Golden Temples, Spring Rolls and ‘Dog Corner’

By Alyssa Stanley, Intern 2011-2012, Thailand

The winter externship with BABSEACLE was an eye-opening experience. It was my first trip to Southeast Asia and the first time I’ve lived in a country other than Australia.

Hiking up to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, a Theravada Buddhist temple 15km from the city of Chiang Mai, was one of our first extracurricular activities. We headed off at 6:30am on a Sunday morning and climbed the mountain in three hours. We stopped halfway up, at a monastery where we witnessed a drum procession and the receiving of alms. Wat Phrathat was really impressive – decorated in gold and surrounded by flowers and incense. According to the ‘white elephant legend’, it contains a part of the Buddha’s shoulder bone and is therefore one of the most holy shrines in the area.

International Cooking Night was another enjoyable social activity. We visited the local markets to ensure our money went to local people and then each cooked a dish native to our country (Thailand, Laos, England and Australia). The Thais made spicy vegetarian spring rolls, the Lao made a meat and rice dish, the Australians made a potato bake and the English made an apple crumble. We sat out under the stars, tried everyone’s dishes, sang, danced and became a lot closer as a group.  We learned that language barriers are much more easily bridged after a few Changs (the local beer). On the weekend, we broke into groups by country and painted a mural reflecting social justice.

Riding bicycles is a big part of the lifestyle in Chiang Mai. It’s easy, cheap and a fun way to explore the city. It also means only having to leave home five minutes before work, rather than allowing 20 minutes to walk. With the luxury of sleeping in, however, comes the catch – the ever-present danger of ‘dog corner’. ‘Dog corner’, as it has been dubbed, is two blocks from where we live. It’s the local hangout for street dogs (a number that fluctuates from 7 – 10), which all seem to take exception to wheels. By day, the dogs are relatively tame. At twilight, however, they take on a pack mentality. You approach nervously in a line, no one wanting to be at the back of the group. The dogs edge closer in anticipation. The second you pass, the game is on. With squeals and curses in a variety of languages, the group sprints for the house. You alternate between peddling until your wheels will turn no faster, and lifting your legs up onto your handlebars when a snapping set of teeth appears.  “No problem” the locals will chime, as you express your desire to keep your legs in their present shape. You’ll notice, however, that the locals only pass ‘dog corner’ in a car.

Despite the dogs, this externship has not only induced my first trip to Southeast Asia, but it has ensured that it won’t be my last.