Last night the Foreign Language Department at Sanguan Ying School held a welcome party for the new foreign teachers. (There are five of us, in all.) It was perfectly on time, in Thailand – four weeks into the new semester. Our Thai teacher “moms” planned to pick us up at our apartment at 5:30 for the celebration. Cash and I both taught an extra class last night, which meant we were teaching until 5:10 – but I wanted to zip home and shower off the grit of the day before the party. (I heard a rumor that the average Thai person showers three times per day. I don’t doubt it.)
First, a note on the extra classes – we were randomly assigned them last week. They’re the “smart” classes after school and are made up of the best English students in each mathayom (grade level). I won’t lie, I was a tiny bit taken aback to have two more classes added to my schedule. But then we found out that we can teach whatever we want, and we get paid extra for them as well. What does that mean? My smarties will be doing a thematic unit on music! This week’s lesson: American folk rock music, featuring “Ho! Hey!” by the Lumineers. I wish (times a million) that I had this on video – 12 year-old Thai girls singing “Ho! Hey!” and the full chorus: “I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweetheeeaaaaaaart!” Pure joy.
I walked out of the classroom, grinning while my Thai students casually hummed a song of one of my favorite Colorado bands and – it was MONSOONING. Like crazy. Sheets of water pouring down and five inches of standing water – instantly. My umbrella was laughable. Cash and I huddled under it, created a tiny refuge for our computer bag/purses, hitched up our skirts, and dashed out of the school, splashing and cracking up at the wonder of it.
Tim picked us up 30 minutes later and drove through the flooded streets without so much as batting an eye. We arrived at a hotel, and sat down in a small, very well-lit conference room that had four or five tables set for dinner, and a woman behind a karaoke booth. We shed our rain gear and sat down at a table with our Thai moms. Preeda (who may be the kindest, most gentle person I’ve ever met – I already miss her and I know I still have at least five months with her!), said, “You say – it’s like cats and dogs??”
Pause. “Oh, yes!!” We responded, laughing appreciatively. “Yes, it’s raining cats and dogs!!” In these little moments, I realize just how borderline crazy we all sound a lot of the time. No matter our culture or language.
Then, we ate. Enough food for a small army. Here is what I remember: Cabbage salad with cucumber and shrimp, fried catfish salad, pad thai, chicken wings, fried catfish filets, rice, cashew chicken and pork, Chinese pork and mushroom soup, spicy papaya salad (which may have technically been a garnish), and pineapple.
After dinner, Tim went to the microphone and formally welcomed us to the department, and then asked each of the new teachers to come up to the stage. We walked up with surprise, smiling and giggling a little. (Okay, a lot.) Then she leaned over and pinned a corsage on each of us, which included a flower that was a beautifully folded 20 Baht bill. She asked each of us to speak. I’ll summarize, because we all said a variation on the following: “Thank you! We feel so welcome here. The Thai students are smart, cute, and wonderful. You are wonderful! Thailand is beautiful, and thank you, thank you!”
You know what happens next, I’m sure – the three American girls are invited up to karaoke first. Let me take a step back here. Can you imagine, at a desk job or day job or whatever you want to call it, going to a work dinner and singing in front of your new co-workers? Sober? All night long? I can’t. But I can, in Thailand. So – Caitlin, Cash and I sang a triumphantly terrible rendition of “All By Myself” by Celine Dion. In retrospect, the irony of the lyrics is obvious. There I was, singing with new friends and co-teachers, surrounded by a department of women who refer to themselves as our moms, in a country brimming with kindness and community. Decidedly NOT all by myself.
We made an attempt at karaoke redemption later with “You’re the One That I Want” from Grease, but the highlight of the night was when Caitlin and Cash sang “Chang Chang Chang” – the elephant song. It’s a kids song that is wildly popular and high pitched and fast, and they totally nailed it. The whole department was delighted!
With that, the welcome party came to a close. We walked out into a blue-gray night that was balmy and cooler, with just a few lazy raindrops falling. The gift of monsoon rain is a ten-degree temperature drop, and it. is. wonderful. We clambered back into Tim’s minivan and back to Udee-Mi-Suk, our apartment building. Which we just found out yesterday translates to: “Live Happily”. Of course it does. It seems nearly impossible not to!
At this point, you’re wondering if anything ever goes wrong in Thailand. Yes, there ARE frustrating moments. Like when my Beginning English M1’s (twelve year-olds) stare blankly at me, or are so loud that the uproar is reverberating through the entire building, or when the school administration gives us a book of “Rules for Foreign Teachers” three weeks into the semester and we feel a teeny bit like we’re being chastised.
But for the most part, these little blips are just that. They’re so easily swept away when the fruit lady gives you free pineapple with an enormous smile, or your students go out of their way to greet you in the morning (“Hello, Teachaaaa Annnniieee!”). On balance, I’m coming out WAY ahead in happiness and delight. AND Karaoke.