One thing that D and I really enjoy about our third daughter is that she is always cheerful. She wakes up happy, she is happy to get dressed, she is happy to go to school, she is happy to come home, she is happy with the clothes I choose for her to wear, she is happy with a story at bedtime. You get the drift. She’s happy. And this makes her a very pleasant person to spend time with.
Today, our first morning in Bangkok, she woke up happy at 7:40 A.M., about the same time we woke up as well. This is after the night before having driven two hours to Macau, gotten into Bangkok last night about midnight, standing in the taxi line of about 200 people in Bangkok for about half an hour, then driving halfway into Bangkok to our guest house and arriving at about 12:30 AM. I imagine it was about 1 A.M. before we got J into her own bed where she was begging to just go to sleep. I had expected she would sleep until much later in the morning, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had been grumpy. So her cheerful, early start to her morning was a bit of a surprise.
After waking up in such a cheerful mood, she remained cheerful when there was nothing on the breakfast menu that suited her taste. After a bite of toast, she asked to go swimming in the pool that is immediately adjacent to the covered porch that serves as a dining area. Then we packed, checked out, stored our bags, and went out for an afternoon of walking in 90 degree F weather. We went by mistake to a market that was selling small religious trinkets. I guess they were valuable, because there were many Thai people there using hand held microscopes to examine them, but it was nothing I was interested in shopping for. Any time J asked me to look at something, I would say “No,” explaining to her that no matter how beautiful such a trinket might seem, it would invariably get lost before she was an adult. In short, this excursion was completely boring for a seven year old. Not to mention that in Bangkok we always clutch our youngest child by the arm tightly. Traffic is horrendous, with motorcycles just as likely to run you over while you are on the sidewalk as when you are crossing the street. But also we don’t want to take any chance on losing her in such a big, unruly and unregulated city that has such a bad reputation where protection of women is concerned.
By the time we stopped for a late lunch, everyone was starving, but all the food we ordered from the restaurant was too spicy. (Travel lesson #56: if an Indian or a Thai tells you food is “not spicy,” all that statement really means is that the food probably won’t cause long term chemical burns.) When her food was too spicy, she caught a waiter by herself and had them bring an alternate dish, then while she waited for her second dish to come she found a fresh water manta ray in the garden pond of the restaurant. She crouched and watched the ray swim for about 20 min while she waited for her food.
In all of this, J never complained or whined. I confess, I got felt pretty whiney myself when it turned out that the delays in the restaurant (slow service, having to reorder, etc) caused so many delays (Travel lesson #43: If time is a factor, see the sight you came to see before you eat, not after, no matter how hungry you are!) that we didn’t have time to stay for the tour that we had come to see. (Travel lesson #72: Never act like you are in a hurry in S.E. Asia; it is so far removed from the culture that people will respond negatively and may make you wait even longer.) Then, very hot and tired, we all returned to Asha Guest House, where they allowed us to shower before catching a 6:30 train to Chumphon.
Asha is friendly and clean, but Spartan. The showers are hall baths, and you change clothes inside the shower stall. (Travel lesson #17: always carry shower shoes.) Only one of them has hot water. I chose to take a shower in a “cold only” shower. The water was quite crisp, though not unpleasant, especially since we had been so hot when we came in from our day’s expedition. It was refreshing. Although I had been on the fence about whether to make J bathe, because she wasn’t really “dirty,” I decided it would do her good to have a shower and freshen up before the overnight trip on the sleeper train.
After I got dressed, I fetched J to give her a shower. Pleasant as always, she cheerfully gave up the board game she had been playing, then cheerfully talked with me while we prepared the shower and hosed her down with the spray nozzle. If anything, I was the fussy one, acting pretty grumpy when I realized the nozzle had sprayed backwards and gotten water on my fresh, dry clothes. After I washed her hair, I washed the rest of her.
As I sprayed water over her, she cheerfully commented how wonderful the water felt. She said, “It makes me shiver all over with happiness!” I replied, “Are you happy?” Her answer: “No, but I’m pretending to be.”
Wow! Now that is an attitude that will carry her far in life. I even think there’s a school of psychotherapy that generally teaches people how to cultivate this kind of attitude in their own life.
This attitude seems in sharp contrast to tendencies I see in my own self. At the moment, it’s late at night, I can’t sleep, and so I’m writing from the top bunk of a sleeper car in Thailand. We’re on our way to one of the most famous coral reef diving spots in the world. Thailand, in fact, is so full of beautiful beaches and diving spots, the difficulty is in choosing just one of them. So, what is going through my mind? Is it visions of trigger fish, “Nemo,” finding a Thai massage, coconut palms, and a week of having no schedule? No. I’ve been thinking about things like sunburn, skin cancer, being allergic to sunscreen, salty water drying in my hair and turning it to cobwebs, heat rash, encounters with sharks and barracudas, rip tides, and the danger of stepping on pieces of coral. Geesh!
I remember a certain friend of mine telling me one time that now that she was forty, she had made a decision to be a grumpy old woman. I’m fighting that urge in my personality! I’d prefer, when I find myself tempted to be grumpy, to instead take a lesson from my seven year old.
What a wonderful personality trait, and really food for thought. "I’m pretending to be happy!" This attitude of seeking and finding things to be happy about makes me feel like I’m the one being childish! Could I at least make the same effort at cheerfulness as my seven year old?!! Am I going to decide to be grumpy, or am I going to decide to be cheerful? Well, to me it’s fairly much a no brainer: Since I have just one life to live, I may as well make a decision to enjoy it. So, tropical beach and coconut palms, here I come!