Megan Ziegler, 129 TCCS
When I lived in Uzbekistan I only went to the movie theatre once. It was a theatre in the capital, Tashkent, and the only theatre that I had seen there. I went with a group of friends to see the third installment of the Twilight franchise, so there we were, a group of high school students taking selfies outside of a movie theatre to post about our girls day out – when we were approached by security. “Nyet fotografii” (no photography) a security officer said – addressing the Uzbek friend in our group. He peered over her shoulder and watched her delete the photo. She asked him why, and he explained that for security reasons we weren’t allowed to take photographs with the movie theatre in the background. Um, ok. I remember thinking – looking back at the small, sad theatre.
We then went into the movie and laughed at the hilariously Russian dubbed film – because there were no showings of any movies in English. They were all either Russian films or dubbed in Russian. We would then go to grab pizza at the Italian restaurant across the street – Il Perfetto – which would get shut down after I moved, like many restaurants that found too much success outside of any government association.
When I lived in Saudi Arabia I was only 10, and I felt special because, as the youngest, whenever we went on a family outing I was the only female who didn’t have to cover her hair. I still had to cover my tank top with an Abaya in the blistering desert heat– but my bright red hair was free. We’d go to the mall often because Riyadh was known for its beautiful malls. The third floor of one of them was ‘women’s only’ and the women and girls could uncover themselves. There you would see how most women were wearing designer clothes, dressed stylishly even though if only for themselves. They’d have a Starbucks latte in one hand and be dressed head to toe in Armani with a hijab peaking out of their purse. Saudi was flourished with expats and you had access to just about anything you wanted… to purchase, that is –we couldn’t really go to the movies there either. It was 2003 and there were no movie theaters (I’m not sure how it is now, in 2017 – but if I remember correctly back then they were banned). We would often have to escape to Dubai for the luxury of going to the cinema.
Enter me at 24, a Peace Corps volunteer living in Thailand for 9 months now. I live in a village, where I have experienced more culture first hand then I have had living in an expat’s world. I’ve learned more Thai in 3 months of training than I ever learned of Russian from my 3.5 years in Uzbekistan. I applied to Peace Corps because I wanted to prove something to myself. I’d seen the obstacles of developing countries and other cultures from a distance – but I wanted to prove that I was strong enough to exist in one and overcome those obstacles first hand. As someone whose life has been more or less defined by her travels, a result of my Dad’s job, I wanted to take control of the narrative.
Before arriving in Thailand I had done a lot of research, and I had learned that Thailand was one of the countries within Peace Corps that are referred to as ‘Posh Corps”. I still think that this is a ridiculous label because there is no such thing as an easy Peace Corps experience and this life is far from ‘Posh’ – but we do have electricity, Wifi (or data), and running water. These were the criteria the created a divide between Peace Corps and Posh Corps. In my opinion, though, this isn’t what should make Thailand ‘Posh’. What makes Thailand ‘Posh’ is the movie theatres. My favorite is the really dressed up theatre in the Siam Paragon mall. There’s a food court outside of the theatre and you can grab anything from Starbucks or McDonalds or the snack stand (which has nachos and beer, #blessed) to take in with you. They have English options and play a lot of western movies. I saw ‘Wonder Woman’ in June and in two weeks I’m going to see ‘It’.
What makes Thailand Posh is exactly what makes it harder. See, every time I leave site – I leave Thailand. At least the real, rural Thailand. There’s urban Thailand – like Bangkok, filled with both upper class and working class Thai’s who are commonly bilingual with English and Thai and who come from all over the country. Urban Thailand is filled with expats and international businessmen and as such you have access to any comfort that you could want from America or anywhere else AND you can dress how you would dress in America. No one will bat an eye if I were to walk around in a tank top and shorts (VERY inappropriate in the villages). Then there’s tourist Thailand. These are the islands and the beaches, filled mostly with western travelers drinking and wearing swimsuits and Thai’s from more rural area’s who have learned English and adapted to western norms so as to accommodate the tourists business. There’s beautiful scenery and shopping and food and outdoor sports and…… not a whole lot of Thai locals. Then there’s rural Thailand, where I live and where I’m still trying to adapt. Where the school’s often have leaking roofs, the student’s often have holes in their uniforms because they can’t afford to replace them, where they’ve never seen a foreigner before, where they can’t afford to go to the movies, where their parents work out in the farms and the kids are more often than not raising themselves.
The differences are blatant, and why some aspects and area’s of Thailand are so wealthy while the more common rubber tree and rice farmers are left without, I don’t know. But every time I leave site and return to hot showers, flushing toilets, and washing machines it feels like I leave Thailand. In a way, this is a comfort – because I never really have to miss the amenities of home when all I have to do is go to Bangkok to get them. Then I return to site, and I have to readapt to a different way of living. Every time the difference becomes more and more blatant. And every time it breaks my heart just a little because I can never give my students the world.
To read more from Megan Ziegler, check out her blog Tongue Thai’d