You know those movies were people travel to amazing places? There is always this one moment where they realize just how different their new environment is from everything that they have left behind and that realization comes as such a surprise that it literally takes their breath away. They sit there, paralyzed by the beauty of what they see and feel around them. The smell, the colors, the heat, the view. Everything collides in this one special moment where in awe, they sit, utterly alive to all of their senses. My experience was nothing like that…
If the exoticism of Thailand dawned on my senses at all, it grew on me at such a pace as to possibly rival that of a snail. But of course, none of this is to say that Thailand was not beautiful or that the smells and the sights weren’t radically different than anything I had experienced at home (My local farmer’s market in rural Alberta had not prepared me in the least bit for what I would see at the Sunday Walking Street Market). Its just that, it didn’t really shock me. What I wanted was a big “wow” moment. I wanted fire to rain down from the sky and lightning to strike the earth but what I got was a hearth of slow burning coals and an irritable sense of calm that was undisturbed by things that, in my opinion, ought to have disturbed me.
Of course, I felt uncomfortable (what true born Canadian wouldn’t feel at least a little out of sorts cooking in the soggy heat of Southeast Asia?) and there were many things that caused me anxiety, like attempting to talk to people who might not necessarily be able to answer me in a language I would understand and crossing the street (A challenge comparable to the barrel jumping drama in the old Donkey Kong video game), but I just wasn’t blown away. And for a long time, this really bothered me because I was terrified of missing out on something really important.
So I took some time to think about it and the more I did I realized that part of the reason I found Thailand so “normal” was because what I saw, were people. Regular human beings just like myself. The only difference was the way that they chose to live their lives. I guess I had expected them to be radically different from myself, almost un-human, which I guess is likely due to the way that “the Orient” is portrayed in movies and auctioned off in advertisements as a place of exotic otherness. Regardless, the irritating calm that I had felt from the start, was due largely to the fact that I recognized a bit of myself in the people around me. I saw individuals with emotions, dreams, hobbies, friends, families, trauma, poverty all of which are elements present in my own Canadian society. All of those things, were just dressed up a little differently on this side of the world. While in Canada our humanity was dressed for the sort of geographical and sociological environment we had grown up in, here in Thailand, they had the exact same humanity, but it was dressed for the sun and followed the traditions of a history that was radically different than the one I knew. We were all human. The Thai people were no different than Canadians. We were, in a few words, same same, but different.