One month: that's the time left in my Rotary exchange visit to Thailand, a short time to explore places I haven't been, visit exchange students and spend time with my Thai friends and families. My return date is set for July 14. Everything has been put into perspective, and I must live every day here in Thailand thinking only of the present.
Recently, beautiful women from all over the world were in Bangkok to see if they could become the next Miss Universe. This NBC program was broadcast live from Bangkok, and I was one of the crazy Canadians in the crowd cheering on Miss Canada, who eventually that morning would be crowned Miss Universe 2005. My role in the crowd included yelling "Canada" every chance I got, waving my Canadian flag hysterically and convincing the people around me that they too should be cheering for Miss Canada. It was quite a show.
A recent Rotary tour of the southern part of Thailand with all the exchange students allowed us to travel to various popular tourist destinations such as Phuket, Koh Similans (Similan Islands) and Surat Thani.
The Similan Islands, located on the southwestern Thai coastline close to the popular destination of Phuket, really capture the tropical island appearance.
This group of nine small islands is surrounded by spectacular diving areas and interesting rock formations. Mostly uninhabited, besides one island with a National Park visitor centre and cabins, these islands are well known snorkelling and diving marvels that provide mesmerising sunsets.
While taking a boat tour around the infamous James Bond Island we came across a sailboat from Canada, the Nimbus, registered out of Vancouver. We tried to find the owners, but I guess they had gone ashore for the day.
Much of the area is still undergoing relief efforts and rebuilding as a result of the December 26 tsunami.
A tour of Rotary International's contribution to the relief effort assured us exchange students that we are with the perfect organization, one that is doing its part in reconstructing Thailand and other affected nations. A long-term project dubbed Operation Rotary Cares is currently being commissioned to complete 200 low-cost housing units, provide public utilities, scholarships and psychiatric assistance and repair or build schools in the affected areas. At two different locations we were able to help out for a short time dumping buckets of concrete to develop the building foundations and painting steel supports. One of the housing sites was almost complete, with 30 units, and the other site was just getting started on its 80-unit project. Even though the area was still in ruins from the tsunami, it was visible that relief was taking place, sponsored by organizations such as Rotary International, World Vision and CARE. Stopping at Phuket's busiest beach, Patong, was reassuring. Mock evacuation exercises of the beach and tests of a new tsunami early-warning system were taking place. It's great to know first-hand that the billions of dollars in reconstruction are starting to show in this devastated region.
Becoming an exchange student is open to 15- to 18-year-olds currently in high school. It is an experience that will shape a life and create memories forever. If you're interested, check out www.d5040youthexchange.ca for details on how to apply.Keep in touch with questions or comments by sending me an email through firstname.lastname@example.org.