Sunday, March 13, 2005

A Day in the Life of Jeeem in Thailand

Today I’d like to take you with me on my walk to school…

Dressed and ready, we walk out my front door, step upon the covered porch, and stamp out our shoes to rid them of the creatures that inhabited them during the night.

Grabbing our umbrellas (because you never know when a thunderstorm will hit and you DON’T want to be caught in a Thailand thunderstorm…), we unlock the outside gate and re-lock it once we’re outside, descending onto Soi three.

Rounding the bend of the river, some of the local children notice us and approach…some uttering “Farang! (Westerner)” and others just clamoring to shake our hands and say hello or good morning, or just get a good look at us.

We follow Soi 3 (rural road) toward the bridge, waving to several families who recognize us, either because they have children who are taught at our school, or because they know we live in the neighborhood.

We pass beneath the sacred tree, with a trunk so wide, twelve men might find it difficult to surround it by joining hands. There’s a marble alter built in front of this tree, with several bronze, Buddhist figurines set upon it. To the right of the alter is a three foot, concrete façade of a Cobra snake, black back and white underbelly, with open mouth, exposed fangs, and a multitude of offerings stuck in it’s mouth. Today, we observe, there’s an egg in there and several flower necklaces hanging from the Cobras’ fangs.

Spiritual offerings are placed all about the marble alter, including dishes of food, burning incense, flowers, burning candles, and liquid offerings. The huge tree trunk is adorned with many multi-colored swathes of silk cloth. Spirit houses* adorn the base of the tree trunk, as well as trinkets and a small disco ball, which hangs from a nearby tree limb.

Moving on, we encounter several people passing by on motorcycles, most who recognize us and either smile, beep, or wave. We nod recognition and receive many broad smiles. This being, of course, the Land of Smiles.

The local mechanic is up and about this morning, a cornhusk cigarette hanging from his lips, as he grins and waves. We cross over the bridge, take an abrupt right, and head north on route 4, gazing at the traffic, which is immense even for 7:30 in the morning.

Songtheaws and buses stream past, honking and waving down passengers heading south to Sadao.

We come upon the local petrol station, where two of the employees are waiting for us.

The gasoline jockeys employed here, are quite friendly. The bigger one of them sports a huge beer belly and constantly walks around the lanes with his tee shirt hiked up, exposing his rotund belly to everyone who can see. Every morning he smiles, salutes, and says, “Good Morning Teacher!” His son is a student at our school, in Prathom four.

The other gasoline jockey is an older fellow, skinny as a rail, but always with a smile plastered on his face. He greets us with a hearty, “HALLO!”

We walk on…passing the discount clothing shop, the bus stop, and crossing the side street, we come upon my good friend who has had a stroke. His face is waxy and you can see the bells palsy on the right side of his face. He is standing today, shaking his hands vigorously, religiously doing his physical therapy exercises. He smiles at us and winks, not wanting to disturb his rhythm.

In the next block, we come upon my muscle bound Thai friend. He always smiles and sometimes he has his pretty wife with him and his adorable son. We’re lucky today, for as we approach, he is hoisting a huge bag of rice on his shoulders and his wife and son are sitting only paces away. We approach and as they notice us, their smiles warm our hearts. The little one puts down his breakfast bowl and comes to us, wanting to shake hands. We shake hands with him and utter ‘Sawasdee Krap’ to the mother and her husband, as we forge onward in our morning journey.

Approaching the main street in Thunglung, our eyes downward, looking for dog poop, as there are many resident dogs in this stretch and they only have one place to poop and that’s the sidewalk.

Rounding the corner and heading east on main street, we pass the caged Mynah bird, who squawks, “Hello!” This seems so bizarre, in a world of Thai language; we have a damn bird who speaks English!

Main Street is lined with small stores and restaurants, which are mostly quiet now…only to become very active in the early evening. We head towards the village’s central park and turn left, heading toward Phatong Wittaya School. Several Songtheaws, buses, trucks and whatnot, stream by…loaded with school children from the surrounding neighborhoods. Out of these packed vehicles we hear, “Teacher! Teacher!” Alternatively “Mr. Jim!” We wave in recognition, much to the pleasure of the kids.

Waving to the throngs of students, we proceed along the sidewalk that borders the park, heading to school. Looking up, tangled in the power lines, are huge spider webs, replete with huge, black and white spiders, the size of a man’s hand. I shudder at the thought of these incredible beasts, but I’m aware that they exist in plentiful form in all countries of Southeast Asia, and are quite harmless.

The park is narrow and long and as we stroll along, suddenly out of the north comes a loud "BLEEEEE!" Suddenly, a rusted, worn looking locomotive and it's attached cargo cars, come streaming by, bleating out it's warning as it streams past this idealistic children's park. The irony in this fails to settle fully on me.

Finally, we approach the school. To our left is a throng of food carts, steam and blue smoke coming off some of them, all of them surrounded by throngs of schoolchildren in their daily uniforms (girls in blue pleated skirt and white blouse and boys in black shorts and white shirt).

The fare offered is as diverse as one can imagine. Breakfast treats are offered, wrapped in banana leaf, or served in shallow dish. Thai dishes consisting of barbequed chicken or pork, shrimp and cockle dishes, also are prevalent…causing my taste buds to protest. In Thai culture, dishes eaten at midday are likewise eaten in the morning hours.

The school grounds are not unlike an anthill, busy with workers, students, teachers and the like….we have arrived. We Wei the welcoming party at the gate, as we enter and head for our classroom, admidst more cries of, "Teacher! Teacher!"

*explained in more detail at a later posting



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