Thanks for checking back in for the final time! After a long day on Saturday (which happened to be Rebekah’s 19th birthday), we all deserved a free day in Bangkok on Sunday (which happened to be Katie’s birthday). We had the option of going to the JJ market in the morning, and most of us took advantage of it. Now, I am not even sure how to approach this description. Try to imagine thousands (and that is not an exaggeration) of tiny shops lined up next to each other in a huge outdoor shopping area. Now, put in tens of thousand of people crowding the shops and the aisles in between them. Now, imagine almost every country of the world represented at this market in the form of hungry shoppers. Finally, add in the distinct smell of outdoor food stalls, the heat of Southeast Asia, the fierce bargaining of eager tourists, and the idea that money is meant to be spent not saved. Dan had been telling us to save all of our souvenir shopping for the JJ market, and he wasn’t kidding. The market had everything imaginable – wooden wind chimes, colorful lanterns, clothes, shoes, paintings, furniture….. The list could go on and on! Most of the girls on the trip had been preparing for and anticipating this day for the entire trip. When we all gathered in the lobby of the hotel to travel to the market, the girls gathered around in a huddle and did somewhat of a team cheer to get pumped for the hours of shopping about to take place. My inner competitive side came out in full force as every purchase seemed to be a bargaining battle (hopefully I won most of them). It was really amazing to see all of the unique talents represented at this market in forms of Thai handicrafts. Some of these items could have sold for five times as much in the US. It is exciting yet strange to be able to bargain for every purchase, because in the US, it seems like everything is sold at a fixed price (and a much higher one at that).

After five hours of furious shopping at the JJ market, I returned to the hotel for a little R & R. Most of us still needed time to recuperate from Saturday’s adventures, let alone the JJ market experience. The funny thing is though that I went to the JJ market knowing that I had zero space left in my luggage, yet I still returned from the market with three bags full of stuff. Fortunately, after strategic repacking, I was able to fit everything, barely…

So, Monday marked another full day for the group. We began with a tour given by MUIC professor Dr. Matthew Copeland of Bangkok’s pursuit towards democracy. He spoke to us about the struggle towards democracy that has defined Thailand for the past century. We visited King Chulalongkorn’s Statue, the Democracy Monument, and the October 14 Monument. Thailand has experienced multiple coups, student protests, and military overthrows on its road to democracy. It was interesting to get such an expert view on Thailand’s political history from Dr. Copeland while actually visiting the monuments.

After lunch, we traveled to the Songdhammakalyani Temple, an all-female temple which hosted the first and only fully-ordained woman Buddhist monk. We were privileged to hear a talk from the first woman monk’s daughter, Ven. Dhanmananda on “Buddhism and Women in Thailand.” I must say that this talk was one of the most exciting parts of our tour in Bangkok. The women who spoke to us had such personality and great senses of humor that it was hard to imagine them as on the road to Buddhist monk hood. That just goes to show you how Western views of Eastern religions can be distorted. After talking with fellow students on the trip, we came to the conclusion that most of us were expecting somber and solemn women who only knew and spoke of Buddhism. Au contraire. These women were funny, captivating, informative, and knowledgeable. Ven. Dhanmananda told us about the struggles that women go through in Thailand in order to become a monk (they have to travel to Sri Lanka to be ordained after multiple years of study and preparation). Men in Thailand merely have to go to a temple and request to be ordained. I guess double standards exist everywhere.

After the wonderful trip to Songdhammakalyani Temple, we departed for our farewell dinner on a Yok Yor River Cruise. Can I just say “AMAZING!” Bangkok is absolutely beautiful from the river, and the water breeze was out if full force. The food was wonderful, but the company was even better! We spent around three hours on the boat and entertained ourselves with thank-you speeches to our leaders (Dan, Meredith, Joey, and MUIC), impromptu karaoke performances (good and bad), and picture-taking galore! I could not have asked for a better way to end the trip.

As I was relaxing in a chair enjoying the sights, I thought back on the past seven weeks and realized what a fantastic time I had had. I made 24 new amazing friendships that I know will continue throughout my stay at Carolina. I have been exposed to new cultural and social concepts which I have begun to think critically about. I gained knowledge, both academic and experiential, about a thriving region of the world that sometimes goes overlooked by many. Words cannot express the sincere gratitude I have towards UNC, Alston Gardner and Barbara Lee, and those who put in countless hours of work to make this year’s SEAS program the best it could be. Job well done!

We all made it home safely Wednesday, and even though it was nice to be back in America, I think each one of us was sad to leave Southeast Asia. Each one of us grew in some way or another, and all of us will continue to build on the personal, social, and cultural foundations that were laid this summer.