It’s 8:30 am and I am waking up to the sounds of roosters crowing and sun beaming through my window in Doi Saket. Today is going to be a busy day.
I am lucky that I stay right near a Seven-11, coffee shop, and a chicken stand. I get my usual — two hot coffees with no sugar and half a chicken with sticky rice: breakfast of Thai champions. I eat my food, check my email and shoot off a few quick notes.
My first stop of the day is to visit with the volunteer and watch him teach his lesson. I live relatively close to the temple so I decide to walk today for some exercise and fresh air. After walking up nearly 300 stairs at the temple I am sweating grossly and out of breath. I make it to the classroom in time for the lesson though. By far one of my favorite things is to observe and watch the volunteers in action. It is a wonderful feeling to see the novices laughing and enjoying the teachings of the volunteers. After the volunteer’s lesson we chat about the teachings, lesson plans, and talk with some of the novice monks.
My next stop is one of the three government schools to visit with the principal and English teacher to get ready for an incoming volunteer. I hop on a motorbike and set off for the school. Even though the ride is short it is extremely pleasurable to drive through the town and be surrounded by lush mountains and bright green rice paddies.
Arriving at the government school I am informed that the meeting will be postponed for 45 minutes to an hour. This is very typical and where the term ‘Thai time’ originates. This was hard to adjust coming from America where being punctual is a must, I am getting used to it though. But the first few times were certainly entertaining and eye-opening!
I finally get a chance to sit down with the principal and English teacher and we chat for about 40 minutes over coffee about dates, schedules, and what they hope to gain from the volunteer.
After the meeting its lunchtime and I head to a local food stand, which is som tum (spicy papaya salad). I talk with the nice lady who makes my salad and I practice a few new Thai sayings and she practices her English a little as well. There is always a surprised look from the local people when they see me speaking Thai and ordering the salad. In Northern Thailand there is a dialect that people from the North speak called “Lanna”. Only people living up North speak it, and Thai people go crazy if you say a few phrases. My go to is to say “20” which in Thai is “yee-sip” but in “lanna” is “sow”. Whenever they ask how old I am instead of saying “yee-sip-hok” I say “sow-hok” and that usually gets a pretty good response. I also pull out the “lanna” language at the start of meetings and it usually loosens the mood and gets a few laughs.
The best part about Thai culture is how friendly everyone is. Smiles are not hard to come by in this country! After living here for over two years there is a clear difference in my general outlook and attitude after being surrounded by positivity and smiling two to three times more daily than I have in the past. I traveled to India for a week in July and was super confused in the beginning as to why no one was smiling at me when I smiled at them. I’m sure the people of India were confused about why I was smiling and nodding at everyone I came into contact with.
The other fantastic part that I love about Thai culture is how straight forward they are about personal appearance. In the US it is very taboo to comment about someone’s weight or age. In Thailand this is not taboo but commonplace. It is definitely off-putting the first time you meet someone and his or her first comment is about your personal appearance. (Which can be a good or bad thing) To the Thai people they are merely stating what they see. I have now become accustomed to it, but take a certain type of dark pleasure seeing new tourists and volunteers exposed to the bluntness of Thai people.
After my lunch I need to spend a few hours sending emails and working on our new website. I do this in the English room/Volunteer office at the Wat. It can be distracting to work there as novice monks come in and like to chat or watch what you are doing, but it beats being in a quiet coffee shop.
The day is coming to a close and I am getting tired. I like to think that the Wat Doi Saket project is making a difference and my goal is to help the monks and hopefully open doors for their futures. In addition to helping the monks, I am very passionate about making each volunteer have a good experience. I was lucky enough during my college days to travel and take part in many study abroad trips and tours. Having benefited greatly from those experiences I try to translate what I have learned and what works into this project. Exposing volunteers to the culture, food, Buddhism, and general ambiance is what I strive to do for each volunteer. My hope is that this project continues and lasts many more years.
To finish the long day I grab a light dinner of rice, spicy chicken, and fried pork skin and watch the latest episode of Dexter on my computer. As I doze off I think about the next day’s activities and get excited to do it all over again in the morning.