This trip will be a “mind trip” about my attempt to master Thai and explore the Thai psyche, bit by tiny bit.
  • Day262

    Ayutthaya Redux

    February 18 in Thailand ⋅ ☁️ 30 °C

    I decided to return to the ancient capital of Ayutthaya, almost a year after my first visit. (See this site, the trip “Thailand Challenge,” footprint “My Heart Remains in Ayutthaya.”) I wanted to stay at my former Airbnb property, with Nick, the brilliant cook, and Tom, her Russian husband, and Thai language expert—to catch up, get ideas for my studies, and roam around in a relaxed manner.

    I enjoyed biking to the beautiful ruins again, mourning the destruction of what must have been a sumptuous capital. Those awful Burmese—they just wouldn’t stop invading and conquering kingdoms in Thailand—Sukhothai, Lanna, Ayutthaya.

    There are two National Museums in Ayutthaya. This year I went to the smaller of the two, which features a very precious collection of antiquities donated by Mr. Praya Botan Rajatanin, housed in what was formally a residence for royalty traveling to Ayutthaya in the late 19th century. I enjoyed it, as it was a very understated royal residence, as such things go, and the collection of Buddhist statues, religious relics, and other historical items was small and well-chosen.

    I was told by Tom to go visit the Phananchoen Temple, in the southeast corner of the historic area—a Chinese temple with an enormous gold Buddha and an excellent library of ancient Buddhist texts. It took me two days to find it, as I let myself be led astray to walk wherever my curiosity led me, but finally, there I was. Yes, indeed there was a truly giant Buddha, shining in gold, and very impressive. But where was the library? I asked four people, then a fifth and a sixth—but no one knew. Finally a kind monk visiting from Bangkok asked someone for me, and the answer was, “It’s under repair,” and that was the end of that. But not quite. The monk sent me an article and a YouTube clip showing the demise of the library in a terrible fire in April, 2012. The news was barely mentioned at the time, and now seems completely forgotten. An unimaginable tragedy. Here is link to the video of the fire: https://youtu.be/pighMrD9UAg

    Ayutthaya offered me many opportunities to really practice my Thai. I took my breakfasts and dinners at Tom and Nick’s restaurant, and Tom kindly steered some of his regular Thai customers to my table to sit down and have a chat! And of course my street shenanigans never stopped. All in all, it was a very very pleasant stay.

    I was horrified when my plane descended into the black smoke and pollution covering Chiang Mai, but hey! I was home, and glad to get back to my routine.

    I hope you like the pictures, and please remember to sign your first name if you leave a comment.
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  • Day254

    Chainat? Why not?

    February 10 in Thailand ⋅ 🌙 30 °C

    Although I’m on a perpetual vacation called “Retirement,” I decided that before leaving Thailand this year, I really needed a vacation from Chiang Mai and my 6-month-long study regimen there. So I looked carefully at the central region of Thailand where the standard Thai dialect is spoken, and found a small city that is really not famous for anything. Why? Because I didn’t want to run into tourists and other foreigners—to be in the “real” THAILAND—and just speak Thai.

    I flew to the huge domestic airport in Bangkok, Dom Mueang, took a bus to the northern bus terminal, Mochit, and from there rode for four hours to Chainat, capital of the province of Chainat. It is an ancient place, having more success in beating off the Burmese invaders in the Ayutthaya Period than Ayutthaya itself (13th and 14th centuries) , but now is unfortunately very low in the United Nations Human Development Program for Thailand: 75th out of 77 provinces—yikes! However, for me it ranks very highly because of sparse population, MUCH cleaner air, very friendly and hospitable people, and much bird life.

    I went on my first day to see the town’s big feature, the “Bird Park,” which has a water park , an aquarium, an “Egg Museum,” and a giant aviary, among other features. With my binoculars, I entered the aviary—the only person there. What a strange place! There were dozens of herons perched on the outside netting, looking to get in, while the “residents” of the aviary seemed quite contented to be there, although there were gaping holes in some places where they could leave if they wished. No matter, the entire area attracts bird life, so there were nests in the nearby trees, as well as in the enclosure. I spotted some small “hiiwa,” the giant water lizards (Asian water monitor) of the area, as well as ancient and very large iguanas—definitely brought in from the Americas. At any rate, I have been bereft of wildlife for seven months, so it was an utterly absorbing and fascinating few hours.

