Laos Pages - Short Stories

written by T. Kham Vongkham

www.asiaphoto.de > Laos Pages > Short Stories > Story 2


About the author:
 

T. Kham Vongkham lives in central Florida. She moved there 20 years ago. Her stories also appear in various Lao magazines. You can read more about her in her Biography.

She is looking for a sponsor and a publisher to print her second edition and her new novel both in English and Lao. She's also looking for an editor, who can help her translate and edit her book.

Kham is happy to hear your comments.


kham2 [at] asiaphoto.de
 
 
 
 

About this story:

For a better story flow I like to write in the " first person ". This does not mean the story is about myself. The stories are fiction based on true life experiences.

The stories, you might already know, have been published in various Lao and Thai magazines some years back. As the years went by, the stories seem to get a more "historical touch".

This translation to English was made to present it to all Asiaphoto visitors. Enjoy.
 
 
 

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Mother's Beloved : Stories from Laos

 

 

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In Laos and Siam
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Life must go on

Ban Noi is a small village in Xithani in the southern area of the Vientiane District of Laos. This is where I live. There are around one hundred families. The village is about 2 kilometers away from Phu Kuow Ku-oi Mountain and 2 kilometers from Nam Ngum River. It is a very beautiful, natural setting up and down the small hillside. The awesome emerald green of nature makes this place very peaceful and far away from the hustle and noise of the big city. My early childhood, when I was about 6 years old, was a time I recall this memory. That was around 1975.

I remember my Mother was a very beautiful oriental, in exotic way. She had a small figure. She was not tall, but considered average height for a Laoí lady. Her face was very smooth and clear with a light golden complexion from working outside. She had almond shaped eyes that shined like two black opals. Her cheeks had a touch of rose color from the beating of the hot sun. Small beads of sweat ran down her face. Her long black hair was tied behind her neck in knot. A coned bamboo shaped hat topped her head so as to protect her from the sun. A black, handmade, cotton salong with matching shirt, with long sleeves, was the dayís attire. My sisters and I were dressed the same. On her shoulders she was carrying a Hap Ka-ying. A Hap Ka-ying is a long stick that arches over the shoulder with a bamboo basket hanging from each end. My baby sister was sleeping in a cotton pouch that my Mother was carrying on her back.

I was walking close behind reciting a poem. I had learned the poem just days before in school. It was my very first week at school. I was so excited to remember everything my teacher read to me. The poem was a very sweet and I liked that it rhymed. My Mother and my Grandpa knew all the meanings of these poems, which date back in Buddha religious history. Today was a special event at Buddha Temple called Boon Ka Tin at the small village, Wat Ban Yai, near by. Mother is taking us there so she can also have an opportunity to sell her fresh eggs, fruits and some vegetables from her garden. It is only three kilometers from my house to Ban Yai so we walk. For a small child like me, it seemed like 30 kilometers. It was a long, hard walk.

We walked passed two rice paddies and two creeks and passed by a small lake for fishing. We walked uphill and down hill, sweating under this long, hot day and long, long walk. My mom looked back and realized I was tired. Sweetly she said pointing, "I know you are tired but a few more steps and we can rest at the big old tree up ahead. Then we will take a break, okay Kham-oi?" Kham-oi is a nickname she calls me. My full name of Chantharakham is to long so all of my family started calling me Kham-oi meaning sweetie. This is a simple and popular nickname in Laos.

My momís life is a very poor and sad. She has to work very hard. The long and suffering war makes her life harder. When she was eight years old, her mother died. Two years after that, her two brothers were drafted into the army. They were sent north to fight in the Vietnams war. They never came home. They were killed fighting against North Vietnam. The brothers were only 13 and 14 years old. They never had a chance to become men. My Mother and my Grandfather were the only two people to carry on with the family. Living in a small country village, outside the city, didnít make life any easier. The family had to depend on the rice crops to survive. This meant depending on the climate. Sometimes the seasons can be very dry and sometimes it rains so much that flooding occurs. There is never seems to be enough food. Somehow, my Mother knows how to keep everything going.

