Talking to the locals makes all the difference

After Diane Winteringham’s first visit to Thailand, she started learning Thai at night school. She thought it would be nice to understand the culture and be able to speak to the locals in their language.

“They would be so thrilled, and all I said was hello and how are you,” she said.

Every trip to Thailand — she has now made nine — was a chance to get to know the people who live there. She began starting conversations with a variety of Thai people. She spoke with waitresses, bartenders, workers on golf courses and the girls on the streets working as escorts or prostitutes. She noticed that talking to these girls in Thai was not popular with tourists. The only problem Winteringham faced was, once she started speaking Thai, people would assume she was fluent and would continue speaking when she stopped understanding.

There are a large number of girls in Thailand forced to work on the streets or in bars as escorts or prostitutes. Many of these girls and their families are living in extreme poverty. To Winteringham, it was evident that these girls are doing whatever they can to provide for their families.

“When you’re looking after your family, it’s not up to us to judge,” she says.

Wintering ham enjoyed talking to these girls because they would be happy and thrilled to have a simple conversation. It was a quick escape from reality. Winteringham noticed that many old guys would go up to these girls, some as young as 15, and pay to use their body. “You feel like tripping the old guys, ’cause they’re so old and the girls don’t look nervous, they’re so use to it,” she said.

Winteringham knew she didn’t come across as a threat, so it allowed her to chat with them and come to the realization that they are some of the kindest and loveliest people she met.

Winteringham tried her best to steer away from harsh poverty and move towards the hardworking people of Thailand. Throughout towns, she saw girls in stores making little things like place mats or weaving and knitting purses or bracelets. After talking to an older man in one small town, he took Winteringham and her husband to his house to show how he lives. His place was small, but he was thrilled to show Canadians what a Thai home looks like. Winteringham appreciated his gesture so much that the following year she brought him a souvenir from the Vancouver Olympics. This trip to this man’s home has stuck with her over the years because it is not often a stranger lets two people into the privacy of his home after a single conversation. It also gave her the opportunity to get a firsthand experience into their lifestyle, which people can commonly miss while travelling.

“You really learn how kind these people are once you’re there,” she said.

After visiting Thailand for nine straight years, some of her most talked-about stories have to do with the workers at the hotels and golf courses. The staff at these places would remember her year after year and would get excited to hear that she was returning. Winteringham would remember them as well and this formed a type of friendship.

“The girls in the hotel would always give gifts to us when we’re leaving, which is so nice because you know how poor they are,” she said. This simple act touched Winteringhams’ heart. Their friendship became a mutual respect for one another that started with a quick, “Hello and how are you.”

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