Daily Archives: August 20, 2005

Memories of Thailand (The Early Years Part I)

Hi everyone! I have been routinely reading this excellent blog ever since I was directed to it by a starter web site. Well, I guess it’s time I spill the beans and share some of my unusual experiences. I’m sure Richard will be happy to have another writer in his camp:). I hope you all enjoy my first ever blog. I promise to do better the next time!

Country Girls In Chianart Bird Park 1970?

Let’s see…starting from my dawn of time….when was your earliest memory?? I think mine would be at about five. I was living in the countryside in Nakhon Sawan province between two villages inhabited by each side of my splintered family. As you may know, in the LOS back in the mid 60’s, it was very unusual (especially in the countryside) that you did not stay with your birth parents. My parents met, got married, had me, and the two families never got along.

My dad’s side was poor. He’s 25% Chinese and lost his father to the Japanese occupation at the end of WWII. I am told Grandpa B was executed or beheaded. I would love to research this a bit further when I get back next time. Hence, my Grandma B had to raise my Dad and his younger sister alone and under a negative stigma. They barely got by and my father grew up without a father. He did not have the opportunity to get much schooling. Making money to support the family day-by-day came first! This is very much like the farming settings in early America….”Little House on the Prairie“?? Nevertheless, he grew up attending the “Thai School Of Hard Knocks“. He became a regional Muay-Thai kick boxer champ in the area…got a motorcycle…and began visiting nearby towns. So, this is how my foot-loose and fancy free Dad found my Mom in a near-by village 40-some odd years ago.

Dek Howk Guap

My Mom’s family was quite different from Dad’s. They were “real” Thais stemming from Sukothai and Kamphaeng Phet with many relatives and land. Mom’s father, Grandpa I, was the village head-man and a doctor. He had a clinic right under their two-story Thai house made of teak. I remember rifling through the many drawers of herbal plants, animal parts, and remedies. He had jars of gruesome specimens in formaldehyde solutions that would scare me at night. We had no electricity and running water to speak of. We collected rain water off of the tin corregated roofs. I had an uncle who had a house with a diesel generator across the street. There was a community well about a 100 yards from the house at the base of the mountain by a shrine for water in the dry season.

Whoops! I’m getting distracted…more on country life and schools later I promise! My Mom was the oldest of six children and was “most rebellious”. She, along with her cousin, pretty darn much ran the teen social scene in that small village. Grandpa I had many guns and kept most of the boys at bay. I guess opposites attract, or the bad boy/good girl magic happened. My Dad didn’t give up pursuing Mom, even with a pistol at point blank touching his chest. Get killed or get my Grandpa I’s permission in marriage was his ultimatum. The outcome…as you can read…is why I’m writing to you now. Still, what a shaky way to start! Bye For Now!
Chok Dee Krup!

Head Case

I could’ve sworn I was a Texan in my past life. I love chicken fried steak. I dig country music. I’m quick to adopt a drawl once surrounded by folks who talk that way. I look good in cowboy hat, and feel right at home in cowboy boots.

What all of that has to do with Thailand? I’m getting to that in a moment.

So, today, casual Friday, the one day in this longest work week of the summer (does it feel long to the rest of y’all?) we can wear our jeans, I decided to go a little country. I have on my jeans, cowboy boots, plait shirt—from Thailand, ironically—and put my hair in 2 braids.

Here I am, sitting in my spacious cubicle on 34th floor building in Downtown Los Angeles, possibly the most diverse city in America, working away at my computer, looking like a cute little country bumpkin. An All-American Asian country bumpkin.

What a sight, indeed.

It kind of goes with my name being Oakley Boren thing. When I’m introduced as Oakley Boren, people just kind of have this expression on their faces like, “I didn’t expect to see an Asian chick named Oakley Boren”. Today it’s “I didn’t expect to see an Asian cowgirl named Oakley Boren.” Anyway. Pardon my digression.

I was still looking at the monitor when I saw Random Coworker (RC) stopped by my cubicle. I spotted her on my “rearview mirror” on my computer monitor. Before I could turn around and properly engaged in a chit chat, RC stepped up behind me and got a hold of my braids as if they were a reign on a horse.

She didn’t quite say, “Giddy up, Oaks!” but with the motion she was making with my braids, she might as well just do that. And I didn’t even get a carrot.

True. Not all Westerners know about how Thai people regard our heads as the most respectable part of the body. Many theories and explanations on why we come to value our heads: from the fact that it’s the place where you store your knowledge, and more importantly, that’s where our “Kwan” is.

There is not really one word to describe what Kwan is. It’s like a part of our soul, our spirituality. For example, when someone is frightened, it is said that the kwan has left the body. You can still hear mothers console the toddlers who have been spooked say, Kwan Oey Kwan Ma – Oh, Kwan. Come back, Kwan.

Young people don’t go anywhere near the older people’s heads. You can see in the way people bow low as they pass someone who are sitting, or crawl past them if they’re seated on the floor. Same way with service folks or people of lower social statures. It is disrespectful—and rude—to be taller than older/more respectable people’s head.

I’m usually very forgiving about people who did things not knowingly about my culture. Usually very forgiving about the touching of my head, being the smaller one in the group. But once in a while, I have to explain myself and people would apologize and acknowledge the cultural difference.

But RC here has been to Thailand and known the culture thoroughly. Her husband lived in Bangkok for almost a year, and I believe she was over there for at least a month. She actually touched my head once before and recoiled in horror that she forgot about the head thing. Yet, she still took me by my hair.

I guess today she just forgets that I’m Thai. It happens to the best of us sometimes.

Toto. We’re not in Bangkok any more.