New, friendly faces seem to peer out from the woodwork. Every new coffeehouse we go to, or every new restaurant, or store, we end up engrossed in a long conversation about language, both English and Thai. We inevitably exchange emails and Facebook names. Seems like we make friends everywhere we go.
Sometimes the friends are long lasting and we’ll see them every couple of weeks. Sometimes the friendship is fleeting, lasting only a few minutes as we exchange hellos in English or Thai, a few sentences about who we are, where we’re going and whether or not we’ve eaten.
However we leave a conversation, I feel satisfied. Knowing that when I see them again (or, if I ever see them again), they’ll be a familiar and friendly face.
One lazy Saturday afternoon we dropped in on a new, unexplored coffee shop, scored the best breakfast brunch we’ve had yet in this sleepy town, and earned two new friends, who also happen to own the shop and love practicing their English on foreigners. And, as much as Thais love to practice their English on us, we love to practice our Thai on them. It’s a great exchange of ideas, information, culture and philosophies. Usually marked by a bit of fumbling and hand gestures as we each try to explain new words and phrases. Plus, I love the look of jovial delight and laughter that emerges on Thai faces as they watch the goofy-looking foreigners try to pronounce the difficult Thai words.
…Cut to a scene later in the afternoon on this auspicious Saturday (seems Thais and other Asian folk LOVE the word auspicious. I’m beginning to understand why…). You would find two American farangs lounging at a concrete picnic table outside a Buddha shrine in a cave tucked on the curve of a winding two-lane road leading from Nakhon to the craggy cliffs just to the west of town. We had paused to breath a little fresh air and grab a bottle of water. At a small two-shelf mart stocked with a few pencils, a few local sweets and a few bottles of water, a neighbor-lady with a penchant for purple eyeshadow sauntered over with her husband and a handful of mangosteens. She plopped them in our hands, offered a few phrases in Thai, nodded knowingly when I just shrugged and muttered I don’t understand in Thai. She pointed at the mangosteens, smiled and said their Thai name, then waved and walked away, happy with herself at making friends with the white people just passing through. A fleeting friend.
Then, on a relatively uneventful Wednesday afternoon, we ventured over to Princess Cafe, a small but chic coffeehouse nestled next to Ligor, one of our favorite bakeries, and Coppee, another favorite breakfast spot. The intention? Grade midterm exams over a couple cups of iced coffee and green tea. Unintentional, auspicious event: the young Thai woman behind the bar asked us, in near-perfect English, a clarification question about the green tea. After a three-hour long jawing over American TV, Thai food vs. Western food, and the perils and joys of teaching, we exchanged info with the woman, who turned out to be the shop’s owner as well as the daughter of both Ligor and Coppee’s owners.
As we walked to the motorbike, ready to leave, I reflected on the past few days and how many new friends we’d made. It feels quite good to know you have people looking out for you.
I’d love to mention all the people along the way, too. All the new friends we’ve made in LanguageCorps, both instructors and teachers. The friends in Nakhon, both foreigners and Thais. Our fellow teachers. People we’ve met traveling (the couple on their way from Koh Lanta to Malaysia, our friend and guesthouse owner in Penang, Jam the Monk in Cambodia)… the list goes on.