It begins with me on the streets of Chiayaphum. I am an outsider, I am the minority, and I am thrilled to be here, to be given this perspective. As we wait outside a 7/11 because we cannot find the truck station, we witness the Land of Smiles unfolding before us. We are mostly the beneficiaries. Looking somewhat confused and conspicuously pale-skinned, we are warmed by a crowd that forms around us. Employees and customers and random bypassers step up to offer information, a few words in English, or anything they can do to help. Everyone takes time to get a look at us and share a smile. The children giggle and bury their faces in their mothers' dresses, then look back at us again. We do not go unnoticed or unacknowledged. We are spectators and spectacle.
Isara picked us up to take us to Ban Sai Roong around 8 pm. We talked over a bowl of congee soup and realized we had common ground, that our dreams run parallel. Isara is a generous, lovable man with bright ideas for a better world. He told us he has 10,000 friends all over Thailand, so if we are ever hungry or need somewhere to sleep, to call him and he will work things out. As we drove out of the city and up a mountain to the village of Ta Ma Fai Wan, I felt my heart jump. Ban Sai Roong is magical.
The temple grounds are made up of a large courtyard, a dormitory for monks, a dining hall, and a kindergarten school. Outside, children are laughing, playing and pushing a wheelbarrow. Isara promises them that we will be back at 9 am. We visit a bamboo post office, so Isara can pick up a package. It's a box of toys. It's always toys. I now realize that Isara is Santa Claus - every single day! He is passionate about giving to the children of Ta Ma Fai Wan. Every few days, he receives a parcel containing toys for the village children from sources all over the world. He is a master networker. At his home, he has a room full of toys waiting to be delivered. He walks around with toys in his pockets, greets nearly every child by name, takes interest in their lives, inspires hope and instills confidence. They come running to greet him. With a humble disposition, he does not want to be glorified or revered by the children. All he asks is that they return the favor by giving to others.
Josalin Saffer is a writer, photographer, and ESL teacher from Atlanta, Georgia. She now lives in Thailand. Continually traveling the world in search of new places, new faces, new ways to live and new ways to love, she journals passionately on her website found at www.jaiyenjocumentary.wordpress.com. Her inclusion in the Road Babe Dispatches column reflects only the view of Lyn's "editorial staff."