21 September 2007

The Short Update, or Rao Mai Chai Man

The notion that telecom companies can stay in business by refusing new customers is beginning to throw us into ever an ever deeper state of confusion and despair--confusion that said companies remain solvent, and despair because, well, it really sucks. I've been so desperate for news of the outside world that I spend an hour after work each day downloading podcasts on their ridiculously slow adsl connection, enough to fill the two flash memory drives I have, which ends up being about five hours of news. I am now aware of remarkable things like the collapse of the precariously overextended US housing market, and the introduction of chubby frog ipod nanos. That said, our local Apple nanostore (it's a glorified kiosk in the mall--doesn't even have doors) should have the new ipod touch by now, which we'll go look at once we leave our friend AZ's house.

So what's been happening here? Updates on this blog have been few and far between since April when we moved into our new house and the cable company began telling us they aren't taking new customers. Our move happened right in the middle of the week of Song-Kran, an enormous, country-wide water-fight that occurs at the tail end, and hottest part, of the dry season. It seemed we were always biking from the old house to the new house and back during the height of the celebration. Jami ended up more that soggy, since she'd a blondie, and a girl, and therefore quite an attractive target for 20ish Thai boys. Shortly after moving in we began to pis off our landlady by removing the nasty, filthy, polyester curtains and replacing them with light, clean, and airy, cotton ones; painting one of the bedrooms white (J's sewing room, it was so dark before that during the day you literally could not see certain corners of the room due to the combination of darkness and glare); owning a cat; and not shutting every single shutter every single time we walked down the street for ten minutes. The shutter bit lead to our first crisis, in which she threatened to kick us out if we weren't good, and accused us of tearing the house down (we were told that Thai houses were built to last, unlike American houses, which, presumably, disintegrate into a puff of saw dust and gypsum after six months of occupation, perhaps explaining our collapsed housing market). We've been good ever since.

Following our settling in period we left for a month to vacation with my folks on the East Coast, to bask in the beautiful blackness of J's father's new Rausch Mustang, and to assist with the ongoing, post-Rita, empty-nester remodel of the Vaughn home (they picked a swell local designer who has Brenda's tastes pegged quite nicely). Vacation included a a stay with auntunclecousins in Troy, NY, and trips into NYC from my Grandpa's Nyack apt. From there we headed to Maine for a few days in Acadia National Park, and then drove all the way to Orlando to visit my sister and her (and her husband's, yes we like you lots, Matt) new baby Magnus. We stopped in Lowell, MA and Jamestown, VA along the way, but basically it was the whole of the east coast in about 48 hours. On the way back to Dallas I got to set foot in Louisiana for the first time. It was at a Popeye's Chicken, and the parking lot smelled like garbage. Being a Texan, having never been to Louisiana is about as embarrassing as having never been to Mexico (though the embarrassment of having never been to Mexico is exacerbated by the fact that I speak Spanish--imagine how ashamed I'd be if I spoke Cajun? Perhaps we'll remedy the Mexico situation by simply moving there after Thailand manages to spit us out once and for all). Our time in Silsbee was spent keeping an eye on contractors, playing with the new (and ephemeral, she won't last much longer thanks to the red mange) boxer named Sophie. She's a pretty dog. I'd love to post photos, but I don't have any here with me.

Once back in Thailand we anxiously awaited the arrival of our friends Lucas and Merridy. They spent about ten days with us exploring Chiang Mai, and contributing to our second crisis with the landlady. I introduced her to Luke the day he arrived, and tried, in my worse-than-broken less-than-pidgin Thai, to explain how long he would be staying. The day after M arrived (several days after Luke) the landlady dragged me over to her house to explain to her nephew (while she shouted over his translations) who was staying and how long. She was of the opinion that there were more, way more, than two house guests, and that they had been there longer, way longer, than I had said (in her mind she had post-dated Luke's arrival by three or four days, even though they met within two hours of his disembarking from the plane). She claimed that the house wasn't strong enough for more than two people (its method of construction diverges in no significant way from the neighboring houses, one of which contains eight people). I stated the facts to the nephew and left, since we were leaving on a trek with uncle AZ in a less than an hour, and she was obviously lying, and nuts. The nephew is a good kid, she just never listens to him. The trek was great fun. We spent the night in a Karen village (the whole village was nominally Christian, so no long necks, but great buffaloes), played in two waterfalls, rafted on bamboo rafts, and rode elephants. Shortly after L&M left we rented a motorbike to do some home teaching, leading to phase 2 of landlady crisis #2. We'd rented the bike for 24 hours, which means it spent the night at the house, causing us to wake up to a note, posted to our front door, accusing us of still having house guests, and threatening to raise our rent by 40%. I went to bring her over to the house to demonstrate the lack of house guests (Puen yu thi nai khrap? Mai yu!), but she refused to come, so we just yelled at each other in tongues. I brought the motorbike over so that she could see that it pertained to no one but us, and wrote her a careful note, which her daughter read, and which seemed to calm her down. Temporarily.

