08 February, 2016

At your Home or Across the Sea Home is Home

Elaine Flores is from Calexico, California. Her Alma Mater is San Diego State University (SDSU) where she received a degree in English and a minor in Spanish. Elaine is a 2015- 2016 Fulbright-AMCHAM English Teaching Assistant at Sawananan Wittaya School in Sawankhalok, Sukhothai, a province in central Thailand. When she is not teaching, she tutors students after school, attempts learning as much Thai as possible, and travels around Thailand with her Thai family.  Post Fulbright, Elaine plans on dedicating her time to teaching,pursuing a Masters, and becoming an administrator in the field of education.

When one travels, one looks for similarities and familiarities to comfort themselves and properly adjust to a new atmosphere. Maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s a subconscious act our brain does to say, ‘Hey that looks like that one thing from that one place!’ It’s natural. For me, my first steps into Thailand were of course a shock. Especially it being the first country I’ve visited abroad. Regardless of the shock, I’ve found one too many similarities between Mexico and Thailand that helped me feel comfortable and at home. “Wait I thought you said you haven’t been abroad?” ­I consider abroad going past North America: Central, South America, Asia, South East Asia, Europe etc. Also when I say Mexico I think more culturally, and more so the northern border of Mexico that touches California: Mexicali. No I cannot say I’ve been deep into Mexico nor that I know all about my Mexican roots, but I can definitely point out a lot of similarities between two places and situations I’ve been in; Thai and Mexican cultures. Many P’s ­host teachers or elders­ have tried to explain different aspects of the Thai culture and sometimes they look at me with a, ‘Why isn’t this a shock for you’ face. Many times I reply with, “Oh, yes in Mexico...” or “Back at home…”(Calexico, predominantly a Mexican­American border town in California). Therefore a lot of the “shocking” aspects of Thai culture aren’t as foreign as I thought they’d be before I flew over in September. So here is my list so far of the many similarities I can find between the Thai and Mexican culture: 

Television:​ The first time my P’s turned on the T.V. in the office I thought I was over hearing a Mexican broadcasting, when I looked up it was as if all the Mexicans turned Thai, but were doing the same things. In short: when it is a game show there is extra ridiculous outfits, people fall, there may be some play fighting, and every movement has a *Bing! *Boing! *Booom! or random Tuba sound. As for soap operas, the most melodramatic T.V. I’ve ever seen: Mexican “Novelas.” Well apparently Thai television has the same melodramatic script! 

Language: ​In English­ “The red car.” In Spanish: “El carro rojo.” In Thai: “Lot see dang.” (car, red). I’ve heard many complain that Spanish is ‘backwards;’ well so is Thai and I’m curious if it’s English that is ‘backwards’ now. 

Lemon/ Lime/ Manao: ​In Mexico Lemon is the ultimate garnishing. People love their lemon/ lime. I have found that true in Thailand too. There is a lemon on every dish to help you get your right flavor. 

Sugar: ​Growing up Mexican­Am. I know that Mexican’s typically have a sweet tooth. ‘Un panecito para el café,' a little sweet bread for the coffee. Or a fruit with chili drink, or ice cream, or flan, or more sweet bread. There are Mexican desserts 24/7. Same with Thailand, there are so many dessert shops it is unbelievable. I've had so many and yet I still find something new to try. 

Pistachio Mocha cake found at Vista Café

Spice: ​In Mexico there is no question whether you want your food spicy or less spicy. Salsa is on the table, the green one more mild the the red one, but be careful they may surprise you and be switched! In Thailand: ‘Phet Mai?’ (Do you want it spicy?) is a question you will get at every restaurant all the time. To their surprise I say ‘Phet mak mak!’ (Super spicy please!) I may sometimes sweat, but spice is a flavor I crave now. 

Family:​ Always time for family. I find that family sticks together in Mexican culture more than in American culture. So many of my friends stayed home and to my surprise it’s because they wanted to and liked being home and with family. I was a little more Americanized in this regard. Again, in Thailand staying close to family isn’t even a question. You do it because family is life. Also the level of respect of the elders of both cultures families go above and beyond. 

Community: ​It takes a village to raise a child. Everyone knows everyone in the smaller towns and if your doing good or bad, it will be talked about. Why? Because they care a lot about the community and its members. 

Any time is party time: ​In Thailand school can be shut down for any reason, sports day, Christmas, random outing for the school, a battle of the bands. Although I went to school in America, I had some friends who went to school in Mexico and would tell me how they were released early or didn't have school because of: teacher's day, students day, Thanksgiving (No this is not an official Mexican Holiday!) 

Time: ​Is liquid. In Mexico 5pm is 6­6:30pm. In Thai 5pm is an hour earlier or later. Sabai Sabai. 

Karaoke:​ If there is a party the karaoke is coming out for hours in both Thailand and Mexico. 

A belief system:​ In Thailand there are temples everywhere. It is there history and it is what their way of life is built around. Same with Mexico. Although times are changing, Christianity/ Catholicism is deeply rooted in the Mexican culture and one can find old churches anywhere. 

Friendly/ Hospitable:​ ‘Mi casa su casa’­ same in Thailand. Almost all of the teachers I have met have offered to take me somewhere, fed me, or told me I could go to them for anything. 

Small outdoor vendors:​ It doesn’t take much to sell on the street in either country like America. If your mango tree has a surplus of mangos and you want to sell them go ahead. There won’t be any licence or permit check. 

Traffic/ Intense driving:​ Getting on the road is your own risk in both countries. 

Homeless dogs:​ are everywhere 

No toilet paper in the toilets: ​their sewage can’t handle it. Don’t do it. 

Soccer Futbol Football: ​Their number one sport. The first question my students asked was “What is your favorite Football team?” ­”Umm Chargers?” 

Tamarind/ Tamarindo or fresh fruit everywhere:​ Tamarind is a very common ingredient in a lot of Mexican candy. In Thailand it too is a common flavor. My fellow ETA had never tasted Tamarind before, I had been introduced to it when I was 5. To add to that fresh fruit is accessible anywhere you go in both countries because the weather allows all the wonderful fruit to grow. 

Fresh fruit sold by vendors at Chatuchak Market

Veggies:​ are either for garnishing or for flavor 

Vicks/ Menthol: “Ponte el vicks!” If you feel nauseous, smell Vicks, if you have a runny nose, apply Vicks under your nose, if you have a cold, apply Vicks on your back and chest. To my surprise Thailand has their version of Vicks. It’s a tube and non applicable, but you can smell the aroma and it cures: vertigo, allergies, runny nose, headaches. It has the same main ingredient Menthol but that was the icing on the cake. I thought to myself, “Wow I really know how to choose home!” 

Thailand's version of Vicks!

It’s been nice to have so much familiarity in a new place, it makes it easier to call Thailand my home. It also has taught me what seemed so spectacular on the other side of the world is actually very close to home.

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