Day 42: Not the Answer
Trip Start Nov 11, 2009
273Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
Police Chief's House - Chiang Khan
Alarm went off at 620 but couldn’t drag myself out of bed immediately – had a vague headache from the night before in spite of trying to intersperse with water. Eventually decided that I was alright and got ready. I had the same hastily refreshed shirt as yesterday, as I had been told to be smart again and couldn’t get another one. Kae picked us up shortly after 730 and I was still suffering slightly. On the way to Thabom we (that is Dave, Kae, Myself and Khru Nan who we also pick up – the students didn’t have to come today) had a conversation of comparisons between Thai and English prices; they also told me – which I already suspected – that I had paid over the odds for the clothes I had bought and Kae told me to ask her if I needed anything else (another personal shopper, woot!).
When we arrived there were hardly other teachers there and it quickly became clear that we were not going anywhere soon. I had brought only ‘Bad Science’ and that was locked in the car so I wandered around like the proverbial spare prick at a wedding while the teachers arrived and subsequently went to the kitchen to prepare the refreshments that we were taking to the church. There was some minor entertainment to be had from looking at the videos from yesterday with Gene. I also went over to get some breakfast from the nearby shop. As I was finishing a piece of Peanut Brittle (maybe I should have know better as it is notoriously poorly named) I suddenly became aware that something was very wrong in the oral department: I quickly realized that I was not running my tongue over an encrusted piece of toffee, but rather over the rough exposed surface of a filling as approximately half of the rear face was missing from one of my upper molars; Fan-fucking-tastic!
I asked Gene where there was a Dentist and he said that he was going to Muongloei later and I could jump in with him. Although the unfamiliar sharp edges were a constant annoyance I tried to put the problem to the back of my mind (or mouth, hah!) for the time being. About 10am (yes, 2 hours after we arrived) we started loading up and getting the gear into pickups. We still didn’t do a lot except get handed bits of food and once again I was starting to feel less than useless here.
Up to the church where we met Brother Chun and some of the kids that we had not seen since leaving Father Preecha’s (which was nice and they were in fine spirits). We were also introduced to several other clergy (they were out in force today – there were about a dozen guys in white cassocks and about 16-18 nuns including the 9 Assumption sisters). One of them said to me something like, "Ah, like the one who ate the apple." It amused me to respond as if it had indeed been me personally who committed the original sin – it seemed to amuse him also.
Shortly after this we went into the church and there was a moment of confusion – not everyone was taking off their shoes. This can be a very touchy subject in Thailand, especially in places of worship; fortunately Brother Chun helpfully told me to just go on in. We took our seats near the back and within a couple of minutes the service started with a procession of the cassocked ones with the Bishop following in full regalia.
The service weighed in at a little over 2 hours (although to be fair the last 30 minutes was mainly farewells and introductions of the Assumption general council) and this is quite a long time when you haven’t the foggiest idea what was going on. To begin with I used the time to practice my T’ai Chi breathing but this was so relaxing I was afraid of dropping off. Towards the end Dave’s phone rang (silently, although plenty of phones had interrupted previously), it was Kae – how come she wasn’t in here – he went out to speak to her and it turns out that she (along with most of the other teachers except Gene who was taking photos) was over at the refreshments stall having a jolly nice time. Dave returned and we sat there until the final reckoning. People had started to disappear in droves from the back rows and even Nuns were leaving before the end. At first I had this rather British notion of showing due respect in staying until the final whistle but I admit that over time it rather morphed into a perverse and bloody minded fascination in just how long they could drag it out; this was the flip side of the generous appraisal I gave yesterday – interminable and (in my humble opinion) irrelevant ceremonies (although not having a Scooby what was being said didn’t help) at which the villagers came and willingly gave quite significant gifts to a church which is already PHENOMENALLY AND UNNECESSARILY RICH. I just feel like I need to highlight this: there was, of course, a collection and I had no objection to throwing in the 12B or so in change I had although many were putting notes in. Immediately after this a string of people filed in from the back with trays of food and – to my utter amazement – trees of money. 20, 50 and even 100B notes arranged in ‘Blue peter-esque’ arrangements were duly taken to the front to be blessed. I made no effort to count it but I would hazard a guess that including the food there was north of 400 quid – the majority of which was cash. I wondered idly what the profit margin of the Catholic Church is in an average year because I am damn sure they do not put every penny back into worthwhile projects like St. Johns. Anyway, I will stop frothing now.
Oh, I would just like to say one more thing and all of the readers of this blog can bear witness: Mum, I will promise to come to 2 Christmas day services (or other services of your choice) in the future because if I can do it for the Catholics then I can sure as hell do it for the Methodists who have far more reasonable operating procedures.
