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Sunday, March 03, 2013

Experiencing Thai Hospitality

It wasn't too long of knowing Nina before we were invited into many of the local's home on this island. Some of these people she had known before, some of these people her family knew, and some of these people she had just met, but she had one underlining ability that made all these appear to be one and the same as though she had known them for ages, and that was the ability to connect immediately with the person and win a matter of trust with them. I, myself, was a prime example of that. For within a day of meeting her, she was trusting me to carry her purse and ipad for her down jungle pathways.

On the 2nd night we found ourselves eating at the home of some locals. This family lived behind their own T-shirt shop that they kept open late at night for the backpacking tourists ambling down the main street going their easy way from the bars or the beaches. And it was behind this shop, where we dined and the host family was sure to leave the door open to spot any approaching shoppers, in between the savory courses.
They had no table. We feasted on top of a raised platform that I believe performs the function of a bed when it was time to sleep, but when it was not time to sleep, it was where they sat and socialized throughout much of the day.
Their hospitality was tremendous for they plentifully fed us first. Heaping plates around us and bidding us without any contestation on our part to dig in and try the variety before us.
The us, in this case, being Jeorgen, (the retired Dane) and myself. For Nina was busy talking and talking with the hosts and the other miscellaneous Thai locals assembled in this hut that was really a T-shirt shop. Always, we noticed that perhaps we were fed first not only because we were guests, but because we were males. The majority of the crowd present being women, it is the common custom in Thailand for the males to always be served first, BUT...then I have heard it said that the women actually treat themselves to more food afterwards. But in our cases, being honored guests, we were given the largest portions, what was usually reserved for the wives. What did we eat? The most delicious assortments of rice, vegetables, chicken, fish, and shrimp. The chicken was my favorite. But most memorable was the rice bowls that they passed around in these type of small wicker baskets that resemble those found South China Cantonese cuisine. But inside was nothing but malleable rice which they would scoop out with their bare hands and form into a ball and eat. The rice was far stickier than other rice I've eaten living in Korea and China and more playful like a sort of edible playdough.

The men of the house, actually sat in a different area on the floor and when we were finished eating beckoned for Jeorgen and I to join them for the drinking of the beer, some of which I had brought.
The women continued clucking and laughing in Thai, until Nina started to perform her accupressure on some of the party. The women were all but resilient during the prodding, tickling treatment, but when she came to the guys, one tough looking Thai guy would scream out. Which made me feel better about all the squirming and protestations that I had given every time she tried to press nerves and muscles on me. All in all, it was a good night, and made me quite impressed with the hospitality of the Thai people.

But the degree of Thai hospitality didn't stop there. It grew and grew. The next evening, we didn't sleep in backpacker tourist bungalows on the beach, but we were taken in by a large family. Whom, as the days progressed, I was uncertain as to the relationship they shared with Nina or how she won over this amount of reception from them. Unfortunately, the story is darkened further in the future by something unforeseeable at this point in my narrative, which I will get to sooner or later, but we stayed 4 rather pleasant and gratuitous nights with this family. And it passed as a agreeable time. None of them spoke English really. So Jeorgen and I were left to guess what was going on and the relationship dynamics at work for Thai families are not a a traditional Western nuclear type structure. They would have aunts over and cousins and children, though you were uncertain as to whose children they were. But for the most part, the house was owned and ran by grandparents. Most prominent was a woman whom every one referred to as Mama. And she seemed to be the big boss and rule the roost of the whole operation. Her name, personality, and looks all met together for she looked like a silent and severe Native American chief. These looks being high cheekbones, fat, pudgy, and a protruding bottom lip that was forced that way, perhaps, because of a perpetual grimace. She had no neck and small shoulders, but her head was large and her nose bulbous. She had one of those presences that commanded authority and a sort of fear. She looked more Sioux than Thai and every morning you would find her on the front porch swiping her teeth with some sort of twig. The local form of brushing one's teeth.

Her husband was a very silent and agreeable man. Who appeared youthful and not to have taken on his wife's aged ugliness. (I apologize if my description of my hosts appear a bit brutal; but I have good reason, but this I will tell later on.) In fact, it did not really seem the two were married. But I was assured that they were. I think he just took orders from her. He was a kindly man, hard working and reliable. He would drive us around in this pick up truck that I think he was proud of, to all the different things that we were undertaking involving the land and tending to the crippled. He rarely spoke while his wife liked to bark out either orders or opinions or both.

Then there was an assortment of other ladies who I was uncertain if they lived there or not. One seemed to be of no relation to anybody and do to all the cooking and a lot of the chores, as though she was the hired maid or something. And another one, I believe was a cousin who lived in a different house down the way but seemed to always be around. Then there was the children. Two girls. One was a school girl of around 11 that had this big poofy hair that I guess is the fashion of Thai schoolgirls. It was her and this cousin who I once, sitting on their front porch, gave an English lesson to. And then there was the youngest girl, a daughter or granddaughter of around 4. And she was the cutest little thing always climbing around Jeorgen and I. I drew her cartoons on the first full day there and immediately became her friend.
It is my understanding that the mother of these children worked all day, so these kids actually stayed with their grandparents for they were better able to look after them. The father seemed missing. And that as Jeorgen, described to me was a very typical Thai set up. Mother works, Kids are looked after by grandparents who is paid by mother, Father is absent. And then the intricate networking of other relatives and friends who always stop by in and out the day constitute a typical Thai household scene. One day, I arrived back at the house with this obvious Ladyboy on a scooter stopping by to say hello.

The house was actually 2 houses. The front house being where the kitchen was, this bustling front porch where the main life was, and 2 rooms and a bathroom. And there was nodoor to the house adjoined on the backside of the property near the stream. This back house was where most everyone slept and it looked newer. Whereas our sleeping accommodations was in this older part. The 3 of us, Jeorgen, Nina, and I shared a room with each other. Jeorgen and I shared a mattress on the floor while Nina insisted that she sleep without a mattress. So every one of these nights, Nina would bow and say her Buddhist prayers and the light would cut off. Some nights the neighbors dog would bark and I more than once, emerged from out the house to chase the dang idiot dog off to little avail. In the mornings, I would awake to the 66 year old Jeorgen sitting, silently, cross-legged doing his Transcendental Meditation and I would emerge onto the front porch, where I said before that all life was. The cook would bring me two toasts with eggs and I would be greeted by some of the family with the only English that they knew which was “Good Morning”.

The day would begin and it would be a variety of different situations which I will describe soon. But for the most part, the family frequented this front porch area with only its little gate right next to the road where some of the tourist traffic going to the waterfalls raced by and not far from the Elephant Trekking road where the pachyderms would silently be lugging around tourist on their backs. All large meals were conducted sitting on the floor in this front porch area at which were were graciously coerced as participants. Even some naps were taken here. Thai friends and family or maybe just acquaintances would stop by this front porch to talk about goodness knows what. A very relaxed sort of existence.  


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