A new post; a new year. It has been far too long since my last update perhaps, but now is the time to post again. There is so much to speak of, that I am almost at a loss for what to say. I suppose I will start with the things I know. A couple of weeks ago I participated in a parade as the drum major. I dressed up in old fashioned English garb and led my color's procession through my town and eventually to my school. It was relatively uneventful, aside from lots of photos and people telling me I looked handsome or cute. However there was an event that occurred afterwards which was somewhat of interest. I went with my classmate back to the beauty shop to change my clothes and when it came time to leave and go back to the school the kid who drove us on his scooter had disappeared leaving his scooter behind. I guess someone came and picked him up, though I am not at all sure why. In any case my friend asked me to drive. I hesitated and said that I couldn't. I said that I have the ability to drive, but I am not allowed. So anyway she said fine and drove us back, but she went the back way. Near the school we were stopped by the police and she spent a few minutes talking to some policemen. I guess we were stopped because we didn't have on helmets(people rarely wear helmets here, although it is against the law not to). Anyways she got off with a warning, I am not sure how. But anyways it made me think, because we may have taken the other way and not gotten in trouble if I had driven. Or maybe we would have and I would have gotten in serious trouble. In any case it made me think about the decisions I make and how they can have big impacts on things later on. Of course I have thought about this a lot, but this event reminded me.
Another thing is that I have been offered the chance to change hosts here while I thought I was going to stay with this same family. It is some man that my host father knows and I met him and he said that beginning on February 13th I can come to stay with him and his family. I am still not sure what I would like to do, but I think I may go stay with him a while. Another opportunity was offered by a friend I met at RYLA who lives far away; about 10 hours. I spent the holidays with him and his family likes me quite a lot and told my friend that they wouldn't mind if I go stay with them. Rotary of course had to give the go ahead, and that didn't work at all. The Rotary club of his town said no on account of their bad experience with the inbounds there now. In any case he still wants me to stay with him, and wants me to see if I can stay at his home once school is finished near the end of February. And in addition to all of this, I have to consider whether or not I should end my exchange early on account of my grandmothers most imminent death as a result of a brain tumor. I feel as though I have said goodbye to her already in a way, and that she would want me to not come back on her account but to keep my thoughts on the things and people that are here in Thailand. Perhaps it is absurd to think so, but that is the impression I got from a dream I had involving her and I have always been a bit of a mystic. Nevertheless, all these things press upon my conscience without relent. The good part is that I am sure that these decisions regarding all this and so much more that I haven't mentioned will be very important decisions indeed. It always feels better knowing you are doing something worthwhile than doing something simply to be doing it.
On a lighter note, I will tell a story about last Tuesday. On Tuesdays at my school we forgo the regular uniform shirts and wear a maroon and greyish shirt. Well Tuesday morning I woke up and found that the maid hadn't cleaned my shirt, nor my shorts or even my white undershirts and underwear yet(of which I have a lot.) So I went down to eat breakfast in a tee shirt and gym shorts and the maid said aren't you going to school today, to which I said I haven't got any clothes to wear. So she rushed off to where she folds and prepares all the clothes and came back saying that my Tuesday shirt wasn't clean. I asked about my other clothes, and she said no white tee shirts either. But she did bring me a basket with some shorts and underwear folded. I don't know why she hadn't brought them to where she usually did near the foot of the stairs, but in any case she hadn't. My host said don't worry, just wear the other shirt and say that my maid hadn't cleaned my shirt because she was busy doing stuff for the Chinese New Year. Fine, but to top it off the maid hadn't prepared breakfast yet either, and so by the time I began eating I should have left already to go to school on my bike. And so in light of the crappy start to my day, I was sure that it could in no way get better and proceeded to stay at home. I found out later that day wasn't a normal day at school, and so it was no surprise that I didn't come anyway.