She grew several fruit trees behind our house and kept a garden also. She had coconut, mango, and banana trees. She, also, had papaya, grapefruit, oranges, sugarcane and a variety of vegetables and herbs. She had a small cotton patch as well which she used to make thread for weaving cloth. She was very skilled at weaving and made some beautiful patterned cloth. She would then use this cloth to make our clothes. Mother learned how to do this as a child and enjoyed it very much. It was more of a hobby than work to her.

Twice a day She would collect the eggs from the chickens and ducks. Then she would feed the turkeys and eight pigs. I followed my Mother and helped with all her chores. When we went to harvest the sugarcane, I used to eat it right away. It was very sweet and very delicious. Mother was very creative and intelligent. She loved cooking and created new food dishes. She liked to make her own fresh coconut rice ball or creamy, crispy rice or creamy rice waffle topped with brown sugar syrup. Then she would wrap each one with a clean fresh banana leaf. She stored them in a Bamboo Ka-ta basket. She would sling this on her shoulder and walk down the street to selling them from place to place. The little income she would make from the sale of the food would be tucked away for emergencies. When the family needed things such as medicine and warm jackets Mother would use this money. She never spent any of it on herself. My sister and I never went hungry. Mother always managed to put food on the table for the family.

Sometimes, when we walked passed the village market, Mother would see the merchant people selling fine silk cloth. Quietly, she admired the beautiful material and dreamed of buying it, but she would not dare touch it because she knew she could not afford it. The little money that she earned was going to send my sister and myself to school one day. Mother felt it was important for us girls to learn how to read and write. She wanted our future to be better. Times were changing and she knew we had to change with them. Maybe a girl could get by during her time, but there was not much opportunity for a young woman nowadays without schooling. Mother may not have known how to read or write, but her children were going to learn. She knew in her own quiet way and had a self-taught intelligence that realized it.

Mother never had a chance to go to school. During the time she was growing up, her small village would attend class at the Buddha Temple. It had only one classroom. It was not important for girls to be educated in my country, so only the boys would attend. My mother stayed busy with daily chores. My mother was taking over the role that my Grandmother left vacant. Though she was a kid herself, she had a big responsibility tending for the family. She married when she was fifteen to a nice young man not much older than she was. I was the first child born after the marriage. She had four children, all together, before the age of 21. My brother was born one year later and my second brother born a year after that. My little sister was born last. They named her La Noi. Shortly after my little sister was born, my father was drafted into the war. He died about two years later fighting in the war. I never had a chance to get to know my father at all. The things I know are what my family tell me. My Mother said he was a very brave, intelligent, and nice man. Grandfather says, "We should be proud of him".

It wasnít long after my father died when my brothers became sick. I remember they were very pale, and thin. They were coughing all the time. My poor Mother and Grandfather took turns staying up all-night, sitting and caring for them. Grandfather said, "There is no kind of medicine that can cure this kind of sickness. It is called Malaria." We took them to the modern hospital in the big city, in Vientiane, but it still didnít help. The local doctors checked them and said the disease had gone to their brain and the rest of their system. They would not survive. My brothers died within three months of each other. That left my Mother, my Grandfather, my little sister La Noi, and myself.

Grandfather went about his daily routine. He awoke at sunrise to take care of the small amount of livestock we owned. Then he went to work in the rice fields. Afterwards he would go down to the pond and catch some fish for dinner. Occasionally, he would go trapping game instead of fishing. Grandfather would arrive home by sundown.

During my last year of high school, I remembered a special day. It was a Lao New Year festival celebration. All my school friends and the village people dressed up in their nice, festival clothes. Preparations were made for the Village Square. Everyone would celebrate and have fun. Our family would set up a table at the square and sell our fruits and vegetables. I was standing in at the table for my Mother, helping as I always did by this age. It was a normal routine for me. My Mother needed a break from time to time. The selling of the rice crackers, fruits and homemade dessert things went well.

I was, unexpectantly surprised by a bunch of my schoolmates. They saw my small table and me and started to tease me. These were not my friends but bullies. They laughed and insulted me, saying things such as, "My, My, My, look whose here? The same poor peasant. Still wearing the same old clothes. Even New Yearís time, donít you have something better to wear?" They knew we were poor but they continued to taunt me.

