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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Happy Birthday - Thai Style

As I had previously written, not all Thai people celebrate birthdays, in the manner to which we in the west have been accustomed. The day may well go unrecognized and the idea of a party or presents is not as prevalent as we have experienced in our North American culture.  A friend of ours, Noua, came by the house last week and in conversation mentioned that today was his birthday. When we asked what they would be doing to celebrate he responded that they would be maybe having a beach dinner party next week. Another Thai friend, Dul,  had a birthday last week and when we called he said we were the only people to call for his birthday. When we asked what he would be doing, he told us that he would cook a meal for his parents. So it was a rare opportunity when Noua invited us to go to an actual birthday party.
It seems that the possible beach party had now become a party at his mothers house and bar.

It had been a very hot day and we had closed up the house and put the air conditioning on for a while and left the dogs inside to stay cool while we headed out at 9PM on a Saturday night. A rare outing for us, as we tend to stay away from the activities of the weekends, finding it very busy, crowded and later at night with motorbikes with drunk drivers or without any lights on, or both, a bit too worrisome.

Noua's mother has a house in Rawia that is set back from the road. Immediately in front of the house is a bar. Now a bar here is usually not much more than a concrete slab, with a roof, a bar counter and some tables and chairs. No walls or windows, but ceiling fans to bring some breeze through the establishment. They all have a large bell with a cord situated over the bar counter somewhere, that is rung by any patron feeling like buying a round of drinks for all present. Every time the bell is rung, typically the bar erupts into cheers, the bartender grasps their own head and shakes it in a gesture of "oh NO". I am presuming as it means they will be busy refilling everyone in the bar drinks and figuring out the tab and getting paid for it. One of the good things about bars as well is that it is typical for you to buy a 26oz bottle of alcohol for about $10CDN. You then pay for a bucket of ice at about $0.25 and your mixer is free. You can have as many glasses to share the bottle with as many people as you like. Last night the bell ringing brought cries of "Sambuca!!!" The bell got rung many times, and I suspect because it was an open bar so no one had to pay, the liberty of being the generous one was too much for some to ignore. I have been known to imbibe in alcohol from time to time, but must admit I don't get that much of a thrill from it and never did like that morning after effect. Today however, I am sure waking up in 35 degrees heat and bright sunshine with a Samuca hangover, must not be that pleasant of a thing.

This particular bar had been closed for many months, but Noua's sister and family did a scrubbing and cooked up way too much food. But what would any Thai event be without too much food? Not very Thai at all. We had arrived well after the dinner time, and there were still trays and trays of great Thai dishes, which people continued past midnight to come and snack on. And of course even the street vendor sidecars made the rounds, in case you wanted something that they did not have at the party. One of the local favorites is the guy with a side cart that contains a restaurant equipment sized pizza oven, and he makes fresh hot pizza on order at the side of the road. Followed by that guy I call, Shake Man, who has a side cart with lots of different tropical fruit, ice and a blender to make whatever fresh fruit shake you want. Needless to say they did not get much business from this crowd on this particular night.

The crowd was about 45 people, ranging in age from 4 years to 73+. Primarily Thai, with a few of us farangs in for good measure. Clive noted that like everywhere in the world the women were all out dancing on the dance floor area and the men were all anchored to their chairs. I had seen on previous drive-around people setting up tables, chairs and tents during the daytime and then later at night a live musical performance would unfold, usually going until the 3 or 4 AM. It seemed that to have a party at your home, it is primarily held outside and involves the use of large amplifier speakers. This party was no exception to that observation. We also noted that they tend to have 2 people for the entertainment, usually a man on a guitar, a laptop computer with the supporting instruments, and a woman who sings and occasionally may also play the tambourine. The singer, like many we have seen or heard tend to have a very large musical repertoire and can switch from one musical form to another almost seamlessly. I will honestly admit that I am not a fan of Elvis Presley. Perhaps growing up with two brothers who probably between them own everything that was ever produced musically or in his image. On a recent trip back home, one of them told me about his extensive Elvis collection he continues to keep safely in his basement. But for some reason these 2 person musical acts have a large collection of Elvis and perform complete with the gyrations, and the quavering voice, and usually 2 or three songs in a row. It still managed to fill the dance floor, both at the party and wherever we have seen similar shows in local restaurants or bars. So I am probably the odd man out when it comes to an appreciation of Elvis.

