June 1, 2004: Headlines: COS - Thailand: Fiction: Story South: Peace Corps, Club Med Style

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Thailand: Peace Corps Thailand: The Peace Corps in Thailand: June 1, 2004: Headlines: COS - Thailand: Fiction: Story South: Peace Corps, Club Med Style

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Peace Corps, Club Med Style

Peace Corps, Club Med Style

Peace Corps, Club Med Style

Peace Corps, Club Med Style

When I told my friend Mark that I'd joined the Peace Corps, he high fived me and whooped with excitement. However, he wasn't excited about me working for global understanding, sustainable development, or world peace.

No, he only cared about my future hardships.

You see, Mark was a Peace Corps' legend. While serving as a forestry volunteer in rural Nepal, he broke his leg and hiked two days across isolated mountains to get help. Then, with his leg still in a cast, he hiked back to his post, planting little tree seedlings on Nepal's denuded hills and valleys as he went. The fact that I'd work under similar conditions impressed him.

His excitement lasted until he learned I was going to Thailand.

"That's like going to Club Med," he sneered. "Watcha gonna do, build toilets for deprived beach tourists?"

Actually, the term among Peace Corps Volunteers for the Thailand assignment was Posh Corps, not Club Med. I ended up teaching English at a junior high school in the central Thai village of Sa Klee. Located next to a slow flowing river, Sa Klee had been the dumping ground for a massive shoe factory employing 15,000 people. The contrast between the peaceful tree-filled village and the vast factory and slums a thousand feet away was like Chicago getting compressed beside a tiny Amish town. The landscape both soothed and jarred the senses.

But try explaining this to Mark. To him, the fact that Sa Klee had electricity and a few old computers made it unsuitable for Peace Corps. One of my friends at Sa Klee, a older teacher named Loong Chian, found Mark's attitude both silly and insulting.

"So helping people isn't enough," he said once. "But if you were wading through crocodile and leech infested rivers without reason, then you'd be a real volunteer?"

I explained in Thai that Americans sometimes obsessed on the wrong things in life. Loong Chian laughed as if this wasn't a secret to anyone.

During my second year in Thailand, Sa Klee flooded. Of course this interested Mark.

"What do you do?" he e-mailed me. "Wade to and from your house?"

My answer: Yes. Unlike in America—where every time a flood came around millions of dollars in damage was done to the homes of people who'd foolishly built right next to a river—people in Thailand built homes to survive the floods. At my school, all of the wood-plank teacher's houses sat on tall cement poles so the floods passed underneath without damage.

No damage, that is, until my toilet stopped up.

I first noticed the problem a month into the floods. One day the toilet just refused to flow. Loong Chian came by to help me fix it.

"The problem comes from air trapped in the septic tank," he said as we squatted on my staircase and gazed under the house. Flood waters rippled around the blue PVC pipe going from my bathroom to the septic tank. A smaller pipe hung loose beside the blue pipe.

"When they put in the new pipe, they didn't attach the exhaust valve," Loong Chian said, handing me an electric drill. "Drill a new hole and attach the smaller pipe."

"Don't we need a boat?" I asked in Thai.

"Too difficult. Just swim out in the water and make sure the drill doesn't get wet."

I fingered the frayed cord of the drill. Thailand electricity ran at a powerful 220 volts. It'll fry you faster than anything. Just ask Thomas Merton, the deceased trappist monk and author of The Seven Storey Mountain, who discovered while on a trip to the Thai kingdom that bathtubs and electric fans don't mix.

"Don't worry," Loong Chian said. "I'll stand by the outlet and pull the plug . . . if anything goes wrong."

He was disappointed I didn't trust him. After debating differing views on electrical safety without agreement, Loong Chian came up with another idea. He found a metal bolt and heated it over my propane cooking stove until one side glowed red hot.

"Melt through the sewage pipe," he said, "then attach the exhaust valve."

Easy enough. I swam to the pipe, holding the hot bolt above my head.

I should have suspected trouble when Loong Chian yelled for his wife to come watch me fix the pipe. As they sat on the stairs, I pushed the exhaust valve against the sewage pipe, marked its spot with a wet thumbprint, then shoved the hot bolt into the PVC. The plastic bubbled and oozed.

Suddenly, explosion! The bolt shot into the water with a spitting halo of muck that rainbowed the morning sun. Tissue and unknown particles clung to my lips and face. I looked like some cartoon villain just emerging from the sewers.

"Maybe the hole's not big enough," Loong Chain said as he laughed. "Do it again! Do it again!"

I ignored him. After attaching the exhaust pipe I took a long swim in the river.

When I e-mailed Mark about all this, he was finally impressed. "Now you're a true Peace Corps volunteer," he replied.

