There are some things that one should always say no to: fedoras, going to the DMV, watermelon flavored Oreos, Abercrombie, etc. - authentic experiences with locals is not one of them. So, when one of our friends shot us a message saying her school coordinator had invited us to camp on her family’s property for the Buddha festival a few provinces away – it was a no brainer. As we approached the small town, it became clear that this festival had attracted unprecedented masses. We swerved through traffic and construction until finally conceding that we were lost and haphazardly perched our bikes on a curb to orient ourselves. **edit: haphazardly perched our bikes on a curb for Emily to orient herself as I sat idly, and directionless-ly, by. A pack of interested Thai locals, shocked to see white women traveling alone in the Isan region, promptly ambled over to us. After using their phones to help us find directions and getting to know us, they invited us in for drinks and dinner. In Thai, they do not have a word that literally translates to ‘kind’; instead they said ‘jai dee’ meaning ‘good heart’ which is perhaps the most apt phrasing considering the sheer humanity and compassion we have received from total strangers in this country. And this was simply the beginning! When we arrived to the family property where we would be camping, we were warmly greeted and introduced around. The beers started circling and a fire was built where we roasted mystery tentacles on an open fire (I smell a new hit Christmas single) over the only rudimentary conversation points we could manage. The next morning our host made us coffee while we watched the sun rising over the picturesque rice paddies and oxen awkwardly sauntering by. Seriously – have you ever seen an ox run before? For some reason the word hutzpah comes to mind – so yeah, they run with some serious hutzpah.
We were lulled into deceptive comfort by the serenity of it all just in time for an assaulting group of Thai radio hosts to arrive on the scene. The boisterous men wasted no time capitalizing on how excruciatingly out of place we were (and are… literally always), whipping out multiple go pros, microphones and cameras. Things got away from us rapidly and suddenly we were holding skewered, and still slightly living fish, while butchering Thai words on a live broadcast and video feed. When we thought we’d had all the jesting at our expense that we could endure, the other shoe dropped. “We fish now”, they asserted. Now this was a confusing prompt because as we looked around, there was not a fishing pole to be found. In fact, the only equipment (a word I use lightly) they had brought was a blue curly wig, and a plaid diaper-like ensemble that the boldest among them fashioned into a loin cloth while telling us that he loved us. My impaled fish and I exchanged glances and twitched uneasily in unison. Just when I thought I had reached the apogee of my discomfiture, it was disclosed that our fishing equipment was our hands. And only our hands. I looked to my speared aquatic friend for guidance. He was dead. So, with nothing left to lose, we stripped down to our spandex shorts and descended into the thigh-deep mud. With cameras assaultingly close to our faces, Thai men screamed directions at us and fish writhed around under our feet. With the inaugural warning that some fish had spikes, though there was no way to tell which ones until they were already caught, it was off to the races. This is what separates the boys from the men, I thought as I plunged my hands into the murky water with reckless abandon. What a thrill! What a rush! What a horrifyingly slimy and thrashy pursuit! Our first catch merited lots of squealing and accolades, we were now seasoned professionals though that by no means slowed the radio host hazing. They continued to film us and, as we are confident, make fun of us on a live stream that was watched by 23,000 people and shared by several hundred more. In my life up to that point, I was convinced that the pinnacle of awkwardness was accidentally calling your teacher mom, or saying ‘you too’ to a ticket clerk telling you to enjoy your movie. I humbly stand corrected.
A few weekends later Emily and I found ourselves at a rugby tournament in Bangkok. The path leading us there had been chance encounter with a tournament organizer I had reached out to online that, as usual for our Thai life, escalated rapidly. A week before the tournament, we had our night bus tickets booked and rostered substitute spots on a local team for a weekend of some casual and intermittent play. Wrong. A different team backed out at the last moment creating a hole in the bracket and the organizers suddenly needed me to create a team using all zero women rugby players I knew in Bangkok – awesome. By the time we arrived in Bangkok I had assembled a team with a grant total six players, all with minimal playing experience and all meeting for the first time that day. To play, you need ten players. We strapped on our boots and prepared to be internationally whaled on by teams from Laos, Vietnam, Australia, and the likes. And whale they did. By day two of the tournament, after injuries had taken their toll, we were down to four functional, disheartened players. We implored other teams to loan us players and our dysfunctional squad of four successfully became ten with once problematic caveat – we all spoke different languages. We recruited some multi-lingual passers-by to help us translate in the literal minutes we were given to organize. The attempts were fruitless; introducing: the slaughter part two. It was clear as soon as the first play commenced that none of us knew which positions we were playing much less each others names. The well-organized lady beasts we were opposing showed no pity or mercy, and the blood bath dragged on for what felt like forever. The punishing Bangkok heat and the more punishing full body tackles left us defeated by all definitions of the word: emotionally, physically, spiritually. The shared pitchers after were practically medicine. We shared some laughs with new pals and, unfortunately, practically agreed to do it all again. Oh, how quickly they forget.
Until next time!