Mai Pen Rai - On Embracing the Unpredictability of Thailand
If you stick around in Thailand long enough, you are bound to hear the phrase “Mai Pen Rai” tossed around. Put simply, the western equivalent to Mai Pen Rai is something akin to the combination of “You’re welcome”, “No biggie”, and “Hakuna Matata”. You may hear the Thai people say Mai Pen Rai in response to a polite “Thank You” (kap kunh kah/krab) or as a kind reassurance that it will, in fact, all be okay (even if you are a typical westerner who is freaking out about arriving to her class on time or preferably five minutes early).
In Thailand, Mai Pen Rai is a way of life. This pithy phrase encapsulates much more than a simple acknowledgement of thanks. Mai Pen Rai can be felt in the slow, easy going pace of life; in the generosity without a second thought (“oh your shower is broken? Come to my house and take a shower in my home.”); in the sincere and abundant invitations to dinner and lunches, and in the infectious smiles and laughter that hums in the background of every day. Ingrained in Thai culture is a strong sense of community and kinship. Generosity and sharing are second nature here. The Thai are a loving, warm, and tender people. It is not uncommon for my teenage, male students (who are not romantically involved to my knowledge) to hang their arms around each other...for the entire class. My co-workers in the foreign language department address one another by “Pee”, an endearing term which means older sister, followed by their first name (ex: Pee Kristen). David and I go out to lunch with our department nearly everyday, and if we’re late to our classes because we were enjoying some Sen Yei Tom Yam Moo (delicious rice noodles with pork), we are met with “Mai Pen Rai, the students are always late to class after lunch anyways. Have fun, it’s okay.”
Adjusting to the Mai Pen Rai style of life has been somewhat of a challenge for this farang (Thai word describing foreigners of western decent). I consider myself to be an adaptable person, yet I’d be lying if I said that my first response to a reality that deviates from the expectations that I had in my head is always a positive one. Coming from a fast-paced, competitive corporate career I’ve grown accustomed to living by an agenda, following a streamlined plan, and structuring my days to maximize throughput and efficiency. This intense, go-getter nature, which has contributed to my success in America, is perhaps the antithesis of the Mai Pen Rai way of being in Thailand. Just the other day, I was hastily booking it to my next class to teach Mateum 6 (the equivalent of 12th grade in the States) about how to order food in a restaurant. It was the first period after lunch and I arrived a few minutes early so that I could write some of the material I wanted to teach on the board before the students arrived. By 12:50 (the beginning of class) I was happily poised at my desk ready to begin. The only problem was...the students never showed up. Well, they did - but in a completely different room than the one that was on my schedule. I remained unaware of this fact until about 35 minutes into my 50 minute class. When I realized what happened, I was a bit upset. Why didn’t anyone bother to tell me? Why was this teacher gig so hard? I took a few minutes to decompress and release my frustration. I had a choice to make - I could let this situation dampen my mood and impact my ability to teach my other classes that afternoon OR I could choose to laugh at the situation, give myself some grace, and embrace the Mai Pen Rai way.
A substantial part of why I decided to uproot my life, move to Thailand, and try something I’ve never done before is to get to know myself better. During my quiet time I find myself curiously mulling over what I want my future to look like. Is there a way to embrace the Mai Pen Rai way of being while taking focused, deliberate action towards my goals? What are my goals? What does happiness look like to me? I don’t have clear answers to these questions just yet. But I do have 4 months in Thailand (and the rest of my life) to continue figuring it out. At the end of my time here, I hope to walk away with a clearer understanding of the path I want to walk in this life. Perhaps I will find the all of the answers I seek in these next 4 months. Perhaps not. But in the words of my Thai friends - Mai Pen Rai. It’s only life after all, no need to be so serious all of the time.