Monday, November 28, 2011
Up to this moment, I've only sprayed small concentrations of imiprothrin, permethrin, and esbiothrin. Hey America, a girl gets desperate when there are ants crawling here, there, and EVERYWHERE. One would think these toxic chemicals would do the trick, but my students are the experts: Just spray the DDT. Just do it. And then leave your windows open for a few hours. Respray every 7 days, of course.
This is why I love Thailand. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring is tossed out the window like trash (and yes, the 'Dittos do constantly toss trash out the windows). The 'Dit has real insect problems and they need a real solution.
Another real problem which does not have such an easy solution is the ever present and popular mold sprinkling wood furniture. In another moment of desperation, after trying everything I could think of, I recruited 5 boys to move my wardrobe outside into the sun. And yes, I took a picture. It's still outside as I write this, even though night has fallen. It still smells. I have no faith in my ability to eradicate this mold.
More pictures from Thanksgiving for your viewing pleasure:
Our cozy table, on which I imposed "Let's go around the table and say what we're thankful for!" They thought my suggestion was due to the wine. Little do they know that I've got a heckuva lot more HOLIDAY SPIRIT where that came from, and I had no problem forcing them into gratitude.
The Laos Fulbrighters joined us for our Thanksgiving festivities and flood relief efforts. This is my bff John, who can rap like nobody's business.
The Thailand and Laos Fulbrighters.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Here's part of our group volunteering (read: posing for a picture while the Buddhist "nuns" pack food) at a local Buddhist wat. Notice I forgot that one should always wear uniforms in Thailand. (Employees at most stores wear uniforms, as do all students and most teachers, even in university.)
From L to R: US Embassy Public Affairs Officer, Fulbright Thailand Director, Former Thai Ambassador to the USA, and the US Embassy Cultural Affairs Officer and his wife.
From my Red Cross October with some of the volunteers I worked with daily. The guy in front of me (Chaiwat Bo) and the girl beside me (P'Nut) were my Thai language coaches. P'Nut and I spent a great deal of time discussing the merits of flannel in the fashion world.
The boy on the far right in the green shirt is half-white, so his friends call him "half-farang." It's so strange - he's lived in Thailand his whole life, speaks terrible English, is totally Thai, but has American citizenship because of his dad. It boggles my mind.
He wears that green shirt because he's a male in one of the three upper grades of Mattayom, or junior high/high school. He participates in compulsory military training two times a week. The boys all wear matching green shirts, learn drills, sit in freezers (I have NO IDEA how "cold tolerance" will help them in Thailand, though it's true that chilling in the cold is a foreign skill), and play soccer, or so they lead me to believe.
Monday, November 21, 2011
Check out our group in the picture above. The student to my left competed in the English storytelling competition with "Aladdin." She got 4th place (I think she should have placed 3rd...)! The teacher to my right is the bomb.com, and she is usually worried about "the rape and the kill".
The traditional Thai music competition.
Awesome Thai percussion instruments - huge round floor gongs.
A beautiful Thai ranat, their flattened version of a xylophone that rises by half steps.
Our school's band and dancers! They sewed these costumes themselves - it took them weeks!
Our school's second act!
Karen and me with our fancy students!
This is one of the private schools in town - they broke it down too.
Good thing Karen and I watched all the hoopla. The audience was pretty nonexistent given the students' excessive preparation. (Haha this is due to the meager population of the 'Dit.)
The two dance teams settle their differences, as do the cool rival music directors.
Awwwwww they were great! Since only two schools competed in the big non-traditional music/traditional dance competition (no idea what to call this in English), everyone was a winner.
I hate when that happens. FIRST PLACE PEOPLE!
Never have I ever met people so obsessed with their water buffalo...
Everyone stops when they see a water buffalo, holy creatures that they are.
My new home.
The 'Dit is self-sufficient - we grow everything.
Karen and the band on our way home from the weekend music competition in town.
Karen frying vegetables, outside of course.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Today, my Chinese friend Karen and I bicycled down a dirt path through rice fields at sunset, meandering past buffalo, mountain views, and small fishing ponds. Heading back, we passed two of our students, who hopped on the backs of our bikes and we pedaled them home.
Correction: Karen pedaled a student home, while a student demoted the quite-willing-me to mere passenger.
Karen chopped vegetables for dinner, as she is apt to do. I perched on the fence by her outside kitchen - otherwise known as cement over grass decked out with a basin and spigot, and a single burner hooked up to a gas tank. I cut up the papaya and lime and onion.
A good life.
