Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's & Congrats Robert and Chotiros!

Valentine's Day. An ancient holiday now  successfully commercialized, confining a beautiful and terrible emotion to a viable sales package, just like the fake news stories, reducing the wonderful world we live in to labels and soundbites. When love and marriage in Isaan makes the New York Times, it is about the population of overripe and overfed falangs taking up with uneducated peasant girls fit to be their granddaughters. Like the picture of "depraved" Bangkok, or for that matter "crime-ridden" New York, or "war torn" Uganda, the outsider's impression is of a solitary, unlit, dead-end alleyway- Watch out for the rats! Aren't these people awful? Aren't you glad you are home in your comfy chair reading this? Now, let's go to the travel article about skiing in Chamonix- never mind the rich and complex surrounding reality. One can imagine the scenario- freelancer living in Thailand says to the editor, "Hey I think I have this story for you..." and if it is violent enough, or titillating enough, or sad enough, or just plain strange enough, the editor might bite. So if it is a slow news day a poor farming region on the other side of the globe will be squeezed somewhere between the latest from the oil producing regions, the Israeli settlements, and the latest catastrophic earthquake or snowstorm (Yes folks, it is going to snow, lots, today- Read All About It!) What they are not going to document or publish is the lovely engagement ceremony of Robert Williams of Michigan and New Mexico and my neighbor Chotiros Bussingkorn, daughter of Kru Thon, the kindergarten teacher at Thai Samakee. In true Thai style, I was informed we were going to this affair exactly one hour before it began and I was completely befuddled right through until the end. Where was it? Who is doing what? How long will it last? Who will be there? What should I wear? I was pretty sure we were going into NKP for a wedding until we pulled up around the corner, about 50 meters from my house, and it was Chotiros, who I met on my first night in Thai Samakee. She was at my welcoming party and I well recall when she first walked in. First of all, she is very pretty and secondly she speaks good English. She lived in Malaysia for ten years, giving her a more worldly perspective than most of the local girls. She made an impression. Though a last minute invite, I moved to the head of the line because of Robert's and my shared membership in the IFU- International Falang Union (Local #45 Colorado and New Mexico). One thing about meeting a guy 30 minutes before he is getting engaged (which in Thailand means a big party with every village and family member available, traditional silk clothes, a dowry of gold and cash, banana leaves folded and shaped into exquisite forms, and eating- lots and lots of eating), you get to see how he handles pressure! And Robert was terrific. He had just the right harmonic balance between cultural sensitivity, mai pen rai flow, and nope-sorry-ain't-gonna-do-that. It would not have really mattered where we met, Robert and I immediately bonded over our love of Thailand's people, culture, and food, and what we missed and didn't  miss about the USA. When I said, "Besides certain people, the only thing I miss is my motorcycle." Robert immediately responded, "I have been researching everything I can about how to import my Harley Softail." He is a successful mechanical computer engineer who works all over SE Asia. He and Choritos spent a long time discussing their outlook on many aspects of living and life before entering into this commitment, and their love is deep and as genuine as any I have seen. The most impressive thing Robert said to me that night was how energized he was to discover Chotiro had a young daughter, Nicole, because he looked forward to helping raise her. I told my Thai friends who asked about Robert later that though I just met him I knew he was a man with Jai Dee, a good heart. The ceremony was the usual intense affair, many beautiful traditions, much bustling about by women in all directions, and just enough cold beer on ice for the men to stand around and sip.
Above you see me tying a string on Chotiros with her mother in the background. You can see that her mother is beaming almost as much as Chotiros. Robert is quite a catch! I felt lucky to be the one now in the community welcoming outwards!

This is the handsome couple surrounded by all, minus one, of the teachers at Thai Samakee. Our director Leudee is standing to my right. The elderly lady on the far right is my immediate neighbor, the fire lover.
After the ceremony, and some eating of course, it turns out we were going into NKP, but for the celebration dinner. We ended up back at a very nice restaurant on a fish pond I ate at once before. I sat next to Robert and we chatted and ate a scrumptious multi-part meal. When I told Robert that I had no idea I would be eating such a great dinner and enjoying myself so much until that very afternoon, he explained that at noon his understanding was dinner would be around 10 people. We looked down the table at the 40 or so guests gaily bantering. Mai Pen Rai! we both chimed.

A real treat and a good new friend. The fact is I now know quite a few white westerners married to local Thai women and all strike me as dignified, authentic, and loving relationships. My advice? Turn off that TV, throw away that newspaper, and as the buddha says - know for yourselves.

So I raise my glass to love in all its terror and splendor, and to Robert and Chotiros on this Valentine's day 2011 and every day together going forward.
May fortune smile on you and your families!
Here is my favorite love poem, translated by Ezra Pound in 1915, written in 8th Century China , and highly appropriate since Robert departs tomorrow for 5 months working in Shanghai.

The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter  
translated by Ezra Pound

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever and forever.
Why should I climb the look out?

At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-yen, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.

You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me.  I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
   As far as Cho-fu-Sa.

        By Rihaku

1 comment:

  1. Out upon it I have loved
    Three whole days together
    I am like to love three more
    If it prove fair weather

    I don't think I ever mentioned that sammi law is my fonetic spelling of a Thia phrase - Husband Handsome. My wife is Whaahn Jai - Sweet Heart.

    Suggestion: If anyone ever refers to you with the term Jai Dee - be sure to say khob khun about six or eight times, at least. That term is not used lightly.