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A Family Wedding



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I travel with my wife from Bangkok to Issarn for a family wedding. Or should it be Isarn, Isan, Isaan, Esarn, Essarn or even I-San as a number of road signs in the area of my destination, Somdet, would have us believe. Where do you live? Er, not sure.

I had strong reservations about making the trip, because it meant I had to leave the comfort of air-conditioning to stay in our country retreat, a place that is without certain refinements. We have plans to move there in the future, although I am keener to do so than my wife, who despite coming from a village five minutes away prefers the traffic jams and pollution of Bangkok. Well, maybe not those, but the ease of life and the excitement of the city. Meanwhile, the house remains something of a shell, with bare concrete floor and rough cement walls, although I have major plans for it. Her father lives in the place now, after being ejected from his home by an irate wife who believed a neighbour's accusation that he gave a woman a lift in his pick-up. Life can be rather medieval out in the country, it seems. But he’s happy acting as security guard, in a place much nicer than his previous abode. More of that later.

So, did I really want to experience life in the country during the hottest part of the year without man’s greatest invention, air-conditioning? Well, I had nothing better to do and I enjoy a challenge, so I compromised with just one night there, although the expedition also included two nights on a bus to endure. It was supposed to be a VIP bus, but on the outward trip the chemical toilet stank and on the return the air-conditioning didn’t work, my armrest was broken, the pouch meant to hold books or drinks and other assorted items was missing, and there was absolutely no legroom in my front seat. Yet another example of take the money and sod the customer that is so much a part of life in Thailand. Perhaps I’m too fussy. Actually, I am, but I was brought up to believe that if a job is worth doing it is worth doing well. Sometimes I wish I’d been brought up to not give a damn. It would make life a lot easier sometimes.

The mushrooms look like wood carvings, but they’re real

The trip also meant I could see and photograph a couple of nieces. I love photographing people, especially kids. So does Stick, and he has some nice ones in his galleries. This pair are so cute I can’t stand it. I’ve never really wanted kids, because frankly, and I admit this is an extremist view, it is one of the biggest events of your life but you have absolutely no idea what you are getting. And whatever happens you are stuck with it for life. Some friends have lost out on the deal, with their kid having deformities or brain damage, and it can’t be easy for them. And I hate the idea of dealing with dirty nappies. Once a kid has got to around school age though they can be cute, and just occasionally I see one I’d love to have as my own. The nieces are included, and so is a kid in the village who is being raised by her father and grandmother as, in a variation of normal Thai tradition, it was the mother who ran off with another man instead of the father running off with another woman.

I’ve watched her, and she seems very smart and inquisitive, and I want to help with her education because I see potential there. It would really cost next to nothing and could make such a huge difference to her life, but my wife says it would create ‘issues’, so nothing will happen in that direction. I’ve long quite liked the idea of supporting a child, and there are organisations who sometimes advertise in the West. But I would like to choose the child, and usually they just allocate one to you. No thanks. I met an Australian, though, who told me they sometimes set up in shopping malls in Oz, and he was able to support a Thai boy who he not only chose but later met, and the kid has since graduated. Imagine the pride and satisfaction in that. Now he’s supporting a girl from the Philippines.

The kid burdened with ‘issues’

Anyway, the wedding. It was between a nephew and a school teacher. I was told she taught English at a private school in Khon Kaen and I thought, oh yes? Those familiar with the standard of English in Thailand will understand my scepticism, and I admit I was wary of trying to speak with her and embarrassing her on her wedding day. Still, curiosity got the better of me, and I was delighted to find her English was very good indeed. She comes from the same village as her now husband. In fact, it appears that nearly everyone marries someone from the same village. My wife has four sisters and a brother. Three of the sisters and her brother all married people from the same village. There are so many same-village couples that my wife cannot count them all. Even my wife nearly married someone from the same village, but then she went to university in Bangkok and instead ended up marrying someone from London (UK version). How that happened is part of a later submission to the Stick Chronicles.

Now, marrying someone from the same village might appear unadventurous of them, but think about it for a moment. There will only be a handful of same-age boys and girls in the village at any one time and they pretty much grow up together, and in such a close-knit community they probably have a good idea who they are going to marry before they’ve reached their teens. There must be a certain comfort and security in that, and think of the money they save by not going on ultimately fruitless dates.

We arrived at the groom’s house at 7am, by which time the party was already well underway and breakfast beer was being served along with the som tam. Then we walked in a procession to the bride’s place, just a few minutes away. A beautiful archway of flowers was built at the entrance, but before he was allowed through he had to have his feet washed, in an old-style Songkran type of ritual. Now, I would regard it as an insult if it was suggested I was unclean and had to have my feet washed before I was good enough to enter the house, but never mind. The same thing happened to the bride when she processioned herself to his place later.

