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  • On The White Empty Page..... and more

    "Sometime I wish there were no words so that we could talk with our hearts translate thoughts to smiles and lite ballads with our eyes" (From: WORDS) CURTAIN Is there really a curtain, a curtain not really there? A veil far finer than smoke, and far lighter than air? Are you beyond that curtain that screens your world from mine? Can we sense or touch or exchange a thought or a sign? I believe there is a moment a rare moment bright and frail hidden in the folds of time a magic chink in the veil. Ssh...the hours are dreaming; the minutes are wandering away; time is drifting and forgetting and turning to look another way... Now, we steal the fairy moment and let it shine soft and fair, we smile into each other's minds and whisper in voices of wind and air. ใยม่าน มีจริงหรือม่านนั่นน่ะ ม่านซึ่งที่แท้ก็ไม่เห็นมี ใยโปร่งใสกว่าละไอควัน เบาบางเหลือเกินกว่าอากาศธาตุ เธออยู่หลังม่านนั่นมิใช่หรือ ที่กันโลกเธอจากโลกฉัน ได้ไหม ที่เราจะสำนึกหรือสัมผัส แลกความคิดหรือส่งสัญญาณแก่กัน ฉันเชื่อนะว่ามีช่วงจังหวะ สุดประเสริฐสดใสและเปราะบาง เร้นอยู่ในหลืบแห่งเวลา เหมือนรอยปรุงแห่งมนตราในม่านนั้น จุ๊ๆ...โมงยามกำลังผัน นาทีเถลไถลห่างออกไป เวลากำลังเหม่อลอยและละลืม และหันมองไปมองไปทางอื่น... มาซิ ฉวยช่วงเวลา พราวพร่างดังนฤมิต ให้มันเปล่งแสงนวลงาม มายิ้มให้ห้วงคิดของกันและกัน และกระซิบด้วยสำเนียงของอากาศและสายลม” (Curtain หนึ่งในบทกวีในเล่มนี้ แปล โดยคุณหญิงจำนงศรี ) AESTHETICS OF RETICENCE : ON CHAMNONGSRI RUTNIN'S POETRY (Introduction to On The White Empty Page and More by critic and scholar Chetana Nagavajara) To Introduce Chamnongsri Rutnin's poetry is not an easy task. The first question that comes to mind is whether a Thai poet writing in English could ever hope to achieve something original. Chamnongsri's creative mode is not that of translating from Thai into English. She may be writing about things Thai, but she certainly thinks in English. The adoption of the medium of expression in this case does not necessarily mean total acceptance of the world-view of the originating culture. It may be futile to ask whether she is writing in a first, second or foreign language, and an analogy with, say, a Singaporean poet writing in English may not help either. One single reading of poems like PORTRAIT OF A WOMAN and OLD HOUSE BY THE KLONG can convince any Thai reader where Chamnongsri really belongs, for there is no trace of exoticism here. Those years in the West have not turned her into an outsider. Chamnongsri remains very much a Thai. imbibing the cultural riches of her native land and feeling herself very much at home. To say this is also to pay tribute to her English masters : they have given her a very good command of a new tongue without locking her up in a cultural prison-house. But it would be a total fallacy to claim that one can cleanse a language of its historical context or to neutralize it to the point where it becomes just a medium. Chamnongsri will be the last person to deny her debt to Western culture. A comparative study could be written on echoes of English Romanticism in her work (more of Keats than Byron) or on the lure of "the empty page" known to Mallarme' a hundred years earlier. Certain lapses into stereotyped Western poetic modes crop up now and then, such as the lifeless abstraction of MY TIME and the exaggerated modernist conciseness of ON A CHIANGMAI DOI. To me Chamnongsri is at her best when she knows how to marry the best of both worlds, particularly when she immerses herself in the Thai way of life, only to emerge with felicitous expressions reflecting literary sophistication of the kind that she must have learned from the West. The suggestiveness and the freshness that inform a poem like BRIDAL GARLANDS owe much to this happy marriage, and a Thai born and bred in Thailand would probably not have achieved the noble simplicity of MY COUNTRY WOMEN- in my opinion the best poem of the collection - in which the expression of human warmth and compassion is borne out by a series of almost arbitrary images that lead on to the notions of 'femininity' and 'motherhood' no longer appearing as abstract concepts amidst the sensuousness of these images. One can no longer speak of East or West, Thai or English. This is just poetry. To talk of Chamnongsri's 'Thainess' is to plunge ourselves in an insoluble dilemma, for this characteristic trait of her poetic work accounts for both her strengths and weaknesses. Most of the poems in this volume are somehow or other marked by what I would call 'an aesthetics of reticence.' I shall clarify myself. A certain type of reservation, best expressed by the French word "pudeur", pervades most of her poetry. A Thai lady of good breeding is traditionally schooled in this difficult art of "pudeur" whereby she shall not externalise her inner most sentiments in explicit form. This particular schooling in manners and emotions have gone to produce exquisite love-poetry, and even the classical Thai dance has created wonders with this! What Chamnongsri has done is to elevate a matter of manners and emotions to a philosophic stance. Even in a seemingly conventional poem like CURTAIN, "the minutes are wandering away" and "time is ... turning to look another way" . Unattainability and unfulfillment have as their allies uncertainty and indeterminacy. When the poet speaks of LONELINESS, no single answer is given as to what it is : we are offered as many as three alternatives to choose from. You must not give away what you really think. The constant use of the interrogative form is another discernible tactic. The entire poem TERRITORY OF ICE is carried through in a series of questions. Poetry is there to reflect the fleeting moment, the unfinished creation, the endless movement and the infinite longing for some distant ideal. Yet this is exactly where the charm of Chamnongsri's poetry lies. The "grey area", so to speak, where the bliss of incompleteness and indeterminacy can take place has its irresistible attraction. In the case of TWILIGHT HOUR, the "soundless skysong...swells the void / then recedes...". Why must it be "soundless" and why must it "recede" so soon, one is tempted to ask! But how could it be otherwise, since the poet has opted for an aesthetics of unattainability? One has to admit that such aesthetic and poetic strategy may have excluded our poet from probing other types of human experience and thereby restricted her vision. But we must realize at the same time that this happens by design, and not by default. The poem A WOMAN TO HER DAUGHTER is quite explicit on this point. Being a mere woman, I can only ask you, a woman-to-be to softly sense and tenderly touch life's multi-textured realities and, with a woman's heart, try to feel and understand. Forever try to understand. This is indeed a significant passage, for it is a vivid statement of Chamnongsri's poetic mode. You need a certain self-discipline to be able to "softly sense and tenderly touch /life's multi-textured realities". The question remains whether the poet is prepared to go beyond trying "to feel and understand" She certainly knows of the tragedy of life, but she would rather leave it lurking behind somewhere instead of coming face to face with it. In DEATH OF A FRIENDSHIP she confesses : "I have seen its death / I have seen it fade / I have seen it die", and goes on to qualify this confession with "Not burning with passion/not aching with love". Her treatment of "tragic" themes somehow lacks poignancy. In the poem entitled TRAGEDY, the use of imagery serving the purpose of a moral tale rather precludes real tragic feeling, and the re-telling of the traditional legend of Phra Lor in KALONG is too much in a conciliatory vein. The avoidance of tragedy is certainly in consonance with the poetics of reticence, which can also assume the form of a non-communication, such as in the case of the poem NON-EXISTENT DESTINATION. The fate of the "GARLAND BOY" must have moved the poet, but we are not allowed to probe deeper into her innermost feeling. Communication is disrupted : "the 3 M sunscreened glass / ... keeps out the speaking eyes". At one point the tragedy of the small man almost succeeds in creating a disturbing social awareness in her, for the poet becomes aware of what "separate(s) our worlds"! But she stops short at that. The aesthetics of unfulfillment thus becomes an aesthetics of social non-commitment. We have to go to the poem ON PEOPLE -AN ANSWER TO A QUESTION for a more explicit counsel. Here the poet admits : "Their arrogance / are sheets of pain / masking unquiet lakes / of fears and loneliness". She is aware of the hidden force that could erupt at any moment. But poetry has a healing power that can counteract any potential violence, for, as we have seen earlier, the poet has mastered the art of "feeling and understanding". The poem concludes in the following manner: Hear the dark waters whisper a voiceless song; listening makes it swell intoxicating the air with sweetness. "Tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner" (To understand everything is to excuse everything), so goes the old French saying. This could apply to Chamnongsri's poetry as well. The avoidance of tragedy, of violence, of conflict lies at the cultural roots of the "land of smiles". In this sense, Chamnongsri is very much a Thai poet. I have dwelt at some length on Chamnongsri's aesthetics of reticence, for it is precisely this point that distinguishes her from many of her Thai contemporaries. In a sense, she is more 'traditional' than they are, inspite of her exposure to Western culture. The difference is not to be explained sociologically. She definitely has not turned a blind eye on social problems, but her aspiration is a philosophic one. She tries to transcend social awareness through philosophical awakening, this may not be a strategy that many of her contemporaries would choose to adopt. But she knows what she is doing. Even when she contemplates nature, she does so with a definite philosophical frame of mind. The poem HUA HIN is a case in point. Not that she is unaware of both "storms and changeabilities", but "the lyrical sea and I" are tied in a friendship that has lasted from childhood till "these calmer days". There is something Wordsworthian in Chamnongsri's philosophy of nature. Her best poems can, in one way or the other, be classified as nature-poetry. The poems, modernized jataka-inspired didactic tales pioneered by the doyen of contemporary Thai poets, Angkarn Kalayanapong, are professions of faith in the ways of nature. On the one hand, nature offers its protective arms to all things, as in THE WINDCRAB, but on the other hand, nature too is subject to the law of transiency, as most succinctly suggested in RAINDROP AND LOTUS LEAF. But this acceptance of the impermanence of things does not give rise to any tragic sense, for nature is self-renewing and self-perpetuating. Endless messages of hope could be deciphered from nature, and "much more" can be culled from it than what the author of THE ANGRY EARTH AND THE TAMARIND SEED is prepared to offer. To follow nature's way is to follow the way of freedom, and the dichotomy between nature and artifice is vividly brought to the fore in THE BECKONING. It is to be expected that the poet's faith in nature must necessarily engender an aversion to things mechanized, stereo-typed of even regimental. IN A NEW YORK HOTEL is not merely an expression of a "culture shock". It is more of an indictment against de-humanized, mechanical way of life. Her derision of "high blown talk about style and technology / Pre and Post Hi-tech and all that jargon in ROBOT BUILDING ON SATHORN is carried through in a similar humanist vein, full of humour and without malignancy. We must not forget that in the lead poem ON THE WHITE EMPTY PAGE the poet sets out as her goal to "fill the blankness / with something / of man". That is why she condemns the doctrinaire regimentation of "I talk, you listen" IN TO A FRESHMAN CLASS. This refusal of the artificial, the rigid, the mechanical and the unnatural is not to be confused with the kind of sobriety, refinement and self-discipline that are the guiding principles of Chamnongsri's aesthetics of reticence. The particular kind of discipline acceptable to our poet is of a more rarefied nature. It is the code of conduct of highly cultivated people known in Thai as "pudee" turned into an artistic principle. And only a "pudee"could write a poem like PORTRAIT OF A WOMAN which we might as well call a poem to silence Karl Marx. Strictly speaking, the old class-consciousness and class-distinction are still there. But the human warmth that exudes from "the ruling class" and the sincerity that pervades the entire poem are so disarming that no-one would have a heart to talk about class-conflict and class-struggle any more. Chamnongsri's poetry is thus representative of the fate of modern Thailand. Acquiescence to the order of things may signify indifference or lethargy in some societies, but here it becomes a profession of faith in human kindness, peaceful co-existence and mutual respect. The aesthetics of reticence is not to be taken as a poetic strategy. It is a way of life. One may argue about the merits and demerits of Chamnongsri's poetry, but one can hardly argue about her integrity. She is true to herself and to her people. That our bard can sing so well with a borrowed tongue must remain a marvel. Chetana Nagavajara New Year 1988 Publication Data Author : Chamnongsri (Rutnin) Hanchanlash First Published in 1988 by Pleasant Media Ltd.Part. 2nd Published in 2001 by >> หนังสือรวมบทกวี และบทร้อยแก้ว รวมถึงนิทาน ที่คุณหญิงจำนงศรีได้เขียนไว้ ในช่วงเวลาหลายสิบปี ข้อมูลหนังสือ ผู้เขียน: คุณหญิงจำนงศรี (รัตนิน) หาญเจนลักษณ์ พิมพ์ครั้งที่ 1 Pleasant Media Ltd.Part. 2531 พิมพ์ครั้งที่ 2 2544