Following shortly on the heals of crisis number two came crisis number three. Crisis number three has been escalating for some time, beginning with a large rat trap baited with fish placed prominently on our compound's spirit house. Actually, the great cat crisis may have begun with the catnapping of Pete, Tien's stray tabby buddy. The house behind us has been empty for some time, though the landlady is continually sweeping it out and showing it to potential renters. During one of those cleanings Pete ran into our house and hid under the bed, while she ran right up the stairs behind him. Anxious not to be accused of having two cats (she'd already expressed some concern over sweet T) I pulled him out from under the bed, only to see him unceremoniously stuffed into a bag of garbage. Assuming this was the end of old Pete, whose only offense would be his overabundance of good nature, I followed the landlady to her house to plead his case. Her nephew assured me he was going to a good home, Pi Lar's sister (that is the landlady's name by the way) needed a cat at her house to catch mice since hers had died recently. Shortly after this came the enormous rat trap baited with fish. Tien (and in all likelihood the neighborhood strays) had been stealing sticky rice from the spirit house. We tried to make amends by buying five sets of offering bowls, but the landlady refused to accept them, and took them to a shop owned by one of her renters to sell. This right before my very eyes. I have been assured by numerous Thai sources that this is unforgivably rude behavior here in Thailand. All this was before our trip to the States, and I assumed all was settled in the cat department until one the other renters in our compound adopted an obnoxious, sick, and starving ginger colored kitty, and an equally obnoxious, and pregnant, torty. The Ginger Kitty, as we came to call it, was always stealing Tien's food, creeping into the house at night, and dribbling diarrhea all over the furniture. Meanwhile, the torty was camped out in the neighbor's house having kittens. Now let me clarify that neither of these cats were strays. They both had collars, with bells, and they were both extremely social. Great cats really, they just wouldn't get out of our house. One morning the landlady came over to complain about the section of side yard all these cats were using as a litter box. While she was going on about meao khii the kittens made their debut appearance on the neighbor's porch. Lug meao! I exclaimed, hoping to pass the buck. She went to talk to the neighbors while I scooped poop. The neighbors, anxious as any good Thai to avoid conflict, blamed the vomiting mother torty on us (yes, she actually
threw up on the drive while they were discussing her): "We can't get rid of the things! It's those foreign devils that bring them 'round!" As the landlady left I offered to clean up any khii that our cat might be responsible for. As usual she dismissed my efforts to be helpful. The next day she showed up bright and early at our house again, and in front of our very eyes scaled to the heights of rudeness and absurdity. This is when we found out that the neighbors were blaming their cats on us. She accused Tien of seducing these poor cats and leaving then knocked up on the doorsteps of innocent Thai nationals. I called AZ's wife Dao to act as our advocate. She did such a good job that she had the old woman crying in less than five minutes. When I first put her on the landlady went off, complaining about us, until Dao said "Listen, listen, listen, listen. You always talk, you never listen. Now you have to listen. That cat is fixed, he can't be fathering kittens, or attracting female cats. I know, I went with them." Faced with Dao's startling use of facts (and a lie, though I'm sure she was with us in spirit the day Tien had his surgery) the landlady began crying and said that she didn't care for money, she just wanted us out of there. While all this was going on Jami was talking with the woman who'd been brought from one of the shops next door to act as a translator. We often have these translators arrive with the landlady, and she inevitably embarrasses them. She never listens to a word they say, and they always end up apologizing or trying to excuse her some how. Usually when the Thai are embarrassed they just smile, or laugh. Our translators always just looked scared and nervous. Here's why. While Pi Lar was on the phone with our beloved Pi Dao, she was using a very bad pronoun. Pronouns are weird in Thai. The male term for of "I" phom actually means hair (as in "the hair of my head is lower than the dust of your feet). The female terms for "I" are so unsatisfactory, that many women simply refer to themselves by name, in the third person. The pronoun for someone spoken of in the third person (male, female, or plural) is kao. The pronoun the landlady was using to refer to me to one of my best friends here was man. It is not a term you use for people. Literally it means "it." The other day I was trying to look up the word "hedgehog" in Thai, but the only word I could find was man. It means something along the line of "nonhuman creature." If I were Thai and actually had the basic human rights afforded to Thai citizens, I could have her arrested for profane speech and defamation of character. But I'm just a nonhuman creature, so oh well. I'll just go hang out with the hedgehog. After all this the translator managed to make clear that none of the other cats were ours, and since the neighbors were denying any responsibility I offered to take them away. This satisfied her, and she went away smiling. The mama and kittens had been carted of the other day for the price of 200 baht, so I caught the orange kitty and a stray tom that wasn't smart enough to run away, and took them to a Buddhist temple in the center of town. That night the we could hear the neighbor girl calling for her ginger kitty. We felt bad for her, but I figure it was karma. By lying and claiming that her cat was ours she created a condition in which our only hope of maintaining our residence (we are desperate not to have to move) was to take her cat away. I hope it's OK. On further karmic occurrences, that very morning the people in one of the shops in front of us, a building which our landlady owns, had an extra special Buddhist ceremony with about eight monks, which Pi Lar attended. Afterwards she took the head monk over to bless the house that she can't get to rent. Guess why it won't rent? Every time she is showing it to potential renters every tenth word out of her mouth is farang coupled with a dirty look shot in our direction. How can she expect to rent the place if every time she shows it off she advertises the fact that it come complete with the worst neighbors in the world? While I was transplanting cats, I stopped over at the elder's and asked then to translate the phrase, "Even though we are foreign, we are still human beings. We are not nonhuman creatures." It occupies a prominent place in our house, right below the picture of the king and queen.

In other news, we have a hedgehog. Her name is Eleanor. She is cute and thinks that toes are food. I've been spending all this time sans internet learning Sketchup and writing. I may have actually written a novel of sorts by the time we leave here. One of the stories in it is about anarcho-syndicalist farmers on the moon. Jami has been sewing like mad, and I have been making sculptures of goofy future plants out of paper mache. I'll upload some of my drawings soon, and maybe post one of the stories once I comb through it a couple more times.


  1. good to have you back online, I was wondering if you ever made it home, and it looks like you did.