Saturday, September 20, 2008

No Expectations

September 20, 2008

During one of my nights out for beer with the boys, the Brit and the Short Aussie were eating pastries they’d picked up at 7/11. Not unlike Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, when it comes to baked goods in Thailand – you never know what you’re going to get. Could be chocolate, could be taro root, could be shredded pork with mayonnaise. The Brit was saying, in reference to the pastries, that the key to enjoying them was to have no preconceived notions about what might be inside*. He went on to say that in life when he goes into a situation with negative expectations, he’ll have a negative experience, when he goes into a situation with positive expectations he’ll have a positive experience, but when he goes into a situation with no expectations whatsoever – he has an amazing experience.

I don’t totally buy into that philosophy, I mean, I get that what you bring into a situation effects what you get out of it, but sometimes crappy things happen right out of the blue and you have to roll with it. But I have been trying to keep my expectations minimal and not to worry so much about what’s going to happen. Which is why I tried not to think too much about what Rayong would be like. It was fairly easy given how quickly the whole thing came about… but now I’m here and honestly I never ever could have imagined how this whole day would have unfolded.

For one thing, I’m in a country thousands and thousands of miles from home, where I don’t speak the language, I stand out in the crowd and I never really know what’s going on anyway. But somehow, on the basis of little more than word of mouth and one phone call, I decided to pack up all my belongings (again!) and move to a city 400 miles away where I don’t know a single soul, have no place to stay and don’t even know where the school I’m supposed to be working for is located.

With much comedic struggling and a bit of help from the kindest Thai people imaginable, I managed to get myself and all of my luggage to the bus station exactly 16 minutes prior to departure and figured out where to go. The VIP bus was pretty high class indeed. First off, the seats were comfy, with an ergonomic head rest and the ability to recline quite a bit. There were two TVs in front playing Thai Karaoke videos.

The bus was thoroughly air conditioned, which was nice because in the process of maneuvering all my luggage I had worked up quite a sweat. Unfortunately, as in the US, people here feel the need to use the AC to bring the temperature down to near arctic temperatures. So as soon as I cooled off, I began to feel a little too cold. I had, in my haste to pack, forgotten to keep my towel with me in my carry-on, so all I had as far as extra layers were a couple tank tops, my PJs and a sleeveless button up shirt. I did the best I could with the extra shirt.

After a while, the Thai Karaoke was replaced with a DVD of “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.” which was, of course dubbed into Thai. Nevertheless, I think I got the full impact of the film.

I had brought some crackers with me because I didn’t know if they’d be stopping along the way, but they actually provided dinner. I’m pretty sure it was the same dish I enjoyed at CMU, the yellow rice and seasoned chicken. It was soooo good! (btw, I’m learning to love sweet chili sauce, it’s great with rice dishes, but also with french fries.) After dinner, the lights went out and the hostess handed out blankets – each individually wrapped in plastic and smelling of fabric softener. That was a good defense against the sub-zero A/C. I was really comfy then.

Unfortunately, so were the couple in front of me who reclined their seats practically into my lap and began cuddling. I attempted to ignore what may or may not have been going on under the blankets, but seriously – they were so close I could have joined in. I attempted to sleep, but mostly just started out into the night. There was not a lot to see, some stretches of dark road broken up by gas stations and the lights of other vehicles (mostly other tour busses actually).

I had nearly dozed off when the bus came to a stop. The lights came on and everyone started going through their purses & wallets. As usual, I had no clue what was going on. I attempted to ask the woman next to me, but she didn’t seem to understand English and was more interested in searching through her purse than in talking to me. Eventually I figured out that everyone was getting their ID out, so I pulled my passport out of my money belt. You know, I’d been getting a bit lax about my money belt. As soon as I was settled in my residence I just kept it and my passport in a drawer bringing only the cash I needed for the day and a copy of my passport in my wallet. But fortunately I had the good sense to put it on before leaving so I wasn’t rooting around in my carryon bag like the gal next to me. So the police boarded the bus and started looking around. They didn’t check everyone, just a few random people. It was bizarre. The closest experience I’ve ever had to that was when the Tri-Met fare checkers all swarm the max. Somehow this felt significantly more serious. I have no idea who or what they were looking for, but I felt relieved when they left.

