My first memories have to do with a big green space- the huge piece of property owned by my grandparents. My parents and I lived in a small house at the end of the property, while my grandparents lived in the main house which sat at the front, and which faced a major road. The second house belonged to my eldest uncle, my mom's big brother, where he lived with a young wife and a tiny ugly baby. (At that time, I thought all babies were ugly.) If my memory serves me correctly, there was a large, open-air kitchen between my uncle's and my grandparents' houses.
I loved it there, for my grandparents grew all kinds of big, shady fruit trees that gave to us sweet, sour, and all kinds of juicy fruits all year round.
There were mango trees- and not all the same kind, but several different varieties of mangoes. Each gave to me a slightly different fragrance and taste -some sweet, some very sweet and cool to the tongue, some sweet with a touch of sourness, and some sour. I would eat the sour mangoes while they were young, as I loved the sourness that gave me goose bumps when I bit into them. I would also be happy every time my grandmother picked ripe, sweet mangoes, then peeled and sliced the meat, finally cooling them in the refrigerator for my afternoon snack. In hot and humid weather there's nothing quite like the refreshing feeling one gets from the soft cool slice of sweet mango touching the inside of the mouth.
There were also rose apples -fruits which reminded me of human noses. While not my most favorite fruit, their texture is light and fluffy, and they tasted excellent.
Jackfruit -spiky, terribly large fruits, similar to durian- is something which one has to peel off the skin in order to get to the golden, yummy meat inside. Its meat can be torn off like string cheese. The meat is slightly firm on the outside, but soft and silky on the inside, and one really has to get used to the texture to like it. -But the taste! Oh, the taste was not like anything most people have experienced: it was like going to heaven. The best part was their seeds, which could be cooked with a little salt: they were nutty and tasty. Someone once told me that the seeds were full of nutrients and vitamins, but I just liked them as something I could nibble while traveling through the "wood," my yard.
Other fruit trees in our yard were "gratawn," (or santol or wild mangosteen), "noina," (aka sugar apple), and guava. My grandparents also grew different types of bananas -again, different kinds with different fragrances, as well as different tastes and textures; papayas, scented coconuts (the scent came from coconut water), and others -many more than I can remember. They also planted their own vegetables and herb garden. -I remember this because every afternoon my grandmother and I would sit on our little stools and pull the weeds which grew around the herb plants.
My old house was shady due to the trees. I would disappear for a long time among those tall trees and wouldn't come back into the house until my grandmother called me -or, until my youngest uncle's pet goose found me and chased after me.
My uncle loved animals (he still does) and raised a few: hens, ducks, geese, birds, and I think he had a pig -or two- at one point. Of all the animals, the goose was my enemy. She was nasty and made horrible loud noises while flapping her wings as she ran after me. Back then, I was shorter than she, and I would end up screaming for my grandmother who, in turn, would scream for my uncle to put the goose back in her area. My uncle, who was thirteen years older than I, wouldn't show up right away. Instead, he'd wait for me to be on the verge of crying before he came -laughing- to rescue me from the evil goose. Later, he told me that it was worth the punishment from his mother.
Other than the evil goose and my uncle's teasing, I was so happy at our house. I loved the space and the greenery. I loved the little canal that we had before it became shallow and eventually disappeared. My playmates were the younger maids whom we had for helping out around our three houses and the property. I probably had designated nannies, but they all played with me so I figured they were my playmates. My parents would leave home early and come home late, and I was left under my grandmother's supervision. She told me not to go outside on the street at any time, but somehow I managed to sneak out to make friends with those on the other side of the fence without anyone knowing -not even the maids. Sometimes, my friends would stop by to chat with me (picture a bunch of pre-schoolers hanging out in a large group), but if they were spotted by my grandmother she would tell me to go to the house and for them to go away. It never upset me, since I could find something else to do within seconds.
Along my path, through my daily adventure between the trees, I would inspect the ground carefully in case I might find some treasure. My treasure could be anything from overly ripe mangoes which had fallen off the trees, to interesting looking pebbles, and, sometimes, earthworms.
If one of my designated playmates was there, she would run back to the kitchen to get an old condensed milk can. Together, we'd use a stick to get the worm inside the can. After a rain we could collect quite a few of them. I wish I could remember what we did to our worm collections afterward.
If I walked on the gravel driveway, my treasure of that day would be the Baht coins. Sometimes I would find several coins all over the long driveway. I used to wonder from whom they came. Someone must not have had a change purse, and I truly hoped it wasn't the maids who helped the chef with the shopping -or the chef herself- because they would get in big trouble with my grandmother, who counted every Baht they spent.
I looked for coins on the driveway so that I could collect enough to buy ice cream from the old Chinese ice cream man who passed by the house every afternoon. Every time I would ask someone to buy it for me they would say "no," for the simple reason that the Chinese man's ice cream could give me a tummy-ache.
One day, I heard the bell from the Chinese ice cream man, and I quickly ran out and saw that he had stopped right in front of our gate. My heart-beat quickened as I saw that the gate was left unlocked. I forgot about my Baht coins and ran toward him.
Other children were already there. They were shouting the ice cream flavors that they wanted, and some were waving Baht bills and coins. I calculated very quickly and found that I didn't have enough time to run back to get the money before he would finish with his customers, so I asked him if I could get the ice cream and give him the money right after. I secretly hoped that he would agree, and he did! He handed to me a big homemade ice cream in a plastic cup and said, "Two quarters, don't forget."
I nodded quickly, and as I started off a car honked. It was my parents' car and another car behind theirs. The ice cream man, still serving ice cream, moved to the side. A maid came to open the gate and saw me: "Khun Gafaae! What are you doing here? Get back inside right now. Don't you know you can get hit by a car!?" I scurried away. Too frantic with the thought that I could not let my parents or anyone see me with an ice cream from the ice cream man, I looked for a place to hide.
I ran all the way to my house and hid behind several giant clay pots which contained rain water. They were beautifully painted with ancient dragons around the sides and they were taller than I. Standing among them kept me cool, and I started eating my ice cream.
By the time I finished and had gotten two quarters from my coin jar, the ice cream man was no longer there. I tried the gate but it was locked. I became worried. Even as young as I was, I felt that I had done a wrong thing.
I looked for the ice cream man every afternoon, but I never saw him again.
I still think of him today.
I lived at the compound until I was around four and a half years old -about a month after my baby sister was born. (She was also ugly.) My grandparents said that it was time for us to move to a new place across the river -to the east, the Bangkok side -aka "Phra Nakorn" at the time. Living at our house on the left bank of the Chao Phraya had provided me with such joy, and my heart was filled with happiness. While I was sad to go, I was also eager to make the change, and I looked forward to my next adventure. Who knew what treasures I would find at the new house.
And even though he had never come by anymore, I continued to think about the old ice cream man to whom I owed the two quarters. I was hopeful that perhaps he had moved to the Phra Nakorn side as well.