March Kindness: Thailand

Friday, March 25, 2011

Since we spent half of the month of March in Thailand, we decided that we would attempt to do our monthly kindness while on vacation.  While organizing the trip, I used a travel agency in the UK to book our day trips.  We booked one for the islands and then a 2-day Elephant trek and bamboo ride while in Chiang Mai.  The trip details included some brief information about the trek and the village we'd be staying in overnight; you'll begin trekking in Northern Thailand with a hike of between 2-3 hours to a village of the Palong people, where your guide will prepare a wonderful local meal for you. Your accommodation is simple - a small wooden hut, just like the villagers, with a mattress on the bamboo floor. A mosquito net is also provided."  We were really looking forward to the elephant ride and bamboo raft though, but thought, alright, hilltribe peeps sound cool. 

Little did we know, our time in the hilltribe village would be one of the best times we had while in Thailand (it is actually ranked as #1 thing we did in Thailand on Brandon's list). Kindness doesn't always mean donating money or goods (although we did do a bit of that in purchasing handicrafts from the tribe), but kindness is also learning about someone else's life. And its about learning how to play a children's game with seeds through hand motions when you don't speak the same language. And its about dancing and clapping in a congo line around a fire in the middle of the Thai jungle with strangers. And its about learning how to cook traditional food over a fire burning stove. And its about eating the feast that they prepare you because you know its way more than they ever eat on a regular basis. And its about recognizing that even though they have so much less than you - in a lot of ways that they have so much more.

We also didn't know, going into our trek, that we were going to get the most badass, Bear Grylls -esque, trekking guide.  Ponchai is a local Chiang Mai resident that works for the travel group.  Not only could he scaled the Thai jungle mountains without any breathing issues (at 55 years old, no less), he is also a vast sea of knowledge ranging from uses of bamboo, to obscure trekking trails, to (his favorite) orchids.  We got such an education on our 3 hour trek that started to wonder if there was going to be a test at the end!  just kidding; we really did learn so much and just about fell in love (and man crush) on Ponchai.

Bear Grylls - eat your heart out.

On our last day in Thailand, we had made a reservation to attend the Cooking with Poo cooking school.  Khun Poo is a resident of the Klong Toey slums in Bangkok and also a wife and a mother of two.  She learned to cook from her mother and grandmother and through the help of the non-profit organization; Helping Hands, she was able to open her own cooking school and catering service to raise money for her family and the community.  We spent Friday morning in her kitchen, with her assistant Noi, and learned to cook a four course meal; Green Papaya Salad, Vegetable Fried Rice, Chicken Pad Thai, and Thai Mixed Jelly. 

Khun Poo was absolutely the sweetest thing in the world and she was so happy to talk to us about how she got started the influence that Helping Hands and its founder; Anji, had on the way that she does things.  Poo said that people from Klong Toey would spend 13 hours a day working as hard as they could for 100 baht (which is about equal to $3 US dollars).  With Anji's guidance and assistance, Poo has her own website, been able to move her cooking school from her home's kitchen to a kitchen a few doors down, and now created her own cookbook!  Poo, Noi, and Anji are all headed to Austrailia for a book tour this July.   [Anji is an Aussie expat who took to living in the Klong Toey slums to start Helping Hands.  We didn't get to meet her, but she sounds like my new freaking hero, and Poo only had praise to say about her.]

One of the things that Poo said about Anji and cooking with tourists has for some reason been stuck in my brain since our class with her.  Its just one of those things you hear and can't stop thinking about for a long time; maybe my whole life.  But Poo said that one of the ways that Anji helped her cooking school be more successful was to suggest how to make changes to the foods she used to cook.  Poo said, "Anji said, no Poo, not too much chili.  Europeans don't like spicy like Thai peoples.  And before I used to put the chicken in with the fat and skin and hairs for the cooking school, but Anji said, that not how Europeans eat it...they like it with the fat and all that cut off.  So now, I cut it all off and make it nice before cooking school start each day."  And like a spoiled little white girl, I said, "eww, the hair!  I like it cut off too."  And Poo said, "Yes, that's because you eat for taste.  In Thailand, we eat for full."  And just like that, she opened my brain.

Kindness is being more open-minded.  Kindness is understanding others.  Kindness is not complaining about a little hair in your food.


  1. Beautiful, Tab! I'm touched just reading your retelling of the story. We can certainly all learn from your experience.

  2. I love this Tabitha! What a great experience and lesson to learn! I hope to visit Thailand someday!