Monday, February 10, 2014

Taking Care

I woke up this morning feeling ridiculously grouchy. My phone battery died and I had to replace it--in a town where I have never had to enter a shopping mall or deal with anything remotely to do with real life. Korat and I have a fantastic relationship. I give it adoration and it gives me good food and comfort too. Why did I have to mess with that by needing something utilitarian to take place? Was I going to have to find The Mall (pronounced Da Mah)? Oh, god, I really didn't want to face cute little sales clerks with little English and still less patience with my abysmal and limited Thai--not here. That's what Bangkok is for.

I should have remembered that I was now in Thailand. What I did remember when I set out on my quest after breakfast was to be observant and look for shophouses that might sell exactly what I wanted.

I found one and the man behind the counter tried to insert a new battery into my old Nokia. It didn't fit. "Go to I.T. Plaza," he told me.

Korat isn't a hotbed of transportation options, particularly early on Monday morning, An elderly cyclo driver stopped and agreed to take me where I needed to go--fortunately it wasn't too far (he was very old--maybe close to my age--and I was worried that he might drop in his tracks from a coronary.) The Plaza was a shopping center, not a mall, and I felt grateful., even more when a girl behind a counter understood my problem and promptly replaced my battery.

An I.T. Plaza it might be but it wasn't narrow-minded in its offerings. There were shoes that weren't hideous and that fit me in a shop near the exit. I bought two pairs and felt exultant.

The man in the shophouse had no reason to be helpful. He wasn't going to get the sale, after all. The girl behind the counter didn't have to be kind--her sale was under ten dollars. And the elderly cyclo driver quoted a fare of 1.50--I gave him 2.00 at the end of the ride and felt as though it should have been more.

But Thailand--real Thailand--is a country where people take care of each other, and of visitors too. It goes beyond customer service into cultural values. It's why I haven't answered my phone for the past two nights.

On the train to Korat, I sat beside a sweet and elderly gentleman. We began to chat and as we neared my destination, he helped me with my baggage and stayed with me until I was at my disembarkation point. A former Police General, he very kindly gave me his phone number in case I had any difficulties as I traveled onward. I gave him mine and we parted friends--or at least I thought we had parted.

On my first night in Korat, he called to make sure all was well and to say that he missed me and to find out when I would be farther north near his home territory. It was a kindly gesture, although a bit lengthy, and I appreciated it. Last night, before my battery died, he called. Twice.

I didn't pick up my phone, nor did I when it rang this morning after the battery was changed, nor at noon when it rang again. I turned my phone to silent and I persistently check the number that's calling when it vibrates. It's always the same one.

He is a very kind old man and he is doing his best to take care of me. Unfortunately when that caretaking leaves the marketplace and becomes closer and more personal, I begin to claw at my throat. Perhaps I don't want to be Thai in my next life after all, just a foreigner once again who comes to Korat (and points north) and loves it in her own prickly fashion.

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