Back on the road, back to trying to sleep. The roads were actually kinda crappy – it looked all well paved, but there must have been some ruts because it was a very bumpy ride. Somewhere around 2am the roads got noticeably smoother – a different province maybe? At around 3am we stopped at a rest stop. As per usual, I just followed the herd & ended up at the women’s toilets. There were 3 stalls and the line moved closer I could see that the first one was a western toilet but the other two turned out to be squat potties. Guess what my luck was? The really funny thing was – there was a poster on the wall with very detailed instructions (in Thai of course) and cartoons describing how to use (and how not to use) a western toilet. I was standing there about to go into a squat potty thinking “Where’s my poster????” I mean, I get the general idea, but I did not have the benefit of a Thai mom teaching me the specifics as a child so I’m a bit confused about the logistics. Fortunately I remembered reading Korean Heather’s blog and she had mentioned just this experience. I did what she did – strip from the waist down & balance your clothes on your head as you do your business. It’s the safest thing to do, but far from the most practical I’m sure. Then there’s the whole bucket of water thing… I did my best. I still don’t quite get it – are you supposed to just drip dry? Sorry for the TMI here, but if you have any information at all on the subject, it would be of great practical value to me!!!

That was an end to the excitement of the evening. The sun was up as we drove through Pattaya and somewhere along the way I spotted the ocean. That was reassuring. Around 7:30 – 8am we arrived at the Rayong bus station – I think it was scheduled to arrive at 8:30am. The gal I had spoken to on the phone had said she would pick me up so I just waited. It occurred to me, as I waited, that I didn’t actually know her phone number. I mean, she had called me so it was in my phone – I just hadn’t added her name to it. I found the calls from the morning we’d talked… but it was a 50/50 shot which number was hers and which was the motorbike shop. It didn’t matter in the end as I had used up all my minutes drunk dialing my mom & J. the other night when I was drinking. =P Live and learn.

So I just waited… the only farang in the place, sitting there with all my brightly colored luggage. I could only have stood out more if I’d gotten up on my chair and started singing show tunes. As it was the songthaew drivers came up to me and asked where I needed to go. Honestly… I didn’t have a clue, not a street name, not a building address, nothing. I just waited. And surprisingly I didn’t freak out. I’ve been reading this book “Peace is Every Step” that was recommended to me by someone in Portland. One of the first things it talks about is just being aware of your breath and knowing that you’re alive. So I took a few deep breaths and thought about it. I was alive, I was safe. I had snacks, I had money, I had some books to read and a note pad to jot down a few of the above thoughts for my blog. There was no reason at that particular moment for me to worry. This is kind of a new concept for me. I’m kind of getting into the swing of ‘mai bpen rai’ – it doesn’t matter/no big deal.

At around 8:30, “Big” (not her real nickname) showed up wearing a shirt with the school name on it. I waved and she came over and helped me get my luggage into her car. From there we went to the apartment she had checked on for me. They’d had a room available the day before, but now it was full. Mai bpen rai. We went to the school and she introduced me to one of the teachers – he’s an American but I didn’t have time to formulate a nickname for him (“the Other American” is already taken ;) ). It was funny; I’d been listening to Thai almost exclusively after my course ended, and speaking in slow clear basic English when I used it, but as I shook the teacher’s hand “Howsitgoin” slipped right out of my mouth. I was relieved because between analyzing sentence stress and ‘grading my language’ I was beginning to fear that I’d forgotten how to talk like a normal person. =P

We picked up one of the other office gals – lets call her “Pink” and went over to her apartment building to see if they had a room. They did… but frankly it was frightening, dingy, dirty and a bit bare. I took a second though and realized it was mostly just dirty. The room was big, had A/C, a ceiling fan, a balcony, and a bathroom. I said it was fine, but it needed to be cleaned. I mean, I wasn’t in much of a position to insist that they cart me all over the city looking for another place. Especially considering that Pink lives there with one of the teachers, and another teacher lives right across the hall. I figured – how bad could it be? We said hi to the other teachers, but they were both off to class so I didn’t get to really talk to them.

