It’s the little things

So happy to finally have hangers.

So happy to finally have hangers. (Photo by Jammie Karlman)

We’ve been in Bangkok a little over two weeks and I’ve begun to miss things. Little things, like:

• Hangers. These pieces of plastic carry a lot of weight around here (haaaaaa). Here, they not only keep clothes wrinkle-free and in neat array, but it’s also part of the preferred method of drying laundry (as in: putting the clothes on hangers to dry outside on a rack.) Ergo, no hangers = can’t do laundry —> recycling of clothes —-> dirty, stank mess.

But finding them is another story. Before, hangers were one of those objects that just seem to be magically in a room. But if you don’t have them in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and don’t drive a car, getting hangers turns out to be quite the ordeal. First obstacle: locating them. We looked around the neighborhood for about 30 minutes and poked around in a good 5 or 6 shops/stalls before we located some. We didn’t buy them that day, but I wish we had because when we went back, the stall had closed down. 2nd obstacle: Not getting ripped off.  If it’s a small shop and you don’t know your numbers, you might get the farang (foreign) price. 3rd obstacle: Transportation. We found some hangers at a good price at a grocery store — that was a 20-minute walk away.

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Am I, or am I not, wearing pants? (Photo by Jammie Karlman)

• A full-length mirror. I didn’t realize how much I relied on one until I didn’t have one. We have only one small mirror in the bathroom which shows about 1/3 of my body at any given time. Close to the mirror I can see my face and shoulders. If I stand farther away, it will show my torso (minus my head, of course). The bathroom and the angle of the mirror are not great enough for me to ever see anything below my knees. Consequence: I could have unsightly lumps/gnarly splotches/a lizard riding on my calves and never know.

• Pillows. Another item that just seems to be magically in a room. Same deal as the hangers.

• An iron. I used to pride myself on not ironing my clothes. Wrinkled is the new black, I would say (mostly to myself because no one else believed me). But after having my clothes stuffed in a suitcase for more than a week, I realized I would have to iron them to get them into any semblance of their former shape.

However, the things I have appreciated most here are little things also. Things like:

• Smiles. Because I don’t know the language and even some of my body language seems offensive (I think I’m leaning in too much),  it’s an extreme relief to have the other person smile at me after an awkward negotiation.

My favorite moment here so far: Bjorn and I were at a food cart that had baked half-moons of coconut milk for sale. Only we didn’t know what they were at the time, and didn’t want to buy an entire box of 14, which is how they were being sold.  We pointed at one half-moon and held up 5 baht. The vendor look confused.
“One?” we kept repeating uselessly and then pointing to the coin. A frown crossed her face.
“Uh-oh, not good,” I said. Just when we were about to abort the mission and walk away, she scooped up two half-moons and handed them to me.
“Oh!” I said in surprise and Bjorn tried to give her the coin. But she just smiled and waved it away. Score!

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Me and a new buddy. (Photo by Bjorn Karlman)

• Hugging a chubby baby. Looking at fat babies pleases me. Squishing one makes me inordinately happy. On our first weekend here we ran into some of Bjorn’s childhood friends who had 2 adorable children, one of whom was a very healthy 6-month-old who willingly let me hold him. Without crying. Fat and friendly? Double score!

• Polite phrases. Bjorn and I have found a faith community where members say “Good evening” with a happy sing-song lilt and “I’ll go ahead” when they take leave of you. I love it. So much nicer than “Hey” and “Bye.”

• Sparrows. When you travel to a foreign, exotic locale, you expect to see things that are, well, foreign and exotic. Just about everything here looks different — the style of dress, fruits, traffic patterns, flowers. Even animals look different: The dogs and cats are skinnier and smaller, but the the rats  are HUGE (literally the same size as the cats). So it was with some surprise when a sparrow briefly alighted on my balcony rail, and looked just like one from the U.S.  Seeing that familiar, small, brown bird took me one step closer to feeling settled in.

Richard Carlson,  author of “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff — and It’s All Small Stuff,” had it half right. Life is all small stuff — but it’s the small stuff that makes you happy.

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