My response to “A Word a Week Photo Challenge- dancing”! During a recent “scout camp day” in Pa Pae, Thailand these girls had to perform a short routine to earn dismissal from our station and continue their hike onwards! Not your classic ballroom, but equally enjoyable to watch 🙂
Posts Tagged With: Lawa village
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 🙂
Despite the lack of posting the past week or so, I am alive and well. I apologize for the delay, but I have been busy, how you say, living. Thank you to everyone who has told me via email, FB, skype, etc. that you’ve been following along and enjoying reading about my adventures! With no one commenting (hint hint?) I never really know who is reading. So thanks 🙂
So just to get everyone up to speed, I’ve been living in Pa Pae, a small, rural hill tribe somewhere in the northwest corner of Thailand. Here. It’s been a busy week, both physically and mentally exhausting. The biggest challenge is the language barrier, namely I speak about maybe two dozen Thai phrases clearly and most of the people here speak somewhere around the same amount, or slightly more/less, of English. I’m teaching English to 8 classes of students, which is fun but also tough considering communication difficulties. I’ve never taught before, so going in front of any class is daunting enough! It’s certainly a challenge, but everyone here is so welcoming that it’s hard to stay panicked for long.
One of the hardest things to wrap my head around is the idea of remoteness. Here I am, on the other side of the world, in a village, in the middle of NOWHERE (the nearest town is about an hour and a half away by treacherous, half-paved road) and I’m sitting in my room on wifi. Half a world away, and still plugged in. I simultaneously hate it and love it. I don’t know how I would feel about spending three weeks completely removed from the English speaking world, but at the same time it saddens me that our world has shrunk so much. “Remoteness” in the true sense of the world is becoming a thing of the past.
Life here is quite exciting. My school day starts around 7:30 am when students begin blasting music from the school, which is located conveniently right outside my non-insulated wall. Song of choice? Sexy Lady, a painfully catchy Asian pop song. Oi vey. As much as I roll my eyes, I actually don’t mind waking up this way. It’s like the revelry played at summer camp. Rise and shine, Pa Pae! And I’m usually already awake, courtesy of the 4 am chicken chorus.
Actually, living here feels a lot like summer camp. I live in a cabin, I have a bug net, there are kids everywhere, food is prepared for me… it’s kind of nice. It’s a mix between summer camp and Sturbridge Village, if you happen to be from southern N.E., brought back to life. Oh and throw in that I don’t speak the language. I’m still wrapping my head around how unique this environment is and how utterly different it is from any place I’ve ever been. I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts at the end of my three weeks, but for now, I’m just enjoying taking each day at a time and slowly improving my ability to pud pasa thai (speak Thai). It’s slow going, but some of my favorite times so far have been sitting on the floor of Pee Pon, one of the villagers, and playing with her baby, slowly and tentatively teaching each other the Thai and English words for various objects. Latest word mastered? Sohm= orange! Aroy mak (very delicious) because they grow them right in Pa Pae.
Despite my attempts to dive into the Thai language, there’s nothing quite like having a mutually comprehended conversation in English. It’s like tonic for my brain. After tying itself in knots, an hour or two of rapid fire good ‘ol English restores it to it’s original settings. So, because of this, thank God for Skype.
Well, I suppose that’s enough rambling for now. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite pictures from Pa Pae so far…
To everyone in the northeast, stay safe, stay WARM! and enjoy the feeling of being curled up on the couch with good company (snacks included) and nowhere to go. Right about now, I miss that. So enjoy it just a little bit extra for me 🙂
All in all, Thailand has been mostly what I expected. Warm/hot, loud, confusing at times, but overall a vibrant, welcoming place. There are, however, a few things that I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around…
- Cold showers are the norm. Finding a place with hot water can be a luxury. The Lawa village where I’m headed off to tomorrow for the next three weeks doesn’t have showers at all: my showers will be a bucket of cold water. Yippee!
- Toilet paper is also a luxury and definitely can NOT be flushed down the toilet. A hose mounted next to the toilet is the norm, for all your cleaning needs. I’m still adjusting to this. Toilet paper is occasionally provided, but putting it down the can is a big no-no. Learned that the hard way. Oops.
- No matter where you are, you are probably no more than twenty feet from free wifi. Your accommodations may lack a shower and a seated toilet, but I bet you 50-1 they have free wifi. I’m still trying to figure this one out.
- Traffic here makes rush hour on the Mass Pike look like a cake walk. Scooters, tuk tuks, motorcycles, cars, trucks, songtaews, and pedestrians all jockey for a place on the road. I swear to God, it’s like a real life size game of Mario Kart when the light changes (bananas occasionally included.)
- Thai people really are as friendly as they’re made out to be. When you smile, people actually smile back! If you smile and give someone a friendly “sawatdeeka”, you’re in. The other day we stopped for a drink and some snacks at a road side stand and made instant friends with three women also stopped. One even invited us to her house for dinner, anytime!
- Thai natives do NOT understand the concept of walking for fun/exercise. I can’t even tell you how many straight up crazy looks I got the other day when I was walking down the road, simply to see some sights and enjoy the exercise. Part of it was probably my farang (“fa-lahng” or foreigner) status, but man, they were perplexed.
Overall, I’m loving things here. I had a successful Skype interview with a university back in the states last night and I’m still impressed how clear the call was. Considering I literally called the other side of the world (11:30 am EST, 11:30 pm Chiang Mai time), things went really well. I might as well have been calling the house next door. This has been the biggest surprise of all- I’m as far away from home as I could possibly be, but if I turn on my computer, I feel like I haven’t even left. The ubiquitous free wifi has made it almost impossible to feel like I’m that far away.
I suppose things will be different in the village.. But then again, despite being two hours from the nearest town and having squat toilets, I’m told that there is (wait for it) free wifi. Oh technology, how the world keeps shrinking…
Stay tuned for my next update from the hills! 🙂