Sometimes Thailand blows my mind. I’m used to it now but, at first, the money trees blew me away. When you come to a developing country the last thing you expect to see is money hanging on trees, yet in many stores and restaurants I would see exactly that.
The trees are collection trees for donations to Buddhist temples. There’s no fear of anyone stealing from the tree because, in Asia, public appearance and “keeping face” are too important. Stealing from a donation tree for a temple would be an offense only the craziest and most desperate Thai would consider.
The average bill hung on it is worth about 60 US cents, but a full tree often has $5-15 hung on it. Given the much lower income here, that’s the US equivalent of at least 3-4x more. I think plenty of poor people in the US would grab $30-45 in a second. No one would bother hanging money on the tree!
Since moving here we’ve experienced countless examples of trust and kindness. A week ago I felt the need to write about the Thai guys who helped us fix our car and even pushed it to the garage with me but wouldn’t accept a dime.
Want to know the craziest thing? I wouldn’t blame them if they acted the complete opposite.
I am positive it must be difficult to have tourists coming into their country, not speaking the language, and being ignorant of many customs. A lot of tourists in Phuket are from Russia and the Eastern block and are especially heavy drinkers and partiers.
Brianna and I make an effort to be polite but I know we fall short and do rude things. For example, when driving we are used to linear driving, get in a lane and stay in it, that’s it. Driving on a scooter in scooter filled traffic is more like water flowing down a river. If you’re not weaving and flowing, you’re likely acting like a rock in the river and are in someone’s way!
Even traffic through a round-about is sometimes different. In the Rasada circle the people in the circle have to yield to the people entering it. It’s built to let traffic flow in and out smoothly.
Despite all the customs we are slow to learn, and despite its own internal hardships, the culture is still one of tolerance and respect. Crime exists but is low, smiles exist and are plentiful, and money hangs on trees.