December 12, 2004

there is too much to say, and no words with which to say it

This may be the last post, depending on how large the nearest town is in Buriram province. When my time runs out, I'm going to just stop writing, so we'll see what happens. To enter into this internet cafe, you must take off your sandals and leave them on the front step.

The scent of humidity struck us as soon as we stepped off the plane. It smelled real and earthy, although the airport showed few signs of plant life. The smell was surprising after flying in. From the air, Thailand could just as easily have been Ontario, with squares of fields and apartment buildings. But once on the ground, it was definitely different. We had walked through a tube in Toronto and been ejected out of another similar tube in another world.

My father told me about the son of a friend of his travelling and writing beautiful e-mails to everyone he knew. He said that I should do the same, and I told him that all I would be able to say is "Oh my God, Oh my God." Well, I'm here, and, "Oh my God! Oh my God!"
We were greeted at the airport by CDD (CommunityDevelopment Department) officials and past participants, two of whom looked suspiciously white, although rather tanned, and conspicuously tall, with reason, as they were Canadian and had come back to Thailand to relive their own few months here. We were all presented with bracelets made of intricately woven flowers, all fresh. They smelled unlike any other flowers. They smelled like a bowl of perfectly ripe tropical fruit.

And so began three months of not understanding anything.

We had a two hour busride to our camp. It was difficult to stay awake after not sleeping for four days while on our retreat and in Toronto and then a twenty hour flight, but everything was so bright and green and amazing that my eyes refused to close. The same busdriver has driven us around since. He is absolutely insane. He goes twice as fast as Canadian drivers on roads that are twice as bad. He drives in the centre of the road. When we have to go around the corner, he has to turn and turn the steering wheel before it works, so we slide into another lane. I am terrified for the many people on motorbikes who must share the road with him, or rather, have the road taken from them by him. The brakes either don't work or work too well; it's difficult to say which. They come on heavily, jerking everyone sharply, three or four times before the bus actually comes to a stop. Even putting aside his driving, the driver is crazy. He yells at everyone all the time. He was yelling at me one morning for not eating soup with my rice. I understood, but someone else had to tell him I was vegetarian before he left me alone. Once Shahdin and I sat in the front seat, which was a huge mistake for the health of our hearts. Not only did his driving appear worse, but he kept yelling at us while looking at us in the mirror, and then laughed when we couldn't understand.

I feel like I am always in a picture and that everything is beautiful. These are moments that make me realize where I am and truly appreciate my surroundings. Like walking out the front door in the morning, in skirt and t-shirt, half-expecting to go back inside for a sweater, and finding it the perfect temperature. Thinking about the word "December" and realizing that Christmas is soon approaching, while walking in sandlas over sand and under trees whose leaves resemble ferns. Sitting on the weathered grey stone steps for a relieving cold sensation and being surprised at finding them warm. The tiny olive lizards crawling along the ceiling at night. The cold showers that I now love. Sitting at a table in the shade, listening to the Thais play guitar and sing. The first day, I made the mistake of saying I didn't understand the lyrics, although there was no way that I could have claimed to. A Thai past participant began yelling out the words in English, or something somewhat resembling English. It mostly involved arm gestures and something to do with love, and each song was the same, but he continued to do this until they eventually grew tired of music.

I am in love with Thailand. I am most definitely in what they call the honeymoon phase. They keep telling us that things will appear wonderful, will then go steeply downhill, and then return to being enjoyable. I know it will happen, but right now I can't imagine everything not seeming enchanting.

I am surprisingly fine with using the toilets. They are well-made, state of the art, and tastefully blue foot rests and holes. The ones in the camp even flush, and they have a hose with a spray of water instead of the customary bowl, basin of water, and hand. Even that doesn't seem that bad. If you had feces on your hand, would you rather have a bowl of water or some paper to clean it with? The only problem is waking up in the middle of the night and having to balance precariously over a hole you really don't want to fall into.

I love the beds, and how they're set up head to head and foot to foot so as not to offend anyone.

And I love the fruit. It's like I have never eaten them before. The coconut isn't hard, the oranges are undyed and green, everything is full of colour, and tehy eat mangoes while they're still green and hard. Also, fruit is often served with a mixture of salt, sugar, and fresh chili peppers. It sounds strange, but is surprisingly good and suits the taste. Every day at lunch a a woman brings a cart full of fruit to sell. I could watch her peel and chop fruit for hours. The best is the pineapple. It is ten baht, or thirty-three cents for half a pineapple, which she puts into a bag. She then takes a knife and cuts the pineapple into pieces by whacking the knife against the bag. Somehow the bag is never cut open. It's not that the knife isn't sharp or that the bag is particularly strong, because neither is true. The pineapple is just so soft that it breaks apart perfectly. It's my favourite fruit here, although the potapples are a close second. I don't know what they're called in English, but they are dug from the ground like potatoes and have a similar texture to apples, hence our nickname of potapples.

