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)

 

 

Small Creatures

Time is but a shadow, moved by light.

 

I sit outside upon shaded tiles

Arranged like a mosaic of the mind

Messy symmetry, oblong shapes

 

I see zigzagging ants

Lizards scuttling up walls

A green bug camouflaged as a leaf

 

I watch restless gnats

Butterflies fluttering through air

A slug shaped like a tamarind rind

 

I observe them, thoughtfully

All of these little organisms

Roaming around my physical form

 

I try to sit erect, try to meditate

So many thoughts, small creatures

Crawling around in my brain space

 

I let them go, let them crawl

Curiously observing their paths

Their avoidances, their obsessions

 

Thoughts materialize

Spin into other thoughts

Create patterns of thoughts

Of sticky, clingy attachments that

Lodge in the cobwebs of my consciousness

 

My thoughts zigzag through my brain’s curvatures

An intricate maze

Feelings scurry like lizards

Up the walls of my consciousness

Vying for position, trying to gain the advantage

 

My thoughts are restlessly competing

They flaunt their beautiful reasonings

The habitual ones more attractive, more overpowering in size

Some, lie dormant, a dried out slug

Who hasn’t been nourished, therefore hasn’t grown

 

I breathe in, I breathe out

My breath like medicine

Breaths that transfer new molecules in and out of the body

Expanding and releasing

 

Creepy, crawly feelings

Squirm for my attention

Generating a illusory storyline

Of repeating, familiar frames that

Project onto the canvas of my consciousness

 

I return focus, I readjust

My mind like the clouds

Water particles that create clusters of whimsical white wisps

Morphing and fading

 

Mental formations, fleeting

Foreign voices, conversing

In a language, I do not understand

Under a time condition, I cannot fathom

Yet still entangled in the same cycle of life and death

 

I think yet I am not satisfied

Therefore I take another sip and

I am reminded of the impermanence of it all

Here one moment and gone to the next

 

Verse, word, perceived desire

Taste, smell, anticipated sound

Hyper-aware of not being aware

Unable to see, to define, to know

To discern with my deluded judgement

 

Monkey mind making a racket

Ricocheting in its cage

So I repeat the mantra

   This is not mine

   This I am not

   This is not my self

 

I open my eyes, senses, heart

Everything submerged in a bath of light

Greeting the present as a gift

 

I spread gratitude towards those small creatures

Running topsy-turvy, to and fro

Unconsciously changing and dissipating

 

I smile despite impermanence 

Basking in this ephemeral mood

The sun calls to me, lifts me

 

I stand aboard my ship

Courage as tall as the mast

Curiosity as wide as the sails

No one knows how far it goes

 

What small creatures will I observe

In this next moment

And what will they crawl to mind?