Around the world, Thailand is known as, “The land of smiles” for good reason. No matter where you go within the kingdom, the people that you will meet are more than likely to welcome you with open arms. They are famous for their welcoming nature, curiousness and carefree attitude towards life. A common way to be greeted by Thais is by the question, “Have you eaten yet?” If the answer is no, more than likely, the party or person will invite you to join them in sharing any plate that they are eating. Even if you’re on a tour to Thailand, the locals will be more than likely to invite you in and have a bite to eat.
Apartments can be a great place to meet people. Unfortunately, many apartment complexes around the world have a locked entry followed by a hallway lined with apartments on each side. There is no personal connection or anyway to really meet your neighbors or get to know anybody in the building. Many people can live years not knowing their next door neighbor. Not the apartment complex I lived in. My apartment complex in Chiang Mai had a double door entryway that was unlocked 24 hours a day with a big lobby that had two or three couches as you walked in, along with a television set. There was also a front desk and mail boxes. The amazing thing was; no matter what time of day, whether it be morning, noon or night, there was almost always someone downstairs eating. It was the perfect setting to make friends.
The first day I lived there was one I will never forget. My wife (whom is Thai) and I had just arrived in Thailand after living in the USA and did not have any furniture, television or anything of value. We had a suitcase full of clothes and that was it. After getting settled in on the third floor, we wanted to explore the area to see what was around. We got as far as the apartment lobby and didn’t leave for the rest of the day. “Have you eaten yet?” was the first statement we heard after coming down. In front of us was a group of 7-10 people that we had never met before in our lives. Every one of them were looking at us waiting for us to answer. We had planned on going out to eat but figured that if we were going to live in the apartment, we might as well meet whom we will be living next to and get to know everyone. “No!” was our response and within seconds, space was made for us. I had visited Thailand a few times before but looking back retrospectively, this was this moment that I fell in love with the country. It wasn’t the scenery or the history, it was the culture and the food that made me never want to leave.
We planned on staying for ten to fifteen minutes to get to know everyone. Of course this is Thailand and we were on “Thai time”. Before we knew it, an hour and a half had passed. This whole time, it seemed like the planned fifteen minutes of getting to know a few people. In that hour and a half, we had eaten 3 different kinds of rice, at least 7 different dishes and more vegetables than we could handle. By the time we said our goodbyes to retire to our room, we met over twenty people whom had come and gone; all joining in for a few minutes here or there, bringing food and leaving when they had their fill.
Within a week, I knew almost everybody in the apartment complex and had eaten pretty much every kind of food northern Thailand had to offer. Because I had my own company, I worked from my apartment. After a month of living there, I had made the lobby of the complex my office. Because I had so much free time, I had become the baby sitter of the owner if they had errands to do. I was the tutor if somebody needed help with their English homework. If nobody was at the front desk, I would sign for packages.
I lived in that apartment complex for over three years. I became great friends with so many of the people that I lived next to. I watched two children grow older and now consider them the brother and sister I never had. I would take them to the zoo, swimming or wherever they wanted to go if their parents had to go out for the day. I ate hundreds, if not a thousand meals with my neighbors. I was invited and went to festivals with my neighbors to all around the country that are not in guidebooks and got to experience many activities many foreigners have never had the pleasure of experiencing.
At one point, my wife wanted to get United States citizenship and in order for that to happen, I had to return to the states to sponsor her. The day I left Thailand to return to the USA to go back to school, fifteen people accompanied me to the airport.
Even though I have not seen any of the people I got to know since returning to the USA, I still keep in contact with them on a weekly or monthly basis. I made more friends in those three years than I have made at any other period in my life. A part of that time period in my life rubbed off on me and always stuck. I used to greet people with a simple, “hello”. Today, if I plan on meeting somebody, I normally bring food with me along with the question, “have you eaten yet?”
Getting to know the locals is one of the best ways to see or visit any country. By spending time with them, tourists can see the heart and soul of a destination instead of just seeing the sites that attract them to that area.