What I Learned in Thailand – A Victory Monument

I learned that the Thai national anthem is awesome.

I learned the value of taking pictures. My brain can only remember so much, and most of my memories have either escaped me completely, become harder to summon, or confused themselves with dreams. Pictures serve as a sort of cloud storage, making it less of a tragedy that I’m unable to recall most of the things I love most, something that I can only imagine getting worse as I age. Yeah, I know, I’m late to the party.

I learned that I like Thai street dogs more than American pet dogs.

I learned a lot about the things that I identify as – a black male of modest means. What those traits mean to me – and how I prioritize them – is very different for me than it is for others, and that’s both a good and bad thing.

I learned that the life of a human is no more resilient or promised than the life of an ant. If we want it to have meaning and value, then we have to give it meaning and value.

I learned that Khmer regimes never mastered the flying buttress.

I learned that the world is a small and incredible place.

I learned how to make friends like a child does, without judgment or prejudice, without searching for a reason to disqualify someone from friendship. I’ve made real friends on this trip, true friends, people whose minds I value and whose values I don’t mind. I’ve had conversations that were more invasive and lovely than I’d had in years.

I learned how to effectively negotiate the price of a painting of a lady playing a harp to an angry tiger.

I learned that the bland, soulless pop songs that I – in my irrational musical snobbery – so despise are beloved around the world and serve as a great way to bring people together who don’t share much else.

I learned that I’m not, in fact, able to defeat an elephant in single combat.

I learned that I love Cambodian women.

I learned about lifestyles of a writer that I hadn’t previously known or even imagined.

I learned, truly, that my history is not everyone else’s. The absolutes that I take for granted are not only ignored by many people, but considered entirely false by many more people.

I learned that being middle class in Thailand is vastly superior to being middle class in America.

I learned that nearly everything everyone told me about Thailand and it’s people  – and nearly everything I have previously said in this blog – was wrong. Thailand is a huge, diverse place. Most statements that generalize anything about this country (other than this one…?) are oversimplifications. In the same way that someone who had only been to Texas couldn’t really use that experience as a foundation to talk about Americans as a whole, my Thailand experience has been limited in a number of ways. To anyone reading this blog who is planning to come to Thailand – ignore anything else you’ve read in this blog about Thailand.

I learned that kids are actually pretty cool. Bleh…never thought I’d say that.

I learned a number of effective ways to hit another human being to cause as much damage as possible while keeping myself safe from retaliation.

I learned that the internet is the most powerful invention in the history of my lifetime, even more powerful than the cordless phone.

I learned some new ways to look at love.

I learned that there are 14 year-old children on this earth who, despite my significant reach, size, strength and “athleticism” advantage, would give me a serious, Rodney Kingian beating if I ever attempted to box them.

I learned that the Thai palette aligns perfectly with mine. In America, I’d always been baffled as to how people don’t eat sweets everyday and how every other store isn’t a dessert stand or candy shop. In Thailand, I’m about a Snickers away from Type-II diabetes.

My sister once asked me a question: Is there anything that, if you could accomplish it, would make you feel like anything is possible?

The usual things – running a marathon, winning a chess tournament, competing in the Olympics, learning another language, etc – were out of the running immediately. I overrate myself both physically and mentally, so I don’t imagine any of those things being so difficult for me that they would make me feel like there was nothing I couldn’t do.

Instead, I thought it’d be something socio-economic. Maybe brokering a deal with a bunch of older, wealthy men without feeling out of place or inferior. Turns out that wasn’t the right answer either.

Coming to Thailand has made me realize that anything is possible, and not because it was difficult. Other than the adjustment to having a toilet and shower head in the same space, much of Thai culture and life didn’t really ripple my comfort zone. Nonetheless, the things that I have seen, the things I’ve done, the people I’ve met – Lord, the people I’ve met! – and the lessons I’ve learned have taught me not only that I can do anything, but that I’ve always been able to do anything.

We all can. No matter how we were born or what we were or what we are, none of it restricts what we can be; that’s the beauty, the inevitable victory, of being human.

Back to ‘Murica. See yall soon.


Victory Monument

Victory Monument

1 comment
  1. Joy said:

    Simply beautiful. Reading this made me miss a world I’ve never been to and yearn to explore places that I don’t even know exist. Can’t wait to have you back.

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