When I was a kid I played violin on the outdoor pedestrian mall in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado for spending money. My best friend Nell and I would stand outside the upscale trinket and entertaining-in-the-home (like Pier 1 but way more expensive) boutique store called Peppercorn, next to a man we dubbed “The Balloon Man,” who twisted balloons into swords, hats and animals for children in the summer and we stood alone in the crisp cold of the winter. Our repertoire changed between winter and summer, mainly in that winter was Christmas music in harmony on our little violins, our numb fingers slurring out carols while we drooled on our frozen chins; and in the summer it was mainly what you’d call “fiddle tunes,” which are short jigs and ho-down barn-burners. We made a killing at it and because we were children, I’m thinking maybe 8-11 years old we did this, we were somehow not required the proper licensing and probably dues required of our Street Performer counterparts, like the Balloon Man and the Rastafarian fellow who fit himself inside a tiny box during his contortion show.
We mostly got dollar bills tossed into our open violin case, which we would stuff into a backpack and spread out over the floor of Nell’s livingroom like kids emptying pillowcases of candy on Halloween to be sorted and counted. In the winter we made on average $100 per hour of playing in the biting cold. We’d generally only be able to stand there for an hour, so I don’t know that we really ever made more than that, but that’s an incredibly amount of money for two children. We used it for Christmas shopping for our families. In summer I think we bought ice-cream and opened bank accounts. We weren’t frivolous, but the money was absolutely 100% privilege with zero responsibility.
One summer, when we were maybe 10 years old, we were playing outside of Peppercorn and a young man with dirty blond hair and typical hippie-nomad attire stood before us for a few minutes watching us play. He was probably in his early 20’s and was passing through on a VW Bus trip across the country, or something like this. He smiled as he watched us play, then disappeared for a minute, then came back with his overstuffed backpack. We stopped for a break and to rake out some of the bills from our violin case. This young guy came over to talk to us. First he apologized that he didn’t have money to offer us, then said he didn’t want to “come off like a total hippie,” but he had two very small crystals he’d found in Montana that he wanted to offer to our violin case in lieu of money. “I know they may not really be worth anything and it’s kind of cheesy, but I want to give them to you,” he said. He put the tiny crystals in each of our hands – they were maybe 1 inch long and milky-white in the way that unpolished stones are. I thanked him as I kept inspecting the little stone. I didn’t think it was cheesy at all – it was actually the most memorable moment in a number of years that we played violin on the Pearl Street Mall and, in fact, I still have my tiny crystal in a little metal box of collected treasures, currently stored at my parents’ house.
The crystals could have been river stones. They could have been pebbles from a parking lot in New Jersey. The point was that this guy had thought to collect them; then he’d thought to travel with them and at the last he’d been inspired to offer them to us in place of dollar bills, which have an agreed-upon value in the sense that any currency has value. We were playing for money, that was our aim, and yet these seemingly worthless stones ended up having far more lasting value than anything else dropped in our violin cases. It was a gesture that stood out – that still stands out.
Today I went over to the gym to make a video of Khem receiving the total sum of 66,664 Baht from the “Khem ’50 Kick’ Fundraiser” organized and dreamed up by Kaitburin Muay Thai in England. (People from gyms across the west entered the contest with a video of themselves kicking 50 times on one leg, as fast and as best form as possible, to win prizes donated by fighters and businesses around the world. The participation was amazing to see because people had to do something; and that something is a direct expression of Muay Thai, which is the community to which Khem and all of us belong.) I’ve lent support to two separate fundraisers for Khem, who is a former champion of Lanna Muay Thai who suffered paralysis after an accident last year and is in the process of undergoing physiotherapy to regain the ability to walk. Khem is an incredible person and I don’t consider it a “cost” in any way to try to help him. This afternoon, after taking some pictures and shooting a video with Khem holding the money, he told me to wait a moment before he and I headed in our separate directions because he and his mom wanted to give me honey. Den helped translate this message and was sure to include that this honey is not produced by kept bees, but is wild honey that his family collected from the jungle near their home in Pai, an agricultural area outside of Chiang Mai.
Khem’s mother handed me a large whiskey bottle of golden honey and handed a second bottle to my husband. There is effort in these bottles – a great deal of it. I’ve never collected honey for myself but I imagine there’s some danger and thrill involved in seeking out a hive, climbing the tree to reach it, extracting the honey comb from the nest and then getting the honey itself from the comb (these bottles are completely devoid of wax). There was work involved and that effort and the fruits of it were now being given to me and my husband. I held the bottles in quiet awe in much the same way I held that crystal 20 years ago. Khem held in his hand a wad of bills equaling over 60,000 Baht, raised through the effort of people all around the world taking part in a contest – in an event – that required meaning just as much as it required currency. It wasn’t just throwing a dollar in an open case, it was participation and physical effort to kick pads to show support and solidarity with a champion of our shared sport – a man who is by all accounts a stranger to the majority of persons taking part in the fundraiser. That’s incredible. The value of the “50 Kick” videos, of all the people who took part, and the value of supporting Khem and his family through our love of Muay Thai as a global community is worth a great deal. It’s the part you get to keep – like a crystal tucked away in a treasure box – the effort that brings value and worth. It’s wild honey, not the kind from kept bees.