NCA 2013

Wednesday, 20 November 2013
Several of the University of Tennessee Communication and Information College students loaded into a large UT conversion van this morning and road-tripped it to Washington D.C. Many of us will be presenting original research on various aspects of communication over the next four days.

The drive was long but uneventful and we were able to check into the conference tonight before the welcome desks closed. So far, we're already making connections and representing the university.

I present my research tomorrow and will be going to the NCA job fair on Friday. 

JMComm 2013, Phuket

Sunday, 17 November 2013
The entire reason for going to Thailand was to present my original, empirical research on war correspondents. This was a study I conducted by myself and presented in front of a group of about 25. That doesn't sound like much of an audience I realize, but as far as research conference audiences go, this was pretty good!

My paper was published in conference proceedings along with 29 other articles. The publication has an editorial board of 16 scholars and communication practitioners, and all research is peer-reviewed. My paper was presented along with scholars from places such as Jin Nan University in China, Istanbul University in Turkey, University of Alabama, University of Amsterdam (Netherlands) and Michigan State University. 

You might wonder: how did Denae afford to travel to Thailand as a graduate student? Did the University of Tennessee pay for her trip? No. But the great thing about UTK is that they DO care about research and do what they can to support graduate students. My school helps with a contribution of $250 for international conferences that are peer-reviewed and involve a full presentation and my college will contribute $250 if the same criteria is met as well. I'm especially thankful to James for gifting me air miles for an air ticket. He is supportive of my career aspirations and I feel so very fortunate for his generosity. Students can also tap into resources from the Graduate Student Senate for peer-reviewed conference presentations but that is a separate application process. 

It takes more than 20 hours in an airplane to get to Thailand from Knoxville, Tennessee. Who knew that you cannot actually fly into Thailand from the U.S. (unless maybe you're on a private jet)? We flew through Seoul, Korea and then on to Phuket where the JMComm conference was this year. Last year it was held in Singapore. 

International conferences are special for a few reasons. First, I am fascinated to learn about how other countries approach scientific research and also how scholars interpret findings and results. Another major bonus of presenting at international conferences is the international connections participants can make. Even though it is likely you won't necessarily see many of the participants again, it is bizarre how someone usually knows someone in your research community even if they live in another country. After my presentation someone immediately came up to me and asked about two faculty members in my college that I know well. I wasn't surprised that the University of Tennessee is known world-wide but I was taken off guard for just a second that it is known on a close-knit scale by many.  

JMComm 2013 is my second international research presentation (the first was JMComm 2012) and this year I feel like I truly appreciated the experience. Last year I was incredibly nervous and constantly reminded myself to speak slowly and clearly as English is not everyone's first language at international conferences. This year I thought less about the research I was presenting and more about the other presented studies. I wasn't afraid to speak up at lunch and ask questions of other scholars and I gathered new ideas on how to approach research that I'm conducting.

The plane ride was long but it was worth it. I've always wanted to visit Thailand - I still cannot believe it was specifically to present mass communication research as a graduate student! 

Jim Thompson House, Bangkok

Wednesday, 13 November 2013
One of the attractions I read about in a Thailand travel book is a homestead set up by an American in Bangkok in 1959. Jim Thompson, originally from Greenville, Delaware, so appreciated the style of the teak, traditional Thai homes, that he bought several, dismantled them and brought them to their current site. They are now open to the public for tours. 

Some of the interesting aspects about this architecture include: raised first floors, fired roof tiles, traditional red paint on the outside walls, and the chandeliers are from 18th and 19th century Thai palaces. The homes in Thailand are elevated a full story above the ground. This is a practical precaution to avoid flooding during the rainy season. (Thompson's property lines one of the canals to the river.) 

One of the reasons Thompson was so enamored by Bangkok was his interest in the tradition of hand weaving of silk. In the 1950s, the craft was considered a neglected cottage industry but he worked to breathe life back into it. Thompson contributed to the industry's growth and many people around the world started to take notice of Thai silk again. 

