But you’ll be pleased to read that no shotgun was involved.
Let me put a scenario to you and compare the possible western response to the outcome that happened in my small Isaan village in the North East of Thailand.
Let’s say you discover that your fourteen year old daughter is pregnant after she asks you why she has this feeling something is kicking in her stomach, not a great endorsement of the Thai sexual education effort but I guess it happens everywhere.
The likely father, and there could be more than one on offer, is a nineteen year old who enjoys yaba, translated as the “madness drug”, more information HERE, and lao khao, a cheap, A$4.00 for a large bottle, white spirit distilled from rice. Add to petrol for greater motoring performance!
Now in a western situation some or all of the following would be on the table: police, abortion, counselling, rejection by family and social stigma. The Thai equivalent? A fourteen year old boyfriend comes forward saying that he loves the girl and is happy to take on responsibility for her. The two families meet and a wedding is organised within the week! Remember this is a “social” not a legal wedding. As with many weddings the official documentation and registration will never happen.
I can’t tell you how fascinating I find being an outsider watching all of these events play out here and one of the advantages of living in a small community where everyone’s business is everyone’s business – probably including mine!
Now I am not presenting this as a good news story because it is far from ideal. I really felt for the young couple. A Thai wedding, like any other, is planned in advance, photos taken and the invitation cards sent out, Thai wedding clothes bought and the party planned. See my post on marrying Gaun if you want an example HERE. None of this happened in this case and what a shame because, for better or worse long term, it is one of THE days in one’s life.
In the instance I am describing here, because of the circumstances, it was mostly a family and close friend event. The village wasn’t generally invited as would be normal. Mind you the mother is one of nine so the turnout just with immediate family was a good start!
The official start of the wedding happened at 9.09 am as you’ll find with most Thai weddings, nine being a lucky number.
If you haven’t been to an Isaan wedding, and I don’t know how different they are from other parts of Thailand, you might find it very different from say an Australian wedding ceremony. Get a bunch of Isaan people together and you can’t stop the chatter and laughter and the fact that there’s a wedding going on doesn’t stop that happening. The whole thing is involving as various people will assist at different times, suggestions will be offered as to what might happen next and it is an enjoyable and lighthearted occasion.
I was a bit hesitant in joining in as I hadn’t been invited and my natural western reluctance to “impose” as an outsider kicked in. However I did want to make a donation to the couple, as the bride Thoy had been a bridesmaid at our wedding, so I dressed up and we headed across the road.
Needless to say I shouldn’t have worried because I was treated to the usual Thai hospitality I find such a pleasure, especially here in Isaan. A chair was arranged, for the old bloke, a beer and ice brought over by the bride’s father, not my usual way of starting the day – true, and I was quickly involved in the event. Later in the morning, having run out of beer – I was sharing BTW! – the brother jumped on his motorbike and went to the local shop to buy me a couple of bottles.
Just as an aside at the end of the ceremony that cone shaped banana leaf structure in the centre of the krathong, the “sculpture in front of Thoy, was lifted to reveal a bottle of lao khao inside!
The formal part of the ceremony over the bit I particularly enjoy started where each person comes up to the couple, donates money, I REALLY liked that bit at my wedding, and ties a white string to each of the couple’s wrist. It is a very personal connection and one I recommend you include at your next wedding wherever you are. The bands stay on for three days for good luck.
Now leaving aside the moral questions about the whole affair and the fact that it is all very unfortunate, which scenario, western or Thai, do you think will end up causing the least amount of stress to the girl involved? I put my money on the Thai solution where, in public anyway, there is a degree of acceptance, the families involved have a party rather than walk away and a formal alliance is made.
The other huge benefit of course is when the baby does make an appearance he or she will be accepted into the broad family group and the responsibility and work involved shared around. The “ownership” of children is a very flexible thing here without the same levels of duty we have in the west with mother/father at the top of the list.
Peng, Gaun’s lovely daughter now also fourteen, was passed into the care of her younger sister Yuan while Gaun was away working in the South for three years only coming home for a one week holiday once a year. As far as I can tell Peng will require no counselling to help her over this period in her life! It just isn’t recognised as an unusual and detrimental occurrence. I come across examples of children being brought up by other members of the family all the time. It is a fact of life here.
Having worried about running out of stories for the blog as a result of living in an Isaan backwater, they just keep on appearing.
Thanks for reading.