and so little time
23.10.2009 93 °F
I have a lot to say and lessons to plan, so this will most likely be broken up into more manageable pieces rather than giving you one lump sum of the past two weekends. Our weeks have been more or less filled with lectures on teaching English and the frustrating and fascinating struggle that is the Thai language (just look up "how to tell time in Thai" and you will gain a greater appreciation for not only the language, but the culture of the people.) Most of the week built up to Friday, the beginning of the homestay.
In Thailand, the idea of host families is not a common concept. TUSEF has arranged this every other year through different organizations, including the rotary club. This year, our gracious hosts were all students at the Pakked school in Nonthaburi, just north of Bangkok. We were all matched up with a family, TUSEF waved goodbye at the gates of Chula, and we were in a stranger's hands until Sunday. My host family was awesome. The experience was difficult and humbling, but overall, good. Introductions:
Pi Ahhw was my host mother. She spoke the most English out of everyone, which still wasn't too terribly much, and she could usually understand me alright. She did take Pi Tip's request of speaking Thai all the time pretty seriously. What made this easier was the 15 year old brother, Nong Pi, who spoke maybe five words of English (If this is an exaggeration, it is not much of one, promise.) The fact that the two of them communicated exclusively in Thai made dinner into a tennis match, with me looking back and forth between the two, desperately trying to catch a hold of whatever I could understand out of the fast exchange. Which was next to nothing. But every time that I was able to grab one tiny word, elation! The daughter, Nong Eung (my host sister, through whom the exchange was set up) was at work for most of the time I was there—that night she wasn't due back until midnight. Thanks to the exhaustion that came about as a combination effect from linguistic frustration, cultural confusion and the long week we had at Chula, I ended up going to bed before 9pm. Upon consulting the rest of the 10, turns out we all went to bed at indecently early times. That is, after supper.
The next morning, I met Nong Eung. Her name is probably the most unpronounceable collection of letters that I've yet to run into in Thai and I am positive that the sound does not exist in English, so the Romanization approximation is terrible. Forgive me. If she would have spoke more English, or I more Thai, perhaps I would be able to provide you with an acceptable spelling of her name. Till then, she will continue to be known as Nong Eung, the aspiring fashion designer who worked at a sporting goods store and made me a friendship bracelet, as well as two, hand-made cell phone holders.
The setting: a small house in Nonthaburi, comprised of three main rooms and a bathroom. There were two bedrooms for four people (I was given the kindly kids' bed while they were relegated to a mat on the floor); a bathroom with a bucket shower, a non-flush toilet, and a sink that was not connected to a pipe; and one main open room that served all social purposes. One full wall of this room was made of floor to ceiling screened windows. The other side had a connection to the semi-outdoor kitchen.
After a breakfast of chicken and rice porridge, I was dropped off with another family as both Pi Ahhw and Nong Eung had to work. So started my crazy day of Thai transportation. Nong Fa and her adopted ETAs, Kelly and Erica, said that we were going to head to the island of Korket for some shopping and to see several wats. We met up with Veronica and Pi Lek, her host sibling (who, at 26, is our Pi, where as the others were 18 and younger, making them our Nongs)
Marie, her nong, and me.
Cue walking, bus ride, tuktuk and ferry. Having reached the island Kho Ket, we do a bit of the meandering market, learn how to pray to Buddha and then Pi Lek offers the idea of a boat tour—that was delightful. Being on the water was the calmest feeling I've had since coming to Bangkok. It felt ddly like Louisiana at times. Blame it on the brown water, or the raised houses, or what have you, but I like it.
There were also tons of catfish
but then there'd be things like overly large Buddhas hanging out.
Two hours on a boat tour with stop offs for food and nick nacks. Lunch and wats, you know, the usual.
We then made a valiant attempt to see the grand palace back in Bangkok, only to miss the opening times.
A view of what we missed.
A boat bus, a smaller boat bus, a ferry, and a taxi later, we are at somewhere to eat, back in Bangkok. I'm pretty sure that at this point in time, my frustration had gotten the better of me… but with food in my belly I was a much more pleasant person and more than willing to take the metro, a cab, a bus, a minivan and finally Pi Lek's car to get home.
Once home, though, things were very different—I was back to very little English. Only the second night, after having spent the day doing my best to learn as much Thai as possible, I felt more prepared, prepared to be confused, granted, but prepared all the same. And I began to talk with Pi Ahhw for the next 5 hours. We discussed everything that our limited vocabulary allowed. How I am messy, same as Nong Eung, and how Nong Pi spends all his time on the computer or playing football or other games, same as any little brother in the states. So many things were "same same" between the my two families. Sitting in the one room that served as dining room, living room, and office, on the bench that doubled as a couch and seating for dinner time, we exchanged stories and confusions as old fans provided us with their background noise.
I received gifts, mostly random beer paraphernalia as the father of the family works for Heineken. I gave out Hendrix-themed items and Tabasco sauce in exchange for a yellow hat with the king's symbol. This family, who did not have what most Americans would consider necessities as far as living situations, was so generous with what they did have. The meals, while simple, were delicious, similar to how the conversion was basic but delightful. At one point, Pi Ahhw explained (I think) that she was nervous about what an American would think of her house and was grateful that I was paired with her. She was really relieved that their lifestyle did not bother me. This statement, whatever halfway language it was in, was one of the lovelier compliments I have ever received. Even though I did not get to spend the days with them and was kind of pawned off on another family, the generosity and kindness that I did experience was beyond my expectations. Before I was given to another host family again on Sunday, we exchanged contact information and promises to see each other soon.
My new adoptive host family brought us to a mall, which for some reason or another seems to be the pastime of choice for all Thai people. Then came a movie!!! We sat down in this cushy theater and watched previews for about 10 horror films while waiting for the main feature, Bangkok Traffic Love Story, to come on. Check out the preview with subtitles...
After rising for the King's anthem and montage overlaid in gold, we were treated to a Romantic Comedy that was more than a bit ridiculous at times. But there were English subtitles and it was nice just to sit and relax and let someone else do all the language finagling for me.
As fantastic of a weekend as it was, to be back at Chula was a relief. I have come to realize that I like having certain familiar things around me, more so in a foreign place. To establish myself somewhere is important to me, much more than I ever thought it was. That's partly the reason why I've found these three weeks to be so difficult—come this time next week, I have to be packed and ready to go. Not looking forward to the packing, but ready for the going.