Songkran DC Style….one year on

What a year. It was one year ago this month I wrote my first blog on here. Hard to believe it’s actually been a year. Even harder still to believe what kind of year 2005 was! Starting with the Tsunami disaster in Thailand and the horror the whole world saw I began 2006 in shock and disbelief. Night after night seeing the pictures on TV was wrenching my farang eyes and my (Thai?) heart. I long since stopped being superstitious when I was little but like many people in the back of my mind was the feeling this was not a good omen to begin the new year. Little did I know how true that feeling was (and how it was one I should have heeded)?

Eight months later the American Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, jabbed America in the chest as if to emphasize the point that we should have gotten the hint last time. It seemed like everywhere the news was the same, the floods waters never reached me but it shook me upside down just the same. Say goodbye to what you knew because nothing, not even the earth and sky and planet we thought we could depend on, would ever be certain again.

This year would also prove to be the worst I ever lived through

As winter closed in on the Easy Coast so did my life close in on me. I stopped seeing friends and going to Wat Thai for class or even just to see the monks, fellow classmate would e-mail and ask when I was coming back because the monks kept asking about me. They finally stopped after about 4 months.

I was 7 when I badly cut my arm. I smashed my fist through a window in the kitchen door trying to get the door open for my father coming home from work. I was so excited to see him and welcome him home. But by the time I was 9 I was lying in my bed at night in terror listening to my parents battling it out in the hall. My father was forcefully trying to get at me and I didn’t know why and or why Mom was so scared that he did. She desperately tried to make him stop and not wake me up. My father had come home late again and was drunk. Again. It was an occurrence happening more and more at my house. He wanted to wake me up that night just to give me a stupid wooden toy horse that he got from who knew where but the whole experience terrified me just the same. From those first frightening nights all the good in our relationship eventually vanished. As years past he became more and more about getting his next drink than being a father to his son. The blind love I had as a son for him as a father was swept away like all those lives lost in Katrina and the Tsunami. In it’s place remained contempt and hate for him. As I grew older fear gave way to rebellion and as he grew older belligerence gave way to raw bitterness. It was a long and slowly drawn out deterioration into hurt, then panic then retaliation and finally desperation with each confrontation we had, many times over nothing but many times accented by sudden, out of nowhere explosive bursts of violence. Then the eerie calm of dread wondering what’s or when would trigger the cycle again next. Is it any wonder all of us in my family live like shell shocked zombies until we each could finally get away? The last time he hit me was the first time I hit him back. I think I was by that time about 18 then.

As I shook my head of its revere I sat on the top step of the temple and looked around at all the people and the fun. Church never was like this when I was a kid and a “Southern Baptist”. If I didn’t understand anything else I knew then that in that moment this was what it was all about for me. Even if I had no clue where I was or where I was going I knew Thailand and I loved it. This was not just a part of me, my brain or even my passion it WAS me! This is what I do and what I love and I know everything about even though I had never been to there before, a country and people and way of life that pleaded with me. Come and you’ll be happy, come and you’ll belong, come and you finally find peace and your place in it all. Crazy stuff huh?

Looking down at the crowd I saw George a new member to our Thai Meetup group he had just arrived and it was his first Songkhran. I waved and slipping back on my shoes I clambered down the steps to meet him. We hung out and I showed him all the ropes. It was his first time at Wat Thai and I was a two year vet by now. He took pictures with his nice expensive camera and we talked and ate and walked and looked. We also shopped and poked and prodded (the merchandise not any cute Thais) but didn’t buy anything. George makes some pretty good money in his business and has been to Thailand many times before, often more than once in a year in fact he’s going again next month. I doubt what we saw that day might have impressed him compared to the real thing but he didn’t say and I didn’t ask. He enjoyed telling me his stories of adventures and friends in Bangkok and Pattaya and I enjoyed eating them up with envy. We spent the rest of that day together and got sunburned together; well at least I did, anyway.
Finally after several hours we left with the other hot, tired and tuckered out folks both Thai and farang waiting for the shuttle bus to take them back to our their and then home. We had been e-mailing each other for months planning a get together for some Singhas somewhere but I was always sick or distracted or whatever so we never did it until that day. I liked George and we are much alike so we decided once we got back to his car we’d drive down to his place in Virginia, hunt up some Thai beers then go get a nice Thai dinner at his favorite restaurant down there. Like I said George has done pretty alright by himself so I was expecting it but still impressed with his Penthouse condo overlooking the Virginia countryside. Not to mention the beautiful pieces of Thai art and tapestry from Thailand that he showed me. but what really got me was the satellite dish! He had not one but two and one with 500 channels including several from, you guess it, Thailand! It was too cool sitting on his expensive leather couch drinking expensive German wheat beer and watching real kick boxing on his wide screen TV. I want my Thai TV! We watched a few matches and some the Thai news downed a few beers then headed off for some spicy Pud Gra Pao Neua at his favorite Thai hideaway restaurant. It was a small quiet place squeezed into a strip mall with Vietnamese Pho shops and Chinese grocery stores. The hostess and waitresses all knew George by name and what to bring him without ordering. I had my usually stir fried beef and basil but “Aow kon Thai phet, mai chawp farang phet” and boy they didn’t disappoint! The sweat was dripping off me but that’s ok I was loving it, let some of my excess baggage and, Girl Scout cookie fat, roll off too. Me and George talked, laughed and cut up for hours – serious and thoughtful one minute, silly and irreverent the next. I was having a good time and I had forgotten what it was like to have fun and be part of the human race again. Silly as it seems it made me think all the times I could do this again and again with friends for the first time in a long time I was feeling winter thaw and spring start to come alive in me again. I guess maybe I could be hopeful for the future again. I don’t pretend that there aren’t crashes and collisions in this life I can still see coming but where can anyone go that life won’t touch you? All we really have I guess are the days we have to live and how we choose to fill them. There will always be shake ups and change and disruptions. Even at my age and most certainly living in the wonderful chaos of Thailand I know that uncertainty is still there waiting for me. There are so few fairy tale endings anymore should we believe in fairy tales anyway? Long before Clash, Labanoon or Modern Dog one of my favorite singers in the 80’s was John Mellencamp a folk rocker from the American heartland. I always really felt these lines in one of his songs so much. I felt it fit me so well but always looking from the down side of the equation, now maybe for the first time in a long time I’m looking at the upside. You be the judge.
from ‘The Real Life’
by John Mellancamp

Jackson Jackson was a good kid
He had four years of college and a bachelor’s degree
Started workin’ when he was 21
Got fed up and quit
When he was 43
He said, “My whole life
I’ve done what I’m supposed to do
Now I’d like to maybe do something for myself
And just as soon as I figure out what that is
You can bet your life I’m gonna give it hell”
He says


I guess it don’t matter how old you are
Or how old one lives to be
I guess it boils down to what we did with our lives
And how we deal with our own destinies
But something happens
When you reach a certain age
Particularly to those ones that are young at heart
It’s a lonely proposition when you realize
That’s there’s less days in front of the horse
Than riding in the back of this cart
I say

I want to live the real life
I want to live my life close to the bone
Just because I’m middle-aged that don’t mean
I want to sit around my house and watch T.V.
I want the real life…
I want to live the Thai life!

-Words and Music Courtesy of Mr. John Mellencamp
-Last verse courtesy of you-know-who


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