I had always wanted to go see Sukhothai, the ancient capital of Thailand. So I told Khun Mae, "I might go to Sukothai next week." Of course, with my poor understanding of Thai, and her poor understanding of English, she understood it that going to Sukhothai was a done deal. So before I had a chance to settle into Chiang Mai and my new apartment, I headed down to the bus station to buy a ticket five hours across the country.
I was traveling alone, but it wasn't long before I met some new friends. The only other white people crammed into the bus were five French speaking people--two women and three men. About halfway through I looked up at one of them and said, "Parlez vous Anglais?" Which is all I know in French. I struck up a simple conversation with them, nothing too serious.
Though when it came time to get off the bus, I was about to say my goodbye when one of the French guys, Elim, asked where I was staying. I said, "I have no clue. Where are you all staying?" So I asked if I could tag along, and they were cool with it.
In one afternoon we managed to cram in seeing most of the ruins of the ancient Thai capital. Seeing the ruins were just as great as when I went to Rome and saw the old forum. My favorite by far was one of the smaller sites, an ancient Khmer temple with three towers. My friend Elim, the cultured Frenchman he is, was able to name the architecture style and period off the top of his head.
Unlike many ancient Western historical sites, the ruins at Sukhothai still actively attract people for worship. Being that was the case, I wore a nice longsleeve white Thai shirt and pants, which is typical temple formal wear.
Much to my surprise, they had all been to America, and they all loved it. They said Americans were great people. Hearing them talk passionately about the shooting range, the steakhouse, Texas, Yosemite National Park--all the things we Americans take for granted or else dismiss as barbric--made me proud to be an American. I'm happy to know that despite everything going on in the world people still look favorably upon America.
I asked about France's healthcare system, and whether or not they like it. They said it's great. I said I wished America was more like France, where we could have healthcare for everyone. They said they wished France was more like America, where people could carry guns everywhere.
After talking with them, there's a part of me that misses America in a way I didn't expect. I'm excited to go back and do some serious traveling inside America. In today's world it's fasionable to think negatively. Not many people see what's good in life anymore. There's still so much greatness in America, and I'm looking forward to having a chance to experience it all over again.
They asked about stereotypes of French people, and I said, "Well, you're more cultured, you have better food, you dress better, but you can't fight your own wars." They laughed. I asked about American stereotypes, and they said, "Fat, rich people who carry guns everywhere and own three SUV's. They shoot first and then think." I laughed, and said, "Well hey, I bought my bus ticket to Sukhothai and didn't have a clue as to where I'd be sleeping. That's shooting first and thinking later, right?" We all laughed.
They talked about how much they love western movies. I told them how my favorite movie of all time is a film called "Paris, Texas." I explained how it's like the postmodern successor to the western genre. I went on about how happy I was that a German film director, Wim Wenders, could so accuratley depict the beauty and bleakness of American life.
Seriously, go watch the movie. It's probably the single greatest film depicting American life ever made.
And of course, I asked the big question, "So why are so many people in France not believers?" My buddy Emil answered, and to paraphrase him, he said, "We fought a civil war over religion. Religion opressed us. It's not that we're not sipritual people, it's that the church brings back bad memories."
Translated, Sukhothai means, "The Dawn of Happiness." I know now that the next few months will be filled with many happy memories, and I'll keep on meeting many wonderful people.