Wherever one travels, they are there. People who live on the streets exist in all parts of the world. Some are there by choice, others through misfortune. Whichever it is, they all have a story to tell, if we take the time to hear it.
These men crossed my path in Northern Thailand a year or so ago. I was out for an early morning stroll when I saw them pushing a cart full of recyclables, pausing now and then to play with their puppy. After a brief hello, we laughed as the pup raced through throngs of pigeons that exploded upward, then fluttered back down mockingly in the young dog's wake. The faces of the two friends told a tale of a hard life; the fresh scrapes and tired eyes betrayed a rough existence, but their laughter conveyed an as-yet-undampened spirit.
We spoke haltingly, using a great number of gestures: Names, country (or region) of origin, the small talk that first engages strangers. From the poor northeast, they had come to find work; recycling was their momentary career. Wide smiles appeared when they learned I am American ("New York, number one!"). They broke small pieces from their khao neeow (sticky rice) to feed their canine companion as we walked along the otherwise deserted plaza. They then asked me to take their picture, proudly posing with the puppy.
I offered to treat them to breakfast. They smiled and wai-ed low, we exchanged hugs, then I waved goodbye as they moved on to the nearby noodle cart, the pup trotting close behind. How many opportunities to learn more about people do we miss, out of fear, ignorance, or pride? Once in a while I'm blessed to have the chance to hear another story. It helps me understand humans a bit better, and to know that we are all pretty much the same; we just have drawn different cards of fate.