Thailand: Land of Smiles- Flowers for Miles
by Irene Horst, Editor
Sounds like a travel brochure, doesn’t it? But actually it is true. Eight adverturous FICers are here to attest to this description of Thailand. Having landed first in Singapore, which – except for the tropical vegetation – looks very much like downtown Chicago, it was difficult to realize that we were in Southeast Asia, thousands of miles away. Here we drove around the complete city, state, country of Singapore, which is 26 miles long and 14 miles wide. We enjoyed an elegant high tea at the Raffles Hotel (known world wide for its “Singapore Sling” drink) and marveled at all the shiny, tall buildings, beautiful parks, and developed resources (water from the tap is drinkable). It was a wonderful transition to our next destination, an ancient country - bountiful, green, full of water ways shadowed only by golden temples - still clinging to traditions established by ancestors of yore.
Yes, we had reached Thailand, who dropped its British name of Siam in 1939. Since the country has never actually been under colonial rule, it is natural that it would want to bear its historic name. It is a Third World country. I believe you could call it that, when one sees an elephant in a farmer’s field, or oxen pulling carts, straw hatted workers in the rice fields, and vendors lining the streets with fresh produce and literally, miles of flowers everywhere! But within the oases of gorgeous hotels, and in sight of service personnel dressed to the nth degree (looking like models out of Vogue Magazine), it was easy to forget where we were.
Thailand, sitting close to the equator, is a warm place. Therefore, the flowers are not only bountiful but everyone appreciates them. They are arranged beautifully in all indoor places, and adorn all public areas. It is a Buddhist country where most people appear to practice their faith religiously. They are gentle folk, quiet spoken, seemingly clean, with no noticeable shouting among them. Their dancing reflects their lives – gracious, calm, with distinctive finger work. And they must be happy, because they all wear smiles, whenever you make eye contact with them. All the ubiquitous temples - ancient as well as new - are art works onto themselves with much gold evident throughout. Here the people congregate regularly according to their own schedules, with no set worship services.
Once we left the cities of Bangkok and Chiang Mai, a beautiful northern city, we entered into an area of completely primitive tribal communities scattered in the hills. Their huts reflect their static lifestyles, surrounded by squalor, unchanged for generations. Because several of these tribes migrated a hundred years or so ago from Myanmar (Burma) and Tibet, many are not even citizens of Thailand. Slowly, the country is attempting to integrate the children of these peoples into the 21st century by means of placement of a few schools in strategic areas.
The one school we made arrangements to visit was amazing. Here all children from the area were welcome. It was a full day curriculum with lunch at noon. Children who could not afford to pay for their lunches were taught to grow the grains and vegetables on the school grounds to provide for themselves. As a school project they all collected elephant dung, which was transformed into methane gas, that in turn could be used to light the school and provide gas for the little stoves they had. The knowledge of this whole process was one that the children then could take back to their villages for the people to incorporate and thereby help themselves. The children, schooled up to 12 years old, were beautiful. They put on for us a program of song and dance, dressed in their native costumes. They graciously accepted the gifts and the “bahts” we had collectively gathered together for them.
Riding elephants for an hour through the jungle, bouncing along in ox-carts, and riding down the Mekok River in a raft, will always be unforgettable moments. But the beauty of the countryside, the warmth of the people, and the graciousness of their lives living out the traditions of their culture will always remain with us. Our spirits have been touched.