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Une française à Phrao

Rang Mai library, founded by ARC

It has been six months since I have landed in Thailand for the first time. On the 8th of March, I will take the plane again, destination Cambodia. Well, I have to admit that I am not ready at all to leave the country.

On the 31rst of last August, Yoshimi and P’Jiew welcomed me at the Chiang Mai airport and a few hours later, I arrived in the charming town of Phrao. Located at two hours from the big city, Phrao is the center of the the district of the same name, on the way to Chiang Rai.

It was love at first sight. 

The view I have on the way to the libary – INCREDIBLE !

Surrounded by mountains, located in the Lanna country, Phrao is simply lovely. Thanks to my colleagues, I found a house in the middle of the town, at around twenty minutes by bicycle from the Library where I have spent most of my time, five from the market, where you can find anything, and ten minutes walk from the bus station. The location is simply perfect. Every morning, I am amazed by the view as I am riding my bicycle to the library. The funny thing is that during my first three weeks in town, I was the “farang”, the stranger, the white girl riding her bicycle and people kept staring at me. As I took almost the same path every day, they started to know me and since then, we are just exchanging giant smiles, and warm “hi” or “sawasdee kha/khap” ! It is a real pleasure to ride the bike, even if it is sometimes quite hot.

In six months, I had time to do a lot of things a especially many projects with ARC. First, I discovered how an association works in Thailand. Well, it is my first time working in a library, but all is related to culture and fun activities, at least my missions were.

What did I do ?

I gave english classes to kids at the library, basic english of course, I am a French native speaker, not an english one. It felt great to teach them. I only had a class of 6 kids, it was quite easy to manage. Of course, P’Jiew helped me a lot as my thai was very basic (and is still so- ..) to explain about each exercise to them. Then, it was easier for me to teach French. I had a chance to work as teaching assistant for some french classes for Kru Tom, french teacher at Phrao Wittayakom, highschool of the town. I also went for weekly activities with the mobile library in villages around, visited disabled people who could not come to the library but wanted to read, I met a lot of people, learned a lot about thai culture and asked a lot of questions. Thanks to my missions, I really had a chance to discover a lot within my time in Phrao and around.

As Thai culture is different from mine, I was really curious about everyday things that I did not understand or that I could not read about. Meeting people who did not speak the same language as mine, forced me to step out of my “comfort zone”.

Let me tell you about one situation where I really felt like stepping out of my culture, and that was when I tried spicy food… I think that everyone at the library will remember me as the “not spicy” woman, as I could barely eat a “Pad Ka Pao” without crying. But then, I went to Mae Wean Noi, the village in the mountains to visit ARC’s early childhood literacy center, Little Smiles center. I was living among a Lisu family, P’Pim’s family, and there, everybody was used to eat spicy food since the youngest age. So, one evening, for dinner, I asked P’Pim it the sauce that she made was very spicy or not. You have to know that to the answer “pet mak” (very spicy) I usually step back, and to “nid noi” (a little bit), I usually try. Then, her answer was that it was “pet nid noi”, understand “a little bit spicy”. I tried it, and felt suddenly very hot, and super sweaty. After the ten minutes I needed to recover from the awful burning feeling, I asked her how many chili she had put inside the sauce, she then told me, as if it was totally normal “50”. I then cried again.

Picture taken right after eating this chilli meal

During my stay in Phrao, from where I am writing this article, I was confronted with myself and the others as well. For me, “pet kid noi”, was a maximum of 3 chillis, but for her, it was 50. And in fact, the entire family was eating it without even crying… It felt amazing to understand that the fact that I really thought that by “a little bit spicy” did not meant the same thing for her than for me. You can say that this always happens when you are travelling. Of course, but when my codes, my “already known notions” are challenged, I feel great, because I am rediscovering what culture-s really means. 

In six months, being the “farang” sometime forced me to step out of my comfort zone for the better and the worse (especially when there was someone to take picture of you). But i had so many great moments, with the kids, with my colleagues, with the people (farang or not) that I met here and I have discovered so many places and events as the different temples, some school camps, temple festivals, hill tribes villages, local high schools, and of course, the Rang Mai library.

