Noom, my bar boy friend and current love of my life, was born on December 4th, an auspicious date as it is the day before the King’s birthday and one shared by many Thais. Of course his actual date of birth as opposed to his official one was sometime earlier that year. I doubt he knows when exactly that was. Not that it matters. When you officially have such a grand date of birth why let pesky little facts ruin your good luck?
Thais are a superstitious lot, though I probably shouldn’t say superstitious as that reveals my own prejudices stemming from an upbringing in the west and a basis in the Christian religion. Thais tend to be a bit more forgiving in that regard, allowing Westerners to place their faith in a god who makes little sense to the Thai way of thinking. One man’s superstitions is another man’s faith; when it comes down to it all spiritual beliefs appear strange to those raised under a different system of myth. Though now that I think about it I will have to ask Noom what he thinks about Mitt Romney’s magic underwear. Hopefully, that idea doesn’t engage him because I’m not sure where I’d pick up a pair of magic underwear for him in Bangkok (though I suppose I could lie and finally get him into some of the sexier briefs he’s turned his nose up at so far.)
Birth dates are important to Thais because they also dictate your lucky color, lucky number, lucky day of the week – which again has a color associated with it not to mention a specific posture for accompanying images of the Buddha – and, because western beliefs permeate even the Thai mind at times, your birth stone, which has its own brand of luck associated with it. Thais also pay attention to both the Chinese and Western zodiac, the former being based on the year of your birth and the latter on its day and month. Noom, like most Thais, knows each of those signs and omens and pays strict attention to aligning his life with them. At least when he agrees with them. Most would be different than those he observes if based on his actual date of birth instead of his official one, but he’s happy to go along with the set that comes with being born on December 4th.
His lucky number(s) change often and are dictated by either the latest fortune teller he has visited or his most recent dream. His lucky day seems to change dictated by whatever day brings with it a handful of baht. But he is religious about his lucky color and anytime a color choice is presented his selection is a foregone conclusion: blue. Which is a good thing. If I buy him a piece of clothing and am not sure if the style or fit is something he’ll like as long as I go with blue I know I’m safe. It’s a shame I’m not into blue underwear.
There is a color for each day of the week according to Thais who often use the color of their day of birth for luck. I assumed Noom’s not real but official birth date day was Friday, which is where his attachment to the color blue came from. But after he finally got around to admitting how old he really was (which coincidentally occurred when he obtained and had to show me his passport) I doubled checked and it’s not. Blue is the color for Noom because that is the color of his birthstone, Turquoise. Birthstones too have a magical draw to Thais but in that belief they are not alone. Being in the business, I can tell you that when it comes to jewelry more stone selection is based on birthstones than any other reason save the traditional diamond for marriage. And if you are born in April, whose accompanying stone is the diamond, you are set for all of your jewelry needs for life.
A Buddhist who has converted to Hinduism, who only plays the lottery on specific days or dates when specific numbers are available for purchase, and who wouldn’t be caught dead not wearing at least one protective amulet around his neck (which should be overkill considering the number of tats he sports for the same purpose), I know better than to chide Noom in any manner about his set of beliefs. But then knowing better and then acting in the appropriate manner has never been one of my strong points. So even though I should have considered myself to be fortunate in his birthstone not being diamond, ruby, or emerald, when I should have considered it a stroke of luck that his birthstone is one of the cheaper of the dozen official stones considering his love affair with bling, I instead foolishly attempted to set him straight explaining the entire birthstone gimmick was the brainchild of the National Association of Jewelers of America who came up with the idea in 1912 in an effort to promote the sale of colored stones to the masses.
Noom, in the endearing manner he uses whenever I’m being a stupid farang, listened to my explanation carefully, nodding in agreement with the points I made, and then replied, “Yet, I know. My birtsatone is blue.”
At least I got him to acknowledge Turquoise over blue.
