Photo: Photo APS/Shutterstock

A Day in the Life of an Expat in Thailand

by Katherine Stone Jan 11, 2010
Learning to live like a Thai.

I am a 23 year old, a year out of college, who desired a nomad life, a life of extraordinary ordinariness.

So I moved to Thailand. I’m learning how to live like a Thai. Instead of trips, I hit the road for lengthy “stays”. I like to live, not visit. I find being a temporary tourist is just not as satisfying.

My day begins with the breaking sun at six am. The heat is enough to get me out of bed without much difficulty. Living in a tropical climate with one fan means you wake up flushed and damp. It’s a good thing that a cold shower in the morning feels good because that is the only temperature available.

I tune into streaming NPR podcasts, usually “All Things Considered” or “Talk of the Nation.” It helps me feel connected to the outside world when home can seem so far away. During this part of the morning I laze around in my room, listening to the radio and hanging up laundry to dry in the sun.

I find that it’s easier to do laundry little by little. Laundry is overwhelming when you are forced to hand wash a huge pile all at once. I’ll cut up papaya I bought for 30 baht from the local fruit stand and mix it with yogurt and muesli for breakfast. I try and ration out the muesli, as it can be quite expensive.

I head to school around 8:30 am. I’ll hop on a motorbike to take me the two miles to school for 10 baht. I head into my office, organize my lessons for the day and wait for assembly to start. Everyday they play a patriotic hymn to signal that assembly is going to start shortly.

We make our way down and stand with the 700 students as they sing the Thai National Anthem and list off announcements in Thai. We can’t understand what is going on but making the effort to be a part of assembly is a significant part of ingratiating ourselves amongst the other Thai teachers.

I head over to Adubon, which is the kindergarten building to teach classes in the morning. My methods consist of singing songs and corresponding dances to help the kids learn. For kindergarteners it is all about play and through that play, with high hopes, they will retain a portion of what I am trying to teach them.

Class begins and ends with the kids piling on top of me trying to hug a piece of me. The Head of Adubon, Teacher Oo, is usually eying me disapprovingly. I just ignore her sneer. I love that the kids are so much more comfortable with me, that they feel safe with me, and humored by me.

When lunch rolls around I am crossing my fingers for my favorite dishes. Lunch is always a surprise. Some days’ lunch can be rather unfortunate, such as fish cakes. The fishiness overwhelms the canteen; and on those days it is the first smell upon entering school.

Most of the time, however, the canteen serves delicious traditional Thai food with Thai desserts. I eat with a couple of the Thai teachers. They talk in their best English and I talk in my best Thai. We have somewhat stilted conversations that always seem to find their way to a solid middle ground.

After lunch, I’m usually exhausted from the heat and having eaten my biggest meal of the day. I always have the hour after lunch free so I cozy up in my office, turn on the fan, lean back in the chair and put my feet up. I see the Thai teacher’s doing it, so I assume I can get away with it. I can pass out within seconds listening to the din of the kids playing in the courtyard, the feel of the stale heat as I breathe in and out and the fan breeze blowing the hair out of my eyes.

Once I finished up my classes for the day I normally feel in need of another nap. Afternoons are more difficult to teach; the kids are tired from the starchy heat and lunch always inspires a more talkative mood. After the first twenty minutes of trying to settle them down end up fruitless, I have to resign myself to accepting my efforts are futile. Since our school is a private institution, it is much more laid back than others in Thailand.

In the late afternoon I drop by the Olympic size pool in the back of the school. It’s nice to jump in the pool after a long hot day and swim out any frustrations through laps. It is also highly meditative and allows me to organize my thoughts. In regards to bathing suits, I do have to cover up my shoulders and stomach with a rash guard. As an ajarn I am expected to act and dress much more conservatively than anyone else.

I tend to enjoy the walk home after a swim. It’s only two miles and it’s nice at sunset. I stop by Pi Jiep’s and buy a coconut smoothie freshly made for 15 baht (about 40 cents). For dinner, oftentimes I will cook at home on the hot plate. I’ll mix up some veggies such as fresh eggplant, beans, cabbage, tomatoes with garlic and onions and make some sweet green curry, known as gaeng kaeo wan. I’ll make rice in the cooker.

Other evenings I visit the cottage vendors and have dinner with some of the teachers. The cottage vendors are people in the community who want to make some supplemental income by selling various deep-fried snacks or often serving full meals.

I make my way back through the neighborhood , while trying to avoid the packs of dogs that follow me home biting at my heels.

I take a cold shower so I can fall asleep in the heat and get ready to do it all over again.

Discover Matador