You would think having lived here in Chiang Mai for two years and only having been gone a year that it would be a smooth transition back. Not so. My return to Thailand has had its fair share of blunders and adjustments.
I forgot the Thai words for simple things like street, tree, and shorts. Twice, I smashed my head on low steel shop ceilings (but only once drawing blood.) I absentmindedly left a small muffin on my desk, only to find the muffin almost entirely gone the next day. The only evidence was a double-file line of ants leading from the empty muffin liner to my desktop keyboard. I lifted up the keyboard and found the entire missing muffin in a pile of ant-transportable pieces.
For the most part, Thais avoid speaking directly about things and much rather value building a feel-good environment – even at the risk of sacrificing honesty. There are a few important exceptions to this, however. One of those being weight. For a good handful of people, the first thing they said when they saw me was, “Wow! You look fat.” Some of them added on, “Especially your face.”
Thailand doesn’t have the extreme individualism of Northeast America. Writing your name on your lunch in the fridge is unheard of here. This principle is also played out with parked motorbikes, which are as public as park benches in America. At frisbee the other day I noticed a student sit on my motorbike. I thought nothing much of it. I was aware to some extent of the culture of communalism. He went on to put his cleat bag in the basket of my motorbike. He even moved it up a little so it was in better view of the field. He proceeded to clip his toenails and fingernails and left quite the pile of clippings. I laughed. I guess I’m becoming Thai enough to keep a cool heart and embrace the communalism!
Some of my friends found a sweet new place to hang out. It’s an old quarry about 30 minutes from my house. It’s impossibly deep and the water is perfectly refreshing. It’s also clear enough to see your own feet. We’ve spent several sunny Saturdays swimming and jumping. There’s a little hut to eat food under as well. A pictorial metaphor for coming back to Thailand:
Perhaps the biggest blunder, which I don’t have the luxury of blaming on cultural differences, came at a dance place/bar called the Second Floor Gallery. And let me preface this story with the fact that I’m not a bar type guy. I’m an innocent friendly nice guy. So, this place teaches everyone how to dance at 9:00 PM and then it’s open dancing for the rest of the night. A new group of about 30 exchange students from America had just arrived at Payap earlier in the day and I thought I saw one of them at the bar. I waved to this girl and gave her – what I thought to be – a big community-building smile. Her slightly confused response made me doubt my initial supposition. Since I had waved and smiled at her I felt like I needed to say something. So I went up to her and blurted out the first thing that came to my mind, which I realized after the fact sounded like a terrible pick-up line: “Have we met before?”
She was definitely NOT one of the new Payap students… I stumbled through the 2 minute conversation while we hopelessly shuffled back and forth. It dawned on me later that pretty much everything I said to her sounded like cheesy pick-up lines. “So do you come here often?” and “Do you live here or are you just traveling through?” Oh man…
All in all, it’s great being back, even if I’m a little fatter than before.
Bring on the journey,