Kids Only – The Children of Thailand
Thailand is known as the land of a thousand smiles, and there’s no question why. No matter their situation, everybody I encountered welcomed me with a grin, a “sawatdee”, and a helpful attitude. It is always refreshing to meet a local population with such a peaceful and earnest demeanor.
One evening, when lost and looking for a place to shoot the sunset, we asked a girl in a shop for directions. Instead of describing the way or drawing a crude map, she stepped into her flip-flops, and led us on a 5 minute walk through the riverside alleyways of Bangkok, straight to the door of the residence we were searching for. Amazing!
A stranger who directed my brother and me towards the Chiang Mai night market recognized us on the way back, and stopped to ask how our shopping experience was.
Even our cab driver took it upon himself to write out directions for us, in Thai, just in case our cabbie home from the Muay Thai match didn’t speak any English.
Arguably the most interesting part about travelling is meeting the local people, and experiencing not only their culture, but their personalities, and my favorite is always the children. Unfortunately, conditions are not great for everybody. Many families work construction jobs for only 200 baht ($7) per day, including children. Some of the hill tribes are stil very poor, relying heavily on tourists to purchase hand-made bracelets and bags. Just a single dollar can make a big difference in these areas, and even more so in Cambodia, where the average yearly household income can be as low as US$260. Despite this, many of the children exhibit such a lust for life and incredibly infectious energy that my spirits are raised immediately.
This was definitely the case when I stumbled upon the orphan school at Angkor Wat. Though none of the children spoke English, and myself only about 6 words of Thai and nothing in the Khmer (Cambodian) tongue, we hung out through the evening while I waited for the sun to set on the great ruins of Angkor Wat. They were excited by my camera, and the ability to see images of the temples they call home and of themselves. After I let them play around with it, they returned the favor by letting me try their instruments and their food. It is this kind of interaction which cannot be planned, but requires a general openness of time and character. As it turned out the sunset photos were mostly boring, but the experience I had with the children waiting for it was priceless. I didn’t have to ask to take photos of them, because they were begging me to! By the end it was all too difficult to leave my new friends just to see a sunset. So my advice is to always leave some open time for exploration and open space in your heart.