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MEMORY JOURNEY
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Memoir Essays
 
Sister Calling
 

Screen captured on 16 February 2019, Grandma Malee Home, Sakhon Nakhon, Thailand

Maruam, My Grandma (Right) had conversation with Malee, her younger sister (Left) through a LINE video call from my phone. Miho, my girlfriend, and I visited Grandma Malee’s home in Sakhon Nakhon, a Thai province in The North East Region (Isan). I never visited Sakhon Nakhon by myself before. Present day Grandma Maruam lives in Bangkok. She was born in Sakhon Nakhon but relocated to Bangkok in November 1959 with her husband and her children which included my dad. Some of their conversation is about Grandma Maruam and her daughter’s, or my aunt’s, intention to return to Sakhon Nakhon. Grandma Malee had invited her to live in Sakhon Nakhon again. Grandma Malee is the daughter of Grandma Maruam’s dad and his new spouse who is of Vietnamese descent.

Grandma Maruam spend her life in Sakhon Nakhon since she was born in June 1931 at the Sakhon Nakhon police station because her dad was director of the Sakhon Nakhon’s Police Station one year before the Siamese revolution of 1932. She lived in Sakhon Nakhon until 1959, around 28 years before relocating to Bangkok. She was really happy to tell me about her childhood in Sakhon Nakhon. For example, in World War II, how she hid when allied air bombers arrived to her town, or how she skipped class to play with friends in her town and some people were gathering at Tiang Sirikhanth’s home, leader of the secret Japanese Empire resistance or “Seri-Thai” in Isan, when she walked pass his house.

 

When she got older she would pay respect to Sarit Thanarat. She describes him as a “good dictator” who used article 17 to solve the nation’s problem with violence, methods such as execution of people in public or giving death penalty to home’s owners whose houses were burned down with no justification, simply because Sarit claimed it a threat to the nation’s security. Additionally, he supported US anti-communist foreign policies of the 50s and 60s and revitalized the monarchy’s role. Today, she is still paranoid about house fires, sometimes she has gotten so worried about them she told me shouldn’t cook in the house because she thought it could be the cause of a house fire. She is really glad that her husband, or my grandpa, was the first director of government fishery center in Sakhon Nakhon and had an opportunity to welcome VIPs in Thailand such as

Plaek Phibunsongkhram, Sarit Thanarat and King Rama 9 when they visited Sakhon Nakhon in the 1940s and 1950s.

She was 8 years old in 1939 (80 years ago), her dad separated from her mom and relocated to work at Nakhon Phanom’s Police Station with a new spouse, finally having ‘Malee’ as her younger sister. Maraum was in her second year of elementary school, it was the first time that she heard from the national radio or people in town talking about the new official name of the country as “Prathet Thai” or “Thailand” instead of “Siam” on June 24, 1939. When national radio played the Thai national anthem in public places, people began to stop their activity and stand still to saluted to the nation during the time that Phibun joined the Japan Empire and Axis Powers of World War II which also applied some nazi or fascist regimes to this nation.

Grandma Maruam stayed with her mom in Sakhon Nakhon but visited her dad sometimes in Nakhon Phanom. So, Maruam and Malee could meet each other sometimes as well. Grandma Maruam said when she was selling some Thai-desserts as a side job in front of Nakhon Phanom’s Police station, she saw some vehicles running a mess on the other side of the Mekong River, during the time that the French Empire attempted to migrated some Vietnamese to Thakhek, Laos. She portrayed her mom to me as having swinging moods and her dad a man of kindness. Grandma Malee married and followed her husband to Sakhon Nakhon.

Best Friend
 

Photo taken on 8 October 2017, Pivor Creek Mouth, Phachi River Wildlife Sanctuary, Ratchaburi

Sri (Left) picking up rice and Kao (Right) checking the map. They are forestry officers of the Phachi River Wildlife Sanctuary, Ratchaburi that took care of us in the forest. Sri belongs to the Airngara unit while Kao belongs to the Nongtadang unit. My videographer friend and I were camping at the mouth of a creek named “Pivor”, when I planned to record some videos and sounds for my project. I assumed that the Phachi River in Thailand is connected with the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar through some creeks in this Wildlife Sanctuary area that adjoin the Thailand-Myanmar border. A human could cross between this area more freely before Siam (Thailand) and British-Burma made the official border line in 1868.

