Any tourist would be thrilled to experience the beauty of the floating markets, the gleaming reflection of the sun against the ocean, and the various delicacies sold along the streets. As for myself, my trip to Thailand began as a rough one. I was greeted by the humid air rubbing against my skin, a swarm of mosquitoes thirsting for my blood, and a queasy stomach that lurched at every swerve of the car ride.
I was to become one of the leaders for the Thai American Youth Heritage program being fluent in both languages Thai and English, but this was not what I expected. As we boarded the bus for a six hour trip heading north of Thailand, I couldn’t help but miserably sulk at what my summer of 2011 was going to be like.
â–º Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
Our first stop left me without words, although I didn’t openly admit to my parents I was already amazed. Wut PraKaew, the previous Royal Palace of the King, was built with nothing but real gold. The three hours spent there was not long enough to trek through all of the landscape, but what was seen left me admiring the architects the king had hired from all around the world.
The goal of the program I had become a part of was heavily involved with community service. After several sessions of tree planting, visiting schools, and donating money to charity, I began to enjoy my time in Thailand and no longer minded waking up at 5 every morning to board the bus.
At an orphanage down in the Chiang Mai province, I befriended Tak, who sitting in a wheelchair, informed me that it was his sixth birthday. I learned that he suffered from dysfunctional bone disorder which left him unable to walk. As we finished passing out toys for all of the children, I noticed Tak out of the corner of my eye, watched as he hurriedly wheeled himself up to the front of the room. The room fell silent as he held up a microphone and began to sing Mariah Carey’s “When You Believe”. It was a moment I hadn’t quite experienced before, a combination of both realization and bittersweet emotions about how blessed I truly am. It was not surprising to see the whole room brimming silent tears, and while I never characterized myself as a sensitive person, I admit I cried the hardest. Before I grudgingly was forced to leave, I touched his hand and told him he was a great talent and that we were all so proud of him. His reply was a mischievous smile as he saw I was crying and a command that I stop because he did not want my sadness rubbing off on him.
On the last day, we were invited to a television station, Thai Network Channel 5, where I was to provide a short statement of my experience in Thailand. I thanked my parents for providing me with the opportunity to experience such a wonderful culture and for placing me with the program. I explained how lucky I was, and despite how selfish I may have been in the beginning of the trip, I understood the importance of not taking certain things for granted. I have been blessed with good health and with amazing parents who have nothing but the best intentions for me. It is now my duty to give back to those who are just as deserving, people who are less fortunate but who graciously accept what they have and do the most they can with what they were given.
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