The Land of Smiles
Every now and again when smoke fills the air from wildland fires sweeping across Wyoming in the late dry summer months, the smell pleasantly steals my mind back to a former time when I dwelled in the magical village of Thawangpha, Thailand. After the farmers harvest the rice, they burned off their fields to start anew, leaving a smoky distinct smell in the air that I shall never forget. It is here where I lived for six months, teaching English to 7th and 11th graders, and it is this place that drove my interest to studying education as well as discovering the subtle brilliancies of a new and enchanting culture.
Greeted by smiles, laughs, the smells of the spicy erotic cuisine, and the green lush landscape, the village of Thawangpha became my home and heart. I lived in a one bedroom apartment containing the minimalist of needs, and each day I would walk across the dirt path, under the vast canopied trees listening to the county’s national song being played over the loud speakers. Each day the student body assembled on the grass field where they sang the national anthem and the principal spoke of Buddhist lessons on respect, love, and mindfulness. On my way to my classroom, the students I passed respectfully greeted me with the Thai greeting of a wai, consisting of a slight bow, with the palms pressed together in a prayer-like fashion. This greeting is used by all who live there and it’s common to wai each person you pass that is older than you. In Thailand, teachers are revered and respected more than any other profession. The school lacked doors or windows and the only thing separating the students from the outdoors were the walls built of brick. Full of life and zest, my classes contained nearly fifty students. This zest was all around me in this place.
Thailand is called the land of smiles. The country’s success is measured not by the GDP but by the GDH, gross domestic happiness. And I have learned the power of a smile in Thawangpha Thailand.