Sanuk is one of those Thai words that it’s hard not to fall in love with. Sanuk is usually translated as “fun”, but it’s more than that. It is, as a well know online Thai travel guide puts it, “about striving to achieve satisfaction and pleasure from whatever you do. Whether it’s the office, the karaoke bar or working in the rice fields, Thai people will try and make it sanuk.”
Jeap had told me over the Couchsurfing messenger that it was her custom to go to the temple on Sundays, so I asked her to take me along. It was my first couple of days in Thailand -Chiang Mai to be more specific- and I felt that a Sunday temple experience would serve as a good cultural introduction to the country.
So I texted Jeap on Sunday morning. She proposed to meet at Wat Suan Dok temple in the evening.
JEAP: My sisters will be there. Do you mind?
ME: No, why would I? The more the merrier.
JEAP: “Sorry, na?”
ME: “No problem.Can we go for dinner or drinks after?”
JEAP: I don’t know, ka. Maybe. But we are very busy.
ME: OK. We’ll see.
I spent the day temple hopping on my rented bicycle and enjoying Chiang Mai’s fantastic cafes. Until the time came to navigate the traffic from my guestroom in Nimman to the temple, on the busy Suthep Road.
I parked my bike and looked for the entrance of the temple. People were already leaving.
Sure enough, Jeap was there with her four friends, the temple girls. Introductions were made, and after a few photos in the beautiful temple we walked to the parking lot.
Fang, the most fluent girl, said that they’d be happy to have me join their usual Sunday post temple plan of dinner and ice-cream. I loved her extremely polite language, topped with the friendliest of smiles, to which I could only answer,
“I will be honoured to.”
So we rode our scooters (me with Jeab) to some nearby joint on Suthep road where we had Suriyaki for 50 baht. And I got to know the girls better. Behind their giggles and apparent naiveté, they were all professors or researchers of Biotechnology at Chiang Mai university. A weird scenario, me with five nerdy giggling Thai women – no booze on the menu, no pressure to flirt or impress. It was really fun – sanuk mak.
After dinner, we leisurely walked up Suthep road and checked out the food stalls (crunchy insects on the menu) before we got to the ice-cream place. The girls talked away in Thai, only occasionally trying to include me in their never ending conversation.
I didn’t mind. It was so much fun to see them walk up to the counter and chat and giggle for minutes on end before ordering.
“Is all this talk really about ice-cream?” I joked.
That made them giggle even more.
Jeap and her friends smiled and laughed at my simplified stories and goofy responses. And I think I impressed them with my scattered knowledge of the Thai language.
“Yes, girls – I sure know that “fish” is bplaa, I can say “my name is….” and my favourite Thai phrase is “mai bpen rai”.” (It still is)
“I have a good teacher”, I acknowledged, smiling at Jeab – making her blush ever so slightly.
But the highlight of the night was when they put me through the test of learning both their names and nicknames, and quizzed me on the latter after I’d finished my ice-cream. Fang, Ning, Wi, Kat and, of course, Jeap.
Ice-cream time was over, but we were not yet done. The temple girls were adamant about assisting me to get hold of a Thai sim card for my mobile phone.
“Please don’t bother, I insisted. I know you’re busy girls and you should be heading home.”
“No bother”, Fang replied. “Actually it will be fun for us.”
And sanuk it was. Just the sight of the six of us leaning on the counter, as the shop manager (henceforth Mr Technician) was trying to get the Thai sim work alongside my Spanish one, was funny. It was a lengthy process, but never did the temple girls seem bored or stopped cracking jokes. They laughed heartily as I grew impatient with my phone and started talking to it in Spanish.
It took Mr Technician a while to get the SIM card to work, but he finally delivered. We all responded with roaring hurrays and kop khun krap /ka’s.
Soon after, I said goodby to the girls before Jeap drove me back to my bike and we parted ways. A wonderful evening, but now it was time to navigate my way home trying to avoid the stray dogs and ignore the rats that populated the quiet sois (alleyways) that I took as a safer alternative to the main roads.
I texted Jeap as soon as I got to my guesthouse.
ME: It was a wonderful evening. I want to see you and the gang again.
JEAP: Maybe, maybe. But we are very busy.