Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thailand Incognito

There are some places I imagine I could blend in, pretty much anywhere English speaking, maybe Argentina or Chile, maybe parts of Europe if I didn’t wear sneakers. Northeast Thailand is definitely not one of them. Not only do I not blend, I stand out. But unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been, no one really seems all that interested. A big part of that is probably how many Westerns come to Thailand, whether living here or just passing through. On the other hand I’m in northeastern Thailand (Khong Chiam outside of Ubon Ratchathani if you’re in the mood for googling). This is not on your guide book’s “Top 10 things to do in Thailand” list. There are no beaches. There is no one trying to sell you anything or take you on a tour. But still, people seem to notice me, and beyond an extra glance over their shoulder as they walk away, they don’t seem to mind about me, one way or another. It’s actually really nice. It makes being more than a head taller than everyone in this little town on the border of Laos a little easier.
I would say that would be my tagline for Thailand so far, it’s an easy place to be. People are kind and helpful, the food is delicious, fresh and cheap, Although I am in a very rural part of the country the roads are paved and the lights are consistently on, and the little shops have all the necessities you could need living here (even espresso!). It’s also a beautiful place to be, with the Khong (Mekong) River on one side of our little peninsula and the Mun (Moon) River on the other, it’s stunning in every direction.
In other places I have found myself constantly apologizing for not speaking the local language, and having people dismiss me solely because of it. Here everyone is delighted when I nod and point, and at my butchering of Thank You in Thai. I’m working on it, and they’re more than happy to put the price of anything on their calculator to show me. People here don’t love me or hate me, they seem to simply be untroubled by my presence. Maybe they’re just being polite, but the Canadian in me appreciates some perfunctory politeness. Maybe I just don’t know what they’re saying about me because I don’t speak Thai, but I am more than content to live in a little ignorant bliss for the time being.
So just a little update for everyone who reads this occasionally to keep track of me, rather than for my keen insight (ha): I’m in Thailand, on the border of Laos. I was in Bangkok for a few days before coming here, and will be staying here until about December 15, when I will return to Bangkok. I’ll leave for home on December 18th.  I’m here working, so it’s unlikely I’ll be able to see anywhere outside of this rural corner of Thailand, but it looks like I’ll be putting it on my list of places to visit again. I’m 12 hours ahead of EST and 15 hours ahead of PST if you feel like calling, just email me for my Thai cell number or catch me online.
More to come!

Update #2
So it's been 5 weeks and I take it all back. Okay not all of it but most of it. Thailand seeming easy and like no one bothered with me... well that was just in comparison to Angola. Angola is difficult. Thailand is... well it isn't easy. There's just more effort to present a pleasant front I think. Like for instance, when teaching a data collection method to researchers, my first thought of something they could rank (1-5 best to worst, you get the idea) was "Biggest Problems in Luanda" since people already talked about it alllll the time. There was trash and electricity problems, cost of living, traffic and on and on. But here, we went with "Things you like best about Khong Chiam" because everyone's preference is to say positive things, even though there are negative things to say, they just often don't get said. Very interesting and I'm learning, slowly but surely.

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