The Daily Dialogue #2
Opdateret: 5. dec. 2019
The Vital Dialogue
Food, socializing and
In Thailand - especially in rural areas - food is pretty much the focal point of everything throughout the day. You usually eat when you are hungry and rarely organized as ‘communal’ eating. However, a wife may well visit her husband wherever he is working and make sure that he gets something to eat.
As a guest, you are brought food regularly, and of course, eat everything you can. Somehow it was rumored that I love bananas and usually eat one or two every morning. It meant that the man in the house, every morning, brought me fresh bananas from the ground's banana palms.
If you can't eat everything, the rest is put in the fridge. Nothing goes to waste. Often you will find, that you are the only one who gets food and eat - at least that is how it feels. But typically, it will turn out that the others around you have just eaten on various other places.
Of course, people also eat together. It often happens, and if some are not present, you bring food to them wherever they may be staying.
And then the conversation is in full swing.
The non-Thai speaking using a sign language,
which is getting more and more advanced and accurate,
at least to his own understanding.
Only very few of the older generation speak English.
So if you possess just a little linguistic instinct,
it is a good idea to learn Thai.
Unfortunately, I cannot brag about linguistic instinct, so I am one of those who is increasingly "advanced" in the subtleties of sign language.
However, I have found a technological “emergency solution”, which is especially useful in places where you stay a little longer.
After an initial curiosity and a mild skepticism, which no one by the way express, you are quickly ready for technology-supported dialogue.
The set-up consists of a mini-mixer desk, a small speaker, a handheld microphone and an iPhone with Google translate.
In the Google translate app, which is by and large self-explanatory, you select the two languages you want to translate from and to, click the app's microphone icon and speak.
The app records your speak, which is subsequently played in translated form over the speaker.
Then the microphone is handed to the Thai speaker and the procedure repeated.
A very fine opportunity to express thoughts and small-talk on a small scale in concentrated form. But be aware, that if you become a little too nuanced in your sentences, the translator can deliver strange results. However, if you use a simple, straightforward language, it works quite well. And even when the 'communication fails', there is a lot of quality of togetherness and fun in the situation. Highly recommended.
This technology-supported language assistance led, among other things to an invitation from a local school to tell 37 third-graders about Denmark
Interaction with the local community
- and a small metropolitan intermezzo
The invitation to tell about Denmark from a local (private) school, caused by the technology-supported communication, was of course received with thanks.
As the students' English skills are basic, and as my English never becomes more than rusty, I wrote a small 16-page English booklet, which I got copied in Bangkok and sent up north. That way the booklet could be a good support for our time together.
All the skepticism and all the prejudices about the booklet project, that “it definitely won't work”, “the print quality is probably not very good” and ”sending the booklets to a remote village in central Thailand from Bangkok, you are a bit of an optimist?” - was put to shame. Fine quality and the booklets arrived in due time.
At first I thought that it was quite simple to select some interesting informations from Denmark to tell 3rd grade children about.
But it was not.
It was more thought and time consuming, than I had just imagined.
The little booklet with all its generalizations, deficiencies, nasty statements and inaccuracies can be downloaded here.
Four of us from the village went together to the school and then proceeded to Bangkok after the meeting with the third grade students. In Bangkok I had an appointment with a tailor who had taken my measurements earlier on at my arrival.
The meeting with the school was an unmixed pleasure. Smiling, open, and accommodating teachers, and the 3rd grade students: Incredibly curious and compassionate, questions and comments on every word - “relevant and irrelevant” in a beautiful mix.
How old is the queen? What is Denmark's biggest sport. Why do you have a green t-shirt in your carrier bag? What is Denmark's money called? etc. in a wonderful endlessness.
The little booklet turned out to be a really good idea. It came to act as the red thread in the Danish narrative, which, in spite of questionnaires and comments, I somehow managed to stick to.
An experience I would not have missed for anything!
We then proceeded to Bangkok - a trip of about 3 hours, depending on the traffic in/out of Bangkok. Before visiting the tailor, we stopped at the Siam Paragon Mall, where we split into a photo group and a "hygiene" group.
In the department store's photo shop, I fell for a Nikon P900 with an 83x zoom, from 24mm to 2.000mm as a supplement to my other Nikon gear.
As an incarnate amateur photographer you can always justify new purchases.
For example, how could I get close to wildlife around the world without such a camera?
How I had been able to do without it until then was a great mystery - and fortunately this miserable situation was now brought to an end.
