“Chocolate and coffee” I tell the shake lady. I have become accustomed to naming people after what they provide me. “Pad Thai Lady and Shake Lady are only 2 of many examples. She hears this and her eyes widen. She giggles to herself. She can always count on me to create a new combination or flavor. The blender goes and I cannot hear the chaos of the crowd behind me, only the ice, cocoa powder, and coffee being blended together into a blissful smoothie that will satisfy my need for something familiar and sweet. As the blender stops, when the smoothie is the perfect consistency, she pours it into a plastic cup with a plastic bag handle. Once the pouring is done she sticks her spoon enthusiastically into the blender in an anxious attempt to taste this new bliss I have created.
Something smooth wraps around my wrist and for a moment I am brought back to my familiar hometown, where in all likelihood this smooth texture is the hand of an acquaintance or old friend. I turn in anticipation, excited to see a familiar face. He is familiar. I know his eyes immediately, however he is not who I was expecting so I jump at the sight of his trunk wrapped around my arm.
One of my students has taken my wrist. I look down. She is analyzing my skin very carefully. Eventually she looks away from my mosquito bitten arms and into my eyes. She is now studying them absorbedly. I smile and ask, “Can I help you?” She smiles back at me. She simply says “Suay.” This translates to beautiful in Thai and I hear it often but this moment I felt as though she was not commenting on my white skin, or my western style, but on Kru Taylor. My heart jumps as I giggle and keep walking to monitor the room.
My students have no fear of touching me. They hug and poke my belly and hold my hands. When I am in the classroom I expect affection and intrigue. When I am outside of the classroom, however, I have come to expect very few touches of warmth or intimacy.
His eyes create a feeling of sympathy in me. It is as though he is asking for help. I want to help. After a moment of frantically assessing the situation I recognize he will not let my arm free. After another moment of talking to the elephant and patting his trunk and feeling superior that he has chosen me, I realize that it is not the animal, but the owner who has selected me. As I watch the owner pat the elephant’s ear I see that he has not wrapped around me on his own accord. This is a trained act, in an attempt to get money from the foreigner at the food market. My sympathy turns to a feeling of rejection as I try with more vigor to get the elephant’s trunk to release. The owner puts his hands out begging and I simply shake my head with a hesitant smile as I continue to struggle to free myself. Eventually the animal gets fed up with my poking and prodding his extremity and lets go. I look at the Shake Lady and she simply shrugs and smiles as she blends her next smoothie. I walk through a quiet side street and begin my journey home.