You may notice that it has been a while since I last updated my blog. This is not, as many would think, a result of nothing significant happening during the absence; but it is in fact the opposite. So much has been happening that every time I told myself I need to sit down and write a new blog submission I would feel that it was just too much to write about in a single submission and would simply end up losing ground and would end up still writing about my exchange even after I came back to the United States. This is the kind of experience you can expect if you become an exchange student. There are so many new, foreign things that occur around you every day that for a while you will simply be overwhelmed and at times awed by it. Eventually things settle down though, and so now things have for me, and I have a moment to write a bit of the things that have occurred in the last month or so.
Currently I am in a national park near Korat Thailand. It seems that I have some relatives who live here in the main house of a complex of houses and buildings. I think it may have been a small neighborhood at some point, but now it seems it is all just a bit of a resort like thing. Then again I could have the situation completely wrong. At any rate here I am, sitting at a twenty person dining table that sits just outside the kitchen and is situated underneath the second floor of the house. Our family is gathered here because my host cousin is becoming a monk. This is a very big deal in Thai culture and essentially all families want a son to become a monk. So this is a proud moment for the family and one which I am very grateful to be able to be a part of. The past 5 days I have been sick, so nothing to tell there. The week before that I was at a RYLA camp- that’s Rotary Youth Leadership Awards. It’s basically a Rotary sponsored event in which a lot of kids get together and they are put into positions of leadership and such. At the end of the camp awards are given out to the best students. This was a rather fun event for me as I got to get to know my camp group members pretty well and they were all really nice people. I was a not a little sad to be leaving them all. Also, because they come from all over the district 3340 in Thailand, there is a pretty good chance that I won’t be seeing them again. At the end though, because there were many exchange students present at the camp, they awarded a best male and female exchange student award, and my entire group was fervently demanding that I must be the one winning the male award. Of course the winner was the Brazilian who has been here since January and speaks Thai much better than any of the others. Nevertheless my group was rooting for me and at that moment I was proud of the job of representative that I had performed. None of the other exchange students other than a Japanese student had even attempted to stay with their groups and participate in the camp. Before this camp I had been out of school for week or so and hadn’t been doing much aside from having Thai lessons for an hour and playing a game that sounds like Takraw for two hours every day. It’s a bit like hacky sack and volleyball mixed into one. You will just have to Google it. Thailand is number one internationally in this sport and even the men who play on our local court every day seem to be at least as good as most other countries’ international teams. This is a fun way to stay in shape and I look forward to introducing the sport to wherever I end up after my exchange.
I begin classed again the 25th and I have rather mixed feelings about that. Of course it is quite boring because it is difficult to participate in the classes however that is where I get most of my socialization from and I do miss being around my friends from school. So things here are just like in the U.S. in that regard.
I am losing track in my memory of what I have written about and what I have not, and I don’t have the desire to re-read all the stuff I have written. SO, if any repeats occur, humor me please.
Orientation was pretty fun. I met some interesting people and the South Americans were loud and obnoxious as always. But they are good for keeping the atmosphere light and just having a good time. There were no Europeans there, only north and south Americans and one Japanese guy. Because of events surrounding my orientation weekend, my host father could not accompany me and I ended up riding back home with my host uncle who is a policeman. So I rode in a police car; or a truck rather. It wasn’t that cool actually. Oh, at orientation I brought all my pins and things to trade. Among these I brought the Hello Kitty pins that Gigi left behind when she went back to Taiwan. These were a huge hit; especially amongst the guys. Take that as you will. Monday after I returned from Korat I went with Art to pick up his friends at the airport. We then toured around Ubon a bit and ate a bunch. Then we ate dinner at his house and then the next morning we set off for somewhere else. We ended up going to the Mekong river bordering Laos and some a temple and some other places. It was quite fun and as it turned out my last day with Art; he went back to Bangkok the next day and after a couple of weeks there he is off to Japan to finish his studies. Tuesday night we stopped by a shop and I decided to buy myself some Thai fisherman pants. They are pink as everyone there agreed that was the best choice for me. I don’t know why. Sometime before this I found out a bit about Buddhism here. They place emphasis on the day of the week on which a person is born and each day has a representative color, animal and Buddha. Each Buddha is in a different position and they mean different things. My Buddha is one which is standing and holding an alms bowl, my color is green and my animal is the elephant. I was born on a Wednesday. When you visit a temple and it is available, you can put a bit of money into a thing for your day of the week. This is basically used for wish making. You ask for something and the gift of money provides you with good merit in return.
