Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Thai in Titanic

I was six-years-old in November of 1997 when Titanic was released to much critical and audience acclaim.  I loved that film. I sang my “Heart Will Go On” to anyone who would listen and sometimes to myself in the mirror. I shared Titanic trivia with grown-ups I’d just met, “Hello Sir, did you know that if Titanic had hit the iceberg head on instead of veering away, it probably wouldn’t have sunk?”  I liked that tawdry scene in the back of a car. I knew one day I would love someone as much as Rose loved Jack. I also knew that if I ever actually saw Titanic, I'd sob as Rose delivered those infamous lines, “I’ll never let go, Jack,” while she was in fact, letting go. At the age of six my favorite movie was one I had never seen.

To those who know me well, this dedication to an abstraction will come as no surprise. In 1994-95, despite only kind of liking the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons, I took on the alter-ego of Raphael (the turtle with the red mask) for more than a year. When my dad brought home a pretty pink cake for my fourth birthday on Valentine’s Day, I threw a tantrum until he went to the store and bought four thick ugly green candles to stick on top. My Grandma, who was worried about my mental state, confronted my delusion by offering up some very enticing brand-new smelly markers, only for Emily, not Raphael. I held tight to my alter-ego and skipped out on the markers.

In spring of 1997, by the time the Star Wars Trilogy was re-released in theaters, I was already a huge fan. Han Solo and lightsabers were the new objects of my fanaticism.  1978 Harrison Ford was my first crush (and I believe, continues to influence my choice in men). Reenacting scenes for the sci-fi classic was my favorite pastime.

 By November of that same year I had all but forgotten TMNT, and though I sometimes still fantasized about blasting off in the Millennium Falcon with the man of my dreams, I was shopping for a new fixation. I settled on Titanic. Back in the late 90s, Titanic was all anyone talked about. I think they talked about OJ too, but I don’t really remember. In the Pre-9/11 world what else was there to talk about?

I wanted to talk about Titanic too! And I wanted to watch Titanic. I would beg my parents to let me actually watch it. To which they argued that Titanic was rated PG-13 and it was not appropriate for six- year-olds, "You can watch it when you turn thirteen." When my best friend Ashley got the VHS box set a few months later as a birthday present from her mom, I almost lost it. Ashley’s parents let her watch Titanic! Everybody is watching Titanic! Why can’t I watch Titanic!?

Sharon and Elton had caved on the no-PG-13-movies-until-you’re-thirteen thing by the time the Mask of Zorro came out in 1998. But it was too late, I no longer cared about James Cameron’s 1997 Oscar-winning masterpiece. I think once, now to my great shame, I called Leonardo DiCaprio, “lame.” Sorry Leo! My Celine Dion performances became few and far between (though I still staged occasional lightsaber fights). I could still be heard sharing unsolicited tidbits of Titanic trivia but most of my attention was turned to boy bands, specifically, Backstreet Boys. “I Want it that Way” was my new anthem and “My Heart Will Go On” was...let’s be honest also kind of lame.

Because of its place in pop culture history, I probably would have gone back and watched Titanic. Probably as a bored Peace Corps Volunteer, I would have been like, “hmmm…I’ve never actually seen Titanic. I should illegally download it and watch it.” And because of my compromised emotional state, I probably would have sobbed when Rose let Jack slip from that mahogany door into the frigid North Atlantic.

But I didn’t have to wait until my twenties to finally watch the film the defined the latter half of my sixth year. My dad, because he’s just that-kind-of-guy, remembered that it was my elementary school dream to watch Titanic on my thirteenth birthday. Along with the pink-heart-shaped cake without big ugly green candles that you must learn to embrace when you are born on V-Day, my dad gave me the Special Edition Titanic DVD. February 14th 2014, I fell in love with Titanic all over again and even teared up a little as Rose promised she’d never let go.

My high school bestie and college roomie, Natalie, and I expressed our mutual love and devotion to Titanic, to the 1500 souls lost their lives on that ill-fated Atlantic crossing, and most importantly, to Jack Dawson by celebrating Titanic Remembrance day every year on April 14th. It’s really moving.

As a PCV, I also express my love by sometimes performing a karaoke rendition of “My Heart Will Go” when I’m tipsy. Recently, I’ve found a new way to share American culture with my elementary students through Titanic; it makes me so happy.

at age 22, I’m inclined to agree with Mom and Dad that Titanic is not a suitable movie for children under thirteen. That has not stopped me, however, from adapting my favorite movie for the stage, starring my nine-year-old students.


video
Auditions.Who would you choose?

