Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Songkran 2017

Getting back to our lives in Northeastern Thailand, in the beginning months of 2017...

After the Boon Pakwet warm-up, we -- along with the whole country -- celebrated Songkran during the hottest part of the year -- April. It is based on the Buddhist lunar calendar, not the solar. In Thailand, it is called the Thai New Year; in Lao, it is called the Lao New Year; in Cambodia it is the Khmer New Year. I’m not sure about other parts of Southeast Asia, but I’d bet their new year is the same time, too.

Technically less than a week long, Songkran goes on for a full two weeks during which numerous Buddhist ceremonies are held. It is the time of year when all families come together.


There are so many ceremonies and rites that I can’t remember them all. I leave it to my wife to be my scheduler and even then, I’ll opt out of them if I feel I’v gone to too many in too short a period of time. I’m careful not to get “templed-out,” something to which my wife will never be afflicted by.


My strategy in dealing with Songkran is basically to keep off the roads as much as possible and stay away from public places or gatherings of people celebrating -- Attendance at wat ceremonies not necessarily included in my personal travel ban. Riding even on back roads, you might be weigh laid by groups of kids throwing water on vehicles -- and especially effective -- riders on motorcycles. They might even ask you to stop so that they can apply baby powder to your face and chest. As for staying away from groups of people and -- to a further extreme -- dropping out of sight, well, some people get absolutely drunk they’re not much fun to be around.


So, if you’re looking for me around the Southeast Asian Buddhist New Year, you’re gonna hafta do some detective work.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

"Buffy"

The last in a series of writings that my wife did when she was studying English in Santa Barbara, California, during the first half of the new millennium:



Buffy
By Thiphawan Gault-Williams


Buffy was my dog's name. She was born in 1996 and she was an American Eskimo. She had a litter of puppies in 1998, while staying in the Santa Barbara Humane Society in Goleta.

In June 1998 Buffy joined my husband's family until I came to the USA in 2000. She and I became fast friends and she was my first new friend in the USA. She would become my best friend. In fact, more than anyone Buffy spent most of her life with me.



Buffy liked to eat watermelon and I sometimes feed her with food. For example, I fed her barbecued beef and chicken soup. I mixed food or soup with her food. She was so happy on that day and ate more than what she was [used to]. Buffy liked to follow me when I moved around the house. When I was in the kitchen I usually dropped food on the floor for her.

Buffy was always the first to greet people when they visited. She was always happy to see people and always wanted people's attention. When she was happy or excited she always moved her tail around, up and down, or side to side. She made a little noise, "E e" to let people know that she was happy to see them and needed some attention.

When I came back home and opened the door Buffy was always waiting for me and would run around me like she was happy to see me. If I didn't give attention to her, she always made some noise like "E e" to let me know she was around me and needed attention from me too.


Malcolm's son Senyo showing Buffy lots of attention, 
with cousin Barry and Joyce along.


Buffy loved to run the length of the parking lot of my condominium. My husband Malcolm had to take this out of her routine in the last years of her life because she could not see well. She was beginning to run into things and could have easily clipped the side of a building going at high speed!

She really made me laugh for all the little things that she would do that were just so innocent. If she knew I was mad at her she would look away from me and then after a while she would start to look at me again. If I said, "No", or continued in the same tone of voice, she would look away again.

Buffy was so sweet and sensitive. When I was sick she would sit by me as if to take care of me. Sometimes she would lick my hands and stay near me.




A couple of months before she passed away she always kept walking and walking like she was meditating. She did exactly the same thing that I did when I would do walking meditation. She kept walking day and night and when she fell down she just slept. When she had energy then she got up and started walking again. I had never seen an animal walk like that before in my life, just my dog did that.

I was so proud of her, no matter whether she understood when I listened to the monks on CD or no matter is she knew about meditation or not. I still hope her life will go to heaven.


On October 26, 2009 it was the last day of her life. I hadn't said goodbye to her on that day and I knew she was sick and had a little pain in her leg. She couldn't get up and stand up straight. I went to school in the morning and I didn't know that was the last morning for her. When I came back from school in the afternoon she had already passed away. Only my husband Malcolm was with her and had said good-bye to her without me. It was hard for me to let her go with no returns.


