Stickman Readers' Submissions February 20th, 2006

Tales From The Village (Wat) 5

– Karate Club Goes To The Beach

When we had our little Loy Krathong beauty contest each of the girls filled out a questionnaire, and one of the recurring themes was that they would like to go to the beach, to see the sea. So when we were looking for an activity for the kids in our karate club the idea of a trip down to Jomtien was pounced on. With about 25 regular students and room for family we were going to hire a truck for the trip. When we looked into prices it would cost only about $30 more for a 65 seat bus. So the event was broadened to include all the workers from our Woodyard and quite a few from the village who had never before been down to the sea.

mens clinic bangkok

Four o’clock in the morning and everyone is already gathered outside our house, when a huge bus arrives and proceeds to make a ten-point turn in our little soi. Our manager organises the stowage of all the bags and gets everyone on board. And at 5 in the morning we are off to the seaside.

The bus is equipped with a disco style light and sound system, so as soon as we are off the boys down the back get the beers open and the disco thumping. It all helps to pass the time on what is a five and a half hour trip. And then we’re finally there and just the look of wonderment on the kids faces is a real joy to behold.

The crocks are immediately broken out and the ladies start on the first batch of somtam. And I swear they were busy flat stick until the minute the bus was ready to leave, making batch after batch of somtam, which was eagerly accepted by everyone.

Once everyone had disembarked and deck chairs and beach umbrellas were organised, it was time for karate in the sea. Everyone lined up by size with the tallest in the deeper water. Jomtien at high tide has a very sharp drop so the back row was standing in waist deep water. Which made for great fun during the bow-in.

We must have been a strange sight to people passing by, and many farang slowed their pace as they passed our spot. With me and sempai (my 17 year old daughter) in our traditional Gi and the rest in our club uniform of black trackie pants and T-shirt colour coded to grade. All standing in the sea doing karate.

After karate and a couple of hours playing in the sea it was time to board the bus for the return trip. And as darkness descended the disco was pumped into action again, this time with loads of dancing in the aisle to go along with the general sing a long.

Only down side was I’ve never seen so many accidents in 1 day before. On the Friendship highway from Korat down to Bangkok there were 3 single vehicle accidents where trucks had fallen over. A very common occurrence on this stretch of road where truck drivers often nod off at the wheel. On the Chonburi motorway a LARGE truck had bumped a little car. I doubt the truck even had a scratch, the car looked like a write-off. Then a little further on and there’s wreckage and blood everywhere, a high speed crash that someone didn’t survive. Then going home a motorbike was run over right in front of us – luckily at slow speed and the riders picked themselves up. Then further up the highway another two accidents.

wonderland clinic

All in all a very good day that was really enjoyed by everyone. And when we totalled the cost it came out at under 10,000 baht, or about $300. Not bad for a trip for 65 people that will live in their memories forever.

– The Manager Gets a New House

Sangphet and Tip are a young couple in the village, who truly qualify for the title “lovely people”. Tip works as maid up at the Woodyard, where, with the old mum having diabetes, she has to do far more than is generally required from a maid. She even travels with them when they go up to Uttaradit.

Sangphet was the village handyman, having experience as an electrician and being one of those people who can’t sit still for two minutes. It’s nothing to get up at 6 in the morning (to take the 6 year old to school) and find him busy watering the garden. Or to come home in the late afternoon and there he is preparing a curry in the kitchen. After he did so much work helping us prepare a big party last year, he used to tell everyone in the village that he was our “manager”. As my cancer progresses I find I can’t do the heavy work in my garden anymore, so we formalised the arrangement with Phet and put him on the payroll. The wife had one of the Woodyard uniforms embroidered with his name, and the title “Manager, Dragon House”.

Porta (father-in-law) is a very old fashioned guy and doesn’t like anyone to ask for money. I suspect it’s a throwback to Thailand’s very recent feudal past, where a system of patronage and reciprocal debt lets everyone know their position in the hierarchy. Thus if you ask for money for performing a service you are denying any further debt, or reciprocal responsibility.

So if you ask for money you’ll loose his respect and he’s unlikely to want to deal with you in future. On the other hand if you are free with your help then at some stage he will reciprocate. In the case of Sangphet and Tip he was so impressed with the level of effort that they put in that he offered to build them a house. That’s right; a house.

We’d had a builder working up at the Woodyard for about 6 months completing several projects. First raising and extending the woodyard roof, then building new accommodation for Porta, next a house for the older sister, a house for me at my garden, and then a new storage shed. So when he heard Porta was building the new house he was happy to offer his time for the project, but he couldn’t ask his crew to work for free, so they all went back to get their rice crops planted, and the builder and Sangphet constructed the house.

When we built our main house the wife had bought an old house so that we could re-use the flooring. There was still lots of timber available from that house, including all the sturdy legs. The Woodyard supplied all the rest of the building materials and soon a little house was growing on the plot of land that Sangphet’s mum had given them.

