No one could have imagined what was about to happen with me when I was nine years old. I still remember as if it was just yesterday when I saw Aran...
It has been five years since my family and I moved to the USA. I had a little social and cultural insult when we moved here. Everything is so unusual. My family immigrated from China as soon as I graduated high school. We lived in the eastern part of China, in a suburb. Our small town wasn't different from all the others. Actually, nothing special happened there. I went to the simple school, had no real friends, met the same people, saw the same landscapes, and did almost everything the same day by day. I was so kept in the borders of public opinion and customs that sometimes, even being a little girl, I realized that I was thinking almost like all the others did, I was afraid of any changes, of everything that wasn't traditional.
As you might know, agriculture is a vital industry in China, employing over three hundred million workers. Almost all families living in a country where farmers and ours was not an exception. We were a traditional Chinese family. Most families grow different kinds of crops. Of course, rice is the most important one. But our family had a little turtle farm. Maybe a little strange for Americans, but quite a usual thing for Chinese people. Sometimes it seemed that my father loved that farm more than anything, or even everyone else. He worked hard to make his business successful, and as a result, I was constantly complaining for lack of attention, although I knew he did everything right.
We rarely went out of the borders of our hometown, but once for three-four years father had a habit of taking us on vocation abroad, to visit his cousin. I've been there only twice when I was a kid and nothing reminded me that place. So, we went to the center of Indochina peninsula - Thailand.
Although nowadays Thailand celebrates New Year on the twenty-first of December according to the solar calendar, our family still stuck to old customs and the traditional New Year's Day (from the thirteenth to the fifteenth of April), and so called "Songkram" festival was then held. Like in most cultures, respect towards ancestors is an essential part of spiritual practice in every family. On this holiday our family gathers to celebrate it by visiting temples, sprinkling water on Buddha images and on each other's hands, wishing good luck. This day marks the unity of our family.
My father's cousin and his wife couldn't have kids, so they decided to adopt a boy. It was a very complicated and expensive procedure, but they managed to do this a year before our arrival. When we got to Krabi (a city, where our relatives lived), not far from the Andaman sea, I could hardly remember the picturesque scenery I saw on our way. They lived in a beautiful house. They met us with all amiability and hospitality one can imagine.
It was the first time I saw Aran. His name signified "wood, forest" in the Thai Language. And for good reason. Our relatives' house was in the highlands, and as I understood a few hours later, he spent almost all his spare time walking in the little wood over the hills. In the foot of the mountain, there was a narrow stream. It was Aran's dwelling place, his most beautiful spot on the Earth.
At the very first moment, we saw each other, it seemed to me that we felt a special bond and became best friends. He was my soul mate.
He was not like all the other boys I have ever seen. Aran was tall, slim, with pale skin, he had middle-long fair wavy hair, thin lips, snub nose, and big close-set dark brown eyes. His sight was so perceptive, it seemed like one can see a universe in those eyes. In other words, his appearance spelled a great impression upon me.
All our free time we tried to spend together. Aran often took me to his favorite place in the world - to the forest. He explained why it meant so much for him. There was hardly a person who could understand his thoughts and beliefs, so he had no friends. He escaped to the wood from the reality and mockery. He made-believe that place was his own property. And he invited me there too. He taught me how to feel relaxed and have your body and soul absorbed in your imagination and gave it full freedom. We imagined that the forest is our kingdom. We lived in the glorious castle. As it usually happens in fairy-tales, Aran was the King and I was the Queen. There were hundreds of beautiful, kind and awful, chunky creatures in our imaginary world. We called this world "Prasath" (that means "castle" in the Thai language).
Prasath was shaped in our imagination for many natural influences, including the main castle (which was the biggest tree in the wood), gorgeous fountains (the streams), etc. There was a treasury place (city's top attraction - "Tiger Cave"), where all our valuable riches were laying. For enriching our treasure we used everything interesting we could find: broken watches, nice stones, toys, old coins, keys, all interesting or just useful knick-knackery we could get.
Nearly once a day a great performance for the Queen was happening in our castle: the chivalrous fight between the King and the most powerful and frightful beast -the Dragon. Sticks and stones were for swords and another weapon. The sure thing is that the king always won, and after the monstrous beast was defeated, a special ball was held. All kind creatures were invited. We could dance and have fun all day long.
Aran adored traditional Chinese holidays and that's why we imitated many of them. His favorite was the Dragon Boat Festival (called "Duanwujie"). It is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar (approximately it coincides with the summer solstice). It is a very colorful ancient holiday. During this day the rice pyramids wrapped in bamboo leaves are the main dish. Children wear colorful neck amulets depicting a tiger and filled with sagebrush. And we did the same. We danced near the Tiger Cave, driving evil creatures and spirits away and bringing good luck to us and our kingdom. The other holiday we acted, was the holiday of harvest (called "Zhongqiujie"), held on the fifteenth night of the eighth month (September). During this day we worshiped the god of the Moon. We tried to arrange our holidays as close to real as possible.
We made up special signs and language for only we could understand. For example, for greeting, we used bows (the fingertips had to touch to the ground to show respect to each other). To show dishonor to evil creatures we pointed on them with our feet (the foot is considered the dirtiest part of the body). For that, those beasts sometimes ruined the gates that led to our castle, but then our faithful guardians - magnificent and gracious giant birds defended our kingdom. To show them gratitude, we danced for them, expressing our "thank you".
The eating ceremonies were also extraordinary. The tables, as well as chairs, were decorated with the ambience of jasmine flowers. During all the banquets a bird choir sang for us. We ate fruit, ate jasmine variety rice (very popular there, also known as Hom Mali rice), drank jasmine tea and our souls seemed to blossom like a spring flower. The entire castle was buried in greenery. The harmony was everywhere, all the colors of our castle amazingly blend into each other, everything was due to our taste, we had everything we wanted, it was our special universe, our Prasath.
I was so deeply immersed into our world that I completely forgot about our soon depart. I was trying not to think about it and escaped to Prasath more and more often. I didn't want to live this perfect place. In few days I had to go. My father gave a word to visit our relatives and now my best friend at least once a year. It's a pity but as I mentioned in the beginning, due to certain circumstances we had to move to the USA, and that heavy-hearted fact made my dad's promise impossible.
Sometimes we exchanged letters with Aran, and he told me what innovations and changes he made in Prasath. Now we both are grown-ups and for several years we haven't mentioned about our childhood imageries, considering it could be weird. But I know that such exciting, even if imaginary adventures, and such amazing and a little mysterious friendship, happens not to every kid, and I was the lucky one. Aran made me feel comfortable in any place and anytime, be it the USA or any other corner of the Earths. I can cope with any difficulties or misunderstandings, designing my own reality if needed. He encouraged creative thinking, different from the others. Through showing his world, my friend opened my own one.