    The following day, I went walking—first in the morning around and down to the Chao Phraya River, and then into town—a total of eleven miles—24 kilometers. I walked, I chatted, I looked, I stopped to study Thai—just a normal day of wandering. Except that the temperature heated up to 100 F, 38 C, so as I walked I “showered myself” as is normal in Thailand. (Did you get the “shower myself?” It means with sweat. But oh, that wonderful REAL shower at the end of the day—such a relief!!)

    My last full day was more of the same, but with more studying Thai and striking up conversations with the residents. I am not as enthusiastic about the “cold conversations” as I used to be, as I’m sensitive to the fact that if people are working, I will be bothering them. Yet it is with the unexpected conversations that the real improvisation of speaking, using my vocabulary, listening to peoples’ stories, and getting used to the spoken language occurs. Regrettably, I feel I have gone backward with my speaking, while forward with my reading and writing.

    So, at a café, as I studied my new Thai speaking exercise about anonymous benevolence, I noticed some young college students next to me, so I started a conversation with one of them. She was eighteen, very pretty, very articulate, and encouragingly friendly. When I showed her my current exercise, she said, “If you stop reading that, and only speak with people like me, you will really know Thai.” I fell into an instant depression at hearing that: how could it be that 68-year-old me could speak with 18-year-olds like her? Or with anyone? I’m just a retired person, and everyone is busy. What’s the use? May as well give it all up. Besides, it’s hellishly HOT!

    I continued feeling low, as I walked around the town at high noon, finally finding a secluded place behind a hotel, sitting down in breezy shade to have a nap before my next bout of studying. Before walking home, I went to a large outdoor market, and chatted with vendors, taking pictures. At one stall, a woman started asking me lots of questions—rather like an interrogation: where are you from, why do you speak Thai, how long have you been studying, why did you come here to Chainat, what do you like about it, where are you going next, etc. People gathered around to hear my answers, until I felt like a country preacher. When she finally stopped with the questions, everyone smiled, laughed, and praised me, and I moved on, feeling much better about it all. Another chapter in my Experiment in International Living.

    I hope you enjoy the pictures, and please don’t forget to leave your first name if you write a comment.
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  • Day232

    My Two Chiang Mai Neighborhoods

    January 19 in Thailand ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    On December 27 I moved from my seventh-story two-room apartment in Jade Tower in the Chang Klan District to a fourth-story large one-room apartment in the Night Bazaar Condotel—still in Chang Klan, but one and a half kilometers to the north. I moved because Jade Tower’s absent Chinese owner (a man? a woman?) decided to raise the rent by $300 a month to squeeze the high season’s potential earnings. I had other things to do with that $300.

    Jade Tower was probably the first moderately tall building to ruin the pleasant suburb-in-the-fields atmosphere of Chang Klan. As explained to me by my friend “Aw” (Thais do have interesting nicknames) the clutch of generous three-story upper middle class houses to which she moved as a child were considered out in the country. But not for long. A half a century later, all hell broke loose, enormous twelve-to-twenty story hotels were built in the district, tourists poured in, as did fat street-food-fed brown rats, and there went the neighborhood.

    Still, any neighborhood in Chiang Mai is OK by me, because all I want to do is practice Thai with my street friends and study Thai in my apartment and in coffee shops. In Jade Tower, at 5:30 each morning, I climbed the ten flights of stairs four times—taking the elevator down to protect my knees—and then walked fast, and eventually jogged, three big loops in the traffic-free lane in back of the building. I usually studied Thai until after lunch in the apartment, and then headed out in an eleven to fifteen kilometer perambulation to my favorite coffee shops. I am a restless student, and can’t bear coupling intense concentration with the monotonous sameness of my dwelling. As I walked, I made chains of street friends along the way. “Where is the cat? How’s business? You look so pretty today! Where are the kittens? Why didn’t anyone take that dead rat away? A bag of boiled peanuts, please. That smells good!” Some of my conversation starters.

