Tenzin Kyisarh is Tibetan American, a 2016-17 Fulbright-AMCHAM English Teaching Assistant (ETA) from Long Island City, New York. She teaches English in Muangchaliang School in Sukhothai, Thailand, to Mattayom 1-5 students (9th-11th grade). Last May, she graduated from Wesleyan University with a B.A. in Anthropology and a Certificate in International Relations. In her free time, Tenzin likes to explore nearby towns in Sukhothai, take weekend trips with her host teachers, play basketball with her students, travel around Asia with other ETAs, and eat a variety of food. After the completion of her Fulbright grant, she plans to travel and visit friends and family in Asia for a few weeks. She also hopes to find new opportunities in Asia in the education consulting field.
It’s past midnight already. I wake up with cold sweat running down my back and forehead. It’s been thirty minutes since I woke up. Realizing that I only have 4 more hours to sleep I carefully rush to the bathroom amidst the blackout and sprinkle some water on my face and my back and put myself to sleep. The lingering scent of freshly washed blankets and bedsheets is unfamiliar to me. The scent reinforces that I am a guest here.
Although I was a stranger to the new and clean room, the efforts of the people who took time to think of my comfort felt very personal in this unknown place are palpable. I look over and realize that the AC is down. The power is out in the whole neighborhood from the rainstorm last night and the room is pitch black. But there’s a comfort to this darkness. I have the serenity that you experience when you’re sleeping at home with your family. Your sister’s room right next to you and your parents’ room right down the hallway. Somehow, thousands of miles away from New York in a new country sleeping in this peculiar room, this feeling of comfort has been established. Even though it is my first time staying in this room, I feel safe even with my pajamas drenched in sweat. I roll over to the other side of the bed to check my phone. 12:45am. Peace and warmth envelop me as I fall back to sleep.
May 5th, 2017| Getting ready at dawn during the wedding day| Sarajit, Sukhothai, Thailand| 4:00AM:
It’s finally the day of the wedding. As I wake up to grab my makeup pouch, I think back to eight months ago when I went wedding shopping with the bride and groom. From choosing wedding cards to the venue, it dawns on me that I have been a part of this entire process. Though eight months have gone by in a flash, the numerous encounters and memories shared during those months are still vivid and fresh as if it had happened yesterday. And so, to see the two people who are very vital to making this experience wholesome is in short, magical. By the time I’m out of the room, it is already 4:30 a.m. I rush over to the next house to start getting ready. The wedding is at 7:00 a.m. When I reach the house next door, I go upstairs in the AC room to get dressed and do my makeup. As I enter the room, I see P’Nut, my housemate, surrounded by four women who are all helping her with makeup and hair in preparation for the big day. I stand at the door for a couple of minutes just admiring her. Even without her dress on she has an illuminating glow on her face. Her smile is the brightest I’ve ever seen it be. Her eyes are sparkling with tears of hope and enthusiasm. Her eyebrows look relaxed yet at the same time seem to be concealing the worry and anxiety of everything being perfect on this day. I walk over to P’Nut, put my hand on her shoulder, and ask her how she’s feeling and she replies “I’m good,” with a smile on her face. Yet, she tells me that she is worried that it might rain again like it did last night. I assure her by saying that rain is seen as a sign of good luck in Tibetan culture and give her a warm hug. After I am done with my makeup and hair, some of P’Nut’s friends help me get into my royal navy blue and gold Thai bridesmaids dress. After eight months of patience, I am finally wearing a Thai bridesmaid dress. I am very exhilarated, but at the same time I feel a sense of responsibility and pride wearing the dress.
|P’Jay, P’Nut and me at the wedding|
May 5th, 2017| Wedding venue i.e., P’Nut’s House| Sarajit, Sukhothai, Thailand| 9:00AM:
Rituals are over and the guests have left. Their seats have now been replaced by new guests who seem to be wearing brighter colored patung, Thai traditional skirt, then the first group. I notice some guests stop by the wedding to greet the newlyweds to make their presence known and leave a white envelope filled with money at the gifts section and quickly bid their farewell. “Tenzin!”, I hear someone calling my name. I look over to see if it is P’Nut. “Are you ready? The groom’s parade is almost coming. You have to go stand with other bridesmaids for the final wedding ceremony,” she says. Forgetting that there is a final ritual left, I rush over to stand on the line of bridesmaids who have blocked the entrance to the bride’s room. Each of us pair off and holds a small rope made with white jasmine flowers. There are eight of these “bridesmaids’ barriers” leading to the bride’s room. The groom’s parade is followed by his groomsmen, who are all attired in matching royal blue bow ties and vests, together with his relatives who seem a little drunk, enter the house and make their way towards us.
