Back in January during our going away party one of Jenna’s friends, Dave Abramson, had stopped by and was telling us about his uncle who lived in Thailand. He told us he was married and had lived there for 18 or so years and that we’d probably be welcomed in by him.
Did David actually expect us to go find this uncle? I’d say probably not.
But in mid-July after finishing our brief exploration of Laos, we did meet up with this uncle in the Thai border town of Nong Khai – his name is Rich.
Rich has had a really interesting life. A Baltimorean like ourselves, he started traveling around the age of 20 after discovering the art of hitchhiking – and then promptly hitchhiked down to the Florida Keys and then (get ready for it) to Alaska where he had a job waiting for him.
That’s right, the Keys to Alaska. That’s just about as far as you can go in the continental USA.
He stayed up in Alaska for years working in the government for the forestry service but as his thirst for travel never satiated he would occasionally hop flights to destinations all around the world.
I could attempt to list all the places he’s been but instead I’ll just say that he’s probably the most well-traveled person I’ve ever met – he’s been everywhere. Here’s a few from Asia:
- China – 30 years ago, when it just opened to foreigners
- Tibet – when it, er, wasn’t open to foreigners (he went anyway)
- India – via an insane boat ride from the mainland
- Burma – before it was cool or legal
I could go on but you get the idea. He’s taken a very different life past than most and has some really ridiculously stories to show for it. One of those stories he’s currently living in Thailand on his farm about an hour away from the city of Khon Kaen.
It was in Thailand that he, after living there for a number of years, met his wife Pong Pen. She is a wonderfully smart woman with a kind heart who currently works in a local HIV clinic providing various services to at-risk citizens including free testing and counseling.
It’s a brutal job. HIV awareness in Thailand is way behind places like the US and people are reluctant to get tested and, if they do, take any action to treat themselves or, even worse, prevent the further spread of the disease. The situations she has to deal with on a daily basis are harrowing and the fact that she retains her positive attitude is a true testament to her character.
In addition to these attributes she also has one that seems to be naturally bestowed on all Thai women – the ability to cook.
It’s hard to describe how amazing Thai food is in Thailand…when cooked by a Thai. From spring rolls to omelettes to stir fry to homemade sweet chili sauce to tofu skewers to barbecued chicken – I could literally go on for an hour. We were spoiled rotten by these meals thrice daily and will probably never eat so good again in our lives!
Their farm is a beautiful stretch of property on a raised piece of land overlooking an expanse of rice paddies just to the north. They have a few small rice paddies of their own in addition to several ponds and tons of fruit trees, banana, mango, custard apple, star fruit, dragon fruit to name a few.
We ended up staying for five days on the farm with Rich and Pong Pen and did a lot of talking about everything – life, family, food, politics, travel, the Orioles (we actually got to watch a game live on Fox Sports International – my only game of the year!). Rich also gave us a couple interesting books to prepare for our upcoming 10-day meditation retreat, something he had completed a few years earlier.
It was really a wonderful stay – we learned a lot about how Rich and Pong Pen had developed the land in an organic fashion, steering clear of any chemicals, and helped them on some minor projects. When we weren’t talking we were reading or writing or just enjoying the beautiful scenery that is their property.
We also got to meet their granddaughter Kal Kwon, who is a smaller version of her grandmother – witty, sharp and extremely intelligent. I have no doubt that little girl is going to grow into an impressive young woman (perhaps an impressive photographer??).
I should also note that, unbeknownst to Rich, this was our first experience with non-flush toilets. I think we kept our cool pretty well but at first, I didn’t grasp the concept of how it works. Upon figuring it out, it’s actually not much different than a regular flush toilet – except instead of water being released by the handle, you’re pouring it in with a bucket. Growing into a more worldly person, one manual flush at a time.
When it was time for us to depart they took us down to Pong Pen’s son’s house in Khon Kaen where we were to stay the night before catching our bus to the meditation retreat the next morning. Here again Pong Pen and her daughter-in-law cooked us up astonishingly good food which basically rendered us incapable of moving for the next several hours – I cannot stress enough how hospitable these people are! It was non-stop and we cannot express our appreciation enough.
And just like that our five days with Rich were at an end. While it was sad to depart people we had such a great connection with, I’m thankful for the opportunity we had to get to know them.
So thanks to Rich, Pong Pen, Kal Kwon, the rest of their family and of course, Dave, for setting us up on this amazing part of our adventure!