopping at markets. We first went to Chatuchak Market aka JJ Market, which is probably the most famous weekend market in Bangkok. This website says it is 35 acres, has 8,000 market stalls and on a typical weekend, more than 200,000 visitorsBut surprisingly the only thing I bought after hours of looking around was food. This is becoming a trend for me in Bangkok because I feel like there are so many things I could buy but I just get so overwhelmed by the sheer amount of possibilities and end up not buying anything (except like I said, food).

Later that night we headed to Asiatique, which we were falsely under the impression was an inexpensive night market, but was really what has been described as “Disney’s version of a Thai bazaar”. It reminded me of a place you would find in Epcot or downtown Disney (so naturally I loved it).  Once again, it is hard for me to describe but basically you take a water taxi down the main river in Bangkok and go to this place with shopping and tons of restaurants. This is definitely something I put on this list to do with my mom, Michael, and Griffin (especially since they are more willing to spend money than some of my other travel companions). 

So that was basically my weekend, and now I am back to another week of (extremely boring) work. Honestly I am just so sick of waste tires at this point (but hopefully this feeling will go away soon).  I just really look forward to my nights and weekends and all of the fun they bring! As Claire said, when I’m 40 I’m not going to remember all of the work I did on this project, but instead the amazing experiences I am having and the many friends that I am making.

Until next time, sawatdii kha!

<3 Kaily

Friday, January 18, 2013

Birthday Weekend Part 2

After an interesting two nights and one day spent in Pattaya, we were ready to go somewhere else and explore. We woke up Sunday morning itching for an adventure. Among the considered activities were bungee jumping (sorry mom and dad), visiting an elephant garden, island trip round two, and this awesome idea of an “open” zoo. Originally we ruled the zoo out because it was far away and seemed difficult to get to. The zoo has a car service to come pick people up at their hotels but that was far too expensive for our college student budgets. After a heated debate (not really), we decided that what we all wanted to do the most was go to the zoo and roam around with animals. But there was the challenge of actually getting there. It was over an hour away from Pattaya making it too far to take a taxi and there are no buses that go to it.

So we checked out of the hotel, hoping for the best, but the planner in me doubted we would ever actually make it. But this is when the awesome transportation luck that I mentioned before really kicked in. We first had to get back to the bus terminal we came in on (so we thought). But upon arrival to the bus station we found out that none of those busses were going to the Chonburi station where we thought we had to go. We were told “walk three minutes to the street and wave down a bus”, which just furthered by doubts.  But the universe wanted us to go on this adventure.

Literally the second we got to the corner of the main street a bus driver of a bus with Chonburi on the side of it waved at us and when we waved back he quickly pulled over. After paying 80 baht (around $2.60) we were on a bus headed to Chonburi. Immediately 3 out of 4 of my travel partners (including myself) feel asleep. When we woke up we realized that we were never really sure that Chonburi was the place we should go to try to get to the zoo. Luckily, the only non-napping member of the group had talked to the bus driver and now knew where we should actually get off. After another 20 minutes we arrived in a city that turned out to be about 25 minutes from the zoo. At the time we had no idea really where we were or how close the zoo was. After a quick snack stop at 7-eleven (a staple of every street in Thailand it seems), we began to try to find transportation to the zoo.

We first tried asking a driver of one of those trucks I mentioned in the last post but his offer of 500 baht seemed way too high and we had no idea how far away this place was.  A motorcycle-taxi driver overheard us and pointed to his friend the tuk-tuk driver. His offer of 300 baht  ($10) seemed better but we were still unsure. It was especially confusing because he had someone translating for him and was saying something about 4 hours and round trip. So naturally we thought that this meant we were about to embark on a 2 hour tuk-tuk ride to the zoo (they aren’t exactly the most comfortable mode of transportation).  After bartering the fare down to 200 baht, and determining since it was so cheap there was no way it could be a 2 hour ride, we headed to the zoo. It was a pleasant 25 minute ride out to the zoo and we passed an awesome golf course

Once we got to the zoo the English-speaking ticket seller asked us if we had arranged transportation back from wherever we came from. Well, we hadn’t because we (foolishly) assumed that there would be taxis or a tuk-tuk available for us to take back to where the bus had dropped us off.  So the ticket seller told us to arrange a deal with the tuk-tuk driver that had brought us there. So after a little bartering it was arranged that the tuk-tuk driver would wait there for 3 hours while we went to the zoo and then take us the 25 minutes back to the town (this costs us 300 baht or $10 and this included him sitting just there)!

Now that I pretty much wrote an essay on how we got to the zoo I can finally tell you what we actually did at the zoo. The Khao Kheow Open Zoo was not much like the Dusit Zoo in Bangkok that I mentioned in one of my first posts (even though that was awesome too). It is a huge zoo that has many free-range (so to speak) animals. The zoo was so large in fact that we rented a golf cart for the four of us to drive around for two hours, which would have been fun even if the zoo wasn’t that cool. We did so many fun things I will just have to highlight my favorite parts.  I got to feed a giraffe, touch a rhino, get my picture taken with an orangutan that put his arm around me, watch monkeys just doing funny monkey things, I saw lions, cheetahs, and tigers, and basically did any cool thing you could possibly do at a zoo. It was so awesome. 

Here are some of my favorite pictures but the whole album can be seen here.

After we left the zoo we took a beautiful sunset tuk-tuk ride back into the town and asked the bus driver to take us to the bus station (that we were just hoping actually existed). Continuing on our lucky streak, a bus was leaving for Bangkok in 10 minutes.  However, our transportation luck ran out there and the bus broke down an hour into the trip. We then had to wait for another bus to come pick us up and an hour and a half trip turned into a 3 hour one. We just had to laugh though and say the Thai saying “mai bpen rai” (meaning it doesn’t matter), because we had been so lucky that whole weekend. After that we were just a few short skytrain rides away from our hotel in Bangkok then we were up early Monday (my birthday) back at work from 9-5.

So to say the least I had an awesome, unique, fun, and funny birthday weekend. I made so many memories and couldn’t have asked for a more hilarious and fun group to explore with. It makes me excited to know that was really just the first weekend here and the second one is starting right now J

I’ll let you know what exciting adventures this weekend has in store early next week!

Sawatdii kha,