I arrived in Thailand one week before the official start of the fall program, staying on the beautiful coast of Phuket with my mom. It was the second day after I stepped foot in Thailand… or anywhere outside the United States. I was both in awe and in shock, ready to settle in but nervous about everything. I remember sitting on the balcony of my hotel room, reading some news articles and checking my email. Our program director reached out to see if any of us would volunteer for a cultural performance that would take place at the International Street Fair – a big campus event to kick off the start of the school year at Chiang Mai University.
I’m not a performer, I can’t do any dances or musical performances, and I’m not a comedian. I lean far more to the silent and personal sides of creative expression – poetry, writing, and photography. I figured I should at least offer what I could, and told her I could perform some poems. In all honesty, I thought I’d be able to easily give up my spot as others surely had more exciting talents to share.
Turns out I was only one of two people who responded. Ah, I should have known. The other volunteer was this guy named Ruvim, a talented rock artist and professional extrovert. He hoped to perform his acoustic covers of the Eagles and David Bowie along with his own song, and I was eager to share the words of my favorite American duo named Climbing PoeTree. In one night, we met up to talk our ideas through and practice. The next day, we climbed on stage and gave it our all.
As many people feel on stage, we were both nervous. But the setting was warm and disarming. We had spent the few hours before eating delicious street food, talking to students from all over Asia and beyond, and trying not to fall as the ground grew muddy from the summer rains. The other performances represented the hill tribes of Thailand, youth cultures of Chiang Mai, university faculty, and artists from Japan, Korea, China, Myanmar and more.
With so many distinct styles of these communities, I pondered the question that keeps coming up: What is American culture? I’m not sure I can provide a concrete answer to that yet. But our performance offered a glimpse, without either of us really trying to accomplish that goal. With the genres of poetry and Rock & Roll, the lyrics of rebellion from individual confinement, and the multicultural character of the original artists themselves both expressed our people’s experiences and resonated with the feelings of the crowd. It was a casual night, and I’m pretty sure we didn’t get YouTube famous. Still, it became another moment among many when I realized both the peculiarities and continuities between my two homes, even though they exist on opposite sides of the planet.
Kayla Gmyr is a Portland State University student who is currently studying abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Learn more about the International Street Fair in the video below.