You Came, You Saw, You Conquered Me
With all my thoughts bent on you
Life is no longer about possibilities,
and more about me and you.
What happened to schemes of grandeur?
Of cons, and castles, and billionaires
amidst cerulean colors of the Rivier?
Instead, filters there a picket fence
With copper pots, and linen sheets
resting in a house atop a rugged cliff.
And yet, dear God, you wonder if
This Dream you’ve held beneath your breast
is nothing but, Fortuna’s jest.
For in this crossroad of modern and ancient design,
You wonder what is normal? What is right?
When came this terse embargo’d act?
But Life (as everyone says) is yours to define.
No alibi to hide behind.
Choose wisely, and I have:
You came, you saw, you conquered me.
Love and Marriage in Thailand
How I’d lived half my life in Asia and SE Asia and never gotten immersed with the Muslim or Buddhist culture has escaped me. A few outward evidences such as a sizable amount of burnt-out incense and alters covered in food, or crowds wearing traditional head-garb, and you get the hint that right beneath the surface of it all, is a sizable Muslim or Buddhist population; and yet, I’ve remained wholly ignorant of their way of life.
There seems to be touch more mysticism and validity involving the spirit world here. If ever you need any evidence of a culture’s belief in the spirit world, just take a look at their superstitions. Kids believe in monsters and other such evil entities that go bump in the night. All it takes is a simple google search to find that each Asian country has its own list of a few thousands superstitions.
A prime example: November, a month ago really, welcomes a vivid and most unusual festival in Thailand—the Prapheni Kin Phak or The Vegetarian Festival where to appease nine emperor gods, they were to to remain pure for nine days by not eating any meat, killing any animals, and by performing self-mutilation to attract the evil spirits from the local community and onto themselves.
However, since they are “pure of heart,” the evil spirt, supposedly, gets scared away. True or not, it is a very psychologically handy way to chase away any foreboding about evil spirits. At least, until next year.
It is a ghastly, but no less fascinating, sight to behold; as fascinating as one would find a zombie invasion on the dawn of its apocalypse perhaps. This is decidedly the most accurate description so far, as you will find most people in a trance-like state, eyes rolled back into their sockets, with blood and open cuts all over their chest, and faces. It hardly matters too what age they are, I saw a beautiful little girl of about ten years old with sharp metal rods pierced through her cheeks.
Don’t worry, I was told that none of it hurt—I’m a little skeptical of course, but none of them seem the least bit phased. On the contrary, they looked to be enjoying every bit of it.
Religion, more than anything else in their culture, influences how they view life—from what they eat, to how they love. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you are of the Islamic faith, Christian or Buddhist; everyone believes in a spirit world that is actively engaged with daily life. They full-heartedly believe the dogma of their religion. Heck, if you believe that slashing your chest with a machete will drive evil spirits away, I couldn’t say that these are “non-practicing,” faux Buddhists the way Christians in America would describe the majority of their fellow brethren.
In Thailand, I’m lucky enough to have come into intimate discussions with people from each religion about the subject of love. Each a story of heartache, triumph, or lust.
“You have many gigs?” seemed to be a common question Thais ask each other. It is also a totally accepted form of introduction. A “gig” is basically what one might call a mistress, or a one-night-affair of lust. Of course, in order to have one or several gigs, one is to have a main squeeze. It is widely accepted, and asked without any discretion to the aforementioned “main squeeze.” Growing up raised with Western, Protestant dogma, you can only imagine the insult I felt when I first arrived in this country. And while I quickly learnt that they mean no harm, I can’t help but imagine that my marriage is in grave danger of having Thai women left and right flinging themselves at my farang (what they call a foreigner, and much desired) husband without any regard to prior commitments of the heart, made binding under God.
Not all is lost though. While this practice is more widely accepted in this part of the world, you still find that the human heart is the same whether you have white or brown skin, making me wonder how this practice started in the first place.
The Kind of Siam did have a few hundred wives.
While having several wives in Buddhist culture is now rare, it is not all too uncommon in the Muslim culture. Muslim men are allowed to have not just gigs, but several wives—money allowing. The number of wives a man can attain attests only to the wealth of the man, much like how the number of cattle or cars you own signifies your wealth.
Should this be common knowledge to you, trust me when I say, that it is not to me.
My landlady, a woman named Yu (but because she is far older than I, is called Pi Yu in respect) is a Buddhist who married young to a rich Muslim man. One day, as I was about my business at home working on my computer, Pi Yu invites me for lunch. It is not entirely unusual for her to do this. She loves company and improvised sign-language. Admittedly, I’m not fond of either, but I’ve become very fond of her. She is a portly middle-aged woman, with tattooed eyelids and seems to have a preference for pink eye make up and wearing an enviable amount of gold jewelry. Her sparse Asian hair is cut in a cleopatra style that seems to perpetually be drenched with sweat and her bungalow’s walls are completely covered by her 4-year-old grandson’s scribbles. She has around a dozen cats.
Over a Thai lunch of spicy fish curry, and wild mushrooms picked from her property, she tearily tells me that her husband has just married his fifth wife. She is 19 years old, and 40 years his junior.
I can’t help but think of two things. The first is the shock my Western-trained mind felt upon finding out that she is the first of five wives. I had also never seen another woman in the property, or with her husband who lives down the hill, 30 seconds from her. Secondly, I thought it strange and sad that she would still feel be so heartbroken after so many marriages.
Despite all this, she pierces her heart with an imaginary knife and claims, “No. Don’t worry about me. My heart. It die! You understand?”
Of course, I understand English perfectly, so in that sense, yes I do understand. But behind those words, her eyes spoke volumes that countered her words.
Was I imagining things? Does it still touch her? Or is it perhaps a mourning over the deadening of her heart? If so, how does a person respond to that? What words of consolation could you impart to someone suffering the same heartache for decades?
Any normal woman in the Western world would leave and divorce under the grounds of cheating, and naturally, I said so, only to be told that she is not allowed that freedom until he allows it.
She mentions the other aspect of their marital agreement stated within Islamic dogma where the husband should provide his first wife with maids and workmen so that she does not have to work with her hands if he marries another wife. So perhaps, it is not all that bad. Right?
Somehow, I doubt it.
I was allowed into her husband’s thoughts on the subject a little when my husband had the opportunity to spend time with him over a business venture. One of his favorite past-times was to go to what he likes to call “the chicken house.” In essence, these are karaoke bars that act as escort bars for the local male population—little make-shift bamboo huts covered in pink fluorescent lighting, and dingy plastic furniture. The girls are called exactly as you would assume he calls them, “chickens.”
“I love to eat chicken every day!” is his normal expression of male-bonding, flapping his wings while making chicken noises.
Objectified, and extremely belittling, one can’t help but feel blessed to be born on my side of the blanket.
An expat’s “farewell love letter” to a city he called home for the last six years.
Videos like these leave me stricken with a certain nostalgia you only have for the happy times that remind you that life can sometimes be magical and bursting with energy; as it once was.