Why Does Thailand Smile?

By Katherine Li, California

I had the privilege of traveling to Thailand and living amongst the local people there for three weeks, and I must say that I’ve gained much more than just an understanding of the culture and the language.

There were a few peculiar characteristics of Thailand that I found fascinating.

Firstly, no one bothered to stick strictly to any times. Don’t feel like working? Close the shop at 9pm instead of 11pm...

There was also a huge abundance of stray cats and dogs in Thailand. It was a common thing for the food-cart workers to give the strays a few of their leftovers, but there were too many to feed. While I ate at the U-Center, the nearby university’s food-stall center, a cat approached with its stomach sunk in on both sides, so much so that when I stroked its back, I could pinch its stomach around the spine.

In Thailand, people and animals seemed to live in... not quite collaboration, but perhaps in a mutual understanding and respect of each other’s worlds. Although at first horrified, I became accustomed to the flies that landed in my food and the ants that crawled over my bed sheets. The mosquitoes that caused terrifying swollen bumps on my arms were nuisances but became surprisingly acceptable bedfellows. Some of these insects even became lunch. Crickets and water bugs were tasty snacks when fried and salted.

There was an abundance of small amphibians and reptiles everywhere as well. Out of curiosity, I counted the number of lizards I could see adhering to the side of a one-story building -- 17. I saw some of those scaly rascals on the edges of a couple squat-toilets. During my visit to the village in northeast Thailand, I decided to try the bucket showers, which were manually operated showers consisting of a large bucket filled with water and a small scoop that you would use to throw water on yourself. In the middle of my bath, I looked up and met eyes with a fist-sized frog crouched on the top edge of the side wall of the shower.

While walking up the steps to my dorm one day, I saw a green spot out of the corner of my eye. I bent down to take a closer look and immediately thought of Kung Fu Panda. There, clinging to the side of a stone step, was a praying mantis. What was it doing there?

Praying, I suppose.