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Teerak, My Mom Is Sick And I Need Money (4)
Delivery by pickup truck: 4.7
7:30 and I’m waiting outside my house with my car and driver. Not Neung and not Khun Ying, his sister. Well, it’s Thailand, so I’ll just have to wait. I get a text and it looks like the taxi they called couldn’t find the place so they are late. Mai pen rai.
8.15 Neung and Ying arrive with 6 large bags of cat food. Hmmm, this looks interesting. I’m not quite sure how to explain this. We left for Rangsit. Neung explains about cat food. His mother had four cats. The neighbor has been feeding them, but the food ran out 4 days ago, so the cats haven’t eaten. Ok, that explains cat food well enough!
At 9:15 we arrive at the house in Rangsit and go to see the neighbors. The cats are coming, fast! We feed them and then they are joined by the neighbor’s dog who seems to eat cat food as much as dog food. Well, it’s Thailand!
We are going to do tambu at home. Neung explains that sometimes people do it in a temple, but it is considered more “lucky” to do it in a person’s home. Something to do with releasing the spirit. I don’t claim to understand, but no problem. I ask when the monks will arrive. Around 11 am I am told, which of course means 11:30 am. everyone is always late here. All the monk’s gifts are prepared. Money in envelopes, flowers and the usual bucket of goodies – washing powder, toothpaste and so on.
10:30 and the monks arrive. What is happening here? No one in Thailand is ever early. We’ll come back to this shortly, but it’s about the food. The monks arrived, all nine of them, in the back of a pickup truck. Dressed in their orange robes, it’s a somewhat surreal scene. Weirdest pickup I’ve ever seen! We now have nine monks sitting on the floor of the house and about 25 guests everywhere. The rituals begin with offering water to the monks. The candles are lit, the thread is unwound, we all sit down and the singing begins.
I can’t be sure, but it seemed to me that the singing was much the same as at a funeral. It’s pretty interesting to watch and listen to. It is melodic without being musical and mildly hypnotic. Hypnosis would have been helpful as I was in agony sitting cross legged. My knees are shot from too much running in the gym and I find these basic positions almost impossible to master. So for me, singing is an exercise in pain and the constant thought running through my mind is “how much longer”?
A couple of dogs wander in and out as we sit and a little 2-year-old girl joins us with her hands up in prayer. It’s a very cute scene. He gets bored quickly, as 2-year-olds do, and decides to investigate and remove the padlock on the garden gate. Then she decides to try on everyone else’s shoes, flip flops, high heels, they are all equally interesting. I find my eyes wandering on him more than the business at hand.
The singing stops and now I learn why the monks arrived early. We are their lunch. I am told that the monks eat twice a day, breakfast and lunch, and that they are not allowed to eat after noon. They arrived early to make sure they got lunch. Well, that makes perfect sense to me. After all, this country marches on its belly more than most. Lunch is a party. Lots of different dishes. They eat, we wait. Everyone looks happy and everyone is laughing a lot.
I am of course the only farang and the object of some attention. Many people ask Neung if I am his boyfriend. He says no, just a friend and that I’m gay. Hmmm, okay. Now where did it come from? Neung explains. If I say you are my friend (puan) they wonder why you are here so I called you gay friend. Um, okay. Why don’t I say I’m your ex-boyfriend. No way he says. If I say I will lose face. So the price of not losing face is that I’m gay now. Life could be worse!
The chanting continues, but this time it is very short, no more than five minutes. The monks collect their treats, climb into the pickup truck and set off. The formalities are over. Neung’s mother is now at peace.
Lunch starts for all guests. We split into two groups. I am sitting with Neung, Khun Ying and seven other women. Most of them are in their 50s and 60s, and I am a fascinating subject. They see me struggling with the sitting position and to much laughter a stool appears and tells me to sit. My cheeks are red but the pain is gone so it’s a good compromise. Then the real challenge begins. Am I eating food? Fortunately, I like Thai food at least as much as Kon Thai, so food is not a problem for me. They are even starting to understand that I speak pretty decent Thai.
Everything is going well until we come to the durian mixed with sticky rice and coconut milk. Durian is really good to eat but this one is not ripe enough. Sticky rice is not something I like. Mix it all together? Well, I manage not to throw up, but just and of course the whole group finds this very entertaining, myself almost included. These are all good people. They are having fun. They are very welcome to me. It’s been a good day so far.
The food is cleared away and we all start cleaning. Neung pays for the food, which necessarily means that I pay for the food. There’s a lot of partying and five minutes later a million bottles of beer arrive. Looks like I gave a good tip too! So now everyone really loves us.
Time to go, time to do many hikes, say goodbye and drive home. Neung is leaving tonight for Amsterdam to spend 10 days with her Thai gay friend and his Dutch boyfriend. She tries to claim that she won’t spend the whole 10 days looking for a new boyfriend, but it doesn’t sound very believable. Mai pen rai, this is no longer my problem. If he’s happy, I’m happy too. He may be my ex but he’s still my friend and he’s had a rough few months.
The first Thai funeral I attended was for Neung’s mother and I have also made my first tambun for her. It has been another fascinating experience. Thai people manage death with great grace, humor, tact and respect. It may be an odd combination of words, but it’s an appropriate mix. I like the way they are doing this and I like to think that Neung’s mother would have been pleased with what she saw today. I don’t claim to understand Buddhism or Thai culture, but I really like what I see.
As for Neung, it’s been a tough time. His mother was his only family. Her father didn’t show up today and has apparently asked her for money. Her 75-year-old stepfather has tried to transfer affection for her mother to Neung himself.
He has been unhappy and has cried a lot alone. I haven’t been able to spend much time with him. Today she looks happier than I’ve seen her in a long time. Partly it’s because he’s going to Amsterdam, but I think it’s more. He has finally learned to say goodbye to his mother.
Thailand is a really crazy place sometimes. Crazy, but lovely and so very much alive, even in death. I am privileged to be here.
End. Original article available at [http://www.blog.artthailand.net/?p=17][http://www.blog.artthailand.net/?p=17]
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