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America Ain’t Gonna Thai Me Down

Insane humidity. A regular-sized motorbike with an entire family aboard. Hoses next to each toilet to wash your bum. Saying, “what tf does that mean?” in your head consistently.

Welcome to Thailand, friends. I’ve been here for a little over a week and it’s just starting to hit me that I’m living and working in the Land of Smiles now. My family and friends are roughly 24 hours of travel away and we’re operating with an 11-hour time difference. I have never sweat so much in my life. You can usually find me nodding and grinning at the locals without any idea what they are saying to me.

I’ve been anticipating this move for nearly a year but all of the waiting and preparing was worth it. I’m probably going to look back at this post in November and L-O-L about my initial thoughts that I’m sure are laced with naivety. That being said, let’s get to it.

The language:

It’s no secret that Thai is a difficult language to learn. First of all, it uses characters that just look like fancy squiggles to the average American. Secondly, there are five different tones for each word, all with separate meanings. If you say “mai” with falling tone, it means “no” but if you say the same word with rising tone, it becomes a question word.

People often say it’s better to attempt the language when you’re traveling, if you can, rather than speaking English. I’m personally terrified of saying something offensive with my terrible pronunciation and American accent, especially because of this five-tone-five-meaning business. I like to think being immersed in the country and the culture will help me get a grip on more of the language but I make no promises.

The food:

There will be plenty of occasions when you’re not entirely sure what you’re eating. Most dishes include seafood or chicken, vegetables and mouth-numbing spices. However, I recommend tasting everything.

I’m not typically a big fan of fish but I’ve decided to try (almost) every dish that’s put in front of me. It has gone pretty well so far. I think everyone back home would be impressed by the amount of sea creatures and vegetables I’ve been eating.

Many Thai restaurants serve big meals to share a la what we call “family style” in the States. Get yourself a plate of rice then add a spoonful of each dish to determine which tastes appeal to you. Even if you’re into spicy food back home, tread with caution here in Thailand. Their “spicy” is like no spicy you’ve ever experienced before.

Thai people love to eat, and many will keep putting food on their plates until everything on the table is gone. As a little lady with an even littler appetite, I’m continuously shocked by how much equally tiny Thai people can put away.

The people:

Because Thailand is known as the Land of One Thousand smiles, one could assume the locals are quite pleasant. That assumption is correct. Thai culture involves lots of smiling, respecting those who are older than you and covering your skin when necessary.

In bigger cities such as Bangkok and Chonburi (my current location) young people often wear shorts or dresses above the knee and tops that reveal their shoulders. However, it’s important to cover up when you’re at school or at a temple.

If you’re not sure about the best way to dress for an occasion, opt for more coverage. It’s always hot here and wearing clothes that you would never don during the summer months at home isn’t fun, I won’t lie to you. But it’s a cultural norm that makes natives feel more comfortable. As a guest, you should respect these expectations and #dealwithit when sweat is pouring down your back. I don’t know when I turned into Ms. Tough Love because walking to school in the heat this morning was like slow torture.

But back to the people of Thailand. Mingle! It’s tempting to stick by fellow westerners because that’s more comfortable and they understand your woes. This camaraderie is definitely important, especially after a rough day at school or homesick afternoons when everyone in America is asleep. However, befriending Thai people is the best way to immerse yourself in the culture and find that worldview you’re likely seeking. Show them you’re excited to be here and you’re interested in learning about their lives… and friendships are sure to follow.

Follow me on Instagram (@christinehaze) and Twitter (@chrishayes65) for updates on my time in Thailand between blog posts.

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