Broader Perspectives    Joyan

‘Broader Perspectives’ is the name of a news magazine I read regularly back in Singapore. It aims to provide readers with broader perspectives by equipping them with a better knowledge of what goes on in all the different corners of the world. I like the magazine as it presents the information in both an interesting and refreshing way.

 But as the Chinese proverb goes, “百聞不如一見”, just pure reading can never match up to the actual experience. In the few short days I’ve been in Thailand, I think I’ve gained a much broader perspective than I’ve ever had by reading magazines back in Singapore.

 I learn that students just like us have such differing experiences in their life.

 When we first interacted closely with the students here in Thailand, we were surprised at one fact: many of them actually come from Myanmar. In fact, some of them have only been here for less than 3 months, or even just a few weeks – not too much longer than the time we have had here. When questioned on why they were here, we received varied answers: “My parents wanted me to move here” “It’s too messy in Myanmar”.

 When reading magazines like TIME, Broader Perspectives, and The Economist, I would often read about the messy situation in Myanmar. I would read about how Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest and how the military junta was severely mistreating the citizens in Myanmar. Yet never once had I taken time to truly consider the implications all these had on the citizens in Myanmar – human beings just like how we all are.

 It is here in Thailand when I learn how these citizens are affected so closely. Because of the situation in their own home country, they have to move to another country with a completely unknown language – Thai, with no knowledge of the culture, and start a completely new life here. And yet they are already considered fortunate that they are able to settle down peacefully in another country. Is the life for refugees a hundred times worse?

 There is so much that I cannot grasp. And will probably never be able to grasp in my entire lifetime.

 Aside from the Secondary Three students we interact with during class, we also interact with the little kids in the school. Each night, we would be tasked to a few students each to teach them to do their homework or just to supervise. Me, I currently have two little boys under my charge. Both of them live in the boarding school and hardly ever go home to meet their family. Honestly, I don’t even know if their family is here in Thailand or if their family still exists somewhere in this world.

 I still remember the first night we came, the principal walked in as we were interacting with the kids. He called each of their names very intimately, stopping to exchange a few words with each of them and giving them little pats on the head as he walked by. As he reached my desk with me and the two little boys, he stopped and smiled warmly at me.

 “They’re too young to be here, staying all by themselves right?”

 He posed me such a question. I stoned. Actually, it is more truthful to say that I was truly taken aback. I had absolutely no idea how to answer his question. It is true: my two young charges had at the most 4 to 7 years of life experience. In Singapore, they would be treated like little princes in their families and taken such good care of; they would be given PSPs (like my little cousins all are) and brought to and fro from school each day by their doting parents; they would have a warm home and hot meals to look forward to each day.

 But here in Thailand, they are thrown in the school hostel at a young age together with over 30 to 50 boys, all in constant competition for attention by the principal or teachers. They have to learn to take good care of themselves, and be independent. Because if not, there won’t be anybody to take care of them. The principal and teachers just do not have enough time and resources to give individual attention to each of them.

 I won’t presume to say that the students here are unhappy, though. Each day we see them, their faces show happy smiles. They constantly play with their counterparts, running all over the school. The girls skip rope gaily, the boys play ball and tumble all over the grass happily. Happiness is contagious; as I look at them playing, unconsciously a smile comes onto my face.

 It is possible to live with so little and be so content. Contentment: a skill that I (and everyone else who already have so much) need to learn.

 24 June 2010 10:30AM

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