Onion transplanting is going on in every direction in our valley this week. Last week rice was harvested. Now it’s time to get the onions in the ground. Onions are unquestionably a cash crop. Rice might be grown to eat or to sell, but acres of onions have only one purpose.
Onions take work. The seedbeds have to be planted by hand in a plot with a ditch between rows. The plants then have to be transplanted. [Pictures accompanying this essay show Pramote’s family pulling the seedlings to be transplanted as soon as possible –tomorrow morning.] Rice land can be used, but again ditches must be dug with foot-wide dikes of finely tilled soil piled up in between.
Chiang Mai onions need cool weather but never freezing. Cold nights, cool days, little rain but enough water for irrigation make perfect growing conditions. Conditions and soil in our valley are about as good as they come. Usually onions need to be watered as they grow, but if too much rain comes when the onions are almost fully developed next March or April the crop can rot and be ruined. Fungus, disease, and pests need to be carefully monitored. There are other dangers, but the final one is the largest, what the market price will be when the onions need to be sold. That depends on China; aside from the local market, these onions are going to China.
The Food and Agriculture Organization lists Thailand as #35 in world production of onions. China is #1 with more than 20 million tons compared to Thailand’s 280,000 tons.
Cultivating onions is both labor-intensive and risky. With good fortune, a farmer can made a decent living from growing onions as a second crop. Pramote’s brother sold last year’s crop for the equivalent of what his daughter made in salary for the year as a school teacher.
As the Christian Advent season proceeds, leading to Christmas, my thoughts turn to the theological topic of the Incarnation. For the first 5 centuries this was the most contentious aspect of Christian theology. The idea that God became “enfleshed” in Jesus of Nazareth was absurd to those schooled in Greek philosophy, and blasphemy to those who were Jewish theists. When Christianity was forced (by the Roman government under Constantine and following) to state its theology succinctly the decision was made to boldly insist that God became flesh in Jesus who was thereby Christ, the Messiah anticipated by Jews, Jewish-Christians and Gentile-Christians.
Incarnational theology in the most recent 5 centuries has developed the concept that we who are Christian need to consciously and conscientiously represent Christ in order to perform the ministry for God that we have been allocated. We need to discern who we are, stripped of faulty assumptions and aspirations, so that we can see the people to whom we are sent to minister as one of them. That ministry is simply to be Christ in person for those people, insofar as we are able to do so with the guidance and power of God’s Holy Spirit.
A month ago I was invited to address a group of young Asian Christian leaders about how to minister to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual people in Thailand. I was reminded that about 20 years ago I had no idea how to do that, as I perceived God challenging me to “do the ministry to gays I sent you to do”. I have learned a few things about this ministry in the past two decades. I can summarize it in five concepts.
1. Ministry is possible only in a non-judgmental context.
2. Intervention is always responsive.
3. A minister must be included.
4. Evangelical opportunities are reactive.
5. The only effective goal is systemic (culture-wide) enhancement.
It surprised me that such simple principles could be so counter-intuitive when applied to ministry with LGBT people in Thailand. [The pictures accompanying this essay are intended to illustrate how unpredictable that has been for me.] The wrong way to do ministry was almost always the “normal” way we had done ministry. (1) It is not easy to be rigorously non-judgmental when proposing to minister to gay men and women. There are behaviors, for example, that many Christian communities abhor. Furthermore, many of the LGBT people who eventually became my community were not interested in being Christian, nor inclined to agree with Christian moral standards. The first challenge I faced was whether being non-judgmental was tantamount to being non-Christian. (2) LGBT people have their fair share of crises and then some. The only effective way to minister is to respond to those crises as invited. A minister may make suggestions like, “Can I help?” But the answer is generally, “I don’t see how you could.” Sometimes the need is met with money, but often it is a need for physical presence, or even an insertion of power or mystery. If one does not know how to be a Christian shaman one cannot do Christian ministry with gay Thai people. (3) To minister to LGBT people one must be one of the group of LGBT people. Basically this means one must get over the idea that there is a gay-straight binary that means anything. We are all on a spectrum of gay-straight and sexual-asexual. All the little labels we cherish fit into that grid somewhere, regardless of one’s highly-individual fetishes and fascinations. So you can belong, but you must strongly identify with and then be accepted by an LGBT community if you are going to minister to them. The initiative is with the group to accept you as one of them or not. (4) Evangelical opportunities are not effective if they are forced upon wary LGBT people. Aggressive evangelism will usually be counterproductive, sometimes permanently so, forever-after preventing any opportunities to express the Christian “Good News” at all. But one can certainly react in a Christian way to events and opportunities. These reactions have a cumulative effect that must not be underestimated. (5) The ultimate objective is culture-wide change. The goal of setting up churches to include all gay Thai people is not going to work, and will probably divert effort from things that might work. The whole Christian missionary strategy has to be abandoned. Success indicators will not be countable as long as the items being counted are individual conversions and churches planted. But other cultural change is slow, measurable in century-long increments toward culture that is a mirror of Jesus Christ. This, as European and American history attest, is usually a work in progress fraught with set-backs.