    I chose the Airbnb property in Night Bazaar Condotel mainly because it was newly-renovated and cheap—$544 per month. It is set on a narrow soi parallel to Chang Klan Road, and the famous Night Bazaar, which is a huge and busy market of sleazy-to-acceptable goods in small stalls, street food-type eateries, a few cabarets and a small Thai kick-boxing arena. The bazaar effectively blocks the smooth flow of traffic from 4 pm to midnight, so motorists in a hurry use my little soi as their detour. Hence its new moniker, “the filthy little soi,” I have bestowed upon it.

    Instead of taking lungfuls of polluted air, traversing a surprising variety of uneven pavements begging for a fall, and facing the ever-present danger of alpha street dogs, I decided to exercise healthfully by joining a gym. Across from the filthy little soi is a branch of the famous Dusit Hotel chain, and on the tenth floor is a beautiful gym. Anti-gym Huneven joined with a New Year promotion, and I have been going at 6 am every morning since.

    It is now mid-January, and the “cold season” is becoming the “pollution season.” A town once placed in a bucolic valley, the city of Chiang Mai is now strangling on the exhaust of thousands of unregulated vehicles, coagulating in an inversion layer of tamped-down poisonous air. I am crazy to stay here. But I had to send off for a new passport—having used up all of my old passport’s pages in only three years—so I can’t go anywhere without my new document.

    Well, never mind. The thing about Thai people is that their charm, easy-going politeness, sense of humor and eagerness to engage in conversation blinds me to the fault of a seemingly conscience-less approach to civic duty. However, having an attendant ram an emissions detector up the exhaust pipe of any thúk-thúk in Chiang Mai at a Department of Motor Vehicles Inspection Station—and then promptly removing the stinker from the road—is my most elaborately-developed fantasy.

    No wonder I start longing for beautiful countryside! I’m off on March 6th.

    Please enjoy the photos, and sign your first name if you leave a comment.
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  • Day188

    Meeting up with Family in Hanoi Vietnam

    December 6, 2019 in Vietnam ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    A completely unexpected event in my Experiment in International Living has now happened again: my family came across the world so we could meet. First, my sister Michelle joined me in Oaxaca last July; then she and her husband Jim planned a trip to Vietnam, and invited me to join them in Hanoi this December. A scant forty-five minutes’ strong tail wind flight from Chiang Mai, and there I was in Hanoi airport! (It is worth noting that one can get a visa-on-arrival in Vietnam, but it takes a good hour at the airport AND takes up an entire page on one’s passport.) Never mind the red tape—it was a delight to be together. Michelle and Jim shared a sumptuous room with me in the five-star Hotel L’Opera in Hanoi.

    I realized that nearly half a century has passed since the terrible strife of the VietnamWar, and I know many people who have happily visited Vietnam since its end. Yet I still dreaded a confrontation with my past—remembering Vietnamese students studying at the University of Southern California when I was there in 1970-72, and how they wept in the shrouded darkness of their rooms as they learned of the destruction of their country; how we protested the war every day; how the Americans were finally defeated, and the South Vietnamese as well. Michelle and Jim had a guide in Saigon who told them it took him many years of research on his own to realize that the American War (as it’s called in Vietnam) was also a Vietnamese civil war.

    Well, capitalism is alive and well in this communist capital. I did no reading in preparation for my five days’ stay, so I have no idea of the real story, but it LOOKS as though entrepreneurship is big. And so is a feeling of hospitality and friendliness extended by the Vietnamese to their American visitors. I loved it, and was writhing in frustration at not being able to say more in Vietnamese than “hello, my name is Dorée, thank you, I love you”—the last being for a joke.

    We did a great deal of walking in the French Quarter of Hanoi the evening of my arrival, and then spent the next two days on our own private boat in lovely Halong Bay. Our crew of three waited on us with courtesy and attention, and the three of us were able to chat and catch up in relaxation and good cheer.

    I offer you only these details from my point of view, because my sister Michelle wrote a blog about their two-week stay in Vietnam, which I will share with you. The link below is to Hanoi and Ha Long Bay, but the rest of the trip can be accessed as well. I hope you enjoy her writerly descriptions, as well as Jim’s photos.

    http://www.michellehuneven.com/vietnamblog/2019/12/19/the-bay-and-the-city

    And oh! Here are some photos of mine as well.

    And oh! Here are some photos of mine as well.
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  • Day172

    Quiet Adventures in Learning Thai-Landia

    November 20, 2019 in Thailand ⋅ ☀️ 30 °C

    OK, where were we? Way back at the beginning of October in Vientiane Laos. Here’s a catch-up. Back in Chiang Mai and all during the month of October, I was buried in eight weekly Thai lessons and tons of conversation and reading practice. Toward the end of the month I woke up and realized that there was an enormous amount of material to digest, so in November I decided to stop all lessons and review.

    Well, that stage lasted exactly two weeks, though I filled out over 150 flash cards with new vocabulary, and listened to and took notes from recorded lessons given by my most colorful teacher Andy. I went over my readings. By mid-November I was listless and sinking into the first trough of my two-year experiment in international living. A pernicious thought parked itself in my consciousness: “Why aren’t Thai people rushing in to embrace me and take care of me and show me everything about Thailand after I have studied Thai SO MUCH?” No one was paying attention to me at all.

    It took falling even lower, until a phone call to a wise friend finally jolted me to realize that I was suffering from “Cultural Entitlement.” So I stopped that, and became pro-active. I enlisted a new face-to-face teacher to speak with twice a week. I went on the excellent internet teacher source, italki, where I found a wryly eccentric young woman in Bangkok to converse with me twice a week. And I kept my lovely teacher in northeast Thailand for our twice-weekly chats. All this was just for talking. In regard to reading, I hooked up with my very first teacher from last year to guide me to high-level reading ability via original material. A brilliant teacher and an inspired decision on my part.

    My new approach is to digest each reading lesson before I schedule another one. But for conversation, my policy is to keep talking as much as possible. This is to start to create fluency and ease. Well, maybe too much ease. I encountered a man from my neighborhood in a far-off supermarket. He introduced me to his estranged wife. She took me to a deserted aisle and described how he had left her, BUT her evangelical Christianity put her in a euphoria that took her to Jerusalem, even though her house had just burned down, and she felt just FINE. At one of my coffee shops, I saw another man, whose wife wasn’t with him that day. He came over to talk to me. After I told him that my passion was learning foreign languages, he told me his passion was everything about air conditioners. Yes! Installing them perfectly, designing new inner mechanisms, teaching students to do the same, and loving every minute. Such a new perspective everyone should receive.

    When I was eighteen and studying the Suzuki violin method in Japan, families of violin students I observed, or English students, would take me places and show me things. I have had a small taste of that in Thailand, but not much. So, to get things started, I asked the manager of the nearby drag cabaret company if he would let me watch a rehearsal of his troupe. They practice a rare rehearsal scheme, if I’m not mistaken. After the show ends each night at around 11:30 PM, the audience leaves, and the girls and guys prepare a completely new show for the next night. They start rehearsing in the middle of the night! Although I shall risk contracting a serious illness by staging an all-nighter, I am going to watch the entire show AND rehearsal tomorrow night. I’m determined to discover their secrets. You’ll have to wait for the next blog post to read my report.

    Enjoy the pictures, which have nothing to do with language learning. And please don’t forget to sign your first name if you leave a comment.
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  • Day126

    A Little Break in Vientiane, Laos

    October 5, 2019 in Laos ⋅ ⛅ 29 °C

    It is a wonderful thing to take a break from my intensive Thai learning in Chiang Mai by making a “visa extension run” to the capital of Laos. I am here, actually, to obtain a new, two-month tourist visa, which can be extended an extra month.

    The whole visa business in Thailand is labyrinthine to begin with, and because of a new federal immigration officer, it borders on sadism. Even my simple little visa had a twist: one now has to make an APPOINTMENT to hand in one’s application! Not knowing that ahead of time cost me a flight cancellation and re-booking, two extra nights of lodging, and agony with a slow response from the Thai Consulate when attempting to get an appointment. Everything is in order now, and I shall pick up my new visa in two days.

    That said, the extra days are GOOD for me! Although it is beastly hot, I amble around the capital all day long, stopping in at mercifully cool cafes to study Thai, and then heading out again. I cover 5-6 miles a day, just looking around, and brazenly starting up conversations with anyone who looks interesting. I say, “Please forgive me, I can’t speak Lao, only Thai. Do you speak Thai? You do? Fantastic! How old is your beautiful baby? What is the name of this vegetable? How do you cook it? Your Thai is excellent!” And on and on. Don’t worry—I read body language, and never bother anyone who isn’t game to chat. I do learn some excellent bits of information, and hear a few stories as well.

