Thoughts Of The “Good Ole Days” UpCountry II
Bangkok taxi drivers are a fascinating group. If I know basically where I'm going and what I want to pay, I don't care whether I go by meter or not. Personally I would rather bargain for the fare. Bargaining is one of the things I miss here in the USA. Once I was invited to join a fellow countryman in a taxi ride. Upon arriving at our destination, he asked the the taxi driver, "How much?"
The driver said, "Ten baht".
My friend gave the driver 20 baht. He seemed very proud that he had been so generous. The fact that he had paid double seemed to make him feel powerful, maybe feel charitable, and maybe feel wealthy. The taxi driver had a funny look on his face. I could imagine him thinking, "I took the farang 10 km. I quoted him a big price. He doesn't bargain and he gives me double the big price". The next time I will ask twice as much from the farang." Such I think is the logic among Thai people offering services or goods. Over the years prices have escalated this way, I think.
I see it in the casinos in the USA. People save for a time and come to town with a certain amount of money. They plan to lose that amount. They do not exercise any skill. They do not have a plan and they do not manage their money wisely. For one weekend
they live "the high life". Their only goal is to throw so much money at the games of chance and maybe they'll get lucky. It makes them feel like a big person (maybe this is a trait of some egotistical people). As a poker player
I enjoy observing this phenomenon.
I watched well to do Thais. Even though they can afford the higher price they bargain and make the most of their money. I was impressed and learned a lesson.
After living here for a while, I realize that life has slowed to a half speed. Feels good. It's like an old fashioned movie projector that slows to where almost each frame can be scrutinized. I became more sensitive to small insignificant things I never noticed before. The beautiful day, the flowers, the people, and the actions of those around me. Even though I have not mastered the language nor knew many words at this point, I felt I could almost understand their thinking. Emulating their ways helped me understand and I feel made me more acceptable. I really felt like that at this point a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I slept good and looked forward to the next day. I lived in the present savoring each new experience.
First trip up country was a flight to Phitsanoloke. Met with a Kuhn Ping. We met high on a bluff above a river near Sawankaloke. My spelling I'm sure is not correct, but all places seem to be spelled many different ways unless you spell it in Thai. We met over lunch and discussed the corn crop in the area. Being very hungry, I noticed a bowl of the most beautiful fluffy rice and a bowl of what looked like the most appetizing gravy. I went heavy on the rice and covered it with the gravy. Started with a big mouthful. About halfway down, I realized the gravy was curry and was full of pricky nu (hot peppers). From my mouth to my stomach, I burned. I drank beer. Kuhn Ping said I should eat some fruit. This sure helped.
The next day we two farangs and two Thais set out by taxi. We arrived in Petchaboon the next day about noon. We went to the home of the company representative in Petchboon. I recall a pair of huge elephant tusks upon entering his home. We had barely sat down when there was a commotion. Our two Thai friends headed for the door and beckoned us to follow. Seemed urgent. As we exited the house there was a group of 10 or 15 Thais at the door. Men, women and a few children were gathered outside. We entered the taxis and took off out of town. I asked what happened and one Thai said that someone had tried to poison the company guy's daughter. Thais sometimes tell you a story just to satisfy your question and what was said may not be true at all. It is meant to answer without telling you the real problem which they would rather not explain. We drove without stopping that day until dusk. I noticed that a guard was posted all night. They took turns all night. Never could get a good explanation of what happened. We made Taphan Hin the next day. Spent the night and caught the train for Bangkok the next day. The Petchaboon part of the trip was very mysterious. As things developed I felt that the company did not have a good reputation with the Thais. That was putting it mildly as I later found out.
Second upcountry trip was to Phra Buddha Pad. Back to Bangkok and received instructions to go to Lopburi where the company had a representative. Before leaving Bangkok, I talked to my Thai girlfriend D____. I offered her 3,000 baht per month to come with me to Lopburi. If she agreed she was to meet me in Phra Buddha Pad. Spent the night in Phra Buddha Pad. The next day she showed up and we started for Northeast Lopburi. The place was called Baan Lumnari.
The road was unpaved. The soil was latteritic. A rust colored clay that was as hard as a brick after being baked by the sun. Big pot holes caused us to zig zag back and forth to keep from bouncing off the ceiling of the little Datsun taxi. At several points we came to objects in the middle of the road. They were poles about 10 inches in diameter and about 12 feet in length. There were three of them in a tripod position. Each was carved on the end to resemble a huge penis. A hole had been made in the penis end and flowers were inserted in the hole. We passed about three or four of these things. I asked D____ what it was. She seemed a bit embarrassed and never fully explained. I gathered that they were experiencing a drought and this was some sort of symbol or prayer related to a different religion. At that time she didn't know me well. I always allowed her to speak her mind and never scolded or criticized her for fear she would not communicate her true feelings; thereby, depriving me of a true understanding of the situation. Come on too aggressive and I found most Thais will not speak up.
First night in Lumnari we stayed in the local hotel in a hut up on stilts. We ate at the hotel's open restaurant. I noticed dogs wandered through and the cooks wife had some cats. Later I called him uncle. That night as we finished eating, a couple of tables over a Thai man who was drinking whiskey began speaking loudly. Like he wanted us to hear him. D—- said we should go. It did not seem like a friendly encounter.
