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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!!

Jump to Science 2015

Jump to Science 2015 group photo

From Aug. 12th to 15th, I participated in Jump to Science 2015 in Aichi, Japan.
18 students with visual impairment aged 12 to 18 participated to do various workshops in the math and science field, and just have tons of fun together day and night!
I was honored to be invited as a resource person to share my experience in Thailand, but I enjoyed my time so much, playing games, cooking, and chatting with new friends.
All grownups put so much effort to make this camp a fun event for the children.
And I was constantly amazed how proactive, expressive, and curious these students were! To be honest, much more than so-called non-disabled students of the same age from Japan.
So grateful for this unique opportunity to meet wonderful people of all ages from different background.
My Thai friends, let’s do something like this in Thailand!

Revelation at the Beauty Shop

Yoshimi with two pairs of scissors

For 32 years, I have no idea how many times I have my hair cut, but this very day, I have got a chance to touch their scissors for the first time in life!
You see, for blind kids (and grownup kids like me), if we don’t have a chance just to touch, we have no idea how anything look like.
I have always imagined that they must be much bigger scissors.
It may be something so trivial for you who can see, but it’s very important memory for me now.
You cannot imagine how many things around our life I have no idea how their shapes are, like doctor’s instruments, things that are used in professional kitchen, etc. etc., just because we don’t have a chance to feel them with our 2 little hands tongue emoticon
If you know any blind kids, let them feel everything around them! It’s easier to do when they are small–a bit awkward to ask when we are grown up, hahaha.

Mud + Rice Husk + Hard Work of Many = Beautiful Classroom

Little Smiles Center Opening Day

Today, we opened our third early childhood center, Little Smiles Center, in Mae Waen Noi Village, Mae Waen Sub District, Phrao, Chiang Mai. This will be the biggest center, starting in May with 16 Lisu tribe children and 2 staff. Many people say that the building looks the most gorgeous, too!

The building would not have been here if it was not for the enormous support given by Eco Peace, a nonprofit organization in Japan, who sponsored the entire construction cost for us. We must also mention that this is the result of continuous hard work by Albert and Peter, volunteers from the Dragonfly Community Foundation, who designed and built it as the team leaders together with the entire village of Mae Waen Noi Village. Our British volunteers, Charlotte and Esme, contributed a lot as well, participating in every step starting from brick-making, all the way to decorating the outer walls with delicate mosaic made of broken tiles and glasses.

Since we started this projects, there has been some moments that we thought we may need to cancel the project due to some difficulties, but we could welcome this day thanks to the perseverance and encouragement from many of you.

We will be closed for a week for Thai new year holidays, so please be patient to wait for the other photos of this event.

Thank you so much for your help, and happy Songkran to everyone!

Unforgettable Sunday

Yoshimi with the happy couple

Parn has been my close friend since 2004, my first year in Thailand. We have been sharing a tiny tiny room in the suburb of Bangkok off and on for nearly 10 years.
On Sunday, she got married to Aba-chan, a Japanese guy who is running an organic farm at the foot of Mt. Fuji.
Next month, she will go to Japan to live with her husband.
Not having her in Thailand is just the same as losing a real sister.
But at the same time, I will have a new friend who will be in Japan when I go home.
Parn and Aba-chan, congratulations again for the memorable day of your life. I’m glad that you have found each other whom you can count on all the time.
Life is not always romantic. For sure, you will have bitter arguments and awkward moments from time to time.
When you feel tired and fed up with each other, look at the photos of your wedding, and remember us who are wishing all the best for both of us.
Happy happy wedding na!

Story of Audio Books from My Heart by Mr. Ake

Mr. Ake was one of the participants at our audio book production workshop, held in March this year. After learning the techniques, he set up a group called “Audio Book from My Heart” at Phrao Withayakhom School where he works as an English teacher.

Throughout this term, all of the fifteen members in the group learned how to read out loud, and read one picture book each, which will be burned onto CDs, and distributed to around a dozen blind schools in the country.

ARC does not have a professional sound studio, and our Rang Mai Library has too much echo for the recording. So I tidied up my little bedroom a little, and used the portable recording box to absorb the echo.

I was amazed how motivated all the students were, and they picked perfect book for their own voice. In the stiflingly-hot bedroom with doors and windows closed and fan turned off, we had so much fun thinking about the voice of each character and making different versions passage after passage.

We truly appreciate the initiative of Mr. Ake, and the hard work that all of these fifteen young volunteers put in this project! Surely, it will be enjoyed by hundreds of blind children and even beyond that 🙂

Lost in Translation in Yangon

Recently I often go to Yangon for the work of ICEVI Higher Education Initiative. This time, I stayed at Hotel Glory near the blind school under Ministry of Social Welfare.

For lunch today, I ordered pork salad for lunch. They brought a big plate of salad, and I found some shrimps in it. I ate more, and I found more shrimps. Pork was never to be found. I was wondering if my tongue also went blind as well.

So after I finished the meal, I asked the waiter that I didn’t find pork. We had some communication trial, and after involving a few more spectators around, we finally found out that he thought I said “prawn salad” instead of “pork salad”. This is a little and typical challenge I face in a country where I cannot speak their language. I cannot just point at the dish that my neighboring customer is eating and say “I want THIS one,” you know :p

Oh, well, it was quite tasty, so no problem, and I’m glad that I found the answer for the mystery of pork salad without pork. And I’m even more happy that my tongue was not totally blind after all.

Beauty of Bangkok People

This evening, I flew back from Yangon, and took a taxi at the airport. As I got off in front of my street, the rain started to pour like the sky turned the bucket upside down. I waited and waited for the rain to stop by the roadside, but it didn’t stop at all.

Finally, the lady who sells papaya salad across the street came over, and asked her brother to fetch me on his motorbike. I was almost soaked wet, but my inside is so warm with this act of kindness.

Moments like this really refresh my love for Bangkok. Within the caotic city full of ugly things, I have found countless people like this, going way beyond their way to help me. Yes, this is why I fell in love with this country, as Bangkok consists of people who come from all over Thailand.