Friday, November 18, 2011
- Cleaning mold off my bed frame
- Explaining to my bewildered Thai roommates why I clean the mold-covered furniture
- Killing ants
- Buying insect poisons and translating the Thai script online
- Spraying and littering all sorts of poisons about my room to kill the ceaseless flow of insects
- Being caught between wondering if I’m going to die from all this poison and wondering if the poison works
- Deciding that the poison doesn’t work
- Catching a gecko to eat the insects
- Drawing up a marketing plan for my own small business specializing in painting sand white, bagging it up, drawing a skull on it, and selling it at the market as insect poison
Over-the-top Safety Harassment - An Exercise in Diplomacy
A teacher came up to me today and asked, “Do you want rape and kill?”
“Do you want rape and kill? The rape and the kill?” she pressed.
I’m having a really hard time taking safety warnings seriously. Yet the entire school staff is ganging up on me to prevent me from – ever – leaving the school property. And I mean ever. Because I am too “white” and “beauteeeful”, I am deemed to be at great risk for “rape and kill”. I’m harassed constantly, even though I insist I’m careful, have never left school property after dark without a friend, and have only ever returned after 8 pm when I’m with the teachers themselves.
I tell them that I’ll go crazy and starve to death if I never leave school premises. I – attempt to – tell them that my losing 10 lbs in one month is far more concerning than biking (with another on-site teacher, I might add) to dinner at 6 pm. I tell them that their opening arguments (“You go around in the dark every night alone”) are patently false. I tell them that I’m more likely to be bit by a snake running in the jungly school property than getting “rape and kill” running down a country road. I tell them that the violent crime rates are far lower here than all the places I’ve ever lived in my entire life. I tell them that I can’t let fear control my life when they tell me I’ll get sold into sex trafficking. I cannot tell them that the Embassy told me that this is a ridiculous myth and that Uttaradit doesn’t really have sex trafficking for fear of hurting their 'Dit street cred.
I – wish I could – tell them that the mold growing all over my house is far more dangerous than my eating dinner a couple kilometers from the school, the fact that no one in Thailand washes their hands is far more hazardous than me running in the daylight, and their lack of seatbelt wearing and crazy motorcycle weaving is far more stupid than my biking. The pack of 30 wild dogs – and counting…so many puppies – living outside of my house is far more concerning than my walking across the street to a woman who sells chocolate milk.
They gave me a bike so I theoretically wouldn’t buy a motorcycle but were majorly confused about me asking where I could buy a helmet. When two teachers and a driver took me to the bike shop, they were impatient when I asked to try one on. “All same-same,” they say skeptically, as I search helmet sizes and fail to find one properly-made-enough that it would adequately guard my cranium from even a minor fall.
My nightmare is a year trapped inside gated property as a caged bird. Certain rules must be nodded at and ignored. And ignored. And ignored.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
A few moments:
My students ditch class for last-minute Krathong touch-ups.
Each class lines up their Krathongs in the school's meeting room for the school contest.
One of the students made a beautiful little Krathong for me, which I promptly entered in the contest.
I admittedly had some competition...
I was the only one surprised that I didn't win.
The marching band practices for the parade. Notice that they practice in the forest on school property and that only boys play instruments here.
Local elephants join the parade. The school admins station me about 10 meters in front of the elephants as the token white person. Ratio of pictures taken of elephants to pictures taken of me: 1:20. Granted, I increased my face time by constantly walking all through the paraders to chit chat.
My students wear the traditional Thai wrap and cowboy hats (?) and wave flags. Luckily, a neighbor in Bangkok gave me a Thai flag as a parting gift, so everyone basically thinks I am Thai. Actually: "Farang! [White person!]" spectators exclaim and point as I pass by. "Mai Farang! Bpen kon Thai! [Not farang! I am Thai!]" I shout back. Then they offer me whiskey.
Villagers wear traditional garb from different areas of Thailand.
The parade route is a bit remote. The ratio of participants to spectators is approximately 25:1, and people keep dropping in and out to chat with their families, buy whiskey, or sit on the dirt and set down their heavy Krathongs.
My students trudge along down the middle of nowhere to the temple hosting the early evening activities, music, and contests (we inexplicably move sites later on). The parade stops every two minutes for a good 10 minutes, making the short route last two hours.
Finally! People waiting for us at the temple entrance.
My students let me shoulder 1/4 of their burden for a while. To be fair, I had to force them. It's not part of their culture to let women lift anything mildly heavy. And the Thai consider everything "mildly heavy."
The drum line pops a squat. So much empathy for my little drum line as I reminisce about my high school drum line days. These boys think I'm legit whenever I so much as pick up a drumstick. But the gender lines aren't all so well-defined: Thai boys wear pink like there's no tomorrow.
