Today Rachel and I had to scramble our things together after our last class and get our pictures taken in downtown Chiang Rai for our work permits that we learned (hours before) were due today. Perfect example of practicing patience in a culture where deadlines and time frames are not stressed. I repressed a groan of inconvenience when I was told this.
A science teacher drove us downtown and thankfully guided us through the process of getting official photos taken. Students packed the place and we waited in line. Serious photos of military professionals and the occasional glamour shot of a white man with his Thai wife (a very common sight in Thailand I've noticed) covered the walls. As we waited, the teacher grabbed some food for us, friend bananas and sweet potatoes. Yes, they were so good it almost made me emotional.
I quickly learned smiling in pictures is not a Thai thing to do, even though Thailand is called the Land of Smiles. Confusing. Of course I learn this after my photos were taken, where I gave them my best sorority girl smile I tried to perfect over the years of composite pictures (remember that time I was in a sorority??). I was told it's not polite to smile in pictures (wtf is polite and isn't?!). Oops.
After getting our pictures taken downtown, Rachel suggested we get dropped off to do our laundry. As much fun as doing laundry by hand is, I really don't enjoy dripping sweat and cleaning my clothes in our scary shower with the ants, mosquitos and visibly brown water. We meet a lady at a small shop and pay a little over $1 each to do a big load each, one at a time, in the one washer she had. She said it would take 3 hours, so Rachel and I walked to a restaurant down the road. We took our time eating, and I noticed the different attention I received because I was wearing my backpack (to put all my laundry in). I looked like such a good tourist roaming around my village in Chiang Rai. People were hollering and saying hello in English and waving. At the market, all the ladies came up to me and put their arm up to mine comparing their skin color to mine. They pointed at me and said "rice" (or white, I couldn't quite understand) and then pointed to themselves and said "black" and would giggle and squeeze my arm even harder. A swarm of other ladies came up to me talking in Thai and grabbing my arms some more, and the most I could understand was that they were calling my pale skin suay (beautiful). Only took 24 years, but I was finally getting positive attention for my pasty freckly skin. Score.
We made a trip to pick up Rachel's laundry and walked back to school to wait until mine is done. A monsoon was threatening in the black clouds above us and I smiled every time I heard thunder crack through the sky. We biked back to the small shop in the sprinkle of rain and waited the 15 minutes for my load to finish. I ask the lady what her name is (in my best Thai) and she replied, "Aoy." Her English was very impressive, and she helped us learn some new words in Thai. A man joined us and looked around the shop. He asked Rachel and I if we like beer. We said yes, but that we didn't want any. He grabbed 3 cans of Chang beer and bought them for us anyway.
The 4 of us spend the next hour drinking beer and learning new Thai phrases in the cool evening monsoon air. Rachel and I struggled to understand the 5 different ways to say maa. Because in one tone it's dog, another it's horse, and another it's come here. And they say English is hard...
We all smiled when we tried to imitate the correct words and failed miserably. I stood out in the rain occasionally, cherishing the sweet damp air reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest. The four of us laughed and learned from each other, and simply enjoyed the presence of one another and the sincerity of the moment.
I talked with my boyfriend, Eric, about the amazing time I just had doing laundry at a simple shop in Chiang Rai and truly experiencing the culture as a local. I stated it was such a great Thai moment. Then he corrected me, it will be a forever moment.