Sri and Kao, sometimes have conversation in Karen Language because they have ancestry with from Karen people who originate from hills in between the Thailand-Myanmar border. One night, we had dinner and conversation about their life. Before we could eat dinner, we had to cool but the moisture made it so hard to light a fire, so we struggled to produce some wind and increase the chances of our sparks catching fire. Sri also brought “40 degree” Thai rice whisky that he would sip to relax and for the belief that drinking alcohol is to respect the forest guardian spirit. During the conversation Kao heard the sound of thunder from far away and compared each thunder sound that he heard to identify the wind’s route and predicted that rain will not fall heavy around this area but instead into the city so not to worry too much and cross the river back in the next day.

 

Sri and Kao also expressed their opinions about some injustice in their Wildlife Sanctuary. Kao almost quit from the Wildlife Sanctuary but Sri prevented him and told him to stay more as a good friend, Kao was disappointed by a commander that said something bad to him and his parents after he struggled working so hard. He also worked with low wages and the lack of economical opportunity he needs to bear with it. Sri told me that Kao is so smart and also has good knowledge in electronic devices. For Sri, he really respects Kao as one of his best friends in the Wildlife Sanctuary. They also talked about “Suer”, a Forestry Officer in the Suanpueng unit as another one good honest friend that they respected as a brother. They said Suer would oppose even the director of the Wildlife Sanctuary if something did not make sense to him. Sri also told me that he is the only Karen person in his unit so is sometimes kept on watch by another people in his unit. He was also disappointed often by a commander that occasionally said something disrespectful even though he worked hard patrolling in the forest.

When the rain was still falling down and everyone was asleep, Kao went to check the water level at the Phachi River that we crossed to our camp site to make sure that we could still cross back the next day. He checked a mark on a wood stick that he pined down into the river. If the water reached too high of a level we would need to cross that night abruptly, otherwise we can’t cross back in the next day and would need to wait more than a day for the water level to decrease.


After we woke up in early morning, we went to record sounds and videos, Kao told us how the name “Pivor” came to this creek. He said the hills around here had hill tribes, especially Karen People that evacuated from Burmese government, who were here until the Thai Military relocated them to the lower areas in the 80s, where they would need to verify their identity to Thai Government. They grew rice in their farm called “E-vorg” rice and the Thai officer maybe mistakenly heard tribal people say “Pivor-pard” around this area and named it in the map as “Pivor” creek. Eventually we reached the Pachi river; fortunately, the water level in Pachi river had decreased and we could cross back easily.

For Sale
 

The screenshot shows that a new car model is coming again. My routine career (day job) is working as a music composer and sound engineer for a sound and music advertising company in Bangkok, Thailand. Many commercial companies and brands come to this studio especially automotive brands. I have worked with the company almost four years now and see how mainstream Thai commercial work is done, the problems and the inner workings between House Production teams, Agencies, Brands, Clients and our own sound and music production team. Strong discussion and contrasting visions shape the media in different ways. Almost every time there is work involving music references the agency and house production must make choices with the brand’s client. My studio received requests for various styles of works particularly aimed at being a “cool” style, many times I felt like trying too much to be cool just turned out funny. The one interest thing is how to make the music meet the client’s expectations but be original and avoid copyright issues. I realized that any kind of music can be commercial music. To separate commercial music and un-commercial music is to consider the intention and attitude of that song’s origin.


Many times, film directors and our team are unsuccessful in meeting the desires of the client, then my managing director, team and I need to discuss how should we edit it to the client’s satisfaction. The goal is simply to change the music while wasting as little time as possible and at times it felt like we did some kind of forced live performance. Clients would wait to listen for the improvement, and when we edited during the presentation we felt under pressure; it felt so difficult to avoid mistakes.


Most of the clients who work with us don’t have much technical knowledge about sound and music, so sometimes we need to translate their intention to simple steps in editing our music. For example, some client’s said they want some “zzz” sound to be turned down, so we need to guess: “what is that ‘zzz’ sound?” and some how do we turn it down? maybe the topper? or the Hi-Hat? or some clients feel that the strong part is not “punchy” enough so we need to find how to make the music in this part more “punchy”. Do they mean impact through some sound effect? or with a strong percussion sound? or by balance and equalization? We need to listen to them carefully and decrypt it, sometime our translation is a different result from what they expected, so we need to discuss again, edit again and check again with the client in the meeting room. For example, working with their abstract sound effects we asked if they could possibly sculpt their voice to be like “zzz” “powwwwzz” “Shewwzz” “Whammmm” “Bwwww” “Hnnnnn" blablabla...etc. Actually, not just clients, even we needed to make these kinds of sounds with our voices to communicate with them and that’s the one funny part I always remember about advertising music.

 

The media that we work with is mostly released on online platforms, the big billboard screens around the city, the electric train advertising screens, television channels or even in department stores across Thailand. Many works will be presented on very small speakers, so we must always check our mixed down work with small speaker simulations.