"Look at this food even a beggar would not want it. Who is going to buy from someone looking like you!" They were cruel with their remarks. I turned my face from embarrassment. I wanted to run away and cry. If a stranger said these things to me, I may have felt less emotional but these were my schoolmates. I was crushed. It felt like oceans of tears were ready to burst from my eyes. I grabbed all the crumbled food and fruits from the table and picking up the basket I ran home!

When I got home, I threw the basket of food on the floor and kicked it. The food went everywhere. I ran to my mother and started pouring out the frustrating incident to her. I screamed to my Mother about this poor and rotten life I have. My Mother stood there with no reaction. This made me more upset. I stated that I had enough and that I was no longer going to sell this garbage to the village people while dressed in rags.

"This is not my job. I donít like doing this job", I screamed. "You are the one who makes a living this way not me. Itís all your fault!"

My Mother stood like a stone with her chin in an upright position until I finished screaming. Then she grabbed my arm real tight and looked at me straight in the eye. Her tone of voice and the language she used were new to me. I had never experienced her like this.

"Now listen to me, LISTEN, LISTEN! What choice do we have if we donít do this? I have been doing this since I was eight years old," she explained. "This is the only way we can survive. I am the only one that can support this family. I have no husband. I have no Mother to help me. There is no other way that I can support you and your little sister." She was very focused on me and her words were hitting me like a hammer. "If I had to crawl on my hands and knees to feed you both, then thatís the way it would be. Remember that! Do what you have to do to survive each day. Do not compare your friendsí life to ours. An easy life does not come easy."

With that she sent me to my room to calm down. I was told to think about this day and all that had happen. All that I could think about, though, was my pain. I could not relax, so I poured out my heart into my journal. Writing was my only way to let out my feelings.

My little sister La Noi is four years younger than I am. She is becoming a favorite of the family. Her intelligence is showing at an early age. She, also, is displaying a lot of charm for one so young. As each day passes her beauty is becoming more evident. I can already sense that she will be very beautiful when she grows up. Her straight white teeth are surrounded by her curved red ruby lips. The cute freckles on her nose and the two dimples on her cheeks are accented with her big black sparkling eyes and thick lashes. She has silky long straight hair that has a beautiful luster. La Noi always has a smile on her face and a good sense of humor. When she helps Mother sell her wares she always gets the attention of all the customers. She really enjoys helping Mother and is becoming quite good at it.

At home, she loves to be in the kitchen helping. She displays the same creativeness with cooking that Mother has. It is fascinating how she comes up with new ideas. She also does well at school. Everything seems to come easy for her. The best thing about her is that she is my best buddy. I know when she tags along with me it is because she loves me and I love my little sister.

I consider myself to be a very plain person. I am average height, about the same size as my mother. My long hair is a dark with brownish tint. It is a little wavy, not silky and straight like Oriental hair. My skin is a light, golden color, and not a creamy white as my sister. I donít have the patience to be a sales person. I canít seem to find the nice words to say to customers. Homemaker does not come easy to me either. I try hard but things donít turn out well. Mother always told us we are both very smart and beautiful in our own unique and different ways. Even my grandpa says same thing.

My school studies are not as good as I would like. I donít do well with math or science. However, I do very well with reading and writing. I love to write. Each day at school I write a very cute poem to my teacher. Later, I bring it home for my grandpa to read. He always tells me he likes my poems. Sometimes they light up his face and make him laugh and he forgets about his hard day in the rice field. I help my family in the ways Iíve been taught, and do it with honor. I did not play or spend much time with friends. I did not care to, either. Usually, I did my daily chores and spent the rest of my time reading or writing. There was so little that made me as happy. Each day I write about anything and everything whatever makes me feel good to say. I pour my feelings out onto the paper. The stack of papers and notebooks get bigger each day.

By 1984 I had reached the last year of junior college. I had achieved great strides in grammar and literature. I was considered by my teachers to be the best pupil in the school in this field. My teacher loved my writing and poetry very much. One of my stories was selected in a contest at the school to be printed in the Phai Nam Vientiane daily newspaper. The story ran in the newspaper for six weeks.

One day a visitor came from the newspaper. He was an editor for the Phai Nam newspaper and lived not far from my village. He had come to ask me if I would like to write for the newspaper. It would be just a small column and it will be very little pay. Until I learn to type, I would have to work for apprentice wages. I was so excited at the opportunity I was about to burst. I didnít care if they paid me nothing; I wanted to write with all my heart and promptly said yes!