  • At the beginning of a new life

    A heaven for unmarried mums By Wipawee Otaganonta Ouan and Nid made several trips up the steps, helping other women lugging mats, baskets, and bottles, and pilling them in one corner of their new home. Then both hurried to tend to their most precious belongings, already laid out on mats in one room. Man, son of the 37-year-old Ouan, is around-faced five-month-old with a winning smile and good humour. Boom, the month-old daughter of Nid, is a red-faced plump bundle in her mum’s arms. Looking at the four happy residents of Baan Sai Samphan, one finds it difficult to believe that not so long ago Ouan and Nid had considered deserting their babies at hospitals. But it’s a fact. Both women are poor, working in low-paid jobs. Their children were born outside marriage, form relationships that didn’t work out. “At first I was afraid of staving if I kept Boom,” confessed Nid. “Now I love her so.” Ouan said she was immensely glad that she hadn’t given her boy away, especially now that she’s getting back together with her boyfriend. Just like Ouan and Nid eight other residents of the home have also decided to keep their babies, one of which is yet to be born; one resident is eight months pregnant and it’s clearly the love and dedication of those who run Baan Sai Samphan that helped tip the scales in favour of motherhood in each case. Despite its relatively young age – the first home opened in October 1990 – the Baan Sai Samphan project has already proven its effectiveness in deterring desertion of babies. In its one year and four months of operation, it has acted as a safe haven for 28 unwed mothers and their babies, allowing them to form bonds and gain strength that eventually convinced all but one to keep their children. The residents were referred to the home through social workers attached to several hospitals in Bangkok. “It usually doesn’t take long before the mothers decide to keep their babies, as the home provides them with a supportive environment in which everyone loves and cares for her baby. That, and caring for one’s own child always does the job,” said Niyom Thanthranond, head of the Social Work Section of Children’s Hospital, and a founding “mother” of the project. While the first home was a rented house, this new, and more permanent, home has been built specifically for the project. The simple but pleasant-looking wooden structure straddles a ditch in one corner of Sathien Dhammasathan, a privately-owned dhamma centre in Soi Vatcharaphon, off Ramintra Road. Its 10 mother residents range from 14 to 37 years old. The project is overseen by a 14-member committee comprising social workers and lawyers. However, it’s Sansanee Sthirasuta, a Buddhist nun and the chairman of Baan Sai Samphan and owner of Sathien Dhammasathan, who has played the leading role in turning it into a reality. It’s also her who has injected a unique element – dhamma practice – into the operation. It began a little over a year ago when Sister Sansanee agreed to a proposal by Niyom to lend a hand in setting up a home for unmarried mothers and their babies. “Khun Niyom told me about the growing number of newborn babies being deserted in Bangkok hospitals, and how most of these cases are of unwed mothers not ready to care for their children. Also that the government still doesn’t have a facility to solve the problem,” recalled Sister Sansanee, the petite nun who has become increasingly known among dhamma practitioners as the ever-active founder and owner of Sathien Dhammasathan. “After deciding to take up the project as its chairman, I asked that it should emphasise not just giving the mothers material comfort, but giving them opportunities for them to develop and strengthen their minds as well, so they stay on their feet all through their lives,” she explained. Niyom, an old hand in social work with her 30 years of experience at the Children’s Hospital, wholeheartedly agreed. “These women suffer great emotional pan. Many have been abused or raped. Dhamma practice can help them overcome that pain, and be in peace with their motherhood.” The motherly social worker pointed out. A committee was speedily formed, and the name – Baan Sai Samphan – was aptly chosen. With the help of Kanitta Thevintarapakthi, committee member and public welfare official, the project secures the bulk of its funding from Save the Children, the well-known British-based organization. Now in its second year, Baan Sai Samphan today celebrates another big step as it settles into a brand-new home, built early last year. More important than lending a sense of permanency to the project, the new home will facilitate the second goal set out from the beginning. As it stands in the grounds of Sathien Dhammasathan itself, its residents will have an opportunity to receive dhamma instruction from Sister Sansanee as well as from other Buddhist teachers. “If the women can adjust and develop their minds, they will become true mothers, with love and compassion to guide their child to grow up healthy, both physically and spiritually," said the highly regarded dhamma instructor Prof Khun Runjuan Intrakumhang, consultant of Baan Sai Samphan. “Even if the mothers decide to give up their babies in the end, dhamma still helps them to develop understanding and compassion towards their fellow beings,” added Acharn Runjuan. As the residents hurried about getting things in place, some helped take care of others babies, even breastfeeding them when the need arose. Ooi, the eight-months-pregnant resident, got plenty of practice as she held and soothed other residents’ babies. “Here we’ll stress the living together as kallayanamitr,” said Sister Sansanee. “Those already living here, who have had a chance to regain their strength, will be ‘warm hands’ for newcomers, teaching them child-care and lending comfort.” Child-care instruction is a must, as practically all the residents are first-time mothers. Comfort is just as essential, since they arrive distressed and in emotional turmoil. Besides a live-in housekeeper, the residents will receive plenty of counselling and guidance from both Sister Sansanee, Niyom, and a social worker, who will visit regularly. Daily activities will evolve around child-tending, sharing household chores, and job training. Realising that unmarried mothers must be able to support themselves financially of they are to bring up their children properly, committee members have arranged for volunteers to give instruction on the type of work that the women can do at home – for example, handiwork, artificial flower-making, and cooking. “Some of these women already have their own work which they might go back to, but they seem to enjoy learning new skills anyway,” explained Sister Sansanee. One big advantage of having such a place as Baan Sai Samphan, observed Niyom, is that the babies will grow very healthy as they will continue to receive mother’s milk for an extended period of time. “Only when the mothers are in ill health, or don’t have enough milk, do we allow supplementary bottle feeding,” she said. When possible, project committee members also try to help their residents deal with their emotional and family problems. Niyom swelled with pride when she recalled how she lent a hand in reconciling Ouan and her boyfriend, the father of Ouan’s son. Another success story was when she helped persuade the upset parents of a resident, a Ramkhamhaeng student, to forgive her and to accept the child. If a resident eventually decides to give up her child, the project will guide her through the adoption process. “Only one did. She was a rape victim who couldn’t forget her painful experience. Luckily, the baby was immediately adopted by a loving foreign couple. The girl is now treated like a princess,” beamed Niyom. According to Niyom, to make sure that the home’s residents truly get back on their feet, the project also extends its aid beyond their stay. “Before a resident leaves us, we’ll see that she has a place to stay and a means to adequately support herself and the baby,” said Niyom. “Sometimes we supplement her income, give her milk supply, until she can manage on her own. We also help her find a job.” Monitoring of former residents of Baan Sai Samphan is done by a group of in structors and students of Thammasat University’s Faculty of Social Work. “The group, which also gets findings to the Government so that it can be used in the setting up of suitable facilities for similar purposes,” said Niyom. “It’s our goal from the beginning for Baan Sai Samphan to be a pilot project for other similar facilities to be set up in the future,” added Niyom. According to the social worker, the Government plans to set up such facilities in the next two years. As the afternoon wore on, Ouan and Nid rested in different corners. Ouan took a nap alongside her son. Nid found a breezy spot on the balcony where she could hold her daughter in her lap. When her eyes weren’t on Boom’s tiny body, they seemed to look out over the lush garden, into the future. From: Outlook, Bangkok Post January 25, 1992

