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.
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.
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!