10 July 2011

My Thai Neighborhood

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We have settled into the rhythms of Rainy Season life. This means carrying an umbrella whenever going out. At home we try to estimate how much non-rain time is in a given day in order to dry laundry outside. When the sun is out, it cooks, and the intense heat and humidity saps one’s strength. Evening rains are welcome relief from the heat.
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In my regular walks in our neighborhood, I have many acquaintances although language is usually a barrier to full conversation. But there is one taxi driver who is often standing about chatting in our neighborhood and he speaks very good English. There is also a guy on the corner who speaks good English and who sells various foodstuffs with his wife and whose sister is the best outdoor fruit vendor on the block. They are friendly and naturally curious because I’m the only farang (i.e., foreigner) in the neighborhood, and they ask me many questions on my background. I am slowly integrating myself into the neighborhood, but it is very slow due to my hermit nature.
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There is the guy who sells popcorn from his three-wheeled cart with a mounted popcorn cooker. In the morning he sets up by the bank, and in the afternoon he is by the police station. Nearby is the guy who fixes shoes (and who did an excellent job repairing my sports sandals). I have communicated to him some of the rather long marches I’ve taken in the city in the tropical heat, and he just smiles and shakes his head (crazy farang!). There are many other snack vendors and sidewalk restaurant owners that I see on every walk.
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The other day I was walking near the river and I came across a very old Thai man in a wheelchair whom I have seen often and have always nodded to in greeting. On this day he gave me a genuine military salute. Although surprised, I returned it. I am wondering if word of my military experience has been spread in the neighborhood.
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A small vacant lot along my walking route is being developed for some kind of building. The lot is a very small wedge-shaped one, and they are still preparing the ground. (Bangkok soil is unstable silt and mud, thus things sink, and so strong foundations are a major project.) The handful of workers involved now live on the site, and they have been building their own temporary living space – a tin shack, or rather one built entirely of thin corrugated steel sheets. Can you imagine how hot these will get in the tropical sun? Before they even had the walls finished, they put up a satellite TV dish. After all, there are priorities.
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I took an express boat ride down the Chao Phraya River last week, which I always enjoy. I saw a monitor lizard crawling up out of the river on some old concrete steps then over a low wall into someone’s front yard. Just tonight at dusk I was standing outside under the eaves enjoying the blissful cool of a hard rain, and I saw a monitor lizard (a 3-footer) slithering from our outdoor faucet to our sheltered butane cooker. They are extremely well camouflaged and hard to see, but my eye for them is getting better. They are also smart and quick, so I lost track of him when he retreated back into the dense foliage. They look like surviving dinosaurs.
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-Zenwind.
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