  • The life of

    Khunying Chamnongsri Hanchanlash Siriwat Pokrajen A woman of a thousand responsibilities and a hectic schedule that would put people half her age to shame, Khunying Chamnongsri Hanchanlash tells us how she loves to spend time alone in remote places to uncover “the way it is.” Siriwat Pokrajen goes to meet her. Even Khunying Chamnongsri Hanchanlash herself finds it hard to say what it is she is seeking when she leaves the urban chaos of Bangkok, her friends, family and her usual routine to spend long periods in solitude in unfamiliar places, at times forgoing even the basic comforts of electricity and running water. It could be a secluded 'kuti ' in a forest monastery or a 300-year old manor house in England or a quiet seaside apartment in which all the other units are vacant. While it is possible to imagine that this retreat from the world leads to some personal spiritual discoveries, it is certainly not happiness that Khunying Chamnongsri is hoping to find; well not directly. As she herself says, “happiness is something that if you don’t find.” It is in her spacious condominium, overlooking the towering buildings and busy streets off Bangkok’s Wireless Road, that I meet this most inspiring Thai woman who, at 68, is as fascinating and full of energy as ever. Listening to her I find myself surprised at the great number of things she has done in her colourful life, including co-founding the Rutnin Eye Hospital in 1964 with her first husband, the late Dr Uthai Rutnin. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in her forties when already a mother of four, has lectured at universities, hosted radio programs, has written movie scripts, produced documentaries and, over the years, been involved extensively in quite a number of charity and advocacy causes as well as research and education projects. Today she is probably better known as a writer. Her most recent best-seller was ‘Khen Krok Long Khao’, a collection of reflective and humorous articles. A believer in the benefits of Buddhist meditation, Khunying Chamnongsri frequently organizes meditation retreats for Thais as well foreigners. But why this (some would say strange) habit of occasionally retreating from the world? This, the most “sublime of my pleasures” as she calls it, is a mystery even to her husband Dr Jingjai Hanchanlash. Actually, it grew out of her study and practice of the Dharma under the highly respected Buddhist monk, the late Buddhadasa, and the nun-scholar, Khunying Runjuan Indrakhamhaeng. In her early fifties she went through what she describes as the darkest period of her life and she needed to find a way to be at peace with herself. This is how she ended up at a meditation retreat at Suan Mok, the forest monastery founded by Buddhadasa in the southern province of Surat Thani. “Back then, ten-day meditation retreats were held twice a month, one in Thai, one in English. I joined both… six consecutive retreats altogether. Then I asked Buddhadasa’s permission to stay on at the monastery.” She yearned for an answer to her life’s questions and an end to her unrest, she explained. The revered monk gave her permission to stay in a secluded house at the far end of the women’s area. Backing onto a tall forest, the house offered the sense of solitude and the connection with nature that she was seeking. Most of her days were passed in meditation, solitary walks and in observing the small animals, birds and insects that inhabited the forest. Gradually, the awareness of the transient nature of her own thoughts and emotions and, indeed, of all things, grew and deepened. Out of the realization and acceptance that followed by three more months in the seclusion of a northeastern forest monastery. To this day, a period of self-imposed solitude remains an important part of her life. She still goes away a few times each year, for a week or two. The experience allows her to enjoy fresh perspective on her life. She knows that feelings and experiences of life are individual and, for good or bad, have to be faced alone. Even when surrounded by our loved ones, we each experience birth, pain and death on our own. Others can sympathies, empathise even, but ultimately our experiences belong to us as individuals. Her occasional solitude has made her accepting of this. We may not conquer fear, she says, but by watching it, understanding it, accepting it and learning from it we can live a more secure and contented life. Khunying Chamnongsri feels the realization of “that way it is” that began in those six months were “wonderful beyond words” and they now underline most of her writing. She says, “If it had not been for my hitting rock-bottom during that period of my life, I would not have taken such measures to get away and re-evaluate my existence. I can only thank my happiness at that time for making me taking the inner journey on which I am still traveling.” From: The Profile

  • Gloves/ถุงมือ

    Saksiri Meesomsueb Translated : Khunying Chamnongsri L. Rutnin Poem from S.E.A. Write Award-Winning (1992) Collection : That Hand is white จาก บทกวี ถุงมือ ในรวมบทกวีรางวัลซีไรต์ มือนั้นสีขาว ของ ศักดิ์ศิริ มีสมสืบ เดี๋ยวนี้มือใส่ถึงมือจับมือกัน Today , gloved hands touch gloved hands เปลี่ยนมือเปลี่ยนถุงพลันไม่ซ้ำถุง Hands change gloves change, Never ever staying the same มือใส่ถุงมืออนามัย Hands in sanitized gloves อุ่นเนื้อมิได้สัมผัสเนื้อ Flesh does not feel flesh’s warmth น้ำมือมิได้สัมผัสเนื้อ Essence of hands does not mix น้ำมือมิได้เจือกับน้ำมือ And blend with essence of hands เกิดอะไรขึ้นหรือกับมือคน Whatever had happened to human hands มือเด็กเปลือยเปล่าสับสน A child’s hand is OK. Bare and wondering คุ้ยค้นไปตามประสา It explores as children’s hands do ควานหาไปทุกแห่งหน It gropes everywhere it can กองขยะมากล้นค้นรื้อ Countless piles of garbage in which to search พานพบถุงมือทิ้งแล้ว It finds a thrown-away glove ตื่นใจสวมใส่มือพลัน Oh excitement! At once puts it on มือนั้นถอดออกก็ง่ายดาย The glove is so easy to take off จนมือหนูโตกว่านี้ Until your hand grows bigger จะถอดยากเต็มทีน่าใจหาย Then it won’t be so easy

