Saturday, October 3, 2009

Bai Tioh!

For the past two weeks I've been on break from my morning language classes. No more 7 AM Songthaew rides, no more Skype chats in the hallway, no more pineapple smoothies. Well, I still had smoothies. But instead of working full time at CMRCA, I finished up my homestay by spending those weeks out in the village of Doi Saket. With only occasional connection to the outside world, I helped my host mother sell vegetables at the market, almost got used to not understanding 95% of what people said around me, ate sticky rice at least three times a day, read every book I have here twice, and collected all sorts of wacky adventures.

I found village life rather unpredictable, which ironically I never would have predicted. True, some things could be counted on: Every day I went to the market with my host mother to sell vegetables. But then, as I was demurely cutting the rotten bits off of cabbages and humming the theme song of a terrible Thai soap opera, a friend or relative of Mae Noi's would drop by and mention that they were going somewhere. I rarely followed these conversations, but all would become clear enough when Mae Noi turned to me and said in blessedly slow and clear Thai (as if she was speaking to a sentient rock) "Nali bai tioh, mai ka?"

Tioh (pronounced tee-oh) is the operative word here. To quote the illustrious Ted Conbeer, it translates roughly to "field trip." It could mean hopping on the back of a motorcycle to visit a beautiful waterfall, or a bizarre topiary garden with hedge mazes and bushes carefully pruned to resemble elephants, bunnies with whiskers, and a Stegosaurus. It could mean sitting cross-legged on the splintery floor of a traditional Thai house for several hours, helping the lovely daughters of a neighboring vegetable vendor sew button eyes onto stuffed horses while watching a HORRENDOUS Thai-dubbed American horror film. Or, my hopes raised by that magic predictability-defying word, I might be led on a "trip" across the street to help wash a mountain of dishes. Often it meant going to someone's house and sharing a snack or a meal, for no apparent reason other than to eat together. Maybe I would consent to dragging myself out of bed in the 5-o-clock hour to put on a white shirt and accompany Mae Noi and Yai Da (her mother-in-law) to a special festival or ceremony at the nearest temple. Once I found myself singing karaoke, drinking beer, and dancing in my host-aunt's living room with a bunch of her friends from work -- at 3 PM on a Wednesday.

Bush bunnies at the botanical garden

1,250 monks all take alms at once on the main street of Doi Saket, early in the morning, to commemorate what everyone called the "big monk's birthday." Whether he was the fattest monk, or the oldest monk, or simply the most high-ranking, I have no idea...

Definitely the most epic tioh: going to the market with A Ning (red shirt), A Tao (blue shirt), Yai Da (purple), and Mae Noi (sitting out of sight behind the cauliflower) from midnight til 6 AM. This vegetable stand is the core of the family's financial livelihood.

I love tioh. I especially love its ubiquitousness in village life, which is otherwise dominated by strict work patterns. But the real reason I said yes every time I was invited to "bai tioh" (bai means "go") was that it allowed me to get to know the people in my village life on a much more genuine level. Since our conversations were heavily limited by the language barrier, following folks around and helping with whatever they were doing afforded me a real chance to engage with them. This became my defining strategy for life in Doi Saket. The moments of connection were truly valuable, because I felt strange spending so much time with people and never knowing what they were talking about. There was a lot of English in my head, and a lot of Thai outside of it. I was a little lonely, though I was certainly never bored.

Coming soon, hopefully, in no particular order: Posts about the market, my Doi Saket radio career, following host family members to their night shift jobs, and why I am the least Thai person ever to be fitted for a traditional Lanna-style dress. Also pictures. Lots of pictures.

No comments:

Post a Comment