I can remember from when I was a kid people watching. At school, or at restaurants, later on in life at the airport I would make up conversations people were having from afar. I’d give them lives, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, and problems that needed solving or birthday parties they were late to. I would create a life for them and in an instant it would be gone when they walked away—they would have no idea that I had sat there watching them and creating an entire new life, maybe a better one, maybe not; I would never know.
I’ve never really thought about being on the other end of people watching. Do people watch me while I watch others? Are they creating a story, looking at my outfit trying to decide if I’m on my way to work or off to meet a friend? Are they giving me a lover? Am I cheating on him, is he cheating on me? Or are we madly in love setting off to see the world together? Who are they imagining I am?
I’ve been in Thailand for three weeks now and being looked at and noticed on the street is unavoidable. I’m the tall-er, big-ger farang that is walking around town with only two Thai words under her belt. (Taller and bigger according to a typical Thai woman that stands 5’1 and maybe weighs 100 pounds.)
Today I was brought to the “Wat Yai” Temple by my director. All morning I could hear whispers of farang! Farang! behind me as I took off my size 8 flip-flops and placed them and their enormity next to the others, mostly sizes 5 and 6. As I bowed in prayer and got blessed by a Monk I felt eyes follow my each movement. I was sure to not to point the souls of my feet at the Buddha shine or touch the Monk who was walking the border of the prayer room, the last thing I needed to do was make someone’s internal story about me negative and how the American was so disrespectful.
Maybe as someone created a story about me today the noticed the tears welling in my eyes as I bowed, they noticed me asking questions, learning and praying for an open heart and an open mind. Praying to succeed, learn and teach on this journey in Thailand. The story, perhaps, was about a girl who was trying to be like the gold color of the Buddha.
The Buddha is gold because in near darkness it can be seen, it needs just a glimmer of light for it to shine and cut the darkness. Maybe that’s the story that was told internally by that little girl watching me from the corner, or the Monk sitting on the pedestal who blessed me with water.
Just a little bit of light to shine, that’s all anyone needs.