How does one minister to LGBT people? My conclusion is, “If you will be their minister you must be Christ incarnate and in love with them.”
Advent and Christmas are all about that.
Yesterday we harvested rice from the acre next to our house for the last time. Pramote has been hinting more and more boldly that it’s time to quit. The reasons are mounting. Lon, the real farmer in the family, has had “heart problems” and can’t handle this sort of hard work much longer. Our neighbors on every side have converted their rice fields into orchards which require a different type of irrigation. Furthermore, the economics of growing one’s own rice are increasingly unfavorable.
Using firm figures and guesses, we can say that a 5 kilogram bag of rice in the grocery store sells for about 180 baht or 36 baht per kilo (roughly $1 in US currency). If the rice is bought in large 48 kilo bags in the market it costs about 1300, or 27 baht per kilo.
We got an estimated 1200 kilos of rice from our 2 rai of land, which will be about 900 kilos when it’s dry. We could have sold the new rice at 8.3 baht a kilo yesterday or 11 baht a kilo when it’s good and dry, ready to store. The cost of production included about 1500 baht for good quality seed, 500 for fertilizer, 1200 for sprays, 2100 for a crew to do transplanting last August, 1000 for harvesting yesterday, but nothing figured for about 4 days of additional incidental labor. Milling the rice locally costs nothing if the miller gets to keep the hulls to sell for pig feed. That comes to a total investment of 6300 baht. We will keep the rice, but it is worth 11 baht a kilo, which is 9900 total for 900 kilos of dry rice ready to cook. That is 7 baht per kilo as compared to 27 in the market or 36 in the grocery store.
The profit for the year can be said to be 3600 baht ($100+).
The question is why have we persisted in growing our own rice?
For one thing, it’s a clan project. In the clan are some who can afford to go out and buy rice and some who cannot. As long as we are growing it as we always have, we share it as we always have. Actual costs are more or less hidden or overlooked. But if someone is putting out actual cash for the rice, the cost is more obvious and the receiver feels the difference as keenly as the purchaser does.
A second reason is that growing rice is a deeply rooted tradition. Despite the fact that the cultural aspects of growing rice are disappearing as village life no longer revolves around the cultivation of rice as well as around the social aspects of planting and harvest, something important will be lost (lost but lodged in the collective unconscious as a lingering memory). Even folks living in the city for two or three generations still resonate to this over-riding culture. We are reminded of it every meal.
Another reason to keep planting rice for these past years is that converting a rice field into another purpose will take an investment. Traditionally, rice fields are open, but land for other purposes is fenced in. Rice irrigation uses a centuries-old gravity flow system of canals and ditches. Orchards nowadays depend on pipes and pumps. There must be land-fill for trees to raise them above the flood level. These costs are rather high. For example, we would be able to support about 40 trees on our rice field. That would take 40 truck-loads of soil at about 750 baht per load, or about 30,000, plus another 15,000 for a new irrigation system, 4000 for saplings and fertilizer and sprays for 6 years before the trees begin to bear a marketable crop. In about 10 years, however, if all goes well the annual fruit will sell for around ¼ of a million baht ($7,000) at today’s prices, which is a whole lot more than the profit for growing rice.
Nevertheless, the decision to convert from rice to fruit is not actually all about money.
[If you found this interesting, you may enjoy last year’s harvesting rumination: Harvesting Rice ]
THANKSGIVING in the USA is all about the annual feast. The focus of a feast is on the food. The reason for the event is the food. Families should assemble, but the primary reason they come is to appreciate the food together. Feasts are different from other gatherings and celebrations in that respect. A US Thanksgiving feast also involves an assumed or implied narrative.
