By Liz O’Sullivan
I first went to Thailand as a backpacking tourist, more than ten years ago. I remember cocktails on the beach, elephants and tuk tuk rides. Now, having just moved to Thailand to teach and mentor in a remote mountain school, I am experiencing an alternate reality. I have only been here for a few of weeks so far, but leaving Australia seems so long ago.
I am well away from the tourist hub, surrounded by rice fields, banana plants, jungle and simple houses made from bamboo. Not many people speak English here. Most speak Thai and the hill tribe language ‘Karen.’ There are no cocktails or full moon parties and I’ve seen more chickens than elephants running around.
I certainly stick out as the only ‘farang’ (foreigner) living in this village, but everyone has looked after me and made me feel so welcome. They don’t seem to mind as I stumble my way through sign language, google translate, mispronunciation and hilarious attempts to communicate. Significantly, I have now learned how to correctly pronounce ‘finished eating’ which sounds very similar to ‘drink whiskey’ in Thai. This was an important differentiation for me or I would’ve ended up not only being plied with more food, but also having to drink a whole bottle of local whiskey!
Another thing I have learned so far is that any invitation is centered around food. People in Thailand seem to use the phrase ‘Have you eaten?’ in the same way that we might say ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ An invitation to a party, for drinks, for coffee, to someone’s house or even a trip in a truck somewhere invariably involves a several course meal with chilli sauce always included. I will not go hungry. For now I will keep persisting with the language and trying new foods. A local I’m not, but a friend I hope to become.
To support the professional development of local Thai and Karen teachers in Umphang, Thailand, donate today.