Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Odd, the Absurd, and the Embarrassing

Being a tall white farang living in Northern Thailand odd things are normal (I might go as far as to say normal things have become odd). Here are just a few examples of the bizarre quirks of everyday living, and more than one instance of me making a fool of myself (something I assure you happens to me regularly).

1. I will never cease to be amazed and amused by the fashion of Chiang Mai (and indeed Chiang Mai is very fashionable). Most recently I have spotted: pink ruffled shoulder pads that resemble new-age armor and a black and white polka dotted one piece.

2. This is a story that I alluded to months ago, but figured it also belonged here. While driving back late from a dinner party my bike happened to be caught up in the fiercest windstorm I have experience in Thailand. Dust, leaves, and twigs were flying everywhere, but the real measure of the storms strength was that it was able to untie the back of my dress. Normally I would discretely pull off to the shoulder and put myself back together, but that night I happened to be intently following a friend so as to find my way back to my side of town. Thus I was forced to drive one-handed through the outskirts of Chiang Mai with my other hand on my back attempting to remain fully clothed.

3. About halfway through the school year the following sign was taped up over the toilet in the female teachers' bathroom at CMU. “Due to poor ventilation we request no heavy duty use here.”

4. My apartment building has a very kind small Thai woman called Broom Loom (loom means wind in Thai), who sits in the front office every day. And every day I wai her, but sometimes our conversations attempt to go farther. This is greatly hindered by my mediocre Thai and her non-existent English. Suffice to say our conversations never last long, they are however great incentives to keep studying. My favorite encounter was when once I couldn’t understand her (as per normal) and so she proceeded to write out in Thai what she was trying to tell me…

5. 7-Elevens are rampant in Thailand. Indeed they are so numerous that it is not uncommon to stand on the steps of one and look through the front door of another across the street. Struck by the excess experienced in Bangkok I decided to do a little research. There are approximately 5,700 7-Elevens in the country (apparently half of which reside in the capital alone). The population of Thailand is currently at roughly 68,000,000. Lets assume that there are approximately ten people employed in some capacity at each 7-Eleven. That could suggest that roughly 1 in 1000 Thais works for the 7-Eleven corporation.

6. There is no official transliteration from Thai to English. This leads to numerous complications, one of which is the pronunciation of Thai-English nicknames. Take for instance one of my students who spells her name M – I – L – D. How would you pronounce that? If you are a native English speaker, then chances are you pronounce it like the adjective that describe things that are not too strong. Unfortunately you are wrong – its actually pronounced like the English word “My”. Ok that’s not that bad you might say and it really isn’t…for the most part. But you have to be careful, as students will not always correct your butchering of their names, despite their corruption of conventional English pronunciation. I have a student in one of my classes that spells her name: Koi. Take a moment to sound that name out. Now imagine me doing that for most of a semester. Well its unfortunately not pronounced Koi, but rather “Goi”. Close you might say, forgivable… yes for many names it might be…it just happens that my pronunciation translates into Thai as “dick”…oy vey!

7. At English camp two weekends ago I happened to be on the losing side of a game and was obliged to cover my teeth with strips of deep green seaweed and smile broadly for a picture.

8. Kitiporn - a very popular Thai name with a very unfortunate English meaning.

9. After nine months I appear to have taken to heart the Thai attitude of sabai. While driving on the highway a couple of weeks back my left-hand mirror flew off. In past times, or in past places this loss of my motorbike's mirror would have caused me some alarm, or perhaps at least a touch of concern. Past selves would have pulled over to the side of the road in an attempt to retrieve it while dodging speeding cars. Even if I didn’t stop I would have, in another mindset, considered such possibilities. None of this happened. I did not dart between traffic, I did not pull over, I did not even turn back and ponder its loss wistfully. Instead my stream of consciousness when something like this: “I love driving. Oh wait was that my mirror that flew off? That was indeed my mirror that flew off. Hmm that’s interesting. Actually that’s sort of funny. Ok more importantly where is the turn I need to take to meet my friend?”

10. After careful observation I have determined that back bumpers and license plate decorations come in two, seemingly opposing, flavors - either Hello Kitty or the Playboy Bunny. Occasionally I have seen both adorning a single car. But none of these can top the exhaust pipe we discovered the other night while pulling out of the parking lot...

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