School was pretty uneventful except for a couple of event: Friday when in my theory of knowledge class the teacher gave me his fan. He was a very eccentric fellow and very good humored and nice. Then on Thursday I think my class had a fundraiser and some of the guys in my class played music and we just had a couple of different things going on. One thing that occurred was my classmate who was MC-ing called me up to participate in a game. The game was you tie balloons onto your feet-one on each- and try to step on and pop the balloons of the other players. I didn’t do particularly good at this game but I didn’t do too terribly. Thursday night some friends from school asked me out to dinner with them which was really fun. It was me and four classmates and a guy from another school who sings in the band that my classmates are in. He is a very funny fellow and everyone decided that I should call him by a different nickname from Zach. That nickname is Ya Suun which basically means don’t show out. He is always showing out so someone is always saying ya suun to him. It’s all in good humor here of course. As I also found that night at dinner Thai people are quite blunt with their friends. If someone is fat they call them fat; if someone is ugly they call them ugly. I say it’s in good humor but I don’t suppose I know that for a fact. I think rather that it is more complex than it appears-as are most things when it comes to culture-, and in order to do this blog justice I will say no more on it until I can glean something more from my host culture. I asked Mike, my classmate who I had dinner with and who takes me around places on his scooter occasionally, if he would mind taking me to look at a watch, as my old one, being made of leather, started to stink quite badly; because of the sweat, presumably. We went and a couple of friends tagged along-zach and someone else who’s name I can’t recall- and then more people ended up running into us there; one of which is in yet another class and expressed interest in getting to know me last week. Eventually I found a watch. They were all quite cheap. A popular watch is a G-Shock which in the U.S. will run you about 70-120 dollars but here all the ones I saw were 500 baht, about $16.50. So I got myself a 200 baht watch and when I showed it to my host father he said he could have taken me somewhere and gotten it for 100 baht. Then today Best, my host brother, was here and we went out to eat dinner- my host father was busy doing something else- and then we went to the local park so he could take some pictures for Khun Pa(that’s my host dad, or what I call him at least). He told me to go walk around a bit if I wanted and so I did and ended up running into someone who recognized me and called out “Na Det!” They were some people playing badminton and asked me to come play so I did and we played for about 40 mins or so I would say. It was good fun and they asked me to come back tomorrow at around 17.30. Of course that means around 18.00 though as in Thailand everyone runs on “Thai Time”.
With time in mind it’s time for me to go to bed. Tomorrow is some Buddhist holiday and I will be getting up around 7 in order to go to the temple with my family.
Dinner last night was with yet more family at a member of the family’s restaurant. It was a bit strange: there was a hole in the middle of every table that served as the resting ground for the bucket of fire the waiter brought out. Then you put this thing on top of it and it turns into a cooking thingy. The middle of it was a dome and that you would cook the meat on; pork again and liver. Around the edges you put water to boil cabbage, mung bean sprouts-I think- and noodles made out of these and a vegetable that the friendly guy didn’t know what was called so just said that it was some Chinese vegetable. We then went to a political speech because election time is coming up. Whatever it is they are vying for my host father was elected to three years ago. I then came home at around 8 or 8.30 and slept. Until 1.30. Earlier the lights went off and I was told that because we are a small town with frequent rain the electricity goes out often. The electricity did just that. As I was lying down in my bed with my cool air conditioner on, it stopped suddenly and then I went to sleep anyway because I was exhausted. Well I guess I woke up on account of being hot but it just so happened the electricity was back on, so I just used my little remote to turn it back on and asleep I went again until about 6. I got up and bathed and shaved and all that jazz. Then it was breakfast time. We ate in today and had fried eggs, some stuff that tasted like stew to me, steamed cauliflower, some little pork ribs thingies that were also fried. Oh and sauce. These are present at every meal and different ones are to be eaten with different foods I am beginning to see. I tried all of them and they were all good. Already I think I am beginning to get used to the spicy food. At one point I was asked if I wanted bread and was confused by the question so just said that what I had was fine. My host dad then turns and tells the grandma something and he tells me he told her that I am happy to eat Thai food. I clearly made the right decision on that one. Oh I almost forgot; I was asked at dinner last night what name I wanted on my school uniform. I said it doesn’t really matter and then was asked if I wanted a Thai name. I said sure that would be neat. So then everyone started talking about what name I should have. Finally they all agreed on what sounds like na det. This happens to have two significant meanings: the first is that na det is the same name of the most famous Thai actor right now, the second is that it literally means that I live in det; short for my town, detudom. So basically my new Thai name is a pun.