Women still weave silk on the Thompson property and wares are sold in the gift shop. Some weavers gave silent demonstrations on the process. 

We weren't allowed to photograph artifacts in Thompson's collection but they included different statues of Buddha that had been broken. (Thais don't use imperfect images in worship so he was able to collect some very interesting pieces.) We also admired the gardens around the homes that included large Chinese ceramic pots that held fish and of course, beautiful lotus flowers. 

One of my favorite parts of the tour was watching traditional Thai dance. A woman danced slowly while wearing bright silk wraps and finger extensions. Dance is a major art form in Thailand and consists of "high art" (elaborate productions) and "low art" (folk dancing).

There are dozens and dozens of different types of dances in Thailand. While I don't know the name of the dance this woman was performing, it was mesmerizing. 

Heavenly Spa, Westin Phuket

Monday, 11 November 2013
JMComm 2013 was in Phuket, Thailand this year and because it was scheduled during October, we didn't get to see much of the city because it poured rain every day (rainy season). One bonus during a situation like this is a hotel with a spa. Since the prices in Thailand are relatively low compared to other international cities, we decided to book a treatment.

Even the lobby of the Heavenly Spa (Westin) was cool. It is surrounded by a structure made out of wood.

We were greeted with a cold towel (it is very hot and humid in Phuket) and a glass of cold herbal tea. 

This was served in the relaxation lounge which is shaped like an oval and has the same natural fiber roof as the lobby. We admired the cool furniture and relaxed listening to quiet spa tunes.

When it was time for our appointment, James and I were led upstairs to the "Harmony" room. Two specialists were waiting for us in the beautiful space. As they directed us to changing areas, I already felt tension starting to roll off my shoulders. The topical imbibed music and subtle aromatherapy of the room signified a well designed spa concept. 

Our treatment began with an intimate foot washing ceremony where the masseuses dipped out toes in warm water containing rose petals and a slice of lemon. We opted for the "Heavenly Massage." As you might expect, in Thailand the massages incorporate Thai style massage but these techniques were like none I've experienced. 

Each part of the body was treated with warm compresses in the shape of a ball. The technician would roll the hot cloth gently, then with increasing pressure, in a circular motion over the muscle group of focus. Once the area was warmed up with the compress, then hot oil was applied, followed by a deep tissue massage. It should be said that this type of massage is not for the sensitive. The spherical compresses are HOT but applied with skill.

We were pretty impressed with our experience. Who would've thought the spa at the Westin in Phuket would be one of our favorites? If you get a chance to try Thai massage of any kind, go for it.

Sea "Gypsy" Village, Phuket

Sunday, 10 November 2013
The conference I attended, JMComm 2013, was held in Phuket, a sea-side town in Thailand. It is in the Southern part of the country, on the Western coast. It is less developed than Bangkok and perhaps less tourist-friendly. 

On Monday we went to the Sea "Gypsy" Village (that is the English name of the place, "gypsy" can be seen as a derogatory term but it was not our word) which was close to our resort on the bay. This is where indigenous people live and fish for a living. 

We could hear the boats going out early each morning to fish. In the village, we saw mostly women and children because the men were out pulling in the day's catch. While they fished, the women worked on the products in groups, shucking clams and oysters. 

Others were preparing food - perhaps for sale or for lunch or supper that day. 

We found the village to be authentic and quaint. Some comments online (on TripAdvisor) complain about poverty, garbage and odors. In my opinion, that's a fairly superficial summation of the village. When we walked through, yes, we noticed a fishy odor but it's a FISHING village! 

More memorable for me was listening to children playing and calling out "hello" in English to us. 

We also stopped to admire huge traps that were made by hand by the villagers for the day's catch. We never learned what they mostly fish for but the containers were large! 

The village is small and quiet and we felt like we were trespassing a bit into these people's lives. We were thankful that they allowed us politely into their space so we could learn about a culture that is somewhat rare - even in the far parts of the world.

