Walking through the jungle with an elephant trotting behind me like my own loving companion, I have never had a more eye-opening experience. Throughout my time in Thailand, I learned many things, but one gift in particular that I gained from my time with the Thai people was the gift of patience and understanding. My trip was filled with excitement, white water rafting, hiking, and ziplining, but the most memorable times of my trip occurred in silence. While in a temple we observed Monks in prayer, and we watched in the distance as people from all over Thailand would gather and practice in their faith. These are the times when I felt most connected to Thailand.
Along with the monasteries, the Thai elephants also brought me to the roots of Thailand. elephants are mixed all throughout the heritage of Thailand. They represents family values, patience, and leadership. I was working alongside a mahout, during my time with the elephant, Thongpoon. A mahout is an elephant’s caretaker, and these mahouts and their elephants were inseparable. My trip companions and I were all split up and paired with an elephant and their corresponding mahout. While working with our elephants we bathed them, fed them, and cared for them all day, dawn till dusk. I gained a respect for the elephants and their mahouts from the first glance I had at them. The mahout must be patience with the elephant; slow paced creatures, elephants enjoy steady and gradual movements, and the mahout must let anything that is affecting them leave their mind, because worrying won’t make Thongpoon, or any other elephant change their speed once their mind is made up. Likewise, the elephants must also work with their mahouts; the elephants must be mindful for their companion. A mahout cannot always take the path that the elephant can take, the mahouts are not as strong and tough as the elephants, and throughout observation, I saw that the elephants would usually adapt to what the mahout could do, and the elephants would be mindful and keep to a pace and trail that both friends could maintain. I learned much from the elephants, and their relationship with their mahout, but the key lesson was that patience is easy to give, if your whole heart will give it.
The animals of Thailand amazed me, but the people were equally spectacular. Not a single person was unwilling to share their story with me, and no person was ill-willed; Thailand is known as the “Land of Smiles” for an easily discoverable reason. While walking along the streets at markets and in farms we experienced daily life for the Thai people, and it was beautiful. After working in the morning, whether be fishing, farming or selling, they would finish their days with a smile, and then return to their smiling family who made the whole experience worthwhile.
As if I had not seen all the smiles I could handle, walking into the Thailand schools gave new meaning to learning. These children and teachers were overjoyed to learn and teach. Each school usually served about 100 children, and watching the children learn made me realize how valuable access to education really is. It is very common to not receive schooling in Thailand, and these children were definitely not letting their beautiful opportunity go to waste. The schools were filled with life; the younger kids, as you can imagine, were rowdy as any young child is when around their friends, and the older kids were nothing but proud to show us their knowledge and achievements in the classroom. There were art projects filling every wall, and there were colors everywhere.
When comparing most American middle schools to Thai middle schools, I see many similarities and few differences. In both, there is a morning routine, and in Thai schools it is much more grand; they have a 10-minute prayer and song, similar to American schools who say the Pledge of Allegiance and have morning announcements.There were usually not enough classrooms for each grade to switch for every class subject like in American schools, so in Thailand the children spent all day in the same classroom, but the students did not seem to mind. The school lunches in Thailand are more “home-cooked”, and filled with the spirit of Thailand; the kids were served traditional meals for lunch such as Pad Thai or Pad See Ew. I think that learning was given more respect and value in Thai schools because access is not an assumption.
If Thailand had to be known for just one thing, it should be their reputation for fantastic foods. Thailand takes so much pride in their food, that it is almost impossible to find a bad meal. Most things eaten in Thailand are grown in Thailand. Rice is the main food eaten by Thai people, and it seemed that around every corner I was seeing another rice-field. There is such a signature when it comes to Thai food; colorful, spicy, and containing rice. I loved every meal that I had while in Thailand.
While beginning my long journey home, I remember trying to pinpoint my favorite memory. I sat there for hours it seemed like, there is no way I can nail down one favorite; the whole trip was my favorite. The children brought new meaning into my life, the elephants brought in a sense of presence and patience, the mahouts brought a different angle of leadership, and the people in general brought me enough happiness to last my lifetime. If I had to name a favorite memory, it would be getting on my flight, because that flight brought me to Thailand.