New Cultures. Community growth. Spiritual Development. Self Discovery. Yadda yadda yadda.
Sure, I got multiple heavy doses of those quintessential life-changing events. But besides my daily struggle to save the world, a large part of the Peace Corps experience is finding ways to occupy time and fend off boredom. Any volunteer who claims otherwise is either way too gung-ho or a liar.
Here are ten things that I used to keep me occupied during my Peace Corps experience in Thailand:
A common Peace Corps Volunteer observation is that we watch more TV abroad than we ever did at home. I am no exception. Sometimes it’s a ritual, like Seinfeld in the morning. Sometimes it’s family time, like when Morgan and I have 30 Rock Marathon Nights. Sometimes it’s just an escape; there is nothing more disparate from Thailand than the 19th century frontier land portrayed in Deadwood.
Either way, here’s just a partial list of the shows that I have watched while living in Thailand:
30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, The Office, Modern Family, The Simpsons, Family Guy, Futurama, Community, Animal Practice, Arrested Development, Eastbound and Down, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Flight of the Conchords, Frasier, The Middle, Freaks and Geeks, Louie, Outsourced, Party Down, The Sopranos, Deadwood, Weeds, Reno 911, Seinfeld, Sports Night, Saturday Night Live, The Newsroom, Strangers with Candy, NFL’s Hard Knocks, MLB’s The Franchise and an innumerable amount of the 2011 and 2012 baseball seasons.
Has my father’s multiple readings of the Berenstain Bears taught me nothing?
I can’t think of anything more “Peace Corps” than playing the guitar. To be fair I played even before I left, so I guess I’ve just been honing my skills for two years. Sad thing is….it still sounds about the same. That’s all not to say I haven’t learned anything. Some lessons I’ve learned about my guitar playing while in Thailand:
- Thai people don’t care whether or not I am a Man in Constant Sorrow.
- It’s difficult for me to play any song without making it sound like some amateur bluegrass riff. (This quirk especially apparent when I play Gladys Knight’s soul classic, Midnight Train to Georgia.)
- Though in all likelihood you will never hear her sing, Morgan makes one heck of a good duet partner.
- I will forever be both inspired and daunted by the late Doc Watson.
I’ve referenced this one a few times before, but in truth I’ve devoted a good bit of time to the small semi-fertile square of land in the backyard. To give myself credit, I know a lot more know about growing vegetables than I did when I got here. For example: plants generally will not grow in the shade. Didn’t know that two years ago! Also, did you know that snails are detrimental to veggies? For years I thought that they were just slugs’ slightly more endearing cousins. But no. They’re just parasites.
And eggplant? Yeah. Definitely does not have any egg in it. Such a deceptive food.
Here’s a view of the backyard, where the work gets done.
I used to be a dog person. Problem is, the dogs here like to bite me. And since my second best friend here is a fat, orange, feline flea-bag, I’ve grown accustomed to a cat’s natural apathy to my general existence. In fact, having lived in a human fishbowl for the past two years, being constantly ignored is kind of nice.
Question: How does a man take something usually associated with bars, beers and friends and then go and make it certifiably uncool? Answer: He plays by himself for 24 months and makes Excel spreadsheets charting the progress of his skills.
I might not have any friends, but I haven’t lost yet.
My bullseyes may have taken a hit, but my “16” rate is through the roof.
How does one deal with not having friends and the rejection associated with making dart-spreadsheets while watching Aladdin for the third time?
Answer: He makes his own wine. It might not look pretty. It might not taste good. In fact, if might not actually even be “potable” by modern standards. But two cups of this stuff and you’ll kinda get why we’re hooked to the concoction we have lovingly nicknamed “Cringe Juice”.
7. Fantasy Sports
Baseball, basketball, and American football essentially do not exist in Thailand. And since my closest dude-friends live on the other side of a land-mined chain of jungle mountains, we play sports using the internet.
Surprisingly/Depressingly, I am better at fantasy sports than I ever was at real ones. I took the championship in our baseball league, eked out a close second in last year’s football league, and this year…well, I made it to the final four. Still better than if we were playing for real.
The Trang Dugongs brought home the gold this year.
8. Video Games
Now before you judge, consider just how bad television can be. For every Newsroom there’s at least four different versions of The Real Housewives of Skankville, and for every brain cell earned by watching Al Jazeera’s latest critique of the Greek economy, Honey Boo Boo kills six. In this age, there’s at least something to be said for active thought processes. To wit, I have found that there are some pretty great (and intelligent) video games out there. Don’t get me wrong; they’re not ALL so cerebral. I spent many an hour just blowing stuff up for funsies.
But for a guy who truly belongs in the outdoors, I have had a great time working through the puzzles of the Portals series and playing 21st century Legos with Minecraft.
I can’t decide if this giant Mo statue that I built in Minecraft is one of the sweetest or creepiest things I’ve ever done.
9. Drilling, Plumbing and Pest Control
So everyone in the village thinks that Morgan and I are the smartest most able people to have ever walked the earth. Why?
1) We bought a drill and therefore can put holes in concrete, thus creating places to hang pots, pictures, and other displayable knickknacks.
2) We figured out a priceless equation: Lots of Plumber’s Tape + Lots of Plumber’s Glue + Lots of Towels = Successful Thai Plumbing.
3) When we find something unpleasant in our house, we are quite adept at removing it. So far we have removed (peaceably or otherwise): 1 green snake, 1 large dead rat, 1 emperor scorpion, 2 cobras, a large family of mice, innumerable toads, an army of cockroaches, and 3 incorrigible young Thai boys.
Laugh if you want. My ability to utilize a screwdriver impresses more than 70% of the old-lady population that IS my neighborhood.
Some say that necessity is the mother of invention. I say that boredom is her aunt.
Though many inventing projects have failed miserably (RIP corrugated steel homemade stove-top oven), some of the more successful include:
- A toaster made of 3 beer cans, 2 metal rings, and loose w ire
- A “lawn mower” made of a desk leg, paint roller, corrugated steel and loose wire
- A cover for the well in the middle of our kitchen made of wood from discarded school desks
- A handy dog-repellant stick for Morgan made out of spare bike parts, a broken umbrella and stuff I found in the trash
Beer Can Toaster in action