Friday Five

Five Things I Won’t Miss About Thailand– Part One of Two (maybe three… or four). These are things I generally encounter on a regular basis and sometimes pushed me to the end of my sanity rope.

Feeling Hot, hot, hot
I really like wearing flip-flops everyday. I really like not being so cold my skin turns a purplish hue. And I really like not shoveling snow. But more than all those things put together, I would really love to stop sweating 98% of the time. Going through my closet, the amount of clothes I had to toss because of sweat stains was truly depressing. And some things, I either didn’t or couldn’t wear because I didn’t want to get it too sweaty or it was too tight and made me sweat more. And I’d do almost anything to sweat less. So, so soon, the time will come that I will not need a fan on 24 hours a day and I’ll need to wear, dare I say it, layers! This tropical Thai heat is not to be messed with and I’ll happily wave the white flag to lose that battle. Just don’t get the flag too sweaty. Thailand is where white comes to die.

A Life with Creepy Crawlers
Mosquitos, cockroaches, mice, red ants, scorpions, lizards, snakes and a wild assortment of bugs I don’t know the word for in English are a daily nuisance in Thailand. Discovering I’m allergic to most bug bites hasn’t been a walk in the park. Throw in the nights the mice kept me up all night or the mornings rabid dogs chased after me while their owners looked on and I’m so looking forward to living in a real ‘inside’ again. Even inside my house, in my screened off bedroom, it’s not safe. Last week, while nursing a stomach issue that literally knocked me off my feet, I had an uninvited rodent guest in bed with me that was curious as to what my back had it store for it. With my minimal reaction, it was then I realized how much I had adjusted to the pests of this country and it wasn’t exactly a good thing. I so look forward to a clean environment that I don’t have to worry if I leave some food unattended for five minutes, the things will descend or a wisp of air has me slapping at my leg in fear of the bug bite swelling up to the size of my palm.

Why?
When I get to stop asking myself ridiculous questions about my life… that’ll be a good day. Things like: Why is there a cockroach graveyard in my bathroom? Why is that teacher smacking that student? Why is that person still staring at me? Why isn’t the water coming out of the shower head? Why did my landlord let herself into my house with talking to me about it? Why am I the only teacher in the third through sixth grade building? Why is the music blasting at 5am? Why are those kids staring at me through my window? Why hasn’t the bus come yet? Why haven’t I had electricity for 36 hours? Why did the internet stop working? Why doesn’t anyone tell that dog to get off the lunch table next to us? Or maybe it’s not that I have to ask these questions, it’s just that rarely do I get more of an answer than an awkward laugh and a shrug.

The F Word
And not, I don’t mean the four letter one. I mean the farang one, that means ‘white person’ in Thai. I tried really hard to get used to it, but the prospect that I could never be shouted at for being white is something I’m swallowing with relish. Thai people group ALL white people together and call them farang. Many people I’ve met think there is some universal language we all speak, we all understand each other, we all have the same culture, we all live in the same climate, but most of all, we’re all just… not them. And for a long period of time in the village, you’re only known as farang. You don’t have a name. You are farang. You’re rich, have blonde hair, blue eyes, and are much fatter than Thai people. You eat bread every day. You can’t eat spicy food. You don’t have feelings. And that is all you will ever be to most of the Thais you meet. Since I don’t teach at the school in front of my house, the kids there don’t really know me. But they do know a white person lives in my house. So every time I walk out my door or sometimes when I’m home from school, kids will line up and shout, ‘OH, FARANG!!!’ I’ve been told multiple times, by multiple people, that it doesn’t have a negative connotation in Thai and people don’t mean to hurt your feelings calling you that. Then again, if I don’t mean to step on your foot, that doesn’t stop you from feeling pain does it? The ‘nigga’ vs. ‘nigger’ debate and who can say what has taken a completely different meaning for me. Just don’t call me the f-word.

