On Saturday morning, after having risen around 7:00 am, I set to doing laundry. I was squatting on this wooden stool /// and: grind, scrape and scrub the two sides of my slightly turquoise uniform shirts together (tinted after a mishap with my tye dye t-shirt). Wash once, rinse three times. Sit in fabric softener, wring, shake, and repeat (once for shirts, pants and underwear – not to be mixed). My thoughts kept drifting back to a reoccurring theme: economic sufficiency.

Recently, after having spent a couple of days learning about Thailand’s economic history, the ISDSI class recently visited King’s Royal Development Project site. It’s really a fascinating place of research, initiated some twenty-five years ago, after an economic scare/downturn.

As demonstrated by the project, the King is promoting a future for Thailand (particularly in rural areas) that incorporates this idea economic sufficiency. This comes in stark contrast to a recent history that has been patterned after a model from the World Bank, for Less Developed Countries (LDCs): growth, industrialized agriculture, and exports. Of course, under this plan Thailand has boomed (its GDP expanding at incredible rates, something like 10% annually during certain points). It’s economy is based mostly on exports (cars, specifically trucks) and tourism.

However, the King is offering a refreshingly simple model in response: security for farmers in agroforestry and diverse practices. These ideas as a whole are aimed to work towards a complete a system, where their livelihood in ensured, regardless of the global economy. After visiting the Royal Development Project, we were able to visit a farmer who was putting these ideas into practice (he was educated at the project, classes are offered for free). On his acre (or so) of land he was raising carp, pigs (producing biogas for cooking), rice, various vegetables, and a couple of cows (other classes offered include mushroom cultivation and frog raising). It was quite impressive. He was able to sustain himself completely off of this piece of land, and then also sell what extra he had in order to provide some surplus income (and send three daughters to college!).

Here is the place where I’ve been thinking. Such visits seemed particularly applicable after just having finished two books: “Stolen Harvest” by Vandana Shiva (about the negative impacts of industrialized monocropping on biodiversity and food security) and “Deep Economy” by Bill McKibben (looking at how our assumption that economic growth is inherently good is both unfounded and perpetuating inequality on a global scale).

So I’ve been wondering quite a bit lately, what can the United States learn from this idea of economic sufficiency? Not that I’m suggesting we all adopt this idea of a small scale farm, but really, given the limited resources in our world – shouldn’t we all (at least partly) be moving in that direction? Hmm, I sound a bit strong. Maybe I’m mostly wondering where the middle ground lay. How should we live (particularly in the “developed” nations)? Is there a way in which we can each have enough room to ensure both our own livelihood and the humanity of others? How are these aims reflected in my own life?

I hear it’s more beautiful in Thai, but the phrase our guide offered I found to be quite wise: “All I have I use, all I use I have.”

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I’m back from a weekend “camping” (retreating) in Doi Sutep National Park. There I spent the afternoons swimming in this long chute waterfall, peeking at bat caves, and crunching through the forests on a hike. I learned how the worms are collected from bamboo shoots for snacks, that banana trees aren’t trees but actually more closely related to grass, and poked at the soft bark of this sponge-type tree from which local villagers take the poisonous sap to hunt small animals with arrows.

All that said, I’m really happy to be back with my family. This evening was a somewhat celebratory ordeal. One of my parents’ friends came for a surprise visit. They hadn’t seen her for either four or ten years (I honestly didn’t quite understand that part). Either way, it’s easy to understand why they were so excited. We sat around with bowls of fruit, ate two different types of fish, and laughed our way through a gigantic dish of banana coconut milk dessert. I also munched on my first helping of soup made from vegetables and red ant eggs (http://www.gnaw.cc/images/udon/ants.jpg). I’ve been wanting to try it, and honestly, it’s quite delicious.

Mm. At this point, I’m just working on experiencing.

Peace, Love and Tropical Fruit >>>> Reb

p.s. A picture! It’s all I’ve got right now. Me and my pal, Rachel. We’re at the ISDSI campus. (By the way, Rachel and I just had our first traditional Thai massages this week! Yup).

I’ve tried and tried, multiple times, and then again, to upload pictures to this blog. But it hasn’t worked yet. Mostly because of the fact that I haven’t found a strong internet connection yet. Oh well, that’s okay. Right?

This week presented a few new and enjoyable activities. Apart from rock climbing and visiting a couple of the schools in Chiang Mai (a rather interesting and informative experience), I’ve also begun yoga classes!

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I head over to a studio space by Chiang Mai University. After two sessions, I’ve decided that it’s going to be great. It’s a wonderful time to sit and melt into the space and noise of the heavy evening heat. I enjoy stretching my body and allowing my mind to unwind from the processes of the day. Inside out, outside in. While it’s definitely a challenge to do yoga when the instructor speaks a different language, I still come home carrying a body that seems to fit together with itself more peacefully. Who knows, maybe I’ll even make a couple of new Thai friends.

Tomorrow will be our swimming “assessment” and off to a weekend of camping/retreating with the other ISDSI students. (And now, I will go pack).

Peace, Reb.

Hmm.

It’s thick and warm here. The smog and the smells creep into your skin and between your fingers: roasted eggs, cooked rice and condensed milk, pink and purple fruit, grilled chicken.

Everyday I rise at 6:30, take a shower, eat breakfast, and set off on the silo (a yellow version of the red taxi truck I described earlier). By eight o’clock I’m usually in Thai language class. The ajaans push our farang-shaped tongues to wrap themselves around the high pitches and multiple tones of this seventy-six consonant language. Repeat, repeat, and repeat. My mind is usually reeling, squeaking and pushing its every ounce to catch what it can. It’s really hoping to jive and flow with the seemingly obscure sounds, soon.

I’m home by 6:00. In the evening, I sit out at the “kitchen table,” the center of my life while living with kuhn maa (mother) and kuhn poh (father). Before dinner, I rewrite and repeat the lists of vocab from the day. Kuhn poh sits next to me and listens carefully. Sometimes he arranges special lessons, where he uses photographs of my neighbor (Anna, another ISDSI student) to teach me the parts of the body in Thai. His large gestures and expressive noises have been both helpful and quite amusing (half my size and thirty-some years my elder, it’s also a bit silly that he always responds to me “yes sir”).

I live with just my host parents. They feed me extremely well and poke fun at my attempts to repeat the things they say. They have been quite helpful, taking me to the market, teaching me about Thai culture (like how to use the toilet or the fact that I need to shower multiple times a day), and even bringing me along to events like a funeral.

Oh the things to learn.

Peace, Reb.