I asked the company about a place to work. They told me the company had a go-down (barn or warehouse) in Lumnari and that I should contact their representative there and tell him I would be using it. His name was Duong. We went to see Kuhn Duong. We walked in after politely removing our shoes, I noticed he sat in the corner cross legged. Immediately I noticed a 45 automatic weapon by his side. The barrel was pointed forward in my direction and the hammer was cocked back. I thought I sure hope the safety is on. I told him we were going to use the go-down and got out of there before he said much. The atmosphere was tense. This is upcountry.
Made a trip to Bangkok when I returned learned Kuhn Duong had been assassinated. As best I could learn he was told to leave town. He came back for a visit and as he was eating in a restaurant he took a drink from a glass and a high powered rifle bullet struck him in the back of his neck. They have a gossiping grapevine that is lightning fast and it seemed even in Bangkok they knew what had happened upcountry. Everyone knew in detail what had happened to Kuhn Duong (caliber of bullet, type of rifle, direction, and distance) but ask them who did it and they all became mutes.
Thai people told me that during the World War II the road was constructed from Bangkok to Petchaboon. The capital of Thailand was moved to Petchaboon. Prisoners were used as labor for the road. After it was finished they were released in Bann Lumnari. They said that if the people did not like you, you could not live there. There are smiles and there are different smiles. Thai saying: "The mouth smiles, but in their heart they want to cut your throat" Thai saying: "Once past the lips and all the world knows? This gives us a view as to their thinking and actions. I learned this from D___. As we got to know each other I learned much. Best move I made asking her to join me. Started using her to translate as she was always with me and later would discuss what had been said with me. She began to make suggestions as to how to react.
Hired a watchman for the go-down. Allowed him to move in with his family and live in the go-down. Came to the go-down one morning and heard chanting. I inquired as to what was going on. Was told that the watchman was having family problems. I did not interfere. One priest came to see me in the office (separate room with table and a couple of chairs). Forget what we really talked about. At the end of our talk, I gave him a pack of si phon cigarettes and slipped a 100 baht note underneath. He drew back as if he had been bitten by a snake. It was explained at that point that he could not handle money. After putting it in an envelope he accepted it. Everyone seem to be satisfied. The wat was trying to buy a generator in Bua Chum. Baan Lumnari had a generator. It was shut down at 11:00 PM every night.
Decided I should work on some PR (public relations). It was pretty evident that after a few days that I was being tolerated, but not fully accepted in the village. Thais in Bangkok and those upcountry are very different. In Bangkok and tourist areas they are accustomed to farangs.
Upcountry people are more genuine and self sufficient. It is like another country. Realize there is no welfare as we know it; therefore, you must depend on your neighbors. If you have trouble they are your only source of help.
First move was to visit the Nai Amphur. Explained to him why I was in town, that I was allowed to enter Thailand as their guest, and if I could answer any questions or co-operate in anyway to please let me know. He made no comments, but listened. Never saw him again. Next I sought out the police chief, Pukong. He was in the policeman's club. Through D___'s interpreting, I explained the same thing to him. He was friendlier I thought and acknowledged my comments, but made no comments in return. After this I went about my business. It seemed to open up a bit after that. The Chinese traveling theater came to town. Many of the merchants contributed to the theater. I did also. D___ suggested I do this. They gave me a tour behind the scenes and I got a front seat to the show.
The next event was Thai boxing. I was given a front row seat at the police chief's table. He and I seemed to get along fine. After the Thai boxing there was a Lam Wong (dance). We ordered Singha beer and drank several. Of course I bought several rounds and the Chief bought several rounds. I had to turn and watch the show. Later I realized that when I turned he was spiking my beer with Pa kong (Thai whiskey). I really got loaded. Some time during the night I remember trying to sing and dance. Somewhere in the middle of this party I had to go to pee. The Chief went also. We were wandering over to the elephant grass when he spotted a bulge in my pocket. He felt of it and said, "You've got a gun".
I didn't know what to say. No license. I just blurted out, "Don't tell anybody they may put me in jail".
He said, "Okay, but if you shoot anyone you throw it away". Not only was he not going to arrest me, He was seriously concerned that I would get in trouble. He later told me that if I ever lost anything (stolen) to let him know so that he would
get it back for me. Later on that night it started to rain. We wound up in the jail in a circle dancing. There were prisoners in the jail. They seemed to enjoy the entertainment. The conditions in the jail made me want to avoid it at all cost.
I felt they picked me up. One Thai man said something to D___ . I asked what he had said. She said he said, "Remember you are Thai".
As I drove back to the hotel I ran through water. Must have wet the brake shoes. When I turned into the building at the hotel and ran into the building. I paid for the damages the next day. The owner just laughed. What a hangover the next day. I got a larger revolver and carried it in my waistband after that. No one said anything. After this fiasco I guessed that I was accepted or had at least made some progress. I am sure the story was all over town. I'm sure they relayed what a clown the farang was. After this they seem to treat me as if "hey this guy is funny". There seem to be more real smiles with fewer inhibitions. I made friends from farmers to the more well to do merchants.
In many cases I think they were curious.
The people were really great. I'll take upcountry any time as long as it isn't a tourist area.
I loved Thailand very much and the Thai people are the greatest. They really could have been cold and frozen me out of their village, but they welcomed me. Treat them with respect, exercise patience, remember you are a guest, never get angry, never raise your voice, and smile.
Even if you don't print this I have enjoyed writing it. I feel home sick for Baan Lumnari and my Thai friends. I realize I can never bring it back.
As I continue, I hope I can relate in words just how kind and true my Thai friends were.
You won't believe it.
Farmer called me; Khanun sook (ripe jackfruit). I am enjoying reading your past readers submissions.