So we arrived in the village Young Chuem on January 7th about 11:30pm. Here we were to stay in the house of Poo’s cousin Jay. She lives here with her mom and dad. Her two brothers don’t live with them. The younger brother lives and work in Bangkok and the other with his wife in another village. And the dad we basically only saw to the meals. At all other times he was out at their farm, just outside the village, where he was taking care of the animals.
In the house both Poo and I and my mom had a room on the first floor of the house. Each room with a mattress on the floor and a mosquito net. Primitive, but quite ok! Poo’s mother and father, and also her two children stayed in the house of the grandfather.
We didn’t really have any dinner that night, so Poo and her cousin were now cooking it for us. The kitchen of the house was not really a kitchen after the normal western standards! It was a container with open fire (charcoal) where the wok was used to cook the food. No kitchen tables! All was done on the floor! To someone like me and my mother with our Danish backgrounds, this was something of a sight!
But we had a wonderful dinner before we went to bed.
The next morning my mom and I had our own falang breakfast with the toast and coffee we had bought on the way. The others were eating their own typical Isaan breakfast, primarily consistent of the so-called sticky rice. A special sticky rice that you eat with your fingers and roll into small balls and dip in different other “stuff”. Also they had different types of som-tam. This is their local always seen Isaan papaya salad.
After breakfast we went over to visit the grandfather. He lived about 100 meter from where we stayed. Here we were met by a large group of family. Brothers and sisters of both Poo’s mother and father all live in the village. Many of them had already arrived to see and welcome the falangs. The grandfather is 78 years old, and very sick. We never really found out what exactly is wrong, but it is both something with legs – he cannot work anymore, and also some other parts. But at least he’s not having big pain anymore, as he gets some strong pain-killers.
It is obvious that the family here in Isaan is very poor. And it is understandable why so many want to leave the area, the poorest of Thailand. Poo’s cousin said that she and her mom only were able to make about 4000 Baht per month, on the blankets they make on the “porch” of the house! That’s only approx. USD 110!! The average Thai income is about 6000 Baht. In Bangkok they are able to make a lot more, especially if they work in the tourist areas where tips are an important part of the income.
We went on a tour de Young Chuem. Here we saw the house where Poo used to live, before they moved to Bangkok, when she was 4 years old. The family now had a small restaurant – that is they made a few different types of food with sticky rice and had a table where you could sit and eat. Again very primitive!
The family actually offered us to buy the house back again. And we would only have to pay 6000 Baht!! That’s not even 200 USD! For a whole house! Well I don’t think I could live in that house, I would have to make a new one instead. But even that is not so expensive in Isaan. They say that it typically costs between 100000 and 200000 Baht. And you do see many new houses there too. Must owned by girls married to a farang (falangs cannot own land in Thailand), or girls who have been working years in the “adult entertainment” industry, typically in Bangkok, Pattaya or Phuket, and now have redrawn and live of their falang “sugar daddies” who each month still send them money!
But we also walked a little outside of the village. Here we saw the land that Poo’s older sister and her French husband had bought. A very beautiful piece, with access to the local river. Here they are planning to build a house and retire in a few years.
Well it might be beautiful and very quiet up there, but I could never imagine myself to live there full time!
In the evening the family had prepared a real welcoming party for us. At 5pm we were called over to the house of the grandfather. Here the local “lay-priest” and the family was waiting. We – Poo, me and my mom – were seated on a chair, with our hands in Thai prayer position. The hands was put on a long white cotton string, tied into a big and beautiful flower stand, made of yellow flowers and banana leaves. A local tradition in Isaan.
Then the “lay-priest” started to read long text in Thai, and the family started to take small white cotton strings with knots and tie them round our hands. Some also “attached” with hugs and special welcoming blessings. And sometimes the “lay-priest” said something special and the whole family screamed out the same. Poo translated it for us as “Welcome to Isaan!”.
The tradition with the strings is not only a Isaan tradition, but is used in many Buddhist tradition all over the world (yes also in my own Buddhist center in Copenhagen). The knot contains a blessing, with the wish of happiness and success. And in Isaan an important wish is about having a lot of money.
After 30 minutes the show was over, and the family all sat down on the floor in the middle of the house to eat. We were still seated on our chairs and was also served the sticky rice and different other treats. And at around 8pm the only one left, besides Poo, me and my mom, was Poo’s parents, her cousin and a few more. So we also headed “home” for some coffee.
But it was a very nice evening. And a big experience for us all.