10 Cool Things in Thai Culture/Chabad Tries to Figure Out My Jewish Label (Good luck)

By Sarah, Teach In Thailand

 I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to write this time! I’ve been super busy. Lately, my kids have been little monsters! On especially terrible days I bribe them with “dance Gangham style time” as a reward if they’re good.  
This week’s words: Thunder, lightning, rainbow
It’s an easy unit. I have them bang on the table for thunder, I turn off the lights for lightning (I swear it’s like they’ve never seen a light switch go off before) and arm gestures for rainbow. 
1. The bum gun. Yes, you heard me right. BUM. GUN. I’ve added a picture. This is what Thai people use in place of toilet paper. So much fun.
2. Traffic cops are on bicycles… not very helpful.
3. NOBODY wears a seatbelt. The average light lasts 90 seconds (there’s a visual timer). Result? CHAOS. Now add in a van crammed with 12 children in 5 seats. My life.
3a. Recently a taxi driver missed the turn to my school. Instead of turning around somewhere, he STOPPED  in the middle of the highway (cars going 60 mph backs up going 10 mph until he could make the turn.
4.College kids wear uniforms here. 
5.Stray dogs are EVERYWHERE. Every night there’s at least one dog sleeping in front of  7/11. Slurpee overdose?
6. CRISPY M&Ms are still here! 
7. Last weekend, I stayed with a couple in their hotel. As a welcome gift, the hotel dropped  a plate of egg bananas. Then they took a picture of me holding the plate. This country is so funny.
8. Etiquette: Thai people even stand in single file lines on the platform while waiting for the sky train! 
 BUT. If you’re standing in line at a store, beware of the “swoop”—a smiling Thai person will cut right in front of you like a desperate mother  reaching for the last Furby on black Friday. 
9. I see monks every morning on my way to school! It’s a cool way to start the day: 
 10. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but here are pictures of the whitening creams that I see in every convenience store: 
So I went back to Chabad this weekend. As a newcomer, I’m asked about my religious level with frustrating frequency. One Israeli even told me he was trying to put me in a box. As somebody who is accustomed to American Judaism where labels don’t really matter and there are many shades of grey in terms of observance, this was kind of disconcerting. I’ve found that these Chabadniks either want me to be on their level of religiosity or totally new to of Judaism. Anything else is “Judaism lite” (yes I was called that). 
I’m not particularly easy to put in a box. I come from an observant family that identifies as conservative, I’ve davened in both orthodox and conservative settings, I attended orthodox day school for 15 years, I can read a gemara,… oh but wait, I also lein and can read a haftarah with no problem. And I’m a feminist. Hmm, I wear pants on the weekend? But my Shabbos outfits fit the unofficial rules! Long enough, neutral in color, and cover all the right places. I speak Hebrew and regularly read the parsha but… I am not shomer negiah. I have the education level of somebody who keeps Shabbos and kosher although I eat vegetarian out and drive to shul….uhhh Whaaa?? WHAT IS THIS GIRL??? I know, I know, pretty lopsided box.
Can’t we just use the Epstein answer for awkward inquiries about my level of observance? My family fasts on Tzom Gedalia. Whatever you can glean from that works for me. 

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