This experience benefited me in so many ways that this article wouldn’t be enough to describe all of them. But I have to admit that the will of having new experiences I more present than ever in my mind.

I was supposed to stay only for five months in Phrao, and I just realized that it has been six months already.

Well, it is sure that I will come back for more !


Merci beaucoup et à bientôt !

One smily week in Little Smiles Center

Mae Waen Noi Village

   In order to well beggin 2018, I spend one week living in a hill tribe community. Here is the enssence of my personal experience there.

Three years ago, ARC opened the Little Smiles center in Mae Waen Noi village, the place where I have spent one week, living among the Lisu tribe people.

P’Pim’s family house were I stayed for the week


I stayed at P’Pim’s house with her family, her two sons, her husband and her sister in law, P’Kung, who is also the second teacher at the Little Smiles center.

     Mae Waen Noi is located about one hour drive away from Phrao town,center of the district. P’Pim, my host, picked me up in Phrao. After the rough ride through mountain, we arrived in the beautiful little village. From my first moments there, I felt warmly welcomed. I loved every minute and every moment I have spent there.

The view from around the village

    P’Pim was my guide during this week. She showed me different places around the village. Few times a day, we walked around, so that I could discover the views and the way around the village. As it is a mountain village, the road is quite curvy and hilly. You need to have quite a good motorcycle or car to drive there, at least one with gears.

Every day, P’Pim gave me a lift to and from the center. Onfoot, it would have taken me at least one hour to get there. The kids arrived between eight to nine am as their parents drop them before going to the farm. The class starts at 9.30 and the parents usually pick the kids up around 3pm, on the way back from the farm.

Little Smiles Center where 12 a dozen of kids come daily

So, basically, one week is divided in three parts. On monday and tuesday, P’Pim and P’Kung teach thai reading and writing, then english for the next two days, and on friday, simple mathematics.

The kids are aged between 2 and 5 years old. P’Pim takes care of  younger ones while P’Kung teaches the older group.

    So what’s a normal day ? When the kids arrive, they drink milk that the teachers are give to them, they can have two cartons per day. then, they can go play with toys and stuffed animals. Around 9.30, everyone is supposed to be at the center.

Then the class starts with activities for the younger and for the older, then comes lunch time, and, after brushing their teeth, the kids take a big nap until 3pm.

Kids brushing their teeth after lunch

    During my first two days at the center, I was just sitting there, helping P’Pim and P’Kung whenever they needed help, and teasing the kids whenever they came close to me. Most of them avoided me, staring at me from behind their milk carton or toys.

Then, once they got used to my presence, they asked me to play with them and to help them.

The english class on wednesday helped a lot as I helped P’Kung teaching them songs as “Old MacDonald had a farm” and as they were singing with me the alphabet song. From that moment, they kept calling me by my name “P’Emi” and ushering me to play games ans sing songs.

To my greatest pleasure, I felt accepted by the kids and couldn’t help laughing with them as I was making a fool of myself to hear them have fun.

Kids warming up in the morning before learning

After all these activities, I could enjoy a bit of rest in the afternoon as the kids were asleep.

During these moments, I used to walk around with P’Pim or P’kung. We went around the center and as my guide was showing me the different plants and fruits you can find in the mountains like ginger, mint, corn, rice, young onions, coffee, bananas, and much more which I don’t remember the name, I’ve always been amazed by the beauty of the mountains.

You see, in France I live in the countryside but not surrounded by mountains. The nature there is so different. I guess that is what I will miss the most once I’m gone. The wildness and the peace of the mountains in the North of Thailand. Nature is beautiful and in Mae Waen Noi, I discovered that I do not wish to live in big cities. Life in the mountain is more attractive to me.

Mae Waen Noi surrounded by mountain, an amazing view

   Even if I couldn’t really discuss with my hosts, due to my lack of thai langage skill, I really enjoyed my time there. I made some new friends and I will surely go back to Mae Wan Noi one day. At least I hope so !


