Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Gone to the Races

A School Girl Running Just For Fun
We have been very busy the past month with the final processing of Duang's Immigration Visa to the USA, Duang's son's wedding, Christmas, Hmong New Years in Laos, New Year's Eve and now making arrangements to return to the USA shortly.  One of the surprises that we had was attending a School Field Day.

Last year, at the end of December, we attended a School Field Day involving 6 elementary schools in the vicinity of Tahsang Village. It was a colorful and entertaining day of pageantry, ceremony, and athletic competition.  This year at the end of December we were in Bangkok for Duang's immigration interview at the American Consulate and to celebrate New Year's Eve.  With our business in Bangkok I believed that we were going to miss out on this year's event.

On January 6th we drove out to Tahsang Village in the morning to participate in a merit making ritual for Duang's youngest brother.  Duang was going to have water poured over her by the local Monk as part of the ritual - sort of a super blessing reminiscent of being sprinkled with Holy Water by a Priest in a Catholic Church.  A couple of month's ago Duang planned on the "shower" blessing but because of the cold weather (73F, 23C) she opted out and instead had a more common blessing of water sprinkled on her by the Monk using a brush constructed of very coarse reeds.

Tahsang Village Monk Participates in Merit Making Ritual
I reminded Duang about the cold weather but she told me that she was bringing warm clothes to change into after her big blessing.  I was still not convinced or confident - she wears a sweat suit outfit to bed and covers up with a sheet and heavy comforter now that it has gotten cold (68F and 20C) in our bedroom.  Well once we got out of the truck and walked to wear the ritual would be performed, Duang changed her mind and once again opted out and went for the customary sprinkle blessing rather than the shower blessing.

Competitors Turning the Corner During A Relay Race
After the ritual we found out that there was a School Field day going on in a nearby village.  We gathered up the usual suspects, I mean family members, in Tahsang Village and headed out to the site of the School Field Day.  After driving along narrow roads, dirt roads, past sugar cane harvesting and fallow rice paddies, and even through a couple small villages, we arrived at the elementary school that was hosting the school competition.

We were arriving in the late morning so we had missed the parade of the competitors and their classmates as well as the opening ceremonies.  Several of the young school girls were still coiffed and wearing their heavy make up from the parade but had changed from their fancy traditional clothing into their athletic clothing - shorts and soccer style jerseys.

Schoolchildren Enjoying Themselves and Cheering their Classmates
Just as was the arrangements last year, there were six elementary schools participating in the field day.  Each school had a decorated bleacher set up for the athletes, and their classmates.  Several parents, relatives, younger siblings, as well as neighbors accompanied each of the schools contingents.  It was a very festive atmosphere albeit somewhat chaotic.  Each of the schools, all six of them, had their own public address system along with huge speakers.  Mahlam Lao or more specifically Mahlam Sing music blasted from each of the systems.  The children in the bleachers danced, waved pom-poms, and performed cheering routines.  It was very obvious that they were thoroughly enjoying themselves.  Off to the side of the bleachers, there were stalls, booths, and motorcycle sidecars selling food and soft drinks.  Besides being filled with the hubbub of competing music, the air was filled with the smells from Isaan ethnic food and smoke from small charcoal fires.

"Runner, Get Ready!"

We arrived in time to watch the relay races amongst the schools.  There was no cinder track for the competitors.  There was no artificial track for the competitors.  The relay races were conducted on a grass field that served as the ordinary play field for the school's students.

Her Hair and Makeup Intact From Earlier Procession, A Girl Sets Off In Her Race
The runners did not wear spiked track shoes.  The runners did not wear any type of sport shoes.  They wore no shoes.  They ran barefoot.  For children that wear flip flops or go barefoot in their villages, running barefoot is only natural and not unexpected.  This was running boiled down to its essence and uncomplicated by outside technology or any perceived competitive advantages.  It was competition for sport and glory.

Tahsang Village did not do very well in the races except for one of the girl relay teams.  Just as they did last year the girls won.  One of the girls, Behm, is related to Duang and often drops by to watch me edit photographs when I bring my computer to the village.  Often when I sit in Momma's Market, I will be joined by several of the young village children.  I enjoy showing them pictures of things that I know that they have not had the opportunity to see for themselves.  I try to explain to them about the people, places, animals, and things that I have photographed.  Their enthusiasm and interest encourages me.

Behm (left) and Her Tahsang Village Girl's Relay Teammates
I noticed that Behm was a very fast runner.  That night I mentioned to my wife, Duang, that I thought that one reason that Behm was such a fast runner was the fact that her feet were so long and wide - just like Duang's.  I have often joked with Duang about how large her feet are.  Duange reason that Behm was such a fast runner was the fact that her feet were so long and wide - just like Duang's.  I have often joked with Duang about how large her feet are.  Duang is 5 feet tall and weighs less than 100 pounds but her feet are about twice as wide as mine and not all that much shorter than mine considering our differences in height and weight.  Duang laughed when I told her my theory as to why Behm was so fast.  Duang confided that she too was a very good runner when she was a young girl; always coming in first or second at worst.  We laughed how the "Veeboonkul" large feet made for fast runners.

Race Official Signals he Start of the Race - Banging A Recycled Artillery Shell
I sat out in the infield of the "track" and kept busy photographing the races and the activities around the field while Duang and our grandson, Peelawat, remained on the sidelines with the other Tahsang Villagers.
Girls Driving Through the Curve
After two hours, Duang came out to tell me that our grandson, Peelawat, was tired and needed to return Tahsang Village.  I looked at my watch in disbelief and realized that it had in deed been two hours.  The races were mostly not very competitive but they were very entertaining.  It was a pleasure to watch students racing for the joy of it.  Although the athletes did not have much in terms of equipment, they were making the most out of what was readily available to them.  More than that, they were enjoying themselves.

A Boy Leads His Classmates in a Very Sophisticated Dance Routine
It appeared that everyone was enjoying themselves at the Field Day.  The students exhibited excellent sportsmanship and were well supported by their families.  The children in addition to either competing or cheering also took advantage of the opportunity to eat and drink with friends outside on a sunny day in Isaan; not all that bad of a way to spend a day outside of the classroom.

Once again I was witness to the manifestation that it is not what you have that brings happiness but appreciating and making do with what you have that can bring some happiness.

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