I just thank you Buffy for making my life so much richer. We'll always remember you and love you! Thank you, my best friend.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

"My Life in the USA"

My Life in the USA

By Thiphawan Gault-Williams
Written in 2010


I began my new life to be a housewife at first.  After my husband went to work I stayed home with our dog Buffy.  At first I had only one Thai girlfriend.  Her name was Tana.  Tana and I like to cook and we like to eat and talk.


In the fall of 2001 I was a housewife and student.  I went to study ESL classes at the Eastside Library from Monday through Friday.  On Saturday I went to the Farmer's Market in downtown Santa Barbara.  I studied for a couple of months before the weather got cold.  I went to visit my family in Thailand for the first time since I came here in the year 2000.


In the summer of 2002 I went to study at Santa Barbara City College.  I took ESL classes and I began with writing level one, reading level one, and grammar level two.  It was so exciting for me, no matter the classes were a little hard for me.  I still liked to study and be back in school again after my 6th grade in Thailand.


I studied very hard and spent my free time on lab hours.  I had to study more at home because I always picked teachers who love to teach more than talk to wait their times.  I always look forward to having a good grade and I did very well on every class I took.  During my school term I always enjoyed my bike ride to school at the East Beach.


After I had studied up to level five my grade was dropped down.  I had to drop basic math two weeks after fall 2004 began.  My level five writing was A+ but my reading was a D, including homework and the final test.  I was so upset and stopped studying.  I started look for jobs.

After fall 2002 besides being a housewife and student, I started working for myself.  After school hours sometimes I did Thai traditional massage.  I like to do Thai massage because I can help people who are tired to relax. Not just Thai traditional massage but sometimes I did foot massage with a wooden sticks and oil.

In the school term my health was not good.  I had different problems like migraines, stomach aches, acid reflux, and heartburn.

After I had lived in Santa Barbara for a couple of years I had more Thai friends.  Sometimes I invited my friend to come to my house.  We would cook Thai food and enjoy it together.  I sometimes went to my friend's house on Christmas for the parties.


During my school break in summer time I went to visit my family in Thailand.  I went almost every year until my daughter came from Thailand to live with us.  In the summer 2005 my daughter came to stay with us.  I was a housewife, a mother, and a working woman, but I still wanted to study, no matter I couldn't.  During this period I worked at three jobs.  I worked at a grocery store named Scholari's.  I stood next to the cashier bagging groceries for the customers.  My second job was working at a restaurant.  I was a runner, giving food to the customers.  I would sometimes help the waitress refill the water glasses and clean the table.  My last job was during the supermarket and the restaurant.  It was Thai massage and food massage with wooden sticks and oil.


Sometimes my husband took my daughter and me camping.  We went to Mutau  Flat above Ojai.  Another place we went was Anza Borrego desert inland from San Diego.  I like to camp a lot. When we went camping I liked to barbecue chicken, shrimp, and squid.


In the fall of 2009 I went to take a class at Santa Barbara City College Adult Education at the Scott Center.  I went to prepare for the GED but the class was so hard for me because my English was not good.

In the winter of 2010 I changed my mind about the way to prepare for my GED.  I got the brochure from Adult Education room 16 on how to get help from a tutor.  The program had been going on for a long time at the Santa Barbara Library and around town.  I called up Beverly Schwartzberg, a person who organizes the program.  It took her a couple of weeks before she found one of the teachers to help me for reading, writing, and grammar to prepare for my GED.  Her name is Gwen and she has been helpful for me.  I love to study with her a lot.  The program is free.  No matter I can take the GED test or not because of my English.  I still like to learn more English no matter what.  I really thank the people who run the program.  It is helpful for me to learn more English and prepare for my GED.


I have lived in Santa Barbara for ten years now, from the year 2000 until now, the year 2010.  My daughter lived with us for five years and now she has moved back to Thailand to go to college there.  I miss her and look forward to visiting her in November 2010.

Another sad thing for our family was when my dog Buffy died last fall on October 26, 2009.



