Published as "Easter spirit shines thorugh children's smiles in slum, " March 31, 2013, Bangkok Post, Spectrum Section
By Father Joe Maier
She crones that ancient children's lament, ''Auntie of the Moon'', over and over. Eight-year-old Miss Phae can't talk clearly – only babbles – and her tongue goes in all different directions. Yet her best friend, nine-year-old Miss Phon understands perfectly when Miss Phae sings, ''Please find me a kind granny for my little sister and a kind granny who loves me too.''
And crippled Momma Shrimp also understands, as do her gaggle of 17 kids (three, four, five and six year olds) whom she watches over. They all chant along, and it's the sound of angels, all singing about the beautiful Auntie Moon who finds a loving granny for abandoned children. Miss Phae improvises sometimes: ''Dear Auntie Moon: please send my little sister some tasty rice and a nice ring – and a chair for her to sit on, and a cosy bed for her to sleep on and even a pony or an elephant to ride.''
And we all believe Miss Phae's lament is inspired by the Easter Moon, when Jesus rose from the dead, and showed us that, in the end, the bad guys lose and the good guys win.
Maybe, just maybe, this eight-year-old babbling girl is an angel spirit of one of the ancients sent from heaven to us, like one of the saints who give up heaven for a while and come back to Earth for a short time to speak not of doom, but of joy and a better world tomorrow. If you've ever heard her, it's easy to believe that Miss Phae is an ancient angel spirit, a ''keeper of the song''.
At Easter time we journey back through the sacred living history of the world-changing events in the life of Jesus. We teach our children of our faith through stories and legends and by dramas, rituals and ceremonies.
By Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
Feb. 24, 2013, Bangkok Post, Spectrum Section
After descending into madness following an encounter with evil, Nung Ning is back and melting the wizened hearts of the Slaughterhouse grannies' corp with the sweet songs she learned from her mum
Somehow Nung Ning's music soothes the decades and the old pains of these elderly ladies and brings back the beautiful memories of yesteryear.
And they hold Nung Ning tight like her mum used to do, their breath strong with garlic and betel. And to Nung Ning it's the sweetest scent in the world because it reminds her of her mum
This savage/sweet tale is dedicated to Nung Ning, a roly-poly Slaughterhouse miss. Book learning was never her thing, and she only made it through the third grade. Later on, after troubles beat her up bad, she went through a ''loopy'' phase.But Nung Ning came through it all with flying colours and she's our Klong Toey sweetheart of the year – maybe the decade.
By Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R. Published Sept. 23, 2012, Bangkok Post, Sunday Spectrum
She has mostly had to learn everything herself. Mum couldn't be there for her, and Miss Dao also has to take care of Granny, as she'd promised her mother. You know, things like mixing her betel nut chaw and holding her hand crossing the street. She has three older half-brothers and a half-sister, but they aren't close. Her half-sister is married, and Dao only saw her once at the temple for her mother's cremation.
Dao is now seven years old and knows it wasn't her mother's fault. She doesn't blame her for ''borrowing'' those things whose owner didn't want them to be borrowed. Mum knew that drug dealer would beat her up, even kill her if she didn't do as she was told. The judge? He didn't like her mother. He'd dealt with her before. She was sentenced to three years.Granny's only income was her old age government pension, and 500 baht a month is not enough to raise a granddaughter. They'd both starve. That's how Miss Dao came to grow up with us, and had to learn her amazing feats on her own.
by Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
A woman who grew up experiencing the worst of urban life still held to a fantasy of one day having a 'proper' wedding and despite staggering odds against her she found out that there is always room for hope.
Published August 5, 2012, Bangkok Post, Sunday Spectrum
Ever since she was 11 and on the streets, Noi had always dreamed she would get married in the proper style, with a dowry, a ring and a bridesmaid. Her husband would have a real job and talk nice and love her. After she met the right man she promised herself that she would make it happen, and she wanted it even more after her two children were born. Her husband Somchai, also street-raised, always had the same response when she told him of her matrimonial dreams: "Why not?" But that was as far as it went.
So it became yesterday's dream. Somchai was a good husband and a good father nonetheless and they were all pretty happy living in their Pattaya home.
But several weeks ago she showed up at our door, her daughter clinging to her, crying, and her son, barefoot, sniffling, nose running, with hiccups from crying so hard. Noi had whomped his bottom back at the bus station where he left his flip-flops, saying: "Five years old is too old to forget your flip-flops."
by Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
Published June 17, 2012, Bangkok Post, Spectrum Section
Her dowry was a nice gold chain and sacred medal. His? A threat: a knife and a gun displayed on the table in front of him – a reminder of what would happen if he didn’t take his vows seriously.
It all went down in Aunty Tien’s Noodle Shop.
Auntie Tien – proprietor of the Slaughterhouse Ladies Local Noodle Shop, where the matriarchs of the neighborhood trade stories and gossip – had taken the girl in. A teenager on the run from the brokers. Sleeping nights in a stall in the Klong Toey fresh market. Auntie asked around. No one knew her. She was just a “stray.” So Auntie Tien gave her a home and protected her. She became Auntie Tien’s assistant at the Noodle Shop.
The girl, in her middle teens, was from the border in the far North. Fragile. Not sickly, but almost. Not a first choice for marriage. She couldn’t hold up under long hours in the rice fields and would quickly lose her pretty looks, so best move her on to Bangkok. She was attractive enough, and in Bangkok, they don’t know anything about rice fields. A woman who came to the village now and then gave her parents a down payment and said she would get the girl a nice job.
Old-time protection against guns and knives can be engraved on to the skin, but as 'Uncle' found out, even the shaman's best inks are powerless against the pain of shame and lost loved ones
By Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
He doesn't wear amulets, but says his tattoos are the best on the planet. Amulets, nowadays, can be fake, or even worse – not even blessed, no power. You can't be too careful. So tattoos are safer. His Chinese dad told him that long ago.
And Uncle Mongkhol's tattoos are real, no doubt about that. Thumb-nail size on each shoulder and barely legible, faded by time. But ancient beliefs say that a khom tattoo does not lose power or potency through the years. Both tattoos are letters written in Khmer script, signifying ''mother'' on one shoulder and ''father'' on the other. Uncle says quite piously that the letters are to remember his beloved parents. No doubt about that, but not quite so piously, a khom tattoo from years gone by is comparable to the awesome Gaw Yawd (Nine-Pagoda Peak), strongest of all tattoos for those who live by the gun and the knife.
Old-time protection and healing for both police and gangsters against lethal gunshots or knife wounds, together with a sachet of sacred blessed herbs (worn around your neck), which you swallow immediately if wounded, either by gun or knife. These herbs are expensive and most difficult to obtain. Plus, you must believe. Trust the potency of the herbs together with the spiritual strength of the shaman who bestowed them upon you.