On a typical day, I wake up around six, either on my own or from external sources, and start the process to get ready for school. This is normal. Shower, braid, make-up, thinking in English, listening to English (music or podcast), and feeling ‘normal.’ And then, ‘ELLLLLLLLIN!!!!,’ my second alarm clock comes ringing, the Thai one.
This used to happen to me when I opened the door to my room and something would hit me: the smell of my old host mother frying fish into oblivion or my sister singing opera and finishing off with a voluminous belch or any kind of holiday music/village announcements. If you live alone in your own house, you can ‘sleep in’ a bit longer until you get into the workplace or elsewhere. Not that this is a morning only designated phenomenon. When I find myself surrounded by Thais and I can’t manage to keep my brain up to speed on the back and forth going on around me, I tend to zone out back into English-speaking world. Then Thailand comes a-callin’.
Thailand is comparable to an alarm clock in that when you resurface from the mind ponderings you’re keeping yourself entertained with (mine often include memories of Europe, cheese, cold weather, and easy transportation), you’re not just rerealizing you’re in Thailand (whether good or bad depending on the distraction you were internalizing), but your ‘face’ goes back up too. It’s kind of like instead of your mom gently shaking you awake fresh as a daisy, there’s a bucket of cold water thrown on you and you’re left sitting in what was once your little comfort zone, but is now a puddle of ice water. Your filter for language, facial expressions, and body language/positioning is called from ‘at ease’ to ‘attenhut.’
And then you have to hold it. And hold it. And hold it. At least until you can make a bit of an escape to be either alone or with your Thai people who you can actually be yourself around. It’s exhausting. For Volunteers that live by themselves and not quite ready for Thailand, sometimes just don’t leave their house for a day (usually on the weekend) as a way to rejuvenate. This means going whole days without talking to anyone but yourself (I don’t know about other Volunteers, but I do a lot of this mumbling in half-English/half-Thai sometimes bursting out at myself and sometimes laughing out loud maniacally… yeah, maybe that’s just me).
Not that the Thai alarm clock is always a bad thing. Sometimes it provides for a grand chuckle. You could be grouching against the world sitting alone in your house and then someone comes home from a trip to the city with a pizza (yes, this happened to me). For some reason, after biking home from school the other day (through all kinds of rural areas so I don’t know how I got so easily lost in my head) and seeing a water buffalo grazing outside of the post office made me double take. Or in my friend Jeff’s case, he went outside to settle what he thought was a scuffle between two students as the rest of the kids were out there shouting… it was an elephant walking by. Just another day in the moo-bahn.