Anyway, we left (at the end) and went over to where the teachers were waiting and the Mahatai canteen was full of food tables and so we enjoyed a plentiful lunch (I bet the church didn’t pay for that either … sorry, sorry!) and it was getting on for 2pm by the time packing up was in full swing. My original plan to bike back to Gene’s for 430 to go to Loei was looking shaky and he agreed to take me back there first to wait. I got my book from the car and said ta ta to Dave and the others before spending 20 minutes or so talking to Ajarn Aran while Gene took photos of the school building for the General council (all my plans of study and blogging were in ruins so I had nothing else on my schedule for the afternoon) and we left to ride the 4 miles or so back to his house (that would be on the back of his scooter, the breeze was very pleasant in what was a very warm afternoon).
Getting back to Gene’s the door was locked and I realized that Shel (who had stayed home with their son Matthew) was asleep and I suddenly began to feel rather awkward. This was increased when she said helpfully, "You can take him to the hospital in Chiang Khan then."
The what now?
There is a hospital in Chaing Khan but Gene explained that there was no Dentist there over the weekend. Shel said that we could leave now for Muongloei but again there was a problem in that the doctor didn’t arrive until 6. There was a minor dispute about this but it was discovered (through several phone calls to other teachers) that Bambi had gone to Loei for some dentistry at 11am one day and so everything should be fine. Shel described the plan, Gene would take me to Muongloei and we would get everything sorted, he would be back here in time for 5pm and they could continue with their plan for the evening only slightly delayed. Er… Ein minute bitte….
I was quite happy when this was simply a case of diving in with Gene while he was going that way; I was more uncertain when it became clear that I was interrupting some quiet family time in the afternoon; and I was downright uncomfortable with the idea of him making a completely superfluous trip to Loei for my benefit alone – especially since he was still unconvinced that the task could be completed there at this time. But Shel would brook no argument and told me repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) not to feel bad. We obediently got into the car at which point I turned to Gene and restated that I really didn’t mind hanging on a day or so if it was possible to get it done in Chiang Khan (if Loei had been my only option then this was by far the best bet to get it done pronto, but everything had changed now). Gene said, "So you want to go back to Chiang Khan then?"
"I think that would be fine." (Sorry Shel but I just couldn’t bear the guilt)
"We can do research at the hospital." He said, meaning we could find out exactly what the score was for the dentist there. It did seem unlikely that I would be able to get it done this weekend.
"Yes that is an excellent idea."
"And maybe find some refreshment."
"Also an excellent idea." I agreed.
We got back to Chiang Khan and the hospital told us that – just as Gene had suspected – the Loei dentist was not open until 6pm tonight and was open again 8-12 in the morning. The Chiang Khan Dentist was back in on Monday. So that was dandy, we then picked up Dave (who was mildly surprised to see us it was true) and headed into town for a beer. Had we just gone ahead as planned then I could have gone to Loei today but by this point I didn’t want to be any more of a burden.
Gene had still had to make some minor adjustments to his schedule (and was driving) so he could only stay for one drink (I was buying naturally) but we had a few laughs and I hope he was able to have a bit of relaxation before he shot off (with the promise of at least one more drink). Dave and I went back to the house but first stopped off at the market for a few more street eats (we have to sample the full range). It was only about 5pm and I went for a shower before continuing with my Thai study. I have got to some of the more complex vowels and all I can say is OMFG!! Up to 3-4 symbols need to be arranged before, after, above or below the respective consonant to produce a single, unaspirated vowel sound. The two brothers came home having had their own tough day of study (I think I have their names phonetically now – Pi Tuu is the police chief and Pi Tie is his brother, I think I heard him call his older sister – our hostess – Pu Yii but I am not sure, there is also an older lady who appears to be the family Matriarch but she keeps out of the way much of the time.) and dinner was served shortly afterwards.
No alcohol tonight to my relief, and the brothers also had to back out of a proposed trip to a Karaoke bar as they had a test tomorrow (which was entirely understandable and also fine). They also told me that the Dentist in Loei would be very expensive and the one in Chiang Khan was subsidized by the government, I asked if this would sill apply to me as a foreigner and they said that it would. I got back to study and was joined by Kyu who continued to help me learn new words and their Thai script. I am jumping ahead of the book a little but it is good to have an active approach and I have picked up things about the script that I hope will make it easier to work through the book in due course. We eventually went on to sport and geography and about 9 Dave come home from the internet café (it was now too late for me to go) and we decided to call it a night. Pu Yii (the name will do until I get confirmation) came out and was interested to hear about my studies so I spent another few minutes talking about it with her before retiring upstairs to type this entry.