Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Mime

Thursday morning my coworker was supposed to pick me up at 7am to go to Mae Khlong for a workshop on migrant rights. At 7:30, she still hadn’t called to say she was waiting for me outside, so I called her.

“Ohhh!” she said. “Jahteenahh! I forgot to come to your house.”


“You go with Ahn,” she said. “Eight thirty he come. Sorry. I already drive 10 kilometers.”

Caroline called me at 8:30. “Oay told me you needed a ride. I’m at the 7-11 waiting for you.”

There’s a 7-11 on every block in Thailand. They’re more ubiquitous than Starbucks in the States.

“Which 7-11?” I asked, of course.

“Next to city hall,” she said. “Next to the police station.”

Well, those are two landmarks that every resident should know in their own town. But not me.

After a lot of walking around and calling Caroline, we found each other. City hall was not where I thought it was. There were some other Raks Thai staff and a few other people I didn’t recognize.

Caroline and I rode in the same car as a Thai woman named Wii (actually spelled Wi but for the Apple generation it’s more fun to spell it with two “i”s) who is doing a PhD in nursing in the northeast. When she learned that Wii spoke English, Caroline waved her fists excitedly.

“Good good good,” she said. “Now I can talk to someone in English.”

My sentiments exactly.

The workshop was held at a riverside resort near Amphawa, a town famous for its floating markets, fireflies, and homestays in stilt houses on the river. Caroline and I lassoed Wii into sitting at our table and translating for us. She didn’t seem to mind, as most Thai people are excited to meet English speakers so they can practice. I was grateful to have a translator because everything was in Thai, including the signs for the bathroom.

Caroline leaned over at one point and said, “How is here different from where you come from?”

For some reason people love to ask me this when I’m in other countries. I don’t know why. I’d never ask such an open question because the obvious reply would be, “What do you mean?”

Which is what I asked.

“How is this workshop different from if you were in the US?”

Ah. “For one thing, there would probably be a lot more talking,” I said. “Americans love to hear themselves talk, even when they’re not saying anything intelligent.”

Caroline laughed. “Asians aren’t like that. We don’t like to talk,” she said. The irony, of course, is that Caroline can’t stop talking. She is the chattiest person I know in Thailand. She said that if it weren’t for her uncle threatening to kill her if she ever became an actress, she would have become an actress.

Actually, I don’t find Thai people all that shy. I think this is actually a pretty gregarious culture, and women are just as chatty as men in mixed-gender situations.

According to Buddhist tradition, monks are only allowed to eat food that lay believers give them as alms. If you’re up early enough almost anywhere in Thailand, you’ll see monks walking around with their alms containers, and people offering food as a good deed.

The resort where we stayed was a teak wood number built on the riverbank. The monks in the Amphawa area traditionally collect alms by boat, and are now a tourist attraction. Friday morning I was up at 6 hoping to catch a glimpse of saffron robes floating down the river with their empty containers. There is a small dock where resort patrons can wait to give alms to the monks when they paddle by. If you give advanced notice, the resort will organize food for you to give the monks. How’s that for no-hassle alms-giving? You don’t even have to go to the market yourself.

Photos here.
Last weekend Francisco and I were in a 7-11 looking for something for his wonky stomach.

“Do you have Pep-To-Biz-Mol?” he asked the woman behind the counter, enunciating each syllable. It was a long shot but it couldn’t hurt to try.

She stared at him blankly. I tried pantomiming, one of my favorite ways to communicate with Thai people.

“Do you have…” I began. I held my stomach, frowned as hard as I could, and moaned like a person with diarrhea.

The woman’s face lit up. “Oh!” she said. “Test baby?”

Hmm. I hadn’t intended for my sign language for “diarrhea” to translate into “pregnancy test.”

A pantomime success story. A few weeks ago I saw a cockroach in my bathroom. A lot of Thai bathrooms are a single open floor with drains. Shower runoff goes down there, as well as runoff from something called the “host spray” according to signs in the mall – a short hose with a spray nozzle that you use to hose down the toilet after you use it. Of course, having a “host spray” makes a lot more sense when you’ve got a squat toilet rather than a sitdown toilet. I’ve also wondered if some people use it as a personal bidet as well, but I’d rather not know. I just avoid touching the “host spray” in public restrooms.

Anyway, one night a cockroach had crawled up through the drain and was nosing around my bathroom. How rude. I didn’t invite him in. I flipped the lights on and off trying to scare him back into the drain. It was one of those things that makes me realize how dumb humans are.

The guy eventually crawled back into the drain and I stuffed it with a jar cap that happened to fit perfectly. A few days later, the cockroach found its way back out – through the drain in my balcony. It was time to do something.

I accosted one of the apartment managers in the elevator.

“Do you have bug spray?” I asked, making a pumping motion with my index finger. “I have a cockroach.”

Blank stare.

“Um…” I clasped my thumbs together, wiggled all my fingers, and scuttled my hands close to the ground while making a high-pitched humming noise, because that’s what a cockroach sounds like, according to this mime.

“Oh!” he said, his face brightening. “I have. One moment.”


jke said...

Madame - updates iko wapi?

Pls don't stop reporting, even if it's just about roaches.

Ebony said...

that is HILARIOUS that the store clerk associated grimacing and holding your belly with being pregnant.

Justina said...

Pole bwana. Thanks for the nudge. I hate to disappoint my fans. Habari ya Embu?