After a while, I wondered when they would do some Thai music. Thus far the evening was all English or Spanish songs. Calls for them to play Thai music went unheeded. Unfortunately it seems only two of us farangs were calling for this particular music. A little later in discussion, Noua told us that they had to have a police inspection prior to having the party in the bar, and one of the conditions here is apparently live music cannot do covers of Thai music. Clive told me of being at a local bar while I was away in Canada and how there was Thai music playing, and how all the bar staff stopped doing what they were doing and moved to the dance floor. Tonight, just as the performers at the party took their break, Noua headed to the sound system and put on a Thai dance CD. Suddenly the floor filled with many hoots and hollers and the floor was full of children and adults dancing Thai style. It tends to involve slight swaying of the legs, utilizing very little dance floor space and lots of hand and arm action. The hands tend to be used similar to the dancers you see in those Bollywood style movies. The hand placed palm-side out, index finger curled to the thumb and the arms sway up-down-to and fro. I watched one particular move that seemed to have you almost imitating flicking your nipples. I was told that this is how you dance when you are at the night clubs and the dance floor is crowded. The hand keeps moving, but you can't extend your arms. My bigger fear was a young boy of about 5 who was busy all night in the crowd finding men and deciding that a pinch to the groin was great fun. Had he not been napping, I thought the dance floor may have been a lot more lively, trying to dance and thwart any pinching, or better yet, if you were wearing shorts, apparently if he could not pinch your goodies, he resorted to pulling your shorts down from behind.

They had many forms of packaged snack food to sample, and I managed to find my big weakness in the form of peanuts. I probably have not eaten as many nuts in my lifetime as I have since I have lived here. And true to Thai hospitality, when you express an interest or like for something, they cannot be more generous than to make sure you have way more than you could want. The generosity is sometimes overwhelming. In this case, Noua's sister saw me with my small package of peanuts (you can get them at any moo shop for 5Baht (about 1.5 cents CDN a package), and she had suddenly appeared with long cardboard hangers full of all sorts of packaged peanuts. Some with sugar, some salt and sugar, some with dried chillies and then the ones with dried tiny fish. She produced a pair of scissors and began to open the bags and fill bowls and place them in front of me to eat and then produced even more types of nuts. I am not a huge fish fan, and  especially of things like anchovies or sardines. But Clive told me that it would be impolite to not at least eat some. So I did and I reconfirmed the fact that eating dried fish and peanuts, would not be on my shopping list the next time I felt like picking up a snack at the local moo shop. Lucky for me, a man sitting next to me loved them.

By midnight, things were in pretty full swing. Suddenly the lights went out and through the darkness a solitary candle came across the bar, sitting atop a very elaborate chocolate shavings birthday cake, make 1/2 of ice cream and 1/2 of a very light brown cinnamon sponge cake.  Lots of cheering and clapping. No gifts or cards, just fun. One of the guests commented to me that the Thai people may not have lots of money, but they sure know how to enjoy life if they have food and some music. This summed it up quite well I thought .The musicians broke into a tune of Happy Birthday to You, in a rendition I had not heard it played before. The song was performed in English and then in Thai.
By this time, being the night owl I am, we decided that it was time to go home.  As we walked down the road to get out motorbikes out of the field where we had parked them, I noticed how warm it still was at this time of night. And although there were no street lights, it was very lighted, from the full moon. I think Clive wonders how simple I am when I commented that I never knew that there was a full moon every month. This is apparently basic information, that had somehow escaped my years of education and life experience. I added that perhaps living in BC and only seeing a full moon occasionally was the cause of my naivety. Since we have been here, I notice the new moon every month, probably because there is no cloud cover to obscure it. We got back home to some rather subdued pups, who it seems had enjoyed the treat of being locked up in the air conditioning. We were dutifully sniffed and barked at us in a most annoyed tone when they discovered the scent of the dogs from the party who we had been feeding scraps to. I am not sure if it was the fact we had gone out and there were other dogs there and we had not brought our with us, or that we had been feeding other dogs food, and not brought home a doggies bag for them.

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