written on 1/5/2015
We live in an age where it is possible to literally chase the sun across the sky. Our flight from Chicago to Seoul is 14 hours long, and the sun has maintained an almost static position in the sky since takeoff. After three movies and a short nap, I decided to start writing en-route.
On the drive to the Albuquerque airport on the 31st, my parents asked me what I liked the most about traveling.
“Seeing the different ways in which people live,” I responded. “Different cultures and old buildings are fun to see.”
Our family had lived together in Toulouse, France, during the summer of 2009. During our stay, I was fascinated by almost every difference in lifestyle (except the language) between the US and France.
I observed how the French go on strike any time and for any reason. I saw how the narrow streets had been originally built for horse-and-buggy, how the common people would go to the sprawling jardin (gardens) to read, paint flowers, walk, or play boules, and how all of the food was grown so closely to the places where it was sold – all in stark contrast to the operations of everyday life in America.
Everything says something about the history and culture of a place.
Judging by the flurry of emails that Professor Vander Linden sent to our traveling group, it is apparent that I am walking into a different way of life when I step off the last plane.
For example, one of the links that the professor sent us was meant to teach Americans how to perform the wai (pronounced almost like “why”), or polite bow – not too low, for danger of appearing insincere or sarcastic, and not too high, to show that you are truly grateful.
Another link mentioned that Thai people are “tolerant of individualism, but find comfort in groups.” Hopefully acting as a human herd will not prove too difficult for the 13 computer scientists (including myself) who are attending this journey.
Since we will be working professionally in Thailand, and the group will probably visit a temple during our stay it is also important to dress appropriately for every occasion.
When we skyped our contacts in Chiang Mai during the preliminary meeting, they announced that the weather was about 25° C – a desirable alternative to spending January in Michigan.
Despite these differences and my slight anxiety (along with my shortage of professional clothing), I am still excited to explore another unique part of the world.
When my mother read the book The Shaman Laughs, she talked about how a shaman from a Native American tribe traveled outside of his tribal land for a short amount of time. When he recounted his experiences to his fellow tribesmen, he told them that he traveled in the belly of a strange animal which had four circular legs, and whose name was written on the side of the beast – the Greyhound.
Upon first examination, our plane can be likened to a gigantic titanium sky-whale (complete with light blue top, and white underbelly), but unlike Jonah, I don’t mind being trapped inside of it. The Korean Air flight from Chicago to Seoul is on a Boeing 777, seats 451 people, and comes with complementary soda, wine, beer, endless orange juice, and two meals (I chose the Korean rice and veggies first, followed by pasta and tea). It began at 11:30 (central time) this morning, and continues for 14 hours before we land at 16:30 ,local time, in Seoul. There are personal TVs attached to the back of every seat, where a passenger may select movies, music, TV shows, or simple video games. Since the screens are personal, any passenger is able to start their own movie from the beginning whenever they like. I can tell that Guardians of the Galaxy, Mazerunner, and Lucy are popular movies by looking throughout the cabin at the screens of the people who are in front of me. At one point during the flight I could view almost every scene from Guardians of the Galaxy simultaneously by standing up and looking down the rows of seats.
A Musical Prelude
The last few days have been action-packed. To avoid missing the flight to Chiang Mai, I flew in to Chicago three days early, and stayed with my good friend Jake.
Jake’s family graciously agreed to let me stay at their house before flying out on the 4th.
After flying out of Albuquerque on the morning of new years’ day, I arrived in Chicago and was greeted warmly by Jake, my roommate of three years, and two of his high-school friends, whom I knew from previous visits to Naperville. The rest of the day was spent catching up with friends, followed by a LAN party which lasted until 3:00am. Matthew, one of Jake’s friends, helped justify his lack of sleep by explaining that he had to help me adjust to the Thailand time zone (11 hour difference from central time).
Jake is the rhythm guitarist and backup vocalist for a Chicago-based rock band called Within Four Days (look them up! They’re on iTunes and Spotify). I spent the nights of the 2nd and 3rd helping the band set up their sound equipment in two bars. They played classic rock tunes, acoustically the first night, and full-bodied the second night. The band members kindly gave me their tip money from the second night (which I used to buy dinner at both venues) as a thank-you for helping set up.
Jake is the smiley one in the middle
On the evening of the first performance, Devin, the lead guitarist, invited several of the band members, along with me and Josiah, one of Jake’s high-school friends, to play Munchkin.
Munchkin is a dungeon-genre board game with a delightfully sarcastic manual. The first instruction reads “Roll the die and argue over the meaning of the outcomes to see who goes first.” Devin and Jake both rolled fives, which was the highest out of all of us, but after a brief argument, Devin went first because he was the band’s leader. We began the game at 12:15 at night, after W4D’s first show, and continued quibbling over our colored plastic pieces for two more hours. One hour into the game I was branded as a traitor for killing Jake with a level 20 Plutonium Dragon. Loud banter ensued, but was eventually silenced by a cell phone call from Devin’s parents, who were trying to sleep upstairs. Despite my “Swiss Army Polearm” item, Alan, with his “Rapier of Unfairness,” with his “yuppie water (can only be used by elves)” boost, eventually won the game. Hopefully Jake can procure this game for his birthday, so that we can play it again.
The life of a college student is sometimes that of a vagabond, so I would like to give special thanks to…
Jake’s family – for feeding and housing me, and for treating me like a member of the family.
Within Four Days – for being friendly, playing great music, and giving me the earnings from your tip jar.
My family – for a very enjoyable Christmas break, and for letting Rachel (my wonderful girlfriend) visit.
Rachel’s family – for allowing Rachel to visit me and my family before she goes to Spain for the next semester, and for your constant care and hospitality.
Where I found the wai mentioned: http://www.frangipani.com/wordpress/thai-ways/#.VKvdr3vWGJI
Cultural etiquette: http://www.ediplomat.com/np/cultural_etiquette/ce_th.htm