But let me tell you a little story about hospitality. I’d spent the night traveling, I was tired and smelly and a bit out of sorts in general. I didn’t actually have access to my room – it still needed to be cleaned, and the women from the school all needed to get to work. But one of the teachers offered to let me store my stuff in her room and to take a shower. Her sister Blossom was staying with her on holiday so she just checked with her and gave me the okay. I brought all my stuff inside (have I mentioned how much luggage I have???) and Big & Pink told me to just relax and they’d come pick me up around lunch time to take me to Tesco’s to get stuff for my apartment. Blossom showed me to the bathroom & told me to go ahead and use their soap etc. so I wouldn’t have to go digging through my bags.

Let’s just review that. Blossom’s asleep. Her sister wakes her up and says “There’s a strange stinky girl here who needs someplace to hang out for the morning – how’s that with you?” To which Blossom replies, at least to me “Hi, nice to meet you. Here’s the shower gel, and let me get you a chair to put your clothes on while you shower.” ?????

It gets better from there. I showered and changed clothes and felt a lot better. Blossom sits and chats with me… both she and her sister are from the Philippines and she tells me that she’s just visiting and mostly she just likes hanging out in her room watching movies. She offers me breakfast, but I don’t want to impose any more than I already have so I decline. She then suggests that I “take some rest” which after a couple offers I do accept. I climb right into bed and doze off for a while. When I wake up, Blossom has showered & gotten dressed. She asks if I want to go to the market with her. It’s just a gas-station minimart, but we pick up some pastries (the kind where you never know what you’re going to get) and I get a bottle of water. We walk back to her apartment and eat & talk. My pastry was chocolate by the way, hers was some kind of vegetable mixture I wasn’t familiar with, but she said it was common in the Phillippines too. She pushes a banana cake on me too which I enjoyed thoroughly. And then she offers to put in a movie. Hands up if you would have guessed that I’d spend my first morning in Rayong eating yummy snacks and watching Poseiden with my new neighbor’s sister? Yeah… me neither.

After the movie both Blossom and I take a nap. Pink & Big arrive around 2pm and the four of us all go to Tesco Lotus. This is a big BIG everything-under-the-sun type store, like a Target or Fred Meyer. After four weeks with the boys and their potty mouths & drinking stories it was really nice to go shopping with the girls. Another universal concept. We went through the housewares section and headed into the grocery store part… the gals cracked me up stopping at each of the free sample dishes and loading up. They also pointed me to better deals so I could save a little money stocking up my apartment. It was really fun.

By the time we were done, my room had been cleaned and looked significantly better. Pink signed all the apartment rental paperwork for me – it was all in Thai, I have no idea what she just agreed to for me “mai bpen rai”, and I paid my first 10 days rent. I spent a bit of time unloading my purchases, and allowed myself the freedom to panic, just for a minute or two, about how crazy it was that I was actually in yet another new city with less than a clue about anything. It’s so funny. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the city… and yet still the anxiety creeps up on me.

Tomorrow I need to go to the school and get my teaching schedule, then spend a fair bit of time actually planning my lessons. I’m trying not to panic about that… but honestly I have no idea what I’m getting into.

For now, internet access will be a bit hit or miss. There’s no service through the apartment building, but there’s something to do with a new cell phone, blue-tooth and a sim card that is supposed to make that happen. It all sounded a bit expensive though, so tonight I’m going to try to hunt down an internet café. If you’re reading this, it probably means I found one**.

T.A.G. for today – Mango. There’s a part of me that wants to panic… but there’s just no reason.

*I related to the boys a tid-bit I learned from J’s travels… that in India those pastries would just as soon have a bit of spicy fish inside as anything else and they both agreed “That’s just wrong.”

**unfortunately the internet cafe I found doesn't allow you to use USB sticks, so I had to use someone's computer from work. I have a couple of pictures but didn't want to spend an hour uploading them.


d said...

i'm glad to hear that you've adopted a carefree attitude about your new adventure. i was frankly panicking a little reading this.

Bezzie said...

So hm, one could say ignorance is bliss? ;-) You'll settle in just fine here, I have no doubt!