Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Outsider

The white smudge is a white butterfly named Lily. She wanted to be our friend.
Charlie has almost completely retired. In other words, my calf is now almost completely healed, but there are times when standing for too long or sitting for too long makes my calf feel sore. I am really looking forward to having my body without any obstructions from this unwanted outsider.

After an amazing body scrub/massage, I created the following prayer for and to my body:

I am yours and you are mine.
I love you.

While, the therapist--as she called herself--began to rub a rice (beautifully) scented body scrub my mind began to wonder whether her hands and her inner-self could identify things in my body. Did her hands recognize the traces left behind from past lovers and travels to distant lands? Did the knots in my neck and back tell her the story of my woes? Or better yet, could her hands read my future? Could she tell me where I will be next year?

This massage was a much needed trance for my body, mind, and soul. I have never been in an establishment where I allowed the masseuse/therapist massage my chest and or abdomen. I am a strong believer that there needs to be parts of your body that are left untraveled by strangers.  This woman--at this juncture--made me feel so comfortable that I allowed her hands to trespass the yellow tape that I had placed around my upper body. After the body scrub, the therapist asked me to shower (in the nicest shower I’ve been in, in the last year). I dried off and expected my time to be up, but then she asked me to lay down for the lotion part of my massage.

Side note: At times, I feel like an outsider could tell me more about myself and my body than I could. This massage reminded me that the vision we have of ourselves is very limited. After all, we could never get a close look at the pores in the middle of our backs. We are often stuck on an image of our body that no longer exists or never existed. 

At some point after my massage, I realized that I would have never experienced this luxury back home (with my salary), because this type of luxury costs a couple hundred dollars. But in Thailand, I paid $30 for an hour of pure bliss. I don’t know if it was the massage,  but I was reminded that I am an outsider living a life that was not intended for me. As a Latina, raised by a low-income single-mother in the city of Los Angeles--I was never expected to graduate from a distinguished liberal arts college, serve my country through community service, and secure a prestigious fellowship.

The truth is that I have worked very hard to be where I am and sometimes I get exhausted of feeling like an outsider in my own country and in my own life. In June, I ran into a group of American women, I enthusiastically introduced myself and one of them introduced herself and added, “It’s so great to be around white people again.” At that point, I made sure to point out that I didn’t identify as white. I know that this was her way of including me and making me feel like a part of the group, but her comment did just the opposite.

I am very accustomed to being the only woman of color in my professional and academic cohorts, but sometimes I wish that society would stop reminding me that a person with my background would have never overcome the financial and social obstacles that I overcame to be where I am today.

In Thailand, I don’t feel like an outsider until:
  • I open my mouth and all that comes out is awful broken Thai. 
  • My host teacher opts to speak only in Thai, because she is fully aware that the new English teacher will translate whatever she is saying.*
  • During lunch time, a woman who I thought was my friend from the English department claims to have “tired jaw” and cannot speak English.*
  • A friend instead of saying, “We need to take Glenda to the hospital,” says “We need to take the  farang to the hospital.”--As if everyone in Ban Phai didn’t know my name.  Side note: At my school, the teachers were upset that I decided to not sit around in the school during midterms. They said, “you’re a part of the school.” I have concluded that--like in most situations--I am not the outsider when it is for someone’s benefit.
*Side note: English teachers (and some teachers) at my school were initially ecstatic to have me on campus to practice/build their English skills, but that has now flown out the window.

After (A MUCH NEEDED) break from my school, I have decided to stop fighting many things that I cannot control. For example, I will accept that I am farrang/the outsider and no one thinks otherwise (even though they might say “kon thai” [You are Thai]).

I accept the role as the outsider, because like the masseuses' hands, I have different insights and abilities. My role as the outsider helps me be grateful for everything valuable in my life. As the outsider, I know that someday I will have the opportunity to prevent others from feeling like the outsider.

Sincerely yours,
The Outsider

Otherwise known as Glenda

Before my life changing massage at Chivit Thamma Da in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Day 2 of Chivit Thamma Da. If heaven exists, I want it to look exactly like that coffee shop.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Gossip Girls--Thai Edition

Everyone loves a great scoop of gossip. Hey, even I, at times, catch myself parsing Perez Hilton’s trashy news and investigating my Facebook newsfeed in hopes of some juicy news.

