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I’ve travelled to visit family and to move my life to a new country. I’ve travelled to build houses or present at conferences. And, I’ve travelled just for the sake of it. Travel to see what there is to see. But I’ve never travelled with such purpose before. Packing involved thinking ahead to what one person could carry in case the other one had occupied arms. It involved guessing what sized clothes I need to bring for a person of whom I had no idea how big he’d got. Does he need shoes?
Bangkok! We can get everything there. No worries.
Now that I am sitting in a taxi all of those preparatory thoughts fall behind. Driving through the big posh areas of Sukhumvit and Silom with all the trendy girls with nail polish and tourists taking photos of giant golden spirit houses only to enter the old towns in the West of the city. It’s like slipping into a comfortable blanket. People are doing normal things like bathing children in buckets, disassembling jackfruit and pounding som tam. The other Bangkok is fun, but I love this Bangkok. I feel comfortable and at home here and we usually stay out here in old teak houses cooled only by fans and sips of nam manao. But not this time because this time we are travelling with purpose. We’ve rented an “aparthotel” in Lumpini with a swimming pool downstairs and a kitchen and cot in the room. We wanted all three of us to be comfortable.
The taxi driver, my husband and I team up as we enter the narrow sois and try to spot the tiny, handpainted, sign for the orphanage. There it is! I tell him, “We can walk from here, kaaa” “No problem”, he says, “I can take you there”, and we finally stop at the end of the driveway. My husband told me in the taxi that he felt nervous, but I hadn’t felt that until now. Looking at old Bangkok calmed me, but now we have stopped moving and all I can hear is a bird and some clinking dishes as someone in the neighbourhood is washing up. We have to straighten our legs, stand on them, and go and meet our son.
I almost catch a glimpse of children playing as the director warmly greets us and takes us to her office. We are offered a drink and a biscuit as we talk about so much in so little time. We want to know what his routine has been so that we can keep that comfort going for him. She shows us a stack of photos and other little things and puts it all in a giant folder for us. 20 months of life summed up in a tiny parcel that we will carry home. We ask a million other questions and are happy that we have written down the answers because we already know that we are not taking anything in any more. It’s time to go and she wants us to leave quickly so that the children don’t confuse us with the volunteers who come and go. Our son has been prepped to know that we are forever…if forever is and understandable concept to an under two.
As we enter the sala one boy shouts out “Hello!” but they all seem to be moving in a blur as we try to spot the one who is coming home with us. The director jokes that we must identify him before we are allowed to take him home. As we haven’t had a photo since his first birthday this might seem impossible with all these little pairs of eyes looking at us, some children cosying up or showing us toys. But then I see a little boy sitting on the floor as his carer puts on his blue Crocs. He is looking and pointing at us. He knows it’s us and we know it’s him. He walks a little way, hand in hand with the carer, until someone picks him up and puts him in against my body. My mind switches locations and I am picturing those little kiwis we take to give to students in other countries, the ones that clip on to things and don’t let go. He is a limpet with eyes on me, so close. He’s just looking. We expected crying or pushing away but, no, just looking. Someone says “Mama, Mama!” and then points to my husband and says, “Daddy!” and his eyes flit to and fro until the director ushers us out to the taxi.
The taxi affords us a good amount of time to check each other out until he finally starts crying and then changing from one person to another. Holding* a biscuit calmed him but he never took a bite. He liked looking out the window, just like us, but in between spotting interesting things he started to cry more for what was missing. “Kaw thort” I apologise to the taxi drive for the noise. “Mai bpen rai”, no worries, he says back and I think about how lucky we have been with both drivers today. And then it dawns on me that we are about to get out of the taxi, at our hotel, as a family of three.
*He held on to that little biscuit until it finally fell apart in the bath at 7pm, and when we opened his hand half of it was still in there.
Yes, you’ve read that correctly! The reason I’ve been so absent here on Shantiwallah is that I have been away in Thailand collecting my 20 month old son.
