Baan Mae Mut is a small village at the foothills of Doi Inthanon, about 60 km southwest of Chiang Mai, through a happy accident, when I got lost on the way to visit a friend, I drove through the valley and it just felt like a good place to realise my dream of a happy, uncomplicated, self-sufficient life.
I am a novice when it comes to living in Thailand, and always thought myself above the weary cynicism one frequently encounters when talking with more seasoned residents, but I am slowly learning to look and feel beyond the exotic charms and beauty and the omnipresent smiles.
Communication is governed by different rules than we are used to. One of the main cultural differences is the extreme care most Thai people will take to avoid any kind of confrontational or emotional language and to conceal any strong feelings they might have, habits rooted in their Buddhist heritage.
This does not mean Thais do not have opinions, far from it, they just are very guarded in their reactions and this takes a bit of getting used to, in fact it’s a continuous learning experience, patience and self-control are necessary and invaluable, losing one’s rag is just not the thing to do.
It takes time to learn to understand what is being said, not only the language, but the real meaning behind what is being said or not said, remembering that in Asia what we would call a lie is culturally more acceptable than telling the truth, if that truth will cause embarrassment or loss of face. When in doubt smile, when angry take a deep breath and calm down and smile again.
The lines are more blurred, the nuances in language and expression more subtle, the position of the comparatively wealthy outsider fraught with difficulties.
Having said all this though, I have great affection for the country and its people, their tolerance, resilience and sense of fun help make the most of any situation. I have been welcomed very warmly in my adopted village, and I want to do my best to keep it so.
Coming from different life experiences we surely have something to contribute, but also more importantly a lot to learn. Now let’s put that smile on and get on with it.