What it's like

09/08/2011 7.20
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.
Until then,

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