“DANIELSON! Wax on, wax off!” This seems to be the most popular reference that people make when they find out that my last name is Danielson. Everywhere I go, I am known as Danielson, or the Karate Kid. I’ve grown familiar with the typical walking-down-the-school-hallway-and-hearing-a-friend-shout-DANIELSON kind of day. Here in Thailand, it seems that the Karate Kid legacy has finally been unveiled. Everywhere I go, I never seem to escape the constant reference to the Karate Kid. Except this time, it’s different in Thailand. I don’t have people running around, shouting, “DANIELSON!” to me. Instead, I witness first-hand the original Karate Kids at their finest: the nursery kids.
That’s right. They are more intimidating than they look and have taught me a thing or two about “wax on” and “wax off” fighting skills. What they do is simple. I happily walk into the classroom, ready to receive a great deal of attention because of my glowing white skin and they all surround me. Then we’ll form a circle, holding hands. Every child wants to hold the white girl’s hand…but the white girl only has two hands, which is a problem. So instead of wanting to take turns, the kids will (literally. I’m not even joking) throw a full-blown karate chop to the kid who is holding my hand. They will continue to karate chop the kid’s hand until he can no longer endure such pain and ultimately lets go of my hand. My hand is then grabbed by another child, and the process continues. Karate chop after karate chop, I realize how fierce these kids can be…they’re the kind of kids who are going to grow up and be the ones who you would never want to find in a deep, dark alley. The thing is, I know they’re meaning to karate chop the other kid who is holding my hand, but they end up karate chopping my hand 80% of the time. I have found bruises on my hands just from these 4-year-old children’s fighting skills. Pretty impressive, right? I’ve decided that they are the original Karate Kid(s). Thus, the legacy of the Karate Kid continues to follow me throughout my life.
Aside from being constantly karate chopped at school, I have also attempted to integrate myself into the Burmese culture. I was given a traditional Burmese skirt, or as they call it, a lonchi (pretty sure that’s spelled completely wrong…but that’s what it sounds like when they say it. If anyone from Myanmar reads this, I apologize. I am not trying to butcher your language in any manner). The lonchi is a large piece of fabric that you wrap around your waist, almost like a towel. You fasten it exactly how you would fasten a towel around your waist. Now I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure that a towel is not meant to be worn all day. In fact, if you did wear it all day long, you probably would have to adjust it as it tends to become loose. Well that is exactly how I see lonchis…I see them as towels. Don’t get me wrong, they’re absolutely beautiful. The designs on them are astounding. Each lonchi is unique in that it comes from a different ethnic group in Myanmar. My friend showed me on a map where two of my lonchis come from, so I could see how the geographic differences produced contrasting designs, which is really neat.
The problem is this: I am short. A little too short for this lonchi that my friend gave me. In order to not have it sagging on the ground, I have to hike it up to my chest, suck in, then fasten it (like a towel). I have to make it very tight or else it will not fasten and will just fall down…which I experience numerous times on a day-to-day basis. Let’s look at the first day I wore a lonchi, shall we? I didn’t even know how to walk in it since the fabric is so thick, it doesn’t allow much room for my legs to move…so I hiked it up (which probably is not cultural protocol) when I walked across the soccer field to my first class. As I’m teaching, I am writing on the white board…except every time I write, I bring my arm up…and then bring it down. Up and down, up and down, turn around, speak to the class…oops! I dropped my marker, here I go to pick it up. After doing all of these actions, as you can imagine, my lonchi becomes looser and looser. So by the time I pick up the marker, the lonchi is so loose…that it kind of…basically…falls down.
That’s right. And you think you’ve had bad days. My skirt fell down in front of a bunch of 6th graders. Luckily, LUCKILY, I am a smart person and decided to bring a pair of spanx with me to Thailand (that’s the only thing I actually remembered to bring…I even forgot to bring socks. How embarrassing, right?). So I didn’t flash the class or anything, they just saw some black shorts and laughed and said, “Teacher, are you ok?” and I’m screaming in my head, “No, I am not ok! My skirt just fell down in front of a bunch of middle schoolers!”
The best part about that little mishap was when I realized this: I will be teaching these kids for the next 6 months…and they saw my skirt fall down within the first month of teaching. How many other things are they going to witness?! Ah, I’m scared just thinking about it!
So let’s review my experiences with lonchis, shall we? I can’t walk in them (or they fall down). I can’t teach in them (or they fall down). And I DEFINITELY cannot see the nursery kids when I wear them (because they pull them down…literally). So what am I going to do about it? I’m going to march in a parade in a lonchi! Yeah, that’s right…that’s actually exactly what I did the other day. I can honestly say that it was the most painful 2km of my life. I’m barely breathing in fear that inhaling and exhaling will loosen my already-loose lonchi. I can’t move my legs very much, so I basically penguin-waddle. To add to this hilarious description of me, let’s not forget the dozens of Asians who want to take pictures with me as I’m walking in the parade (because they don’t see white girls in lonchis everyday…it’s kind of a big deal). That was basically my Sunday night in a nutshell.
Besides my inability to immerse myself into the Burmese fashionista culture, I’ve had a pretty amazing first month in Thailand. The people here are amazing and so caring. Everyone looks out for me (well I’m pretty easy to spot around here…just look for the flaming red hair and the vampire-like white legs) and they practice their English with me. I really enjoy working at this school. This organization is making a huge impact in the lives of the Burmese migrant children. To most kids, this school is their only hope for a promising future.
I have heard incredible life stories from the people here, most stories I will not write about in this blog, but will hopefully share with you individually upon request. All in all, it’s been a great month in Thailand and I do not have any second thoughts on this whole gap year idea. If there are any students in high school reading this right now, I am telling you: TAKE A GAP YEAR. Just do it. You’ll thank me later.
Coming soon: next blog will be about my experiences with food here! It’s going to be a good one, so stay tuned!