Yesterday was a pretty slow day comparably. After breakfast we went to the supermarket and bought a bookshelf for my room; just a small three shelf one. Then we came home and put it together and I brought it up to my room. Afterwards Art, the friendly guy, who it turns out is a cousin, not a friend, came over and then decided to go walking and went to the park. I saw a white guy, we didn’t speak. It started to rain so we found shelter in a little gazebo thing next to the pond in the park. When the rain stopped we went to the temple that was in view from the park. It was quite nice and it ended up raining again and so Art called his mom to come pick us up. Then I went home and waited for my host father to return home; Art informed me that he would be by to take me to lunch later. So I had my first pad thai at lunch and it was interesting and very good. After that we had some ice cream made from coconut which was also very good. Then we went back home and I started getting really tired so I took a nap. No wait, that’s not what happened at all. Art came before lunch and we went to the temple and fed the fish some bread. Then I came back home and went to lunch and then I took a nap and then Art came over again and that’s when we went to the park. I then came back and no one was home except my host grandmother and she gave me some food to eat and it was pretty good but I wasn’t very hungry and there was no spicy sauce. Yes I have gotten spoiled and want spicy sauce with all my meals already. Food just doesn’t taste right without it.
Today we had breakfast of fried fish, duck, some soup like stuff with bamboo shoots and some mung bean sprouts mixed with tomatoes I think. It was all very good especially the fish. One of the sauces present you eat only with the fish. Why? No idea; but it was delicious. Afterwards I decided to ask my first night questions. Because it was taking too long with my host father and sisters not very good English we decided to run over to Ning’s store and have her translate. She is a cousin that spent a year in Oregon in university. So I got the first night questions done and I was glad to do so; I learned a few things. For example I must wake up at 6 am on weekdays and be home by eight if I go out with friends or something. I can have friends over but not for the night. I cannot hang things on my walls and I will be given an allowance from my host father. Is this the Rotary allowance or is it separate? I have no idea; I guess I will find out soon enough. My host father at this point views me as a member of his family and was confused that I wanted to open a bank account here; he is my father and will pay for the things I want or need. Well anyways this afternoon I will be going to open my account and get myself an atm card.
