2/11/2009 8:24PM (local time)
Apparently, life doesn't have subtitles.
I have now been in The Kingdom for two weeks, and it feels like so much longer. Not because I'm bored/having a terrible time and time is dragging by, but because I've learned and experienced so much that it seems impossible that it's only been a fortnight.
My host family is very mellow, my sister is at school most of the day (I understand she is preparing for exams for university) and my brother Don works most of the day. He IS a teacher, as I previously stated, but not the kind I thought. It turns out he works at a vocational school training mechanics, mainly in motorcycle repair/maintenance. I've met my younger brother, Sam, though our interactions were pretty minimal. I've definitely had the most luck communicating with Don who seems to have a bit more English than the other siblings, or is at least more willing to try to use it.
On the evening of my one week anniversary in Thailand (though I don't think anybody but me knew that), I went with Don to hang out with some of his friends on a little covered porch-thing outside someone's house and had nidnoy (a little) beer and was given a Thai nickname, "Ma-toom" which means "Fruit," though it must be slang, since when I want to talk about eating fruit, I say "pon-la-mai." Anyway, they were a nice group of guys, one of them is a local chief-type guy, there are some talented musicians and soccer players among their crew, and I ate a snail dipped in a spicy pepper concoction (pet means spicy).
Saturday afternoon, my parents took me into town to check out the great big weekly market. Of course, when they told me that's where we were going, I didn't understand, only getting that we were going into town, and was definitely not mentally prepared to get my shop on. I have plans to go back next weekend to try again, and I will give a better report then.
On Saturday night there was a festival at one of the two local wats to bless the upcoming rice-growing season. It was quite an experience. There were monks chanting and bestowing blessings and receiving donations in one (small) area, and the rest was devoted to carnival games (shooting pop guns at little toys, popping balloons with darts, knocking over cans with a ball, a ring-toss style game played with shower buckets, and a great big inflatable slide), vendors selling trinkets and all sorts of food, a beer garden (I'm not sure whether or not the drinking was sanctioned, but people were doing it) and a great big stage with a band and a bunch of ladies in go-go outfits. After looking around, my father took me to the dancing stage where we went up front and I saw some other volunteers there with their families. After a couple dances, a bunch of people from the audience ran up on stage and danced with the women. A couple songs later, when a new batch of people went on stage, all us asa-samas (volunteers) were herded on stage and ended up staying there for 3 songs or so. And let me tell you, I'm a damn good Thai dancer. That means I can shuffle my feet and wave my arms, and not look too goofy doing it (that's definitely an over-simplification, but you get the idea). Anyway, after our 3 songs we all headed off-stage, but either because I was such an amazing dancer, or because I wasn't moving fast enough, I was grabbed and pulled back onto the stage where I continued to dance with other audience members and the go-go girls (who ranged from young and pretty to middle-aged mothers wearing too much make-up). Every time I tried to leave the stage, and several times after I successfully got off, I was grabbed by either a drunk man or an older woman and returned to the stage. It was really a blast, and by the time I got off and stayed off, I think I had achieved some small level of fame (or infamy) in the village, as I have received occasional comments on my dancing since then.
Monday was a Buddhist holiday, and all us Peace Corps folks went to a wat and observed a much more solemn ceremony, complete with chanting, incense, and a procession that went around the building three times in a clockwise direction ('cause that's how you're supposed to do it). We also got to make donations, which felt good, since the Buddhists apparently do much cooler things with the money they receive than other churches, like building and maintaining schools and whatnot (hm, I might get in trouble with that last comment, so I shan't say anymore). Afterwards we went back to the hotel we'd stayed at initially and learned a traditional Thai dance, the Ramwong (more shuffle steps and arm swaying, but we did it right this time).
Don took me out the other night and showed me their farmland. Out in middle of the rice paddies and sugar cane plots, with a full moon rising and a blood-red sun setting, all I could say was “Bprataa Thai soy maa.” (Thailand is very beautiful)(and that "bp" is pronounced like a 'b', but popped like a 'p' and don't forget to roll your 'r').
These last two days, we have gone into Thai classrooms and had a chance to observe some English lessons. Starting tomorrow, we will actually be teaching English for a couple weeks. I'm pretty psyched.
General things you might be wondering:The food continues to be amazing, though only occasionally very spicy, and I'm eating more eggs than I ever have before (they're a staple right up there with rice, which I had never really realized). They also have delicious sweets and pastries, and my donut consumption has increased dramatically (though that's not saying much since I really didn't eat donuts in the US). And the fruit is exotic and delicious (and since I figured out how to tell my mother that I like to eat fruits and vegetables, plentiful).
Thai people are generally AWESOME, at least in these smaller communities. Smiling at ANYone will pretty much always get you a smile and greeting back. Everyone you visit wants to feed you.
Gift giving is big, and it's an unspoken assumption that if someone gives you a gift, you will return the favor in the future (just keep that in mind if you ever visit).
No, it's not ALL dancing and eating, I'm learning a lot of language (though not nearly fast enough, as I really can't speak with my family and frequently mis-communicate, like telling them “I don't eat Pad Thai” instead of “I haven't eaten yet and would like some Pad Thai.” Whoops!) There are fairly regular frustrations with the bureaucracy of the Peace Corps and the conflicting information we receive. I realize that I am in a very different place, and the things I am familiar with and the people I know and love are far far away. But at the same time, I can see that this is a wonderful place, and more than that, this land has the potential to be a wonderful place for me, as the Thai way of life feels very comfortable and compatible with my own ways and ideals. But there's that language barrier and my roots on the other side of the world to contend with. I am very interested to see what the next couple years hold for me.
(How am I doing with this blog thing? Seriously. I'm very open to feedback. If I'm too long-winded, I wouldn't mind hearing that, though that sounds more like your problem than mine. And if there's anything y'alls want to hear more about, lemme know that too and I will do my best to oblige. As this is a public journal, it's clearly not just for me.)