Tuesday, 17 April 2007
'The Hair of the Dog'
Soda, our shi-dzoodle
Sometimes with tragic-comic overtones, here in the ricefields of Surin, our joint lives take on broad-brush elements of comedy and farce. Crazy things seem to happen to us every day and quite often they’re caused by animals.
Perhaps this is no surprise as there seem to be animals everywhere. We have an ever-changing population of cats and dogs, rats and lizards in the house and there’s a big local populus of cows and buffaloes owned by neighbouring families too. Every day the old men take them out to find grazing, only returning as the sun falls in the west. Sometimes the buffaloes walk close to our newly white-painted wall and flick abstract designs onto it with their muddy tails, which probably serves us right for trying to be so suburban.
Then the rats come into the kitchen from the coconut trees and eat the electric cables for the rice cooker and the washing machine, while the lizards constantly leave their traces everywhere, none of which is remotely funny. Nature is rampant here and trying to control one’s environment is always an uphill struggle.
Until recently there used to be plenty of pigs in the village but the falling price of pork seems to have made this uneconomic. Cat and her Mama had a long and profitable experiment raising pigs and at one time we had five or six, including some wild black ones and several litters of piglets. For myself, I found it pretty unprofitable as although I paid for everything, when the pigs were killed for family celebrations and occasionally sold, no money ever found its way back into my pocket. As with many such farang financed affairs, it proved to be highly profitable for everyone except the financier. Mai pen rai. I was happy that Mama should want to work hard and run a little business for herself and I found a certain ironic humour in the whole debacle.
The first two pigs were kept in a wooden pen with no door but soon they got too big for it. Cat then spent a couple of days personally building a new pig house with blocks and cement and soon the day came for them to move in. Letting them out was easy but immediately they ran away in great excitement, not with escape in mind but rooting around for undreamed of food.
How do you now get two pigs, each of them bigger than a man, into their new pig house? Nobody seemed to have the first idea.
There then began a farmyard farce in which the pigs were chased and harried, and everyone ended up sprawled in the dirt, hot, bothered and breathless. The first round definitely went to the pigs. Nobody had a rope so I went and got one and managed to lassoo one of the pigs round the neck, though I wasn’t allowed to hang on to it in case I strangled the damned thing.
If food is the main motivation for a pig, then that has to be the way to recapture them. Eventually after much scratching of heads, our superior intelligence drew the first pig into its new home, snuffling greedily at a bucket of pig food, while the other one soon followed suit.
In Isaan there are no wolves to huff and to puff and to blow the house down, but Cat hadn’t reckoned with the itchy rumps of our two not so little piggies. Rough concrete blocks are great for rubbing yourself against if you’re a pig and that’s just what they really loved doing. Trouble was, the concrete was not man enough and soon a wall fell down and the pigs escaped once more.
Despite repairs, this was to became a regular occurrence and the two Houdinis were often to be seen crossing a neighbour’s land looking for the best morsels they could find. Every time, a hue and cry was raised and the farce of catching them started all over again. Finally Cat gave up on concrete blocks and the day resounded to the ring of her hammer as she built a new house of wood and bamboo. From this the pigs never again managed to escape.
Last night there was farce of an even more ludicrous kind which followed the minor tragedy of me and Cat not being able to sleep a wink because of unscripted and very loud noises ‘off’.
Our two dogs are called Pepsi and Soda, Pepsi being a delightful, quiet dog bought at the next village for twenty baht. Soda was forty times more expensive, eight hundred baht being added to a bill at the local builders merchants when I wasn’t quick enough to veto the pleas of my always persistent wife. A bit like Cat, despite her small size, Soda is forty times noisier than Pepsi.
Soda is a toy dog of a rare breed called a shi’-dzoodle, a cross between a shi’tzu and a poodle. She’s a fussy little dog who always greets you on her back with her feet in the air and barks loudly at all known threats which is a good thing, though sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.
Cat’s sister, Yut, husband Ben and children Benz and Best have been staying with us for Songkhran. Last night Best, who’s only one, was bawling loudly, keeping it up for hours. Added to this, Soda then began barking incessantly at the mysterious goings on in a neighbouring household. Handling cut wood for building is almost as illegal here as handling drugs and as people still want to build things, it’s often done at dead of night when the policemen are drunk or fast asleep in bed. Thus, in the early hours, there were low noises and lights a few hundred yards away and Soda was not a happy shi’dzoodle. As she led the local dogs in a loud chorus of barking, we lay awake, unable to sleep and after a while it really began to bug us.
In my heady, soporific state, I was hazily considering every possible approach to this problem of barking dogs and bawling babies, including both direct and lateral solutions. Locking the baby and the dog in the garage wasn’t that good an idea, so I soon came up with a cunning plan. How do you make a noisy person fall asleep if you want to shut them up? Well, you either give them a sleeping pill or, much easier, you get them drunk. So that’s what I decided to do, starting with the dog.
Careful not to disturb Cat, I slipped downstairs, filled a bowl with rice and topped it up with a quarter bottle of lao sato, a sweet moonshine rice wine that someone had given us. Closing the door behind me, I put the bowl on the ground and Soda gratefully wolfed down what was to be a very special midnight feast.
As I was going back up the stairs again, I passed Cat running down two steps at a time in a state of silent agitation. I then watched from the upstairs verandah as she began a fine display of the direct action approach to unruly dogs, Isaan style. If you are Thai and a dog offends you, what do you do? You terrorise it!
Peering down into the darkness, I could see Cat hopping around as she took off one shoe and hurled it at Soda as hard as she could. The shoe bounced high in the air, while the next one hit the steel lid of the water butt with an almighty clang that rang through the night air. Then she grabbed a stick and yelling words in Suay whose drift was easy to follow, ran after Soda, lashing out at everything around her as hard as she could.
Quickly getting the picture, Soda fled round the back of the house but immediately appeared again from the other side, with Cat noisily giving chase. Oh, how inscrutable, sweet and temperate our Thai ladies are! Here was an avenging fury! Several times the two of them circled the house at high speed, with Cat in hot pursuit of a terrified dog.
Lights came on in the next house, no doubt complaining of the family of the disreputable farang… must be fighting from all the racket that’s going on! Dare we now show our faces in the village again, I ask myself?
Well, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, as they say, but whose was the right way to deal with a barking dog like Soda... the Euro-lateral approach or Isaan direct? The experiment was spoiled for me by Cat’s intervention and now I shall never know.
The little boy, Best, settled down and slept quietly after that and Soda hid under the car, no doubt with feet in air, fitfully dreaming of being chased by or chasing cats. As for us, we slept soundly for what remained of the night.
This morning Soda seems okay, though I guess she’s been experiencing her very first hangover. I’d better give her some food to help her get over it, I suppose, but should I give it to her with or without the sato? What is it they call a remedy for a hangover when you add a tot of the alcohol that caused the problem in the first place? If I remember correctly, I think it’s called, ‘the hair of the dog’!