I did go to open my bank account and it turns out that now I have a life insurance policy for 100,000 Thai Baht, that’s about $3,400. This is something that everyone who opens an account with this bank gets. I am not sure if it’s a special for the time being or if they always offer this. In any case. After that my host father asked if I wanted to go to a funeral and I said yes. He told me I would need to change into some long black pants and so I did. Now up to this point I have not put on a regular pair of shoes, but only the sandals I got my first day here. I thought that maybe I would need to at least put on some socks and real shoes, so I came downstairs in some socks and long story short 90% of the people there were just wearing their sandals. So I promptly and discreetly decided to take my socks off and stuff them in my pockets. Not too much later did I see two different people wearing sandals and socks. So although it certainly was uncommon to be doing so, I don’t think I needed to take my socks off. Much later it was time for dinner and we went out to eat. We drove to this little place and I am beginning to see that many restaurants here simply make one dish; so where you go really depends on what you want to eat. Well the dish that this place served was a type of soup with some very chewy noodles and a lot of broth and I was looking at the piece of meat in there and I turned to my host sister and asked “chicken” as I was poking it with my fork. Before she got the chance to answer I realized I was indeed poking chicken, yes; I was poking the foot of a chicken. So I said “Oh!” and she laughed and asked if I was okay. I said yea and went on eating, all the while avoiding eating either of the two chicken feet that lay in front of me and also avoiding the extra half dozen or so sitting in a bowl with broth in the middle of the table. Eventually I ran out of noodles to eat and starting picking at the chicken foot and my host sister said try it and even added a please when I still looked apprehensive. So I said okay how and she showed me that you first break of the little toes with your spoon and just plop it in your mouth and spit the bones out. If any of you are wondering, there are two bones in the toe of a chicken, and also a little piece of what I perceived to be cartilage and which was very sticky and kept getting stuck to my lips as I spit the bones out. Soon after I tried my first chicken toe it started to rain, so we moved our table inside of course. Oh I didn’t explain that there are no inside restaurants here, you just sit at a table outside. Sometimes there is an awning over you; this time there wasn’t. I continued my meal inside and at this point I had eaten all the toes off the chicken foot and was feeling all the more apprehensive as to how I would go about eating any more of it. After a bit of struggling to get it to go the right way in my spoon I got most of it in my mouth. I have no idea how many bones were in the thing but I was having quite a time separating them from the meat and not spitting it all out because it was definitely a mouth full. Eventually I got all the bones out and managed to swallow it and then I sipped some more of my broth and my host sister turned and asked if I was full. I proclaimed that I was indeed full, thank you. My host father chuckled and said “no like”. All I could do was chuckle back. So we braved the rain to get back to the truck and to my surprise we had another stop; a little convenience store. We rushed in and they took me to a shelf with a bunch of bread stuff in packages on it and told me to choose something. My host father turned to me and said “not full”. I reluctantly chose something and then my host father picked out two passion fruit juice boxes and kept one for himself and gave the other to me. He paid for all this and we promptly ran back across the street to get in the truck. The significance of this evening was great to me; this surrogate family of mine, who owes me nothing in the world, shows me at every opportunity so much kindness. They didn’t have to pay my eating any attention, and they certainly didn’t owe me any snack from a convenience store when I left food on the table and least of all not while it was pouring down rain. They inconvenienced themselves for me over something as simple as a meal. I see that I have much I can learn from this culture.
I haven’t been keeping this up very good lately as you can tell. So much has been happening I have hardly had time to do anything like writing-or typing as it were. I will try to keep things concise for the sake of my readers’ patience though. Not long after my last post I ended up going to take my host sister to Bangkok to send her off for her exchange in Mexico. This was quite an affair: My host father rented a 12 passenger (actually 11 passengers and one driver…) van to take the 8 hour trip in. A driver came with the van. Those of us in the van initially were my host father, khun ya(grandma), Best and James my host brothers, Pinky my host sister, Art, the friendly fellow who turned out to be a cousin, the driver and myself. As we set out we began making some stops whose purpose I could not discern. Art explained to me that what we were doing was stopping at all the important families who were our relatives and telling them goodbye. It took a little while. Eventually we stopped somewhere and picked up two more passengers, Sunny, another cousin and her mom, Willy, my host fathers sister. The trip became suddenly very lively when they arrived and made the rest of the trip pass quite quickly. When we got to Bangkok we made a stop for dinner at a big restaurant which also had karaoke. We had a room to ourselves. That is those I mentioned plus Willy’s other daughter and son and her brother, his wife and their daughter. It was great fun. Then we were off to our lodgings, which happened to be my host fathers’ brother’s house which was quite large. We went shopping at the Paragon Mall which was absurdly big, I at one point stood in a spot and could see seven different escalators all coming from different floors, while noting a Lamborghini dealership in my peripheral vision. More family showed up at the airport including an uncle who had spent I think he said six years in the U.S. long ago I think on military work. He was very excited to show me his English I think; either that or he just liked talking. He had some cool stories to tell though. The trip on the way back took place starting around midnight so we all slept through most of it. That was Saturday we returned. On the way back we picked up an extra passenger, which was Art’s sister, who studied at a university in Seattle for a couple of years. I found out that I am in the company of quite extraordinary people. Art himself went to Thailand’s top university and so did his brother. His brother went on to Harvard and is now a doctor somewhere. Art is planning on continuing the family business; that is, running the rice mill that his family has owned for working on three generations. Another interesting thing I found out; in Thailand they consider a person’s life to begin, so to speak, at age 30. Everything before that is simply in preparation for beginning their real endeavors.
