Conversations with a Buffalo: Chapter Three
All of you have been waiting for this part. You want to know what we talked about. I’m going to tell you. A lot was said. A lot more than I’m going to tell you here. We talked about all kinds of stuff, lots of different topics. Sometimes, I’ll write down verbatim what we said, but most of the time, I won’t. Some of it was about personal stuff. The buffalo’s and mine. You wouldn’t be interested in that.
I had been staying on the farm for a year or more. I’m not sure exactly how long as I lost all track of time. I never knew what day it was or what month most of the time. For the most part, I stayed on the farm and didn’t venture into the village, even though dozens of folks welcomed me over for a shin dig – weddings, funerals, birthday parties and monks’ initiation parties mainly. Sometimes, I went, but I was happier on the farm with the vegetables, fruit and the animals.
A bit more background. I’d had experiences like this before in Thailand and around the world. Some call it supernatural. I’m not going to tell you about them here. It’s not the place. It wouldn’t be appropriate. I’ve also had conversations with remarkable men and women who have had similar experiences. As far as I know, science hasn’t disproved it yet and definitely hasn’t proved it. It’s not geared up for that, but that doesn’t concern me. You just have to look at the evidence and either believe it, disbelieve it or have an open mind.
I was on my own on the platform in my hut. I called it my hut by then, even though I hadn’t built it and I didn’t own it. It was night. I’d had another fulfilling day of running around, chatting and eating. I was becoming really healthy, both physically and mentally. It was doing me a lot of good. I fell asleep quickly as I always did by that time, lying on the soft, wooden surface.
I didn’t usually wake up in the night. I always had a good sleep. I fell asleep when the sun went down, and awoke when it came up. However, on that particular night, I did wake up. I could hear movement outside. I thought my farming mates had come back for a bit of grub and a chat. I sat up, looked around, walked down the stairs, and saw no one. I shrugged and went straight back. A few moments later, I heard a voice, a woman’s voice.
I got up and looked out. All I could see was our buffalo called Short Horns. She was a good-looking, healthy, gentle, female, about fifty-two in human years, I was told. Let me back track a bit here. There were five buffaloes on the farm. There were two adult females: Short Horns and Cute. There was one adult male called Golden Spoon and two babies, born to Cute, called December and August.
Buffaloes used to be used for work purposes, but these days they’re pets. Farmers and their families seem to love them more than they love their dogs, more like people, a member of their family, and, it seemed to me, as if they were people. In turn, the buffaloes seem to love their owners. Children love them and let them ride on their backs. It was as if the good treatment and respect they have is the reward they deserve for centuries of hard labour helping the farmers with hard work, ploughing the fields, pulling down trees, going to war and transporting people and goods.
I digress. Forgive me. Then I heard it clearly: “It’s about time you and I had a chat”. I rushed down the stairs again and looked around. “Hey, look this way. Who are you looking for? I’m talking to you.” I didn’t recognise the voice. Now, I couldn’t say for sure at that time, that it was actually Short Horns talking to me. Lots of thoughts rushed through my head. My first thoughts were I was imagining it, or hallucinating. Then I was convinced someone was playing a trick on me, hiding in the bushes. May be they were strangers. But, if they were strangers, our dogs would have barked at them like banshees on a night out in the town.
I sat on the last step, grabbed the lao kow from under the rock, looked at Short Horns and swigged.It didn’t help and it didn’t taste any better than the first time I’d tried it. Now, at that time I still couldn’t say for sure that Short Horns was actually talking to me. She looked at me for a long time as buffaloes are want to do with people: they eat, they look up; they stare and you wonder what they are thinking about. I heard words but I wasn’t sure. However, after a few minutes, I gave it a shot and started to talk to her. No, it was more like at her.
I just talked and talked wthout giving her a chance to say anything. It all just came in a non-stop torrent, like a tropical storm. I askd Short Horns what she thought about the buffalo races in Chonburi and the buffalo fights in Ko Samui. I also talked about the statue in Bang Rajan with a buffalo in it commerating the fight against the Burmese, the film of the same name, and the buffalo training centre in Mae Rim. I asked her for her views on the work achieved at the universities on buffalo development. I think Short Horns was a Swamp Buffalo, so I asked her if she’d ever met any River Buffaloes. I don’t really know why I asked her those questions. I suppose I thought she would know about those buffalo topics and would have a lot to say about them. Eventually, I stopped and gave her chance to reply. She said she didn’t know anything about those buffalo topics as I called them and, by the way, as she put it, she wasn’t interested in any of them.
Instead, she had something to ask me. She wanted to know why I didn’t do anything.
“What do you mean I don’t do anything?” I asked her indignantly.
According to her I just chatted to people, joked, watched them work, slept, meditated, read, wrote stuff down, talked to myself, listened to music, danced, ran around, jumped about in the rice fields and the ponds, caught fish, cooked a bit, played with the dogs, and rode on the backs of the buffaloes. Why didn’t I farm, she asked me. I told her I wasn’t allowed to. It was against the law. Foreigners aren’t allowed to farm. I wanted to, but I couldn’t.