The Golden Mount, Wat Saket

Saturday, 9 November 2013
I failed to explain a few posts back that "Wat" means "temple" in Thai. We also took a tour around Wat Saket. It is an important monastery in Thailand's modern history. As we went through the property, we saw several monks and also noticed people climbing the 181 stairs to give the monks gifts and worship.  The stairs to the top are surrounded by lush, beautiful grounds.

King Rama I apparently performed the Royal bathing ritual at Wat Saket in 1782. After that he officially established himself the Kingdom's new ruler. 

The domed top of the Golden Mount is impressive. Many people go there to worship.

One of the most amazing parts of The Golden Mount is the beautiful views. There's also a different vibe when you climb all of the stairs and are high above the city. Most people keep their voices to a whisper and the breeze is fresh and cool. 

The stairs go to the top in a sort of long spiral on the outside of the structure. Around every turn there is a set of bells which worshipers ring on the way back down to celebrate worshipping the Buddha.

We enjoyed out tour and thought our guide from East and West (Tawee) was great. 

The Reclining Buddha, Wat Pho, Bangkok

Friday, 8 November 2013
This was another fascinating site. Inside the Wat Pho temple in Bangkok, we viewed the Reclining Buddha. It is huge! You can tell the scale of the Buddha by looking at the photo below that shows people near the feet. 

This image is the largest Buddha in Thailand and measures 150 feet in length.

Once people pay their respect to the Buddha they can buy a certain type of coin and put one in 100+
bowls, down the wall opposite of where the Buddha reclines. The Buddha in the reclining position does not mean that he is resting or sleeping. Instead this signifies he has reached a state of Nirvana.

Outside the temple of Wat Pho, many Buddhas surround the property. Families can "adopt" a Buddha and have it painted gold or adorn it with an orange robe. It was beautiful and peaceful.

The Golden Buddha, Bangkok

Thursday, 7 November 2013
One of the first tourist sites we went to in Bangkok was the Sukhothai Traimit or the Golden Buddha Image. Our tour guide snapped a shot of us in front of the portrait of the King of Thailand. The Golden Buddha is housed in the large temple behind the picture. 

The Buddha image is the largest in the world made out of gold. It is in a position called "mara conquering attitude" which was the typical style of Buddhas fashioned when Sukhothai was the capital of Thailand. 

The image is 12 feet 5 inches in diameter and weighs 5.5 tons!! It is approximately 700 years old and highly valued by the people of Thailand. 95% of the population of Thailand practices Buddhism and have small shrines in their homes. 

There's an interesting story to this Buddha. It was once covered in plaster to stop invaders from taking it to another land. Centuries later when someone was moving the Buddha, it was dropped and the plaster broke away.. That's when people discovered it was gold!

See above - even though it was 95 degrees, I had to wear a jacket in the temples because I was wearing a sleeveless blouse. Always wear sleeves as well as slip-on shoes when visiting temples. James had to lace up his sneakers every time and I had to fumble with putting on my jacket! 

Temple bells are lined up outside every Buddhist temple. Worshippers ring them as they leave the temple, as a way to continue worshiping. Each chime honors the Buddha. 

Outside the temple, there were scenes set up where people can buy food, drinks and robes for monks. The monks subsist on people's donations. If you give a donation to the monk, he will bless you. 

Lotus flowers were a typical offering to an image of Buddha. People would buy them and put them in a pot outside of them temples. Lotus flowers are a symbol of good fortune: literally they grow and bloom above the mud and muck in a pond. 

The Grand Palace, Thailand

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

James and I went to Bangkok while we were in Thailand for my conference presentation (more on that later). We booked a couple of half-day tours so we could see some of the highlights. Certainly one special place is the Grand Palace. 

The Grand Palace was built in 1782 and houses the royal residence, throne halls and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It was interesting to be on the grounds and even for a moment be part of life there. Royal troops marched and we quickly got into place to capture their movements. 

