Looking back at 22 Thai-German Years Part II
Sure, many things are very different between Thailand and Europe. But having an open and creative mind helped a lot, sometimes leading to occurrences which even now, after almost 22 years, make me smile. The very first time my wife saw our little house 'out in the sticks' she asked if there were “Pee” here, ghosts! Now I knew even then about the importance of these ubiquitous spirits in Thai culture which is basically animist with a Buddhist stucco on top. So I looked around for a moment, nodding as if to inspect possible candidates. “Sure there are, but they are all afraid of ME!” Well, that took care of the matter, rather effectively…
One of the first and very good things my wife did was join the local sports club, after a successful try-out with the village's soccer ladies. Wow and when she scored the first goals for Bredenbek SC, Messi-like, she had 'really arrived' in her new place. Soccer practice later in autumn, with rain and/or drizzle at temperatures around 5 degrees centigrade was not exactly pleasant but helped her a lot to get used to our climate. Now, she feels that Thailand is often just too hot for her…
Only once it happened that someone spoke up, rather derogatory, against 'those fxxxing Thai women coming to Europe' – a younger girl from a team in another city, she must have had some adverse things happening in her family. You really should have seen three sturdy Bredenbek farm girls appearing in front of that player making it very clear to her that “OUR Phorn!” was not to be touched! My wife did not comment but was very happy about that full and instantaneous support.
For my part, I can state that I had expected far more problems for and with my wife finding her place in Germany. Very often, her natural and open style helped a lot to build bridges and quench any prejudice-laden associations right away. Like when the soccer team captain lady skipped out of the meeting (to ask me something technical about membership in the SC) following that first try-out practice, started to return to the chatting girls but then turned back to me and stated, as if it was something slightly contrary to her concept of 'Thai women', “Wow, she really is quite a character!” – I just smiled and countered “That is exactly why I 'arrested' her right away when I met her!”
It took us a about two months to cut through all the red tape before we could marry on July 17th, we did that in the old North German city of Moelln. My sister lived there and whereas the 'Standesamt' of Bredenbek exudes the 'elevating' ambience of a container terminal, the old town of Moelln sure has style. It is also quite a fitting location for such as us to marry, being the 'official' town of the legendary medieval jester 'Till Eulenspiegel' (see here). We certainly did pull a good number of bureaucratic beards in the process of getting so far, Eulenspiegel (OwlGlass) would have approved. As I was born in Hameln, the town where the tale of the 'Pied Piper' originated (see here), this location choice felt extremely appropriate to me, another extraordinary place.
It was quite a celebration, with a good crowd from my institute (the IPN in Kiel), my German family and many friends plus – it is really a small world – a Thai lady working in a Thai restaurant in Kiel who was also a long-time friend to my wife's closest friend Orapin in Bangkok. By now, Orapin herself has been living here in Kiel for close to 20 years, married and with two nearly-grown-up children herself, small world.
How it all feels to me, best way to express that is quoting Belinda Carlisle's song “Heaven is a Place on Earth”. In every respect, wow! Sure we sometimes have our squabbles, we are human after all, but mostly things like our first 'major' misunderstanding then when she had ironed all my shirts and I did not even notice that. OOPS ok I am a man and had never used the iron except for occasionally applying easy iron-on patches to worn pockets or sweaters' elbows. Made it clear to my wife that I was just too blind to see the difference because no one ever had ironed my shirts before, having lived alone for almost 20 years, quite a substantial change for me too!
Two weeks after our German wedding we flew to Thailand to get married in her parents' place, Buddhist style. Believe me, no sinsod! I had told my wife about the European custom of dowry, so things cancelled out there. OK I did pay for the celebration, but that was worth every penny I spent. Not 'keeniow' (stingy) there. Most important, all my wife's family and friends had enjoyed our camcorder clips of 'Life in Germany' and when they saw us again now they were absolutely sure we were both truly happy.
It was a fascinating time with the family, helping with all the preparations from lending a hand improving the water supply (renovating a well) up to the surprise of me sitting down with the village ladies to cut up some 'moo' (pork) for the feast. My wife did a beautiful job of translating, like when I tried to get across that this was so very different from what I knew in Europe that I wanted to experience things fully no matter if cutting the pork was supposed to be woman's work.
