Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Monthly Report Numero 3

Last Friday, in the midst of international tragedies involving western and Muslim nations, I sat on the ground of the house of one of the few Muslim families in Yasothon, sipping coffee nonchalantly, eating peanut-buttered bread, and having an experience that I will remember for a lifetime.

I was fortunate enough to meet an amazing American teacher from New York at my old host school. She has been in Thailand for about two years, and she really opened up my eyes to the beauty of Thai culture from the very beginning. Being able to talk to a person who can understand both the Thai and American perspective was honestly an amazing opportunity for me to learn, and for the first month that I was in Thailand, I frequented the English room at Yasothon Pittayasan School and talked to her about various aspects of Thailand that would go unnoticed to an untrained eye.

During that time, she also mentioned that there are a few people who I might want to meet in Yasothon. Although there are only about forty thousand people here, the city is host to several foreigners and interesting characters, including a ladyboy troupe, a Thai-American who runs an English school (And incidentally doesn't speak Thai), two Mormon missionaries, four exchange students, and at least one Australian ex-pat with a Thai wife who spends half of his time in Australia and half of his time here. So, surprisingly, Yasothon is a fairly diverse place (Within the province of Yasothon there are also two Peace Corps volunteers, one of whom I had the great chance to meet!).

Among some of the other people Teacher Malee recommended that I meet, she also mentioned that Yasothon had a small Christian and Muslim demographic as well, although most people practice Buddhism. When she said that her Muslim friends loved foreigners and would be thrilled to meet me, I gladly accepted the opportunity.

Initially, I planned on going to a Ramadan celebration with them, however, I was swept off to a bordering province on that day by the teacher volleyball team, and thus missed the event. I was a little disappointed, and in a few weeks, I had already changed host families, and the prospects of anything happening grew smaller, until I got a call from Teacher Malee last Thursday, saying that the offer was still standing to meet them.

We arrived at their home at about seven, and were warmly greeted by Mohammed at the door. Dressed in all white clothing, he urged us to come in. The house was beautiful-- the design was much different than Thai style, and I later learned that Mohammed studied architecture in school.We took a seat on the floor in the living room, and he brought us out coffee (Made with milk! This is very uncommon in Thailand), and introduced us to his wife, Fatima. I introduced myself and they told me about how their daughter studied abroad in Buffalo, New York, several years before.

They both struck me as wonderfully sincere, and I had the strange sensation that I was not in Thailand anymore. Of course, they didn't look very Thai, for the first Muslim who came to Yasothon was Pakistani, according to Teacher Malee, but it was more a cultural impression that I was feeling. I first stayed with a Thai family, and now I am with a Chinese one, and the culture from one family to the next changed a lot, but both seem "very Thai" to me. Of course Mohammed and Fatima spoke perfect Thai and had lived there for their whole lives, but something seemed different, and it was a good different.

As we carried on conversing with each other and eating our American snack, I realized how lucky I was to be able to see this flourishing subculture within my small town. The experience majorly underlined the fact that even in a place like Yasothon, I have the opportunity to learn about so many different people, from so many different backgrounds, even if, for the most part, everybody looks similar to me.

Buddhism teaches that you should respect all other religions and races, and I see that every day in Thailand. There is a Mormon Church on my street, a teacher from my old school who had monthly prayer sessions with the small Christian demographic there, spirit houses on every stretch of road, and three girls at my school who wear a hijab every day. I can only wish that one day the United States will be able to coexist like this. It doesn't matter whether you are the majority or the minority-- every belief deserves respect. Teacher Malee relayed to me on Friday a quote that Fatima had told her: "The world is God's garden, and it would be an ugly garden if all the flowers looked the same." Here, I am seeing rainbows.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Brief Update

This week has been great. This time, I have decided to stray from the philosophical and just point out the obvious in my life, because it may not be so obvious to you.
In the last week I have:
-Started and finished reading the book "Slam" by Nick Hornby (Really not that much of an accomplishment in terms of reading speed... It's written very simply. Ha ha.), I enjoyed it.
-Eaten Som Tum with my classmates from school and the other three exchange students in Yasothon. Woohoo!
-Had coffee with the American teacher who works at my old host school (Realizing now that I never stated that I switched host families... oups. I switched host families. There. It was a month and a half ago, and I now attend Yasothon Pittayakom School. We have a website.) and her really good friends, who happen to be Muslim-- more about this later. Simply put, amazing experience.
-Achieved no scholastic feats. What's new?
-Did have a Thai dance class, and an (out-of-focus) video to prove it! One day I will upload photos to Facebook, one day.
-Host sister's birthday is tomorrow! Hooray! I drew her something and got her a little gifty. I hope she will like it. I told her that I wanted her to wake me up at four to go give offerings to the monks, but at this point in time that doesn't sound like such a sweet dealio... Don't judge me, just because I am in Thailand, doesn't mean I don't need my beauty sleep! ;)
-Will go to Amnat Charoen (Province to the South-East of Yasothon) to renew my visa tomorrow. Let's hope that there are no problems!!

Lately, I have been quickly jotting down sociological observations, and I would like to blog about a lot of things this year, including stuff about: Boy-Girl relationships, food culture, indirect communication, and respect. But those will have to wait until a little bit later.

At the moment I am watching Soul Train video clips on Youtube, and feeling some weird sort of nostalgia for a period of time in which I did not live. Perhaps they're rememories (Beloved reference). Obviously, this is a better and much more constructive use of my time than journaling about really profound and semi-controversial aspects of Thai culture. Obviously.

Things are chugging along quite nicely, though, and I hope to get back to you soon with another post. It will be really soon-- my monthly report will make a good entry, and it is due on the 15th of September.
Thai Time.


