Through My Eyes

Timing was everything.

Meeting your neighbors

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Yesterday morning, I met with a man named Khun Dusit, whom I spoke with briefly on the phone Monday night. Khun serves on the Mae Haad Primary School Committee and helps delegate opportunities for volunteers throughout the nursery and elementary school here on the island. The school is located next to Wat Koh Tao (the temple) and educates approximately 110 elementary-aged children, along with supervising 80 preschoolers. Talking with Khun, I found that he was born on the island, went to primary school in Koh Samui, completed his university degree in Bangkok, and worked in the large capital for years before coming back to Koh Tao to care for his parents and work for the school. He spoke excellent English and carried the demeanor of a kind uncle.

He gave a brief tour of the school grounds and walked me over to introduce me to one of the nursery school teachers, Ms. Lei. Khun explained who I was and why I was standing before her. Over the next two minutes, they proceeded to speak in Thai, nodded their heads, gave me a final look-over, smiled, and agreed on something. With a huge grin, he turned to me and said, “Ok. You come tomorrow morning at 9 and join this classroom for the day.” I asked, “What will I be doing?” “Playing with the kids.” he replied. Ah, of course. Although I love children and definitely would not mind spending a few hours entertaining them, I was hoping I’d get the chance to be involved in teaching them some skills or something that might have a more lasting effect. Oh well. Maybe this will lead to other duties. Who knows? This is no time to be picky.

So, I thanked them both and said I would see them Wednesday morning. On the way out, Khun pointed out a distracting construction site behind the classrooms and courtyard. He said it was something Chevron was funding, a 1.5 million THB or USD (?) project to improve the school. I didn’t quite catch what it was exactly, but I am curious and plan to further investigate. I’d like to know how this is going to benefit Chevron, outside of helping to build their philanthropic reputation.

With nothing else planned for the day, I walked towards the Mae Haad Pier where all of the ferries unload passengers from the other islands and mainland. Walking down the main drag, I noticed a small dress shop that looked like it was closed and hadn’t seen a visitor in months. I was surprised because this shop looked nothing like the hundreds of others I’d seen over the last week and a half. (Wow, I’ve been here for too long.) The others all sell brightly colored sarongs, bikinis that probably won’t last you more than 5 swims, and overpriced “island” fashions that you most likely will not wear once you get home. No, this place was different. From the window displays, (from what I could tell), I would actually wear a lot of what they had back in SF. That’s when I noticed a girl who was probably a few years older than me or around my age was sitting on the steps by the front door. As I came up the steps and opened the door, she followed me into the store and said, “I thought you Thai. Where you from?” (It’s funny – it usually takes me a few minutes to explain to people here where I was born and where I am coming from. I feel like I have to tell my life story before the introduction is complete.) We started talking, and I found myself more interested in getting to know her than in looking at the dresses. I was almost forcing myself to comb through the racks, not paying attention to anything except what she had to say.

I learned that Na is originally from a smaller village outside of Pattaya, but has worked at D-Da Shop and lived on Koh Tao for about a year. She thinks this island is too small and that it’s nothing more of an eye sore if you aren’t in the water and diving through coral reefs or lounging on the white sand beaches. We talked a little more about the neighboring islands, what people usually do here, and complained about the lack of good Thai places on KT. After our conversation, I promised her I would come back to actually buy something before leaving (that’s if/when my card comes and I can spend more freely). She stopped me as I was leaving and said, “Next time you come, we go to eat at my favorite place. Thai food. Very close. Not expensive, and most important, clean.” I agreed and couldn’t help but smile as I walked out. My first local friend.

These are the types of meetings that truly make me happy. Connections you make with others albeit language and cultural barriers. It’s reassuring that most of us, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, just want to understand each other and our differences.

Until next time: Go outside and meet someone. You have nothing to lose…

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Written by winniewongsf

November 10, 2009 at 6:55 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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