in which i learn that not everyone is just like me

Wat Chetuphon in Chiang Mai, Thailand

So my ensemble went to Thailand.  I haven’t been back in four years and it was amazing for me.  Unfortunately I learned a valuable lesson:

Not everyone is in love with Southeast Asia.

On this trip I saw Thailand through the eyes of someone whose entire previous experience with foreign travel has been western Europe.  From the moment we got off the plane (and even before) she was unhappy.  I spent a lot of the trip trying to help her feel more comfortable, but I really feel responsible at least in part for how unhappy she was.  I had been building this trip up as a great opportunity and experience for us, and things it wouldn’t even have occurred to me to mention turned out to be very, very big deals.  She tried hard to like it but it just wasn’t going to happen, and as the trip went on my heart just broke, not only because she couldn’t see what I saw, but because I felt like I got her into a situation she was utterly unprepared for.  Her Thailand was awful.  It wasn’t anything like traveling in Italy or Austria, and I can say with absolute certainty that she will never go back.

Her Thailand was dirty and crowded and full of strange smells and cloudy and hot and dangerous and confusing.  The buildings were poorly constructed and poorly kept up and probably dangerous and too close together and not zoned in any discernable way.  The food was not at all like what one would get in a Thai restaurant back home:  it was greasy and too spicy or not spicy enough and there was too much seafood and it was probably dangerous.  Getting around was impossible because the taxis didn’t have seat belts in the back seat and the public transportation was wholly inadequate.  She spent a lot of time in the hotel room just waiting till it was time to go rehearse.

Elephant topiaries at Lumphini Park in Bangkok

My Thailand is unimaginably beautiful.  My Thailand is hot and muggy, yes,** and crowded and loud — I’d be in deep denial not to note those things — but it’s also full of friendly people and music and laughter.  I really tried to show my colleague what I love about it, but each time we were just stopped at the starting gate.  When we went shopping at the famous weekend market in Bangkok, the smell of a drain was too much for her and we went back to the hotel almost immediately.  She sat out of several great outings (dinner with some Thai friends, a trip up a mountain to see a famous temple) because she would have had to go without a seat belt.  When we walked around the city together, we couldn’t find the one particular restaurant she had wanted to try, and none of the food we ate was acceptable to her.  The street food seemed dangerous, the restaurants catering to Thai people seemed sketchy, and the restaurants catering to tourists were too bland.

I just keep turning all of this over in my mind, and I don’t know how much of it was my responsibility.  Could I have prepared her better?  Certainly I was wrong to assume that everyone would be in love with Southeast Asia in the same way that I am; and until this trip I didn’t even realize I was assuming it.

Part of the market in Chiang Mai

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and it has occurred to me that I’ve never (or rarely) traveled anywhere that I didn’t like.  I’ve never been to Europe, but I’ve been all over the U.S., lots of places in Southeast Asia, and New Zealand.  I’ve liked every single place, and loved many of them.  I suppose I’ve been extremely lucky in that regard — maybe I haven’t been pushed out of my comfort zone in the same way that my friend was on this trip.

It just makes me feel so sad that she wasn’t able to love this place that I love so well.

*I actually have a really nice camera.  It’s got settings and buttons and gadgets that my husband likes to play with.  Unfortunately for me it’s a camera that requires you to know how to use it properly, which is why the pictures I take are always out of focus.  I really want an idiot-proof camera:  the kind with two buttons, one to turn it on and off, and another to take a picture.  But my husband would not be satisfied with anything like that, and there’s no reason to have two cameras.

**Strangely, it was considerably cooler than my Midwestern city is right now.  Fucking heat wave.


11 responses to “in which i learn that not everyone is just like me

  1. This does not sound like it was your fault at all. Everyone is different and it sounds like this person is too regimented, sensory sensitive, and concerned for her safety to enjoy a place like Thailand. If anything, at least, she should have a better appreciation for the amenities the US provides and recognize how she has been sheltered. In my opinion, it is a loss for her–opening your heart and mind and taking chances to experience other cultures makes us better people.