After my excitement calmed, my thoughts turned to typing. How was I going to learn to type? The school had a typewriter but I probably wonít be allowed to use it. There was another typewriter at the newspapersí print shop near the editorís house in Ban Hi. The distance is 3 kilometers from my house, which would make it difficult for me to walk on a regular basis. Asking my Mother for the money is not a good idea either. She has very little money and, besides, she would probably find the idea foolish and reject it. I must figure out a way.

Finally, I have come up with a solution! I have offered a deal to the editor. If he can teach me to type, I wonít accept any money for my writing on the newspaper until I am an accomplished typist. With this in mind I approached my Mother with the editorís offer. I, politely, explained the opportunity to mother. She, surprisingly, agreed, but I would only be able to do this on weekends or days when I donít have school. Of course, I would have to finish my chores first before I could go.

I heard Mother and Grandpa talk things out about family matters in the other room, afterwards. "The leaking roof for the house can wait a couple of months," they said. "The rainy season wonít start until the following month." Grandpa would have to sell his favorite male water buffalo; the one he uses to help him work the soil on the rice farm. With the small amount of money from the water buffalo, they will barely have enough to buy an old used bicycle for me. This would keep me from having to walk 3 kilometers, up and down hill, to Ban Hi.

When the time came for me to go to Ban Hi, Mother would fill up a basket of her food and vegetables to drop off at the village market for sale. I didnít mind doing that and it became part of my routine. I was dedicating myself to learning how to type and nothing was going to hold me back. I promised myself to work hard no matter what.

Three months later, a week before my last day of junior college, the editor of the newspaper asked me if I was interested to work for him at a special position. It was only temporary but there would be a small income, a meal, and a place to stay. The Pai Nam Vientiane newspaper had merged with the Bangkok Post. They were expanding the Pai Nam branch but the work would be in Bangkok, Thailand. If I were interested, I would need to sign a six-month contract.

The editor had just finished talking, when I jumped up and accepted the offer. I wanted it so bad; I would have taken it no matter what the salary. The money didnít matter. I just wanted to do something I had only dreamed of doing. I wanted to jump up and down with excitement. It was the best thing ever to happen in my entire life.

As I prepared to leave home, I had to take one last look at my house. It was a very old house that my great grandfather built. I am the fourth generation to live in the house. The house is a typical Lao style house on wooden stilts with an old tile roof made by hand. Nowadays, houses are rarely built like the old traditional methods. The left side of the house is where grandpaís room is located. The roof is leaking badly now days so he moved his sleeping quarters to the opposite corner of the house. The hard wood siding, on the house, was starting to peel on the side of the kitchen. One of the support poles is in very bad shape. We have to be very careful to go around the pole because it isnít sturdy enough to hold anything heavy. When the rain comes, lightning and thunder seem like they shake the house. I am so scared the house will crumble in the bad weather one of these days.

My little sister Lanoi had already started to cry, even though I had not yet left. I promised to bring her something pretty when I return. If I have enough money, I might bring her some jeans, I told her.

I went inside Grandpaís room, who was sitting smoking his homegrown pipe tobacco. My mother grows the tobacco in her garden. She picks the leaves and dries them then shreds it for my grandpa. I sat down next to him. I reached out and touched his thin, wrinkled, dark hand. Hard work and age have shown the years on Grandpa. Because I love him very much, I talk to him gently and show him lots of respect. "I will be back," I told him. I promised to bring him a beautiful tobacco pipe with fragrant tobacco. I, also, promised to take him to the doctor when I return so we can check his health. "Some day I will take you to the modern optician, also, so you can get glasses to see better," I said. Grandpaís eyes lit up right away. He gave me a good blessing and wished me luck and courage.

I went in to the kitchen where the smell from the hot stove was coming from. Mom was very busy preparing all kinds of food for me to take with me. The boiling steam pot had a delicious smell of home cooking. I sat down close to her. I tried to tell her in a nice, gentle way that some day I will buy her some new cooking tools, such as pots and pans or maybe a new electric stove and a sink with running water. "The house is getting old and needs repairs," I said, "maybe, someday, I can build a new one." My mom stopped her cooking and looked at me straight in the eyes then she pulled me in to her arms and hugged me for a long time. She gave me a silent hope and wish.

