I don’t know how it’s possible to find your place so quickly, but after 6 slow weeks in this city, I’ve begun running into familiar faces, being a familiar face, feeling familiar. This isn’t the same as belonging, I still know from the top of my too-tall head to my over-sized toes that that I don’t yet “belong” in this world.
But, I have my places. Ones that have been carved out for me by my hosts, by my coworkers, by my church. They aren’t Thai-sized, or even American-sized. These spaces are there for me, the outsider making her home in this overcrowded, overstimulated metropolis.
Then there are the moments with familiar faces in an unexpected setting, and I know I’m beginning to own this city. The moments began my third week here, when I ran into a girl from church at the bus station. She recognized me, and helped me find a ride to my next destination. Another time I saw a woman at another bus station, someone from South Africa I had spoken with on my first day riding that line. She was down the platform, too far for me to call to her – but like me she’s an outsider, and familiar. Last Sunday I came to another bus station and found a family I’d dare to call my friends, waiting for the same train. I could call this natural – we were going to the same service. Still, I was coming late, from 30 minutes away, and the trains come ever 5 – 10 minutes. Each train has over 7 doors to enter. We could have easily missed each other by 5 minutes, entered at opposite ends, seen each other at church. Instead, I found another unexpected familiar face.
The mototaxi stop where I pick up my ride to work – each driver now knows me, where I’m going and not too drive too fast with this foreign woman on the back. I walk up, wave and instantly the eldest of the crew points to the driver who will take me, yells something in Thai and gives him directions while the other drivers smile and wave at me.
For the stop at the corner to enter my village, after getting off the bus, if it’s after 7 pm I have to take a mototaxi. I wait, while they jibe and poke each other, waving at me and imagining I have an opinion over who will drive me. Even if I had an opinion, I couldn’t communicate it. They know me, the newest Farang, the youngest and the only female. They know where I live, and no longer ask for the street number. At first this was disconcerting, but it’s become comforting – if something happens, a band of taxi drivers know who know me, and they know how much they charge me – I’m no longer overcharged.
I don’t belong, but I’ve found my familiar places, my comfortable route, my little connections.