The vegetarian food is pretty much the same thing every day, but at least it's something delicious. We eat rice three times a day, and breakfast is just like any other meal. One morning, I put four spoonfuls of sauce on my rice, somehow oblivious to the hint of the fresh chili pepper chunks floating on top. It felt as though all the skin in my mouth was being ripped into shreds and burned. I managed to finish it, but only by adding three times as much rice and drinking many cups of milk. The very next morning, not having learned my lesson the first time, I did the same thing. Maybe I thought it wouldn't be as spicy since the sauce was dark brown instead of clear, but it was just as bad, if not worse. Needless to say, I've been extremely cautious since.

We went to a temple one day. To get there, we drove down tiny roads lined by tangles of leaves and decrepid houses made from sheets of metal with cluttered yards. In one, I looked down and saw a naked toddler, his brown body darker than the ground he was squatting on to play with a cat. Behind him, I saw for a split second, hardly enough to believe it was real, a man sitting in the shade with a semi-automatic in his hands. That was my first real shock in Thailand.

The temple was beautiful and peaceful. It was hard to imagine that it was surrounded by such poverty. The courtyard was calm, and even the numerous mangy dogs that we've been warned so much about were laying still in the sun. We sat down on the cool stone floor with our legs uncomfortably to the side in the way we'll have to get used to. We had to look around at others to follow what they were doing, but the chanting was soothing. The whole time, a cat was sitting in front of the monk, stretched out lazily except for the occasional cleaning session. I wanted to stay. If only I could be a monk.

A few nights ago we all got on the bus, having been told we were going shopping, and excitedly anticipating a market. We passed many markets along the way and couldn't imagine the one we were going to if we were passing by all these perfect little places. So it was with much surprise that we arrived at a mall. One with many American stores and some Thai clothing made in Nepal. I wandered around, semi-interested, with Shahdin. We were unnerved by the number of older white men with beautiful young Thai women. The women were wearing clothes that would be considered normal in Canada, but it was obvious from the flirting and the way one girl sidled up to her companion asking him to buy something for her, what was really going on.

It grew worse. We went to a "culture show". It was of sequined bikini-like costumed katoys (transvestites), who lip-synced to eighties pop songs. The audience, apart from us, was middle-aged American men. Afterwards, you could have a picture and a kiss, and possibly more, for some baht. I spoke to Jan (pronounced yawn) about it after the show, and we both agreed that it was disgusting. The fact that they were actually men wasn't even what disturbed us. It was the sexual display in a country where it is taboo to even show your shoulders that was bothersome. Some argued that it was Thai culture, but the sex trade only began to thrive when the soldiers in Vietnam went to Thailand to rest. I guess the show wasn't surprising, but we weren't used to thinking of that sort of thing associated with five star hotels and government officials.

Our group had its largest obstacle the other day. Eck discovered that his grandfather, who he lives with and is extremely close to, is seriously ill. He left for a day to see him, and when he came back, told us that he was going home. For good. My heart stopped. And I couldn't stop myself from crying. I didn't want to cry and make him feel bad for his decision, as it was probably difficult for him to do anyways, but at the same time I wanted him to stay. I rarely cry in front of anyone, but there I was, tears running down my face, not even caring that there were over sixty other people in the room. Our group sat at a table in the corner with him, all silent. The other groups switched between staring and laughing and talking loudly amongst themselves as they would on any other day. It seemed so insensitive, but how were they to know? I didn't realize how close I was with Eck. I don't talk to him all that often or even know much about him, but it felt as though my best friend was being taken away from me. The Thai males cried, not afraid of showing emotion as the Canadians are. Sumo reached over and took my hand for a minute, and we squeezed our palms together so tightly we couldn't feel them anymore. What made the biggest impression was Eric. He had tears running down his cheeks as well. Big, tough, British Columbia party animal Eric.