Many things good or sad happen to me but I still have my husband who loves me so much and my family and my friends who stay beside me.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

"My Jobs"



My Jobs
by Thiphawan Gault-Williams


My first job was hemming jeans. I was thirteen years old at that time and I worked in Bangkok, Thailand. I had to be careful hemming the jeans because the machine had a knife to cut the fabric. If I was not careful it would cut my finger more than the fabric. I could make $10 a day if I could hem around 1,000 jeans. Hemming the jeans was not too difficult and not too easy either. The hard thing was carrying one hundred pieces each time from downstairs to upstairs. It was too heavy for a little girl like me. I worked six days a week, but sometimes I didn't have any day off or sleep because I had to finish my work before they could pack the jeans and send them to the boat. All the jeans that we made were sold outside the country to Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Now when I think back to that time I am very proud of myself hemming the jeans no matter what. It was not too safe because there was so much dust and the way a knife cut the fabric. I am still proud of myself because some of the money I made was sent back to support my family.


My second job was working at a restaurant at a hotel. It was a Chinese restaurant and I was a waitress. I had to serve food and take care of customers and I had to encourage the customers to order the food we had to sell out on that day before the food would go bad. For example, if that day the restaurant had too much pork barbecue we told the customers, "The pork barbecue is so good, tasty, and fresh," no matter that it was not that way. We served pork barbecue with sweet chili sauce, cucumber, and onions.

I tried to do the best I could to take care of the customers because the better service I did, the more tip I could get. It wasn't just how much of a tip I could get from the customers, I still wanted to take care of the customers by giving them good service and being happy. We wanted them to come back again soon.

My work at the hotel was challenging for me every day. For example, I'm the kind of person who always wakes up late. For the hotel job my morning started at 7 a.m. and went until 10 or 11 p.m. In the morning after I woke up I took a shower to prepare myself for work. I ran to the bus stop and then kept waiting and waiting. I had no idea when the bus would come. Sometimes it took me an hour waiting for the bus. I sometimes had to take a cab, not matter cab or bus I still had to get out and run or walk to work because the traffic in Bangkok was so bad. Running and walking was faster for me in the morning before work. Another challenge for me was when a customer complained about the food. They might say the food tastes too salt or too sweet and was not good. I had to take the food back to the chef and deal with him in the kitchen. Sometimes the chef did not do anything to the food. He would just say, "I tested it already. It still tastes good. The customer is just wrong." I had no idea what to do. I waited a while and then brought the food back to the customer, smiling. I said, "We are so sorry. The food is OK now." They smiled and ate it. The chef didn't change anything in the food but the customer still smiled and said, "The food was good." I sometimes wondered what happened in their minds.


[When I moved to the United States] My third, fourth, and fifth job was working at the supermarket, doing Thai massage, and being a runner at Your Place restaurant. I worked at Scolari's supermarket [in Santa Barbara]. I started work at 6 a.m. and went to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. My job was to stand next to the cashier and bag the groceries. I bagged groceries for six months and then I got promoted to the non-food department. The job I worked was staking. For example, I stocked medicine, decorations, and shampoo. I got paid $6.35 per hour.

After I got off from the supermarket I went back home, had a rest, and then did another job. I did Thai traditional massage and Thai foot massage. In this job I was the boss of myself. Many of my clients who came to me always complained about their bodies. They were tired, sore, and achy. I was so happy that I knew how to do massage because I like to help people and see them happy after my massage. For example, one of my clients was 65 years old. I did foot massage on her. I usually used oil and wood to do massage. I would rub and put pressure on the skin. After I finished my work, my client always said, "I feel like I have new feet." Not just my client said that to me, but my husband said the same, "I feel like I have new feet." I made more money doing massage than working at the supermarket. I charged the customers $60 an hour for massage. I didn't just help people with their bodies, but I made money too!

Around 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. my other job started. After my dinner I started working at the Thai restaurant at 6 p.m. My job was to be a runner. For example, I bought food to the customers, refilled water glasses, and cleaned the tables. This job paid $14 an hour. This job was easy for me because I was not a waitress and I didn't have to deal with the customers. When the customers complained about something I always sent a waitress over to the table to deal with them. After I finished my job I rode my bike back home and that was the end of my day of work. I would start my jobs again the next day.


I like every job I have had, no matter that sometimes I had to deal with difficult people. I like to do different things to learn more about something and to have more experience. I was so happy to be working, no matter that sometimes the job was hard for me. I am proud of myself for every job I have done. I sent some of the money I made back to support my family in my hometown in northeast Thailand.

