So here I am almost at the half year mark after starting over in this new place. It’s been grand, it’s been challenging, and sometimes the newness of it all is staggering. That newness, combined with my habit of running full speed into all kinds of cultural barriers and boundaries, sometimes creates situations which I am hard pressed to think about, much less relate to my readers about…
It started out oddly, yet innocently enough. My father-in-law’s friend came over for a visit with his approximately six year old daughter in tow. A sweet girl she was, bold enough to ask for what she wanted, yet polite enough to ask first. She took an instant liking to Nam (most children take instantly to either Nam or myself, but rarely to both of us, which makes it a kind of contest) and decided to eat lunch with her. Nam talked to the girl’s dad a bit and was told a few things:
- The girl’s real mom had left when she was small, but the father had a dream where he was told to keep the girl, so he did
- The father had since remarried to a woman who has children of her own
- The girl is very easy to take care of and isn’t a “difficult” child at all
So this is where things start to get odd for me in American/Japanese mode: The man asks his daughter if she’s ready to go home, and she says she wants to stay, so he just leaves. Just leaves! As he (the little girl’s father) is walking out the door, Nam’s father says, “if we don’t take her back tonight, it’s because she’s staying over, ok?” (Nam told me about this later, I didn’t hear it myself or I would have… Well, I actually have no idea what I would have done.) So we spent the day with this little girl, who is actually one of the nicest little girls I have ever met, and she turns out to be like, a total prodigy or something. I show her how to play this traditional Thai xylophone-thingy (can’t be fucked to look it up just now), and pretty soon she’s like making actual music. Then I let her feed my improbably colored fish and showed her how to use my Nikon – and she proceeds to take like 500 photos all around the house. Here, you be the judge:
She took a shot through the screen door for this awesome effect – something that would never have even occurred to me to try
I mean, holy crap. And those photos are like totally unedited, just resized. I don’t know what to say, looking back on it, we just had a really fun day together. There were some strange things that stick out in my mind, like when the little girl couldn’t remember my name and just started calling us mom and dad, and when her parents didn’t even call to check up or anything – she was with us for about 6 hours straight until it got dark. We took her home, and guess what? Nobody was home… So we drove back to our house and she stayed the night in our room, on the floor.
Her parents (father and stepmom) showed up the next day and we made small talk about how much fun we had together and then the bomb was dropped when THEY OFFERED TO GIVE HER TO US. (When something this strange happens to me, my mind always reverts back to this early NWA sample that exclaims, “motherfucker, say what?”) Yeah. So we were pretty sure that was a joke, but kind of in shock because we had a sinking feeling it wasn’t. Somehow, her parents slipped away again while we were still in that what-the-fuck-just-happened state of mind.
So I need to explain something here: There are two factors at play here which make this a fucked up, yet totally understandable situation within the bounds of Thai society. First of all, there is the factor that Nam was aware of and related to me before this even came up: Thais believe that for a couple to spend time with somebody else’s child will bless them with their own child. So this is why even though things were kind of weird from the day before, we just assumed that this was what everybody had in mind regarding this situation. The second factor has to do with a time-honored tradition that has lasted until the current day: Poor parents sometimes give their children away to people who they think can take care of them better. Of course, I was flabbergasted when I heard this. I mean, I guess you could kind of view it as adoption without an adoption agency, but then you have to remember that adoption agencies exist for a reason. We could be axe murderers for all her parents know! I mean, they really have no fucking idea who we are, and they are offering up their daughter? Yes, I can honestly say this is one cultural wall I have run smack into, and will have a hard time recovering from. This wall kicked my ass.
So to finish the story: We dropped the little girl off at home later that evening. Sure, she lives in a poor part of town in an old house that her stepmom has converted into a beauty salon, but she ain’t gonna die of starvation or the plague, if you know what I mean. We greeted her parents, said out goodbyes to the girl, and basically sprinted back to our car. In parting, the father shouted something in thai that I couldn’t understand. I asked Nam what he had said when we were back in the car, and her face was still in shock. “Papers,” she said. “He said he would sign her over to us officially.”
Jesus fucking christ, yo.
The thing is, the girl seems really into it. The last scene I described was yesterday. Today her parents brought her around to our house again because her father (supposedly?) had to meet Nam’s father for something. Nam and I were both at work at the time. The little girl called Nam from our house and asked, “Why didn’t you pick me up today, mom?” Um…
So now we have a very weird situation that needs straightening out. In fact, the little girl called Nam again to ask if Nam would take her to work with her tomorrow. (Heh. Remember how I told you that children usually bond to either Nam or myself immediately, but almost never to both of us? Heh… Marital disclaimer: This is by no means really funny, just kind of amusing if you think about it in an abstract sort of way, obliquely, without any pertinence to the current situation in any way, or to reality at all if you really think about it.)
We have talked about this at length – I mean, how do we tell the parents we don’t want the little girl without somehow making the little girl feel badly? Although I’d love to smack the shit out of the parents for offering her up and putting us in this situation, would it even make me feel better? Even a little? No, I don’t think so. I feel bad for even fantasizing about it – you can’t smack the ignorance out of people. And I do believe this is ignorance – I mean, for fuck’s sake, if you’re going to offer up your daughter, your own flesh and blood, at the very least please do some due diligence. Fuck, this makes me so angry.
We will work this out, somehow.