Thursday, August 28, 2008

August 23, 2551 “Uthai Thani”

Uthai Thani, another pleasant little back-water I can cross off my list. Up in the north-westernish part of the giant-rice-bowl-central-valley. The rice fields here are huge, as is to be expected, no mountains, small hills spread far apart, the very beginning of the foothills of the Himalayas. The owners of the fields must have money because I saw huge combines harvesting the rice crop, not huge like in Iowa, but big. Never saw that in my little northern town, small province, poor, Phrae.

My class was not very accomplished in the mysteries of English. Mostly, they understood nothing. Before the class, while I was being treated like a king by the staff as a visiting professor, one of the students came up to see me and gave me a word list that he said the class could use a pronunciation drill on, stuff like “chop; shop,” I saw the writing on the wall. The class is “English for Lawyers,” in the Masters’ Degree program, most of the students are lawyers already, none of them, or very few, had any familiarity with English at all, much less legal English.

But I did my thing, cut hard parts out of the lesson, repeated more than usual, spoke more Thai than usual, not that I can explain anything of substance, just tell little stories to illustrate my points. Before, after and on break, I go around and say hi! to everybody. Out of one hundred and thirty five students I only spoke to three or four who could have a decent little conversation. So I think the lesson was a wash, by and by, but I got paid, so that’s good.

One of the students expressed an interest in treating me to dinner, and I accepted. He’s a lawyer, as it turned out he has a pretty lucrative practice. Good thing too, he asked me where I’d like to eat and I suggested anyplace owned by a Farang, like a German, or a Frenchman or Italian, that owned a place in town. Some of those places are great, little gems in the middle of a Thai food wilderness, most are not so expensive, just some guy married to a Thai woman. He said, I know just the place, and it turned out to be the restaurant of a very fancy resort hotel, very expensive, well, for Thailand anyway. They had a twenty page menu, one page was Farang food. I got a bowl of asparagus soup, a pork chop with apple sauce, some vegetables cooked in butter, and French fries. (Alone I’d have gotten the filet mignon, but that was another two hundred Baht, and as a guest I didn’t want to push my luck.) It was all perfect, very delicious. He got the same as me, and he seemed to enjoy it too. Didn’t leave a scrap, me neither.

Nice guy, I hope he calls me when he comes to Bangkok.

The hotel is ok. Nothing fancy, but there’s some warm water in the shower, even warm water in the sink, and one sports channel in English on the TV. The room service menu is all in Thai, every word and heading, so it was slow going there, that’s for sure. But I did read it, every page, I love menus. It’s the first room-service menu that I’ve ever seen that had a whole page devoted to cigarettes. That’s odd. Also odd, it didn’t have any desert items at all. Two pages of cocktails and a page for bottles of whiskey etc but no deserts. Who stays here, I wonder? I didn’t see any other foreigners, not even Asian foreigners.

I love Thailand, it’s so safe here and everything is fun. Someone just knocked on my door. If I were in Chicago, I’d call the desk and ask them what was happening. Here, I just answered the door in my underwear. Sure enough, it was a smiling hotel employee delivering an envelope from the university. The results of a quiz we gave the class after the lesson. No one could really do it, the quiz that is, it was way over their heads. The last time this knock-on-the-door thing happened to me was in Chiang Mai at three a.m. and I just got up and answered the door, also in my underwear, I didn’t even put my glasses on. I looked out modestly from behind the door and greeted a beautiful young woman who said, “sa-wat-dee, ka,” with a deep wai. I offered a friendly Thai greeting and asked her, “pom choo-ay dai mai k’ap?” (May I help you?) She looked a little ver-fushed, excused herself, and left, wrong room as it turned out.

But this country is so safe. Even the gangsters and thieves only want a little bit, not like they want to hurt you, not like they want it all, not even like they want as much as they can get. Just a little, so that they, you, and the cops are all happy, everybody is friends, sabai, sabai. If the gangsters get ambitious, the cops take them out into the woods, shoot them, and leave them for the animals. And the cops, if they arrest you for some legitimate reason, sure, you can offer them some money, they’ll take it, thank you, you can go, they’ll be happy to drive you to the ATM, but they won’t set you up for anything, put shit in your pocket, they won’t even take more than they bargain for, even if they think they can take it. This place is paradise. There aren’t five other countries in the world where a stranger can get as good a deal.

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