  • มหาสมุทรในน้ำหยดเดียว

    คุณหญิงจำนงศรี หาญเจนลักษณ์ คุยกันเมื่อวันก่อนถึง Hero ของ จางอี้โหมว, บุรณี รัชไชยบุญ หรือ หนูเล็ก แห่งสยามสติวโอโอดครวญเสียงใสตาเป็นประกายว่า “ดูแล้วรู้สึกว่าตัวเองไร้ค่า !” ส่วนข้าพเจ้ากลับว่า จางอี้โหมว ทำให้ข้าพเจ้ารู้สึกว่าตัวเองมีค่ามาก คงจะเป็นเพราะบุรณีดูหนังเรื่องนี้จากสายตาคนสร้างงานทั้งด้านละครเวที ภาพยนตร์และโฆษณา แต่ข้าพเจ้าดูในฐานเป็นคนธรรมดาคนหนึ่งที่ชอบดูหนัง พูดง่ายๆ ว่าข้าพเจ้าเป็น ‘ตลาด’ ไม่ใช่นักดาบใน ยุทธจักรอย่างบุรณี เข้าใจได้ว่าในขณะที่บุรณียอมรับว่าฝีไม้ลายมือตัวเองรู้สึกด้อยไปถนัดใจ เมื่อเทียบชั้นกับจางอี้โหมว คนดูหนังที่ไร้เชิงกระบี่อย่างข้าพเจ้าก็รู้สึกภาคภูมิว่าจางอี้โหมวเคารพในสติปัญญาของ “ตลาด” เขาสร้าง Hero อย่างเชื่อมั่นในศักยภาพคนดูที่จะรับสาระที่ละเอียดลึกโดยไม่ต้องตอกเน้นชี้ชัด แจกแจง และเพราะเขาให้พื้นที่กับจินตนาการของคนดูอย่างเต็มที่ หนังก็เลยงามล้ำทั้งในเชิงสุนทรียะ และเชิงปรัชญา ดูได้หลายรอบ เพราะมีสาระมากมายแฝงเร้นไว้ให้ค้นหา Hero จึงเป็นหนังที่สร้างกระแสให้เกิดบทวิเคราะห์ บทวิจารณ์ออกมากันหลายแง่หลายมุม ถึงแม้ความงามของฉาก สี ลีลาและรายละเอียดต่างๆ จะจับใจ แต่พอหลายอาทิตย์ผ่านไป ความรู้สึกข้าพเจ้าสำหรับส่วนนั้นก็เริ่มเลือน แต่กลับมาชัดตรงฉากที่ กษัตริย์ฉิน หันไปมองอักษรลักษณ์ 'ใต้หล้า' หรือ 'เทียนเซี่ย' ที่แขวนอยู่หลังบัลลังก์ แล้ววิเคราะห์ว่าอักษรนั้นประกอบด้วยอักษรจีนสามคำ ตามลำดับว่า “กระบี่ในมือ...กระบี่ในใจ... ไม่มีกระบี่ทั้งในมือและในใจ”... กระบี่ในมือ คือการพิชิตด้วยอำนาจเด็ดขาดและความรุนแรง เรียกว่าสู้กันระดับกายภาพ กระบี่ในใจ หมายถึงการพิชิตด้วยสติปัญญา ซึ่งใน Hero นั้น ไร้นาม เล่าถึง 'สู้กันในความคิด' คู่ต่อสู้ต่างถือกระบี่ยืนนิ่งหลับตา ในขณะที่ลดเลี้ยวแล่นโลดประดาบกันในความคิด กระบวนการต่อสู้แบบดาบในใจ นี้แหละ ที่สหรัฐอเมริกากับโซเวียตรัสเซียก็นำมาใช้ประหัตประหารกันในสงครามเย็น ระหว่างค่ายทุนนิยมกับค่ายคอมมิวนิสต์ช่วงกลางคริสต์ศตวรรษที่ 20 ที่เพิ่งผ่านพ้นไปไม่นานนัก ระดับขั้นที่สามคือ ไม่มีกระบี่ในมือและในใจ ซึ่งเป็นการปล่อยวางความรุนแรงทั้งปวงด้วยการบรรลุถึงสภาพที่ไร้ความขัดแย้ง เพราะไม่ยึดมั่นในความสำคัญของตัวตน 'ใต้หล้า' เป็นอุดมการณ์ที่จะรวมสังคมจีนที่แตกแยกแก่งแย่งความเป็นใหญ่ให้เป็นเอกภาพ เพื่อความสันติสุข เป็นจุดมุ่งหมายของทั้งฝ่ายกษัตริย์ฉินซึ่งเป็นกษัตริย์ของรัฐที่แข็งแรงที่สุด และฝ่ายนักดาบชาวจ้าวที่มีแผนฆ่ากษัตริย์ฉิน อุดมการณ์นี้จะไปให้ถึงได้ด้วยกระบวนกระบี่ใดหนึ่งในทั้งสามนี้ แล้วแต่ใครจะเลือกใช้กระบวนไหน ข้าพเจ้าคิดว่าคำตอบว่าใครคือ วีรชน น่าจะค้นคิดตรงนี้ คงเป็นคำตอบที่ไม่ตายตัว เพราะขึ้นกับมุมมองและปรัชญาของคนมอง ปัญหาจึงไม่ได้อยู่ที่ใครคือวีรชน แต่อยู่ที่ “...วีรชน เยี่ยงใดลวง เยี่ยงใดจริง เท่านั้น ?” ดังที่ อาจารย์ วรศักดิ์ มหันทธโนบล ได้เคยทิ้งท้ายไว้ในมติชนสุดสัปดาห์ ข้าพเจ้าเองก็ขอทิ้งคำถามเพิ่มเติมไว้ว่า “เพลงกระบี่กระบวนไหนเล่า ที่จะนำไปสู่เอกภาพอันเป็นสันติสุขที่แท้จริง ?” กลับมามอง Hero เห็นกระบวนกระบี่ของจางอี้โหมวเปรียบเป็นกระบี่ในใจ เมื่อเทียบกับหนังกระแสหลัก (mainstream) ของทุกวันนี้ ซึ่งส่วนใหญ่ใช้กระบี่ในมือสร้างงานรูปธรรมอันชัดแจ้ง มากกว่าสัจธรรมที่ต้องค้นหา ปัจจุบันคนดูหนัง ดูโทรทัศน์ โดยเฉพาะหนังฝรั่งผ่านดาวเทียมจึงชินกับการเสพรสจัดๆ ไม่ว่าเป็น eroticism ที่จะแจ้ง หรือ action ที่รุนแรง ทำนองไส้ทะลัก หัวแหว่ง เลือดกระฉูด คนทำหนังดูจะพากันทุ่มเทฝีมือในการปรุงรสให้กระแทกอารมณ์คนดู ที่นับวันจะกระแทกให้ถึงใจได้ยากขึ้นๆ จนเกือบจะกลายเป็นมาตราวัดความเก่งในการกำกับกับถ่ายทำ นัยว่าเป็นศิลปะที่จำเป็นในการสื่ออารมณ์ ฝีมือจางอี้โหมว ใน Hero ทำให้รู้สึกว่านี่ซิ เป็นศิลปะที่เหนือชั้น ดูฉากที่ลูกเกาทัณฑ์นับแสนพุ่งเข้าหานักดาบที่ยืนนิ่งรอรับ ข้างหลังเขาเป็นบานประตูใหญ่ยักษ์ตระหง่านบ่งบอกถึงอำนาจที่ล้มล้างได้ยากแวบหนึ่งข้าพเจ้าเสียววาบว่าจะต้องเห็นศพที่เหมือนหมอนปักเข็มโชกเลือด ที่ไหนได้ ภาพที่เห็นคือ เกาทัณฑ์ปักเต็มประตูหนาแน่นราวขนเม่น ว่างเว้นเฉพาะตรงที่เขายืนหยัดเมื่อครู่ ช่องเว้นว่างเป็นรอยร่างคนนั้น บอกถึงความตายที่โดดเดี่ยวและเด็ดเดี่ยวของคนกล้าได้ชะงัดว่าภาพสยองใดๆ ทั้งสิ้น ฉากสังวาสก็วิเศษ บอกเล่าถึงการสังวาสที่รุนแรงปราศจากรักได้อย่างงามเหลือ ภาพใต้ผ้าไหมสีแดงชาดผืนใหญ่ที่เหวี่ยงวนจนจอฉาดฉานไปด้วยกามกิเลส นี่แหละที่ว่าคนทำหนังให้เกียรติคนดูด้วยการให้พื้นที่กับจินตนาการ สำหรับความรักที่ลึกราวห้วงสมุทรนั้น จางอี้โหมวกลั่นมาไว้ในน้ำหยดเดียว คำว่าโรแมนติกตื้นเกินไปสำหรับ ใบหน้า แววตาและนิ้วมือของกระบี่หัก เมื่อเขาทิ้งดาบหันหลังให้คมดาบคู่ต่อสู้ เพื่อแล่นรี่มาค่อยๆ ลูบเช็ดน้ำหยดเดียวที่ปลิวมาตกลงบนแก้มศพหญิงคนรัก แววตาที่มองหน้าศพนั้นมีตำนานรักเรียงร้อยถ้อยอยู่นับล้านคำ ความตายของกระบี่หัก ที่ปล่อยดาบให้หล่นจากมือ จนหิมะเหินแทงทะลุอก ก็บอกมากมายหลายอย่าง ไม่ว่าจะเป็นความรักหรือปรัชญาการปล่อยวางแม้กระทั่งชีวิตเพื่อสันติภาพ และเพื่อให้คนที่ตนรักเข้าถึงสัจธรรมของมือและใจที่ไร้ดาบ ฉากแกนกลางในการดำเนินเรื่องซึ่งเป็นการเผชิญหน้าระหว่าง ไร้นาม กับ กษัตริย์ฉิน ในท้องพระโรงนั้น เป็นศึกทางสติปัญญาความคิดทั้งสิ้น ไม่ว่าจะเป็นเรื่องเล่าของ ไร้นาม เรื่องวิเคราะห์ของ กษัตริย์ฉิน หรือแม้กระทั่งเรื่องเล่าตามความเป็นจริงของไร้นาม ล้วนแต่เป็นกระบี่ในใจ ของตัวละครทั้งคู่ ทั้งสองฝ่ายต่างนั่งกับที่ แต่ต่อสู้กันด้วยความคิดและไหวพริบ จนถึงสุดท้าย ที่ทั้งคู่ต้องทิ้งกระบี่ทั้งในใจ จับทางเลือกอีกสองกระบวน ไร้นามเลือกกระบวนที่ ไม่มีกระบี่ทั้งในมือและในใจ ส่วน กษัตริย์ฉิน เลือกกระบวนกระบี่ในมือ ใครอยู่ใครตายคงพอเดาได้ 'ใต้หล้า' หรือการรวมจีนให้เป็นหนึ่งเดียว ดูจะเป็นอุดมการณ์ของจีนแผ่นดินใหญ่มาโดยตลอด จางอี้โหมวศิลปินชาวจีนแผ่นดินใหญ่ทำให้ข้าพเจ้าคิดเล่นๆ กว้างไกลออกไปว่า หรือศิลปะจะเป็น กระบวนกระบี่ในใจ ที่จะถางทางสู่เอกภาพทางปรัชญาที่ว่าด้วยการปล่อยวางตัว หรืออีกนัยหนึ่งคือสู่วิถีที่โลกทั้งโลกจะอยู่ร่วมกันโดยไม่มีกระบี่ทั้งในมือและในใจ ? ความคิดเล่นๆ นี้คงเป็นไปได้ยาก พอๆ กับการกลั่นมหาสมุทรให้เป็นหยดน้ำหยดเดียว จาก: คอลัมน์ บทความพิเศษ ใน มติชนสุดสัปดาห์ ฉบับวันที่ 7-13 มีนาคม 2546 ฉบับที่ 1177 ปีที่ 23

