How to pick up after not writing for three months (to the day, actually).
I’ll start with today. The very present hour, in fact. And by indulging in the details and all the inner-thought processes of even just an hour or two, you’ll get a glimpse of what life at 7-months-in looks like here.
It’s unusually cold in Chiang Mai today. Yes, we’ve been in “cool season” the past month–as close to a winter as this equatorial country will get. Cool season means sleeping without the air cons, leaving the windows open (if you don’t mind being awoken in the early morning hours by persistent (and many other adjectives) yippee neighborhood dogs. It gets down to low-60s in the early mornings but is still in the low-90s most afternoons. Today the high is 66. I feel like that sentence should be in ALL-CAPS, but I should probably use those sparingly. It’s 55 now (11:30am), and I keep saying, “I’m freezing.”
This morning, I noticed I was SPEED-WALKING (like that awkward gait-looking kind of speed-walking) all over our upstairs as I put stuff away. I’m not trying to fall, after all. I laughed in my head when I realized it. I had ENERGY, I had slept WELL (not a guarantee these days), the day was new, it was flipping cold, and I was loving it all.
I came downstairs, where Brenden had been with the kids for the past hour, feeding them and getting them ready for school. I said hello (“Sah wah dee ka”) to our house helper (the word in Thai is mae bahn, which translates literally to “mother house” or mother of the house) who was talking with Brenden. I’ve noticed Thai women love talking to him and I don’t get quite the same response from them. Could be that his Thai is better (well, his Thai is definitely better) or that he’s just cuter than me (wink). In any case, I actually love it, the way he connects with people.
B and I traded off the kids, and I paused to say hello to our Mose-look-alike, a neighborhood cat who has taken to our patio chair, before taking the kids to school.
I dropped the kids off around 9:30/9:40, about half an hour later than usual. We appreciate the flexible drop-off and pick-up times at Sunshine Kindergarten, as it fits well with our lifestyle right now. I watched the kids both stick their hands out for the mandatory hand-sanitizer, still not taking for granted that this was an uphill battle for a good solid 3 months for my dear girl.
I stopped in at the office and, all in Thai, asked for one of Maja’s classmate’s phone number. It would have been easy to do this in English, as the office staff speak English proficiently, but these are the small choices we have to make on a daily basis to try to integrate rather than take the easier road. I don’t always choose it, but actually, I do most times, because of the satisfaction of speaking (however slowly or choppily) to Thai people in their own language. The long-term goal. I tend to take the risks more, but Brenden tends to speak better. Both work to move us each forward in language learning.
Back story: According to Maja’s teacher, Maja had run over to her last week and shrieked “Those two boys just said my name! Now I’m going to play with them!” And the next day, she told Teacher Lizzy “If I sing ‘Let it Go’ to the boys, they will feel better.” Apparently the boys had been fighting with each other. She came home talking about Na Mone, and the teacher confirmed that yes, he was one of the boys. Maja told me she wanted to go to Na Mone’s house and play with all of his toys and eat his food. Not sure that’s what I’ll suggest when I call his mom, but I figured I should strike while the iron is hot and see what sort of outside-of-school play date we can arrange.
Back to the office: I didn’t know the word for phone number, so the staff told me. When I said it sounded similar to the word for “open/on”, they clarified how the vowels were different. I walked back to the car, trying to say the two words distinctly from each other and made a note on my phone to ask our language teacher to help me hear the differences, even if I can’t yet say them to sound different. Truly, most days I don’t have the energy to use these moments as teaching moments, to be intentional enough to write the question down and follow-up. But like I said, today’s been a good morning!
On the way home, I stopped at Talaat Mae Hia, or Mae Hia Market. This is about my favorite, most familiar Thai place to go to in Thailand. It’s a 3 minutes drive away or a 10/15 minute walk. A couple vendors know me by name (Khun Becca, which means Miss Becca) and vice versa, and they patiently allow me to practice my Thai. Here is where Maja and Emerson get experience interacting with Thai people (“She really likes touching me” Maja said–on a good day–about the banana lady, who gently pinched her cheeks, or “Is that a boy or a girl?” about the woman with the short haircut from whom we bought mangoes). Here is where we eat dinner a night or two a week, for about $4-5 for our whole family, and here is where I often leave with a fuller heart, feeling more connected to Thailand, Thai food, and Thai people (and a feeling of accomplishment because I just bought the week’s produce).
I stood in the line 5-deep of people ordering Cow Dome (phonetical spelling). This stand is only open for breakfast, and most (hot) days I’m not craving piping hot Thai soup or porridge for breakfast, no offense. But today… I knew there were two variations and had already decided with Brenden beforehand which one we’d get. But, always a sucker for the visual (those restaurant menu pictures are aimed at people like me), I saw a woman eating the option we weren’t planning to get. I said, (in Thai), “Excuse me, what are you eating?” She told me the name and I quickly typed it into my phone (ugh, which I don’t like pulling out necessarily–you pull out an iPhone and it sends a message, right? I want to at least be aware that it can, where income disparities are large here.) I’ve expanded my food repertoire almost solely by keeping my eyes peeled in the open-air food court at this market and then asking people what they were eating.
I decided that what she had was what I’d order. As I waited to order, I smiled at a Thai woman a few people ahead of me, who returned my smile with a huge-o smile. I thought the unusually big smile might have been because there was a Farang (white/Western) girl wearing SHORTS in this weather. (Is there ever a day in Thailand where shorts aren’t necessary? Apparently so.) Or maybe it was the communal solidarity that happens in extreme weather: the energy in the air at work or the smiles shared in the stores when a winter storm’s coming and everyone’s gearing up to hunker down at home (how apropos for my East Coast friends right now). Jealous, by the way. But that’s a tangent.
