Tales From The Village 2
– What’s in a Name
Over the years there’s been many complaints by writers to this site about being called ‘farang’. All my family call me Graham, which is my name; the village folk normally call me Khun Graham or just Graham; and kids all call me Lung Ham, Lung being uncle and Ham being the funny way Thais shorten names. The only ones who call me ‘farang’ are the cousins from Uttradit, and I think it’s more to do with them not feeling comfortable with the familiarity of using my name and prefering to use a title.
Using a title instead of a name is widespread practice. The builder who worked on our house was always referred to as ‘Chung’, meaning engineer <nah, it actually means tradesman – Stick>. The only time his name was used was if there were several ‘engineers’ around, and then he would be called Chung Oort (Oort being his name).
Same situation exists with our maid who is called Pha Noi, which means Little Auntie. She has worked for us for over two years and when I asked the wife what her actual name was she didn’t know. Always called her Pha Noi, as did everyone in the village.
Our daughter is attending a Catholic Business College in Korat, and as with all Catholic institutions all the teachers are referred to as ‘sister’ or ‘mother’. And of coarse, this being Thailand, the meaning of the title has been lost and so the title is applied regardless of who the recipient is. So the poor farang male teacher ends up being Mother Joe.
– The Working Bee
The village had a working bee to tidy up the school grounds. We don’t have any kids attending the local school but still like to get involved with village activities. So on Sunday morning we were down at the school, all kitted out ready to do some work. I had my brush cutter and was directed to a large overgrown patch along the far wall. I had completed one swathe through the paddock when a man caught my eye, pointed at the brush cutter and then at himself. Who am I to complain if someone wants to play with my toy. So I quickly unloaded and passed the brush cutter over to him. He then proceeded to organise a roster of guys to do the cutting and by the end of the day the entire paddock had been cleared.
After the rather acrimonious election to wrest control of the village treasury, several threats were made against the village leader. So there he is at the working bee, dressed in T-shirt and shorts, complete with a holstered side-arm. It’s so far away from what you’d ever see in suburban Melbourne that it really caught my eye, but no-one else even seemed to notice.
– Measuring Money in Inches
Back in Farangland any financial transactions of any size are carried out electronically or by bank-cheque. But here in Thailand everything seems to be done in cash. And with the largest note being the 1,000 baht it means that huge bundles of cash frequently change hands.
Most of my house was built while I was still in Melbourne, with the father-in-law making payments on my behalf. So once I finally got here I owed him roughly 500,000 baht, which when I paid it came to a stack of money about 5 inches high. Again when I paid the deposit on my truck we took a 3 inch pile down to Toyota.
The amazing thing is that back in Farangland I’d feel uncomfortable walking the streets with a wad of notes in my pocket, but here in rural Thailand I always feel safe and have no problem carrying large amounts of cash.
– The Party
We were having a load of family visiting from Farangland so decided to have a house warming party to coincide. Wow, what a party. What started out as a “smallish” party grew and grew until it had a life of its own and became a logistics exercise of quite monumental proportions. The wife recruited the village handy-man to be the party project manager and general do everything.
We sounded out the village on what they would prefer as entertainment, with the options being live music and dancers, boxing or Thai opera (le gaye). The overwhelming response was for the Thai opera, especially as it had been more than 10 years since opera had been seen in the village.
The next question was where we would stage it. Our house is on only a quarter rai of land (about 400 sq m) so we looked at various options and finally managed to talk the farmer across the road to leasing us 2 rai of his paddock. So we bought the crop from him and leased the land for a year. After the existing crop was harvested (immature) and sold a tractor came in and smoothed the ground. So even after the party the local kids have a fairly decent sized field for playing in.
The Thai opera required 15 amp power so we had to apply to the electricity company for a permit to tap the power. After paying a bond of 10,000 baht our man then proceeded to install the tap. It’s so typical of Thailand to see him wearing his “Safety First” jacket while hanging one-handed from the power line after his bamboo ladder collapsed and fell from under him. But he knew the wife would kill him if he died on the job so he called for help and was duly rescued.
We also hired the house next door for the ladies-who-cook, who were to produce meals over the weekend. Firstly for the relations from Uttradit on Friday night (about 60 people), then the monks on Saturday morning (about 90 people) and the party on Saturday night. The later was a full sit-down meal for 600. A huge undertaking in its own right, and it was so fantastic to see people from all over pull together to make it a resounding success.
Saturday arrives and the Thai opera turn up in a large truck to handle the equipment and a bus for the crew and performers. They then proceed to erect an enormous stage at one end of the field. And during the afternoon the other elements all start to come together. The tables are set up at the other end of the field so those not invited to dine can put their mats on the ground in-front of the stage. The lighting crew set up the fluorescents around the field. My brother is an electrician and was totally blown away when he saw them connect the power. They simply hammered nails through the wires where they come out of the meter box (on the power pole in Thailand) and wind their wires onto the nails. Simple and effective. The brother had to get a photo of that one, so I assured him that electricity works differently in Thailand.
By mid afternoon the merchants were scrambling for the best places to set up their stalls; selling everything from balloons, plastic toys, etc, to all kinds of foods and many varieties of deep fried bugs. By the time darkness fell the whole place had a real carnival atmosphere. And at 9 o’clock when the Thai Opera started there were about 600 guests seated at the tables and about another 800 sitting on mats in front of the stage. The local radio had mentioned the party several times so people had come from all over the district to watch the opera. The Thai opera goes all night and even at 5:30am, when they finished, there were still about 40 of us watching. All in all a great party that will be remembered for years.
– Perfect People
While the farang visitors were here I took them down to the beach at Jomtien for a few days. It was a good trip but none of my ladies (the wife, her sister or our teenage daughter) wanted to come cause they didn’t want to ‘get black’ before the party. The family are from up north and value the difference in skin tone from the local Isaan folk, so I trotted out my little homily for them.
“In the beginning when the gods decided to make people they had no instructions to go by so it was a pretty hit and miss affair.
They mixed up a batch of human and stuck them in the oven to cook, but they left them for too long and overcooked them. When they took the people out of the oven they were all burnt black and frizzled. These people the gods called “Africans”.
So the gods mixed up another batch of human but decided not to cook them for very long. When they took this batch of people from the oven they hadn’t cooked enough and they all came out all white and maggoty looking. These people the gods called “Farang”.
So they mixed up another batch and when they went into the oven the gods adjusted the cooking time correctly. When they took this batch of people from the oven the gods new they had got it right because the people were perfect, being a lovely brown. These people the gods call “Asians”.
And I will forever thank the gods for finally getting it right.