Untranslatable words -น้ำใจ (Nam jai)

น้ำใจ (Nam jai). n. / næm.ʤaɪ / nam-jiy. (Thai).

The literal translation is ‘water from the heart’, but the expression signifies acts of selfless generosity and genuine kindness without expecting anything in return. For me, it is one of the most important qualities in a person, and I am extremely lucky to know many people who do not give a second thought about their nam jai, it just comes naturally to them.

Yet perhaps the best feeling is when strangers surprise you with nam jai.

One time I was running late for a train, had missed my bus, it was raining, and I was carrying a heavy suitcase.  The railway station was nowhere near walking distance, and there were no taxis in sight. Discouraged, I trudged towards the nearest shop to call a taxi which would have arrived much too late to make the train anyway.

And then a woman walked out of the shop, making her way towards her tiny car. She looked at me with a confused expression, for who would be standing there with a suitcase so far away from any transport?

“Where are you headed off to?” she enquired. I replied I had to get to the station but had a very slim chance of making it there on time. “Let’s try,” she replied in a determined way, proceeding to take my things and putting them in her car. Perhaps it is not always a good idea to get into stranger’s cars, but I really had nothing to lose. She had no idea where the station was, and went through the trouble of using a map to find it. When we arrived, she ushered me out, refusing to accept any payment. I made the train on time, the doors shutting behind me as I hopped on with a newly found bounce in my step.

Such small acts live on in your heart and mind for a long time, and inspire you to pass on nam jai to others.

What memorable nam jai have you experienced?


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