I have been in Chaiyaphum for a week now and the adjustment has been a tough one. Thankfully I have moved into my new apartment which I have tried to make as homely as possible, my bed is also bug free, which is always a bonus! I have taught myself how to ride a motorbike, which I am surprisingly not too bad at! The roads here are well, different to say the least. I don’t really think they have rules here, they’re more ruff guidelines at best… My first experience driving is one for the books, I thought I had the best bike ever one that had cruise control, yes, ridiculous I know but let me explain. Basically my bike drove itself at 20km without me even touching the accelerator and to a first time driver I thought it was a pretty cool feature. A short phone call with my mum quickly cleared that one up when she explain that, no, my bike should most definitely not drive itself. So I took the self driving bike back and got myself a new one, one that doesn’t drive itself.
Life here so far has felt like its been going 100 miles an hour and has taken a lot of getting use to, something I haven’t yet managed to do. Despite there being a few other westerners in Chaiyaphum, we are still stared at on a daily basis. People are just naturally curious but the staring and shouts of Franag- Thai for foreigner- got tiring pretty quickly. Some people just look and smile while others stare until their gaze becomes uncomfortable, It was under this watchful gaze that I first noticed culture shock kicking in. A few days ago a friend and I were going to breakfast when a Thai man invited us to join him. I was wearing shorts because you know, it is 32 degrees most days here, he noticed the tattoo on my thigh an began pointing and shouting at me in Thai shaking his head in disapproval. Now I know tattoos are not to everyone’s taste and Thailand is a pretty conservative country but this was just strange! Once he had finished shouting in Thai he gestured for us to sit down so I did utterly shocked. He then gave us sweet potatoes and bought us smoothies, it was such a bizarre experience he spoke next to no English and of course we only know minimal Thai so we just sat there smiling to one another trying to talk to each other. We parted ways after we had finished eating and I drove away in a bit of a daze.
The next time I noticed the culture shock was when we met with a Thai teacher who asked us if we could help with her research by proofreading her work. I of course said yes because I mean what a great experience, also I wanted to pick up extra tutoring jobs while I am here, I just had no idea what I was really in for. There were parts of her research that she wanted me to pretty much rewrite, let me just make this very clear, I am in no way qualified enough to rewrite someone else’s research. I was totally in over my head and not really sure what to do, so I handled it in the best way possible, the Thai way. I smiled the biggest smile I could while I told her I could not possibly rewrite her work but I would be more than happy to proofread the work she had done. A very stressful two days later I was done!
With each passing day I have been feeling overwhelmed and like an alien to my surroundings. One thing I have been really struggling with since I moved to Chaiyaphum is the food. I knew that being a vegetarian in Thailand wouldn’t be the easiest of things but I did not expect it to be as difficult as it has been. I am one of those vegetarians that chooses to be so for my own personal reasons and I do not feel the need to preach to others why they should follow in my footsteps as I am a strong believer in each to their own! However I am going to use this space to have a little vent because there is nothing worst than being in this heat and not being able to find decent food when you need it! I won’t lie lately there has been a few time were I have considered just eating meat again but those thoughts quickly disappear again when I see the conditions the meat is kept in. Thai food is great, I love it, it’s just so frustrating being limited to Pad Thai because that is the safest bet when I can’t read the menu or my broken Thai isn’t clear enough for them to understand what I am trying to order. When you have to eat out for three meals a day the last thing you want is for the task to be made difficult.
One of the hardest days I have had in my short week here was the day my friend got taken into hospital because of a bike crash, she is ok thankfully! We went to visit her in the hospital and that’s when culture shock really hit me like a hard slap to the face. At the entrance to the hospital there was a small building without windows or doors and sick people were lying on little mats on the floor. I don’t know if they were there because there were not enough beds in the hospital or if it was because they could not afford proper medical care, either way it was a horrible sight to see. When we got to our friends ward it was like being thrown back in time, I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was dirty, because it wasn’t but everything was just so old! Right behind my friend was a women on a life support machine and her family were all gathered round. Shortly after the family had left the nurses moved the women onto a trolley bed and just like that in front of the whole ward turned off the machine and pulled out her tubes. I couldn’t comprehend what I was just witness to so I just burst into tears and ran to find a bathroom because I was most definitely about to be sick. When what had just happened sunk in properly I just felt numb, what a different world I am in now.
I do not by any means dislike Thailand, contrary to the topic of this blog, but this week has been so very hard. I know deep down that I want to be here, that I chose to be here and really I should stop being so ungrateful to this experience but I can’t. Culture shock has got me good and I have no idea how to deal with it. Before I came out here I read every blog possible in order to prepare myself for the culture shock I would inevitably experience. Despite the research and my acceptance nothing could really prepare me for what I am feeling. I keep reminding myself why I am here and that it will get easier soon but I still feel like I am lost at sea in a sinking ship. I know I am not alone in these experience because pretty much every other teacher that trained with me are now scattered across Thailand and going through the same motions I am, I try to take some comfort from this but it doesn’t bring much. I guess I am just deep in the motions of culture shock and the best thing for me to do is ride it out and then hopefully I can then start to appreciate Thailand again for the wonderful place it is, but until that day comes, wish me luck….