Thursday, April 1, 2010
There's been very little time to write these last few weeks. One day in Chiangmai I met a woman named Pee. She's tall, about my height, and looks much more like someone from the Indian Subcontinent than she does a person from Thailand. We started to talk, and sure enough, she's Thai, but not. She's Khmer, but born in Thailand. Her first language is Khmer, not Thai (the two languages have nothing in common).
We started to be friends. My brother Rich was coming to Bangkok for a visit, and out of the blue I found myself asking Pee if she would like to come along. "Sure," she said. So we took an overnight bus to Bangkok and had a great week with Rich. And, well, as long as we were on the road and that far south, we decided to bus the seven hours east to her village, a tiny village south of Surin, just north of the Cambodia border. On the way there we passed through the town of Nang Rong, a town I now know well because of the Yindichati farm (an experience which is now, sadly, I think, over).
We arrived at Pee's village, at her home, and here we still are. I have no idea how long we've been here. Days are seamless. The village is entirely Khmer, similar but completely different to the Yindichati farm. Everyone here is a farmer, but the houses are clustered and the actual fields are all outside the village, surrounding the village. The Yindichati farm was much more like a farm in the American Midwest: one farmhouse and the fields, then another farmhouse and the fields. Another big difference is that here everyone speaks Khmer, whereas at the Yindichati farm, everyone spoke either Korat or Lao. And, though I know little, here I think is considerably poorer.
Pee's father died when she was a teenager. She has seven brothers and sisters. We live here in the house (from where I am right now writing) with Pee's mother (who raised eight children on her own), Sister Number One (who has a severe muscle disorder in her legs), and Pee's daughter, Gung, aged ten. It's a very happy house, and constantly busy. Morning starts between four-thirty and five, chickens pluck-plucking. Kantrung (the Khmer version of Morlam) and luktung music goes on the communal stereo. By six it's daylight and charcoal fires are already burning in front of every house.
Right now Pee is killing a chicken for breakfast. The other day I asked her if she liked wet season or dry season. "Wet season," she immediately replied. "In wet season I catch frogs every day, easy." Next to the house Sister Number One has a cricket farm ("jinglets"), as do many households in the village, but she also has a small scorpion farm (with huge scorpions). The food here is beyond good: crickets, frogs, snails, cockles, leguminous tree leaves, fresh garden kale, fish and fresh nampriks and nam jims beyond description.
Pee and I are getting used to each other, happily. I ask a lot of questions, constantly, and every third or fourth question she will turn and look at me as if her look could kill. "Shut up your mouth," she will answer, in English. Next door there is a baby one week old, so beautiful. Directly across the street there is another baby, now one month old. His name is Fu...k Off. People here, and especially Pee, joke constantly.
The other day we bought a motorcycle, and today we are going to town (an hour away) to buy a small washing machine. I'm starting to smell the chicken grilling. Oh, and one other thing. Instead of coffee in the morning, here most everyone, men and women, start the day with a shot or two of Lao Khao, local rice whiskey. It's great! Gotta go.
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