Friday, August 20, 2010

Sometimes I sneeze and it's just like ". . ."

Yeah, they don't have "bless you" or "gesundheit" in Thailand. They don't have a lot of things in Thailand: the CDC, the FDA, animal control, and wheat beer, are a few of my most missed. But when people ask me if I like it here, I'm like "Seriously, would YOU like being a superstar?" (and I don't mean the tree licking, armpit sniffing kind).

I mean yeah, it can be a bit tough when I'm riding my bike through town to tell if the incessant honking is in any way related to traffic violations, which Thailand apparently doesn't have either. Wait, I take that back. My host mother is the only person I know to have gotten pulled over for anything here, and twice at that. Not for speeding or reckless driving (well I'M surprised) but for riding a motorbike without a helmet. Of course in Thailand it's ok to balance an infant on the bike as you speed around corners and pass truck bed's so full of people that they sprawl themselves across the roof, secured only by skinny brown fingertips. Of course it's ok to ride home squeezed between your two, large, slobbering, dogs and your groceries, but don't forget that HELMET!

So back to my life as a superstar, no helmets for me as I have 6 air conditioned, leather seated, freshly polished, vehicles at my disposal, and more than one driver in case Armand is on another errand. And the food... it isn't THAT great, I mean...the maids do their best, one is a retired chef whose specialty is roasted duck, so at least I've got that!

I've gotten pretty used to the staring now that I know there isn't something on my face. The screaming "I love Yous'" and "hello teachers'" can be a bit overwhelming after a while. It's so hard to figure out which direction they're coming from, and then there's the whole issue of how best to treat the situation: a simple emotionless nod, an aloof lack of acknowledgment, or a diplomatic smile and wave? What best exemplifies my role as a teacher but doesn't scare them into a fear of English?

The "suey" provides a whole different level of anxiety. The Thai word for beautiful, "suey" follows me everywhere I go. It's nice to hear it the first 100 or so times but after that the friendliest thank you that I can muster grows a bit bland. Thank you again for your compliments. Thank you. Diplomatic grin, thank you.

The touching is probably the hardest to get over. Like seriously, I know you've never seen blond hair before, but when I lean down to look at your paper it's not appropriate to stroke it repetitively. And the passersby at the market and temple who touch my arm and bow like I'm a goddess can be a little awkward.

Really though it's not so bad. Teaching English- my FIRST language basically means it takes me 1 hr. to do what takes them all day, leaving me to read and play on facebook until I go home to my air conditioned mansion, maybe take a swim in the private pool, watch some TV- in English, then head upstairs to my hot shower and freshly made bed.

Yeah I like it here, I love it here.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Tubby Thai at Tesco

Tesco Lotus is a Thai superstore with everything you could ever want, and a bucket of chicken. Inside this Thai Walmart look-a-like, next to the KFC, is a Hot Pot Buffet. I think there are places like this in the U.S. but I hadn't encountered one there and very much enjoyed my first time! In the middle of every table is a huge boiling pot of water. The idea is to put as many different raw ingredients into the pot and let the water cook it, then...enjoy!

After significantly stuffing myself,I headed for my favorite part of any meal, dessert...

An impatient boy, noticeably overweight, waited next to me as I scooped ice cream. I was having a considerably difficult time of it, my favorite ice cream was rock hard and the carton was nearly empty.

The boy's eagerness escalated as he waited. His hand on the corner of the freezer, his hot breath on my arm, and his hovering were crowding my space. In frustration, I am ashamed to have thought, "Geez! You can afford to wait a second, you don't need another bowl of ice cream anyway." His haste proved too much for me and I took what little ice cream I had in my bowl back to the table.

As I greedily stuffed the last bite in my mouth, I turned to see the same boy shuffling hurriedly to feast on his giant bowl of ice cream. With an wide smile and a bow, he set that giant bowl of ice cream in front of his mother and happily sat down with nothing.

This gesture is, for me, a picture of Thai culture. It is the Thai way to give, and to expect nothing in return. That little boy was so excited to please someone else, to give something to someone else. He had labored with that rock hard ice cream long enough to get a big bowl for his mother. He didn't talk of the struggle he faced getting it, as I believe most American children would. He set it down with a smile and a bow, not a proud little boyish grin at the thought of brownie points. In fascination I watched this boy then brought his father and grandfather cakes and cookies, still eating nothing himself.

People speak of Thai generosity and kindness, but it took a little boy at Tesco to truly understand. 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Toilet Travesty in Thailand

There are a multitude of things I miss. Today, American toilets took a drastic leap to #1. Not all Thai toilets are created equal. The toilets in my home here in Thailand are so similar to our toilets that I didn't give it a second thought...until about an hour ago.

After obtaining the key to the teacher toilet at school, I headed to the drab room underneath the stairs to do my business. It looked like a normal toilet. Less than a minute after I sit down I am walked in on by the director of the English department and come to the realization that there is more than one key to the teacher toilet, thus revealing the purpose of the second lock I'd thought to be simple overkill.

Two minutes in. While thinking about the head of the English department standing outside the door while I poo, I am struck by the fact that there is no toilet paper, toilet paper holder, or paper towels anywhere to be seen. Hmmm...what is this strange hose in a bucket next to the toilet? That can't be....oh dear.

I spent more minutes than I'd like to admit trying to figure things out. Does the hose go under or over the leg? How can I escape getting poo water on myself? How will I know when i'm clean down there? With satisfaction and disgust I throw the hose back into it's murky home and proceed to flush...wait, what?

Nothing even resembling a handle is anywhere on the toilet or in the small dark room. Frantically I try to fill the toilet using the water from the hose. Fail. It remains in the bottom of the bowl, taunting me. Is it like a porter potty? Do I just leave it? But there was nothing there when I came in, so it must flush somehow...Out of options and worried about what the director will think about Americans and their use of the bathroom, I wash my hands and open the door.

I then fumble through an action based explanation of the problem, complete with hand gestures for flush and poo. By this time very disgruntled, she fishes a large bowl from the bottom of the bucket. She simply splashes it into the toilet to remove it's contents, simultaneously lectures me about locking the door, and shoos me from the room.

Some words of caution about the Thailet
1. It might look like a toilet, but it's not the porcelain princess you're used to
2. Unless you're feeling adventurous check for hardware and software before logging in
3. If there is more than one lock on the door, it's there for a reason

Thursday, June 10, 2010 far

In the eye of the traveler, lingers a brutal wisdom
A strangely uncommon twinkle
We are not lost, the world is our home

Wisdom that a bubble won't preserve us
Knowledge of the breath we take
In every moment, life is passing
And we, the pieces of it all

A moving, patchwork-quilt of buildings hides us
But the sky will hold us close
Loss, for us, is an opportunity to gain
And proof of life's reality

We are here to see
There is possibility

My name is Helena Young. I am 24 years old. I'm from all over but have spent the last few years in Portland, Oregon. I write to you now from a place so different from home that we don't even share the same date! This will undoubtedly be one of the greatest adventures of my life, but it means so much more than adventure for me. It means a chance to give back, a chance to help someone who needs it, and a chance to acquire skills to help me help others' in the future.

I am privileged to be part of the AFS volunteer teaching assistant program in... Thailand!! From this experience abroad I hope to get to know the Thai people and culture. I hope to use my knowledge as extensively as possible to help others. I hope to represent my country and culture in excellence and with respect. I hope to jump-start my future and reaffirm my goals. Finally, I look forward to seasoning it all with fun and adventure!

So the first steps have been taken. Tomorrow I will begin walking down this new path. Wish me luck for my first day as an English teacher in Thailand.