12 January 2014


Ladies grooming each other

Early evening traffic along the only paved road in town

Kiew, my mom's dog.  Kiew means 'green' in Thai

People are often covered in powder to keep their skin dry from sweating all day long

On the right: think of it like an ice cream truck, but instead has meats, treats, produce, drinks, etc.

Where the rain water is captured and stored

I enjoy going to my mom's village outside of Korat on the eastern side of Thailand, also known as Issan.  It isn't visited much by tourists so a lot of their culture has remained intact and the rural areas have remained very rural unlike many parts of Thailand.  Besides spending time with my family, my time there also puts a lot of things into perspective for me.  Perhaps it's the life that never was and could have been, that I really do need more city and less country (frankly, the gecko shit that falls from the rafters and onto my bed when I'm in it gets old), that all mosquitos in the entire province are only attracted to me, I've never wanted to kill an animal before besides all the damn roosters that wake people (scratch that, just ME!) up at 3:30am (no, not sunrise - 3:30 in the f'n morning), that gambling is definitely not in my blood (entertainment in the village consists of sleeping, watching cock fights or playing cards and gambling), I am considered very rich (by rural Thai standards I guess it would be true, though by Western I'm definitely far from it) by the locals, and that we should all be grateful for our modern plumbing and clean water.

If you've never taken a bucket shower, let me explain the delightful rite of passage one should take when living in SE Asia.  Imagine a large (empty and relatively clean) plastic trash can filled with water that is mostly see-through and has a bowl with a handle floating on the top or sitting on the lid.  Then imagine standing naked in a small cement room with a squatter toilet and dumping cold buckets of water all over you to bathe in all the while many mosquitos and other insects fly around your naked body threatening to bite you in places you'd prefer not to be bitten.  Now, if you want to wash your hair, you have to use different water - rain water.  The "tap" water is rather salty and dries your hair out, so you have to use the rain water that is collected in these huge ceramic water vase-looking things outside.  Rain water is generally good and clean.  The one nice thing about bucket showers is that you realize you really don't need much water at all to bathe in - and partly because you don't want to stand there long enough for the mosquitos to bite you.  Get in, get out.  That's the name of the game.

Some days are spent touring outside of Korat or often laying in a hammock reading a book, editing photos, or walking around the village taking photos while everyone stares at me.  They are NOT use to seeing farang in that part of the country or at least not farang that look like me.  Not that they've never seen a farang, it's just that they wonder what I am as I look sort of Thai, but tall and big (fat) like a farang, I dress and walk like a farang, and then when I open my mouth to speak, they know immediately - I am not Thai.  But the face, the face sort of looks Thai, so then I tell them I'm luk kreung - translation: half child (aka half and half of this and that).  So because I don't look very Thai, walk, dress, or speak like a Thai, I am not Thai.

Days are also spent hanging out with my great-nieces and watching them play with their friends or runaround the neighborhood.  Sometimes they help me practice the Thai alphabet.  They have the childhood that I had - run around chatting with friends and playing, coloring, riding bikes, doing dance routines, singing, etc.  There are no parents around, but the entire village raises you too.  If you need to be told off, there is always a local who will yell at them for doing something stupid.  That shit would never fly in the US.

Some nights I hang out at one of the small general shops and drink beers in front with a few of the locals, namely, one expat who is married to a beautiful Thai lady there who speaks a bit of English as well.  We chat about the differences between our old and new world, relationships with locals, things that we don't understand about the culture, the future of Thailand and just general b.s.  It's a completely different world out there and it's when I'm in places like that, I realize how American I really am.

Often times I witness the women picking out each other's gray hairs, cutting it, or picking out the lice off the younger kids.  There are no salons in places like this so it's a lot of home cut and dye jobs.  Children get bathed in a large bucket outside in front of the family while chickens and dogs run by, then the kid runs around naked again which is ok because they're just going to bathe again in a few hours.  Not a whole lot more to do than hang out, bathe, gamble, and eat - life could be worse.

Families live very close to each other so the community is very tightly knit.  It's difficult to tell the difference between where one family ends and another begins.  Compounds of small houses are situated on a property where four small houses are on the same property.  When you need a dish or some food, you walk over to another house and get some.  It's sort of like a co-op, but without all the hippies and free love.  But there is love there!  And people looking out for each other.  Neighbors interact more too than many American neighborhoods and I really love that about them.  It's a community and everyone is close part of each others lives.

I've spent some time with several of the local women in their 20's and 30's and piecing together some English and Thai, I learned that many dream about leading a more modern, Western life of moving to Bangkok and/or marrying an American or some other foreigner so they can leave their village and support the family.  I can only imagine what it's like to be raised in a small village with some general education, no English, and end up in the same cycle as the generation before - get married, have a child (in whichever order), and make more money so they can support the family. Opportunities can be limited so many go to Bangkok or Pattaya for work.  They end up in various jobs and some work in go-go bars.  Issan women are sometimes known for being bar girls and for those of you who may not have been abroad or spent much time here in SE Asia, bar girls are females who work in a go-go bar for various reasons such as providing company to (most often) men, other times it can be for sexual services, depending on the bar and the girl.  There isn't anything wrong with being a bar girl, it is the oldest profession in the world after all, and the girl and the patron are often in a mutually beneficial relationship, but it's personally not a profession for me and who I am in this life.  But many of the Issan girls do work there and often because the pay is pretty good and they can send money home to their families.  Families in the villages really depend on each other, live together, and financially support each other.  Parents often work to support the family so the grandparents raise the grandchildren.  It's the cycle of life there and it creates a really unique bond.

Knowing what several of the options could have been had I been raised by my mother, I've always wondered, what would have become of me?  Where would I be without a pretty decent education, general mastery of the English language, and exposure to the American world of confidence, big opinions, and critical thinking?  Luckily, that's a road that I didn't have to explore but it's difficult to imagine, me without the confidence and big opinion!  I wouldn't recognize me!  No one would.  I think that I would have still turned out alright, I'd probably know how to cook, and there's a good chance that I would have still become a teacher.  I probably would have had a smaller ass as I'd be on the Thai diet, but there would be no denying that I would still stick out like a sore thumb for being so much taller than everyone in the village.  But it is during times in the village that I'm constantly reminded that my life could have been drastically different.

Being in my mom's village makes me grateful for the life that was given to me.  It's almost easy to do when there is such a stark contrast of life between what was and what could have been and I don't think many people get to peek through the looking glass of the parallel life that almost was.  It makes me feel like Gwyneth Paltrow's character in 'Sliding Doors' but instead I got to see both versions of my life instead of the audience.  I'm glad I was raised in a home where I was able (or at least tolerated) to speak my mind, was given the opportunities to further my education, to be able to travel and see the world, to create a life of my own that was different and independent from my family's, I had my family to love and support me despite my many mistakes and faults, I had good tap water to drink and shower in without worry about some sort of funky intestine issues or stinky fart water coming out, I slept in my own room in a nice house without vermin and lizards living in my room and shitting on me at night - I lived a life having everything I ever needed and more, and I lived in a country where I really could be any one that I wanted to be with very little holding me back.  I've lived a blessed life compared to many parts of the world.  So for that, I thank my Dad for providing the best possible life he could give me.  The word 'gratitude' doesn't seem to cover all that he and my stepmom (and even the Masons!) have done for me, but for all intents and purposes, I have the deepest gratitude for them all.  While I'm sure I would have turned out just fine if I had been raised in my mother's village, I'm particularly glad that I was raised by the village of people that I was surrounded by in my youth.  I've had a damn good life with some damn fine people in it!

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