, Salem, MA


September 25, 2012

Running: A cultural education


I had to be on hyper-alert mode on my morning runs in Thailand crossing the street to the other side whenever I saw a pack of dogs ahead of me. Most of the time, they were docile or sleepy and completely ignored me. But not always.

One morning just before sunrise, I was running around “the old city” of Chiang Mai — a square block in the middle of the city that is surrounded by an ancient moat and the remnants of solid stone walls. I turned a corner, my MP3 music pumping in my ears, sweating in the 5:30 a.m. Asian humidity, when a small part of my consciousness registered a faint shout somewhere (some kind soul taking pity of the poor farang girl about to be attacked).

I took out my earphones and turned around to see a large, white dog running straight for me. And it wasn’t the “oh-look-someone-to-play-with” sort of running, it was the “I’m-gonna-bite-this-girl-in-the-leg” running.

Now, I’m certainly not brave. But I can be immensely practical and in that moment — as this strange dog raced toward me — my practical mind pushed the cowardly, heart-racing, petrified girl inside of me aside and took control.

I ran toward the dog, clapped my hands hard and shouted, “EY!” The dog stopped, completely surprised and stared at me in confusion. “Don’t!” I yelled.

Then I did something that made the cowardly, heart-racing, petrified side of me want to strangle the practical side of me. I turned around, and kept running. Luckily, the dog didn’t follow.

Jogging on the beach in Beverly, watching Max yap at the gulls, I am constantly reminded of that dog chase in Thailand. I’ve realized that jogging is something of a cultural education; it requires not only physical but also mental energy. You have to abide by the unspoken cultural, social, everyday rules around you and accept that they are necessary. You have to learn the flow of the country and ride along with it in order to survive. Or avoid being bitten in the leg by dogs.


Rachel Bell is a recent graduate of Gordon College, where she studied international development. She currently works in the college’s chapel office and lives in Beverly Farms.

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