Let’s me talk about school now. I started Monday and so far it has been pretty fun. It is quite hard to pay attention in class. Especially since no one really expects me to pay attention and I don’t really have my actual schedule yet. I met with my advisor and we put down several different activities I would like to be doing. These included Thai traditional dancing, Local handicrafts and music, Thai boxing, Thai cooking, and a couple of other things I can’t quite recall. I played Takraw yesterday with my classmates and that’s pretty fun. It’s just like hacky sack with a ball of sorts. We just played in a circle passing the ball back and forth, but eventually I hope to graduate to playing at the net. My classmates are mostly very nice and make every effort to include me in things. My first day I was invited by Mike, a cousin no less, to go with him to listen to him and his buddies from class play in their band. So I went with him on his scooter to a little recording studio and sat in a corner out of their way while they played some music. It was quite good actually. I read a book on my iPhone while they were playing, but that just because I didn’t know what else to do with myself; I can play no instruments you see and wouldn’t want to impose on their practice time with my mediocre attempts at playing music. School in Thailand is quite different from anything I have hitherto experienced; they don’t take it nearly as seriously as in the U.S. or in Italy. The students all stay together but do go to different classrooms. One would think there would be little room for error in such a system but I don’t think I have attended a single class in which either the teacher or a student is not late. Mostly it’s the teacher, and everyone just hangs out in the meantime in or around the classroom. What the teachers are doing outside their classrooms at such times I have not the slightest clue. Just yesterday we all sat in the library our first two periods, of fifty minutes each, because the teacher wasn’t there that day. Well this is more a less what I have been up to these last several days. Saturday is orientation for my district here where I will meet all the inbound, and probably some Rotex, students in district 3340. I will need to travel about 2 or so hours away by car to get there. That should be really fun. I will certainly include the happenings in my next post.
Well here I am in Chicago safe and sound, if a bit hungry. I have, in my packing fervor, forgotten that most simple but useful thing: my wallet. It lies in the glass topped box on the edge of the kitchen counter, wondering how in God’s name I could forget it. I sit wondering the same thing, my stomach still growling. It doesn’t help seeing all the people around me eating McDonalds, but hey; this is the month of Ramadan and who says I can’t do without a little fasting myself? Luckily on my flight to Tokyo, about two and half hours from now, I will receive not one but two complimentary meals. The first of which will be most delicious, I imagine.
I will update in Tokyo, time permitting.
07/08/2011 2.40/ +14.00
Time has indeed permitted. I am here at my gate after only a very few minutes of walking in the Tokyo Narita Airport. It is not a small airport; rather I just got lucky this time. The first meal was filling, if not delicious. I actually ended up having more like three meals. There was a snack which consisted of a sandwich and a “biscotti” and a mint and then the third meal. So I didn’t go hungry. I did manage to sleep a good bit on the flight which I am pretty glad about. Something you might find interesting: when going on a flight that traverses the pacific ocean, you don’t make a bee line for your destination but instead go in an arc from the north keeping along the coast going up to Alaska and Russia. I don’t know that I would rather be dropped in such cold temperatures instead of in the ocean, but I guess it’s safer that way. The internet service offered here is the same one as was offered in Chicago: one you have to pay for. Obviously I am passing on that.
