MIDWEST MONKEY: Building a Home

Jasmine An shares her notes from the field in her monthly column Midwest Monkey.

I’ve had a busy July full of work-related travel: flying to Bangkok twice for meetings and also taking a plane / bus / taxi combo to Vientiane, the capital city of neighboring Lao PDR for the first time. AirAsia’s theme song seems to be “Same Old Love.” They play it every time passengers queue to disembark the plane, and I’ve heard it more times in the past month than all the other months of my life combined.

During the last month, my partner Manny and I also moved into a new house, one that we’ll stay in for hopefully the rest of our time in Thailand. It’s just down the highway from our old subleased place, so we loaded our stuff onto the scooter and made it in a couple trips.

moving in

After all the traveling, I’m really looking forward to hanging out at home, finding a routine of sweeping gecko droppings out of the living room, fending off overly friendly dogs on the way to fill up the water jug, and getting to know our neighbors.

Our new house is part of a small cluster that all share the same gravel driveway. The neighbors are some of the most welcoming and generous folks I’ve ever met. A couple weeks ago, I was making small talk with Pi Lek (our closest neighbor) about the banana trees in her backyard, and when she found out that I’d never had gluai khai (a particular species of banana) before, she sent her husband over the next day with some for Manny and me to try.

smallest banana

At the end of the driveway, past the carpentry shop and the tree that is home to Jiuuu the pet monkey, is Mae Noi’s house. Mae Noi is probably one of the best cooks I’ve met, and since we moved in, she’s been giving Manny and me lessons in Thai cooking. Hanging out in her kitchen has drastically improved the deliciousness of our meals, and the type of community that she and our other neighbors welcomed us into changed the tenor of our lives in Thailand.

pad thai w mae noi

Whenever we go over to Mae Noi’s house, we always leave with some sort of food, whether it is nam prik mamuang (a chili pepper and almond paste eaten kind of like guacamole) or a bag of florescent green jello shaped like rubber ducks that was leftover from the lunches she makes for a local school. Her generosity and willingness to spend her free time teaching two young Americans to cook amazes me. And while my stomach enjoys the food she shares with us, I’m even more appreciative of having a neighbor to chat with at the end of the day, someone who will crack jokes, tease us when we deserve it, and help us feel like we’re building a home here.

Jasmine An is a queer Chinese-American who hails from the Midwest. A 2015 graduate of Kalamazoo College, she has also lived in New York City and Chiang Mai, Thailand, and she studied poetry, urban development, and blacksmithing. Her chapbook Naming the No-Name Woman was selected as the winner of the Two Sylvias Press Chapbook Prize. Her poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in HEArt Online, Stirring, Heavy Feather Review, and Southern Humanities Review. Her soulmate and forever muse is Sun Wukong, the Monkey King. As of 2016, she can be found in Chiang Mai continuing her study of the Thai language.

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