The morning mist will soon melt with the furthering of a winter day to reveal the vast expanse of rice fields like a green ocean. So many shades of green stitched together in rectangles and squares depending on how early or how late the farmers have planted. Morning has a biting chill at this time of the year in north eastern Thailand. Life starts very early like Bangkok, the difference is here the people go to their farms after offering to monks whereas in Bangkok people go to the office. Through the haze of mist you can see shadows moving silently on dirt roads. People are going to firm or to local fresh market. Rice planting is over farmers are waiting for harvest. But still there is busyness in their life. My in-laws regularly go to their firm spend the whole day but doing what? Out of curiosity once I asked my wife “What do they do whole day in firm? They have already finished planting and now they are waiting for harvest so what makes them so busy in firm?”
She replied “Why don’t you go with them one day to see what do they do. There is so much work such as removing weeds, watering plants occasionally but also they love to just stay there during this time of the year. They just stay there in their hut, only two of them. They cook together and see their rice growing as if they watch their kid growing”
“That’s their way to celebrate life” I said.
Someday we join them. We have a small hut built with wood planks with a tin roof. To keep the inside cool dry hay stacks are layered over tin roof. There is a hammock where two of us seat and watch grass grow and a peaceful day pass by. My in-laws cook bamboo carry with fish in earthen oven, fish they catch from pond fresh and sweet in taste. We eat together the curry with sticky rice and pepper sauce. My mother in-law warns my wife “Don’t eat pepper sauce remember you are pregnant. It is not good for the baby”
I laugh “I don’t want my daughter to be bitchy and hot tempered so you better take some honey”
My wife asks her mother “What did you do when you were pregnant?”
“She used to take pepper sauce” my father in-law said.
“Ah now I know why your daughter often gets angry” I say.
A slap on my back, everybody breaks into a wild laughter. After the sound of laughter settles I hear the rustle of wind in bamboo bush and drone of bees from one corner of the hut. Silence is probably not the absence of sound rather it is absence of chattering thoughts. I feel a deep inner silence, no ripple of thoughts just observe everybody and everything around me so happy so contended.
We are all waiting eagerly for our new family member to arrive who is now floating in the watery world of my wife’s womb and whom we only see in ultrasound in shades of gray. Every night before sleep we three kiss our unborn child and although strange my wife often talks with her. She is already a mother even before giving birth to the baby. She often tells me “I am very motherly” It is probably the quality of a woman which enables her to give unconditional love and care. It is not confined only in the mother-child relationship such quality of her is reflected in every relationship she has. And I feel that too.
When my son demands to be hold in her lap she gently denies “Now I have nong inside my stomach if I lift you up then nong will be hurt. Now you are a big brother”
My son doesn’t understand how come one day he becomes a big brother so that her mother refuses to lift him anymore. And why her mother gives more attention to nong who he still cannot see. Initially he used to cry and used to nag with his demand but now he feels that the change is true and permanent. Although uncomfortable in this new situation he is trying to cope up with the change trying to be a big brother as her mother said him to be.
“We will send you photo of your grand child from California” my wife says to her parents. Her words bring a shadow of sadness on their face. They want to be part of the celebration after the baby is born; they want to see how my son will play with his new born sister yet they have to rejoice from far which they find very difficult to accept. They are not happy to be contented only with her photo. They want to feel her every smile, every movement in their heart. After many years of agony and anguish it is the first time they feel a sense of stability and positive growth in their daughter’s life and there is a deep desire in them to be part of it.
They look at each other’s eyes in silence as if they are asking each other “How shall we manage our life in that void after they move to California?” They don’t have the answer so they remain silent. I feel sad for them yet I cannot do anything to ease their pain. We are going back and that is as certain as sunrise.
They asked “Why do you have to go back? We all can live happily here with less money. We have rice for the whole year from firm, fish from our pond so we can have a comfortable life with whatever you two are earning”
“What about our kids? How can we give them good education here in Thailand? I cannot afford International School but if we move back at least I am sure that we can give them good education and a good life” I said.
