I was going to blog about a million different things–the day trip we took today, the monkey that scratched me deep enough to draw some blood, the dollar banana-chocolate pancake I just ate as dessert to my pad thai dinner, but once I got to the Internet cafe, my fingers had a different idea.

At dinner, a little girl came around to all of the tables at the open-air restaurant Jeanette and I settled down in. She was wearing a pink top with matching leggings, a flower necklace around her neck. She moved from table to table with an armful of roses, singing in a whisper. At each table, she was waved on without so much as a second look. Right behind her was a man selling watercolor paintings; he carried a sign saying he was deaf and needed money. Again, a wave of the hand and on to the next table of tourists.

I’m not sure what surprised me about this. In the Philippines, the begging was everywhere — on the sides of the road, when tuk-tuks were stopped in traffic, anytime a foreigner was within earshot — done by dirty children in tattered clothes; here, the man and girl were clean and looked to be healthy. Maybe that’s the only difference between them, maybe not. In reality, I know nothing about the lives of the Thais or the Filipinos. I know what it is to be a tourist in southeast Asia, to haggle over dresses and eat street food that costs as much as a pack of gum back home. I don’t know what it is to serve drinks to foreigners sunbathing on the beach; I am the foreigner sipping cocktails in my lounge chair.

It’s easy to feel like a millionaire here, where a meal costs only a couple dollars. But then you look up from your green curry and see the people who are here forever, people for whom this is not a vacation, but life. In a couple months, I’ll be back in the States, driving my Subaru around and eating mac and cheese on my couch, flipping through hundreds of channels on TV as I text friends and futz around on my Macbook.  The people I’ve met in Phuket will still be here, shouting their wares to every white person who walks down the street, offering a good deal or a new bargain if the foreigner would kindly come inside. I’m fortunate to have grown up in the west; we all are. We waste so much time complaining about the most trivial things, but we don’t know how good we have it. None of us has had to beg his way through a restaurant. We haven’t walked up and down a hot beach mid-day with a fake smile plastered on, trying to sell cobs of corn. We haven’t spent our lives trying to eke out a living from the millions of people who leave our home just as soon as they came. It’s important to keep that in mind as I make my way through this part of the world.

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