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“Hah,” there was a collective sharp intake of breath as 40 Thai students now looked at me as if I had just murdered their brother.
“Crap Caroline. What did you do?”…my inner voice screamed at me as my thoughts scrambled to piece together my cultural faux pas.
I think by now, the students were used to my ignorance and breaking of every cultural taboo in their land.
“It’s okay Ajarn Caloline. You falang, you still learning.”
I looked down at the desk and saw the culprit, my mind suddenly realized what I had absent mindedly done.
The Holder of Knowledge
Our cultural awareness speaker at our orientation on teaching in Thailand had warned us about it, and in a moment of Western Culture lack of awareness I forgot and had done what they asked us to be wary of.
“In Thailand, we value education. Education is the path that will give us a better life. Books are sacred in our country. Books hold the wisdom passed down from generations before; from those who can teach us so much.
Treat the books with utmost care and respect. Never throw the book on a table like you do in your countries. Do not write on them or soil them. Treat them with utmost reverence and respect.”
The expectant faces in the room now looked at me watching what I would do after I so carelessly threw the book on the desk.
I looked from the book to their faces and my face crumpled in sorrow for my foolishness.
I picked up the book and placed it back down gently. My apologetic face enough for them to forgive me and break into broad grins once again for the lesson that was to come, not understanding the lesson that once again this beautiful culture taught me.
They raced to my desk at the end of the lesson, like they did every day, so they could be the lucky one to carry my sacred books for me to my next class.
I often tell my students in the Western world this story, and it generally goes in one ear and out the other.
Books continue to be thrown on the floor, pages ripped out and graffitied on. If only they understood and appreciate, like the Thais do, that books provide us with wisdom.
They entertain us, they inform us, they help us to think and believe in new and improved ways.
Knowledge is power, and books help us to gain this power in order to learn how to apply it.