We had been friends
Theme of the month: Lost In Translation | The Muse Letter No. 106 |
We were told to write a letter to ourselves before we went. Something that would be waiting for us upon our return. I thought I would absolutely remember what was in that letter but it turned out, that after I had gotten back to Germany I would actually have forgotten even writing it. I was so surprised by my past-me’s writing, urging me: Not to forget M.
My then-boyfriend and first love. The reason why I had cried so heavily at the airport. Ironically he had been the one who had forgotten.
For a long time, I had thought, this is what leaving does. Move your feet, lose your seat. There’s no towel you can throw on a person to reserve them for a later date.
It had hurt to read my past self’s wishes. My dreams and hopes. I remember sitting there in my yellow T-shirt, with the Thai monastery symbol stitched neatly onto it. Yellow – the colour of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. It was the 60th anniversary of his ascent to the throne that year we lived in Thailand. Me and ten other German students. All scattered around Thailand in Thai host families. Some of them warm and welcoming, others less so.
I found myself thinking; if leaving everything behind you, your friends, your family, your language, your culture, had it been worth it?
Bankgog Bangkog Bankogk Bangkok
15 years later I still don’t know how to spell Bangkok. I don’t know why I can never remember where the g goes, before the k, or how many k’s? Groong taip that’s what Thai people call it. Phonetically written Krung Thep. But it’s a G, not a K. It’s goa gai. G for chicken. Gai means chicken. Phonetically written koo kai. Meaning little chicken.
Like the clothing brand KOOKAI, I kept thinking, when I first learned the Thai alphabet. Like a secret code only I – now a student of the Thai language – could decode. Sometimes I tried to tell people about it, but the audience usually just shrugged in apathy and said: „So why were you in Thailand?“
I never understood why the phonetic alphabet, translating the Thai alphabet deferred so far from the actual sounds that I was hearing. It seemed a bit like a conspiracy against Farangs, a word I was introduced to as „western people“ which I later found out usually just meant „white people“. They all came with their hard K’s trying to say chicken / gai because their books told them so. Bewildered that nobody understood.
When you connect with a place, lived there, formed memories of soups transported in little translucent plastic bags and hot metal engines of motorbikes that could and would burn your calves when you’ were sitting on them with two other girls, you keep looking for it even when you’re long gone. The minute it pops up it seems like a specific message directed at you. When I heard in 2016 that the King had died I felt a strange pang of sorrow. I went on Facebook to look at what my old Thai school friends were posting. Liking some posts, clicking through images. Some of them had married already and children of their own, some of them had ventured outside Thailand as au pairs and students. I looked at their lives, almost like a stranger stalking random people on the internet, and only when I dug deeper, did I see that for a brief moment, I had been among them. We had been friends.
„Do you want to be my friend Fasai?“ a little note with a smiley and hearts drawn on it, was passed to me during French lessons. I had picked French, even though I was not able to speak any but I figured, why learn just one language when you can learn two?
During the first weeks, I received a lot of these sweet notes, making me feel welcomed. They had also offered me a couple of nicknames. As all Thai people have one. And I had paid extra attention to not choose Moo, meaning pig. One of the alumni exchange students that had spoken to us during the preparation week, had been called Moo by his friends, not knowing for a long time, what it actually meant. Back then I still wasn’t sure, whether I was even going to be in Thailand choosing nicknames, because they still had not told me if I was going to get the full scholarship that I needed.
Learning a new language is like studying someone else’s thought pattern. I had done it through music. Karaoke to be specific. My host family had a Karaoke room which technically was just the room where the big TV lived. All bedrooms had TVs but this one was a flatscreen that was so big you had to step back a couple of meters, to actually get the whole picture. I would spend hours alone in that room, singing along to Bodyslam. My then favourite Thai rock band. Googling them today it turns out they are still a band. I’m kind of glad. Good for them. I remember they were my host brother's favourite and my first concert in Thailand. I can still see the blue smoke and the more or less empty dance floor that night in the only big club in Surin. The audience mingling in the back as if too shy to be seen by the band. I remember my host father being very uneasy and us leaving in the middle of their act. „It’s getting dangerous.“ my host brother whispered and I didn’t really understand why. I guessed then what he meant was, that people were getting drunk.
Most of us did not learn Thai that year. The ones that lived in very touristic areas would mostly speak English. Nobody expecting them to learn. „Can you be my English teacher?“ was a frequently asked question, which always made me a bit sad. I really wanted to learn Thai.
„So why Thailand?“ people still ask me. When they do, they point towards my tattoo that was inked on my left wrist two years after my exchange year.
After finishing high school I had gone back for a holiday. Me and my Mum. Four weeks just me and her, backpacking through Thailand. The Thailand I had experienced so thoroughly, I wanted to show her everything. Bangkok with its delicious street food markets, Tuk Tuks, Chiang Mai, and the temple Wat Doi Suthep where you can shake a bamboo stick with a number on, out of a box and then go to a drawer with that number and get a piece of paper where your fortune is written on (my favourite part), endless Thai massages, my old school, my Thai host family, the place where I had had a motorbike accident, the elephants in the reservoir, the food market where I always had gotten boa bia (Thai spring rolls) that were always finished before I got home, the beach where I had gotten majorly drunk on several buckets (actual buckets) of Mai Thai or Stormy or Sex on the Beach pronounced Sex on the Bisch, which always sounded a bit wrong, but very funny when you were drunk.
It was the first and since then only trip me and my Mum ever took together. It was also the first time I saw my Mum out of her normal habitat which consisted then of our house, me and my older sister who still lived with us, my Dad, our small town, where she was born and which she had never left, house chores and once or twice a day giving a pilates or aerobic class. I guess we all have to grow up eventually. For me: Thailand would mark the starting point of that.
This is an excerpt from Things I Have Noticed – Essays on leaving / searching / finding, which if you have not read it yet, you can purchase here.
SHOP - NEW POETRY ART ZINE
„And now that you have found yourself
within my love
how dare you leave?"
Sirens, that lure sailors into their deaths with their beautiful singing voices are a thing of the past. The modern Siren is far less powerful, wandering the city, swiping left and right, her voice unheard. A poem of a modern Siren, illustrated with sensual cyanotypes.
IN CASE YOU MISSED LAST WEEK’S MUSE LETTER
There's A German Word For That
“A German friend saying: “Ich hab dich lieb” means: I have hugs and infinite affection and friendship and love for you and you are the best person ever in the world and I love you but in a strictly platonic way.”
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