We have a new fruit vendor on our little street. She is a sweet old woman who comes in and preps the fruit to sell early every morning. By the afternoon she has sold out her daily supply and goes back home. One of the first few days she came, she brought along her college-aged daughter to help. Since I love fruit, I stop often to buy freshly cut fruit from the street vendors in Bangkok, especially the one on our street.
Fruit was actually my starting point for learning Thai. When we first moved to Bangkok, I would walk by the fruit vendor with Andy and our Thai tutor and buy some fruit. I wanted to be able to buy it by myself, so every day I would learn the name of a new fruit and how to order it. This amused the fruit vendor we had at that time, and he loved to trick me by talking back to me in a different dialect. I was often the start of a joke, but didn’t mind as long as I could get what I wanted without any help.
Fast forward to today and my shopping and conversing skills are quite good in Thai, but new vendors don’t know that. As I went to order the fruit that I wanted, the daughter stepped forward to help me. The older fruit vendor can’t speak any English, not even the names of the fruits, so her daughter wanted to make sure that I got what I wanted without any trouble. This girl’s English isn’t good either, but she can help her mom and ask basic questions in English.
(The following conversation is carried out in Thai)
I order my fruit (usually cantaloupe, watermelon, guava, or pineapple) and wait patiently for the woman to cut it up for me. The daughter (starting to speak in English, but switching to Thai as I answer her in Thai) asks where I work, why I am on this little street, about my baby, and finally wow, why are you learning Thai so well.
Being that this is the first time meeting this family, I don’t want to get all spiritual in my response to why I am learning Thai (I have already said that I work at the church and teach English there). I decide to go with a much more practical answer, I want to be able to talk and really communicate with all Thai people. This really impressed the girl. She felt that she could talk with me in broken English if she wanted, but she realized that I cared about all Thai people, not just the younger generation. I wanted to be able to talk with people like her mom, an easily overlooked generation in a rapidly changing Thailand. This brought huge smiles to both the girl’s and old woman’s face.
Now, every time I stop to buy fruit on our street, the older woman converses with me instead of shying away from any conversation. It’s experiences like these that make all the hard work of learning Thai worth it.