Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Science of Pain

This week’s events have encouraged me to think about what I have deemed The Science of Pain.
When our body is injured, we physically feel it.
When we are injured and our families are miles away, our hearts feel it.
When we feel betrayed by strangers and friends, we feel it inside our thoughts.
When we see an elderly woman fighting for her last breaths or a young man with serious head injures, we undergo empathetic pain.

Pain is not a universal feeling. We encounter and understand pain differently, not only from culture to culture, but also from person to person. I understand this better (and less) than I ever did before. 

Pain, as I understand it, is a concept that we can see, feel, smell, touch, and conceptualize only when it is in front of us. Most of us get caught up on our pursue of happiness and we forget that pain is just around the corner.

My understanding of pain is definitely not the same as the average Thai person’s understanding of pain. If someone suffers a physical injury, I have no need to see the injury. But, I have come to learn that Thai people are very curious. Side note: This past Tuesday, I attempted to go back to my normal schedule. I headed to the main office to sign in, when I was approached by a teacher who proceeded to lift my skirt (without my permission) to try to get a better look at the dog bite on my left calf. Side side note: Teachers at most Thai schools are obliged to sign a book that states what time they arrive and leave school. The book is never around at the end of the day. I always sign in and out in the mornings. There’s a teacher at my school that arrives at 6:30am every morning to make sure that his signature is the first one in the teachers’ book. Makes me there is any correlation between the time a teacher arrives and the quality of their teaching?? (read with snarky sarcasm). I, as the farang teacher, have my own sign-in/out book.

Last Thursday, I had a painful day. Like most things in this universe it wasn’t a purely bad day. There were a couple of highlights. I had an excellent class with my M3/1 students (9th grade equivalent) and an awesome picnic with the English Club. We cooked egg salads and made sandwiches. During our picnic, we listened to English pop songs and played frisbee.
Students in my classroom for English Club making egg salad. You can see my class rules in the background. From right to left: Ploy, กนกพร, and Nong


At Ban Phai Pittayakom's field having our picnic. English Club and Ajan Glenda and Ajan Nirinda (English Club advisors)

The painful part of my day commenced when a student decided to use a lighter to warm the tip of a mechanical pencil and then press that portion of the pencil onto my right hand. I was in shock that a student would do this to me.  I am a teacher that does her best to give useful and fun lessons. I am a teacher that does not use bamboo sticks or other forms of humiliation as a discipline tool. And yet, this student had no respect for me. I stepped out of the classroom and felt thick tears rolling out of my eyes. I cried. I thought maybe I could still teach that period, but then I stepped outside my body and saw myself running into the main office directly into the restroom to continue crying. I didn't know if I was crying because I felt abused, betrayed, and disrespected by this student or because I felt like I had failed as a teacher for having my students see me cry. I have never seen a teacher/professor cry in front of me; I’ve always seen teachers as superhuman.

The student then apologized and seemed genuine. In Thai culture, it is customary for students to go on their knees to ask for forgiveness or give thanks. The director of discipline came to the main office and told the student that he had broken multiple rules by having a lighter in school grounds and burning a teacher’s hand. There were talks of potentially expelling him and I thought his punishments would be severe, so I got teary eyed when he asked for forgiveness on his knees. Later, I would go on to mentally try to forgive this student. I know that forgiveness is the most important step in overcoming a traumatic experience. I justified his actions by telling myself that he lives a rough life without attentive parents and does not see school as a stepping stone to a better future. But the pain in my hand, and seeing him dance around with his friends in the school’s courtyard made it difficult for me to forgive him. 

Afterschool, I was in my bedroom feeling unpleasant energy and felt like I needed a jog (Thursday is not a part of my jogging routine, but my body needed something to release the days events). During my run I felt a little tense feeling in my left hamstring. I thought maybe I should just run half of my usual but I told myself stop being lazy and not cut across the temple. As I was finishing the last few feet of my jog, a dog seemed to be following me. He jumped at me and bit my left calf. I didn't feel anything the first few seconds until I saw a little piece of skin and fat flapping and bursting with blood. I lost my breath and began to sob. No one helped me. As a matter of fact, I think I saw someone petting the dog that bit me. I walked myself to the nearest clinic and they directed me to another clinic. At the second clinic, they told me the same thing. I began to cry. I thought, what am I doing in this country? It doesn't want me here any more. Finally, a man took pity on me and said he would drive me to what I thought was the pharmacy but luckily it turned out to be the town's hospital. At the hospital, I saw so many older Thai women coming in to the ER.  Side note: Thai people seem to preserve very well, they live very long lives. I was dripping all over the place, and the pain was not unbearable but it wasn't a picnic either.  Then, I was escorted to a bed where they cleaned my wound and gave me a tetanus shot. I wanted to be home in America so bad, and was angry at myself for not carrying my cell phone during my runs. I was in a place where no one spoke English and I felt so alone. They gave me shots and told me things, but mentally I wasn't there--my body was just going through the motions. All I wanted to do was scream, cry and not be in Thailand. I was directed to go back into the ER but I walked into the street. Luckily a student drove my way and I asked him to please drive me home, there was some sort of confusion but I didn't catch it. A doctor ran out and said that I must not leave the hospital, but I left anyway. My student drove me to the hotel where I live. I went directly to my room and grabbed my cell phone and wallet because I also didn't have money to pay the hospital. My student must have told my host dad that I need to be driven back to the hospital. I called my friends and they met me in the hospital. The hospital seemed so much bearable with friendly faces around.

