Thursday, August 1, 2013

On the Western Ostrich

Great Smiles: Sanook in Khon Kaen
I was watching a vendor make my banana and egg roti, when the white couple walked up. It was a long holiday weekend, when the historic Wooden Bridge and Sangklaburi town itself were full of tourists, but these were the only farang (westerners) I had seen all morning.

From their accents, it was clear they were from the States. They stood next to me, occasionally exchanging a few words with each other, but never acknowledging my presence, which just seems weird to me.

It's certainly not the first time I've encountered this sort of thing - another westerner, perhaps the only other one in a remote town, will studiously examine the ground as we pass by each other on a narrow sidewalk - but it still bothers me. It's especially perplexing in Thailand where residents almost always return my smile with a warm expression of their own.

Maybe it's just the tourists' determination not to let anything familiar intrude upon their immersion in a foreign experience. An insistence that what they are doing is unique, despite evidence to the contrary. But it seems a bit rude, if not plain delusional, to not at least give the "Hey, you're riding a motorcycle too" nod that recognizes shared experience, especially
if you're standing next to each other at the same food cart.

Heck, I would have said hello to anyone in that situation. Maybe I'm a sap, or just more inclined to talk to others because I'm traveling alone, but we're all waiting together so why not be friendly, especially in a place that values friendliness and the concept of "sanook" (roughly: life should be fun). I've had great conversations with Thais and tourists alike while waiting for buses, food, flights, and most everything else a person finds himself waiting for.

So after a minute or two, I looked over at the couple, smiled, and asked, "So where you from?" "Ratchaburi," came the unexpected response. "Really," I wanted to say, "I could have sworn from your accents that you were from Chiang Mai." Instead, I made polite conversation, learning they were teachers who had lived in Thailand for less than two years and eagerly awaited their imminent return to the States. We chatted a bit until I got my roti and left.

Nothing earth-shattering or particularly memorable, but still pleasantly sociable. Was that so difficult?

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Gotta Gettaway by Josh Lewis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.