It was 1991 when I first arrived in Thailand. I decided almost immediately that I wanted to live there, because everyone smiled at me.
If I asked for directions, people wouldn’t just give me directions, they’d take my hand and walk me there. I remember walking down a village street and people coming out of their homes to look at me. They invited me in to eat, and we sat on the floor and talked in sign language.
I never left empty handed. The poorest people were the most generous. The monks always wanted to practice their English, the shaman would set up elaborate ceremonies for me while villagers moved the furniture outside so there would be room for everyone.
Every morning, after alms round, the senior monk would walk into the temple yard and stand perfectly still in meditation while 20 dogs came and sat in a perfect circle around him. Slowly he would take a small morsel of food from his bowl and offer it to each dog in turn clockwise around the circle. He would wait until each dog had eaten before offering food to the next dog. Each dog would wait patiently for it’s turn. I watched this in amazement every morning. He never said anything to the dogs – no commands, nothing. They just knew what to do. And it all happened in silence for 30 minutes each morning.
It became so common to see elephants pass by the window that I stopped looking up from my reading. Food was from the jungle – wild vegetables, herbs, fish and rice with a pungent sauce made from crushed beetles that had been caught the night before.
The women of the village would take their daughters into the jungle each morning to gather the food while a young monk struck the temple bell calling locals to the temple. The husbands would still be sleeping in hammocks – sleeping off their hangovers. They made their own whisky which would drive you crazy after a while. A few years later I took my 14 year old son to a local bar and left him there for the evening. When I returned I found him dancing on the tables with a bunch of village girls.
I borrowed a car and drove it into a ditch. Within minutes, 20 men appeared and lifted the car back onto the road. I felt very foolish but I felt loved – they laughed and joked the whole time and we all got drunk on whisky afterwards. I didn’t get home until the following day.
I met a man with no legs. He passed me by on his hands. He was dirty and smelt very bad and was blind in one eye. I stopped him and gave him about $15.00. He looked at me in disbelief and lifted his arms towards me. I bent down and we hugged each other, but he wouldn’t let me go. When he did, he was crying, and so was I.