Hot sand on toes, cold sand in sleeping bags, I’ve come to know that memories Were the best things you ever had.
Thailand has no shortage of beauty. Between the landscape, traditional clothing, and festivals, there is always something to leave one in awe. Undoubtedly, some days are difficult, although I think that goes with anyone, anywhere. On those days, I try to take a deep breathe and take a look around. To remember how beautiful the world is, and how much opportunity I have been given. I am reminded daily of kindness from people who barely know me. I was talking with a friend who is also living abroad currently, in Australia, about the highs and lows of living abroad. We started talking about the feeling of living in a place where nobody really cares about you. I don’t mean that in a sad way. I mean the way people care for you that can not be created in a day, a week, or a month. Caring as your family does, and people who have known you for your entire life . So when you find that people do care for you, it presents a remarkable kindness. By the age I am now, most people have established lives ( and I just a restless heart, but I digress). So the fact that many people in Thailand have given me their time and shown me such kindness, I am grateful. It makes me want to be better, more kind,more observant, and more generous. Okay, moving on, Here is what I have been up to lately.
The students go on a 3 day 2 night camping trip with the boy scouts/girl scouts. It is not an after school activity like in the States. It is mandatory for Matayom 1-3 ( which is roughly 7th- 9th graders). The teachers go as well! And if you know me…I love camping, so I was all about it. While at camp the kindness of my coworkers was really felt in a huge way. I am trying to learn Thai, but trying is the key word. Over the three days my coworkers really made an effort to include me in what was going on, and took the time to try to communicate with me. One of the teachers took the time to explain to me in English the plot of a skit that they were performing, and a group took me to get dinner because there was no vegetarian food. And when I tried to buy oranges and it was just a struggle session, a teacher came and helped me out. They let me borrow hair dryers, taught me me more about their culture, shared food, fun, and laughs. They did all of this without me asking. It was an overwhelming kindness that I can hope I can find ways to repay throughout my time in Thailand.
I can put myself in the opposite position. Being an employee in the states with international coworkers. Perhaps it is a challenge to communicate with them. What happens? Often and unintentionally, I think, people exclude this person because it is difficult to communicate and cultural differences are confusing and vast. Misunderstandings are common. Here are some things I learned this weekend: When you “cheers” you put your glass lower if the person is older than you, people shower two or three times a day in Thailand, stepping on door frames is rude, and when to wear shoes/flip flops/ bare feet (confusing to me still). It is easy to think our own cultural norms are everyones,( as they are so ingrained in our upbringing) but that is just absolutely not the case. I have no idea how many times I have likely, and completely unintentionally, did something incredibly rude. Or if not rude, just unusual. My students laughed at me for about 5 min. straight because I had my tennis shoes in the side compartments of my backpack (maybe where water would normally go). But that is probably not as funny to my students as how much time I spend chasing the stray animals around the school campus because I want to pet them…and feed them….and love them… anyway, I digress.
Honestly, for the camp I was expecting Mayhew. Lots of outdoorsy hard work to be done. But there were employees at the camp that handled everything with the students. I was able to watch some experiential education tasks that reminded me of Mayhew, so that made my heart happy. Additionally, they put on group skits. Which is great! I couldn’t understand them….but still entertaining. They also gave a group of children huge torches to light the bonfire…#ThingsthatdonothappeninAmerica
Since most was taken care of, I was left to explore and spend time with my coworkers, which as I mentioned, was great fun as well as a learning experience. “Fuck” was explained to me very clearly, I should mention that “fuck” means “pumpkin” in thailand. “Colleen, there are many types of ‘Fuck'”. Additionally, when in Thailand, try to refrain from saying the word “koi” as in “koi fish.” And if you do say it, don’t start to explain what it is by saying, “it is very big” you know….as in a very big goldfish. “Koi” in Thailand is slang for a male body part. Oh, and it turn’s out I still get carsick…very very carsick.
Some very nice teacher’s wanted to take me to a place that basically sounds like my dream come true…a treehouse coffee shop. Ohh-Emmm- Geeee. However, it was about 30 km up the most horrific mountainous roads imaginable ( if you get motion sickness) and I do, oh I do. I thought it was something of the past, but no. I thought I was going to die, but I am typing this blog, so no. However, I did throw up as soon as I got there, and as soon as we got back to the camp…in the kid’s bathroom…a squat toilet. Not my finest moments. I then laid in bed, in a little ball shape for a while. One of my work friends gave me some excellent and adorable advice with, “Sleep for an hour, and then….sunshine!”
We also went with the students to hot springs. It was great! We spent the afternoon relaxing with putting our feet in the hot springs (until they were bright red) , boiling eggs in the hot springs for a nice snack and chatting.
One more thing I learned while on my way home from camp was for people 30 or older today, it was still legal for teachers to hit students during their education. This is true for public or private education. Students would be hit on the palm of their hand or on their butt. Today it is no longer legal in Thailand.
That brings me to a conversation with my Thai teacher, Kru Nok, who is also one of my favorite people in Thailand. She is so kind, patient, and smart. I told her what I learned about teacher’s hitting students in the past. She explained to me that it was common, and it was common for parents to do it as well. And if you would go home and tell your parents, they would laugh at you and agree the teacher was in the right. She also told me a story that really moved me. Thai children take a “handicraft” class. Kru Nok’s Grandfather always helped her with these projects and he had recently passed away. She felt she was not good at handicrafts and brought her project home, her parents were also not good at them. Regardless, they stayed up until late in the night finishing her project for school. The next day, Kru Nok brought her project in to her teacher. Her teacher looked at it, took it from her, and threw it in the trashcan. She told her it was no good, and not beautiful. Kru Nok explained she was not sad because the teacher said it was not beautiful, she was upset because her parents stayed up all night helping her. My eyes welled up with tears, but out of embarrassment, I managed to hold it together.
Okay, I will end on a solid note here. The previous weekend I went to the Flower Festival in Chiang Mai. This post has already become quite long, so I will share through pictures, enjoy!
I will leave you with something a friend recently said to me this week,
“I want to be free.”
I am curious as to what that means to people, freedom.