Getting from the plane to the open arms of my friend (Tanya) took only an age. I won’t bore you with the details of waiting on the plane and in line at customs, or even with trying to find my bag and the right exit gate, along with helping a fellow passenger with his fallen bags. I’ll begin with finally seeing Tanya. We hugged. She was relieved, after my phone’s service had been lost and I was unreachable. She’d had to wait so long..
But I was here, ready to begin. Tanya is good at many a thing, and she didn’t let me down then. You could not have asked for a better acclimatiser (is that even a word?). But I’d better not say too much more, or I’ll embarrass her with all the compliments I could give! Anyway, the first thing I learned was to place ‘Pi’ in front of the name of someone who was older than me, as a sign of respect. I met her cousin, who would become our taxi driver, accompanier and buyer of smoothies and rice over the next few days. We managed to lug my suitcase (already I knew I’d brought too much) into the back of his jeep. I could feel the heat in the car park-the humidity really, but it was similar enough to the heat I’d experienced in Sardinia, Italy, a few years back (38-44° C). It was hot, but bearable. That day was cloudy though, it would be different in the sun.
You can not imagine how unbelievably relieved I was, being pale, even in a country renowned for its paleness. My typically ‘Irish skin’ would be safe for the day, and I felt ok.
I saw lightning on the way ‘home’(Tanya’s apartment).
I assumed it would be the norm, but, actually, I only saw it a few times in the two months I was there. Tanya’s apartment a was gorgeous modern one, with big, glass sliding doors into the bedroom. We chilled for a while, I unpacked...or actually, I think I remember having an inviting cool shower and coming out to a half unpacked bag by some sort of fairy godmother ;)
That night we went to the local market, and Tanya was so excited-
1.For me being there, and
2. To see me try the food!
And it was good. We bought so much, with there being such a variety, and, well, all I can say is that if you are a foodie, in fact, if you in any way like food (also known as human), well, you would be in seventh heaven here. After wandering up and down, up and down (everyone takes their time, ambling, chatting, socialising-already I could see the different frame of mind of the Thai people. I know what you’re thinking, we would amble too at a market, mostly..but these markets happen EVERYDAY in many parts of Thailand, or at least on a regular basis. People work late, they socialise late..it’s as if all aspects of their lives are connected, allowing them the time to slow down. Whereas we seem to live such separate lives, rushing from one thing to another, always thinking about what’s ahead. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s just my take on it), we sat down at a bench by the sea and finally ate! We couldn’t finish everything. And trust me, I am not a person for wasting food. But we were so excited to try everything..well, we were just like kids at a candy store!
I feel I need to mention something-transport. The main mode of transport, apart from cars and tuk tuks, are motorbikes. You go to Thailand, you ride. It would be pretty hard to get about without ending up on the back of someone’s bike. At least if you’re a student like me, with limited means, plus a slight appetite for adventure. My dad had seriously warned me to not get on one. And the thing was, I understood his worry. It was the one thing he really did not want me to do. The amount of injuries, and even deaths of tourists alone due to motorbike accidents in Thailand is crazy. Thailand is notorious for it’s motor accidents. But we all do stupid, risky things, right? Especially at this age. And, in fairness, I never actually rode one myself (you can go on the back of them with a ‘taxi’ driver, and it’s cheaper than a tuk tuk, especially if you’re by yourself, or with just one person), I knew I’d be too clumsy and nervous and would most likely fall/crash-I had to at first get used to simply balancing on the back. So, Tanya called one up, first night in Thailand, and on we got. And it was exciting! The humid air turned to a nice warm breeze blowing my now short hair back, as we zoomed out to the market, swerving dangerously close to cars. Tanya had me warned about the exhaust pipe which can easily burn you. It was just a little scary, but way more fun and so SO worth it! So, if you ever go to Thailand, or India, or anywhere that motorbikes are used a lot, I would definitely advise you to try it, at least once! As long as you make sure you’re as safe as you can be, and if you think you’d like it-I believe that’s what life’s about-taking chances. We do, unknowingly, everyday. The consequences if something goes wrong are unthinkable, but we can’t live our lives like that.