  • Not all smooth sailing

    By Pattara Danutra THE WANGLEE FAMILY: Now among the top-ranking families in Thai business circles, the Wanglees are descendants of Chinese traders who arrived by sea last century The family’s colourful and, at times, tragic past is brought to life in a book penned by one of the clan. A boat has always been a popular metaphor for a person’s life, its journey across the oceans likened to life’s ups and downs. For Chinese immigrants last century, though the metaphor had a particular poignancy as they came to Thailand by boat, often during a harrowing journey in their quest for a new homeland and prosperity. Among these immigrants in the 1870s were the pioneer generations of the Wanglee family. Now recognised as one of Thailand’s most successful merchant families of Chinese descent, the fortunes of the Wanglees over the years read like a boat’s journey, one in which the captain’s skill is not the only factor in ensuring smooth sailing, but also the weather and waves. However, the family’s colourful past and its capable captains and navigators may have remained simply family, Khunying Chamnongsri Rutnin (Hanchanlash), who has the Wanglee blood from her mother’s side, has also brought it to the public in the form of an intriguing book. Duj Nava Klang Mahasamut (Like a Boat in Mid-Ocean), now stands on the bestseller shelves on major bookstores. After the initial public release of 5,000 copies a few days before January 1, the second edition is now planned. “Originally, the book came out 1994 as the commemoration book for the cremation of Mr. Suvil Wanglee, chairman of Nakornthon Bank and president of the Board of Trade, who died when the private plane he was piloting crashed.” Explains Khunying Charmnongsri, who as the only relative involved in the literary field, was given charge of the project. Soon after the book was distributed to those who attended the cremation rites, the family was overwhelmed by its reception, not only from serious sinologists, but also from general readers who found it highly enjoyable. Contributing to its success is the vivid narrative and colourful anecdotes spanning the 130 years of the Wanglees in Thailand and generations further back in China. Just as important is the personal approach and creative handing of family biographies by the writer, who is a recognized poet, writer and story-teller. “The reception by the readers was very good, I and Pimprapai Pisalbutr, the Wanglee niece who had helped me with the research, were contacted by readers who wanted to give me additional information – like leads to more research, related data, untold anecdotes – oh, all kinds. They became very useful for the present revised edition.” Though given free rein to write the history of her mother’s family, Khunying Chamnongsri was limited by the short period she had to complete the research and writing. The reason? At the cremation rites held seven days after Suvit Wanglee’s body was recovered, guests were given cards stating that they would be able to pick up the commemoration book from all branches of Nakornthon Bank in four-months’ time. “Actually, I started out trying to do something much simpler than a family saga.” Khunying Chamnongsri explains. “I just planned to put together an extensive photo essay on the history and businesses of the family. When I got down to it, though, I found only few old photographs. In desperation, I turned to the family history.” At first, the imaginative author regarded the project as mainly a fact-gathering mission, and felt depressed. “Pi Suvit’s brothers and sister felt rather sorry for me. In fact, Supachai and Arunee Wanglee cooked me a lamb-chop dinner in an effort to cheer me up. At the dinner, another brother, Suthep, jokingly told me not to be so down-hearted and told me stories he heard from the Chinese grandmother who migrated to Hong Kong when Japanese were about the invade Kwangtung. “Like how the burial place of the great-grandfather and great-grandmothers – one Chinese, one Thai – were broken into and the bodies left on the hills twice – once by thieves, and years later by the Red Guards. Anyhow, when the coffin of our grand-father who died in Thailand was being carried in the night to his village in China, a mysterious band of armed men appeared and wordlessly accompanied the thoroughly scared cortege to its destination. They were actually bandits who wanted to guard the body from corpse-snatchers who took bodies for ransom. The Wanglees were well loved as philanthropists, you see. That was encouraging and when asked if I would like to go to this tiny village to find out more, I jumped at the offer!” she recalls. A trip was made to the Tenghai districts in eastern China for the opening of a school building donated by descendants of local families who lived in Thailand. The site was not far from the Joykoy village, the hometown of the Wanglee family since the late-17th century. There she found a wealth of unexpected information including the name of an ancestor who appeared in the family tree as “the uncle whose head was lost.” “I followed that lead with some difficulty and finally learnt that the man was beheaded for his role in a farmers’ uprising against the Manchu Dynasty. The family reclaimed the body for burial, but the head was never found!” she says. Through an interpreter who accompanied her from Thailand, the writer interviewed people, visited ports, burial places and homes of earlier Wanglee generations. “Just about everyone in the village were relatives – they welcomed us as cousins through I couldn’t understand a word of Chinese and was wearing my usual Thai pha nung skirt. The emotion, warmth and excitement on both sides told me then and there that the book’s viewpoint would have to be personal as well as historical. “In the course of writing, my feelings and approach were strangely ambivalent – I was both an insider and an outside of the clan. The Chinese family biographers – a man and a woman in their 50s – treated me so warmly as a new found cousin, and yet my mother’s name wasn’t even in the official family tree which went back for generations. “Only sons were recorded. Strictly speaking. I was not a member of the family. But emotionally, I was.” Says Khunying Chamnongsri. Unlike other family history books, Like a Boat in Mid-Ocean does not portray only historical facts. The six centuries of history of the Wanglees which the writer was able to trace is interspersed with stories not directly relevant to the family. For example, there’s a chapter on rue hua daeng, or red-headed boat (a popular vessel for Taechiew migrants coming to Thailand before the advent of the steamship), Chinese goddesses who protect sea travellers, and the social context of immigrant Chinese merchants in Thailand. Apart from the author’s personal reflections interwoven into the narrative, the book has a substantial bibliography and appendix. As a result, what started out as a family history has tuned into a combination of quasi-social documentation and personal narration by a writer with a gift for storytelling and an elegant prose style. Two discoveries made during her research make an amateur historian like Khunying Chamnongsri feel especially proud. Both concern books The first was a set of more than 100 old Chinese books gathering dust on a family bookshelf. Nobody knew that they were, in fact, tomes on major classical Chinese literature and philosophy, collected by Tan Chue Huang the founder of the family who came in his merchant vessel to settle in Thailand 129 years ago. The philanthropist-cum-merchant was also a serious literary reader. The second set, and the most significant of the two discoveries, was the funeral book of Tan Siew Meng of the family’s third generation in Thailand. It reports on the meetings of the Sino-Thai Chamber of Commerce of which he was president before and during World War Two. It contained many messages from Thai dignitaries including the west-learning Kuang Abhaiwong, who took the helm of the government at the end of the war, confirming the patriotic acts of Tan Siew Meng during the Japanese occupation. The memory of the assassinated Tan Siew Meng, the second member of the Wanglee family to hold the position of president of the Chamber of Commerce, had always lain under the doubtful shadow of being a traitor to the Chinese community. It is because among other seeming acts of collaboration was the Chamber’s recruitment of Chinese labourers to support the Japanese military’s project of constructing the River Kwai railroad during World War Two. More evidence has surfaced since the distribution of the cremation commemoration edition of Like a Boat in Mid-Ocean and has been included in the revised edition. Such as the recollections of Police General Prasit Rakpracha, a Chinese-Thai patriot whose underground trip to China during the war was secretly supported by Ta Siew Meng. With more supporting evidence, Like a Boat in Mid-Ocean could finally prove that Tan Siew Meng, Suvit’s father, was not a traitor to Chinese, but actually a patriot to both Thailand and Chinese immigrants. He collaborated with the Japanese due to the Thai government’s request, while he secretly helped the anti-Japanese Free Thai Movement. “The discloser of much of these hidden facts, Khun Udom Yenrudi, was the Thai secretary of the Sino-Thai Chamber of Commerce during the war. He told me that much of what he knew had not been disclosed for five decades due to the many conflicts and coups in Thai postwar politics, and the obliteration of passing time,” says Khunying Chamnongsri, who is a niece of Tan Siew Meng. She sees Tan Siew Meng, a third generation Thai, as a man who thought and chose to act from the Thai point of view rather than the strictly Chinese one at the time when Japanese power posed a great threat to Thailand. “Interestingly, it was Sulak Sivaraksa, who asked Pibhob Dhongchai to tell me to contract Khun Udom if I wanted facts about Tan Siew Meng’s work during the Japanese occupation. “However, history is history. Each person had his or her own role and standpoint in each period. Tan Siew Meng would be viewed as a person taking the Thai government’s conciliatory stand, which was the opposite of most Chinese merchants who were first generation immigrants during that period. But those who did not co-operate with the Thai government in avoiding open conflict with the Japanese occupation troops would be heroes to their peers. Each is a hero for his side,” she says. A year has been spent revising the second edition. Apart from pictures of famous Wanglee ancestors in China, Like a Boat in Mid-Ocean also features pictures of old rice-mills and portraits of Wanglee family members. “For me writing has always been a journey of discovery. Tracing my own Chinese veins and arteries and writing about it is unbelievably enriching. A process of self-discovery and revelation rolled into one,” says Khunying Chamnongsri. “Decades ago we were reluctant to admit to Chinese ancestry. Now we have become more established and confident in our Thai identity – Thais with Chinese blood have become an inseparable component of the fabric of Thai society – so we are ready to face the facts of our Chinese origin.” The writer, who is also a devout Buddhist, also emphasized that her book portrays not only the success stories of the family, but also its failures and tragedies. The underlying theme is the universal law of transience that governs all things; also the basic loneliness of people in our life’s journey, the route of which lies on the ocean of time – like a boat in mid-ocean. From: Outlook, Bangkok Post. February 4, 1999. Note: Like a Boat in Mid-Ocean. Published by Nanmee Books as a paperback, is available in major bookstores at 350 baht a copy. It is scheduled to be translated into English by Dr. James Placzek, an anthropologist from the University of British Columbia in Canada, and his wife Pornthip. Exhibition and book launch The launch of the exhibition titled “Duj Nava Klang Mahasamut: Sino-Siamese Heritage” Will take place on the sixth floor of the Chidlom branch of Central Department Store on February 10 at 2 p.m. The book Like a Boat in Mid Ocean (Duj Nava Klang Mahasamut) will also be launched. Mr. Sukit Wanglee will preside over the event which is jointly organized by Nanmee Books, Nakornthon Bank and the Thongpoon Wanglee Foundation. The public are welcome to join this free-admission event. Call 332-3559 for details. The exhibition area will be divided into three. The first will feature a display on life of Chinese merchants who traded from boats during the period of King Rama III to King Rama V, including boat models. The second will focus on Chinese culture and heritage, featuring a Chinese prayer altar, a miniature model of Chinese merchants’ offices in the past. The third will be a compilation of old photos of Chinese people in Thailand and maps dating back to 1746. Highlights of the exhibition will be the special talk programs each day as follows: Feb 10, 3 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. “Behind the making of Like a Boat in Mid-Ocean” by the author Khunying Chamnongsri Rutnin Hanchanlash and Ms. Pinprapal Pisarnbutr. Feb 12, 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. “Interesting Chinese gods” by sinologist Tavorn Sikakosol. Feb 13, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. “Fengshui and reading body characteristics” by geo-astrologist Chaimes Chiewves. He will be on hand to answer personal questions on fengshui from noon onwards. Feb 14, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. “Chinese New Year and Chinese customs on paying respect to gods” by Chitra Konuntakiet, a popular writer on Chinese culture. Feb 15, 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. “150 Years of the Chinese people in Thailand: Explaining through photos” by Asst Prof Pornchai Trakulvaranond, dean of the Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology, Thammasat University.

