Queer Lodgings

You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after. -JRR Tolkien

Okay, so the title Queer Lodgings is a little bit tongue-in-cheek and I hope it does not offend, but I chose it because of the two important things that happened this weekend: I moved into my first house, and the Supreme Court decided that it is unconstitutional for a state to ban same-sex marriage.

On Friday night (Friday morning back in the states) I was at Oi’s house celebrating his sister’s 46th birthday. She is the mother of Trumpet (so named because his father is a music teacher), the little nephew I wrote about in one of my earliest blogs. Trumpet was there, singing and dancing “Let It Go,” as he often does—many times after school in the past few weeks I have seen Trumpet prancing in the streets in dresses that probably once belonged to his sisters. While we played with Trumpet, Oi told us that his sister, who had two older daughters, was very happy when Trumpet was born because she had wanted a son. Now, four years later, Trumpet seems more like a third daughter! This was not said in a derogatory manner whatsoever. Everybody seems to enjoy Trumpet’s nature (although his mother seems somewhat exhausted by his inexhaustible energy).

At the party we had much Thai food, a cake that Oi’s sister’s students bought for her, and a little too much beer, which meant that eventually I had to go to the bathroom. I hopped across the street to my apartment and while I was there I checked if I had any messages from home.

I did not, but my Facebook account was ablaze with the incredible news about the Supreme Court’s historical decision! When I returned to the party I excitedly shared the news with Ben and Hannah, and then we all did our best to explain to Oi why the news was so monumental.

And it is monumental. This decision is a huge victory. Unfortunately, just as the Emancipation Proclamation did not end racism (as recent American history can prove), this event will not end homophobia…but it is an important step in the right direction.

Chateau Farang

Chateau Farang

Yesterday, us three farangs (pronounced fuh-longs—it means foreigners) moved just down the street from our old apartment building in a house. We made the decision to move less than two weeks ago when we were told (by Patrick: the farang grandfather of one of our fourth grade students who will be the subject of a blog very soon) that a house in Pak Thong Chai goes for about 5,000 baht a month. Well! The three of us were paying 2,000 a month each for a little one-room apartment. It made logical sense to upgrade our living situation and downgrade our payments.

So we spent the day carrying out meager supply of belongings from our old lodgings to our new ones, and we are now comfortably settled!

The house has four bedrooms: three upstairs; one downstairs. Two with double beds; two with twin. One with air conditioning; three without. Three with wooden floors; one with tile. It has two bathrooms. The bathrooms are even less American than the bathrooms in the apartment! In Thailand, most toilets do not flush. You simply poor buckets of water into the bowl when you have finished…this is how our bathrooms work. We have an enormous patio space with lovely wooden furniture, as well as a nice living room upstairs.

Living Room

Inside the living room. One wall rolled up, one down.

Ah, the living room! This might be my favorite thing about the house. The walls in the living room are not solid but wooden grates covered in blue tarp. When the weather is bad, the tarp stays down. But when it is nice and windy, we can roll up the tarps to enjoy the view and the breeze. It is a most wonderful place to, as the Thai say, sabai sabai.

More on everything to come!

Be dareful.

Dowsing, or the Art of Finding Water

Whenever I find myself growing grim…then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. –Herman Melville.

In the past two weeks I have found myself satisfyingly subaquatic no less than three times. If you know me, you know how much I enjoy swimming. To have that opportunity here was a real treat!

Last Sunday, I was packed once again into the back of my manager Ku Kai’s pickup truck (along with Ben and five of the older students from school; Hannah was lucky enough to snag a spot in the cab) and taken to a school the nearby town of Khon Buri, where the students competed in a Thai spelling competition. Contrary to our expectations, we farangs did not participate in the competition in any way. Nor were we allowed into the rooms to observe our students. Instead, we explored the school campus. We very quickly found the swimming pool, a big thing surrounded by palm trees, a fountain, and a decent-sized waterslide!

students

Teacher Ben with Bunditnoi students

I’ll take this opportunity to note that a pool is currently under construction at Bunditnoi! I am so excited for it to be finished and I sincerely hope that we teachers may use it during free periods.

Unfortunately, we had not expected to be swimming that day, so we did not have swimsuits. Instead, we just relaxed with our feet in the water, and chatted and sunbathed.

After the competition, we loaded back into the truck and thought we were on our way home, but Ku Kai made a detour onto a worn dirt road. As we rounded a bend up a hill, the students suddenly got very excited and began screaming so loud that Hannah could hear them up front in the cab. We rounded another bend…and saw our destination: an immense reservoir surrounded by hills and a sandy beach.

