Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Afternoon Tea: Mango spiced with chilli & fish sauce.
Such is my need to belong, during my first week in Chiang Mai, I called into the English Language School and the Dog Shelter in the hope of engaging in some useful service. Despite my best efforts, it appeared too difficult for the staff to conjure productive ways and means in their day for an Aussie at loose ends. For the subsequent couple of days, I fell into a kind of malaise, with an inner dialogue running something like ‘bugger them’, ‘what the hell am I going to do with myself’, ‘I hate being a tourist’, ‘I’ve tried’ and ‘surely there’s something I can do’.
At National Elephant Day in Mae Rim province on the weekend, I spoke with a couple of ex-pats from America who’ve retired here and who, despite the government’s insistence they engage in no work including voluntary work, spend time helping out in the kitchen at the The Northern School for the Blind Under the Patronage of the Queen. An aha moment! Interestingly, while out walking on my first day I passed the blind school and my intuition said ‘go in’. As is sometimes the case, I ignored it.
So I’ve taken to spending a few hours there every day, in the massage school. The students range in age from 13 to 16, and all have nicknames, thank the lordy, because their real names are incredibly long and very difficult to get your mouth around. There’s Jip, Pop, Noi, Toy, Moo and Sa. And Irene! Often given by friends or an older family member, nicknames are typically one syllable, often humorous and/or nonsense words and translate into English as fatty, pig, little one, frog, banana, green, or girl/boy.
Every morning the children learn practical life skills and in the afternoon, under the tutelage of dedicated massage teachers, practise their hands-on massage technique on each other. Today I was massaged by Pop, a chubby 16-year old with a very persuasive nature. Because I’m twice as gangly as anybody else in the room, barely fitting on the mat, she threw my limbs around irreverently, giggling endlessly at my good-humoured gruffness and my ‘very goods’ and ‘mmmms’ and ‘aaaaahs’.
It seems however that my primary purpose is for the teachers to practise their English. I’m more than happy to be their guinea pig. With word getting out daily there’s a new girl on the block, teachers in the other campuses at the Institute are constantly walking through the door with grins as big as christmas.
I love them all and am beginning to feel quite attached!