Monday, September 28, 2009

At the Market

One of the greatest joys of living in Thailand, or traveling anywhere in Asia, is the opportunity to spend time in neighborhood markets. For me, the experience of wandering through the narrow aisles is at the top of my must see list of cultural events. The energy, sights, sounds and multitude of aromas envelope the visitor like a friendly embrace and don't let go until long after one leaves the carnival-like atmosphere.

The "Pig Man," Rayong, Thailand

Wandering through the maze of tiny lanes is the best way to get to know a people, their customs, their cuisine, and their social network. Nowhere else can one learn first hand and intimately the fabric that holds the Thai society together. It is the markets, not the town halls, that are the center of Thai--and as far as I can tell by my limited travels--Asian life in general. In the U.S., outside of major cities, the fresh markets sadly have disappeared, displaced by the air conditioned supermarkets where fresh means having just been flown in from South America. The farmer's markets are a bright spot, but lack the spontaneity, chaos, and delightful organic essence of Asian markets.

Night Market, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo

Forays to our local weekend market are always eagerly anticipated. Besides the vast arrays of fresh fruits and vegetables, we treat ourselves to special snacks and sample new food items that may ultimately be added to our shopping list, or in some cases, politely declined (some things just seem more suited to slithering through a natural area than ending up on my plate)!

Weekend Market, Rayong.

One of the most satisfying aspects of shopping at the market is the familiarity that evolves between vendor and patron. We are often teased about buying fruit at another stall, or waved over so that we can be shown the pick of the lot, the juiciest or freshest, a vendor remembering our special tastes. In addition, there is the non-food section in which treasures await our serendipitous passing by: New designs from the jeweler, a new carving, or that special T shirt with the amazing artwork.
We never fail to be surprised by some unique or amusing find.

Three cucumbers, a lettuce, and one cat, please.

People often ask, have I ever been sick? The answer is quite truthfully, not once in my five years of eating market food here have I ever caught a "bug." Food doesn't have to be wrapped in layers of plastic or sent through waves of radiation to be safe. Fresh from the gardens around Bangkok, food is the connection between people and serves as a social conduit. I love that part of being here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Parent Enabling to the Max

After a lab today with my senior advanced level biology students, I noticed that the supplies had been left out and unwashed. I stopped and said to the group, "Let me guess: You don't have to clean up after yourselves at home." Grinning sheepishly, they hurried over to wash the equipment and put away the specimens. For some of them it is their mothers who hover and run errands, for others it is the maid who is paid to tidy up after them. I then related a story of the most spoiled student I ever had, who, on a field trip to Chicago asked me to cut her meat because even at age 16, her father had always done it for her. Upon relating this, I noted that no one in my group of 17-year olds found it remotely as amazing as I had. In fact, one girl smiled and said, "My parents still do that for me."

"Actually, my mom feeds me while I'm working."
"What do you mean?"
"Well," she said, "If I'm working on my computer, my mom will feed me."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
"Let me get this straight," I said. "You are allowed to have the computer at the dinner table?"
"Well, yeah," she said as if I were daft. "If I have homework."
"And," I continued, "Your mother spoon feeds you?"
Nodding, she said, "My mom's awesome!"

I now have a new candidate for most spoiled teen, as well as most protective mother. It isn't unusual for Thais to feed their children until they are well into elementary school, often the maid acting as surrogate slave. But, I've never heard of anyone actually feeding their nearly adult child.

I think I've really made some strides by having these kids wash a beaker.
But I'm not going to feed any of them.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Newest Survey on Obama

Should the president make a speech to the children of America without parental approval? If "parental approval" means giving permission to the school for their children to watch it, which I think it is meant to, then I vote NO (Yes, parents should have a say). Here's why: Sometimes the things that my fellow countrymen and women become obsessed about make me shake my head. Lately, the "big deal" is the dissent by a few contrarians that the media have latched onto regarding the scheduled address by the president to the children of America during school. Apparently, there are people out there who have decided that President Obama has some hidden agenda in a speech that is intended to encourage students to work hard and stay in school.

Now, that's a pretty radical and--dare I say it--"socialist" thing to say. It must be, because obviously the president is here, compliments of a solid majority, to undermine the American way of life. There is something un-American about students staying in school! Why wasn't this speech thing a "big deal" when our cocaine snorting, convicted drunk driving ex-president made a speech to the youth of America on--get this--the dangers of drug use? Not a peep was heard from those who are making such a fuss now, and I think I know why.

First, let me say that I agree that parents should have a say in what their students hear in school. The things I've heard from educators in my nearly four decades of education would shrivel even the most hardy supporters of compulsory education, and parents are lethargic as hell. And yet, the fact that the president wants to make a simple speech has people in a panic defies logic.

The reason there are those who do not want their children to hear the president has nothing to do with his message. It has to do with who he is, and what he stands for. In other words, the people who oppose this address, do so because they oppose or fear something in the president's agenda, or quite simply, because of his genetics. The reason this wasn't a big deal when the former president, king of dishonesty, gave his address, is because typically, those who show such opposition to Obama are nearly, if not all, right wingers, and those on the left didn't make a stink about George II because they trust their children to take in information, analyze it, and make up their own minds. Conservatives generally want to tell their children what and how to think. They have no idea how resistant children are to this tactic, even though it may not seem obvious at the time.

So, how would I vote in this silly poll? If it counted at all, I would say that yes, parents have the right to have their children not hear the address: It is their right. But, I would add, that it would be a terrible disservice to their children, and undermine the confidence and respect that all citizens should have in the head of state, regardless of who it is.