Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Gathering of the Clans - Isaan Style

Today was another busy day here in Isaan. I spent the day making backup DVDs for many of my recent photographs - original files as well as edited files. All in all I made 9 DVDs of data files of course that does not include the 4 DVD disks that were found to be defective after I had spent 30 minutes each burning the files to each one of them. I had plenty of time for this task because I was alone for the day.

My wife, Duang, and my stepson had gone off to what I will refer to as a "gathering of the clans" Pugh and Puii, his girl friend have been going out with each other for the past 18 months. Now that she has graduated from university and he has a job, they have decided to get married. This was not a spur of the moment decision on their part and we have been expecting it for some time now.

However getting married here in Isaan is no simple matter. Although my stepson is 29 years old and Puii is 21 years old, getting married is not the simple matter of them coming to agreement amongst the two of them. As with everything else here in Isaan, the Lao Loum culture requires family involvement in such great matters and decisions.

A very big part of getting married is the negotiation and settling upon the "Sin Sod" and "Tong Mun". I had written about these in a previous blog regarding the marriage of one of Duang's female relatives ( )

Puii's mother had some preliminary talk regarding a possible marriage. Duang was saying that Puii's mother, at that time, was talking about a Sin Sod of 800,000 baht ($24,242) and a Tong Mun of 5 baht of gold ($2,900). This is extraordinary, if not unrealistic, for a young man who makes 6,000 baht ($182) a month as a mechanic at a local Mitsubishi dealership.

It was agreed that today, Sunday 27 June, would be the day that the actual amount of the Sin Sod and Tong Mun would be negotiated. I had originally indicated that I thought that it would be best if I did not attend the negotiation. It is always best for a falang (foreigner) to not be involved in any dealings related to money here in Isaan. Foreigners are viewed as being "rich" and able to afford to pay more than Thai people. With a Thai man making $182 a month working 6 days a week at a car dealership and farm labor making almost $5 a day, I am not going to rage against that commonly held perception. However I had told Duang that I did not and will not pay for my sons to get married so I would not be "paying" for my stepson to get married. Despite my reservations, she said that she wanted me to go with her as well as the rest of the "family" to negotiate.

Three days ago, Puii called and said that she thought that it would be better if I did not go. She felt that my presence would complicate the negotiations. It was not a problem for me and Duang did not really need me for morale support. Twenty-one family members were going with her to Puii's home.

Yesterday Duang reviewed with me her position on the upcoming negotiations. She identified her bottom line numbers and said that if Puii's mother wanted more than that, she was going to tell her son to go home. It would then be up to her son and Puii to decide to continue their relationship together outside of the best wishes as well as spiritual support of the families. I asked her if her son would actually leave and return home if she told him to. She said that he would. Somehow I can not imagine an American 29 year old son doing the same. As a negotiation point I suggested that Duang tell Puii's mother that we were going to do this wedding "American" style - where the man pays nothing and the women pays for everything. I also pointed out that if negotiations got stuck, Duang could tell Puii's mother that if she thought that she could find a man with a job, who treated Puii as well, loved Puii as much, and who Puii loved as much and could pay more money, she needed to start looking along the roads now for him. Duang and I had a good laugh but maybe there are other reasons that it is best that I did not go to the negotiations.

Duang and her son left this morning at 8:00 A.M. to go to Tahsang Village to pick up some of the clan going to the negotiations. Two pick up trucks left Tahsang at 9:00 A.M., the most advantageous as well as strategic time according to one of the old aunts who knows about numbers with the 22 family members ranging from Duang's mother to Peelawat (16 months old) and Kwan - 2.5 years old. Duang stopped at the market in Kumphawapi in order to provide the food for the negotiations. Puii's mother was supplying the beer, whiskey, and soft drinks. Based upon my experience here in Isaan, I would say that Duang won that round.

Duang and her clan arrived to find Puii's clan represented by her grandfather and 17 other family members including 4 babies. Puii's family asked where I was and Duang told them that I had stayed at home. She told them that if a falang had gone then the price would increase too much. She added that if there was a wedding I would be at the wedding and they could meet me then. They all had a good laugh - whether it was a jovial laugh or self-conscious laugh I don't know.

After an hour of socializing, the negotiations commenced. Puii's grandfather spoke for the family and wanted a Sin Sod of 550,000 baht and a Tong Mun of 5 baht of gold. Duang countered with an offer of 209,999 baht Sin Sod and 2 baht Tong Mun. The grandfather discussed this counter offer with Puii's mother and Puii. He then asked if she loved Pugh and if Pugh loved her. With two affirmations, the grandfather agreed. Everyone clapped and were happy with the conclusion. After the 30 minutes of negotiations, a down payment of 40,999 baht was presented to Puii's mother with a promise to pay the remainder next year around March. Puii's mother gave a gift of a "gong kao" - a woven bamboo basket for storing cooked sticky rice to each adult member of Duang's clan further binding the families.

With the tension of the negotiations and resolution of everyone' s angst, the food and drink was brought out so that everyone could enjoy themselves. Duang told the people about how in America men do not pay to get married but that women paid to get married. Two old Lao Loum men said that they were going to go to America and get some money for marrying American women. Everyone had a good laugh at their joke.

Duang returned home at 4:00 P.M. tired but satisfied with her efforts for the day.

The clans had gathered and financial considerations had been addressed. There will be a wedding in the new year - another occasion to celebrate here in Isaan.

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