We were called away to do a presentation that we had to make after the morning break. All the facilitators were smiling as they told us "the show must go on", as though our five minute presentation was more important than someone who has grown to become a family member. We went, sniffing and rubbing our eyes to watch another group, not knowing how we would be able to pull ourselves together for ours. As we were about to get up and do the best we could, Cheryl came in and told us that he had decided to stay and was only leaving for a few days. I have rarely been that relieved. A cool wave washed over me and I was numb. The CDD, which has connections everywhere as most governments do, has arranged to hire someone to care for Eck's grandfather full time and to pay for his hospital expenses. I realize that it is terribly unfair for Eck's grandfather to have these benefits while there are probably many people in Thailand in similar or worse situations, but we are all so grateful. I don't know what the incentive for them to do something like that, because it seems odd that a participant would be that important, but no gesture could have been more meaningful to us. Even for the few days that Eck was visiting his grandfather, it felt as though something was missing. He has since returned, and we have all realized how important each member of our group is to us, and I think that crying in front of each other and supporting each other has really brought us closer together. If we felt like that at one member leaving, halfway through the six months, how will we feel at the end?

We went to the one beach that we will probably get to see here. It was crowded, although with very few caucasians. The water was so warm. It was warmer than the showers in the camp, although that isn't saying much. We only had two hours to spend at the beach, but Shahdin and I stayed in the water for at least an hour and a half. We swam out farther than anyone else and floated on our backs happily. I missed the ocean. I missed how anyone can feel graceful in the water and
And now my time is up. But I have to say one more thing for Katie: I saw an elephant! Although it was small and sad. But it was still an elephant. And I touched it.





November 28, 2004

goodbye, au revoir, la gone

Friday was our farewell potluck supper and culture show. It was a success considering we had spent our month to plan arguing instead and had really only organized it the day before. Anita (our Children’s Aid Society supervisor) didn’t come, as she had made plans to have supper with her husband instead. This, along with her absence from work since the silent auction, seemed like a kick in the face after all the work we’ve done. Although she did have a nice goodbye cake for us. The only person from our work placement was Pam, who works at the daycare. This made conversation somewhat awkward, since all we had talked about before had to do with getting a snack ready and children’s antics. Luckily, John can talk to anyone, whether they want him to or not, and the supper ran smoothly.

Before supper, Meggie showed a movie that she had made about our time so far. Most of it was about things that had to be remembered as well, so we were the only ones laughing. But everyone else would clap whenever the pair they knew was shown. One part was of me showing Ann how to knit at the orientation camp. I didn’t know that we had been filmed at all. It was touching to see our heads so close together and laughing together, and would have been more so if Ann had accepted the seat beside us that we had saved for her, instead of sitting beside a friend. But that comment was mean and unnecessary...

After supper the Thai girls went to Jubilee Hall to spend an hour on their make-up, while the rest of us stayed behind to clean up and follow later. When we arrived, we met a woman whose husband and son had been to Thailand. She had come to see a taste of their experience, and to give away some of their leftover Thai money. Well, it turned out to be Vietnamese, but she did choose to give it to me in the hopes that I could easily exchange it once in Thailand. I couldn’t stop smiling. Not because I had been given money, but because I’m sure she could have exchanged it herself and collected maybe twenty dollars, but that thought had never even crossed her mind. Instead, she had decided to give it to someone with whom she had absolutely no connection and whose name she didn’t even know.

The show started and seemed to pass quickly. The Canadians, who were given tiny parts, watched everyone get ready and groan as they noticed the effects of eating bread in the mirror, and we peeked through the curtains to watch the first acts. One of these was Gavin playing the Loy Kratong (with a silent “r”) on the fiddle. John has been teasing me for liking him ever since we got here, for no reason other than that his was the first male name that he knew, so afterwards we joked about him being able to play the fiddle making him more appealing. Robert’s dancing has improved, and the Thais actually wanted him to partake this time. Pong was the highlight however. He looked perfectly regal. His posture and countenance were stunning, and this royal quality made it difficult to remember that he comes from the poorest family and will most likely spend the majority of his life working on his family’s farm. Not that this is not a noble occupation, but it did not suit his appearance.

I took part in the aerobic dance. The Thais cannot say “aerobic”, and so until recently we thought that it was an “Arabic” dance, which really doesn’t make much sense. The dance is like an aerobic workout, and represents Thai boxing. I was given a pair of Thai pants to wear for this, which are folded in some way that I can’t figure out and then tied on. They are slippery, and I was paranoid that they would fall off, and I didn’t want to sit down in them, let alone jump up and down and punch and kick. But I knotted them in every place I could and managed to get through. Eric was not so fortunate, and had to start clutching his partway through.
At the end of the show, the audience was given kratongs (again with a silent “r”), which we had made the day before. These are small boats, made of circles of cardboard disguised with green tissue paper. Somehow, Jim, the source of all things wonderful (like durian and road kill roasts), had managed to find some real, fresh banana leaves. We cut these into strips, and all sat on the floor together oiling, folding, and sticking them onto the cardboard in a shape that resembled a flower. Then, a candle and three pieces of incense were stuck into the centre. The bright pink of the incense clashed terribly and the silver of the staples we had used to hold the banana leaves together made them seem rather tacky.

