Daily Archives: January 6, 2006

When the sun sets..she runs

Last September, I had a chance to be an exchange student in Osaka, Japan (AFS programme). I could be there for three weeks only. However, although it was just a short programme, lots of exciting and interesting things happened that could have stayed here in my box of memory forever.

On the first week, all I did were only activities with extremely beautiful Noriko (Mother) and little cute Aiko (5-year-old sister), my host family. I started to learn about the culture; what they eat, how they act and even what they wear. And talking about what to wear, my host mother told me about Yukata (National costume) and also Japanese students’ uniform.

The second week came, I began the school. I went to Namihaya High School. The night before that, a teacher called me to prepare stuff and asked if I had my own school uniform, I said yes, so I wore it to school. Students and teachers were so surprised with me because my unique uniform differ me from the students completely. Girls wore cute tight white shirt with the little bow on it, cute short skirt, long balck socks and cool polished shoes. They also have various hairstyle each. On a contrary, I wore a little loose white shirt with my school emblem (Pra-Keaw, King Rama V’s symbol) on my chest, long black skirt, folded white socks and old shoes. I also had my hair with the black bow on tied back. Moreover, 85% of those girls wore make up, only me who had very pale oily face lol. However, friends welcomed me so well. They were so eager to ask about me and my country and I was glad.

In the evening, I came home, took a shower and put my uniform in the washing machine like I always did to those casual clothes I wore the week earlier. Then joyed dinner with family and went to bed happily. The next morning, I tried to find my uniform out there on the porch. I couldn’t find it anywhere.. so I asked my host mum if she had put it anywhere. She said, “Oh? I didn’t wash it.” I was like, “WHAT?!” ~ I found out later that they do not wash school uniform there that often because it’s expensive, the weather is not so hot plus there’s not much dust out there in Japan. But somehow, I couldn’t bear it that much. I mean, we do wash it no matter what here everyday plus that day I got lost and was so sweaty finding the way back home so I called my teacher if I could wear casual clothes. I could so I did. I did that for two days then the teacher asked if I was interested in trying Japanese uniform on. My heart beated suddenly because it’s something cute and I’d love to try. and I changed from my casual one to the real uniform. That day I walked in the town for a long time to show people my Japanese uniform I wore for the first time ~ and I came home late.. On the way home, I had to walk through the feild to get to the apartment I stayed at. The sun was setting soon. I noticed one middle-aged lady walking ahead of me. I so wanted to talk to her but my Japanese wasn’t going anywhere so I didn’t try. I just kept walking. Since it was getting darker, I walked a little faster. Then I saw that lady kept looking back at me.. She walked faster and faster and faster, too ~ I didn’t think anything at first and put my hand in the bag to find keys. As I did that, SHE RAN SO FAST!…

I looked back and there was no one.. just me. When I arrived, I told Noriko about it and we guessed that she might have been scared of me. And when I tried to find keys, she might have thought it would be some kind of weapon. Ah man, I didn’t really mean to do anything! Plus I was in the Japanese uniform and I’m still a teenager.

But after a long thinking, the sun already set and anything could have happened. It’s not about she didn’t trust me, it’s about she had to be full of awareness. We all have to be aware all the time because danger can come to us although we don’t ask for it.


So 2005 is gone, 2006 has come and nothing has, obviously, changed. New Year’s celebration are gone and life is clearly back to normal as it is confirmed by the fact that, driving my way to Bangkok on highway 226, I can see many children slowly walking back to their school.
Business as usual.

It has been the first time I spent the New Year festivities in Bannok and I was kind of eagerly waiting for this moment. It turned out nothing special if not another occasion to observe and try to understand a way of life and a culture that I realise are so much different than mine.
We had a family gathering with my wife’s siblings coming from Bangkok to our matriarch home, few drinks and a dinner with “som tam”, “pra ra” (not too much happy was I as they are the only two things I really do not like about here) and, thanks God, some rice and Tom Kha.
I brought some wine from Europe that nobody really seemed to appreciate… except me of course.

