Friday, February 3, 2012

The Slums Of Pattaya, Pt 2: The People

Note the boy with his treats as were were heading back to the truck

Yesterday I posted a little bit about the slums around Pattaya, some within blocks of the comfy hotels most of us wake up in; perhaps admiring a beautiful view before waddling our way down to a complimentary breakfast.

A boy carrying his
baby sister
Meeting the people who live there was a little uncomfortable for me, for a few reasons. To start with I speak precious little conversational Thai. More importantly, though, I was dealing with human beings - none of which had woken up one morning and said "hey, I know... let's all give up everything and go live in a corrugated metal shack out in a field of garbage"!  No, these were people who have feelings, too, and both pride and self-consciousness are human feelings.  Thankfully I was taught not to stare or call attention to those who are in any way "different", so that part came naturally to me.

It was somewhat difficult to keep a look of pity off of my face when faced with such abject poverty, though.  Besides, I was silently grumbling as we drove in about heartburn after eating too much at the buffet, and some of these people had undoubtedly gone to bed hungry the night before.  It kind of helps keep things in perspective, if you know what I mean.

I 'd dressed down that day, not wanting to appear to call any more attention to our different economic levels than necessary, and while some of the people who came to get the supplies were a bit self-conscious about it, they were - to a person - welcoming and gracious to we outsiders. Our reception would probably have been a little less so had we not been in the company of the charity folks in their familiar vehicle with the weekly groceries, but I'll never know.  I'd like to think nobody would set the dogs on me.

People waiting patiently for their turn

Word spread quickly that we were there once we'd parked, and the people filed out of their homes and towards us in a quiet and orderly fashion, with none of the pushing ahead I'm used to seeing here in the US for nothing more than food samples at the grocery store. As their names were read from the list they'd come forward, smile and wai and take their food packs without even looking to see what was in it.  It was food, and they were thankful for it.

A woman gratefully accepts groceries from a volunteer

What followed was the more entertaining part - for me, anyway.  There was a small treat or two for each of the children at each stop, and there were plenty of kids.  Some treats were edibles, some were small toys, and although I didn't get a slew of pictures of beaming faces, they were overjoyed to have something new to play with.  Things as simple as those stress-relief squeeze spheres or shaped items you'd get at a convention or trade show were quite a novelty there, as was anything that lit up or blinked.  Small stuffed animals were naturally also a big hit.

Boys and their toys - the same around the globe

Some of you read about my trip to Las Vegas last April to again mingle with 100,000 others at a broadcasting convention (at least one of you did because I noticed your post idea lifted from it) and I regularly pick up a LOT of these child-appropriate giveaway items at conventions to take to Thailand for this very purpose. Trust me - a child in Koh Pai doesn't give a hoot if a bean bag dog says "Sony" on it!

Not to downplay or in any way denigrate the unfortunately impoverished people in my own home country (of which there are many), but coming from a country where conspicuous consumption has been raised so far above an art form that it's become somewhat of a perverse national directive it was really refreshing to spend some times with Thai folks who truly appreciated what they had.

There are millions upon millions of people in need around this weary planet of ours, but like I've said here before: although we can't save the world, we can save little pieces of it.  I was lucky to have been included in one tiny speck of helping a few along that day.

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