Friday, May 8, 2009

What is Thai for "Terrible Parents?"

Mehpaw Mai Dee: A Cautionary Tale

When I got off the plane, it was raining and midnight. The reaction among passengers was universal, communicated by gulped breaths and wide eyes: You have got to be kidding me. It was a sauna, and a hot flash, and a mild stroke all at once. My sweat glands turned on and turned off a year later. I was fifteen.

Thailand is neither Heaven or Hell but, depending on where you’re standing, it can feel like either or both at once. The people are warm, welcoming, and gorgeous. The landscape is breathtaking, from the misty jungles of the North to the white sand beaches of the South. Prices are affordable, and anything can be bought. The German men waddling through the streets with their stunning eighteen year old wives, and no less than two of my host mothers fighting cervical cancer speaks to the resulting industries. A Buddhist monk smokes a cigarette and holds a Coke, whistling when I walk by. Pad thai? Heaven. Pad thai with too much prik sauce? Hell.

In defense of the monk who cat called me, everyone cat called me. I blushed bright red (so cute!) and sunk into my seat while my host mother drove me to school on my first day. A truck full of young men had pulled ahead of us, and they were all hooting, pointing, and yelling at me in broken English. I was flattered, and offended, and absolutely mortified. After a couple of days, the novelty wore off and I learned to stare at the ground.

Joking with a fellow exchange student, we wondered what we would have to do to get this much attention in North America. We decided that we would need to be naked, and bright blue, and possibly Britney Spears. I signed autographs and posed for photographs. I shook the (limp and uncomfortable) hand of Thai pop stars. And this was still in my teenage awkward stage.

I once jumped from a moving tuktuk. Another girl bolted from a motorcycle taxi after her driver turned down the wrong street, telling her that he loved her and was taking her to his home. My fellow blue naked friend was assaulted by her host father. I can’t think of a single girl of our exchange district who wasn’t sexually assaulted (in a physical way). Boys fared better (only one had a drink-spike in a club). They departed the country with a plethora of stunning anecdotes, like the elevator conversation: “Hi. I am gay.” “…....” “I am a homosexual.” “…I have a bellybutton?”

Side note incredibly worth the journey:
Thailand has three sexes, with gay and transgendered men forming a loosely defined, culturally accepted third sex known as ‘gateuys.’ On a whim, or perhaps a lost bet, fellow exchangee Cale let us line his eyes and red his lips before a night at a club, where he sat down with a group of Thai young women: “I’m a gateuy, but I like girls.” They smiled coyly until one volunteered: “We’re lesbians, but we like gateuys.” He went home with two.
(Cale left the country with a god complex and a fungal infection. I love you, Cale!)

Which isn’t to say that there wasn’t fun for the girls. I doubt any of us regretted our journey, or would give it up for the world. There are so many bizarre experiences flooding through my repression-prone mind at the moment that I don’t know which ones to transcribe: the second degree sunburns, being wrapped in a twelve foot python at the water market (I was just trying to take a picture), or walking beneath an underpass when a man sprang up, five feet ahead, holding a knife. Elephants, everywhere, and too many fruit that I haven’t seen since and only know by their Thai names. Temples and ruins of former temples. Songkran. Palm trees.

And as my skin beads with dewy nostalgia and remember the endless, suffocating heat with a warm, content Thai smile, I have only one question to leave you with: What the fuck were our parents thinking?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Trials of an Average Monday

A swarthy band of banana slugs has taken up residence in my backyard compost bin. I gulp back waves of nausea and close the compost door, trying to shake the image of tiny drops of pure goo (baby slugs, I presume). I vow to learn how to kill the things with beer to protect my garden, and wonder what brand of beer they’ll like. My composting plans are indefinitely kaput.

Returning to my room, I note with panic the banana on my DVD player, which has started its spotty metamorphosis from delicious yellow to disgusting brown. I wonder, desperately, if I could manage to eat it - I cannot. I wonder if I could throw it in the garbage just this once - no, no, I cannot. Liberal guilt is a terrible affliction. I remember the two mangoes expiring on my shelf - oh god, the mangoes. (It’s probably for the best that I completely forgot the thriving ecosystem of my crisper drawer.) What, for the love of Earth, could I do?

