Something that always surprises me about Thailand is people’s ability to smile despite owning a dire-looking face seconds before. Countless times I’ve walked or biked down the road and seen a Thai person up ahead who looks to be glaring at me and in no way looks like he/she is in a good enough mood to smile. Despite my pessimistic outlook, I bring out my best smile and say, “Sa-wat-dii krap!” Nine times out of ten that person’s face will brighten up and return the smile and greeting. It’s amazing!
I say this is so amazing being an American … an American who has spent a good chunk of his life in Wisconsin. Don’t get me wrong, I love Wisconsin, but there are a few Wisconsinites who have rubbed me the wrong way. This situation was common in Cornell. Even though I blend in with the majority (male, white, beer in my system) I sometimes felt I stuck out. Most people are polite enough on the streets – at the least they look the other way and don’t make eye contact when I pass or at the most, they smile and say, “Hello.”
There is, however, the other people I pass. This is the guy (most of the time) who glares at me, much like some Thai people, and continues to glare and not say anything after I’ve smiled and said, “Hello.” This is difference between Cornell, Wisconsin, and anywhere in Thailand. The Thai people are probably thinking, Who’s this white dude and what’s he doing here? Then I say, Sa-wat-dii krap,” and their mind changes to, “The white dude can speak Thai! (Expletive)! He’s white, yet he’s one of us! I like this guy.
Am I exaggerating the residents of Cornell? Yes. I am exaggerating the people of Thailand? No. Well, maybe their inner thoughts, but not their smiles. It’s so easy to walk through a neighborhood, hear someone yell to you and then walk into their yard and start talking. There are no boundaries in Thailand. I feel welcome everywhere. I have no qualms about getting lost on my bike because I know every house I walk up to will give me directions and probably water and desserts, too.
I feel as though I hit the Peace Corps jackpot.