The Small Things

I have always wanted to think that I was a good observer of my surroundings, but I knew I was not. I am bad at crossing stop lights and go at the wrong times; I only look straight ahead when walking so I miss everything that is happening around me; and I struggle with seeing the small details of the things that I look at because I do not spend enough time examining them. Being in Thailand for three weeks, I cannot say that I have magically fixed all those things about me, but I can say that I have see improvements in my ability to be an active observer. 

When I first hopped on the airplane to Thailand, I did not know what to expect, but upon arriving I started to have expectations. Looking back, it is crazy to realize how fast I started making comparisons to the culture in the United States. Even now it is still hard not to make comparisons because the American culture is what I am so accustomed to, and it is difficult to fully observe the Thai culture when I am constantly comparing both cultures. Part of comparing the two cultures is that I was only able to notice all the most apparent things different: the bugs are much bigger and more obnoxious, the heat and humidity made me sweat like crazy every single day, and the traffic is terrible anytime of the day. I think that by only focusing on the most apparent things, I really prevented myself from observing and appreciating all the small things around me that will push me to think. 
Although I had noticed many things during my first week, I do not think it was until the group blog that I started to observe my surroundings more. I started noticing how the local people were using their natural resources in their everyday life for the purpose of the group blog, but was surprised that I continued to notice and learn of the other various ways that the Thais are using their natural resources after the group blog was over. In addition to the use banana leaves and bamboos, coconut leaves are also used for weaving baskets and making brooms, an amazing way of using parts of coconut trees. 
Aside from the natural things, I started noticing the waste around the areas that we traveled to and wondered how they came to end up there. In Chiang Khong, I had seen trash dumped on the side of the road next to banana trees and peoples’ gardens. Not knowing anything and only noticing, I had questioned how those trash were decided to be dumped there. Who made those decisions and why? In addition to noticing trash, I also noticed how in certain areas there were really modern buildings towering next to small shabby buildings. To me, it was a clear illustration of modernization and urbanization, something that I never really cared to see back in the states. I also noticed how people act and react to things and me here. Although it feels weird to be the outcast and having people stare at me, I think that the experience is valuable to have. It makes me think about the people back at home who are immigrants, refugees, or international people visiting and how I react to them. If I am feeling outcasted and uncomfortable from odd gazes, then those people may also feel the same way.
From my time in Thailand, I have learned to appreciate the small things that are around me. Although I am noticing my surroundings and questioning more, I hope that my ability to observe does not end here and that I can take it back with me so that I can become a more appreciative person back home. 

2 thoughts on “The Small Things”

  1. Mai,

    I like how you captured the process of noticing, more. It is a kind of cultivation similar to weight-training: it takes time and practice. The trash! It still stops me short. A zen garden of a blooming lotus in moving water in a fountain next to stinking sewer of trash. How? Who decides or don't decides? These are important questions to continue asking in the states. Acharn Cathy reminds me when Ladybird Johnson (Pres' wife) started getting people aware of dumping their trash in the rivers and on the streets. It is a process. Thank you!

  2. There is such power in observation and really seeing what's around you, as you so ably expressed in your post. I hope now that you follow up and try to find out the 'why' behind those observations. Try to get beyond your own perspective to consider another's perspective. Having the ability to take perspective is what signals someone who can effectlvely cross cultural boundaries.

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