Friday Five

Five Things I Learned in Peace Corps– And it’s more and more evident the more time I spend in the US in my post-PC life.

Being a Minority
Being a tall, white women doesn’t quite put me in the majority in the US, but it’s not like you’re putting a round peg in a square hole. In Asia, this round peg would never fit in. I never truly considered how difficult life can be to not be a part of the accepted image or norm of a society’s makeup. And it’s not like Thais were ever really that mean to me about it! When I think about the civil rights movement of the 1950s, the open hostility some still display for those not of the pre-accepted standard of what we should look like and how we live our lives, I feel like I’ve taken a bite from the knowledge and empathy tree and relate a whole hell of a lot better with them. And realize we are them just as they are us. Even if someone is a different skin color, sexual orientation, or intelligence level, we are all people and deserve the love and respect of one another.

Seriously though. I know people joke about ‘first world problems’ and every person  deserves to feel what they want about their issues, but the times I would think about how incredibly lucky I was for being an American and having all these rights and hopes and possibilities for my life… I can’t even count. We have life in our bodies. A plethora of obscenely delicious foods to consume. And even, hot showers. I think we, as a country and a generation, need to put things in perspective a little bit and realize, we have it pretty fucking awesome. And that’s enough to put a smile on anyone’s face.

Life Is Really Unfair
This is one of those ‘real world’ lessons that our Moms always tell us, but you don’t fully realize until your most hardworking student still doesn’t do as well as her peers despite all her effort and desire to learn. Not to mention the five brothers and sisters she’s helping raise, get to school, and manage allowances for all of them. The most she expects from her life is to be the wife of a rice farmer. And then I think of all the people who don’t take advantage of all the advantages we have or abuse the system we have in place to give a hand up to those in need… the inequality of the situation is like a slap in the face. And never has that stung so much as it does after seeing it with my own two eyes.

Get Over It
We, as Americans, get really worked up about things. Road rage, cursing out Mother Nature (true story, someone went on a rampage the other day at work), bugs in your life, someone leaving the coffee filter full instead of dumping it out… these are not things that should not produce a very large reaction in someone. At least it didn’t in Thailand. But I’ll let you in on a little secret, all problems, big and small, will eventually work themselves out. I don’t know if it was the ridiculously relaxed atmosphere in Thailand or if it comes from seeing all kinds of Peace Corps projects/ideas being a complete and utter failure, but I’m finding it’s really unnecessary to get stressed out over things that will eventually be fine. So the next time you feel a wave of worry or stress or anything in that family, take a breath, realize you’re doing pretty great considering the circumstances, and take a leaf out of the Thai book and have a beer. Even if it is nine o’clock in the morning.

America Isn’t Perfect
In the dark, lonely ‘I’ve been cooped up by myself in the village for too long’ days, memories of America and the possibility of spending time there again in the future were like a shimmering mirage of paradise. I mean, do I need to write another paragraph of how great life is for us? But if living in another culture teaches you one thing above all others (outside of a renewed appreciation for your home) is that there is a different way to do things. Some things are better, some things are worse. And while this RPCV feels an immense joy every single day spent in the US of A, there is a lot of ugliness in this magnificent place. Maybe it’s changed or maybe it’s my eyes that have been forced opened after an experience like Peace Corps. I tend to lean towards the latter. Still, I love you America, for better or worse.

‘If I Could Tell You One Thing About Thailand’

As a fun little end of the year project, I asked my students to pretend they just met someone who was curious to know more about their home. At first, they looked at me blankly saying they had no idea what to tell a visitor about Thailand. It opened up discussions about culture and we got to talk about what they think makes up their daily life. I took my definition of culture, they added to it, and here is what they wanted to tell you about Thailand. Please forgive the grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary mistakes. They wrote these sentences mostly on their own after hearing my example and I think they’ve done a fantastic job this year. We recently learned ‘will’ and how to apply it in different situations, so that’s why most of them included it in their sentence(s).

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.

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

So, hi. It’s been awhile. Quite a while. Posts trickled down to nothing as my travels took me across, down, up, and around Thailand. It’s been grand. Really grand. Before I left, I was nowhere near ready to go back to the US. Now that Momma Coop has visited, the Close (or Continuation) of Service conference complete, and a conquering Thailand trip with Manfriend, I’m more and more ready to go back each day. So I thought the first post of 2013 and as a Tuesday travel photo, I would mark the new year’s territory with what will most likely be the most significant transition of my life thus far. Here’s lookin’ at you, 2013.

Roughly three months until I see this sign again

Roughly three months until I see this sign again

I hope everyone had a happy New Year’s!

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.

Five Things I Didn’t Realize About Peace Corps

Until I got there

A different ‘travel’ experience then any other
As a moderately experienced traveler, I thought that I would be mentally prepared for the challenges of Peace Corps service. While definitely helping deal with homesickness and loneliness, there are many differences between solo travel ( in that I mean not on a tour or cruise) and the very non-independent life in PC/the village. I don’t have the sense of incredible freedom I get high off of when I travel. It’s more along the lines ‘Is this my real life? Well, alright.’

Chlorophyll more like Borophyll 
A high school friend was on her way to London for graduate school and showed her books and magazines she acquired for the ‘long’ six hour flight. It occurred to me that six hours sitting in a stationary position without much to do didn’t feel like much of a challenge to me anymore. In fact, now that I’m in school break for weeks on end in the village, it seems kind of laughable. And I’m really glad to have developed this ability to be bored, but for it not to be such a bad thing. It’s allowed me time to try all sorts of projects and broaden my mind in ways that I previously didn’t have time or motivation to try (crafting, cooking, a class on genetics/evolution).

How much I would change
Any one time in a young adult’s life, they think they understand a good portion of this thing called life. I was one such person. I didn’t think there would be many monumental changes and growth that were still necessary. But there were. And PC helped me go through them. Core beliefs of mine were shaken and discarded for new ones. My mind has been blown over and over again in the good and bad things in Thailand and my life in it as a Volunteer. I still have a long way to go too.

The struggle between strength and helpless
During PC, I’ve never felt stronger. I’ve also never felt quite as crAzy either. Straight up, thought I should be in a loony bin kind of crazy. I never considered that before I came to Thailand as a Volunteer. Worrying about a new language, pissing someone off for what seems like nothing, or dealing with cultural differences, quite a few times I wanted to tear some hair out. And then I remind myself how much better I am than yesterday. And the week before that. And last year. And I realized I can be a little mental, but still be mentally strong.

Find out who your friends (and family) are
I realize that it’s not easy to be friends with me. To go without face to face interaction, run in similar social circles, or have similar day-to-day issues. So it’s without blame or anger that I have fewer people to share news with. It makes me appreciate the people in my life even more than before. They’ve been on this rollercoaster ride with me and reminded me that I’m not alone in this. The even better thing about PC is you meet a large group of similarly minded people who see you at your worst, but still manage to like you. These are the people I want to surround myself with for the rest of my life.