Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Giving Back - Thanks For The Votes

Yesterday was a very busy day for us.

Peelawat, our 6 month old grandson dropped by with his parents to return the pickup truck that they had borrowed for three days. We loaded their motorbike into the back and we all headed back to Tahsang Village - to drop them off back home as well as to offload the bike.

They had borrowed the truck to take care of family business and to bring Peelawat to the doctor for his 6 month check-up. The poor little guy had had a rough day. He received his second haircut and apparently did not like the noise or feel of the clippers. At his checkup, he got another shot. He was already running a slight fever by the time they got to our house. Despite his problems, he was still in a good mood without any crying. He was just a little subdued for him and he went to sleep in the truck as I held him during the trip out to the village.

We had gotten a call from Duang's cousin earlier in the morning. She wanted to let us know that there was going to be a Mahlam Lao show in a nearby village that afternoon. I have written about these shows before and how they mark various celebrations throughout Isaan. Well yesterday I learned of another reason to have a show - politics!

After settling Peelawat into his home and having something to eat, Duang, her cousin, another village woman and I headed out to see the show. The justification as well as the responsibility for the celebration was the election of a new Village Headman. He was recently elected and was giving back to the community by arranging as well as sponsoring the show. Village Headman are important men or women in Thailand. When we went to get my "Yellow Book" (House Occupant Book for a Foreigner), we had to take our Village Headman, actually a woman, to the Provincial Offices to have her testify and sign that I am actually living in the house. In Tahsang Village when one of the local young women ran off and abandoned her baby to live with a crazy man in a distant village, it was the Village Headman that called the other village to arrange for her return. He also accompanied the relatives to the other village to retrieve her.

We arrived after the celebration had started - perhaps not too long but long enough for just about everyone to be well on their way to being drunk. The show was a typical village Mahlam Lao event. There were a couple canopies set up to protect people from the sun. Underneath the canopies plastic chairs and tables were set up for people to eat and drink. Additional tables and chairs were set up underneath the elevated houses that surrounded the area where the show was going on.

The people were all very friendly. The show was going on full tilt. We were welcomed by some old friends of Duangs from the village. We were immediately introduced to the Village Headman as well as the local Police official. They insisted that we join them for eating and drinking.

We had previously eaten so we got away with not eating anything. However my desire to not drink anything was countered with the argument that I had to wish everyone good luck and happiness which could only be properly done with alcohol. I relinquished and had a couple glasses of beer with ice. Here in Isaan, people drink beer out of glasses with ice cubes.

Duang's friend dragged her out on to the dance area and kept trying to get her to dance. One of the village woman dragged me out to dance and I was a more willing dance partner. Everyone was enjoying themselves.

I took several photographs. The young men were congregating in front of the stage doing their thing like they do at all of these occasions. The performers were keeping everyone entertained.

As time went by, Duang's friend became more and more persistent. Her friend then kept trying to speak to me however due to her condition and the loudness of the show, I had no idea what she was saying or even trying to say. In a short while an altercation broke out on the perimeter of the crowd between some young men. This happens at just about every one of this celebrations usually in front of the stage. The heavy drinking, testosterone levels, hot sun, and the Lao Loum sensitivity to not losing face all combine into combat. Since everyone is related and there is a strong village identity, fights between two men frequently escalate into potential bigger scenes. After a couple of blows, or due to their inebriated state the first wild swings, the sides form up. By this time, the mothers head into the area along with their sisters to yell at their son as well as the other participant. Sometimes uncles head into the fray but in their efforts to break up any pending violence often lead to them squaring off amongst themselves. By this time the show has stopped with the singer pleading with everyone to behave themselves. The Police move in followed by the Village Headman. The Police are often ignored but some how their presence distracts everyone so tensions subside. The Village Headman makes some statements and peace is restored if only temporarily. Usually there will be one or two more flare ups before the show is shut down. As they say "A good time was had by all"

Years ago when I attended the company family picnic, we would always stay until a fight broke out. Once the fight broke out I knew that we had seen all there was to see so we could go home. Nothing has changed. We took our cue and left - safe and definitely not sorry.

When we got home to Udonthani, Duang's cousin (one out of 93) came over and we bought a new Toyota pick up truck - but that is the subject of tomorrow's blog.

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