Next stop, Bangkok…
07/08/2011 12.15/ +12.00
The flight from Tokyo was uneventful. I slept as much as I could on the six hour flight. I was also fed yet again. After getting through customs, a breeze if you are prepared, I met with two Rotarians- after being momentarily intercepted by a lady with some hotel no less- who introduced me to the third one present, a guy who I am now sharing a room with and who speaks very little English; a great match for my ability to speak very little Thai. I have been brought to a surprisingly unimposing hotel for a few hours before I have to go back to get ready for my next and last flight. First thing I did was took a shower and yes they have showers and hot water that doesn’t come from a boiler off the stovetop. They also have flushing toilets. This is Bangkok, however; there is no guarantee that my area will have these same amenities. Oh, fun to know; my charger fits fine with the outlets here and my computer did not blow up. Yay right?
Well next I will be off to Ubon Ratchatani where I will meet my host family. I have high hopes.
I made it safely to Ubon Ratchatani and met my family just outside of the airport, which was quite small I will add. They had a large sign that had written on it my name and I was greeted by a very friendly Thai, whose name I cannot recall, friend of Pinky’s if I am not mistaken and Pinky herself and her two brothers, Best and James. Their father was driving the vehicle around to pick us up. The Thai friend was very talkative and he made it very comfortable because his English was the best of everyone and without his English skills the atmosphere would likely have been a bit awkward at moments. The first thing we did was to go eat breakfast. We ate in the city at a neat little restaurant that I was told is only open for breakfast. They serve mostly Chinese and Vietnamese dishes here. The first thing that was brought out, without anyone’s prompting I might add, was fried dough, much like a funnel cake. Condensed milk was provided to dip it in. Soon after our main dishes were brought and I ate a Vietnamese dish which consisted of a mini skillet filled with two fried runny eggs covered with sweet Chinese pork and not sweet Vietnamese pork and what I believe are called chives. On the side came an almost hotdog bun with one strip each of the respective types of pork. I had hot Chinese Tea with my meal. Oh and by the way, I am a giant compared to my family. Just for some context. Also, my family is of Chinese descent and so there are words they use still that are not Thai. The first and only example I have been told about is the word for father. The friendly guy told me I could call my host dad pa or pah. I know it’s hard to read that and get an idea of difference but basically one sounds a bit more nasally; that one is the Thai version. After breakfast we were off to the temple. There were dozens of Monks huddled around in a couple of different groups not doing much of anything. As I stepped out of the car I noticed everyone was just standing there but it didn’t really register at the time. Turns out it was eight o’clock, time for the National Anthem when no one is supposed to move. Of course I moved and the friendly guy told me stop. We then went inside the temple and kneeled in front of a huge gold Buddha statue and prayed. Everything else in Thailand so far except for Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok and the Temple I went to looks pretty dirty and run down like, but it has a great appeal about it which for 90% of the car ride around kept a smile on my face. After temple we went to drop off my host brothers at their school, still in Ubon; the city. After that we started the somewhat long ride back to my new hometown, Detudom. About a 30-40 minute ride I will guess. Before too long though we stopped off at my new school and went to meet the principal, who was extremely intimidating in his fancy office with all his fancy statues and fancy carpet on which shoes are not allowed. Ba On, the district Chair lady who met me in Bangkok said that I will need to cut my hair and shave for school. I said that will be fine. Well when I got there the principal was evidently about to make some kind of exception for me and not make me cut my hair but still shave. I said no, I will get no special treatment; and if that didn’t impress the principal it certainly put smiles on my host families faces. On our way to the car I said to the friendly fellow that the principal seems a very important man, and he said really, I think he just sits in that office all day and does nothing. Next we went shopping for me any items that I would be needing. This ended up being a couple of towels, toothpaste, shampoo, shower gel and a pair of slippers that were not easy to find because of my evidently abnormally large feet. Then we were off to take the friendly guy to his house, which happens to be about five seconds from my house, which is deceivingly large. My room is up a pair of spiral stairs. It is a very nice room with a chair and ottoman, a very large, low lying bed, a tv on a stand with about 50 or more ceramic dolls and such, an old green desk and a private bathroom. Oh and let’s not forget the air conditioner. It would be very easy to get too comfortable up here and shut myself off, which is why I am going to explore a bit after I finish writing if I won’t offend anyone here. I met my host grandmother who seemed genuinely delighted that I was living in her home which makes me feel wonderful. I also met the maid, who came into my room to do who knows what while I was meeting Granny. I didn’t know there was going to be a maid. The house is in a really random spot: the middle of town surrounded by shops and stuff. Out the window beside this desk sits a shirtless man with glasses doing I can’t ascertain what for as long as I have been in this room. I take it he is performing his job. His dog lazes beside him.
