Caitlin Wheeler (’11) recently sent us an update from Thailand. Caitlin is shown above with a krathong, which she describes as “a candle set on a decorated slice of banana trunk which is pushed out onto the water to send away bad luck/thoughts.” She also sent the photo of the Thai countryside.
I have been living in Chiang Mai, Thailand for 10 months now, RDing and teaching English in a Christian University here. I want to tell you what Chiang Mai is.
My main mode of transport here is a bicycle. The first time I rode it in the city, a Thai man stopped his work to look up at me and shout “Hello!” For some Thais, it’s the only English word they know. It’s loud, surprising, and round-voweled, a little proud, but above all, familiar. I heard it and for a moment I expected that when I looked to the caller I would be seeing an old friend. Despite most Thais’ struggles with English, I’ve found that it’s far more uncommon for me to go a full ride without hearing a shout in my own tongue than otherwise.
This is Chiang Mai. It’s the old cleaning woman insisting I ask for my 25 baht in Northern Thai, repeating the correct words for me until I catch on. It’s the kitchen staff telling me, with giggles and no shame, that my love of Thai tea is going to make me fat. It’s my new roommate slipping her arm around my waist on the second day, just because. It’s my dorm boss giving me medicine and saying “this will fix the diarrhea” when I tell her I am sick with a headache. Chiang Mai is familiarity in what is entirely unfamiliar.
Chiang Mai is also a retreat for hundreds of missionaries. I’ve begun to learn the reason. Leaving college, for me, was a difficult goodbye, one with which I am still making peace. Many of the people who come to Chiang Mai have faced far more terrible goodbyes: sometimes permanent ones and some of them not by choice. They come here for a retreat from goodbye. Chiang Mai is full of leaving. It is a city of these goodbyes. But in its core, in its culture, Chiang Mai is that first hello.
Hello for now,