I'm am currently on an adventure of a lifetime working with a non-profit in Thailand that combats human trafficking and sexual exploitation of teenage boys in the red light district of Chiang Mai. I hold degrees in chemistry and biology from Towson University in Maryland and enjoy traveling and volunteering with various international non-profits. Scientist. Musician. Friend.
I can’t believe over a month has passed since I last posted on here. Time seems to have been an illusion the past couple of weeks— I traveled to Vietnam, my brother and sister visited, and Urban Light is busier than ever as our new staff and team took charge of some awesome projects and events. The rain has been consistent every day and I am amazed at the force it comes down at times. A foot of water in the streets is a common site these days. It’s raining right now and the sun is shining brightly over the mosque that sits on my soi— there’s a rainbow out there somewhere!
Vietnam was my first solo traveling experience and I was nervous about how it would all pan out. My nine-hour overnight bus ride to Bangkok to reach the airport (it’s much cheaper to fly out of Bangkok) could have been more comfortable, but I got lots of writing and reading in. Sleep was impossible; the uncomfortable seats weren’t entirely what was keeping me awake though. My twin brother, Darryl, had just arrived in Africa a week and a half prior and as a twin, the separation does get the best of me. We had our last hoorah in Thailand at the beginning of my journey and I was off on my first trip without accompaniment.
Tomorrow marks my three-month milestone living in Thailand. As I pack my bags for my visa run to Vietnam, I consider my time living here, especially being a the first outside of Maryland, to have been a success thus far. The experience has already been life-changing and I am looking forward to all that is in store for the next five months! My Thai is okay, but has a very long way to go (communication has actually been amazing, even with the minimal Thai that I do know) and will improve with more time and perhaps another level Thai class. Just in the past two weeks, I have started giving one-on-one guitar lessons, and I can tell that the communication barrier that existed even just a few weeks ago has fallen. After performing two shows in Chiang Mai, it feels great to start teaching and hopefully inspire the kids here at the center.
First Chiang Mai performance! I even had a drummer sit in.
A few days ago my twin brother, Darryl, started his adventure with the Peace Corps in Tanzania, a reality that is still surreal in my mind and, I’m sure, in much of my family members’ as well. The longest D and I have been separated at one time (prior to me coming to Thailand) was nine days. Yes I know, out of 24 years of life, a little more independence should be expected, but we remained attached, and it always seemed right— our band, the classes we took in college (twin brother is the best lab partner for sure), being room mates— you get the point, we’re close.
Starting to rock at an early age.
“Twinsburg”– 3rd Prize for most look-alike twins.
Graduation!- photo by Kanji Takeno
Giving a caricature artist a challenge in Chicago.
Cooking a feast in our home in Baltimore.
Doing our thing.
Darryl, Scott, and I hanging out with some elephants in Thailand.
Tanzania and Thailand are right next to each other in the alphabetical list of countries around the world. Coincidence? We’re always together somehow!
One of the highlights of the past month came after receiving an invite from my Thailand brother and buddy, Fame, to visit his home in an Akha Hill tribe a little more than three hours north of Chiang Mai. Fame was kind enough to let me tag along for the annual rice planting ceremony that he was obligated to perform. I jumped at the opportunity, and after a long van ride and two Song-Taews, we made it!
Upon arriving, Fame took me around the village, first showing me an interesting development that I later learned was one of the many Royal Projects occurring all throughout hill tribes in northern Thailand. Travel Impact Newswire describes the projects: His Majesty King Bhumibhol Adulyadej and members of Thailand’s Royal Family have set up numerous village-based community development projects nationwide which are now open for small-scale tourism. They provide unique insights into the King’s concept of a sufficiency economy and are models of alternative economic development.
Sustainable agriculture part of the King’s Royal Project happening in this Akha Village.
Pond and guest accommodations also part of the Royal Project.
From what I understand, many hill tribes were resorting to the drug trade as a means to sustain themselves, and by introducing alternative agricultural and other economic opportunities, the Royal Family sought to combat this growing issue throughout Thailand. That is not to say that the drug trade isn’t alive an well in the villages. Fame explained to me that many of the villagers, especially the elders, use opium, and that the use of the drug and others is very widespread throughout the village. Lack of adequate education is the root of drug and alcohol problems, as is the case throughout the world and even in the US. I was even offered Yaba (which is the Thai analog of methamphetamine) for purchase while in the village, just an indicator of the availability of these socially harmful drugs in an already vulnerable population. Yaba is one of the most notorious problem drugs in all of Thailand, and to be offered and shown those little pink pills was a reminder of the temptation that many of the boys that come to Urban Light must feel on the streets. The reality of the drug’s presence was no longer just a thought; it was physical. It’s addictiveness and availability is so dangerous, and needless to say, I declined the offer and moved along on my tour of the village.
Saturday night and I’ve decided to stay in for the evening. I am very jealous my brother, cousin, and several friends are currently at Bonnaroo, having an undoubtedly amazing time, seeing the best bands of our time and generations past (Paul McCartney AND Tom Petty are on this year’s lineup).
Bonnaroo 2012. Best music I have seen in my life. I believe this photo is from the Kooks performance (I’m the one with the big hat).
WIlco will also be appearing at this year’s festival and has, as of the past year and a half, become one of my favorite bands. I have watched their tour schedule during this time and envied the Europeans being graced by Nels Cline’s guitar work and Jeff Tweedy’s vocals and accompaniment on guitar. “Impossible Germany” speaks out against the Fascist state of mind. The first two lines in the chorus of the album’s heav weight track, “Impossible Germany/Unlikely Japan” gives voice to the outsider and the unlikely success a narrow-minded way of being, in culture or individuality, will have.
Check out this cool video from Sam Harris (author, neuroscientist, philosopher) explaining the need to “locate a feeling of fulfillment in the present.” Though the feelings of anxiousness creep up on me occasionally, mindfulness in daily activities takes me away from the what ifs of the future and past and allows me to enjoy the moment I’m in.
Mindfulness is easy to practice, and can even be done every time you eat, for example.
Turn off the radio, television, computer, tablet, and other gadgets or distractions that may take you away from where you are at in this moment in time. Sit down at the table, and look at your meal, becoming aware of the colors and textures as the light reflects off the food and passes through your cornea to your pupils that have already adjusted to accommodate the intensity of light in the room. The light travels through your eyes’ lenses and on to the optic nerve where this mix of visible spectrum, which we have evolved to perceive, passes on to the visual cortex and is processed into what we understand as the image of food in front of us.
Everyday, boys choose to come to Urban Light’s programs and center as a choice to empower their lives and make a positive change. We’re slowly but surely winning the fight against the exploitation of teenage boys in Chiang Mai. LOVE always wins.