Before my eyes have even opened, I can feel the sappy, moist air lap against my face in waves. The birds have discovered the harmonious morning tune and are singing it amongst themselves outside my doorway. As my eyes flutter open to behold the alluring dawn, I take in the radiant courtyard in the center of the Inn. The lush, green—no, not green, chartreuse, jade, and olive colored—plants beckon my attention to every corner of the square. Pinks, purples, and yellows float up from amongst ferns and bushes that crowd the floor around me. I suck in a deep breath of wonderment and sniff the aroma of warm toast and hot tea. Is this the bed and breakfast leading into the gates of heaven? No, but close in appearance, it is Riverside House, located in the center of Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Although one of the first places to make my heart fall in love with the charming country of Thailand, it was certainly not the last. Wat Prathat Doi Suthep is one of the most famous temples in Chiang Mai, and therefore, an important stop for our mission team, from the suburbs of America, if we wanted to understand the culture we had entered. A gorgeous array of gold and jade, the temple serves as a place for the Thai people to worship and pray. It has also become a main tourist attraction, and a giant source of income. While in the beginning I saw this as a horrendous basis of revenue, I learned quickly not to judge other cultures. As an American, I found myself constantly thinking I knew a better way to do things than the Thai people, but it was a great epiphany when I realized that the “American Way” does not necessarily make it the “Only Way”.
The Maesa Elephant Camp in the outlying mountains of Chiang Mai was another stop our team did not want to miss. Despite rumors, the elephants are incredibly well cared for and even treasured by their trainers. Of course, these are no regular beasts; they do more than eat and sleep. They play soccer, paint colorful pictures, give trunk-sized hugs, and offer rides to the amazed tourists. It was an eventful experience that humbled our team into trusting the kind creatures.
The strings of my heart were pulled just a little bit further when I met the children I had the privilege to teach English to. How could I resist the small, brown faces staring up at me with angelic eyes the color of chocolate? Their soft smiles, playful attitudes, and willingness to learn taught me more than anything I could have taught them. I recognized for the first time in my sixteen years the handiwork of our world, the supreme divinity of other cultures and races.
My last day in the Thai school arrived, and I wished fervently that I could stay amongst the stunning people, and their white, cement walls. I knew, however, that I had to go home so that I could tell everyone I know, and even those I do not, that there is life outside of their homes, outside of the country walls and limitations. Our world is made up of so many people driving towards success that they forgot to slow down and admire the people and relationships that have opportunity to take shape all around them. I was taught to be humble in my accusations of how other ethnicities perform traditions and everyday life. I was taught to love where I had never known that I could love before.
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