It hasn’t been easy as we don’t have a very good system for adoption here in New Zealand. We tried to start the process back in 2007 when we were still in Japan but the NZ government won’t work with citizens abroad, so we came back. From January 2008 we have been working with the authorities to get a mound of paperwork the size of Mount Taranaki completed and verified by all the right people. It was finallly sent off to Thailand last year where things were set in motion for us to go and collect our wee lad. We left Auckland for Bangkok on the 10th of July and visited the orphanage, coming away with a special little package, on the 14th and have been getting to know Mr. Poom* ever since.
It’s been a long journey with lots of bumps, but we are so happy to have him home in New Zealand, even if he does resent the New Zealand cold as much as I do!
*Not his real name as we are not allowed to identify him on the internet. We only have guardianship for now until the adoption process is complete sometime next year.
The other teachers and I stuffing down some lunch in between building sessions on the Habitat house in Pak Chong, Thailand. The students are sitting at their own tables because, well, it would be uncool for them to sit with us now wouldn’t it? Yeah, whatever. We all know who the cool people REALLY are.
Why haven’t we got a word for this in English? Memories, feelings, strong emotions are washing in so quickly it’s overwhelming. I could almost be knocked over by the intensity. This one little kaffir lime leaf that fell off as I was planting up the tree looks like any other leaf. I would expect it to smell green, like a green leaf. But it doesn’t. It smells of putrid but delicious durian and sweating at 7am over a noodle soup breakfast from a one-table stall. It smells of trying hard to get the tones right so I can get salt in my lime juice rather than plain and sickly sweet like they serve to farangs. Here in my head I am eating kaeng kiao wan kung and realising that I’m looking at a cooked grasshopper that was unfortunate enough to sit on the wrong sprig of holy basil, and then suddenly not feeling hungry anymore.
Another sniff. A conversation about how to avoid deadly centipedes and snakes on an island with no electricity. I smell salty air that suddenly sparkles as an entire school of silver wrigglers lands in our little boat on the confluence of the Mae Nam Chan and the Andaman. The small size of this fisherman’s craft suddenly seems woefully inadequate for this journey. Nervousness. A bus hurtling down a potholed road, skidding past another bus smashed and smoking. I no longer feel the heat in these situations as I’m focusing on being alive in the place we are headed to. Making life-preserving plans for dinner.
I fold the leaf until it cracks and inhale. Yet another Thai woman is asking me, “Eeeeeeeeeeg, Oh-kaaaaaaaay?” when I order the vegetarian option. They use the same phrase all over the country to make sure you are not vegan. I love the care in their voices and the lesson that your choice wasn’t available if it doesn’t show up at your table after half an hour. They just didn’t want to say, “No” to you because it’s offensive. Next time I’ll know.
Citrus, lemon, lime, green, intoxicating. This scent taught me that smiling when you are angry can get you very much further than showing your dismay. That I should never “break the egg” inappropriately and let the first trade of the day be an honest one so nobody loses face. Try not to stare as the stall is beautifully blessed by touching it with the money. The scent of this leaf almost makes me want to cry when it reminds me of this. I always suspected green things could cause emotion. This must be how.
I’ve planted this tree so I can remember the place that has formed so much of my being. All the years of to-ing and fro-ing through Thailand and all the lessons I’ve learnt. Much of that was in my 20s, when you think you know who you are and later you find out how utterly and tragically clueless you were. And later, speaking with major mistakes, laughing with the other khanom jin customers as we share from the giant basket of herbs, building houses in the countryside and learning by walking in markets and smelling things like shrimp paste and lime leaves. I owe a great deal to Thailand.
Thailand doesn’t know this, of course. Thailand is just a country. How can a country know how it has affected someone? How can a country know that when someone far away on an island in the Pacific catches the scent of a kaffir lime leaf it will cause them to rehash experiences and analyse what they mean? It doesn’t matter really. Only to me. So, I’m planting this tree that has leaves full of Thailand.
Ever spend more time trying to remember your thousands of passwords than actually typing real sentences?
I luxuriated today in hanging out in the room watching Thai cooking shows while I did the washing I had piling up. I hate having to do washing all the time, but I hate carrying too much for no good reason too.
