SJ's Story
SJ and colleague Golf, after facilitating a workshop at Makhampom Art Space in Chiang Dao.

SJ's Story

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The glossy coating of the tarot cards illuminates with a combination of moonlight, skyscraper glow, and smartphone flashlights. We are sitting riverside on a rooftop in Bangkok’s Chinatown. Jaa Phantachat, Co-Artistic Director and Founder of B-Floor Theatre begins to interpret my upcoming year as the rest of my coworkers call out a commentary. I pull a lot of hearts cards. “SJ, why do you have so much love in your life?!”

That night was an exciting and affirming night of new beginnings. We had just entered B-Floor’s new theatre location for the first time as a group. In celebrating, I was reminded of some of the things that keep me going in the less grand or exciting moments: love, faith, and adaptability.

Even as I write this I find it hard to refer to my coworkers as coworkers. They welcome me as a theatre-maker and facilitator and give me professional responsibilities, but they go further. In both Bangkok and Chiang Dao, the people I work with have embraced me as family. They encourage me, share with me, and offer love. I worried about being lonely this year. I have been many times. Still, I find myself constantly in awe of the amount of love present in my life here. Hugs, patience with my developing language skills, big smiles, shared industry secrets, inclusion in annual company competitions, shared food orders, inside jokes, hours invested in visa paperwork, lending me “evil” (an old motorbike RIP), orchestrating back-stage routines, and absurd dance parties. I could go on. I see these gestures for what they are—offerings of love and care, gifts I cherish deeply. They add up and make adapting to new places, culture, and language doable. They make believing and hoping in possibility doable.

I invest in what Pii Jaa predicts (พี่/Pii indicates respect for someone older in Thai). I invest in เซียมซี (fortune sticks) in the temples. I invest in สายสิญจน์ (sacred white thread). I invest in faith. My own, Jewish, and Thai, often Buddhist, traditions. I have a lot of time to think and question. I find it helps me to believe. I attended a silent meditation retreat at the insistence of one of my closest friends, Phra Sod (พระ/Phra indicates his status as a Buddhist monk). I did not, as the clichéd white westerner traveling to Asia says, “find myself.” I do think however, that I began to find some clarity. I can begin to trace together choices I make and paths I take like threads. I am searching for where my values and trust lead me. In believing and opening up, I begin to unravel some stubborn, internalized views I unconsciously hold. I also begin to dissolve many of the strict definitions I have created for myself and embrace my own contradictions.

I transition between bustling, urban Bangkok and quiet, sprawling Chiang Dao. I work at Makhampom (“community development through applied arts”) and B-Floor (a theatre company that creates devised, physical theatre productions). Adaptability has become a valued necessity. I experience changes constantly and suddenly. A flat bicycle tire left me on an unlit street with many angry dogs, requiring a generous pickup in a pickup. The unexpected death of a dear friend, ป๋อมแป๋ม (Pompam), left me with a heartbreaking emptiness still unfilled, but comforted by those who knew him.

Adaptability is often ascribed to the individual as a skill or strength. I, however, find that I am able to adapt to these changes because of the help of the people who so generously offer me care and strengthen my faith. Each day I am humbled and tested. I think to the Thai encouragement my friends offer, often accompanied by a pat on the back or a wryly raised fist, “สู้ๆนะ” (fight fight). I hope to continue my Luce year with the strength of that sentiment, and the love and belief behind it.


Scholars in this Story

Rachel Stamler-Jonas
Nominating Institution: Northwestern University
Area of Professional Interest: Art – Performing Arts
Placement: Chiang Dao, Thailand
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