What am I doing up here? I mean, I’ve climbed enough times to be used to the height and the fact that a few metal do-dads and a knot are keeping me from finding my next incarnation. The real issue is that the Polish man, framed between my thighs 70 feet below, is holding the other end of the rope, and we’ve known each other for about two hours.
Ok, so we’re both climbers, there’s some inherent trust in this situation. I’m not actually questioning my safety because I don’t know him….its just because he’s Polish. Ooooooo, burn! Just kidding. I have some Polish heritage so I can make those jokes. No, this was just one of the many moments I’ve had where I think, “Who is this person I’m with, and how did I get here?”
Similar to the time I sat on the back of a motorbike being driven by a man I had met only hours before, my only seatbelt being the iron grip of my thighs on his waist (Why do my thighs keep coming up when I’m trying to make friends? Note to self: try a different ice-breaker), as he led me off to play on a Thai ultimate frisbee team. Now I go to this club twice a week. I’m not the best player, but it’s great to sweat in this country for reasons other than standing….or eating….
Mostly I joined so I could meet people. The team is half Thai, half farang. I’ve discussed my Eastern European last name, Honcharov, with a Ukranian named Serge, tried to learn throat-singing from a crazy Russian named Max, and regularly eat meals with a table full of Thai people. I don’t understand anything said at these dinners, but they are always welcoming. Plus, they’re very generous with their fried chicken.
Thai friends are so generous that it can be off-putting. An older teacher here, who speaks close to no English is continually buying me food and gifts. The American in me kept asking, “Whats the catch?” Finally, one day she mentioned to me, “I have daughter, same age!” Ahhhhhhhh, there it is. After evading this arranged marriage, I was informed by a friend that sometimes older Thai women just like to choose several younger people to take care of. So she often takes several 20-something-year-old Thai teachers and myself out to dinner or to the walking markets (Sometimes they even ask me to be a judge in a 7th-grader Karaoke competition. Did they even need to ask?). They’re great company, and we always laugh even though we can only transmit ten sentences of dialogue through the language barrier in a given hour.
Sometimes this Thai teacher is so generous, she surprises me by taking me to a Thai wedding…without telling me that we’re going to a wedding. Fisherman pants, an old t-shirt, and Chaco’s is underdressed for a wedding? Who decided that? I call shenanigans. Within five minutes of arriving at the wedding, I was taking pictures with the bride and groom, whom I’ve never met, and old Thai men were bringing the only farang in the place cup after cup of whiskey. I had a blast. And no one said anything about my clothes. I wish I could get my hands on those pictures of me towering a full foot over the bride and groom. That picture surely tells 1,000 words, none of which I understand…Really need to start taking Thai classes…
I decided I needed my own little film camera for moments like that. After spending ten-minutes in Mamie Lomo Camera Shop, Nam and Mint were demanding, “You be our friend!” Finally, someone being straight-forward in this country (Thais generally like to beat around the bush and passively suggest what they want).
A few days later, Tom and I walked away from a Mexican restaurant and into the courtyard of a Wat, to provide some peace for my recently conceived food-baby. Tom (an expatriot-turned-Reiki-healer who has been in Thailand for over 20 years), and I discussed making friends in different places. People will help sustain your memory of a place, he told me. Maybe, one day, I’ll forget what that one favorite Thai dish of mine was(Though highly unlikely. I could eat fukton for days), or what the history behind a certain Wat was, but I’ll have trouble forgetting the time I wrapped my arms around the bride and groom and said, “Yin di!” (At the time I thought that meant ‘Congratulations.’ Ya….about that. It means ‘You’re welcome.’ I’m sure that was a confusing moment for the newlyweds). I’ve always been shy, but I’ve been ignoring the impulse to keep walking with my head down, and instead try to always say, “Phom chue Max, Khun chue aria krap?”