I’m finding that so much of what I miss in telling the story of the culture and people of Koh Tao is in the small things. There are a couple specific things having nothing to do with what happened today or yesterday that are so fascinating to me.
The kingfisher is honored all over the island through various images posted in public locations. Every shop has a kingfisher in a cage nearby. Also, there is a field close to the center of town where locals bring their kingfishers for a kind of contest. I have asked a few people what the meaning or goal behind the contest is, but no one has given me a conclusive answer. I did some research into the Thai cultural perception of the kingfisher. It seems that the kingfisher stole fire from the gods and gave it to the people of the Andaman Sea region. According to one website, the translation of the myth is as follows: “The kingfisher stole the fire and ran away with it. He made a fire and cooked some fish. When he had filled his belly, he went to sleep. The dove then stole the fire from the kingfisher and ran away. The implication is that it was the last of the thieves who gave the fire to the ancestors of the Andamanese.”
The generosity of the Thai people amazes me more daily. At first, they did not know how a farang would get along with them. “Farang” is a word used to describe mainly peoples of European descent, but they also call me a farang because I am a Westerner. Each day I spend here, people warm up more to me. Slowly, they learn to really like my company. For example, there is a young lady who I buy breakfast from every morning. Friday, she knew that I would come the next morning and informed me that she is going back to the mainland for the day. She was trying to look out for me and let me know to get breakfast somewhere else.
Also, a woman that works at the Koh Tao Info Shop here is very kind to me. The Koh Tao Info Shop runs the guesthouse and sometimes I sit with her to talk. She teaches me a bit of Thai, I help her practice her English, and she gives me drinks and snacks in a kind, sweet gesture. I have learned that she reads several Thai romance novels between customers. I asked if she wants to marry or be in love. We share a cultural similarity that Thai women want to be fair just as Indian women want to be fair too. Through her eyes, I learn more about what it is like to be a Thai woman.
The many languages heard on the island
Through trial and error I have learned that if I try to speak whatever language another person speaks, they are more likely to attempt English as well. No one wants to sound childish in someone else’s tongue and be seen as stupid for it. On this island, there are so many people from so many different countries. Walking down Sairee Beach one night, I might hear a group of Italians, French, German, and Thai. I took French in high school and college; so, I try my hand at conversing with the French speakers. Because I tried to practice my French with Fabienne, she would practice her English with me. The exchange enriches both of our lives. Having all these other cultures here makes this experience more multifaceted than I expected.
As an update on my teaching progress, I talked to Tara’s parents, P’Jin and Kevin. They are happy to ask their friends to sign up students for 30 minute sessions with me once a week. In the classroom, things just get so unruly without a Thai teacher and so many kids are at so many varying levels of knowledge that I feel the tutoring will really bridge the gap. My schedule for now will be with just seven students beginning on the 27th of August, but if the demand for tutoring sessions becomes higher, I will open up more sessions on the weekends. Tuesdays and Thursdays, I will tutor for an hour after school. Saturdays, I will tutor for an hour an a half. I’m really excited to make headway on something that I came up with myself in addition to the classes. I came here for these children and I don’t mind the extra effort to help them. This idea that in the small things the difference for change is really made sinks in more daily.