I’m so charmed by Thailand that I’m seriously thinking about moving here. It’s a young and emerging market, and the expats who flock here from all over the world seem to be able to land decent jobs. Every one of them I talk to is enthusiastic about it. It’s so affordable! There’s so much to do! The people are so nice!
Indeed, the people are nice, quick to offer help and quick to smile. I’m standing waiting for a taxi to the airport when my rolling suitcase falls over, and the bellboy cracks up helplessly. “It’s sleeping,” he jokes, as if he’s never seen a bag topple.
I think about various business proposals for Thailand all the way to Ao Luek, over the course of one taxi ride, an airplane, a tourist bus and a local bus. I’m not actually sure that I’ll be able to stay in Ao Luek according to plan, but something’s going to work out — I’ll find a cheap hotel, if nothing else.
I’ve decided to try couchsurfing in Asia for the first time ever, and I’ve found hosts in Ao Leuk. I’m supposed to call or text once I get there. However, I’m not sure that my phone will work — and in fact, it does not. I go into a pharmacy and ask the clerk if there’s a public phone anywhere. She says no, but she offers to call on her own cell phone. Five minutes later, I’m riding in a car with W. and M., who were apparently out looking for me given that I’d estimated my arrival time a bit earlier. I’m quite happy to be taking a break from the tourist fast track, and here I am, about to experience Thailand as lived by regular middle-class Thai people.
And then I get to the house, which is all pretty clean and nice — a little crowded with all the amps and instruments — except for two things. The otherwise-tidy bathroom consists of a ceramic hole you pour water down to flush, and two earthenware jugs. The larger one is the shower: you pour water over yourself and it runs into a drain hidden behind the toilet. There is a sink, but it’s missing a drain pipe and a working faucet.
The kitchen, however, is what really gives me pause. It’s an outdoor kitchen, and that’s smart, except that the dirty dishes are sitting around in plastic tubs filled with lukewarm water as the flies swarm around them, landing on bits of stale food that have been dumped out into the barren yard beside them. Nothing insane, but that’s still the sink, and there’s also a hose for a faucet — cold water only, or whatever temperature it is when it comes out. Many things occur to me at once, and the foremost is: it would be rude to do anything other than jump in and accept this excellent hospitality.
So I sit down to wash the dishes with M. as W. begins to cook. There’s no hot water. We fill one tub with cool water from the plastic hose, and I squirt extra soap in, and then I fill a second tub with water to rinse the dishes, since M. is setting them on the ground, still a bit soapy, I’m sure. I try to make small talk, but I’m pretty busy watching out of the corner of my eye to see how hot the food W. is making gets, because he’s mincing up raw meat with his bare hands. I’m hoping it all reaches boiling point. As far as I can tell, it does. Also, he’s putting an alarming amount of chopped peppers in, which probably helps kill germs.
We eat around 8 p.m. with a group of mostly-expat English-teacher friends, and it’s all delicious. Spicy, though. Very spicy. My stomach begins to hurt. I decide I need to go lie down, and it’s at this point that W. and most of the English teachers decide to do a little band practice.
Here’s another thing about Thailand: the music is always cranked to an inordinately high volume. I noticed it on the dinner cruise I attended in Bangkok, when we had to shout to network — and that was in a business setting. In this setting, I’m in my own room with earplugs in and two pillows stuffed over my head, and I’m still worried I’m undergoing hearing loss. They play for maybe 20 minutes.
The next day, I delve into my boring food stash, and have instant oatmeal for breakfast after attempting to sterilize the dishes in the microwave. It’s too late, though — I feel ill every time I put food in my system, no matter what kind of food it is. I start researching my symptoms… E. Coli, maybe cholera? Hopefully not cholera.
It’s bad enough, however, that I’m seriously rethinking my plan to move to Thailand. Because apparently, I can only stand tourist-grade Thailand.