This entry is from a few weeks ago. Apparently I typed it all up then pressed ‘save’ instead of ‘publish’. GOOD ONE.
It starts like this:
Did I tell you about the time I got chewing gum in my hair? About the time I fell over the ground and landed on my chin? About ALL the times I’ve spent wobbling on one leg in uncomfortable proximity to a moto driver because I can only dismount moto taxis with extreme clumsiness? What about the time I didn’t eat a proper dinner because I’m too awkward?
My experiences of the world – particularly of human interaction – are DRENCHED in awkwardness. Not just that cutesy, oh-isn’t-that-adorable kind of awkwardness. It’s more of an OMIGOD-SOMETHING-COMPLETELY-MINOR-JUST-HAPPENED-AND-NOW-I-WILL-HAVE-TO-CHANGE-MY-IDENTITY-AND-MOVE-TO-AN-UNINHABITED-MOUNTAINOUS-REIGON-SOMEWHERE-IN-ORDER-TO-ESCAPE-MY-SHAME kind of awkwardness. If it takes more than 7 seconds to find my purse at the checkout, I’m hitting an uneasy 3 on the awkwometer. If I’m at the front of a queue, it’s a face–warming 6. SPEAKING WITH WORDS FROM MY FACE (never recommended) usually registers around 7 awks as a general background level of awkwardness, with additional awks for the horrible pauses, misspeaks, musunderstandings and general tripe registering additional awk levels on top. Much of my life is lived on these secret and imaginary upper plains of awkwardness. It’s catastrophizing. It’s ridiculous.
I moved house this weekend (reminder: this is an old post!). Everything resets. Remember all those walk-bys I did when I first started living in BKK? Well, by the time I left Bang Na, I was positively NORMAL in my food ordering. I’d just wander up to a stall and just GET something, as if it was EASY. I said stuff in Thai and they gave me food. Sometimes we extended the conversation: they let me taste it and I told them AROY MAAAAAK! (very delicious). Well, I’m in a new neighbourhood. The food places here are less numerous and different – I don’t know them and I don’t recognise their wares. There is no yam nam. No stewed pork. No chicken-foot soup. I am bereft. The process starts again.
On the day in question, I’d had an annoying afternoon that meant I missed a Cultural Tuesday day trip. I was feeling tired and disheartened. Despite the sticky heat, I fancied a hot meal to warm my cockles (I don’t have a kettle yet, therefore NO TEA), so I went for a food search, my first proper exploration of the area. I employed the age-old technique of the walk-by, of course, for that is my way. One of the stalls I saw had a sign written in Thai and English: sliced grilled beef salad, among other things. Clearly my best bet, I thought. I’ll go there. It was decided.I was committed.
I carried on walking.
I went to the 7-11 to look for an iced tea and some courage. When I came out of the 7-11, I started to wander off towards the BTS for reasons that aren’t exactly clear to me, but managed to remember the plan and turned around. I approached the salad man’s stall. Yes, the sign is in English. Yes, the prices are displayed. This is the one.
I almost walked past for a second time.
My body was turning towards the guy but my legs hadn’t seen the memo and continued marching resolutely forwards. Clearly I hadn’t fully committed to this venture. Memo to Legs, Your cooperation is appreciated. Best, Brain. I probably would’ve carried right on walking had the guy not looked up at me just before I drew level with him. BUSTED! I had to stop after that. He’d spied my interest so walking on at this point would’ve been even MORE awkward, and I did actually want to eat there so what’s the problem? LEGS, WE’RE STOPPING OK?
I stopped. I said hello. In Thai. Awkwardly. The man nodded at me, waiting. I asked for a grilled beef salad. In English. Because it was written on the sign in English and I don’t know how to ask for it in Thai. I only know the words for rice (khao), chicken (gai), spicy papaya salad (som tam), that other salad I like (yam nam), soup (nam sup), pork (moo) and others equally as useless in the situation I’m describing. Ignorant bloody farang.
So anyway. I asked. And – and here’s where it got problematic – the man responded. With WORDS. Uhoh. Not only that, he responded with words in Thai, as if I’m living in THAILAND and that’s the LANGUAGE or something. An immediate 20 awks because I KNOW I should be able to understand what’s going on here, and I’m paralysed at the side of the road, gaping at this poor guy because I don’t speak the language and my brain’s sidled off somewhere and left me to deal with the situation alone. Cheers brain, nice to have you on board.
I mumbled. Looked quizzical. He spoke. I nodded a bit, tried to pick out a word I might know. I think I said ‘yesno’ at one point. Pointed. He tried again. I smiled apologetically. Shrugged. Made vague, meaningless gestures. He came around the front of the stall and jabbed his finger at the item I’d ordered, speaking in what was clearly the most basic Thai he had at his disposal. Still, ignorance reigned. What techniques do normal people have to deal with these situations? NOTHING bad has happened, yet I’m looking around for a hole to jump into. WHY CAN’T I COMMUNICATE WITH THIS MAN? WHY IS IT ALL SO HORRIBLE? Probably a normal person would shrug this off, find some alternative method of communication, or maybe they just wouldn’t care? There was a long moment in which he looked at me in frustrated irritation.
I stood there, umming and aaahing.
Kept standing there.
It was a REALLY long moment. That probably lasted about 3 seconds.
In the end some kid I hadn’t noticed at the other end of the stall (Jesus, I thought, there are WITNESSES) explained: he didn’t have any beef left. Simplez. I smiled, grateful, guilty, waved, apologised profusely – and uselessly – in English, walked away quickly with my cheeks prickling, face down, determined to learn Thai or never step outside my room again.
After that, there didn’t seem to be any other food anywhere in the world. There were other stalls, obvs, though not many, but I felt too awkward to try again. I managed to purchase two oranges and some rambutan from a woman a few stalls up and returned to my room in disgrace. I ate the oranges. The rambutan had beetles on them, but I ate them anyway. Minus the beetles.
There’s always tomorrow, right?
PS/ I did eventually go back and get a spicy beef salad… TWO WEEKS LATER after having walked past the stall at LEAST 4 times every day. It was spicy, beefy, salady and delicious.