We brought the kratongs down to the Saugeen River, our substitute for a klong (canal). We lit the candles and incense and lay down in the snow on the bank, friends holding onto legs in case someone slipped a bit too far, and placed the kratongs into the water. It was a beautiful night. It was too cloudy to see the November full moon, the whole point of the Loy Kratong festival, but it was reasonably warm and everything glowed white from the snow. We followed the kratongs down the river for a little while. They floated along fairly quickly, the candles stubbornly refusing to be extinguished by the wind. They cast a circle of light around each kratong, and created a magnified spiky flower-shaped shadow on the riverbeds ad they sailed past us. The tiny lights were captivating as they disappeared down the river, carrying away our baggage and bad spirits from the past year, and leaving behind our hopes for “a better day”. Someone wondered aloud how beautiful the kratongs of Bangkok must be if our twenty or so boats were so lovely. And it truly would be amazing to witness thousands of lights setting off and bobbing along. But I think that it was the simplicity of our small fleet that gave it its beauty and created a lasting impression.

So, is anyone up for finding a river and some banana leaves next November?

Of course, before going home, we had to combine Thai and Canadian tradition and have a snowball fight.

Jane has invited everyone to abandon their host families, which we are not supposed to do since we are leaving soon, and drive to the Toronto zoo. I declined immediately, as we already had plans, but it was important enough to Ann (Thai) to speak to Ann (host) about it. She never openly asks for things, for fear of causing “gleng jai”. Ann explained to her why we had said no, but telling her that she could still go, crying in the process from being overly tired and wishing Ann had more interest here. Ann immediately changed her mind and resolved to stay. I was proud of her for being unselfish and giving back to the family who has done so much for her. However, she spent all day yesterday in her room. She didn’t even want to go to Christmas in the Country, something everyone was going to and which I know she had been looking forward to.

We decided to go anyway, and John even had a shower before we bundled ourselves into the car. It was fun. Everything was lit up and would have seemed magical if the snow hadn’t melted. We went through the maze for little kids, even though we could see over the top. We stopped at a fire to roast cinnamon bannock on a stick and drink hot apple cider. And John told everyone we met that I was from Cape Breton to see if anyone else was too so that we could speak “Nova Scotian” for him. We followed the paths lined by jars of candles, and I showed them the mailing booth I had painted and was even wearing the pants with the green splotches from.

We went home and found Ann in bed, where we had left her, even though her reason for staying home had been that she needed to do some work, and she claimed she wasn’t sick. She did make more of an effort today. I feel guilty for not always trying to involve her, but if she wants to make the most of this experience, she needs to be willing to involve herself.

I went to church with John and Ann this morning. I would like to spend as much time with them as possible right now, and I really do like the music that Ann plays. On the way there, somehow John came upon the topic of their honeymoon, which he proceeded to explain in great detail. His eyes started twinkling and he grew more and more excited with each new story. Like how the train porter had teased them about wanting to share a tiny single bed instead of sleeping separately. And then, after a few nights of that, they went to a hotel with a king-sized bed, that was so large that in the middle of the night Ann thought she had lost him. I could picture John as a young man, bounding about, pleased as can be, and refusing to let anyone carry their bags for them. And he is just as starstruck now.

After church, Laura, the minister’s wife, said goodbye to me and gave me two large hugs. I expected them to be light and not truly meant as those sort of hugs usually are. But I was relieved when she pulled me tight. It was comforting, but it made me want to cry. And this wasn’t even at the though of leaving Ann and John. I have a feeling that I’m going to be a mess on Tuesday morning.

Rena called me shortly after six this morning to talk for one last time. And Rena, I really did appreciate it, although I was unable to express that in my half-asleep state.

