Sunday, May 17, 2015

Last Night in Bangkok - May 15th

Sunset over the Chao Praya River

Thank you to all the parents, relatives and  friends who have been following our blog.  We hope you enjoyed traveling with us. It was such a pleasure to introduce your students to this region and we couldn't have asked for a more responsive, enthusiastic, curious, adventurous and mature group.  Parents -    congratulations on raising such exceptional young women. We know you'll enjoy having them back : )

Thoughts on Globalisation

As we say our final goodbyes to South-East Asia, we reflect on the three countries that we visited and our experiences with globalization in this part of the world. 

Ending the class in Thailand provided a sharp contrast to our stay in Cambodia. It was instructive to see the mutually reinforcing link between globalization and development that was manifested as we traveled from Vietnam to Cambodia to Thailand.  Thailand is quite obviously the most developed of the three countries we visited and also the one where the effects of globalization are most apparent. With Bangkok's gleaming high rises, shopping malls, and western franchises ( it was the only country where Starbucks had found its way) it felt like a typical fast moving metropolis. As a middle-income country, the quality of the infrastructure, especially roads, highways and bridges, was in sharp contrast to Cambodia and even 
Vietnam. Yet it also maintained the look and feel of a developing country with open air markets, street vendors, tuk tuks and traditional structures. 

On the other hand, both Vietnam and Cambodia show the most signs of rapid development and change and will likely undergo a much more dramatic transformation of their economies and societies in the next few years. Our guides in Hanoi and Bangkok both commented on the high price of real estate and cost of living in those cities, where it seems that the median household can only afford a tiny studio or one room apartment.  In fact our guide in Bangkok dreams of going back to Chiangmai , a beautiful rural area in northern Thailand where he grew up and he hopes to eventually become a farmer. 

It was interesting to see how the students integrated their experiences andanalyses  all that they have absorbed from their travels as they construct their final projects. We had one last class meeting in the Detroit airport we had a final discussion on these topics and then it was time to get on the final leg of our 26 hour journey back home. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Leaving Bangkok

It's 3:45 AM and we are gathering in the lobby of our hotel to make the drive to the airport.  It's hard to be moving at this hour, and it's hard to contemplate leaving this awesome city.  

We had a free day yesterday in Bangkok, and we had students at the zoo, the aquarium, shopping in the local markets, visiting a snake farm, getting traditional Thai massage, and sitting by the hotel pool in the sun. And of course, everyone was packing up a lot of newly acquired gifts into our bags.  

This has been a wonderful class and a wonderful bunch of adventures.  We've had such a great group for the journey.  It's hard to believe it's almost over.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A little globalization...

The river market

We were out the door early again this morning because we had a 50 km drive out of the city to reach the floating market.  This huge floating market has been around for a long time, built along an ancient system of canals.  The shops are lining the canals in the thickest part of the market.  As you get closer by boat, there are more and more people selling things from shore.  You can buy original art, clothes, jewelry, fruit, and all kinds of food.  Some ladies prep and cook food in small wooden river boats.  It's a bustling place of commerce with hundreds of little shops and boats.  The houses lining the canals away from the shops are lovely.  This is not a poor area.  We saw lots of charming wood homes with flowers and gardens and little family shrines.  Well-fed dogs gazed at us happily as we went past.  We had a really fun time shopping from our small boats, occasionally scrambling out to examine something more closely.  Later we walked in the landslide market, finding the last minute gifts we need for everyone at home and sampling more of the local food. 

Wat Arun

No one knows how old this temple is, nor who built it.  It was already there, by the side of the river, when the city founders arrived.  The first records appear in the1600s, but it's much older than that.  It was rebuilt in the 1700s, and paved with colorful ceramic tiles and seashells.  It stands in the center of the city right in the river shore.  We arrived by boat to see it.  Usually it's possible to climb high up on the outside of the stupa tower for a view of the city.  But it's being renovated and we could only go one level up.  This is a working temple, and several students, Eva and Sophie, made an offering and got blessed by the local monk.

Happy Rooms

In Southeast Asia, they use the term 'happy rooms' to refer to restrooms.  And We've experienced everything from modern clean western-style bathrooms to the older non-flush squat sort.  Some have reservoirs of water from which to scoop water to rinse down the waste.  All paper goes in a basket, not in the bowl.  Here's an example of the old style, just so you can see it: