Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Scholastic Progress?

This has been a strange summer. I'm in Thailand for scholarly purposes. The first six weeks I was here to learn Thai and Pali, living near the monks at Mahidol, Salaya, learning about Thai culture, primarily as it relates to Theravada Buddhism. The next couple weeks were mine to spend how I wanted, and I chose to go to Hanoi in part to renew my visa and in part because I've always wanted to see Vietnam. Next, Owen came to Thailand and we headed down toward the ocean to spend a relaxing week or so swimming in the gulf and riding a dirt bike around the island. As you know, the relaxing week was prefaced by a not-so-relaxing train wreck, though when we actually got to the island the weather, water, and everything was perfect. Now that my skin is peeling and I'm coughing the Bangkok Cough, I'm supposed to be back to my scholastic endeavors, but I feel sort of lost. I had planned on researching Thai temple festivals when I got here, looking at how absurdity and humor play into these annual celebrations. However, in the "rainy" season (I only say that in quotes because it's rained less these past two months than it did during the six weeks I was in Thailand for the "dry" season six years ago) they do not hold annual temple festivals, so there are no performances to observe. If tomorrow is Friday, which I think it is, I'm planning on attending a comedic play at Chulalongkorn University to see how Thai humor is expressed visually, since my language skills aren't quite advanced enough for me to see how it is expressed verbally. But I'm not sure what this will have to do with my research intentions.

So I'm thinking about going back to my original plan, which was to do a mini-ethnography of the Catholic Church here in Bangkok. I've been told by several Thais, that Thai identity is shaped by language, Buddhism, and the king. It is interesting to me to see how Thai identity can be maintained without one of those three elements. Does the lack of Thai language skills make someone less Thai? What about being a Christian, or disloyalty to the royal family? I read about a union organizer in Bangkok who was fired because she protested the law that everyone must stand when the tribute to the king is played in movie theaters. The company that fired her was afraid that she would give them a bad name. I think I'll try to visit some of the cathedrals in town and start to hopefully talk with some people. Also, I should visit the Seventh Day Adventist Church here, to continue my research from last quarter, but I'm not sure I want to. I really liked the people I met in Redlands, so maybe it will be a good opportunity to see how it's done here.

Anyway, I'm still trying to get over this sickness, so I don't feel guilty for spending extra time on the internet, for watching The Hills at the hostel, or for reading the Hemingway that someone left behind at the hostel. I feel I deserve a few days of relaxation and comfort, time to let myself process the last two months, which feel to me like several tiny little lifetimes stacked on top of one another with little coherence between them except this same pair of eyes taking in and digesting what I can, and letting the rest slide away or lie dormant in my mind until something in the future decides to conjure them up.

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