I really am leaving.

goodbye, au revoir, la gone

Friday was our farewell potluck supper and culture show. It was a success considering we had spent our month to plan arguing instead and had really only organized it the day before. Anita (our Children’s Aid Society supervisor) didn’t come, as she had made plans to have supper with her husband instead. This, along with her absence from work since the silent auction, seemed like a kick in the face after all the work we’ve done. Although she did have a nice goodbye cake for us. The only person from our work placement was Pam, who works at the daycare. This made conversation somewhat awkward, since all we had talked about before had to do with getting a snack ready and children’s antics. Luckily, John can talk to anyone, whether they want him to or not, and the supper ran smoothly.

Before supper, Meggie showed a movie that she had made about our time so far. Most of it was about things that had to be remembered as well, so we were the only ones laughing. But everyone else would clap whenever the pair they knew was shown. One part was of me showing Ann how to knit at the orientation camp. I didn’t know that we had been filmed at all. It was touching to see our heads so close together and laughing together, and would have been more so if Ann had accepted the seat beside us that we had saved for her, instead of sitting beside a friend. But that comment was mean and unnecessary...

After supper the Thai girls went to Jubilee Hall to spend an hour on their make-up, while the rest of us stayed behind to clean up and follow later. When we arrived, we met a woman whose husband and son had been to Thailand. She had come to see a taste of their experience, and to give away some of their leftover Thai money. Well, it turned out to be Vietnamese, but she did choose to give it to me in the hopes that I could easily exchange it once in Thailand. I couldn’t stop smiling. Not because I had been given money, but because I’m sure she could have exchanged it herself and collected maybe twenty dollars, but that thought had never even crossed her mind. Instead, she had decided to give it to someone with whom she had absolutely no connection and whose name she didn’t even know.

The show started and seemed to pass quickly. The Canadians, who were given tiny parts, watched everyone get ready and groan as they noticed the effects of eating bread in the mirror, and we peeked through the curtains to watch the first acts. One of these was Gavin playing the Loy Kratong (with a silent “r”) on the fiddle. John has been teasing me for liking him ever since we got here, for no reason other than that his was the first male name that he knew, so afterwards we joked about him being able to play the fiddle making him more appealing. Robert’s dancing has improved, and the Thais actually wanted him to partake this time. Pong was the highlight however. He looked perfectly regal. His posture and countenance were stunning, and this royal quality made it difficult to remember that he comes from the poorest family and will most likely spend the majority of his life working on his family’s farm. Not that this is not a noble occupation, but it did not suit his appearance.

I took part in the aerobic dance. The Thais cannot say “aerobic”, and so until recently we thought that it was an “Arabic” dance, which really doesn’t make much sense. The dance is like an aerobic workout, and represents Thai boxing. I was given a pair of Thai pants to wear for this, which are folded in some way that I can’t figure out and then tied on. They are slippery, and I was paranoid that they would fall off, and I didn’t want to sit down in them, let alone jump up and down and punch and kick. But I knotted them in every place I could and managed to get through. Eric was not so fortunate, and had to start clutching his partway through.
At the end of the show, the audience was given kratongs (again with a silent “r”), which we had made the day before. These are small boats, made of circles of cardboard disguised with green tissue paper. Somehow, Jim, the source of all things wonderful (like durian and road kill roasts), had managed to find some real, fresh banana leaves. We cut these into strips, and all sat on the floor together oiling, folding, and sticking them onto the cardboard in a shape that resembled a flower. Then, a candle and three pieces of incense were stuck into the centre. The bright pink of the incense clashed terribly and the silver of the staples we had used to hold the banana leaves together made them seem rather tacky.

We brought the kratongs down to the Saugeen River, our substitute for a klong (canal). We lit the candles and incense and lay down in the snow on the bank, friends holding onto legs in case someone slipped a bit too far, and placed the kratongs into the water. It was a beautiful night. It was too cloudy to see the November full moon, the whole point of the Loy Kratong festival, but it was reasonably warm and everything glowed white from the snow. We followed the kratongs down the river for a little while. They floated along fairly quickly, the candles stubbornly refusing to be extinguished by the wind. They cast a circle of light around each kratong, and created a magnified spiky flower-shaped shadow on the riverbeds ad they sailed past us. The tiny lights were captivating as they disappeared down the river, carrying away our baggage and bad spirits from the past year, and leaving behind our hopes for “a better day”. Someone wondered aloud how beautiful the kratongs of Bangkok must be if our twenty or so boats were so lovely. And it truly would be amazing to witness thousands of lights setting off and bobbing along. But I think that it was the simplicity of our small fleet that gave it its beauty and created a lasting impression.

So, is anyone up for finding a river and some banana leaves next November?

Of course, before going home, we had to combine Thai and Canadian tradition and have a snowball fight.

