What does a house mean? The residence we live in signifies our identity and values and sends signals about that to those who know us. I would like to ruminate on personal identity issues with regard to 3 homes I visited last weekend.
Dr. Porntip Kawinsupon of Christian University of Thailand and her daughter have built a house on an acre of farmland about 12 miles north of Nakhon Pathom. Their house dedication ceremony was a chance for friends and colleagues to respond to this significant life-event. From conversations and comments that day I believe this house represents a major life-goal for my friend, Porntip. She has had homes before, but never a house. Now she has an identifiable location of her own choice and design. It is modern, solid, and dependable and the land around it, inside its boundary wall, can be developed. No doubt the things to come will be in several senses practical: vegetables, shade trees and flowers. The house, its lot and location, and its style of construction say that the owner values substance without extravagance. The largest indoor creative area is the kitchen (rather than a family room, studio, or library, for example). Since ostentation is not the nature for Porntip and Nong Muk, the size of the house and grounds suggests that Dr. Porntip is planning for a future that accommodates more than these two women. There’s room for growth. The house is noticeable also for what it lacks. It is fairly isolated, down a narrow lane, not part of a village. We know Portip and Srp are not inclined to hermitage living, so this house in its independent location is a clue that these two women will continue their community life in other ways, as they have for years. The house could signal a radical break, but it does not. They intend to reside there while they live in a much wider world, continuing church involvement, associations and friendships without interruption.
The Rev. Surakit Kamonrat presided at Porntip’s house blessing and then welcomed us to visit his new residence in a subdivision on Phuttamonton Soi 4, halfway back to the city from Nakhon Pathom. Just 2 months ago he retired from about 2 decades as director of the Bangkok Student Christian Center where he lived on campus. Now he and his wife live in a narrow townhouse with their daughter, son-in-law (who both have jobs) and 1 year-old grandson, Miracle. Miracle is the reason they all live together in a house that can barely hold them. The house signifies how central Miracle is for Surakit and his wife, at least for the present. Miracle weighed about a kilogram at birth but he’s on a standard growth curve now. Small as he is, or because he was recently so much smaller, he is the force drawing this nuclear family into a house that reflects their dedication to one another. For them the future is probably imperfectly represented in this present housing. This house probably does not look much like the house of Surakit’s dreams. As an observer of implied values, I think the house they live in signifies how little importance this family places on such middle-class values as elbow-room, personal privacy, convenience, and display of prestige.
A third house visited last Saturday belongs to my host for the day who co-celebrated Dr. Porntip’s house warming. The Rev. Prasatpong Pansuay and his wife, Orapin, and their two children are co-owners and investors in a dream-come-true home in a subdivision in the Thonburi section of Bangkok. Prasatpong and Orapin are former seminary students, so I have known them since they were teens. Let me put it this way: the climb from their origins to this lovely home in an exclusive, gated community has been astounding. Nobody is more surprised than Prasatpong. He is senior pastor of one of Bangkok’s oldest and most “established” Protestant churches, a position that has propelled him into the top echelon of church clerical leadership in Thailand. However, being a pastor in Thailand is not a role that normally endows a person with economic capability to retire well. What the Thonburi house signifies is family solidarity. It is a joint venture. Their son is a successful and hard-working member of the Thai media giant Grammy Inc., in the radio and TV advertising department. Their daughter is a newly graduated nurse in Bangkok Christian Hospital. So, 2 other things this Thonburi townhouse represents are this family’s firm transplantation from the rural north to the heart of the largest city in mainland South East Asia, and their commitment to each other.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.