Monday, April 8, 2013

How We Made Our Thai Television Debut

The class where TJ and I have been teaching English doesn’t meet on weekends, so we have had the last couple days free to explore the town.

After class on Friday, we went straight to our neighbor’s horse farm, where we visited a baby horse and its mama. The horse was born on Tuesday, so it’s officially the youngest horse either of us has even seen, and it’s precious.

Then we saddled up and went for a quick ride. The horse they readied for us obviously thought he should be done for the day, so it took quite a bit of encouragement to get him going. The first few times around, he stopped by the gate and patiently waited to be led back to the stable. Eventually, he got the hang of it and took each of us on several laps.

He did get a little spooked when we changed riders and TJ got in the saddle, though. He did TJ’s first lap around the ring backward!

Saturday was our “free day,” and we took full advantage of it! We slept late and then lounged around the property reading books or checking email. We joke here that we only have some idea of what’s going on about fifty percent of the time, and Saturday was no exception. Peetim, our host, was gone all day, and with no word from her, we weren’t sure what the plan was for the rest of the day. We have adapted pretty well to this ambiguity, though, so we spent most of the day relaxed and waiting.

At some point, a car pulled into the driveway and a British couple, Jess and Tom, climbed out of the backseat. We thought we had heard that two girls were coming to join us at the homestay on Saturday, so at least our expectations were close this time. They were the first non-Thai people we have seen in over a week, and we were so excited to show them around and have a real conversation. The British accent has never sounded so familiar to me.

As our new friends were settling in, Peetim appeared and offered to take us to the grocery store before we spent the evening at the Muay Thai gym. The people at the gym have been so welcoming to us while we have been here, so we wanted to do something to thank them. Many of the kids who train are orphans who are allowed to sleep at the gym as long as they train in Muay Thai and go to school. When we asked if there was anything they needed, the instructor told us that what they need the most is food.

Food it is! Peetim walked us through the grocery store, and TJ and I pulled things off the shelves as we walked past. Big bags of rice. The kids’ favorite energy drinks. Chips. Canned tuna. Every time we asked Peetim for suggestions, she would insist that we had gotten enough, but TJ would announce that we weren’t done yet, so if she didn’t have a suggestion, he would pick out snacks himself. It was so much fun to fill up that shopping cart.

We transferred the bags into the trunk of Peetim’s car and then unloaded everything when we arrived at the gym. The table was filled with grocery bags, and the kids pawed through them, curious about what we had brought them. The instructor’s eyes lit up when he realized we hadn’t forgotten him – he whisked two of the bottles of beer into the freezer so he and TJ could enjoy them together before we left.

TJ spent the rest of the evening training with the guys at the gym. Tom was a good sport and joined him for a few rounds of punches, and even I got some good kicks in on a heavy bag. Sweaty and tired, we piled into the car to head home.

In keeping with our “we don’t know what’s going on” experience, the car stopped about halfway home, and Peetim turned the motor off. That’s usually our signal to get out, but we were on the side of a main road, and nothing looked familiar. Turns out, when we thought she said, “You stay,” she actually said, “Choose steak.” So, we welcomed our fellow teachers with a spread of steaks, French fries, and fresh watermelon. What a wonderful surprise!

Sunday morning, we were up early and cramming into Peetim’s neighbor’s pick-up truck. We were headed to Ayuthaya, a town between here and Bangkok that boasts a large collection of ruined temples from the days when Ayuthaya was the capital of Thailand. Our drive spoke no English, so Peetim gave us an outline of the day before we left, and then handed us a piece of paper to show the driver when we needed to: it said “Toilet” in Thai.

The ruins in Ayuthaya were amazing. The weather was a tiny bit cooler than it has been, and since it was a Sunday, we expected massive crowds. We managed to miss most of the people, though, and even found ourselves alone among the ruins several times.

We stopped for lunch at the floating markets, a series of platforms and small boats that sell everything from trinkets to clothing to food. Other vendors, on solid ground, had animal exhibits like a petting zoo or elephant rides. We passed this guy while we were still in the car:

As we were making the rounds, a fish tank caught my eye, and I didn’t hesitate. I crossed over a small bridge and presented myself at the entrance to the fish spa. My feet were ugly, this would be a new experience, and I was ready! The woman happily took my baht and washed my feet, then set a timer for 15 minutes. I plunged my feet in the tank.

I lasted about thirty seconds before pulling my feet back out again. It felt so weird! Almost like those at-home foot massagers that vibrate, except this was tons of tiny little fish and they were NIBBLING at me! TJ convinced me that we had paid for this experience and I was going to experience it, darn it, so I should put my feet back in. I did. I finally discovered that if I didn’t think about what was happening, it actually did feel pretty good.

