It’s funny what you end up missing. When I departed Chiang Mai a little over two weeks ago for village life, I thought I would miss the comforts of the city, like western style toilets and showers. I thought I’d start craving some random farang (foreign) food like pizza. Turns out, two weeks in, I really don’t miss any of these tangibles that much. I’ve gotten used to my cold bucket showers, taken around the same time everyday after my late afternoon walk around the village, categorizing the experience as “refreshing” rather than “frigid.” Honestly, they feel great. As far as the rest of the bathroom situation goes, I’ve adjusted to the idea of the squat toilet and now the idea of sitting on a toilet seems weird. It’s funny how quickly we can recalibrate to a new culture if we’re just open to it. It’s human nature to initially have the knee jerk reaction of “they do WHAT? HOW? Why?? I’m not doing that!!” but eventually the question flips- we start to wonder why we do things the way we do. Who decided that sitting on a toilet was a better idea than squatting over one? (This is a legitimate question.) Seeing more of the world has made me more introspective, thinking about how I do certain things and why. The whole idea of perspective starts to become a reality instead of a buzzword thrown around by world travelers.
The things that I have missed while in Pa Pae are less palpable. I’ve missed the comfort of being able to communicate easily. To have a thought and know, instantly, how to convey that idea to another human being via speech. It’s something we take for granted in daily life. This has given me a newfound appreciation for anyone who has ever left their homeland for a foreign country with no knowledge of the native language. It can be hard as hell.
But the flip side of this, or the progression, is the realization that the experience of hitting a linguistic road block actually can be great fun. Passing the handy Thai-English dictionary back and forth can make for an entertaining afternoon, with both parties learning a new word and laughing at the other’s mispronunciation (I don’t think I’ll ever get the “ng” letter/sound down…!) There’s also something great about the moment when your message is conveyed. Like the other night…
So Friday night around 6pm, a thunderstorm rolls through the hills. It didn’t hit Pa Pae too hard, but it was enough to take out the power. I noticed this at my tee bahn (home) and went back to a friend’s for dinner, bringing with me the news that the power was down. Using my limited arsenal of Thai words, I pointed to the light switch and the ceiling light and said “mai mee,” meaning “don’t have.” Of course, my hosts were confused. Holding up a finger to wait, I pulled out the dictionary and found the word for electricity. A-ha! Now they understood, flipping the light switch and exclaiming in Thai that yes, the power was in fact out. Another win for the dictionary.
The title of this entry refers to another entertaining exchange involving a 23 year old Lawa man telling me repeatedly that he was Polish. I was confused, trying to figure out if this was possible or if he was mixing up the word (hey, how do I know, maybe a Polish person came to visit Pa Pae once? Maybe I found a long lost relative!) Eventually, and I mean like 30 minutes later, we figure out with the help of a friend that he means police. Not Polish. Ahhh, bummer.
It’s little moments like these that I’ll look back fondly on, not for any special reason, just for the unique and utterly exotic experience that they represent. My stay here has been both extremely challenging and very fun, often at the same time. Sometimes I find myself thinking of the common interview question “tell us about a challenge you faced and what you did” and think that I’ve found my answer. I mean, after this, grad school should be a breeze!
I have two more nights solo here before Katherine and a new friend of Atma Seva arrive on Wednesday. Despite the fact that I’m now comfortably living here on my own, I’m looking forward to a friendly face and some English-speaking company! And then we all head back to Chiang Mai early Saturday, where I’ll move into my new apartment!! Stay tuned for more news as my Thai adventures continue 🙂