Land Of Smiles: Some Similes

Twice a week last semester and every single day this semester (because Thepnaree is intense) I had to take my kids to morning assembly.

Let me set the scene for you a bit.

It’s 8 in the morning. We’re standing in straight lines. It’s myself, Bri, our favorite new young Thai teacher Kru Gkik, teacher Bell (the lively Filipino math teacher I really love) left to control 70 English program kids.

We’re standing in the freaking blazing morning sun. Our fatter students are sweating profusely. Thepnaree students are literally passing out on the daily and being carried away by their own teachers. (This is not even really hyperbole).

And every Mondaydespite this whole crazy sun and heat situation-our director Sukanda will stand in front of everyone in her high-neck, all black, “I have no idea how she’s still not even sweating in that get-up”, and give a speech–about who knows what–that will usually be about 20 minutes.

It feels like 40. 

And one of my favorite Thai teachers–Teacher May–will follow up her speech with a translation to English that is usually 30 seconds long, doesn’t really make sense, and without fail ends with:

“I hope you will have some impact in your life”.

And this is just the definition of life teaching at a Thai school. There are too many times a day to count where I’m thinking “why the hell are we doing this?”

But the message of this post is not to harp on the daily struggles of teaching–but instead to segue into what is my purpose of this post. 

If I could give a 20 minute long speech about my time in Thailand.

What would I say?

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Luckily that question is rhetorical, dear readers. Because I have already thought of it. 

And here it is. 

Teaching in Thailand is like life. 

I’ve been trying to actively work on the way I speak and not use the word “like” except in legitimate ways. And so to utilize this very overused word in a legitimate way. I would like to share some similes about teaching, about thailand, and about life.

Life is like a first grader’s art project.

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It’s most likely not going to by pretty. And honestly, it’s probably hardly even considered art. And also the majority of the time I will have no idea what is going on with it unless someone explains it to me.

T.Boo: “And this is is you?”

Baifern: “No that’s Namwan. That’s me. That’s Porpeang. And that’s Princess Elsa” 

But the point isn’t to make something spectacular every time. The point is to try. The point is to put my heart into everything. Treat life life how a first grader treats the blank side of a piece of paper–something priceless, something full of possibilities, and something you should ask your teacher for every 10 minutes.

Teacher may I have some paper, please?” 

Life is like the Thai School System.

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As much as I would like, I’m just never going to get a grasp on everything. There are so many variables. So many last minute changes. So many inconsistencies and mini-crises.

T. Boo: “Good morning grade 4!”

Pooh: “Teacher no class today. Scouts” 

The point is that no matter how meticulously I prepare, how many lesson plans I make, how much I try to get a grasp on what my life is: there’s just so much that is out of my control. And that means I have to be flexible. I have to be forgiving. I have to be able to revaluate my expectations and to deal when things really aren’t turning out the way I had been wanting them to.

Life is like trying to say the name of your Thai town.

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I may think that I am saying it correctly, I may be thinking I have every thing right, but at the end of the day there are just people who are going to have no idea what I’m trying to say.

T. Boo: “PhrAY”

Random bus attendant in Chiang Mai: “Pai?”

T.Boo: “No, PhrEH! PhrEAY! PrEH!”

Random: “Ohhhhh! PhrAY!

People are different. We are all raised with different cultures, different values, different ways of looking at the world. I’m not going to get along with everyone. I’m not going to agree with everyone. Not everyone is going to like what I’m doing. Not everyone is going to agree with it. And that’s okay. The point it to treat our differences like a language barrier: something that is there, it is present, it is difficult, but something that we need to work to overcome together.

And then things can be very special. 

Life is like going to Thai Zumba.

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Trying something completely new, something completely out of your comfort zone, something you are honestly terrible at can be terrifying. I don’t want to look like a fool. I don’t want to make mistakes. There are so many other things I could be doing instead that I am good at.

But if I didn’t take that leap. If I didn’t brave the stares as I struggled in the back of this public zumba class at the Phrae stadium–it never would have become what is the closest thing I had to a family in Phrae.

I wouldn’t have found a connection to my own body. I wouldn’t have released enough endorphins to keep myself happy despite all the crazy children. I wouldn’t have found so much love from a couple dozen middle-aged Thai women (who in reality I have nothing in common with–including a common language). Love exists in so many ways, in so many places. Opportunities are literally everywhere if I am just ballsy enough to go for them. 

So if you want to go to zumba–go to zumba! If you want to buy a ukulele–buy a ukulele. If you want to go to Thailand–go to Thailand. 

There’s no point musing on all the things that could go wrong, because the truth is that so much can go so, so right.

And I was leaving my school on Monday, I had one last conversation with our director. We talked about what it was like living in Thailand compared to America and where I saw the differences. And where I saw value in Thai culture.

Life should be like Thailand. 

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In these ways. 

There’s not as much rush. Things happen at their own pace here. In America, it seems to me as if everyone in my peer group is in such a hurry to get where they want to be (myself so, so included in this). 

I think people are working more, so they can buy more, because for some reason we all think that if we have more then we’ll be happy. And Sukanda disagrees.

I told her that being in this country made me realize just how important my family was to me. I think about the way Thai families live together, help each other, give so much to each other. I want that. I’ve been so eager to run away and find these things in foreign countries that I completely disregarded the people I love the most.

Sukanda told me that when she has money and can take care of her family, she is happy. And when she does not have much money, but she can take care of her family she is still happy.

And even though I am a cliche, 20-something, backpacker and blogger, I am not going to end this post with “life is all about human connections, man

So Instead, I will end my Sukanda-inspired morning assembly speech with the last piece of wisdom she told me before I left my Thai home for good.

“True of life. If you eat caviar, or you eat sticky rice. You are full the same.”

I hope you will have some impact in your life. 

I know I will. 

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One thought on “Land Of Smiles: Some Similes

  1. Love you…I am still smiling over “PhAY,…PhEY!!…you are so beautiful…and so growing from your many beautiful experiences. TeacherBoo has a smile that affects us who only read it!! Love you.

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