Once you get out of rural Thailand it is amazing how many foreigners there are. This is especially true in Chumphon, the province I live in, where many tourists pass through on their way to a famous chain of islands on the gulf of Thailand. Those islands, though incredibly beautiful, have completely lost their authenticity and are made up of more foreigners than Thai people. When I first arrived in Thailand with the Peace Corps I found this quite frustrating. I had signed up to work specifically with the Peace Corps to be totally immersed in a different culture. To experience life where I was the other. Where I was one of only a handful who experienced the new, mystical place that I would call home for two years. But, overtime, I have realized I am still getting this experience. Even though Thailand as a whole is one of the most visited, if not the most visited country in the world, many people are never able to experience Thailand in the way I have been able to over the past year and a half.
I am reminded of this the most when I have visitors from the states visit my site. Last week my close friend, Irina, and her fiancé Lucas came to my site for three days. They visited the two schools and accompanied me in my day to day activities. They got to interact with Thai people first hand by helping in my classes, playing football with the kids, eating meals on the floor with my family, and being treated like a celebrity simply for being a westerner. Even though they faced some challenges, like waking up to a giant lizard, or dtuk-gey, next to the bed, finding a scorpion in their bathroom, getting comfy on a squat toilet, and lots of misquito bites, they had a lot of fun and enjoyed being a different kind of tourist in Thailand.
The students really enjoyed interacting with Irina and Lucas. They went into each of my classes and the students interviewed them. I was so proud of my students, who were much more inspired to practice English with new “farangs,” the Thai word for anyone from the west, than they are with me anymore. One girl even asked them, “Will you play football with me in the afternoon?” in perfect English. The students really enjoyed learning about the different states in the USA, who barely knew the continents before this class. The highlight of their visit at the schools was when Lucas, a professional opera singer, sang some selections for the class. He sang everything from opera, to country, to beatboxing. To all of our surprise each class said the opera songs were their favorite, even though many of them covered their ears and made bewildered facial expressions when they heard it for the first time!