I know a lot of things. I know where rain and babies come from, I know where the saying "caught my eye" comes from. I even know the two invisible colors of the rainbow. And I can almost quote "The Cat in the Hat" off by heart. But nothing I thought I knew about Thailand could ever prepare me...
Before I came to Thailand, I made sure I read everything there is to know. I paged through books, looked at websites, read blogs, made notes on napkins when talking to people and I even went to the local library (in Jeffreys Bay - no help at all). By the time my bags were packed, so was my brain. Full of wonderfully clever things I "knew" about my destination. Or so I thought...
First of all the heat. Yes it is hot. I knew that, because I read it in a book and people told me. And yes, it is even hot before, during and after a thunderstorm. It is not the heat that I was used to. The kind of heat where you can jump into the pool or the sea, splash about for a bit and then come out all cooled down and ready to take on the rest of the day? No. This heat is the kind of heat that when you jump into the pool or the sea, you immediately wish for an ice cold rum cocktail or a mojito. And when you get out, you wish for another one. But, on the upside, before you turn into a rum cocktail drinking alcoholic, you do get acclimatized and you stop drinking ice cold rum cocktails and mojitos for breakfast. Except maybe on weekends.
I am a fussy eater. I swell up if I eat anything that lives under water, and if it used to live on land and had more than four legs or if it had a name like "Fluffy", "Fido" or "Kitty", I also won't eat it. But somewhere in my brain was a little bit of data stored on what to eat and what not to eat. Chicken, pork and noodles. Oh, and fruit. Lots and lots of fruit and vegetables. It all sounds very romantic to relax on the beach with a fresh coconut or a pineapple, but you do get hungry for food!! So, you jump on your scooter and drive to a fresh food market, because you want to "experience the local way" of doing things. After two minutes of scootering along and being killed seventeen times by a Toyota Fortuner, a taxi or a 4 year old on a motorbike, you arrive at the market, you vomit a little bit from the smell, and then you enter the big circus tent. And then you walk out again, because frog, tortoise and fly invested "beef" is not on my menu. Luckily there is a 711 down the road (any road) so you have Lays, noodles and Oreos for lunch. And a mojito. But not to worry, dinner will be better, because there is a lovely little kitchen shop right across the street. So you have another mojito, take a cold shower, and leave your house. Then the power goes out... But, no worries, they cook on open fires and with gas, so you will be fed. Something. Only problem is, the menu is hand written in Thai, with no pictures, no English, and no prices (at least it looked like a menu, it may have been an arrest warrant). Eventually, in very broken Thai, hand gestures, drawings, and a google image on your phone of a mango, you do get fed. Mango salad. With prawns. You swear that tomorrow you will learn to speak Thai fluently or else you might die of hunger or allergies.
And the list goes on... Thai-time drives you nuts, because continents move faster than Thai-time. Taxi drivers taking you for a ride (not just literally) because they think you are lost and clueless so they can drive you round your block nine times before you tell them to stop. Shopkeepers trying to double charge you on everything and then tell you it is "not vat included price". The mosquitoes that are the size of small cars, the potholes and the amount of pink cars on the road.
But... After a few days, you learn to deal with the heat. You learn the names of certain dishes that you like. You realize that the lady standing in the sun all day selling the sweetest pineapples and watermelon always wears a smile. That when you wait for everything that's happening in Thai-time, you can actually stop and look at the beauty everywhere around you. And the lady at the kitchen shop with the hand written menu, actually cooks your food with a smile, in her own kitchen at her own house, where you are welcome. That the 6year old that nearly knocked you from your scooter was on his way to school. To learn, because he wants to. And all the frogs and the tortoises at the smelly market will actually not be turned into dinner, most of them are bought and then released into the wild according to a Buddhist tradition after a certain offering ritual. And that "Fluffy", "Fido" and "Kitty" are better looked after than most children in Northern Africa, so they are also not going in a pot or on a grill. The taxi driver and the shopkeeper see you as their next meal ticket, they are not trying to "rob" you. And you learn how to negotiate with them (in their own language!!!). The mosquitoes can be tamed with Citron oil in a burner and they turn out to have nice personalities, and the potholes means you are actually privileged enough to have a road to drive on. And pink is actually a pretty color.
Then you realize as you drive along on your scooter, that this place is beautiful. The people are beautiful. The rich and cultural ways of the Thai start to over power you. So you stop at an amazing beach, with a beautiful sunset on the way, an ice cold rum cocktail in your hand and a massage booked in (maybe) 30minutes, and you realize, "I still have so much to learn. No book or blog can teach me all I have to know about this place". And in the end you know, life is not to bad after all...
Samui TEFL Blog