Monday, 5 May 2008
Cat's Building Yet Again!
Life goes on as usual in the village and true to form Cat’s been building yet again. This time it’s a chicken house.
To be honest I’m not that keen on keeping chickens. I’m constantly cleaning up their mess from the verandah and shooing them off the table in the kitchen. And they scratch the leaves from under the bushes in the garden and I spend my life raking it all up again. Not to mention thoughts of avian flu!
On top of that I’m also ambivalent about having a personal relationship with the protein I eat, though I’d as easily stop Cat producing food as Canute held back the tide.
So now there are chickens everywhere.
When recently I came back to the village from Bangkok after doing the design work for my new book, “My Thai Girl and I”, I soon noticed something strange by the side of the fish pond. Thankfully Cat had never put pigs in the pig house that came free when we bought the pond, though I knew she had designs on it.
The strange thing was that on my return the pig house had gone. It wasn’t there by the pond any more.
‘Why did you knock down the pig house?’ I ask Cat accusingly.
‘I didn’t. It disappear!’ she tells me.
Apparently nobody saw it go. Nobody heard the clash of rusty corrugated iron or the thud of hammers tearing the woodwork apart. It had been spirited away by persons unknown.
Cat too was shocked to see it gone so she went to see the neighbours who’d sold us the pond. It was all smiles as usual and no, they knew nothing about it. They couldn’t explain it at all and had no idea who had taken it.
It was strange though, as Cat pointed out to them, that all the timber and iron from the pig sty was right there, dumped in a heap by their house.
They couldn’t explain this either they said, but since it wasn’t included in the sale and was theirs anyway, they weren’t going to give it back to her. It was a very Thai confrontation, like angry ducks paddling fast on the pond but making as few ripples as possible.
It took a visit from the police to persuade them that as a buyer of land takes anything affixed to it, they now had to tip it over the fence back onto our patch. Which is where I saw it in an untidy heap when I got back from Bangkok.
There could be something else behind all this of course, though I have to accept her story at face value as Cat is as the sole modem between me and the unfathomable web of smiles and intrigue that makes Thailand so constantly amazing.
The upshot is that we now have an ugly pile of old old building materials, which isn’t a problem as Cat wants to build a chicken house. The rainy season is coming and unless the chickens have shelter they’ll often sicken and die.
She now takes on the two of the frailest old men she can find and in a few days they create for her a new chicken house from the recycled pig sty and the bamboos they cut from nearby. It stands on the banks of the pond, has an upstairs for roosting and a steeply pitched roof. Unfortunately the roof is approximately eighty percent corrugated iron and twenty percent hole, so she’s going to have to put on some rustic grass roofing panels as well.
With the chicken house now almost complete, we drive in to Sangkha market to buy pork and vegetables as she’s going to do a Mongolian barbecue to celebrate. You may not pay your workers in gold but instead you entertain them to good food and an ample supply of lao khao, a white rice whisky which at forty percent is well worth a day’s work.
Cat has the little round barbecue glowing hot and the thin slices of pork are cooked on the aluminium dome which is placed over the top. We’re at the bottom of the ‘garden’ by the wooden house sitting under the grass roofed shelters that have recently become a regular living space. The great thing about cooking outside and eating on an earth floor is that you don’t have to clean up afterwards. All is organic as it should be and the dogs see to it that nothing’s ever wasted.
The two old men are sitting under the thatch with a big bottle in front of them. It’s half empty but also half full and while gentlemen prefer blondes and the devil wears Prada, I’m quite partial to a tot or three cheap rice whisky. So I help them to finish it off before we buy another bottle.
Still sober I’m humbled by the immensity of the heavens as we eat, the stars sharp pinpricks in the inky blackness. Then, as the alcohol sears its way down my throat, I find myself at its very centre, the hub round which the universe revolves. This is my rightful place in the world and it’s mine, all mine!
The alcohol mellows my senses but also intensifies them. The heat is thick, the sweat pricking at my brows, my clothes clinging to the interstices. The wet blanket of the night envelops us and the scream of the insects is raucous and intrusive.
I’m now definitely under the influence, the world has become benign and I no longer care about the dust and chaos around me. The two old farmers next to me are my best mates, though we have nothing in common and can hardly communicate.
But suddenly we can understand each other with a few choice words. The conversation isn’t profound but so what. Maybe it’s better that way.
‘Muang Thai sanuk mai?’ they ask me. Thailand’s fun, is it?
‘Sanuk’ I say sagely. ‘Chawp maak!’
Yes, living in Thailand is fun. I do like it. I’ve got a new hen house, it isn’t cold and my brain’s comfortably soggy with the glow of lao khao.
We can’t celebrate having a new chicken house like this every night but Cat won’t ever stop building so there’ll be more feasts and celebrations to come. Not that the Thais ever need an excuse for one anyway!