Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
A few weeks in Thailand and I don’t want to leave at the end of this intense program. I am not tired. I have found professional and dedicated Rotary and Chulalongkorn University staff, and wonderful Rotary Peace Fellow friends. I feel that this peace training, that I am fortunate to be part of, has the potential to have a real impact, and indeed it already has.
Today marks my 20 days in Bangkok. I arrived to the marvelous Thailand in the morning of January 4th. I didn’t know what to expect from this adventure. The morning was hot and humid, and I was picked up by Mr. Abdullah Alawadi, my Host Counselor Rotary Club Bangkok D.3355 at Bangkok International Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) pronounced [sù.wān.ná.pʰūːm]. The airport is located on what had formerly been known as Nong Nguhao (Cobra Swamp) in Racha Thewa in Bang Phli, Samut Prakan, about 16 miles east of downtown Bangkok. The name Suvarnabhumi was chosen by King Bhumibol Adulyadej and refers to the golden kingdom, hypothesized to have been located somewhere in Southeast Asia. The airport has the world’s tallest free-standing control tower 434 feet, and the world’s fourth largest single-building airport terminal 6,060,000 square feet (Wikipedia).
Upon my arrival at the CU I House, as soon as I made it to my room 2001, I took a quick shower then prayed. While waiting and searching my host Counselor, I remember being thirsty and worried about how to get from the airport to the Student International House. I remember talking to myself, realizing that I had the map, address, and directions. Actually, I had no idea what the training and the field trips would bring me, but I can honestly say, three weeks on, that this experience has profoundly marked me, both personally and professionally. I met a wonderful Jenn Weidman, the outgoing Deputy Director and her staff (Cartoon, Oy, and Krit), and Khun Pat (a kind-serviceable woman who feeds us three times a day). Thai food: oh yes! I love it whenever I eat it. The spices set my head on fire while my nose running. Oh, yes!
Yesterday also marked the first time that I spent all day with Fellows George and Vidal at Chatuchak or weekend market (a cosmopolitan place) in Bangkok without crossing any borders. My life as an African American, and then living away from home, meant that I was constantly traveling between countries for work, to visit family, friends, etc. Maybe it’s a coincidence that Thailand is the country where I have been able to “stay put” for the first quarter of the year, maybe it’s due to its sheer size (it’s HUGE!), maybe it’s due to the nature of my learning experiences – a three months training and field trips hardly leave any time to hop over to..…The Almighty only knows! I feel blessed.
Thailand is a country worth exploring, with its historical complications, challenges, and questions (and very few answers). The Thais are people worth knowing, with their kindness and hospitality, diversity, culture, colour, and cuisine. There is so much to know and understand from the mystic Grand Place for its magnificent architecture and its temples, Wat Phra Kaew, which houses the sacred Emerald Buddha, to the lodes temple on the Wat Pho, which is home to the majestic 46m long reclining Buddha. Life and activities in Bangkok to the mystery of Buddha and art, a few weeks gave me just a taste of all of it, and it made me want to see and learn more. Although, I am wondering if my time here is almost over, there is still much to do and still a lot to discover.
Maybe the three months mark also calls for a small “compte rendu”, feedback, a resume. Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University has been kind enough to let a stranger into their offices and library to let me try and help me and other Peace Fellows with a whole programme and they opened their doors to me. Sure, it has not been without its challenges, but those are also part of my journey.
A few weeks Bangkok and I don’t want to leave. Despite all the fatigue, I am not tired. I have found wonderful friends and accomplices in class 20, at MBK, and the restaurant. I feel that this fellowship programme, that I am fortunate to be part of, has the potential to have a real impact, and indeed it already has.
Thanks to my Sponsor Club: the RC of Central Maryland & Washington D.C., District 7620 Club. I learned a lot about my role as Peace Fellow and how to think strategically about the programme and the long term vision of the Rotary Peace Center, particularly at Chula. It helped me focus on the positive and let go of frustrations, particularly when they serve no purpose. This programme is going very well and we are all very happy with it, but…, like anything, it’s not ALWAYS EASY. I think I needed a power boost, and Dr. Erik Melander’s presentation certainly did the trick.
Past Rotary International President Bhichai Rattakul, my goodness, what intellectual, historian, peace builder, patriot, and a visionary he is. PRIP Bhichai Rattakul is a BAOBAB (genus of trees:Adansonia), he gave me inspiration to do so much, to immortalize him for the futures rotary peace fellows with a documentary titled: “ PRIP Bhichai Rattakul: The Patriarch”. Indeed, I’ll back, Chula.
Abdoulaye Sall, USA.
Rotary Peace Fellow, January 2016 session