Saturday, August 27, 2016

School in Thailand, 1970s

From my wife’s writings about her grade school in Thailand:

School in Thailand by Thiphawan Suphannaphoowong Gault-Williams

When I was seven years old I went to an elementary school named Navangvean. It was in the countryside in northeast Thailand.

First of all, I had to walk to school. I walked to school with my brother and some of my friends in my village. One reason I walked is because my parents could not afford to buy a bike for everyone. In my family I had five brothers and one sister. That's why my parents did not have enough money to buy a bicycle for everyone. I had to walk about thirty minutes one way, or sometimes it took longer if we played a game. It was fun for me because I always laughed and ran away when we played a game. Sometimes it was raining. We would use a banana leaf to cover ourselves up.

The class was small because there were only twenty or twenty-five students [in the entire school]. I had different teachers each year. My favorite teacher was my first grade teacher. His name was Thi. He always made students laugh. For example, when he came into class he always asked us, "Do you want to have chicken soup?" We always said, "Yes". Then he said, "I will kill a chicken now." The way he [pretended to] kill the chicken was to turn around his hands on the chicken's neck. He turned his hands in a circle. He said, "The chicken is dead now." A little while later he took his hands away from the chicken's neck and made a chicken noise, “Eeg eeg eeg." We were laughing all class.

(image of Thip’s classroom taken three decades later)

I had to take lunch to school. My mom always prepared my lunch pack for me. I always looked forward to my lunchtime because I enjoyed my lunch and shared with my friends. We took lunch outdoors and then after lunch we played a game. I usually ran and laughed. For example, the game we played was to run to touch another person. I had to run away to not be touched because if someone touched me then I would have to run to touch another person. I ran very slowly and it took me a long time to get one of them.

My parents had to buy books for me. My favorite subject was reading. The book I liked was a story about children who liked to help and share. For example, Manee, Mana, and Peti were my favorite children in the story. They were friends and tried to help friends at school, or help family at home. They were always looking to help people. First of all, when they were at school if they saw some friends get hurt or fight each other, they always told the teacher to help out. When they came home from school they helped their grandfather water the plants. When they had some candy or fruit they always shared with their friends.

At the end, the things I did not like from school was homework because I had to finish it myself before I went to play and run with my friends. That was the rule from my parents. No matter if I had something else I wanted to do. I still had fun at school.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Village Life in the 1970s

Continuing the writings of my wife Thip, when she wrote about her family and growing up in the Isaan. She did this as part of a series of short essays for her ESL (English as a Second Language) classes in Santa Barbara, California, during the first decade of our marriage [2000-2009]:

(Photo of Thip at the time she is writing about, 1970s)

Village life by Thiphawan Suphannaphoowong Gault-Williams
The life in our village was very simple when I was young [in the 1970s and early 1980s]. Children didn't have any toys. We used to play with banana stems. We cut banana stems and made a shape like a horse. We rode banana horses around the village. It was very safe because our village didn't have any cars in those days.

Now things have changed in my village because children don't have to play with banana horses any more. Children play with toys or ride bicycles around the village. It is not safe like it was before because there are too many cars now.

Children used to go to school together. We walked to school. We played together, we shared food and ate together. Now things are different. Children go to different schools depending on how much their parents can afford to pay. They ride bikes to school or some kids' parents drive them.

People used to go to temple more. For example, when I was young I went to temple with my mom to give food to the monks. I would see around ten to fifteen people at the temple [every morning on non-special observance days]. But now it is different because I see around five to ten people at the temple.

People used to spend time together and eat together often. For example, the Pawet family had lunch with my family often and spent time together with us. Now things are different because people have to buy food. This is different because before people used to hunt. People have their own televisions but before they didn't have any TV. People have to work to pay bills but before they didn't have bills, except the bill for gas to light up at night. We didn't use to have electricity.

I miss my life when I was young a lot because I think it was so simple and people were not too busy like now.

