A Thai cow "mawing" for the camera
As a volunteer elementary school teacher, one thing I quickly learned from my students was that animals in Thailand have their own language, too! Cows maw, chickens ek ee ek ek, ducks gaap, pigs oot, frogs aep, cats mee-o and dogs hong. There were many days when both my students and I would fall silent to each others’ attempts to imitate animals. They would curiously look on as I moo-ed and ribbet-ed to no avail and I would become utterly confused as they started to jiak when I told them to act like a monkey. Since then our communication via animal sounds has improved greatly and now a moo seems out of place. Something I haven’t gotten quite used to, though, is hearing the actual mawing of cows coming from the fields at school. Cows (and herds of buffaloes!) are led to graze on the schools’ football fields and sometimes they even stray closer. Just last week as I was sitting at my desk I heard the tinkling of a cowbell and looked up to see a cow and her calf roaming past my window, not five feet from me!
In addition to animal sounds, here are some others I’ve come to love, or at least find amusing, as there really is no escape from them in Thailand:
- The resonating sound of the temple gong in the morning, calling monks to prayer or breakfast, and the rhythmic sound of the monks chanting prayers
- The inescapable sounds of chatter, shouting, and laughter between neighbors floating through my windows in the early mornings, often rousing me well before my alarm clock has its chance
- The entertaining yet sometimes painful daily rendition of the Thai national anthem by my harmonically-challenged elementary school students
- The scraping sound of Steph’s uneven door that drags across the floor every time she goes in or out of her room
- The deafening sound of motorcycles zooming past, sorely in need of a working muffler; anyone who’s Skyped with me this past year knows how amplified this sound is in my bedroom!
- The cacophony of insects each night coming from the fields surrounding our house
- The pounding downpours or light sprinkling of rain on our metal rooftop when I’m relaxing at home
- The Isaan language; still a largely mysterious language I have nonetheless grown to absolutely love, filling my days with its short, punctuated phrasing and clever vocabulary (the word for “fork” in Isaan translates to mueh ling or “monkey hand”)
When I arrived at school this morning there was no electricity. My fourth graders were making fake nails with pointy green flower petals. And my first hour class was 20 minutes late. In other words, it was a typical start to my day.
It wasn’t until the end of first hour did it occur to me that this day might be an exception to the norm (well, a norm by Thai standards, at least). As I was wrapping up the day’s lesson with my sixth graders, I caught the boys at the far end of the room playing with what I thought was a toy bug (why I would assume this is beyond me). Only seeing it emerge from inside one student’s desk again after telling him to put it away did I take a closer look and realize it was a live beetle about the size of my palm. With my hands on my hips, I sternly pointed to the door and told them “No pet bugs allowed in the classroom.”
I wrapped up the lesson and ushered the students out to prepare for my next class. I teach grades one and two second hour, and since my schedule changed and I no longer have any prep time between classes, I was scrambling to set up activity stations for the letters L and V. Lots of hands-on activities usually help extend my students’ attention spans but they do require a lot of monitoring. I’m actually quite proud of my latest station addition, plastic baggies filled with baby powder and water that can be used to practice writing letters when laid flat on a table. My students thought it was pretty cool too, except they found making handprints and punching the bags way more appealing than practicing their letters.
We were just approaching the third (and last) rotation of the day when all of a sudden there were exclamations from a station across the room from me. Now to fully appreciate the story I should explain that this is a letter recognition station, where students are given materials with English print and asked to find certain letters. Over the past several months I’ve collected lots of cereal boxes since they are colorful and easy to come by. I walked over to milk pouring out of a desk. I looked inside to find an empty carton of milk, a soggy notebook, and two cereal boxes. I quickly removed the contents, carried the desk outside, and dumped out the remaining milk. By the time I returned to the classroom to mop up the floor, most of the students were finished with their activities and were wandering around…and this is when the mayhem began. I started to wipe off the cereal boxes, only to realize that the milk I was trying to wipe up was actually a graphic. I had lost my phone in the heap of papers on my desk so I didn’t know how much time I had left (since there is no working clock in the room). Students at the baby powder station were punching their bags and I anticipated an explosion in the near future. And to top it off, I looked over at the handwriting station and one of the boys lifted his socked foot to expose the classroom pet clinging to the bottom of it! For the second time in an hour I point to the door and sent the beetle back out–and for a brief second my classroom was pure chaos.
After that I was never able to fully gain control of the classroom again. We finished the last rotation and then I tried to re-group the class for a final alphabet review, though the next class was starting to come in because I was running late and a small group of students to my left started breaking out in song. Regardless, I ended class with a huge, genuine smile on my face. Mostly because my students seemed to know the letters L and V but also because I was one hour closer to a three-day weekend! I just hope our classroom pet doesn’t make a guest appearance when I return on Monday.
Thailand is gradually shifting from “hot season” to “rainy season” and one of the biggest indicators of this is the sudden increase in bugs. In the past few weeks we’ve witnessed a population spike in the beetles, moths, and most unfortunately, red ants, infiltrating our home. We’ve also had a surprise visit from a scorpion and a return visit from a domesticated mouse. Now I’ll be the first to admit that I am not really great with bugs. I usually get a little freaked out and squirmy around them, but if this year in Thailand has done anything, it’s squashed (excuse the pun) my fear of them. In fact, it has given me a deeper understanding of the term “coexistence.” However….
However, if there’s one invader I loathe to find within the walls of my abode, it’s red ants. They are everywhere. They get into our cereal, our peanut butter, our sticky rice, and even our water! They are constantly marching across all of our walls, so if I even brush up against one for a second or lean over the window sill to shout out to a neighbor, I’m quickly covered. I have to check my underwear every morning before I put it on because they’ve taken a liking to the cotton fabric, giving a whole new meaning to “crotchless panties.” Last month I had a horrifying experience when, unbeknown to me, the pesky ants had infested my bath towel and without my glasses on as I started to dry off…well you can fill in the rest.
I returned to Pla Pak to the relief that I’d finally be able to sleep comfortably in my own bed after bouncing from hostel to guesthouse to bungalow for a month. Every morning for the past week I was waking up to the sight of one or two little fire ants marching across my bed. I did my best to sweep the room of dead bugs (oh, because the bugs that do get into our house and night are promptly feasted on by these ants each morning-it’s quite cyclical) and ensure no food is in the room, but the problem persisted. Finally I decided to re-wash all my bedding in the hopes of ridding the ants; as I stripped my bed I saw, to my disgust, hundred of ants burrowed in my mattress pad, on my mattress, even in my mattress! That was the last straw. I was Caitlyn the Exterminator, ready to reclaim what was rightfully mine.
I did my best to spray the infested areas. I flipped my mattress. I changed my sheets. Now I suppose I will have to wait and see if my work is done, or if I too will fall into the cyclical struggle of a bug’s life.