Then I took a stroll to find a better internet cafe and ended up coming out at Sumen fort on the Chao Praya river in the late afternoon light. This area is becoming so cool with local young Thais opening their own cafes. I bought some cool arty postcards. I’ve sent the usual Thailand ones way too many times so I was glad to find these.
I’m going to amble back in a minute and hope to find some good eats on the way. On my first day here I discovered a huge market within the grounds of a big wat near my hotel. There was lots of activity including monks raising money for a wat in Christchurch! Unfortunately the table was unmanned and so I didn’t get to talk to anyone about it. I had some great Khanom Jin there, spaghetti-like noodles with a fish-curry sauce and huge piles of fresh beans and herbs on the table for you to rip up and add. I love the stuff.
Then last night I couldn’t resist buying a corn on the cob from a smiling woman who I managed to speak Thai with. I can’t believe I’ve practised enough in the last ten days that I could understand everything. I think she enjoyed the interaction as much as I did. I especially enjoyed the grilled sweetcorn at 15 baht ( about 45yen or 40-50 US cents).
Once again my coins are running out at the ol’ net cafe!
I’ve just got bak from a trip to a waterfall with no water and so they’ve decided to go off to one that is an hour away. After an exhausting weekend “off”, I’m knackered and so am staying behind to do some blogging.
We had one night away in Nakhorn Rachasima and spent most of it ferrying people back and forth from the hospital. One of our team members was bitten by a dog and is now on a course of rabies injections, another didn’t bother to tell anyone that she was in pain because sh hadn’t pooed since we’d arrived (5 days ago!), and the lasty one had been having diarrhea since we’d arrived. Moral of the story kids…drink more water, and for gods sake tell someone if you are ill so we can advise you and you don’t end up on a drip in the hospital! All are doing well now.
The house is also coming along swimmingly. It’s almost finished in fact which is very satisfying.
I want to post some photos. but the electricity is really flickering here so I don’t want to lose this post. Stay tuned!To keep you entertained until then, here is the truck I’ve been driving round in to carry bricks and also the site when we first arrived. Wait until you see what’s happened since then.
Tomorrow is the last day and we will get to dedicate the house so we are very excited.
I am now going for a nap before dinner so I can enjoy our last real night here since we’ll be leaving at about midnight tomorrow night for Bangkok.
I’m reviving this poor old neglected blog. Or at least I’m going to do my best! I’m off to Thailand and Laos in just two days (actually one if you count my day in Tokyo beforehand) and I can’t get my head around my presentations. I’ve pretty much finished two of them, but the third one is glaring at me from it’s little minimised box at the bottom of my screen. I wish I’d said that I would only do two, but it seemed like three was the only option.
The first ten days of my trip will be in a little place called Pak Chong in northern Thailand where two other teachers, me, and a group of students from my college will be building a house with Habitat for Humanity http://www.habitat.org/ap/ . I’ve bought my workgloves, have packed my old cross-trainers, and am ready to go.
After that, I’m going to spend a couple of weeks in Bangkok. I can’t wait! Bangkok, despite the pollution and all the other bad things people point out, is actually one of my favourite cities in the world. And it’s exciting how quickly things are changing there. Our favourite vegetarian cafe, which was once just two foldable tables on the side of a street has slowly blossomed. Just ten years from eating with your feet by the sewer to this http://www.thaivegetarianrecipes.com/. May Kaidee now has a cooking school and guesthouse. But thank god she’s still making my favourite mango, warm coconut milk, and red sticky rice pudding.
Finally, I’m off to Laos for the first time. I’ve always wanted to go there and we just never quite fit it in. I’ll be working with Teachers Helping Teachers and giving presentations to local Lao teachers of English. They can’t really afford to go to the big international conferences and so this one is being brought to them by a bunch of really cool teachers who are volunteering their time, efforts and money. www.geocities.com/yamataro670/tht.htm I’m really looking forward to having a good look round Vientiane. We’ve already been offered a tour of a coffee plantation.
I really can’t procrastinate any longer. Gong he fa choi!