I am a tourist, too, even though I have written mostly about training. Here are some of the experiences that tell me “we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
rice fields in the spectacular new green of plants that are 12 inches tall and other fields are being plowed while under an inch or two of water by a tractor, okay it’s a small motorized thing, on wheels that stir up the mud below with metal scoops
small spirit houses on posts (often with small ladders) elaborately ornamented with shaped wood, bright colors and touches of gold paint in the yards of most homes. These are constructed and then maintained with biweekly or daily offerings of food and flowers for the spirits who lived on the land and were inconvenienced when the home, store, or gas station was constructed
an elephant on a street, among the cars (I only saw this once, and it was in a city)
my route from home-stay to the secondary school where we have large group trainings is (on a bicycle mind you) down our soi (the fragment of a lane that connects to a street and gives access to perhaps a half dozen homes) and right, down a narrow street of Thai style homes where every time I travel there are three to 5 dogs and we had to have a few words to establish I don’t have “bite me” written on my back but now they are as wary of me as I am of them, there’s a sharp right turn in the road (complete with high domed mirror to allow us to see traffic approaching), now down one block between the wall that surrounds the temple on the left and the temple school (elementary) on the right, to a small and not particularly prosperous market square (constructed of wood a long time ago with the look of a rust belt Midwestern town with empty stalls but a few vendors trying to make a go there), that provides parking for busses and honestly I don’t know who’s on those busses and where they came from or where they’re going, and more dogs. Next through a tight corridor in the covered market past a seamstress, a snacks and little things shop, a couple of vendors of I-don’t-know-what, a beautician with a single chair-dryer and through a couple of tight turns . This is against oncoming motorcycles and pedestrians (we’re talking a four foot wide concrete surface with water supply or maybe sewer lines conveniently installed on the surface at the left). At the second tight turn emerge suddenly from the shadows of the market up a steep pedestrian bridge—okay bikes and motorcycles use it as well but folks, it’s a pedestrian bridge—this about 6 feet wide) that arches over a canal and brings me down into a larger square but still quite small with a snack vendor, a couple of local government buildings slightly larger than Thai houses, a flagpole, dogs, a small installation of playground equipment and a perhaps 9 by 4 painted sign proclaiming the accomplishment of the playground sometime in the year 2553 (last year). Then down a road past homes, more dogs, a noodle shop where I’ve eaten lunch, a field that’s hosting a bulldozer these days, moving around a pile of dirt (raising the level of the land there in preparation for some construction?), more homes and dogs, fields, the fire station with three trucks, across another intersection into the walled secondary school grounds where each of the long two story classroom buildings stands over a pool of water (why? does that keep it cooler in the hottest season? are they raising fish there?), three more dogs who are regulars on the school grounds, to the gymnasium where 66 of us lock our bikes to a chain running along the ground and go inside for classes. The gymnasium is constructed of concrete and wide rolling metal doors (that I a associate with small industrial companies) all around which are left open for ventilation except for when they’re pulled down to block the sun, and a few rows of perforated concrete blocks around the top to increase ventilation, this layer lined with wire mesh to discourage birds from settling here (unsuccessful). The acoustics in the room are a challenge for those in the group with hearing problems for sure and for the rest of us as well, although whether we can understand varies by who the speaker is. There’s a stage at one end and the walls by the stage have these letters,
ลูกอยุธยๅยิ้นใหว้ทกทๅยก้น which, folks, I was able to read (okay I was able to sound them out) to my Ajan (teacher) and she translated for me
“the people of Ayutthaya smile, wai, and greet you.”
this is winter here and so we’re only sweaty hot for a couple of hours in the afternoon each day, but it’s a bit cooler in the middle of the night and in the morning, okay maybe it dips to 65 degrees F, and a couple of the dogs who clearly have owners are wearing sweaters
riding past a field of lotus (growing in a big, really big, rectangular pond) being grown for commerce (you need lotus blossoms in worship and perhaps for other purposes)
got a heads up that the head of my bed should be toward the household shrine. We don’t point our feet at anyone, and most certainly not at the Buddha
children call out to us on the street and wai, wait that isn’t complete, about 40% of the children call out to us, I can be greeted perhaps 20 times on the ride to my hub classes. Everyone smiles.
the grocery store (Tessco Lotus) is one small room but I can get fish (freshwater fish from the canals and from fish farming), pork, ground pork, chicken, liver, organ meat I can’t identify, 20 kinds of vegetables of which I can name about 8, and where it’s a 5 minute challenge to figure out which of these hair products is condidtioner
a busy road, 4 lanes, I need to cross when I walk to the “7” to shop –that’s a 7 Eleven to you—and the road sometimes has to be crossed by dashing to the center ( a few inches wide) and waiting again for the next dash
sleeping under mosquito net which I set up and take down each day. It has a funny smell. (Some of you know what Deet is, right?)
hand washing laundry, but luckily we were taught the polite way to do it: head to foot so the shirts are first and underthings that go on the top of us, then skirts and pants, and so on to the socks last; we were also shown how to get them clean and told to rinse them twice and then hang the uppers on the upper section of the drying rack and the lowers on the lower section of the drying rack (with exceptions made for long things that have to go on top) and also to hang men’s things above women’s things
showers with unheated water and using bottled water for tooth brushing
watermelon in season year round, pineapple in season year round
There, do you have a sense of my town?
Post script and news flash: I was SOOO wrong. That market is prosperous, I just had to see it on Saturday morning! It has so many vendors that it fills the square and also fills the grounds of the wat right there. You can get ANYTHING, like cleaning supplies, shirts, dried fish, meat, limes, vegetables, pigs’ faces, toys, hot food. It must open early as one of the volunteers said his Mom returned home with vegetables at 6:30 this morning.