Phanna Dureyavijit (1946 - 2012)
December 23, 2012
My Dear Friends,
I am sad to report that my friend Phanna Dureyavijit passed away on Thursday, December 20 at her son Kiew’s home in the Isan province of Buriram. For the past few years, Phanna suffered from the painful and debilitating effects of diabetes. Kiew told me his mother passed away peacefully in her sleep. Phanna was 66. She leaves behind her three sons, her mother, six sisters, and innumerable family members and countless friends.
Isan is a large area in Thailand, equivalent to New England in the USA or Provence in France. I made my initial trip there more than eight years ago. My first stop was the city Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat). Then I went to Pak Chong and the Khao Yai National Park where I was lucky enough to see a herd of wild elephants. From Pak Chong I went to Nang Rong. I expected to continue my trip eastward after a visit to the nearby ancient temples.
In Nang Rong I stayed at a backpacker guest house called the Honey Inn. Phanna was the proprietor. I loved the small town atmosphere in Nang Rong. And Phanna made me feel so welcome and comfortable that I postponed my trip further east and stayed in Nang Rong for a week. At the Honey Inn I met many other like-minded travelers and also made several good friends in town.
Phanna was a memorable part of my trip and the many subsequent trips to Nang Rong. When I considered living Nang Rong, Phanna drove me around town on her motorbike. When I needed information about Thai culture, Phanna was my counselor. When there was a family event – a wedding or family gathering – Phanna invited me. I met Phanna’s mother and her sisters and their families. Since Phanna’s youngest son Kiew is a musician, we had a lot in common. From my first visit until now, I always felt that I was accepted as part of Phanna’s family.
Before she retired, Phanna was a high school English teacher. So when the Nang Rong High School had a reunion, Phanna invited me to attend. As we walked together on the school grounds and across the fields with dozens of tables and hundreds of participants, Phanna strode with an upright posture and a broad smile as she greeted her former colleagues and her former students. Since I am also a retired teacher, I could sense the pride of accomplishment that Phanna was feeling that evening.
In Isan, it’s all about the food! Could there be a better cook than Phanna? (Phanna conceded that one of her sisters was even better.) At the Honey Inn, platters of the most delicious creations appeared each evening: soups, spicy salads, grilled fish in garlic sauce, Isan egg salad, sautéed chicken, vegetables, mushrooms and tofu. Each dish has its unique flavor. After she served the food, Phanna would smile and encourage the group, “Eat until you’re full!” or “Please eat everything!” Occasionally she would scold one of her young guests when they put more than one item on their plate, “Don’t mix the taste!”
Six years ago, when my friend Lek was about to turn 30, I decided to organize a birthday party for her at the Honey Inn. We invited Lek’s colleagues, my other friends in Nang Rong and the Honey Inn guests. Kiew set up a karaoke machine. We all had an exciting evening, singing and dancing, and of course, eating! Phanna, her cousin Moon, and Noc, a guest at the inn, worked all that afternoon to prepare the feast. That evening I thought of myself as a “caterer” but without Phanna, I would have been lost.
Phanna and I had a standing joke. Here’s what happened: One day on the bus to Nang Rong, I met two young women. They were traveling in Isan so I recommended the Honey Inn. I called ahead to Phanna and asked if she had room for the two girls. She said, “Jan, I am full, but no problem.”
When we arrived, Phanna gave the girls “my room!” Then she escorted me to the family section of the inn and pointed to a large low-lying wooden platform. “That is your bed.” “What?” I protested. “Phanna, that is a table!”, “No,” she insisted, “that is a bed, a Thai bed!” After I found several blankets (an Isan mattress?), I managed to get a night’s sleep.
Whenever I visited the Honey Inn, I would point to that piece of wooden furniture and tell Phanna that she had a lovely table. With her always-ready smile, she would correct me.
If I may, I will speak for all of the hundreds of the Honey Inn guests, “Phanna, you are one of the most talented and generous women I have ever met. We will miss you. I will miss you.”
And Phanna, wherever you sleep tonight, on a Thai “table” or a Thai “bed” or on your favorite lounge chair where you slept every night, I wish you comfort and peace forever.
PS It was permissable to take photos at the funeral, but I did not want to intrude. I did take one video of the funeral procession on Saturday, December 22, 2012.