But man, oh man...do Thais love to gossip!! In the beginning,  I practiced my Thai language comprehension skills by eavesdropping on people’s gossip, but at one point I got tired and annoyed at the frequency of gossip sessions. There came a point when I started zoning out when people spoke in Thai--because I had became accustomed to not wanting to know what people were talking about--this in a away hurt my Thai language acquisition/comprehension skills.

I no longer cared to know that:
  • A teacher that I had never heard of-- in a school that I had never heard of-- was sleeping around with a married teacher. 
  • A teacher at my school changed her last name a year before her wedding and that man she is marrying is a widowed man with children.
  • A female teacher is a thief, liar, and lazy. She is never to be found during class time. Side note: I remember when I overheard this, and I asked if I could know the person’s name so that I could be more cautious. The person who was gossiping basically told me that it was not good for me to know these things (I think because of my “farang”/outsider status)--and I thought well if it is something that people should not know, then why are you going around telling people. 

Then there were those awful, awful times when I was in the middle of the gossip, snap shot of those moments:
  • The time no one wanted to drive me to school.
  • The time I got bit by a dog.
  • The time I requested time off*.
And many more times when I’ve heard my name and just decided to stop listening because I didn’t want to know that my weight, skin color, eating habits (ie. I enjoy cereal every morning and I like consistency on the time I eat my meals), and etc. were up for discussion.

*Side note: Thailand’s major flaw and strength lies in its desire to appear impressive at all times. The reality is that many of the times it becomes all about appearance and the importance of substance goes out the window. How is this relevant to me asking for time off? Well the teachers at my school argued that I should not take midterms off, because as a member of the school I needed to be a part of the school during its activities. My counter argument was that there really wasn’t a need for me to sit around campus when I could be using that time towards something more beneficial. At the end of the day, we failed to see each others arguments. All I could see was that in Thailand it is important to go to school every morning, have everyone see you sign your name into the school’s attendance book, and then almost no one cares if you teach or the quality of education you provide your students. As a person who has come to find little value on appearances, I find this infuriating.

This entry is entitled “Gossip Girls,” because I have no idea what the males in my school discuss. I have very superficial relationships with the men at my school, because there is an understanding that women and men hang out separately. This became ingrained in me when I traveled with my school to Nakhon Rachasima (Korat) for the Girl/Boy’s Scout Camp and one of the “farang” teachers was criticized/gossiped about for sitting in an all-male table. 

Then there are those occasions when I completely do not mind hearing the school's gossip...and that is only when it is coming from my students. Last Wednesday, I sat down at the M5/2 (a section of the juniors at my school) lunch tables and conversed with one of my favorite students (yes, favoritism is horrible, but cut me a break--she deserves to be favored--she's really smart, hard working, and outspoken ). The conversation began with me asking Rattana about her plans to go to university in less than two years. She told me that she plans to go to either Khon Kaen University, Mahasarakam University or universities in Chiang Mai. When she said that she wanted to go to university in the north my heart jumped for joy, because it showed interest in not following her classmates decision to only apply to Khon Kaen University and Mahasarakam University. She added that she was very afraid to go so far from home, and I reassured her that it really is not that far--it is a 10-12 hour bus ride. I told her that I was really far from home, 20 hours in airplane, and that she had nothing to worry about. It seemed that we were wrapping up our conversation when we saw a M5/3 boy stand up from the M5/2 girls table and Rattana points at the girl and boy and says/screams, "They are in love!" Then she followed by pointing at everyone and saying "boyfriend, no boyfriend, lesbian, boyfriend, and tom*." There was no sort of judgement towards the same-sex couples in the M5/2 circle of girls and I thought, to myself, these girls are light-years ahead of where my classmates were in high school. Finally, all of the girls from my M5/2 joined in on the conversation and added their little bit of information on the couples on campus.

*Tom is the term used to refer to young women who identify as male. 

From left to right: Rattana (M5/2 sttudent), Me (Ajan Glenda), and the new Chinese teacher (I can't remember her name--only her nickname because everyone refers to her by her nickname--also she's Thai, didn't want to confuse anyone).

Side note: My advice for future ETAs  in Thailand:
  • Get prepared to live under a microscope
  • Be expected to have little to no inhibitions--because it is ok for Thais to be shy, but Americans are all outgoing and often make a spectacle of themselves anyway
  • Thai food is delicious...until that’s all you could ever eat! (Many people still argue with me on this one...but really you don’t know until you’ve lived it!!!!) 

Hasta luego!

Glenda Garcia