Never have I been so captivated by a place on this earth, never have I experienced life in a place where the only thing that really matters is…….well…….life!
It never ceases to amaze me how we can travel for less than the time we spend on an average day at work and find ourselves in a country so far removed from our daily surroundings that we feel that we could have literally travelled to another planet. A country that strikes a chord so vivid and so powerfully within you that you begin to question the very life you are living today, the very values in which you live that life and even your place in society. Who are you? What do you represent? What is it you actually offer this world, to the people in it, to the people that surround you every day? I never once imagined that there was a place that could make me ask myself these questions. I have been fortunate during my life to have travelled to many places but never have I been so humbled by a country and it’s people like I was in Thailand.
Money often costs too much – Ralph Waldo Emerson
There are places in this world where the influence of money is all too visible, even my beautiful little island of Cyprus has succumbed to the pulling power of what is essentially decorated paper. What place on this earth hasn’t? None I’m sure but there is a marked difference between the attitudes of the people within certain countries, be it through their customs, belief systems or cultural history. The one thing that immediately jumps out at you in Thailand is the fact that consideration for others is in their nature and although sprawling metropolis’ such as Bangkok clearly have wealth, the people of Bangkok do not behave in the ‘well to do’ manner you may experience elsewhere. There’s no looking down on the less fortunate, there’s no ‘this is us, that is you’ type behaviour……..to be perfectly frank I’m sure it happens but the fact is it is far from the norm. You don’t experience the segregation that is evident in areas of wealth and poverty as in other nations, for example you’ll never see a shack constructed in a small corner of London’s Mayfair and you’ll never see bare-footed, unbathed children playing with an old bucket in a Beverley Hills street. Thailand on the contrary is a place where you will (as I did) see exactly that. Huge 5 star+ hotel complexes constructed next to a street of ramshackle buildings and a dirt road, Huge gated mansions in an area full of stray dogs, pot-holed roads and a lingering odour of stagnant water in the blazing heat. People have respect for people in Thailand…………people have respect for life in Thailand.
Because of your smile, you make life more beautiful – Thích Nhất Hạnh
You will see a whole lot of poverty as you journey through Thailand, let me make that perfectly
clear, be it homeless folk sheltering under a flyover in Bangkok, children playing in the road in Chiang Mai or the guys and girls forced through poverty to work in the seedy bars and clubs of Phuket……..let me make something else perfectly clear too….. you will see smile after smile after smile after smile! This is a nation where people realise that happiness is in no way, shape or form linked to their bank accounts, it’s a people that understands what true happiness is and know that it derived from the past generations who fought and suffered to give them the opportunity of a free and peaceful life. I’m far from a religious man, moreover I stone cold refuse even entertain the notion that what we call religion, be it Christianity or Catholicism is ‘for the people’, it most definitely is not, in fact it is an institution that has more financial and political power than many of us can fathom. Buddhism on the other hand is based on peace and freedom and it is no surprise then that the Thai attitude to life is based on these spiritual beliefs. Seeing people with this level of peace in their lives really was one of the most uplifting experiences of my entire life.
It is impossible to build one’s own happiness on the unhappiness of others. This perspective is at the heart of Buddhist teachings – Daisaku Ikeda
I wanted so much to avoid making this blog political or religious, this was never the point but eventually you come to realise that people are what people know, and if what you know is the teachings of the wise, then the teachings of the wise in Thailand comes from centuries of understanding the importance of peace in one’s life. Buddhism teaches this, where as in the ‘west’ all we seem to be driven by is destruction, be it on an economic level (see Europe, see Greece), be it on a political level (what we have done to Syria, Iraq…) and in many ways religion (Serbians Vs Croats, Turks Vs Kurds…). This, in my opinion, is not a coincidence. Thai’s know and believe that their own happiness is a consequence of their behaviour towards others and this is what sets them apart. What is more beautiful, more rewarding, more uplifting than seeing the way in which Thai people show respect and affection towards their elders, it truly is a beautiful thing, but they do not save this behaviour for OAP’s only, you can enter any establishment, be it a shop, market stall, massage parlour or restaurant and you will receive the sort of greeting that will make you feel like royalty……and with smiles that will make you fall head over heels!
Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own ― Robert A. Heinlein
Having spent a week volunteering in the Elephant Nature Park I witnessed first hand Thailand’s love for life and the living. I’ve mentioned Thailand’s respect for each other but here you also see their love for animals too. Apart from the beautiful majestic elephants, there were dogs, cats, monkeys and a plethora of wildlife that were given the opportunity to live a free and peaceful life…….but it was the people that keep this amazing nature park ticking over that really pulled at my heart strings. Thai’s from remote villages high up in the mountains, others from Chiang Mai, some from Burma and Laos. I happened to be standing on one of the many platforms looking out at the elephants as they meandered at their own leisure around the park, when all of a sudden I was joined by what must have been 50-60 people. It transpired that I had stood on the platform on payday. All the local staff of the entire park had come to collect their weekly salary. These are not wealthy people and they work very hard keeping the park up to scratch, cooking, cleaning, building, maintaining……. Funds for the general running of the park is generated via volunteer tourism, on a day to day basis financially, things are tight. Each person’s name was called and he or she stepped forward to the table to receive their pay…..Each and everyone of them put their clasped hands up to their chin in a prayer motion and with a small bow showing thanks as they were handed their envelope by a man in a white shirt who inevitably smiled back, each and everyone of them smiled broadly and every child that approached the table with their mother received a small gift bag with a small elephant cuddly toy and a small selection of sweets…….These salaries would be barely enough to see the thriftiest among us through for 1-2 days but this is the difference……these smiles and shows of respect have nothing to do with the amount of money in the envelope but show the nature of a people and how they value the important things in life.
I cried as I watched all this unfold…. that’s nothing new as Andria will testify, I’m an emotional guy……I shed a tear because I was sad, because I felt sorry for them,……but it was only later that it dawned on me that I was envious, envious because we, in comparison, have so much but are constantly complaining about what we don’t have. It made me realise how I want to change my life, made me realise that I need to value the important things, made me realise that happiness isn’t anything other than living life, experiencing life……above all, it made me realise that I want Thailand in my life.
I’m not gonna cry because it’s over, I’m gonna smile because it happened ― Mick
……..and my beautiful Thailand, I will return