Ku Kai drove us all the way to where the sand met the water before she parked. There, on the edge of the reservoir, was a table with just enough beach chairs for all the teachers who were on the trip. The students didn’t care—by the time I sat down, they were already swimming without even changing from their school uniforms! Meanwhile we teachers were brought (as if from nowhere!) water, beer, and piles of delicious Thai food: Pad Thai, fried rice, Tom Yum soup, Som Tam (papaya salad), and as a main dish, salted whitefish that was fresh off the grill.

After that succulent meal Ben and I found a vendor near the beach selling swimsuits. We each got one and spent a good half-hour in the shallow, muddy reservoir. At first we kept to ourselves, but by the end we were splashing around with the students and having a blast (something, we realized later, that would almost never happen in America).

So that day was good for this fish, with two chances to be in the water.

Glamour shot from the pool at Khon Buri

Glamour shot from the pool at Khon Buri

This past Saturday, we three farangs all took our swimsuits into town in search of more water. Ben had seen some locals carrying swimsuits a couple of months ago, and determined from a quick conversation that there was indeed a pool somewhere in town.

So we went off in the general direction of the rumored pool, but really we didn’t know where we were going. Our first stop was to Ben’s masseuse, a woman who speaks enough English that when we asked “Sra way na (swimming pool), where?” she perfectly understood and was able to explain how to get there.

It wasn’t her fault that we screwed up the directions and unwittingly passed the pool. Luckily for us, the masseuse had sent her assistant to follow us on her motorcycle. She caught up quickly and corrected our mistake, and two minutes later we were changing into our suits at the pool.

It was a concrete rectangle filled with salted water to the uniform depth of about three feet. It was not as nice as the Khon Buri school pool, but it was cool water, and therefor perfect. After at least an hour of swimming Ben and Hannah decided they’d had enough—but not me. I stayed in on my own for a while, content to be underwater again.

Sure, I got sunburned, but sometimes you have to get a little burned to have a good time.

More on everything to come!

Be dareful.

The Future is Wet

Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head. –BJ Thomas

The rainy season has begun!

You folks back home in America, who live 11-14 hours behind me in the year 2015, where it doesn’t rain every day and the weather does not often tip over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, might think that rainy season is a dark, dismal time of year full of sogginess and cabin fever.

But let me tell you, rainy season is a blessing. I know this for sure because I am from the future. Not just 11-14 hours into the future, either. I live 543 years, 11-14 hours in the future.

That’s right! Here in Thailand it’s the year 2558.

That is because Thailand follows the Buddhist calendar, which began over five centuries earlier that the Gregorian/Christian calendar. This is not often an issue for me—it was initially difficult to adjust to the hovercraft and mélange spice, and other futuristic accoutrements, but now I am settled into future life.

All joking aside, it hasn’t been difficult adjusting to the ‘new’ date. Mostly this is thanks to the fact that it is rarely an issue—I don’t often have to write the date. Furthermore, the students at Bunditnoi have to write the date as 2015 on all their assignments in order to get used to doing things ‘the English way.’ So the date is not an issue, simply one of the many gems of cultural dissonance.

I suppose to the Jewish side of my family, I am still millennia behind. I don’t know what century I belong to!

Back to the rain!

Turtle

“Those raindrops keep fallin’ on my head; they keep fallin’…”

Rainy season began in earnest a week ago. Almost every day this week it has rained between 15 minutes and an hour. There are days of light rain and days of heavy rain. The days of heavy rain are torrential. As long as you’re not caught outside in it, it’s even beautiful. After the rain, no matter what time of day, the weather cools down by several degrees. That is why rainy season is a joy.

‘The future’ is wet in one other way: before the rain comes the weather is just as hot as Texas and much more humid. Whatever clothes I wear to school are invariably soaked with sweat by the time I get home!

Rain, fans, and air conditioning (a warning to anybody who might ever go to Thailand: the latter is difficult to come by!) are three blessings here in Thailand.

More on everything to come!

Be dareful.

The Pink Panther Goes to Teacher Day

 Letting morality get in the way of making money? I might as well go and be a teacher. –Alec Baldwin.

At long last, I have my own transportation. Two weeks ago I told my manager, Ku Kai, that I wanted help finding a cheap motorcycle and described what I was looking for. As it turned out, Ku Kai was looking to buy herself a motorcycle, and decided that she would buy one and rent it to me for the measly sum of 1,000 baht per month (which equates to about $33.33). My gratitude knew no bounds! A week later I was presented with an automatic speedster that was exactly what I wanted.

Except for one thing: it was pink.

There is a feeling one expects when riding one’s own motorcycle for the first time: freedom, exhilaration, adventure, dare I say badassery, and yes, for this American, masculinity. Unfortunately a lot of those feelings were lost when I first hopped on my pink ride. I must have had a good degree of internalized misogynistic prejudice against the color pink.

