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”)
Thunderstorms on the horizon
Of the three seasons in Thailand (cold, hot and rainy), the rainy season is my favorite. Humidity levels are exceptionally high during this time of year, especially right before a big storm. Clothes can take days to dry, everything in the house seems to mold, and even the most minor cuts and scrapes take forever to heal. Despite this oppressive humidity (averaging 95% at night) and the inconveniences that come with living in it, there’s nothing better than experiencing a huge thunderstorm rolling in from the west on a sticky afternoon.
Today I taught at Wang Yang Elementary School and after lunch the sky went from clear blue to dark gray in about half an hour. Thunder and strong gusts of wind soon followed, and as I was about to start teaching my third grade class, a solid wall of rain swept across the football field and quickly overtook us; within seconds the entire school was being pummeled by the downpour, which only lasted about 20 minutes. My students, who were just complaining about how hot it was (and that says a lot, coming from Thai kids!), were begging me to turn off the ceiling fan because of the temperature drop. I, on the other hand, was rejoicing in the cool winds that were finally providing relief from the suffocating humidity. By the time class was dismissed the skies had cleared and the only trace that a storm had even passed was the water dripping off tree leaves and a few gathering pools below them.
One thing I am absolutely dreading when I move back to the Midwest is the drastic temperature change. After living in a tropical climate for a year, the thought of returning to a Wisconsin winter is enough to make me cry. I will quite possibly hibernate for three or fourth months until the ground has thawed and my body has once again acclimated to my environment.
Shoreline view from the Maekong River - Nong Khai, Thailand
As with most everywhere in the world, water plays an integral part of life in Thailand. Water is used during religious ceremonies in temples and in celebration of Songkran, Thailand’s New Year Festival. The amount of rainfall throughout the growing season determines the success of rice harvests for farming families. And of course, there’s the Maekong River (translation: mother river) wrapping it’s way along the northern and eastern borders of Thailand. The Maekong River is the 12th-longest in the world and the 7th longest in Asia. Here fishing plays a vital role in the nutritional and economic well-being of its surrounding populations. Lastly, personal hygiene practices also emphasize the importance of water in Thai culture, as Thais typically take (at least) two bucket showers a day.
It took me several months to adjust to the practice of showering several times during the day, as I was accustomed to taking a daily shower in the morning. Before any social event in the evenings, I used to be thrown off when my Thai co-workers would insist I “take a bath,” as if they were hinting about something! Then confusion would set in on both sides as I replied, “I already did, this morning.” To me, taking more than one shower a day felt completely unnecessary and borderline wasteful. After all, I just took one! After several months here, however, it has become the norm to take my morning shower as well as an evening rinse. I’ve even come to prefer the bucket shower at times over the use of our shower head. A quick shower is the perfect solution to cooling off in the hot, humid weather, and relaxing after a long day of work.