Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Hole in the Space-Time Continuum

Sawadee Ka., All blog readers! In case you missed the initial introduction, I am Melissa Hill and I am a senior studying music therapy and music education at the University of Kansas.

Today I would like to write to you about something that I have been thinking about since I was flying over the ocean and that has been constantly reinforced since my first day in "the land of smiles". Time does not pass in this country and like it does in our own. Perhaps this difference is part of the study abroad experience itself-which entails a constant group fluctuation between feelings thrill and exhaustion-or perhaps the culture in Thailand simply moves at a different speed than what I know.

Time is supposed to fly when you are having fun. Well .... I'm certain that I am having the most fun that I can remember and yet time, in my opinion, is moving at a snail's pace. This is not a bad thing! I want to soak up every minute in this country. I constantly feel that I do more than I ever remember doing in a day but that there is too much to capture on camera, too much to take in with one pair of eyes, and too much for merely a month of being here. Clearly I am experiencing an interesting dichotomy that is difficult to explain but seems to be a shared feeling among the group; time is passing both too quickly and so slowly that a day can feel like a week when the pillow and blankets are in sight.

One of the possible factors that may be causing the sensation of time passing more slowly is a cultural phenomenon that I have noticed in this country: Thai people seem to move slower than Americans in daily life. Street traffic may move lightning fast, but walkers do not. A great amount of time seems to be spent eating with one another or simply in the presence of one another, engaging in relaxed conversation. Thai people have a sense of calmness about them. This seems to stem from cultural values ​​including the common, versatile expression mai bpen rai (which essentially means "no worries"), the Buddhist principles and practices of peace and meditation, and also to the Thai cultural value of "keeping face-. . which means. that conversations are never to become heated in public and everything is done or decided in a light-hearted, joking manner (including bargaining with vendors). Even their speech, which includes drawn out words and gracefully slow hand gestures (the. ". wai" which is used as a polite or respectful gesture while saying "Hello" or "Thank You"), seems slower at times. When I am surrounded by Thai people, I realize that Americans are both loud and constantly pushing time-. which are. not necessarily things that I feel proud of while living in this country as a farang (foreigner, Westerner).

While the crowds in Amphawa bustle in and out of shops lining the river, these Thais cook delicious-smelling food and patiently wait for hungry customers. These merchants are preserving an ancient Thai tradition - the "floating market". The boats on this river move in a slow, peaceful manner through the canals.

On the other hand, certain things seem to move quickly since my departure from Kansas. As previously mentioned, traffic moves terrifyingly fast and any shopping experience has been quite the rush. Mall vendors are quick to pounce with offers and are quick to come back with "you make a deal?". If you politely decline. I broke out in a sweat on my first experience in a shopping mall in Bangkok! Yet this seems to encompass merely a small part of the Thai culture. I would venture to say that this mall experience is more related to the tourist culture-which is what the most exhausting parts of our trips have encompassed. On our touring days, we typically see enough sites in a single day that most of us flip through our cameras at the end and say "Oh, I forgot we did that earlier today!". I am always amazed by how many Facebook pictures I see. of myself wearing the same day's outfit:). We move quickly between destinations, but we see many beautiful things in a single day that would each be worth a full day's excursion in America.

For my 21st birthday, we went to the roof of a hotel to see the whole city of Bangkok. The large, bustling city below us was quite a site to behold. Life in this city certainly moves at a faster tempo than life in the Amphawa floating market above. This is of the many dichotomies we have experienced here.

Perhaps the sensation of peace and stillness in my life, caused my many factors such a balance of work / play and the beauty of my surroundings, is factor supporting my feeling that time is moving slowly. Maybe time in America seems to move more quickly because the culture generally moves quickly as a whole. How do you feel about the need for speed and a fast-paced life in America? Have you ever felt that time was moving both quickly and slowly?


  1. Melissa, thank you for your insights! I have to tell you that I experience a little bit of that dichotomy when I visit my family in Virginia. I grew up in a rural community, and the pace of life there is quite different. Although traffic is busier there than when I grew up, it's still a very different frame of mind in that community. People speak more slowly and it's not unusual to spend as much or more time visiting than shopping when going to a store like WalMart or Lowe's. It takes me a couple of days to slow down and enjoy the relaxed pace when I visit.

  2. Amen to that, sister. I feel like things simultaneously moving quickly and slowly brings on for me some seriously alternating feelings overall. Sometimes I feel like, "No waaaaay! I can't leave Thailand so soon!" and other times when I miss my family badly I feel like, "I haven't been home in ages and I can't wait to go back again". These extremes are definitely exaggerating the absurd time warp for me.

  3. At the beginning of the trip, I felt time going slowly. As I got a feel for my surroundings on the first week, each day seemed to stretch into two or three. I have the same realizations of looking at my jots of journaling throughout the day about places we'd been and wondering that all those places were in one day! No wonder we feel so exhausted at the end of the day. Now, as we approach our last week in Thailand, I feel time slipping through my fingers very quickly. So, I'm trying to mimic the Thais and get lost in absorbing conversations or contemplations.

  4. I know what you mean about how it feels like we're in some sort of time warp! For me, it's almost like time seems to move slowly during the day while we're actually doing and seeing things, then before I know it a full week has passed when I reflect. It's weird....

    I love how things are generally slow paced here and relaxed (not to be confused with unintentional, I like intentional but slow) - definitely different than in Amercia. It seems like in our country we think the more we get done in a shorter amount of time, the happier we'll be but I think we often sacrifice quality for quantity and forget that being present in the moment is what makes the biggest difference! Maybe we can take these lessons back home =^)