The Unexpected

I expected to meet with the US Ambassador to Thailand for lunch with a fellow volunteer.

I did not expect the other PC volunteer to drop out last minute, leaving an intimate talk and joyful meal with him, his wife, assistant and Thai embassy workers. I was then invited to continue with the entourage and visit the monkey training college.

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These monkeys were trained through positive reinforcement methods within 6 months to pick coconuts from trees efficiently, problem-solve issues like untangling themselves, and ride on the back of motorcycles safely.

The Monkey Training School in Surat Thani is mentioned in this NPR article about the monkey coconut-picking business:  What’s Funny About The Business Of Monkeys Picking Coconuts?

I expected to take a trip to visit the grandmother of a Thai family I have befriended at the end of October.

I did not expect a full ceremony in respect of the grandparents with monks and food galore. 

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I did not expect to feel such a part of the family, exploring the markets, temples and rivers of the surrounding area with the cousins in the family.

I expected to go with my host family to show my respect at the passing of King Rama 9.

I did not expect an old woman to do my hair upon arriving to the event because it wasn’t up high enough, and then 3 hours of sitting and standing to pay respects with a flower and a curtsy, and for me and the thousands of people around me to all be fed afterwards.

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I did not expect to be so touched by the exhibit at the Arts and Culture Centre in Bangkok, featuring portraits painted by over 120 artists of the former king, explanations and models of the Rama IX’s sustainability projects throughout his 70 year reign, and his own photography.

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I also did not expect the 2 volunteers I visited this exhibition with, my 2 close friends, to have both early terminated their Peace Corps service (keep in touch Liz and Cheri).

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I expected to continue writing letters as my only means of communication with Kevin.

I did not expect him to buy his ticket to Bangkok on a whim, planning a birthday trip for himself whether or not I joined him.

He wasn’t sure what to expect from me.

I didn’t know what to expect either.

I did not expect to travel so well together, face and defeat my biggest fear (SCUBA diving) while gaining international certification, and learning that despite my ocean swimming prowess, Kevin was the better diver of us two.

Watch the underwater video of our dive here (password: scuba): Koh Tao 3rd Dive

I didn’t expect to fall in love again.

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On Thursday I expected to co-teach the fourth graders about the subject of the weather.

I did not expect to witness corporal punishment used on over 20 boys, because no one confessed to the crime of spitting over the ledge of the balcony. I could not teach after the scene, my system was shocked all day and was offered abundant support from fellow PC volunteers.

*event not pictured*

Today, I expected to ride my bike to the post office 10 km away, as I do most Saturday mornings.

I did not expect half the road turned to dirt, creating a rocky and dusty ride and then receiving a huge package from my parents which I unboxed and stuffed what I could of all the jars of peanut butter, the extra virgin olive oil and vinegar set, the heaps of books to read and color, the colored pens and pencils into my backpack, the rest in bags.

And so, I unexpectedly enjoyed this meal and added new maps to my wall.

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Language and Culture. Thai and English.

Although I am missing a language training this week (provided by Peace Corps in Hua Hin to support volunteers with our Thai), I wanted to share some reflections about language and the interesting connections I’ve seen between language and culture.

Language is a way to discover cultural values. For instance:

 

  • Thai does not have verb tenses, just a word or two added to the context of a sentence to indicate the time – this seems to reflect the Thai people’s relaxed view of time (they are unconcerned with punctuality or planning ahead of time) and the Buddhist tradition of being present more than speaking of the future or past.

 

  • Also, one word that exemplifies Thai people is “naam-jai” which means “water of the heart” and roughly translates to “generosity” – Thais value water, see it as a giving entity (a river is “me-naam” or “mother water”) and the heart as the seat of our experiences (many emotions have the word “jai” or “heart” attached to them).

 

  • Thai people go by nicknames that are one syllable, having nothing to do with their real name, and are often shared by many others (communal). Thais will put a Pi or Non to start a name in order to indicate age (respect for elders) as well as kinship (everyone is family).

 

The inherent values I’ve seen in the English language that reflect at least American values are:

 

  • an over complication and obsession with time (we have 11 different verb tenses)
  • a sense of individual possession (possessive nouns)
  • breaking the rules (often)
  • diversity, incorporating components of many cultures (latin, modern romance languages, Germanic, Hindi, Sanskrit, Slavic, Baltic, Celtic, Greek)
  • continually growing and morphing with new words (an American value)
  • attempting to dominate the world although it is not the biggest fish in the sea (3x as many people speak Chinese natively at 1.2 billion and 100 million more people speak Spanish than English, and yet while only 360 million people speak English natively, it is estimated that another half billion speak it as their second-language)

 

 

Getting lost in the clouds

“To be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery”

Often when I lay in my bed and read, I rearrange my body so that my head is where my feet usually rest so I may look out my window and gaze at the canvas outside.

Weather is a strong reminder that every day is unpredictable and strangely beautiful. Although being a Peace Corps volunteer may sound more exotic or more full of more hardships than “normal life,” I would challenge that assumption.

Every day is unpredictable no matter where you are in the world. The clouds remind me of this.

Yet, it’s easy to forget or disregard the truth of impermanence. Many a day feels the same, and so my mind wanders elsewhere, wishing to be elsewhere, no longer present to the subtle beauties around me, dreaming of what was and what could be, instead of appreciating what is.

I remind myself that a year ago, I lay dreaming and pining for this opprotunity, to be here, in Thailand. Now, here I am, at my intended destination yet still caught in the endless cycle of dissatisfaction and craving that I thought would be quenched.

It is when we embrace the mystery of the moment, set aside our preconceived notions or ways of being and seek to become lost in our now, it is then that we are fully present to the wonders available in each second of life.

Whenever my mind seeks to predict what the clouds will do next or starts to reminisce in other skies seen in the past, I remind myself just to observe what I see, get lost in the present moment. No day is like the one I am experiencing today.

“That thing, the nature of which is totally unknown to you, is usually what you need to find, and finding it is a matter of getting lost.”

Books in queue to read:

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit (quotes above)

The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

Sapiens and Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

A Life of One’s Own by Marion Milner

Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown