Three Life Lessons I Learned in Thailand
My six months of living and working in Thailand was one of the most fun experiences I've had in my entire life. And if you know me, you know that I go out of my way to have fun experiences. But it wasn't all laughs! Like any good traveler, I also learned many life lessons while on the road.
Some are no-brainers: Don't drink the tap water! Never assume people are driving on the correct side of the road! Don't watch when restaurants cook your food! Always assume that wild dogs are going to try and eat you! Never flush toilet paper! Set up a pigeon netting system! Please try and guess what that last one is about.
Most other life lessons take time and experience to figure out. Here are three of my favorites that Thailand has taught me:
Random Acts of Kindness Go a Long Way
One thing that I appreciate about many of the Thai people I've met is that they don't do nice deeds for recognition or to earn extra friend points. They do it just to do it. They're helpful because it's the right thing to do. Example: the experiences with my figuratively (and literally) crappy motorbike...
At the beginning of our stay, Stefan and I bought a secondhand motorbike in order to have more freedom with getting around. We named it "the dinghy," because it sounded like a rusty boat propeller that was sputtering across town. With a name like that, it's no surprise that we kept having problems with our bike. The engine would shut off in the middle of traffic, the brakes were worn, and the lights flickered on and off while driving at night. We hit a low point after a long day of teaching when we walked up to our bike and found it with a fully deflated back tire. How could we have this much bad luck with it?! We decided to just ride the bus home instead and deal with the problem in the morning.
Miraculously, by the next day at school, without telling anyone about the tire or asking for help with it, we arrive to find our tire perfectly inflated and fixed. It was patched up and looking like brand new! But nobody was taking credit for the work. We actually had to put effort into finding the person at school who put their own time and effort into fixing our motorbike tire. What a sweet thing for that person to do, right?
That's not all. Somehow, we got even more bad luck. This time it rained down from the sky in a liquidy, poop package when a bird splattered its digested goodness all over our motorbike. Gross, I know. Stefan and I drove our tarnished bike to school and left it in the parking lot, waiting to clean it up after work. But then, yet another Thailand miracle! We get out of class to find our motorbike clean and poopless! Someone noticed our soiled bike and took it upon themselves to clean it up for us. Nobody left us a note or mentioned it in passing- we still don't know who this mystery poop cleaner is. Our guardian angel.
Who would do these kind deeds without a pat on the back or recognition of any sort? A Thai person, that's who. Overall, my experiences with the Thai people have shown them to be very kind, and I believe these lessons in selflessness should be brought back to my life in the United States.
Acknowledge Your Fellow Human with Respect
Think of how most of us Millennials greet people in the Western world. I'm talking everyone- strangers, acquaintances, bosses, friends, and family. At most, we'll give a tight handshake and a crisp nod of recognition. At worst, we just ignore people. The more likely, middle ground scenario is a lazy half-wave or a casual, "Sup?"
One of my favorite parts of Thailand is the wai, a greeting where you place your palms together in a prayer-like position and bow in respect. Hand height is based on your position in society. The rule I was told is, "Fingertips at the mouth for teachers, as they gave you speech. Fingertips at the nose for parents and elders, as they gave you breath. Fingertips at the forehead for monks and monarchy, as they gave you wisdom."
Every person you meet in Thailand will wai you. As a teacher, I would walk through the halls and have countless students and their parents wai-ing me throughout my day. People will practically drop all of the bags in their hands, or even a toddler (I witnessed this once!), to wai each other. I don't speak Thai, and most people didn't speak English, but actions meant everything. After all, body language accounts for the majority of human communication.
Though it may not sound significant if you haven't experienced the wai, this cultural practice hits deep in your soul. I believe that everyone wants to feel acknowledged and respected. Seen. To give and receive a wai fills you with all of those feelings. So, I propose that we come up with a more meaningful way of greeting each other in the United States! We need to acknowledge one another more. We're all in this together, and everyone deserves to feel seen.
Children Can Be Responsible & Self-Sufficient
One of the most mind-blowing things I learned in Thailand was that children can be responsible for far more things than we in the United States give them credit for. I believe that our kids are babied too much in this strange culture of helicopter parenting. Children aren't allowed to do anything on their own, because parents are afraid they'll get hurt or kidnapped or morph from schoolgirl Britney Spears to python-draped Britney Spears. This is a real fear.
Here are several of the things I witnessed kids under the age of nine years old (!!!) doing, quite capably, all by themselves:
- Chopping meat and vegetables with sharp knives
- Frying their own lunch in a giant, sizzling wok
- Neatly distributing lunch to their hungry classmates
- Washing all of their own dishes in the sink
- Sweeping and scrubbing classroom floors
- Helping their handicapped peers with kindness
It was incredible to watch these kids do all of these activities with ease. When adults show them respect and allow them to take responsibility for the things in their lives, children gain confidence and learn to trust in their own abilities. They are truly capable of so much! Let's give our kids more credit, and let them grow up naturally. Even though I'm sure being an adult baby is a blast, I believe that Americans shouldn't still be learning to be self-sufficient at the ripe old age of thirty.
So, tell me: What are the biggest life lessons that you've learned while traveling? Please share in the comments below!
Hope you have a beautiful week,