The Thais have this term called “Greng Jai” –I would put it simply as an act of service that follows the golden ruler. Thais put such heavy emphasis on self-sacrificing acts, without expecting anything in return, that they have even developed a whole terminology around this idea. I hadn’t given the Greng Jai notion much of a thought until last week when I really needed some.
I had recently moved out of my host family’s house and into a new house of my own. It is about just the right size for one person, has a flush toilet and is quite charming. (I will describe it in a later blog post). The day was Wednesday, and I was having a sort of dip day at the office– nothing was going completely bad, but nothing was going completely good (aka productive) either. That didn’t matter because after work, there was a town meeting where the neighborhood comes together and plans what they want the city government to work on for the next two years. (We had them all last week, and I quite enjoy them. It is a great way to meet the community, ask question, and try to figure out what they need. Also, there is free food at the end.) Anyway, I just had less than an hour before this meeting would start, and I figured I would just go home for a little bit and grab a bite to eat before it started.
Well I get home and am sitting on my red plastic chair (the only chair in the house) when I hear the water going. “’Oh no” I think “did I leave the water running? I hope not.” So I go to the bathroom to see what is going on. The mat outside is soaked. I open the door, and there is THREE INCHES OF WATER on the floor, and the hose attached to the wall (meant for spraying the butt) is spraying everywhere in three directions!!! I step in the bathroom, socks and all, try to see what is the matter. Maybe the spraying fixture just came unscrewed on the hose. Wrong. Somehow the end of the hose had got torn up, and I couldn’t not make the water stop. I call my counterpart, she had made it quite clear if there was something I needed to call her. She doesn’t answer. I look around the bathroom for the water switch, but couldn’t find it. Call again, still no answer. Try to see if it is fixable, no. Call again. Then I realize I should probably go outside of the bathroom in case I dropped my phone, it would be toast. I call again (The reason I am calling so many times is the Thais don’t have voicemail, so usually a person just calls repeatedly if it is something really important). Then I look around the back of the house, I can see pipes, but no water switch. By this time I am getting pretty desperate/frustrated; I am all sweaty from work, my bathrooms flooding, I can’t get ahold of my counterpart, and MY SOCKS ARE WET! I decide that it will just be easier to bike to my counterpart’s house and tell her there than to reach her over the cellphone. I am biking really fast, I arrive at the house and my host dad tells me that Suwanna hasn’t come. I try to tell him to come with phrases like “bathroom flood” “Come” “Water everywhere”; the point doesn’t get across and he just goes inside. By now I am fuming. I can’t get ahold of anyone, I can’t communicate my bathroom is flooding, I desperately need help and I don’t really know any of my neighbors because I just moved in! And of course, the times I do not want to smile or say hi to anyone, is the times where everyone seems to be out saying “hello foreigner”. I do one those fake smiles as in saying “Can’t you see I am having trouble!” and then go back to my grimace.
On the way back, I decide to ask for help from these right across from my place in the market. They have a little outdoor food stall and I had been there once before because the a coworker invited me ) her younger brother works there). You should note, I have only really talked to these people once. So I get there and I keep looking up the word for plumber—I want a plumber! Bathroom Flood! Water everywhere! It takes them a while to get it, but afterwards an older man (who I had never met or seen before) asks if he can see it. THANK GOODNESS! He takes the leaking butt sprayer in his hands fold the hose and thankfully the water stops coming out. Then he leaves. I am a little worried about the water pressure, but so relieved it has stopped leaking.
When I think it is all over, he comes back with a mew butt spraying hose and a wrench. He turns off the water (witch I found out was located in the corner of my backyard), and before I know it has installed the new one and my bathroom works and looks back to normal. I thank him and give him the hundred baht (about $3.20) for the new appliance. After I thank him again he says-in English- “No Problem”
Needless to say, once I arrived at the town meeting, it was almost over, I found out my counterpart had left her phone at home, and was a bit embarrassed describing my situation.
No problem is what Greng Jai is all about. I still can’t fully believe that a man that I had never met before was such a great help. To say thank you, the next day I brought them pineapple. Maybe the bathroom fiasco was just what I needed to get integrated into the community around my new home.