Saturday, December 26, 2009

An Isaan Christmas

As Christmas comes to a close on the West Coast of the USA, we are half way through the next day here in Isaan.

We had a very nice Christmas yesterday in Isaan. In the morning we loaded up the truck with the Christmas cookies that we had baked the previous afternoon - 4 hours of effort. Duang knew intuitively that we would take most of the cookies out to Tahsang Village to give to the little children.

Christmas in Isaan was a normal day. Children had school to attend. Businesses were open. Farmers were working in their fields.

The country roads are now travelled by trucks of all sizes transporting harvested sugar cane to the local refineries. In some areas, where there is readily available water, the paddies are being prepared for a second crop of rice. It will not rain again until May so it is essential that a reliable natural source of ground water be available for a successful crop. Rice in Isaan is grown using the wet land method so most farmers are able to only harvest a single crop per year.

On our way out to Tahsang Village we stopped in the village to bring our grandson, Peelawat, his portion of the cookies. Peelawat was asleep outdoors in a hammock watched over by his Great Grandfather. Peelawat's outfit for the day was laying on the platform underneath his hammock. His Uncle, Duang's son had given him a Christmas Santa Claus suit. It was a red snow suit - pants, jacket and elf hat with white trim.

Peelawat and his mother joined us on our trip out to Tahsang Village. We passed some relatives with their babies walking along the village road and told them to meet us at Duang's mother's house. Soon we had the babies all assembled to receive their cookies. Typical of babies here in Isaan, their faces had been powdered to protect them from the sun. What cookies that the grownups managed to save for themselves were devoured by the children. In five minutes, the product of our four hours of effort were completely devoured. The children were very happy to have some treats and we enjoyed watching them.

After our visit in Tahsang, on our way back to Peelawat's village, we stopped at a local school. At the end of the year there are competitions between the students of the local schools. On Christmas, Tahsang Village was competing against another local village. The school's athletic field was ringed with push carts selling food and drinks. At some of the cement tables and benches that the students use to eat their lunch, some men were congregating drinking Lao Kao (moonshine style whiskey) Under the shade of trees, families and teams were resting, relaxing, and eating picnic style atop sahts (woven reed mats). It was very festive as well as interesting.

The students competed in volleyball, futball (soccer), and takraw. Takraw is similar to volleyball but uses a 12 cm woven rattan ball and you can not use your hands - only your feet and head.

The competition between the schools was fierce but good sportsmanship as well as good manners was very evident. It was quite entertaining. As an added bonus, Tahsang Village was triumphant. The teacher who was also the coach of the volleyball team received money from some of the happy adults. She gave each of the team members 100 baht to buy food and drinks. I am not totally familiar with NCAA rules, but I suspect that players receiving money, albeit $3.00, is some kind of violation. Fortunately, Thailand is not so concerned with student athlete regulations. Also, although the players were no older than 13 years old, I did not observe any potential US university caliber talent. It was just great to see children enjoying themselves and trying their best. It was a great experience.

After returning Peelawat and his mother to their home, we returned to our home to complete our holiday celebration. I made, as best I could, a traditional holiday meal for Duang, her son, and his girlfriend. Many of the ingredients for a traditional meal are available in Isaan but with ingenuity, creativity, substitutions, and alternatives a fine feast was produced - turkey breast, garlic potatoes, stuffing, steamed carrots, gravy, and Christmas cookies. I suspect that they liked it because all plates were cleared.

All and all it was a very pleasant day - a Christmas in Isaan.

As in most aspects of life it amounted to being thankful and enjoying what we have rather than dwelling upon what we don't have or what we would like to have.

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