Wednesday, May 15, 2013

That Look

Have you ever told someone about something only to figure out at the end of your explanation that they had no idea what you just said?

How do you know? That look on their face, of course. I am constantly either making that blank stare complete with gently smiling face, or being confronted by it. Some are better at selling it than others, so I find out only days later when said conversation never comes to fruition, or someone takes me to a new temple when I thought we were going to the hospital. Sometimes the conversations happen over the phone and I say something like, "What should I wear?" which is somehow translated to, "I don't want to go." That was a good one.

I laugh at this, of course. I can't be expected to be as great at Thai as I'd like in just four months and I know that the educational system that teaches English here has some holes, hence my serving in this position. So, I let it inform me. I try to study the scenarios I feel I fell short in recently, and I attempt to be patient with those who would rather save their own face than say, "I don't understand."

Speaking of that phrase, I have become an absolute champ of saying Thai, of course. "Mai cow jai," has become the fifth most common phrase that I find myself saying. This is just behind: hello, delicious, I ate already, and thank Thai, of course.

Today, I had to say it when a well-meaning co-worker said, in English, "Do you have strong water?" I interpreted him to be asking if I had whiskey in my water, since the majority of Thai men drink this in their down-time, but I was at work, a woman, and couldn't believe he would be asking me such a question. I asked him to repeat the question, but say it in Thai, at which point he asked, "Mii nahm kheng mai?" (Do you have ice?) The literal translation of nahm kheng is "strong water" and I had never realized it thanks to my great Thai language instruction that steered me clear of translation in favor of real learning by identification of word with object, not word with word. 

There have been times when I was trying so hard to understand Thai only to realize that my friends were attempting to speak in English with either faulty vocabulary or pronunciation. Once, I might have asked to repeat slower because my Thai wasn't strong enough, yet, only to have them admit they were speaking English. Oopsies!

With school beginning and even more camps and seminars in the works, this look is sure to follow me wherever I go, but I'm learning to love it. The wide eyes. The innocent smile. The slow blinks.

Oh, that look.


  1. Just re-reading some of your old blogs in addition to reading this one for the first time. The writing is so beautifully descriptive, so much so that I can feel in my heart and see in my mind the emotions and expressions as I read them. What a grand journey your life is taking you on, Jessie dear, with you, of course, as a willing participant and eager student. I see so much growth and commitment (not a surprise), it is inspirational. Love you, dear one. I hold you carefully and sweetly in my heart until we meet again.

  2. I'm so glad you're reading this, and humbled by your words of praise. There is a lot of growth happening but it's a roller coaster ride, so it's not always easy to notice the profound changes that have occurred.