Thursday, October 24, 2013

Country Roads, Take me home

The time has almost come for us to leave Sakaerat for good, and I am still having a hard time coming to grips with that reality. I really don’t want to leave, but of course more adventures lie ahead in other places, and so I must continue to explore. I am excited to head off and travel around Southeast Asia for a while, but I am also quite bummed to be saying goodbye to this precious corner of the world and the people here. This place has been not only a marvelous home, but also a source of constant adventure and wonderful times. You never know what you might find while exploring these lush forests. Just peeking into the vaults of their expansive wealth of biodiversity has been richly rewarding. So many times when I've least expected it I have chanced upon something I couldn't of even imagined, such as watching a bat get stuck in a spider web (and then escaping) or a Slow Loris staring at me eye-to-eye. I can only dream about what else I might have discovered if we had a bit more time here.
Whatchu lookin at?
In the spirit of unexpected adventures and saying goodbye, I thought I’d tell a story of a day back in September which involved a series of unforeseen events and a fantastic farewell party. The day before, Taksin had invited us to lunch, mentioning something about a retirement party for one of the workers. None of us thought too much of it, after all we have been invited up to the station for meals many times before. Usually there is a healthy buffet of many different Thai foods, which we will happily devour and then head on our way. This time was different though. It was the first time we were invited up for lunch, instead of dinner. When the time came for us to go, Sheila and the girls weren’t feeling up to it. Sheila decided to keep sleeping, and Sara and Tesco had both just woken up… so they weren’t in the mood for lunch food yet. So Mike and I headed up to the station alone. As we approached the dining hall, I saw a large elaborate stage set up outside. That was the first clue that this was going to be a special event. 
All the Jungle's a stage...
We walked into the main cafeteria to see quaint round tables covered with elegant white table cloths. At each table there was a fancy spread of many different dishes, each prepared with an exquisite attention to detail. I was very impressed, and quite surprised. This was much more extravagant than I had expected. Mike and I sat down with the other members of the snake team and we began to dine like royalty. 
A feast from the east
Not only was there plenty of delicious food, but the beer was free-flowing and ubiquitous. Every time we turned around, an employee would deliver us a few more bottles to the table, despite the fact that we already had quite a few open bottles. At one point I believe we must have had 8 or 9 beer bottles on the table at once. Luckily Mary-Ruth and Chia-Yi joined us not soon after the meal began, so there were plenty of people there to help diminish the seemingly never-ending supply. 