The bargain itself was a bit odd. We examined the exhibited model and the seller assured us, that the store had a brand new, unpacked camera in stock.
Fine, let's get hold on it.
The seller sent a colleague to the stock after the camera - and then elapsed quite a long time – leaving us plenty of time to photograph each other in the shop, fall for a small, smart photo bag, etc.
After half an hour we asked the seller about the camera-situation and he could reassure us that it just was in the offing. And it sure was, as only another half hour went by, then the brand new, unpacked camera lay on the counter.
It turned out that the seller had sent a scooter off in rush hour traffic to pick up the camera in the "remote stock" at another store in another part of Bangkok.
Then by tuk-tuk to the tailor, who had a few sample models ready. Everything was adjusted, the tailor and his assistants preferably wanted me equipped slim-line stylish, but I fortunately succeeded in forcing my view through, that I feel more comfortable in clothes, that make it possible for me to breathe.
Young girl or ladyboy?
In the meantime, a couple of Bangkok friends had been informed that we were in town and an "authentic" venue for a cold beer and some food was agreed. The venue was a bar where every table or party was secured company and service with one of the place's young girls or ladyboys. We sat right next to the sidewalk, so we had both a view of the vibrant street life outside and an insight into the bar life and activities.
Our table was joined by a pretty ladyboy with the nicest - and therefore probably wonderfully décolleté - bosom.
The women of the table did not hide their envy, but clearly showed that they wanted to puncture these adorable breasts.
Lots of laughter and exchange of boobs jokes.
Here we men felt a little out of it, trying our best to behave as if nothing of that kind happened, sipping our cold beers, looking out on the sidewalk.
The girls and ladyboys literally get no pay from the bar, so it is customary for the guests occasionally to offer the charming company a drink, so of course that we did.
The bar advertised with dining, although they did not command a kitchen of their own.
However, they served hungry guests with food from a number of nearby eateries.
Once again, an exciting and different experience from what you, as a Scandinavian, are used to. To put it mildly. I might just add that the bar was definitely in the nicer half of the nightlife's offerings, just before they started to become seriously "authentic".
As a long-term guest of a family in a village, one must be prepared for a little of everything.
With lightning speed it got about that a foreign man lived with the family. Such a piece of news initiates several things, one of the more spectacular is, that there are women who would like to visit and “check him out”.
In this situation I really had to value the elderly woman, Prathin (my age) in my family, who guarded my virtue with a dragon's enthusiasm.
Access prohibited for women!
However, some of the older woman's girlfriends passed through the needle eye, which has certainly not diminished the talk in the village.
To be perfectly honest, it might have been an experience (!) to meet one or two of these curious women, but it will have to wait to another time.
At the little property, there was always something to do. Trees to be cut down, boards to be cut, bananas to be picked, food to be cooked. Yes, as a guest it was easy to get a little breathless over all that activity.
But not the Thai. Nobody has said when things should be done. Therefore everything goes quite smoothly with dinner breaks, a neighbor just looking by to see how things proceed, if there is a need for a helping hand. At dinner time it is of course quite naturally to move into the shade. It also gives you the opportunity to debate which nails or joint filler is the best.
An admirable phlegm many people without a doubt would benefit from following.
To the market on scooter
The day after the hectic workmen activities, a traveling market came to a nearby village. What was more natural for the workmen than to take a well-deserved relaxation by going to market - inviting me along.
The man in the house, Kung, invited me to the market with a smile that revealed, he expected me to say no thanks. The intention was that we two older gentlemen of more than 130 years together should drive to the market on a scooter, where he had also promised his 9 years old granddaughter, Kiara, a place.
But of course I accepted the invitation with a big thank you and a big smile, and shortly afterwards we got on the scooter and drove to the market.
I hold a motorcycle driver's license and even in my youth owned a scooter, so it wasn't that getting from A to B, from village to market on a scooter was a big revelation.
It was, on the other hand, a very large and distinctive experience in that way to become part of the relatively impulsive scooter traffic on the road. We two grandfathers + granddaughter overtook one scooter after the other. Many scooter-drivers casting lightly hidden glances (one does not stare) at us, probably not least because my gray haired head visibly protruded high above my two fellow passengers.
For me as a scooter passenger you could say that in a small scale this was an almost meditative assimilation of (at least one aspect of) Thai culture.
One of several experiences that I can feel is still making me feel better about being attentive and living in the present.
One of the places this presence can be observed, is in my experience of time, which is becoming increasingly fluid.
Waiting times and exceeding scheduled meeting times, which could previously change my face color towards the gas blue, become less significant.
