Families. In Thailand it was such an eye opener to see how close families remained. No one moved across the country, they didn’t even move across the town. They lived in big family compounds. We visited one such family, and the rest of our group visited several others, in small groups of 6 or 7 people. The story was all the same. Mother was a public relations specialist for a big company, Father brokered coffee beans.
Their home was spotless, lighted with flourescent bulbs that are bright and dim at the same time. Two children, 20 months and three. Little girls that were the apple of their eye. Mother’s mother had a pumpkin farm nearby but stayed with the kids while mom worked and Fathers mother stayed when grandma one was away at the farm. Auntie and Nephew were there for dinner as well, and lived upstairs. Various grandparents lived in the houses next door, and other assorted relatives.
All sharing common values and common lives, picking the papayas and bananas from their compound trees, eating fresh vegetables, taking food to the monks at 6am.We sat on her floor and made pyramid cakes, special food that the monks loved. Father had been a monk for several years. It is expected in Thailand that men will serve as monks for at least some time in the lives, from months to years. As monks, they learn the proper way to live. They learn the 8 precepts of Buddhism, and how to live in peace and equanimity. We asked how the women learn these values since they can’t be monks, and were told that all people are taught from childhood the peaceful, calm, gentle way of the middle path.
The pyramid cakes are made from a paste that is kind of grayish purple, a bit like poi, but made from sticky rice flour and palm sugar, about half as sweet as american sugar. You brush oil on a perfectly cut banana leaf, form a patty of the paste, put in a spoonful of shredded deep fried coconut that has some kind of other stuff in it, and then wrap it perfectly with specific folds that end up in a perfectly folded little package. Amazing. They are then steamed for 15 minutes and served up warm for dessert or saved for the next mornings offerings to the monks.
I thought about my family, and how scattered we are, and this very different way of living and how good it felt, how close they are, how strongly they support their families. If I were Thai, I would have taken my grandmother and dorothy into my home, I would have cared for them no matter what it took. I couldn’t do that, and I don’t expect my kids to do that. And yet I wondered at what we have given up with all our independence. That kind of family and community.
The back side of the lack of conflict is the lack of self expression. It is considered uncouth and totally unacceptable to speak poorly of your family, or to raise your voice. Conflict is avoided at all costs. What is lost in this is really having any idea what anyone really thinks. Can these people be any different than all the rest of us, with anger and frustration, and grupmy thoughts about all the expectations? Probably not, but you would never know it.
Sitting in a huge gridlock traffic jam that Bangkok is well known for, I saw that calm and peaceful demeanor of the Thai people. Bikes and trucks and even a cement truck pushing in for space, people not exactly getting cut off, but gently pushed as the gridlock got tighter and tighter. No horns honking, except that little toot to let someone know you may be a quarter inch from their bumper