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Adapt or Die

Many of my posts so far have focused on school content, and while whirling Thai dervishes fully consume my weekdays, my weekends have been equally as exciting. Locally, there is not much to do on the weekends. In fact, there is about one bar in town. I say about, because calling it a whole bar is probably optimistically rounding up. Our band of merry co-teachers took us one night for a few beers and it may as well have been front-page news. As the only white faces in town, we could reach down to tie our shoes and it would be PSA worthy. This illustriousness has its obvious drawbacks. The combination of negative Thai societal connotations surrounding women drinking and the local notoriety is not a recipe for a wild, face-melting night on the town. At best, you are doomed to run into some judgmental parents, be the subject of the band’s public jeering in unfamiliar vernacular, and the victim of unwanted set-ups from every acquaintance you’ve ever made. Understandably, when Emily and I were invited to a coworker's wedding the next weekend, we expected a similar ambiance. To make matters worse, I hadn’t met the bride or the groom until the day of the wedding - we were merely invited because of the status symbol elicited by having foreigners at your wedding. I haven’t been above pity invites for my last 22 years of existence, why start now?

When we first walked in and found our table, we found that another guest had already been seated with us. The guest, who is generally tolerable, is significantly less welcome in the morning hours. If you can’t see where this is going, you had a more honorable collegiate experience than I did – I salute you. Our tablemate was none other than Johnny Walker, served with a mixer of intense host peer pressure…at 8:30 am. To make matters worse, ours was the only table with this festive adornment. All eyes were on us as we tried to discern whether neighboring tables were eagerly waiting for us to drink, or misconstruing us as alcoholic farangs. There wasn’t much time to debate. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. The word greatness must be switched with ‘whiskey’ at this juncture. But either way, Shakespeare’s words ring true. We had whiskey/greatness thrust upon us, and as people raised to be polite guests, we answered the call.

An indiscernible amount of drinks after our unsolicited whiskey wake-up call, we began wondering if we had missed the ceremony. Food and beers had begun arriving surreptitiously and the inebriated proceedings showed no sign of taking a turn for the ceremonial. Just when we had resigned to our fates of an eternal purgatory coupled with Johnny, we were ushered from our seats and pushed out into the street. We stumbled along the road with a mass migration of other wedding attendees, unsure of our destination and melting in the punishing Thai heat. Soon the staggered masses coalesced into a procession headed by the bride and groom, an authentic Thai band, and a gaggle of bridesmaid equivalents in traditional garb. As far as I could tell, the bridesmaids have one very serious obligation: get the entire wedding comfortably trashed. They weave throughout the procession with buckets full of alcohol and a single cup, sporadically thrusting libations upon unsuspecting parade participants and waiting for them to finish it before moving on to their next hazing victim. When bridesmaids handed me a cup, bummer - I had no idea how to communicate or refuse it, so this soldier fell deeper into the trenches.

When the parade finally reached the wedding, we were shepherded in to take a picture with the bride and groom, both absolute strangers. We awkwardly fumbled around trying to get out of the way when we realized a line, impatient to capture pictures, had formed. We were promptly moshed back into the frame as the realization hit – these people were waiting to take pictures with us. Now this made us incredibly uncomfortable, as we were hyperaware of taking attention away from the happy couple. Luckily, one quick glance clarified that they were not only ecstatic that people were capturing us in their pictures, but were in fact the ones provoking the mosh pit to do so. In true backwards Thai fashion, we proceeded to the ceremony after the prolific drinking. Perhaps that made me appreciate the ornate, authentic ceremony even more. The day culminated with dancing and Thai karaoke where we twirled many old Thai women. As it turns out local music is not well suited for the white and rhythmically challenged among us. Adapt or die.

On other weekends we have set out to explore Ubon, the closest large city to our small province, with varied success. On our first expedition, the intent was to explore a local temple. We didn’t. But in a similarly cultural experience, we did get rather familiar with a mall. Yes, a real mall. I could have wept. As everything I currently own in Thailand could fit in a backpack, we decided to set out in search of more teaching appropriate clothing. This task proved difficult because compared to the Thai people, who are naturally short and svelte, I am a literal giant cracken from the deep-eth. Most stores do not have fitting rooms and don’t let you try on potential purchases but instead insist on watching as you hold skirts up to your body and wonder if they will fit around your wrist, much less your waist. The day seemed like a bust, that is, until the next day when a coworker said he saw Emily and I making the motor-bike journey home from Ubon (about an hour and a half). Thai people, who don’t travel much, have a very skewed perception of what delineates a “long drive”. The man, in awed stupor, acted as if he had watched us trek to Mars. He proceeded, in incredibly broken English and creative charades, to invite us to join his literal Thai biker gang. I fully expect my street cred to double from this development. All it took to adapt to the swerving with locals was to finally accept that the only rule of the road is that I have to be okay with other drivers doing whatever the hell they want. Conversely, other drivers have to be okay with this inexperienced farang doing whatever the hell she wants. I still think I got the better end of the deal.

Until next time!

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