The woman came over to me, JUST as I ordered. I half-wondered if she wanted to hear how I was going to order. In English, she asked if I remembered her. And in that instant I did (thankfully). She was the shop owner of the small children’s shop just behind the market food court. We had talked when I went in looking for (badly-needed) pajamas to buy the kids. She saw that I was pregnant and, with her hand cupping my belly, we talked about my pregnancy. Because in Thailand you DO, I asked her if she had any children (you also get to ask any and everyone how old they are-it’s actually kind of fun). She said she had been married 15 years (or so) but they were not able to have children. They’d tried everything. It was one of those moments where I left feeling humbled. Humbled that I was having my third precious child, humbled that she shared that with me, and humbled that this woman, who couldn’t have children herself, was so kind and interested in my growing belly. Just another conversation with a shop vendor.
So today, as soon as I communicated recognition, the hand went to the belly again (I love it. I’m one of THOSE), and she asked how far along I was. Here, pregnancy is measured in months, not weeks. Five months, I said. I then asked her her name again (Tiit) and asked her to help me understand the names of the two porridges (since the first woman I had asked wasn’t overly interested in my clarifying questions). She did, and then as she left, she told me to stop by her shop sometime if I had time. Brenden told me later that she probably meant right then, after I got my food. I still have to learn these nuances. Thai culture is more of an immediate culture. Many (like us) don’t even have voice mail set up on their phones, but the flip side is that most people answer their phones on the spot and are available to talk or meet up same-day or next-day.
I left with 3 beautifully hot bags of second breakfast, all for 85 baht (less than $3).
I couldn’t find my keys and in the few minutes until I did, I wondered: if someone picked up my keys and traced them back to my car, would they drive off with the car? Social norms and understandings I took for granted in the States are all part of the daily learning here, part of what fills the brain up to full by most evenings: not knowing and so wondering about crime, or how the Thai people think, or what a Thai person would do in this situation, or how the Thai police might respond. I have ideas, after having been here for half a year, but these ideas or assumptions just aren’t as solidified as one’s home culture. One thing I did know, there wouldn’t be a lost and found or a market customer service desk to hold the keys!
Once home, I told our house helper, named Pa (or auntie) Pik (her name) that we had some Cow Dome for her. She thanked me. I was actually surprised. Pa Pik just started with us after scheduling needs forced us to say goodbye to our first helper. We’re still getting to know her. But often in Thai culture, especially in these relationships that aren’t based on mutual friendship but rather services rendered, the person in the service role will decline, so as not to impose. In the past, we’ve had to offer a couple different times, knowing that even if someone wanted whatever was offered, it might take a few offers before they’ll feel it’s polite enough to accept. I liked that she received it so easily: I could see she was cold (no heat source in the house, or the cars for that matter) and this felt like comfort food to ME, let alone to a Thai person. It was also a little life reminder that it’s a blessing to the person who is giving, when I/we receive graciously.
In passing, Brenden said that it’s time to take the tree down. Well yes, we had already talked about taking down Christmas this week. Seeing as it’s nearly February and we’d slowly mosied over to that conclusion, I didn’t know why he felt the urgency to say it again this morning. I glanced over and understood.
Glad the lights lasted at least a month! Internal sigh as I remembered the investment we made in LED Christmas lights in the States just a year or two before we moved here, and how we likely either gave them away or sold them for pennies on the dollar (who wants to buy Christmas lights in March?). I figured we couldn’t use them here with the different voltage. Like many things we left behind, they’ve crossed our minds as having been so valuable to have here (we could’ve used a converter box for the lights!) or simply as things we aren’t eager to jump to replace for the pretty price they cost. In the grand scheme, what got left behind is not a big deal. Next year, we’ll get better quality lights. We’ve seen enough examples now that we believe those who’ve told us not to buy too cheap here. These are the thoughts that come and go in my mind in split second internal processes this first year here. (I promise, I’m not sharing all of this for minutae’s sake, but to give you a micro-picture of how life overseas impacts everything! If you’re even still reading.)
I fixed the food in the massive bowls I got secondhand. A couple months ago, a young mom was selling some baby things, and when I went to pick up what I purchased from here, she all but threw other household items at me. They were moving out of the country within the next couple days and needed things GONE. I wondered who would ever eat cereal from gigantuous bowls like these, but have thanked her in my head time and time again since she gave them to me: Oh yes, all the soups and all the curries poured over rice and all the dirty dishes that leave no other plates or smaller bowls. Relevant, after all! (She also threw a fleece blanket my way and somehow made me feel bad for not wanting to take it, so I did, thinking how “not quite my style” it was and wondering who I could pass it on to. You know the rest of the story: we use it ALL.THE.TIME.)
Brenden’s Cow Dome and my Jaugh were equally delicious. In my unsophisticated way of eating food, I added a small sampling of everything that came packaged on the side, without first testing any of it to see if I’d like it. (Same strategy that ruined the chili I made the day after Christmas: turns out chili spice here is a tad bit spicier than ground chili you’d buy at Krogers in the States, esp when adding 1/4 cup of it.) So what I thought was “who knows what” ended up being shredded ginger and too strong for my (pregnant) liking. But otherwise, we cleaned the bowls.
And now my account of an hour or so of my morning has ended and I must attempt to do all that I can while the kids are in school and before language class starts.
Go Becca! She’s officially crossed the big bad writing hump.
I’m bursting to share more, so hopefully this will kick off a string of other musings from the Miller family’s Thaim in Thailand (insert eye roll).