So much has happened in the last few days, it might take me a bit to put my head on straight. Most of my readers know the restaurant Sa Wad Dee in my hometown. What you may not know is that Tim (the owner) and Jum (her niece) come from a village south of Bangkok called Ban Taek Daet where I have been staying for the last few days. I’m told the population is 1,000. Jum built a house next to her mother and brother, which we are all staying in. It’s brand new and beautiful, surrounded by groves of fresh coconut, papaya, banana and mango. The village is filled with shrimp and fish farms, small markets and temples, and a load of motorbikes.
We toured the Damnoen Saduak floating market on our first day. This is something I’ve wanted to photograph for 10 years so I was in my element. We toured the canals by boat and ate “pork noodle” for less than a dollar. Delicious. You can buy just about anything from the floating market: souvenirs, clothing, hats, artwork, toys, steaming bowls of fresh noodles, mangosteens, pomelos, bananas, coconut pancakes, sticky rice and a wide variety of soups, curries and foodstuffs I cannot identify in to-go bags.
We are traveling by hired van. A 12 seater with sea green interior, A/C and a TV equipped with karaoke. Sometimes our driver, Dom, takes us to Big C, the Thai equivalent of Wal-Mart. There’s nothing quite like an Asian superstore to remind you that you’re not in Kansas anymore. I don’t support Mal-Wart in the U.S. so Big C is not my favorite, but it sells everything so it’s convenient for the group. I find myself wandering the isles confused by most things I encounter. Thankfully most items have English written on them somewhere; you just have to find it. Cost of one liter of water = less than $1.00; cost of one medium sized watermelon = also less than $1.00; cost of a bundle of carrots = about 35 cents. Me wandering around a Thai superstore aimless, confused and distracted = priceless. Street markets are ubiquitous here and they sell everything from chicken on a stick, fresh fruit juices, papaya salad (a new favorite), steamy bowls of fresh noodles, sushi and curry. Each meal is fresh, delicious and super cheap. I can fill my belly for $2.00. I’ll be a market maven; the others can have Big C.
Jum’s family and neighbors worked for days to prepare for a big party which happened last night. Karaoke dancers were hired (and yes, they were naughty at times), a stage was built, neon lights were hung from the trees and a sound system trucked in. We danced and sang and ate and drank until we couldn’t anymore. One thing I know for sure, Thais love their whiskey! I obviously didn’t know any of the Thai songs but I ended up on stage dancing regardless. An adorable neighbor girl (maybe age 9) who I’ve absolutely fallen in love with was taking pictures of me with her cell phone. Or so I thought. It turns out she was shooting video! I hope she doesn’t use YouTube but if she does, you’re in for a good laugh. The language barrier sucks as it always does, but the people here are open-hearted, generous, and they like to have fun. Having an “in” to the culture and this family has been invaluable.
This morning we experienced a house blessing ceremony lead by nine Buddhist monks. Chanting, prayers, offerings and a full spread of Thai food to die for! I was the only American in our group let into the house with the monks for the blessing which I consider a high honor because women are typically not let near the monks. It was incredibly moving to listen to their chanting and receive their blessings. There are no words for this experience. I’m such a lucky farang! And now Jum’s house is blessed. The family and neighbors have worked so hard to make all this happen over the last few days. I wish there was a way I could thank them properly. I find myself in the kitchen at times helping the Thai women. I can’t help but watch them work all day. I know they are the backbones of the village. We can’t understand a word of each other’s language, but they welcome me in. I helped shuck coconuts yesterday which was damn hard! These women are strong, resilient, incredibly hard-working. Many of them work from sunrise well past sunset. They cook, clean, tend to the laundry, go to the market, gut the fish, butcher the meat, peel the mangoes, shuck the coconuts and do all the dishes once everyone has eaten. Like women all over the world, they work their asses off without many of the Western conveniences we are used to. It seems the Thai women hold a more equal role to men compared to the second and third class citizenry I often saw with women in India. Men work hard here too and I’m happy to see them cooking (something I never saw in India) but they have more leisure and freedom. Like smoking, drinking whiskey and taking an occasional prostitute.
Tomorrow we head back to Bangkok to see the Chatuchak Weekend Market (aka JJ Market) which is one of the largest in the world according to the guidebook. Monday morning we fly to Kho Pha Ngan island for three days of beach time. Then it will be time for me to venture north and begin my volunteer expedition. I’m anxious to get there but am thoroughly enjoying a little sightseeing. Stay tuned for more from the Land of Smiles!