Steve and Jemjahn go to Thailand, 2003


Home page

1. I Agreed to What?

2. Flight to Bangkok

3. Bangkok, at Last

4. The King's Birthday

5. Jem's Old Home in the Village

6. New Rice Storage House

7. Rice = Money

8. Mealtime

9. Jem's Family

10. Impressions of the Village

11. The Mall in Korat

12. Gordon and Pu

13. Pink Palace

14. Village Elementary School

15. Two Temples

16. Visiting Cousin Loy

17. Jem and Village Headman

18. Phimai

19. Back to Bangkok

20. Looking for Our Old House

21. Shopping

22. Thai People, My Impressions

23. Photography

24. Language

25. Flight Back Home


Kohn's Corner    


12. Gordon and Pu

Jem and I came to know Gordon and his wife Supaporn (hereafter called Pu, her childhood nickname) a few years ago.

I’d sent an email to an old friend, Jim S., who knew Jem and I before we married. The email was about one of the things I like most about Jem, her lack of pretension. She’ll proudly show her friends at the temple the new ten dollar handbag she bought at Wal-Mart, marveling how much junk can be stuffed in it. She’ll be wearing a sweatshirt and jeans and no makeup, comfortable, self-contained and self-confident.

Until a show-off at the temple gets under her skin.

Then she’ll come to the temple wearing three of her largest gold chains. We’re talking 22 karat gold, how Thais used to (still do, actually) save their extra cash before reliable banking became common. Each of her chains will approach $10,000 in cost. On this day Jem is wearing them outside her shirt. She says they’re so heavy, her neck actually feels sore afterwards. Three chains are a ridiculous fashion statement but a powerful message: "I could buy your stupid car and your stupid watch and your stupid diamond ring if I wanted to, so shut up already." And Jem says she’ll sit right next to the show-off, making sure all those chains register.

Then, with the universe again in equilibrium, she’ll come home, put away her chains, and for a few more months will wear sweatshirts and jeans. And look terrific in them, too. 

Jem knows exactly who she is. She's first to admit her faults, but doesn't dwell on them. In fact, jokes about them, as when she'll refer to herself as "Fat Person." I'm blessed to have a wife with a sense of perspective and a sense of humor, who I can respect and love deeply.

Anyway, Jim sent my email to Gordon and Pu, thinking they might enjoy it. They did, got in touch with us, visited us on one of their trips to the states, and we’ve been in email contact since.

At the risk of embarrassing him, I’ll say Gordon is a remarkably well-rounded, likable guy. If Homo Sapiens were in imminent danger of blowing up our planet, with the best of humanity launched on a spaceship to start anew on a distant world, he’d be on it. Not much room, of course, making for a limited passenger list, but he'd be on it.

His wit is kind, his belly flat, his heart full, his mind alive. He speaks fluent Thai, the result of years spent in Thailand with the Rockefeller Foundation. He’s been a college professor of biology and a US Navy Reserve pilot. His beloved first wife died after more than 30 years of marriage and three children. Now he lives in Bangkok, married to another college professor, a beautiful woman, as quiet and sweet as my Jemjahn is loud and spicy, and in her own way I'm sure as delightful.

Corresponding frequently via email (what a wonderful invention), we’d made plans to get together on this trip.

One of my interests is architecture. It combines for me the highest qualities of craftsmanship and art to produce a basic human need, shelter. While public architecture - the Taj Mahal, Notre Dame, the Guggenheim Museum, etc - is of course magnificent, my favorite architecture is smaller in scale: the building of homes.

Gordon is creating, as I write this, what I myself have dreamed and planned for years but will probably never do. At the age of 70, when most his age are challenged to walk the dog around the block, he and Pu have designed and are building their own house.  

And what a house. Though not yet finished, it is clear already how unusual, how wonderful it will be. A 30-foot tree trunk, bark and branches stripped but its shape still apparent, rises out of the center of the house up to the ceiling. The trunk anchors the expansive room, leading the eye up to a ceiling of wood and bamboo. Plentiful large windows allow light and breeze to enter the house. One day, bare feet will enjoy the planks of sanded and varnished native dark wood.

Unlike our typical American houses, full of wall-to-wall carpet and sheetrock, overstuffed sofas and gewgaws, Gordon’s house is simple. He jokes that he’s becoming a minimalist. I think his house is, to use the word literally, awesome.

His house is improved by its location, sitting on a hill near Thailand’s largest natural preserve, without a neighbor for miles. The nearby trees and views to distant hills are balm to the soul. Jem, ever the extrovert, says she couldn’t live so far away from people. I, the lighthouse keeper, wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

Yet more amazing: in order to give them a place to live during construction, Gordon and Pu built what they call a cottage nearby. (Pictured below.) A smaller structure, again built mostly of natural materials like stone, concrete and wood, it’s cozy and clean, maybe even easier to live in than the main home. Again, the ceiling is tall, the windows many, the view terrific. This cottage would be my own crowning achievement. For Gordon and Pu, it was just something they “threw together” so they'd have something to live in while building their dream house.

Gordon and Pu came to the village to spend a day with us.  I had warned them they’d be sleeping on the floor and taking cold showers, but they’re not the kind who need 4-poster beds and maid service to be comfortable. We enjoyed our meals, walks, and conversation and, speaking again of houses, a visit to a most unusual one in the next village, and described in the next chapter.


(Photos of Gordon and Pu's houses by them.) 

next: Pink Palace