I was even pleased (?!) to spend an extra couple of hours in a small town waiting for transport.
By the way, at the market, they also sold all the special pickings and monstrosities that you have only heard of or seen on film.
On our way back we had to pick up a couple of shirts that had been sent out for ironing. So on the last part of our way back, I sat perfectly natural and fluttered with three freshly ironed shirts from my seat at the back of the scooter.
The next morning, as we were standing outside the house waiting for the “market van” to buy some freshly cooked chicken meat, the experience of the previous day was somewhat thrown into relief.
The neighbor wife drove as the most natural thing (exactly what it is) her three school-seeking children to school on the scooter. Great colorful school uniforms, four smiling and happy people on their way to the day’s work, a life affirming sight.
In a nearby, slightly larger city, the 2008 Olympic champion in Thai boxing, Somjit Jongjorhor, has offered Thai boxing lessons since then. Meanwhile Somjit, has also become a well-known media figure in an X-factor similar program, which has certainly not diminished his fame and the influx of boxers to his gym.
In addition to the master himself, the former Thai champion, Krud, gives lessons at the center.
I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a Thai boxer training with Krud in preparation for a subsequent training by the master himself the next day.
During the last training before the Thai boxer was to be taught by Somjit, it was important for Krud to ensure, that the Thai boxer would make a good figure when he met the master.
Not least because a slightly unfortunate appearance would fall back on Krud. So the Thai boxer got a lot of instructions, remember now, don't, don't etc, etc - the respect is great between professionals.
For the training session by Krud I had brought the technological translator equipment and learned, that Krud is 49 years old and has been boxing since he was 11.
Of course, on the day of Somjit's master class, I made sure to show up well in advance. The Thai boxing aspects I was without preconditions for judging. But other conditions sprang to mind. Somjit is an athlete with a fantastic body restraint, who clearly feels very much at home in his body. All of Somjit’s movements were graceful and a ballet dancer worthy as he was demonstrating attack and defence
Somjit's body is harmonious and not like some athletes in certain sports, a body that has especially cultivated special muscle groups.
Even the warm-up was in a class of its own.
And another little thing you can't help, but notice:
In everything Somjit is doing, he is incredibly concentrated, from the seemingly smallest warm-up detail to demonstration and commentary on students ’skills.
Somjit is 100% on all the time. A fascinating experience.
The fact that I made a photograph with the master after the session, in which he instructed me in the correct boxing position, only increased the impression of an integrated, harmonious and friendly man.
Of course, Somjit was offered and predicted a great professional career after his Olympic championship. He declined, and instead returned to his growing up area to open the training center. For obvious reasons he has star-status in Thailand.
Thai children are excellent at taking care of and playing with themselves.
It does not mean that they ignore the outside world, on the contrary, they are always ready to interrupt their activities and give a helping hand with whatever it may be.
Thai children seem very harmonious and do not need constantly to call attention. As a frequent traveler, I will easily be able to name a handful of countries where the opposite is clearly the case. According to the Thai mothers, the harmonious behavior of the children is due to the fact that during their upbringing they receive a lot of attention. They are never in doubt that they are highly loved. If they cry or are bored, there is always an adult nearby to comfort.
Grace of 3 years has e.g. just spent 2 hours on the most beautiful watercolor drawing, but since the guest wants to photograph her at work, she looks up and gives quick thumbs-up and v-signs. Even in northern Thailand, children watch TV and learn the signs and attitudes of the internet age.
However, she also managed to persuade me to let the watercolor be the center figure.
Kiara, age 9, returns after a little excursion, and she and Grace immediately find each other in enjoyable play despite the age difference.
Sights and 2 x dining
Not far from the village is a major tourist attraction, namely bat caves.
On the one hand you can walk some distance into the caves, and on the other hand from the outside you can see millions of bats leave the caves at dusk.
It is believed that there are more than 10 million bats in the caves.
Six people from the village went together to the bat caves. Six persons was just over the top of what the scooter could handle, so we drove by car. To stay in the scooter tour's experience of fresh air and views, the "scooter gang" placed itself on the truck body, and then we teared along - like a better amusement ride.
The bats was a fantastic experience. The flock is so large and persistent that it most of all resembles of smoke, that comes out of the mountain and swings and bends into the landscape. In Denmark we know something that is slightly reminiscent of it, when bird flocks gather at the Wadden Sea. This is just a slightly enlarged version.