Being An Other
One of my all time favorite TV shows, ‘Lost,’ called the group of people who did not crash with them on the plane with them, ‘The Others.’ And in Thailand, if you’re not Thai, you are an Other. Thais are known across the world for their friendliness and immense giving spirit, which I’ve relied on for the past two years. But it’ll only get you so far. Unless you are Thai or have at least one Thai parent, you’ll rarely be considered one of them (even if you’ve lived here your entire life). There is a select group of ladies that I feel at home with, but other than them, most Thais I know (which, granted are mostly village Thais and not the most forward thinking/educated bunch) see you as an alien life form. Suggestions of a different kind of lifestyle or way of thinking are hardly ever truly accepted. Rare is the time your point of view is taken into account or considered before some decision is made about or for you. When people see me here, they are almost immediately (and visibly) uncomfortable and want to deal with me as quickly as possible so they don’t have to put in the extra effort to listen to my accented Thai or cope with the unexpected. This is coupled with the farang calls. I could go on and on, and I think I will in an actual post, but I cannot wait for my existence to not be newsworthy and considered an oddity amongst the people I live around. I’ll just be a regular person, doing regular things, and no one will think I’m wrong for not being exactly like them.

‘It’s Hot.’

Another repost from my PC other half, Jeff Jackson. He recently posted this about the heat and I can’t help but whole heartedly agree. Especially when he compares the heat to porta-potty in the sun at the state fair. And likening Prickly Heat to crack.

It’s hot.  They warned us in training that the heat would deter us from getting into our communities.  They were right.  My office is air-conditioned (that must be nice) and sometimes I have trouble leaving it to get lunch.

It’s been in the high nineties all week and it’s supposed to climb into the 100s soon.

It’s also humid.  It feels like a porta-potty in the sun at the state fair.  Sometimes it smells like it, too.

People like to complain about the weather.  It’s too hot, too cold, too humid, too rainy, too snowy, too tornadoey.  I’m going to do my best to enjoy this heat while I have it, because when I get back to the states, I won’t have it anymore.

It's hot, therefore I don't wear sleeves if I don't need to.

I prefer cold weather.  At least in the cold I can add layers.  They won’t let me take my shirt off at the office (although, I haven’t tried yet.)  Thankfully, I follow my own rules at home.  If you have seen me at my home in the last year with a shirt on, you might as well have seen Thomas Pynchon.

I have many ways of dealing with the heat.  One is Prickly Heat.  It’s a baby powder-like substance you rub into your skin after a shower for a cooling sensation.  The first time I put a substantial amount on, the tingly feeling I got a minute or so after putting it on frightened me.  Then I realized: I wasn’t hot anymore.  It’s become an addiction.

When it's hot, it's as addicting as crack.

I have a backup fan in case my first-string fan breaks down.  Where I go, my fan points.  When I go to bed, it is near.  During the hot season, my fan rarely oscillates.  It’s usually pointed at me and not moving.

Hydration is another big key that the Thais don’t seem to get.  The hotter it is, the more I sweat and the more I drink.  The Thais drink two cups of water a day.  They never go the bathroom because their entire insides are dry.  They also don’t sweat from not having anything in their body to sweat out.  Strange people.

Don't know how Joe could stand the beard.

In Minnesota, April has always been a time of accomplishment.  I made it through another winter and I’m happy when the temperature reaches into the mid fifties.  April in Thailand means two or three bucket showers a day (which feel phenomenal, whereas three months ago they were torture), very little unnecessary movement and dreams of a thunderstorm to cool the air for an hour or two.

The worst part isn’t the heat.  It’s having the heat and not having what usually goes with it: baseball, bratwurst and good cold beer.  That first Johnsonville brat, cold Summit and Saints game will be the greatest I’ve ever experienced.  However, while experiencing all of that, I’m going to miss this crazy life.

A very common sight.

Friday Five

Five Essentials to Hot Season
April is Thailand’s hottest month on average. No where in my village has air conditioning, even my school. This. Is. Torture. In case you’re ever making your way to Thailand in the hot season, here are a few ways I try to make it through.

My Fan
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, no matter where I am in my house.

This goes with me everywhere I go.

Shower Flower Power
Yeah, I’m up to three showers a day now. It’s my favorite part(s) of the day.

I really wish I could exist underneath that stream of water.

