Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A "Very Thai" Birthday Celebration

On August 4th, I reached 18 years of age. I had been in my host family's house for just under a month, and was not expecting much from the day. My friend from school, whose name is Cake, spent that Friday night at my house, and she woke me up mid-morning so that we could go downtown. The previous night she had tried to explain to me what the event was, but in a hodge-podge of Thai and English I was unable to understand the reason, so I just decided to go with the flow-- 'mai pen rai'-- like a true Thai person.
So the next morning we got in the car and headed into town. My host dad dropped us off at the "plaza," which is a covered parking garage and shopping area connected to the market and a grocery store, and we walked up to a little makeshift stage that had been set up. Photos of Thailand's favorite movie stars, Nadet and Yaya, adorned the area, and the stage's background was covered in advertisements for an instant noodle brand for which the two have done several ad campaigns. I chuckled quietly. Only in Thailand would two of the most famous actors in Thailand be noodle presenters. And not just noodle presenters-- Nadet and Yaya aren't only known for their acting, but also for Lays brand potato chips and several other food products. What can I say, Thai people love food.
My friend and I waited near the front of the line, for it was only about 10 o'clock at our arrival. After about an hour, I was slowly being pushed backwards by an awkwardly placed swinging fan in front of me and the ever encroaching crowd of people joining the area.
Just then, I looked to my right and saw another 'farang' waving at me. It happened to be another exchange student from Yasothon Pittayakom school. I forfeited my spot in the ranks and went to say hello. Noticing that the people around me had automatically filled in my space, we walked around for a while. An hour later, another exchange student and the foreign teacher assistant at Yasothon Pittayakom showed up, and we bought some food. My chances of getting back up to the front with Cake were squelched, and the four of us sat down on the sidewalk within visible distance of the stage. Soon enough, we heard screaming coming from the area, and it was obvious that the two had finally appeared.
One thing I will never understand is the screaming capabilities of a tween-aged fangirl. Of over two hundred people gathered there, there were only a handful of adults, and an even smaller amount of boys. We gravitated towards the stage and tried to peek at them, but to no avail.The area was packed with people, and the stage wasn't tall enough to give people in the back a good view, if any at all.
Instead we walked back to the curb, plopped down, and waited for a good twenty minutes for the celebrities to end their chat about Yumyum ramen. Eventually things died down, and the crowd cleared out.
Donia, the teacher assistant, and I decided to wave randomly at all of the fancy-looking cars with tinted windows in a joking manner, but were surprised when a silver van drove by slowly and Nadet opened the window and waved back at us. I can only credit this peculiar occurence to the fact that we were farang in a sea of, well, Thai people. As soon as we caught a surprised glimpse at him, he was gone, the car surrounded by a newfound wave of fans gesticulating in front of him with pens and paper.
With a laugh we walked back up to the stage to meet up with my friend, who seemed to be beaming with excitement. She showed us up-close photos she had taken of Yaya, and she even received some instant noodles to boot.
My host dad picked us all up after that, and we headed to lunch. The last exchange student at Yasothon joined us there. It was a delicious Thai meal, as always, and Cake relayed to us that she had heard a rumor that Nadet and Yaya would be eating there. We determined that the only place that they could be would be in the back room near the kitchen, so we nonchalantly decided to 'go to the bathroom' at the same time that they were leaving, running into them and their entourage along the way. With a sympathetic smile, we asked to take a photo with Nadet. He agreed, although it was obvious that he was not entirely enthused. I felt empathetic. I mean, although I don't have screaming hordes of Thai girls between the age of 10 and 17 running behind me at all times asking for my autograph, I know the sentiment of being watched all the time, and wanting some privacy. Nonetheless, we shamelessly walked over next to him and snapped away.
Since we were all together anyway, Cake, Silvia, Marine, Miriam, Donia and I all went back to my house to watch some movies and relax.
"The Help" may not have been the greatest choice on my part, being the only American in the house, but we watched it regardless. Then we ate dinner on the floor, in an almost-Isaan-but-not-really manner, while watching Julia Roberts feast on Italian food in "Eat, Pray, Love." The movie, although extremely cheesy, managed to provide some valuable insight. Julia Roberts, like the four of us, went on the journey of a lifetime searching for enlightenment. Smilarly, we came to Thailand for a host of reasons, and slowly but surely, we are finding ourselves along the way. It's easy to overlook how much I am changing-- not just concrete differences like going from 17 to 18 years old, but also intangible differences, like becoming more appreciative of my life back home and learning to balance my values with those of Thai culture.
As I blew out the candles on the birthday cake my host mom so kindly got me, I wished for happiness in the months ahead. I know that wish will only take me half way there, though. It's up to me to enjoy my fleeting life here in Thailand, with almost two months down and about nine more to go. And as time moves forward irrevocably, I am bound to grow up as well.
Happy birthday to me!
Our photo with Nadet. Awkwardness all around. Yaya slipped away in the hubbub. She looked very unhappy... but I can relate. Heheheh.