If you think there are a lot of acronyms dealing with laws, agencies, and pretty much dealing with anything and the government, you’re right. Now imagine our lives as government workers. In training alone, we encountered: PCV, PCT, PST, IRB, PCAT, TCCO, CBOD, LPI, CC, PLHA, SDL, you get the idea. These are things that just popped into my head or I spotted from across the room, there are a lot more, but that’s a post far from now when I’m not really doing much with my time.
The most important of these at the moment is IRBing or Intentional Relationship Building. I could give you the legit definition, but it pretty much boils down to this: wandering around our communities, waiting until someone comes along (or in the case of us being farangs, people getting way too excited to see us and yelling out farang! Farang! Farang!) and chatting it up with said people. This is definitely aided by the use of kanoms (or snacks) to hand out. However with Thais, it tends to work out that you’re going to be fed whatever you just brought (and then some, a lot of some). It might not sound like ‘work,’ but it’s an integral part of being a PCV, especially in a country like Thailand (there’s a lot more that goes into that, but again, a post for another day). CBODers need to focus more on this throughout the course of their service, but with TCCO, we need to use this month and a half that school is out to build those relationships before we get busy teaching.
For someone that is as painfully shy as I am, this is a constant battle. When I was a kid, I didn’t even want to call and order a pizza because I was so shy. Although I’ve gotten a lot better (I’ve graduated to just being amazing socially awkward), my first instinct is to wait for people to start talking to me first. But IRBing is about more than my job at this point because since I have to do it, it’s helping me grow as a person and essentially not be such a royal pussy when it comes to talking to new people. Gosh darn it Peace Corps, already forcing me to be a better and cooler person, why are you so awesome sometimes. Anyway, I’ve had a few of these random sorts of IRB situations, that although I was fairly awkward in, I’ve met some really important people that I hope to collaborate with on projects in the future. The best of these happenings definitely had to be with my school that took me along on a field trip to an amusement park outside of Bangkok.
Getting to accompany one of my schools to DreamWorld, ‘The Land of Happiness’ (their words, not mine), was a phenomenal way for me to integrate with not only the kids, but with my fellow teachers as well. It took the pressure off and allowed us to just have fun with each other. I took the opportunity to be as goofy as possible (and if you know me, you know how goofy that can get, full on ba-ba-bo-bo) to get kids to not be so shy around me. Yes, it worked. I think it helped that we had a bit of ridiculous situation to deal with that helped build bonds early. Our bus had some engine trouble and they had to send another one. Needless to say, we missed out 3am departure time and had to hang out at school for an extra two hours, mostly in the cold and rain. Please try to contain your jealousy.
Once we finally got moving, there was some Chinese fire alarm (show? Drill? Exchange? I can’t think of the word I want to use, I’m definitely losing any prowess I once had with the English language) and arranged the seats so that I went from being the only person sitting alone, to being next to a gal named Fon, who is just finishing up with elementary school and about to move on. She was out cold when we switched, so I can only imagine her surprise when she woke up to use the bathroom at one of our many bus station breaks and there’s the six-foot farang next to her on the bus. We ended up having some pretty legit conversations about what she wants to do when she grows up, university, and the more serious subjects of Lady Gaga, that guy that sings ‘Loving You Too Much’ song, Disney World, princesses, castles, and amusement parks in general (I swear I really am 22 years old, not a fellow 12 year old haaaa). I’m thinking of adopting her as a young woman to encourage her to go to university and go out into the world, so that she isn’t confined into being one of those karaoke gals that dance like strippers at monk ordinations.
The most important thing that I took away the field trip is that I got to be just another teacher in charge of a herd of students. Granted those students were hanging on my arms and asking to go on rides with them. (I’d like to take this time right now as a sidebar to say that amusement parks here aren’t too much to write home about (as I sit here and write a blog about it, oh the paradox) as there was only one rollercoaster and the haunted house was pretty pathetic. All my Thai peeps were impressed that I went on six whole rides……um what? There are times I went on the Thunderbolt at Kennywood six times in a row. Thailand, I have so much to teach you about the fine intricacies of being scared shitless as you cruise at 90 mph and hang upside down, sigh.) So that got to be a bit ‘challenging’ being treated like a human jungle gym, but I had a really fun day. It was definitely a turning point in the emotional roller coaster (classy choice of words I realize, not intentional this time around) that I’ve been going through since getting to site. I’m starting to feel a lot more like myself now and thank goodness for that.