Based on reminiscences and reflections on Thanksgiving feasts I have experienced, I suggest that the operative underlying narrative is not about Pilgrims. What I have observed is: (1) the feast is a tradition energized by memories that go back to the generation before last. The cooks who organize the feast remember their grandparents. It would be a rare Thanksgiving if the food traditions of remembered ancestors were not talked about. The ones cooking now may do things differently but they will remark on the differences. That’s the narrative running through their minds even if the Thanksgiving meal is outside the home or the menu scandalously includes tacos rather than turkey. (2) The feast is a celebration of bounty. It is a harvest festival above all, but the food represents a whole range of blessings, endowments, benefits and entitlements that are circumstantial. The circumstance is “America” but it is felt in a more localized sense as “our community and family and the territory where we live(d) and thrive(d).” (3) The foundational narrative is that our ancestors arrived and settled here in this general locality. Our collective story begins with that settling. Afterward, our place is “around here,” even if we or some of us are not here now. This is our place and our natural culture is the attitudes and behaviors of the people in this place.
These three dynamics give purpose and power to the Thanksgiving feast or whatever is substituted for it. The Thanksgiving feast is a reiteration of remembered family tradition, an emotional response to a sense of physical and social well-being, and an expression of being rooted and grounded (i.e. settled). If any of these three components is compromised the celebration of Thanksgiving will be weakened. Even though the food may be the same, if there are none around to share memories of Thanksgivings past (as with prisoners, for example) the celebration has a hollow ring. People who are unsettled (e.g. homeless) miss some of the power of the celebration, even if some kind agency serves dinner. Thanksgiving with tragically ill patients has a sense of urgency that interferes.
On the other hand, it does not essentially matter that the details of the stories we inherit about being settled are not the same. It is Thanksgiving in a farmhouse in Kansas as well as in a townhouse in the Bronx as long as there is a feast celebrating belonging, wellbeing, and settlement. That is what makes the idea of a national Thanksgiving functional. Even those of us living abroad can assume a Thanksgiving mode by keeping in mind our settled heritage as well as for our current situation. Of course, if we are religious we also give thankful credit to God for our wellbeing.
This year 2016, following the most tumultuous national referendum on national values in living memory, it would be good to reconsider what enables and underlies a successful US Thanksgiving. The least considered component of Thanksgiving is the concept of settlement.
Although the operative, Thanksgiving narrative (the story that we feel without prompting) goes no farther back, perhaps, than a vague notion that our ancestors ended their moving by settling down in new home territory, we can view this through a wider field of vision. Essential to our clan’s settlement is the whole idea of settlement.
“Settler Colonialism” is the emerging term for the particular type of process engaged in by immigrants from Europe into North America in the 17-19th centuries. Settler colonialism included certain concepts: (1) that the settlers were entitled to move where they went. (Some were compelled, in fact). (2) That there was no need to take prior residents into account. (3) That this movement reiterated a sacred (Biblical) precedent and mandate. (4) That the legal practices the settlers developed were sovereign. (5) That ranching, farming and manufacturing were the standard enterprises (mining, shipping and forestry were aspects in support of them).
The US national narrative tends to boldly celebrate this. Significant episodes revolve around successful establishment of settlements and elimination of threats. Heroes are those who pushed colonization forward. Alternative narratives were nullified in various ways.
What other narrative is possible?
A narrative of belonging has no concept of interruption, resettlement, or ownership. Eternal things cannot be owned. Well-being is not dependent on possessing such things. Even more absurd is the idea of owning other living beings or of a hierarchy of human authority. Instead there is unquestionable but inscrutable connectivity. In such a cultural ethos, thanksgiving is a response to particular events (a successful hunt, for example) rather than to abstract feeling and cyclical tradition.
A narrative of immigration is concerned with transition. Change is the constant. The destination is ahead. Narratives of immigration are nostalgic as well as hopeful, rather than satisfied and defensive. They espouse mystery, celebrate passages, and expect thresholds. Thanksgiving is concerned with incidents of adaptation and accommodation. Narratives of immigration are recapitulated in sacramental ceremonies in which divine-human encounters in the past presage ones in the present and portend ones to come. Thanksgiving is anticipatory.
These are two alternative narratives. They are irreconcilable with a settler narrative.