They didn’t understand why our kids need such a good education to have a good life. They didn’t ask anything more but question in their eyes told me “We have a good life here and for that we didn’t have to go to USA” Fortunately my wife understood and actually I didn’t have to persuade her to move. For some strange reason she is not happy with the way things are in Thailand. She often complains about corruption, jealousy among her colleagues. She often tells “Head master is very biased towards the teachers with whom he drinks every day. He frowns if I leave little early one day but for his drinking-buddies he closes both eyes”
“Why don’t you tell him directly?” I said.
“We never can do that because he is head master. He is the head of institution so we have to respect him here society is like that” she is helpless I understood.
“But in reality you don’t have any respect for him”
She said “Yes I agree but I have to show respect in public. What you know is in my mind and this is what I don’t like. I cannot express my true feelings. If I do I may get humiliated publicly or worse I may lose my job, they cannot take direct criticism on their face for their mountain like ego”
“Do you want our kids to grow in this society where they cannot be themselves? Well I feel for many people politeness is just skin deep. At least from them politeness is a result of cultural pressure which represses the true self and all the dirtiness is covered neatly under the veneer of smile” I said.
“No I don’t want my kids to grow up here” her voice didn’t have an iota of confusion “We should move back to USA even though we will be far from my parents and I know life will be tougher but at least they will be more self-reliant. As you have said they can be themselves”
So we both decided to move back once we came to know she is pregnant. But for me my mind was convinced with reasons to move back but my heart still wants to stay in Thailand. And there is a constant conflict between mind and heart. I meditated on this desire to live here and the resistance to move back to west and always I get scared picturing myself going through the rat race again. Can I get time for myself to read books or to do whatever I love to do? Can I withstand the pressure of a very demanding professional life? Can I fit into a life which is mostly confined between family and office? No more late night parties in Khao-San road, no more wild dancing in Discos, no more trips to beach resorts. Mental image of a cold pacific feels much colder thinking about warm waves of Phuket and Pattaya. I will miss all the road side stalls where I eat regularly. I will miss the casual conversation with the lady who sales Khao-Man-Kai and I will never know whether her husband will come back to her again or not who is now staying with another lady in Kanchanaburi.
I feel heavy in my heart a ripple of pain in my throat when I think of leaving Thailand but there is no turning back. Every step for the move has been carefully executed. I took up a job offer in an IT company in bay area, my wife and son got the visa, books and other items are shipped and lastly flight tickets are booked. My wife is excited so as my son. One half of me feel happy as they will probably have a better life but other half is sad to leave so much what I have enjoyed. Interestingly for her it will not be a big change as her life is Thailand also is confined between work and family but for me I know it will be a big cultural shock.
Over the years slowly without me knowing Thailand became part of me that’s why this parting moment is so painful as if I am leaving a part of me here. May be it is a passing phase. Over time I will again get into the groove, will feel stable. A busy life with work and family will slowly fill the void but the longing for this life may always remain in subconscious.
It’s a beautiful day. The loveliest weather you can imagine every bird screaming with joy and every flower splashing colors about. Everything is so pure. The music of nature echoes in my heart. I say to my wife “I feel home here”
She smiles “It is our home but I don’t understand when you say that I feel home here”
“Home is a perception of a place where you feel secured, emotionally stable, where you are not judged” I say. I wonder how I got jelled with a Thai family having so vastly different culture and value system. I wanted to have a family life and they gave me with their acceptance and love. Now I am finding it difficult to disassemble and disassociate myself from them.
“I understand what you are trying to tell but you are not yet forty and I am not yet thirty. We are still young and can earn and save good money if we work there till our kids grow up. Then we can come back to have a quite life here in Thailand and that time we don’t have to think so much about money” she says.
“Can you come back with me leaving them in US? You should realize that they will not move back with us” I enquire.
“For sure, we can build a small home in Chiang Rai near mountain and stay together. Sometime they will visit us to see how two old lovers are fighting with each other every day” she says with a smile.
“We fight with the same person we love, isn’t it?”
Oh Victor, if only you had tidied this up! It just became hard, hard work to get through. So much potential.