Today I ran out quickly to grab a bowl of noodle soup before class started. I chose an egg noodle stall near my house that was shackled up to a 7-11 with a couple of tables and chairs strung together. But I was surprised to see a long lineup, about 10 locals long. ‘Forget it’ I muttered to myself, and chose their competitor right next to it. At least they had a few seats left. This place was a first for me though. I glanced at the Thai menu and quickly placed my order. “Long noodles, water with ice in it please”. In Thailand, sometimes they don’t list the meat and you play a game of chance.
An older man parked up with his Motorbike and sat right across from my seat (see picture). I gave him a slight bow and greeting. Funny enough, he didn’t need to order or ask if he could sit. It’s just how Asia rolls, a lot of hidden rules. So I began to chit chat with him some more.
“Excuse me sir, are you a regular customer here?” I asked.
“Yes, in fact I’ve been a customer here for 60 years ever since I was a child. 60 years, can you believe it?” He responded.
Our order’s quickly arrived. In fact this man’s order (2 bowls) came faster than mine. The man points out, “I have come here so often that everyone knows me well and brings me exactly what I want. I live and work in Yaowarat (Chinatown) but I will always drive here to eat instead.”
I continued to ask more as we both chowed down our meal. “Since you came all the way down from Yaowarat you must be Thai-Chinese?”
“That’s right, I’m Thai-Chinese as my parents were Chinese, and my grandparents were Chinese. We have migrated here to Thailand a long time ago. Though, we all keep our motherland tongue (Teochew). Where are you from? Are you Japanese?”
“As you can tell I’m a foreigner but I’m actually a Chinese like you, but from Canada. So we share a similar culture. My parents migrated to Canada from Hong Kong so I was born there. [Luh Haw] (which means nice to meet you in Teochew).”
The man was taken by surprise and began mixing up some Thai with some words I never heard before. “Well then, what is your … ???” At first I had to ask him to clarify a few times. I’ve learned a lot of dialects here but this one was foreign to me. Then I finally got what he was asking. He was asking for my Chinese surname in Teochew. I whipped out a napkin and wrote out my surname 陳 (Chan). I tried to pronounce it using Cantonese but he just shook his head. When I said it in Mandarin he understood. Then I asked for his. He wrote out the character 林 (Lin – which means forest). His name was Mr. Lin. He told me that in Thailand Every Thai-Chinese is called Chan. But what is number 2? Lin. I smiled warmly.
Afterwards we talked about things that us Chinese people generally care about. I asked him about his thoughts on how certain governments were handling the current covid crisis and specific political issues globally. Then we talked about traits that us Chinese people share and challenges that we face as a people group. Mr. Lin was very friendly and responsive. I was also able to ask some religious terms I learned in class such as offering to spirits and ancestor worship (a unique attribute that Thai-Chinese have that other Thai’s don’t). Do you burn candle sticks to offer merit to your dead ancestors? Things like that.
Inevitably, the question came. “So what are you doing here in Thailand? Are you working here?” Mr. Lin asked.
“I’m a teacher at the church/temple (church and temple are the same word in Thai). Specifically the Christian Church. But I am studying Thai as a student right now and focusing on that until I can become more fluent. And you are a Buddhist correct?”
“Yes that is correct. But all the religions are the same same. They all teach one how to do good and live a good life”.
“Yes in many ways they are the same, but there are also differences. Sorry but I have to rush to class (which was the truth), it was nice meeting you, goodbye.”
Mr. Lin answered with a slight bow and went back to finishing his noodles.