Thai Travelogue. Teacher Ka-Lee gets into hug position.


Teaching English in Chiang Mai in exchange for room and board. The kids probably think I’m weird, but it’s because I love them, like, I’m really crazy about them. I can’t stop smiling at them. It’s got nothing to do with biological clocks. I still don’t want a kid of my own.

But these kids.

These kids with their polite gooood mahhning teachuuh Ka-Lee and the way they let their little hand rest on your leg when they show you their drawings. Their Angry Birds themed, over-dressed, long-sleeved bathing attire, and matching bathing caps. And their smiles: shy, semi-toothless, genuine. I don’t know how to talk about smiles without getting all cliché on you, but I’d heard there was something special about the Thai brand of smile, and I heard right. It’s not just a routine tightening of facial musculature, it’s an event. A little bit of good passes into you. And you can give some back, if you remember to be present while it’s happening. This isn’t easy for me. I often forget to be present during hugs, too. I had a friend who used to get me into hug position, and then remind me to pay attention to what was happening. Hugging. He was a good friend.

I’m very homesick lately, and homesickness isn’t pretty. Sometimes it manifests as a complete refusal to accept what is going on around me, this exotic other-ness I traveled so far to experience. Sometimes it’s pure panic: when the air gets too hot and too close, and I can’t see the landscape for the smog. Today, I want to cry. That’s it, I want to cry, and I’m embarrassed because this is “vacation,” and vacation is supposed to be perfect and I’m lucky to be here, and what the hell is wrong with me. Selfish. #Firstworldproblems. All of those things. I still want to cry. One lonely thought cascades into the next, and pretty soon home is a paradise beyond compare- and way beyond reality.

But I’m less alone here than I’ve been this whole trip. I’ve got an entire class of Thai kids who aren’t quite sure what to make of this Godzilla-sized Farang with the black hair and the light skin, who just keeps asking them to repeat “I like rice soup” over and over and over. And over. And smiling.

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