Songkran, the world's largest and most joyful water fight is here again. After weeks of blast furnace like temperatures, time for everyone in Chiang Mai, and all over Thailand, to cool off a bit with some water throwing.
'Kuhn Ling' [Mr. Monkey] was his Thai name, but he was also known as 'Monkey Cat' and 'Buster'.
He arrived to stay with me and my Siamese cat 'Wan' [Sweet] in August of 2005. When I arrived home and was getting out of the tuk-tuk on a showery afternoon, my elderly neighbor came rushing down the street towards me with something in her arms. I became aware that she was carrying a very small, wet, and unhappy part-Siamese kitten. Obviously someone had left him on our steet to fend for himself. She handed it to me to hold, commenting that he was very cute. I responded that he was indeed adorable with his pale blue eyes and unusual markings of sable brown and white, but tried to explain that I already had a cat. She then said, "Well, I can't take care of him since my dog doesn't like cats, and besides your cat needs a friend". At that point she turned around and went into her house which left me standing in the street with this abandoned kitten in my hands.
I doubted that my 3 year old neutered female Siamese cat would accept having another cat in the house, but she was very receptive to this new addition to our small family. She taught him how to play, climb, hunt, and become a cat. He received his name on his second day here when he scampered up the drapes and wrapped his tail around the supporting rod, much like a monkey would do. When the proper time arrived he was taken to the vet to be neutered since I knew that tom cats have very short lives due to their constant fighting.
During the past seven years Monkey Cat has been a near perfect companion. He never failed to greet all visitors with a show of his vibrant and loving personality. He was exceptionally intelligent and a phenomenal hunter. He contnually left a bounty of dead lizards, snakes, field mice, rats, and other creatures on the floor by the dining room table. He rarely went outside the fenced area of the garden, but patrolled it vigilantly, lest any interlopers should appear. And if they did, they soon fled at the sound of his loud hissing and yowling.
Monkey cat with a bandage on a sprained leg
Monkey Cat got into a horrendous battle two weeks ago with a wandering tom cat who had obviously decided to exend his territory. He sustained four head wouns which the vet cleaned and then filled him full of anti-biotics and an anti-inflamitory. Wthin a week he was once again in perfect health.
However when he did not appear for his usual breakfast three days ago I knew that something dire must have happened. He was always on time for his breakfast. I searched the neighborhood thinking that he might have been injured, but there was no sight of him. I can only surmise that he got into yet another fight and expired. He will be missed.
Had a nice visit on Friday night with a long-time Thai friend who is currently living in Malaysia. My friend "X" is a native of Chiang Mai, yet has a unique means of looking at himself and his countrymen in that he spent 5 years living in California, and received his engineering degree from UCLA. "X" has a very responsible position with a department of the Thai government and is currently on TDY in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
We were discussing the fact that having lived here for over a decade, I love the country and people, but I still find it somewhat difficut to understand the average Thai person [and will never understand Thai politicians].
In essence, "X" commented:
"Well, don't feel alone. Most Thai do not begin to understand themselves — nor do most even try.
They seem to be incapable of learning about their own country, being too deeply entangled in the characteristics of their 'Thai-ness', which prevents them from seeking the truth.
They wallow in superstition, in the importance of image over substance, and of social harmony over truth — they seem to have an unrealistic tolerance of social ills, and a willingness to smooth things over instead of addressing ugly social problems head on.
It is difficult for most Thai to separate their image of themselves as being Thai, from the reality of who they truly are as human beings."
Several days ago I briefly described, and presented a video, about the process of becoming a Buddhist monk here in Thailand. Several years ago when my neighbor and very good friend Pae [also known as 'Justin'] went through the ordination process, I later wrote about it. Even posted it on another of my personal web sites, 'Chiang Mai Tales'. This is the link to the complete story of Justin's ordination.
Many years ago I also went though the Buddhist ordination process, though mine was in 1955 and occurred at the Eiheiji monastery [永平寺] in western Japan. Many of the features of the process were similar, though couched in the customs and traditions of Japan. I have also written about that process, and the events which led up to it, in 'The Repository'. This is the link leading up to my own Buddhist ordination process.
The attached video of the Eiheiji monastery was taken by my good buddy from Oz, Yakov Smirnoff when he visited there several years ago.
"Established in 1244 and Japan's most active zen meditation monastery since the late 16th century, Eihei-ji, Temple of Eternal Peace, is about 30 minutes by bus from Fukui and is home to about 50 elders and 250 black-robed trainees. This serene community, set on the slopes of a mountain and surrounded by cedars, is moss-green in summer, and serenaded by cicadas. In winter, snow arrives to transform the complex into a glistening white mountainscape."
This video is so typical of life here in the Land of Smiles. Abunant music [occasionally quite loud], smiling happy people, a wonderful comraderie, and of course lots of alchohol to keep the gears of society well lubricated.
Nearly every young male in Thailand becomes a monk at some point. although most only do it for one month. The street, or neighborhood, party occurs on the day before the young men go to the local wat [temple] for the offical ceremony which takes about five hours and includes having their heads shaved.
The contemporary science of agronomics and meterology seem to get lost in the swirling mists of time as Thailand continues to celebrate a ceremony that the oxen that do the ploughing for the rice production have all the answers. It isn't even a Buddhist belief, but rather borrowed from the Hindu religion.
"In the ceremony, two sacred oxen are hitched to a wooden plough and they plough a furrow in some ceremonial ground, while rice seed is sown by court Brahmins. After the ploughing, the oxen are offered plates of food, including rice, corn, green beans, sesame, fresh-cut grass, water and rice whisky.
Depending on what the oxen eat, court soothsayers make a prediction on whether the coming growing season will be bountiful or not. The ceremony is rooted in Brahman belief, and is held to ensure a good harvest."
This is a Thai news report of the ceremony from 2010. There is a fascinating homage to HM the King which begins at 04:11 and has subtitles in English.
Continuing with some of the outstanding food available here in the north of the country. Khao soi [ ข้าวซอย ] is a Burmese-influenced dish served widely in northern Thailand. One of my favorites for its smooth, yet robust flavor.
Northern Thai khao soi is closer to the present day Burmese 'on ne khauk swe', being a soup-like dish made with deep-fried crispy egg noodles, chicken in a curry-like sauce containing coconut milk and served with pickled cabbage, shallots, bean sprouts, cilantro, lime, and ground chillies. The curry is somewhat similar to that of yellow or massaman curry but of a thinner consistency. It is popular as a dish eaten by nearly everyone around Chiang Mai and in northern Thailand, allthough relatively unknown outside of this area.
March is just around the corner, and as the temperatures continue to climb, a refreshing way to beat the heat is with Som Tam.
Som Tam, is a famous dish from Isaan, popular all over Thailand and also known as 'Green Papaya Salad'.
I have encountered, and enjoyed, Som Tam in very posh restaurants and as a staple fare of street food. It is always exciting, refreshing, and absolutely delicious, with as many minor variations as there are Thai cooks. Of course I personally enjoy eating spicy dishes. One minor complaint is when the flavor from the amount of chiles used so dominates this classic dish that the other ingredients cannot be discerned.
Basic ingredients: chillies garlic small dried shrimp unripe papaya long beans tamarind concentrate lime juice fish sauce palm sugar, cherry tomatoes, unsalted roasted peanuts cucumber garnish