Hello, Spirit of the Land

“Hello, gods and spirits of this land, my name is Yoshimi Horiuchi.
We will renovate this house to be used as a community library.
I will try my best to utilize this place for the entire community, so please protect us…”

Yes, I greeted out loud.

The village monk told us that if we wanted our activity to flow smoothly, we need to start renovating this month.

Yoshimi with ax

So for the first time in my life, I held an ax in my hand and tare off a part of a door.
Indeed, we REALLY are going to move into a new location!

I Believe I Can Fly, and I Did!

Yoshi in free fall

This is not a metaphor. I really flew, though it was just for 5 minutes. Let me tell you my seemingly once-in-a-lifetime experience of sky diving! I want to share how you feel when you jump from 3000 meters above without sight.

When I told my friends that I was doing sky diving for fund raising for my friend organization CYDA, supporting teenagers from hill tribe communities in Chiang Mai, most of them were horrified. But no worries, I didn’t jump alone. I did tandem, which means that I was strapped to an experienced professional sky diver throughout. We were group of four, and all of us except for Alex, a volunteer from London, had never done it before.

So last Saturday, after four hours of waiting at Thai Sky Adventures in Pattaya, we were assigned a partner each. My partner was Johan, a friendly guy probably from northern Europe. He was so great–explaining me every step and even letting me practice postures during the dive while we were still on the ground.

Climbing onto the planeBut this did not prevent me from getting scared to death as we climbed onto the small airplane. It was running at 80 km per hour only, but I felt as if I was in a unstoppable jet.



Praying for protectionI was asking my late grandpa and dad to protect me from wherever they are.
As we reached the height of 3000 meters (9000 feet), things happened quite quickly. First, another fund raising challenger Alex jumped out with his partner. My stomach felt strange when I felt the rush of air from the exit as they jumped.

About to jumpFinally, it was my turn. First I was almost sitting on the lap of Johan with my legs outstretched as if I were a child going on a slider with the parent. Then Johan moved in the same posture to the exit. For a few seconds, my feet was dangling from the exit, like I was sitting on a comfy bench. Then as I was leaning against his chest, Johan gave me the count of three, rocking his body slightly to give me the rhythm. Then, we were out!!

Free fall from the back

Free fall in the cloudsWe fell and fell and fell. No chance to scream. The free fall lasted 30 seconds, which felt so so long! We were on our stomach, and I was told to hold onto the harness on my chest, and my feet tacked behind me. Johan told me to imagine as if I become a big banana, but the air pressure was so much that I didn’t know banana or mango. It was like fighting against a enormous wall of wind.

Frog position from the sideThen he gave me taps on the shoulder, then I had to push my elbows out and palms down, as if I were a frog. This is to keep balance, I guess. It was not easy, but somehow I managed.



Close-up frog positionSuddenly I felt a big tag upwards as Johan pulled our parachute open. I cannot even remember if I felt going up or down, but it was so dramatic that I had to scream. Then suddenly, everything became quiet, as we slowed down significantly.


Parachute about to openMy friends told me that at that point, we were still on our stomach, but I felt as if I were standing. I didn’t even feel that we were going down, so I had to ask Johan.



Slowly descendingThen he showed me how to make a turn by pulling the string of the parachute, and this was so cool! As I pulled the left string, I would feel the left turn, and suddenly a strong sensation as if I was flying upwards towards the right. Later he told me that this is due to the gravity. I really felt like we were flying even though I felt a bit dizzy afterwards. As we were descending slowly, Johan told me that we were flying through the clouds, and that he could see the reservoir and trees below.

This was the best partThe touch down was very soft. I just had to pull my legs up for 10 seconds or so, and Johan let us land from our butt. There was no pain, shock, nothing.



Touch down!After all, the scariest part was the plane rising up to the jumping point. I’m proud of my team–Alex the volunteer, Frank and Pet (high school boys from hill tribe at CYDA), and myself–for not chickening out. I am very thankful to all of you who made contributions for our challenge 🙂 If you’d like, the fund raising website is still open and we would appreciate any contribution for CYDA.

