I’m sitting at my Singer sewing table, eating a breakfast of my usual fruit and toast. I imagined myself eating fresh mango every morning, but it turns out I wake well before anybody thinks of opening a fruit stand or a coffee shop. I spread jam on my bread with a spoon because I haven’t seen a knife for sale anywhere. Soon, I’ll drink my coffee from a water glass because a mug is something as equally hard to find.
This is a typical Thai morning for me. I write while I eat because the television isn’t hooked up yet. I listen to music on my computer, backed by the sounds of waking neighbors, chirping birds, singing crickets, hungry cows, barking dogs, angry chickens and stupid roosters through my always open wooden windows. The roosters never know what time of day it is, but in Thailand, neither does anyone else.
Once I’m caffeinated, I’ll work up the courage to stand in the middle of my tiled bathroom and let freezing water rain down on me. This is what the Thai’s call a shower. A bath would be scooping water from a bucket filled from the faucet and pouring it over my head; the same bucket from which I use to flush the toilet. I’m lucky to have a western toilet instead of a squatting one, but it still doesn’t flush. I too must pour water in and watch it disappear into a holding tank. There’s no sewer system, so it works like an outhouse except I don’t have to look at it. When it’s full, it will start to smell and someone will come drain it.
My place is charming (though it doesn’t sound like it). It sits in a nice neighborhood with a small lake for fishing just across the street. I’m surrounded by fruit trees and friendly locals.
In a town where short-term foreigners are a new concept, furnished housing is nearly impossible to find. I got lucky, though the furniture is sparse, and the air conditioner nonexistent.
Unlike Fred, Sly sneaks between the living room and bedroom, catching me off guard and causing me to shriek at least once a day. I tell myself I let them stay because they’re doing a good job of eating mosquitoes. But really, they’re too fast for me to sweep them outside.
I’ve never felt more Thai than when I’m sweeping my tile floors with a grass broom. On any given day, you can walk by a Thai house and see a woman bent over a two-foot tall stick, sweeping the bugs and dirt away. The only difference between her and I? The bugs don’t escape my house alive.
I’m about as Thai as I’m willing to become.
My bedroom consists of a wardrobe, a small end table, and a bed that’s quite possibly made of bricks. The first night I went to jump in and my arm nearly overextended. I was prepared for a soft, cushioned landing, but what I crashed down on was a surface that could easily have been the pile of concrete slabs that line my parkway. I know there’s evidence that sleeping on a hard surface is good for your back, but I completely disagree.
The living room is quite spacious, but it looks even bigger with only a wood bench the Thai’s call a couch, the unhooked T.V., a fan and the table I’m sitting at now.
When I first looked at the house, my landlady, Nuey, told me it would be a week before it was ready, which meant fresh paint, a working T.V., and hot water. I gave her exactly seven days before I showed up with all of my belongings (two bags), ready to move in. And it looked exactly the same.
Two weeks later, I’m still waiting. I see Nuey every weekday after school. She’s also a teacher, and my house appears to be the meeting place for her family. She loves to sit and chat for hours around my concrete table on the porch – she practices her English while I add a few more Thai words to my short list.
“Is everything okay?” she asks at the end of each conversation.
“Yes, of course,” I say, “but when do you think you’ll get to the nam?” I exaggerate a shiver to show my distaste for cold water showers. The blotchy walls and silent T.V. are much lower on my priority list.
“I think maybe tomorrow we put it in for you,” is her standard reply. She’s one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, so I remind myself that her empty promises aren’t her fault. It’s because she’s Thai.
And now that I’m living here, I must reset my watch to Thai time, which means turn it off or remove it completely.
In Thailand, clocks are simply not a staple piece of furniture.