5 People Everyone Should Know
I have only been in my province, Sakon Nakhon, for 6 days now, so I don't feel quite qualified enough to talk about what it is like to live in Thailand yet, or which are the best waterfalls to visit, or which temples can change your life, or anything else related to Thai culture. But, having been here for 6 days now, I do think I am somewhat qualified to write about 5 people I have encountered in my province, and why I think they are all worth writing about.
1. The Thai man who owns my apartment building: Although I’ve slightly adjusted to my first experience living alone, sometimes it makes me sad. It is hard, however, to feel lonely here, thanks to the owner of this building. He is an old Thai man who might be my favorite person here. He is so petite that all his clothes practically hang off of him, and he has this wide grin. Whenever he sees me he follows me to my door just to hang around outside of it and practice speaking English, of which he knows only a few words. So he will say, “How are you?” and then I will practice responding in Thai, and he will say, “Yes, we will teach each other!” And then he gets excited and laughs to himself.
On Sunday he knocked at my door at 9 p.m. with a blue plastic chair for me and said, “For you. Also… I come… fix,” he paused and pointed at my dresser, which has a drawer that is loose, “tomorrow.”
“Great!” I said, and then grabbed my Google translator and typed in: mosquito netting. I pointed the phone at him. “Do I need one of these?”
He peered at it and then said, “Ah!” and left. I closed the door. Ten minutes later he was back with his own personal bug spray. He handed it to me and said, “Use this.” Then he just smiled at me until I said, “Okay, well, goodnight.” He liked that word a lot, and repeated it a few times: Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.
Tonight, he drove me to my first exercise class in the province. I asked him for the number of a taxi company; he told me, "No. I take you." I feel like he is looking out for me here, and I also feel that he is not the only person with this level of selflessness in Thailand--many people are like him here. They do not want to do you only a small favor when they can do a large one. He sat on the couch and waited until I finished the exercise class, despite my assurances that he could leave and I would get home fine. Then he said, "You hungry?" And drove me to the 7-11, helped me pick out a spaghetti meal for dinner, and asked the 7-11 clerk to heat it up for me. All this, and he knows maybe 7 English words.
2. My student, a girl named Oom: On my first day, a student found me at my desk and asked if I would eat lunch with her and her friend Fluke. I sat with her and asked questions in English and she spoke back respectfully and excitedly. She told me she is so happy I am here because now she can practice her English.
Ever since then, Oom comes straight to my desk at noon and says, “Let’s go to lunch, Teacher!” Sometimes, her friends join us. When they speak in Thai, she says, "No, let's try to speak in English, so Teacher Caroline understands." She walks with me around the cafeteria as I point at different foods and say, "What is that? Spicy?" And, not only does she answer me patiently, but she translates my order to the cafeteria lady, so I have not needed to learn any Thai words (a good thing and a bad, considering I cannot carry Oom with me everywhere I go).
She wants to be an English teacher and an exchange student in America. She is so passionate about learning English that she found this school on her own and now travels three hours a day to get to the school and to go home. This means she wakes up at 5 a.m. and gets home around 7:30. And yet, she is so patient and considerate with me. When I'm finished eating, she always says, "Okay, Teacher? You want ice cream?"
3. Another one of my students, Fluke: The sweetest looking 15-year-old boy, who is not only incredibly responsible and respectful (voted leader of his class, and the one who always quiets the others), but also, he often sits with myself and Oom at lunch, despite any deduction in "cool points" this might cause for him.
Yesterday, I said, “Oh, it’s so nice out today! I love the sun!” when we were walking outside to the cafeteria. Fluke turns to me and says, “I hate the sun. Too hot.” After I ordered my food, I found Fluke and said, “Where are we sitting?” And he said, “I picked a table near the sun for you, since you like it so much, even though it is too hot,” and then he gave me this shy little smile.
4. My coordinator (the Thai teacher basically responsible for my adjustment as a teacher and as a foreigner in my province): Every night he picks me and the other American up for dinner and takes us to new places because, as he says, “I want to give you options so you know where to go on your own.” He is like a parent. He takes me to the store to buy cleaning supplies and food and shampoo and to the pharmacy and shows me the “American” tasting coffee shops (there is exactly two in this area, and they’re a little far, so I can’t get there Monday-Friday. During the week, instead, I drink orange tea with condensed milk from the school cafeteria because it is my only option). He translates for me and makes promises like, “this weekend, I show you hiking spot!” and “I will talk with my hospital friend to see if you need malaria shots.” Also, today he offered to go with me tomorrow to the Songtaew stop (like a pick-up truck that acts as a bus), and to speak with the driver to get the schedule for me, although, as he warned me: “Thailand is underdeveloped, not like Japan or America. So there is no schedule. It comes when it wants to come. So, every day is adventure!” Truly, I would be lost in this country without him.
5. The Phillipino women I work with: Although not at all interchangeable, I put them in the same "category" because I do not know them well individually yet, and also because they have all been equally kind and inclusive with me. Although they are foreigners and share a native language, they speak English when I am around so I can be included. They ask a lot of questions, and a few nights ago they invited me to go shopping and to have dinner with them. They've also already invited me to their house to cook me Phillipino food, and have even offered to give me one of their bikes because one teacher assured me, "I don't know how to ride it, anyway."
They are incredibly inclusive and welcoming and laugh a lot, even in the office, and step away from their desks whenever students ask to play games with them. Last night they took me to the market because they wanted to show me where to get fruits and vegetables as well as the “greatest pad thai in Sakon Nakhon,” and on the way back they continued to mention all the survival tips they’ve come up with since living in Sakon Nakhon. They even walked with me to the pharmacy because they wanted to help me translate “aspirin,” even though they don’t know any more Thai than I do. The four of us stood together at the counter anyway, pointing to our heads and saying the word slowly, “as-pir-IN,” as if this is all that is needed for translation.
And today, because they knew I wanted to find a gym, they coerced a few older students to show us the gym at the university, and then we sat at a table and each ordered a different dessert from a bakery, passing them around and sharing them with each other. Some of them, I've heard, have kids and husbands in different places. You would never know this from our interactions. They are so entirely present and here with me in this moment, and so warm, and so willing to make these experiences feel a little more like home for me.
Basically, what I am saying is, beaches and national parks and waterfalls are not the only places beauty can be found in Thailand.