My sister invited me on a random bpai tiao one morning last week, explaining only that we’d be doing ‘Thai culture’ and I needed to be ready by 6 A.M. on Saturday morning. Normally a trip with a bunch of Thai people I don’t know (kids from my neighborhood, but mostly teenagers who I don’t teach) leaving that early and not getting back until late in the evening would get a hell no response from me, but feeling that I’d become the old woman who lived in her shoe lately, I changed my tune. I’m really glad that I did because I got to witness something Thailand does very, very right.
Going to nearby Suphan Buri province, we had three places lined up. The first was วัดไผ่โรงวัว (Pai Rong Wua Temple) and it was easily one of the oddest temples I’ve ever been in. A huge building for the actual worshipping was filled with really awkward pictures of Buddhist teachings. There were also a few giant Buddhas that were quite beautiful. But the crowning achievement had to be the entire area of really, really strange and gory battles scenes. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
After a lunch break (they provided three meals), it was off to the National Museum of Suphan Buri and National Theatre. I won’t say much about the museum as it was fairly typical as museums go (although there were bilingual signs…yay!). The National Theatre though was phenomenal for the traditional folk dance performance that was put on for us and a number of other students. To put it as simply as possible, it was stunning. I would highly suggest anyone that visits Thailand to try to attend one of these. Not that you’ll understand most of what’s going on, but let’s be realistic, in this country, that would be a little too much to ask for.
I’m leaving out the nitty-gritty details because the point that I want to highlight here is that the local government paid for everything for about 100+ kids to attend: breakfast, lunch, and dinner, transportation, and admission fees to each place. They view their culture and history valuable enough to provide a way for their children to learn about it without it costing said kids or their parents. Something, not school related, for them to do on their weekend.
I think this is absolutely marvelous and wish there were these kinds of opportunities when I was a kid. Then again, I turned out to be a history-polisci nerd, so maybe a trip to the museum is not everyone’s cup of tea. But this is one leaf I think the United States should definitely be borrowing from Thailand’s book.
Americans are constantly mocked for our lack of culture and/or knowledge about other cultures, but a majority of us don’t do anything about it. People don’t even try to educate themselves on the world, but rather, are content to watch the latest episode of Jersey Shore, Housewives of (insert city here), Biggest Loser or whichever reality show is popular now. At ease to live in the routine ‘normalcy’ that they are convinced is not only satisfactory, but coveted. That’s right my generation, I’m calling you out. Is this, the people that strived to be ‘normal,’ what we want to be remembered for in the history books?
So here’s my tip for the day and then I’ll go back to talking about Thai craziness. I don’t think we’ll ever have a government that provides this kind of experience for its citizens (and I’m not fully convinced yet it’s the responsibility of it either), so we need to do this for ourselves. When you get home from work today, don’t turn the TV on or whatever you normally do. Shake it up a bit. Try opening a new kind of book. Or see what activities your local library has planned for the month. Or go to the little French place around the corner to eat a crepe with a beret and a phrasebook to keep you company. Better yet, try to make one at home! Learn something new. Make a total fool of yourself (I do this one on a daily basis, the end products are not pretty, but usually invigorating in some way). Don’t be afraid to turn your brain on! It’s arduous, daunting, stressful, fantastic, terrifying, sometimes overwhelming, but is always, always, always worthwhile. Life is short, make it as stimulating as possible. If Thailand can do it, so can you!