    The effect of the wandering/study is total relaxation. I can see that if I am more peaceful about my Thai learning, I will be much happier. Every day I do my flashcards, read a short essay in Thai about some aspect of Thailand from a new reader, and listen to a recording of a lesson with one of my teachers. I obviously practice on the streets with my hapless Lao victims. When I get back to Chiang Mai, I shall keep up with my relaxed approach and accept where I am with the language.

    Here are some photos of Vientiane. Although I am not being a tourist at all, I enjoy my strolling immensely.
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  • Day101

    Starting School and a Dog Bite

    September 10, 2019 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    On August 21, while I virtuously did my morning aerobic walk on a lovely leafy street at 5:30 am, a pack of dogs came at me, and one of them aggressively lunged at me and bit me on my left leg. It drew blood, which dripped down my calf as I walked to the nearest emergency room— luckily a scant two kilometers away. My attack was obviously a ho-hum medical event, as the bite was quickly cleaned and dressed, and the first of five staggered anti-rabies vaccines was injected in my arm. Easily treated, and the whole package of antibiotics, wound dressings and injections was paid for upfront, $196. But the trauma has been longer-lasting. It takes a bad bite months to heal instead of weeks. I wasn’t even able to walk without a painful limp until two weeks had passed. And now I’m fearful of vagrant dogs on the street—which is actually a necessary fear. Needless to say, I am avoiding that street and the early hour. If I have to be on back streets in the dark (which I never am) I shall have my trekking pole with me.

    I decided to enter “Thai as a Second Language School” in August. In one month my two classmates and I whipped through the first level of “pre-advanced” Thai, Level 7, and are now in week two of the Level 8. In October, I will officially be “advanced!” Well, who knows what that really means. It is quite a shock to be in a school after eleven months without a classroom, classmates, textbooks and assigned homework. My independent learning has been very interesting, but spotty, as I dictated to the teacher what I wanted to talk about, and what vocabulary I needed. Although this was seemingly a good approach, it threw out all the vocabulary, grammar, expressions, sentence structure, and nuances presented in an organized fashion by the expert author(s) of the textbook. Oh—and also a teacher proficient in English to explain it all. If I ever start a new language again, the independent approach will definitely be the sidekick.

    I have just finished my third Add1Challenge (see www.add1challenge.com if you’re curious). Every week I made a video about a topic in Thai, so I decided the best way to let all of you see part of my language-learning life is to send links to the videos that might be interesting. There are subtitles on all of them, by the way.

    *Buddhism for Thai Children—how do they start learning? https://youtu.be/SS_jXc2wX2Y

    *Thai Friends, Meet Oaxaca—a bit of Mexico here! https://youtu.be/-6KIvlTIMOg

    *Thai Reading and Pronunciation—you’ll never believe this! https://youtu.be/SdKvSi8RB_M

    *All about the dog bite. Trigger warning: there’s a picture of my leg: https://youtu.be/HFpO-rsdGi8

    *Day 90 Video, comparing learning Thai independently and in school: https://youtu.be/HtLbJBZ8Ho8

    In some of the videos I seem to be talking quickly and articulately. It’s because I memorized sentences corrected by my teacher. In the last two, I’m speaking more or less extemporaneously, so they represent my “true” voice.

    Please enjoy the photos, and if you leave a comment, please sign your first name.
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  • Day79

    Settling in to Chang Klan by the Ping

    August 19, 2019 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 32 °C

    Hello Everyone! It’s been two weeks since my return to Chiang Mai. A combination of weak wifi, jet-lag, and a precipitous dive into a high-level Thai class in a school, PLUS settling into a minimally-appointed new apartment threw me into an uncomfortable spin for most of the first week, but today, at the end of my second week, I feel much better.

    I am staying in the “Chang Klan” district of Chiang Mai. If you look at the map, you can see that I am near the bottom right-hand corner of a square. That square is the Historic Area of Chiang Mai. I chose my area because I am eleven minutes’ walk from my school, and also five minutes’ walk from my friend Victoria Vorreiter’s condo. My street is busy with tourist hotels and supporting businesses, but the surrounding streets have schools, homes, and normal city life.

