My foreign friends and students who know my life habits ask me why I love old things; old houses, old wood furniture, and even pieces of an old rice mill that I keep underneath my old wooden house in Bangkok. It seems strange, doesn't it? My western friends think that all Thai people, especially those who came from the village to Bangkok like me, must love new Euro-style and American things because they don't want to think about the old days when they were poor.
Last week I went to a child's funeral in my village, my little nephew, a long way from Bangkok. It was very sad. But riding back on the train at night through the rain the scene that came to my mind was a happy one, living in a simple Thai village in the 1960s, 40 years ago, with my grandmother telling me stories before I went to sleep, scenes that seem to me now like an old black and white movie. Thai kids were kept busy in those days and I like to think of the special times I was able to go with my little brothers Chai and Chart to the rice paddy, to catch crabs to bring home to mother. At the end of the day we would take our catch back, I would give Chart the job, which he loved, of carrying the bucket with our catch, back to our old wood house We loved our house, it was big, my grandmother's old house, and friends and relatives would visit and stay with us, and when the Communists came even families from the mountains came to stay with us. These were my happy times.
But my little brother Chart was not a strong boy and when he was about seven he began to get sick. I remember him lying in bed and asking me to bring him one, just one, tamarind and when I told him mother said he could not eat tamarind, it was not good for him, he begged me bring him just one half, or even only one bite.
Like everyone in those days my family went to see the fortune teller to ask him why this sickness had come to my little brother and what we should do about it. This witch doctor -- I call him that now with anger in my heart -- said that there was a ghost that lived under our house and if we wanted Chart to get better we had to tear down the house and move someplace else. My grandmother did not want to do that, it had been her house, and when the house came down and the wood sold off she was the last to leave. She did not want to leave the room where she and I used to sleep and she would tell me my nightly stories, and I didn't want to leave either, but I had to obey my father.
So we moved into the new house. It was made from concrete blocks, and had only one floor, and my grandmother became sad, and I hated the insects that came into the house and worried about the danger of strangers coming the windows at night. And then little Chart died anyway, he never got his tamarind. My grandmother stopped taking me on our wonderful trips to the market town, and not long after she died too. During these funerals my mother stayed in her room and would not talk. After that, my life changed and things were not the same anymore. I was becoming a teenager and always worrying about how to stay in my school. My father wanted me to stay home and work. Life was a struggle and I knew that happy days were gone.
I began to study English hard in those days and I learned many of the new ideas and many special words that English has to explain the world. For example unlike Thai, where we have just one word for house, "bahn", English had different words for house and home and based on my experience I now knew now that they were not the same thing.
I came to Bangkok when I was nineteen years old, I didn't miss the village much because the part of it that I kept in my heart, my life in the old house, I brought with me to Bangkok. At university I had to live in a big concrete building but even though I had little money in those days I used to go to the markets and buy old village things. My apartment became crowded wtih old things, brass latches and betel nut boxes and old window frames, and I told myself that someday I would have my old house back again. And so I do, and in recent times I have even started a new business, based on the things I collected and my memory of the old house. But that's a story for another time.
Auntie Nim grew up in a small village a long walk from the nearest paved road. In her twenties she started a Thai language school in Bangkok and later a real estate redevelopment company, which she named villageinthecity.com. She divides her time between Bangkok, her home town in the south of Thailand, and a small organic farm which she operates with her husband in rural Isaan.