Every year PCVs put on a theater festival for Thai students. The festival,  TYT- Thai Youth Theater- is a  great chance for rural kids from around the country to improve their English, gain confidence, and generally, show their stuff. My students are thrilled that this year's event is being held in Lopburi, Thailand's monkey capital.

As it were, I am lucky enough to have as a co-teacher, the one person in Thailand who loves Jack Dawson almost as much as I do. She rallied the students and by consensus we decided to perform my first-ever attempt at a script, Thai'tanic. 

Because my reverent, almost-religious devotion of the film, the first-draft of my adaption could be described as melodramatic...or maybe just lame, when you imagine it being performed by fifth-graders. During auditions I realized the kids were having trouble conveying emotion using tone of voice. Which...you know, makes sense because Thai is a tonal language. When I found myself adding Thai tone marks to the script, I realized this production was going to be funny. 

Thai media is always funny, well not to me, but to Thai people it is. Even in the most dramatic TV, movies, and music videos there are always goofy sound effects and comedic relief to break the mounting tension. If I were actually inject 'Thainess' into the play it would have to a silly version of Titanic; it would probably include a choreographed Thai dance number. The ship might even have set sail from Southampton to Bangkok. My very serious fifteen play has turned into a very silly twenty-five minute show. 

Since 2000, I've gone through a number of other 'phases' that may have alarmed my Grandmother just as much as Raphael. My current fixation is Thailand- the people, the food, the weather, the kids. I eat, live, and breath Thailand. It's a passion far more concrete and As an adult  in 2013, I get to share the obsession of my youth with my my new obsession, my Thai students. I am  bringing to together my favorite things, I am putting the Thai in Titanic.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Writer, Unblocked

 I haven't blogged in a long time. I thought about blogging. I wrote a couple paragraphs on a variety of seemingly interesting topics. But I had succumbed to writer's block. I could never flesh out any of my stories into a worthwhile post. 

This may be because my in first year of Thailand blogging I drew from a deep well of bitterness and snark and unfortunately for Siam I Am the liquid bitterness in that well must have evaporated and been replaced by Nitrous Oxide because I've spent most of my days since April walking around with a huge dopey grin. I can't even wipe the Forest Gump-look-on-my-face off long enough to eke out a slightly cynical and self-deprecating post.  

The other possible source of my writer's block was a dearth of material. It's not that ridiculous  things never happen anymore. My Thai nickname, for example is Jasmine (or as I like to imagine it being spelled, Jazzmyne- which if you've read Freakonmics puts the education level of my co-teacher who gave the nickname at about 11th grade). Speaking of ridiculous, last month I went to an uber-phallic Thai fertility/ghost festival, definitely possible blog-fodder. Then there was the time I was an ASEAN princess. I went to a Thai rap concert. There was the time I went to a tropical island, swam in a waterfall, and made a sandcastle. Who could forget the time I got lost near the Laos border with some friends and was force-fed Mango salad. I frequently help distribute welfare payments and pose for pictures with the paraplegics to prove they're disabled. Once a heard a meow and found a stray cat in my house, still not sure how the cute little ball of trouble got in. But I just don't look at these things the same way this year. It all would have felt so much more preposterous in 2012; 2012 was the year of "preposterousness."
         Sandcastles in the Sand
         The time I swam in a waterfall.

   Ghost with Penis
 ASEAN Princess, Jazzmyne
              
  That cat wouldn't go home.
           
  Thai Rap
                   
        Adventures near Laos
     
This "quotidian absurdity," if you will, just doesn't merit a 500+ words in the blogosphere. Cultural idiosyncrasies that once would have driven me up the wall and inspired any number of ranting posts are now hilarious. Events like Thai'knappings are so commonplace I hardly remember them. 

That being said, something absurd and irritating enough happened to me and award-winning blogger, Sara Kline, yesterday to inspire my first post in four months. So what was it that finally unblocked my inner-writer? Lets see how many words I can expound on the subject.

 Sara and were kicked off a tour bus and left on the side of a highway somewhere in Northern Thailand.

Okay, so maybe just Twenty words. Guess it wasn't that great of a story after all. This writer is still blocked.

     Bus pulling away.
                







Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The March 2013 One Hundred Baht Challenge

I read this essay to a group of fellow volunteers and PC staff at a conference this week. The first few paragraphs are excerpted from a previous post but the rest is new.

