We met an array of characters on the plane, including enthusiastic Americans, who thrilled at traveling without any plans whatsoever, a kindly old gentleman who calmly gave us directions, and an older man who heard we were going to be in Thailand a year and grimly shook his head, “You’ll never make it.” Each flight served us at least one full meal, most of which we could not identify. After over twenty-four hours of traveling, we were very ready to be there.
Upon finally arriving in Chiang Mai, Ozzie (our friend from Whitworth who has been here since May) and a team from Payap met us with cheery smiles. Everyone was extremely welcoming and neither of us could stop smiling. Back at Payap, we met our supervisor in the dorms, Ajaan Rujira, as well as the Dean of Nursing. The room we were given is actually more of an apartment: it has a bedroom, bathroom, and living room complete with a television and a few couches. Most importantly, perhaps, it has air conditioning. In leaving the airport even, the heat seemed to hang on top of us, but we have gotten a little more used to it even in a few days. Our room also has a little balcony overlooking part of campus that we will use to hang clothes for drying. We might even sit out there after mosquito season.
Ozzie and Shanna (the other Ra who is from Canada) have been so kind in taking us around Chiang Mai on their motorbikes. Motorbikes are the main mode of transportation here, weaving in and out of cars quickly, so closely in fact that I kept almost screaming at first. Sarah and I clung to the back handles, grinning furiously to ourselves beneath our helmets.We planned on walking or biking here, neither of which is very safe, but are thinking about getting motorbikes after we get used to it a little. Nothing stops even for crosswalks.
Our responsibilities at Payap will include English tutoring for students and faculty in the Writing Center a few times a week, co-teaching Intro to Poetry and Drama for the English Communications department at the international school, and building community as RA’s in the nursing dorms, among many other things. Sarah will probably teach voice lessons for the music school as well.
Having just completed their first semester, most of the nursing students went home for the two week holiday, but now they are starting to trickle back. They are very gracious and reassuring in helping us with Thai pronunciation (Thai has five different tones, so the same sound said in each tone means something completely different) and with orienting us to Chiang Mai. Most are very shy, however, especially about their English, so relationships may take quite a while to develop. Their nicknames are quite interesting. So far we have met a “Newt”, a “Bla”, and a “Boom” among many others.
We have been able to laugh at our feeble attempts at Thai culture. Upon arriving , Ozzie taught us to “wai” our supervisors. When you “wai” someone you bow your head and lift your hands together right and say “sawadee ka” softly, which means hello. Sarah and I practiced carefully and successfully managed to “wai” everyone we saw, mostly street vendors, students, or janitors at Payap. The Thai people responded with smiles or giggles, “wai-ing” us back shyly. We later learned that you only “wai” direct supervisors or anyone who is your superior. Their smiles were not for our kind attempt to be Thai, but because they saw the humor in our efforts.
For those of you that know Anna (our college roommate who grew up in Chiang Mai), it is easy to see pieces of her everywhere. She is in the easy attitude that everything will work out…even if we are teachinga class in a week and don’t have a syllabus (having books is way ahead, apparently). She is in the way Thai people fully appreciate humor and find it in even the smallest of situations. She is in the way plants grow out of the sidewalk. She is in the dinner plate of Thai food that mingles spicy with sweet, salty, and sour all at once. You should probably come to her wedding in August here if you really want to know what I mean.