For the whole five days of my trip, Khun Tui travels with me. She translates for me because my abysmal Thai is woefully inadequate (unless I want to say ‘turn right here’, ‘go straight’ or ‘how much is it?’) She is always there ready to explain a joke, or inform me of something somebody wants me to know.
I’ve suddenly become passionately interested in my fellow creature: from teeny weeny crabs to singing gibbons. In fact I’m interested in plants too. As a long time lover of cashew nuts, I’m fascinated by the many cashew trees all around me, and simultaneously gutted that I can’t shell cashew nuts with the villagers because it’s the wrong season.
For much of the time Khun Tui volunteers ‘that’s a mudskipper’ or that’s a ‘samet tree’ and I listen and wonder and then forget it and I have to ask her: what did you call that little fishy thing jumping about on the mud? I spend all my time scribbling notes in my orange notebook, trying to learn about the flora and fauna in this beautiful environment. But inevitably I get back to the home stay and I have to ask Khun Tui again ‘what was that tree called?’
Sometimes I ask her ‘what’s that?’ ‘How many years is it between planting a rubber tree and being able to get the sap? Then 'how long will you get sap from it?’ and when she doesn’t know she asks our guide. She tells me about a book back at the office all about the area and I vow to get hold of a copy. (I have). She is full of knowledge, and tirelessly tells me everything she knows.
On our last full day we’re both tired. I am planting orchids for the nursery and a little orchid to go straight into the jungle, and Khun Tui is lying on a hammock watching us and translating for my guide, Khun Noi when sign language no longer works.
I am nervous having seen a tiny, wee, almost microscopic spider in the coconut bowl I’m planting an orchid in. I leap from sitting cross legged into the air, and announce I don’t like spiders, please could someone remove it. Khun Noi and Khun Tui look at each other. “What?” I say, “don’t tell me, there are proper big spiders in the jungle?” They nod.
Eventually Khun Noi and I are finished and it’s time to start our trek into the jungle. It’s a two and a half hour walk, the first part of which is up into the forest. I am wearing metaphorical blinkers – I see some humongous spiders’ webs and I tighten the blinkers so I can only see a few feet in front of me.
Khun Noi points out many things to me, which Khun Tui dutifully translates. We pass by a sapling with a tiny bird’s nest in it at tummy height, ‘ahhh, sweet’ is all I can manage. Then we see another diminutive nest, low down in a branch, and further on yet another one. I wonder at the stupidity of a bird that makes its nest at eating height. I wonder if I’m really interested.
Eventually, I have to ask: “Khun Tui, what makes this tiny bird’s nest?”
And she replies: “A tiny bird.”