Stickman Readers' Submissions April 6th, 2006

The Village, Again…

By Valjean

We got a late start the last Friday of last December because I ended up having to work late so it was well after 9:00 PM when I’d picked everyone up and we were on the road out of Bangkok; which of course means in the traffic to get to the highway.
Our plan was to do three to four hours of the eight-plus hour trip Friday night and the remainder in the early hours of Saturday morning. Around 1:30 AM I’d had enough, and with at least a few hours under our belt we pulled into a roadside
hotel and rock-hard bed for some welcomed sleep. Waking the next morning we continued on going a secondary road route as this being a long weekend we were concerned about traffic – actually we knew it would be slug-like. In the end the
trip took over ten hours so perhaps that was something less than a good strategy. By mid-day Saturday I was tired, tired of driving and feeling a little out of sorts to go to the village once again rather than just kick back at home or some resort.
But some months ago I’d committed to go and go we did. At last we came to the little village like thousands of others scattered across the landscape of Thailand and pulled down a dusty lane and up to one of the closely gathered houses where
two young boys were playing outside. They didn’t recognize the car but when we honked the horn, they looked up, saw their parents get out and then jumped up in the air like a couple of grasshoppers in a wok and ran as fast as their broad
smiles could carry them to their parents' arms. All of a sudden the drive seemed short, my aggravations trivial and if nothing else happened the trip was a success. And so all around me a ritual of 21st century Thailand is played out –
children left in the village with family while the parent or parents go to Bangkok or other scattered places for work, for money; both of which are in such short supply in villages just like this while meanwhile family and love remain in great

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This precious parcel of kinship delivered we then headed to the family farm outside of the village. When you have a party at the house in the village it’s understood that the neighbors manage to stop by for a chat. This time the family;
kids, aunts & uncles wanted to have time to just visit with each other and had agreed to meet out in the fields. Off the rutted red dirt road and across the grassy field we drove until we came upon everyone spread under the soft shady touch
of a sprawling tree. It felt so wonderful to get out of the car and stretch out in the shade and look over the recently harvested rice fields – still standing water here and there, the verdant green half-way to brown. In a delicious too-tired-to-think
daze soften buy a cold beer lying on the straw mat with a cool winter breeze blowing across the Isaan plains and across my furrowed brow and it’s hard to imagine a moment, in a life, in any life, any better. The women cook and chat as we
have our picnic. At one point the cows started off grazing in the wrong direction and one of the young boys, still in his underwear from swimming in the nearby pond, was sent off dancing across the levees that separate the rice fields on a mission
to circle around and chase the cows back to their proper plot – encouraged all the while by all of us yelling advice and laughing.

This family, the extended family, the village has welcomed me more than a “just good friends” relationship deserves but welcome me it has. I’m now a more known quantity, wandering around, taking pictures, sleeping on
the porch, going to the little market to buy something. Before too long it feels like a resort to me – sure a little like a car camping resort with cold showers, hard beds, instant coffee and mosquitoes. But it’s as off-the-grid
as you can get, the expectations of anything productive from me are so close to zero Kelvin that I can just kick back and watch life go by. And watch I do.

As the day fades and we enter New Years Eve I take off alone on a long walk, far from the drifting sounds of the village into the fields that seem to stretch in every direction, everywhere. The setting sun casts a warm glow across a land
that has provided a good life, albeit begrudgingly at times of alternating drought and flood and whatever grows in the poor red dirt soils. But around me the harvest is in, the fields look good, the scattered cows graze in peace and the quiet
sounds of twilight caress my ears. I savor far too long and come back in the dark and to concerns of my safety. How can I explain how the ordinary is so extraordinary?

We turned the page to the new year and on New Years Day there was talk of taking off sightseeing at a huge mountain temple I’d been to before. Come midday the adults are having too much fun talking, singing karaoke and drinking to
sustain such an ambitious goal. But eight kids from four to fourteen, the cousins, still wanted to go and after some stern concerns expressed by their grandmother (or great grandmother in one case) over sending off a generation of cousins with
the farang, off we all go. We load up into the car, we crank up the Thai music and head down the road as happy as larks on lithium. Now I don’t want to disparage my stateside brethren but to be honest, four hours with eight American kids
straggled between four and fourteen would have its moments of – shall we say, tension. Someone is in my space, someone is breathing on me, someone has something of mine, someone is bothering me. You know you’ve been there (unless
you are Thai). Four hours with eight Thai children is to witness how the world should get along. It is where you see first hand Thai culture at its best – the village life, the values that just envelop everything. The older take care of
the younger, no one fusses or fights, sharing flows, we all just have a good time, on the way, at the temple, having lunch, on the way home. They have been taught to get along. Everyone shares my camera for pictures, they get me to pull over for
a photo session on the hillside – we have fun photo sessions. It is to see the potential of human goodness and it does my weary soul such a kindness to

breathe this blessed air.

Two days of happiness come to an end as I stretch out to try do find something more – whatever the hell that would be. We head down to Korat to see Khmer ruins and temples from the time and the kingdom of Angkor Wat. Fantastic. The
drive is too long – we wander to and fro, the traffic from the holiday is bad but it’s pleasant time nonetheless. Roadside noodles or som tom when the mood and pangs strike us, knick knacks here and there, and eventually
we roll back into the amazing maze of Bangkok. Happy to be home but very contented to have a big piece of village heart tucked yet again deep into my heart where in my quiet moments I can bring it out and savor the awesome wonderfulness of it

Stickman's thoughts:

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I liked what you said about people getting on and making a fuss. So true when they're young….but wait until they get older!

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