Village Life ...

To say we live in a village is a bit of a misnomer.  Our physical location is on the fringes of a village, in a very rural setting, roughly 55 kilometers east of Chiang Rai town.  Presently I find myself in town four or five times a week, sometimes with the wife and the rest of the time riding the Ninja, to have coffee with friends.  In that and other ways our lives bear little resemblance to the native inhabitants who toil in the fields and seldom travel to town.  There is of course the obvious monetary disparity between us and them, but much more than that, is our lifestyle and varied interests which include travel, reading, writing, photography, internet, hiking, mountain bike, motorcycle, baking, gardening, pets, entertaining or visiting friends, exploring new places and events.

Some would take issue with what they might perceive as our inability or unwillingness to ‘fit in’ with the local culture.  I do not sign on to the notion that there is but one way to ‘fit in’, as in bending to the norm of the lowest common denominator, living and acting like the least among us.  There are actually many roles to be filled in a village, with the farang usually taking on one of the more common roles of ‘villager wannabe’, ‘village idiot’ or ‘financial showoff’.

We have tried to strike a different kind of balance with my wife doing most of the heavy lifting, as it were.  She attends all the village functions, contributing in an unobtrusive manner, leaving all the organizing and logistics to those who have traditionally filled those roles.  We are not the largest donors but try to contribute a respectable amount to most things.  She also makes a point of visiting others homes in the evening in an effort to be neighborly.  It seems there is still an uncertainty and unease about when or if people should visit us.  Even with an invitation, many feel uncomfortable and uncertain how to act at our home.

Sometimes it is necessary to visit those who are less fortunate.  Recently an aunt lost her thumb in the pumpkin patch and was transported by others, with her missing digit, to the hospital in Chiang Rai.  Unable to reattach it, they still brought it home as a memento, though I am not certain what method they settled on to preserve it.  Upon hearing the news, we stopped by the hospital the next day to check on her, after having brunch with friends.  This was one of my rare appearances in a hospital.  Shortly after beginning our drive home we received a call, informing us that the doctor was releasing the aunt since nothing else could be done for her.  Circling back we retrieved five of our relatives and delivered them back to the village.  I prefer not having to rely on others but understand that not everyone has that luxury or preference.  It was clear that my wife benefitted greatly from this opportunity to help out her family, as normally people would be reluctant to ask for anything from us.

We try to provide employment for family and neighbors and will sometimes allow children to do some very minor tasks to earn school money.  If they look hungry, they get something to eat, as well.  Villagers are typically afraid of our dogs, Cookie in particular, due to her size.  Having children around presents the opportunity to educate them on how to act around dogs and how not to litter or be overly destructive of the environment.  I’m not certain what they think of an adult actually talking with them outside of a classroom environment but hopefully something will rub off on them.

By having some semblance of a yard and garden, it is possible that a few others have been encouraged to do more to beautify their own environment.  My wife has been generous with plants and cuttings, and family often come over to gather herbs and condiments for cooking.  We have a teenage cousin who is more of a part time babysitter for Cookie than a maid but does help out with some of the cleaning around the house in the mornings.  I do find my wife cleaning up after her on occasion, though.  After lunch my wife keeps a selection of magazines around for her to read.  Hopefully, hanging out with us will teach her some new habits and keep her out of trouble since she is at a vulnerable age.

On the rare occasion of my attending social events, one will not find me drinking, dancing, singing bad karaoke, ogling the girls or stuffing money down the fronts of the dancers and singers, in an attempt to catch a feel.  It is always too loud for me, as well, so I don’t stay long.  Surely some find my behavior odd and bordering on rude but hopefully a few might feel less pressure to behave as badly as the rest.  I am more often seen watching the sunset with my pack, walking my dogs to the dam or riding my mountain bike on the trails.  Not wanting to draw too much attention to the Ninja, I usually slip quietly out the back side of the village so only our closest neighbors notice my comings and goings on the motorbike.

I am truly content with my life these days.  Plenty of friends, plenty to do, a lovely environment and a loving wife.  Not surprisingly to me, my wife is less content with life in her home village.  Family dynamics being what they often are, my wife and her sister don’t always see eye to eye on things.  This leads to estrangement and introduces the element of stress, which is not welcome.  She complains about having too much to do, but my wife is the sort who can’t sit still, so I pay little attention to her protestations.  The only thing for me to do, is drag her to town more often, to get her away from her routines.

At times she even questions our decision to move here.  Thinks it might be better to live somewhere else.  I know her well enough to be certain that moving elsewhere would not quell those thoughts.  She (and I, by virtue of being her husband) are both blessed and cursed with her inability to find contentment for any length of time.  It provides motivation to grow and expand her horizons but leaves her unable to truly appreciate all her blessings.  It falls on me to alleviate her frustration and anxiety, while allowing her to drag me out of comfort zone on occasion.  Even after 13 years together, there is still a synergy in our relationship that brings us both to a better place than we could find on our own.

So do we live a village life or do we just live near a village?  We certainly do not share their superstitions, their preoccupation with money or who is sleeping with whom.  It seems ‘giks’ are all the rage in the village, not just in the big city.  We wonder what future lies ahead for the children of our village but I have long since learned to let people get on with their lives, choosing for myself, a path of noninterference.  Perhaps the wife and I will have a subliminal effect, but who knows.

With my life, as with my blog, I’m wondering what 2011 holds.  Last year I drifted down a path with easily articulated goals and accomplished most of them.  This year I am struggling with the answers, as I have yet to formulate the questions to my liking.  Please bear with me until I figure this out.