I witnessed an exceptional instance of kindness and generosity on a group trek in the hills around Chiang Mai, Thailand’s northern city, passing lush valleys, verdant rice paddies, Karen Hill Tribe villages, wild teak, tamarind, papaya, and banana trees, an escaped water buffalo clearly relishing its freedom, swarms of butterflies, a plant from which you can blow bubbles, and so much more. It was indeed glorious and it all seemed magical.

Namee blowing bubbles

My student Kalli, who was part of my annual Hands on Thailand (HoT) program from San Jose State University, was taking needed breaks to cope with the extreme discomfort of bleeding blisters on our ascent. Our multilingual guide Montree repeatedly wondered in disappointed amazement why she was wearing “shopping shoes” — his derisive description of her low-top black Converse — instead of appropriate hiking shoes. There was no satisfactory answer, yet there was an unexpected solution.

Montree literally took the shoes off his own feet and swapped with her, even though her inadequate “shopping shoes” were not big enough for him. He simply flattened the backs of her Converse, wearing them as too-small sandals, and we continued our trek through the Thai countryside, Kalli now considerably more comfortable and Montree less so. And this was by no means the only kindness that Montree (and others) exhibited that day.

Feeling humbled and in awe, I realized how what I considered my kindness and generosity rarely put me in a worse position to better someone else’s, making me question what those words really mean.

taking the shoes off his feet
selflessly giving