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A Bit More Of A Journal

  • Written by Graham
  • July 8th, 2004
  • 7 min read


One of the main reasons I'm getting out of Oz and moving to Thailand is that the emotional environment is so much fuller. The kids will grow up surrounded by the extended family and neighbours that genuinely interact – rather than the sterile wastelands of a Melbourne suburb.

An example is the new house we moved into a few years ago, invited all the neighbours in the street to the house-warming party – none came. And over the next 4 years we'd exchange 'hellos' in the street but nothing further. Whether this was simply racism towards my Asian family or is typical of life in the suburbs I'm still not sure. When I compare it to life in Thailand I know immediately where I'd rather be.

In Australia a neighbour these days is just someone who lives next door, whereas in the village the real meaning of neighbour still holds true. Phuen Bahn (neighbour in Thai) translates literally as 'friend of the house' and this is further expressed in peoples' relationships with one another.

I don't wear rose-coloured-glasses and know that living check by jowl with the extended family can present a whole new world of possible difficulties, but at this stage I tend to value relationships more than things and hope that the kids will have a more nurturing environment.

We were up in Uttaradit for Songkhran and I was up earlier than normal when the 3 monks came by on their rounds. Told the wife that I'd like to feed them so she got together some rice. A bit sad. Even though they had been through the village before they got to me they had nothing in their bowls except rice, I felt a bit bad only giving them more. Told the wife that for the rest of our stay they were to get some real food. So each morning after that I was there with a selection of curries or fruit.

This day the aunty says I don't have to feed the monks because they'll get a big lunch at the village hall. But there's still breakfast so I say I'll feed them when they go by. So as they come past there's porta (father in law), mae yai (mother in law) and I waiting with a selection of curry and fruits. They stop in front of us and each raises the lid of their bowl, porta places a bag of curry for each and mae yai gives them some rice, and as they close the lids I place a piece of fruit on them. We all kneel and wei as they chant for us, then off they go transferring the fruit into their carry bags.

The aunty who looks after my land in Uttaradit is also on the village council, and with local elections coming up wanted to be seen doing good stuff for the village. She asked if we'd be prepared to donate a rice cooker to the village. So we purchased a huge rice cooker and were to present it to the village head at the Sand Castle Day ceremony.

I don't know what the Sand Castle Day is all about. Probably a bit like Easter to the Thais. The wife asked what's the significance of the eggs and bunnies to Christians. I told her that when Jesus was crucified he was in so much pain, that squawk squawk, he laid an egg like a chicken and a rabbit hatched out of the egg. Total nonsense – and I think the Sand Castle Day is probably much the same; the reasons behind it don't cross the cultural barrier.

So later that morning we jumped in the car and went down to the village hall. It's destined to be a wat, but there's no accommodation yet so no monks stay there. The whole village has turned up and the monks from several wats are up on the dias, about 15 of them including the 3 I give to each morning. Then in front of everyone I get to handover the rice cooker to the village head. And because the family were having a big party in several days we were the first to borrow and use the village's new rice cooker.

Boo means grandfather in Thai, and even though he's actually a great uncle the family address Tone as Boo, as do everyone in the village. He's mid 70's, farmer in his younger days and still strong and healthy. With a face that's so full of character, and dominated by a nose that really belongs on someone 3 times his size.

His daughter died suddenly of cancer a couple months back, so most days someone drops by to have a drink with him.

Three o'clock that afternoon Boo turns up with a large plastic fanta bottle fill of the local whiskey and a bunch of bark and herbs. Known as Lao Dong Yaa in Thai, it improves the taste of the otherwise undrinkable Lao Khao [rice whiskey].

A couple of blokes passing on a motorbike saw him coming over so they pulled up and joined us under granny's house. Having the house raised on legs provides a great place to sit underneath, and we have several low tables that everyone can sit on. We are all sitting cross-legged on a table with the bottle in the middle and passing the shot glass around [can someone please provide the correct etiquette]. Basically a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon, and an absolutely guaranteed way to get smashed beyond belief.

As the evening draws in the girls from next door are out in the rice fields (now a dry feedlot) rounding up the cows. The cows are all herded together and the bulls and dominate cows are tethered to stakes, while the others just hang around like, well, cattle. A bit of shouting brings all the girls running together and soon they are all involved in beating the ground with sticks. When the other girls go back to tethering the cows the youngest walks home, with a very dead 2.5 metre cobra draped over her shoulders. Guess what's for dinner tonight!

I don't know if it's that Boo can secretly speak English, or if I really can understand Thai, or it's just that Lao Dong Yaa is a magic enabler of communication. But shortly after dark Boo asks me to help him home, as he's had too much to drink and can't walk by himself. So while we offered each other mutual support I walk Boo to his home, with only a slight deviation through the hedge.

I was so impressed with my ability to stay upright that I then go on to give a karate demonstration in the middle of the road. I am actually quite accomplished and used to train right up to when my cancer was diagnosed. But I hadn't factored in the amount of alcohol we'd consumed, so my demonstration of martial prowess was received by the village as a great comedy act. All next day I was greeted by everyone with mock punches and kicks accompanied with impressive shouts.

Wake up with head that's a bit thick and with eyes that won't focus. What with my cancer and stuff I haven't tied one on for at least 8 months, so I wasn't really surprised that the alcohol was knocking me around a bit. Took about an hour before I realised that the main problem wasn't the hangover, but that one lens on my glasses was missing.

We were going to have a party in a few days so porta had set up the amplifier and speakers, and early each morning played Thai tunes booming out over the village along with an invite to the party. So I offered 100 baht to any of the kids who found the lens and he broadcast the offer to the whole village.

One of the blokes from down the road came up and after only a few minutes found the lens on the other side of the road. After the karate demo he'd seen me go to take a slash and apparently I'd fallen face first into the dirt, which had further added to the entertainment. So he presented me with the lens from my glasses, suitable battered and scratched. When I went to give him 100 baht he wouldn't accept it, so I had to get the wife to speak for me and tell him to take the baht and get something for his kids.

So do I like life in rural Thailand – too right. I just find it very sad that the cities are sucking the life out of the villages, with very few 20 – 40 year olds in the village.


Stickman's thoughts:

Great stuff!