By Sammi Dorfan (’18)
I always expected my first crossing of the international dateline to be a magical and cosmic experience. It was nothing to write home about. Instead of tomorrow welcoming me with thunderclaps, lightening bolts, and shooting stars, the line of demarcation demolished both the day and my sanity. Nearly forty-eight hours of being cooped up in the antarctic aircraft halted the wheels in my brain.
Even so, it wasn’t very long before I became aware of the rich, yet respectful culture that would continue to amaze me for the next eight days. Stepping off the plane, I was welcomed with 90 degree weather, a jasmine necklace, and my first encounter with a Buddhist monk. As he descended the escalator, luggage in hand and orange robes tied loosely around him, the surrounding Thai civilians put the palms of their hands together and rested them atop their noses as they bowed their heads and torsos low in reverence. We were instructed to “wai” in the same manner.
We traveled around town on Thai taxis, or “songthaews” which literally means “two rows.” Songthaews look much like pickup trucks with a few stairs to climb in, a bench on either side, railing along the edges, and a roof-like covering. We found ways to combat the language barrier. It didn’t take long before we learned that if we tapped a few times on the small glass window that separated us from the driver, he’d pass us an aux cord and we could blast our, occasionally explicit, Western music through the serene streets of the city.
I spent the first few mornings with ten other like-minded teenagers, training to get my Wilderness First Aid Certification. During the mornings of the second half of the trip, we awoke at the crack of dawn to set up temporary health clinics where people who didn’t have access to healthcare came to have their weight, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels taken. In the afternoons, we strayed away from work to get Thai massages, visit water parks and local markets, or cool off in the pool. With the little free time that we had, we caught up on sleep, went to admire the water buffalo who cohabited the Ricefields where we stayed, and visited the the puppies who were born a couple days prior to our arrival.
It took time to get used to removing my shoes before going inside and saying “sawadee ka” (hello) to strangers. But such was the lifestyle, and by the time I got home it was hard for me to stop doing these things. Thailand left me with blisters on my feet, bracelets on my wrists, respect for those around me, and experiences that made my journey home all the more arduous.