Whoa! Long time without an update. Sorry about that, guys, between work and my mom visiting for a few weeks, I have been swamped! But more about that later, let me crank out a few blog posts to get us up to speed on Southeast Asia.
As you may have figured out, I try to check out the local village life when I travel. It’s a nice way to see another side of the country, and what can I say: I like revisiting the lifestyle. Thankfully a Peace Corps Thailand volunteer named Kathleen was kind enough to host me for a few days at her village in the north.
Getting there was a matter of being dropped off alongside a long road between major cities. Telling the attendant where to drop me off…? Well, it seems like many Thais are shy about speaking English – or don’t know much – so Kathleen had me copy down the directions in phonetic Thai. I tried to read these and, predictably, the attendant was like: whaaat is this chick trying to say? But it all worked out in the end, by calling Kathleen and having her talk to the attendant. I swear she said the directions in the same way I did! Tonal languages!! *Shakes fist.*
Fun fact! Apparently Thais are very sensitive to cleanliness and smell, and place such an emphasis on the importance of showering that there’s a greeting which translates to, “have you bathed today?” Go fig. I guess many foreigners have a reputation for being dirty. Not surprising if you’ve ever seen some of the backpackers who frequent in SE Asia! Ha. I thought I was doing better than the matted-hair crowd: showering daily, washing my clothes diligently, etc. Yet when I sat down on the bus, the elderly Thai woman next to me opened the window. Ouch. She who laughs first, laughs shortest.
Highlights of the visit!
(1) Bicycling all over the village streets and countryside. Beautiful.
(2) Fried bananas in the marketplace! World’s most delicious breakfast snack? Yes. Afterwards, whenever buying a morning cup of Thai coffee (yum!) I’d stop by the local market for some warm, freshly-fried bananas. [Accidentally wrote 'keep me eyes open' at first. Like a market-roving junk-food pirate. Now that's what I want to be when I grow up.]
(3) Learning how to properly season my noodle soup! Invaluable skill, my friends. This is why I always visit PCVs, they get what I want to know.
(4) Meeting all Kathleen’s coworkers at the local municipality (department? place?), her neighbors, and her students at the primary school, and getting a tiny taste for real life in Thailand.
I enjoyed getting to hear about the challenges and rewards of Peace Corps Thailand. Some comparisons:
-> Peace Corps SA has been open since 1997 (it didn’t start earlier for obvious reasons), whereas the Thailand program has been running since 1962! Seemed like many more people were familiar with Peace Corps.
-> All the volunteers I met seemed to speak excellent Thai. They were all modest: “No, I’m not very fluent…” then went on to hold a 20-minute conversation about politics or whatever in Thai. Guess that’s what happens when few people in your community speak English, or are too shy to try. On the other hand, most PCVs in South Africa never learn the local language beyond conversational level, because people speak English and there aren’t as many opportunities for immersion. Not learning the local language well is a bummer, but getting to speak your native tongue and teach English in an environment where people are very eager to practice it is nice!
-> Much like South Africa, Thailand can be called a ‘posh corps’ (blegh) assignment. I can share my thoughts on the term ‘posh corps’ on another day, but suffice to say I don’t like it. I had to reexamine my prejudices because my first impression was that PC Thailand was a super nice assignment, and things were generally a lot more developed than South Africa (wifi, hello?) But when I heard about some of the (really tough) challenges that PCVs serving there faced when trying to integrate into local culture, I had to reflect that as an outsider: I’m pretty clueless! And just ’cause a country seems developed, doesn’t mean it’s an easy place to serve. I should certainly have learned that lesson already.
-> Besides Zimbabweans, I encountered very few other foreigners where I lived in Limpopo. But in Thailand you’ll find young backpackers partying it up all over the place! Often they’d be dressed and acting really inappropriately for the local culture, too, and that’d color everyone’s opinion of Westerners. I would find that frustrating. Made me glad to live in the boondocks, where people just formed their preconceived ideas of Americans based on trashy TV shows. ;)