Would I do this again? Yeah, maybe, a bit later. But I must say that at the moment, I am ever so grateful for my solid ground.


Hello Again, ICU!

When I graduated from International Christian University (ICU) in 2007, I never thought that I will be introduced in their clip to be shown to potential students and their parents. I still miss their campus in Mitaka, Tokyo, filled with green and beautiful nature, and even wild animals like tanuki 🙂 Oh, how many times I got lost in that huge campus?

Mr. Sato from Public Relations Office at ICU, and Tim and Bret who were in charge of filming really put their energy to collect good footage for the clip throughout the past 2 days. My colleagues at Bai Mon Library in Suphanburi were amazed at the level of details and sense of professionalism. The children at the library were happy to be in the camera as usual!

I’m half-scared, half-excited to see the end result in about a month. Thank you Sato-san and everyone for coming all the way!

Chilling Out at a Stake House (!) in Phrao

As our 3rd anniversary at Rang Mai Library was very successful, we decided to treat ourselves a bit over lunch. I was so surprised when someone suggested to go to a stake house nearby!! And I tell you, it was really close to our library–litearlly just around the corner.

And, here is what we had–P’Cha, Tuu, and Bhum had fried fish, and I had pork stake. We shared a tuna salad, 2 plates of French fries, and “honey toast”.

The taste? Hmmm… tasted like stake in Phrao. Those you have come to Phrao may know what I mean by this. If you are curious, come and visit!

I’m sorry I didn’t take the photo of honey toast. My colleagues said it’s too pathetic… Hahaha…

One good thing was the price. For all these food, we paid a bit over 500 baht. Good deal for sure. But we think we will go to a somtam place near high school next time :p

When a Polish, An Italian, and a Japanese Have Dinner Together…

This morning, I woke a bit earlier than usual, not only to enjoy the crisp morning of early winter in Phrao, but also to say goodbye to Anna and Andrea, a couple who has just started on a journey around the world.
There seem to be more and more of those globe-trotters who quit the job and go for around-the-world trip, but their mission is a bit unique.
Anna from Poland and Andrea from Italy want to travel from country to country, looking for “changemakers”.
We spent about a week together, getting to know each other, and talking about everything from history of pasta in Italy to the ideal system in the society.
For instance, it was so interesting as we talked about the second world war at a restaurant at a corner in town.
Even though I live in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, I get to meet so many fascinating people like them!?
How nice to run a grassroot organization, right?

Later, they will write about what I do with ARC team in Italian, Polish, and English!
Anna has written a bit about her experience with us here in her blog.

Anna, Andrea, it was so great to have you around!
Please stay safe and healthy, and may there be always kind people around you two during your long journey.
I look forward to meeting you in near future somewhere on this planet.

Packing Night

Tomorrow, I am off to Bangkok, then on Saturday, move to Bali, Indonesia for about a week to participate in a conference.
I am excited as I will be meeting my friends and colleagues.
It’s just that it would have been perfect without the hustle of packing.

As I travel long distance at least 2-3 times a month, packing is nothing new for my daily life.
But it doesn’t make me love it, unfortunately…
All the cables for dozens of gadgets I use, money in different currency, clothes of all occasions…
Thinking about all of that makes me sleepy already.
Where is my little fairy?
Even my cat ran away…

Cool Gift from Japan

This is not just a map, but a “tactile map”.
It’s a map which you can feel the landmarks and roads by touch.
It’s labled in Braille too, so Braille readers can read the map on our own.
I got this wonderful gift from Prof. Tetsuya Watanabe at Niigata University.
It’s so exciting to make many discoveries after 5 years of living in Chiang Mai 🙂
For instance, I didn’t realize how far out airport and the bus terminal are from the main square of the city.
I will bring a copy to the blind school in Chiang Mai, so that the children can learn the map of their city.

Thank you so much, Watanabe-sensei!!