Fork and Spoon

As I used my fork to scoop rice and veggies onto my spoon, the restaurant’s owner sat down at the table next to me and casually snatched a single napkin from my table to wipe his mouth after chewing down some of his food.

I offered him a stack of napkins, but he politely waved me off, and we smiled at each other before continuing our meals.

I could never imagine having the same experience in America, but I wasn’t bothered at all.

I had been in Thailand for several weeks at that point in the Santitham neighborhood of Chiang Mai, Thailand, which is considered one of the more authentically Thai parts of the city. Though that’s slowly changing as more farang come of learn about its charms.

In Santitham, I felt like everyone adopted the same casual mai pen rai attitude.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to have stayed there and the graciousness of the people who forgave my repeated missteps—assuming the culturally constructed to be universal.

I can only imagine the challenges Western-born ajaans faced many years ago in the forests of Thailand. I bow down to them.

The level of humility and persistence required to learn both about monastic life and Thai culture is impressive in ways that I will never fully understand.

It’s probably impossible to understand the teachings of the Thai forest ajaans without a sense of Thai culture.

With mass media, it’s easy to assume we know when we actually don’t. We consume the opinion posts of people on social media and the soliloquies of cable news personalities, and we think we understand.

We don’t even dip our foot in the pool. We just stare at it from afar and analyze it with an objectivity that’s just a veneer for privilege.

It’s no surprise why many Thai-born ajaans from humble backgrounds were able to achieve what they did and why the Buddha chose to leave his palace.

Even mundane and seemingly non-controversial topics like the weather can reveal a lot about us and our misunderstandings of the world.

I no longer make assumptions about the climate of a particular part of the world that I’ve never visited before. I’ve found it almost impossible to explain snow season to people who have only lived in Los Angeles and endless days of sunshine to people who have only lived in Boston.

I can only encourage people to experience it for themselves.


I don’t ask for chopsticks or knives at Thai restaurants, but you still can if you wish.

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