Brass tacks, waiing dogs, Thai Jerry Seinfeld, Philip Roth, and adjusting to be the only white guy

I am officially a Peace Corps volunteer and if my swearing-in wasn’t proof, the fact that I’ve written two blog posts in one week should prove it.  I now have time on my hands and I’m okay with it.

I’ll get right down the brass tacks: life is very good.  My community seems to be great.  I’m meeting a lot of people and making sure to write down their names with a brief description in my notebook (ex. balding dude, pregnant lady, tall/skinny lady, etc.)  My new host mother and father for the next month are very welcoming and kind.  They remind me a bit of my real parents as they treat the dog like their son.  They even get it to wai (bow it’s head and put its paws forward) and they say, “Sa-wat-dii” in return.  I have a small room upstairs and the entire floor to myself.  The room has two walls of windows (no screens) and a fantastic breeze comes through in the evenings and I feel like I’m camping under the stars.  As of yet, I don’t need a mosquito net.

I biked into the amphur (local city) of Sangkha on Saturday.  It’s about a 10-mile ride and I have a sun burn to show for it.  Sangkha had everything I was hoping for, which is the bare essentials of a 7-Eleven (there seem to be millions of them in Thailand), plenty of restaurants, a huge market with everything from bananas to pig heads and assorted bugs, and even a sporting goods store.  They don’t have baseballs; I asked.

The Peace Corps rules state that new volunteers cannot leave their respected sites overnight until May 1.  I love being a Peace Corps volunteer and will not be breaking any rules, but I am already planning a weekend trip in early May.  Until then I will be getting to know my tambon (Thepraksa) and amphur (Sangkha).  Fellow volunteer Christine is less than two hours away by bus and there’s a good chance the two of us will meet up for lunch in the city of Surin sometime in April.  It’s about a 45-minute drive from my home.  I got to visit it Friday to set up a new bank account (I have to wait until I get my work visa).  It’s a pretty big city with two movie theaters, a bowling alley, a pizza place (so I’m told) and a pool table.  There’s also a couple of places I can get some fried rice.

As for my job, things are slowly (like a Mike Redmond triple) panning out.  The one thing I know is there is a high demand for me to help teach English.  I have a feeling I’ll be visiting some schools this week and maybe even assisting a teacher or two.  It’s a good way to get to know people while also doing something helpful.  Getting to know people is a big part of my job at this part.  On Thursday I went for a bike ride and forced myself to talk to a large family who were waving and yelling, “Hello!” to me.  With my little Thai, I pretty much just said hello and told them what my job was and how long I’d be here.  When I biked away I realized that the 10-12 people I talked to have a lot of friends who will likely talk about the farang (foreigner) they talked to and the word will spread.  I also think word spreads when I’m biking or walking around and I smile and say, “Sa-wat-dii krap,” to passersby.

I am now the foreigner at my site.  When I went to Sangkha I saw one other white dude, but we can probably be counted on one hand in a 30-mile radius.  This is not the United States with its cultural diversity.  This is basically Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, only instead of white people, they’re Thai.  I’m the African-American having a beer at the Tomahawk room – I stick out.  They told us in training, “Guys, if you’re average looking in the states, you’re Brad Pitt here.”  There have been many occasions where school girls giggle behind my back and when I turn around to face them they giggle even more and run away.

I’ve also discovered that, even though I’m somewhat funny in the states, I’m Jerry Seinfeld here.  I’ve had numerous Thai people laughing profusely at things I’ve said.  Okay, I’ll admit that my broken Thai is funny enough.  If I want to say something like, “Yesterday, I went to the market because I needed bananas,” I might end up sounding like, “Market I went because yesterday bananas needed me.”  In Ayutthaya, I almost made a Thai woman fall off her chair when I impersonated the dog that was begging at our table … in Thai.

I say this with complete honesty and without guilt: one of the bonuses to Peace Corps life that appealed to me when I began to strongly consider it was the fact that there’s a lot of downtime to read.  Yes, I want to represent the United States of America and help serve a community, but when I’m not doing that, I want to read more in these two years than any other two years of my life.  Although, I set the bar pretty high in college even if today I don’t consider Stephen King, Elmore Leonard and Dean Koontz as real literature.  I digress.

I have been doing a good amount of reading and that was during the busy times of training.  I’m considering a trip to Bangkok (after May 1, of course) just to raid the Peace Corps office volunteer library.  I grabbed a few when I was there about a month ago, but want more.  I’ve been keeping track of the books I read while in service.  I’ve reread two (No Country For Old Men and High Fidelity) and read nine others.  The main highlights have been Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, I Married a Communist by Philip Roth and How We Are Hungry by Dave Eggers.

I will miss talking literature with friends during training.  There weren’t a lot of people I could talk baseball with, but many who know their books.  I got a bit of a man crush on my friend Dev when he told me he wrote his college thesis on Philip Roth’s American Pastoral and has read almost everything by one of my favorite authors.

Books in Peace Corps training were like cigarettes in prison.  Most people only brought a few novels, myself included.  Then we were told after five days of training we had to leave one suitcase at the hotel and we wouldn’t have access to it until training was done.  A lot of people, myself included, left their books in that suitcase.  By Week 3 of training, I was hearing from numerous people, “Do you have any books?”  “What are you looking for?” I’d ask.  “ANYthing!”  My copy of I Married a Communist was more like a copy of The Da Vinci Code amongst a group of mid-forties soccer moms.  Everyone wanted it because it was real literature and it was available.  I was very excited when Josh gave me his hardcover copy of Freedom.  I believe it is also now being passed around from volunteer to volunteer.  I’m sure both novels will eventually find their way to the library in Bangkok.

If you’d like my new address, send me an e-mail.  I sent out a mass e-mail a few days ago.

If you have any requests of things you’d like me to write about or questions, please e-mail them.  I have some spare time.

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