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Life in Chiang Mai  



By Robyn Stewart
As a New Yorker, I am no stranger to flying bugs. New York City has the largest, most unruly looking cockroaches known to man. There are more flying cockroaches than people in the city of over 8 million. But all of my battles to keep them out of my Brooklyn apartment pale in comparison to the first battle I had with termites in Thailand.

Picture the scene; having just arrived in Chiang Mai and secured a teaching job, I was feeling calm, cool and in control during my evening English conversation class. The rainfall had cooled down the air and the drop in humidity had left my frizzy hair looking good for a change. I had a class of university students busy with work, leaving me with a minute to reflect on how happy I was. The sun had set and our classroom was the brightest room on the hall. And then it began.

Hundreds of flying creatures started entering my closed and air-conditioned classroom. They came in through the cracks around the doors. Although the windows were closed, they were no match for these tricky beasts. Soon I was swarmed in flying termites. As they flew up my skirt and down my shirt, panic began to rise. I swatted left and right, but my two hands were far outnumbered. Fear rising into my eyes, I looked up to check on my students. They had termites on their desks, on their papers and in their laps, but calmly continued working.

Was this the beginning of the end of the world? Were the termites taking over? Was the apocalypse upon us? These questions raced through my head mingled with confusion over the serenity of my students. As they finished the activity, they looked to me to begin checking answers and continuing the lesson. I was in no state to be doing any of these things. My extreme agitation was not lost on my students. I dared the question, “Is this ok?” and one student answered. She said “Oh, yes, teacher. It’s just termites,” as if that explained this formidable, terrifying event.

This student majored in entomology and came to the front of the class to save the day. She calmly reached the light switches and turned the lights off, then moved to the rear of the classroom and turned those lights on. It was a simple act, yet very effective. The termites moved to the back of the class, leaving me shaken and grateful for my student’s expertise. She looked up at me and said, “See? All gone.” I could have kissed her (but did not for obvious reasons).

Our class continued until the appointed hour when I dismissed the students. As they filed out, I stopped my shining star pupil and thanked her for saving the class and my sanity. She laughed a light-hearted, warm giggle and said, “You’re new here. You’ll learn.”

The Chiang Mai Mail is publishing a series of articles on residents’ experiences of life in Chiang Mai. If you would like to contribute please email [email protected]

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