The Upper Terrace is a beautifully designed space among the Grand Palace grounds. The below photo shows a reliquary in the shape of a golden chedi. A small piece of the Great Buddha's bone is supposed to be housed here. 

Also on the Upper Terrace are amazingly beautiful statues of elephants and mythical beings. The models of elephants are a record of the famous white elephants acquired during the reigns of various kings of Thailand. (White elephants mean good fortune!)

Unfortunately there is no photography allowed inside the temple that houses the Emerald Buddha. It truly was an awesome sight. The Emerald Buddha is actually carved from a block of jade but when it was discovered in 1434, it was covered in plaster and had a little green piece sticking out. That led those who discovered it to believe it was made of emerald. The sacred image is clad with one of the three seasonal costumes (summer, rainy season, and winter) and the king changes the Buddha's clothes when the season changes. 

The grounds of the Grand Palace especially outside of the temple for the Emerald Buddha, there are shrines offering items such as fresh eggs and flowers to the deity. The tour was amazing but WOW it was hot. I stupidly wore a sleeveless shirt (with long pants) on the tour but shoulders must be covered when close to a renowned Buddha statue so I had to wear my jacket in 95 degree heat and full sun. AND - Thailand is going into its "cool" season. Ha!

My Trip to Missouri

Tuesday, 5 November 2013
One of the best ways I spent my summer was to visit my grandmother and grandfather in St. Joseph, Missouri. I decided to go just after my cousin Amanda gave birth to her second son. Certainly the highlight was seeing little Grant and all of us being together to chat with my aunt and uncle and my cousins - but most of my time was spent visiting and spending time with my grandma and grandpa. Here's little Grant:

Here's a picture of my grandpa (Grant's great-grandpa) meeting him. 

And my grandmother held Grant and even gave him part of his bottle. He was just days old when we met him but he was already strong and happy. 

One day we went to a few yard sales in St. Joseph. It was like a treasure hunt! My grandfather is a skilled woodworker and can do amazing detail work on furniture and other pieces to restore them to their former glory. This is a hobby for him now (my grandparents are in their mid 80s) and he enjoys redoing pieces. Grandpa restored this lovely baby buggy, making it fully functional again:

Grandma and I really enjoyed looking at recipes, talking about what her life was like when she was growing up, walking in her garden, AND learning about probiotics. She learned of the concept in one of her herb meetings so we both started tomatoes. You just chop tomatoes, add basil, a little onion, a pinch of sugar and some sea salt and mix with a bit of culture starter. This needs to be in a glass jar and it needs to be sealed with a plastic lid. Vegetables with probiotics are easier on the digestive system and have other health benefits.

We also had a special lunch together one afternoon. Grandma and I stopped by Panera and if you haven't had the pumpkin soup yet - try it. It is delicious! We also ordered a strawberry scone to split and just had a great time talking and laughing. I'm looking forward to visiting again next year. My grandparents are really fun to be around! I'm especially thankful for their support and encouragement.

Blackberry Farm with Casey and Ryan

Saturday, 2 November 2013
One of the best parts of October for me was a fantastic visit from my best friend Casey. She is engaged to Ryan and they came into Knoxville to hang out. They stayed at Blackberry Farm for a couple of night so James and I joined them for an afternoon to tour the property and have dinner at the Barn.  

We sat outside behind the main house and shared a glass of wine. The weather was just starting to change so it was in the 70s that day. 

The Barn is a relatively new addition to the property but is a nice venue for dinner. The best part is the wine cellar in the basement. Casey asked for a tour so we got to look around. 

You can find llamas, horses, sheep and truffle dogs on the farm. These puppies are an interesting breed and can hunt and find Black Perigord Truffles. There are only 450 of these dogs in the United States and Blackberry Farm uses them to hunt for truffles at a nearby orchard. Yes, you can even order your own truffle puppy from Blackberry Farm - for a small fee of $5,000.