They were building a cute little cottage with 1 bedroom and a sitting room. Cooking and toilet facilities would be out the back. When the wife saw what they were building she declared that it was much too small and that it had to be much bigger, “After all, dad’s paying for it and we have to make big face for him”. So she cleared a bit of sand and with a stick sketched in another bedroom (for their 11 year old son), a bathroom and a fairly good sized kitchen/dining room.

When the house was finished they had a little house warming party at which Sangphet gave a little speech, amongst many tears, thanking the father-in-law. Declaring that there was nothing he could do to repay the kindness shown him he said he would become a monk and dedicate his monkhood to Porta. At some stage in their life virtually every Thai man becomes a monk, but to dedicate the monkhood to someone else is right up there as far as offering thanks is concerned.

– Phra Tum-Ma-Ra-Tor

With Sangphet going to be a monk a party was organised, and the village was asked if any other men would like to be a monk, as Porta was paying. Becoming a monk can be a fairly expensive exercise for a poorer family, so it’s traditional to offer places to others when a monking is being performed. One other family accepted. The wife asked if I would like to be a monk – it would give her and the family big face.

I declined initially, but they had gotten the thought processes working in the back of my little brain. So the Wednesday before the ceremony I asked the wife if it was too late for me to be a monk. Sangphet was to be a monk for 2 weeks, so I said I’d try it out and if OK would stay the 2 weeks with him. Big flurry of activity. Down to the Tambon Wat to get the permission of the big monk, and sign all the paperwork etc.

Then I was watching TV Wed night and coughed. Excruciating pain. Thought I’d broken a rib, the pain was so bad. So of to the hospital for X-ray and loads of morphine. That night was soo bad that at one stage I got completely cast; couldn’t move. Had to shout to wake up the wife and come and help me turn over. Once the morphine kicked in the pain became just manageable, so I told the family that I’d give being a monk a go for 3 days, and see how it went from there.

Friday morning when the activities started I was feeling pretty low, but got through the day. When they shaved my hair and painted my whole head yellow I thought they were taking the piss, until Sangphet turned up with his head looking equally bilious. Saturday morning when we were to be ordained I woke with no pain at all. Must have been a pinched nerve or something. But the relief was immense.

I’d seen the bother-in-law become a monk previously so I new what to expect. The only difficult part was when I had to recite the vows, which is all done in Pali. The old monk went slow and I was able to repeat the vows one word at a time. So I was given my new robes, my alms bowl, and a new name. I am now Phra Tum-Ma-Ra-Tor.

So it was that we settled into a quiet life of early raising, morning walk around the village for alms, two meals a day (nothing after lunch), lots of gardening and sweeping, meditation and chanting. I found the peacefulness of life in the temple to be so acceptable that told the wife instead of 3 days I’d stay after Sangphet and Boo left. Now looking to stay for 3 months, until after Songkran.

As well as Sangphet and myself the other bloke to be ordained was Boo. Once his head was shaved he really looked a sight. Had been in a motorbike accident a few years ago and the doctors had had to open his skull to relieve pressure on the brain. With the way Asian skin scars he has some magnificently ugly brutes running around his head. And while not a complete nuf-nuf, Phra Boo is a little slow at times. Still, his family was over the moon that poor old Boo had made it as a monk. But Phra Boo isn’t into gardening or sweeping or meditating, so he sits around and listens to the radio all day.

The wife remembers when she was a girl there were always lots of monks staying at the wat. These days there’s just one monk, about 60. He’s a tough old nut who doesn’t waste much time on pleasantries. Has a great love of trees and has hundreds of potted trees around the wat. When he heard that I wished to stay longer than the 2 weeks he told the other two that they could leave, but that the farang had to stay. And further, after they stopped being Phra they still had to come back and help him look after the farang.

So here I am living at the wat. It’s a simple, quiet life that I’m really enjoying. And the ludicrous thing is, even though I employ a manager and two maids, each day I’m hand washing my cloths. Perhaps I’m a bit softer in the head than Phra Boo after all.

– Fallen Fruit

In Farangland fruit that has fallen from the tree and lying around is considered fair game, and anyone can pick it up and eat the good parts. We even have a special word for it – windfall. And because we view finding a piece of edible dropped fruit to be especially lucky the word has entered the vocabulary with the wider meaning of any unexpected good luck. Thus a lottery win can be described as a windfall.

Not so in Thailand. If you happen to find a half rotten mango under a tree it’s best to leave it there. If you pick it up and start to eat the good part you are likely to come across a quirk in the Thai character. The owner of the tree, and thus the fruit, will view you as a fool. As he will consider that you have entered into a contract to buy, that you have accepted delivery and consumed the article, all without firstly establishing the price. So all it takes to complete the contract is for him to name his price, and for you to pay it.

What’s this you say, you had no intention of paying for it. Are you saying that you were deliberately stealing this man's goods. No, then you’d better pay up. And by the way, the price for that particular piece of fruit is 500 baht.

It really happened, ching ching.


Great stories – the last one is a bit rough though! 500 baht?!

nana plaza