The Honeymoon: the first phase of culture shock.
So far, on my PeaceCorps journey, life has been pretty easy.
I flew to San Francisco for a few days of staging events, met and socialized with my fellow American volunteers, ate my favorite American meals one last time on Peace Corps’ dime, met up with my SF girlfriends for a final good-bye and completed various introductory activities to consecrate my commitment to the Peace Corps’ mission.
I flew across the Pacific Ocean for the first time, completing 32 hours of travel from SFO to BKK, flying on the top luxury airline in the aviation industry, Singapore Airlines, completely equipped with multimedia entertainment, assorted Asian cuisine meal and snack selections, and hot towels to steam my face at the start and end of each flight.
In Bangkok, I have spent over a week reaping in the unrelenting support and smooth logistics provided by the Thailand Peace Corps staff. I have explored the Sing Buri province on foot, bike and in a song toa (open-air truck-bus). There are abundant convenience stores (711), delicious food places (aa-haan a-roi), and many smiling friendly Thais to wai (bow greeting) on a daily basis (so-wat-dee ka).
A few of the many highlights:
- Being greeted into Thailand with a special welcoming ceremony (Bii Sri Soo Kwan) in which my soul/spirit was blessed and followed by a feast, karaoke and dancing
- Biking around the rural around of Sing Buri —> seeing one of the largest seated golden Buddhas in the country —> learning how to manually fix many a flat tire —> exploring the abundant outside market —> eating a bag of bugs and other edible items —> negotiating in Thai effectively to buy a skirt for 200 baht (around $6)
- Walking along the river walkway at night —> getting lost —> finding a temple and a new way to the hotel —> happening upon a Movie Cafe —> seeing a movie dubbed in the Thai (One Piece Film: Gold) —> attempting to speak the little Thai I know to buy a ticket, obtain a coupon and order chicken pops (gai tot) and a coffee (kawf-fae ron)
Now, the honeymoon hotel is ending. Tomorrow, I meet my Thai host family who will house me for the remaining 10 weeks of the PST (training).
While many PCVs are nervous or sad about leaving our American bubble, I am brimming with excitement because this is why I came – to immerse myself in the Thai culture. I will definitely miss the daily yoga practice and companionship; I know that my wonderful American PCV friends are a bonus to my service, a lifelong network of courageous, talented people. It is the Thai people that I wish to connect with the most because I know fitting in and communicating will be my biggest challenge yet.
Everyone has different motivations for being here. I happen to be brewing a mixture of idealism to make the world a better place, a scoop of desire to challenge myself, a helping of selfishness to travel the world and a pinch of escapism to take a rest from American culture.
My cultural awareness is expanding tremendously. Tonight I say good-bye to western toilets and toilet paper in the bathroom, overhead showers, american eating and sleeping habits. Thais use squat toilets, toilet paper rolls to clean their hands at the dinner table, bucket showers, double-fisted utensil holding and never sleep with their heads pointing west.
Although these customs may seem strange, they are surprisingly practical — squat toilets require squatting which is good for the digestive tract and butt muscles; bucket showers are taken two to three times a time to stay clean; forks are used as a tool to scoop food onto one’s spoon; due to the head-to-feet concept (Thais believe feet are dirty, and there are many rules for foot etiquette) feet face away from Buddha shrines, pictures of the King and West to be respectful and ward off and spirits.
Using toilet paper as a napkin and the strict modesty rules in this humid climate are the two customs that I can’t seem to wrap my head around completely, and yet I will continue wearing black and other subdued colors until October 2017 in respect for the late king, will wear conservative clothing and formal skirts in the schools everyday as a role-model for the kids and bring my own sanitary wipes into the bathroom with me while the toilet paper adorns the dinner table.
All joking aside, I have learned a lot these past few weeks, especially in regards to a very foreign language. I have learned enough Thai to respond to simple questions and address the Vice-governor of Sing Buri in a formal greeting at a government building.
**link to article: Siam News Peace Corps in Thailand
I am highly interested in language teaching and language learning and so have found the Thai Language to be fascinating with its tonal nuances, beautiful Thai script and somewhat simple grammar that reflects its collectivist culture — but that is for another blog post.
For now, I tell myself jai yen yen (cool heart) and enjoy my last stand-up shower and western style bed for the next 2 years…