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Workers at a Salt Farm Thailand
Thu, April 30, 2015
Christine's Corner, Friday, May 1, 2015
In the U.S. I can't say that I've often even taken notice of May 1st in any particular way. In Thailand, however, the day is a national holiday celebrating, in part, the workers in the observance of Labor Day. It's ironic, however, as I write this column and it is officially Labor Day here there are four workers tearing apart the bed in my hotel room, scrubbing the counters, and moving with efficiency and speed unlike I've ever seen in a pleasing fervor to ready my room for another day.

I tried to communicate with them, to exchange some thoughts about the fact that they are working on the day that is historically an observance of their efforts, to thank them and talk with them about their lives. And although they were eager, as was I, the limits in however much we tried to meet in the middle of our significant language barrier prevented us. One of the team of four was able to understand my halted "holiday... working?... Labor Day..." enough to convey to the rest of the team the focus of my communication efforts. Big smiles all around as they explained, mostly through body language and the shaking of heads, that no, today there would be no official observance for them of the holiday. Their Labor Day was full of just that - labor. It felt strange and awkward to sit in the flurry of their activities so I straightened my own little area of the room as best I could and stayed out of their uber efficient ways.

There was an article today in the Bangkok Post about the observance of the holiday and the focus on the wage aspect of what it means to be an average worker in Thailand. Four people were highlighted in the column, earning between $242.00 and $303.00 a month before expenses. From factory work to construction and even sales and cleaning, their jobs require long hours and little pay. On average, after paying for housing expenses, food, and other essentials, between the four they're able to save less than $70 a month.

Labor Day, historically a celebration of our workers, and even a holiday in some parts of the world that focuses on the labor and wage aspect of what it means to be a laborer in our world, is one in the U.S. that has a somewhat different meaning. In the U.S. it is a celebration of the contribution that our workers have made to our country's well-being and prosperity. In countries like Thailand and so many other countries around the world, the day returns the focus to the issues of the workers, like the low wages, long hours and harsh working conditions.

I've spoken at length before about how much the Thai have touched my heart. With generous spirit and ready smiles, the folks I have encountered have been full of grace, and a readiness to share their infectiously optimistic and happy spirit with those around them. In the U.S. we tend to equate happiness with money and prosperity, but that is not at all what I have found in my travels or among the people I have met along the way. It's hard as I read through the stories in the Post not to imagine how hard life must be for these folks mentioned:
  • Prairat Senkram, a 42 year old factory worker who earns less than the equivalent of $10 for an eight hour day sorting shrimps, six days a week.
  • Vilai U, who is 30 and has been working for 10 years in Bangkok, now earning less than $10 a day doing construction trying to find a job that pays enough so that one day he can go back to the mountains near Kanchanaburi to be with his family.
  • Tham Dokchan, a 40 year old sales clerk on a fixed salary of about $300 a month equivalent for a 10 AM to 9 PM job six days a week with no overtime.
  • Chutima Roongsaeng who earns a living as a cleaner for about $300 a month, working six days a week from 8 AM to 5 PM and also supplements with another cleaning job which earns her another $100 or so a month. She's able to save about $60 a month after expenses.
I imagine life and what it must look like under the conditions these folks live with. And I think about the article that Mitch Albom wrote about earlier this week that discussed the absolutely staggering greed with which our Michigan legislature is trying to reverse our no fault insurance legislation to get their hands on the $20 billion or so that has accumulated over the years. How can it be so that folks who have so little can be so innately filled with joy and optimism and folks who have so much seem to never have enough?

Perhaps today as so many parts of our world around us celebrate the needs, the contributions, and even the plight of our workers, we can also take a few moments to be grateful for what we do have, whether we consider that to be a lot or a little. And perhaps, just perhaps, if we take a few moments to extend our minds and hearts to what it might and must be like for others around us who have less, we can take a few moments to offer a little something of ourselves that can provide them with a little bit more.

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