Indiana, an unexpected appropriate transition to Asia

I came back to Bloomington, IN in the end of April to work at Esan Thai, the Thai restaurant I worked at in college.

I’m living in the Wat Pah Indiana, or in English, the Forest Temple of Southern Indiana. It’s a Thai Buddhist temple that the owner of my restaurant runs and she is letting me stay here. In exchange, I take care of these guys.

Pretty cute, right?

I’ve done a few other Asian things besides working at a Thai restaurant and living in Buddhist temple.

Here’s a picture of Aey, my boss (more a close friend at this point) and I at Asia Day at the Farmer’s Market. They asked her to do a cooking demonstration which turned into me cooking Kang Luang (yellow curry) for the first time ever while she gave me instructions, in the rain, in front of an audience. We were told we’d be on TV, but that didn’t end up happening. I’m not too torn up about it.

Another big Asian moment I had was the Laos New Years Festival in Fort Knox, Kentucky, another surprising place to feel like you’re in Asia. Laos and Thailand are super similar in terms of culture, language, and history, so Aey, her daughter Kara, and I went down for the day. I went a long because Kara was supposed to be in the beauty pageant and they needed me to do her hair and make-up, and I was promised an all-night dance party. Kara signed up for the pageant too late to be a contestant and the dance party was rained out. I’m still super glad I went, though! Lots of interesting food and things to do. Aey insisted that Kara and I wear traditional Thai dress. For a few hours, Kara and I were the only people wearing traditional clothing and I was the only white person, which was kind of an unsettling feeling, but I was there, so why not embrace it? Aey told people that she was there with her two daughters (yep, I’ve been adopted into a Thai family). I sure loved the expression on peoples’ faces when she would introduce us as her daughters. One of us looked a bit out of place. Guess who? 

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Thailand and Laos are very different from Indonesia, but these experiences are helping me get a sense of what life in Southeast Asia will be like. I’ve been thrown into situations full of spicy (kind of weird) food that I’ve been promised I will encounter in Sumatra. Also, and more importantly, I’ve been in some situations where I didn’t speak the language at all. Having only traveled in Latin America and being a Spanish speaker, I’ve had an advantage in adjusting. I will not have that luxury in Indonesia, but I’ve been really lucky to have made some Indonesian friends who have been helping me out a lot.

But more on Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian language) language later. I’ve been studying it and find it fascinating. Maybe you’ll think it’s as cool as I do, or maybe I’m just a linguistic nerd. Who knows?

 

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After years of expensive education, a car full of books, and anticipation…

If you haven’t heard it, check out Jamie Cullum’s song “Twentysomething”  If you are a twenty-something, like me, it will probably resonate well with you. If you’re a grown up, give it a listen and remember your twenty-something, hopefully fondly. If you’re younger, look forward to making a similar list to the song, and one that has a striking resemblance to George Constanza’s reality check after quitting his job.

“I like sports. Maybe I could be a sports announcer. You know how I’m always making those witty comments during the games?”
“I think they tend to give those jobs to ex-ball players or people with a degree in broadcasting.”
“That’s really not fair.”

You will undoubtedly freak out your parents when you don’t choose to this option: move back home, pay off my loans working nine to five answering phones. Sorry, Mom and Dad.

It’s been exactly one year out of college for me, and when I avoid looking at my monthly bank statements so as to not face the music of my poverty, I question many a choice that I’ve made. But when I think back on all why my bank account is low and what I’ve done with my year, I have different feelings. Not feelings of accomplishment, per say, but definitely satisfaction. Living in the Florida Keys was far from awful and I took some pretty fun vacations: the Caribbean coast of Colombia, California, and the East Coast of the USA.  Sure, one can argue that I’m putting off adulthood, but I’m a twentysomething in a rough economy with a degree in Anthropology, Folklore, and Latin American & Caribbean Studies, so what am I to do?

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That brings me to the point of this post. What do you do with an Anthropology and Folklore degree? People asked me that all through undergrad and I consistently gave the answers my advisors gave me: work in a museum, do contract archaeology, go to graduate school. Sure, graduate school is on my to-do list, but I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on what anthropology and folklore programs train students to do and then how to put those skills to practice. Essentially, I learned how to both participate in and observe cultures #participantobservation, ask insightful questions, dig square holes, turn on my “artifact eyes”, and appreciate both the differences and similarities that people have throughout time and space.

So what do you do with a degree in Anthropology and Folklore? How do you put the skills listed above into practice? I argue that you should move somewhere interesting and make it work. Sure, you may just be scraping by, but you will be doing all the things your expensive education and car full of books have trained you to do.

Scraping by is much more enjoyable with a view.

Last year, that interesting place was South Florida (Key Largo and Miami) and soon, I’ll be completely out of my element in Bandar Lampung, Sumatra, Indonesia. Not using the Latin American and Caribbean Studies component of my degree as much as I did this past year, but I couldn’t be more excited to mix things up a bit!

That’s where English as a Second Language comes in. People have asked me why I’ve decided to branch away from my degree and teach ESL, but I disagree. I don’t know if there’s any other way I could use my degree and be as satisfied with life as I am. With ESL, I can live and work as a community member pretty much anywhere in the world, am given daily opportunities to talk with people and combine teaching them English with me learning about their culture (more on this in a later post. Lessons where students give presentations about their cultures are my favorite and I have some fun stories to share), and place myself in situation to learn another language myself.

So Sumatra, here I come! Well, in about five weeks when I get my work visa…