In order to celebrate the Great American Thanksgiving Feast it is not necessary to pay attention to any of these narratives. Consideration of the implications of settler colonialism could come at another time. Ironically, the pressure to do so on Thanksgiving comes from the imposition of a meta-narrative about patriotism, national heritage, and the myth of the first settlers. The story of the Pilgrims impels a response that our collective amnesia could otherwise avoid. The sober conclusion to critical review of settler colonization of North America is that the colonists cared nothing for their predecessors in the land and willfully drove them away as obstructions to settlement. We in any generation after these pioneer settlers are beneficiaries of their ruthlessness. The remnant of the original residents who survive, as well as recent immigrants, either do not share in the Thanksgiving or have capitulated to the principles of settler colonialism upon which the Thanksgiving Harvest Feast is founded and conducted.
Enjoy your turkey (or tacos).
This is the season for Dawk Khae. They fall during the night from two flowering trees next to our house. We are lucky to have them. They are fairly unusual in our valley. Seeds for ours came with the landfill when we were building. They were a pleasant surprise. They also are a financial help to Pramote’s sister, Jaa, who comes every morning to collect them and turn them into “Dawk Khae Stuffed with Pork”. Jaa has made about $100 (3000 baht) in the last 6 weeks collecting, cooking and selling stuffed Khae flowers.
Pramote tells me the recipe is easy (for him). There are many versions. The fragrant, waxy, slightly bitter blossoms resembling an orchid are stuffed with a marble-sized ball of finely-minced pork (almost pureed), mixed with egg mixed with curried chili paste. These are roasted. They can also be steamed, fried or boiled. Some add them to soup – this is north Thailand, the land of ten-thousand soups.
McFarland [Thai-English Dictionary, Stanford University Press, 1944, p. 213] says “The fleshy petals as well as the tender leaves are relished in curries and soups or fried with butter. The bark, leaves and flowers are used medicinally.” He does not give Khae a name in English, meaning the tree is not well known by any English name in Thailand. Sesbania grandiflora (Leguminosae) is sometimes called Hummingbird Tree and is found from Malaya to North Australia. As traditional medicine has been replaced by more dependable modern pharmaceuticals, the only major use of khae products is for flavoring food.
In thinking about dawk khae I have 4 observations:
1. Nature is generous to the industrious. HM the Late King of Thailand developed an economic “philosophy” around the concept of re-introducing multi-use plants for sustainable income and utility. Dispensing with infrequent or minimal options is extravagant, but it is an aspect of movement into a money economy.
2. Thai cuisine is opportunistic. “Real” Thai food begins with the question, “What’s available?” Not “What do we want to eat?” This means that restaurants with fixed menus are only serving the most common items. A lot of Thai food remains little-known. Thai cuisine is also artistic. Some recipes took days to prepare. Fruit carving is only the most well-known surviving food-art; artistic decoration in cream on cups of coffee is the most recent.
3. Bitter is one of five basic flavors of Thai food, along with salty, pet (hot-spicy), sweet and sour. These flavors have varieties, from subtle to bold. A complete menu for a meal includes all 5 flavors as well as types (stir-fried, thick curry, thin soup, roasted meat and vegetables). Also there should be a variety of ingredients, typically, chicken, pork, fish, and “seafood” (anything from the sea that is not fish), which are used to flavor vegetables. Everything is eaten with rice. In other words, traditional Thai food is rice with vegetables made tasty by small amounts of meat, herbs and spices.
4. Thai cuisine is an aspect of Thai culture. It is probably more dependable than language as an indicator of cultural diversity in Thailand. Culture mandates emanating from the Bangkok elite have focused on language as the factor to unify the country. Increasingly, to trace cultural roots, food is the best way to identify strains of diversity.
This blog is about, “What can I say to make people understand?”
First, the situation: Pramote Wanna and I have a secure, mutually satisfactory life together. After 9 years we were officially married in Iowa in 2009. This relationship is the result of a slowly-developed realization that we are good for each other and together can provide what each of us would lack singly. We are also accepted and integrated into each other’s clans. I have a definite status and role in Pramote’s extended family and he has a place of esteem in mine. Because we live in Thailand we are not afforded the full protection and benefit of the law, of course. I am an officially unattached alien. I have an annually renewed right to live here and work at Payap University. Should something unforeseen happen and the Thai government decide I must depart, my relationship with Pramote would count for nothing. But for 16 years the worst that has happened has been my loss of title, membership status and roles in the church here. This was due to the aggressive attacks of American missionaries rather than action by Thai leaders. In all these years since 2000 the only homophobia and danger we have experienced has been from Americans.
