I apologize for the lack of actual “travel” posts lately. In September I had to stay in Dan Chang a lot for random things(chaperoning a field trip to Ayutthaya, Nicole’s going away party in Kanchanaburi, a retirement party at Banhan3) and have also been saving up money for my month-long break in October. More “travel” posts coming at the end of the month!
Open any tour guide across the globe and you will see Thailand labeled as the “Land of Smiles.” This is probably part of the reason that people who visit Thailand on holiday have a shocking return rate of 55%(as found on Alex In Wanderland, one of my preferred travel blogs check it out). Thai people do smile a lot at foreigners. I’m not really sure if this nickname is supposed to be taken literally or figuratively, but Thai people are quite kind. However, I’ve seen it more present in their actions, and not their facial expressions. Here is a list of examples on how Thai people have shown extreme kindness while I’ve been here. This is corny as all hell but I really d0 hope I take some of their selflessness back to the United States with me.
A beautiful country with beautiful people. @Krasiao Dam in Dan Chang. Leo for scale.
- Offering rides to strangers in need
It’s a long story but somehow I ended up in the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of Suphan Buri city(the big city in my small province) alone. This was my first time genuinely feeling lost in all the times that I’ve traveled, like in the middle of nowhere with a dying phone seriously wondering if I’ll be able to get home. The sun was going down, I was trying to find some restaurant where I was meeting other teachers for drinks, and there was not a taxi or any form of public transit in sight.
The iconic dragon of Suphan Buri City, where this all went down.
Google maps isn’t very helpful in Thailand, as a lot of places have addresses written in Thai, the cell service isn’t always the best, and businesses don’t update their Google information as frequently and accurately as in the United States. So even with my smartphone, I was screwed.
A random girl who looked to be about 18 saw me wandering aimlessly and immediately ran over. In broken English, she asked “Where you go?”
I responded “The Loft?” (I simplify my English when I speak to Thai people)
She looked at me confused.
I repeated “Loft?”
She giggled a little and still looked confused.
I pulled out my phone and showed her the address I had been attempting to use on Google maps.
Her eyes lit up, and she said “Ohhh!!! The Loft”
She then pulled out Google translate on her phone and typed something in Thai. It came up as “I am going shopping soon.” Then she ran over, grabbed her car keys and her mother(who sat in the back of the car to supervise this endeavor) and gave me a ride to the Loft.
Being my Western self, I of course tried to offer her a little bit of baht to say thank you. She and her mother vehemently refused, and she simply smiled, waved, and went on her way. This girl easily could have just left me alone, as honestly I probably would have, and I would have been stuck. She gained nothing out of helping me, a foreigner who probably shouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place, but she did it anyways.
This isn’t an isolated incident either. When I was in Chiang Mai, my friend Callie was staying by herself at a different hostel from me. After going out one night, I walked her halfway back to her hostel, then we parted ways. I expected to receive a message 20 minutes later when she reached her destination, but within 5 minutes my phone lit up. “Hey! A random Thai girl gave me a ride, I’m back safe!”
I’ve also been offered rides while waiting on the side of the road waiting for the 69 bus to Bangkok. Always strangers, always friendly, always generous.
Ye old 69 van to Bangkok just for decoration.
2. Giving small gifts of food, and always offering a bite of whatever their eating
Okay, I’ll admit, in the US when I’ve been eating something good I have sometimes inwardly groaned when my friends have asked “can I have a bite?” I have gotten a lot more generous with food since I’ve been here and seeing how generous Thai people are.
Sticky rice with fruit baked in banana leaves & fried bananas, just two examples of random food that’s fed to me on a daily basis in the foreign language office.
I’ve been given extra bags of sticky rice for free when buying things at the open market, been handed sweets and cookies by my students, and am almost always told to “try this” when another Thai teacher in my office is eating something. The small downside of this is that it’s considered rude to refuse food in Thailand(see my awkward struggle with this in Chiang Mai) so I’ve often been in situations where I had to eat food that was less than appetizing. A bright side to this is that it’s forced me to try foods that I otherwise probably would not.