From the beginning, my wife supported me gladly in my attempts to speak and understand Thai, which was a gradual process, starting with a few important sentences like 'I am very happy to be here with you people'. Sometimes it is the small things which make big differences, like when I sat down with my Thai family for lunch or dinner, greatly enjoying their food because well, it was just as my wife had prepared it for me over the last three months!
The wedding itself impressed me a lot, the ceremony with the monks and family members, especially how some 25 people sat there praying for my wife's and my happiness, and they knew me only from our short visit in January plus the week now before the celebration.
Thinking back, I presume our half-dozen camcorder tapes had done a great deal to prepare that positive reception, because the scenes had been shown over and over to practically everyone, soundly implanting the concept 'our daughter/niece/cousin is really happy there'. What more can a truly good family want!
Two days after the ceremony, one of my wife's aunts (the 'witch granny') invited us all to a session to introduce the new family member (ME!) to the family's spirits. Impressive. Similarities to what I knew about Voodoo. Strange things happening. I stayed relaxed, calm and open and respectful. Probably I was quite a surprise for the family spirits too, as our 'witch aunt' summed it up, “They say he is different – but really OK”. Well, I can live with that assessment very nicely. That old very impressive lady died last year, too bad. I always enjoyed a very special 'spiritual bond' to her.
That winter, my wife 'escaped' from the north German dark and cold to see her folks for some six weeks. I did not have that many days of holiday left after the visit for the wedding in summer, we had stayed for about four weeks, including a short trip to Samui island which then was rather different from what it is now.
Back in Germany, my wife met a number of Thai ladies, most of them through her language courses, but only a few of these remain as closer associates to this day. Main reason for that is my wife's assessment that “70 percent of Thai women in Germany are selling pussy”. When she says that, it is not prejudice but statistics. However, she is in very high standing with all the Thai population here, sometimes accompanying some 'shady lady' to offices, filling out forms, cutting pompous bureaucrats down to proper size – her German is sometimes a bit creative on the grammar side but very understandable and to the point.
The following autumn, my wife stopped playing for the Bredenbek girls because she was growing a small 'soccer ball' of her own. That is the time, and the winter Thailand journey I wrote about in the 'Sea elephant' contribution. Some two weeks before the expected birth date, my wife and I had another small argument! A tiny grass snake – shoestring size – appeared crawling through our living room (as I said, small old house out in the sticks) and my wife jumped straight up about three feet high, no matter her well-rounded belly. That looked so funny especially as there was absolutely no danger, told her this little worm is totally harmless! The snake, however, made the fatal mistake of rearing up, all her impressive four inches, and my wife effectively pacified the unfortunate serpent with a broom. Wow was she angry with me because I had a hard time stopping to laugh! OK I told her I do know that even small snakes in Thailand can be extremely poisonous, but this poor thingy would have been no danger even swimming in your soup! Well, after a while my dear wife was laughing about the episode, too.
Our son Heinz (named after my father) was born on May 28, 1994. Birth was absolutely no picnic lasting from 11pm the evening before until 9:30 in the morning. I was there at my wife's side through the complete process. When our son finally emerged I told her 'We have a little boy' in Thai. He sure was the 'spitting image' of me as a child, down to the large European head which had caused his birth so be so troublesome negotiating an Asian birth canal. That had made an episiotomy and the use of forceps necessary, so my wife had fainted and was taken care of by the doctors and my son rested his first hour on MY belly. He had passed through all these difficulties, stuck for almost six hours, with flying colours, all values perfect, God and Buddha be thanked. However, a doctor wanted to check, somewhat concerned, a pronounced protuberance on the back on my son's head, but I could calm him, “I have exactly the same, no problem!”
Spitting image, for sure. We surprised the nurses because my son immediately calmed down, stopped crying and really relaxed on my belly. No wonder, he was hearing me singing the Thai nursery ditty about the small elephant, 'Chang, Nong Kai Hen Chang Rue Phrao…' – and he sure recognized that, I had been singing it specially for him over the last five months! Biggest miracle he seemed to like my singing, probably had not many other sources to compare then, as I would surely be no material for a voice contest…
The following winter, the three of us travelled to Thailand again for six weeks, to show him to his Thai family. Grandma and Grandpa loved him, everybody was smiling because my wife was again endowed with a nicely rounded belly. Well, four weeks after our son's arrival my wife had taken me in her arms and asked “Are you HUNGRY?” That is why Heinz got his little sister Sara when he was only 11 months and 5 days old. The very first words he spoke, therefore, were 'Papa' – 'Mama' – 'Baby' and really, over the following 18 years now our children have grown up almost like twins, just 11 months apart. Not bad for them and for us.
