Thailand, what can be said. Land of Smiles, that’s for sure. Everywhere I go, everyone is smiling, whether it’s a small smirk or a large, cheek-splitting smile that just makes you feel at home. It’s funny at times. I’m driving down the road, the rain comes storming in like a bull let out of a cage and you begin to slow down so that you don’t lose control of your motorbike. Up ahead, you see tail light after tail light pulled off on the side of the road. Is there a wreck? No. It’s far too organized to be a wreck. Then again, what is organization in a place like Thailand? Hell, a wreck may be the one thing that ends up being organized. As you pull closer you realize it’s at least 15 motorbikes pulled over, the Thais reaching under their seats to grab their rain jackets. At this point, you wonder if it’s even worth putting on. They’re already drenched from the downpour, clothes hanging loose from their bodies, looking almost two sizes too big for them, completely sopped with water. Funny thing is, as I ride past, you still see those lips stretched, teeth showing through. Are these people ever unhappy?
That’s what has been beautiful about being here. The Thai people just want to have fun and smile, no matter the conditions. I have seen poverty here in some places that I have never seen before and it’s sobering. But although these people are poverty-stricken financially, they are wealthy in happiness. To a lot of Westerners, especially people I know, this wouldn’t make sense. You’re poor, but you’re happier than someone who has more than wealth than they’ll have in five lifetimes. I often feel bad, sitting here interacting with these people, having them wait on me at restaurants, buying things from them at shops, or even working with them, knowing that they’ll never come close to seeing the wealth I’ve had in my life. That’s not to say that I’m rich, or I’m above them in any way, far from it. But if you were to ask these people if they would change anything, their answer would probably be no. My teacher in my TEFL program would joke that if you asked the students in our classes the question, “If you could be reborn anywhere in the world, any country you can think of, where would you choose?”, their response would be Thailand. Again and again and again. And they would find you silly for asking it; that’s how happy they are here.
In some aspects, you can see why they’re so happy. They live in one of the most gorgeous places in the world; the climate stays the same year round, they live near some of the most envied beaches on the planet and every day just looks like a paradise. But when you delve deeper into it, there’s a cultural aspect to it. It’s almost like they have a happiness gene and it’s passed on from generation to generation. It’s frowned upon to have public displays of anger or to lose your cool in any way in Thai culture. You’ll lose face for these types of acts and face is very important in Asia. I heard someone say that the most famous Thai phrase is ‘mai pen rai’, which translates to ‘no problem’ or ‘don’t worry about it’. Just cut someone off on the highway and made them slam on their brakes? “Mai pen rai.” Cut someone in line? “Mai pen rai.” Just ran over their entire family? “Mai pen rai.” Okay, the last one is obviously a bit extreme, but you get the point nonetheless.
This isn’t to say that Thailand is everything great and they don’t have their own set of issues, they definitely do. It’s still a relatively poor country overall. The economy has made major strides, but there’s still a large amount of issues to tackle. Human trafficking is a serious problem, directly affecting many women and children. You have a very, very high chance of being killed in traffic as Thailand has one of the highest mortality rates for motor vehicles. On a less serious note, it’s bad luck to get your hair cut on a Wednesday, I still don’t have an explanation as to why this is. They praise dicks and dick figurines more than Elton John. They believe that if you get a special tattoo or amulet, it can protect you from various incidences like car wrecks or sicknesses and they light off firecrackers in a new building to scare off the ghosts that may inhabit it. Now many people reading this are saying, “They do what? How ridiculous.” Yet, I come from a country where many people read their horoscopes almost daily and follow them very closely. People will go to a person that knows nothing about them, pay them to look into a clear ball and tell them their future, and actually believe what they’re being told. Knock on wood, throw salt over your shoulder, don’t walk under a ladder, cross a black cat or break a mirror? These all sound familiar? I’m not judging or grading any of these, every place has its own quirks and weirdness to it; that’s what makes them interesting.
Thailand isn’t without it’s cons, but damn this is a beautiful place to be living and I am a lucky guy to have the opportunity to be living here, no matter how long it ends up being. I’ve genuinely enjoyed every moment here and the people that I’ve come in contact with. Here’s to hoping that all of this enjoyment and happiness continues…in the Land of Smiles.