I’m still sober.
Noo was up at the crack of dawn to buy some Vietnamese take – away from the restaurant along the road to take to her family later. I roused myself at around 9 a.m. and by 10 we were off on the way to her sister’s house – a good thirty minutes’ drive along the road to Tha Bo.
As with yesterday, there seemed to be incessant number of phone calls back and forth discussing the various plans for the day which seemed to change ever kilometre that we drove. When we eventually made it to our destination, even Noo seemed a little perturbed to find her sister’s house completely empty. No-one was home. She seemed puzzled and made a call to discover that although her sister had agreed to wait for us, she had changed her mind and had taken Noo’s two kids to the Children’s Day celebrations at the local Tessabahn.
We waited for ten minutes and the missing threesome arrived on a motorcycle and then clambered in my car for the drive to Tha Bo. I enquired as the whereabouts of Noo’s mother, who was supposed to be going with us.
‘Oh! There’s been a change of plan.’
Surpise, suropise. ‘So where is she’
‘She’s gone out somewhere with her husband.’
I gave up trying to fathom the Issan mind and their ever-changing plans.
Tha Bo turned out to be a bit of a dead end, ‘one horse’ affair but we parked up and the sisters and two kids made a beeline for a large covered market, in which well over half the stalls were unoccupied. The market looked much like any other to me, but the two women scampered hither and thither, amassing a large collection plastic bags, overflowing with all manner of goodies: vegetables, fruit, meats, pastes, pickles, strange looking cooked food, foul smelling food and goodness knows what else. I soon had a boot full. (Car boot that is – trunk to those across the pond).
We then sat down for an excellent bowl of noodles before heading back to Noo’s sister’s house. On the return journey back to the village I decided to turn on the radio and immediately found a local music station.
Noo listened for a moment and said: ‘What language is that man singing in? That singer sounds Lao!’
Her son and sister immediately retorted that the singer was Issan and he was singing in Issan.
It sounded completely Mor Lam Issan to me, but what do I know?
Noo kept muttering that there was something strange about the accent. Finally the song finished and the announcer informed us that the singer and the song were from Laos. One nil to Noo, I believe.
More familiar Issan songs followed and the entire occupants of the car joined in. (even Mobi joined in the song which starts ‘Mee fan ri-ung?’ – Have you got a girl friend yet?)
Waiting at the house was the errant mother, together with Noo’s father, brother and a few more relatives. They were all very friendly and made me feel welcome. The house was the usual primitive wooden affair, built on stilts with large, low wooden platforms underneath where the inhabitants conducted their daily lives: sitting, gossiping, cooking, eating and sleeping. During the couple of hours I was there, Noo’s family duly went right through that very cycle:
There is one thing about working class, upcountry Thai families that always find endearing. It is the family community spirit – long since gone from families in the west and, I dare say, also at risk of disappearing amongst the better-off classes in Thailand.
The mother and an aunt sit patiently with a nephew, busy preparing the vegetables and sauces while another gets the fire going while a further group are preparing meat: – gutting and chopping. No one says a word about the task in hand – they all know what is expected of them as the family all work together to prepare the meal. The children are also roped in whenever necessary to carry out some function, and if not involved in the preparation or cooking of food, they will be delegated to take care of the very young ones, which I have observed, they invariably carry with much love and affection
Of course this isn’t always the case. Noo’s family seem to live and work together in harmony, but I have seen many a family where the men of the family are nothing more than drunken, gambling fornicators who stumble home from time to time where they demand food, money and clothing before disappearing yet again, up to God knows what?
Yes, there are many dysfunctional families in Thailand, but in general I have been fortunate to meet the better ones – the families with love, a good work ethic a deep respect for elders, a love of children and who live mainly moral lives. Noo’s family appears to be just such one.
Before the meal was finished I adjourned to my car, as there was nowhere else to lie down and I was feeling very sleepy. Half an hour later, I was awoken by a male family member, who asked me in almost perfect English if I would like to join the family for lunch. I politely declined as I was still full from my large bowl of noodles, a few hours earlier.
Noo and I made our farewells in the late afternoon and retraced our steps back to the Mekong, this time taking the scenic route which meandered along the riverside for about half an hour before we reached our guesthouse.
There doesn’t seem to be an awful lot to commend Nong Khai as a place to visit, but certainly the riverside area is worth a look, and the next time I pass this way I might take a day trip to Laos.
This evening we took another stroll along the banks of the Mekong and enjoyed an excellent meal in an Issan restaurant. Nam-tok neua, Moo larb, Issan sauasage and many more, all helped down with Kow nio and copious amounts of water – it was a bit spicy. Then another little stroll and back to our room for an early night. I plan to get up very early in the morning to make the long journey back to Pattaya.