For the past three days I have take leave from the city to venture to Chang Kong with Patricia, a Spanish girl I met on couch surfing and have hosted twice in Chiang Mai. This is a small city filled with local village and hill tribe people with commerce centering around those that happen upon it on their way to Loas or who are crossing for a quick visa run. Aside from the sprinkle of foreigners, the city lays quiet and slow, guided by the rain storms and rice field harvesting season.
While the scenery and population may be more docile than the hubbub of Chiang Mai, our conversations have been the polar opposite. We have spent most of the past few days challenging social stereotypes, pushing ourselves to come to terms with the judgements we both consciously and subconsciously hold towards this new culture we are immersed in, and reevaluating the lifestyles we have become accustomed to. We encounter a 15 girl, married off to an older westerner so that her family will be taken care of; a rice patty worker who slaves away until the age of 85 as there is no governing system at allows her to retire; and young hill tribe children whose life aspirations are to have a nuclear family and material luxuries at any costs; and we judge them. We think, we hope, that we can do something to change their situation, that we can inspire them to want to reach beyond what they can see with the naked eye.
But why, why do we feel compelled to change something that they do not see as broken. If these people are happy, often even more so than westerners burdened by social obligations, aspirations, and media influence, who are we, to say its wrong. How do we unclouded our judgment and see things from their point of view without literally walking a mile in their shoes (the lady boys and female escorts at the karaoke bars wear shoes that would make me break my neck)? In an ideal situation, our generosity of spirit and good intentions would be enough. The desire to do good, would actually always come out of the process as such–good work. However, often it doesn’t, or we can’t be sure if the means justify the end, or even if our ends are in fact what should be guiding us. Is this what they need? Do they really need anything at all or are we just imposing what we believe on an unsuspecting recipient?
These precautions, challenging ourselves to reevaluate what we do and why we do it, has added a necessary inner turmoil to this sleepy town escape. I return to Chiang Mai more aware that my actions and my interactions with this culture may have unforeseen repercussions. I hope this awareness will lead to a whole new set of experiences.