Thursday, April 10, 2008

Now let's talk about me.

Saturday will be one of the most emotional days of my life.
I am in complete denial that, until today, has been unwavering.
The plan was to stay for Songkran and then leave shortly afterwards. This is what I'll do, but it's made the leaving that much harder. Songkran is my favourite festival in Thailand. I know it's dangerous, and people can get out of control, and it does get annoying after 5 days of not being able to go to the store without getting soaked, but it's so... sanook. Everyone. Everyone gets into it. From the babies to the grandaddies you can't open your eyes without seeing someone with a huge smile on their face. And as long as you understand the spirit of the festival it's hard to go wrong.

That said, I have had moments of 'enough is enough' over the past few days. But I've been walking around with a huge grin on my face for most of the time. In the spirit of Thailand it's pure fun. I think I forget that I live in the land of smiles and that in other parts of the world smiling is not the default position. I have always said that I don't want to live anywhere for too long, especially at this point in my life, but it's so much easier said than done. Not in the particulars, I think that's the easy stuff. Pick a place, check out visa requirements, find a job, and make the decision. That's fine. But the getting in, getting set up, finding people to make you laugh and whose presence you crave, then ultimately leaving all of that behind for something else. That's the shitty part of this. And I reduced it to a sentence. Then it can't be that bad, can it? It's at this point of the whole ordeal that I want to just stay here. I don't want to to live anywhere else. I want to get a 2 year teaching degree, get a job at an international school teaching social studies and history, and live here. I don't really, but I love this city. I love my friends.

In 2 weeks I will step off a plane in Detroit.
I have incredibly mixed feelings about this, as is to be expected. I am so excited to see everyone. Very excited indeed. But I keep listing the things I'll miss: my students, my co-workers, my friends, my job, Thai people, speaking Thai, feeling like part of a community, the FOOD, the general laid back lifestyle.
I feel like I have learned so much here. The people of Thailand, namely my students and teachers, have taught me an incredible amount about what it means to be part of this country. When I think about all of the things I was ignorant of when I first arrived it boggles my mind. Then I realize how much I still haven't learned about Thai culture and I remember I'm nowhere. It's a good feeling though, the nowhere. It means I have work to do, and that's never a bad place to be in.

Some things I have learned, in no particular order...
  • Knowing what is going on and thinking you know what is going on are not at all the same thing. Luckily here the discrepancy typically results in humour.
  • Thai is difficult to learn, but gratifying once you begin to really try. Unfortunately it took me a year to start trying.
  • Patience really is a virtue. I haven't made a lot of progress on this, but I'm aware of my faults and am trying to fix them. Patience is currency here.
  • Buddhism in Thailand, or what I've seen of it, is as shady as any organized religion. It is certainly more unifying than any other religion I've seen firsthand though.
  • The King of Thailand is the most revered human in the country. People really do think of him as a father and it's astounding the measures taken to ensure that everyone feels this way. It's hard to resist participating, actually.
  • Holidays are a way of life. I doubt there are any months in Thailand that don't have at least 2 national holidays.
  • Cancelled classes are also a way of life. I taught maybe 2 or 3 full weeks of classes my entire time here. They'll cancel for anything: to prepare a presentation, to go to the temple, because the roads are flooded. It's great!
  • Food is a national pastime. Thai people love to eat. They love it. snacks, meals, fruit on the go, fried anything, sticky rice in bamboo, weird jelly stuff. And yet most people are ridiculously thin. There is a growing obesity trend though.
  • Most Thai music, in my opinion, is just bad. Country music, pop music, traditional music. It just does not appeal to me at all. That said I have some friends that are amazing musicians.
  • Appearances are very important. People told me this before I moved to Thailand, but I couldn't imagine just how important. People will give you the once over every time they see you, and they're not shy about it. A full on eye sweep will often determine how they treat you.
  • Rain hurts. It hurts a lot. Driving a motorbike on the highway in monsoon season stings. And it's cold. Or steamy, depending on the time of day. Yes, rain hurts.
  • Generally Thai people do not read. Comic books, sometimes newspapers and magazines, but not too many people read books.
  • Pollution is rapidly becoming a huge health hazard in Thailand, particularly in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. It stings your eyes, swells your throat, and makes it difficult to see things that are, on a clear day, right in front of your face.
  • Alcohol plays a major role in Thai life. Thai whiskey (which is often rum), strong beer, rice whiskey, moonshine, and increasingly alcopops are all very popular among different types of people. You can buy beer almost anywhere, but there are certain times you cannot. 180 deaths so far in 2 days of Songkran, the majority of them road accidents caused by inebriated drivers.
  • Gender is fluid. This may not be a very popular idea among the older generations, or people who live in the sticks, but it's true. Whether or not it's driven by an economic incentive given the high rate of prostitution or a personal feeling of righting something that feels wrong, genderbending is very common in all forms: obvious and subtle.
Ok, enough for now. I've loads of packing to do and a lot more water throwing before Songkran ends today (officially) and tomorrow (unofficially).

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