When I got to Bangkok, I began work immediately. I was working long hours, six and a half days a week. I didnít mind working hard because I really enjoyed what I was doing. The more I was working, the more I loved what I was doing. I wouldnít have traded these times for anything in the world. On the half-day I had off, my co-workers would ask me to go out with them. They were always begging me to go out and have fun but I politely declined. I never liked that kind of life. On my half-day off I would go to the post office and mail letters and small packages home to my family. Most of my small salary I would use to support my family and would send home what I could spare.

I am from a lower class of people and always bow my head to others to show respect. I was very happy working in Bangkok and things were going along pretty well.

After six months had gone by, I asked my editor and chief to extend my contract. We agreed on six more months. My column had been published in the Thai daily newspaper everyday. It is a story column that is continued everyday. It had become very popular. I was receiving fan mail from all over, not only from Thailand and Laos, but from all over the world. They sent good compliments and told me how my story touched them. Fan mail was pouring in. It was the most mail in the history of the company.

Since my story was published, it has become the most talked about in big time circles. The fans wanted to read more. They never have could get enough of it. My editor-in-chief decided to publish it as a novel and market it. In just one month, over one million copies had been sold. It had reached the best selling list and was breaking the all time records. The publisher could not print the book fast enough.

I reminded my publisher that we agreed I would get two Baht per book as long as the novel remained on the best selling list. By the time three months had past the book had been number one on the best selling list. It had sold over a million books. That was a considerable amount of money for a young girl from a poor family like me. I took out about ten percent of the money for my family and me, which should be more then enough for us. The rest of the money will go straight to the bank and stay in a long-term investment account.

Before long, a movie producer approached me. He had selected my story to do a major motion picture. There were many big names and super stars in the film. Of course, I was the one who did the screen writing for the movie. I had the feeling it was going to be a big hit. The fans really could not wait to see the movie. When the movie, finally, came out it became the best movie of the year.

The movie awards finally came around. They are like the American Oscar awards. But a week before the awards, my editor-in-chief gave me a weekend off to go home and visit my family at Ban noi, Vientiane Laos. It was a warm family reception I was greeted with. It felt good to see my Mother again. I wanted to show her how much I loved her and how well I had been doing. I had the idea to ask my mother to be my guest of honor for the movie award ceremonies. At first, she was fussing and did not want to go with me. She made many kinds of excuses. It was not easy to talk to her into going with me. I felt she was afraid of the big crowds and the high society. Now it was my turn to tell her. "Mother, do you remember three years ago the day at Laos New Year festival? I ran home after my school friends made fun of me at the food stall. You told me to be strong, never afraid of anything whatsoever. Donít let what people say bother you. I always remember what you told me from that day to this and I never forgot. I have never seen you afraid of anything in my entire life. You always tried and it did not matter what comes. You were a fighter and a survivor. I worked and fought very hard for this time. It is just an award ceremony. You have nothing to be afraid of," I told her.

She paused to take a deep breath. Then she looked me straight in the eyes. She nodded her head and agreed to come.

When the time for the party came, it was very grand. It was held at one of the biggest hotel convention centers in Bangkok and was one of the biggest parties of the year. There were many VIPs in attendance. The crown prince and the princess from the royal family were there. The governor, the mayor the top movie producers, movie directors and many big name super stars were there. There were over five thousand people invited to attend. Security was very tight. Reporters were lined up everywhere trying to get any information they could use for a headline. Television stations were interviewing some super stars and the crowd while all the excitement was going on. Predictions about which movies and stars will win the awards and talk about what everyone was wearing were on everyoneís lips.

One of the TV interviewers recognized me. She grabbed hold of my arm to ask me about my writing. She wanted to know when is my next book will come out. She indicated the fans are anxious to know. I answered her as briefly as I could. I told her I am working on it and it will be published very soon. Hopefully, it wonít be long before it will be complete. I told her I have an idea for another book after this one so all my fans can look forward to a thrilling story. When the interview was done, I felt so good and confident, actually I had prepared for this type of thing in advance. I had a big smile on my face because I already had three dozen stories in my safe ready to be made into a novel.

