I began sprinting toward the sky train, even as I realized it was a hopeless cause. Once those doors start sliding closed, they don’t open again until the next stop.
To my astonishment, the doors stopped at mid-point and began re-opening, just as I reached the front car of the train.
I sprang into the train, catching a glimpse of the conductor out of the corner of my eye. He must have seen me round the corner from climbing the stairs, witnessed my sprint, and taken pity on me, I mused.
I had always assumed those train doors were on an automatic close function of some sort. Wow, I thought, here I am in the middle of an Asian megacity, and someone was just truly kind to me – and, what’s more, that someone is in charge of keeping a mode of public transportation running on time!
I got off at my stop, quickly walked the few steps to the front of the train, and thanked the conductor with one of the most graceful wai’s I could manage. Behind the glass, his face split into a good-natured grin, and he wai’d me back.
Why did that conductor re-open the doors for me? The Thai would answer, because he showed namjai.
Namjai – a special Thai word describing a special Thai quality. It has to do with kindness and generosity, with going out of your way to make sure someone’s else’s need is met.
It literally translates, “a heart of water.” I’ll admit, when I first heard this, I wasn’t overly impressed. In English, if someone’s heart “turns to water,” they are demonstrating fear, and maybe even cowardice.
But in Thailand, water is an essential. The country is full of canals, which stretch their long fingers across Thailand’s dry plains to irrigate the rice fields. The biggest, craziest, most joyful festival of the year is Songkraan, which celebrates the return of the rains. Many, many other words celebrate water’s importance, and so a woman sprays on namhohm, or “sweet-smelling water,” and the bee makes namphueng, or “bee water.” If you’re thirsty (hiwnam), you’re literally “hungry for water.”
If you have namjai, your heart is made of something life-giving. Your heart brings refreshment to others. And, like water, which takes the shape of its receptacle, your heart can be molded, or re-routed, to meet the needs of another.
Namjai. It’s a good word.