Last week, my mother made the 25-hour plane trip out to Thailand to visit her son, me, after nine months of having only choppy Skype sessions and scattered emails to give her an idea of what I look and act like since having left home last August.
We spent a week together touring beach resorts, temples and being spoiled by host families and Rotarians. Her presence in my new life proved a powerful reminder of who I was nine months ago in America before undergoing the life changing experience of Youth Exchange.
Even before I met her, my mother was received by Thailand in typical hospitable fashion — on the plane to Nakhon, my city, the passenger next to her gave her a mango. Why not? Mangoes are in season now. Although that would have caught me off guard too, months of living in Thailand has set my perspective of what an American would consider “surprising” far from my mother’s and spending a week with her reminded me of all the things I once found astonishing.
Cattle tied up in the median of a highway, for example, is odd, I recalled. A family of four crammed on to a moped that could comfortably fit two is frightening. I forgot that an elderly woman walking the streets with baskets of peanuts hung over her shoulder by a yoke and blind beggars in front of temples was jaw dropping. Fried cockroaches won’t ever be palatable to either of us, but I’m no longer aghast at seeing them at night markets because for months, all of these things have vanished into what is now my ordinary life.
Some things haven’t changed in our mutual perspective, though. The joke I once heard by a Thai man kidding that his wife was Burmese instead of Thai is still as lost on me as it was on my mother. A man I was once introduced to promptly told me that his wife was from Burma. I replied “Oh, how nice, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” wondering if she could understand Thai. The man, then grinning and chuckling, blurted out “No! She is Thai!” before losing it completely. Funny, right? Thai pop culture, we also agree, is as absurd as the Thai wife from Burma joke.