When they picked my name as the winner of an award, I was so excited. I felt like I was floating on a cloud all the way up to the stage. I had a big, sweet smile on my face matching my excitement. I thanked all the sweet and wonderful people who helped me achieve this honor. As millions of eyes were focused on me I gave a special thanks to my Mother. It was a happy moment in both our lives.

When I went to pick up my sixth award, I looked down to our table where my mother was sitting. I saw the tears coming from her eyes. I know they were happy tears. They were tears of joy and pride. Never in my life, though my motherís life was very hard and sad, did I see any of her tears.

I became the first Lao female and the youngest writer ever to win a Golden Pen award. My novel became the best seller of the year. I won the best screenwriter of the year award. I was only sixteen years old. I collected six awards that night. I was breaking records in Lao and Thai history winning six awards in one year. In my entire life I never had my picture taken as much as that night. The news about me would be all over the headline, not only in Laos and Thailand but will be all over the word. It was okay with me though. Not only did I make Lao and Thai history, I was able to let the world know about Laos and what Lao people can do.

After the party that night my Mother and I went back to my room. She looked very happy. I never have seen her so happy. I sat down very close to her and put my arms around her. I hugged her tight and told her that I loved her very much the same way she always did to me. Softly I spoke to her, "Mother you seem very happy tonight, and you look very beautiful. It is the very first time I have ever seen you wear a Lao silk salong. Do you know some people made nice comments about you to me. They said that you looked like my sister instead of my mother and you looked very young and youthful. You really are very pretty."

"I was going to say the same thing to you Kham-oi. This is the first time in our life we have had a chance to wear a silky Lao salong. I did not ever dream of being able to wear this in my life." Her tears were coming down her cheeks again. Her sad words almost made me cry, too. I changed to a new subject right away.

"Mother, do you remember the day before I left home I told you I will buy you new cooking tools and pots and pans?" As I asked her, I opened a drawer and pulled out a small black leather binder. It contained very important documents of mine from the bank about my financial status. I handed that binder to her and said, "Mother this bank statement is for you. It is in both of our names, but it is all yours. I am giving it all to you. You can build a big house in the city if you want to. We have enough money to buy anything and to do a lot of things. We wonít be poor again. Last week I helped draw the floor plans for our new house. I designed a very big two-story house with lots of rooms. It will be a modern style with strong building materiel. It will have steel, cement, bricks, concrete, a tile floor and a tile roof. It will have a big fancy kitchen just for you. It will be just like a palace. There is a special place for me with a large library of my own. We have one room in front, downstairs, for La-noi, if she wants to have her own shop. If you want you can sell your homemade goodies in your own shop. There will be plenty of room for us to do all kinds of the things we want in this new house. I already talked to the builder and they will go survey the land and start construction right away."

After I finished telling my mother of the surprise, her tears came down again. She started to speak, "I never dreamed in million years..." but her tears came again. I tried to comfort her and told her our sad life is behind us. Today would be our special, happy day.

"Letís forgot about it for five minutes, alright? Mother, if you really donít want to do any work you donít have too. If you like you can be my personal manager. I know you are clever, intelligent and a very charming lady. You are a good person, mom. You surprised me that you can speak Thai. When did you learn how to speak Thai?" I asked.

My mother looked at me and burst out with a big laugh. "I learned a long time ago at the street market. I do not know if I speak correctly, but no one is laughing at me tonight. If I speak Thai back home I am sure people will make fun and laugh at me. I never speak Thai in front of the people back home," she confided.

"Donít worry," I told her, "I will not tell. We both probably made fools of ourselves tonight trying to speak Thai and they all know we are Lao with a Vientiane accent. Besides, most of the Thai people know and understand Lao because our language is related. Most of the Thai people I work with are Lao decent. Lao Issan is how we speak to each other." I was laughing at our foolishness and my mother joined me. We were laughing so hard we had to wipe our eyes with back of our hand. The night was filled with the sound of our laughter. The world and our future seemed very bright and fresh. An untarnished happiness would never let go....

T. Kham Vongkham, May 28, 2001

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