I'd like to thank my PCV friend, Mike Hamby for his editing help.

I'm taking an online course on global poverty offered by MIT through EdX, one of those free online class websites. The professors, Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banjeree are rock stars of sorts in the economic development world. They're renowned for their groundbreaking and often surprising poverty research. One of the lectures topics for the class was on nutrition. Some of the presented material was particularly unexpected to me, until I considered my own life as a broke Peace Corps Volunteer.

Duflo and Banjeree found that when families living below the poverty line were given an additional expenditure for food, they did not buy more food. Instead they bought tastier food. That is to say poor people, rather than bridging their caloric gap with low-cost staple items, bought junk food.

The world's poor are rational agents and I don't mean to make light of their nutrition challenges but I will use this economic paradox to shed light on my own silly Peace Corps-kind of poverty.

A fellow Thailand PCV, also taking the class, pointed out that this is exactly how a PCV behaves when she gets a similar injection of capital in the form of pay day. I’ve been known to eat Mama, Thai instant noodles, twice a day all month long, then go to Bangkok with my pay day surplus and eat only things with cheese.

At site, I may spend one or two dollars per day (well, not this month), but while on bpai-tiao, vacation, I spend like I'm still an entry level accounting assisting living at home, basically I make it rain.


100 Baht, All I Had to My Name
This counter-intuitive consumption pattern came into sharp focus this past month. The events leading up to my self-imposed “March 2013 One Baht Challenge" are something I don’t care to relive, but suffice to say at the beginning of last month, after bpai-tiao in a quaint Northeastern province on the 
Lao border, I still owed several months’ rent and my bank account was tapped out – if the University of Wisconsin could see my bank statements they'd take away my economics degree. I found myself with 100 baht to last until Pay Day- for those of you following along stateside, that's about 3.22 USD.

The "One Hundred Baht Challenge" became the "One Hundred and Fifty Baht Challenge" on a Sunday when I cleaned my house and found an additional fifty baht ($1.60) in change. In a classic poverty trap maneuver I proceeded to go out and spend the fifty baht on my favorite food and frequent topic of conversation, Som Tam, Spicy Papaya Salad.

Could I make it the month on roughly three USD? Would the money last till Pay Day in a Hanukkah-esque miracle? I was lucky Thailand has such a wide offering of instant noodles.

Ill now add the disclaimer that several people offered to bail me out Wall Street-style, including the Bank of Sharon and Elton Langland with its very favorable rates. But I've gotten a number of bailout packages in the past and I felt ready to learn some lesson. So, this is what I had to work with:

1/3 Jar of Peanut Butter
12 Packages of Mama Noodles 
1 Box of Kraft Macaroni
1/2 Bag of Wild Rice
1 Box of Quinoa
2 Bars of Dark Chocolate
1/2 Bag of Sweethearts
6 Cloves of Garlic
1/2 Bottle of Hot Sauce
1 lb. Coffee
1/2 Oyster Sauce
3 Packs M&Ms
1 Roll of Thin Mints

It was clear I would need to supplement this inventory by adding the generosity of the Thai people to my list.  I was  on the hunt for free food. And in unexpected ways this selfish quest changed my life at site for the better.

As most of you know I started out my service in Sukhothai, a Northern province that served as Thailand's first capital in the 13th-15th centuries, and as most of you know I'm no longer there. Security concerns triggered by aggressive overtures from the Nayoke, mayor, meant I would be move to Isan, the culturally Lao Northeastern region. The Safety and Security Officer, Phanuthat, and I took a road trip and I arrived in Nakhon Ratchasima with a van full of stuff and more emotional baggage than I had planned on bringing along.

In Sukhothai I had a very caring relationship with the women of my sub-district office. In the aftermath of the security incident I thought my Tessaban ladies would have my back, in a way the hierarchical political structure didn't allow. In hindsight, I can understand many of the cultural constraints on my relationship with these women, but I left Sukhothai feeling burned.

The incident, in my mind, really highlighted my status as an outsider and caused me to turn inwards instead of out to my community when searching for stability at my new site. I sought to be highly self-sufficient, hoping my “healthy boundaries” would endear me to my colleagues and neighbors in my new sub-district, Takhob. I knew they would appreciate how well I could make it on my own. I never asked for rides. I came and went without fanfare. I did all my own cooking. I spent lots more time cultivating relationships with other PCVs.

