Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
When I started to write this blog post my first idea was reflecting on Class 27 field trip to Songkhla, southern Thailand but my spirit would not let me, my thoughts kept spinning towards something that has impressed my heart a lot lately – the Thai People. I cannot purport to be adept of Thai people and Thai Culture and therefore this post is not meant to display my aptitude of Thai culture or people, it is mostly my appreciation and admiration of the Thai people and Thai hospitality.
When I got the good news that I have been accepted in Rotary Peace Fellowship class 27 at Chulalongkorn university, my heart was filled with delight, I was anxious to share the news with my family, my team and my close friends, their reaction was a cocktail of excitement and fear. Fear of the unknown! Little knowledge of Thai people and misconceptions on Asian people was the cause of the fear.
When I arrived at Suvarnabhumi international airport in Thailand, I was excited but disbelieving, my being here was too good to be true. Like my people, I was filled with fear of the unknown! But very soon the anxiety melted to a sigh of relieve when I met my Host Counsellor who gave me my first taste of Thailand – Cha Tra Mue, the delectable iced tea on the go. On our drive to my new home in Bangkok, Mr. Prasart told me many amazing stories about Thailand’s history. I was awed by the size and beauty of Bangkok.
One week in Bangkok and my colleagues from class wanted to go out for a drink, I wanted to join but some inner voices told to venture out on my own and explore the new neighborhood. I found a group of Thai folks, a few ladies and some gents sipping their favorite drinks, I approached them and greeted them, although only one spoke some little English they welcomed and embraced me with a lot of warmth mixed with desire to know where this black guy came from and what brings me to Bangkok. I ordered my favorite Thai drink, Cha Tra Mue but I was told that is not available and they recommended Plum Soda. This is one of the most tantalizing and refreshing Thai drinks, it is sweet and sour, and the pickled plum are slightly salty and extremely chewy. My tongue was again having another short venture in heaven.
I quickly learnt that Thai drinks are usually very sweet and therefore if you aren’t a big fan of sugar, do not hesitate to say ‘Whaan Noi’ (less sweet) or ‘Mai Whaan’ (not sweet) to the vendor before they start blending them. That very night I went home very happy with new friends in what has been home for me for the past 2 months now. It is just amazing how quickly these people accepted me and in their clique. If I fail to turn up at our common joint, they would call me to check my wellbeing and sometimes to feed-me in on important information of upcoming fun events. Before long I had blended-in and even became the newest member of their WhatsApp group. Google translate and other translation mobile applications have so far been very helpful in our interactions, language barrier certainly not a problem. I think this is a living testimony how people can overcome cultural differences to live as one people. My teacher in Culture and Mediation, Prof. Jan Sunoo would refer this as lenses we wear. You can choose to look at people with different lenses. Some lenses will make you see different, weird, and odd while some lenses will through the existing difference make you see the beauty, interesting and distinctly dissimilar but mesmerizing people. How you treat people will all depend on the lenses you choose in life.
I think Thai’s hospitality is unmatchable in the globe, beneath the beautiful smiles are beautiful souls. Thai people are humble and non-confrontational, I realized even when you have a disagreement with a waiter or taxi driver over change or anything, they would stand their ground but still find the most amicable way to address the difference. This is not the case to most countries I have visited in the world.
Also, unlike many places where the color of skin dictates the reaction you receive, in most places I have been in Thailand, though I was the only black person from hundreds present I was always treated with honor. Some folks would even offer me their drink to sip, invite me to sit with them or just start a conversation with me. I felt very proud of my African root and even more, Kenyan roots. Every time I said I am Kenyan people would gesture that we are very good runners and my heart would skip a bit filled with joy and pride. I can therefore say that Thai people do not care whether you are black or white or polka dot. Although I cannot say that Thailand has zero tolerance to racism, I can confidently say that even where it exists it’s almost unrecognizable and just like in any community, there are always a few rotten apples, but this should not diminish the bigger picture.
Finally, I want to talk about Thai music. I have been lucky to experience both Thai hip-hop, Thai rap, Thai country and on the other hand the Thai cultural dances. Many amazing Thai bands would keep their fans on their feet all the night and I enjoyed dancing to the tunes, although I did not understand the lyrics my soul enjoyed every beat. Another Gem in Thai culture is the sweet symphony and perfectly choregraphed dance moves in their traditional dances. I was very lucky to be around during the 45th International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM) World Conference 2019 hosted by Chulalongkorn university. I will never lose the memory of the night of sweet melodies and dances from Thai traditional dance composed by Chulalongkorn professors and perfected in performance by students from the faculty of fine arts.
In conclusion I would say, if the stories of Thai hospitality were to be written not enough storage could be found anywhere so I must end here and say Khop kun krab to all Thai people. May God bless Thailand and long live the King.
James Waruiru – Kenya
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 27