Friday, 30 June 2017

#26 Thailand part 5: All-you-can-eat buffets are not a challenge and other lessons learnt.

Over the last month and a bit I've been trying to figure out why I really came to Thailand and thanks to bears I think I've figured it out.

I like to think that chapters in life have symbolism in them just like the movies and the theme for Thailand is most definitely bears.

It all started with a giant bear at the hotel in Bangkok that I convinced LS to pose for a photo with and continued on to Phibun Mangsahan. We kept noticing them on blankets, in cars, at school and at our favourite resturant Siri. I'm talking teddy bears of course - not real bears. That would be the beginning of a much more exciting blog.

After jokingly discussing this 'theme' with LS I decided to research what bear symbolism meant in the hope they were significant in some way and that their significance would give us some deeper level of understanding Thai life.

Whether you believe in this stuff or not, what I found gave me warm fuzzies, which coincidentally is exactly how I imagine being hugged by a bear would feel.

According to -  a very reputable source - bears represent a time to be courageous. They also represent protection over children and apparently appear in a persons life when they are required to step into an authoritative role, engage and inspire. All quite relevant right now and I think it sums up exactly what the Thai chapter is all about.

I've had to become an authoratative figure in the classroom which is a skill I needed to learn. As for protection over children that's an obvious one. Teaching has meant I've had to dig deep down to find the courage to do something completely out of my comfort zone. As for engaging and inspiring, it's a great feeling when the students are enthusiastic about what you are trying to teach them. I've found that if you plan a lesson you are excited to deliver then that makes a huge difference.

Any way enough about bears and children. There were several other things that motivated this post.

Firstly I wanted to examine an aspect of travel that doesn't get talked about very much but is something I've been thinking about a lot lately.

When travelling you interact with so many people with such vastly different backgrounds and people you have very little in common with except those core human traits that go beyond, age, race or religion.

These interactions, at least in my experience, often bring to light inequalities in such a way that it is impossible to ignore and even more impossible to know what to do about it.

Many of the people who have been so kind to me are unlikely to ever travel to New Zealand or any of the other countries I hope to visit. I probably won't be able to return their hospitality in the same way they welcomed me into their homes and countries.

When I think about this I feel a pang of what I can only describe as guilt. Why do I get this priveledge just because I was lucky enough to be born in a fairly wealthy, developed country to middle class parents? I don't know what to call this feeling and the closest thing I could find was white guilt. I looked into the concept and read a very interesting article about it from the perspective of an African American woman. Her take on white guilt was that it was a wholly self indulgent coping mechanism to remove yourself from the blame. A sort of "I can't be part of the problem because I'm feeling bad" type thing. I can see her point and makes a lot of sense. But the article didn't explain how to actually stop being part of the problem. I'd be interested to know what other people think about this.

Is white guilt the only term we have for that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when inequality stares you right in the face? How do we stop being so self indulgent and actually make some changes? I sincerely hope talking about this isn't coming from a self indulgent place and instead a curious place.

Perhaps the only way to deal with having that priveledge is to use it well and live life with only good intentions. To learn and experience as much as you can and try your best to see things from someone else's perspective. Make an effort to truly understand where someone is coming from. These are things I'll endeavor to live by for the rest of my travels and when I come home.

The other thing that motivated me to write was a particularly eventful weekend.

The other foreign teachers, who I will refer to as the United Nations of Phibun for future reference, and I went to an all-you-can-eat sushi bar in Ubon and into town for drinks afterwards to celebrate a birthday. We were intrigued by the promise of a Thai 'cowboy' club. Who wouldn't be with that description?

It turned out this was a bit misleading and there weren't any cow boys after all. Just non-stop over-the-top glittery Thai pop. There were Andy Warhol-esque paintings of The Beatles, Ghandi and Che Guervara on the walls but that was where anything vaguely familiar stopped. It was brilliant and bizarre. My favourite combination.

Later we moved on to another place at the suggestion of the UN of Phibuns' Thai friend. His brother would drive us. When we got to his truck it was clear we weren't all going to fit in the cab and some of us would have to ride on the back which we were all far too keen to do.

I never saw who was driving but it quite possibly could have been an actual enraged Grizzly Bear for all I knew (see what I did there? I'm trying to create some kind of connection for the sake of this somewhat disjointed piece). We later calculated he would have been driving at speeds of up to 160 kilometres an hour to get us where we were going in the time it took us but all's well that ends well. We arrived a bit wind swept but nevertheless alive.

When it came to getting a taxi home everyone was considerably sozzled especially our 20-year-old South African friend who I'll call Teacher Hungry or TH for short. We were about half way home when our taxi was pulled over by a police officer doing a routine check.

When he saw it was loaded with farangs (foreigners) his eyes lit up and he proceded to grill the poor girl sitting in the front seat about what we were doing going to Phibun Mangsahan. Completely understandable because it's not exactly a tourist hot spot. He wanted to see our passports but of course we didn't take them with us into town. Luckily we all had a drivers license on us which seemed to satisfy him.

Just as I was handing over my license TH projectile vomitted his all-you-can-eat sushi buffet all over the back seat. The police officer uttered a surprised and very restrained gasp of dismay. We all sat for a minute processing what had just happened and appreciating the volume of nori and rice that had just launched itself from TH's mouth. Thankfully the policeman took pity on us and let TH get out to clean up as best he could.

Despite it being quite a serious situation that had the potential to end badly, it was undeniably hilarious once the police officer let us go and we giggled all the way home, probably to the annoyance of the driver. We gave him a nice tip to make up for everything and to help with the clean up but I feel the indignity of cleaning up someone elses vomit is something that no amount of money can really make up for.

Several lessons were learnt that night. Don't actually eat ALL you can eat at an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet, and if you're going to drink afterwards, try to hold everything in until AFTER speaking with a police officer.

It seems strange to write a post that includes musings on the signifigance of bears, priveledge and a story about vomitting in a taxi but what the heck. Life is just a series of seemingly unrelated events that all wind up into one messy, confusing, wonderful experience and it's a lot of fun trying to work it all out.

The highly anticipated yet misleadingly described Thai 'cowboy' bar which turned out to be equally as bizarre as we had hoped.

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