I just returned to Khon Kaen from my last homestay of the semester, and I thought this would be a good time to express the deepness of hospitality that I have experienced from Thai families over my short time here.
I have had homestays in a slum, in an organic farming village, in a Karen village, in a fishing village on an island, and then this final one in a village where the majority of the women are silk weavers. In each one I experienced the different quirks of the family, a goofy father, a blunt grandmother, two earnest younger sisters, and a prayerful mother. But this last one topped all the others in the immense generosity and love that radiated from the family that I stayed with.
We (my 14 peers and I) were gathered upon our arrival to the village at the meeting place where all of the Meh’s ‘ were coming to pick us up to take us home for our few day stay in the village. Then in walked a women with penciled in eyebrows and a vibrant purple shirt, her arms wide, “Sa-wa-dee-ka” she exclaimed in welcome. This was my Meh. Immediately hugging my friend Anne and I who would be staying with her. This was a surprise considering that Thai people rarely hug one another, let alone strangers.
Meh took us home and immediately allowed us to settle into the house. She spread before the two of us a massive dinner of at least six dishes. This was the first time in a homestay when the whole family ate with us. It is tradition in Thai families to allow children and elderly and guests eat first, then everyone else eats. It was sweet to get to enjoy food with everyone. Even though Pah consistently made comments on how I was avoiding the cold green fishy pureed seaweed soup. Later on Meh showed us to our bed. We were sleeping in the main room of the house in the only bed the family owned. Pah slept at a neighbor’s house and meh slept on a mat on the floor.
The following day we enjoyed a full day free. Meh gave us an extensive tour of the village. At every house we passed where someone was home, meh would prompt us to wai (bring your hands to a prayer position and bow slightly as a sign of respect) and say hello. She beamed, showing off her guests as we went.. Moving from house to house, we were given a tour of nearly every aspect of silk production. The silk worm larva, the large larva, the mulberry trees used to feed the larva, the larva creating the silk cocoon, the piles of bright yellow silk cocoons, the thread extraction process, the spinning process, the mudmee thread dying process, and finally the weaving process. With each villager we visited, each one allowed us to actively participate in the process, running the risk that our unskilled hands would ruin their work.
That night, our second and final night, the village threw a goodbye ceremony for us and then afterwards all of us had a potluck. However, meh had specially prepared Kai lug cuy for me, knowing it was my favorite dish, and gave me orders not to share it with anyone else.
The next morning had even more Kai lug cuy for breakfast, then meh walked us to where the vans would pick us up to drive us back to Khon Kaen. Again, she made us wai everyone we passed, and dressed us each in a silk scarf that she had woven herself, picked especially for us. This is immensely significant, because these scarves each cost around 20-30 US dollars, and are the equivalent of three weeks income if sold. Yet she adorned us with them and called us her own daughters; “Lug sowe con chan” she said. As we prepared to leave she gave us even more hugs, and as we got in the van and drove away she began crying. I was touched by how much love meh expressed for us after only two days. It made me wonder if houseguests in the US would receive the same warm familial hospitality.