For a guy, at least a straight one, blue is a good color choice. And if the color blue rather than the specific stone is what rules, there are some pretty decent choices when it comes to gems to adorn yourself with. Sapphire, in its traditional hue, is a nice stone and as one of the gems originally mined in Thailand even has a good tie-in with the Kingdom. Browsing through a gem store one day Noom agreed that a sapphire ring would be a perfect choice for him. As long as the sapphire was surrounded with diamonds. That would be an even more auspicious arrangement if his real date of birth was in April, but I suspect his choice of design had more to do with the inherent value of diamonds than their spiritual worth. Not that he expected me to buy him that particular piece of bling. He has come to the realization that it is his bad luck to have an admirer who is never gonna fork over baht for jewelry in Thailand that he can get for a fraction of the price back home.
Then again Noom wasn’t entirely surprised when on my next trip I showed up with a nice sapphire ring set in gold and surrounded by diamonds for him. My annual year end trip coincides with both Christmas and Noom’s official birthday so invariably he gets something exceptionally nice. Noom assumes it is because I love him. My reasoning is more practical. If it is something nice he’ll want to keep it. But if he runs into financial problems during the year, he then has something he can sell or pawn. (Cash, of course, would serve the same purpose but that would all be spent within a day’s time.) Being both lucky and worth some major baht, with that ring I’d done good and he made sure to flash that puppy at everyone and anyone during the rest of my visit.
Whether it was the day after I flew home or later in the year when bidness was slow that he sold that ring I haven’t a clue. Nor did I ask. Noom too has a practical nature and whenever it was he decided baht had a greater value than the ring did, I’m sure he didn’t spend a minute debating over its sale. Blue may be his lucky color, but he is much more fond of a handful of brown. As for sentimental purposes, he has a ring made of silver, a humongous affair in the shape of Ganesha that I bought him on our first trip together to Chiang Mai several years ago, that is dear to his heart and will undoubtedly always remain on his hand. Though I’m sure that has more to do with the assumed power of the elephant god than the assumed love he and I share.
Noting his sapphire ring had disappeared, for my the next year end trip I gave him a silver ring with a nice sized turquoise stone in it. It cost me zip. A friend in the business gave it to me when I made an offer to buy it. Noom was thrilled with the ring. Disregarding the value of the sapphire ring he’d previously received, his face lit up when he tore the package open. “My birtsatone!” he exclaimed, pleased to be given such an auspicious piece of bling. He slipped it on, wore it proudly, but didn’t flash it in everyone’s face like he had with his previous one. And just my luck, a year later he was still wearing it.
Having the great misfortune to have to spend so much time with a rock hound, Noom has become familiar with many different stones and enjoys impressing his fellow countrymen with his knowledge when we visit gem shops. He’ll identify those stones he now knows, summing up their value with the tone of his voice he uses in naming them. The sales clerks are never happy with the Thai boy who is blowing their sale, his commentary running the luck those stones were supposed to bring them. We tend to get abandoned by the clerk assigned to us quite often on those visits. Which gives me the opportunity to further his knowledge. Noom isn’t quite as thrilled when I find a rock shop as he is with a jewelry store, but he indulges me anyway. And occasionally a specific type of stone captures his attention.
The gleam of pyrite in the sun caught his eye once, and after I explained what fool’s gold was the story added to its worth. Noom greatly appreciates foolhardiness in others. The chatoyancy of tiger eye, a type of bling in its own right, stirred his soul too, its value ratcheted up when he learned its name (tigers are powerful images and lucky to Thais though considering that usually means parts of the dead animal it’s not so lucky for the tigers). We decided – which means Noom decided and I went along – that his shrine to Ganesha at home needed appropriate stones as a tribute to the big trunked guy and he has slowly begun a collection of those that he likes and has decided have power. Quartz, which to the metaphysically inclined is a powerful stone, didn’t impress Noom in the least until we ran across a piece from Tibet, a location which Thais give great importance to when it comes to their spiritual beliefs. Not that Tibet has been any luckier for Tibetans than being a tiger has for tigers.