But it was nice, nice to see all those people who were genuinely happy to be together, all this big family made of smaller and broken families. Nobody cared if some were broken families, there was a real feeling of bonding together and this contrary to what may happen in Europe. Our neighbours were having a good time singing a karaoke and, I can tell from the way they were singing, drinking a lot of Leo Beer and Mekong whiskey.

The most beautiful part of the evening has been some kind of lottery which gave so much fun to everyone. Children, “weiloon” and old ladies were meant to draw a number and see if they would get a very simple prize or, maximum, 20 bahts.
It was amazing to witness how such a simple thing could generate so much happiness between all people of any age. It was fun, pure and healthy fun. I really did enjoy every moment of it, I did enjoy the simplicity and the atmosphere, sadly imagining how unthinkable would be having the same kind of “sanook” in Europe where everything is more and more sophisticated.
I am not writing this words with western contempt and the usual bullshit “poor but happy (which is totally false I can tell you after 15 year of social work in India, Nepal and Thailand)”, but it was refreshing for me to be part of such a collective way to enjoy a particular and very happy moment. Wish I had more of the same in the future.

Another thing which is amazing me is the whole concept of family which, in my humble opinion, is so much different than in the west. There (in the west) family is basically made by a limited number of people (father mother and kids) here family has a much wider meaning. What is best? I do not know, and I think is not absolutely important but what I am thinking is that the Thai family structure is likely to offer a safety net for broken families’ children.
In either sides of the world the number of so called “broken families” is ever increasing with mostly negative effects on children.
But while in the west after the parent’s split children are left with a single parent, it seems to me that here in Thailand in the same case scenario children have the “umbrella” of a huge number of relatives who can make them feel their love, care, affection and a sense of belonging.
Of course, this is only my impression which could well be wrong, but as a divorced parent myself I’ve had a lot of soul searching, and pain, on the matter.
In any case I like those big families, where people may come and go but always they will find someone waiting for them, no matter what.

Speaking of which here is another matter that has been in my poor brain for quite a long time.
Naudom is a small, limited society and a world where it seems there is no “I” letter.

It seems to me that everyone is there for each other, always ready and willing to help and forget about himself for the sake of the community.
This makes me wonder if I finally did discover some kind of successful form of socialism.

The side effect of this discovery is that now I can see clearly how still I am self centred compared to the village dwellers.

I think though this may not entirely be my fault, this is how the environment affects the individuals.
To my excuse is the fact that I did grow up in a hugely capitalistic society, a society based on the individual, on competition which is actually putting each one of us against the other.
The illusion of success turns us into beasts ready to kill (metaphorically, but not only) each other, with no mercy, no regards and respect for our fellows humans.

In a rural and simple society made of farmers this kind of wicked competition appears to be totally missing, this is a mutual society where everyone helps each other where all that matters is common welfare and not the individual success.

And even though everyone can tell I am always ready to help too, bring some sick old lady to hospital, helping carrying heavy rice bags but how many times I did that with joy in my heart?
Or instead how many times I thought… “Oh God, I have to do this and that again”?
Honestly too many, seldom I did it a smile on my face and in my heart and this appears to be is the big difference between me and them.

This is probably the biggest hurdle I have to overcome to finally blend in the village society’s life. Shall I try to put the community first and “forget” about myself a bit more.

Living in Ban Naudom is bringing me back to the root of human existence, but somehow I still am unable to cope with this process, I suppose it will be still a long hard road for me, to fight my inner demons and leave behind all the wicked influence that have tarnished my personality and my person.

Or am I being once again too hard on myself?
Am I idealizing a place, seeing what I wish to see and not what really is there to be seen?

I have, as usual, no answers just questions but one sure fact it is that I have still a lot to learn about life and myself and every day is a new lesson for this old Khun Phu and I would like to thank my wife and Naudom people for those lessons.

BAN NAUDOM, January 2nd 2548