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Nongkham

Country:
Thailand
Dates:
Friday November 12th, 1999 to Saturday November 13th, 1999
Author:
hannah

Thais from outside of Bangkok generally refer to the place of their birth as "my country," and for a year now we have been trying to figure out exactly where exactly is Sorn's country. For the most part the upcountry villages are too small to appear on any map, and with the usual communication barriers in the way, all we'd really figured out prior to this trip was "somewhere to the north-east." There's a lot of Thailand north-east of Bangkok. Not until we actually arrived in Sorn's country did we finally discover where it is, and even now we're somewhat less than 100% sure exactly where we were.

Before I continue, I should introduce Sorn. Sorn is a teaching assistant at the school here with me. I met her at the beginning of last year when I first arrived in Thailand, and have been hanging out with her ever since. She is rather amusing company, to say the least, and when she invited us to "her country" for the weekend we jumped at the chance.

The Trip

In order to get to Sorn's country we spent 8hrs, in true Thai style, in the back of a pickup truck. It was a fitting beginning to a weekend of being the local freak show. When stopped for gas the Thais nearby were extremely amused that all the Thais in our party were getting into the cab of the truck, and the farangs(?) were piling into the back.

By the end of the trip, having picked up assorted family members along the way, we had managed to pack 7 adults and 4 children into the pickup. This is by no means a Thai record, but it wasn't a bad showing either. All in all it was fairly comfy trip, far better than most buses I've been on. There's something to be said for travelling down the highway at 120km/h, lying on your back, with a warm wind swirling around you, looking up at a brilliant bunch of stars.

The Village

Rice fields of Isaan, Thailand

We got to Sorn's village, Nongkham, just as the sun was coming up. Despite our protests, we were quickly scurried off to bed while everyone else got things unloaded and delivered. We were soon to learn that that was to be the nature of the weekend: Sorn waiting on us hand and foot, and not a thing we could do to dissuade her.

Nongkham is a small village in the middle of rice fields. When we took a walk later that day, Noah kept having visions of being in Platoon or some other Vietnam war movie. All in all, it was a pretty amazing sight: dirt roads, about 20 houses on stilts, and water buffalos wandering down to the water. In genuine Thai style, it was a very relaxed atmosphere.

The House

Sorn's family's house is a traditional Thai country house, built on stilts with bedrooms upstairs and a mostly open area underneath, designed to allow people to stay out of the sun during the day. The kitchen is outside, and the bathroom is a separate building. Right next to the house is a similar stilted structure that holds the water buffalo underneath and the hay above. Everything is open: no screens, slits between the floorboards, and vents between the roof and the walls. Temperatures never drop to the point where you'd want to shut things up. As long as the rain can't get in, you're set.

The Day

Rice fields of Nongkham, Thailand

When we woke up around 9:30 most of the family was off visiting, and Sorn had a meal waiting for us. Her sister is an amazing cook. We eat a lot of Thai food, some good, some not so good; this was definitely the former. Oh so good!!!

After food we headed over to Sorn's uncle's house to meet the family—the entire extended family. The purpose of the trip was to commemorate the 5yr anniversary of Sorn's grandmother's death. According to Thai custom, to honour the deceased the family was holding a 1-time celebration that included food, music, a trip to the wat(?), gifts for the local monks, and a dancing party. Being a from a fairly isolated rural village, the people of Nongkham don't see many farangs, and so we were quite the novelty. Everyone was so friendly. They all educated us in Thai customs, and taught us some new words.

The kids began by surreptitiously watching us thorough the open window, but eventually worked up the confidence to move inside the building to form a cluster behind us. Everyone was curious about who we were and where we were from.

The Walking Party

Having completed our social obligations it was back to Sorn's parents' house for more food, and then the walking party. The walking party was essentially a parade through town carrying the gifts that were to be presented at the wat the next morning. The parade was led by a truck carrying some older people and small children (who weren't quite up to all the walking); the truck was followed by a procession of family members (probably close to 200 in total); finally, bringing up the rear was a huge, 5 tonne, open-backed truck carrying a live band, and with huge assortment of speakers tied to it.

For an hour and a half we paraded through the town, on to the next town, and then back again with people, including Noah, getting down the whole way. For some reason, as soon the music started and all the old ladies started dancing, they decided that Noah should dance too. For the entire walk, when ever he stopped, someone insisted that he begin again. I managed to escape the dance lessons, but apparently Noah impressed them all with his dancing skills: he had them all convinced that he was a dancing party veteran. Even back at school the following Monday, Sorn was bringing back reports of Noah's stellar performance that afternoon.

The Departure

Having to get to a wedding the following day, we decided to go back that night. Overnight buses are a convenient way to travel, if not very comfortable. We said our goodbyes (to the entire village). As parting gifts, Sorn's mom gave us traditional Thai pillows and 2 pieces of material that she had woven (the area, known as the Isaan, is famous for cloth). They then sent us off with a traditional Thai blessing: someone (in this case Sorn's parents) ties a string around your wrist and wishes you a blessing while everyone else holds on to your arm. Her family was incredibly nice, warm and friendly. It is characteristic of Thais to be very welcoming of visitors and we certainly experienced the extent of their hospitality.

The Bus

Normally I would not bore you with accounts of the bus we rode home, but in this case I will indulge myself and give you an account. We rode home on this perfectly preserved 1950s coach, from a time when leg room still existed. The seats were essentially lazy boys. They were big, cushy, and incredibly comfortable! I have never had a better night's sleep on a bus, which is not really saying much, but I would go so far as to say it was downright comfortable. I actually arrived rested.

The Wedding

Having arrived in Bangkok around 4am, before the buses begin running with any predictability, we took a taxi home, and squeezed in a few hours of real sleep before getting ready to go to the wedding of our friends Barry, a Canadian who taught at the school up until this year, and is now working in another international school in Bangkok and Tum, the school cashier. The wedding was in a hotel in Bangkok, and, while not the most traditional Thai wedding, did incorporate some traditional aspects, including the the important "watering ceremony," in which the guests pour water over the couple's hands while blessing and congratulating them. Also, significantly, the wedding took place at 2:19pm, which monks had chosen to be an auspicious time. The ceremony was followed by a western-style reception.

More information about Thailand is available on the About Thailand page; you might want to have a look at it if you haven't already.

You might wish to look at the Nongkham photos in the photo album.

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