A North-East Indian in the land of smiles

Nilasha Das *

A Northeast Indian Guide to Thailand: At Home in a Foreign Land :: April 2018
Bangkok skyline and Chao Phraya River :: Pix - Jim Wungramyao Kasom

The first thoughts

I still remember the first day when I set foot on this country, The Country of Smiles; how naive I was with the entire experience of travelling to a new place. Upon being asked how I felt coming here, I still remember the answer I gave to my uncle who was living in Thailand then, I said "I feel I am in Shillong."

Really! What made me say that? Now when I reflect back, I feel I was probably too new to the entire experience or maybe the beauty of my land was deep-rooted in my heart and unknowingly I was still there. I felt really like it was just another trip to my sweet Shillong. But there we were driving to my uncle's apartment in Thailand.

Those ten days of visiting Thailand made me feel at home, with people so warm and welcoming, with streets filled with colors beaming from the many lanterns hanged, the Thai music and people having fun till late hours, the mouth-watering street food and the richness of culture. I had to come back to this place. I had to see more, learn more and absorb more of Thailand.

My second visit here was equally amazing, even better in many ways. I knew what to do, where to go and yes, what to eat (I strongly recommend Thai cuisine to every living mortal). However, this visit wasn't touristy, I had made a decision to stay and work in this country. Now, do I regret making that choice in life? The answer is an absolute NO.

Living the experience:

Thailand has a lot more to offer than what one can actually think of. Its beauty, its warmth, its culture is worth one's time. And there is so much that we can learn from their culture and people.Thailand has always been known for its fun and bold side but there is another side to it as well.

So many aspects of their culture mesmerize me. One of the most interesting attribute is the artistic prowess of the people. Temple engravings, paintings, making garlands, crafts, or the "Phan Wai Kru" (flower tray for teachers to show respect to their teachers), the Thai people really put their heart and soul in creating artifacts. They have a great deal of patience and dedication to what they do.

Respect for teachers is another aspect that is really worth noticing. In the hierarchy, after the King, who is the supreme head in Thailand, next come the monks and then the teachers. Students as well as the parents pay a great amount of respect to each and every teacher and "Waiing" (similar to Namaskar) is important to them.

One can see Thais waiing a lot and it is considered respectful if you wai back at them. Life in Thailand has been a watershed of exposure for me. Apart from the Thai culture I have had the opportunity to learn about many other cultures from many different nations.

I met some amazing people, made some interesting friends and yeah, met my Thai mom P. Ju. She is a gem of a person, whom I can count and bank on come what may. She has made my life here in Thailand so much easier. She gave me a chance to live my dreams and also a chance to try out Thai food. She also invited us (the new teachers) for dinner at her place and truly, it was such a warm experience.

A house of a regular Thai person reminds me of my home. Their style of house making is similar to the Assam-type construct that we have. But there are a few things that we should know. A Thai house doesn't have a kitchen. Cooking at home isn't a mandatory activity; instead, people enjoy eating outside.

Again, if guests are invited to a Thai house, they are asked to sit outside in the porch. In Thai culture, it isn't polite to sit inside the house or to dine inside. People prefer sitting outside and letting their hair down. They have a very simple and peaceful lifestyle and they appreciate it.

Learning life lessons:

Patience, selflessness, simple living, laid back nature are much required qualities in today's world and Thailand has it all. Amidst all this excitement of knowing this new country, did I miss my homeland? My north-east? It is a Yes and a No. Staying away from home definitely has its downsides, but it's also a great way to discover oneself.

Things that were probably impossible earlier were made possible now. As an individual I found this separation from home beneficial, as now I stood face to face with the real me, the independent me. Having said that, I did have days when I would reminisce the old comfortable times of my beautiful Guwahati. Things would be a little difficult during festivals though, as I become nostalgic during those times.

But Thailand never ceases to amaze me with its magnificence. Exactly during the time of "Rongali Bihu" in April, Thailand also has "Songkran", a festival that celebrates the Thai New Year and is marked by throwing and sprinkling of water. This celebration definitely took care of my homesickness.

Drawing similarities:

The beauty of any country is reflected by its people and Thailand scores big in this regard. Coming from the northeastern part of India, I didn't really feel like a stranger to the place mainly because we too have a tinge of Thai background in our culture and the people from both the nations have similarities in many aspects.

For instance, the traditional "Chut Thai" (Thai dress) has the same straight wrap-around skirt that we see any Manipuri, Naga and women from several other tribes wearing. This dress is completed with a frilled top and a neckpiece.

The food in Thailand is worth relishing. Tomyum, Pad thai, Pad krapao, Mango with sticky rice, Somtam are some of the dishes one should definitely try when travelling to Thailand. They have made my life so much easier here.

But yes occasionally, I do miss my "aloo Pitika" (mashed potato), "begena Pitika"(mashed eggplant) and "maaye bonuwa masor tenga" (Fish curry prepared by my Mom), which I believe no cuisine can replace. Now, amidst all these wonderful things and amazing experiences, have I come across anything negative? Yes, I have.

The one thing that I have been told in Thailand a lot is that, I don't look Indian enough (meaning I am not brown enough). I have also been called out for not having an Indian accent or I don't wobble while speaking. These stereotypes were tackled by showing the map of India and explaining why we, the north-eastern people are lighter when it comes to skin colour or as to why we don't have a strong accent.

In one such incident, when I showed the map of India pointing at our region, the reply left me startled. He said, "Oh! Is this India? I never thought it was. It looks like a part of China."

And then I had to indulge in a geography lesson with them, which was my least favourite subject in school!

But, in spite of these minor encounters, Thailand has always warm and welcoming to me. I have learned so much from this land. I made so many friends; I also found the love of my life here! And that's the most exciting part for me.

This land of smiles has definitely made me live life to its fullest in all senses. The next time you visit Thailand, do enjoy every bit of it.

Khapunka - Thank you.

Courtesy : North East Today

* Nilasha Das wrote this article which was published at The Sangai Express
The author is a teacher and an animal right activist from Guwahati, currently working as an ESL educator in Wat Don Thong School, Chachoengsao, Thailand.
This article was webcasted on May 01, 2019.

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