Asian American · Writing Memoir

The day I stopped wanting to be Thai

Me and Mom at a rest stop on the way to Ayutthaya
Me and Mom at a rest stop on the way to Ayutthaya

The day I stopped wanting to be Thai happened in the winter of 2012.

I just wanted to go to Sukhothai.

I just wanted to go to Sukhothai.

I just wanted to go to Sukhothai.

A simple request, a simple offer, really,  to my mom who was visiting, my family, as a way to spend time together, and heck, get out of town! I thought doing a road trip with my family would be fun!

My first suggestion was Mae Hong Son but the road is dangerous (their words, not mine) for the old van that would be our vehicle through the mountains. Renting a van was not an option as they were all rented out, this high season. So my uncle got new tires, (but couldn’t fix the a/c?), and we were revving to go…to Sukhothai.

Sigh.

When I arrived in Lamphun I realized I was in the middle of a debate as when to leave. This confused me because the time suggested was so early. By bus I read it was about 6 hours, surely there was no reason to leave any earlier? But by the time my mom and I got into bed, it was decided we would leave at 1am.

1am!

I could not imagine what the hells bells we would do in Sukhothai at 6 or 7am but maybe we would see sights along the way, take our time. I don’t know. There was nothing I could say about it. So at midnight we received our wakeup call, and I thought, sweet baby Jesus, I’ll just sleep in the van.

I decided to wear these super cute blue leggings that looked like tight jeans and a black top my mom gave me so I could keep warm and fashionable. But it didn’t matter because it was freezing cold outside and certainly in the van, despite being nestled in with 10 of my closest relatives.

Actually 2 were strangers, my cousin Ung had a friend along and Uncle Tong had his co-pilot for the long midnight drive. I was just relieved the teenagers were in the backseat because I have a tendency to uuak in the back of cars, vans, trucks, planes and trains.

My mom and I shared an army poncho liner to keep warm, and we all soon dozed off after a few good natured comments and laughs about our journey.

The trip became a series of gas station stops. The first was to get gas. We sat there as Uncle Tong’s co-pilot rocked the van back and forth in an effort to get as much gasoline into the vehicle. Add in the fumes and I was feeling motion sick. The second stop was so I could run to the loo, and as everyone else soon followed I wondered if everyone else was waiting for someone to speak up. We were all women except our drivers.

I think it has been scientifically proven that women urinate more frequently than men. Yes, I said urinate. It was that kind of road trip.

Oh, did I forget to mention that it was decided we were going to Ayuthaya instead of Sukhothai? Ayuthaya is closer to Bangkok and since I had ripped the pages out of my guidebook, as Rick Steves suggested, for Sukhothai, I had no idea how long the drive would be, except it was like driving to Bangkok.

I was alarmed when I was told in the van that plans had changed but I figured I’d best relax into the road trip and see what happened. Who knew? Ayuthaya might be better!

Thankfully I brought my mp3 player because as the rest of the family was waking up and feeling positively bored (let’s face it Nakkorn Sawan is pretty bland from the highway) and nasty (shower please!) and wretched (my poor poor back and butt), I could at least zone out to Lady Gaga.

We stopped for breakfast at a gas station. I watched one of my second cousins lean over a tire garbage can and throw up. She was given water from the communal dipper and I turned away, remembering not to use the communal dipper – as if.

My Aunt Sanjun had cooked a whole chicken and brought sticky rice for the drive. My mom laughed.

I suppose this was the equivalent of packing sandwiches. For my mom she’d rather eat food on the road. And as I stared at the well-done chicken with its head still and feet curled in the plastic bag, I had to agree with mom.

I understand my family is “very Thai” or “very country” but since I grew up with my small town Thai roots somewhere in my back pocket, I just laughed along with my mom and headed to 7-11 for something a little more appealing.

Back in the van, we were starting to slowly roast as the sun rose hotter. I could feel the temperature change down south, and the fact that we had no a/c was starting to make me feel like I wore too much clothes and like the curled chicken behind the last row of seats.

My uncle’s co-pilot crept along the highway as we got closer to the Ayuthaya exit, and then in Ayuthaya as they tried to figure out where we were going. He made several wrong turns and it became increasingly difficult not to be a backseat driver. This day old sticky rice wanted out of the van and I feared my patience was wearing beyond thin.

Finally we found a wat, some old looking wat and we crawled out like ants in a can to stand around with the other tourists taking pictures. I liked it. But I was uncomfortably hot and wondered what my family was going to do next because they seemed detached from the whole experience.

Some travelers like to read about where they are visiting, some take tons of photos and then there is my family, the ones that look like they are waiting and resting and possibly a little bored. Which if you think about it, is what a lot of people look like when they are sightseeing.

Then we went to the floating market. I really liked the floating market because there were different shops and merchandise than is in Chiang Mai. The noodles were good, the food better tasting, I could have done more exploring but everyone, but my mom, 2 cousins and I had gone back to the parking lot.