But after a few months of feeling increasingly isolated, I began to wonder if one man’s "healthy boundaries" are a Thai man’s unnecessary emotional walls.  My attempts to stay an emotional arm’s length may have been seen as disinterest in my community.

I had trapped myself in a negative feedback loop. As I projected “okayness” to my community members, they rightly assumed I was “okay” and reached out less. Un-ironically the less they reached out the less “okay” I was.

This destructive cycle might have continued had I not completely run out of money, and in a surprise twist, came to my senses.

Now, let me now disclaim, if things had gotten "that bad," someone would have sent me money. But after taking stock of my meagerly stocked house, I realized if I really wanted to turn my humiliating tale of poverty into a heroic one, I would need to rely on the people I had assumed I should not to rely on.


Sharing a meal
The very gracious teachers and karatchagan, civil servants, at my schools and Tessaban respectively, always offer to share lunch with me. Typically, I wouldn't take them up on it, in an effort to not be a mooch. In March, having no money to speak of, how could I refuse their generosity?


Civil Servants having lunch at the Tessaban
Kuhn Yai, the grandmother, across the street called out nearly every day for me to join her family for dinner. I had previously erred on the side of self-reliance, but now thought it was as good a time as any to sit down to a meal with my favorite Yai.


Kuhn Yai Dancing at a Monk Ordination
When passing a monk ordination or a wedding on my bike and I would smile yell, "sawatdi ka," hello, and keep riding, basically ignoring calls to join in the festivities. During the challenge month,  hunger coupled with  no pretense of anything better to do, led me to stop and partake in the food and dancing.

Now, I would like to point out the I'm not a complete monster. I absolutely planned on replaying at least a little of the generosity. When I got paid I would really doll out the kanoms, sweet Thai snacks.

A new feedback loop started to take shape, this time a positive one. The more I sat down with my coworkers, neighbors, and fellow party-goers, the more comfortable it was. I felt better about sharing and enjoying the abundance in my tight-knit farming community. I reached out, not because I had to but because I wanted to.

I can't help but be reminded of the familiar "Rom Com" trope: boy using girl or girl using boy for some ulterior motives before the rouse turns into real love. This is the plot for half of all movies.

My integration attempts may have started out with, albeit benign, ulterior motives but they became as genuine as a Hypothetical Male Lead’s contrite confessions.

Maybe unsurprisingly to you the reader, when I started reaching out instead of in, things began to change. Not only did my community endear itself to me through their generosity and kindness, but...

In my efforts to radiate self-sufficiency, I neglected to realize that it's not highly valued here. There are a few English phrases that almost everyone here knows and uses with some frequency. One is: "take care." That "taking care" is one of the primary ideas Thailand would like to convey to the English-speaking world tells you a lot about its culture of generosity.  This didn't manifest itself to me until I began to let them do just that, "take care". I realized I needed taking care of and many people jumped into to do just that. And completely surprising to me, they seemed to enjoy it. They showed me nam jai, generosity, and I learned just how powerful and genuine this core Thai belief is. Literally, nam jai means water heart or the essence of the heart, but it's more encompassing definition of generosity, thoughtfulness, hospitality, and charitableness is reflected in every aspect of the social sphere. Letting my friends, neighbors, and coworkers "take care" and show me nam jai was letting them share a part of their culture I had thus far neglected to appreciate.

By the kindness of neighbors, my sad-sack self ended the month with a few servings of quinoa and two cloves of garlic, then behaved exactly like the economists predicted by going out and spending a bunch of money on junk food at Tesco Lotus, Thailand's answer to Walmart. I survived the self-inflicted poverty but the lion’s share of credit goes to my Chumchon Takhob, community for showing me the nam jai I finally learned to accept.
  

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Gin Khao

If it seems I write a lot about food on my blog, it's only fitting because in Thailand we talk a lot about food.

My favorite thing about Thai culture, hands down is the Thai meal...sometimes I even like the food. Families, neighbors, or coworkers gather to chat, eat rice, and share between five and ten other dishes or gap khao, literally "with rice."

Having a meal, gin khao, literally "eating rice" in Thailand means never having to choose. Should I have noodle salad or smelly fish? The answer is yes. You should also eat sausage, stir fry, curry, and an omelette as well.

I don't relish the day in 2014 when I'm at restaurant and a patient waiter asks me what one menu item I want,"I have to choose!?"

Maybe my whole family is adverse to rushing through just one culinary offering plus a choice of vegetable. As a foursome we've always favored sharing late night half-priced appetizers along with good conversation at Applebee's to actually cooking and eating just one dish at home.

