Another Trip to Amphawa

Sunday morning after a breakfast of homemade buttermilk biscuits and French Press coffee, Tawn, Bob and I set off to Samut Songkhram province, some 90 km southwest of Krungthep, for a visit to Ajarn Yai.

You may recall that Ajarn Yai (literally, “Big Teacher”) is the retired director of the small elementary school where I volunteered as an English teacher back in 2006-2007.  Because she was so welcoming both to me and my family and friends when they visited, I have stayed in touch with her.  Every month or so she calls, eager to tell me that while she was out and about she saw a farang (foreigner) and thought of me.  (The truth is, all of us white people really do look alike!)

One thing she really wants is to take a visit to the United States.  As a young lady, she was accepted to study at a university in Michigan, but her parents felt it was too far to send a woman to study, so she instead attended school locally.  She now has three Master’s Degrees, including one in Special Needs Education, and even in her retirement serves as a mediator for the local courts and also as part of an adult vocational needs training program in this rural province.

She still asks, though, when I’m going to take her to the United States to visit my family.

After a nice seafood lunch at a small, riverside restaurant, we drove to the community of Amphawa, where a popular weekend floating market is located nearby the birthplace of King Rama II.  This market is supposed to be a nighttime market, but due to its popularity, by early afternoon the boats were out and tourists (almost exclusively Thai) were strolling along the crowded sides of the canal.


The area of the market has been expanded to the north, opening up more space for the overflowing crowds of tourists.  Dozens of weathered buildings have been unshuttered, turned into restaurants, gift shops, homestays and boutiques.  While this is good economically for the town, the crowds threaten to make the quality of life less pleasant and relaxed.  Signs, both in English and Thai, have been put up warning people to be aware of pickpockets.  Amphawa, at least this small section of it, may end up being a victim of its own success.


The heat was intense and muggy, no rainstorms in sight to offer so relief, so instead we ducked into one of these new cafes and enjoyed a shaved ice dessert.  You could choose three “add-ins” from things like corn, Job’s tears, kidney beans, hearts of palm fruit, etc.  These were topped with a mound of shave ice, a drizzle of flavored sugar syrup and, if you like, sweetened condensed milk.

Cool and sweet and tasty and refreshing…

After a bit more visiting we dropped Ajarn Yai off at her home and headed back up the highway to the Big Mango, glad to be in the air conditioning.


A visit from the country mice

Another first: Ajarn Yai, the retired director of the country school where I used to volunteer as an English teacher, came to the big city to visit me.  For more than a year, she has said she would come see our new house.  But I was actually surprised when she called last week to tell me that she and another retired teacher from the school would visit on Monday.

P1130512 With the worry that most people save for visiting in-laws, I tidied up the house, prepared some small snacks and brewed both iced and hot tea.  It took several phone calls to clarify driving directions and I finally had to wait downstairs to wave my arms when they drove down the street.

In the back of her former student’s pickup truck (he had agreed to drive her) were gifts for me and Tawn: two dozen coconuts and a dozen large bags of palm sugar made on the student’s plantation.  Additionally, she had a large bag of a local snack mix that includes tiny dried fish, rice crackers and peas.

The visit was interesting: I showed them around the condo, which Ajarn Yai pronounced beautiful but then went on and on about how it must be so expensive.  Houses in her town are much less expensive, of course.  Houses in her town are also at the end of an unpaved trail behind a temple, several kilometers from the town itself.

I served tea, invited my guests to sample the different snacks, and tried to carry the conversation mostly in Thai.  The other teacher and the driver sat on the sofa much in the same way you might sit on your Victorian Aunt Millie’s lace doily lined sofa: musn’t muss things up!  The atmosphere felt kind of stilted and I never was able to convince anyone to snack, although they liked the tea.

After a few minutes, Ken arrived, which livened things up considerably. 

We headed to lunch at a local Thai restaurant.  I had originally thought it might be nice to take them for Japanese or Italian, but am glad I didn’t as that would have been a fish way too far out of water.

At the restaurant, everyone had menus but deferred to me – the farang and the youngest at the table – to order.  I tried to see what everyone would like or if there was anything catching their interest, but kept being deferred to.

I ordered as best I could, trying to remember what Tawn has taught me about creating the proper balance of Thai dishes.  When the food arrived, which was delicious and plentiful, the Thais ate with uncharacteristic timidity.  Normally, when I eat with the teachers at a restaurant in Samut Songkhram, appetites are hearty and people serve others and themselves, eating with gusto.

Monday afternoon, however, it was a very “refined” dining experience.  They seemed to enjoy the food and ate plenty in the end, though.  I tried to engage the other teacher in conversation, but she wasn’t very responsive.  Ajarn Yai did relax a bit and we ended up having a good conversation, mixing Thai and English and translating for Ken as necessary. 

Tawn laughed when I told him about the experience.  He explained that both the other teacher and the former student were there to make sure Ajarn Yai had a good time; it was her trip, after all.  So he wasn’t surprised they were so quiet and kind of “melted” into the background.  He also pointed out that the restaurant, which I consider to be just a mid-range restaurant, would be very high end by their standards.  So their “discomfort” was the same thing I might exhibit when I go walking in to the fancy home of some friend’s well-off parents.

All in all, though, it was a nice visit and I’m glad she made the effort.  Ajarn Yai still harangues me about taking her to the United States.  Maybe one day.  If she felt out of water just on this short visit to see me in Krungthep, imagine if we were in the US.