The procession begins

I won’t go into detail about the ceremony, but one thing that struck me was that almost everyone there didn’t take the slightest notice of what was happening. The room contained perhaps fifty people all sitting on the floor, but only those immediately involved with what was going on paid any attention. Instead, most of them were all talking loudly amongst themselves and the row totally drowned out any chanting and so on that was taking place. Imagine dozens of middle and old-aged women cackling merrily away. The height of rudeness, I would have thought, but my wife said it was simply because they’d all been through it all so many times before.

The happy couple

There is an interesting and remarkable thing about the bride’s family house. It is set upon the road that leads directly to Mukdahan from Somdet, and some 30 or so years ago the authorities decided it needed widening. It’s still only a two-lane affair now, so it must have been pretty dire back then. The problem was, there were a number of houses that were close to the road and in the way. According to my wife, they simply picked up the offending houses with some kind of elaborate machinery and moved them back. Of course, the houses back then were probably all on stilts, but still, quite an undertaking. The brides house was one that was relocated. One thought struck me while looking at her house, and many others in the area, is that there is no front door as such. Indeed, no front at all. There are shutters which are either pulled down or across, instead of a wall, door and windows like in the West. It looks ugly as hell and certainly offers little privacy, but I guess it suits the climate, allowing plenty of air into and through the house.

After the ceremony at the bride’s house a similar ceremony took place at the groom’s place, with gifts given out to many of the guests. Then it was party time again. There appears to be a tradition in Thailand that at such gatherings all the men sit together in one area and the women congregate together in another area. I decided to sit with the women this time, and the reason is that I am uncomfortable when, always, at least one of the men who has probably been drinking since last Thursday won’t leave me, as the only farang, alone and insists we become best buddies. The women are fun but do not make a nuisance of themselves.

The women on one side…

and the men on the other

A little later we strolled to my mother-in-law's house, all of two minutes away. There is an amazing story about her place. It has a typical wooden upper level, but like many houses the lower level had been bricked in to enlarge the living area. It was nice, with a large living area and three bedrooms. Was. A few years ago the local authorities decided to tarmac the road outside. A pity I thought, because the red dirt road looked country, especially with the chickens roaming around pecking at the dirt. But, of course, that was dusty and in the rainy season the road would become rutted and almost impassable. So the tarmac came. But not the planning and foresight, which would not surprise long-term residents of Thailand. By resurfacing they raised the level of the road, but didn’t think or didn’t bother to provide a drain on one side. One side had a drain, the in-laws side didn’t. What happened when it rained? The house was flooded and what was a nice home now looks like it has been hit by a mini tsunami. Now, in the West the lawsuits would have been flying, but this is Thailand and the only action taken was a few shoulders were shrugged. I even offered to engage the help of a lawyer who provides, or provided, his services free through the Pattaya Expats Club, but the family wasn’t interested. Bizarre. Their house ruined through someone’s incompetence, and nothing happens about it.

the ruined house

And the heat? I coped pretty well, although I wasn’t too happy when the electric went off in the middle of the afternoon and I not only had no air-conditioning but no fan either for a half hour or so with the temperature close to 40 degrees. It was so hot during my visit up-country that I frankly stopped caring what I looked like, and it made me realise, not for the first time, how amazing it is that so many Thai people manage to look so smart in such challenging conditions. No wonder they look down on the way many tourists go around so badly dressed, especially in the cities.

There were a couple of disappointments. One came at Somdet market, where we bought some chicken. It was still around 6am and the chicken laid out looked fine, but she sold us three packs of CP chicken instead. Nothing against the company, which has a very good reputation, but we later discovered it must have been kept in bad conditions and was very much off. So basically, she just conned us with old produce, with us thinking the good brand name was better than the fresh stuff on her counter.

The sole beneficiary of the bad chicken

Finally, we went to a restaurant we have used several times before. It’s basic but the food and service is usually good. Now, new people appear to have taken over and most of the staff are about 12 years old. The waitress not only didn’t speak English, which is okay, but she was from Laos and didn’t even speak Thai and couldn’t take the order. It all had to be done through the cashier. We had to turn on a nearby fan ourselves, and keep going to the cashier to get any kind of service at all. Another party about the same size as ours, 11 people, came in and also had to call to get any kind of service. I can’t imagine they’ll be in business for long. Maybe we should take it over.

Stickman's thoughts:

Very nice indeed.

I liked many of the observations about the local behaviour, especially the one of people making a racket at functions. I have never been able to come to grips with that. In a culture which claims to put politeness first, it's unusual that such is accepted.