So, after the market, we went to a dessert place with one of Tanya’s friends. I tried Thai milk (you can get this just about anywhere you go in Thailand!) which was sweet and delicious! I had actually forgotten about this until now, and I’m just now realising the amount of food-nostalgia I’m about to get writing this blog. It was a challenge, on my first day, having to force myself to speak slower and clearer. Most Thai people..the majority of them, are very shy about using their English. They often believe (and are often wrong) that their English is not good enough. This is the biggest challenge in teaching English-trying to instill a confidence in them to use what they have! The way they are taught English really doesn’t help either (which is why Openminds volunteers teach it using a different method), with usually very little spoken English being taught, and the focus being on grammar and on the book. Frequently, sadly, some students will simply learn how to write out their work by the written method, whilst understanding very little! Monkey-see, monkey-do. But enough about that for now.
That night, I had trouble sleeping, although I had not slept in about 24 hours..I think. Since I’d left Ireland anyway. Even though the air conditioning was on, I was too hot- but more restless than anything really. No amount of air conditioning could help me, I knew. I slept after about 4 hours of tossing and turning, and honestly believing I would still be awake by the time the sun came up. I woke the next morning to chatting and giggling. I’m not usually a grumpy person in the morning (or so I believe!), but I was exhausted. Absolutely flat out, zonked. I tried to ignore the noise, until one of Tanya’s curious friends opened the door to sneak a peek at me. I was awake at this stage.
The next few days were a jumble driving, ‘win-motorcy!’(like ‘taxi!’), eating noodles and rice and Thai desserts and fruit. I simply loved the desserts, I have a definite sweet tooth, and Thai people like their sweet (and salty, and sometimes MSG laden!) stuff. The coconut pudding was my favourite. Many of their desserts consist of a plant-based jelly or fruit in sweet coconut milk. Many tourists don’t like it, but I miss it. The fruit was even more astounding, though, with some fruits tasting, genuinely, like sweets! Anyway, we went shopping in shopping centres that seemed too big to ever get through. That was another thing I was beginning to learn about Thai culture-the shopping, or spending tendency. There seemed to be very little emphasis on saving, which, I think is negative in some aspects. Commercialism and consumerism is driven by ‘want’, and unhappiness, and, unfortunately, has a detrimental effect on our environment. However, I found the Thai people I met to be extremely generous, giving people, so warm and inviting, so hospitable. They also seem to worry less about the future, in general. At least, that was what I observed. And, actually, they seem less greedy than us westerners. There is definitely a culture of sharing. If we eat ‘Thai-style’, it means, we share the food we have. If our meals are share-able, i.e. not rice/noodles, we do, and usually one dessert is gotten for the group to share. Tanya’s friends and I did this in the absolute most beautiful, dream café I have ever been in. It was like a greenhouse inside, with herbs and flowers sprouting everywhere (which they also used), and glass walls and ceiling. The interior design was so rustic and beautiful. And the dessert was to die for! It was a chocolate egg (think easter egg, but perfectly spherical), served with a jug of hot, melted chocolate which was poured on top to melt the egg, and to reveal ice-cream, brownie, berries and ground biscuit inside. Just divine. I had my first matcha latté there too, my first of many to come in Thailand.
One day, Tanya’s cousin, Tanya and I went to an island to snorkel and canoe. That was the only day I got burnt. Of course I had factor 50 on, but after 40 minutes in the water (even worse, as the sun’s beams are magnified) my poor skin stood no chance. It wasn’t too bad though, I just hate getting burnt. I do try, but it’s basically impossible not to without remaining a hermit all my life! That day was slightly monumental for me, ordering my first dish in Thai and seeing my first monkey, hanging off a road sign. Later, we would drive through ‘Monkey Hill’ I think it was unofficially called. Some people were feeding the monkeys. And although I love animals, I had no real inclination to feed these cheeky beasts! One jumped onto the windscreen right in front of Tanya-it was hilarious but slightly terrifying! They can be vicious too, in order to grab their bananas.
I realise that I’m writing like a ten-year old right now. Forgive me. I have to get back into it. I don’t know if I’ll ever finish transcribing my diary to blog posts, so I won’t mind if you stop reading them in five years time when I’ve finally gotten to the end!!Anyway, all I can say right now is that I am so grateful for those five days I spent with Tanya and her family and friends. I learnt a LOT just from my time there, before heading up to Nong Khai. And it was all immensely useful. I learnt a lot, I ate a lot, I experienced so so much, of Thai life. Having a local by your side is the best way to immerse yourself into a culture, and I will be forever grateful. I was most definitely pushed out of my comfort zone, but in the kindest, sweetest and most fun way possible. Until next time, my loves, I’m out x