Sunday, May 2, 2010
Our adventure in Tak began long before we even arrived. Mike was concerned we wouldn't be able to buy tickets to his village on our own. Apparently it is hard to say and obscure and even he has a hard time explaining where he is going to the ticket sellers. So, the day before we were to leave we went to the bus station with the cell phone. We texted Mike, Mike called us (apparently it was cheaper for him to call us) and Cale handed the phone to the ticket sellers. Mike would explain over the phone where we wanted to go. Cale repeated this process three times before we had the bus company and the tickets we wanted.
The following morning we repeated the process only now Cale handed the phone to the bus attendant and Mike explained that we weren't getting off at a bus stop and that we had never been where we were going before and could he (the attendant) let us know when we were there?
About six hours later we found ourselves left on the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere. Once again we called Mike. Cale described where we were and Mike had us cross the highway (there was a pedestrian bridge) to a faleo'o (it wasn't really a faleo'o, but the Thai equivalent). This is when we were faced with a decision. We could wait a hour or two for another bus that would take us near Mike's house or we could hire the moto-taxis that run out of that faleo'o. You have indeed guessed correctly. Moto-taxi is sitting on the back of a motorcyle (well, scooter here). Keep in mind we had our large backpacks with us. We opted for the moto-taxi and I spent the next six minutes fearing for my life. Not that these guys were bad drivers, it was just that this was the first time I had ever been on a motorcycle and I had 25 extra pounds strapped to my back as a counterweight. I gripped the handle bars on the underside of the seat so tightly that when I got off it took my a while to straighten my fingers out again. Needless to say we arrived at Mike's unharmed.
We immediately walked to the river near Mike's house where we ate papaya salad and rice and rented inner tubes. Then we went tubing down the river and it was wonderful. It was exactly the sort of relaxing, scenic thing I was hoping for when I was desperate to escape the 7-elevens of the city.
The next morning we were surprised to discover the wedding Mike had arranged for us to attend with him was not actually in his village, as he had thought. His co-teacher (You see that Peace Corps Samoa? This is the second volunteer we have visited and the second one with a co-teacher. In fact, Peace Corps Thailand requires schools provide a co-teacher and the volunteers are not allowed to teach by themselves!) had invited him to help decorate on Sunday and then attend the wedding on Monday. All along he had thought the wedding was in his village. However, when she called Sunday morning to say she was coming by to pick us up in ten minutes, he discovered it was in another city entirely. We threw our things together and headed out.
The wedding was for the co-teacher's friend's sister. I wonder how the bride and groom felt about these random, last-minute additions to the guest list.
When we arrived we were first set in the corner and given two foam shapes and two coconuts to decorate with flowers. The flowers were the real-life version of the beads we had been using in Nancymarie's village. We used toothpicks and pushpins to stick them into the foam shapes or coconuts. We were fed lunch and moved into the interior of the house where it was cooler to continue covering these shapes with tiny flowers. It was a much more time consuming project then one might imagine and it took about five hours to accomplish it. Mike also got to try his hand at flower arranging.
When it was obvious that we could decorate no more, Mike's co-teacher dropped us off at a hotel (where we paid the same price we had been paying for guest houses in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai). She went back to decorating and came back for us two hours later for dinner. I believe that she went back to decorating after that as well. She said they decorated late into the night.
The next morning we left around 8 am for the wedding. At first when we arrived we were seated at one of many tables in a long pavilion outside. The table was already prepared with a bucket of ice, water, coke, tonic water and a bottle of whiskey. Soon rice, noodles and several different dishes arrived. It's 9 am, time to eat and start drinking! We stuck with water and I ate some sticky rice (which I absolutely adore). Mike improvised some ear plugs against the music and the MC that were blaring out over the speakers right by our heads. According to Mike's translating most of the MC's comments seemed to be about the availability of ice and telling people not to worry, that the ice would come to them.
Next we were moved in doors. The room where the actually ceremony was taking place was too small to house even a fraction of the guests and Mike explained that wedding guests rarely witness the ceremony. We were seated in a room adjoining the main room that we could sort of crane our necks to see in. However, before things got started they decided they wanted the foreigners front and center and we were moved to the entry way where the groom would enter (though we didn't know this at the time. I never knew what was going on). I was given half of a gold, chain belt to hold and one of the bride's friends held the other side across from me. Cale was in the same situation with another girl. Mike was given a handle on a basket to carry into the room. The basket was just one of many things that were placed before the shrine in the room and several groups of people came forward to do something at the shrine I could not see. When the groom entered he had to pass though three belts that were being held across his path at each belt he gave the holders envelopes with money inside and we then let him pass. He then spent some time at the shrine as well, but I also could not see.
After this we moved back to the adjoining room again and both the bride and groom went into the main room together where they bent down in front of several groups of people. I am not sure exactly what was happening then, but it felt like the were being blessed. Finally, the bride and groom then knelt next to each other and were joined at the head by a string that circled the crown of both their heads. Everyone in attendances slowly wound their way through the room and placed strings over the hands of the bride and groom and poured water on to their hands from a shell.
This was followed by more food and whiskey. Afterwards, instead of what we would consider the traditional first dance, the couple had what I can only assume is now the traditional first karaoke together.
I did some googling on Thai weddings. This is not exactly like what I experienced, but it does contain some similar elements.
We stayed at Mike's for two more days before leaving Thursday morning on a bus to Bangkok.
PS. The pictures I am uploading to the flickr are small because the internet in Cambodia is slow. See more Tak pictures here.
Posted by Cale