|The bridesmaids getting ready to form barriers|
As the groom, P’Jay, answers the question/request given by the first pair of bridesmaids who allow him to pass as he hands each of them a white envelope and they then join the groom’s parade. I am the third “bridesmaids’ barrier.” When it is time for me to ask my question, I and the other bridesmaid tease P’Jay and don’t allow him to pass us. But, the groom’s relatives hug us randomly and make us both eat a piece of sticky rice as if to signify that we have surrendered. P’Jay heads over to the next pairs of bridesmaids to answer questions relating to P’Nut and he answers correctly, which finally leads him to P’Nut’s room door.
|Finally, p'Jay comes to the bride's godmother who's holding the flower barrier|
The final barrier is P’Nut’s godmother who asks him three questions, two of which P’Jay answer correctly and is allowed to enter while sacrificing one of his groomsmen to a kiss from the godmother. After a minute, P’Jay and P’Nut walk out of the room walking hand in hand as P’Jay screams out “Yay!” holding up their hands in air. As P’Jay brings P’Nut out of her room, he is said to have overcome all the numerous hurdles that they might encounter in their married life. The ritual portrays how they will still be together even at the end of these various hardships. The worry that I have sensed earlier on P’Nut’s face is now replaced by the radiant beam as she is walking downstairs hand in hand with P’Jay.
|Groomsmen taking selfies with p'Jay|
|One of the many weekend travels with P'Nut and P'Jay|
Fast forward two months, I am at P’Nut’s and P’Jay’s wedding where I get to witness the two of them begin their lives together as husband and wife. As I am staring at the newlyweds, P’Nut’s mother, Mae (mother in Thai), taps me on my shoulder and asks me if I’m hungry. While this is not only way of greeting each other in Thailand (and much of Asia by the way), it resonates with me because it connects me back to the first time I met Mae. She had given me so much food that the moment I got back home, I went straight to my bed and passed out. After that incident, I started calling her “Mae” as well. Every time I visited, she would make sure to make me her special spicy seafood salad or yam. Our relationship got stronger and closer with every dish she made. This was her way of showing she cares for me. And so, every now and then she packs me food to take home to eat during the school week.
At this point, there are hardly any guests left since most of them have moved over to the second venue for the lunch party. Only a handful of family members remains to help clean the house. I answer Mae, and say that I’m doing well and that I have already eaten as I head over to change out of my bridesmaid’s outfit to go to the lunch party.
|During a local festival with P'Nut and P'Jay|
I eat the jasmine rice that Mae has served me for breakfast. I look over at the side dishes and put some Laab Gai (spicy Thai chicken salad), Gaeng Naw Mai Nua Sub (Beef and bamboo shoot curry) and Khai Tod (fried egg) on my plate. It’s been about eight months since I was introduced to P’Nut and her family and the relationship with them have organically developed into what feels like home. P’Nut being my housemate and also a fellow English teacher has been one of the most vital individuals who has made this experience so precious and special. I reminisce about all the times we have spent together as colleagues, housemates and as sisters. In the small rural town of Had Siao, where I did not know a single person, she has become my confidant, my sister. Being invited to the wedding as a bridesmaid and meeting all her old friends and far cousins, I feel a little overwhelmed at this affectionate gesture.
|At the Sukhothai FC football game with P'Nut, P'Jay, and P'Nut's cousin|
Prior to Thailand, I personally have already been exposed to various Asian cultures. Growing up with multiple Asian cultures (Tibetan, Indian, and Nepalese) as my backbone to view the world, when I receive all this love from P’Nut and her family, it still leaves me at awe. These sudden gestures of endearment provide me the support and warmth that is essential in shaping my experience here. Instead of comparing our differences, P’Nut and I have bonded on little things like finding the best place to buy the best green tea in town or debating which restaurants in town to get dinner after school. Though I do learn the value of difference in terms of culture and language, I am also able to embrace that difference and find that the Thai culture and its people are really not so different from my own Tibetan culture. As a foreigner when you first arrive, you’re unconsciously picking out the differences from your own culture. However, it’s only when you really spend time and build relationships with the people and the community that you realize that even when you are thousands of miles away, you can have folks who you can call family. The people who will always be in your life because they’ve impacted you in so many ways that have not only helped you throughout the journey, but also provided you with memories you can call “home.” So, to end this narrative about “Thai culture and people,” the precious relationships I’ve built here in Thailand have been the highlight of my experience. I have found a sister in this “foreign” country called Thailand, and witnessing and being a part of one of her most important rites of passage will forever remain in the fondest of my memories.