Chopsticks up

I’ve been here 24 hours. So far: no jet lag, inspiring co-volunteers, delicious food. I can almost say thank you in Thai.

The first day of orientation presented a range of exercises, from articulating why we are committed to social justice, human rights and repairing the world, to attempting to write a personal mission statement in seven minutes. Both were challenging.

Even more challenging: the business of being brand new. When was the last time you were in a totally new situation, with a totally new group of people, in a land far far away? That’s why this feels to me like the start of college: the opening of a new chapter, with new friends, in a new place, showing what you hope is the best version of yourself and not the insecure, jet lagged version.

My favorite orientation activity was a short exercise where we talked about what defines our people. Who are our tribes, both the ones we’re born with and the ones we create?

My people are kindhearted, good eaters, and laugh at everything.

A co-volunteer and I were talking about teaching writing, and why good writing makes sure it has a point. When I teach fiction workshops, we talk about why a short story needs to answer the Passover question: Why is this night different from all other nights?

The answer today was this: Because we went to the Sunday night market.

This market lights up your life

The Sunday night market was filled with vendors selling everything from cotton scarves to coconut shell soap dishes to t-shirts, woven skirts and pants, incense, jewelry, and more. It reminded me of a New York street fair—the best ones, with gorgeous handmade jewelry and not so many sock vendors.

And, there was enough food on a stick to give the Iowa State Fair a run for its money. Vendors sold smoothies, meatballs, rotis, cakes, dried fruits and more tasty-looking things I couldn’t readily identify. (Word was fried bugs were available for the curious.) Food-only alleys split away from the main market street. Chopsticks at the ready, we strolled and sampled. We ate pad Thai—real Thailand pad Thai!—that was more complex tasting than noodles past; it was subtly sweet and had a spicy burn that kicked in just when you thought a bite was done. The only thing that tamed the fire was another slurp of noodles.

Real deal pad Thai

At the next stand, the dumplings we ate had thin skins, crisp shredded vegetables, crunchy seared outsides, and were gone before I could take a picture. They were delicious, and they made me miss the four-for-a-dollar dumplings in New York.

And finally, ancient ice cream. Shaped like a stick of butter, and speared by a wooden skewer, it was served in a paper cone to catch drips.

Iowa State Fair, are you paying attention?

I’ve officially consecrated my time in Thailand: I dropped some noodles in my shoe.


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