Friday, May 6, 2011

Isaan Odyssey, Part 24: One Last Dinner, One Last Walk

Our thatched hut dinner by a pond outside of Udonthani

I managed to sleep a couple of hours again and woke up ready to go pick my friend's folks up to go to dinner. Although the entire family wouldn't be home today I told him I'd like to again take whoever was available out for dinner somewhere, including Noom - if he'd go. You can read about Noom's motocy accident and his recovery here if you're curious why he's reluctant to go out in public very often.

I also wanted to make one last walk out to the reservoir near the family home; a spot that had become a place to say goodbye to family and friends who have passed on, as I've shared here before. It called to me, and not knowing when I'd return here again I wanted to answer that call. I'd originally seen the spot on my first visit there after seeing my friend's dying cousin on her platform bed outside her home, waiting for AIDS to take her away from her children and family.

We loaded ourselves into Suphot's truck and headed into the countryside outside of Udonthani proper. As the reality of leaving and returning to Bangkok settled in I became quiet, lost in thought.

This had been a somewhat bittersweet trip overall; my friend had been in a relationship with a farang for a year or so and was in the process of leaving his homeland for a new place and would most likely be gone before I was able to return to Thailand, more than likely making this the last time I'd visit him, his home and his family - perhaps forever. There was a lot I'd wanted to discuss with him about his plans, and we hadn't addressed them nearly as fully as I'd hoped. "If I return here," I said to myself "it may be to stand by the shore and say goodbye to him," and that made me sad. We can't choose the path others who mean something to us take, but I wasn't sure I'd at least put a hand on his shoulder and nudged him as best I could in the better direction. Only time would tell that.

The back yard at my friend's family home area, outside of Udonthani

Arriving in a cloud of dust we'd churned up along the dirt road in front of the family compound I climbed out of Suphot's truck and was immediately surrounded by the family dogs - and a chicken who didn't have enough sense to run away with the others and now jumped around, terrified, in the middle of the canine welcoming party. Brushing the dog's dusty footprints off of the front of me I looked up to see my friend waving from the front door of his sister's house where he's been house-sitting while his sister's in another country with her husband.

The house was almost twice the size of the original family's home a few dozen meters away; with a modern interior, nice appliances and plenty of living space. Out of respect for their privacy I won't post much of the place, but this shot showing one small portion of the open living area gives you an idea of how nice it is - especially compared to the home it somewhat replaced. It was odd to see my friend's bedroom things moved from their previous compact space and into this new spot, but I was happy for him and wished he'd just stay here, rather than leave for places and situations unknown.

Even though he's still rather self-conscious about his appearance Noom came out to say hello to me, as I'd hoped. He looked so much better than the last time I'd seen him, and was not only walking closer to normal on his own, but acting more like his old self. There was no convincing him that he ought to come along with us to eat, though - even after we assured him that we were going to a nearby open-air restaurant, so we promised to bring him dinner and he stood and waved goodbye as the bunch of us pulled out in two vehicles and headed to dinner.

We drove a short ways to a place I can not find the name of now, but it was similar in style to some other Thai eateries: tables or seating mats in open buildings beneath thatched roofs beside some sort of pond or small lake, often man made. As you can see above these were individual "huts", and there were a lot of them (we were in #45) in addition to a larger, covered central dining area adjacent to the kitchen which could accomodate larger groups.

I'd told my friend to encourage his mother and father to order what they wanted and have dishes they might not order themselves, hoping they'd not feel limited by manners, knowing I would be picking up the tab. Thai culture is such that if one of the party obviously has more money it's assumed that they will pay the bill, and by their standards I was the wealthy one. Fortunately, after the number of visits I'd made they took me at my word and ordered freely. The photo up top today is only part of what was delivered to our "table" - and a lot went home. Noom certainly got dinner!

Returning to their home afterwards, I told my friend I wanted to take one last walk out to the reservoir before leaving, and he joined me as I went along the road and off into the open area in that direction; past his uncle's home, where the water buffalo looked up and snorted with indifference as I waved to them.

The sun was beginning to set, and this is my favorite time to be there. The shadows lengthen and soften until the sun goes behind clouds or the trees on the Western horizon, and then there's a gentle fading of light as the crickets begin to sing and it dims as the sky shifts through the palate of sunset colors; oranges, pinks, reds and finally that dark blue hue as night pulls the blanket over the sky and the stars begin to appear.

I gently eased our conversation into the area of caution in relationships, but I'm not at all sure that it made much of an impression. My friend saw this as a way to establish some sort of security for his future, but it seemed to me as thought it was to be at a precious cost. All I could do was urge that he keep his eyes open and always, always leave an escape route. As most of us might say when we were his age he assured me "I know what I'm doing, don't worry about me," - but I knew I would... and do.

When the mosquitoes came around in force to remind me I hadn't put on any repellent I reluctantly bid farewell to this idyllic spot, but I didn't really think it would be for the last time, as I said earlier. It's my fervent hope that my next visit there will merely be to see and remember folks fondly, and not to bid another spirit farewell. Time will tell.

[Next up: a l-o-n-g day's ride back to Bangkok. This is part 24 of a series. If you've found this via a search or would like to read the rest of it, click HERE.]

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