Patient Smiles

Hi everyone,

For those of you who did not know, I am finally settled in my position as “dorm assistant” at a missionary kid boarding home.  I am still learning lots about missionary kids and about boarding school life.  I can’t wait to share it with you, but for now, I’ll just share a short journal I wrote while I was in Central Thailand and still adjusting to culture.  Sorry for the inconsistancy in posts lately..I am still figuring out how to spend my time and get adjusted to this new position.

Something pretty cool happened tonight. My housemate, Angie, and I were walking home tonight from dinner when we noticed that there seemed to be some kind of special dinner occurring in one of the local school halls. We stopped a little way from the door and were just looking in. There must have been close to 300 people dressed formally and sitting at round tables, plates of food in the middle only half full from guests filling themselves. A man in a suit was speaking on stage while video footage of Buddhist monks played behind him. We must have stood there for 3 minutes, just looking. Angie knows more Thai than I do, so she was trying to hear what they were saying. I was a little concerned that hosts of the formal dinner would feel annoyed or uncomfortable with two foreign girls in informal dress (especially me! I was just wearing shorts and an old t-shirt) gawking at their ritual. What happened next shocked me. A little toddler ran out the door with his mom running after him. She shooed him back inside, and I became nervous when she saw Angie and I. I thought she might shoo us away too, but instead, she smiled and waved us inside. We smiled and politely shook our head no, but then 2 more adults came up to us…a man wearing a formal suit and a woman wearing a beautiful white skirt and blouse (Thai style). They looked like they had some authority in this setting. Ok, this time we’re going to get kicked out. But that’s not what happened… they came up to and invited us inside to watch. I had no idea what she was saying, but Angie could communicate Thank you, but no thank you, and then Angie asked what the event was. The woman said something…I think it is was a Buddhist gathering to honor those who had done good works, or something like that? I’m still not sure. Anyway, we smiled and said no thank you, but they insisted. They took us by the arm and led us inside, not to stand in the back, but to sit at a table with other guests. The other guests smiled and were very kind in greeting us. They asked us if we would like water, we smiled and said no thank you, and then they poured us water anyway. I was actually grateful for the drink, having just eaten a delicious and sweet treat I bought at a vendor, so I kept sipping my drink. My chair at the table was facing the back of the room, so I had to twist my body around to see what was happening on stage. I drank some more water from my glass and then watched as a couple were brought onto the stage, wearing traditional Thai clothing, and honored for something or other. I turned around to get my drink, only to discover that it had already been refilled. I smiled and thanked the man at my table who had been so thoughtful. But it’s not just that man who was so thoughtful, it is just part of this culture…to welcome guests and show them hospitality.

One piece of this culture that has surprised me the most is the patience that the Thai people have with me when I try to learn their language. I went to play badminton with 2 Thai university students two Fridays ago. They speak a small amount of English, but I speak even less Thai. I would occasionally attempt to use my Thai to communicate, but what I know is very limited and very flawed. But instead of getting frustrated with me or just nodding to get me to stop speaking, they took time with me to perfect what I did know. If I said something wrong, they wouldn’t just tell me what the right phrase is and let it go. Instead, they would have me practice the right phrase and work on each of my words. At first, I was so embarrassed at the inconvenience that they would have to go through to teach me such simple words and phrases…but then I realized that it’s not an inconvenience to them. They LOVE to help foreigners learn their home-language. And they will give you all the time in the world with a smile on their face if you have the humility to accept it. Another day, I went to a small local restaurant where I have recently come to know the owner. On my last visit, she asked if I could teach her English, and I was so excited to accept. She is already able to speak a good amount of English, but after I agreed to teach her, she immediately put me to use and asked me to teach her the phrase “What would you like to eat?” What was fascinated me was her genuine interest in learning the phrase correctly right then and there. She didn’t put it aside as something she would learn later…she insisted that she say it correctly, and she did! I’m still getting used to this way of thinking. Previously, so much of my thinking has been about not inconveniencing people around me, but here in Thailand, some things that I think are inconveniences are actually miniscule problems that just help you grow closer to the Thai people.

I am loving Thailand.  I am loving the Thai people.  And I love the things I am learning from being here.

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