I will be leaving Fang when my semester ends the first week of March. I hadn't planned to leave so soon, but my wife took a job in a town 15 hours south from here and I will join her as soon as I can. We will be in the province of Chaiyaphum, a part of the Issan area in Thailand. I will talk more about that in later posts. For now, I will reflect on my last six months.
When I was growing up, one of the first television shows I ever watched was The Andy Griffith Show. One of the stars was my age so I felt an affinity to him and his situation. The show took place in the mythical town of Mayberry, a small town in North Carolina with one street down the middle, a few stop lights, a barber, a school, and Sheriff Andy. Mayberry was the sort of town where most everyone knew each other and strangers were easy to point out. You felt safe and confident that tomorrow would be as good as today. Fang is my Mayberry.
I arrived here an inexperienced teacher, thinking this place was too isolated for me and that I needed something bigger; perhaps Chiang Mai to the south instead. My first weeks I was here alone, as Nee hadn't arrived yet, so I had to fend for myself. No one knew me, as I would expect. I knew enough Thai to order a meal, and that was about it. Yet, I persisted. I attended classes each day, came in with a smile to each class and was greeted with the same. I struggled to understand what I could do to help my students and how I could fit in to such an alien world. The few American teachers that were here retreated into their own world. Then I was put into the office with the ninth grade teachers and I had the opportunity to sit next to Malee. She is a Thai English teacher with a sincere smile and a warm heart and she did all she could to help me survive. She brought me snacks in the morning, let me complain about my problems with classes, and gave me ideas about what to do. We became friends.
Over time, students have come to trust me and even come to me for help. When I go shopping, they come up to me to say hello, and even give me assistance, if I needed it. My desire to run to Chiang Mai began to diminish. My bike arrived and I have been able to get out into the country, to see the real Thailand.
If you are considering dropping everything and moving to Thailand to "experience" a foreign culture, here is my recommendation. Stay out of the cities, the Starbucks and anything with an English menu. Learn to help yourself and help others. Smile at everyone as they will always smile back. Be sincere. Be prepared to see things you never imagined in your home country. Drop your western ideals and accept that things here are never going to be like home. I have been able to drop most of the material things I always considered critical for existence and managed to still be comfortable. When I wanted something to eat that wasn't Thai, I figured out how to make it myself. Find out what you truly need versus what you want.
I have come to enjoy the mundane views of cows in the field, workers hand-planting corn and the sight of flying lanterns. I have found patience I never knew I had and I have found success I never thought possible. Living here isn't for everyone, of course. Perhaps I will someday move back to the US, should my finances allow it. On the other hand, few things are more beautiful than a room full of students singing off-key and mispronouncing lyrics.