Does this look like harmony, togetherness and peace to you? Is it an ugly rush hour nightmare, or something rhythmic and strangely beautiful? On the surface, most of us would say the former. When I arrived in Chiang Mai and took my first tuk-tuk ride, another volunteer Victoria was exclaiming how the traffic here really was special. All of the different vehicles worked together in a beautiful, harmonious flow. I naturally took one look at the noisy chaos of traffic around me and thought, “Wow…are all of the people at ATMA SEVA out of their minds?!” But now I have realized that while the traffic may seem stressful and chaotic on the outside, if you actually take time to observe and experience it, like Thai culture itself, it really is quite special.
As ATMA SEVA’s newest on-site intern, I will be helping with social media, volunteer coordinating and anything else ATMA SEVA needs! I am living in Chiang Mai city close to the office, not at a temple or outside district. I think that, because of this location, I have had a slightly different view of Thailand than some of our other volunteers. Living in the city is definitely louder and more hectic on the surface but, even amongst the masses in the city, the underlying principles and values such as community, warmth and friendliness make Thailand what it is.
I have been here for almost a month now, but I have to say that I didn’t have a full understanding or appreciation of Thailand and its culture until about a week and a half ago. So what happened a week and a half ago you ask?
It was my first day on a motorbike! This is the first time I saw harmony in the city. I don’t like to admit this, but I was pretty scared to get on a bike in Chiang Mai. At first glance, the motorbikes, cars, tuk-tuks, and songtaews seem to be haphazardly zooming around the city without any mind to other motorists or traffic laws, an intimidating prospect for someone coming from a fairly civilized driving country. I took it slow at first on smaller streets and almost immediately realized that they have a method to their madness here. Everyone shows respect for each other, and all types of vehicles on the road work together to create space for all. It is definitely an environment where you have to be very aware of your surroundings, but I think that this awareness also creates a sense of community. I have been courteously allowed into traffic countless times as I fumble around the many one-way streets of the Old City. This mindfulness of one another on the road alludes to the welcoming and kindness I have felt from all of the people working with ATMA SEVA.
As an intern, I have been fortunate enough to see almost all of ATMA SEVA’s locations for our Wat Doi Saket Project in the time that I have been here through various volunteer set-ups and visits. I feel so lucky to see all of the places that we work with because we have a huge network of truly unique locations and spectacular individuals.
From government schools to Buddhist temples and Dhamma centers, and from principles and English teachers to novices and monks, everyone I have met is enthusiastic about volunteers and teaching English to their students, and teaching Buddhism and Thai culture to us.
I have met principals who take in volunteers as if they were their own children… a monk who was a chef in the Cheesecake Factory… novices who love Liverpool Football Club…
I have done circle dances with the local ladies preparing for Loy Krathong and watched cotton being made into beautiful, dyed robes in just one day as a donation for a Kathin ceremony.
I have seen a temple nestled in the foothills of the Suthep Mountain in Chiang Mai city and a beautiful Dhamma center in the mountains near the Myanmar border.
At first, I was a little bit nervous about going to so many new places so quickly but, at each and every place we have visited, they have welcomed us with open arms and treated us like family. I have been overwhelmed by the sense of community and openness from everyone I have met in Thailand. All of these people and places truly amazed me and are just a few examples of my experiences with the ATMA SEVA family. I have been here only a short time, but I am SO excited to continue to experience and learn about Thailand and its people through this extended family. And you know what? I am even excited to continue experiencing the “harmonious” Thai traffic jams on a daily basis 🙂
Amy Kaylor, on-site intern