I told her she was a fine one to talk. What did she do all day? Just eat, sleep and bathe. She was like a permanent tourist in a five star hotel. She didn’t like that. She reckoned that they could still use her to plough or use her as transport if petrol prices went up. She also pointed out that buffalo fertilizer was the best as it was free and beneficial to the environment. The farmers also ate her placenta before she had a chance to eat it herself, and they could do again if she had another baby, (as if that was likely, I thought, but too polite to say it) and she insisted she could still be eaten especially if the farmers ran out out of other kinds of meat. She said she was lucky she hadn’t been eaten so far. She could also be sold. And what does that feel like? It doesn’t feel good at all. Then she added that she also had positive psychological advantages for people. She made the farmers and their families feel happy and calm.
Then she just walked off and, by that time, I’d got really tired and went back to sleep. I looked out for Short Horns the next night and the night after that. I waited by the dry rice plants. I talked to her, but she didn’t answer me. She just looked at me and then looked away. It was weeks later before we had our next conversation.
She wanted to know why I spent so much time hanging around the farm instead of going off to the village with the others. She suggested it would be better for me to spend more time with my own kind, as she put it. As for not going into the village, I told her that the people were really friendly, kind and welcoming, but I felt I just didn’t fit it. It wasn’t the big things, it was the small things. It sounds stupid to a lot of people, but not for me.
“Go, on, tell me then,” she challendged me.
I told her I didn’t like all the noise, the tanoys, the markets, the music, tvs, rice machines and people shouting. And I didn’t like the smoke from the fires burning day and night outside people’s houses, which gets into your lungs and makes you choke. The noise and the smoke are unhealthy. I told her that was one of the reasons I’d branched out from the town. (She hadn’t heard of Bangkok, but she knew about the town, so I said that, as I didn’t have the patience to explain about Bangko). She laughed loudly for a long time.
“That’s nothing,” she said, “ัyou can get used to that.” “I don’t want to,” I told her. “Why not?” she asked. I didn’t answer that. I didn’t know why at that time.
I asked her a question. It just popped into my head after that exchange. I asked her whether foreigners should behave as the Romans do when in Rome, but I didn’t put it quite like that: “Do you think I should behave in the same way as the villagers?” “์Not for everything,” she said slowly.
“What do you mean,” I demanded.
“Well, for example, they use certain words. If you used them they would be shocked and appalled. They’d look down on you, but it’s normal and natural for them. And no one thinks anything of it.”
“What kind of words,” I asked her. I knew what kind; I just wanted to hear her say them, but she wasn’t going to fall for that. I then asked her for more examples, but she just said, she wasn’t ready to tell me more for now. She said I should think for myself. At that, I walked away to the fish pond trying to think.
After a few months, one of my closest mates came up to me looking concerned. He asked me if we could have a chat. I thought he had a personal problem he wanted to discuss with me, something perhaps I could help him to solve. It was my belief that sometimes, it’s good to tell others stuff because it can help you to come up with a solution by yourself, or other people can look at it with a different perspective, which can sometimes help you to put everything into a meaningful context.
No. It wasn’t about him. It was about me. He said he was wondering whether it would be better for me to move back to Bangkok. I asked him why. He said that people around the village were gossiping about me. A number of people claimed they’d seen me, and heard me, talking to myself.
“Oh,” I said, “I haven’t been talking to myself. I’ve been talking to Short Horns.”
He looked at me with even more concern and then said, with some relief, “That’s not Short Horns. That’s I-Tung.”
“Who is I-Tung?” I asked him, perplexed.
“I-Tung thinks he’s a buffalo and sometimes turns up here. He lives outside in the fields, with other buffaloes. Sometimes, you see him in the village and by the side of the road. He became like that after his mother-in-law treated him like a buffalo. Her daughter says she thinks that her mother really things he is a buffalo. His wife can often be seen walking with him, just like we do with our buffaloes.”
I would have laughed if it hadn’t been so sad and frightening. I wanted to assure him. “์No,” I said, “I’ve been chatting to Short Horns.”
I had one last chat with Short Horns before heading back to Bangkok. I don’t know exactly how long I’d been on the farm, but as my mate suggested, it was time for me to go. I was beginning to be a nuisance for my farmer mates. Too many people were talking in the village and laughing at them.
Short Horns suggested I should marry one of the women from the village and if I did that, I could stay. A village wife would take care of me, she said. Many of the women also needed a husband to take care of them. Some of them wouldn’t mind living on the farm too, many did, and when they felt like it, they could always go back to the village to chat with their friends, or families or go to the market and, sometimes, the temple, of course.
I thanked her for her concern and told her I thought it wouldn’t work as my culture and the local culture were different. There would be too many misunderstandings, too many different expectations. I told her it was hard enough marrying someone from your own culture, let alone another culture even if you can speak the language. I said the women should marry someone from the village if they wanted to get married. Short Horns said they would if there were men available, especially ones they felt would suit them.
“So, you’re suggesting that I would be second best, then?” I said with a hint of anger.
“Yes,” she said, placidly.
I asked Short Horns if she’d ever been married. She told me not to be so stupid. Buffaloes don’t get married. However, she’d had a baby and he was eventually taken away. She could remember him desperately calling out for her milk when he got lost. He or she had wandered off from each other. He was big then but could run faster than a dog. He could jump over fences. She said she could also remember the shocked look on the men’s faces from the town when they saw her son running towards them. I asked her what the men were doing there. She said they’d come to look at the farm.
Finally, I asked her whether the other buffaloes’ experiences were the same as hers and whether they had the same views. She said I should ask them. I tried, but they just looked at me and said nothing.