We’re going to find a hotel now, right?

It was too early for dinner and my experience has been looking for a hotel can take a while. A discussion in Northern Thai ensued and my mom looked at me in such a way to let me know that, well, there would be no hotel.

They wanted to go to Sukhothai.

What?

I couldn’t believe we were going to go back in to that damn hot tin van and hitting the highway at the hottest time of the day, but there was nothing to do about it. Getting angry at my family or my mom the messenger, or fighting would be futile. Resistance was futile. Reality was futile.

So I started thinking, well, maybe this is good. We’ll get to Sukhothai at night, wake up there in the morning, and spend the day exploring before everyone had to be back at work.

Nope.

If you’ve ever been to Ayuthaya, then you know. You’ve seen them. The dried fish stands all along the highway. My mom has this thing about dried fish. She’s always looking for dried fish and I am with her during her quests for fish that has been sun dried.

I won’t exaggerate and say we stopped at all the fish stands, but I will admit, we stopped along one too many, because as much as it might LOOK like they are selling the same thing, they are not. I took these multiple opportunities to take pictures, stretch my legs and watch my family members buy dried fish in bulk quantities for resale and what I could only imagine pleasurable and ecstatic eating.

After my family sated their appetites and the fish sellers with their purchases, we got back into the Toyota van and I sat back wondering if this was the best part of the road trip for my family because they became so engaged and lively.

We stopped for dinner at some gas station strip mall thingy. The men cleaned up in the little boys’ room, looking refreshed. I tried not to think of my own misery. And then I received the kicker.

My mom told me, “They want to drive back to Lamphun tonight.”

“Seriously.”

“Nobody wants to pay for a hotel room.”

“But everyone can afford one, right? They knew this was the plan.” I looked at all of the bags.

“Yes, but they don’t want to.”

I understood I was being watched. “Okay.”

My mom hugged me and I wanted to cry. I was such a spoiled rotten American. Why did everyone else suck it up and I wanted to pitch a fit? It made no sense. No fucking sense. Was everyone insane?

Later when we were in the van, my mom asked, “You’re not mad at me, are you?”

“No,” I looked at her surprised, “it’s not your fault.”

“It’s hard to travel with a lot of people. You have to go with everybody else.”

I was once again struck by how much I hated democracy. It was hard not to complain and I don’t like to complain.

I watched the landscape for as long as there was daylight because I knew it was going to be a long drive. But what I didn’t know was when we returned at 2am or was it 3am? that Naa Sangla would be in Chiang Mai, wouldn’t answer her phone, and we’d have to saw through the padlock in order to get into our house.

Ah, home sweet home.

***

For my FB album click here. With a lot of love from blessed CM,

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13 thoughts on “The day I stopped wanting to be Thai

  1. Fish dried in the sun, and kissed by squadrons of flies. Probably is delicious. I never tried it because of all the minute imprints made by plunger-shaped fly tongues. If only they covered the fish with some sort of fine mesh while it dried.

    Sounds like when hanging out with Thai family, it’s best to just hang out and eat and drink and play games. Maybe think up some dumb games like water balloons or something. Have a picnic. Some ridiculous contests. Probably best to be inebriated.

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    1. 555+

      Yeah, I’m not sure if flies carry all those nasty things we think they do. I certainly think they do, but Thais don’t seem to think they do, except w/ raw meats when they have that jimmy rigged plastic bag fan that keeps them off the meats.

      Dumb games, eh? I could knock you with a cold pop and bronchitis, silly smeagol.

      In the meantime, big points for using inebriated. I thought I was the only one who used that great word.

      Like

  2. Please don’t take offense to “dumb games”. It’s what I do for a living. Some people call it “teaching”.

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  3. Omg! This story is classic! We( spoiled Americans ) do find it hard to adapt in situations such as these, as where Thais, philosophy is arraigawdai or Mai pben rai..
    Lol! I love this story… All the more motivation to get there soon!

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    1. Thanks Katy. It’s been fun in the retelling NOT but it wasn’t at the time! I do love my family, but Whew. I was ready to go crossed-eyed…

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  4. This is an excellent story Lani. I love your honesty and the way you share your feelings and inner thoughts.

    Americans have a problem with understanding how buying a new lock, hacksaw blade, and the time wasted were better/cheaper than getting a room. A nice guesthouse is what, 300 baht. Some things are not logical but make sense to Thai who seldom mess around with such foolishness as logic. LOL.

    Excellent, thanks. It reminds me of soooo many experiences I had in CM that totally baffled.

    Like

    1. Trust me Jim. I’m right there with you baffled and blown away by “Thai logic” 😛 We are so immersed in our American culture and mindset that it is such a challenge to step into someone else’s shoes. But, hey, at least we are trying! ***Thanks***

      Like

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