Isaan Children Cheering After a Fun Day:)
The wonderful children and me in Mahasarakham Province of Northeast Thailand
We are off and running in 2013 as Stand-Up For Kids is now in Thailand. Yes, that’s right! I am in Southeast Asia, one of the most enchanting, interesting parts of the world. I’ve come to know quite a bit about Thai culture, traditions, etc. and I have done my fair share of traveling around the “Land of Smiles”. The Thai people have a very lovely disposition. It seems that no matter what part of the country you visit, Thai people make eye contact with you and smile:) It’s rather comforting, if not perplexing, to see an entire nation of people who subscribe to this philosophy that every person with whom they come into contact deserves to see them smile and that every unsuspecting stranger should humbly smile in return. What makes it even more remarkable is that most of the Thai population has a standard of living that is far lower than what we experience in the U.S., yet the street cleaners, day laborers, people pushing rackety food carts, and just about every person you encounter, offers you a smile:)
Thais also love to laugh and get silly. Of course, this is perfectly suited for my personality because my mission in life is to bring laughter and smiles to everyone. After my first trip to Thailand about five years ago, I decided to teach myself to speak Thai so that I could communicate with the locals on subsequent trips, not to mention that I really enjoy learning another language and I thought that it would be fascinating to take up the challenge of learning something with which previously I was completely unfamiliar.
So my language prowess has allowed me to perform in Thailand on many occasions. I’m quite skilled in speaking Thai, and although I am not fluent, I can certainly hold my own. While Central Thai is taught in schools nationwide, about one third of the country’s population lives in the region referred to as Isaan; Generally speaking, Isaan is farmland, rice fields, etc. and the people there live in villages that seem like a trip back in time or something inside of a National Geographic magazine. People in Isaan also speak the Isaan language, which is extremely similar to Laos, the language of the neighboring country, Laos. Needless to say, last weekend when I was cordially invited to visit my friend Keng’s village in Mahasarakham Province in Thailand, I knew that I had my work cut out for me because the village residents normally speak Isaan; While they also speak Thai, I knew that the slang, colloquial language, and idiomatic expressions in Thai that I’m still not familiar with would make things a little more difficult to communicate.
From the moment we arrived at the market at 5 a.m. on Saturday morning, the Isaan people stared at me in amazement because it is very unusual to see an American, or any other “farang” (the term that Thai people use to refer to foreigners) at the market, especially at the crack of dawn. But once I started speaking Thai with the people, it became instantly evident that laughter is universal in any language. Keng and some of her family members and I paced up and down the market aisles, talking and laughing with the vendors and buying insane amounts of exotic Thai fruits, vegetables, fish, and other locally grown products.
Once we returned to the village, the game was on……..Driving down the dirt road that served as the main artery in Keng’s family’s section of the village, scores of children noticed me and began gravitating to Keng’s childhood home. Only one foreigner lives in their village, so my arrival most certainly set off a frenzy of curiosity and excitement. Thai people are naturally very shy, but once you break down that barrier, you’ll find them to be the most engaging, polite, and friendliest people on the face of the planet. So the moment that I began saying hello to the elementary school aged children, I was not surprised that they were afraid to speak to me. Of course, once I turned on the charm and began speaking Thai and making some of the children laugh, the others began slowly gravitating closer and closer to the “performance area”, which at that time was the large area on the side of Keng’s house where everyone assembled to eat the massive amount of food that her family prepared. As a side not, Thai people are obsessed with eating, but I’ll save that topic for another time;)
Soon after I broke into some improvisational English games that included my usual silly antics, the children were fully engaged and asking for more. The intoxicating sound of their innocent laughter fueled me to continue uninterrupted for nearly two hours, until it was time to eat. Following a wonderful meal, I helped several ladies wash dishes in the plastic containers that were situated in the grass near the dining area. I asked the children if they could help transport the dozens upon dozens of dishes to the storage area and they were more than willing to help. Little did they know that once we finished, I would offer to buy them the ice cream of their store at a family owned village “shop” down the main dirt road. As I teach in my show, one must do good things and demonstrate solid character in order to live a fulfilling life. If only you could have seen the caravan of children following me to that shop in anticipation of a delicious dessert that served as a reward for their good deeds. It was truly a priceless scene!
The adults in the village were truly appreciative that I spent most of my time entertaining the children; At one point, during a ceremony that was taking place in the house, the children and I walked through the village to the nearby Buddhist temple, where they took me inside and paid their respects to the giant Buddha statue. The fifteen or twenty kids clung to me as if they were laying claim to their prized possession who had magically appeared in their village that day. We stopped at house after house and I would continue with my antics, much to the delight of the lovely children AND the unsuspecting villagers who were more than happy to see me drop by just to say hello and exchange pleasantries. As the weekend went on, I was continuously reminded of how lucky I am to have a special gift to bring laughter to people everywhere I go. It doesn’t matter where you are, what language you are speaking, whether people are rich or poor, white, black, or any other color for that matter, laughter is truly universal. The poor children of the village that I visited last weekend were begging me to come back at my earliest opportunity. In fact, it was so cute when one little girl asked me if I wanted to marry her older sister and teach English at the local elementary school! I respectfully declined the marriage offer, but I promised the children that I would return again. On Sunday night, as Keng and her two nieces and I were packing the car with our belongings, the children and adults took their turns hugging me and sending all of us on our way back to Bangkok (a six hour drive). As I got into the car, I heard one of the little children say, “We love him.” The truth is that I love them too:) Stand-Up For Kids rolls on…….