Sing anyway

Trip Start Oct 20, 2009
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Trip End Nov 29, 2009


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Flag of Thailand  , Khon Kaen,
Saturday, November 14, 2009

I slept late (a rare treat) and headed out for a morning of exercise and shopping by around 9am. I biked to Cansudan and the ride was awesome - in large part, because it was mostly downhill. I've finally mastered riding a bicycle in the road with the cars, songthaews, and motorcycles whizzing by, and riding on the left side of the road is no longer confusing. When I go back to the States, it will feel weird to ride on the right again….

When I got to Cansudan, I parked my bike next to a row of motorbikes in front of 7-11. (I don’t have a lock for my bike so my strategy is to park it next to nice-looking motorbikes that would be more likely to attract the attention of a thief than my sad little 1-speed bike). I bought a Happy/DTAC top-up card at 7-11 to refill my cell phone with minutes, then headed down one of the many alley-like roads to explore the shops in Cansudan. I found what I thought was a used book store and found a dog-eared copy of a Harry Potter book in Thai that looked like a good buy. At the check-out counter, the salesman told me that the price was 7 Baht – a steal! (33 Baht = $1 US).  He went on to explain that it’s 7 Baht PER DAY. Apparently, the store is a for-profit library of sorts, like a Blockbuster video but for books. Oops….so much for the Harry Potter book.

While I was walking past another store in that row of shops, I saw an adorable pug, with a collar and a leash, tied to a display rack in front of the store. What a lucky dog, I thought, to have an owner who cares enough to put a collar on him and not allow him to roam the streets. Then the store owner walked up to the dog while it was just lying there quietly and he kicked it so hard the dog was lifted up in the air a few inches before crouching and slinking away from the owner as far as his tether would permit. I was so disturbed by what I saw that it knocked the breath right out of me. Yet I couldn’t say or do anything. Very frustrating. The issue of how dogs are neglected and mistreated in Thailand remains the one thing that I dislike about the country. I have seen too many dogs kicked, hit, yelled at, abandoned, and starved in Thailand – it’s heartbreaking to see. For a country with such gentle, kind, compassionate people, Thailand’s treatment of its dogs remains a mystery to me.

After witnessing the dog-kicking incident, I didn’t feel like walking around Cansudan any more so I hopped on my bike and rode back to the dorm. This time, the bike ride was a lot less relaxing because the temperature had heated up considerably and the ride back was slightly uphill. By the time I got back to the dorm, I was drenched in sweat. Yuck. At the dorm, I dropped my things off in the room, put my bike out on the porch, and headed back out to go to the Complex (student center). I took the #8 songthaew and got to the Complex within minutes. At the Complex, I looked in the bookstore for a TinTin book in Thai (no luck), then stopped for a cup of mint chocolate chip ice cream (just 45 baht for a huge cup – I love Thailand!)

Around 2pm, I headed back to the dorm and took a "disco nap" to rest up before the party at the Dean’s House. At 4pm, Pong Sat and O came in the Faculty of Nursing van to pick me up, along with the students from China and Bhutan.  The ride to the Dean’s house was quick – she lives in Cansudan – and when we arrived at her home, we were all pretty stunned. Her home is HUGE – it has 8 levels – and it’s a large gated property. She has 5 dogs, all of whom are excellent watch dogs, so Krishna was really scared when we got out of the van. He was bitten three times by dogs as a child so he’s quite frightened of them. But once we entered the gates into the property, the housekeeper held back the loudest of the dogs and Krishna seemed to relax a bit. We took off our shoes and entered the Dean’s home (the dogs are outside dogs so they remained in the yard).

Inside her home, the Dean had prepared a huge spread of traditional Thai dishes. While the housekeeper finished the food preparation, the Dean gave us a tour of her 8-level house. It was designed and built by her brother, a construction expert who died 5 years ago. Her brother did an amazing job – the house was gorgeous, with lots of hardwood built-ins and interesting design features. She introduced us to her husband, a microbiology professor who is an expert if HIV/AIDS research. The two of them showed us family photos and told us the stories behind the pictures. They offered the older ones among us (Tek, Krishna, and I) wine, but none of us drink so we all politely declined.