Now, the problem: How can I explain that here in northern Thailand we feel safe but there in the USA we do not? The problem is not in articulating this. I have just said it. The problem is that the people to whom I say it reject what I’m saying. “Oh, the situation is not so bad,” some say. On a day-to-day basis people in the USA are kind, considerate, tolerant and polite. The exceptions are rare. Still, the exceptions are there. And they are not as rare as they used to be. Violence and terrifying events almost never happen here against same-sex adult couples. There they happen regularly. They are not exceptional. They are accelerating. “Just ignore those comments,” others advise. I can do that. I have been subjected to enough criticism and abuse to handle it. But I don’t think Pramote can put it into the same minimalist perspective I can. I cannot promise him that our comfort and safety as a gay couple would be as great there as here. In fact, I would have to say that the opposite would be the case. “Well, there are risks you take anywhere,” I am reminded. Yes, statistically our chances of being involved in a fatal auto accident are greater here. My chances of confronting a cobra in the bathroom are practically nil in Illinois. But our chances of being subjected to harassment or discrimination are much greater in America.
Finally, the reality: I do not have to emigrate with Pramote back to the USA and we have no plans to do so. This discussion is hypothetical. It’s “what-if” thinking. But the reality is that for the last decade our type of relationship was becoming mainstream in the USA and that meant we could begin to expect movement here in Thailand, too. Now we are going to be on the defensive again. I have counted the postings by LGBT friends on Facebook and there is not one since November 8 that shows confidence we can keep on making progress into the mainstream without a fight or struggle. We LGBT Americans and immigrants cannot expect to do more than hold onto as much of the progress we have made as we can. Violence is becoming acceptable. Extremism is expanding. A considerable amount of it is directed at us.
I would like to be proud and unafraid but it’s not working.
A Crystal Child ลูก แก้า is a metaphorical, honorific title for a child going to be ordained as a Buddhist novice. He is fulfilling a traditional transition from being a prince into being a humble mendicant, which is a much higher role. To symbolize this change the child is adorned as splendidly as possible and then travels to the temple on the back of a horse. The Prince Gautama left his palatial home and family and rode his fabled horse, Kanthaka, across the mystical frontier (symbolized by a river) into the forest, on the night he renuoned his heritage and then began his search for enlightenment. In North Thailand the custom is to dress the boy in pure white or elaborately in bright colors to reiterate that journey.
What, then, is being symbolized when (as in the case of the girl in our pictures) the child is not going to be ordained, and indeed there is no ordination ceremony at all?
On the day this child rode to the temple the event was a katin, a celebration to make merit at the end of the rainy season by taking new sets of robes to the monks at a temple so they might be fittingly attired as they end their retreat and emerge into the wider world again. All katin ceremonies have two things in common, in Thai Buddhism. They are as festive as possible and they bring major resources to a temple. The point is to make merit through the donation of gifts. Merit is in direct proportion to the effort expended in making the donation. Traveling a long distance makes more merit than a short distance. Making a large donation makes more merit than a small donation. Contributing to an effort to expand the benefits of enlightenment to others makes more merit than other forms of human improvement.
When the Crystal Child rode her “dancing pony” at the head of the procession to bring robes and donations to the temple she was a symbol that the sponsors of the katin were doing more than helping build an assembly hall for a new temple in a small village. The sponsors were saying that they were giving spiritual, financial, and moral support to the village for its entire mission. They intended the festival to be as splendid as possible, but they were concerned for the future and were investing in it.
The future belongs to children. How often we need to be reminded of that.
On November 2, 2016 the people of Chiang Mai Province expressed their veneration of His Late Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej who ascended the throne 70 years ago and died on October 13, 2016 about two months before his 89th birthday anniversary. The service was attended by a throng of about 100,000 persons. (An early report in a Thai newspaper underestimated the crowd at 35,000, and that has been widely repeated.) It was held at the Royal Floral Park southwest of the city of Chiang Mai. The center of the park is one of several large “shrines” built around the country to honor His Majesty. The park hosts floral exhibitions and features long-term displays of multiple-use vegetation, which was a passionate interest of His Majesty.