Okay, I know keeping the philosophical on the D.L., but I couldn't help but notice today that I have an odd Thai vocabulary-- I know the word for tomorrow, but not yesterday, and for after, but not before. Might that say something about my personality? Haha.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What I Probably Should Have Said

I have been fairly absent from the blogosphere for the past couple of months. I have found inspiration in hundreds of things that I find every day here in Thailand, yet I have not had the motivation to write it out on paper. I have an inkling as to why this is, but it will be difficult for me to form a coherent blog post out of it. Nonetheless, I think I owe an explanation, and maybe even an apology to those of you who have gone so long without hearing anything from me, especially since I was a fairly loyal blogger back in the days of France.

Life here has taken on a sense of normalcy. I'm at the point in which I have to physically remind myself sometimes that I am in Thailand, a country that is thousands of miles away from my home in the United States of America. I've reached what is to be considered the "Surface Adjustment Period" in my time abroad. I have started to get used to Thai customs, traditions, and culture, and it has reassured me that yes, although it will be hard, I will be able to survive this year.

Culture shock was an undeniably awful experience, but I am glad that I had to go through it. After spending days trying to divise a proper escape plan and feeling like crying every day when people addressed me, I gained a lot of insight into my psyche.

I have been grappling with a lot of unanswerable questions lately, and in recent times I have struggled to find even an inkling of intuition in the ever-flowing stream of consciousness that my brain throws at me. These two vastly different cultures that I have been forced to accept and appreciate really make me question myself and human existence. Things like "Why am I here, in Thailand? What do I want to accomplish? Where should I start?" have slowly morphed into inquiries such as "What do I need in order to survive and thrive as a human being? Why I am here, in the world? What has led me to make such decisions in my life? Why do people act as they do? How can a culture withstand time?" In the past few months, these questions have led me to see the most unpleasant and best sides of me.
I am an imperfect being. I am self-conscious, introverted, and abrupt. I am made up of unbalanced dichotomies of light and dark, good and evil, and I have trouble coping with that. My first month here brought out the most extreme versions of myself. I receded into the solitude of my own mind, I would only really say something when I was unhappy. It has gotten ten times better, but I can't forget how I acted then.

I've often thought that regret is the worst feeling in the world. I look back at my first month, and regrets flood back like a tsunami in the south of Thailand. You see, memories leave scars. Some scars you look at and think to yourself, "How badass," or "It gives me character." But others, regrets, leave deeper wounds. They come back to haunt you and leave you with a bitter feeling in your mouth and disdain for yourself and your actions. The problem is, the scars of regret are always left in the most obvious of places-- in the center of your calf, or in between your septum and the top of your lip. These scars seem to be here to torment you. All you can do is look at them, recall how you got them, and kill yourself for letting it happen. The past is a haunting thing. These regrets have a way of seeping into my everyday life and keeping me from living it. They come in the form of jealousy, frustration, and embarassment.

Exchange is a surreal existence. It truly is living two lives at once. Even if you aren't on Facebook or Skype, it is impossible to keep yourself from thinking of the past, which indubitably, includes your life somewhere else. This collision of lives makes memories from your previous life more acute and sentient, as well as exacerbating the present moment. In this black hole that is created, this dimension-less in-between, your mind is constantly filled with ephemeral ideas, thoughts, and reminders of then and now, and regrets and painful memories resurface with more fervor than ever. But at the same time, exchange makes things so much more beautiful. Earlier this evening, my host sister drove me back from the park on her motorcycle. I love riding on the back of motorcycles. In a car, you can easily drown out the world around you and lose yourself. Being on a motorcycle enhances your senses and makes you appreciate every little thing you see. As we drove around the park on our way out, I looked up at the palm trees with awe and saw hundreds of little stars glowing in the sky. I was truly speechless as we continued heading down the tiny streets, hanging street lamps swarmed by mosquitoes and flies lighting the way. In addition to emphasizing the hard times, exchange also allows you to see the irrevocable picture that is the world we live in.

I've strayed from the topic at hand, but I think that it is an accurate representation of what I've felt while abroad. My mind is brimming, and the thought of writing a blog post has been so daunting to me that I haven't even tried. The most I have done is journal in incoherent bursts, occassionally proclaiming a shortcoming or triumph that I have had, and even less so trying to sort out the overactive nerve endings in my head.

Back in my senior year, my English class was the most inspiring course I have ever had in my life. My teacher, Miss De Soto, taught me not only about literature, but also about life. I'm eternally grateful to have had that year before coming here; it taught me so much about myself and really helped me to accept the mass of unresolved contradictions that make up my being (I've already referenced this class four times in this post... hehe). At the end of the year, we had to do a project called the "Senior Statement." In this assignment, our goal was to take a leap into the icy waters that separate us from our comfort zone and tell the truth about ourselves. I gained respect for so many people during the four or five class periods we took to present them all, but one student in particular really took my breath away with her perspective. Simply put, she mentioned having so many thoughts in her head that she needed to get them out onto paper in some creative form. Therefore, what she created was not just for fun, it was truly an extension of herself, and therefore she held it dear to her heart.

Similarly, I find that I am constantly being bombarded by a series of tiny revelations and thoughts, and it seems to be impossible for me to keep them around for long enough to be able to cement them in a journal entry or a blog post. They just keep coming and going and coming and going, and while I am in the middle of trying to properly format one into an acceptable creation, be it in an essay or poetry or art, new ones find their way into my brain, and I fear losing them, because it feels like I am losing a part of myself. I beat myself up because I feel like if I can't create something great, I may as well not create it at all. But I know that is not the right way to look at life. If I could just manage to organize my thoughts and understand what it all means, I might just be able to figure out this crazy thing called exchange, and more importantly, life.

Maybe dancing will help.