The river at the temple.
At 11:30 pm, I finally light and float my Krathong (well, students stole my precious purple Krathong, so one of my Thai mommies gave me a new one). We light the incense sticks and candle and kneel down on the wild bank after beating sticks against the grasses to ward off snakes as we trample toward the dark water.
Beautiful evening topped off with white girl dancing on the stage with little Thai babies and their mommies, along with the whiskey-drinking villagers, much to the amusement of, well, at least myself.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
- Sinks (Don’t cry for me Pioneer Camp “spit pit” days. It turns out I never left you.)
- Western toilets
- Not mandating child labor throughout the school day
- Snakes staying outside of one's home (geckos and frogs accepted as roomies long ago)
- Hand-washing or the concept of soap
- Concept that vegetarians don’t eat pig
- Concept that vegetarians don’t eat water buffalo
- Concept that vegetarians don’t eat snake, I kid you not
- Vegetarian food - I get blank stares when requesting a bit of rice, vegetables, egg (khao pad pat gap kai), which they make constantly but do not associate with vegetarianism
- Leaving one's house post-6 pm, sports, or talking to strangers for girls (just imagine the drama my behavior daily inspires; gotta give these peeps some dinner table conversation)
- Bicycle helmets
- Seatbelts, much less wearing them
- Bicycle lights/reflectors
- Bicycle locks
- Bicycles without flat tires
- Top sheets (they only sell/use the fitted ones)
- Comforters without cartoons, teddy bears, or other incredibly disturbing images I have no desire to sleep on (I dropped some legit baht on outfitting my room, and my Thai roommates think I'm a rather gluttonous American because I purchased the following luxuries: a pillow, cup, plate, fork, rug, soap, wok, cleaning supplies, and tupperware (and mirror and teddy-bear-less bedspread found after two weeks of searching, but I'm not sure I get sympathy points for those) (but keep in mind that these same girls have massive TV's in their rooms, very nice cars and clothes, and decent-sized high heel collections)
- Not wearing high heels and a face caked with white-powder makeup in the jungle (I get called out every morning for wearing my black teva flip-flop-esque sandals but pretend not to understand and demonstrate how well I can walk in the mud with them)
- Nalgenes (or any half-functioning water container)
On that note, check out this sick water bottle I bought. It features an over-the-shoulder strap and a sweet rainbow anime graphic. I've seen a handful of small children sporting said merchandise since purchasing my own - copycat buyers, if you will.
Life at the rung below a townie:
I realized today how awesomely hicksville I am when I participated in a conversation about how one can actually buy juice (yes, juice itself!) in "the town". I never thought I would be one of those country folk whose life revolves around visits to "the town" and who says things like,
“Maybe we’ll get us into the town next week.”
“I counted 15 water buffalo ridin' into the town last week; that's the village's November record.”
“Why should I get an ATM card or bank account? The closest ATM is in the town.”
I feel like a Fitzgerald novel. Evidence:
“All right,” broke in Tom quickly, “I’m perfectly willing to go to town. Come on — we’re all going to town.” ...
“But it’s so hot,” insisted Daisy, on the verge of tears, “and everything’s so confused. Let’s all go to town!” ...
“Come on!” His temper cracked a little. “What’s the matter, anyhow? If we’re going to town, let’s start.” ...
“I don’t see the idea of going to town,” broke out Tom savagely. “Women get these notions in their heads ——” ...
“We’ve got enough to get us to town,” said Tom. ...
“The thing to do is to forget about the heat,” said Tom impatiently. “You make it ten times worse by crabbing about it.”
He unrolled the bottle of whiskey from the towel and put it on the table.
“Why not let her alone, old sport?” remarked Gatsby. “You’re the one that wanted to come to town.”
And let's not forget the frightening 1974 hit, Blazing Saddles:
Taggart: Well, that's where we go a-ridin' into town, a-whompin' and a-whumpin' every livin' thing that moves within an inch of its life.
Sunday, November 13, 2011
Dear Pewan (Friends),
I resisted the blog idea while in Bangkok, though goodness knows I sent enough flood-related updates to kin and pewan (Thai word for friend) to more than nullify my resistance to the blogosphere.
My October in Bangkok felt far more chill this time around, as I got the Bangkok tourist thing out of my blood in the heat of summer 2010. I spent a good deal of time at the Thai Red Cross, taking Thai classes, asking Thai girls how to use squat toilets more to amuse eavesdroppers than to glean skills, chatting nonstop with my hilarious OCD EMT roommate Megan, obsessing over flood news as a source of both entertainment and sadness, drinking (well, sipping) whiskey on the streets with my guitar-playing Thai friends who were mostly employees of sports-goods shops nearby my Chulalongkorn University housing, drinking smoothies, and eating roti.
