In Thailand there is a saying, “same-same, but different.” It is said in response to a variety of queries, such as “how are you,” “did you like the movie,” “are you closed today,” or “is this dish good?” Nobody knows the origin of the saying, it simply appeared on the oral landscape and stayed. Cafés have taken the phrase as their name; you’ll find abundant t-shirts with this silkscreened on the front and back. There’s even a movie with this title.
What does it mean? Well, depending on the context (e.g., “did you like the movie?”), it means that the movie was about what you would expect. There were some twists, maybe a couple of surprises, but not too much to get excited over. If this phrase comes as a response to “are you closed today,” the idea is that the business is still there just like yesterday, and tomorrow it might be open again, but this very day in particular they’re closed. What does this motif say about a culture? The phrase is a reminder that change occurs, but is fleeting and incremental. In a country where Buddhism as the primary religion, the phrase speaks to impermanence. This dish, or business, or person is not a unique self that should be treated better or worse than anyone else, but is nevertheless slightly different than what you would expect. It’s a reminder to not take anything for granted. It’s a reminder to pay attention.
It is perhaps a coincidence (and perhaps not) that Bikram Teacher Training is now indefinitely based in Phuket, Thailand. Teachers fly in from all over the world to learn how to correctly deliver the Dialogue specific to Bikram Yoga. This Dialogue is the same whether it’s spoken in English, French, German, Mandarin, etc. Unlike other hot yoga, Bikram Yoga classes are all exactly the same each day. The beauty of this is that you can track the progress of your body over the course of a week, a month or a year. You will be able to move deeper into poses you couldn’t previously, or work through all 26 poses in the sequence without taking a break.
The other benefit, of course, is that the practice connects you to every Bikram practitioner in the world. You can walk into a Bikram studio in Shanghai and you will know, truly know, everybody in the room. You will know their struggles, and their triumphs. You will laugh at the same missteps in poses or Dialogue no matter what the language. That “one spot in the mirror” is the same spot all over the world. Same-same, but different.