Jane has invited everyone to abandon their host families, which we are not supposed to do since we are leaving soon, and drive to the Toronto zoo. I declined immediately, as we already had plans, but it was important enough to Ann (Thai) to speak to Ann (host) about it. She never openly asks for things, for fear of causing “gleng jai”. Ann explained to her why we had said no, but telling her that she could still go, crying in the process from being overly tired and wishing Ann had more interest here. Ann immediately changed her mind and resolved to stay. I was proud of her for being unselfish and giving back to the family who has done so much for her. However, she spent all day yesterday in her room. She didn’t even want to go to Christmas in the Country, something everyone was going to and which I know she had been looking forward to.

We decided to go anyway, and John even had a shower before we bundled ourselves into the car. It was fun. Everything was lit up and would have seemed magical if the snow hadn’t melted. We went through the maze for little kids, even though we could see over the top. We stopped at a fire to roast cinnamon bannock on a stick and drink hot apple cider. And John told everyone we met that I was from Cape Breton to see if anyone else was too so that we could speak “Nova Scotian” for him. We followed the paths lined by jars of candles, and I showed them the mailing booth I had painted and was even wearing the pants with the green splotches from.

We went home and found Ann in bed, where we had left her, even though her reason for staying home had been that she needed to do some work, and she claimed she wasn’t sick. She did make more of an effort today. I feel guilty for not always trying to involve her, but if she wants to make the most of this experience, she needs to be willing to involve herself.

I went to church with John and Ann this morning. I would like to spend as much time with them as possible right now, and I really do like the music that Ann plays. On the way there, somehow John came upon the topic of their honeymoon, which he proceeded to explain in great detail. His eyes started twinkling and he grew more and more excited with each new story. Like how the train porter had teased them about wanting to share a tiny single bed instead of sleeping separately. And then, after a few nights of that, they went to a hotel with a king-sized bed, that was so large that in the middle of the night Ann thought she had lost him. I could picture John as a young man, bounding about, pleased as can be, and refusing to let anyone carry their bags for them. And he is just as starstruck now.

After church, Laura, the minister’s wife, said goodbye to me and gave me two large hugs. I expected them to be light and not truly meant as those sort of hugs usually are. But I was relieved when she pulled me tight. It was comforting, but it made me want to cry. And this wasn’t even at the though of leaving Ann and John. I have a feeling that I’m going to be a mess on Tuesday morning.

Rena called me shortly after six this morning to talk for one last time. And Rena, I really did appreciate it, although I was unable to express that in my half-asleep state.

I really am leaving.

November 24, 2004

john's cat stevens records make me miss harold and maude

Yesterday was difficult. I think that everyone is looking forward to leaving so much that they cannot bear it here. It makes me sad to see them rushing and wasting their last few moments here. The air is growing tense and everyone was more irritable. I spent most of the day in my own little world, and found small things to make me smile. Like Sumo’s shirt that reminded me of Toronto at night. And the woman at the post office who put my letters through even though their size merited an extra stamp and although I had gone in fully prepared to pay. And the perfect chill in the air that was just cold enough to make your skin tingle and feel alive.

We played road hockey with the Thais, and it was neat to watch them put all their energy and enthusiasm into something they did not understand how to play. They were just happy to get in the way of everyone (which is about what I did), even their own teammates, and I think they used their feet more than the hockey sticks, which were all left-handed somehow. Funny how two people can be skateboarding quietly, out of everyone’s way, and people will become upset. But all eighteen of us can be blocking the road, making a great deal of noise, and everyone will smile and wave happily at us as they pass.

The mayor of Walkerton is ridiculous. I remember being on the bus when we arrived at our welcoming supper in Walkerton. We saw a man with a long grey ponytail and a nice, although completely unconventional, suit. We laughed about this man being the mayor, not actually thinking that he was. His name is Charlie, and I don’t know how he came to be mayor in a place as traditional as Walkerton. He jokes around with us like he was our age, invites us into his office to chat, and comes to our educational days. He organized trips to the jail and the courthouse for us, and phoned Jubilee Hall to guilt-trip them into donating the hall for our cultural show after they had refused. At the Remembrance Day ceremony, where everyone presenting was wearing black, navy or some equally somber colour, he wore light pants and his light brown suede jacket. The defining image of him was when he was sitting on one of the tables in the jail with his suede jacket and a sucker in his mouth. He really is quite a character, and I think we’ll all miss him.

