Transitions.

Sixty-Four. That’s how many days I’ve been back in the US of A. It feels like 2013 has been such a whirlwind of a year so far and it’s only just starting to slow down, bit by bit. It’s so weird to think how much time I spent counting down my time in Peace Corps, but when it came to actually packing and saying goodbye to my people, it seemed like the rug was pulled out from under me.

Before I left Thailand, life was jam-packed with goodbye dinners and activities (like lots and lots of shopping). After getting over a moderate amount of jet lag (it was the opposite of the last time I came back from Asia when all I did was sleep, I had trouble staying asleep for more than a few hours at a time), playing tourist with my family and eating, eating, and more eating crammed my days. Ten pounds worth. When I was in the airport in Bangkok, I didn’t want to leave, leaping into the unknown of America. Looking over the past two months though, I feel mostly an intense joy/happiness to be in the world, to be where I am, with the people I’m with and as most Peace Corps Volunteers can tell you, that’s kind of a rare feeling in your service.

Not that it’s all bad. I keep telling people when they ask about being a PCV, I’m glad I did it, but I’m glad I’m done. I’m proud to be in this small group of people known as RPCVs and grateful for meeting and making my Thai friends. But damn, life is freaking amazing here. All food tastes better. Flowers seem brighter. Hot showers any time of the day! (I cannot possibly over-exaggerate how incredibly happy this fact still makes me) Seeing the occasional motorcycle go by makes me giggle. So many clothes options to try on and outfit myself with. Real grocery stores with aisle upon aisle of so many different kinds of foods! That one was a real mindblower. And that shadow on the floor isn’t a mouse, scorpion, or cockroach… it’s a piece of fuzz!

The best and worst thing about coming back to the US is working. Ready to relieve the pressure of an entire village watching my every move and judging me for it, I decided to apply at a restaurant near my house for a server position as a low-key part-time job. Much to my surprise, I was  actually hired a lot faster than I anticipated and started before my brother’s one month home leave was done. I truly like most of the people I work with and enjoy the variety that comes with each day of serving. It’s forcing me to get out and interact with people and making me see ways I’ve changed that I never realized. Thailand really taught me the value of IRBing (how do you like that old school vocab?) and showing some heart juice worthy kindness to people.

There are two main things I do not like about being back in the American workforce. One is the amount of time you have to devote to making money. I would get pissed when teachers blew off school to sit around and chat or do ‘important paperwork,’ but  a lot of ‘work time’ didn’t actually feel like work after two years in the system. Now it’s mostly work and a few flashes of play. I’m not driving myself to the brink of craziness like I was doing to myself before Peace Corps with 12 hour work days, but this five-day a week with mostly nonstop working stuff is getting tiring. Doesn’t anyone want to stop for a kanome break? Where are the tea shops on motorcycles? Between work and working out (see runner life), I’m having trouble keeping up with this blog and enjoying things outside of work. Like having a social life. Compared to life in PC, I feel like I have almost no time in my day to sit around, stare at ceilings, think for hours at a time, start insane craft projects, and read a book in a day. It got incredibly lonely at times, but I miss the large amounts of me-time I was afforded on a daily basis.

The other thing is being confronted, sometimes on a daily basis, with the bad parts about America and its people. Why don’t we smile more? How can we waste so much obscenely delicious food? (It would make so many PCVs so very, very happy to even take leftovers). Why aren’t we kinder to people? Why do we get mad at people/things that had nothing to do with the reason we’re mad? And most importantly, why don’t we tip better? : )

I suppose that’s the biggest transition of coming back to the US, learning how to deal with it as a real place with good and bad parts. During PC service, there were sometimes only a glimmer of good times and we would use America as this mirage and chant the mantra of x more months, x more months. It’s not perfect by any means, but it is pretty grand during this transitionary time.

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.

Tuesday Travel Photo

One last week in my rural village. It’s feeling bittersweet. There’s been many ups and downs and I’m looking forward to the next step. But this week, I want to be completely here, in the middle of nowhere, even in my travel dreams. I won’t be able to wander these back roads through the rice fields for much longer.

Took this whilst on a stroll with Momma Coop

Took this whilst on a stroll with Momma Coop

On the Road Again

It’s been a fantastic month. Mom’s circle around the country, a week at my old site to recover, and the finishing touch being the Peace Corps’ ‘Continuation of Service’ conference. I planned to do maybe a short trip afterwards before heading back home to Roi Et, forfeiting the rest of my vacation days which must be used before December 20th. Now my previously hibernating travel bug is gnawing at my insides and I’ve decided to keep this party going.