(A giant Sukhothai Krathong on the road to the 'Dit)
(Lily pad city on the way to the 'Dit)
(How do you know when you're in the 'Dit? The giant durian)
So it wasn't until I reached Uttaradit, affectionately renamed "The 'Dit" by yours truly, that I felt any desire to become a cliche with this blog. Now a cliche I am, at least until I forget this blog's existence and leave my 2 or 3 readers (or perhaps just my mom) wondering if I've dropped off the face of the planet.
And I will try my best to persuade you that this is precisely the place where one would drop off the face of the planet: remote, unknown to most Thais, full of lost creatures like tigers, cobras, Burmese pythons, English-less, forests ripe for the picking (and picking we do! just yesterday, I wandered out with my food-expert Chinese teacher pewan to pick vegetables on the forest floor and papaya from the trees).
I've been told that I'm the only white female ("farang") living in the entire province. I'm hardly shy of the spotlight - far more comfortable when stared at than in small groups - but staring and celebrity-status is taken to the extreme here. I hold babies, I hear an endless "Tii nan! Farang Suai Mok!" (There! Beautiful farang!), and I have never been complimented on my appearance so much in my life as I have been in the past 2 weeks. I have to force my students to take off their sweaters, which they wear to protect their skin from the sun so they will look like "beautiful teacher". I constantly tell the girls they are beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. And so they are. The best thing about it is that it's their skin color and hair which is envied in the USA, skin tanned and gorgeous, hair thick and glossy.
I teach at Triam Udom Suksa Namklao Uttaradit School, which boasts 1,500 naklian (students) aged 12 to 18. It's about 25 km from the infamous yet somewhat vague & nameless "the town". Many naklian travel 60 or more kilometers to school every morning, as this is a rural, agricultural area. They ride in stripped vans and old pick-up trucks, driven by their fellow villagers.
(Making a student trip me to demonstrate "sad." Naturally.)
Yesterday, I introduced myself to the naklian's [plural and singular are all the same in Thai] parents during "Open House Saturday" (my name, not theirs) at three different huge assemblies. Because I had to speak in Thai, I rambled on in the following manner, clearly demonstrating my intelligence:
"I like crocodiles. My name is Rachel. I study at Harvard [past tense is an elusive thing here]. My Thai name is Yim. I like teaching English. I like Thai food. Your kids are nice. Snakes are cute. I tell students 'speak English.' I tell you 'speak slowly can you?' Kanom [Thai sweets] delicious..."
I think I created two factions of parents: those who think I'm a gem and raise their hands and ask if I have a boyfriend, and those who think I'm insane.
My Thai name "Yim" means smile. It's about the only thing I can do while attempting to establish the new normal. A fellow Red Cross volunteer christened me. Once I tell people "Yim," they forget Rachel. I may have unwittingly left Rachel behind in America. The strange thing is that I became immediately used to responding to Yim, and most people call me only that, except when my naklian call me "Miss Rachel" in class. Outside of class, they revert to Yim.
But back to the important stuff: food. There are essentially four ways to acquire food in the middle of nowhere:
1) Bike or run to the only nearby rahn-ahaan (restaurant - i.e. tables on a curb with a cooking cart outside of the owner's house), which is run by a student's mother. I think I am in love with her. She is one of the only people who seems highly amused by my vegetarian thing, so I am very lucky that she's also one of the only people who lives close enough to feed me. She makes her husband drive me home because it gets dark while I eat. (Tropical climate means it's dark from 6 pm to 6 am.)
2) Ride with my Thai roommates to the Tuesday evening market. Where I am a total local celebrity. Eat kanom and buy veggies.
3) Bike to the huge Saturday evening market in the dark with no bike reflectors/light/helmet/lock. Get free snacks from vendors as a consolation prize for being a white girl. Last night, I walked around the Saturday market and lo and behold! I saw a giant raw lizard - skin and head and all - chopped up into three pieces in a clear bag, ripe for the selling. Next to the lizard was a snake in the same predicament. Right next to that vendor were three people slicing up raw fish after banging them dead with a stick!
4) Walk through the forest and pick things while thrashing the ground to scare off snakes.
I could go on forever, which is why I'll stop. Pray don't tell me that you skipped to the bottom so I can pretend this is more than a journal, though that is worth it in and of itself.
Sawatdee ka! Kappun ka!