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.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Honeymoon's Over 2

About a third of the negative incidents I’ve experienced in five years in the village have involved family and these have usually been land-related. The size of these incidents have been much larger than other incidents that have occurred. Family problems are lots more of a problem than neighbors just stealing your bananas or mangoes.


Thip's father and brothers and cousin, February 2017.


Although Thip and I gave away a couple of acres of very valuable property to our temple (increasing the family boon and improving its karma), helped family members out of financial difficulties, sold land for cheap to family members and let other family members live on our smaller farm rent-free (for over 10 years) -- very little of this is really appreciated; at least not what I would consider appreciation.

Of course, Lungpaw Boon Long is an exception to this. He values the help we gave him with the donation of land for the chedi (stuppa) and has helped us numerous times before and since -- maybe not as payback, but you have to figure het boon, die boon (give good, get good) has a part to play in all this.

However, the rest of our family -- and in particular, the immediate family: Thip’s siblings and father -- really are not happy unless we’re continually giving them something more.

Although I think this is pretty common among humans, I feel it is acute with our Thai family. Part of the problem, of course, is what my wife and I created. For a decade and more, when both Thip and I were working in the United States, thousands of dollars were sent back to family in forms of support (mostly to parents and daughter) and general assistance (to brothers and sister). So, the family got used to that.

I don’t think they ever have fully understood that now that I’m retired and Thip and I are living on one low fixed income, we cannot help them out as much as we used to.

Pretty much, you can figure when a family member is grumpy, there’s a good chance it’s because we haven’t given them something recently. This goes for even the smallest thing. I no longer complain to my wife when she buys food for family members or two of one thing when all she needs is the one. In a way, she is “greasing the wheels” and if that’s going to keep her family happy, so be it.

For bigger things, I’ve learned not to just give what is requested. I think about it and then give with conditions. Also, if it is something like an interest-free loan, I won’t give it unless I personally and privately feel like I don’t need the money if it isn’t paid back.

In writing about the incidents that happen and the problems my wife and I have with just trying to be good village and family members, you might get the impression that Isaan people are not good people. That is not the case. One reason I like being in the Isaan is because I feel I can trust Isaan people and they certainly look after me quite often.

With incidents and why the “honeymoon’s over,” it’s more an issue of being in and amongst simple country people who have obviously not grown up in the Western Tradition. Their way of thinking is far different than my own; and different than Westerners, in general.

In Falang forums, the subject of Thai intelligence is often discussed and I think many expats miss the real issue. It’s not that Thai people are not smart, it’s just that many are not well educated and those that are have not been educated in the Western Tradition.

Famous surfer Tom Blake had an expression that I keep in mind often, not just here in Southeast Asia, but wherever I am:

“They’re doing the best with what they’ve got.”


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Honeymoon's Over 1

Five years after retiring to the village where my wife was born and grew up, the “honeymoon” is definitely over. I’m not talking about my wife’s and mine, which amazingly continues! I’m talking about my relationship with villagers and family.

Main village intersection, looking from within Nung's store, where I buy beer and get my hair cut. My motorcycle in front. Our village house is two houses beyond the white one.


When I first arrived, I was warmly welcomed by everyone, even my known adversaries. Over time, though, people’s enthusiasm for me and me for them has waned. I guess it’s natural.

But, there have been some incidents that have undoubtedly sped the process along.

Interestingly, most of the incidents have involved land in one way or another. About a third have involved family or family and land.

One that did not involve land was the time when I still had my samlor (tuk-tuk). I was on my weekly run to stock up on beer in the next village over (Ban Pak Wet). Leaving the store, I did a U-turn not far from the store’s front. A motorcycle rider and girl friend from our village saw my late into the turn and dumped her bike. She and her friend were shook-up, but OK and so was the motorcycle except for some scratches. Well, of course, she thought it was my fault despite the fact that she has only one eye and was going too fast and the store banner blocked part of the road. To her credit, though, after a while she put it behind her and didn’t even ask me to pay for scratch repair. At a recent village party, she even wanted me to dance with her and was happy when I did. But, you know the major damage was the talk that went around about me and my driving (which is absolutely better than most everyone).

Other “stories that go on” -- while they may have involved relatives -- I do not classify as “family incidents.” Some examples:

· At our village house, our neighbor and relative next door arranging her gray water line from the bathroom so it seeps onto our property. I caused a stink about that. It still continues to flow.
· Same neighbor likes to gamble and I have complained about her gambling friends parking on our property so they wouldn’t look like they were over gambling at her place. One day the police in plain clothes come by and ask where the owners of the motorcycles are. I point next door and the gamblers are busted. I didn’t gain any friends with that, but I wasn’t about to lie to the police.
· First year I was here, I heard a big party going on and went to investigate. One of the larger families in the village was having a New Year’s party. I was invited in and stayed for a little while. Later, I found out that the family collected money from all family members to attend and some did not take kindly to my “crashing” the party.
· Running kids out of our backyard.
· Running guys hunting lizards out of our back yard.
· Having to put up fences to keep human traffic from flowing thru our back yard.
· Building a bamboo fence from the bamboo our neighbor (Gam Nan, the head of the village) lets fall onto our property.
· Chasing away people stealing our mangoes in the front yard.
· Yelling at (which you don’t do in SE Asia) cow herders who don’t control their animals well enough to keep them from getting on your property -- cows love mangoes!
· Falling asleep one night -- after too many beers -- on the front patio. Scandalous, I tell you!

There are more, but these are the ones that come quickly to mind and just give you an idea of the kinds of things that “go on” in a Thai village. Interestingly, many of these problems were solved by Thip and I just moving out to the farm. I’m still around looking after the house and property in the village, but neither one of us is around long enough to have “stuff go on.”