MIDWEST MONKEY: Frog in a Coconut Shell

Jasmine An shares her notes from the field in her monthly column Midwest Monkey.


Last week, I started learning about Thai idioms in language class. As someone who appreciates stretching words beyond their literal and direct meanings, it was so fun to be able to explore this characteristic in another language. Now that I’ve been in Thailand just over five months, one idiom seems particularly apt: กบในกะลา or a frog in a coconut shell, meaning someone who doesn’t have much experience, but thinks they know everything.

Getting out of the city once in a while helps remind my frog self that Thailand is much larger than just my little corner of Chiang Mai. So I was excited when a friend from work, who had a car for the weekend, invited Manny and I tag along on a weekend road trip north. Taking the highway out of the city, we wound our way through the mountains to Chiang Dao, a neighboring city about an hour and a half drive from Chiang Mai.

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We then continued on to the Wiang Hang loop, which, at its furthest point, took us within a couple kilometer of the Thai-Myanmar border through gorgeous mountain scenery.

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We spent the night in the small town of Wiang Hang and then drove back through Chiang Dao the next afternoon, stopping to hike up to a beautiful chedi nestled into the mountainside, one of the most beautiful buildings I’d ever seen.

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On the way down from the chedi, we came across this butterfly on the path, which was stunning enough to convince even me, who is somewhat suspicious of butterflies as a general rule, that they really are beautiful creations.

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While sweeping the house the day after I got back, I had plenty of time to reflect that my knowledge of Thailand is still รู้งูๆ ปลาๆ—literally: to know snake, snake, fish, fish—meaning, to know not well, or just a little. And really, that is all the more exciting because there is still so much left for me to learn.


Jasmine An is a queer Chinese-American who hails from the Midwest. A 2015 graduate of Kalamazoo College, she has also lived in New York City and Chiang Mai, Thailand, and she studied poetry, urban development, and blacksmithing. Her chapbook Naming the No-Name Woman was selected as the winner of the Two Sylvias Press Chapbook Prize. Her poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in HEArt Online, Stirring, Heavy Feather Review, and Southern Humanities Review. Her soulmate and forever muse is Sun Wukong, the Monkey King. As of 2016, she can be found in Chiang Mai continuing her study of the Thai language.

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