(Our family friend Tah Long, in front of our village home, 
walking his buffalo while on his cell)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Khun Mae

Continuing my wife’s writings about her parents:

My Mother by Thiphawan Suphannaphoowong Gault-Williams

My mom was born in Udon Thani province, northeast Thailand. She is a hard worker and skinny. She is also helpful and a lovely mother.

My mom is a hard worker. For example, she was born in a farm family. She worked at a rice farm and grew rice one time a year. The way she worked was to stay outside in the sun or rain to work no matter what kind of weather, she still kept working from morning until around 5-6 p.m. to help my father. It took her around 3-4 weeks each time to finish planting. Also she had to take care of the farm for four months until the rice was golden ready to cut. She also grew vegetables and fruit for our family. She grew melons, cucumbers, long beans, cabbage, mangoes, bananas, and coconut on our land. That's why she is so skinny, because she is a hard worker. We always had good food.

She is very helpful. For example, she helped me to take care of my daughter from the time my daughter was born until she was fifteen years old. When I gave birth to my daughter I was twenty years old and I had to work to support my family. My mom had to take care of my daughter while I worked in Bangkok. It was far from my hometown. I would see my daughter only one time a year for one or two days each time. Everything depended on my mom to take care of my daughter for me.

My mom was a very lovely mother. For example, she cares about her kids.She took care of me, my sister, and my brothers. I think she loves everyone of us the same. Sometimes my brother and I did something wrong like not listen to her when she told us to not go away from the house, but we sometimes did go. When she came back from the farm she had to look around for us. She was worried about where we were. She still did not get mad at us.

Last year I saw my mom. She was old. She was seventy-five years old [now 81 and in full dementia] and not so healthy. She had high blood pressure and back pain. It is very painful for her. I hope she will be with my family until I can go back to Thailand and stay to take care of her back, the same as when she took care of me when I was young.

I love her so much.

(When Thip and I first met and I first met her parents, 1999)

[note from Malcolm: Thip did go back to look after her mother and that is how we came about to be here, now]

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Khun Paw

Thip wrote about her family and growing up in the Isaan when she was taking ESL (English as a Second Language) classes in Santa Barbara, California, during the first decade of our marriage. Beginning this series of writings by my wife, here’s what she wrote about her father, the man I call Khun Paw:

My Father Tah Nah by Thiphawan Suphannaphoowong Gault-Williams

Tah Nah is my father's name. He was born in Udon Thani province, Northeast Thailand [1933]. His father's name was Boon Mee and his mother's name was Tung. He came from a farmer's family. For example, when I was young [1970s] he grew rice on our rice land, cucumbers, long beans, cabbage, napa cabbage, squash, and watermelon.

After the rice season, he would buy cows and buffaloes to sell. He bought them from around our village and he sold them in other villages and towns. He had to walk to move the animals. Sometimes he had to sleep overnight from village to village before he could sell the cows and buffaloes. In those days, he made very good money and all the money he made he always gave to my mom to use and save it.

When he was forty-five years old [around 1978] he began to practice the Buddhist religion more than when he was younger. When he woke up in the morning at first he prayed to Buddha before he meditated. Sometimes he would meditate for five hours and sometimes he went to eight hours a day.

He sometimes stayed in the temple for three months for Buddhist Lent. He woke up in the early morning to meditate and then after that he went to the hall to meet the monks and people to pray to Buddha and listen to the monks teaching. Sometimes if my dad had some questions he could ask a monk to tell him the right or the wrong way to meditate.

For example, when he meditated, his mind went to see the monk and stayed in a very nice place. In that place many people listened to the monk. Then he went inside the room with a red carpet. The monk said that the way my dad's mind went out right away was a good sign because it was the right way for people to meditate. Sometimes their minds went out and saw different things. Each person had different things, not the same. Sometimes it's good for people and sometimes it was harmful for people who were easily scared and afraid because sometimes their mind went to see things that were scary.