November 21, 2004

it's difficult taking pictures while wearing mittens

On Thursday, we went to the Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority, Sumo and Emmanuel’s work placement. We spent the day helping them prepare for the annual Christmas in the Country fair. It was surreal. We really were in Santa’s Workshop, with candies the size of our heads, freshly painted elves, and bows and tinsel strewn about everyone and everything. Most of the girls stayed inside and baked many batches of cookies and tied bows. I joined them later in the afternoon when we redecorated sauna tube candy canes that were larger than we are. It really was ridiculous. In the morning, I went out to the painting shed with Manu and Sumo, and we used many large, fancy power tools, which really were unnecessary, to fix an old fridge box disguised as a mailing booth. It was like grade two all over again, but so much better, because this time the kitchen knives and scissors, which we used to imagine were high tech machines, were real. When we had finished, we repainted it, and I, being the sloppy painter I am, got it all over the floor and my pants. That provided us with a great deal of laughter (although perhaps it was from the paint fumes), and Wan, stopping by from building a fence for the reindeer (well, white-tailed deer) told me Snow White was always beautiful, even in messy clothes. The Thais have all started calling me Snow White, or White Snow, now. Although they can’t pronounce “seven dwarves” properly, so they say “sewen” and make hand motions indicating short people. Anyway, Thursday was a wonderful merry day, although the rest has been everything but. That’s not completely true, there was one truly special moment, but I’ll save that until the end.

We found out about our host family in Thailand. I can’t pronounce their names, but that’s alright because I’m supposed to call them “paw” and “mair” instead. I could never call John and Ann “Dad” and “Mom” as Ann does, but it’s different in another language. They have a university graduate daughter, who was looking for a job at the time of the interview, and who may or may not be living with us. They have fourteen rais of rice farm, which is 5.6 acres. They have a modest home, less modern than some of the others. They live next door to the village head. They do not have a fridge, a washing machine, or a telephone. But they do have ten chickens, three geese, a motorbike that we aren’t allowed to drive, and two bicycles that we are allowed to ride. The father does not drink, but he smokes. And we’re in the middle of the other participants, completely unlike here.
I almost wish I knew nothing about them. That way I would not have an expectation. I try not to form an image of them and their way of life, but it’s impossible not to. The same thing happened with John and Ann. I definitely wasn’t disappointed, but I would still rather not expect anything.

When Ann heard about our host family, she was crestfallen. The happy shiny tinsel decorator became sullen and dull. I managed to laugh about the lack of a telephone and washing machine with her, but she is completely hung up on it. She can’t deal with the thought of spending an evening doing something other than speak on the phone. And she has never had to learn how to wash clothes by hand. Once again I’m wondering why she’s here and what she expected. She has spent her evenings since discovering this, on the telephone with her Kincardine Thai friends, complaining. They speak in Thai, but I can tell what they’re talking about by the absence of their usual giggling, the frequency of the name “Buriram”, and “mai tah lah sap” (no telephone). Also, I’ve noticed that where before she would say, “I miss home,” it is now, “I want to go home.” Perhaps it’s a fine line, but I think it’s significant.

It’s difficult to be sympathetic to her disappointment in living a lower class life. I am excited. To me, not speaking the regional dialect, washing clothes by hand, and not phoning home or team members every night is part of the experience. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. I am happy that I am not Laura, who will have a computer and a washing machine, or Shahdin, who will have a rich modern house and a host sister who speaks English. Although that could change after a few weeks of painstakingly hand washing clothing. And while I may do it here (Ann is not inclined to learn the use of a washing machine), I am not washing her clothes in Thailand.

A part of me wants to be like Laura and Gavin (although they have since given in), and not see friends and family in Toronto. I would like to spend the whole six months without disruption. But the other part of me tells myself that I need a break. I need to get away, even if it’s only for a day. Not that I don’t love my group and that they aren’t wonderful people, because I do and they are. But it’s not the same. And I need a hug. And not one of the silly ones that Ann gives me to show off in front of other people and say, “See how well we get along?”

I’ve been low lately. Sometimes for a reason. Sometimes not. Saturday, Jane hosted a Christmas part for us. We were all supposed to bring along a family tradition. So I made Christmas Tree Cookies. The only cookie cutter that we had was a gingerbread man. So I used it, not noticing how morbid it was until I realized that I was poking holes in their heads with a needle in order to hang them (pun half-intended) on the Christmas tree. Anyways, I was the only one to bring a Christmas tradition, although nine of the other people present had an excellent reason not to, seeing as they have never had Christmas before. The party was just not fun. The house was wonderfully decorated and the food was delicious, but I was not in the mood to spend the night smiling and talking about nothing.

