Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Universal Laugh

Sawasdee Krab! My name is Michael Detmer and I am a graduate student in the music therapy program at KU. I was born and raised in between cow farms and corn fields in the booming metropolis of Breese, IL. I graduated from Illinois State University in 2010 with a Bachelor of Music Education and a second major in Music Theatre.  

In my first semester at KU, this past fall, Dr. Dena Register mentioned the "Music Therapy in Thailand" trip and I was sold before she finished her first sentence. Not only do I love traveling, learning more about music therapy, and seeing new places, I LOVE burning my face off with spicy Thai food.

In great anticipation and excitement for this trip, I immediately started imagining how magical, transformative, and DIFFERENT it would be. I thought about the obvious language barriers, the potentially different cultural norms, the differences in style, the differences in x, y, z, and so on! While I could go on for hours about the differences between Thailand and the US (and even Kansas for that matter), it's more exciting to discover all the similarities. Traveling is risky, and even frightening for many, so rather than highlighting the obvious differences, I'd like to talk a little about all of the "sameness" I've noticed.

It takes a lot of concentration to find similarities between the US and Thailand, mostly the ability to turn off your ears. However, if you pause and stop listening to the sound of an unfamiliar/tonal language that you can't understand, you begin to see PEOPLE, just like you and me, who have families, who work to pay the bills, and who have inviting smiles welcoming you at each doorway. 

The same breathtaking and wondrous sun and moon that we see in the US rise and fall here; each time I look in the sky I am reminded how closely connected we still are. No matter what color a person's skin is, how old or young they are, or what their gender is, they have a recognizable laugh - a laugh that you can pick out during any conversation. The sound of laughter is VERY common in Thailand, as the Thais laugh at, with, and during anything and everything. I am a bathroom small-talk kind of guy, it's not uncommon for me to talk to the person peeing next to me or the guy looking up his nostril in the mirror. However,  during the past few weeks, I haven't been able to do that because I only know how to count to ten, say "hello", and ask "how are you" in Thai - and once they answer the "how are you" question, I always find myself in a pickle. The other day though, I was in the bathroom at the mall and I stood next to a Thai man as we both fixed our shirts and combed our fingers through our hair in the mirror. For a split second, I muted the foreign 90's love ballad playing through the bathroom speaker and found myself standing next to man (with whom I couldn't sustain a conversation for more than two sentences) and I saw a person, who just like I, was quite concerned about his hair and how wet and wrinkly his shirt was from 90 degree heat all day. Silly, I know, but it really was an awakening moment. We may be different, but we share the same concerns, the same struggles, and the same wardrobe issues.

Ok, I know, Thailand is very different from the US...that's why I came here. I just think it's so enlightening to notice the similarities between seemingly different people...the small things, the things we take for granted. We are all people, we are all working toward something, and most importantly, we all laugh the same. The sound of laughter, no matter who you are or where you're from, has continuously broken down the cultural and language barriers that have existed during this trip.

Ok, it's been fun, but now it's time for me to go swim with Nemo and his friends in the 70 degree, crystal clear water in Krabi...just like Kansas, right? ;)

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