The College of Music of Payap University was given responsibility for providing a choir and orchestra for the occasion. 200 youth from Payap, The Prince Royal’s College, Dara Academy, and Montfort College sang from the steps of the shrine and led the massed assembly in singing the King’s Anthem, “The Impossible Dream” and “The King of the Land.” The Governor of Chiang Mai spoke in behalf of the Province, remembering more than 90 visits HM the King made to Chiang Mai and his expansive agricultural projects which transformed Chiang Mai’s reputation into a renowned agricultural development area. ML Panadda Diskul represented the Government of Thailand as well as everyone in the audience addressing the King, as it were, to express gratitude and thanks for HM the King’s varied interests and their outcome. It was mentioned that Royal Projects undertaken under Him Majesty’s direction over 70 years amounted to more than one new project a week.
The memorial service included several highly planned components. Everyone in attendance lighted candles they had brought or which were provided by the provincial organizers. Candles were lit as the “King’s Song” Tha Wora Bhudda-jao was sung. At the end of the song everyone extinguished their candles except those placed along the avenue in front of the shrine. From the air these still-lighted candles spelled “Chiang Mai” with a heart, and the King’s monogram.
More than a dozen drone cameras buzzed overhead capturing the scene below. I am indebted to many sources for the photographic perspectives on this extensive event. I believe it is that largest gathering of its kind in Chiang Mai history.
NOTE: November 1 marks the beginning of the fifth year of this website, “Ken Dobson’s Queer Ruminations from Thailand”. Each year we have attempted a different set of topics. For 2016-2017 our subject matter will include images and interpretations from North Thailand, as well as timely reflections on topics of interest to Thai and American observers.
Tira Kitner thought she preferred to work alone now that granddaughter Maggie was away over the hills at Hogwarts. At first she resented the two laddies the Ministry of Magic had sent as her assistants for a broom shop. In fact, Tira, being the independent Highland Scot she was, didn’t think much of the whole plan to put her back to work. But the pre-paid order for ten brooms was persuasive.
“Pre-paid,” she muttered as if she’d meant to say “PRE-POSterous!” No Scot would do such a thing as pay before they had to, at least none she knew, who were mostly confined to the vicinity of Gilfinning, which was not a large population sample.
The thing that aggravated the old woman was the idea of being roped into broom-making again, and given “orders” to produce ten brooms with the ominous promise of “still more orders” to come, plus the intrusion of two utter strangers.
In the end things took a bonnie turn.
The boys, for a start, were precious lads, come to that. She’d have resented feeding them, but from the first day on the job they brought food enough for the three of them. So that complaint never got hold of her soul. A more gnawing suspicion was that the boys had been foisted on her, not so much to help lighten her burden, as to ferret out her secrets.
Tira Kitner was the last living witch who knew how to make brooms “the old way”. She was vaguely aware that one thin line of her ancestry went back to Poland and that was the line that carried the old broom lore. Even though she was the last and then the lore would be lost unless Maggie took it up, she harbored the suspicion the boys would abscond with the secret that was hers, her own, her one claim. She could not say it was a claim to fame or even a mark of her identity, since it was a secret she thought no one had any idea she knew. But she knew the secret and it was one she loathed to disclose. Better to have the secret perish with her than to trust unworthy witches with it.
As the old lore had it, only witches could make truly bewitched brooms. Wizards did not have the patience or the keen eye for details. So, she decided, the boys were safe because they’d be sure to miss the key clues to the old way of broom-making. She could use the boys to fetch and follow. If Dean Thomas had given her a couple of lassies she’d have been less inclined to go back to broom-making. She had quit, she told herself, to preserve the secret, although the work was really more than she could handle. She had refused to admit this. Admitting it would have blocked her returning to the craft.
Broom lore in magical Britain was locked in the late Middle Ages. Brooms to fly had to look like they did in peasant villages 500 years ago, all twigs and sticks. They had to be enchanted, but little things made the difference between one model and another in terms of aerodynamics. In Harry Potter’s time, when he was seeker and then captain of the Gryffindor team, the Firebolt was the fastest broom in the sky. It took a broom-flying master to handle one. Real Quidditch professionals loved the game because they trusted their brooms. Quidditch magazines felt that broom science had advanced about as far as it could go.
Amazingly, Tira Kitner did not know anything about Quidditch. She may have heard about it but it went in one ear and out the other. She made brooms for the love of broom-making, a purer love than Ollivander had for wand-making. Ollivander was dedicated to producing wands that chose a witch or wizard so he could see how that marriage worked out. He remembered every wand he had ever made and who it had gone to. Tira could barely remember ten of the hundreds of brooms she, her mother and grandmother had made, and she couldn’t remember a single witch who had bought one, nor did she care. So she was not the least bit curious about who had ordered the ten brooms for which she had been paid in advance. She was motivated entirely by her Scottish sense of duty. Since she had taken the money she was honor-bound to make the brooms.