By 1:30 pm or so, most of us were done eating… but the party wasn’t over yet. Beer continued to be delivered while high officials from the Thailand Ministry of Science and Technology (the Thai equivalent of our NSF) stood up to give speeches about how great Sakaerat was for Thailand. They are absolutely right about that, Sakaerat is definitely something that Thailand should be proud of. Every year this place is responsible for teaching thousands of Thai children the importance of nature, a lesson that loses some of its effect when taught in a polluted city such as Bangkok. And then of course there’s the huge amount of scientific research that is carried out here every year by scientists from all over the world. This place is definitely a diamond in the rough. A lot of this success is thanks to the leadership of Taksin and his tireless drive to keep this place up to par with international expectations. In the short time that we have been here, he has instituted many changes in order to improve the quality of life for us and others at the station. A few examples include having an entirely new bathroom built as an addition to our house, replacing old drinking water jugs with actual plumbing and metal water fountains, and installing extremely high speed internet which has made skyping home so much easier. Taksin is an amazing man, and it’s easy to see that he truly loves his job. In fact, he once turned down a promotion to one of the higher positions in the government so that he could continue to remain at Sakaerat instead of having to work a desk job. My kinda guy!
Before and Bath-ter
Anyhow, back to the party. By about 2 pm the formal speeches were winding down, but these guys had another trick up their sleeve… Karaoke! A giant projector screen that was being used earlier to showcase photos of Sakaerat had been transformed into a gigantic Karaoke machine, and the head honcho of the Thai Ministry of Science was leading the charge into la-la land. Everyone loved this spectacle, especially our table… since we had no idea this was coming. A few Thai songs were sung which most people in the audience seemed to recognize and enjoy, and a few more beers were consumed by our table. Around this time Sara showed up, wondering what the heck was taking us so long to eat lunch. Like a rowdy bunch of pirates we all cheered and shoved a mug of beer towards her while insisting that she join in the celebration. She didn't require much convincing, and soon she was clapping along blindly to the music with the rest of us. 
Sala joins the party
Then it suddenly became obvious why they had been giving us so much beer. One of the employees waltzed over to our table with the Karaoke microphone and insisted that we sing a song! I didn't see this coming at all, but turns out they actually had a few songs in English… so we could at least make complete fools of ourselves in our own language. They put on “Country Roads” by John Denver, and handed the microphone to Nico, one of the Field Technicians on the snake team. Nico is from France, and he knew that I was from Virginia. So he cleverly used that tid-bit of knowledge to pawn the pressure on to me, saying “Look, it says Virginia… you do it!” Granted, it’s actually West Virginia… but I figured I was stuck so I figured what the heck. Thanks to the constant supply of beer I didn't need too much convincing to look like a total buffoon. After a couple verses I was really getting into it and all of the Thai folks seemed to love it. One guy even joined in with me! It was a blast, and I’m glad I did it. Sara actually managed to capture some of it on video, and since I am many miles away from most of you… I don’t mind embarrassing myself by sharing this beauty with y’all.
For some unknown reason that song seems to be an international sensation. I have friends in Poland that love it, and one of my friends in Ghana recently posted on her blog that she heard a guy playing it in the street one day. Who would have thought that people all across the world are excited by the idea of heading home to the Shenandoah Valley? It is pretty cool to have your local region so widely recognized though. After all it is a pretty special place, and I hafta admit I definitely miss home. I am looking forward to returning in a month… but until then I am doing my best to make the most every moment over here.
...To the place, I belong (Photo taken at Shenandoah River State Park)
In that spirit, I was doing my darndest to enjoy this party to the fullest. Singing Karaoke in front of the station was really just the beginning. After a while of singing indoors, someone made the move towards relocating everyone outside so the celebration could continue in the sunlight. At this point everyone had pretty much given up any hopes of being productive that afternoon, and we were all carrying on and having a great time. This was a much needed, unexpected break from the rigors of data-entry and field work… and it was quite well received. Even Tesco and Sheila eventually came up to the station and joined in on the fun and general shenanigans.
Moving the party outdoors
The kitchen staff brought out hot, freshly-roasted cashews for us to munch on while we continued to drink and goof off while singing and watching others sing. Now that we had extra space for activities, dancing was added into the mix and we joined in a circle with some of the girl counselors while trying to learn some new moves. They put some chairs in the middle, but we never quite figured out what they were for. At first I thought we might be playing musical chairs, but no one ever sat down. The whole thing was a hoot, and even though we looked completely ridiculous… nobody seemed to care. It was an awesome way to break the language barrier and actually hang out with these people that we see every day but don’t normally have time to interact with except in passing.
Musical chairs, anyone? 
Since Sala and Tesco didn't get the chance to take part in any Karaoke while the party was still inside since they were a tad late, they requested a few songs while we were outside. When their time came, they hopped up and began belting out “Build Me Up, Buttercup” as if it was the reason they were born. This was hilarious to watch, and after a little bit one of the male administrative workers decided he wanted in on the action. So he grabbed a microphone and next thing you know he was front and center, singing along to a song he probably didn't even understand. I managed to snag this photo of the performance, which pretty much sums up the moment perfectly.
"I need YOUUUU!"
Good times! The party continued well into the afternoon, with some of the more levelheaded workers heading back to their tasks, while others continued to fool around and enjoy this break from responsibility. At one point all of the young girl counselors and one of the Japanese researchers got on stage and put on a synchronized dance show for those who were still in the audience. It was quite well done, and I was impressed with the Japanese dude’s ability to keep up.
And the dance goes on...
The Karaoke microphone was never turned off, as many of the employees waited patiently to have their moment in the spotlight. Even the hardworking kitchen ladies took a break from their duties to sing a song or two.
Everybody got their time to shine
Ask the daylight began to fade, the party continued on… with music in full-swing and beer glasses constantly being refilled. No one expected a simple lunch to turn into an all day fiesta, but no one was complaining. We were constantly laughing and taking silly photos as the day slowly passed us by. What a fantastic way to spend an afternoon!
Look at these Looney, err,... lovely ladies
As dusk approached, a few of our team left to attend to checking on the frogs in the shed… one of our daily tasks. Afterwards they returned to the station, where the kitchen staff had prepared a delicious soup for everyone who was still hanging around. So we ate a light dinner, and then returned to the party for awhile until eventually it was time for us to start getting ready for work. Since I was on dawn shift I had some time to sleep before I had to wake up and head into the pond. Before we dispersed, a few of us climbed the kitchen tower to stargaze for a bit… since this evening was particularly clear. This was a fantastic ending to a wonderful day, and I went to bed that night very happy. I don’t think we will have quite the same farewell party when we leave in a couple days, but I am sure that we’ll have lots of fun. Either way, I know all of us will look back on this day in September with fond memories. The next time you hear from me, I’ll be a travelin’ man! Until then, Peace Out!

1 comment:

  1. I love how you write, feels like a conversation. I cant see the video, but I will find a way, i want to see that!