Fortunately, the Thai people have no such prejudice. Pink is a well-respected color among both men and women here. One day every week, the Thai teachers all wear pink. Many of my male friends here, including Teacher Oi, have pink accessories like phone cases and what have you.

So when I pulled into the parking lot at Bunditnoi, nobody laughed at the farang riding a little pink motorcycle. The only derision my pink ride received was from myself…and after a week riding this thing to and from school, I believe and sincerely hope that my own ridiculous embarrassment about my motorcycle has completely disappeared. I have even given it a cool nickname: The Pink Panther.

pink panther

The Pink Panther captured at the angle of minimal pinkness

On Thursday, after driving the Pink Panther to work, I had a most touching experience. The children had been training all week for Teacher Day, and it was time for them to pay their respects.

The ceremony happened like this: after the morning assembly, the entire school population gathered in front of the stage. Every student had brought some kind of flower offerings to school that day. Some were small, a group of a few flowers surrounding three or four sticks of incense. But some students had actual silver platters laden with the most intricate arrangements of miniscule white petals in star patterns, or pyramids of royal purple blossoms, and more. They held the flowers while six of the older female students sang the Teacher Day song, which was all in Thai.

Then the teachers were called up to the stage in groups of ten. The other farangs and I were in the first group. We sat in a row while the kindergarten students brought their flowers up. They sat prostrate in front of us, each student facing one teacher…except that the girl who should have bowed to Hannah was a little confused, and bowed to me instead. But when they rose and handed their flowers off, we each were given one arrangement, which we then passed on to a group of sixth grade boys standing behind us.

After each student had given their flowers to a teacher, the entire school sang an encore of the Teacher Day song, and then it was time for class. The whole thing took about an hour.

Flowers

Flowers on Teacher Day

Teacher Oi joked with me that he made a bet with the students: if I or any of the farangs cried during the ceremony, the students had to treat us to Thai barbecue, an experience I have not yet had but am very much looking forward to. And although I did not cry, I honestly came pretty close.

Why? Because in America teachers are respected with an apple at the end of the year. Here in Thailand the students offer us more respect than that every single day. To pile on to that the feeling of sitting on a stage while one child offered me flowers…it was overwhelming and beautiful.

More on everything to come!

Be dareful.

Recieving Tao

Clay is molded to form a cup; yet only the space within allows the cup to hold water. –Lao Tzu

Last week I was invited by Piyak, the Chinese teacher at Bunditnoi, to accompany him to his Taoist/Buddhist temple that weekend to receive Tao and Dhamma.

I gladly accepted the invitation. As a result, by noon Sunday I was forever forbidden entry to the realms of Hell.

The temple was a small complex of two rooms. We gathered first in one room that had a few tables, and we all shared a cooked meal. While the meal was taking place we were each called individually to write our names in a book and make a small donation to the faith.

When the meal was complete, we moved to the second room. This one was mostly empty except for a few chairs, a small table laden with yet more food, and a beautiful wooden altar which held a statue of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, a figure of Buddhist importance who I have learned carries many different names and is typically represented as female despite historical evidence suggesting the actual person was male. Behind the Bodhisattva were several paintings of warriors done in a style that looked distinctly Chinese.

The ceremony began by us all sitting (males on one side, females on the other) to a short lecture on Taoist philosophy. Then the practitioners of the temple transferred the food from the table to the altar, apparently in offering to the Bodhisattva. This involved a lot of chanting. Sometimes I still hear it.

At last it was time to begin the receiving of Tao and Dhamma. The men—myself, Ben, our friend Sanjoy, and a Buddhist monk—went first. We kneeled on cushions, repeated several chants, bowed very many times toward the altar, burned incense, and one of the practitioners burned a sheet of paper with all of our names on it.

When my name burned, it appeared on a list in Hell. If you name is on that list, you may never be sent to Hell. I had to have two people vouch that I was worthy to receive this honor. Piyak was one, but I am not sure who my second patron was.

Next it was the females’ turn. Only Hannah and one other woman, a stranger, received Tao and Dhamma that day.

Afterwards we retired to the first room, where Ben, Hannah, Sanjoy, the Buddhist monk, and I were treated to an hour long lecture on what had just occurred inside the temple, and we were taught how to write Tao in Chinese:

Tao

The two lines at the top, facing opposite directions, represent Yin-Yang, one of the most widely-known symbols of duality (good vs. evil; light vs. dark; happy vs. sad) in the world. The line directly below them represent a path, one that separates everything below it (humanity) from the strict and oppressive nature of duality. Below that line is a box with three sections. The first and last sections represent your two eyes, which Taoists believe you use to see the world in light filtered by duality. The middle section represents the third eye, which rests between the two on the bridge of your nose. Only very wise people can open the third eye and use it to understand the world as it truly is. The curved line on the left and below the eyes, the one that looks like a script L or a backwards J, is much like the straight line below Yin-Yang. It represents the Way or the Path, the method of understanding the world and opening the third eye.