  • In Spirit - A Beautiful Mind

    Krittiya Wongtavavimarn A man-made pond with its emerald green water and a small isle sits in the midst of the forest. Standing tall, alone and aloof, there is a coconut tree – planted years ago by an elderly monk. The pond is called Nalikay, a name taken from an age-old lullaby known among people in the South: Dear little one, There’s the Nalikay coconut tree, Growing alone in the sea of wax, Neither touched by rain, Nor reached by thunder, There in the middle of the sea of wax, Attainable only by the one who’s free. Khunying Chamnongsri Rutnin Hanchanlash may humbly say she is still far from being like that coconut tree in terms of acquiring a completely liberated, carefree mind. But read her books, or if possible take a closer look at the author herself, a lively yet serene person, and you may see some of that tree-like stillness. At 66, Khunying Chamnongsri has her hands in both the secular and spiritual worlds – and finds a peaceful balance in both. The chairperson of the Rutnin Eye Hospital also writes a dharma and lifestyle column in the monthly Health and Cuisine magazine. She compiled a collection of her articles in a book titled Vicha Tua Bao (The Art of Living Lightly), which became an instant bestseller and has already gone through several reprints. So have Thai readers embraced another book of hers, one that chronicles the Khunying’s take on spirituality? The latest reprint of Fon Tok Yang Tong, Fah Rong Yang Theung (Touched by Rain, Reached by Thunder) is also auspiciously timed. Khunying Chamnongsri’s spiritual mentor is the late Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, a reformist monk and founder of Suan Mokkh forest monastery, and this year marks the centenary of his birth. Written in lyrical prose, Fon Tok Yang Tong, Fah Rong Yang Theung is a collection of Khunying Chamnongsri’s journals during her solitary practice at Suan Mokkh about 16 years ago. The title plays on the well-known contemplating her materially ample life, dealing with life’s ups and downs, attachment and sorrow – and ends with her eventual realization of the true essence of nature and meaning of life. The Nalikay coconut tree represents nirvana, which is always inside us waiting to be realized.” explains Khunying Chamnongsri. The sea of wax (mentioned in the song) refers to human emotions and thought, which are so transient, changeable and which depend on stimuli, much like the wax that becomes soft or hard depending on the temperature. “The one who’s ‘free’ describes a person who has transcended attachments to worldly desires. Such a person will be like the coconut tree that continues to stand firm and alone, regardless of the rain or thunder.” Over a decade ago, despite all the material abundance around her, the Khunying became dissatisfied and disillusioned with her life, feeling it was “impermanent, troublesome and illusory.” Striving to erase the nagging, individualistic and selfish urges, she sought refuge in spiritual practice, which ultimately led her to Buddhadasa and Suan Mokkh. “Up until then, I never really cared much about religion. Actually, I used to sneer at it, thinking it was all about blind faith and a waste of time. What I saw in the mirror was a professional working woman, ambitious, driven, that sort of ‘I’m good; I’m smart; I’m a pro’, image. "I thought I knew myself, but I was totally wrong. When I became anguished, nothing could heal my soul. Splurging or hanging out with friends might cheer me up, but only for a while. I couldn’t guard my own thoughts. I couldn’t get rid of the depression and fear.” At Suan Mokkh, under the guidance of Buddhadasa’s assistant, Acharn Runjuan Indrakamhaeng, Khunying Chamnongsri had her first lessons in Vipassana (Insight) meditation – how the mind works and how to control and understand it. “Through meditation, I came to a realization that the very source of dukkha (suffering) is rooted in our own heart. And the only way to put out the burning fire inside is to douse the ego, our constant desire to only think of ourselves. “At Suan Mokkh, I’ve come to realise the true meaning of education. I found meditation is a path of discipline – but less to satisfy the intellect than to seek a balance between sati (awareness of the present) and samathi (concentration of the tranquil mind),” she added. Her book, Fon Tok Yang Tong, is full of insights gleaned from natural phenomena. Khunying Chamnongsri said Buddhadasa always stressed that it was best to learn in nature itself. When the venerable monk was still alive, every day, at 5 am. Members of the forest monastery would come to his kuti (abode), to listen to his dharma talks about the perennial cycle of samsara. In the background, a cacophony of nature – the roosters’ crows, dogs’ barking and so on – was clearly at play. "Than Acharn (Buddhadasa) often said how the notions of ‘I’ and ‘mine’ are the real culprits of our suffering. By observing the various lives at Suan Mokkh, how the different creatures live and die, I learned to observe the nature of my own mind. I realised how thoughts and emotions are, like everything else, always in a state of perpetual flux.” But meditation is not an escape from the world, nor past sufferings, Khunying Chamnongsri emphasised. Rather, inner peace and a sense of harmony comes when one is aware of and yet accepts suffering. For only then, “can you seek a way out of it”, she said. In retrospect, Fon Tok Yang Tong is an ironic, happy twist to a deliberate violation of the master’s words. During a three-month retreat at Suan Mokkh, Khunying Chamnongsri was asked to refrain from all communication with the outside world. This was done in order to minimize any outside influences that might hinder her dharma practice. “There was to be no phone, computer, radio or television. I was not supposed to read, write, or even speak to anyone. Acharn Runjuan said cultivation of awareness can come only when the mind is cleansed of all thoughts, but I found it really difficult to fulfill this.” So Khunying Chamnongsri started to “talk” to the white, empty pages in her diary. The journal entries, which later became Fon Tok Yang Tong, was a byproduct of the part of her mind that still clung to attachments and memories. “Writing is a means of expression of thoughts, but thoughts are products of the past.” She noted. “When I wrote the diary, yes it was a monologue with the T on the stage and the empty pages as the audience. So when I wrote, I still attached myself to the past, and ended up a victim of my own (and old) beliefs, thoughts, my upbringing, past experiences. In a way, the act of writing is like stirring up the old silts, leading my mind to re-register the pains, not letting them go. Thus writing could create an inner conflict that continued to eat at me on the inside.” By the third month of her intensive retreat, Khunying Chamnongsri stopped writing altogether. But Fon Tok Yang Tong went on to have its own life – and merits. In her afterword, the author recalled a meeting with Buddhadasa Bhikkhu not long before his final departure. The venerable monk told her he had read the book and found it was very well-written. For Khunying Chamnongsri, writing offers an honest, refreshing look at the transitory but ever unfolding nature of life. Such is the case in chapter on sweeping leaves, “I saw leaves fall onto the ground every day I swept them away and the next day there would be more lying on the ground. Everything in life is impermanent, very few things last forever. “The point of this is that if we can enjoy everything without attachment, we’ll be free of the sorrow when it comes to an end. Such is how we should live.” she said. Khunying Chamnongsri‘s journey “inwards” has been a long and arduous one. She has documented it in her book Vicha Tua Bao, which embraces a range of practical dharma tips for everyday use, and gives sensible and realistic advice for living happily, peacefully and harmoniously in society as we know it. “It’s a fun book of my own views of life and the experiences of others with whom I came in contact with. I find life such a rich material for writing and for discovery.” she said. I did not intend to write about dharma. Rather, it’s about my discoveries and ways of looking at things. It is just natural that humour and fun are a part of the fabric and, I suppose, of the dharma too.” The value of dharma books aside, Khunying Chamnongsri said they cannot compare with the actual practice. “Like a scientist, a true practitioner needs to do the ‘experiment’ him – or herself, to explore the nature of the mind first-hand.” “Normally, we are too busy to see our real selves and to observe our own minds. But think of swimming: You have to keep practicing to improve your stokes and stamina so that if and when you find yourself in stormy waters, you will not drown.” As modest as always, the veteran writer said she herself is still swimming in the “sea of wax” as well. “Sometimes, I am still affected by the notion of ‘what’s next?’ It’s like, to take a line from Emily Dickinson’s poem (If You Were Coming in The Fall) a goblin bee that will not state its sting.” “I’m still affected by the rain and thunder, though I’ve learned to observe my reactions and responses to the rain and thunder around me.” “There are certainly bound to be periods of progress, of regressing, even detours. I have not reached the (state of being like a coconut) tree yet, but I’ll keep on striving toward the goal.” ............................................................................................................... From: In Spirit - A beautiful Mind. by Krittiya Wongtavavimarn Photo by Somkid Chaijitvanit In Outlook, Bangkok Post, March 26, 2006.

