Monday, December 8, 2008

The Kindness of a Stranger

It is one of the most heart-warming experiences one can have anywhere: A complete stranger extends a helping hand with no expectations for repayment. In Thailand, it is known as "making merit," a charitable act that increases the chance of reincarnation to a better place and situation. Or in many cases, it is done simply because the stranger has empathy and a kind heart.

We were spending a night in a nearby province in an out-of-the-way hotel on a river, and had called a taxi to take us 30 km to the city of Nakorn Pathom where we toured the world's largest Buddhist pagoda, followed by a leisurely dinner and some shopping. There were large crowds due mainly to the festive atmosphere of a national holiday, in this case, the king's birthday. Thailand's King Bhumibol (Also known as Rama IX), who is the longest sitting royal in the world (62 years), is revered by the populace for many reasons, not the least of which is his sponsorship of over 4,000 projects, mainly in the poorer areas of the country. (Image from

As fireworks exploded over the pagoda, we wandered to the main street to hail a cab. It soon became apparent that there were no taxis anywhere. Approaching a group of motorcycle taxi drivers, we asked about securing a cab. Our concern grew when they blinked and replied that there were no taxis in the city. As our plight was discussed, the traffic policeman came over and added his sympathetic voice to those of the cyclists. No one seemed to know just how to get us home, as there was no way we were going to hop onto the back of a motorcycle for a lengthy highway trip.

Presently, a man rode up on his motorcycle and asked if he could be of help. When we explained the situation, he paused and said, "I have a car. I'll take you." When he rode away, the taxi cyclists pulled up chairs for us to sit curbside, and chatted (mainly with Kat in Thai) about the situation and the holiday. In a few minutes, the man returned, we were ushered into the car (the policeman held the door for us), and were whisked away to the secluded hotel. As we drove, the man talked at great length about the king and the great esteem in which he is held by Thais. "To Thais," our Samaritan said, "He is like a god."

When we arrived at the hotel, we offered to pay for the gas, and to buy our hero tea, but he waved it away. "I want to do it," he said. He then tapped his chest. "I do it because in my heart I love the king." He bowed and drove away into the darkness, and much relieved, we returned to our bungalow, thankful for the kindness of a stranger in a land where in reality, we are the strangers.

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