As we enter the new year, a few writers of Peace Corps Thailand Magazine reflect on their best funny story, miscommunication, or “oops” of 2019:
Megan McNelis, 131 TESS
For better or for worse, my brain has a mechanism that immediately represses my memory of these moments so that I do not physically crumble from shame on the daily. Fortunately I was able to override it just in time to tell you this story for the Happy, Happy New Year.
And what do people do in Thailand on this holiday? Much like Americans, they will up until midnight watching for the exact moment the clock turns over to the year 2563. I found that out by being incredibly (but sadly, not uncharacteristically) dense.
As I sat with all my Meh’s one evening last week I was asked about my holiday plans. I shyly told them I was going to Satun and Trang. Meh Tik gave me a cheeky smile. “Oooooh. She’s gonna go kao dao with Andrey!” she tittered. …Kao dao? I checked my mental dictionary. Enter the stars? Is that a euphemism?! I cocked my head and screwed up my eyebrows–my facial expression in Thailand for “I am confused please help me.” Rather than explaining, they continued to laugh at me, per usual.
For three days and nights, I wandered the village, my tortured soul believing that Meh Tik had used an impressively poetic yet extremely uncomfortable idiom for me bonking my boyfriend. I kept hearing this phrase until one day, for no reason in particular, it suddenly dawned on me. Countdown. They’re saying countdown. You dirty-minded imbecile; that’s how Thai people pronounce “countdown.”
I hope to have recovered from this experience by January 1st, 2564.
Caitlin Navratil, 131 YinD
I still honestly can’t tell you which of the teacher’s bathrooms at my Tessaban School I’m supposed to use. I don’t know if there is a men’s bathroom and a women’s – I thought I’d figured it out but then saw a male teacher coming out of what I thought was the women teacher’s bathroom. So even after almost a whole year of being here, its entirely possible that I’ve been using the men’s room this whole time.
Natalie Heinitz, 131 YinD
When I moved into my own house at site, everyone asked me if was afraid of ghosts. I told them the truth – yes, I am very afraid of ghosts. I’m afraid of the dark. I used to love watching scary movies when I was younger and now all those images are seared into my brain. I tried to explain this the best I could in Thai. (I also told everyone that I’d be less scared if my landlord let me have a dog, but that’s another story.)
Everyone assured me that I would be fine because Thai ghosts don’t know me, since I’m American. I told them, well, they don’t know me now. But they’ll know me in a year! Everyone thought this was hilarious.
Fast forward about nine months – almost a year in Thailand (including my time at PST). I wake up in the middle of the night and see my door opening. I feel a presence enter the room. I scream! And it was gone. The door was closed. I have no idea if it was a dream, a hallucination (I’ve done a lot of googling about sleeping hallucinations lately), or the real thing.
I go to my SAO the next day. I tell my coworkers what happened. One of my coworkers says, “Well, it’s been almost a year! Thai ghosts know you now!”
I still don’t have a dog.
Zari Havercome, 130 YinD
I went to an event that I was invited to about teaching the importance of exercise to students. After arriving I found out that I was actually supposed to run the entire event with dozens of high schoolers. So I taught them the electric slide and exercised they way I did at every function of my childhood! #culturalexchange
Andrea Aribe, 130 YinD
During the first ten days of pre-service training, we stayed at a hotel before living with host families. Most hotels in Thailand (and throughout Asia) require guests to insert a key into a slot to activate the electricity. My assigned roommate and I spent our first night sleeping in the heat, unaware of the air conditioning we were missing out on. I didn’t question it; I just kept telling myself, “Welcome to Peace Corps.” 😅
Shannon Murphy Berrios, 131 TESS
I think my favorite funny stories come from interactions with my local hot dog/soda vendor/landlord, Sunee. One day the electricity and the water went out with little chance of it coming back soon. So I popped out to get some food and talk with Sunee, since we live on the same compound we were dealing with the same issue. When it was time for me to retire into my house she commented: “You’ll be hot.” I agreed. Her solution, “Sleep naked, not too hot.” I again agreed. She walked away giving me final words of information, “I always sleep naked.”
Another one from her is the day before the site visit and my TPI she brought me a big glass of whiskey slushie. Much to my delight, it was strong. And then shortly after my site visit once the Peace Corps was out of town she returned with an even stronger drink saying “you looked like you needed it.” A true bartender like myself.
