Ok I am just going to announce this to the world as if it “doesn’t matter”, as if “it’s all good” and pretend I have “no worries.” I am 52 years old! That’s right, I’ll say it again: I am 52 years old. I have been practicing yoga for almost 25 years and teaching yoga on and off for over 15 years. I have worked in the government or as a consultant to the government for most of my life. But I decided, at this ripe (but NOT old) age to change my life. And I am talking Change with a capital “C” here people! I took a position teaching English in a high school (for boys!) in Chonburi Thailand. Yes, that Thailand, the one on the other side of the world from my small town in Florida.
“What in the world were you thinking?” you may rightfully ask. Well I guess I was thinking I needed to shake up my life, add a little spice. I needed a new recipe: a cup full of adventure, another cup full of excitement, a quarter cup of wonder-lust, a hint of trepidation, a pinch of anxiety, a dash of mid-life crisis (if I want to be honest with myself – but let’s not do that!), add some exotic Thai spices and here I am; living like a 23 year old grad student.
But the real question is: Am I the teacher of the student? Let’s explore this question shall we?
Lesson #1: How To Live Like A Grad Student In A 13 Year Old Girl’s Décor
I moved into my 8th floor ”Hello Kitty” apartment about two weeks ago. I call it my “Hello Kitty Apartment” because the floors, walls and ceilings of both rooms are covered in bright Hello Kitty mismatched colors. The bathroom actually has Hello Kitty tiles on the walls, and the floor is tiled with koi fish. I had a nightmare that Hello Kitty was eating the Koi one night! The apartment is really a dorm room with bathroom – not an apartment by American standards. And no kitchen! I love to cook, what am I going to do?
Lesson #2: Mai Bpen Rai
The most often heard words when you travel to Thailand are “Mai bpen rai”.These are not just Thai words they are a way of life. Thailand is a Buddhist country where Buddhist Temples ("Wat" in Thai is temple) and Spirit Houses abound. A san phra phum or spirit house can be found on almost every property in Thailand. These colorful, almost doll house like temple structures are usually found at the most prominent corner of a property. The spirit houses are a constant reminder that life is a mix of spirituality and practicality. Their beauty reminds visitors to the property that life exists on many plains and to enjoy it.
So in order to understand the mai bpen rai (pronounced "my bpen rie" in English. The "bp" sound I can't hear yet, but it is supposed to be a combination of both letters. I usually hear it as a "b" sound) philosophy you must have a good understanding of Thai people (or at least a beginning of one like me) and their society. So the Buddha, temples and Spirit Houses are a great example of how the Thais intermingle spirituality into all things, including real estate! Imagine a real estate agent or developer in America designing a property where the most visible corner had a small temple on it?! Not happening!
Mai bpen rai means many things, but it is most often used to say, "It's all good," or "No problem," "You're welcome," and "No worries!" Life is lived with a Buddhist philosophy of being content and happy in the now. Sure they plan for the future and learn from the past, but most important is the now. If you made a mistake it's ok "mai bpen rai" if things didn't go as planned, "mai bpen rai," if the bus is 20 minutes late, "mai bpen rai". That's called Thai Time.
If you've heard of Bahamas Time then just multiply by about ten and you've got Thai Time! Just remember that those other people you are waiting for are living in their now and may be having "sanuuk" (fun) and they will get to you soon. So enjoy your sanuuk now and soon you'll all be together having sanuuk. Living in the now and fun are goals and a way of life here. Try to apply that philosophy next time you are waiting in line at WalMart, maybe you’ll enjoy the time spent in line more.
So how does that apply to my life today? As a new teacher in a large school where most people speak little or no English, not knowing what is going on around you or is planned for you, or is expected of you in any given situation is a bit nerve wracking (to say the least). But applying mai bpen rai helps considerably. If I give it by best effort, smile a lot, and participate to the best of my ability, most people think that is good enough. That's a perfect yoga lesson and of course a great life lesson.
Join me again soon to learn more life lessons from Thailand!