The first thing everyone said when they
arrived at the graduation party I was throwing for my students was, “Do you
know that your next door neighbor is the former Prime Minister of Thailand?”
nod and smile, inviting them in to the massive stone mansion my company was
leasing during my stay in Bangkok.
structure itself looked like a hyper-scaled granite sculpture. One could view
the mansion through the heavy wrought iron gate built into the fifteen-foot
high concrete wall. Directly across the street, a family in a small run-down wooden
house ran a restaurant on their front porch. The contrast between the haves and
have-nots could be viewed in the microcosm of a single address.
old woman at the hovel did know how to cook a Thai meal worthy of any fancy
American restaurant, and the different pungent meals beckoned with an olfactory
come-hither that was hard to ignore. I ate there four times a week, after
making it clear that I required meals that were mị̀ p̄hĕd, or not spicy. I placed an order for a lot
of food for my party, and after their youngest daughter translated what I
needed, they were ecstatic. I always tipped very well and treated them with
my guests arrived, I gathered the class of twelve students together to give
them a tour of the property. My live-in maid took care of the food, beer, and
soft drink deliveries.
first stop was the back yard, which was about the size of a football field. All
around the wall, the property owner planted different fruit trees. The bananas,
pineapples, coconuts, apples, and oranges were all ready to be picked, their
scents swirling together in a fruit cocktail that left a tangy sensation on the tongue.
is bigger than my family’s farm,” said Sam, who graduated third in the class,
qualifying him to be a shift supervisor with a bump in pay. “I brought a soccer
ball, can we play later?”
smiled. “Sure, after the rest of the tour.”
heavily carved 12-foot tall teak doors opened to the foyer. The floor gleamed
with Italian marble tiles, which transitioned into a solid dark teakwood floor
that spread out on the lower floor of the building. My maid, Moola, hired her brother
to polish the floor every week. I never understood “shine a foot thick” until I
saw how those floors glowed.
large, thick set of three leather couches dominated the living room area. Built
into the ceiling, a commercial video projector provided a widescreen window to
the rest of the world beyond the borders of Thailand. Moola set out some chips
and dip, plus several platters of meats, cheeses, and vegetables. Continuing
on, I directed the tour to the American-style kitchen. Again, Moola provided several
coolers of iced sodas, beer, and other refreshments. Most of the graduates made
a pit stop to pick up a drink and some sandwiches that Moola had just finished
assembling. I could hear the sizzling crackle of a wok in the second Thai-style
kitchen. Moola’s famous fried rice with fresh pineapple wafted into the rest of
the house, making several stomachs rumble. The large dining table had to be
sturdy to hold the weight of the food the neighbors had provided.
was not the place to be if one was on a diet.
only area left was the five bedrooms upstairs, so I just described them quickly
and we all swarmed over the banquet.
hours later, after a quick pick-up game of soccer in the yard and consuming
enough food until everyone’s stomach was fit to burst, we sat around on the
back porch, sipping drinks and swatting the ever-present mosquitos.
was time to announce who had the highest scores in the class. One of the older
graduates came in second, and also qualified as a shift supervisor. The top
person in the class also happened to be the only woman. Supisri had a Master’s
degree and achieved a perfect score. In accordance with the company directives,
she was the manager of the entire group.
didn’t sit well with some of her classmates, since Thailand is a very paternal society. I pointed out her accomplishments, and after I broke out the liquor,
the humor returned to the party. They all congratulated her, and I reminded
Supisri that she deserved the position because of her hard work.
lit the outdoor fireplace to drive off the mosquitos, and the smell of wood
smoke made everyone feel relaxed. Even Moola finally sat down and rested her
entire graduating class of 1998 became the first group of technicians who would
be running the Bangkok SkyTrain, the new elevated train system. While they
waited for taxis to take them home, I talked about having the opportunity to
live in such a luxurious mansion was a nice experience, but it didn’t compare
to having a family present. They were the lucky ones. I would be leaving to see
my family in eight months. That made the mansion a pretty building, not my
home. And home is where the heart is.
Iron Noder 2017