 

Some advertising that I saw and worked for was beauty products that would always promote white skin as the desirable skin color that men and women should have. Surprising, not only Thailand clients worked with these kind of beauty products. Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam or Indonesia also used Thai production houses to produce their advertisements. There are also some mass-production brands from Western Europe with Thai Marketing Team ideas, so the presenters that they used for most of their products were beautiful and of Thai-East Asian descent or Thai-Western mixed people who had white skin. Sometimes they had slogans like “Beautiful like Korean women” or “Japanese women”. In the case of alcohol beverages, Thailand can’t show alcohol products in advertising media since 2008, so beverage brands that mainly sell their alcohol products need to find alternative tactics to sell without putting their alcohol products directly in the media.

Rest
 

Photo taken on 4 January 2019, Baby Come Home, Mae Rim, Thailand

Baby Come Home, restaurant and cafe in Mae Rim, Chiangmai. Run by a couple “Der” and “Deer”, who originally come from Bangkok but decided to buy a new home in Mae Rim and open a cafe in their house, also hosting a comfortable tipi style tent Airbnb.

I traveled to the north of Thailand with Miho to take a rest from our life in Bangkok during the New Year's Holiday. Meeting up with friends in Pai, Mae Hongsorn and Mae Rim, Chiangmai. I have never been to Mae Rim before, it’s such a great place. We rented a scooter from Chiangmai and drove to Baby Come Home. The owners were inspired by the name of a song by Mark Barrott, one of the masters of sunset music. We will stay one night in their tipi, a really good place to stay. After we arrived, Der lead us to survey Mae Rim on his scooter and I drove following him. We discovered some beautiful places among mountains and villages. I noticed that some new houses wealthy people recently built on the land they had bought contrasted with the local houses around there.

Due to the natural beauty of this area, Der told me that the Mae Rim Infantry Division of the Royal Thai Army tried to get some land from the villages around Mae Rim to build their home or resorts. They claimed that the land belonged to them not local people and they can take back anytime. So, there is some conflict between the local people and the Army in Mae Rim. This reminded me of the short film directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul named “Vapour” in English or “Morg Mae Rim” in Thai, meaning “Mae Rim Mist”, I was chosen to do the live soundtrack for the premiere of this short film in 20th Busan International Film Festival. When I worked with him he explained a little bit about the background of this short film that relates to the conflict of the local people in Toongha village and the Army because he also has his home here in Mae Rim.

We met “Sai” our friend who appeared as an actress for Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit first feature film, she also lives in Mae Rim. That night we went to eat dinner at one of the best crispy pork with sticky rice restaurants in Mae Rim with a fantastic dipping sauce that the restaurant made themselves. We really enjoyed eating a lot. After dinner, we went to the Winter Festival toward the road to the city. A lot of people attended this festival, I saw Thai, Hill Tribe, and Burmese people at this festival. Many shops had Burmese language on their promo tags.

 

My local friends recommended us to see the Wall of Death, the carnival sideshow with motorcyclists and pickup truck drivers performing stunts by driving along the vertical wall in the huge barrel, I saw two drivers worshipping a holy spirit before they did their performance. Miho did not trust in the safety of stunt performers and audience much so she was a little bit stressed. After the Wall of Death, we walked around the festival from amusement section and I saw Der enjoying the bumper cars, we then moved to the shopping section and then the lottery section before we decided to head back to Baby Come Home, chilling and talking in the tipi tent then everyone separated to sleep.

Transcendence
 

Photo taken on 29 April 2018, Joana Home, Sausalito, California

Miho (left) and Joanna (right), a friend who lives in Sausalito, California, doing a meditation practice before a sound healing session. Joanna is the owner of Bring Harmony Home, working as a caretaker and sound healer. We chose to do her sound table therapy session and went to Sausalito from San Francisco crossing The Golden Gate to the north. Her beautiful little home was located by Richardson Bay. There I saw several yachts and houseboats in the harbor, and some warehouses by the road.


She is a friend of James, a friend who let me and Miho stay in his old shared apartment in the Castro District in San Francisco with his sister and a little cute dog named “Fast”, while he was in Berlin. I really appreciated them hosting us. I met James when I performed a set of music, DJing and spoken word at Jam Cafe, a music venue in Bangkok. James was in the audience and after my show, we had a conversation about the “Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies” he knew about this California based organization that supports psychedelic science research that I was interested in.


The session started with a meditation practice, then moved to a bed that has speakers and subwoofers attached. Joanna played a long ambient music piece from the speakers and softly played musical instruments such as a meditation chime, a singing bowl, and also used spoken word to guide us into a deep meditative state. When we finished the sound healing session we had some conversation about general things. She said she relocated from Maryland to The Bay, we also talked about the San Francisco housing shortage.