    Here is a link to the description of my apartment. Scroll left at the top picture to see the various rooms. Obviously the pictures are “doctored up” BUT the size and furnishings are accurate:
    https://abnb.me/RmetZDffeZ

    Chiang Mai, like Oaxaca before it, is in the midst of the rainy season. Every day, clouds build up, and there’s usually a thunderstorm or two with plenty of lightning and rain before evening. It’s not too hot—up to the high 80’s—but there is high humidity. It’s all bearable—there is air conditioning after all—and I rather like experiencing this season for the first time.

    Every morning I have been waking up around 5 am, and I immediately leave for a very fast 30-minute circular walk before breakfast. I pass a convention center, and then turn up a long street with an elementary school, a technical college, the center for water control for the province, the Chaimongkol Temple, the Alliance Francaise and French School of the Far East, and the Anantara—the best hotel in Chiang Mai. Another few turns along commercial streets, and I’m home.

    I decided to try the school, “Thai as a Second Language,” so I could hear Thai from a native speaker (i.e., the teacher) six hours a week without any effort on my part. The first week was very difficult, as I’ve never had a textbook in Thai before. The long sentences incorporating the grammar points, vocabulary and expressions were indecipherable, as I was used to short text messages and flash card entries. But I’m used to them already, so the pressure is mild instead of intense. I love my classmates, a man from New Zealand and a Buddhist nun from Argentina. Our teacher is competent, friendly, and very lovely, so we are a happy class. I do look forward to it.

    I have a very long way to go with my Thai language. I can have conversations, yes, but my instant recall of vocabulary is very buggy, and the depth of the conversations is shallow. However, it’s getting better by the day, and you won’t find me quitting anytime soon. I also love being in my third Add1Challenge, sending messages to my language-learning friends, and talking to my Thai-learning buddy Randal every Wednesday morning via Skype. All in all, I’m having a good time.

    Here are a few pictures. If you leave a comment (as I hope you will) please sign your first name. Cheers!
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  • Day63

    Oaxaca, Mexico?? What's going on?

    August 3, 2019 in Mexico ⋅ ☀️ 25 °C

    It’s been AGES since I’ve posted a blog. I left Santiago de Chile on June 2, and have spent the last two months in my beloved Oaxaca, Mexico, doing a bilingual mental dance with Spanish, Thai and English. Mostly Thai. Then Spanish. And not as much English. I find that I LOVE this kind of travel because I can have so much more contact with culture and humanity.

    I didn’t think that you, my friends, would enjoy my blog/postcards about language learning, so I didn’t write any. HOWEVER, I am now going to write about my language learning, spliced with photos of my doings and adventures—because this is my life now! Please let me know if you’d like “off” the list of blog recipients, and I shall let you go with absolutely no hard feelings.

    Here in Oaxaca, I have studied Thai three to five hours a day with two tutors, a teacher strictly for conversation, and three language exchange partners from a website called “Tandem.” I transferred all my vocabulary words, expressions and sentences from two notebooks into a digital flash card application called “Anki.” It enables me to review anywhere—in bed, waiting for someone to appear at a restaurant, or on the sofa! I have subscribed to fifteen Thai YouTube channels, which include homilies by a fun-loving Buddhist monk, anti-aging hints from a doctor representing my wonderful medical provider, Bangkok Hospital, a gay/ladyboy channel for camp talk, and a fabulous American Mormon who speaks Thai as well as any Thai person as he teaches them English, among many other channels. I have read through a textbook, and wrote diary entries in Thai. I am aiming for my Second Big Push when I head to Chiang Mai on August 4th. My goal is to get good enough to have effortless and deep conversations with as many people as possible. After five months of speaking Spanish which is interchangeable with my English, my bar for Thai (as well as my other languages) is set very high indeed!

    Above all, I am doing all this study because it is fun for me. It is FUN. Not work, not discipline, not self-flagellation, but self-indulgent luxurious PLEASURE, for which I have been (unknowingly) preparing all my life.

    Here are a few of my favorite Oaxaca pictures. I hope you enjoy them. If you leave a comment, please leave your first name as well. See you next in Thailand. Cheers!
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