When you are a foreigner in another culture, every day things can make for an adventure. Whether you need to buy a bus pass and would like the know the differences between VIP and first class, if you want to know if the soup you are ordering contains intestines, if you want to return an item that doesn’t work, or tell the motortaxi driver that you want to go to that one restaurant on the corner run by the Chinese man who makes really good cashew chicken. You may know exactly where it is but you don’t know the name and you can’t communicate the directions. Your ride becomes a game of charades as you direct your driver from behind by tapping his shoulder and pointing where to go as he whizzes through traffic avoiding pushcarts, weaving motorists, and pedestrians. You hold on for dear life and hope he gets you there in one piece. Even the simple things can prove themselves comical, hilarious or downright frustrating. Like asking your landlady to help you unclog your toilet. You find yourself reverting to some ridiculous American baby talk as if you will somehow miraculously be understood. “Big problem. Toilet stuck. Water no go down. Can you fix? Today? Yes, please. Thank you.”
This is all a part of the allure of international travel. Nothing is familiar and so everything is new and exciting. What would normally be a mundane trip to the shopping market if you were at home becomes a multiple hour trip down aisles containing shiny strange packets of everything from chocolate to floor cleaner. Only you’ve never seen anything like it before and you can’t always read the labels. When you are lucky, there might be some English written on the packaging. “Spaketty.” Okay, then.
Using public bathrooms is always an adventure in utility. First, you have to locate one. Then you have to get there. If the only thing available is a squat toilet with no toilet paper, you better hope you have some in your bag or prepare to use the hose and bucket for a wash down. It’s always an exercise in muscle control – balancing yourself on the squat, positioning yourself in a way that you do not pee on your feet, holding your pants in just the right spot so you don’t pee on them either, all while fishing toilet paper out of the bag strapped to your shoulders while you swim in your own sweat, trying to swat that pesky fly from your face.
Today for instance, I went to my neighborhood restaurant, run by a woman we call Darling. She must’ve had the day off because another woman was running the place and was clearly in the weeds. I desperately wanted a smoothie but felt guilty asking her to make it as she was busy washing dishes, taking orders and trying to cook everyone’s food. So I took the reins, jumped behind the ice cream station and made a blueberry smoothie for myself. All while singing Kelis’ Milkshake. Thankfully she could not understand my English so it was just playful fun. It brought smiles to all the Thai faces, greatly embarrassed my Canadian mate, and I got what I wanted.
Getting the simple things done in a culture that is known to move a wee bit slower in the world requires flexibility, patience, innovation and humor. I think making an ass of yourself for the entertainment of others goes a long way! It breaks down the language barrier and opens people up. If nothing else, we all get a good laugh and move on with our day.