Dean Thomas and his colleagues in the Ministry of Magic probably thought that Tira Kitner would need help securing scarce products to manufacture the brooms they had ordered. Their investigators had rounded up two 50-year-old samples of brooms made by Tira and her mother. The components were hard to find these days. Strong young men would be needed to scale the mountain where the last of the vines grew that bound the brooms the Ministry had studied.
“Nae,” Tira said when Bobbie volunteered to make the arduous search for vines to bind the brooms. “Nae” was all she said, but she turned up with a leather thong that she said would work well. In fact, wire would work even better and produce a tighter broom that lasted longer, but Tira had concerns about lightning in stormy flights. The same thing with the handles. Any wood would do. Perfectly matched twigs were not needed either. Plain old broom straw would produce a satisfactory broom, she insisted. Before long Bobbie and Rory were beginning to doubt the stories they’d heard in London about the Gilfinning witches’ wonderful brooms. All the folks wanted to know in the Department of Magical Games and Sports was “How do they fly?” The two 50-year-old models out-flew Comets and Nimbuses.
Finally, the ten brooms were finished except for the family secret. In the end, Tira had to relent. It was a contest of principles. She resisted the idea of sharing the secret with the boys, but she realized she herself could not take the brooms for their final treatment, without which they would just be ordinary flying brooms. Bobbie and Rory were aware that Tira was procrastinating for some reason. The brooms were finished and ready to be shipped, but days slipped by and Tira dithered. They let her alone and practiced Quidditch to pass the time.
There were only six days left, she thought. She dithered through four of them letting twin ideas grow that the boys were likeable, trustworthy, clever lads, but lads for all that, who would fail to fathom the Kitner secret even if it flew right at them. The secret, she told herself, was safe as long as no witches were exposed to it.
On the second day before the full moon she broke her silence.
Nothing Bobbie McLaren and Rory Morgan had ever done or dreamed of doing came close to the nightmarish instructions she gave them.
After moon-set, before sunrise on the night before the full moon, they set forth on a nine hour flight, carrying five brooms each to a cave on an island in the North Atlantic. There they waited for evening. Inside the mouth of the cave – just as the sun was setting and not a moment before – they carefully laid the ten brooms in a precise pattern.
Three brooms were laid side by side a foot apart on the ground. Three brooms were laid cross-wise on top of them. The four other brooms were laid as a border, one on each side. They formed a grid of sixteen squares. Into each of the outer twelve slots they placed an apple and into each of the central four squares they placed a pear.
Before the full moon rose, the boys hid as Tira had warned them to do. They were within sight of the brooms, but felt fairly secure behind a boulder. Their wands, brooms and every magical item they carried, had been stowed far enough away they could not be felt or seen. Again they waited.
Slowly the moonlight crept toward the mouth of the cave. Then it illuminated the brooms just inside. The boys were too far away to hear stirring inside the cave, but they shuddered as they caught sight of flashes of reflected moonlight, followed by a head with a pointed snout like a Rugby or American football the size of a household refrigerator. The head appeared to float in the moonlight since the neck supporting it was still in the shadows. It looked right and left as if expecting to find something portended by the grid of brooms and fruit on the cave floor below its chin. Then one by one the beast sucked the apples into its mouth leaving the pears until last. When the fruit had been consumed the strangest part of the whole event took place. Step by careful step the great lizard passed slowly over the brooms without causing them to stir an inch. As it got past them, almost haphazardly it swished the tip of its tail just enough to destroy the grid.
Now in full moonlight, the size of the monster was visible. Its body was as big as a truck with a tail twice again as long. When it was all the way out of the cave, the beast paused, surveying the cloudless sky. Once, Bobbie was sure it looked right at them cowering behind their pathetic shield a short jump away. But, with a yawn, the silver-white lizard leapt into the thin air flapping leathery wings that extended over the boys’ heads and beyond. Within a few flaps it was gone.
“What now?” Rory whispered. Tira’s instructions had been vague about this part of the ordeal, as if she had doubts it might extend beyond this. All was calm, silence broken by the normal sounds of the night.
“Now we go back,” Bobbie proposed.
