Los Angeles has a China Town, Korean Town, Olvera Street (Mexican heritage), Little Armenia, and so much more. I’ve had Chinese neighbors, Greek neighbors, German neighbors and neighbors from Latin America. I attended college with exchange students from Japan, Singapore, Spain and India. I can walk down a busy street and hear five different languages in three different dialects. Needless to say, I have seen a lot of diversity in my short life in California. Thus, being one of two white women in a small city in Thailand has come as a bit of a shock to me.
I am stared at everywhere I go. Actually, I’m not sure if stare is a strong enough word for what local people do to us “farangs” in our little town of Lang Suan. Conversations are stopped the second I open my door, ride my bike down the street, or enter the grocery store. Little kids aren’t sure what to think about this strange white woman. They stare with their mouths wide open and as soon as I smile, they yell, “Farang, farang, farang.” Trust me, it gets old after awhile. But then again, I am in their territory, and most people in the town have seldom left, thus seeing a white woman in person is quite a showstopper.
As daunting as it has been to adjust, I feel at home. I used to just feel intimidated and would avert my eyes whenever someone looked at me. I would get annoyed when I would receive the common “cat-call” of “HELLO!” from both men, women and children. I used to feel completely self conscious when I tried to smile at someone and received nothing but a blank stare in return. But now I don’t. I’ve accepted it. I make eye contact as much as I can, I wave, smile and yell “hello” right back, and I smile regardless if I get one back. I have more confidence and there’s nothing like the feeling of changing that blank stare on a child’s face into a smile.
Even still, living in a small Thai town isn’t a walk in the park and the particular street I live on does not make it much easier. I live on a cul-de-sac type street, with the street’s dead-end at the railroad tracks. Yes, that’s right, railroad tracks. They are approximately twenty yards from my house, and you guessed it, there are trains running all night long. That wasn’t too difficult to get used to, but I had another hurdle that I had never encountered: roosters. There might be a common misconception about roosters floating around. Apparently, they’re only supposed to crow in the morning right? Well, not the roosters next door. They must find something dawn-like about every hour of the day and night, because they pretty much never stop. Once again, the rhythmic crowing of a rooster does not keep me up at night and even though the next door neighbor’s German Shepherd seems to be another night owl, who senses danger every thirty minutes or so, it’s not the nights that have been hard to get through.
It’s the mornings.
In America, cul-de-sacs are known for their serenity and solitude. No sounds of cars whizzing by. Not a lot of foot traffic. The perfect place to live a quiet life. Well, my little street didn’t get that memo. I am usually woken up around six, sometimes even five, by screaming children, yelling workman, and trucks that make my house rumble. I have to leave my windows open or else my house will turn into an oven and I live across from an unknown warehouse, where trucks apparently need to honk their horns, blast their music, and unload their cargo all before 7AM.
But I live.
And it all makes it worth it after thirty minutes of chasing the neighbor kids around the streets and attempting to teach them how to give high fives, which they still haven’t picked up yet, but I’m pretty confident they will. It makes it worthwhile when my landlord brings me bananas from his tree about once a week, even though bananas are the one food in this world that make me cringe and when he asks me the real translation of the old English proverb: Whatever is good for the goose, is good for the gander. I’ve seen little chicks hatch and grow up. I’ve seen children sprinting home from school as if seeing getting home was going to keep them alive. I’ve heard fathers and grandfather’s make the weirdest noises cooing a baby to sleep. I’ve seen and heard so much love on my street that I feel privileged to live there.
I love being a part of that little community even if I can’t speak the language. Smiling and laughing is enough.
I may gripe and moan about my lack of sleep, but at the end of the day, I fall asleep with a smile on my face…about six times a night.