Sometimes I seriously wonder what the people of Thailand think of us in terms of our intelligence and language ability. Those two things really do go hand in hand here, at least as far as first impressions go.
I’m sure you’ve all heard it before, the idea that in order to assimilate well into your new host culture, you must first go back to being like a baby. You’re in new surroundings, don’t know your way around, often have no clue at all what you are eating (and whether or not you should be ingesting it at all in the first place), and can’t understand a flippin thing going on around you. What language are they speaking?! Oh, that’s right, it’s Thai. I speak English. They’re not the same.
As romantic and whimsical as the idea of going back to being a child seems, I can tell you that the wonder wears off after a while and all you’re stuck with is inabilities, dependence on those who are able, and a feeling of uselessness. I don’t mean to be a killjoy, a downer, complainer, or whatever else though – it’s these feelings that will [hopefully] help spur you on then to learn about the community, figure out how to live, and strive to speak the language of the locals. The whole hopelessness thing is a great motivator, and thankfully, Brook and I have been able to use these feelings to our advantage.
No matter how hard we try sometimes, we still fail. Sometimes miserably, sometimes embarrassingly… and sometimes hilariously! I really do wonder what the Thai people we (and other foreigners who attempt to speak this confusing tonal language) speak to think of us when we make such silly mistakes and say things that make absolutely no sense at all.
There are times that I know I sound like a complete and utter idiot.
I find that amusing.
There was that one time I was telling the story of Jesus healing a blind man. Jesus called the man closer to him in order to – as I should have said – touch his eyes. I told my friend that Jesus wanted to kick the man in the eye.
There was that one morning Brook and I were sitting in a small clinic at 7:00, making small-talk with the doctor while waiting for the blood-drawing station to open. When asked if I spoke I Thai (as Brook had been doing the chatting up until that point), I politely told the kind doctor that I was, in fact, a chair and that’s why I didn’t speak up. It took me two minutes to figure out that I needed to go back and tell him that I was actually shy, not an inanimate object that can’t speak. He was relieved, I’m sure.
Definitely can’t forget that one time I was trying to tell a little girl at our English club that I thought she looked very pretty that day. I actually told her she was very unlucky – which in a wildly superstitious culture is a BIG no-no.
Oh, and today, at the end of my lessons, I told my tutor that I was going to visit the “dog rain” this afternoon. Brook, when trying to tell a friend and neighbor about the same plans, said that today he would be taking me to the “sky doctor.” In reality, I went to the dentist.
Go ahead, laugh! I am. It’s a good thing God gave me a sense of humor and the ability to laugh at myself (and Brook), or else I’m not sure what I’d do. I like to think of myself as an intelligent person – I always did well in school, have a college degree, have won many awards based on academics, and blahblahblah. The thing is, nobody here knows any of that. Neither do they know how well I can speak and convey my thoughts in my own native tongue, because they don’t understand it. Rather, I speak Thai in simple sentences, using a limited (and often incorrect) vocabulary. I speak and need to be spoken to in a slower rate than others my own age.
And, as far as they know, I just might believe that I really am going to see the sky doctor. 🙂