Saturday, April 26, 2014

Growing up poor in a Thai village: a conversation

Visitors do not often see Thailand beyond Bangkok and the seaside resorts. This is true of many foreigners who have lived here for years. If they do, access to Thai culture is limited to what one can see, as language barriers prevent deep understanding. Because of this eventual awareness after a few years of living in Thailand, I realized that my stalled language learning needed a boost if I was to ever get to know the people and Thai culture better. I became intent on understanding and speaking more Thai, so I made a goal of learning at least one new word or phrase every day (and--very important--pronouncing it correctly). It has made a huge difference.

Many Thais who were friendly are now friends, and I enjoy speaking with them on almost a daily basis. What I didn't expect was to have them open up to me as much as some have. Their stories have woven quite a different tapestry of life in Thailand than I had observed, particularly rural Thailand, although some are from the cities, and their history is usually very different.

The following story is one of several that will appear in this blog from time to time. The subject of this post is a woman from a tiny village in the northeast near the Cambodian border. The first time I met her and her sister, one of the first things they said to me was, "We have black skin." I found it odd that first, they would point that out, and second, their skin is nowhere near black, but rather a beautiful light chocolate color. I said that "chocolate is delicious, and vanilla is bua [boring]", which elicited a chuckle. I was to learn that skin color is a very big deal in Thailand, and those with darker skin are looked down upon as having low status. I have to admit that it has bothered me ever since, particularly as a parent of two adopted Thai daughters who have dark skin, one of whom had been teased in school by lighter-skinned Thai kids.

Eventually, I became good friends with the two ladies and often spend time asking them to teach me Thai (in return I teach them English), and in doing so, stories about their lives continue to emerge. Here is one of them, written in a hybrid Thai-influenced English version as I remember hearing it. 

"I not finish mataiyom (high school). My mother not have any money to buy choot (clothes) and things for school. When I am young, about 7 year, I get one baht (3 cents) every week for kanom (candy). Sometimes I not get one baht, but if I get one baht, I save it all week to buy something Friday. Sometimes she not give me food to take to school, so I eat din. You know din? (dirt) You ever eat it? It not bad, taste waan (sweet). So I eat it, it free. My father die very young, 37 year old, mother get land, but no money, so she sell some land. I choke dee (lucky), I have some land for house some day, but I not make enough money to make house. Maybe only have land, never house. Family have rice field, have rice one time every year to sell.

"When I am 16 year old, my mother not have money, so I stop school, go to Bangkok to work. I work for Chinese family as mae ban (house maid). I get free room, free food, and 1,200 baht ($37) every month. I think I am rich! I clean house and cook, work every day 12 hour. I do for two year, then I go work at company, make more money but work hard. I make 1,500 baht ($45) every month working 8 hour every day, but not enough so I work two times every day, 16 hour. I do that for 8 year. No time off. I very tired all the time.

"Now I have good job, go to massage school, learn free, now work 10 hour every day, take day off sometime. Pay is okay, but sometime I make only enough for taxi and dinner. But some days I get many lukka (customers) and good tip so can make 800 ($24) or 1,000 baht ($30). Boss take 60%, I keep 40%. I pay 1,500 baht every month for rent, about 200 baht for namfi (water and electricity). I give 3,000 baht to mother and 2,000 baht to loogsao (daughter) every month. She not live with me. Live with her father in Isan (northeast Thailand). 

"My life better now, have enough for food and can travel for visiting family."

Next: Living apart from children.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Early spring Maine tidal ice

A delicate sheet of ice forms over the rocks as the tide goes out to sea.

As winter loosens its grip on Downeast Maine, spring attempts to displace the cold, but the struggle is often difficult, with wild swings in weather near the end of March and early April.

Besides the beauty of a late season snowstorm that paints the warming scenery white for a day or so, the Atlantic tides and still cold temperatures create a phenomenon that has a subtle beauty when viewed up close. As the tide slowly recesses, the sub-freezing air creates delicate ice sheets over the rocks. It doesn't last long, as the next high tide or warm rays from the sun, which is now higher in the sky, soon take the scene away.

I was fortunate to capture some of the beauty of the thin ice and its captives beneath before the sun melted it all.

The last of the deep snow that covered the shallow end of the bay.