Jennifer Schmelter – Thailand Hospitality
The Grand Palace. Street food. Buddhism. Wat Arun. Opportunity. Tuk Tuks. All things you may think of when you think of Bangkok. People who have never traveled to the city may not immediately think of poverty. However, as a newly industrialized country, there is an interesting dichotomy to the scenery in Bangkok. Growth and success towering over dilapidation; poverty and ruin masked in the shadow of their newer brother – economic growth. Thailand has the second largest economy in all of Asia, but a per capita GDP of $5,779 in 2013. While this places them with the 10th highest per capita GDP in Asia, it still leaves a lot of room for growth before the country is maturely industrialized.
Over the course of our trip, however, it was evident that while some Thais may lack the luxuries money can buy, there was no shortage of hospitality, kindness, and smiles in their demeanor. There was a sincere caring and respect from each and every Thai individual I interacted with on our trip including our tour guide, the business professionals with whom we met, even the tuk tuk driver who firmly yet politely negotiated the fare for our drive back to the hotel one evening.
During a longer than anticipated walk to one of the malls located “near” our hotel, the weather was scorching hot. We took notice of some of the traffic cops directing rush hour traffic. They were dressed in bright orange jumpsuits from neck to toe; long sleeves, long pants, and most with masks over their nose and mouth. “I have no idea how they wear that stuff out here for hours at a time,” I commented. The next block we saw a traffic cop energetically, if not joyfully, directing traffic in the road. I couldn’t see his face, but his body language, movements, and cheerful whistle chirps made it clear he was happy to be where he was and was making the most of the moment. It was like watching a choreographed dance of traffic directing. That snapshot of joy without regard to the less than ideal conditions was what I felt throughout Bangkok.
Maybe it’s the beautiful temples, maybe it’s the delicious street food, or the thrill of being able to drive your scooter through oncoming traffic without risk of a traffic ticket. Maybe it’s Buddhism at its finest. Whatever it is, I wish I could have bottled the source of the kindness and patience the Thai people have with all people they encounter and bring it back to the US to share. Yes, 13.2% of Thais were below the poverty line in 2011. Perhaps many Americans would visit Thailand and see all the things those in poverty are lacking. And perhaps many Thais would visit America and see that all the things we do have don’t guarantee us the values in life that really matter: mutual respect, courtesy, and genuinely caring for others.