I’m Not There (Yet)

By Phoebe Brauer, MURP student, currently in Thailand

I’m Not There (Yet)

I’m not in Myanmar and I’m not working with ActionAid International. Phew! I’m glad we got that out of the way. Long story short, after many months of emailing with several organizations, plans fell through. So instead I’ve pieced together an even better summer experience. Promise!

I will still be spending the month of September in Myanmar (visa is strictly 28 days), but I wanted to maximize my time abroad, so I started pursuing opportunities in neighboring Thailand. On July 1st, I skyped with Dr. Faiz of the Yunus Center at AIT (Asian Institute of Technology) and its Program Officer, Mariana, and on July 13th I was on a plane to meet them in Japan for the Social Business Forum Asia 2014. We spent the week traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto to Fukuoka attending various university-based symposiums on social business.

Nobel Peace Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus and Phoebe Brauer at the Social Business Forum Asia 2014 at Soka University in Japan.
Nobel Peace Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus and Phoebe Brauer at the Social Business Forum Asia 2014 at Soka University in Japan.

If you don’t know what social business is or you think it sounds like an oxymoron, you’re not alone. I was new to the concept, as well, but I was lucky enough to see 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus speak about it three separate times in one week. If his name sounds familiar it’s because many people call him “the father of microfinance” since he started Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. I was deeply grateful for the opportunity to meet such a well-respected world leader within my first day of joining the team. Prof. Yunus is undeniably inspiring and encourages everyone to pursue their dreams with creativity, empathy, perseverance, and joy. My favorite part of the forum was the Yunus & Youth Social Business Design Contest, in which over 50 teams from across Japan participated. The top four presented their ideas and plans: one seeking to preserve national identity (shiki) from modernity; one hoping to overcome the harsh rumors about Fukishima; and another to encourage young people to become more active in addressing global issues. The winner was a concept called MYBO! Japan is full of drink vending machines, so in order to reduce the waste caused by so many individual bottles, this group proposed a business plan for a reusable bottle that could be used at a vending machine that worked more like a soda fountain. Since they won the competition in Japan, the MYBO! team will present at the Global Social Business Summit in Mexico City this November!

From one Shinkansen to another: aboard the high-speed train heading from Kyoto to Fukuoka, Japan.
From one Shinkansen to another: aboard the high-speed train heading from Kyoto to Fukuoka, Japan.
Typical for Japan, these "kawaii" or "cute" animations indicate the police station.
Typical for Japan, these “kawaii” or “cute” animations indicate the police station.

Same Same

If you’ve ever traveled to Bangkok as a tourist, you’ve probably heard the phrase “same same.” It’s slang that roughly translates to “same difference” or “close enough.” I’ve heard it explained as what shop-sellers say when they’re selling you a fake. You might ask, “Is this real Christian Dior perfume?” and they will respond, “Same same.” Fortunately, I have not spent much time in the tourist areas, so for me, it reminds me of the similarities between my life in Bangkok and my life in Los Angeles, same same but different.

It's common for strange sightings to appear in Bangkok. This mannequin was situated alongside an open canal. I've named it sewage scarecrow.
It’s common for strange sightings to appear in Bangkok. This mannequin was situated alongside an open canal. I’ve named it sewage scarecrow.

My neighborhood in Los Angeles smells like skunks. In Bangkok, my neighborhood smells like the open sewage canal. At home I eat pad thai and sparkling water for $10; in Bangkok the same meal costs me less than $2. It takes me about one hour to drive to UCLA; here it takes me one hour to commute to AIT (Asia Institute of Technology) by subway and van or bus. In my neighborhood in LA there are tons of remodeling and small lot developments cropping up. In my neighborhood here, there are massive high-end high-rises under construction. People are eagerly anticipating the arrival of a Whole Foods in LA, and here the opening day of MaxValu 24-hour Supermarket is a big event. And both cities are referred to as the City of Angels!

These guys are basically nature's air-conditioning. Thai food is loaded with chili peppers like these drying in the sun. They make you sweat when you eat them, and that can have quite a cooling effect in tropical weather.
These guys are basically nature’s air-conditioning. Thai food is loaded with chili peppers like these drying in the sun. They make you sweat when you eat them, and that can have quite a cooling effect in tropical weather.

We can call it urbanization, globalization, and capitalism, but perhaps the whole “same same” phenomenon reflects that no matter where you go, societies are all built by and made up of human beings. Same same, but different.

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