Today marks the fifth month since my WorldTeach family and I first landed in Bangkok International Suvarnabhumi Airport, piled into a half a dozen cabs, crossed the city of over 6 million to the Northeastern Bus Terminal, and boarded our overnight ride to Nakhon Phanom Province located in the far reaches of Isan. From orientation and moving to Pla Pak in November to getting a crash course as an English teacher and now feeling rather integrated at both my schools and home, these past several months have given me all the ups and downs of culture shock one should expect when living in a new country.
I enter month five with the realization that I am very much the same person I was when I left the States. I have retained the same passions and quirks, I gravitate towards the same interests and personalities, and continue to find a growing value in the relationships that were important to me when I left. Only now I seem to see my surroundings with a new set of lenses and with these new lenses come a handful of new behaviors that, upon reflection, surprise even me.
To start, I have long since abandoned my watch. It is now a very functional travel alarm clock that goes off every morning at 7:30, still set from my last day in Nong Khai. As for eating, my preferred utensil of choice is khao niao, or sticky rice. I’ve consumed more tang-mo (watermelon) in the past month than I’ve eaten in past five years. Like Pi Med (a fellow teacher at Pla Pak Noi) explains, watermelon is “good for Thai people’s health” in the hot season. I’ll buy that. The surge in temperature (highs were 38 degrees Celsius, or over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, this past week) has also changed my entire approach to showering and I’m now averaging two to three showers per day. In addition, I’ve discovered that my feet are the gateway to my body’s temperature regulation so teaching barefoot is also a new classroom practice. Regarding bathroom practices, just today I opted for a squat toilet over a Western-style one while shopping at Tesco Lotus because I didn’t want to deal with the germs. Enough said. Lastly, much to the joy of my students, I have become completely obsessed with Doraemon, a Japanese anime series starring a time-traveling robotic cat. I used various Doraemon images last week to teach emotions and feelings and now I’m seeing him all over town. Pi Med even told me on Friday that my teaching bag (which I was elbow-deep in trying to find some left-over fried chicken from lunch) was like Doraemon’s fourth-dimensional pocket that produces tools, medicines, and gadgets from the future!
I am three weeks away from completing my first semester of teaching. It’s hard to believe I will be half-way done with my time here once summer vacation starts in April and I can only imagine what adaptations I will develop in the months to come. Perhaps a growing obsession with Asian anime? Only time will tell.