I have been in Thailand for the past few weeks and in that time I have witnessed some things that are restoring my much jaded faith in humanity.
On New Years Eve while walking down the Soi or Street in which I am living I witnessed lots of little gatherings outside the various convenience stores, beauty parlours and even residential buildings. The staff of these various businesses had got together, spread out newspapers on the footpath and sat together for food and drinks often with music playing on sound systems they had set up. In some places there were sumptuous buffets with fresh seafood on ice and a glowing hot Bar-B-Q ready to grill the huge river prawns and skewers of pork and chicken.
A group of taxi drivers had an impressive set up with two pickups parked end to end, massive speakers on the cargo trays and a disco ball strung up in a nearby tree. They certainly beat all the other parties in the volume stakes, and played anything from Thai music to Western pop hits and the ever popular “Gangnam Style”. They also had a mike and greeted passing Western tourists with happy shouts of “Happy New Year from Thailand” and invitations to join them for a drink.
This was such a pleasant contrast to the “go to a bar and drink as much as you can and wake up on New Years Day with a terrible hangover” culture that I grew up in.
On New Years Day there was a fire in the school at the end of my Soi and within minutes the Emergency Services had responded by sending Ambulances and Fire Engines. However I didnt expect what happened next. Hundreds of people turned up on motorbikes, scooters or packed 10-15 people on the back of pick-ups, some of the vehicles with sirens and strobe lights. These were volunteer fire-fighters, men and women from all walks of life who had dropped what they were doing to respond to the emergency call. People came in whatever they were wearing at the time, many in shorts and flip flops with just an orange high-vis vest over their clothes to give any clue about who they were. I have never seen so many people respond to a fire before in my life!
The third thing I saw which made me feel good about the human race again was today in Lumpini Park, a 142 acre park in the middle of Bangkok. I was there in the late afternoon and as nearby offices emptied and the park filled up with more and more people strolling, running or just relaxing on the grass, I heard some dance music start up on the loudspeakers and suddenly 30-40 people gathered and started doing aerobics. Men and women of all ages joined in and after 15 mins when they stopped, music started up in another part of the park and a different group of people commenced their aerobics. Some people had come dressed for the activity but a lot of people just decided to join in as they were walking past. It all seemed so natural that you didnt feel self-conscious about joining in and there was absolutely no money involved. Just a free group exercise session in a beautiful park. Wonderful!