Not Your Typical Tutoring Session

Despite our considerable language barriers and limited vocabulary, Ja and I have delved into some pretty serious and awkward topics of conversation. She probes me with deep, personal questions and I shock her with my answers. The following are a few conversations I never want to forget. I think they reveal a lot about the gaping disparity between our cultures and, also, they are hilarious.

1.
Ja: “What religion are you? I am Islam.”
Me: “I have no religion.”

Ja: (astonished) “You do not have God inside you?”
Me: “I have God in me, but not through religion.”

Ja: “You don’t like religion?”
Me: “I like all of them, but I don’t consider myself a part of any one.”

Ja: (dismayed and sincerely concerned) “But how do you know what will happen when you die?! Where will you go? You are not scared?”
Me: “I don’t know, Ja. No, I am not scared. Mai pen rai (Thai for “no worries”).

2.
Ja: “Do you like singing?”
Me: “Yes.”

Ja: “Sing a song for me.”
Me: (suddenly nervous) “I can’t think of any songs.”

Ja: “Sing the America song.”
Me: (completely blank and forget the lyrics to the Star-Spangled Banner) “I forget how it goes.”

Ja: “How do you forget? America not sing song everyday?”
Ma: “No we don’t.”

Ja: “Never?”
Ma: “Only at baseball games really.”

Ja: (sneers and drops the subject, resumes teaching me the Thai alphabet)

[Context: In Thailand, the people sing their national anthem everyday, twice a day at 8am and 6pm. Whether you are in a train station or a school or jogging on a track, everyone stops what they are doing, turns toward the Thai flag, which is usually alongside a massive portrait of the King, and instinctively joins in singing the national anthem. Devout patriotism is not only expected, it is mandatory.]

3.
Ja: “Where do you go this weekend?”
Me: “I go to Koh Samed.”

Ja: “Jos wear a bathing suit?”
Me: “Yes…”

Ja: “Oh! Jos wear a bikini?!”
Me: “Yep.”

Ja: “Oohweee!” (Is both shocked and tickled by my perceived scandalousness. Proceeds to tell the whole library office that I will be wearing a bathing suit this weekend.)

[Context: In Chonburi, the highly conservative town in which I currently reside, there is a beach nearby. Yet, at the beach no one goes in the sun and no one wears a bathing suit, not even when they get in the water. In fact, they wear everything except bathing suits: dresses, blouses, pants, blue jeans. To show off skin is considered defiant and promiscuous behavior here. And 100-degree weather at the beach is no exception. I made the mistake of wearing a bathing suit the first time I went to beach and received enough negative attention and disapproving stares to guarantee that I will never do that again.]

4.
I told Ja I wanted to get a tattoo. After explaining the design–an ouroboros–and its meaning–the perpetual cycle of renewing life, recreating oneself–Ja accused me of being a vampire. She seemed fully convinced too, was deadpan, never cracked a smile or let on that she was joking. Now, everyday she finds subtle ways to slip her suspicions into our conversations. When I told her I couldn’t sleep the other night because I kept getting bit by mosquitoes, she replied pragmatically, “They bite you because you bite people. Jos is vampire.”

5.
Ja discovered the catch phrase “sexy food” in a Cosmopolitan-like fashion magazine. I am still unclear on the meaning of this phrase and, undoubtedly, Ja is too, but that doesn’t stop her from using every meal we share together as an opportunity to tell me that the food we are eating is “sexy food.”

Ja with a card I wrote in Thai for her on Valentine's Day.

Ja with a card I wrote in Thai for her on Valentine’s Day.

Me and Ja

Me and Ja

7 thoughts on “Not Your Typical Tutoring Session

  1. Lacey Moldow says:

    This is one of the best posts yet! So glad some of your crazy, quirky, uniqueness can rub off on the Thai people! Love you!

  2. Amanda Gsegner says:

    You are such a beautiful soul and an amazing writer! I stumbled upon your blog today on Instagram and devoured each post. Thank you for brightening my day and reminding me what is truly important.

    • Joc says:

      Khang, she really is fantastic. Not only a wonderful teacher, but a wonderful person. Always so loving and patient. I’m lucky to have known her.

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