  • The Exquisite “Sense and Sensibility” of Khunying Chamnongsri Rutnin

    By Joyce Rainat “I write … because I write.” If it sounds like a conundrum – a treatise borrowed from medieval philosophy – Khunying Chamnongsri excuses herself. “I have been writing for so long.” How long is that? “Early teens … I am not sure. But when I was very small my grandmother used to read old Thai classics to me. At bedtime the characters would come alive in my head taking on new shapes and dimensions, doing things that didn’t happen in the stories. Would that be a kind of ‘writing’?” The pensive Khunying Chamnongsri, her heart-shaped face poised delicately on a swan-like neck, with large liquid-black eyes, catches the conversation to her and carefully moulds her answers. Words are building bricks, more precious than gold and she is very careful about the images they convey. “Loneliness? Yes, I know about it. Loneliness and relationship are different sides of the same coin. I realized this long ago in the house on the klong where we all grew up, my two older brothers, myself and my younger sister. My father loved my mother very deeply. She died when I was two and a half. They were first cousins; she a Wanglee, he a Lamsam, and they built this house in Thonburi together before I was born. It had a large orchard with irrigation ditches. As children we swam in in the klong, jumped over the ditches and climbed trees. There were books everywhere and we could read what we liked. “When my father remarried, he went to live in Bangkok with our stepmother with whom we had warm relationship. My father always came home to ‘the house on the klong’ every weekend. We were brought up by my father’s sister who loved us but wasn’t exactly ‘motherly’. “When I was 12, my father sent me to England. I was eventually settled in Fritham House, a little school for girls, run by Sir Timothy and Lady Eden. He was the headmaster, an artist, who taught us history and art. His magnificent thick, grey, no-nonsense moustache enchanted me during history classes. I am fascinated with history to this day! Lady Eden looked after our other ‘interests’; riding bareback and pouring tea. The school was in the heart of the New Forest, a historical and rural area with tiny hamlets, and where traffic law still gives horses the ‘right of way’. It wasn’t one of the big well-known English ‘public’ schools. There were only about eighty students who found my name unpronounceable, so Lady Eden scrutinized and renamed me ‘Jasmine’.” At the age of 15, young ‘Jasmine’ wrote her first short story called “The Moth”, published three years later in Samagi Sara. “It told of a man who suffered an excruciating pain of anxiety and anticipation in his nightly wait for the transient presence of a moth! For him the moth, with her black eyes and winged gyration, represented beauty and joy that was exquisite yet elusive. The heart of the story was the man’s choice; to bear torment for the sake of joy, or to put an end to both.” And the choice? “He killed the moth. A strange story by a fifteen-year-old, I know. I now find it rather embarrassing, lathered with gothic romanticism!” Sir Timothy urged her to try for Cambridge, but her father who was in bad health, asked her to abandon the ambition. Why not take a secretarial course instead so that she could help in the family business when she returned. “I didn’t last a year, didn’t even get a diploma. But there was a silver lining, though. I was in London – and there were theatres, galleries, place for all kinds of music. It was hard to make pocket money stretch to cover these things, but I managed – making my own dresses, knitting my own sweaters and all that sort of thing. Life was fun. “Back in Bangkok, I worked at Loxley (Bangkok), doing shipping papers in the then Shipping Department. I hope my former colleagues have forgiven the disasters that originated from my desk!” Then, at a boat party the shipping clerk met an American who, following “an utterly mad conversation” challenged her to write an article for the Bangkok World. She found out later that he was Darrell Berrigan, editor of the morning paper, The Bangkok World. “I sent him a story about Hua Hin, made up of scattered memories. He published it and offered me a position. My father said ‘no’. I argued. We finally came to an agreement. I would work half-a-day at Loxley for a trial period of three months and then ‘we would see’, he said. Luckily Berry (as Berrigan was known to his staff) agreed, too. “I loved the job – writing, reporting, even doing the lay-out. By the end the three months, I already had bylines on quite an number of articles and columns, and an offer of an ‘editorship’.” These proofs of competence convinced her father, and at the age of 18 she became the only Thai woman working on the editorial board of an English daily. “Actually my father was quite proud of me. He did to be a condition, though. I had to be chaperoned on evening assignments! It was really rather comical, but my colleagues who were all men took it in their stride.” Life took another turn at the age of 21. The young journalist became engaged to Dr.Uthai Rutnin, the eye surgeon who operated on her father. It was a ‘love match’ and she resigned from her job soon after the engagement. The years that followed were crowed with housewifely duties, work at her husband’s clinic (now a full-fledged eye hospital, no longer a small family business), birth of her four children – Sanpatna, Vradda, Anoma, Jitrjaree, and the bringing up of her husband’s nephew, Jatuporn whom she describes as “my eldest son”. “There wasn’t time to read or write. I did write poems on scraps of paper, just for myself. Writing things that came into my head me happy, sometimes it gave me answers to questions I didn’t ask. I didn’t keep them, almost all of them were a pen or a pencil and paper at hand, not if there weren’t.” “Of writing, it is the act itself that is precious to me, not the product. I was happy when I wrote without thinking that it was going to be published. Somehow the happiness isn’t so complete anymore because of a lurking consciousness of a readership. I suppose it is a process that I shall have to go through before I can get back the unadulterated pleasure in writing.” Ten years ago, she decided to go to Ramkhamhaeng and take the degree in humanities she had always wanted. It was four fascinating years of extra work and she graduated with a ‘1st class hornors’ degree. And then the writing began again; poems in which she could pour out her feelings and ideas, prose pieces that were not quite what they seemed. There was teaching to do (“My ‘in-law’ Mattani Rutnin started me on that by inviting me as special lecturer at Thammasart”); film scripts to write, video productions to direct, books and paper to translate, and even a weekly radio programme, “Voices and Ways of Thai Literature” on Radio Thailand External Service which she gave up because it took too much of her time. “Writing should be my main occupation, but there are so many challenges from other creative fields,” she sighed. “Being a practicing Buddhist I try to train my mind to stay with the present. What really matters is the present; every minute, every split second of the present, because it is the total reality. ‘Difficult’ is an understatement!” “What makes life so good to me now, is people,” she avows, a smile dancing across her features. “Most have something special inside to offer, to be discovered. I suppose that’s why I enjoy teaching and working with people.” In September, she will be teaching part of a course in western literature at Kasetsart University. The concert for the Lighthouse Project of life Foundation of the Mentally Retarded was another labour of love. Last year she pioneered a private research project on creativity. “You know, our education system here in Thailand is so competitive. In competing children learn from the teacher, from books, The creative instinct, the imagination, are neglected. And so sensitivity how can there he compassion My colleagues have been wonderful but we lacked method in evaluation. We will try again when we find support in that area. Next year, I hope.” Khunying Chamnongsri says that during the last academic year she and her colleagues had been meeting once a week with 16 students at Suan Kularb exploring the many different ways of awaking them to their own sensitivity, creativity and imagination. “If you teach art or music from the historical or technical point-of-view, you bring out the intellect. To bring out sensitivity and imagination you have to immerse them and let them find their own expression,” she says, eagerly caught up in a subject that has been preoccupying her so much. But the good news, the special news, is that Khunying Chamnongsri, at the insistence of publisher Surasinghsamruan Shimbhanao of Pleasant Media, has allowed her poems to be collected and printed in a slim volume entitled “On the White Empty Page”. The 50-or-so poems and prose pieces reveal the exquisite sense and sensibility of this author, who challenges images with the deft brushwork of the watercolorist; more intent on suggesting meanings and emotions than painting in bold colours. Author and critic Chetana Nagavajara contributes a fine introduction, coining the phrase “aesthetics of reticence” to describe Chamnongsri’s poetry and prose as a vibrant example of the Thai way of life.” She is true to herself and to her people,” he says, adding; “That our bard can sing so well with a borrowed tongue must remain a marvel.” For every woman, who has groped questioned and reflected. Khunying Chamnongsri’s marvelous little book can be both a guide and a solace. “On the White Empty Page” is available in most bookstores or it can be ordered directly from the publisher; Pleasant Media, 656/53 Prachathipok Road, Bangkok 10600. “Being a mere woman, I can only ask you, a woman-to-be, to softly sense and tenderly touch life’s multi-textured realities and, with a woman’s heart, try to feel and understand. Forever try to understand.” from: A Woman to Her Daughter “Shall we two watch a rainbow together? Vaporous shadows over changeful ocean? We can sit close together looking through different eyes thinking different thoughts. Will you sit with me a while cradled in the vastness of the sky lulled by motion of the ancient sea? Shall we? from: I can Only Stand By. From : LIVING IN THAILAND, August 1988.

  • Hua-Hin /หัวหิน

    Chamnongsri Rutnin Hanchanlash When I was very young the sea spoke to me in a different voice a voice of sunshine and humorous lullabies that kept me awake late into the rhythmic nights, it used to tease me with songs of moonrays and sleepy reveille to make me miss sunrise, we were playmates in those far-off days the laughing sea and I .. and then, I went away When I was eighteen the sea spoke to me of dreams and of mysteries of changes and of love, together we breathed secrets of the horizons watched wistful dawn before morning woke, its saltiness matched the saltiness of my tears its waves kept rhythm with the ever-changing tunes of my eighteen years heart, we were friends in those pensive days the lyrical sea and I Now, though, we rarely meet the sea still speaks to me, in quiet tones we talk of daylight and realities together we contemplate storms and change abilities, we are companions in these calmer days the deep, warm sea and I หัวหิน [ต้น] ครั้นวัยเยาว์และเดียงสา ห้วงธาราเอ่ยคำผ่านใจฉัน สรรสำเนียงเสกลำนำสารพัน เอื้อนอุ้มโอบขวัญพลังใจ เดี๋ยวบรรเลงบทเพลงขับเห่กล่อม เดี๋ยวลืมออมยั้งใจชวนขบขัน ฉันหลับไหลจวบราตรีล่วงเลยพลัน ตื่นผิดกาลเหตุเคลิ้มท่วงทำนอง ในบางคราเสียงคลื่นคอยเย้าหยอก มาล่อหลอกหลงอาบแสงจันทร์ฉาย ด้วยบทเพลงศศิธรพรรณราย เช้าไม่ตื่นแสงสูรย์พรายคลาดรุ่งชม ทะเลกับใจฉันผสานสนิท เป็นมิ่งมิตรใสสนานกาลผ่านพ้น เริงร่าใจทะเลร่ำคำวกวน ใจฉงน...จนฉันพรากจากจรไป [กลาง] พอขวบวัยครันครบสิบแปดได้ ทะเลยังพูดผ่านใจเช่นก่อนเก่า ทั้งความฝันข้อสงสัยหลายเรื่องราว แรกรู้รักแวววาวความผันแปร แลกเรื่องเล่าเศร้าสุขพรรณนา เวิ้งขอบฟ้าลิบล้ำเงื่อนงำไฉน คอยเฝ้ายลฟ้าสางไม่เคลื่อนไคล จนอโณทัยสาดฟ้าจึงลานอน น้ำทะเลเค็มคำรสเข้าคู่ จึงเทียบดูลิ้มรสลองน้ำตาฉัน ว่าความเค็ม ณ แห่งใดเข้มกว่ากัน เข้าประชันรสทะเลคลื่นดนตรี จังหวะชัดคลื่นซ่าเหมือนใจฉัน เป็นมิ่งมิตรเพื่อนขวัญที่มั่นแม่น บทชีวิตวันวารไม่ดูแคลน คำนึงแสนถึงเพลงที่ผ่านมา [ปลาย] จวบสมัยผ่านเลยถึงกาลนี้ ถึงนานทีจะย้อนมาเยือนหา ท้องทะเลยังคงพร่ำจำนรรจา เกลียวคลื่นข้ามเวลามาพบกัน เคียงคู่กันพินิจพิศความหลัง ประจงฟังสัจธรรมความแปรผัน ทั้งรูป-นามโลกหล้าสารพัน ทุกสิ่งอันเป็นด้วยเหตุและปัจจัย สายสัมพันธ์ยังดำรงอยู่ฉันมิตร ผูกสนิทรำลึกวารที่ผันผ่าน ห้วงนทีแปรตามฤดีกาล เนานานนุ่มนิ่งสมุทรใจ ถอดความและร้อยเรียง: ตง ตวงวิเศษกุล

  • Songs of the Banyan

    Chamnongsri Rutnin Hanchanlash Photo: Art Lashbrook 1. With the dignified humility of a master at tea ceremony the boughs bend in respect to Silence, who came as the Banyan’s honored guest. ------------------------------------- 2. The Banyan bestows shade to seekers of coolness. Not in gratitude to the sun, the rain or to the soil's bounty but simply as a part of being. ----------------------------- 3. Have you ever watched a wind-dance starring sun-flecks pirouetting through the leaves of an old Banyan? Well, the choreography is by a maestro named Transience. ---------------------------------- 4. The deep-rooted Banyan thanks the storms for its strength and serenity The gentle Lotus thanks the mud for its fragrance and purity The sage is grateful to misfortunes for his wisdom and humility ----------------------- 5. I do marvel at the vitality and resilience of the wind-lashed Banyans That lyrical touch of greenness slows the rushing wind Who knows, their strength may lie in the ancestral line that rolls further back in time than the roots of humanity --------------------- 6. When the Banyan and sleep conferred, they agreed that it is all the same whether the night be filled with dreams or be dreamless. that is – if the handmaidens who smoothed the beds were the gentle twins named Peace and Love. --------------------- 7. Small, green and impermanent The Banyan leaves feed and are fed by the boughs and the roots that are nourished by a soil enriched with small, brown, impermanent leaves