3. Sending free drinks and food to your table at restaurants/bars
Okay so I know this doesn’t sound that kind. If you’re American, you’re probably reading this and going “people do that in the US all the time, it means they’re hitting on you genius.” But it’s different. One night at Tachalong(spelling COMPLETELY wrong but it’s the bar in Dan Chang) my friends and I were chatting in a broken English/Thai combination with a man who was there. He was this pot-bellied 30-40 year old Thai guy with a lack of hair and only a few teeth, but he was super friendly and really funny to talk to. He kept showing us “dahn-sihnggg danh-singgg” with his snaggle tooth grin and belly jiggle.
Towards the end of the night after the man and his friends had left, I thought I was being all smooth when I caught our waitresses eye and mouthed “check bin” in Thai(Thai for “check please”). I felt slightly less cool when 10 minutes went by and she still hadn’t brought our check.
After we called her over, this man somehow communicated to us(with a lot of gesturing and random English vocabulary) that one of his friends had grabbed the check. None of his friends came over to claim his glory, and they simply left. The mystery benefactor had paid for our bill(a hefty bill by Thai standards nonetheless, we had ordered our little bar’s version of bottle service for 4 people) and expected zero recognition.
There also have been numerous times that I’ve been at restaurants and random food has shown up at our table. While we can never really figure out if it’s from the restaurant or from a patron, and no one ever comes over to lay claim to the generosity.
4. Always going above and beyond in helping with directions
Embarrassing story #500 – one day when leaving Bangkok, I was so tired and hungover that I got on the wrong freaking van home. I needed to go northwest to Dan Chang, and I was headed southeast to Chonburi. That’s so absurdly difficult to do that it’s almost an accomplishment. This means that I bought a ticket for the correct van, got up when my van was called, and simply accidentally followed the wrong group of people into the wrong van. Minus 10 points for Gryffindor.
Keep in mind I take this van almost every single weekend. I know by now what the van looks like. Not all of the vans have numbers, but mine has a HUGE “69” above the windshield. You would think that I could’ve snapped into reality for the 5 seconds it would have taken to notice that discrepancy in the appearance of the van, but no.
Of course, because I was the only farang(foreigner) on this bus and my white skin made me stand out like a sore thumb, so after we had driven for a little bit the driver(broken English again) asked me where I was going. By this time I had realized that I was on the wrong van, so I told him “Dan Chang.” He communicated to me that I was on the wrong van, and immediately got on the phone and started contacting different people to ensure that I would be able to get home. I knew that he was doing this because I kept hearing bits and pieces like “farang” and “Dan Chang” and “ta-roht(bus).”
He let me stay on the bus until the end of his route(not far thank god) and somehow communicated to me that I could stay on and go back to Bangkok, since that’s where I was headed. I had already accepted that I would miss the last bus home, have to spend the night in Bangkok, catch a 4aM van, and go straight to school as karma for my idiotic mistake. So it was much to my surprise, when (about 20 phone-calls and a lot of concerned glances later) the driver let me know that there would still be a van waiting for me.
We got off the van in Bangkok, the driver hand-delivered me to where I would be getting my bus, and I was on my way back to Dan Chang in no time. Once again, a Thai person swept in out of nowhere to save the day.
So there you have it. Just 4 examples of how Thai people are ridiculously kind.
One of the most impressive aspects of all this kindness is that Thai people legitimately expect nothing in return for their kindness. In the US, and I’ll admit that I’m guilty of this, whenever we do something nice for someone or we do something charitable we always want a pat on the head, or or a cookie, or recognition of some kind. This might be due to the punishment/rewards system we’re a part of from the day we’re born, but I’m not a psychologist so who knows.
It’s kind of like the economic theory “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” In the US it’s extremely rare that you see a kind action for absolutely nothing in return. Because, technically speaking, even if you receive a verbal “thank you” or a person thinks more highly of you, you are receiving something in return. Not that it’s a bad thing, it’s nice to get that warm, glowy do-good-feeling, it’s just different from Thailand. Not to go all fortune-cookie on you, but it’s really rare to accomplish an act of true selflessness.
To conclude, reason #6000 to visit Thailand: to experience the Thai tradition of selfless kindness.