Recently, while searching the internet for a lesson plan to explain “superstitions” to my 14 year olds, I stumbled upon a quote:
“The best journeys in life are the ones that answer questions that in the beginning you never thought to ask.”
I like this quote.
And I like to think that this journey to Thailand has indeed taught me many things — some of which I did think to ask, and some that I did not.
For example, one significant thing I recently learned is this: I have “sad eyebrows.”
Now, you might ask, “What are ‘sad eyebrows’?” And my answer to this is: You must ask Boo.
Boo, the eyebrow expert, is an eccentric Thai woman who happens to also wear a headband with cat ears on it everyday (yes really, everyday.) I ventured to see Boo with my friends who wanted to have their eyebrows threaded, and I decided that since I had never had mine done, that it was time. Thailand is full adventures like these. What kind of life would I be living if I were too scared to have my eyebrows done, but I could so easily jump out of a plane for fun?
So, I took the plunge.
She had me slide down in my chair because I was too tall, and she studied my eyebrows carefully. She stepped back and disapprovingly shook her head, “Ohhhh. Ohhhh no,” she gathered her thread, and handed me a headband to hold back my hair (unfortunately my headband did not have cat ears on it). “You have sad eyebrows,” she began to thread, “I fix for you and make them happy. Then, when you go back to America, I will be famous for making you beautiful.”
So, that is what she did. She reshaped my eyebrows, and they supposedly make me look happier now.
I think this experience is definitely what that quote is referring to.
Sometimes, you move to a foreign country, and you never think to ask: “Are my eyebrows sad?”
But, now I know.
I also like to think that perhaps my face looks happy not only because of my new brows, but because I feel very happy. Everyday is a learning experience, and everyday is an adventure. In fact, it is difficult to keep track of everything — teaching, weekend trips to the islands, Chiang Mai for Yi Peng, Phuket, Krabi, exploring temples, trying new food, rooftop bars on the 45th floor, going out to Kao San Road or Soi 11, or the adventure of taking every mode of transportation to get to these locations. For example, on my birthday my friends and I went to Chiang Mai, which ultimately consisted of a bus, a motorbike taxi (to pause, please take a moment to picture me bear-hugging a Thai man on a motorbike as we zig zag through Bangkok traffic. Yes really, I bear hugged him. I have no regrets about it.), an overnight bus to Chiang Mai, a taxi, a tuk-tuk, the back of truck, an airplane back to Bangkok, to a taxi. All in about 48 hours. Needless to say, I am getting very good at using public transportation. Bear hugs included.
Although being busy and adventurous makes me happy, I do have to say that the cherry on top is this: the people. Everyday I have experiences that completely restore my faith in humanity.
The woman I get fruit from every morning has memorized my order (coconut water and papaya), or the girl I get coffee from asks if I want “Americano yen?” (iced Americano) or “Americano rawn?” (hot), and she has memorized how I like it. If someone else makes it, she tells them in a harsh voice not to put sugar or condensed milk in it (yes, they use condensed milk in their coffee, and it is actually delicious. However, I try to save my sugar intake for coconut ice cream. One must make sacrifices). Or, on days I feel tired or under the weather, my students tell me I am beautiful, or they hug me when I come into class. They often touch my hair and ask why it is so long, or ask why I have so many freckles and ear piercings. When I say “Hello” to one of my classes, we then continue to break into song and sing Adele: “Hello, it’s me….” Or sometimes, as I am walking to school or walking home, children I don’t know will yell and wave from the back of a motorbike “Hello Teachaaa!” or run up to me to say hello. The people on my street wave and say hello as we walk past, or my favorite is the motorbike taxi man who is in love with my friend Brittany. He drives past us in the morning carrying passengers and lets out a shriek “Gooooood morning Teachaaaaa!” and waves as he drives by. It is both comical and the highlight of my day.
On the night before my birthday, I took a taxi home (see, I told you I’m getting pretty good at this) from my friend’s place. The driver began speaking to me in English, and we chatted about how difficult Thai and English are. We tried to teach each other new words and phrases, and he taught me more directions and a better way to say how to get to my apartment if other cab drivers don’t understand me (side note: the tones of Thai are very difficult and I often think that I am saying it exactly correct, but it is in fact almost never correct.) I taught him how to say a few things in English, and when our conversation died down he turned on the English music channel for me and continued to look back in his rear view mirror to ensure I was happy. I believe I had a perma-grin across my face — my friends had surprised me and taken me to an early birthday dinner and I then met up with my swanky friend who works at the embassy afterward.
While we were at a stoplight, I was quiet and stared out the window, but I must have been smiling. He turned down the music and said, “I can see you have a beautiful soul. I see your soul right through your face. Your smile.”
As tears welled up in my eyes, I told him that Thailand does that to people.
Sure, the mountains and the tropical weather and the beaches and the food and the drinks make Thailand nice. But the people are what makes Thailand incredible. Especially at a time in the world where so many people are currently living in fear, in pain, or in sadness; or I hear about people complaining about irrelevant things such as Starbucks cups, or whether or not they got what they wanted on Black Friday.
It is humbling to see just how little many of the people have here; and even more humbling to see just how much happiness they have.
It is nice to be reminded, everyday, that there will always be more good in the world than bad.
So, sometimes, you move to another country… and you learn things you never thought you would.