I’d finished washing clothes and they were hung out to dry on hangars in the metal rack on the porch when I went to fold it up Sunday afternoon. As I reached for the shirt off the hangar, I noticed the frog inside the sleeve and smiled. Perhaps the frog thought my shirt was a big flower. “Nan,” I went inside the house and gestured to Tuy’s younger sister, “Come here.” I don’t have the Thai vocabulary to say, “I have something to show you.” She approached the laundry skeptically. When I revealed the frog she screamed and lunged for it.
The tree frog jumped to escape, bounced off my arm and landed on the adjacent wall with all feet sticking, then leapt in a panic inside the house. I’m used to frogs that stay on the ground. He found some perceived refuge on the dark wood of the door, then leapt to the wall and up a few feet, faster than I could have imagined. Tuy comes out of her room to see the commotion, has a short yell herself and runs for the broom. With some guidance, he gets a sharp kick out the door to the liberation of the front yard.
Laundry seems simpler here even though you really have to follow the load. I am grateful for the machine in the house. The washer gets filled from the hose in the kitchen sink. Add some soap, the clothes and set the agitation for 12 minutes. There isn’t a lid so you can watch things moving around it you like. Then let gravity do the work and drain the hose into the shower/bathroom complex. Then rinse the clothes, agitate for a few minutes, drain, and put the clothes in the spinner for four minutes and on the line to dry. Your choice of inside (we have a drying room) or outside.
Food is a bit more complicated. To clear up a few preconceived notions, Thai food is not necessarily healthy. Much of it is breaded, fried and covered in salty or sweet sauces. Fresh fruit is not immune; Thai people often use a combination of sugar, salt and chili spices on many fruits including pineapple. With all the hoopla surrounding the Thai cooking classes for tourists in Chiang Mai, Thai people eat out habitually. Between street vendors, small sidewalk set ups and more formal restaurants, Thai people have plenty of options.
Over the past couple of weeks, dinner generally has three tangents: eat rice noodles at home, Nan brings over take out from somewhere or Tuy and I go out to pick it up ourselves. One night right after school ended at 5pm, Tuy told me that I was joining her and her fellow teacher friend Apon for a ride over to the market. It was the first time I had a chance to look at the day market, which was filled with more items for cooking instead of the prepared foods of the night market.
When we get there, Tuy and Apon are clear about what they are looking for, but I’m mesmerized by the large plastic tubs filled with squirming eels, floppy snakefish and placidly swimming orange Talpia like fish that I haven’t been able to identify. There are the frogs and squid on skewers and the piles of beetles and what are either maggots or worms piled high on wide bamboo plates. The vendors are chatting, the crowds are lined up like a crowded art show perusing the goods. I’m entranced by the variety and health of the vegetables: green leafy basil. Asian broccoli, spinach and what looks like collards. I’m going slowly, with the gentle reminder of Tuy’s hand guiding me along so I don’t get left behind.
Tuy asks me “what you eat?’ and I’m frozen in the internal storm of indecision. I’m blinded by the brilliant light of so many options and unknown tastes surrounding me. I wish I had the language to explain that I want to look around a bit and then decide, but the girls seem to be on a schedule. In that moment inside my brain, I’m a large, white, ancient balloon that requires transportation and translation everywhere she goes. I settle on the usual fish and vegetables, with a variation on a roasted eggplant. I hustle through my wallet and embarrassed that I mistake a 500 baht bill for a 50 and it’s the only money I have. This is a fortune for the vendor who balks at the bill. A single eggplant sells for ten baht. The girls simultaneously chide me a bit while Tuy reaches for her purse.
In this moment, I’m tortured by my need for independence. I so badly want to explore and soak it all in, muddle through the problems and figure it out. On the other hand, I’m grateful for the diligent attention and boundless caring. With the limited amount of daylight at the end of the school day, the extra 15 minutes gained through the use of Tuy’s motorbike are valuable. I’m hoping that there is some prestige for her in carrying around this large white language impaired blimp. I’ve never been this dependent before. I should be more diligent in sharing new vocabulary and pronunciation lessons. Make sure I think of her with a small gift. All of these experiences are learning lessons, but this is one of those uncomfortable moments.
On the way home, the cumulus clouds are showing their nightly alpenglow pink in the night sky. It’s rush hour: hundreds of mynah birds have begun to congregate on the trees on the riverfront. Their collective evening songs turn into a humming that escalates past every tree, then reaching a crescendo on the utility lines that traverse the second stories throughout downtown. Everyone is moving in cars, motorbikes and a few bicycles. Past the Wat with the city’s shrine where everyone honks as they go by to the long curve and look both ways before crossing the street and down the small dirt road to our house. Dinner, some brief conversation and pronunciation guidance shared and then it’s to the bedrooms for reading and lesson planning.
On the weekend, Tuy is off to her parent’s house and I make a pilgrimage to the market on my own in the relative coolness and quiet of the morning. My one speed bike is steady but clunky, the brakes are bad and the chain needs oil. I am delighted to be finding my own way. I discover the local retail bike shop and buy a tail light to complement my headlamp for my evening rides in the park. I come across the local version of Three Bears/Costco, stocking up on soaps of a few forms and the ginseng instant coffee I’ve grown to like.
I realize that I am close to the riverfront, so I stop by the tourist office and ask for a map (there isn’t one, but I am given a large paperbound book on Kamphaeng Phet’s local attractions.) Meandering back through some side streets I pass a shack with a few second-hand bikes for sale. With a quick u-turn to pull in, I demonstrate the squeaky brakes and the father-son pit crew gets to work. Some wrenches are turned and a few drops of oil are applied for less than a dollar. The brakes are improved and I'm feeling confident.
With the need to pick up a little lunch before my English class with a couple of Thai teachers later that afternoon, I swing through the open market to pick up a snack and buy my own produce for making a stir fry on the hot plate for dinner. I experiment and buy a relatively large package of what looks like dried fruit without trying to ask what it is. When I get home, I realize it’s a seedy, sour, face wrenching awful package of dried tamarind. This was my official first independent market mistake and I find great satisfaction in the rebellion of my tastebuds. I know someone at school will think it’s a bonus. And probably laugh a bit at me at the same time.
n.b. This post includes images from the internet. Sometimes I got caught up in the heat of the moment and couldn't take a picture. These are likely better anyway.