Good Morning reader. What are you doing up so early?
Its 5am and my last day in Na Khu. I have got up early to pay alms to the monks and go to the funeral service of a nearby neighbor. Phikun and I gather up the offering bowl filled with sticky rice and headed to the little shop across the road to buy some bananas and small cakes to give to the monks as they came back from temple at 6am. We also had a funeral service to attend just down the street. Celebrating the death of someone here can take some time, as the family holds a mourning party or wake for a number of days, depending on the family's wealth. This wake had been going a week and today was the end of the process with a service to send him off. During the week of celebrations it is customary for friends, family and the town folk to pay respects and bring the family offerings of food, money and gifts. In return the family pays their respects back to you by giving you food back in return. We did this on the Friday and now it was time to attend his service. The whole week seems a huge logistical nightmare with many family members and friends all pitching in to cook and distribute mountains of food each day for callers by. All the children pitch in and at any time of the day there may be a dozen people cooking serving and washing dishes.
The service this morning was attended by at least 200 plus villagers. Before the service started the monks from the nearby temple came past with their food bowls and I lined up with everyone along the edge of the road to put our food offering in their bowls. I have done this many times before and it is always both a humbling and gratifying feeling I get when I do this...I recommend if you get the chance , do it. It cleanses the soul that little bit.
After they past we sat back down on our chairs just as the monks performing the service arrived and piled out of the overcrowded tuk tuk and sat down in front of the crowd and starting their service in front of the microphones. I followed Phikuns lead and joined my hands in prayer holding them in front of my upper chest. Every now and again everyone would join in a refrain to the monks and lift their hands up to their forehead and bow; I of course followed the lead and did the same....without the refrain of course. Then came the time to line up and pays alms to the monks and the temple and put your offerings in each of the food bowls lined up on the bench tables. Phikun told me to get in line so I got up and joined the closest line to me. As I was standing there all I could hear were the ladies all around me chattering away in Thai and giggling nonstop. The only word I could understand was Falang, so I was pretty sure all the giggling and chatter was about me as falang was liberally scattered throughout the conversation. I would turn around and put on my best smile and nod to them all, and the giggling would get start again. It was then I realized I was the only male in this line. The rest were all women, and the men had lined up on the other side of the table. I found out later it was customary for the men to line up together and pay their respects before the women. I stayed put because I would feel more embarrassed by changing queues than staying put. I was also glad that the ladies got so much enjoyment from this. After we all paid our dues, we sat down again for the last part of the service and finished off by pouring water into our offering bowl. We only had 1 bottle of water, so for the 1st half of the bottle Phikun poured slowly as the monks chanted and I place my hand on her forearm as she did, then we swapped and I poured and she had her hand on my arm. Then the service finished with everyone pouring the water over plants, bushes and trees. The deceased's family came out to especially thank me for attending and making me feel so accepted.
Now it was time to back, have breakfast and have Phikun drive me out to a bus stop where I could get a bus to Mukdahan. They apparently come by every half hour or so. My plan was to hail one down, ride the hour or so to Mukdahan then get a bus from there to the border crossing into Laos and Savannakhet.
Phikun dropped me off and we said our sad goodbyes, she had been a wonderful and generous host and I gave her some money and a gift in appreciation, we had a hug and she got all teary. She wanted to wait till the bus came but I told her that wasn't necessary as I would get all upset if she stayed, so reluctantly she left me on the side of the highway. I was glad as it gave me time to adjust and shake the sadness away at having to move on.
About 10 minutes later a car came down the road with fishing rods hanging out the back of the utility. I couldn't help myself and had to flag them down. They did stop and the guy driving was maybe late 20's early 30's. He spoke little English but enough for me to discover he ran a fish pond and made his living from charging people to fish there. I don't know how I managed it but in 2 minutes I was throwing my pack in the back and climbing in with his family...whoo Hooo I'm off fishing, Mukdahan can wait.
We fished for about 4 hrs and enjoyed a great picnic lunch and he offered to drive me to Mukdahan...what a great guy! I think he may have been embarrassed that we hadn't caught anything. I didn't mind that at all as it was just the peace of lying back on the pond bank and going through the motions of fishing that was so good. I accepted his offer though and at 3pm we were off to Mukdahan. I asked him to call in and fill his car with diesel which I paid for as my repayment for the day. Then we had a leisurely drive to the new Friendship bridge border crossing about 4 klms north of Mukdahan and Savannakhet. He even went and bought me a bottle of water and the border crossing bus ticket, while I was lined up at Thai immigration. I had to force some money on him as he didn't want to take anything for the water or ticket, which I knew came to 60 baht. That's a lot for a rural Thai family and I insisted he take 100 baht.
They said their goodbyes and I proceeded thru immigration, over the bridge to the Laos side, and without any fuss got my visa on arrival. Then it was get my passport stamped, back on the bus, and into Savannakhet.
That's where I leave you reader