One of the best things about living in teacher housing for the past year has been living in such an inclusive community. I live in a two-family house and our neighbors are Pi Khom (above), Pi Prayat and their adorable but mischievous daughter, Katjang (also above). This picture was taken at the end of our trip to visit Pi Prayat’s family in Surin, when we took a quick detour to see the renowned dinosaur museum in Kalasin on the way home.
After moving to Pla Pak last year, I quickly realized that family structures in Thailand are a bit different than what I’m used to in the States. Neighbors seem to be family by default, as everyone takes part in caring for each others’ children. Katjang loves to run up and down the street on our “block” and all of the neighbors perform a sort of caregiver relay, passing her from one person to the next until she is safely back in her mother’s arms again. One of my favorite aspects about living in this community is its openness, literally. Doors are open from the time everyone arrives home after work until well after the sun has set. This allows for people to easily run into their neighbor’s kitchen to borrow an egg, as Pi Khom often does when she doesn’t have time to go to the market. I also love how this living arrangement allows for conversations through the concrete block walls; for the first month or so, Steph and I were really confused when Pi Yok (our roommate) would talk to Pi Khom while they were in cooking dinner in their own respective kitchens, because we thought she was trying to speak with us! I’ve now acquired enough Thai to hold my own brief conversations with Pi Khom and Katjang when they hear me in the kitchen.
Tonight is a perfect example of why I will miss living in this neighborhood. Around 5:00pm, Pi Yok shouted up to my bedroom window to come downstairs, and when I stepped outside I was surprised to find a Korean barbecue dinner set up as a going-away party. Several of our closest neighbors and high school teacher friends were there and we ate delicious grilled meat and boiled vegetables. And whoever passed us on the way home was also invited to the table, because at a Thai dinner there is always room. My favorite part of the evening, however? I heard Katjang call me Bai-Khao for the first time.