Considering my obsession with lost time, it seems a silly decision to agree to fly west from San Francisco on May 10, 2010, and in so doing drop May 11, 2010 into the sea never to be seen, heard from, or experienced again. But sacrificing the existence of a potentially lackluster day in exchange for 108 (or so) days of Southeast Asian adventure seems like a fairly worthwhile exchange. That’s right, I’m finally in Thailand, and it’s truly an adventure.
The sweet and alluring sense of independence in my going to the airport to make a 24-hour journey without anybody’s help, broke and made way for a sickly sense of loneliness the first time I made an observation that I couldn’t turn and tell anyone about. In other words, I felt lonely for 23 of my 24 hours in the air and in airports. When I finally did arrive, a Thai couple greeted me excitedly and I was told they had been practicing saying my name. They spoke English fairly well, and I was excited at the prospect of living with them. There was some confusion though because when I was the only one left to be dropped off, and we arrived at their house, they gave me a glass of water and then said it was time to drop me off at my host family’s house.
When I began telling people that I was going to be spending the summer in Thailand, everyone’s first question seemed to be “Are you scared?” Despite the riots in the streets of Bangkok, the 800 wounded, the political unrest, and the king’s life (the only thing keeping it all at bay) hanging by a thread, the thing I was most scared of was meeting my host family. What if they don’t like me? What if I’m accidentally culturally disrespectful in some way? What if I embarrass myself? Most of all, what if I just say the wrong thing? Now I’m here, the purported scariest part of the journey behind me and saying the wrong thing turned out to be an unfounded fear because they don’t speak a word of English.
Ok, let’s give credit where credit is due. I have gotten a few words out of them; dinner,’ fat,’ not slender,’ Tony Stark,’ and every time one of the boys from the program comes over or is on the phone, my host mom gets the chance to use the word boyfriend’ and I can only assume she is asking if he is mine. As I’m writing this, it just sounds like an awesome adventure to be in this remote place, the most exotic I have ever been to, and living with a family that doesn’t speak English, and eating unidentifiable meats with rice for breakfast…and lunch, and dinner. But this life I chose for the next four months is going to be really hard.
I spent some time with one of the other students yesterday and one in particular, who is actually from the University of Utah (fire and brimstone!) was really good at communicating with people that we came in contact with, though his Thai is no better than mine. He looks really silly trying to get a message through, waving his arms around and stuttering like a monkey, trying to think of a word that makes sense, in either English or Thai, to get across what he is trying to say. Communication with my host family has been fairly nonexistent to this point, because I haven’t been willing to sacrifice myself on the altar of dignity like that.
It’s silly to even say there is any dignity to be maintained. I should look at him and see that what he does is successful, not conclude that he just looks silly. Honestly, the blank stare of my refusal to try to understand when someone goes off in Thai to me, probably looks way more foolish than my earnest trying so hard’ face.
This may seem like a non sequitur, but I promise that it isn’t. I was thinking the other day about my irrational fears, and almost concluding that I didn’t have any (being afraid of a shark attack on a poorly constructed raft in the middle of the open ocean is absolutely rational). I walked into the bathroom of the Tai Pei airport and ran headlong into that irrational fear that I just couldn’t think of; squatter toilets—and big old port-a-potties, even holes in the ground meant for doing your business. Pretty much any bathroom set up that isn’t your average western toilet scares me. When I was little and our family went camping, my parents once had to drive me half an hour to the nearest gas station to use their toilet because I was terrified to use the camping one. Tai Pei wasn’t the only place that boasts one of these terrifying beauties. To my knowledge, I am the only one in the group without a roommate (except I’m also the only one whose roommate is a an air conditioner, so check plus on that), and I’m the only one whose home has a squatter toilet instead of a western toilet.
The irrational fear of mine isn’t crippling. Not one of my fears of crippling, but between the language barrier and the squatter toilets and the eat and eating squid two thirds of the time, and no roommate to run to for my salvation-I’m quickly coming to realize that this trip 1) isn’t going to like I thought it was in the slightest, 2) is tailored to challenge me with rapid fire growth in ways that are more direct and more pressing that any other setting could present me with this summer. Give me leave to be petrified for a moment; ok, now bring it on.