Hustle to Paradise – Guest Post by Emily Richer
“Magic is the faint smell of jasmine lurking in the air throughout Thailand.”
- Emily Richer
I believe in magic.
Not the type of magic written about in fairy tales or children’s books, but the type of magic found in life’s everyday glittering moments of grace. The type of magic found especially in travel.
After winning a Fulbright grant to teach English in the poorest province of Thailand, Ubon Ratchathani, I left for the next year packing only one suitcase, and a backpack holding five boxes of fruit snacks. When I arrived, I was greeted with warmth and intrigue. I befriended many of the street vendors who worked near my apartment.
Within a few weeks, eating dinner with them and their families was part of my daily routine. Thailand is called the “land of a thousand smiles.” Not only have I found this to be true, but Thais are extremely friendly, almost to the point that, in America, we might find it unsettling.You’re a complete stranger who barely speaks Thai? No problem! Sit down and eat some of my sticky rice with me. It is this attitude that is helping me learn how to say “yes” more than “no.” When my new Thai friends invited me on a family weekend trip to the ancient capital of Ayutthaya, I said yes.
I will never forget the faint smell of jasmine in the air as our 10 person van pulled up to Ayutthaya’s Wat Phanan Choeng in the wee hours of the morning. Disoriented after the eight hour drive from Ubon Ratchathani, I watched as throngs of Thais bustled past me to the wat, carrying huge cartons of eggs, baskets of pineapples and coconuts, and even the occasional cooked goose or pigs head.
To my surprise, our own group had brought along a basket of 100 eggs to feed to the monks in the morning, as well. Once inside, I witnessed something truly marvelous: Wat workers were changing the larger-than-life golden Buddha’s attire, and they took a moment to extend the Buddha’s fabric into the longing crowd. Seeing so many people eagerly trying to touch the Buddha’s fabric, even for a second, was spectacular. Magic.
By the time our group reached Wat Samarn, a giant rat statue ornately decorated with wreaths and garlands of orchids greeted us. This rat had exceptionally large ears, and I found it amusing that there was an actual line of people waiting to whisper their deepest wishes into the rat’s ear. Upon one of my friends urging to get in line, I again said “yes.” When I approached the rat I noticed that there were actual holes in its ears, so that it could “hear” you.
My friend explained that the correct way to whisper to the rat is to plug the other ear hole so that your wish cannot escape. Once everyone was finished telling the rat statue their secrets, we walked back to the van. On our walk, we passed a massage area where only blind masseuses worked. I stopped to watch them, in awe and admiration of how incredibly blind they were, and yet marvelously brave. Magic.
The next wat we went to was Wat Phra Mahathat . This wat was badly destroyed by the Burmese in 1767, and many of the remaining stone Buddhas are missing heads. While I busily snapped away pictures, my Thai friends dropped to their knees and started praying to the headless Buddhas. Unlike my perspective, these Buddhas were beyond exotic ruins, beyond a tourist site for my Thai friends. Nowadays, it would be easy to replace these deformed Buddhas. Instead, Thais chose to leave them as they were and continue praying to them, almost as an act of mourning, as well as an act of defiance. Magic.
On our walk back to the car we “stumbled” upon a stone Buddha head settled within an overgrown fig tree. I have never seen anything like this before, and I am not sure that anything compares to it, actually. It was so beautiful in the most mysterious way. Who put it there? Why did they put it there? No one knows. Magic.
Magic is the faint smell of jasmine lurking in the air throughout Thailand. It is noticing strangers staring at you, and smiling at them. It is trying to touch that piece of the Buddha’s fabric, not because you are necessarily a Buddhist, but because you want to share in a moment where you feel that you are part of something greater than yourself. Magic is whispering your deepest wish into the giant ear of a rat statue, and actually believing that he hears you. Magic is living every day with will, heart, and humor. Traveling to Ayutthaya with Thais allowed me to experience the city differently than if I had traveled alone, or with other Americans. It rattled my viewpoint, in the best way. I am enchanted.
Travel is about conquering our usual perspective, while finding delight in everyday things that are radically different than the things we know. It is this gap between where new perspective challenges old perspective that Magic exists.
Where do you find magic in your life?
Emily Richer graduated from Cornell University in 2011 with a B.S. in Human Development. She is currently fulfilling a Fulbright Scholarship teaching English in Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand. Follow her adventures in Thailand at Emmy in the Rice Paddy.
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