Tim Connors, TESS 130
The other day I went to the market. This was the conversation that unfolded.
Customer: Who is that? There is a foreigner here? Who is he married to?
Me: Yes, my name is Tim.
Seller: He’s a teacher at that school (points to the school).
Customer: How old is he?
Me: I’m 29 years old.
Seller: I don’t know. I think he’s 25.
Customer: Where does he live?
Me: I live in Monpin.
Seller: He lives in Monpin.
Me: I’m standing right here.
Customer: can he eat spicy food?
Seller: No, he can’t, he eats a lot of plain food.
Me: What? No, I can eat everything. I buy spicy food from you all the time.
Customer: Can he tutor my daughter?
Seller: Let me ask. Kun Kru, can you…
And…I’m gone. There’s only so much I can listen to. No matter how much I integrate, I can’t erase those little annoyances that bite at my pride. The above exchange frustrated me not because of what was said, but because of who participated in the conversation: people I see every day who still treat me like a child who doesn’t understand a conversation that involves me.
That’s one example of things that annoy me at site. Here are a few more:
- Community rumors about me (one example: I wasn’t sleeping well because of the ghosts at my rental house).
- Everyone staring all of the time.
- Teachers not showing any interest in … you know … teaching …
- Taking tens of pictures at every landmark we visit—same poses every time (Thumbs up, mini-heart, smile, Yeah!).
- Village leaders being bad role models (one example: getting drunk and singing karaoke until two in the morning on a field trip bus filled with trying-to-sleep students).
- Being shown off to everyone like a prized cow.
These are things I can usually brush off. They only become a problem when they grow and accumulate, piling into a heap like the corn stalks precariously stacked in the back of a pickup truck. Frustrating moments sometimes become my experience at site rather than a piece of the experience. For a while, I couldn’t get the above conversation out of my head. I replayed it over and over and thought about how I could have “fixed” it by saying something grandiose and affirming. But those words never come out right in Thai. And anyway, the moment passed and my need to “fix” it didn’t matter anymore. In reality, it was only me, ruminating on something that had happened hours ago.
Luckily, the opposite can happen too. Good moments can stick together like the aggregate sweat we’ve all leaked into our clothes. Here are some that I’m thinking of now:
- A first grader decided to call me, “Teacher Chicken” every day (good job using English, kid!).
- Second graders stole my shoes while I changed in the bathroom. When I came out, I saw their little feet stamping around in my size 12 sneakers.
- Gee Rai Yut, a special needs student, who is a terror in the classroom and a sweetie outside of it, hugs me every day.
- The whole school sang “Happy Birthday” to me and presented me with a cake.
- On Sports Day, I put on a skirt made from strips of construction paper attached to a string and cheered.
- Watching my students take out English books and flip through the pages.
I could go on. In fact, I could probably continue these lists ad infinitum until my alarm goes off at five in the morning and my drooling, red-eyed, sagging body has to pedal its tiny bicycle to school.
In truth, my experience is a landscape filled with all of these moments. If I were to draw a picture (or someone else, I can only draw stick figures) of the experience it would be sprawling, covered with people, and all the people would be interacting constantly. All of the annoying, lovely, gross, beautiful, horrifying, magnificent, awful, caring, chaotic, peaceful, wild, natural, ugly, and excellent things would be happening side by side.
I would really like to say I know how to deal with those annoyances when they get the better of me. I would like to say something calming and rational. But the truth is, when they get the better of me I throw inanimate objects at the walls. I yell at my house gecko. I have arguments with imaginary people as I pour water over my head. I yell at cars in traffic (really trying to break that habit). I write angry screes in my journal about how awful everything is.
Friends have advised me that writing down those good moments might help. Might reduce the frustration. But then I think: Why try to erase what I’m feeling? Why erase the moment from the landscape? No matter how angry, upset, or indignant I get, I know there are more moments coming into the frame that will remind me about the good stuff. The landscape isn’t stationary. Everything within is in constant motion. All I have to do is be patient and keep moving. The next moment could be beautiful. Or awful. Or heartwarming. Or disgusting. Or, it could be all of the above.
This is Tim’s first Sticky Rice article, but be sure to check by soon for his poem entitled, “Ode to the Tukay Lizard Living in My Kitchen Wall.”