11 mn 17 sec
Sound by Araya Rasdjarmreansook
Video by Apichartpong Weerasethakul
My mother’s old tales have hovered around me for as long as I can remember, so long that it seems I have become quite acquainted with this young girl, as if she was my best friend. A dear friend who had stopped walking, somewhere along the path of time, to smile at me; whenever I succumbed to the past, allowing it to stretch its beams of light upon the shadow of my present.
This piece is dedicated to the spirit of memories and dreams that drift among us. Though sometimes it seems that the attempt to capture them is all in vain, we can hardly refrain, as we continue on.
Letter from Mom
I remember the night that Grandpa brought us across, the four of us; Grandpa, Grandma, Tula, and myself. The water must not have been that deep because they traveled the distance on foot, Grandma carrying Tula, while Grandpa carried me. I have but faint recollections of that night, but Tula probably doesn’t remember anything since he was not yet 1 at the time. When we had made it across to Thailand and wanted to enroll in school, Grandma had to change my name, for fear that anyone would know we had crossed over. My name was originally Lina, but Grandma changed it to Meena, although it had no significant meaning. I suspect that Grandma wanted the new name to retain the original sound. Once I started school, Grandma and Grandpa were no longer together. I recall images of Grandpa being handsome and very tall, with captivating eyes, not to mention being well dressed. Dressed up, in nothing less that shirts and slacks, Grandpa looked as sophisticated as a Westerner. Thai people back then, apart from civil servants, never dressed the way Grandpa did. I remember seeing Grandpa at school once, watching me through the fence, and I’ve never seen him since.
Throughout childhood I roamed and rambled in the woods and along the hills. In the rainy season I visited Kao Kwai Mountain with Aunt Noi and Aunt Pin; shivering as we walked, numb with the heavy fog that stung our cheeks, gathering mushrooms and bamboo shoots. No matter how they were cooked, the young shoots were always tasty; sometimes all we had to do was light a fire and roast them just a little. When they were ready we would hold them in our cupped hands, smell the sweet aroma and watch the steam rise from them, before dipping them in salt. That was enough to keep us warm and full. If there were leftovers, we’d sell them at the market and keep the money for sweets and treats. There was this once, when Tula and I didn’t have any money and there was an outdoor film being shown, we wanted so much to watch it that we snuck under the fence. Only to be caught and reported to Grandma. Grandma was so furious that when she brought us home, she whipped us until we were both scarred. It’s a good thing Grandma stopped before I came of age; I was a school athlete, imagine how embarrassed I would have been to run with striped legs. I was engaged in many different sports, relay races, and football. I once played football against a school from Laos. We were so confident with ourselves that we actually believed we’d lost to a bunch of cheaters. We bore such poor sportsmanship. I still have pictures from when I was an athlete. I was hideous, skinny, and tanned; I’ll bet you couldn’t pick me out of the crowd. There aren’t many pictures, so I take them everywhere I go, to remind myself that I’ve endured my share of unattractiveness.
Completing my studies, I headed to Bangkok for work; from a Beauty Advisor to a car sales representative; living with Grandma Wan, Grandma’s younger sister, in a house behind the Russian embassy. Grandma Wan was a nurse at Chula hospital. In the evenings when I walked home, I liked to stop and rest at a small bridge around there to enjoy the evening breeze. When the sun was about to set beneath the horizon, the ripples in the water from the passenger boats would sparkle in the last rays of sunlight. I had to squint just to see them because the lower the sun had set, the brighter the fiery reflection would become; unlike the moonlight, whose mirror image seems much more distant and discolored.
Having arrived in Bangkok for some time, one of Grandma’s friends dropped by for a visit, and oddly invited me to take part in the Miss Thailand beauty pageant. I was afraid that Grandma would find out. Grandma had told me, before I had left home, that I was not to participate in such activities. Grandma was afraid that I’d get scammed. When Grandma found out from reviews and photographs in the newspaper, she was terribly upset, commanding that I return to Chiang Rai immediately. Of course I didn’t go back, fortunately, Grandma Wan went and spoke to her on my behalf. I can’t help laughing when I look back on those days. I was so young; I had to lie about my age just to be eligible for the pageant; unlike the lady who had won, twenty-something and unbelievably unattractive. Word had it that she made it through because she had Pepsi sponsoring her.
Given time to think things over, I do want to go back to live with Grandma. Traditionally, Northern girls are expected to take care of their elders, but the one daughter Grandma has just can’t go back. This makes me wonder about myself. If I have a child, will my child take care of me? If I ever do have children, I wish for a daughter, I can already see myself teaching her how to cook. I want her to be a brilliant cook, to let everyone know how talented my child is.
Tender music from the vocalist has ended. Coming to my senses, I can only make out a strange luminous object in front of me. I can’t tell if this orange glow is from the sun, or an electrically generated source, making it hard for me to grasp whether it is morning or night. The light forces its way into my eyes, so that I cannot tell if it is yesterday or if it is tomorrow, if I should sleep or if I should wake.