First thing grandfather did when we arrived at his house, after greeting his daughter, was to improvise a hammock for our son, easily done between the houses' supports, just a blanket held up with two ends of rope.
It felt as if 33% of the province's population came to see our child. 'Luk Krueng' are highly valued, and Heinz with his cheerful disposition, relatively white skin and a large nose was everybody's darling. We had some problems, however, as he picked up a pretty bad diarrhoea probably from a watermelon that had been irrigated with water taken too close from an outhouse. That brought us three intensive days in Thaksin Hospital, Surat Thani. At first, the other all Thai parents on that floor were somewhat wary of the farang, but after a while they realized we were all just parents caring for their children's health, no matter big white or smaller brownish nose.
The year after that, Grandpa was able to string up TWO hammocks because little Sara came along! He joked that were three more possible hammock positions in a row under his house, but we told him TWO is enough! And yes, this time around my wife did not strive to imitate a blimp…
So many things to tell. Spending five to six weeks in Thailand almost every year, with me gradually becoming more and more proficient with the language, on foot and later on bicycles, visiting family and neighbours near by, making sure the children know their great luck that they have such wonderful 'Grandpa and Grandma' whereas my parents have been dead a long time.
One of the years, my wife gave me the best Christmas present ever. She had a coffee mug made, on a local Xmas market, with a photo of me with my son Heinz on one side – and an old picture of my father Heinz with ME as a small boy on the other side! I cherished that so much because it also showed my wife's commitment to my German family and my personal family history. If my parents had still been around, they would have been first surprised but soon very happy with their Thai daughter in law!
Well, I have written a lot how I feel about the last 22 years. My wife does not speak a lot about that but I can feel, when I take her in my arms and tell her she has been the absolute best thing that happened to me in my life she might smile I am 'bababobo' (crazy) but she is very deeply happy about that. Once she told me, that I for her was in one person lover and husband, friend and sometimes like a brother, sometimes even like a teacher or a father (I am 13 years older) and she would never have had that all-round partner experience with a Thai man. Thanks, love!
Sadly, 'Grandpa and Grandma' have passed away over the last 18 months. Even before my command of Thai reached the 'workable' level I had enjoyed their respect and affection. My wife once told me that her parents felt for me almost like for one of their sons, that almost moved me to tears. Two magnificent old people. I will never forget two years ago when I had brought 'Grandma' a cushion one evening, then told her I had been calling her 'Mae' (mother) all the time during the last four weeks in their house, and that I had not done such since my mother died over 35 years ago. She was very happy about that, did not show it much but I do know my family.
Well, believe it or do not. Last summer, four months after Grandma had died, all of us visited the family in Thailand. One quiet evening, reading, I had a split moment's glimpse of something that looked very much like Grandma in her customary attire, in the big old house that had been her life's focus for a good 60 years. As I had not been able to come for her funeral, Grandma may just have welcomed me once more. I told my wife and the rest of the family, and whereas my connection to my wife's brothers and sisters had always been very good, I think it gained thus still another quality. Some of them had even had a similar experience. Well, when the 'Pee' (ghosts) of the family welcome someone, that one is surely no stranger any more.
This year, I had over a score of holidays 'leftover' which would have just evaporated on me if unused, so I visited my Thai family on my own (wife had to work, kids in school!) and it was an extremely positive experience. No problem with the climate, the food, the language. And all the people know me for up to 22 years. Sure, I will always be 'Farang' there, but I can sometimes almost read the minds of family and neighbours in Tha Rua, namely “He may be a Farang, but he is OUR Farang!” I can live with that very well.
It sure was the best choice of my life, when I took my heart in both hands and decided, what more can you want but a woman who likes you for what you are, and asked my wife to marry me. After those whirlwind three days in Bangkok, January 1992.
Let me close this report with two pictures. One of our family nine years ago.
In a way, it is a very 'normal' picture. Mom, Dad, two children. That Mom comes from Thailand, that the children are a touch darker than Dad's face, no matter. Look at the daughter's hand on my shoulder. Yes, we are together. And how! There can be strength in the normality of things.
Now, my son is nineteen and has moved out, he is living with his girl friend, having just started to study physics here in Kiel. He is going his own way, very well. And here, my wonderful daughter.
Thanks for your interest! Lukchang, wife & children