My feet are still ugly, but they were amazingly smooth and moisturized afterward. It was worth it.

With filled bellies, smooth feet, and our ancient temple cravings satisfied, we hopped back in the truck for the trek back to Singburi. This time, I sat in the front with the air-conditioning, and TJ, Tom, and Jess climbed in the very back. The entire ride home was peppered with honks from passing cars as the three of them waved excitedly to every car that came near us.

We barely had time to rest at home before we were climbing into the back of another truck, pre-made sandwiches in hand. We knew we were off to see the “young monks” and work with them on their English, but as usual, we had no idea what to expect when we got there. We were slightly prepared by the warning to put our wallets and cell phones in a dry bag so they didn’t get wet. Spoiler alert: we never did get water thrown at us, but we did have quite an adventure!

The truck we were in had a cover over the bed, so we couldn’t see where we were going. We rumbled along, munching on the sandwiches, until the truck stopped on the side of the road and Peetim gestured in front of us. They wanted to show us our destination:

We climbed part of the hill and stopped in an area just beyond the main temple. The area was filled with monkeys! The monkeys are considered good luck, so farmers tend to bring piles of fruit to leave here for the monkeys. We fed them, too – parts of our uneaten sandwiches and a few bags of chips. After a while, a family pulled up to join us, and their young sons shyly handed us bags of peanuts to share. The monkeys loved those!

Not far behind us, the monks of the temple were starting to congregate. We finished playing with the monkeys and then headed in their direction, watching them climb stairs to settle in for meditation. As far as I can understand, Sunday was this temple’s kick-off for a Thai holiday, so the ground in front of the meditating monks was crawling with news cameras and photographers. The monks invited us to join them, so the four of us climbed the hill and sat near them, trying to at least keep our eyes closed for the cameras that suddenly focused on us.

The rest of the evening was a mix of press conference, religious ceremony, and festival games. We were encouraged to participate in it all, sitting among the well-dressed Thais of the press conference, pouring scented water over the Buddha image, and cheering on the young monks with their relay races. Then, we got pulled and prodded into to place so that we could participate in the races, too.

TJ and Tom joined a race where they had to pull on a pair of ladies underwear and then race around a pole and back holding a water balloon.

Then I got a ribbon tied around my waist with a cucumber tied to the end. I was supposed to swing the cucumber, without using my hands, and use it to roll a small lime down the lane toward the finish line. I was terrible at it! Fortunately, Tom suited up and took turns with me, so we were at least able to cross the finish line, even if it was well behind the laughing Thai boys.

We rushed through a delicious dinner provided by the community so that we could visit the boys once again before they headed back to their bunks. They politely sat in rows while we walked them through a few English phrases, even though we could barely see them in the dark. Then, Peetim decided to stir things up by asking everyone to stand in a circle!

Seven-year-old twins. I asked if I could take them home!

The complicated part here is that women are not allowed, under any circumstances, to come into contact with a monk. Even though these were children, Jess and I had to be careful not to brush against them or touch their hands. At first, we thought that meant we couldn’t participate. Then TJ and Tom realized they could be our buffers, so they stood on either side of us in the circle, each of them holding one of our hands and the hand of a young monk.

We were counted off in groups of four, and then Peetim would call out numbers – “Group 2 and 4, switch places!” There would be a mad rush of monks, all dressed in bright orange robes (the only part of them we could really see in the dark), scrambling to find a new place in the circle. Jess and I never dared to cross the middle of the circle. We simply stayed in the area we started in and rotated around each other. Whenever TJ and Tom ran off to other parts of the circle, we would discover that we were the ONLY ones in our area. Most of the young monks wouldn’t come near us.

After wearing ourselves out, we bid goodnight to the monks and came home, but our long day wasn’t over yet! Peetim promised us pancakes from the pancake man at 9:00, so we waited with growling bellies (of course, we weren’t hungry until after she mentioned pancakes) for headlights to appear at the gate. By 10:00, we were ready to give up. Even in Thai time, 10pm is a little late for the pancake man to show up, right?

To settle our appetites, TJ, Jess, and I headed for the collection of snacks at the front of the property. We decided that one of two things would happen – a) looking for a snack would trigger the pancake man’s appearance, similar to the way your food always arrives at a restaurant when you leave to use the restroom, or b) the pancake man wouldn’t show up, but at least we would have a snack. It was a win-win situation.
Sure enough, as we were digging through the different bags of chips, we finally noticed headlights at the front gate. Tom knocked on Peetim’s window, and she rushed with us to open the gate and accept the bag of Thai pancakes – paper thin, rolled up in parchment paper, and covered in sweet stickiness. I’m pretty sure they were the best pancakes I’ve ever eaten.

1 comment:

  1. mmm keep these awesome blog posts coming, I'm an avid reader! - joelle