24 May 2006

Don't ask

Sigh. Another semester at Olin flashes by and I’m still puzzling over Thailand. I think I'm just starting to realize how seriously it rearranged my insides. Ummm… this is an ugly attempt to write stuff down and convince myself that it happened.

Once upon a time, in the land of skyscrapers and alleys jammed with bored taxis, I found the right skyscraper at the back of the wrong alley and took the elevator to the 12th sketchy floor.

“So what exactly do you guys do?”

“Have you ever seen The Life Aquatic?”

Welcome to the Coastal Preservation and Development Foundation. Sounds impressive, don’t it? Three guys packed into a sardine can excuse for an office, tapping away at laptops, trying to save the world one tropical island at a time.

On paper, CPAD is a [cough] grassroots [cough] organization working towards sustainability on the touristy island of Koh Tao. (www.cpadfoundation.org) They’re an all-around awesome group of biologists, scuba divers, business majors, and engineers based in Bangkok, the US, and other random world places. They even throw James Bond Ball fundraisers.

Not to mention the pterodactyls. Their Bangkok office was perched over this huge cage garden thing stories which echoed with unearthly screeches. Supposedly, they were just birds, but damn, they sounded prehistoric.

Ummm...right…so I had an internship at CPAD (interns don’t get glocks), working on a gloriously glamorous project. That's right, kids! It's everyone's *favorite* dinnertime conversation: SEWAGE, BABY!!! My swell mission: look at how waste water is handled on the island [cough]holesintheground[cough], examine how it's affecting the ecosystem, research alternatives, determine how practical they are, and James Bond. (<-- That's the gloriously glamorous part.) I hate to admit it, but I had a fantabulous time.

This sounds a little weird, but my sewage quest led me through a lot of paradigm shift musings. Honestly, how many people get to run around a tropical island and ask the locals, “Hi, I’m another stupid tourist. So…wanna talk about sewage?” I thought a lot about the way communities develop when tourism strikes, how I travel, and where I spend my money. And I found out that the holesintheground method isn’t half bad. It’s when stuff starts leaching into the ocean that problems arise…

However, the most awesome things that came out of CPAD were the side tangents. CPAD is looking to build a green research building on the island, so I started doing a little research on mud building in Thailand. (Mud building is awesome. My family’s house in Santa Fe is mudbuilt/adobe.) Soon I heard of the good works of Jon Jondai and his wife Peggy, and I ventured off to a small sustainable farm in northern Thailand called Pun Pun.

Took a 2nd class bus to Chiang Mai after school. I found the right bus by reading the sign in FUCKING THAI! (Yesssssssss!!! I learned something!) I was only white person onboard…(I’m not a tourist, I swear…) Had a wonderful time at the Chiang Mai bus station teasing the taxi drivers who were trying to rip me off, then (following instructions), found my way to a random back alley with a random white truck, and jumped in. The driver was very friendly and I held up half a conversation with him in Thai. (A lot of it was me looking very puzzled and him trying to use simpler words.) I was joined by a couple of cute old ladies and baskets upon baskets of produce. Packed right in with the cabbages. Excellent. The ladies and vegetables were dropped off first at a market, and we drove out further until we were winding through a farming village. The driver pointed across a field. I jumped out. The workers in the field took one look at my frumpled school uniform and laughed. “Jon Jondai?” they asked. They pointed me onwards. I wandered through a tamarind orchard, ducked under a barbed wire fence and found someone who was constructing a solar oven. Ah…my hippie insides smiled so hard it hurt. This was Pun Pun. I found it. Over the next few days I was impossibly intensely content.

Wow, that place is…amazing. Imagine a cooperative community snuggled in the foothills with happy little kids running around speaking 3 + different languages (English, Thai, Burmese). It was the antidote to the smognoisepollutionblatantconsumerismhurryhurryfast that had been killing me in other parts of Thailand. I ate so much fresh passion fruit and bananas it’s a wonder I didn’t rupture. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen helping out: learning how to make som tam, thai prik, brown rice bread, curries, stir fries…I wish I could have spent months there. I’m definitely going to spend a considerable portion of my life on a farm somewhere. This sounds corny, but I feel like I have no connection to the food I eat. I don’t know where it came from, who grew it, how it was grown, how far it traveled… It felt so good to pull weeds out of the garden and mix mud bricks for buildings.

...and so many mind-bending conversations…

What am I doing?