With the access I have to stones and gems I’m a bit pickier about those I buy to keep. Unless it is a stone I’ve never run across before, which happens seldom, the only thing I buy for myself are gems in their natural matrix – that’d be a rough gemstone growing out of its surrounding rock. Afghani merchants in Bangkok tend to use these for decoration in their stores, don’t recognize their value since they have not been cut yet, and am never sure if they have a live one on their hands or just a complete fool when I ask about buying a piece. Noom too is not impressed in what I collect and tends to side with the Afghanis. But he has come to recognize some of the more familiar ones, and knowing my interest points any out he sees if I haven’t noticed them first.
On one visit to a store that had a good selection of rough, with his forehead scrunched up – a sign that Noom is serious about something – he kept digging out red and brown colored stones and asking me to identify them. Later that night, figuring the value of ruby had popped into his head and was what that hunt had been about, I showed him a few pictures on the internet. Both sapphires and rubies (which are the same stone) are unimpressive in their natural state. And Noom was suitably unimpressed. He finally got across what he was looking for by giving me the hint: January. Huh. Garnets are not a very valuable gems, but grow in an octagonal shape and while usually small are kinda cool in the rough. Satisfied with finding out what he wanted to know we retired to bed so that I could admire the Thai rocks that always capture my attention.
The next morning after breakfast Noom told me he had bidness to attend to. Normally, once I hit town we are together 24/7. As much as I love the guy when he occasionally needs to go out on his own I’m always grateful for a bit of alone time. He wasn’t gone long, didn’t say where he’d been, and I put it out of my mind other than to note he was a bit anxious the rest of the day. Which usually means he’s been mulling something over in his mind and working up to the right moment to spring it on me. Timing too has a lot to do with luck. Noom picked his that night at dinner.
We’ve grown accustomed enough to each others company that Noom seldom pulls that ‘up to you’ crap especially when it is about food. He knows if it is important to me that I eat a specific type of food – which usually means a few weeks into a trip and my body craving something familiar – I’ll say so. He also knows that it is important to me that we dine where he feels more comfortable and eat his usual type of food when his body is in need too. That night though he signalled the importance of my choosing a restaurant so we went to one of my favorite upscale places in Bangkok. After we’d eaten and the table had been cleared he pulled a small package wrapped in newspaper out of his pocket and placed it in front of me.
Huh. I’d already gotten my traditional annual Christmas/Birthday gift from him which is a Happy New Year present. And while it is not completely unknown for Noom to have bought me some small gift, I have to admit that I can really get behind the Thai custom of not opening gifts in front of the giver. Which is to save face in case you are not pleased with what the present is. Not that that’s the problem. I’m always pleased when Noom has thought of me. It’s just that sometimes I’m not sure what in the hell it is that he picked out. Or why. The nod that came my way after he carefully laid this one on the table told me I wasn’t going to be lucky enough to get to unwrap it in private.
Noom had gone back to the Afghani’s shop and found a beautiful garnet crystal growing out of a piece of schist. It was one of the nicer examples I’d ever seen. I was touched that he’d gone back to find it for me, but was at a loss as to why that particular stone had been the one he’d settled on. He cleared up my confusion quickly. Or at least as quickly as it took me to translate his use of English.
“Happy Birtday!” Noom exclaimed quite pleased with himself.
My raised eyebrow encouraged him to finish that thought.
“It our birtday,” he tried again. ”Dis our birtsatone.”
Okay, so maybe quick was an exaggeration. It took me a few minutes of setting there looking dumbfounded to put two and two together. His official birthday and my only one are both in December, Which has nothing to do with garnets. They are the birthstone for January. Which means . . . shit, he’d remembered our anniversary. And had bought me the appropriate birthstone for the month that we met.
Noom learned the English word ‘anniversary’ that night. I learned that the value of a gemstone is not set by the marketplace but rather through the thought behind its presentation as a gift. I still don’t buy into the birthstone advertising scheme, but do now consider garnets to be my lucky stone.
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