After having experienced something so magnificent, what is more natural than eat out. The local knowledge of the area's dining options among our group took us off the beaten path along winding little roads to a small restaurant that was surrounded by wild nature on all sides. We were the only guests, but the locals knew each other and in no time the restaurant's host couple had prepaired 6 different dishes, rice, soups, fish, chickens and pork in various sauces.
We drank water and cola - which was served as soon as we arrived, along with a few small spray bottles with mosquito repellant.
Not that we had observed flying beasts of any kind, but obviously to be on the safe side.
The bill for dining of six people with the most flavorful dishes was 1,180 baht, equivalent to less than $ 40.
The following evening, we decided to buy pre-made food for a hot-pot. A barbecue event with all kinds of vegetables and meat. We took off four people, two adults, and two girls.
The driver chose a route and gave it gas, and when we had been driving for a while, he asked the girls if they thought we were soon there.
They didn't think so.
When asked why they didn't believe so, they told us we should have taken the diametrically opposite direction!
Of course, that is not something a girl on her own initiative says to an adult - something with respect and not losing face.
It was so fortunate that I stayed in the area at the time of the annual wine festival at the GranMonte Vineyard in Khao Yai - this year the winery was celebrating its 25th anniversary at the same time.
Admission cards were purchased which gave access to a day tightly packed with events ranging from classic car exhibits over wine and art stalls to a vintage competition for the guests followed by dinner and mini concerts on a set stage. And all day there was a free wine bar with the vineyard's excellent wines, which can easily compare with the best of the world's high-profile wines.
Unlike in Denmark, one can plan (outside the rainy season) such a magnificent event without being nervous about, that the weather spoils the experience.
The harvest competition was entered as a team consisting of 2 adults or 1 adult and 2 children. Participants were dressed in wine aprons and fitted with a pair of scissors and a wooden box for the grapes. And then they were off, the task being to harvest the most grapes in 5 minutes.
A very cheerful and picturesque experience in the beautiful countryside in the late afternoon hours of charming sunlight.
There were awards of 42,000, 36,000 and 24,000 baht respectively to the three teams that had harvested the most grapes.
I have signed up for next year's wine festival.
Inauguration of a new monk
Everyone in the village are Buddhists.
On a Sunday morning, there was an ordination of a new monk.
Earlier in the week, everyone in the area had received a letter invitating them to attend the dedication at the temple and with the opportunity to put an amount in the envelope for the monk's support.
In their best clothes, Kung shaved and newly cut and Prathin with a little lip-red, the elderly married couple took off to the inauguration.
As a guest, I gave them a few hundred baht in an envelope, which I "blessed" in the best Thai-greeting manner before their leaving.
Songkran, the Thai New Year is a fascinating experience.
The holiday extends over three days.
On the first day, many people are building sand castles and virtually everyone attends the temple celebrations.
On the same day, the particular custom of throwing water at each other starts.
Just as we in DK make fun and games and call on doors and run before anyone opens up - in Thailand there is water fun at full speed.
In many places along roads and alleys, young people are lurking or quite openly ready with water buckets and tubs, while others drive around in pickups and spray on everyone they pass.
A somewhat different experience from the squealing from the small Danish firecrackers.
Day 2 continues the water hubbub with unrestrained spraying after about 2 pm.
Before then, all the villagers, approx. 200 people meet in the temple and conduct a different water ritual after the temple ceremonies.
The elders of the village sit in a circle (I accepted being among the elders and popped into the circle). The younger inhabitants pass by we older people pouring water into our hands and on our feet. Occasionally, a little jerking goes in the younger ones, and a little water may find its way down the neck of an elderly person or into his breast pocket. In return for the younger people’s water pouring, the elderly wish the young people a good life.
Following this special ceremony, the oldest monk walks around, striking on village heads with a twig while mumbling ancient Buddhist truths.
I was so fortunate also to get a breath of munk air on my bare spot and a few powerful Buddhist words towards my scalp. The white color in my face, which can be seen in connection with the masculine beard growth :-) is another part of the enjoyable tradition, namely that everyone paint each others faces using white plant extracts.
Following the monks' rituals, local pop music at full blast flowed from maxi speakers on the nearby field.
Home to dinner through several water obstacles.
Day 3 is hardly that hectic, but there is always someone who thinks we are still on Day 1 or 2 and therefore continue with water spraying.
In the evening we enjoyed the Thai specialty, hot-pot.
Delicious, and as usually we had a smashing time.
A wonderful ending to an incredibly hospitable and insightful stay in a village
in Northern Thailand.