The Land of Smiles

by Joanne Smarney
Michigan, USA

My husband and I were newly retired and loving it. At a picnic we renewed friendships with folks we hadn’t seen in years. We extolled the virtues of retirement and told everyone how much we enjoyed traveling. One friend suggested we accompany him to Thailand. He made the trip twice yearly for his import business. We agreed to go.

March, 2000 finally arrived and we embarked. Nineteen hours later we arrived in Bangkok. Although it was the middle of the night, the airport bustled with activity. Beautiful Thai ladies welcomed us to the “Land of Smiles”. At our hotel we marveled at the city view from our room. Elephants picked up baskets of trash left neatly by the curb. We were enchanted.

Our companions suggested we take the dinner cruise down the Chao Phraya River. It’s the river from the opening of the movie “The King and I”. What could be more perfect?

Bangkok is very warm, usually 90 to 100 degrees. We dressed casually, purchased tickets and reveled in the sights and sounds of this very cosmopolitan city. We were told the boat, “The Pearl of Asia”, would arrive in 20 minutes.

We strolled the dock until the boat arrived. Among the first to board, we seated ourselves in the front for an unobstructed view. Night had fallen and the shores were beautifully lit. The King’s Palace is breathtaking at night.

Land of SmilesAn Asian lady came to our table and asked to join us. We quickly agreed. She said she’d taken the trip before, could explain the sights, and was a Bangkok native. This seemed unusual as people rarely tour their own city, but perhaps our customs were not theirs.

Our guide described every building, the flower market, knew who lived in every house and was delightful in every way.

The call came to move to the lower deck for dinner. Our tickets had numbered seat assignments. We looked on and under every chair but found no numbers. Finally we asked the waitress. She looked at us in horror and said, “You on wrong boat. Sit here.”

We were mortified. The “Ugly American” paled in comparison to what we felt. What could we do? You can’t get off a boat in the middle of the river. We later learned all the tour company’s boats are named “The Pearl of Asia”.

Our new Asian friend rescued us, sitting with us as though it was the most natural thing imaginable. She explained everything and where it came from during dinner. My husband told her we were on the wrong boat. I asked her who these people were; they were dressed much more formally than we were.

It was the Christmas Party for the Asian executives of City Bank. We wanted to evaporate. Lamely I said, “Well, we do have a City Bank Visa Card.”

She replied, “You must be most valued customer.” We all laughed and decided to just enjoy the trip. Lesson learned: Kindness and courtesy have no borders.

Originally published as HeroicStories #658 on April 5, 2006

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