Sunday, October 2, 2011

Yai Ya, Why Do I love Thee? (Hua Hin, Thailand)

Published by AsianTraveler Magazine 2009
Images by Lisa Cruz

Let me count the ways. Do I love you for your welcoming embrace or your soothing laughter? Do I love you for offering me respite from the madness of the city or for rejuvenating my spirit through your healing hands?  Days after I left your property, I still wonder over the pree-da (or the delight  - as you have taught me in your native tongue) that you have generously shared.  As I sit within the four walls of my room, the dark corners absent of your light, I dream of the remains of the summer sun still warm on my skin. Today I write you this letter, listing down the many joys I had experienced in your bosom as my way of gratitude.

Thank you for taking me back in my wawa's arms.

I remember stepping into the wide bungalow of your abode, a cool welcome under the starkly hot sun of Hua Hin. It reminded me of my grandmother’s home, of the cool shade of trees by the porch on summer days. 

This path seems to lead me back to my wawa's garden.

In your receiving area, I saw a stuffed doll on the table. Its crinkly eyes smiled, hidden under ridiculously large spectacles balanced under a button nose.  “It’s YaiYa’s mascot, “ one of your staff members whispered beside me as I played with the doll’s salt and pepper gray yarn hair tied neatly in a bun.  Yai means maternal grandmother in Thai, she continued to explain.  Ya means paternal grandmother. Perhaps it wasn’t an accident that Yaiyai in Greek also means grandmother. How very appropriate, I thought, as I surveyed the spaciousness about me, the tiny cookies on a platter by the coffee table, the unpretentious artwork on the walls,  the native woven fan on the chair, and a handful of smiling staff welcoming our arrival. Nothing seemed calculated or snobbish. Everything appeared natural, real, inviting. These are just some of the many things I love about you, YaiYa.

Yaya, lola, wawa, grandma = love and a warm embrace.

YaiYa, I love your cheerful spirit.

I see it on the faces of your staff, and most of all, your daughter. Duangruedee has your smile. 
She laughs with an easy and graceful manner. Her face, framed with short greying hair, is a younger reflection of you. She ushered us in with a twinkle in her eyes, laughing at her absentmindedness. She handed me an invitation written on thin recycled paper. “We request the pleasure of your company for dinner tonight,“  it read in carefully written script.   

I love your kindness

You surround yourself with beautiful things, not only because they are appealing to the eye, but mostly because they honor Mother Nature and care for the community’s wellbeing. “Everything is naturally and locally made,” said Duangruedee, from the custom made cotton bed covers to the earth-friendly tote bag.  She takes her responsibility to the community seriously, it seemed, by returning to the community through YaiYa. The body lotion, foot cream, and hand cream, all lined up on the pristinely white bathroom sink, are made of longan seed, a natural antioxidant. The formula had been made by the students of the nearby university, Mae Fah Luang. The subtle smell of jasmine and tropical flowers is bottled in recycled plastic containers.

At Yaiya's lobby lounge. Definitely not your typical hotel.

In each of the 23 deluxe rooms, six suites, and 11 pool villas are light silk blankets made from Hua Hin’s renowned cotton house, Khomapastr. It reminded me of my grandmother’s embrace when the air conditioning would get chilly in the middle of the night.

I appreciate your thoughtfulness

Today, I await the coming of the full moon of May with a little bit of trepidation mixed with excitement. Under the full moon, I would celebrate another year of my life that had just passed. Two of your attendants came in with a little chocolate cake topped with a lighted candle.  They sang me a happy birthday song, a little awkwardly at first, their voices soft and shy with the Petch accent. I closed my eyes, listened to their musical voices, made a wish, and blew out the candle.

I was blessed by the full moon of Hua Hin on my birthday.

 I love your healing touch

It was high noon when we walked in to your spa, Aka Spa. We were greeted by Noppamas, her soft features smiling, promising an afternoon of rediscovery and rebirth. She offered me a cool drink, slightly tinged in pink, its scent giving off a hint of flowers. It went down my throat easily, giving me a taste of what was about to come.

Waiting for the healing treatment at the Aka Spa.

Noppamas explained that the YaiYa Combination Massage would start with a Thai reflexology massage. It was a dry treatment that revealed much of Thai’s revered traditions to me. As my therapist’s  gentle but confident hands worked on my body, reawakening the tissues and joints through temperate stretching and pressing, I began to understand the deep reverence the Thai’s have for the human body. My blood rushed in the direction that the hands of my therapist took on my skin, reminding it of its ability to heal itself. 

