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Mon Rak Nong Pak Kayang – First Impressions

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While the title can be a mouthful, its name will soon roll off the tip of your tongue once you get to know the charming little village it is named after: Nong Pak Kayang (translated as Perilla Field House). Located in Northeastern Thailand, Nong Pak Kayang – its town, townsfolk and abundant land – is a central character to this story about a country bumpkin turn city dweller named Kiew (which means green), who inadvertently returns to his Isan roots after the city broke his heart.

Kiew (Nadech Kugimiya) is not happy about returning to his rural hometown since having left at a young age to study in the city. He considers himself kon krongthep now (Bangkok person) and worked hard over the years to dissociate himself from the stigma of being a country bumpkin. Gone are his Isan accent and the love for stinky fish. He is Korn (his city name), an up-and-coming director who is secretly dating an actress. Kiew could not feel more on top of this world. That is until the reality of hiding who he is clashes with the person he wants to be. As much as he thinks the highlights have covered his roots, Kiew is still the country boy at heart.

That is to say, Kiew puts on this city dweller façade, sashaying to his fancy condo but once inside, we see that he hasn’t used any of his nice furniture for fear of tarnishing them, and still rocks around the room with his sarong. He dreams of marrying his love, worked hard to pay off the condo so that she has a promising place to live, built his own life from the ground up. But all of that comes crashing down when he realizes that he was duped by his actress girlfriend. Upon signing the condo to her name, she announces that she is marrying her fellow actor. Kiew not only lost his love that day, but he also lost everything he worked for. This is another example of the city reminding him that he does not belong.

Returning home to Nong Pak Kayang, was like returning with his tail between his legs. He had vowed not to return because of all the bullying he endured being a person from the countryside. But there he was, waiting for his family to pick him up on the side of the road, his dignity hanging by a thread. His family sent Chompoo (Bow Maylada), his childhood friend, to pick him up. While he does not know that the person is Chompoo, and it did not matter who picked him up, because the unpaved road, the uncivilized driving, and having fallen into a ditch on his way home, all reinforced the fact that he hates the countryside.

But all is not lost, the hope of returning to Bangkok and redeeming himself came from a conversation he overheard in the temple during one of the town’s festivities: granny has some farmland that she will bestow to him, in fact a land that is worth over 30 million baht. Kiew’s ears perked up, he could easily sell it for double the price and use the money to start his own company in Bangkok! But then he learns that granny has rented the farmland to Chompoo, who is running a sustainable, organic farm.

Chompoo is the town’s unspoken hero. She defends the weak and stands up to the bullies, she is strong and has her own hopes and dreams. She studied agriculture and brought her knowledge back to her hometown. The farmland she manages is called Field of Dream and Love, because it is operated by volunteers in town. Everyone works together to grow, harvest, and recycle the land. Life as she knows it was great, until Kiew comes crying back into her life. He was the boy whom she grew up with, did everything together. But the city changed him, the old Kiew nowhere to be found. She got the wakeup call when she visited him during his graduation in Bangkok, where he was ashamed of her, his granny and the town that raised them. Chompoo prefers that Kiew can be put away like the photobook she stores in her memory box.

But Kiew’s strength if anything, is that he achieves anything he puts his mind to (whether he is lying through his teeth or not). We can obviously see that from the successes he enjoys in life: Kiew’s worst enemy is himself. Thus, Kiew proceeds to blackmail Chompoo with a clip of her and Teacher Rich (whom he calls her supposed boyfriend) to make Chompoo give up the farmland (since his original intention of financing her café fell on deaf ears – she started a farm, she doesn’t want a cafe). Chompoo is unfazed by this and was ready to expose his intentions for the land when Kiew blurts out that HE wants to be a farmer! LMAO! That surely surprised everyone, but they soon decide to believe him because in the goodness of their heart, he is telling them what they want to hear.

Kiew convinces his family that he wants to make this organic farm as a learning example for other provinces, that there is great potential in rural countryside: education, sustainability, food, and prosperity. Granny decides a year should allow Kiew to learn the ropes but Chompoo/Kiew negotiates a 7-month deal. So, they set out as farmer and apprentice, with Kiew fainting from the boiling sun on his first day at work.

Mon Rak Nong Pak Kayang is surprisingly charming, heartfelt, and authentic. The story centers on a village that treats every member like family, and their daily life comes to life (for the lack of a better word). We follow Chompoo around as she greets every member by name, people look out for each other here, extend a warm welcome to foreigners like Teacher Rich, and embrace their own even when he is a little lost and hurt. The biggest draw for me is not only towards Kiew’s inevitable character growth, but the relationship between him and granny. I love it when a show’s family dynamic feels so real, Kiew’s family is made up of his mother, father, granny, and uncle (who is the headman there), and you can tell how much they care about Kiew. They support him when he is following his dreams in the city, they embrace him when he returns home with a broken heart, but when granny cries at his bedside as he’s sleeping soundly, wondering who would hurt her baby like that, I felt that anguish.

Granny had also been the source of Kiew’s shame, he blamed her for all his hardships in the city – like why they are such country bumpkins. But granny always kept that all inside because after all, he was just a kid. Yet now, this full-grown grandson has become a city dweller and she wonder if he could ever be proud of his roots. I am looking forward to Kiew’s journey back home, because only when he can accept himself for who he is, will he find peace no matter where he lives. Maybe then he will realize what he needs is right in front of him.

The production team, Act Art Generation, really found their perfect Kiew in Nadech, who has brought Kiew to life. I feel like I am watching Kiew and the villagers of Nong Pak Kayang, who would welcome me to their dinner gatherings and their temple festivities. While I liked watching Kiew as the capable director who enjoys a bustling city life (because that walk to his elevator looking all hot?!) was great, but the bumbling Kiew trying to win over Chompoo and in denial about his true calling, is too adorable to pass up. I have already laughed and cried two episodes in. This show is coming for your emotions, everybody. Let us enjoy the ride.

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