Now that the weather is back in normal Thailand form aka hot hot hot, I’ve taken the opportunity to bike around a little everyday. I go in with a plan of somewhere to go, but end up usually meeting someone else or being taken to meet someone else that was not on the original itinerary. It’s the best when this happens, you never know who you’re going to meet. For example, I had the plan to stop by my other school, but then try to get out to its surrounding villages to put in a little face time. Instead, as soon as I biked into the school, my paw-aw told me we were visiting another school and then gin-cao-ing it up…….ok then. Useful things I learned: that principal is actually a principal at two different schools, luncheons that you can only understand about a third of the conversation aren’t the most thrilling way to spend an afternoon, the names of all my teachers at Ban Boong school, and that my principals are extremely open to any requests I make of them. I said that I wanted to go to my amphur’s tourist office to introduce myself. Instead we ended up going to chat with the local managing director of tourism here in Ban Rai. It also turns out that he’s the consultant between the local community college and said community that surrounds it…..score. When I first visited, I thought of trying to get the local English majors to come into my schools and read to the students in English as a way to ‘foster the creation of an English speaking community at site’ and I was just introduced to one of the most important people to make that happen. The score is currently IRBing 1, Team Shy 0.
Team IRB then created a turnover for Team Shy when I turned up at my favorite Chaa-Yen hangout and the Chief of Police and another two officers were having their morning coffee. There was some definite maneuvering with the play options on this possession, they were stealing glances at me, I sat there awkwardly waiting for my tea trying to double dutch my way into a conversation with them. Finally, I grew some balls and went in for it after rehearsing the first few lines of introduction in my head. We ended up chatting for over an hour and they offered their help for when I want to travel, doing a day at the school to talk to kids about safe and unsafe activities, and my current level of homesickness. They then gave me the phone number for the head of the tourism office and offered to call them right then. I politely declined as my real reason for coming to the Chaa-Yen place was to study Thai in some peace and quiet and felt like my language had been stretched to its current limits. Yes, Team IRB scored on a sweet little jumper to make it 2-0.
After a scheduled commercial break, the day continued with hanging out at the local ‘Blue School’ (or rong-rian see-faa for my fellow Thai speakers). The special thing about this school (a kindergarten) is that it happens to have an awesome pool that I’m supposed to feel free to use at any time. I had gone there last week with my family to swim and they told me to come back often. Needless to say, I really want to be good friends with these people. Armed with some nam-jai in the form of mangoes, I went for some conversation and IRBing. I was spotted before I even walked up to the door. Imagine what it’s like for an adorable bouncing baby in a large Italian or Greek family that is passed around and pinched, prodded, and utterly loved and that’s the fuss that was made over me (except I’m neither adorable or a baby, although that’s arguable in the non-age sense). Things they were impressed with: yes, I did in fact bike the 4km from my house to town, by myself, was visiting their home konn-diao, I brought mangos for Kun Yai (granny lady, hilarious and thinks she’s my personal Thai healer), and, of course, my phenomenal Thai conversation skills (it makes Thai people ridiculously happy when you can speak even a tiny bit of Thai, I said sa-wat-di-ka in a meeting with parents from my school and they gave me a standing ovation, no shit, it’s incredibly encouraging that with every new word I learn, I usually get a great job and a thumbs up, it’s way cooler when the person is 87 years old and a bad ass like Kun Yai says it too). Since it was relatively around lunchtime, they were appalled that I hadn’t eaten yet and naturally wanted to feed me. I was in slight fear about this. I wanted to go somewhere by myself for once so that I could eat food that I had actually chosen instead of fried fish that stared at me as Thai people scoop out of it and put it on my plate (this is an every day occurrence and I hated seafood before I even got to Thailand). When the suggestion of noodles was made, I reluctantly shook my head yes as I realized there is no fighting Thai ladies, especially if said woman is a mother, the ‘must feed child constantly’ instinct is multiplied by about ten here. My homegirl, she’s told me to call her Meh as well, comes back with noodles, which I eat voraciously and I ask them if they happened to know where I could buy some delicious Pad Thai……. bad idea Erin, very bad idea. I think you can realize what happened next. Of course, she goes out and buys three helpings of Pad Thai for me, one of the sons of someone, and I think her paw, not quite sure who all these people are yet (it’s a large family that spans three generations and multiple brother/sister combinations). I confirmed that yes, it was indeed delicious, as each person asked me at least three times. I thought I could escape after about another hour of conversation with Kun Yai, but nay friends, nay, Thai people are never done feeding you. I literally had my helmet on my head, shoes on, and bag secured in my basket before I was taken back inside to have another helping of noodles (they justified by saying it wasn’t really a full meal, just a Chinese snack, HA) and some papaya salad. Needless to say, I was stuffed to the gills (pun totally intended) and ready for a nap. They really wanted me to stay and nap there (they kicked someone out of their bed so that I would feel free to use it), but I had already spent enough of the day outside and was ready to go home. I really hope that their house can be a little weekend escape for me as well as a secondary family. Luckily the way home is mostly downhill (one of these days I really want to let go of the handlebars and fly……only problem is I’d problem crash and burn hard instead of gracefully taking off) and I could coast through before taking a nice non-len.
Game Recap: Although Team Shy has more experienced players, Team IRB has some talented young blood and a combination of luck that helped them win the game 3-0. With more practice and work together, Team IRB is likely to overtake anything on any day of the week (at least that’s what I like to tell myself) like Team Homesickness, Team Lacking Motivation, and Team Illness. Stay tuned for the rest of the season, it’s looking like it’s going to be a bright one.