Monday, May 29, 2017

"My Trip to the USA"

One of two excerpts from my wife's writings about first coming to the United States in the year 2000, written about ten years later:
 

My Trip to the USA
by Thiphawan Gault-Williams




On April 4, 2000 I flew from Thailand to the USA on China Airlines with my husband Malcolm. The plane stopped at Hong Kong International Airport. We transferred to another China Airlines flight, from Hong Kong to the USA. On that day the weather around Hong Kong Airport was so foggy and I couldn't see very well around the outside of the airport. We waited in Hong Kong Airport for a couple of hours before we boarded our flight from Hong Kong to Los Angeles International Airport [LAX]. It took us about 21 hours including the transfer flight from Hong Kong.



LAX was so big. People spoke English, Spanish, and some other languages. I didn't understand what it was meaning because I spoke Thai. After our flight arrived at LAX we had to transfer to a domestic flight. Again we had to wait a couple of hours before we boarded our flight from LAX to Santa Barbara Airport.



The plane we flew in from LAX to Santa Barbara was smaller than China Airlines. When we arrived at Santa Barbara Airport it was twilight. After we arrived at the airport Malcolm drove back home. At the front door, written in Thai, was a sign that said, "Welcome home." It was so great for me to see those words. It has been my new home and my new life.



Tuesday, May 23, 2017

"How I Came to the USA"

Going back, again, to the writings of my wife, when she was first learning English in the United States. I've added photos from that time:


How I Came to the USA -- by Thiphawan Gault-Williams


One day I picked up a Thai newspaper. I saw an ad about seeing a man from outside Thailand to marry to be friends. I went to the agency because everything was almost for free except for translating the letter from English to Thai and from Thai to English. That cost about $4 for two pages.

At first they took my picture and then my address. They sent my picture and address to another agency called Thai American Service in the USA. They posted my picture on the Internet and then sold my address.

  
I had a couple of people write letters to me but it didn't work well because I didn't have much money to play for translating their letters. It took me a couple of months before I found the right one.

In June 1999 I got a letter from Malcolm, who is my husband now. We wrote to each other for about four months. He decided to visit me around my 28th birthday in October 1999.


After we had spent a couple of days together he seemed to be nice to me and we got along very well. He wanted to visit my family in my hometown in northeast Thailand. At first I couldn't say yes, because in my village if you bring a guy with you, people will think you are married, no matter yes or no.


  
I asked him to marry me in a couple of days if he wanted to meet my family. I don't know how I asked him to marry me either because it was the first time we had met.  At that time my English was so poor, but I did ask him for another thing. It was to pay a dowry for marrying me. He paid a dowry of about $7,000 for marrying me.

  
He visited me a couple of times and then we got married on March 23, 2000 in my hometown. On March 31, 2000 I got a visa to come to the United States. On April 4, 2000 I left Thailand. My trip was so long. It took me a day of sitting on the plane. It seemed to be an adventure for me because I came with a man I only saw a couple of times and only two weeks each time. Many people in Thailand talked about if you went outside the country with someone at first you had to be careful because it might be very dangerous. No matter what, I trusted him a lot.

My first day n the USA was startling. LAX was so big to me and I didn't understand the language very well. Most people spoke English, but I spoke Thai. That is how my new life in the USA began.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Boon Pakwet, 2017

Considered more as a weekend of partying and a warm-up to the Thai New Year (Songkran), Boon Pakwet (aka Boon Pahwet) is traditionally meant to bless and pray for the upcoming rice growing season and its successful outcome. It is not a Buddhist observance, per se, although it does have Buddhist trappings. When it’s prayer time, monks are there to lead the ceremonies, for sure.

Village Temple gate built with funds raised during Boon Pakwet 2012.

The first day is marked by extreme alcohol consumption, a march through the village and out to nearby fields, followed by prayers and chants. Afterwards, people break up but the drinking continues in smaller groups.

Second day, food booths are organized at the village temple (non-Kamattan); live Thai karaoke on stage is performed along with impromptu dancing. Most importantly, visiting delegations from villages around the area are met and their donations in the form of money trees are accepted. Village elders count the money and Buddhist monks deliver the blessings.

Counting the donations and receiving blessings.

A lot of people look like they’re drinking soda, but the plastic bottles usually contain rice whiskey (lao khao) or rice wine. Many people get “very mao” -- “mao mak.” If the temple was a Forest Tradition temple, there’s no way people would drink on the grounds -- even disguised.