I’m taking a little solo trip around this country I’ve grown to love so much. Seeing the places off the beaten down travel trail while my Thai is this good and I’m this confident about my ability to handle Thailand. I don’t have much planned or prepared and I kind of like that. Unfortunately that means blogging for the month will be sporadic at best, more likely to be fairly limited. Sorry Charlies. But it just means all the more to report back when I do finally return to site and slow down my pace until March. It’s coming up so, so fast.

Culture Matters: Touchy Feely-ness

Thailand, as an Asian culture, has different rules for where and when to touch other people. This can take a bit of time to sink in for PCVs and others making the leap to live in Thailand in the long-term.

Basic Overview:
1. Hugging is (probably) a no-go along with other forms of large, expressive ways of affection, especially for couples- kissing, arms around each other, and hand holding.
2. Gender plays a large role in Thai physical relationships and touch each other differently than the average American male or female.
3. Something I forgot to mention in the video, be very careful about touching a Thai on the head!!! As a Buddhist country, Thais believe the head is the highest and most holy part of the body. This can be hard to remember when you want to ruffle that cute kid’s hair, but try to avoid it unless you are extremely close with that person.
4. The type of relationship (or want to build) has a big effect on the kind of touching you give or receive.
5. As an outsider, you are an object of curiosity for Thai people and some people will be very excited to touch or grab you without realizing this can be a major invasion of personal space for you. Try to realize they usually don’t mean to be hurtful, they’re (probably) just really fascinated by the differences between you and them.

The Road

One year from today, you’ll be happy you started today. That’s what I’m telling myself this evening. You see I made this little discovery last week. Discovery is too intentional a word, more like stumbled clumsily upon. After lamenting for nearly my entire PC service about a lack of roads deemed suitable for running and resorting to biking aimlessly for school break exercise, I took a side road. A side road that cut through rice fields I took on a whim. Then I realized it looped back around to behind my house, just a hard to see turn from what looks like a dead-end.

I’m a shy person and an even shyer exerciser. Thais are not the type to hold back their exclamations about your activities either, whether walking down the street or doing something so peculiar as exercising. It gets to the point that walking out of the house can feel like a burden, much less exposing yourself in the vulnerable state of out of shape exercising.

I had pretty steep qualifications for a road. It should have very few houses so there aren’t many spectators, but some people on it for safety reasons. Shade would also be nice because lets face it, this is Thailand, it’s really fucking hot and the sun is very strong. Dogs should also be minimal because it is much harder to put the Mario super star power when running for the first time in well over a year rather than on the bike. To be honest, I had given up on finding this elusive road and had decided to wait to lace up my shoes back in America.

The scouting mission I went on with my bike. First sign I came across and it seemed a little out-of-place on this tiny rice paddy road.

 

But all this time, it was right there! ‘So much time wasted!’ I thought at first, until I realized I wasn’t in the mental state to keep up any physical regiment as my sporadic attempts at yoga demonstrated. This feels different though, like the cosmos all aligned, and I don’t want to run, I feel a need to.

I had heard about a nine-week program called Couch to 5K that starts you off very slowly with interval training. Once I had found my road, I did some more in-depth research. It looked a little easy to me as someone who had been doing competitive athletics for more years than I haven’t, but my body has also steadily declined to mush in Thailand. I had my road, I had a doable program, I was ready to go.

I tried to put my enthusiasm on ice. Traveling, in my opinion, can be seriously debilitating to running. With my month-long trip with my Mom planned, it would be better to start once I got back home in December and could establish a routine. But I worried by then I would have lost my need and put it on the back burner again until I went back to the U.S. in March. Combine that concern with a kick in the butt from Manfriend and today I took those first (painful) steps.

Within the first five minutes of a light warm-up, muscles in my legs that typically aren’t used during bike rides were politely voicing their concerns. After the first run interval, they became more along the lines of angry pro-life protesters outside of an abortion clinic. This continued until I hobbled through the last bit as my jelly legs eventually cut off communication with the rest of my body. It hurt, I’m still feeling the effects hours later and it was fantastic.

I hope to keep this up while on the (metaphorical) road with my Mom and keep the excuses down to a minimum (I am a little nervous to run in urban areas) because this is something that I want, to be in running shape again. There is no perfect time to start something that is not easy, only right now or putting it off until later. Out of those two, now is the only viable choice.


Love this fake commercial from the movie, What Women Want.

I’ll keep you updated with my relationship with my road and experience with the C25K program. If you’re interested in the idea, I got a lot of information from this website and a good overview from this one.