Sawankhalokians: Part 1

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One year ago, I was hired to teach English in Thailand to high school students. Not only did I need to prepare to move to the other side of the world but I had a scant 6 weeks to get my life together. In miraculously swift movements, I was able to quit my job, get a visa, get vaccinations, and pack my life into one backpack and an obnoxiously large red suitcase. And off I went…

This past year I created lifelong friendships, which consisted of conversations employing only a narrow vocabulary of Thai and English words. Bridging language gaps, rather than distancing and disconnecting, has only strengthened and fortified my friendships (as well as allowed me to use a hilarious amount of hand signals and pointing, always a humbling and silly way to communicate).

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Patricio and I are looking a little rough around the edges here after lots of packing in this Thai summer swelter, but P’Buddy and P’Bew are looking serious and dapper.

P’Buddy
The scrabble master and coffee connoisseur. Always ready to grab coffee and som tam or offer advice on the elusive nuances of Thai culture. Some days he would call me out of the blue to go to a cool coffee shop or to visit this amazing temple in the mountains. Being a teacher for so many years has allotted him a certain status in our community. Shopkeepers and chefs, pilots and bank tellers, police and army personnel, he knows them all. Receiving endless discounts, bargaining privileges, and security wave-throughs, he’s even stopped a plane from taking off when Amiel was late in arriving to the airport. Something I can’t imagine occurring for anyone else I know.
He’s a great friend and it was quite possibly the hardest goodbye I had to say. He was my first Thai friend as well as Patricio’s. I hope that when he retires in few years to Chicago that we will be able to visit him.

P’Bew
Photographer and bicycle enthusiast, the genius behind the best espresso in Thailand. P’Bew has, many times, saved us from the humid monotony of the Thai work day in his artsy and heavenly air conditioned cafe. With an iced Americano in hand and the TV tuned to the mouthwatering American Food Channel, I’m beyond content. We’ve gone on bike rides together to visit temples and holy areas. For my birthday he even hooked us up with a discount at a much sought after hotel room in Sukhothai for the annual and spectacular Loi Kratong Festival. He is a kind friend whose company I am already missing.

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P’One
P’One was my first friend outside of Sawananan and quickly became my Thai mom. One afternoon, heading on my daily jog around the school, P’One stopped me. She immediately began chattering to me in the sweetest Thai-English, of which I understood maybe 5 words. For several days she continued to talk to me, asking me to teach her English and in return she would help me with my Thai. Despite my nervousness from a life played by the “don’t talk to strangers” rule, I went to her home to chat. When I entered her house she excitedly embraced me. She had books and papers strewn across the table; each paper had lines of Thai letters, then phonetic pronunciation, followed by the English term. She was totally prepared to learn English with me and had planned her own lesson!
From this first meeting we met almost weekly. We chatted about everything from food to hobbies, exercise, and family. She soon became my family. She is as generous with her hugs as she is with food, always leaving snacks at my door for when I came home from work. I’m so happy she was able to drive us to the airport to send us off even if it was a miserably difficult goodbye. I miss her so much and I hope to see her when she comes to the USA this July!

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P’Julie
One of the kindest women I have ever met. She is timidly excited, and spends her days making ceramics, painting, researching the Buddha, doing yoga and tai chi, and gardening. She is a woman of many hobbies and she is quite talented as well. She was a regular to my weekly yoga classes and for weeks asked me to tutor her in English, which I didn’t think I had time for, yet after a wonderful birthday gift, I succombed. We began meeting once a week and became friends. She is so sweet and funny, with a very distinct knowledge of what she likes and approves of, a boldness I thoroughly appreciate. She is very passionate about her country and the recent protests, always sharing with me the latest news and the reasons behind each party’s opinion. She is also a lover of nature and spends much time in her garden, gardening as well as painting and pottery amongst her many little ceramic frog friends.

 

These amazing men and women have made all the difference in my time here. In a country where I not only look wildly foreign, but my ideologies, religious customs, political notions, food preferences, and most of all my language still further separate me from Thai culture, I felt at home and comfortable with these people. I appreciate their acceptance of me; their understanding that I am just a person, not someone to gawk or laugh at. They didn’t hold my cultural confusion and blunders, of which I am sure there were many, as a fault to my character, rather, they held space for who I was and who I could grow into. That means the world to me.

 

 

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