Thursday, 17 July 2008
Thai Art For Pete's Sake!
Today I got back to the village and I felt as if some of the cares of the world had slipped from my shoulders.
It's a funny feeling getting back after three months away as everything now looks subtly different. When I left it was hot season, broiling and dry, the rice stubble in the fields brown and barren. Now it's rainy season, broiling and wet with the rice standing emerald green in the flooded fields.
All the trees in the garden seemed to have doubled in size and the natural world everywhere is rampant. The grass and the weeds are in control and even the little boys who run everywhere in the soi seem to have grown much bigger. The soi, our gravel side street off the big road, has just been sealed with concrete and Cat has been busy as usual, so in truth much has changed.
Cat has built a big new kitchen on the new wooden house for Mama... she did all the blockwork herself. And Mangorn, her brother has built a shop across the soi on sister, Dream's building plot for Yut and Ben. Yut is sister number two who with husband Ben and baby Bess had been living a miserable life near Bangkok eking out a living on plastics factory wages. It's far better for them to be poor back home with family around and it seems we have set them up with a shop which will, I hope provide them with a basic living.
Ben goes into the market early and his grilled chicken sells out every day. There's shampoo and soap and sardines and the few essentials found in every tiny Third World shop and though the new shack's a bit of an eyesore, it's a very sociable place. I sat out the front with Cat this afternoon feeling bleary as the world wandered by asking me when I'd got back to the centre of the world. My Thai deserted me on the first time of asking but I got plenty of practice answering the same question many times over as neighbours wandered in.
I mustn't complain that the shack looks ugly opposite our gate as it's now a lifeline for a family of four, nor that Cat has cut down the trees I begged her to keep. One gave space for the new kitchen and another, a tall coconut palm was, she said, too tall and dangerous.
And she's put my precious buffalo cart out on the verandah where I fear it will disintegrate. But this sensibly enough was to make room for her new computer desk inside (she's just started a two year course in computer graphics), so I'd better go with the flow once more and avoid confrontation, especially as today I'm a bear with a sore head.
I'm worn and bleary just at the moment because I'm dead on my feet. All of life's worries focus on a trip to UK and I had my fill this time, which takes its toll. While saying goodbye is truly awful, I've managed to survive it, though I'm now much in need of some rural therapy.
The trip gave me little chance for much indulgence but the big one came almost on the last day at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. On Friday I went to this, the greatest ever blowout for petrol-heads in the known universe. All of motor sport from inception to Stirling Moss and Lewis Hamilton was there, noisy, strident and intoxicating, its flagrant un-greenness made manifold.
Saturday was saying goodbye to Anna and Will with a gentle amble round the Regency gardens of Polesden Lacey, a National Trust house near Dorking, followed by tea and chocolate cake. Nothing could have been so very English. Then Sunday was Heathrow and a packed jumbo jet.
I don't know why people make such a fuss about longhaul flights like this one... it's not as if you have to pedal or anything like that. Never is there such an opportunity to be so inert, to recline with a movie and have red wine poured down your throat and to make no effort whatsoever.
Far tougher is taking a van from the centre of Bangkok back to a village in the North East of Thailand.
On landing I spent a couple of nights in the retro-calm of The Atlanta Hotel in Sukhumvit, catching up with Le Phoque who told me everything about all the cars I'd seen at the Festival of Speed, also bumping into Scottie, a delightful American I'd met there all of nine years earlier.
And of course I renewed my acquaintance with the City Of Angels itself. After only three months away I was shocked by Bangkok once more and its concrete bleakness... though how it glows with flashes of colour and with the crowded and vibrant energy of its peoples.
I had a meal out with Anthony and Ting at one of those amazing open air eating places On Petburi Road, served with the best-value food in the world by attentive waitresses, all of them I suspect banned from the Miss Universe contest as letting them participate would be unfair on other contestants.
And then I squeezed into the van to travel upcountry to the village. That was yesterday while today is Awk Pansaa, the first day of the Buddist Lent.
Facing a four day public holiday, literally millions would be heading for the North Eastern bus terminus hoping to spend a few days with their families. To avoid doing battle at Moh Chit carrying all my baggage and trying to find a seat, Ting had kindly booked me onto a van that was to pick me up from their flat soon after our al fresco banquet.
As we waited upstairs for the van the thunder rumbled in the darkness and the heavens opened. Once squeezed into the van it was then a long penance in endless traffic jams picking up the passengers through every tight back street of Bangkok. This took more than two hours and after navigating through floods where a boat would have been more suitable, we then began the long journey out of Bangkok.
The van journey, also overnight, was only an hour shorter than my flight from London to Bangkok and much less comfortable, though it got me efficiently and cheaply from door to door so who am I to complain.
Now it's night time and, contemplating the novelty of sleep, I'm here upstairs at my computer as Cat's gone into Sangkha to a wedding celebration that I really couldn't face.
I'm risking the quality of my prose with a bottle of Singha which is pleasantly nutty and all of this introspection leaves me wondering what I'm going to do with myself out here in the far rice fields of Surin as time spreads out before me.
Home is where you make it and there's loads of jobs in the house and garden but one of the first things I want to do is to go over and see Peter and Laylai, my nearest farang neighbours who are only an hour or so away. Phusing Pete is always good for a Sang Som and Coke and I'm sure we'll soon have the chance to sit and expatiate our fill on his verandah overlooking the spreading countryside behind his house.
It's a pleasant view dominated by a group of tall trees that I've grown to love. While my reaction is to write about them, Peter's, being an artist, is to paint them in oils.
Retirement for Peter means painting, to have the time and opportunity to lose himself in it each and every day. It really is art for Pete's sake.
The trouble is that although he has a big house he's quickly running out of walls to hang the pictures and he's thinking of doing an exhibition and selling some of them. As non-conceptual art, I'd love to have one for myself, I must admit.
They won't be as expensive as Tracy Emin's unmade bed and I think that someone will get good value and be very lucky to have a late Tucker landscape on their wall!