This is the third article featuring Richard Dorsett’s trip to Asia to distribute Foldscopes, the fully functional microscope, which users construct by origami principles. The Rotary Club of Tacoma #8 funded the Foldscopes for adventurer and hiking and biking enthusiast Richard Dorsett:
Everything is only for a day, both that which remembers and that which is remembered.
– Marcus Aurelius
The first time I saw Chiang Mai on a map I likely thought of it as a northern Thai village. When it was founded in 1296 it was the capital of the Lanna kingdom; already an important place. It seems the nearer I got to being here, the clearer sense I gained that this was no village. These days the metro area is just under a million people, much more than a village, but not overly big. An hour-long flight from Luang Prabang, Laos, saved me a 24-hour bus ride, and my hostel is minutes walking to the ‘old’ quarter.
The old quarter is a moat-bound, two kilometer square section in the center of town. Stretches of the wall that used to encircle the city remain. There are 38 temples in the old quarter, some museums, and hundreds of tour operators. Packaged adventure could make me crabby, but usually don’t; it’s just not for me. A bike tour or a trek, that’s one thing. Zip lines or a visit to a village with long neck women are quite another. A better use of time would be a class in cooking, massage, or language. But when culture is turned into a commodity, well, yes, maybe I do get a little crabby. My peregrinations of the old quarter have run their course; from exploring, to familiar, to finding ever new streets.
Right out the hostel gate, there is food everywhere. Restaurants and street stalls, my favorites, are there to temp. My first snack was an order of what I thought was small, fried fish. Turned out to be deep fried chicken skin. First night here my hostel prepared a dozen northern Thai dishes with fresh ingredients. Thai food, I suspect they just call it food, is an adventure. There are fruits and vegetables I don’t recognize and some I would not know how to eat. Grilled fish maws, pork belly, broiled crickets (protein!), coconut fruit with a straw to drink the milk, all sorts of satays, noodles and curry, and, of course, Phad Thai. Truth is, the Phad Thai tastes pretty much the way it does everywhere, but there is a simple satisfaction enjoying food in Thailand. And there is this: why, oh why, do some people come all the way to Chiang Mai to eat lunch at Burger King?
With Foldscopes, one person leads to another. Joyce, a good friend in Seattle, connected me with her friend Cheron, in Chiang Mai. Jason, Cheron’s Thai ‘go to’ guy, connected with Maewin Samakee School, about an hour south of Chiang Mai. It’s a boarding school sponsored by the abbot of a local wat. Karen, Akak, Hmong, and Chan hill tribe students assembled Foldscopes with as much enthusiasm as any. The students to my eye seemed about twelve years old, but were in fact seventeen and eighteen. The students smiled a lot; not so their teacher. Maybe it’s because he was so entranced with his Foldscope. His photos were some of the best Foldscope images to date.
I know that when I arrive with Foldscopes, they may be an interruption to a teacher’s well-laid lesson plans. It is easier when the teacher has seen Foldscope inventor Manu Prakash’s TED talk (Manu Prakash: A 50-cent microscope that folds like origami). Best was when a teacher had shown the students his talk in advance of my arrival. For some, it may be a classroom diversion, but the scope itself breaks down any skeptics, the enthusiasm is a pleasure to see.
Cheron in Chiang Mai connected with Bill in Seattle, who connected me to Carol in Mae Chan, a little north of Chiang Rai. Carol is a Rotarian, but more, an amazing woman here doing good works. Today she’s giving a workshop on eye care for 700 Thai seniors, she works to prevent human trafficking, and is raising money for a 3-D graphics program for a school in town. Lots more about her, but you get the idea.
To arrive here in Mae Chan, I walked out my hostel gate in Chiang Mai just after 5 a.m. Everything flowed perfectly; a bus to Chiang Rai, and a small connector bus dropped me right in front of the small resort motel where I was to meet Carol. Resort. Sounds a fortune after my days of six dollar hostel beds, but two nights cost about 35 bucks. A private room feels like a luxury after three weeks in hostel rooms. Hot water, even, for the shower.
Janjawa School (full name: Janjawawittayakhom) is government run, for Thai students. There were ten, with a teacher. Seems they had less prep for what was coming, but once again, they were so excited by the time we were looking at specimens. Carol grabbed me a few tablespoons of soil and we looked at crystals with our Foldscopes. I always put together one scope myself so they can watch the instructions. It almost amazes me sometimes that this all works, but it does.
The final Foldscope group was at the Suksasongkraw School in Mae Chan. It is sponsored by the Thai royal family and is a welfare school for poor students, orphans, those with parents in prison, or other disadvantages. I was scheduled to have five students, but by the time we sat around a table to fold scopes, there were twenty of us: students, teachers, and Rotarians. It was all perfect. We’ve been using cell phones to take photos of specimens with the Foldscopes. A Rotarian pulled out her iPad and the large screen image is so much better.
It seems each group of students is my favorite. I glom onto the shy ones and when we are done they laugh and smile. Just a little help with the assembly and they are with the program.
Feeling pleased with how it has gone, especially these last days with three schools in three days. I’ve got a few more moves to make; a flight to Bangkok, finding my hostel there, then a four a.m. marathon flight through Hong Kong and Vancouver to reach home. That’s about it for now. Five schools; five groups of students, and I have given eighty Foldscopes away in Laos and Thailand.
Mae Chan, Thailand
January 20, 2018