It has been six months since I have landed in Thailand for the first time. On the 8th of March, I will take the plane again, destination Cambodia. Well, I have to admit that I am not ready at all to leave the country.
On the 31rst of last August, Yoshimi and P’Jiew welcomed me at the Chiang Mai airport and a few hours later, I arrived in the charming town of Phrao. Located at two hours from the big city, Phrao is the center of the the district of the same name, on the way to Chiang Rai.
It was love at first sight.
Surrounded by mountains, located in the Lanna country, Phrao is simply lovely. Thanks to my colleagues, I found a house in the middle of the town, at around twenty minutes by bicycle from the Library where I have spent most of my time, five from the market, where you can find anything, and ten minutes walk from the bus station. The location is simply perfect. Every morning, I am amazed by the view as I am riding my bicycle to the library. The funny thing is that during my first three weeks in town, I was the “farang”, the stranger, the white girl riding her bicycle and people kept staring at me. As I took almost the same path every day, they started to know me and since then, we are just exchanging giant smiles, and warm “hi” or “sawasdee kha/khap” ! It is a real pleasure to ride the bike, even if it is sometimes quite hot.
In six months, I had time to do a lot of things a especially many projects with ARC. First, I discovered how an association works in Thailand. Well, it is my first time working in a library, but all is related to culture and fun activities, at least my missions were.
What did I do ?
I gave english classes to kids at the library, basic english of course, I am a French native speaker, not an english one. It felt great to teach them. I only had a class of 6 kids, it was quite easy to manage. Of course, P’Jiew helped me a lot as my thai was very basic (and is still so- ..) to explain about each exercise to them. Then, it was easier for me to teach French. I had a chance to work as teaching assistant for some french classes for Kru Tom, french teacher at Phrao Wittayakom, highschool of the town. I also went for weekly activities with the mobile library in villages around, visited disabled people who could not come to the library but wanted to read, I met a lot of people, learned a lot about thai culture and asked a lot of questions. Thanks to my missions, I really had a chance to discover a lot within my time in Phrao and around.
As Thai culture is different from mine, I was really curious about everyday things that I did not understand or that I could not read about. Meeting people who did not speak the same language as mine, forced me to step out of my “comfort zone”.
Let me tell you about one situation where I really felt like stepping out of my culture, and that was when I tried spicy food… I think that everyone at the library will remember me as the “not spicy” woman, as I could barely eat a “Pad Ka Pao” without crying. But then, I went to Mae Wean Noi, the village in the mountains to visit ARC’s early childhood literacy center, Little Smiles center. I was living among a Lisu family, P’Pim’s family, and there, everybody was used to eat spicy food since the youngest age. So, one evening, for dinner, I asked P’Pim it the sauce that she made was very spicy or not. You have to know that to the answer “pet mak” (very spicy) I usually step back, and to “nid noi” (a little bit), I usually try. Then, her answer was that it was “pet nid noi”, understand “a little bit spicy”. I tried it, and felt suddenly very hot, and super sweaty. After the ten minutes I needed to recover from the awful burning feeling, I asked her how many chili she had put inside the sauce, she then told me, as if it was totally normal “50”. I then cried again.
During my stay in Phrao, from where I am writing this article, I was confronted with myself and the others as well. For me, “pet kid noi”, was a maximum of 3 chillis, but for her, it was 50. And in fact, the entire family was eating it without even crying… It felt amazing to understand that the fact that I really thought that by “a little bit spicy” did not meant the same thing for her than for me. You can say that this always happens when you are travelling. Of course, but when my codes, my “already known notions” are challenged, I feel great, because I am rediscovering what culture-s really means.
In six months, being the “farang” sometime forced me to step out of my comfort zone for the better and the worse (especially when there was someone to take picture of you). But i had so many great moments, with the kids, with my colleagues, with the people (farang or not) that I met here and I have discovered so many places and events as the different temples, some school camps, temple festivals, hill tribes villages, local high schools, and of course, the Rang Mai library.
This experience benefited me in so many ways that this article wouldn’t be enough to describe all of them. But I have to admit that the will of having new experiences I more present than ever in my mind.
I was supposed to stay only for five months in Phrao, and I just realized that it has been six months already.
Well, it is sure that I will come back for more !
Merci beaucoup et à bientôt !