Prickly Heat
After a shower, the godsend known as Prickly Heat cooling powder is applied until your skin it is about three shades lighter than usual. Then enjoy the sensation of not wanting to suffocate from the combined heat and humidity for ten minutes. This is best accomplished when sitting in front of the fan.

As if I really needed to get whiter

Water
Thailand is a country that if you’re not drinking enough water, your body is going to poop out on you and fast.

Missing two of my big bottles out of here.

Need to Move Basis Only
Last April I was still gung-ho about biking around and exploring my village, IRBing as much as possible. What a fool I was. Now, moving from my bedroom to the kitchen for lunch seems like too much of an effort until my stomach turns on me and starts eating itself. It’s easy to see why hammocks are so popular in this country.

This is where my bike is parked until the end of hot season

Tuesday Travel Photo

Sometimes I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’m ‘half-Texan.’ Yes, they really feel that way. Despite being born in the ‘burgh, I found amongst my official papers, I’m accepted as a ‘citizen’ of Texas. Kind of funny in a backwards way. But, there is nothing backwards about the river walk in San Antonio, Texas.

I was watching a movie in which they mentioned the Alamo. Naturally that got me thinking of this beautiful city. The river. The cowboy boots. And honkytonks (do those still exist?). And country boys with southern accents. Excuse me, I’ve got some Tim McGraw and southern hospitality to go day-dream about.

 

Another Weather Related Post

My friend Jeff wrote this article for our PC Thailand newsletter, Sticky Rice, this past edition. I figured since I just posted about cold season, Jeff’s explanation of fan usage is far more effective in explaining how PCVs in Thailand understand heat now, rather than reading thermometers.

My view of ‘hot’ has totally changed now that I’ve lived in Thailand for almost a year now and it’s hard to explain to my friends and family that at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, I think it’s time to turn the fan on low. Jeff and I have talked about this a lot and I feel like many a phone conversation has been dedicated about the weather. He’s from the midwest. We’re living in Thailand. Enough said.

Heat Indications
By Jeff Jackson

Much like the pace of life, weather can come on slow in Thailand. If it‘s going to get hot, it seems to take a few days and the same if it should turn chilly. Weather websites hardly seem necessary. If you need a forecast, open the window.

Volunteers from group 123 have been in Thailand for almost a full year and two years for those in 122. All volunteers have a pretty good idea what to expect.

Sometimes looking out the window isn‘t necessary to get an idea for how hot it is. There are other indications such as how the old Thai ladies respond when you ask them if they‘re hot (―rawn mak mak!‖). Volunteers can also count how many times in a day they‘re asked if they‘re hot or the number of times they shower.

I prefer the fan situation. When I go to bed, what is my fan doing and where is it?

The fan is off
This indicates lower than regular temperatures which generally means the Thai people are dressed like American Midwesterners in January.

Fan is blowing, but pointed elsewhere
It‘s cool, but not so cool you don‘t need a little airflow in the room. You might even be able to wear long pajama pants to bed.

Oscillating fan
Still a bit ―cold‖ for the Thais, but a comfortable night‘s sleep with a bearable cool morning awaits. You fall asleep welcoming the breeze when it hits you and wake up cursing it.

Fan at foot of your bed on low level
Most Thais wouldn‘t have it any other way. These are days you can easily get sunburned and the first hour of sleep probably doesn‘t involve any covers.

Fan at foot of bed on high level
Hopefully you showered before hitting the hay otherwise you‘ll be sleeping with that layer of dried sweat you‘ve been accumulating all day.

Fan within two feet of your face on low level
It‘s been a rough day, hasn‘t it? Unless you have an air-conditioned workplace, men have spent the day cursing the long- pants policy while the ladies are dreaming of the spaghetti-strapped dress they could have worn in the states.

