Teerak, my mom is sick and I need money (4)
Delivery by pick-up truck: July 4
7:30 am and I’m waiting outside my building with my car and driver. Neither Neung nor Khun Ying, her sister. Oh well, it’s Thailand so I guess I just have to wait. I receive an sms and it seems that the taxi they called could not find their place, so they are going to be very late. May 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 one. We leave for Ransit. Neung explains about cat food. Her mother had four cats. The neighbor has been feeding them but ran out of food 4 days ago, so the cats haven’t eaten. Ok, that explains cat food well enough!
9:15 am we arrive at the house in Rangsit and go to see the neighbours. The cats are coming, fast! We feed them some food and then they are joined by the neighbor’s dog, who seems to eat cat food just as willingly as he eats dog food. Well, it’s Thailand!
Let’s make tambuun at home. Neung explains that sometimes people do it at the temple but it is considered “more fortunate” to do it at the person’s home. Something to do with the liberation of the spirit. I don’t pretend to understand, but no problem. I ask when the monks will arrive. Around 11am they tell me which obviously means 11:30am. everyone is always late here. All the monk’s gifts have been prepared. Money in envelopes, flowers, and the usual bucket of goodies: washing powder, toothpaste, etc.
10.30 and the monks arrive. What’s going on here? No one in Thailand is ever early. We’ll get back to this shortly, but it turns out it’s all about food. The monks arrived, all nine of them, in the back of a pickup truck. Dressed in their orange robes it is a somewhat surreal scene. Weirdest pickup delivery I’ve ever seen! Now we have nine monks sitting on the floor of the house, with about 25 guests sitting on all sides. The rituals begin with an offering of water to the monks. The candles are lit, the rope is unwound, we all settle in and the singing begins.
I can’t be sure, but it seemed to me that the chants were very similar to those at funeral ceremonies. It is very interesting to watch and listen. It is melodic without being musical and slightly hypnotic. Hypnosis would have been helpful because he was in agony from sitting cross-legged. My knees are damaged from too much running in the gym and I find these basic sitting postures almost impossible to manage. So for me, singing is an exercise in pain and the constant thought going through my mind of “how much longer?”
A couple of dogs dart in and out as we sit and a 2-year-old girl joins us, raising her hands in a prayer position. It is a very nice scene. She gets bored quickly, as 2-year-olds do, and decides to examine and undo the padlock on the garden gate. She then decides to try on everyone else’s shoes, flip flops, high heels, they are all of equal interest. I find my eyes wander much more to her than to the business at hand.
The chanting stops and now I know why the monks came early. We are your lunch. I have been told that monks eat twice a day, breakfast and lunch, and that they cannot eat after noon. They came early to make sure they could have lunch. Well, that makes a lot of sense to me. After all, this country, more than most, runs on its stomach. Lunch is a party. A mass of different foods. They eat, we wait. Everyone seems happy and there is a lot of laughter from everyone.
I am, of course, the only farang and the object of some attention. Many ask Neung if I am her boyfriend. She says no, just a friend and that I’m gay. Hmm, okay. Now where did that come from? Neung explains. If I say you’re my friend (puan), they’ll wonder why you’re here, so I called you my gay friend. Hmmm okay. Why not say that I’m your ex-boyfriend? No way she says. If I say that, I lose face. So the price of not losing face is that I am now gay. Life could be worse!
The singing resumes, but this time it is very brief, no more than five minutes. The monks collect their treats, get in the van and drive off. The paperwork is over. Neung’s mother is now at peace.
Lunch begins for all guests. We divided into two groups. I sit with Neung, Khun Ying, and seven other ladies. Most of them are between 50 and 60 years old and I am an object of fascination. They see me struggling with sitting postures and, laughing, a stool appears and tells me to sit down. My cheeks are red but the pain is gone, so it’s a good compensation. Then the real challenge begins. Am I going to eat the food? Luckily, I like Thai food at least as much as Kon Thai, so food is not a problem for me. They’re even beginning to realize that I speak pretty decent Thai.
Everything is going well until we get to the durian mixed with sticky rice and coconut milk. Durian is fine to eat, but this one is not ripe enough. Sticky rice is not something I enjoy. Mix it all together? Well, I manage not to vomit, but only a little, and of course the whole group finds this very entertaining, almost including myself. These are all good people. They are having fun. They are being very welcoming to me. It’s been a good day so far.
The food is removed and we all begin to clean up. Neung pays for the food, which necessarily means that I pay for the food. There’s a lot of celebrating and five minutes later what seems like a million bottles of beer arrive. It seems that I also gave some good advice! So now everyone really loves us.
It’s time to go, time to do many wais, to say goodbye and drive home. Neung is leaving for Amsterdam tonight to spend 10 days with her Thai gay friend and her Dutch boyfriend. She tries to insist that she won’t spend the whole 10 days looking for a new boyfriend, but she doesn’t sound too credible. She may think, this is not my problem anymore. If she’s happy, I’m happy too. She may be my ex, but she’s still my friend and she’s had a rough few months.
The first Thai funeral I attended was for Neung’s mother and I also made my first tambuun for her. It has been another fascinating experience. Thais handle death with great grace, humor, tact, and respect. That’s an odd combination of words, but it’s an appropriate combination. I like the way they do this and I like to think that Neung’s mother would be pleased with what she saw today. I don’t claim to understand Buddhism or Thai culture, but what I see I really like.
As for Neung, it’s been a difficult time. Her mother was her only family. Her father didn’t show up today and apparently has been asking her for money. Her 75-year-old stepfather has been trying to transfer his affection for his mother to Neung herself.
She has been unhappy and has cried a lot alone. I haven’t been able to spend much time with her. She today she seems happier than I’ve seen her in a long time. Partly it’s because she’s going to Amsterdam, but I think it’s more than that. She has finally learned to say goodbye to her mother.
Thailand is truly a crazy place at times. Crazy but wonderful and very much alive, even in death. I have the privilege of being here.
The end. Original article available at [http://www.blog.artthailand.net/?p=17][http://www.blog.artthailand.net/?p=17]