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Rickety Bridge Thai Village Preschool Bonnie with Village Kids

Written: Monday March 21, 2005

Bonnie and Carol’s Nongkhai adventures continued.

First day of spring and we’ve now been here nearly an entire season. So far, our experiences continue to exceed our early expectations and we are continually surprised, generally in a positive way, by what our days bring. Last Friday, for example, we decided to leave school after our last class and spend the afternoon biking out into the countryside. We chose a rural road east along the Mekong that took us through a forested area leading to a deep ravine crossed by a very rickety wooden bridge. Half the boards were rotted away and there were great gaps between the insubstantial planks. An old lady in her pasin (Thai sarong) who had just walked across, smiled her betel-nut smile and urged us on. Carol ventured out twice with her bike, then gingerly backed off. Bonnie, a bit braver, went all the way, while Carol managed to find a less exciting route. We finally met up in the village wat compound, home to the local preschool. We managed to wow a group of children who were thrilled with the whole digital photo thing.

From this village we headed further out the rural road to try to find our next landmark, the local (very large) whiskey factory. A bunch of big trucks, some made of wood, all with fancy designs, were parked along the road, packed with cases ready for delivery. Behind the trucks, on the ground, was a circle of men all laughing (especially when they spotted us taking pictures of their rigs). They were drinking something; hopefully it was water because we assume they were the truck drivers getting ready to go. Like many drivers in Thailand, though, they rely heavily on blessings and flowers on the vehicles (rather than sobriety) to assure safety on the road.

As we rounded a curve, the next little village came into view and we could see that there was a small village fair going on. There was a little mechanical kiddy ride, a few of the usual toy booths, and lots of school girls circling the wat. For some reason the girls started screaming when they saw us—not a fearful scream, more the kind teenagers might give to a rock star! Don’t farangs ever pass through this village? We were urged to join the wat circling ceremony and, when we did, there were more screams from the girls. Several wanted to shake our hands and ask our names. Wow. It’s hard to imagine us gray-haired grandmas getting this kind of attention in the U.S.!

A parade of sorts (drums, singing, dancing) was starting up outside the wat compound. We were on our bikes again, ready to ride on, when we were urged (strongly) to join the dancers. Our bikes were put somewhere for safekeeping and we were shuffled into the group of merry-makers. Down the road through the village we all went, followed by the ubiquitous pickup truck with loudspeakers, broadcasting Issan music. Great handfuls of talcum powder were being tossed around, and people were covering their faces with it. One man put some on Bonnie and wanted her to put some on his face. Not knowing if this might mean she was getting engaged or something, she wisely declined. Eventually we all arrived at a big field, kind of a clearing in the sparse woods, where a lineup of monks was waiting. A little more dancing, then everyone sat down. A ceremony was about to begin. A monk came over and welcomed us and urged us to stay but it was getting late in the afternoon and we had biked a long way out of town. We figured that once the ceremony got going, it would be very difficult to get up and leave, so we said our goodbyes and, accompanied by a flock of school kids, walked back to the village, retrieved our bikes and belongings from an old lady who had been guarding them, then started the bike ride back home. We have no idea what the ceremony was all about, but, as always, the simplest thing, like a bike ride, evolves into something completely unexpected.

Delivery Truck Offering to the Truck Gods Carol in the Village Parade

Our students continue to invite us on excursions, so Saturday morning we were up early for a trip to the village of Nam Som. The plan was to stay overnight at the family home of Pom, a student in my writing class. What else the plan entailed we had no idea (as usual). We met the five girls at school and hiked up to the main road to catch our favorite kind of conveyance, the converted pickup (saangtaeow).

Off we went in the coldest weather we’ve encountered since coming to Thailand (it’s doggie coat time again). In addition to the 7 of us, a number of people were picked up along the way. They like to pack ‘em in tight—standing and hanging out the back is encouraged. The drive took us west along the Mekong towards Tae Bo. It was a cool gray day but with lots to see along the way. The crop of the season is tobacco-- some hung up to dry, some still green in the fields. The Mekong looked narrow enough to swim across in plenty of places.

Finally arrived at the Ban Phu market and our driver collected the 30 baht fare from each of us. Looked around the market as we waited for Pom’s father to pick us up and take us the rest of the way. He arrived in his very nice pickup – the most popular auto in Thailand. They are indeed practical. You can carry anything in the back of a pickup including large quantities of people.

The ride was interesting. This was definitely farm country: rice paddies, water buffalo, the houses and huts on stilts, thatched roofs, women in pasins, farm equipment on the road, fish ponds, and small villages. We stopped at two wats; the second, Wat Prabat, was our site for an Issan picnic on a mat under a big overhanging rock. What a spread: plaa ping, kai ping, som tam, chicken, sticky rice, more than we could eat. After lunch we drove to Phu Phra Bat Historical Park. This is a fantastic place. Very weird eroded rock formations, all high on a hill. Archaeologists place prehistoric hunters and gatherers in this place 1000 to 3500 years ago. There are rock shelters and wells and still visible rock paintings of animals and men, also rock scratchings that no one has yet figured out the meaning of. Not one of these Thai people had ever been there or even planned to go and it was mainly to please us that we went. There is a legend about this place, a love story that ended tragically. At one point a park employee offered to tell the story to our party. His audience was totally captivated, and became much more interested in the history of the place after the performance.

After hiking through the park, we headed for Nam Som. Pom’s parents, who speak no English, overwhelmed us with their hospitality. So much special food and the upstairs all set up for us. It was interesting to see their extended family. Both grandmothers, plus aunts, uncles, and numerous cousins all lived close by. Relatives and neighbors kept dropping in—easy to do with the front doors wide open to the street.. A very nice way to live. We took a walk to look around and passed the local wat. A bunch of monks were outside raking leaves, stirring up a lot of dust, when they spotted us. Just like on Friday’s bike ride, it was as if we were some kind of aliens. They all stopped raking to stare and wave and say hello – not in the least shy about being photographed!. Must not get many farangs in Nam Som.

Picnic at Wat Phrabat Rock Formation at Phu Phrabat Park Thai Students Fixing Dinner

Cheers for now from Bonnie and Carol

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