After he prayed to Buddha in the morning he went to cook food for the monks. My dad was the cook and he made the food taste so good. Many times he told me the monks ate a lot of his food and he said, "They must like my food." Sometimes my dad would cook bamboo salad, fish soup, or barbecued fish. For example, when he made fish soup he would add fish sauce, salt, green onion, celery, tomato, and Thai chili. He would then add small pieces of Tilapia fish. After he gave food to the monks and had breakfast he went to take a nap and then mediate again in the afternoon for a couple of hours.

In the evening he would meditate again and then he went to the kitchen to meet people and have something to drink, but not food. When my dad stayed at the temple sometimes he ate only one or two meals before noon. After he took a rest and drank some tea or cocoa, then he went to the hall to meet the monks. He would pray to Buddha before he went to another mediation. Then he went to sleep late and then woke up in the early morning at 2 or 3 a.m.

I like to eat my dad's food a lot. When I go back to my hometown to visit my family, I always have my dad teach me how to cook. I have learned how to make fish soup and how to do good on barbecuing fish. My dad told me the way to make a good soup is to add different kinds of vegetables or herbs. For example, each vegetable has a different taste. Ginger smells so good and is good for people who have gas in their stomachs. Onions are good for people who have a cold to help keep their breath well.

Now my dad is seventy-seven years old [now 83 in 2016] and he still prays to Buddha in the morning and evening and then meditates. He still teaches me how to love, to give, and to share without expecting something back.

I always remember all the things he has done for our family to take care of us and teach us to be good people.

              Dad, you are my father.
              Dad, you are my teacher.
              Dad, you are my friend.
              I LOVE YOU!

(Khun Paw on the way back from Thung Yai, December 2013)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A Boy's Life

I suspect it’s true for most male expats in Southeast Asia that we live somewhat of a boy’s life; especially if one is embedded in the countryside.

More than any other time in my life -- including as a boy and then teenage lifeguard on the beaches of Bayville, 1954-1970 -- I go barefoot more often than not. When I do wear footwear, it is merely thonged sandals.

(BTW, these are the best sandals I’ve ever owned. This is actually my second pair. Unfortunately, they are no longer in style and if I get another pair, I’ll have to order from the ADDA website. But, here’s why these are so good: 1) only two pieces. The strap is part of the pad mold. The more pieces, the more potential tear; 2) the thong is well-engineered, not a simple pole of rubber, but a slim oval that fits comfortably between the big toe and the second; 3) check the pad out. It is a curved dish, providing a bumper for the feet all the way around; 4) not visible in this pic, but the pad itself is thick, allowing for a lot of spring.)

Likewise, I am shirtless for most all of the day and tan all the year’round. I’ll put a shirt on for sai baht; when I attend temple; the rare times it’s cold; and when I’m traveling, but that’s about it.

Shorts are the item of clothing I wear most often and never with underwear -- too hot. The only other things I might wear are sunglasses and/or my “cowboy” hat.

Like a kid, I don’t have too many responsibilities. I mean, I do if I choose to make them, but the ones that are mandatory are few. My wife takes care of our day-to-day logistics pretty well.

Also like a kid, I don’t worry too much about money. I don’t have a lot of it, but what I have is stable and enough for my wife and I, with a little extra to spread around. That being said, however, I must say that few foreigners could live in Thailand on my kind of budget.

At no other time, except when I was a kid in summertime, have I lived outdoors so much. Nine hours of every 14 daylight hours (during the season of the summer equinox) are spent outside structures. And, oh, the natural beauty that surrounds us!

Best of all in this “second childhood” is something you would not have in a childhood: my wife and I have our lives under our own control, to succeed or fail. It’s all on us. The only potential unknown is our health and the health of our family in the future. For this, all we can do is treat our bodies and minds well and trust in our karma and fate.