The main bus station in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Does this Thai bus station look like a place where magical events take place? In my case, this is exactly what happened. At least it felt magical to me.
There are some events in life which we never forget even though they happened a long time ago. It might have been a little thing, a kind word, a helping hand, a truly happy or beautiful or magical moment. In my case it was a simple heartfelt touch.
Young Thai monks waiting for their bus
An unexpected event in a bus station in Thailand
I was waiting for my bus in the waiting area of the bus station. Next to me sat a middle aged Thai woman.
Some time ago I had sprained my ankle quite badly, and it had not healed properly yet. It was often painful and prevented me from getting around easily.
While waiting for my bus, I massaged my ankle for quite a while to reduce the pain.
The Thai woman who set next to me, waiting for her bus, kept glancing at my efforts with my ankle. She could tell that I had a real problem.
A selfless act of kindness
After a while she spontaneously stood up, went to a shop in the bus station and bought some tiger balm.
She came back, grabbed my foot, put it on her lap, applied the cooling balm and started massaging it.
She tried to say something in Thai, but our efforts in communication were hopeless since she did not speak one word of English, and in those days my Thai language skills were practically zero. So we just smiled at each other, the universal language.
After a while she had to catch her bus and left, smiling and happy that she had helped me, and I was just overwhelmed by the fact that a total stranger gave me a spontaneous foot massage in the waiting area of a bus station.
A lifelong memory of the magic of touch
It was such a simple and heartfelt act of kindness, and it was a moment which I will always remember although it happened over 20 years ago.
I wonder if this woman knew that her simple act of kindness reserved her a permanent space in my heart and mind, and that she gave me a memory that makes me feel good every time I think about it for the rest of my life?
Touching habits in Thailand
Before you think that this is normal behavior in Thailand, you should know that Thais generally don’t touch each other in public. Massage is the one exception.
Thais don’t shake hands, they don’t hug, and even holding hands is typically not done, although this is slowly changing nowadays among the young generation.
The one exception to touching taboos – Thai Massage
However helping each other with Thai Massage is widely accepted in Thai society. Since then I have often seen examples of that.
Sometimes one employee in a shop or in a market will massage a colleague. Massage therapists often work on each other. Friends or family members massage someone who has pain somewhere. This is quite normal in Thailand.
However it is not normal that a Thai person will spontaneously start massaging a total stranger who is from another country and not capable of communicating at all.
What I experienced was a spontaneous act of kindness and desire to help a fellow human being.
The author, Shama Kern, has been living in Thailand for two decades. He is happily married to a Thai woman. Both of them founded Thai Healing Massage Academy, an online training institute for Thai Massage education worldwide.