I wasn't a true plumber, though—a few days later my toilet stopped up again. Loong Chian said that was typical of life. He also suggested that I join him and his wife on their upcoming trip to the beach. "Just until the floods recede," he added with a smile.

But I didn't tell Mark about my beach trip. After all, I had a reputation to protect, what with me now being a true Peace Corps volunteer.

* * *

Jason Sanford is the fiction editor of storySouth and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand. Read more of his essays here.

When this story was posted in December 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

The World's Broken Promise to our Children Date: December 24 2004 No: 345 The World's Broken Promise to our Children
Former Director Carol Bellamy, now head of Unicef, says that the appalling conditions endured today by half the world's children speak to a broken promise. Too many governments are doing worse than neglecting children -- they are making deliberate, informed choices that hurt children. Read her op-ed and Unicef's report on the State of the World's Children 2005.

December 25, 2004: This Week's Top Stories Date: December 26 2004 No: 346 December 25, 2004: This Week's Top Stories
Soldiers of Peace 23 Dec
Nepal RPCV discovers new species of catfish 23 Dec
Tom Murphy will not seek 4th term as Pittsburgh mayor 22 Dec
Richard Celeste is spicing things up 22 Dec
Gov. Jim Doyle streamlines state government 22 Dec
Namibia Volunteers sworn in 21 Dec
RPCV serves as Ukraine election observer 21 Dec
Christmas Gifts for Peace Corps Volunteers 21 Dec
Estonia RPCV John Isles wins NEA poetry award 21 Dec
Director Vasquez decries racism and discrimination 20 Dec
RPCV criticizes "harrassment by Russian government" 20 Dec
War's horrors turn RPCV's son into pacifist 19 Dec
more top stories...

Changing of the Guard Date: December 15 2004 No: 330 Changing of the Guard
With Lloyd Pierson's departure, Marie Wheat has been named acting Chief of Staff and Chief of Operations responsible for the day-to-day management of the Peace Corps. Although Wheat is not an RPCV and has limited overseas experience, in her two years at the agency she has come to be respected as someone with good political skills who listens and delegates authority and we wish her the best in her new position.
Our debt to Bill Moyers Our debt to Bill Moyers
Former Peace Corps Deputy Director Bill Moyers leaves PBS next week to begin writing his memoir of Lyndon Baines Johnson. Read what Moyers says about journalism under fire, the value of a free press, and the yearning for democracy. "We have got to nurture the spirit of independent journalism in this country," he warns, "or we'll not save capitalism from its own excesses, and we'll not save democracy from its own inertia."
RPCV safe after Terrorist Attack RPCV safe after Terrorist Attack
RPCV Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, the U.S. consul general in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia survived Monday's attack on the consulate without injury. Five consular employees and four others were killed. Abercrombie-Winstanley, the first woman to hold the position, has been an outspoken advocate of rights for Arab women and has met with Saudi reformers despite efforts by Saudi leaders to block the discussions.
Is Gaddi Leaving? Is Gaddi Leaving?
Rumors are swirling that Peace Corps Director Vasquez may be leaving the administration. We think Director Vasquez has been doing a good job and if he decides to stay to the end of the administration, he could possibly have the same sort of impact as a Loret Ruppe Miller. If Vasquez has decided to leave, then Bob Taft, Peter McPherson, Chris Shays, or Jody Olsen would be good candidates to run the agency. Latest: For the record, Peace Corps has no comment on the rumors.
The Birth of the Peace Corps The Birth of the Peace Corps
UMBC's Shriver Center and the Maryland Returned Volunteers hosted Scott Stossel, biographer of Sargent Shriver, who spoke on the Birth of the Peace Corps. This is the second annual Peace Corps History series - last year's speaker was Peace Corps Director Jack Vaughn.
Vote "Yes" on NPCA's bylaw changes Vote "Yes" on NPCA's bylaw changes
Take our new poll. NPCA members begin voting this week on bylaw changes to streamline NPCA's Board of Directors. NPCA Chair Ken Hill, the President's Forum and other RPCVs endorse the changes. Mail in your ballot or vote online (after Dec 1), then see on how RPCVs are voting.
Charges possible in 1976 PCV slaying Charges possible in 1976 PCV slaying
Congressman Norm Dicks has asked the U.S. attorney in Seattle to consider pursuing charges against Dennis Priven, the man accused of killing Peace Corps Volunteer Deborah Gardner on the South Pacific island of Tonga 28 years ago. Background on this story here and here.
Your vote makes a difference Your vote makes a difference
Make a difference on November 2 - Vote. Then take our RPCV exit poll. See how RPCV's are voting and take a look at the RPCV voter demographic. Finally leave a message on why you voted for John Kerry or for George Bush. Previous poll results here.

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Story Source: Story South

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Thailand; Fiction



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