But unlike at Applebee's with the Langland's, in Thailand you don't have to scramble to eat all the buffalo wings before they're gone; the conversation runs out long before the food. Thai customs dictate you make/order much more food than the group can possibly eat. While you start eating at a pretty brisk pace, the eating slows as the meal goes on; people picking at the lukewarm food while continuing to gossip and banter.

And this gets at best part of all in Thai dining culture, there's no shame in picking. In the States it's considered in poor taste to pick away at near empty bowls or continuing to eat after conspicuously announcing, "I'm so full. Not so in Thailand, announcing, "I'm so full" means you probably only want another half of a serving a rice and will only continue eating your favorite gap khao.

Even at work a meal will go on for hours, people picking all the while. Today was a particularly good food day at the office-much less fermented fish than usual. After a hearty helping of fried rice, vegetables, and Chinese sausages, I proclaimed in English a phrase I taught my Thais, "So full, but so good." One of my coworkers took the hint and dished me up another plate of fried rice. Sometimes I really dig this country.



Tuesday, March 12, 2013

One Hundred Baht Challenge

My One Hundred Baht Challenge became my Hundred and Fifty Baht challenge Sunday, when I cleaned my house and found an additional fifty baht in change.

In a classic poverty trap maneuver I proceeded to go out and spend the fifty baht on my favorite food and frequent topic of conversation, Som Tam.

So I'm back to where I started and ready to report. In this weeks' episode of This American Life, John Hodgeman suggests have both a "heroic aspect and a declothed, humiliated, embarrassed aspect as well. My cash-strapped misadventures may well shape up to be a good story. Assuming I make it through the month, you may be impressed by my frugality and ultimate triumph, and amused by my self-inflicted poverty and depressing culinary options.

So in hopes this is indeed, one day, a good story, I'll take inventory but not before sharing this disclaimer: every day at work my generous coworkers feed me a well-balanced meal of rice and some other stuff. So I'm only left to fend for my sad-sack self evenings and weekends.

I'll also disclaim that several people have offered to bail me out this month Wall Street-style, including the Bank of Sharon and Elton Langland-with its very favorable interest rates. But I've gotten a number of bail-out packages through the years, mostly in college and maybe I'm ready to learn my lesson. Or maybe I just want the bragging rights to once having lived off three dollars for an entire month. Either way, I have thirteen days to go.

I've already finished off my small stash of fruit leather, granola bars, and a chocolate bar so here's what's left:

1/3 Jar of Peanut Butter
6 Packs of Ramen
1 Box of Kraft Macaroni
1/2 Bag if Wild Rice
1 Box of Quinoa
2 Bars of Dark Chocolate
1/2 Bag of Sweethearts
6 Cloves if Garlic
1/2 Bottle of Tapatio
1 lb. Coffee
1/2 Oyster Sauce
3 Packs M&Ms
Roll of Thin Mints

...and eighty Baht, not including the twenty Baht I need to get to the bank bright and early on the 25th.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Notes from Below the Poverty Line

I'm taking an online course on global poverty offered by MIT through a website called EdX. The professors, Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banjeree are rock stars of sorts in the economic development world. They're renowned for their  groundbreaking and often surprising poverty research. Last week's class was on nutrition and one of their findings presented in the lecture was particularly unexpected to me until I considered my own life as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Duflo and Banjeree found that when families living below the poverty line were given an additional expenditure for food, did not buy more food. Instead they bought tastier food. That us to say poor people, rather than bridging their caloric gap with low-cost staple items just bought junk food.

The world's poor are rational agents and I don't mean to make light of their nutrition challenges but I will use this economic paradox to shed light on my own silly Peace Corps-kind of poverty.

My friend, Sarah, pointed out that this is exactly how a PCV behaves when she gets a similar injection of capital in the form of pay day. Sarah and I have been known to eat ramen noodle soup two meals a day all month long, then go to Bangkok with our pay day surplus and eat nothing but pizza and McDonald's (one of the great ironies of my service is how much more often I eat McDonald's in Thailand than I do in the States).

I make roughly $310 US per month (for those of you following along at home that's about $3600 per year- which makes my parents happy because they can still claim me as a dependent this year), but I don't spend $10 per day. It's feast or famine or me. I've often said that if the University of Wisconsin could see my bank statements they'd take away my economics degree. At site I may spend one or two dollars per day, but on vacation bpai-tiao, vacation,  I spend like I'm still an entry level accounting assisting living with her parents; basically I make it rain.

