Pai: In Which We Make New Friends & Meet the Thai Police

July 2, 2012 in Asia, Thailand, Travelogue

If we were wanting to be anywhere but near the beach for the next couple of months, we’d live in Pai. 

If a child said it once it was said fifty times, “This reminds us of Guatemala!” That’s a high complement in our family because when someone refers to “home” half of the time they mean San Marcos. Pai is a lot like that; the perfect blend of little local village and long haul expat travelers. 

I love the internet. We’ve met so many interesting people as a result of its connective property. A year or so ago a man left a comment on a blog I wrote about Mother’s Day. We started talking. they invited us to stay the night in Oregon when we found ourselves West last fall. Our families fell in step instantly and they’ve remained fast friends in spite of less than 24 hours of “face time” as families. When Rebeca emailed to say she had a friend in Pai and offered to connect us, of course we said, “Yes!”

How the kids got around with Chinua!

From the moment Chinua rolled in on his motorcycle with his faded red scarf and twisted nest of dreadlocks on top of his head we knew we’d found “our people.” “He reminds me of Duane, Mama!” Ezra stage whispered, and so he did. Another high compliment, Duane is one of our favourite people too.

We meet a lot of people on the road, lots come and go, a few stay a while, fewer still become permanent fixture. The Ford family is likely to fall into that latter group. They’ve lived abroad for years, in India before they moved to Thailand. They have four children (their oldest is ten and a boy, further cementing Ezra’s love of their crew!) We spent a lovely day climbing slippery rock waterfalls and leaping into freezing pools of mountain spring waters and then soaking into the twilight in mineral hot springs as Chinua and Hannah played guitar and mandolin together. We hope very much that they’ll travel south and spend some time on the island with us and we can return their generous hospitality. 

The icing on the cake is that Rachel is Canadian, and yesterday was Canada Day! Tony had delivered three little fireworks along with my tea that morning in his annual attempt not to forget the days that are important to me. “Just little ground sparklers, but they should be fun!” He smiled. There are reasons I’m still with this man. His continual consideration of me is one. 

The Ford children were even more excited about the fireworks than our kids were I think. We saved the most exciting part of the celebration for just before we parted ways and Tony carefully lit the first one in the alley sized street that runs in front of their lovely teak house in downtown Pai. “3-2-1…. BANG!!!” That little “ground sparkler” leapt thirty feet into the air and exploded in a shower of sparks and we all screamed!!

“Whoops!! Sorry neighbours!” Chinua hollered in English as we were all laughing, wide-eyed in surprise. “How ‘bout we walk down to that empty lot at the end of the next street over for the other two?” He suggested. So we did.

Walking in the dark through dirty streets with barefoot children, I tried not to think about the cobra we’d seen slip, erect and fully hooded, between the wheels of the motorcycle Chinua and the children were riding up the mountain to the hot springs earlier that afternoon. Dogs barked at us: “Crazy Farang! What are you doing out so late!!”

The second firework erupted with gusto and shouts from the children. Rachel and I laughed and smiled at each other. Somehow national holidays celebrated abroad are all the sweeter, even if it’s only three little 10 baht fireworks that you have to fete your day with. 

The third firework was a dud.

Well, it was half a dud. It didn’t leap off the ground, but it did explode in red and green sparks that went skidding across the pavement towards the bare toes of little boys in every direction. The children hopped around like monkeys hooting and celebrating with the abandon that children who trust their fathers’ care implicitly do. The adults shared another wide-eyed, “Whoops!” And we turned to head for home and a sad goodbye. 

There is another sort of red light that we’re less keen to see at a celebration: the red flashers on the top of a police truck.

“What’s going on here? Everything is okay?” the officer who hopped out of the vehicle asked. It’s in these moments that I realize what we must look like to other people: Four parents, two with dread locks, all clearly “not from around here” and eight children, half of them barefoot, in a rainbow of dirt colour from a day filled with the best kind of fun. I remember hearing the children at the English school next door to the Fords’ house chanting their lessons this morning and laughing with Rachel, “These children are dirty…” they sang in sing-songy chorus to practice their new words. We looked like the poster kids for their lesson. 

In the end, with lots of smiling and apologizing we were allowed to go, “Ah… different culture!” The police officer laughed, “Thai not make festival today.” We all laugh and smile as big as we can, happy enough to be considered the “crazy farang” and sent on our way.  

It’s not every year that the police are called in to break up our Canada Day festivities!