Amanda's Epistle

The continuing story of my life in Thailand


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And he calls me “Mommy.”

It’s confusing when I introduce my family to people. My nephew has lived with us since he was five years old, and I’ve been in charge of his care since he was three (when I married his uncle). In his native language, Lisu, he calls me Anyiche (a combination of Anya, which means Aunt, and Okay, the English word I was saying all the time and that he assumed was my name).

In English, he calls me Mommy.

After all, his own mother hasn’t taken care of him since he was six-months old. She left him with his grandparents so she could re-marry, something that is not uncommon here. When we had our son, we wanted Johnny to call me “Mommy”, so Ben also started calling me Mommy.

Ben would also point out in English class that Johnny is his “brother.” Lisu has no word for “cousin” anyway.

When we moved to the city, Ben started using more Thai, as he actually had friends who only spoke Thai and not Lisu. So with his friends, and also at school, he refers to me as his mother.

Ben doesn’t know the word for Aunt in Thai anyway.

I guess I can come to terms with it. Ben is my son, more than my husband’s nephew. Sometimes, it feels like Ben is my son more than Johnny is. I didn’t give birth to him, but I have treated numerous injuries, picked him up, chased him down, enforced discipline, given out rewards, and taught him to speak in English.

That…and he calls me Mommy.

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You can’t eat flowers

ImageMy first Valentine’s Day with by future husband will always be memorable.  Valentine’s Day is somewhat recognized in Thailand, and the Thai people promote the giving of cards, chocolate, and roses.  But they really try to discourange kissing in public, which isn’t done in this culture (and they always fail when it comes to the western tourists).

When it comes to the people of the Lisu Hilltribe, among whom I do my work, most don’t recognize Valentine’s Day at all, and if they do, they keep things discreet and give nice practical gifts to their loved ones.  I had a Lisu friend who was being courted by a man from Europe, who gave her red roses.  She asked me what the roses meant, and I said they mean deep romantic love.  But she gave me a puzzled look and said, “But…can’t he give me something I can use?  Like…pay for two months of my rent?”

Seriously, that’s what she said. 

My own sweetheart didn’t know much about Valentine’s Day, so he asked me, “What do you want me to give you?”  Not very romantic, but you can’t expect that kind of romance when you’re dating someone from another culture.  They didn’t grow up with it, so you actually have to tell them what is expected on these kinds of holidays.  So I told him, “I want you to give me flowers, roses if at all possible.”  After all, I had fond memories of being insanely jealous of my college roommate, who got any number of roses from her boyfriend on Valentine’s Day, and would then hang them from the ceiling to dry so she could keep them longer.

So on Valentine’s Day….my boyfriend prepares a fish.  A big fish, covered in salt, cooked over a firepot in true Lisu style.  He also gave me a small pretty box…of chocolate.  When I asked him why the chocolate, he said in all seriousness, “You can’t eat flowers!”

This year, I’m going to ask for chocolate.  With my record, he’ll give me flowers, saying the chocolate will make me get fat.


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Smart kids

After many months of procratination, my husband has finally talked me into putting my writing to some good use and starting a blog. I normally write unpublished novels, but he tells me, “What’s the use of writing something if no one ever reads it?” So I’ll go ahead and start writing publicly and hopefully without our two-year-old interrupting me or stealing the keyboard and writing the blog himself.

Besides mothering a two-year-old and an eight-year-old, I teach English to a group of Chinese kids in the evenings. This is a joint venture, as my friend Rosy teaches one group Chinese writing, while I teach the other group English, and then we swap groups. That way, the kids get an hour of each language and their parents keep them out of the house for an additional two hours after school.

Last night, I was writing the words on the board as the kids were coming in. Each one asked the predictable question, “Kian mai?” (Do we need to write this?) and I would answer, “Kian.” (Write). Several more kids came in, each asking the same question, and getting the same answer. Finally, the little girl in the front row asked to see the marker. I gave it to her and she wrote เขียน (write) on the board under the list of words.

It’s kids like this that grow up to be president.

Language note: Thai does not have “yes” or “no.” You have to repeat the verb (write) or negate the verb (don’t write) when asked a yes/no type of question.