This counter-intuitive consumption pattern is particularly accurate for me this month, having already blown through most of my monthly $310. Paying three different month's rent this week has left me high and dry.

I have 100 baht to get me through till March 25th. Can I make through the month on three dollars? I'll keep you posted. Lets just say, I'm glad Thailand has so many available flavored of ramen.

If I make it, one day Ill be telling my children (and probably my grandchildren) about the time I lived on $3 for 21 days, then proceeded to spend a hundred dollars on pizza over the course of a weekend in Bangkok.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Kindness of Neighbors

Two medium-length stories from December in which I look like an asshole and my Thai neighbors save the day.

Story #1

With nothing to eat in my house other than live ants (and though tempting, sitting in the dark and eating live bugs is a little too Renfield for me), I ventured out into the sun light to buy green beans. I was less surprised than you would think to find my bike was missing (The best way I've ever heard this country described: Thailand, always shocking, never surprising). I just assumed well-meaning neighbor decided to store at their house for some unknown reason, the natural consequence for not locking up my bike.

I left for the market assuming the bike would magically be back by the time I got home. Several bags of vegetables and an hour later I returned home and my back was still MIA. In my heart I know the bike will just show up.  I make lunch and take a nap.

...When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter. But I stayed in my bed because I had no interest in what was the matter. But after a few minutes I could no longer ignore all the yelling and banging. At my door I found every Yai, old woman, and in the village. Yais are a lot like Desi Arnez when he's worked up and starts yelling Spanish, the more excited a Yai gets the faster she speaks in Lao.

I tried to sneak back inside but then an ambulance pulls up, which is weird even for Thailand. Everyone is yelling, "bicycle, bicycle!" plus other Laos words, and acting out the act of "thievery." Is my bike in the ambulance? Did the driver steal my bike? Have the neighbors prophesied a nasty spill from my back and subsequent ambulance ride? They gesture for me to get in the ambulance and since I longer try to make sense out of my life, I jumped in.

Everyday I pray I won't need an ambulance in Thailand so it was relief when the ride ended about half a kilometer away at the small police station. There my bike was waiting. It was picked up by the cops from a  ne'er-do-well youth after as many as ten neighbors called in my stolen vehicle. Not a scratch on the bike.

This is why I don't worry when my bike is periodically jacked by a wayward adolescent, thanks to the kindness of neighbors, things in Thailand just kind of work out

Story #2

In Thailand you neighbors also have your back when your problem is your totally your fault...and maybe a little the fault of Thai food.

My gut hates Thai food almost as much as I love Thai food. The local word for this kind of relationship, tong sia, translates to broken stomach. My stomach is pretty much wrecked.

Sometimes my stomach breaks on a bus ride kilometers from the next rest stop. The sweat beads on my forehead and the words of wisdom from a PCV Morocco ring in my ears, "it's not if you shit your pants, it's when." Other times it breaks will I'm blogging at the local internet cafe...

My helpful neighbors had a key to my house. They peer my window when I'm not home to see if my pillow needs rearranging or my floor needs sweeping, then they come in and rearrange my pillows or sweep my floor. Being as asshole,  I changed my padlock. Being an idiot, I forgot to put my new key on my key ring.

One late night at the internet cafe, sometime after I switched out my locks, my stomach started to break. I hopped on my frequently stolen bike and peddled home hoping this wouldn't be the time I shit my pants. When I realize my key won't open my new lock, I'm sure it will be.

I stand outside my house for a while doing a tong sia-dance and fiddling with the lock. I can't decide which is worse: actually pooping in my pants or admitting to the nice ladies next door I changed my lock so they can't clean while I'm on vacation.

I really liked the handicraft-style orange pants I had on so I decided to face my aggressively-helpful Lao-speaking neighbors. But first I needed to use their squat toilet.

When I emerge from the third-world-style bathroom to a chorus of, "Mi tong sia mai?" Is your stomach broken? my door is already open (by this time everyone in the town has gathered to listen to the Farang's bathroom woes).  I expected  a drawn out affair with locksmiths and/or really large scissors when all it took was my landlord and a screwdriver to take the door right off, which was both scary and relief because by this time I needed a toilet again. My neighbors for the second time in a week had come to the rescue. Things is Thailand just kind of work out.

But of course, the moral of both stories is: if you have ten minutes and a Phillip's Head screwdriver, you too and break into my house.