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.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

In Local News...

In Thailand, spring/summer/planting/baby/teacherworship/election season is here. That means a daily stupendous cloud and storm display accompanied by lots of rain.
Seems that sprouts of all variety are eager to unfurl. Pictured below is Mee Sook, or Happy, the new daughter of my good friend Nit, a nurse at NKP hospital. Mee Sook is joined in the world by Bim Bot, the son of my Director at Nong Yasai, and Lily, the daughter of my Field Director, Jes, born in Bangkok.
Nit and her husband, Oot, live in a lovely new home in Nakhon, designed and containing much of the woodwork built by Oot in his shop in Si Saket, several hours drive away. Like many Thai couples, he lives where it is best for his work and she hers, and they get to see each other only after weeks apart. I will take some photos of his other work and post them later. They are a couple representative of the rising middle class in Thailand. It is quite a sight to see Nit's weather-faced farmer mother sitting on the immaculate white tile floor beneath the 42 inch flatscreen Samsung, chewing her red Betel leaf, placidly watching over Mee Sook. I greatly admire Oot's design and woodworking skills and we have had many conversations about the business. I consider it a blessing to know these locals and to have a place at their table, especially since Nit is a terrific cook! A wonderfully hard-working, generous, sweet family.
Since sunshine and heat dominate year round, the emergence of new fruit seems monthly rather than seasonal. The latest addition to the plate and palate is the so-dubbed "queen of fruit", the mangosteen. That is it on the right, a bit of an ugly queen to be sure on the outside, but the white fruit inside is WOW good- different than any fruit I have eaten- creamy and neither sweet nor sour. Not to mention the rambutan and the longen that began to show up at the markets of late as well. On the left is a sweet miniature banana- not new on the scene but geez I know I will miss these babies.
A recent visit from the high mucky mucks at Educational District Office 1 meant an all out campus clean-up at Nong Yasai. The combination of a hose and the hot weather had my P-6 girl crew, like kids with the fire hydrants in NYC or the kids on rope swings over the rivers in Maine, going slip and slide crazy!
Over at Thai Samakee, I went to school last Thursday to find that it was Wei Kru Day. Surprise! No classes! It had been quite a stretch since we had one of these out-of-the-blue no class days. Lulled into thinking we were just going to play school and teach and stuff. I guess it might have occurred to someone to give me a heads-up so I would have dressed as rip roy as everyone else, but how can I complain about Wei Kru Day when it is so exquisitely lovely?
In the USA we have Teacher Appreciation Week,  which in my school means the same school board members who are trying to cut my pay and benefits the other 51 weeks of the year, drop off fruit and doughnut plates in the teacher's lounge. We shameless teachers then take a break from kvetching about said school board members to stuff our faces on their dime. American students, as far as I can tell, rigorously abide by their, School Sucks and Teachers Are Stupid schedule year round. In Thailand, Wei Kru Day is a formal occasion where the students make or buy flower arrangement offerings. They gather and sing a lot of songs and say thanks en mass. They then come up in pairs or groups of three, bow before an icon of the Buddha, followed by a photo of the king, followed by a prostration and flower offering to the teachers.
As you can imagine,  a teacher could get drunk on this sort of power. What made me instead feel humble and enormously accountable and responsible was that our role was to bless each child as they bowed before us. Totally unsure of my powers here, and eager not to mess up some child's karma for the year. I simply tried to let a sort of benevolent sense of love flow out of me towards them, and muttered, May all your wildest dreams come true.
Stupid me in my stupid Crocs...After the Wei ceremony, the students moved on to elections for head student. I am unsure of how the nomination process works, but they lined up 10 sixth graders and gave each one a number and then everyone- from kindergarten up- went up to a table, wrote a number and placed it in the vote box.
Reluctant Candidates

Serious Business
The votes were announced one by one publicly, the results tallied on a whiteboard. I felt a little uneasy for the candidates who garnered very few votes while the shouts and screams went out for each new vote called out for the eventual winner.
The national elections are going full swing as well, with trucks like this one driving around blaring messages from early morning until late afternoon.
Music is occasionally intermixed with the talking, but mostly it is a sort of repeated mantra, very much like ads for a ShamWow. BUY NOW! BUY NOW! The main roads are dotted with campaign billboards,  which are occasionally vandalized-usually the conservative party guy's face cut out so it is just a hole. I love how they are made and put up.

This is a billboard for Yingluck, who could be the first female president of Thailand. It is based on very little deep understanding, but I like what I have read about her and I hope she wins, if only so I can say I was here when history was made. I also think it would be a great role model for the young women in Thailand to see that a talented and bright woman can get to the very top. Of course, like Bhutto in Pakistan she will face many sticky challenges and who knows how she will unravel the mess between her brother and the conservatives? Hopefully, whoever wins there will be no violence during or post election. When I e-mailed my police buddy Rambo to see if Ben and I could come visit him this month, he replied, "This month not too good. With elections many hit men in the area." He was not being overly dramatic. Here corruption runs deep and the tension between the Red and Yellow shirt extremists is buzzing. That is Thailand and Isaan in particular, a people on the edge of marked change, with a spring crop of new opportunities and a heavy load of history. Is it up to the journey forward? We shall soon see.
Finally, in today's public interest segment, here is a link to a video of me dancing with my p-6 girls to the Maxida song. A maxida is the Lao word for a white westerner and also the guava fruit. I thought the song might be about a village girl falling in love with a white man, but my friend Nok explained that is was about a woman who is nursing her baby and then farts. Hmmm...I guess that is an appropriate song for this maxida!



  1. Hey Peter!

    Here's what popped into my head when I read this piece ... I wonder how long it is going to take for your heart to find your body once the jet ride ends; and how many times will salt water flow across your cheeks as these memories replay?

  2. There are already times when I will be sitting in my ban and out of the blue begin crying like a damned old fool...

  3. That video is really something. I'm glad you're admitting to crying for no reason. I weep for a good 20 minutes every morning, usually in the car while it's idling in the driveway.