So I decided I had to escape, at least for a few minutes, and go for a walk. But Robert and Gavin saw me putting on my shoes, and decided to join me. We just wandered around the front yard, until Robert, who was wearing a t-shirt and who was growing cold and frustrated with how long it took us to take pictures with manual cameras, decided to go inside. So Gavin and I went to visit the baby cows. He spoke to them, asking them what they thought about the Russian Revolution, life in the barn, and what interested them, and I stuck my hands through the bars and let them suck on them. Their mouths were so strong, but still gentle, and it was nice to forget about Jane’s beautiful home and array of food, and to let my hand become covered in slobber and sticky.

I remember the rest of the evening indifferently. Until it was time to go home. Ann and John had been much more upset about Ann’s refusal to sit in the middle of the car than I had been. So they and Karen had devised a plan to get her into the middle, since after all, she is the only one who will really fit. But the plan couldn’t be executed, since Ann was upset at having to leave so early, and so decided to get a ride home with Jane. She did not want to compromise and stay for a little while longer, which I’m sure no one would have minded. She was determined to stay, even after it was explained to her that Jane would have to drive for over an hour when she would have otherwise remained at home. So, she stayed. And we drove home, frustrated that she had not made an attempt to really work things out. But I was happy to see Karen again, and had welcomed the opportunity to go home early and have one last walk with her.

And now for a side note. I really love Karen. She is different than I in many ways, and in several ways that I really don’t like. But she is one of very few truly genuine people that I know. She gives her opinion at all times and never pretends to feel something that she does not. You know exactly where you stand with her. She likes to have fun in silly ways. She is completely self aware and content. She does what she wants and is happy doing so. She dresses up as a farmer/construction worker and goes out dancing in big rubber boots on Halloween, and she leaves her big city friends behind to come home every weekend that she can and chase escaped steers. I respect her for being the slightly odd one out and not changing her ways in the slightest.

Anyway. Ann arrived home late and angry. Angry that I had gone home and left her to her selfishness? She wouldn’t have spoken to me anyway with other Thais around. I think that mostly she was tired, but that cannot always be her excuse. Ann commented that in Thailand, I will still be the one taking care of her, even though there is a host family expecting someone to help with me. And it is now more apparent than ever that I will be alone in Thailand. With no phone. Which I don’t regret or want, but it will be difficult. If this is how I feel now, when I am surrounded by people that I can talk to, how will I feel when I cannot speak to anyone? However negative I may sound, I am looking forward to this. But, if anyone feels the urge to give me an evening of smiles, my address in Thailand is hopefully the following:
62 Jom Prasat
(Village no. 17)
Tambon Sadao
Nangrong District
Buriram
31100
Thailand
That's the longest address I've ever had. The first line is, I believe, the street address, although Ann had no idea what it was. Tambon Sadao is the village, which I guess is the seventeenth village in the Nangrong District. A village is anything upward of ten people. 31100 is not the actual code for the village, but Phi Pueng didn’t know what it was and said that it would work. This is super sketchy.

We drove a couple of hours north today for two shortish hikes on the peninsula. Ann reluctantly agreed to come, thinking it would make us happy, although she remained just as sullen as the night before until the very end. My horoscope said I should be selfish today. And it says that tomorrow I will work hard for someone else. Not that I take these things seriously, but it describes my relationship with Ann and what I know will happen perfectly.

In any case, it was a beautiful, although cloudy day. It felt amazing to be outside and clambering over rocks and tree roots. As the last rays of sun were disappearing, Ann drove along a shore road. Karen and the other Ann were sleeping, and so missed it, but we were in Cape Breton. Across the water there were pieces of land jutting out in the same manner. There was even a Point Aconi-like light flashing on one. And if you only looked at the end of one piece of land, it was part of the Bird Islands.

The water was practically oceanic, but there was something different about it. At first I thought it was because it was calm, but the ocean can also be that still. Then I realized that even when the ocean is calm, there is still that sense of power. There is still the feeling of underlying potential that was lacking in Georgian Bay. But it was still moving.

I love looking out across the water and not seeing nay hint of land. Ann described it as feeling as though there is only God and you in the world. And she’s right. You can be the only one on a secluded beach or on a crowded shore with children screaming around you, but when you look out across the water, you are alone. But not lonely.

I love the ocean. I realize now that I couldn’t live anywhere else. Odd, for someone born in Toronto.