We stop at least four times per day to eat. On each of these occasions, the three water bottles I have consumed in the last hour start to catch up with me, and I ask to use the hong nam (toilet).
While this practice began as merely a mundane necessity, it has become one of my favorite parts about stopping.
Most shop/ roadside restaurant owners use portion of their house as their business. What separates their professional and personal lives is as simple as a thin curtain, a door, a staircase.
I adore seeing the innards of these homes.
The bathroom is a particularly ‘human’ space, what with the disheveled toothbrushes and near-empty shampoo bottles. But often I even get to walk through other rooms on my way to the hong nam (toilet).
A fish tank with the largest luohan fish ever
A shadowed living room-cum-bedroom-cum-kitchen
A dusty lipstick among piles of what had to be Grandmother’s jewellry
Walls upon walls of laminated family photographs
Laundry forgotten on the backs of chairs
Holographic Mickey Mouse images and coloring books
Personal shrines for Grandfather, a specific monk, a deity, all of the above
Many many very large box-televisions
There are two beautiful things about these moments:
1) They are accidental, happenstance, raw, real, honest. The path the hong nam happens to be where and how it is. The homes are not prepared for my visit, and I appreciate them for their clutter, or emptiness.
2) They are unrecorded. Even while writing this, it is difficult for me to remember the details of the insides of the unlit homes. I never think to bring my camera (and it would be intrusive), and thus the full splendor of the home exists, for me, only in the moments I observe it.
I love to see where the dishes are washed, which possessions are most central in the room, which pictures are on the walls, how they are slanted, how the headscarf looks when its hanging over the cupboard door…
Yesterday I sat at a small concrete table, underneath a blue tarp awning in Songkhla, writing postcards and smiling to myself as the rain jutted fiercely out of the sky. I watched as school children scampered past, with their Scouts-like uniforms, clean-cropped hair, and swinging leather messenger bags.
I’d be kidding if I said I wasn’t drenched. A Grandmother motioned for me to come under her awning. We sat in silence as her saucer-eyed toddler Grandson sneaked his cupped hand out under the sky to feel the rain drops.
People might think that people-watching is a creepy hobby, but I disagree. We want to see how other people are naturally, how they live, how they think.
I often find that my presence (being a white female traveler) alters the spaces I enter too greatly for me to really see them. I get frustrated by how self-consciousness, and I cannot focus on the details.
Under this awning, in the shadow of the rain, I felt enormously relieved – I was watching without being watched.
So, whether it is:
gazing upon school children as they flood the streets to buy their favorite electric green drink and fried after-school snack, or
catching my reflection in an anonymous yet oh-so-personal dresser mirror, or
quietly following behind our new-found monk friends as they receive their morning alms,
these mute glimpses show me the daily, the mundane – things which can never rightly be told with our few Thai words or many exaggerated gestures.
On my way back from the hong nam I linger just a while longer – not ready to face the bright sunlight, the bicycles, the journey, the movement. I breathe in all the somehow-familiar newness and feel grateful for all that means ‘home’.