17th January 2016 I couldn't wait to get out of the motel.
While I realize that this is a poor way to express my gratitude for hot showers, flushing toilets and rooms with fully functioning air-cons, I suppose a seventeen year old can be vain when she says that it is not exactly on par with our 'Western' standards. Especially when the trek to come will inevitably deal with more hardships still; one that will truly put our definition of basic comforts to the test. Knowing very well that in the coming mornings my morning cravings will not be satisfied with a plate of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, toast and a tall chilled glass of orange juice from the restaurant next door, a similar thought has been communicated to me during breakfast in a silent inner monologue.
The long bus trips also sourced as a means of great reflection and contemplation of the present and the coming future as the landscape of bustling Bangkok takes on a more rural scene. No more were there towering buildings that glare through countless glass eyes and giant billboard signs that bragged of the latest Thai skin whitening products, but modest Thai homes amidst a forest of trees and rice fields.
In true Western style, we made a quick maccas run (pit stop at the fast food chain restaurant McDonald's) where we gave rein to our familiar Western taste. Not everyone could be so easily delighted by promises of fat and artifice what's-its however, and opted for the healthiest maccas meal that was offered. A rather ambitious feat in itself, but I commend anyone who endeavored to the challenge of the almost impossible. Of course, there was also the local Thai restaurant catering to our vegetarian veterans and anti-maccas enthusiasts. Soon enough, bladders were emptied and hungers were quenched and we were back on the road soon with the pleasure of Dave Franco and Jessie Eisenberg's attractive Hollywood faces in Now You See Me keeping us entertained on the drive to Mahawiharn Temple.
To speak truthfully, I knew little of what to expect. Having been raised very much in Buddhist culture myself I confess that I had arrogantly deluded myself into believing that I knew all there was to know of their practices and elegant architecture. I am happy to report that my ego was knocked down several pegs upon meeting the sheer mass of people and the impressive temples as well as the gardens that border it. The sudden reminder of the significance of each practice and its importance to the Thai culture were something that closely resembled a sort of nostalgia from my childhood memories. And the thought of ever having a photograph taken with a famous Thai actor was something that had never crossed my mind, at least not until Miss Thailand herself had taken me by my arm and steered me in his direction on the basis that I was a GVN Youth Ambassador (or a person from a volunteering group) from Australia and could speak Thai and Lao. An invitation was even extended to us to join her for lunch at the temple grounds (one we had to graciously decline for our half-hour stop was very quickly ticking itself away). Having our pictures taken with a famous Thai actor and Buddhist advocate, meeting Miss Thailand, an invitation to lunch extended from the latter; you know, just another day with GVN.
We resumed our drive not long after. A tiresome and tedious bus trip that not even Men in Black 3 could successfully keep our attention for long. It was here that I slept for most of drive, so unfortunately I cannot report of any more significant events should one have presented itself during my sleep. Thankfully, every bus has its stop and ours was the Maneerote Hotel in Surin. The rest of the night essentially acted as our final farewell to the Western luxury of hot showers, flushing toilets and air-conditioned rooms. And while I will no doubt try and indulge in as many of these luxuries in a last-ditch effort to try and satisfy the vain Western habit that has been ingrained into my being, I am also curious of the days to come and the challenges that might arise.
While I hope that my seven years of being raised in Lao will aid in my integration into our new living habits and practices, I am excited. To think I only came here to snap some pictures of elephants and live on hot showers is a grievous mistake and one that I have no intention of making.
I am here to educate myself, to understand and to empathize. To know enough to bring awareness to fellow peers and family back in Melbourne and to present to the community real facts and personal anecdotes to express to them the importance of these issues and why it should be pursued and not simply because 'some person from some movie says so' or because it's a fashionable trend.
These are real lives and real situations that we are going to witness and I can only hope that I will be able to do the cause justice. Sincerely, from a seventeen year old girl from Melbourne.