I grab a small bucket and add some dirt, the banana, and the mangoes, which had begun to ooze (I was traumatized by flashbacks to baby slugs). I close the lid, and then open it again to add a backyard of harvested dog poo. There was an egg shell inexplicably on my back pathway - I threw it in, too. Okay. No slugs. If I understand science correctly (I most certainly don’t), this will yield some sort of dirt in a couple month’s time that my garden will love.

Crisis successfully averted.


I am walking home from work. It’s been a particularly heinous evening and by 12pm, when I leave the drop in, I am seething with poorly suppressed rage. The bus is late, and I smile politely at the driver and take my seat. My iPod thinks I want to listen to the Beatles. I do not want to listen to the Beatles. Yet another round of Paperback Writer makes me want to hunt down and kick Paul McCarthy. I decide this would be difficult, and instead focus on getting home. The bus eventually drops me off eight blocks from my house.

The final eight blocks are, generally, a pleasure - the area is residential, the cherry trees are blooming, and the sidewalks well lit. There is some traffic (a car every minute or so), and compared to downtown it is infinitely peaceful - on clear nights, you can see the stars.

After a bad night, however, any quiet inevitably feels like the calm before yet another storm. I feel acutely aware of every passing car and fellow pedestrian, bristling and ready for a fight (or, more likely, a slow and incompetent flight). I am aware of the moon, the eerie energy, and my own tiny and vulnerable stature. I want to be locked indoors with my puppies.

Two blocks from my house, I glance over my shoulder at two cars coming up the otherwise deserted road. A minute later, one car had passed me; the other had not. I walk a little faster and fish through my purse for my cellphone as the second car continues to tail me, slowly, creepily, for a full half block. I wonder if I should stop, or run, or turn onto a more deserted side street. I watch the car’s headlights in my peripheral vision, stiffening.

Finally, it passes me, and stops at the curb ten feet ahead.

It’s a fucking police cruiser. The driver rolls down his window to ask, with concern, “Is everything okay, ma’am?”

Well now it is, jackass.


My little sister has pneumonia. I suspect swine flu. My mother does not suspect swine flu, and was most discourteous when I suggested that her judgment had been impaired by fever due to swine flu. My mother does not want to talk to me during global pandemics any more.

I remain concerned.


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Ode to Mary Poppins

Dearest World,
I am at a loss for words today.

During a bout of singing off-key in the shower, I stumbled upon the following song of amazingness, seared into my brain after watching the live musical production of Mary Poppins night after night during my three months in London (I worked as an usher, or front of house staff, and had to 'supervise the audience' every night and matinee). This may be a poor substitute for a post, and is certainly better in person, where I can show you the choreographed dance that I memorized, in which I spell out the corresponding letters with various flailed limbs. However, it's the best I can do after a 15 hour workday of death yesterday and my eight hour shift (also of death) today. Therefore, I present:

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious: an essay on the word's potential historic uses and superior lexical abilities

When trying to express oneself, it's simply quite absurd to leap through lengthy lexicons to find the perfect word. A little spontaneity keeps conversation keen. You need to find a way to say precisely what you mean. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious, if you say it loud enough you'll always sound precocious, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

When stone-age men were chatting, simply grunting would suffice, but if they’d heard this word they might’ve used it once or twice. I’m sure Egyptian Pharaohs would have grasped it in a jiff, then every single pyramid would bear its hieroglyph. Oh, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, even though the sound if it is something quite atrocious, if you say it loud enough you’ll always sound precocious, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

The Druids would have carved it on their mighty monoliths. The Ancient Greeks, I’m certain, would have used it in their myths. I’m sure the Roman Empire only fell into abyss because those Latin scholars never had a word like this. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious: if you say it softly the effect can be hypnocious. Check your breath before you speak in case it’s halitocious, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

So if the cat has got your tongue, there’s no need to dismay. Just summon up this word, and then you’ve got a lot to say. Pull out those eighteen consonants, and sixteen vowels as well, and put them in an order which is very hard to spell.