Remember those? I was in eighth grade when they were popular. My algebra teacher had them all over his classroom. (Brave, giving 13 year-olds things to voluntarily distract themselves with — as if hormones and insecurities zinging around the room weren’t enough.) If I made myself cross-eyed long-enough, I could see the outline of the ship – or the flower – or the face — in all of those tiny little dots. And then, with a blink or a resistant eyeball, the image instantly disappeared. Luckily, this fad went the way of hypercolor shirts. Although between the popularity of those two items alone, 1994 suddenly seems pretty psychedelic, dude.
I write this because at the moment it feels like I am living in a magic dot poster. (Well, AND hypercolor shirts given the constant sweat factor, but I’ll stick with one metaphor for today.)
I’ve been living in my town of Suphan Buri (which translates to City of Gold – cool!) for two months. I have my go-to restaurants for dinner, my fruit lady, my easy weekday breakfast (Nata de Coco yogurt – delicious!), have discovered a place that will serve hot coffee without heaping tablespoons of condensed milk and sugar (victory!!), can catch the bus/songtauw/tuk-tuk to the correct place most of the time, and I grocery shop and do laundry on a semi-regular basis. I can navigate the slightly treacherous uneven sidewalks in flip flops without thinking much about it, and speak enough Thai to purchase the things I need. And I never forget to cover my shower drain (cockroach prevention tactic). So, I’m comfortable. The basics are covered.
But just in the last week or so, I’m starting to notice the uniqueness of our little town. Instead of looking through my American lenses and seeing Thailand in broad strokes – smiley, crazy, friendly, beautiful, somewhat chaotic — the individual details of Suphan Buri are coming into focus. Now that I’ve settled in, I can actually see what’s going on around me.
For example – yesterday, on a meandering walk around Suphan, we wandered onto the grounds of a temple. (There are twenty in Suphan alone!) And discovered these guys:
A little more walking and outside the closed temple doors, we came across this buddha, who seems to have something up his sleeve.
Discovering temples and buddhas in Thailand – fairly predictable and not terribly hard to do. I know. But how’s this for a new detail? The Caitlins found, directly across the street from the entrance to Sa-Nguan Ying School, a little bakery/restaurant called “Mama Made.” In this tiny, blink-and-you-miss-it, bright space, a woman named Tohm makes TO-DIE-FOR belgian waffles, banana-stuffed french toast, brownies, and scones. I’m sorry, what?! And she has an espresso machine, too! It’s almost more than I can handle. Amidst the haphazard storefronts — need a TV, a motorbike, or an elaborate Thai dance costume? — a hidden gem.
Disclaimer – I love Thai food, almost unequivocally, but it’s obvious that I miss a few of my food staples. In no particular order, they are: a great cup of coffee, fresh greens of all kinds but mostly kale, and whole grains, especially quinoa. (Insert Colorado hippie/former vegan nerd comment here.)
A few blocks down from Mama Made, I’ve also walked by, at least 20 times, a huge billboard in the main intersection near our house. In giant numbers, it is advertising the schedule for Suphanburi FC. (Try as I may, I can’t look at it and not see “Suphanburific!”) Took me a couple of weeks to figure it out. But it turns our little town has a BIG pro soccer team! Seriously, they’re kind of a big deal. So last weekend we got ourselves to a game. And it was a blast! If anyone has celebrity status in this town, it’s definitely those soccer players – and maybe the three English teachers cheering wildly down in front. Because no matter our t-shirts or team spirit, it’s impossible for us to blend in in a town with maaaaybe 30 foreigners. Needless to say, we’re pretty aware that we need to be on our best behavior… most of the time. My tank top is probably scandalous enough.
One last observation on this theme: When I first got to Sa-Nguan Ying, I was worried that I would NEVER be able to tell my students apart – what with the same haircuts, uniforms, etc. Now that seems impossible. I have 900 teenage girl Thai students, yes. But their smiles, voices, laughs, faces, and personalities are quite distinct. (Of course they are! How could I have thought differently?) A few examples: Two of my students, Aum and Cream, always shyly ask to carry my books back to my office after class, and then do so, beaming for the entire 90 second walk. Another one, App, is quiet but translates everything for everyone around her and rocks the hippest glasses in school.
I could tell you 897 more stories like this. (And no, I don’t have all of my students’ names memorized. THAT would be a true feat.)
But suffice it to say that in work and play, my experiences in Suphanburi are starting to take on a texture all their own. Not just Thailand, not just an adventure, not just a teaching job. The minutiae of my daily life and the constant emergence of the unexpected have collided, creating a picture that is totally new. I’m digging it.