It’s been 3 weeks since I left the states to start my Watson year and I am writing a long overdue blog post to let you know that I am alive and well in Bangkok! I’ve been relatively silent in part because I’ve been so busy exploring the city and starting my project that it’s been tricky to find the time to write a thoughtful post. I’ve also been unsure what I should write about. I originally wanted to keep my blog focused on my project; a sort of neat organized time line/portfolio of my discoveries. But it’s difficult, if not impossible, to think about my project separate from the overall context in which I am pursuing it. It is impossible to ignore the fact that I am a newly minted college graduate, acclimated to learning from a well-organized syllabus but now learning “on the fly” and creating/re-creating categories of understanding only after I’ve been introduced to the material. Or that I’ve never traveled to a country by myself without knowing (at least) the basics of the local language. It would be somewhat disingenuous to write a blog post that ignores how challenging it has been to transition from my previous experiences into this uncharted (for me) territory. So here I am, telling you what I have learned about myself and (hopefully) how this will help me work through my project.
My first few days in Bangkok were disorienting. On my way to an english bookstore the sidewalk mysteriously ended and I found myself walking in the streets trying to avoid taxis and motorbikes. When I first went to get street food on my own, I had no idea what I was ordering or how much it would cost or if I’d chosen the “right” food stall. The terms “traffic” and “humidity” took on a whole new meaning. One word that continuously ran through my head as I tried to process all of the things around me was “patchwork”. The city felt like a giant, complex patchwork of temples, luxury skyscrapers, and tiny street food carts. Tucked behind noisy street markets were hipster coffee shops. Right next to luxury shopping malls were people hawking kitsch on the streets. It felt like I could stand in one place, rotate 360 degrees, and catch a glimpse of every type of life the city held.
3 weeks later and the city still feels like a lush patchwork of experiences, but it now feels infinitely more familiar than when I first got here. Each day has brought radically new adventures, from getting caught in monsoons to seeing a 350 lb giant mekong catfish at an aquaculture research station. I have tried to let these experiences wash over me rather than rationally process them; to let them shape me rather than try to control them. In the process I am learning to thoroughly enjoy the madness of Bangkok.
Patchwork has become a surprisingly relevant term for my project as well. I’ve just finished attending two back-to-back conferences on aquaculture and fisheries as a means of introduction to the aquaculture “scene” in Southeast Asia. I hoped that these conferences might serve to help focus my project in some specific directions. While I did walk away with some interesting ideas and a good list of contacts, my main takeaway is that aquaculture in Asia is anything but uniform and that many kinds of understanding are needed to see the whole picture. Experiences, practices, research approaches, and challenges seem to vary from country-to-country, region-to-region, species-to-species, and so on making for a veritable *patchwork* of aquaculture throughout the region. On the one hand, this is exciting to learn because it reaffirms my original project rationale; there is a wealth of knowledge and experience to learn from. On the other hand, it has made me realize that with the limited time I have here I will probably only scrape the surface of SE Asian aquaculture. I briefly considered altering my project. I played with the idea of removing Northern Europe from my itinerary and focusing specifically on Asia-Pacific. Since Asia produces ~90% of all farmed seafood in the world this felt feasible and might have given me a bit more depth on the region…it is still not totally off the table. But for now I am still planning to travel to other regions because I am interested in understanding how the prolific aquaculture industries of some SE Asian countries compare to the smaller, “artisanal” industries of highly developed nations. It seems that these varying contexts would tell very different stories about aquaculture.
This is all to say that I am still focusing my project. The conferences were a wonderful source of new information but rather than focusing in on one country, species, or specific area of research (e.g. genetics, social science) I find myself wanting to sample a bit of each one. Tomorrow I am headed to Nam Sai Fish Farm, one of the largest monosex tilapia hatcheries in Thailand, for two weeks. I’ll spend this time as a participant-observer in the day-to-day operations of the farm, learning more about the farm’s operation, and (hopefully) beginning to shape my project in more specific ways. I’m planning to update you guys more frequently, so be on the lookout for another blog post in a week.
Also, if you’d like to see photos of my adventures they can be accessed from the right-hand side of the blog. If you’d like a postcard, please let me know your address and I can send one along. If you have recommendations, comments, critiques, etc. please let me know!
all the best,