Sharing drinks with our beautiful gracious host, the owner of Aka Spa.

The rejuvenating massage was followed by an ayuverdic treatment. Expert hands glided on my skin under the Jojoba oil.  Rich in liquid wax ester, the oil was supposed to unclog the pores on my skin while penetrating and locking in moisture. Finally, the Shirodhara massage was a deliciously nourishing treatment that profoundly coordinated and calmed every part of my being. And for a moment, I forgot. I forgot who and where I was. I forgot what I was here for. All that mattered was the here and now, my body rejoicing its sweet reunion with my mind and spirit.

I adore you for your home cooked meals

No pretention. No fusion. Just plain old-fashioned home recipes, handed down from generation to generation. Everything is honest, unapologetic, simple, but unforgettable; definitely enriching.
At Thaipas, your restaurant, I love your tapas. It’s enough of a meal for me. The deep-fried squids, the clams in wine sauce, the sautéed mushrooms in garlic and olive oil, all boast of Hua Hin’s abundance.  But just like my grandmother, you would not let me leave the table until I’ve polished off my plate and stuffed myself with the dishes you pride yourself most with.

I enjoyed the Som Tam, the spicy papaya salad, to start. It’s a street fare favourite, but your chef, Anusri, put a twist to it by lightly coating the fresh shredded unripened papaya and carrots in flour before frying, to give it a crispy texture. The dish is a perfect merging of the Thai taste with the sour lime, the hot chilli, the salty fish sauce, and the subtle sweetness of the palm sugar. All the flavours were brought together in one crispy bite.

Duangruedee Rochanakorn built YaiYa to honor her mother, her son’s grandmother.  Laughing over a tall glass of lychee shake, she revealed to us the heart of YaiYa.

Anusri also presented another personal childhood favourite, the stuffed chicken wing she called Gai Sod Sai.  Stuffed with a mixture of minced pork and scallions, the flavors were intensified by the richness of root coriander. I washed it all down with fresh lychee smoothie.  

Tall colorful drinks to start off the feast.

Fresh from the seafood market was the fried fillet sea bass.  The sea bass had a faint flavour awakened by the sweet and sour sauce. Somehow my palate had never warmed to the taste of curry, but you urged me to try your pride and joy, the Pa Nang Goong, jumbo prawns in curry cream sauce.  The curry didn’t sound too appetizing, but the huge prawns looked too gorgeous to resist. They lay on a bed of curry and coconut sauce, painstakingly sautéed until it became creamy.  Each bite was thick and rich. The flavor was both alien and familiar. It was a confusing taste that made me want to take another spoon and a bite, and another, and another. It was the same experience with every dish you brought to the table. The tastes were somewhat exotic yet oddly comforting. It was like finding home in a strange place.  

I shall always remember your quiet grace

Our bedroom pool villa, which you call Sasala, sits in the middle of a scented garden, no doubt tended by your caring hands. Wooden doors by our private garden leads to a curvy pathway to the beach, lined by Plumeria and century old nutmeg trees, protecting me from Hua Hin’s potent and jealous sun.  

If there's a beach, you will never see me by the pool. But not in this case.
Inside our room, the stylish woodwork, the spacious way the furniture was arranged, and the spare trimmings suggested nostalgia without turning its back to the modern. The diaphanous curtains soften the bed’s wooden frame, offering privacy without making me feel boxed in.

Getting my tan on at the roof deck of our villa.

As much as I enjoyed shuffling around barefoot, relishing the cleanness and airiness of the room, I often found myself lounging by the veranda on the second floor of our villa. I love the white washed carved stairs that led to our infinity pool where I would soak, looking out at your green abundance, listening to the call of seabirds nearby. Plumeria buds would fall from the tree, lending the water a subtle fragrance.

At the roofdeck, the mosquito nets remind me of my wawa's bedroom.

Down at the beach, I listened to your silence. At low tide, the ebb and flow of the waves left 
patterns on the sand, telling stories of their adventures and the creatures they’ve encountered in the deep blue. It made me long to understand the language of the tides. Failing to comprehend, I laid down on the sand and let the water ripples wash over me.  Lying on my chest, I watched as tiny hermit crabs, housed in flat circular shells, tumbled about like tiny space crafts, their pink pearlized surface gleaming under the water. From a distance, fishermen quietly worked for the day’s catch.

Recalling these images, I think to myself that this process is not only my way of appreciation. Not only is it a way of giving ode to my grandmothers that I miss dearly (they call you YaiYa while I call them “wawa”). This gratitude journal is also my way of reminding myself of life’s little pleasures and the wonders of a gracious heart.


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