After the tour, we ate a delicious meal and sat around talking. Once we were all very full, the Dean suggested we adjourn to the lower/basement level for some karaoke. Ruh-roh…

As I may have mentioned in a previous blog posting, I don’t sing in public. Nor do I dance in public. So when I went downstairs and discovered that not only would we be signing along with karaoke on the TV, we’d also be DANCING, I just about had a stroke. I am painfully self-conscious about singing and dancing…..I don’t know why but I am. When I was in college I LOVED dancing, but then again, I also loved the fruit punch with vodka that they used to serve at frat parties. There’s probably a connection there somewhere.

So anyway, people started singing along to the karaoke songs and with each song, there was a corresponding video showing a couple doing ballroom dancing. The Dean and her husband moved all the furniture out of the way so that we could all learn the dances. I was nervous at first but within a few minutes, I was attempting to learn the rumba, the tango, and the waltz with everyone as we tried to follow along with the video and with the Dean and her husband’s instructions. The Dean is an amazing dancer (check out the "Dancing Dean" video). Within about 10 minutes, the basement was hotter than a sauna and we were all dancing up a storm, myself included. (My dancing must have been pretty sorry looking but in the moment, I decided to throw myself into it with abandon and have as much fun as possible. We all laughed when we stepped on each other’s toes and the Dean gave the guys from Bhutan (Tek and Krishna) individual lessons because they, too, were a bit shy about dancing (I've uploaded a video of this because it was so adorable). We danced and danced and danced until everyone was dripping with sweat.  Then the Dean put on a special song and invited me to come forward to teach everyone the traditional American dance that goes with the song.  When I heard what the song was, I couldn’t help laughing – it was Y.M.C.A. I had a blast teaching them how to make the letters with their arms and we all danced and laughed til our sides hurt.

Dancing tonight, I learned that I can wiggle my neck to do a traditional Tibetan dance that apparently is difficult to do. I discovered this while trying to copy a move one of the girls from China was teaching us. When I was able to do it, the other girls ended up asking me to teach them. This was hugely ironic since I had no idea how I was doing what I was doing, but I had fun trying to teach them how to do it.

In Thailand, it’s customary for international visitors to prepare and perform traditional dances and songs when visiting your host. One of the students from China performed a traditional Chinese song and the other students provided an interpretation of the song (I've uploaded videos of the song and the explanation for your enjoyment). Then, Tek and Krishna played a traditional Bhutanese song they had loaded on their phone to play for the group. We all clapped and cheered folks on as their turn to perform came. And then something awful happened: the group of students started cheering me on to do MY performance. Um, what performance?  The Dean was clapping and cheering and the students were begging me (“Pleeeease, Dr. Keem? Pleeeease?”) to perform a “traditional American song.” Crap. It was rapidly becoming apparently that this was not a bullet I could dodge gracefully. So I racked my brain for a “traditional” song and came up completely blank. There’s only one song I know the words to and ironically, it’s a song my mother loathed so much she insisted we play it at her funeral as an inside joke. I told the students I’d sing a traditional American folk hymn for them, a song that is very well known in the United States especially in the part of the country where I grew up (the South). The song? Amazing Grace. (Yes, I know this is an odd choice of songs to sing to an all-Buddhist audience but it was either this or the Happy Birthday Song.  And they already know that one).  They all got very quiet and I started to sing. Predictably, my voice cracked a little on the high note but otherwise, I didn’t do a half-bad job of it. More importantly, the students and the Dean loved it because I honored them with a performance given from my heart. Don’t get me wrong - no one will be calling me to sign a record deal anytime soon. I’m still an awful singer. But tonight I learned a valuable life lesson: so what if you can't sing well - sing anyway.
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Comments

Coffeguy76 on

. . . And your Mom is smiling at your rendition of 'Amazing Grace'. I know I am!!

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