  • A Pink Kleenex by a Monastery Lake

    Chamnongsri L Rutnin Hanchanlash Illustration: Indigo Oh, if they would only take the pinkness out of the Kleenex I’d leave it here in tender forgetfulness to doze its mortality away I’d let it laze under the May green leaves on the dreamless mush-bed of brown decay I’d leave it to die in quiet abandon to dissolve to the dulcet tone of the spring rain’s touch drifting gently towards sweet disintegration to the lulling lullabies of the rhythmic lake I’d let it lie listening to the water that whispers timeless tales to rotting leaves I’d let it watch how leizuredly the lake laps at Time’s forefinger lapping, lapping to the very edge of infinite nothingness that mortals love to call “Eternity” Oh, never should they dye tissues pink Nor bleach them purity white Nor inflict them with baby-eye blueness Nor colour them like canaries in sunlight For, the poor prettily coloured things are destined For the shiny dumbness of the heedless plastic bin

  • Old-fashioned romance Young at Heart

    Story : Kucharee Tansubhapol Pictures : Yingyong Un-anongrak When it became known last September that well-known writer and businesswoman Khunying Chamnongsri Rutnin, 57, and Loxley executive Dr. Jingjai Hanchanlash, 55, both widowed, planned to marry, Thai society gasped in surprise – and delight. Now, four months after their wedding, the happy couple thee Outlook in their own words how they met, and become for each other “the pieces of the jigsaw that fit together perfectly.” How long did you know each other before marring? Dr. Jingjai: Ten months. During the years when you were a widower I widow, did you think you would marry again? Dr. Jingjai: Not really. I didn’t feel any need to. Khunying Chamnongsri: For me, absolutely not. Why is that? Khunying Chamnongsri: Grandmothers don’t usually remarry, you know – after all, who’d be mad enough to marry a grandmother! Seriously, I was quiet happy being single again with the children grown up. I liked space and independence. Even as a child, I often enjoyed being completely alone – solitude, you call it? Well, now and again I did feel twinges of envy when I saw couples attending functions together – but only very few and very small twinges. I had done serious study of Buddhism and practiced meditation for several years. In fact, I spent weeks, even months taking solitary retreats in forest monasteries. I wanted to continue living a self-sufficient and useful life – ending with a serene old age. A husband wasn’t a part of the scenario! How long was your widowhood? What was it like? Khunying Chamnongsri: Five years. All in all, it was a busy, interesting and challenging period. There was no loneliness. At the time, my oldest daughter was already married and had a son. The other three children then started coming home one by one, got jobs and got married. My children have always been like friends, so our relationship was warm, full of arguments and fun. We could discuss any subject. All the in-laws were so good, too. I had all kinds of interests, and so many different things came up for me to work on. Then, there was the responsibility for the Rutnin Eye Hospital which was not easy, and the responsibility for Harbour House Foundation which shelters, educates and trains young girls aged 12 to 16 to prevent them from being drawn into prostitution, building their self-worth in the process. They are northern girls from families with problem of drug addiction, abuse, broken homes. The work has plenty of difficulties – funding being one of them. There wasn’t much time left for writing which is what I love to do. Dr. Jingjai, a childless widower of your status and qualifications is sure to be popular with ladies. Why did you choose to marry a grandmother when you must have had several other choices? Dr. Jingjai: To start with, I didn’t choose to marry a grandmother. I chose the woman who is very special to me. (Laughs) To use a metaphor befitting Valentine’s Day, I’d say we are like the right pieces of a jigsaw that fit together perfectly. I think there are people who have the versatility and freshness of youth along with the experience and wisdom of age. Chamnongsri is one of them. She has so many talents and unexpected qualities – marrying her is rather like marrying five different women of many different ages. Khunying Chamnongsri: (Laughs) Now we know he is polygamous at heart! Dr. Jingjai: The grandmother is the value added. I have always wanted children. She has given me an instant family – very warm, very lively – four married children and three grandchildren! I had a wonderful time spoiling the kids last weekend when we were all together in Hua Hin. There was a lot love and humour, and no generation gap. I think they all like me. Khunying Chamnongsri: (Laughing) You know very well that you have become a real favorite. They are still laughing about Grandpa Jingjai taking charge of the five-, four-, and two-year-olds, and the dog. Dr. Jingjai, from your own experience, do you think our society allows widowers to have a much better time than widows? Dr. Jingjai: Yes, definitely. As a widower I was free to go back to enjoying a bachelor’s life… had plenty of opportunities to meet and date beautiful, interesting and eligible women. All this, and much more, we could do without being looked upon badly or starting nasty rumours, while it would be quite different for widows and divorced women. Unfair, yes, but that’s the norm of our society. It should be changing though. I think many outdated norms in Thai society are slowing evolving with the inevitable globalization process. What was your life like before you married Khunying Chamnongsri? Dr. Jingjai: (Laughing) Worked hard, played hard. My work as First Senior Vice-President in charge of the international portfolio for Loxley Public Company which is a major Thai conglomerate is quite onerous in itself. I also continued to be very active in international development works and NGO activities. Fortunately, my chairman at Loxley allows me to continue to pursue these activities which I have been doing for 30 years before becoming a businessman. All these things entailed a lot of travelling and meeting with a great variety of people. Then there were close friends and different groups with whom I went out with, dining, drinking – all the usual things. I also played a lot of sports – mainly tennis. And yes, dating – within reason. What was your first impression of Khunying Chamnongsri? How did things lead to marriage? Dr. Jingjai: It began with just a formal introduction in passing. She struck me as very pretty, charming and attractive. Having already heard about her I was very surprised by her youthful looks. It was sometime after that I had an opportunity to help her on a project of the Harbour House Foundation. That was when we really got acquainted. Watching her go about her work, seeing her handling of the girls and her relationship with them, I felt that I would be very happy if I could have spent my whole life with her. In the months that followed we had discussions, arguments and plenty of laughs. We also had daily e-mail conversations because some things conveyed better in writing than in speaking. (Laughing) That’s how I came to relies the depth and perfection of the jigsaw! The decision to remarry was obviously easy for Dr. Jingjai, yet difficult for you. Why? Khunying Chamnongsri: it’s because of my – age not my status nor fear of people’s opinions. Life in my fifties had been the best period of my life – I had intended to go on enjoying my work and my life in my own way. I also wanted to remain free of attachments – being old enough to realize that attachment is like… (laughs) like fly-paper, that sweet sticky paper people used to catch files with in the old days. Besides, there were doubts and uncertainties, the kinds women feel in this situation – I mean, women who are, what you politely call, “elderly”. What made you come to the decision? Khunying Chamnongsri: (Laughs) Jingjai, the person that he is. The completeness of the jigsaw that he has told you about. The feeling of happiness and strength whenever we were together. In short, the fly-paper has caught the fly! It is not usual for a widow to remarry so late in life. Khunying, what was the general reaction of the news that you were going to marry Dr. Jingjai? Khunying Chamnongsri: Mainly surprise, especially from younger people. They expected Jingjai would marry a much younger woman – he was known to be pretty popular. One of the most surprised was my brother, Dhongchai, who was wrongly accused of being the matchmaker. Most of my friends and relatives were happy for me. Some of those who didn’t know him were worried … until they got to know him. My children had no objections – they only asked me to take time to think carefully. Now they are really happy to have him in the family. There were people who thought I was silly and ridiculous. You know, the ingrained idea that remarriage is not respectable for widows who are middle-aged and older, especially grandmothers. How did the disapproval affect you? Khunying Chamnongsri: It is natural for people to have different views. It is interesting, though, that after the story in the Bangkok Post and the social news in Thai Rath, we were flooded with congratulations. Even people who didn’t know us personally sent words that the news cheered them up at a time when the headlines were so depressing. I am not sure whether it is a positive sign of more open-mindedness, or the unusual romance being like a bright spot against a dark background. Both, I’d like to think. What do you think, Dr. Jingjai? Dr. Jingjai: I think times are changing. If older women are healthy, besides being young physically and mentally, why shouldn’t they be respected for making the best of their lives the way they choose. These days, you can find a few 50-year-olds who are more youthful than some 35-year-olds in just about everything but years. I firmly believe that the trend of older women, widowed or single, to marry will increase as one of the changing norms of our society. Do you think love is necessary in marriage? Dr. Jingjai: Yes. It is the essential foundation for a happy and meaningful marriage, especially when it is complete- the physical, the emotional, the intellectual and the spiritual. As this is your Valentine’s edition about us elderly people who dare to get married (laughs), shall we call the love that accumulates between two mature people who complement each other “complete and rational romanticism”? Can marriage survive without love? Dr. Jingjai: Yes, of course, plenty survive. You can see it all around us, only you can’t really tell if the couples manage to keep up what I call a “correct relationship” for social or other reasons. Without love, marriage is just a relationship of responsibility and commitment and, at best, companionship isn’t refreshing; it is dry and cannot give true happiness to either partner. Khunying Chamnongsri: At its worst, it can be cruel, unhappy and dehumanizing. Do you have any expectations from your marriage? Khunying Chamnongsri: I don’t believe in expectations. Jingjai and I agree that we shall try not make demands on one another. Marrying so late, we realize the shortness of our time together. The good thing about this is that each of us tries to give all the happiness we can to the other. If both are the givers, then both automatically are the receivers. There is so much to be gained and no need for demands. We grow to be appreciative of all the positives and tend to overlook the negatives. So far all this has worked well. Of course, being human – we don’t expect our relationship to be anywhere near perfection. But we shall always keep in mind the shortness of time, together with uncertain and transient nature of things – that really give value to our time together and everything that we try to do for one another. We seem to have more energy, more ability to help others when we are a happy team. Jingjai and I also practise Buddhist meditation together whenever we can. It does much to enrich our lives and our relationship. So, where is the need for expectations? And you Dr. Jingjai – any expectations? Dr. Jingjai: I confirm all the Sri said in answer to this question. Like her, I have no expectations because I am fully content with the … what shall I call it … the mellow depth and warmth of the love between u … such contentment I have never before experienced in my life. Maybe it is the privilege of age, or perhaps the reward for some good things I have done, or perhaps it is something only we who are nearing our old age are capable of feeling. The only thing I’d like to add is that I would be very glad if our story proved to be an encouragement to elderly people like us, especially women, that they should be free to find happiness in life should they find someone they love – provided it isn’t immoral, illegal, or irresponsible. This may be one of the constructive contributions we give to our society before we are gone. From: Outlook, Bangkok Post, February 14, 1998

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