Thursday, October 16, 2008

How many Thai people does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

So up till now I had no light in my bathroom. Well, there was a fluorescent light bulb but nothing happened when I flipped the switch. I've been a bit too concerned with things like food and teaching to really bother with getting it fixed. There are windows in the bathroom so in the daytime I don't need a light and really, at night I don't need a light either. I know where everything is. But I'm starting to feel like this will be my home for a while and thought a working light might be nice.

I've mentioned that on Monday - Thursday I have a class off campus - 30 minutes away. So that's a solid hour a day in a car with a Thai man.... who doesn't speak English. "Hello" and "How are you." don't take up much of the drive time... and even "Did you eat yet?" "I ate fried rice." leaves us with a good 55 min of silence together. I've taken to pointing at things in the car and saying "nee arai?" (what's that) but if he tries to tell me more than one word a day I totally forget it. So the other day I'm sitting in the car in silence and it occurs to me that he might be able to help me get my light fixed. So I point up to the dome light in his car and ask "nee arai?" "Ahhhh - fai." he tells me (a significant proportion of our 'conversations' each day involve one of us saying "aaaahhhhh" or "mai kow jai" (don't understand). "Fai" I repeat "Thailand speak - fai" he confirms.. and then tells me how to say "light on" and "light off" but of course, I forgot.

Armed with one good word I flipped through my phrase book looking for how to say "it doesn't work" and luckily it's just one two syllable word "see-a" and I also find the word for bathroom "hong naam" (naam means water so I already knew half of it). So I say and mime to him "Hong naam fai see-a." and he says "Aaaaahhhhh fai see-a." and I repeat pointing backwards towards the direction of my apartment "My room, hong naam fai see-a." "Aaaahhhh kow jai, kow jai." (I understand.) "ok." "ok." and you know... the rest of the drive in silence as I mentally repeat "Hong naam fai see-a." about four hundred times.

Yesterday (before starting my quest for food) I stopped downstairs to tell my landlord my new phrase. The ground floor of my apartment is a big kitchen supply store - wholesale mostly, so there are always a lot of people and a lot of products everywhere. I can't get a read on exactly how many people work here... but at least 6 or 7 I'm guessing. So they're all sitting around outside and I come up and say "Hello" and launch into my "hong naam fai see-a" but then, you know she replies. And I have no idea what she's saying to or asking me. So I just repeat "hong naam fai see-a" and point upstairs, point to the light in the store and mime 'broken'. The landlord asks me something about 'go ECC' and I say yes, I'm going to work. And I think maybe she needs my key or something so I dig in my bag and offer her my key - which she mimes she doesn't need... but goes inside and grabs a padlock from the store and shows it to me. I'm like "I don't need a padlock... I just need a new light." so I repeat the one and only phrase I know for the situation "hong naam fai see-a" at which point the girls sitting there are laughing and repeating "fai see-a" so I guess they got my point... but I still had no idea when or if my light would ever get fixed.

Last night I came home and flipped on the light, the bulb tried to sputter to life but settled into a very dim blinking pattern. I contemplate showering by strobe light, but really it's not even bright enough to be worth it. Oh well.

This morning I get up and start getting ready for work. By which I mean I spent a solid two or three hours online and eating stale crackers. I finally shower when I decide I'm willing to brave the restaurant search again. I'm standing there in my towel, soaking wet when there's a knock at the door. I say 'just a minute.... I'm naked' - in English of course, because I wouldn't have a clue what to say in Thai. And I glance around and realize I don't have a bathrobe or really anything I can throw on quickly. My landlady says something and I decide to at least open the door to show her I'm in my towel. "Hi - just a minute, I'll put clothes on." "aaaahhh...qoeri adgha dkhkjyy" Ok... I close the door walk over to my wardrobe and try to figure out what's the easiest thing I can put on while soaking wet, I've dropped my towel and picked up a skirt when the door opens! I'm like "just a minute!" and she closes the door again. I put the towel on again and just let her into the room. I point at the bathroom light and show her how flipping the switch doesn't do anything. She leaves. Um... ok.

I *very* quickly turn around and start getting dressed. Fortunately I'm fully clothed when she briefly knocks and opens the door again. I show her I'm presentable and nodding she goes back outside and ushers in a man with a ladder - "Ahhhhh, I smile." yeah, thanks for letting me get dressed.

Now they've been here for about an hour.... and there's a second electrician on the job now. I still haven't had breakfast, and there's still no light in my bathroom, and I may never have an answer to the question in my post title. =/

TAG - Code Pineapple

Update... I'm home from work now, and the light works. So I guess I could upgrade this post to a Mango... but I'm like bone tired these days and freaking out about my 8 hours of kid classes on Saturday so Pineapple stands!


Bezzie said...

Good lord, that sounds like my landlord! Except he actually SPEAKS English. He thinks because our bathroom sink was slow draining I must wash my hair in there. Um, yeah no buddy!

Rebel said...

yeah, I guess crazy landlords are another universal truth. Although to be fair, I'm more the crazy tenant than she is the crazy landlady.

Michael5000 said...

...and yet, at the end of the day, you had a light in your bathroom. Total victory!!!

Another well-told tell of intercultural communication!

Mag said...

Really, the day was a triumph of communication.