Friday, March 23, 2012

T is for Thailand, Teaching, and Toilet

One of my closest college friends invited me to a party in which the theme was “T is for __________,” so one’s attire had to match the word that ended the phrase. Back in college, I decided to go dressed as a trash can, but today I wish I would have been a little more creative.

A couple of weeks ago, I concluded my first term of teaching in Thailand. I strongly believe that it was definitely the catalyst to not only a better way of living, but for a more productive second semester.

I have learned a lot about myself and teaching in Thailand.

I learned that...
  1. I prefer eating red ant eggs over frogs (they taste better, and eating red ant eggs makes me feel like I am getting back at them for all the times they have bit me).
  2. I need exercise, phone/skype/in-person dates with friends, and alone time to keep my spirits high and energized. 
  3. I can’t say “yes” or “no” to everything that is asked of me. 
  4. Who I am is impermanent. I sometimes feel like I don’t remember who American Glenda is and I begin to panic, but then again I am growing and changing and there is nothing wrong with that. (I hope my friends back home still like me ;) ) 
  5. My experience is my experience and nobody else's. Sometimes we look to our neighbors and compare our differences and similarities and there is nothing wrong with that, but it is always important to be grateful for the uniqueness of our paths. 
  6. Expect nothing. I did not have the privilege to have a formal last week of classes at my school, because many events were planned during the last week of classes. We had M3 (10th graders who opt to transfer schools or enter vocational/trade schools) and M6 (12th graders) graduation. We also had art competition, in which the students performed to see who was the best singer, dancer, actor, musician, and much more. The school also arranged an impromptu parent-teacher meeting/assembly in which I, and other new teachers, introduced ourselves. For a couple of weeks, I was upset that I did not have the opportunity to have a last week of classes (and or good-byes), but I realized that I should have never expected to have a last week of classes.

The lesson of expectations and assumptions brings me to my next topic. Internship month in Thailand. Any good ethnographic researcher knows to put their biases aside (and eruditely present any predispositions to the observer), but this month has reiterated my need to continue working at putting aside my expectations. This month I expected to have hands-on experience in farm labor in a farm in northern Thailand. Unfortunately, my desires were not met because of the following factors:
  • Manual labor is done by outside hired help.  (For instance, if an organic farm needs a tractor, they will rent a tractor and a driver and the driver will do all the work that is required.
  • Daily farm work is done by the family. 
  • I don’t think I was clear enough about my needs to keep busy.
If you know me, you know that I feel the most fulfilled (and happy) when I am busy and getting things done (side note: this is the good old AmeriCorps VISTA motto). My internship month has been very slow paced and I have had a lot of time to ponder my next move in life (and GRE vocabulary building). This month has also made me very anxiously excited for April!

April is my vacation month!! I will be vacationing in Los Angeles, CA and I will be in the company of some of my greatest friends and family. I am looking forward to exploring Thailand in Los Angeles (stay tuned for an entry on LA’s Thai Town) and just being able to enjoy the luxuries of home. I am really looking forward to a month of authentic Mexican (and Guatemalan) food, consistent hot water, English television, English and Spanish native speakers, easy to navigate public transportation, not being confused for being Thai (and having people rapidly speaking to me in Thai), and  western-style toilets.

Eastern Toilet vs. Western Toilet

Do you know the difference between a western toilet and a eastern toilet (aka squatty potty)? Wait...I think I just gave you the ANSWER!!!

Yes, that’s right. If you use a western toilet, you take a sit. But for an eastern toilet, you take a squat hence it’s colloquial name “squatty potty.” I do not have extensive experience with squatty potties, but I did become familiar with them while studying in India. I don’t know why (maybe it’s my advanced age), but squatty potties are more burdensome now than they ever were when I was studying abroad.

During my first months of teaching, two of the teachers at the school where I teach gave me a training session on best practices for Thailand’s toilets (I think there is a small difference between Thai and Indian squatties). They pointed out the hose at the side of the toilet and said that was to be used “when you take a shit” (direct quote). I have yet to use the hose (or bucket if there is no hose) without spraying my entire back.

In Thailand, toilet paper does not make its appearance in (traditional eastern) restrooms, but instead one will find it on the dining table. Thais use (what Americans/westerners know as) toilet paper as napkins or tissue paper. 

The only advantage to squatty potties (in my opinion) is that that squatties tend to be a lot cleaner on the road. During trips (on car, bus, or train) the public squatties have always tended to be on the cleaner side. 

On that note, may your bowel movements be normal and satisfying! :)

Lots of love from Thailand.

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