In almost every country in the world we can find similarities and differences among its people, traditions, and beliefs. Children in Cambodia often start driving at age ten and younger, no license required! Families in Peru enjoy eating cuy (guinea pig). Siesta is routine in Spain. Families pray in churches, temples, mosques, synagogues, and homes.
Studying and volunteering while traveling is how I try to expand my world view. While in Thailand I met children and families, visited tribes in the northern hills, and once again the similarities were almost as obvious as the differences. Here are some of the people I met…….
Some of these children were poor and some were not. They like performing at school, swimming in the river (even though it was sullied by elephant poo), school field trips, birthday cake, and riding toys. Sound familiar? They spoke a language I had never heard before (Thai) and some were learning a familiar language (English). When we delivered the English children’s dictionaries to one of the schools, we sat with the children as they pronounced the English words for pictures in the books. Then we came to the alphabet. I decided it might be fun to teach them the ABC song that we all learned as children. I got as far as A,B,C and the children started singing it with me! They knew it already! I don’t know who was happier… me or the kids.
Families in Thailand often live together in multi-generational homes. And they often work together too. This mother and daughter are producing their hand dyed and designed indigo cotton fabric. Daughter stamps the design using wax, mother dips the fabric into the dye. After the fabric is taken out to dry, it instantly begins to change from a green color to the indigo blue. After it dries, the fabric is boiled to release the wax and reveal the beautiful design. We also met the son-in-law and grandchildren who work in the business.
There are many tribes in Thailand, mainly comprised of immigrants from neighboring countries. The most well-known of the tribes are the Kayan Lahwi, also known as Padaung or Longnecks. They settled in northern Thailand after fleeing military conflicts in Myanmar. The women of the Kayan Lahwi are known to wear the coiled brass rings that appear to lengthen their necks. The practice is losing favor among the younger generation of women and I suspect is now more a marketing tool to bring tourists to their village shops.
The Yao tribe originated in China and number about 60,000 in northern Thailand. The women typically dress in long black tunics with vivid red trim. They create beautiful cross stitch and embroidered pieces. This Yao woman is showing us a cross stitch she made for sale in her village shop.
The Akha tribe also originated in China. They farm and raise livestock in northern Thailand. The headdresses worn by the women are elaborate and the style defines their age or marital status. These tall hats are adorned with silver coins, monkey fur, dyed chicken feathers, tassels, and large beads.
This Hmong family are farmers and they were kind enough to invite us into their home. The Hmong originated in China and most of those still in Thailand came from Laos.
The setting may be different, but the people of Thailand are very much like people around the world. They love their families, work to make a living, and are proud of their heritage.