Cautiously they made their way to the brooms, helter-skelter on the ground.
“Omigosh,” Rory gasped. “They’re wet!”
“Soaked in dragon pee!” Bobbie swore a protective oath.
Dark, handsome Dean Thomas was waiting in Tira Kitner’s cottage when Bobbie and Rory got back. They were flying on two of the new brooms and could hardly contain their excitement.
“We got back in three hours!” Bobbie shouted. “We’d have been sooner but we had to slow down to keep from passing a jet plane.”
Dean wanted to know about performance, maneuverability, drift and drag … everything but dragons. Bobbie noticed how carefully Granny Tira was paying attention to their report, a scowl only gradually easing as they never even hinted about the dragon.
Dean took one of the new brooms up and swam a ballet through the sky, finally rocketing toward the horizon. He came back even more enthusiastic than the boys because he had ideas about how all this might develop.
Rory had produced a meal, lavish by Gilfenning standards, and as they sat around the broom workbench eating it, Dean pulled a little cotton sack out of his robes that rattled with the dull clinks of gold galleons. He was going to say, “Here are orders for 100 more brooms, with specifications and design improvements,” but something told him to slow down.
Bobbie took over. “Granny Tira,” he began modestly. “Can we make a few more brooms for customers, at, say, three times the price you’ve been paid for these?”
Dean gulped but kept quiet. The old woman chewed thoughtfully and then nodded. Nothing was mentioned about “orders, specifications or deadlines”. But it was agreed the new class of brooms would be called TIRASTREAKS and each broom would be inscribed with a name, like steamships have, rather than a serial number. The first four were to be Aalie, Abner, Action and Adam.
The next day, after Dean had left with the first ten Tirastreaks, Bobbie asked the old woman, “What’s our peak capacity?”
“Ten a month,” she said flatly.
“What if we had more workers…?” Rory began.
“Ten a month,” she repeated sharply.
Then the wizards thought they knew the Kitner secret. Lads though they were, they were neither too stupid to know why the limit was ten, nor too dim-witted to know they must never let on they knew.
Tira, on the other hand, never let them see what she did to the fruit for the dragon. Only Maggie would be told that.
Tira and the boys made a good team. Bit by bit Tira let them improve her circumstances, adding a bit of sheltered space, a bit of comfort, a bit of variety to their diet, but no spilled secrets.
The Association of Christian Universities and Colleges in Asia installed a Payap University team as leaders for the coming two years. Dr. Sompan Wongdee, President of Payap University was ratified as President of ACUCA and the Rev. Dr. Esther Wakeman, Chaplain and past Assistant to the President of Payap, was installed as General Secretary of the association at their biennial General Assembly, October 13-16.
ACUCA was founded in 1976 with 22 Asian colleges and universities as charter members, including Payap. Dr. Amnuay Tapingkae, President of Payap College at that time was elected to the initial executive committee. ACUCA was initiated by the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia, which provided support for several years.
As of the opening of the General Assembly in Bali, Indonesia last week, ACUCA has 59 members. To be a member institution a college or university must be owned and operated by a Christian foundation (not a private individual or government). Nations in East and South East Asia from which institutions have joined ACUCA are Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. National caucuses take turns in rotation providing the top two officials and office services.
Activities of ACUCA include annual leadership conferences, especially designed for presidents of Christian institutions in the association, student camps for delegates from all the institutions, student exchanges and a newsletter. These and any other activities of the association are organized under the auspices of the ACUCA Executive Committee, composed of the officers (President, Vice President/President Elect, General Secretary, and Treasurer), as well as a representative from every country not otherwise represented.
As of October 15, 2016 until the next General Assembly in October 2018, the office of ACUCA will be at Payap University. Ajan Malee Kongwannit, Assistant for Internationalization to the President of Payap University, will coordinate ACUCA’s secretarial services. The 2018 General Assembly is scheduled to be held on Payap University’s campus.
The main mission of ACUCA is to sustain and encourage Christian values and identity for the colleges and universities. Leadership of institutions of higher education, by the very nature of the offices, tends to be constantly changing. ACUCA provides a valuable opportunity for the presidents (and their representatives) to get acquainted and to maintain wisdom about the nature of Christian higher education in the region.
The last time ACUCA leadership was from Thailand was 2004-2006 when Dr. Janjira Wongkhomthong of Christian University of Thailand was President and I was General Secretary.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.