Tobacco, ricewine and betelnuts. Sticky rice, fruitjuice and fish. And not to forget a big pig`s head with yellow candles in his nose. The time is about 6 o´clock in the morning. I am in Thailand, more precisely in the remote area of Surin (Isaan). Its still cold, but the sun is just starting enlightening the foggy grass. I am invited to participate in an animistic ritual. Familiy and neigbours gather to offer food and drinks to the “dead” friends and relatives. And they offer food which they liked (a central argument for the continuum of traditional thai food). In a thai cosmology the deceased are not dead in the sense of end of existence. They are in another sphere and can be contacted ritually. They serve their ancestors food while talkning to them. Not unlikely the way western chritians speak at the grave. Some also laughing and asking for lottery numbers. However, they didn`t win. But superstition or not. I argue that such a focus missing the point. Because as Noom said “we really don´t know if they are there or not. But it is important to remember our forefathers and mothers. They gave us life itself. Wouldn´t you be remembered after your death?” I realised the enormous power and comfort to belong to a tradition where neighbours, friends and family anually ritually remembering you after death. The ide that you will “never” be forgotten gives strenght to both this life and the potential life thereafter. Sometimes the most rational choice is to get unrational, disconnect the logical thinking and participate, yes even surrender temporarily to another worldview. When putting “yourself” in paranthesis, new knowledge are allowed to enter your being.
“Hey, Frank, wake up!” It is only six in the morning and my neighbor Khong is knocking on my door. I am in a small village in Surin province. It´s located in Isaan, just one hour driving from the Cambodian boarder. “We have to eat a masculine breakfast before the masculine work.” I join the circle of five thai men sitting on the floor with a raw cow cutted up in pieces. Yes, included intestines and a chili sauce made of the cow´s stomach acid. “Today we go fishing in a special way. We need a solid breakfast before we go. Please, help yourself.” I know that this is not only about putting nutrition inside my body, it is also a question about being inside or outside the group, so I dig in.
A tube is connected to a tractor engine and put into the dam. It pumps the water out and it all looks like a straw emtying a cup of chocolate milkshake. And now we are ready for fishing, dirty fishing! With a bucket we all go out in the sinking, slightly heated mud and literally picking fishes. “Be careful when puting your hands into the mud” Khong warns. “There can be snakes and fishes with stingy spikes”. Oh my Buddha! I continue my work as a nervous wreck.
“Many fishes hide in the mud. We need to give them a small electric shock to get them to the surface.” Another neighbor comes with a car battery in a backpack which is connected to sticks of bamboo. “Not a single fish will escape this home made machinery” Khong says and I am glad not being incarnated as a fish this time around.
The sun goes down and leaving the sky pink, red and orange. We make a fish barbeque party and enjoying a cold beer. “This is life”, Khong say with tranquillity in his voice. “This is life”.