A few bars of Credence Clearwater Revival knock me awake. I crawl off the mattress on the red bamboo, duck out of the mosquito net and turn off the alarm on my phone. The giant sea-foam-green net covers most of the hardwood floor room. It has a barely-noticeable aura of either toxic chemical or nylon stink. An unknown but significant population of roosters announce an arbitrary pre-dawn moment and I wonder how long the neighbor has had his Thai radio drawling on. Radio in foreign languages always seems to repeat long strings of numbers excessively often but I’m pretty sure it’s just the relative salience of those few words perceptible to a language novice.
I throw my blue-orange “pa-co-mah,” a large sarong approximation, around my waist. It’s a lovely plaid; the get-up suggests traditional Thai weavers, Seattle Grunge rockers and picnic tablecloth designers would all get along.
I step out behind the second floor of my family’s house across the blue tile balcony underneath stars. Orion sits above the bathroom at the far end, Pleiades above the family’s two tilled acres. I always count the buckets it takes to shower.
A little hustle and I’m downstairs still trying to figure out if my Thai host family members are “morning people” or not. Mom, dad, their two adult kids. Those two kids’ spouses, these two couples’ sons. Six and one-and-a-half.
Tactful early morning greetings in a foreign language are futile anyways. Between a relative cool that settles overnight and pause-demanding sunrises over green rice and sugar cane, the first hours take it easy on me.
The neighbor’s music is replaced by the sound of another radio. This one gets closer with a soft cone of dull light that creeps down the road, pausing by the spirit house in front of each home.
The monk pulls his motorcycle up, engine off, in front of my host family’s house as we stand in our bare feet. We each step up to the monk’s sidecar, depositing our soups, stir-fries and curries into his empty containers, taking turns with the amalgamation of family. Stepping into the faint yellow headlight, each household scoops their rice bowl into the monk’s large pot hanging off the front of the bike.
The monk has no right leg; he rides up and down the neighborhood on motorcycle because he can’t walk. We squat off the road, bowing as the monk sings, the same lines every morning. Afterwards, the family swaps news and comments about the tall white guy. I slide my sandals on and head inside for breakfast.
Me and whoever else is eating start with our own bowls of white rice. My host mother and father stick to coffee and tea. We eat family style, the stir-fries, soups, and curries, mysterious and obvious, in the center of the table or floor depending on the day. I’m eating vegetarian here but not worrying about the literally ubiquitous seasonings.
Fried eggs flashed in enough popping-hot oil to hold crisp edges. Broccoli and cauliflower sautéed in a little oyster sauce and a flavoring mix with picture of a grinning cartoon pig on the front. Fast-blanched mushrooms tossed with cilantro, spring onions and lime. Tofu in a broth dark with tamarind that stains glassy noodles. Hardboiled eggs salted and chopped with tomato, garlic and onion. Papaya salad with peanuts, lime and garlic. These are the family’s pasta and meatballs, beans and burritos or meat and potatoes. Or at least the everyday vegetarian dishes.
I pedal the bright green mountain bike that the Peace Corps gave me for 30-45 minutes into one training or another – from most to least frequent: Thai language, youth development skill workshops or Peace Corps protocol sessions. Thai language class is four of us and our Thai teacher. The larger trainings are 34 of us Youth in Development volunteers. I’m in and out of sessions, grabbing lunch at a market and biking with my language group to practicums at local schools until 5:30 PM or so. Stephen and I ride out together; he goes another kilometer past me.
I land at home on my Trek in sweat and these first evenings have been short. Wash up, study Thai, shoot the shit and see if you shoot it far enough to make it over the language barrier. “Gin kaao.” Eat rice.
I check back in with the night sky that cranes my neck. A bucket of water over the head and I crash.
Someone runs in the walls. I step and kerk the dark hardwood beneath the column set into the corner above my bed: a minor skit-tittle. A scratch-uh-scratch. Pah-ka-prrrroom-flick. I tap the column with my finger and they’re silent. Sorry.
My book’s down, the light’s off, the dogs and bats are going wild out there and then “they” join in too. Clickity-tappity-click. Knock-knock. Kuh-knock. Are you falling all head-over-tail-over-whatever-other-limbs-you-might-have-in-there in there?
I can’t imagine keeping good Feng Shui in the space they’re working with in the corner column: foot square, ten feet tall. I know vertical, minimalist housing is hip, rewriting the narrative discourses of our identification with space or something but there’s plenty of room out in the Thai countryside.
Are “they” in ca-hoots with the skitter-titters in the bathroom ceiling? Or are those folks up there higher-class, living life above a pool?
An occasional “tsst” sounds like it might come from a voice box but mostly you seem non-verbal. I’m out cold in the Thai heat though and you could be laughing up Beowulf while I snore and sweat a little.
Posts forthcoming about my wonderful host family, food, bikes, people I’ve met and related adventures.
Mentioned in my last post, Kermit is a peer in Youth in Development. Biker extraordinaire, professional at riling up children.
Stephen is also a fellow YinD man. Based on today’s wanderings through Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand, he’ll be replacing Harrison Ford in the next Indiana Jones film following his Peace Corps service.
Happy Birthday Dad!