Saturday, January 05, 2008

Belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone!

I haven’t celebrated Christmas for years, but this year I did enjoy the holiday vicariously through my students who absolutely treasured our classroom Christmas tree and reveled in making holiday cards for their parents with Christmas music playing in the background. There’s just something about a Christmas tree; tiny flashing lights and Christmas music like, “The Little Drummer Boy,” that evoke good feelings in me.

I received one Christmas card this year, from my friends Ben, Joyce & Ellie from Bristol Laundromat in Bristol, New Hampshire, my old stomping grounds back in the states, with a promise they would write me a more in-depth letter in the near future. Whether other friends sent cards or not remains a mystery since the good ole Thai postal service is just as corrupt as the rest of the government services here in Thailand.

I sent out a few Christmas cards this year to people I know well, but Christmas is actually just another day to me. To be honest I didn’t even notice Christmas had arrived until I began to write the date on our white board at school. Even then, I realized that here in Asia it was Christmas, but the Western world was still a day behind.

I try to explain Christmas to my students using the commercialized version rather than the religious one, simply because my little ones don’t understand the complexities of Christian versus Buddhist or Muslim faith/belief. I strongly oppose bringing religion into the classroom having grown up in a confusing mix of Protestant & Catholic beliefs versus scientific teaching in the public schools I attended. I’ve since encountered many questions from the Thai / English teachers at our school who want to know more about Western beliefs, religions and traditions, testing my mediocre knowledge of the subject, while I have learned a lot from them concerning Buddhist and Muslim traditions and faith.

Lately, Mam has met and befriended a woman across the street who is the village shaman of sorts. I’m delighted because it has opened up a new world for Mam, whom I believe was getting a trifle bored living way out here in the boonies with not much to do except read, clean house or go shopping. Now she chatters on and on about things she has learned from the “old woman,” as she is affectionately called in our home, including anything from health remedies to numerology.
Mam bristles when I don’t go along with her convictions, labeling me a nonbeliever, often beginning her sentences with, “I know you don’t believe me, but…” alerting me that she is about to tell me something she learned from the “old woman,” or share some superstitious belief she has concerning ghosts or spirits.

I might be a skeptic, but I’m truly happy Mam has found happiness in her dealings with the old woman, whom although I am reluctant to take seriously, I must admit she does have a few things going for her and I am often flabbergasted at some of the results of her so-called magic. Mam often traipses over to the old woman’s house when I am busy doing something, offering, “I’m going across the street to eat Khanom Jean, (or Durian, Jackfruit, Papaya, Jampada, Som Tam, etcetera). But I know her time spent with the old woman is mainly informational since the old lady tends to treat Mam as somewhat of an apprentice to her tricks of the trade, so-to-speak.

Mam has suffered from occasional dizziness ever since we first met over two years ago. She takes medications prescribed by local physicians, but refuses to go to the hospital, not wanting to undergo expensive medical exams. She complains the medications prescribed for her rarely work, and has resorted to traditional Chinese medicine at some of the local Chinese pharmacies, which appear to work better.

Recently she suffered a persistent attack of dizziness while I was taking a nap in the afternoon. Medication she had on hand didn’t work, so she went across the street to see the old woman, who gave her some mysterious powder to mix with water and drink.

Upon arising from my nap I was ambushed and enthusiastically lectured on the knowledge and healing properties of the old woman’s cure for Mam’s dizziness with this mysterious powder, which appeared to work very well for her.

I listened to her story for a while before asking to see the powder. When Mam produced the small plastic bottle, I examined the brown powder and opened the bottle to smell it. After a good whiff, I sat back in my chair with a déjà vu that I had smelled that scent somewhere else. It was a matter of minutes before my memory banks settled upon it….

I had it!


Having stuck my face into many a baggie in my earlier years, I surmised that the old woman was manufacturing something that either included the illegal substance, or was a close substitute. I then remembered reading a scientific journal years ago, which extolled the healing properties of THC, which surprisingly enough, included dizziness.

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps it is just some aromatic herb that smells similar. So, I kept my mouth shut, because it meant more to me that the powder seemed to help Mam, than to burst her bubble trying to tell her that her local shaman may be growing some illicit weed somewhere on her property and reducing it to a powder to sell to local villagers. Meanwhile, Mam is delighted with the mysterious brown powder and is now using it even when she’s not dizzy, saying it helps her sleep and affords her many other good benefits.

Yeah, I’ll bet….

Of late, the old woman has been coming around our house more often. It seems she is interested in Mam’s dreams. Mam told the old woman of a dream she had involving her grandmother and a Buddhist monk who, in the dream, presents a number to her in prayer. After the old woman and other local villagers played the local lottery numbers using the numbers in Mam’s dream, they actually won, each player paying a small portion of their winnings to Mam. Since then, Mam’s popularity has grown at a surprising pace here in North Klong Tong village. The old woman has given Mam a numerology chart so she can figure out her dreams and interpret them numerically so everyone can play the two and three digit lottery based on her predictions.

A fair amount of money exchanges hands here and there, most of which I am ignorant to, having tuned most of it out. But, I caution Mam, reminding her that the two and three digit lottery is illegal, and she must be careful.

Lately the old woman has been teaching Mam about local plants, insects and wildlife. Mam follows the old woman around absorbing everything she says. I have noticed that Mam’s green thumb has been glowing of late, cultivating many different flowering plants along the path to our house and bordering the main road. She has put this new ability to test by selling the flowers to our landlady who uses them in floral displays and flower alms for the monks. So, although Mam doesn’t have a job per-se, she is making a little money from her plantings and numerology predictions.

The old woman stopped by last week to deliver a gift to me, although I have never formally met her. Mam met her on the main road and came back to our house announcing that the old woman had delivered a gift of a papaya to me. I asked Mam why she didn’t come to the house, and she told me the old woman knew from her dreams that I enjoyed my privacy, so she would only call Mam from the main road.

This startled me, since it is true. I have always been a die-hard private person and revel in my privacy. Here in Thailand I’ve struggled with privacy issues since many Thai’s don’t seem to understand the concept of true privacy and often impinge upon personal space without realizing they are doing so. Explicitly, this concerns the cultural difference in Asia of Interdependence (Asia) versus Independence (Western Culture).

So, although the local shaman has some pretty wild ideas, Mam is adopting a few of them, and I am learning that many of them may have a purpose in this life. Although I a skeptical of many things foreign to me, I try to have an open mind when it comes to Asian beliefs and life here in Thailand, and given the fact Mam treats me like a King, it’s the least I can do, to honor her beliefs.



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