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.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Winter 2016/2017

Southeast Asia’s winters go from December through February and then rapidly ramp up in temperature. March begins summer -- the hottest time of the year (April-June). There is no spring season as many people used to four seasons would expect.

This winter, we lived out at the farm for the first time. I loved it, as I knew I would -- especially the clear skies that only occur at this time of year. To my surprise and pleasure, my wife not only enjoyed it, too, but got into it. For a year and more, she’s planted fruit trees and vegetables along the perimeter of our dirt pad, elevated from the surrounding rice paddies. Every day she irrigates and likes it.


Unfortunately, I got sick again this winter for a two-month period, just like last year (2015/2016). It was another bout with the flu followed up with a bronchial infection. Next winter, I will try flu shots to see if that helps. This pattern of annually being sick for one-sixth of the year -- at my age (68) -- can be dangerous.

Steaming sticky rice in the early morn.

The season was a transition period, as we learned what we needed to be comfortable out at our larger of two farms.

Take our bed for instance. The first few years of my retirement, we slept upstairs at our village house (ban how) on the floor on traditional Isaan mats -- foldable squares filled with a local organic “cotton” that grows from large pods on a certain type of tree. This is stuffed inside sewn squares of fabric. The ones we slept on had been stuffed and sewn up by Thip’s mother years ago.

It was OK, but lumpy and the two sets of pads would separate (Thip’s and mine), so there would always be a low spot in between us. I finally looped the two pads together with string which helped.

Later on, we elevated our bed so we were off the floor and sleeping mostly downstairs for convenience. Still, the mats were lumpy.

This winter, we didn’t have enough mats to keep both our bed in the village and the one out at the farm, so we were forced to improve the situation. I mean, how long should one put up with an uncomfortable bed, no matter where it is? So, Thip bought two slabs of two-inch thick latex inside cotton slips. One slab went to the village house and the other one to Ban Nah (farm house). They are great; no rubber smell and very firm.

Temple pool between our farm and the government road.

Related:



Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Buddhist But Not Exactly

Whenever I’m asked about my religion, I tell people I am Buddhist. People in our village and temple now assume it; my wife has for some time. In reading about our lives here in Northeastern Thailand -- especially how thoroughly integrated into the daily lives of our Kamattan monks and temple that we are -- I’m pretty sure you would think so, too.

Braided fragrant flower buds offered to our monks in respect.


Yet, despite the fact that I have practiced elements of Buddhism since slightly before my wife was born 45 years ago, and well before her father got serious about the family religion, I no longer consider myself much of a Buddhist -- but, a little.

When I was much younger, I used to say “I’m not a very good Christian.” Now, I tell myself “I’m not a very good Buddhist.”

I grew up a Methodist. I was first introduced to Buddhism in 1967, while in my freshman year in college, though the writings of Jack Kerouac who greatly influenced me as a writer. Soon afterward, I got interested in Zen Buddhism and for a long time considered myself a Zen Buddhist. My sons always thought I was just an Athiest.

When I met my wife three decades later, I adopted her practice, which is the Forest Tradition (Kamattan) of Thai Buddhism.

So, why do I no longer consider myself much of a Buddhist -- Kamattan or some other form? I guess it boils down to me being like a guy shopping in a market when it comes to religion. I’ll buy what I feel I need and I’m very selective. Some of the basic beliefs of Buddhism I definitely don’t subscribe to (i.e. reincarnation). As for the five precepts of Buddhism (not harming living things; not taking what is not given [stealing], sexual misconduct, lying or gossip; and not taking intoxicating substances like drugs and alcohol), I only hit about three out of five of those. I still drink beer and I trap rats on a regular basis, killing mosquitoes on sight.

Besides, there are too many other rules to follow in Buddhism. I don’t know half of them and forget much of the half I remember. Heck, as a boy I was challenged just trying to remember the Ten Commandments. Today, I’m glad to report that I’m meeting about seven out of ten of those.

For me, I’ve just selected what I’ve felt I needed and what made sense to me. I’m fine with anyone following a different path. I really believe whatever works for you is the best religion to have. My religion probably defies a label and takes elements from not only Buddhism and Christianity, but also Native American -- which are really the only three religions I feel I know something about.

My religion -- such as it is -- is boiled down to this: Our lives now, as animals on this planet we call Earth, is the only consciousness we will ever know. This is it. Make the most of it.

Make the most of it by being happy with best intent, best thought, best words and best actions (Buddha’s Four Noble Truths).

Do your utmost to help all living creatures. Live the life you will be proud to die by.


Even as simple as it is, “my religion” is a very difficult religion to practice. It makes sense to me though and challenges me to “up my game” -- actively trying to get better and be a better human being every single day.


Monday, April 17, 2017

Honeymoon's Over 3

The worst thing about the “honeymoon” period being over for me is that I’m not that thrilled to be around Thai people as much as I was my first five years here. This is causing me to be -- not reclusive, but less engaged and more private.

Our farmhouse -- "Bann Nah" -- night time.

Now that we’re based out on the farm, being removed from “the action” is not difficult. Yet, I’m always of the mindset when I’m on the move of where others are that I don’t want to run into. Often, my decisions on where I will be at a given time of day takes into account where others may be.

Thip trimming old lemon grass for replanting.

I also do the best I can to “be available and unavailable at will” -- mostly available, but aspire to being unavailable. The thing is, if you know my schedule, you know where to find me. So, that’s another thing I do: I purposely try to break my routines so I’m not so predictable. This is difficult to do especially in late afternoons when everyone knows I like to have a few beers at end-of-day.

Lowering sun backlighting our stairs.

I now understand why most Falangs build substantial walls and gates around their property. I used to make fun of the idea, reasoning that if you wall yourself in, how are you going to be an active part of the community? I now realize that activity comes from how often you pass the gate.