Neil Pickus, 131 YinD
Oops! I was home alone, changing from work clothes to biking clothes when I got hit with a wave of “if you’re not on the toilet in 3 seconds we’re gonna have a major problem 3…2…1”. I’m between outfits when this wave hits me, so i am now butt naked on toilet listening doing my business. I put on a podcast to drown out the noise from the everlasting renovations on the neighboring apartments when I think I hear someone calling my name. I pause the podcast and over the jackhammering from next door I hear a faint “Neil?!”. I recognize the voice of my counterpart and make a run for my clothing rack to try and throw something on and greet my visitor. Sure enough, because my house was unlocked and I was not answering his shouts, my CP came into my house to make sure I was okay. He entered the bedroom just in time to see my naked body flail across the room frantically trying to put on gym shorts. The exchange following was full of shame as neither of us could look each other in the eye nor keep from nervously laughing and saying “I’m so sorry” back and forth for several minutes.
We both learned a valuable a lesson which is that neither of us want to live through this traumatic moment again. My counterpart will CALL my phone before coming into my house, and I will be living out the rest of my days in service as Tobias Fünke…Never Nude.
Bianca Henao, 131 TESS
Since being in Thailand I’ve developed a language of my own. It’s a combination of Thai, the Isaan dialect spoken in my area, and English. I have proudly dubbed it “Paa-saa Bua” or “Bua’s Language”. My Thai nickname is Bua which means lotus. The people I see most often totally understand this funky little language of mine. The others, not so much. One day I went to lunch with some teachers at my school and said that I wanted ice cream but in my own language using both English words and Thai. When they all got quiet then busted out laughing I knew there had to be a mistranslation somewhere. I basically had ended up saying “I had sex, now I want ice cream”. Lovely. Maybe it’s time to hit the Thai books and drop this language of my own.
Nicholas D’Addio, 131 TESS
It was the first week of July, and I was heading out on my first bpai tiao (trip) with the staff at my school. We would take an eight-hour, overnight bus ride, and then, a one-hour ferry trip to the island of Koh Chang for the annual sub-district retirement party. At this point in my service, I could name everyone and had begun to build a collegial rapport with every face. I was more relaxed with the group than my first few weeks at site, but I still had my guard up. This trip was, after all, one of the first true social occasions that I’d have with these new friends.
The first night at the resort, we all went to a big meeting hall for the festivities where we joined the four other schools in our sub-district (Important note: the size of this group has now multiplied in size). There was laughter and sweet words of congratulations followed by karaoke and generous pours of Hong Thong. Then, a small bunch of female teachers took the stage in glimmering show dresses. They began a beautiful mor lam dance — a traditional form of dance from Laos and Isaan. I was excited to witness the dance for only the first or second time, especially because one of my favorite Thai people, a sweet co-teacher I call Mae Dang, would lead the dance.
[Now, let me hit pause for a quick moment. You should know that at this point in my service, my left hand usually never strayed far from the waistband of my pants; I had lost 60 pounds since arriving in Thailand and was constantly holding up my drawers, which were now about four sizes too big. Understand that, as this story is unfolding, I have put away between one and six glasses of Hong Thong (I’ll leave actual volume up to the reader’s imagination). Inhibitions faded along with attention to detail. My left hand held a drink as my right hand grabbed my phone to take a picture.]
I rose to capture the moment, and I felt something one never wishes to feel standing in front of a room filled with eighty plus people — the light cinch of my pants waistband sliding off my hips. As my oversized pants hit my ankles, the music and the dancing stopped (although it felt like the entire world had). Everyone could see me. The table of paw-aws (directors). The back row of young, attractive female teachers on stage. All of the waitresses. MAE DANG. As my face went from its baseline pasty white to a shade of red that matched the rosy tablecloths, I ashamedly lifted my pants over my exposed thighs, and holding them now with two hands, exited the conference room to go find a belt.
Believe it or not, this embarrassing moment was a net positive — we really broke the ice that night. A great level of vulnerability put me in a position to make these people real friends. And we had a great laugh (well, they did first, and I did after the fact). I would not change a single thing about that night. Actually, I take that back — in hindsight, I wish I would not have worn my brightest pair of neon blue briefs.