  2. That is so sad she did not have a nice experience. I love Thailand, particularly Chang Mai.

  3. I’m sorry that she didn’t enjoy her trip. But it’s true – not everyone likes the same things. Even in our adulthood, we are always tempted to assume that our own feelings and preferences are universal. While it’s normal to be a little shocked when someone hates something we love, it doesn’t make either one of you wrong. You seem to have realized that just because you are different doesn’t necessarily mean unequal. After all, there may be something she loves that you truly despise.
    Really, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was thinking something similar to you: “I can’t believe she likes that country so much. I figured everyone would hate such a noisy and dirty place.”
    This is an eye-opening post, and I think it’s always good when we can look outside of ourselves and try to see another’s point of view. It’s sad that she couldn’t share your enjoyment (I know how disappointing that is) but at least you aren’t judging her for it. Thank you for that. Open-minded people make a crappy experience a lot better.

  4. You must love that country to make it your personal responsibility for her not liking it. That is really sweet but I am pretty sure not your intention. I hope your friend is not the sourpuss she comes across as in this post.

    You make me want to go there even that much more….

  5. To be perfectly frank, if no seatbelts is a dealbreaker to her, she should probably just stay home from now on.

    I want to go to Thailand very badly! I’m sorry your trip had a downer. 😦

  6. Thailand Hater

    I hate Thailand too and similar places as well (eg. Indonesia) for the same reasons as your colleague. I just do. But it isn’t your fault. It’s my fault. Or Thailand’s. 😛

  7. Some people just aren’t the traveling variety… Good for her for getting out, and for you trying to lure her into the awesomeness that is traveling. It’s a shame she couldn’t see how amazing it is (or I imagine it to be… ). Your trip sounded like a good pick me up (despite the baby sitting).

  8. I think it’s funny about the no seatbelt thing…that would make most of the countries in the world off-limits for her!
    When we lived in S. Korea, there were those families that refused to leave the Army post and go out into town and eat in local restaurants, shop at local markets, or do any sightseeing outside of the MWR hosted trips (Moral, Welfare & Recreation). Hubby & I on the other hand, lived in Korean apartments, shopped on the economy and spent every weekend exploring a new part of the *huge* city. It was amazing how much we discovered and how out home we felt in the city by the time we left after 2 years.
    I think a lot of it has to do with how you were raised. All of my siblings are adventurous and have traveled and lived different places, yet my cousins never wanted to leave home and still don’t. To each his own, I guess :).

  9. I’m not an intrepid traveler (hey, I once hid in a hotel room in FRANCE and had NO DINNER that night because I was too tired of the huffy looks the French gave me when I tried to communicate my vegetarianism in French, because how doubly irritating to not speak beautiful French AND not want sausage) and thus sympathize, but when I do travel, I certainly chose to treat it as an adventure, and not an imposition. I mean hell, if you’re there, may as well get the most out of it…

    And I’d totally feel like it was my fault even thought it clearly wouldn’t be, so while I *emphasize* that it’s not your fault, I understand feeling sad about it. I mainly hope she didn’t take the joy out of the trip for you, because that would totally SUCK. Because while I make no comments about your friend, if a traveling companion of MINE were such a complete wet sock, I’d be angry at HER for not revealing that she was a terrible traveler and a whiner to boot before agreeing to go on a trip with me.

  10. I don’t think it was your fault. It sounds like she really needs to stick to Canada and the really touristy parts of western Europe and the Caribbean. I’m with you – I’m totally down with adventure travel, meeting the locals, and seeing what it’s REALLY like in other countries. But some people are the starred-hotels-and-Applebee’s type of tourists. And I think they suck. But then, they probably think I suck 🙂

  11. So sad she did not like it!

    I loved Thailand. I only visited Bangkok, but I loved the street food and their temples so much!

    And the locals were very warm.

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