Mai Bpen Rai
Sawatdee ka! Hello from Thailand!
It has now officially been two weeks since I left American shores once again for another international adventure, this time to try teaching in Southeast Asia and the country known as ‘The Land of Smiles.’
So far, I have personally known it as the land of constantly needing to shower. Leaving straight from a Midwest that winter was still persistently clinging on to, I had little to no time to prepare for the infamous heat and humidity of this particular region. Every time I step outside my body starts trying to cool me down. Not all the antiperspirant in all the world could save me. As I wandered the streets of Bangkok I frequently contemplated the heat, it’s hard not to, despite my best efforts to ignore the beads of sweat around my temples, running down my back, making me glisten like I’d been rubbed down with baby oil. I understood when it was mentioned that the Thai people will often take several showers a day, even being acclimated. What I can’t understand is how locals of Bangkok still manage to wear denim jeans and long sleeved blouses and still look so well put together. And they don’t understand why so many well to do westerners appear to be so unkempt.
I also learned about ‘Thai Time’ during my stay in Thailand’s capitol for my training orientation course. Things never started when we were told, but then again most of us didn’t even know what time or where we supposed to be for one event or another. The first few days were very…relaxed, in that most of us had slightly differing information about things, or none at all. But hey, mai bhen rai, no problem, don’t worry about it. This is something I have been and will continue to work on here, the concept of not having a plan, not being in control, not knowing what is going on, but just going with it and trusting that it will all work out. It has so far, I guess, for the most part.
Our teacher’s orientation program went along about as well as any informal training. There was a decent schedule that everyone tried their best to stick to. It was a bit frustrating, however, when all the teachers were supposed to meet up with our Thai consultants – who are here to help us out with our housing arrangements, our teaching placements, our legal paperwork, and act as overall liaisons between us ‘farangs’ and everybody else. Nobody seemed to know where the teachers from my province were supposed to go. One group of consultants sent us to the other, who then sent us right back where we came from. No one seemed to have our information, which was incredibly reassuring, when we spoke no Thai and had no idea what to do about, just about everything. An hour or so later it came to light that our area had been recently switched, and the person formally responsible for working with us was not there that day and still had all of our information. Ok cool, we’ll just figure it out later or something then, ya? Ok.
Mai bpen rai.
Things like this have happened a few times so far, and I expect them to happen many more times in the next four months. That’s just how it goes. As they mentioned during orientation: Relax, have fun, be flexible, and don’t take it all too seriously. Things will work out, just keep smiling. It will do no good to get angry or upset, because ‘the Thais don’t like confrontation, and will just smile and say whatever you want to hear.’ They’ll smile and just say ‘yes.’ They’ll just smile and nod at you if they have no idea what you’re on about, so don’t bother getting yourself all worked up. If something gets messed up or you slip up, someone will correct you nicely. So no worries.
Traditionally, this sort of laid back, not too worried, not too serious approach to things would really get under my skin. I want a plan, I want structure, I want some quality communication here! But then, on another walk to and from the convenience store I came to think that all the smiles and the care-free nature to things they have here in Thailand make sense. It’s too hot to care. It’s too hot to worry about being places ‘on time,’ it’s too hot to be confrontational. It’s just so much easier to smile and nod and go about things as you were, to live in the moment, to figure it out as you go. I am sure there are a multitude of cultural and historical reasons for the concept of ‘Thai time’ and everything else as well, but right now for me, it makes sense in this way. Classes are supposed to start in less than five days and I still have no idea what’s going on or how I am supposed to teach a class or even what to teach, but…mai bpen rai…don’t worry about it. I’ll figure it out!