The night before, we just arrived at The Bay and I walked down the street with Miho to explore the city, in a cold late night from Castro to the San Francisco City Center along Market Street, we found so many homeless communities along the pavement. I also heard one of them walk alone and shout something like a poem. And I saw not just European- American, Native American or African-American people but also other ethnicities. Some of them had a mental illness, some of them were drug addicts, I heard from an Uber driver in San Diego that mostly they were addicted to heroin. I felt that some of them supported each other like they had their own social order with different roles in their communities. I’m not sure how it all worked but it was an interesting part of American society. When we walked too deep to the center, Miho felt unsafe and we decided to walk back to the Castro.

See You
 

Photo taken on 21 March 2019, Miho Home, Sano, Tochigi, Japan

Miho (front-left), with her mom, Noriko (front-right, holding baby) and her family. I went to Japan for two weeks to meet her family for the first time at their home in Tochigi. Miho returned to Japan to study Mashiko Pottery for at least one year. Her family was really kind to me. Some of them had traveled to Bangkok a few months ago, including her mom, when they were Bangkok I had helped Miho to take care of them. We stayed together in Noriko’s home. Today is “Higan Day”, some of her family came to her home and we had lunch together on a “kotatsu”, a low wooden table in her living/dining room that made people warm because of the electric heater beneath it. I can’t meet her dad during this trip because he just passed away from throat cancer about two years ago. She told me that her father had a similar respectful characteristic to that of a zen monk, really calm, and he always told her to be herself and be in the moment. In the dining/living room is a “Butsudan” shrine with her dad’s picture, almost every day they pay respect by putting some rice or fruits in the Butsudan, light incense and candles, and ring the “Rin”, a little standing bell to worship family members who have passed away. We also went to a temple in her neighborhood with her mom’s car to pay homage to her dad at the cemetery.


After the family meeting, Miho and I went to Tokyo together for the weekend. Then back to Tochigi again and then I went back to Bangkok alone. We hugged each other and say goodbye before I took the bus to Narita Airport. It was the first time we had stayed far from each other long term but thanks to video calling technology that allowed us to meet, even though only on the screen.


During that time, Thailand had an election for the first time on 24 March 2019 since 2014 coup d'état by the right-wing military. I kept following the elections even though I failed to do the early overseas vote for the Future Forward Party. The new party that talks about human rights and equality also offering the most democratic policies in Thai political history. As a person who was born and raised in this country, I have never experienced good politics and economic development here. I saw that we have never solved the issues at the heart of the problem, that I can define as the political and economic system controlled by a right-wing, monopoly, mafia. I knew from deep inside that this mafia will extend their power after this election with the 2017 constitution that they made up to keep their grip. Even after the vote, the election results were not immediately announced, and finally on 5 June 2019, Thailand got Prayut Chan-o-cha as same prime minister again, the leader that also led the coup d’état in 2014.


When I’m in Japan even though they’re under Abe’s right-wing nationalist government now, they have a working political system and a developed economy. I saw people in the countryside do not have too big a gap between the rich and poor like my country, also there is a good welfare system. However, there’s a lot of countries that have never experienced an advanced economy in the past 50 years because they are ruled by a dictatorship, a primitive system that is outdated. We can’t solve many problems using this inefficient model so basically, we need to fix the system first. So many people work hard and still pay taxes with low income but this dictatorship system does not allow them to share a life with the financial comfort that this nationalist elite enjoys which actually come from their taxes. Dictatorship does not pay enough attention to everyone’s opinions. With narrow choices to financially survive some poor people see no choice and start committing crimes or even suicide. Anyway, I still have hope in this world filled with inequality, I try to be one small part in this universe to improve the equality of people and everything. For me, the easiest way to do it, is just start perceiving people and everything as equal, right here and right now. Many possibilities will show itself to the universe. I’m trying not to judge people as though they lower or higher, better or below, I’m trying to understand first.

Available On
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Credits
 

Artwork by QOTAROO

"Sister Calling"

Vocal by Pimporn Metchanun

Conga by Yaniga Lertpimonchai

"Rest"

Vocal by Thanart Rasanon

Vocal Accompaniment by Pimporn Metchanun

Acoustic Guitar by Suphakorn Buayangtoom

"Transcendence"

Intro Voice by Joanna Sullivan

"See You"

Vocals by Yellow Fang

Recorded, Mixed and Mastered at Soundsuite Studio, Bangkok & DBS Studio, Bangkok

Text Edited by Tommy Hanson (Sister Calling, Best Friend, For Sale)

Text Edited by Dhyan Ho (Rest, Transcendence, See You)

Release Dates : June 24, 2019

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©2020 by thanrasa