Asia is a Continent and then some

Oh my god, I’m sitting at the Bangkok airport, it’s 3 PM, and I still have nine hours until my flight leaves for Korea.  I’m sweating buckets because I dressed for Korea, and I’ve got four bags, a winter coat and a sweater to babysit.  And I can barely keep my eyes open, as I was up until 3 am trying to cram all my stuff back into my bags.

The airport here is huge.  The international terminal is one wide-open, very cosmopolitan high tech building.  But the domestic terminal perpendicular to it is really really stunning – it’s a fabric tensile structure, of gigantic proportions.

Apologies for not keeping on top of the blog – we were in classes all day and had to spend the evenings preparing our lessons for the following day’s teaching practices all week.    Got some shoes repaired at the world’s smallest shoe repair shack (so short the man could not stand up) as well as got my laundry done so the clothing would be flatter, etc., etc.

The last day, Friday, they threw a little going away party for us, after costuming us all up in traditional Thai costumes.  They were mostly silk with gold threads in them, so kind of scratchy.  A guy helped us tie them on correctly and would consult on whether our choices of tops, bottoms, & sashes were acceptable.  So I got to see several different kinds of ways to wrap the skirts and tops.  But we were also held together with strings, garbage bags, and safety pins, so don’t know how really authentic we were.  Most of the bustiers and bodices that go with the dress outfits were too tight for me!  The young girls here all look to be about a size zero.  Their frames and bone structure is just smaller.  Oh I wish I were not solid sturdy Korean peasant stock!  One costume was made of cotton, lacking gold threads, but seemed to have a lot more character to it and fell in love with it.  It also flowed more freely and looked really comfortable.  So I bought it.  It was expensive, but so cool…The owner of the resort complimented me on my choice, explained to me that the weave pattern was particular to Lanna people, and that anyone from Thailand who saw me wear it would know exactly where it came from.  It’s almost a patchwork quilt, and she explained that the bottom border was where the expense came from – because it was such a fine pattern, all hand woven  So they put out a spread of food, hired some traditional dancers, and played karaoke songs.  Good time was had by all, most heading out to various places for more revelry until dawn.

Some things I forgot to mention:
Chiang Mai means something like “land of a million rice fields.”  When we taught the middle school (which had only 1,500 students in it) it was outside of the city, and we could smell the fields burning, which I read is something they begin about this time of year every year.  Chiang Mai is really beautiful – surrounded by mountains and foliage, so it is cooler and more natural than Bangkok.  The air pollution is really bad, though.  There are soooo many scooters, and I’ve no idea how many are two stroke or not  – quite a few diesel cars, and tons of songthow taxi’s in lieu of public transit.

The local food is much spicier than in the south, and some of it is so hot it is almost tasteless, because all you can focus on is your lips burning off.  Makes kim-chee seem like child’s play.  But most of the food served in restaurants is not so regional, but the kind of Thai you think of ordering in America – wide noodles fried with vegetables, or fried rice dishes, or coconut milk soups, or green and red curries, etc.  I like the northern food better though, as I got sick of the same-old same old every day.

Been trying to put my finger on how to tell S.E. Asians apart from Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, etc.  What I notice the most is the nostril openings are more pronounced and the noses are flatter, (it’s as if someone sliced the tip off of their noses) their lips are fuller, and their skin tone is slightly darker.  Eyebrows seem straighter, and the majority have rectangular shaped faces – squared ovals, which we called “squoval” in the beauty industry.  The double eyelid is also naturally the norm here.  I haven’t seen anything that looked like cosmetic surgery here, though I think teeth whitening and sun spot lightening, etc. are big.

It was really humorous how the director of the school we taught at would make a beeline for Willie, the other Korean adoptee, to chat about the program.  Willie has Thai eyebrows and his nose was broken, so it’s hard to tell if he’s Korean at all.  People would always start talking to him in Thai.  The Filipino girl, Lenn, also would be the one locals would make a beeline to whenever locals would see us farangs as a group.   Lenn is also hard to identify, as her features are not distinct.  I, on the other hand, am thoroughly Korean to most people.  Locals would either mistake me as being Japanese (which I look far too dark, fat, healthy and straight-teethed, straight-boned for) or Korean.  At which point they would instantly start talking about their favorite Kpop bands with me.  So, it was a short conversation…Lenn, on the other hand, LIVES for Kpop.  She’s going to fare well in Korea…

Tuesday morning I have to take the subway into Seoul and meet a translator.  From there, we will take a train to Wonju and talk with the city hall there.  Hopefully there will be some further information to investigate:  a name, an orphanage, something.
It will be interesting to see what comes up, if anything.  It’s curious how the first document I have is unofficial, in a land that loves paperwork, seals, and all things that increase credibility.

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