PS: Thai people drive on the left side of the road, the right side of the car.
PPS: Pedestrians don’t have the right of way.
Well lunch was a walk down the street to this little restaurant. I had pork yet again; this time with rice. Me being the good exchange student I am watched my host family and copied them. They took the little bowl of dark liquid off their plate and would use their spoon to get a bit with every bite or so often. Turns out that stuff was spicy. This turned out to be my first Thai meal in terms of spiciness: my teeth started hurting. This was also the first time I have enjoyed cucumber; turns out it’s not so bad when your mouth is on fire. There was also a hot soup that they would get a spoonful of after about every bite. I’m not sure the purpose of this but I did the same. It may have been helping subdue the spiciness; I really have no idea. So after lunch we trek off to pick up my school uniform: two light purple button downs, two pair of khaki shorts, three pair of brown socks and one pair of brown shoes. Oh and a belt. Also brown. Then we went to meet some family of his; turns out everyone in this town is my host fathers family. My host sisters’ grandma, or what she told me was her grandma, owns what appeared to be a hangout spot with couches and an air hockey or something table. She told me to come chill there in my free time. We met his cousin or uncle or someone who owns a store of sorts. The man plays some instrument and I think I am now enrolled in lessons to learn to play said instrument. It’s a culturally significant instrument. Then we went to a gas station and picked up his cousin who speaks a good bit of English and who said she would be my tour guide. So off to the temples we headed. One was really fancy and housed the candle sculpture that won third place this year in the candle festival that Ubon is famous for. The other was a nature-y temple which was really awesome. I asked if I could spend some time in the temple and my host father started telling everyone else we saw that day about it. Apparently this is happening. We went to see his cousin who owns the rice mill in town. I learned how rice is milled today. Interesting stuff that. Then we went and saw my host fathers business: a place that recycles everything. They just collect everything and separate it out and then resell it. Turns out my host father is in politics around here also. Surprised, aren’t you? Well that about wraps up what I have done so far today. It seems absurd that I just got here at around 7.30; it feels like I have been here for about a week already. Maybe in an actual week I will put up another post.
I have yet to depart for my year in Thailand and indeed it is difficult to get into the mentality that I need to be in; namely the one that tells me to crack down on the language and get all those loose ends that come along with a year abroad tied up. This is my second exchange actually, and honestly I feel that I did not get all that I could out of my first one and so have decided to try again. Perhaps it will turn out that I never can get enough out of any place in a year, but I am willing to try and will not dismiss this chance before having given it its due course. Even if it turns out that I am not fulfilled, this time around I know that it will be completely my fault. I will approach Thailand with an open heart and mind and I believe that whatever difficulties are thrown at me, remaining so will work to alleviate the difficulties to my advantage. My main goals are as follows:
1) Making at least one true friend.
2) Learning the language to a degree of proficiency that allows me to participate in any and all of the daily activities that a normal Thai person my age would encounter.
I won't discuss my definitions of "true friend" or "normal" here as it could very well be considered as a tangent which has little baring on the subject at hand. This is a pet peeve of mine which I have only recently realized is a trait that I myself possess. I also will not discuss the latter statement.
I sincerely hope that all of you reading this will enjoy the experiences and thoughts that I relate herein.