a house in the trees

washing line

POSTCARD#95: Fifty miles from Hat Yai: Exotic birdsong from the forest, it’s early morning and I’m hanging out the laundry on a washing line tied between trees… dogs bark, chickens scatter. Heavy rain all through the night but the days are usually bright and sunny. Then back in the house and there’s time to find an unoccupied bathroom. The house is crowded because today there’s a wedding; some people still sleeping, others preparing costumes, looking in mirrors. Everybody hoping it won’t rain… fragility of perfected hair styles, lacy gold costumes, and eye-liner painted like a work of art.

In a room upstairs I find M, my Thai niece, putting on makeup using the iPad screen, switched to front camera, a mirror-image unreversed… can this be what we really look like? And I’m thinking, do we have to have the mascara? She’s only 10 years old, spinning her head around like this, trying to see herself from the side. Wearing the face that’s seen by others, the glassy-eyed gaze that looked-at eyes have. It’s been four months since I’ve seen M and now here she is as a miniature adult, but still a child. She puts a piece of tissue in her mouth and holds it there: too mush lip sticks… English is a second language, I want to say it’s a non-countable noun, like air, it’s a mass noun – there’s only one lipstick in the world. But I don’t say that because it’s boring and she’d think I was starting a conversation about cosmetics.

garlandLet her get on with it, it’s a girl thing; I have to prepare myself too for the main event of the day. Not difficult, ironed shirt, combed hair, shoed, socked and I’m done; the only Caucasian in a guest list of more than one thousand, all of whom are all related in some way, including a local politician who goes around smiling at people. This is M’s family on the maternal side – on the paternal side she’s Taiwanese/ Japanese… same old sad story about an absentee father. Everyone here is curious about her, they’re all of a oneness, share the same ancestral pathways – they even look like each other. They believe in all of this, a deep familiarity with the clan. The familial matrix, if there’s a question about the lineage, it’s addressed by an elder who can remember who was who in the old days, and the received knowledge. But most of them are shy to delve into it, just watch, observe, depend on each other for confirmation, looking at each other often, trying to see the familiarities – there is no individual ‘self, everything I see is ‘me’.

We’re all standing at the door, ready for the 7.30 am pickup of a multitude of people, and just as the minibuses start to arrive, M comes downstairs dressed in Thai costume. There’s a kind of collective gasp, she looks like a mystical being from the Deva realms. She carries it well, knows there’s something about her that holds the attention of the local people. Yet, this is her heritage, following the lineage of the old families. She tugs at my arm, pulls me down so she can whisper in my ear: can I borrow the iPad, Toong Ting? (it’s her name for me) A little uneasy about the naïve stares of these ordinary rural folk, and glad that I’m a bit of an oddity here too, so some of the staring will be deflected on to me. We agree that she can do her iPad activity as soon as I’ve taken all the photos of the wedding procession and I keep talking with her so she can be seen to be engaged with what I’m saying and that seems proper – quick sideways glance dodging between the eyebeams focussed on her, just to see who else is here, then back into her pose of averted gaze.  We are in the first minibus, get in the front seat behind the driver, and the whole convoy moves off, following the musicians…
[to be continued]

“Every one of us is an aperture through which the whole cosmos looks out.” [Alan Watts]


Lower photo shows reflection of M in the rear-view mirror as the minibus follows the musicians in the pickup truck, leading the procession