Asian American

Practicing Generosity

When I see beggars on the street, I never know what to do. But then I remember my mom, and watching her when we came to Thailand in 1989. Before we visited family in Lamphun, we were in Bangkok enjoying Mahboonkrong or MBK Center in all its shopping glory.

It was unlike anything I had ever seen, and so were the beggars that lined the walkways on the way there. Every morning we would leave our hotel room (what is now the Reno Hotel) and watch this woman make mini pancakes at the end of the soi. She’d put raisins in it while my brother and I delighted in seeing something familiar from home.

After snacking on these, we would walk to the mall for a proper meal and to look around, as shopping was our way of spending family time. Some families play games or sports, we shopped. I don’t know if I learned any particular skill from these outings, if I did it’s learning to be patient while other people shopped, and learning to browse.

But on the way to MBK, I was very shocked to see people sitting on the ground without limbs, sometimes playing musical instruments, sometimes playing musical instruments with their feet, sometimes singing, and other times just sitting there with their hands in a wai.

Sixteen seemed rather innocent as I asked my mom, “What happened to him?” when someone had no arms, or “How did they get there?” when someone had no legs. It was hard not to stare, some folks were blind so they didn’t see me anyway. And when I watched my mom drop money in their cup, I’d ask, “Why did you give money to him?”

“He’s doing something. He’s not just sitting there.” and so I learned that my mom, who is a generous women, gave money to those who earned it. Or at least were trying to earn it by providing music or entertainment.

At a market, we were swarmed by children holding their hands out and asking for change. We are Thai but we didn’t look Thai, not with our Nike shoes and expensive handbags and clothing. My mom likes to give us money to give to others and by doing so I’ve learned to be generous though her.

I’ve learned to place the money into a blind man’s hands as opposed to placing it in his cup, where it could be possibly stolen. I’ve learned to give to the temple, to the great entertainers at the walking street markets, and I’ve learned to discern when to give and when I feel I shouldn’t. This is not to say some are not worthy of my generosity, but I think you should give when you feel comfortable in your mind to do it.

Thank you mom for teaching me to give, through your actions and your beliefs. I’ve watched you and your family be generous and the crazy thing is, you don’t have Oprah’s bank account. Family in Lamphun would be considered poor when held up to American standards but you’d never know it by the way they give. I’m a lucky girl indeed.

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