The following day I was taken to the city’s government hospital. I was given stitches in a giant room with other patients waiting to be seen. I knew that my injury did not compare to the man covered in blood-- from what I assumed was a motorcycle accident-- or the elderly people laying in the beds next to me. I empathized with them but their pain in no way lessened my pain and fears.

Some of my acquaintances and friends have responded to my pain in a myriad of ways. Some have mocked me. Some have laughed. Some have completely ignored me. Some have tried to diminish my pain by sharing stories of their more severe injuries. On the flip side, some of my friends have made me feel really special. One of my friends--my best friend--took an 8 hour bus ride to spend the weekend with me. Another one of my friends brought me my favorite herbal drink and bananas and rubbed my back while I cried in the hospital.

On Tuesday, I decided to name my bite Charlie. Charlie was the first name that popped into my head after I decided that my injury needed a name. After I put a status update on Charlie, a VISTA member posted this video  on my Facebook wall. After watching this video, I decided I had given my bite the perfect name. Side note: I think I decided to give the bite a name because I am not this bite. The bite is something that is happening to my body, not who I am-- to really understand what I am saying you  would have to understand Eckhart Tolle's teachings on pain and living in the now.

Charlie is currently infected but doctors gave it stronger antibiotics hoping that the infection will go away and that it does not have an abscess. An abscess would require surgery. Today, I went to the local hospital to get Charlie's dressings changed and to clarify about the rabies vaccines (I was told in Khon Kaen City that I did not need more vaccines than two post-exposure shots because I received  pre-exposure prior to my trip to India--I hope this is correct because I really don’t want to have rabies). While at the hospital, I became friends with Aisha. She is half Thai and half Pakistani and is doing a summer internship at the hospital in Ban  Phai, but attends school in China. We both have our nose pierced, and she speaks 7 languages including Thai! I cannot wait to be her friend.

Everything that happened in the last week has taught me that without pain we cannot be grateful for lives’ comforts. We cannot be grateful for our bodies abilities or be able to sympathize when others are in pain. Your pain, is not my pain. Or is it?
With pain and love,
Glenda aka Dada

Monday, June 25, 2012

Thai Romance

Want your bad romance

Lady Gaga’s visit, a couple of weeks ago (May 25th--now a month ago), to Thailand shook the country to its core. Everyone was glued to their TV screen. I, on the other hand, was merely a spectator to all the commotion. Most Thais tend to be very conservative/proper in their social interactions and mannerisms, I believe that Gaga gives Thailand’s youth an opportunity to put tradition aside and act like a “little monster” (this is the term Gaga uses to refer to her fans).

(Side note: I’ve now been attempting to write this blog post for the past 3 weeks and have been very unsuccessful for one reason or another. Primarily, I am trying to make GRE studying a habit/priority. Today, I have been blessed with insomnia and that is why this piece is coming together. I think the insomnia is due to my friend’s grandmother’s house lack of AC--it’s so hot in Thailand...I used to think people exaggerated-until now! Also, I took an accidental nap after my “app nahm”/shower. And to top it off I had coffee at around 4pm in an attempt to stay focused during GRE studying time).

The adoration for Lady Gaga came at a time when I could not stop noticing the “farang” (white) older men parading around Khon Kaen (and other parts of Thailand) with Thai women (often times many years younger). One night after the Khon Kaen soccer game, my host family invited me to Khon Kaen walking street. On the way back to the family van, I pointed out the “farang” and the Thai woman walking a few steps ahead of us. He said, “it is an Isaan thing. Isaan women tend to go with farang men. I think farang men want to be with Isaan women because they can get treated well by them.”

Through my observations, I have noticed that Isaan women tend to be considered inferior to other women in Thailand because of their (supposed) darker skin and less educated background. I did not further discuss the topic with my host father, but my entire host family was amused by my observation of the farang husband and Thai wife.

My fellow Fulbrighters and I have discussed many times the concept of the Thai wife and farang husband. We have always concluded that the Thai wife is largely obligated to be with her farang husband because of the monetary advantages that come with being with a white foreigner. (Side note: I specifically say white foreigner, because you never see any other type of foreigner with a Thai woman). We ask ourselves:
  • What do they talk about? 
  • What do they have in common? 
  • Can they speak the same language?
  • Is it a purely physical relationship? 
  • Does the Thai women's social stance change? Or is she shunned by other "proper*" Thai women? 
*The proper Thai woman has a Thai husband. She wears neutral colors and never calls too much attention to herself (i.e. in her speech, mannerisms, attire and otherwise). One will never catch her singing, dancing, or laughing too loud in public. Essentially, she is Lady Gaga's anti-thesis.

When I catch myself staring at a farang and his Thai wife, I try to repeat to myself that their relationship is none of my business.

Most people in Thailand confuse me for being Thai. I am often greeted by people speaking rapid Thai, but to their surprise I am neither Thai nor can I speak the language. There have been times when I have been around white males and wondered: "What do people assume of me? Do they have the same thoughts I have about other Thai women? Do they think I have essentially sold myself for my financial well-being?" And when my thoughts start dancing away, I try to stop myself and think to myself that I am not Thai and I have no idea what drives Thai women to do the things they do. As an outsider, I can only observe what is in front of me and develop relationships with people that will someday allow me to answer my questions.