Fan within two feet of your face on highest level
You hit the pillow thankful you‘re alive. You‘ve drank so much water today that you‘ll have to get up another three times in the night, but that‘s okay because you can‘t sleep anyway on account of the parts of your body not hit by the fan and the fact that the breeze will dry your mouth and throat and you‘ll likely have a sore throat before your second bathroom break when you‘ll not only empty your bladder, but possibly take a bucket shower to cool off. I have yet to experience this last level. I‘ve heard from 122 volunteers that the hot season this year was very mild. Last April in Thailand was no worse than August in Washington D.C. I may regret this come hot season, but I didn‘t sign up for Peace Corps to be comfortable. I‘m looking forward to going back the states with some Thailand heat stories

Friday Five

Things I Still Haven’t Gotten Used to Yet (Part One)

The Heat
Twenty-seven months of summer was not something I was very concerned with before I came to Thailand. What I didn’t realize is how much my life and Thai culture would be affected by it. My threshold has definitely changed so that mid to low 80s is chilly to me and plus 95 is when I start to get uncomfortable. I know I’m still not fully adjusted though because: I never wear my hair down (maybe a total of 15 times this year, while my coteachers do it nearly everyday), I wear baggy/man clothes instead of more fashionable options so that nothing is touching my skin that doesn’t need to, and my face…its rebellion is quite obvious and doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon. Cold season is coming soon though, phew!

Biking Everywhere
Instead of sugar-plum fairies, I had visions of becoming a bike lover given it’s the only form of transportation I’m allowed to handle (outside of walking anyway). I would traverse great distances spreading goodwill everywhere I went like a good little Volunteer fairy. HA! Given the above, heat, and everyone wants to give me a ride, the whole riding my bike thing doesn’t really happen anymore. Plus I’m lazy, which I also blame on the heat. I would give up my pedaling machine for a little scooter that I see my little ten-year old sister cruising around the neighborhood with…little ratfink. Maybe now that cold season is coming, I’ll learn to appreciate my bike more, but I can’t wait for the day I can ride on a motorcycle or drive any motorized vehicle without qualms.

Spicy Food
I’m what some might call a picky eater. I prefer to see it as remaining loyal to old favorites. This does not include spicy food or rice every day for that matter. It’s not likely to change any time soon given the ratio of rice to spiciness I try is easily 50:1 (what the units are I’m not sure, but you get it). I tell my Thai people who I can in fact eat it, but I simply don’t enjoy the sensation of my mouth being on fire (how does that qualify as a taste??). This is when they stare blankly. The thing is, I have no problem with this, but the Thais are always in an uproar and trying to find me something else to eat. It’s going to take more than twenty-seven months to get used to their idea of spicy.

Cold Showers
They are the bane of my existence and sometimes the most pleasurable part of my day. No matter how hot it is though, there is nothing that can stop the wince on my face that comes from the first burst of cold water (that is if the water is running) on my upper body. I’ve tried various techniques like starting at my feet vs. going right for my head, all to no avail. My Mom’s dream that I would take five-minute showers has come true…all she needed to do was cut off my hot water supply.

Living ‘Outside’
And all the things that come ‘in’ with me. Thai homes are set up so that most of the time, a huge portion is open to the world. There are many reasons for this, but bugs, random people, ants eating my food, lizards, and everything in between find their way into my room whether I like it or not. I’ve learned a certain amount of acceptance and to just sweep the evidence of their existence (read poop) out as much as possible, but I still jump about three feet in the air when I’m laying down in bed and I feel a wisp of movement around my skin. The day that I don’t have to worry about what’s crawling on me or biting me (giving me a black eye while I sleep) is going to be a very happy day.

Sorry for the lack of pictures, I’m typing on my host family’s ancient computer. Luckily I’ll be getting my computer back tomorrow!!

Your Thailand vs. My Thailand

Everyone should have realized by now that Thailand is a tropical country. In my part of Thailand, I have rainy, cold, and hot seasons. Yummy. Keep in mind that as part of living outdoors, there is nowhere to truly escape the humid 100 degree heat. April is so miserable that Thailand has a holiday dedicated to dumping water on people. In that I give you your cooling methods vs. mine.

Air conditioned hotel rooms...that must be nice.

vs.

My only weapons against hot season: a fan, cooling powder, and a bucket to represent cold showers

Whatever, I’m glad it’s rainy season and I only take two showers a day now instead of four. Suck it, air conditioning.