More on everything to come!

Be dareful.

Sabai, Sabai, and Happy, Too.

And I’m saying nothing in the past or future ever will feel like today. -Bright Eyes

Monday, June 1st was an important holiday in Thailand. In their belief, it is the day that the Buddha was born, received Enlightenment, and died. To celebrate, the children at Bunditnoi had the day off, and so did us teachers. Out of the goodness of their hearts, the director and manager of the school decided to take three of us farangs on a trip to the neighboring province of Buriram to do some excellent sight-seeing.

We were accompanied on the trip by Piyak and Yo, the Chinese and music teachers at school, respectively, as well as Ben’s friend Sanjoy, a 26-year-old ex-monk who now teaches at a different school in the area, and a fellow disrobed monk of Sanjoy’s.

There were nine of us. Between the nine of us, there were at least three nationalities (Thai, American, and Sanjoy is from Bangladesh), more languages than I could count, and a single covered pickup truck.

The director and the manager sat in the front seat. The rest of us piled into the bed of the pickup. There were two small benches that fit three of us each, and a mat on the floor for the last person. Sorry, Mom—no seatbelts.

Buriram bums

View out the pickup bed.

The drive to Buriram took about two hours, including the stop to the Thai people’s favorite shop, 7-11. The seven of us in the back had some conversation, but mostly we were trying to sit comfortable on the little benches and, on my part at least, trying to imagine what wonders we were about to see. All I knew of Buriram was that there were some ancient temples and a football stadium there.

Ancient temples and the football stadium were, of course, what we were being taken to see. It was a hot day even by Thai standards, and although it drizzled in one very brief spurt sometime in the morning it remained hot the whole day.

We first arrived at Prasat Phnom Rung, an enormous temple complex built at the summit of a dormant volcano. From the parking lot you hike of a series of steep stone stairs until you reach a long, flat causeway flanked by fairly phallic pillars. From the causeway you can see the temple in all its glory. According to the few phrases of English plastered here and there along the way, Phnom Rung was built facing east to west, and every door, from the main gate to the entries to the small buildings within, is aligned so that the sun shines through them all at sunrise and sunset. It was originally a Hindu temple, constructed in devotion to Shiva, one of the most prominent Hindu gods. During its tenure was Hinduism, Phnom Rung was host to many rituals that involved nudity, sex, and fire. But it was eventually converted into a Buddhist temple, and stayed that way until it was abandoned.

Phnom Rung

Prasat Phnom Rung

The stonework at Phnom Rung is astounding. Most of the blocks are big, heavy, and have intricate details carved into them that are beautiful on their own, but also make up part of a larger pattern.

stonework

Stonework at Phnom Rung

As we were leaving Phnom Rung Piyak nudged my shoulder and pointed toward the sky. There was a fain rainbow. But it was not like any rainbow you know—this one was shaped like a crescent surrounding the sun.

After Phnom Rung we travelled the short distance to Prasat Muang Tam, which was essentially at the base of the volcano. Muang Tam is slightly newer than Phnom Rung at 1,000 years old, and slightly smaller as well. To me, the highlight of Muang Tam was the lotus flower. Just past the main entry into the temple complex there was, on either side of the path to the inner temple, a large pool covered in blooming lotus flowers.

Lotus

Lotus flowers at Prasat Muang Tam

Muang Tam

Gateway to Prasat Muang Tam

From Muang Tam we were driven to a food stall on the side of the highway, where we feasted on rice with shrimp, and then from there it was on to Buriram United, the immense sporting complex that had a racecar speedway, a football (soccer) stadium, and the biggest billboard I’ve ever seen. Plastered on the billboard was the face of the king (I face I am getting quite familiar with, as there are pictures of him everywhere) and the words, “Long Live the King” written in English.

Seeing the sporting complex was neat, but I think the wonder of the afternoon was on the drive back to Pak Thong Chai. The seven of us in the bed of the pickup were all exhausted…but we had bonded. Whereas on the drive out to Buriram we were sitting rather politely in our own space, on the way back we leaned on one another, tangled our limbs together to get the most comfortable positions, and we talked happily the whole way home. Yo sang us some Thai songs, and in exchange we sang Somewhere Over the Rainbow. I had a nice discussion with Sanjoy about our favorite books—he was quite into science fiction as a child in Bangladesh. He also taught me what has become my favorite phrase in Thai: Sabai, sabai, which is a versatile little phrase that generally means to be relaxed or easygoing. If somebody asks how you are doing and you’ve had a good day that’s not too stressful, like our day in Buriram, sabai, sabai would be the perfect response.

More on everything to come!

Be dareful.