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Traveling teaches down-home lessons

It was near midnight when my plane landed. I made my way through customs and security, where smiles and bows were the norm, and walked out into the balmy 90-degree night air to find a virtual sea of cab drivers waiting for customers outside the airport.

As we made our way into the surreal world of Bangkok, I noticed the entire interior of our cab was lined with paper currency from all over the world. It was a virtual history lesson on world currency. A small Buddha graced the dashboard, providing the driver and passengers with protection and safe travels.

Arriving late in Bangkok, it seemed quiet and sleepy, with an occasional car or tuk-tuk driving by. We were awaked the next morning by a local song bird that each morning announced its presence to the world. As we made our way to the street, it struck me that we were in an exotic fantasy land where the noise, cars, motorcycles, colors and smells were like nothing I had ever experienced. Monks dressed in gorgeous bright-orange robes making their way along the streets to gather the food offerings was a daily ritual.

I found the best way to neutralize the language barrier was to smile and bow. The Thai people always responded with the same in showing their respect and compassion — a trait not commonly found in much of the world these days, including America.

Our plan was to take the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, but Thailand was experiencing the worst monsoon flooding in 50 years, which inundated the tracks and rendered the train inoperable. More than 200 people were killed in the flooding, and many villages near rivers were destroyed.

We resorted to taking a midnight bus, white-knuckling through heavy monsoon rains and lightning striking all around the roadway that resembled a laser light show. I actually thought I would die either by the bus sliding off the road or lightning striking it and causing a crash. I pretended to sleep with a blanket over me, but if the truth be told, I couldn't sleep.

Two days later, we were trekking in the northern jungle with a guide I hired in Chiang Mai who was a starving rice farmer turned guide. As we made our way into two remote jungle villages, the villagers would gather and acknowledge our presence then offer their hut to us for the night, which we accepted each night.

Traveling in Southeast Asia has broadened my perspective on life. A lesson I learned is that we don't need the Cadillac Escalade or the BMW in the driveway to satisfy our hunger for a happy life or the need to impress the neighbors. Instead, acknowledge or become involved with an action that will have a positive impact on the life of someone. A simple smile is a good start no matter where you are, even in Medford, Oregon.

Franklin Corbin lives in Jacksonville.