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Culture through Film
By Josie, YES Abroad 2022-2023, Thailand
Two days after arriving at my host family’s home in our town in the north of Thailand, I started attending my host school, a public school of roughly three-thousand students. Everyone was so excited to meet the new exchange student when I arrived. I was asked to take many selfies and received so many gifts of bracelets and candy. My AFS local volunteer assigned me a home room and a peer buddy to help me get adjusted. My buddy’s name was Film and she ended up being one of my closest friends at school.
In Thailand, you take every class with the same group of peers, meaning classmates are very close knit. My classmates were very welcoming and asked me about what I like to do in America. I told them that I enjoy film making, and that before my exchange I collaborated with my friends to write and produce a seventeen-minute-long musical that was selected to be in local and international film festivals. This excited them and they asked if they could watch my film. It was fun to see their expressions as they watched the many odd scenes from the film including people rolling around in a cornfield and my friends walking around in a two-person mammoth costume.
After watching the film, one of my classmates was inspired to make a short film for an
assignment they had in art class. He asked me what things most surprised me about living in Thailand and I shared with him from some notes I had taken.
- “American Fried Rice:” A Thai dish that includes fried rice with raisins, fried chicken, ham, lettuce and ketchup.
- “Tu-Ke (ตุ๊กแก):” A foot-long Thai lizard that makes a loud croaking sound and if irritated will bite.
- Thai cleaning robots: In department stores, restaurants, and airports one often sees robots made to look like animals or cartoon characters that sing a song while vacuuming or selling small products.
- Thai telephone wires: When it is time to replace the telephone wire, the wire is rolled up and left hanging on the telephone pole. This creates large tangles of telephone wire on every street corner.
With these notes as inspiration, my classmates and I came up with the plot for a one-minute short film about a chef who works for a giant robot and has to constantly make American Fried Rice for the robot. My friend Naam played the robot. We made a robot head out of a bucket that we painted to look like a robot face. The film follows the life of a troubled chef and includes the elements of Thai culture that I had shared with my classmate: American Fried Rice, Tu-Ke, Thai cleaning robots, and the telephone wires. It’s is a goofy film with a lot of charm. Not only was it a joy to make but watching it back always makes me laugh.
After finishing the film, many of my friends told me that they really enjoyed making it and had never done anything like that before. It was fun to stop other students in the hallway to show them the video; they would always watch in amazement! I am so glad I said “yes” to the opportunity to share my interest in film with my new friends in Thailand. This experience helped me adjust to my host community and learn more about Thai culture in the process.