Another in the ongoing series of observations about everyday life here in Isaan, a region in the North east of Thailand. You can find the other stories as follows – Part 1 HERE, Part 2 HERE and Part 3 HERE.
Another school visit
We had a teacher friend from Chiang Mai visit us in December and we accommodated him in a “short time” resort on the outskirts of town. As I described in a Small Stories 3, these resorts also provide a “legitimate” overnight accommodation service, not just a one hour special! I only mention this aspect because the resort is owned by a Thai teacher and she invited Mark to visit her school and we decided to join in.
Lam, the teacher, had drawn a map of directions but we found the place anyway! The arrival of a couple of farang to a small school, especially one a bit outside a major centre like this one, is an event halting any learning activity happening before we arrived.
It was another reminder of the friendliness of Thais. If you show an interest you will find in most circumstances you’ll be overwhelmed by their willingness to involve you, show you around, have photographs taken and generally be welcoming.
There are some times in Isaan where I wonder if we westerners have over complicated our lives as a result of the influence of advertising on what we think of as a standard necessity. One example of this is the clothes washing machine. Now back in Australia I had a front loader that required a comprehensive instruction manual to operate and had a choice of about 200 washing cycles!
In my whole time here my clothes have been washed in something that looked along these lines:
Cold water of course and I have to say that I haven’t noticed any reduction in the cleanliness of my clothes despite the simplistic choice of washing options and extremely short cycle times.
A slightly more advanced and newer model of this is going into the “laundry” of our new house, actually a space under the eaves at the back of the house. The A$400 cost is a welcome change from the last one I bought back “home”.
I have written before about the descriptive nature of Thai language in contrast to English the latter which requires learning a new word or list of options for every situation. The example I have used before is that the Thai word for waterfall is waterdown. A bore is also a waterdown. The context defines the meaning rather than inventing a whole new word.
Gaun has recently learnt the word “puppy” as we have a few of them born recently in the village. We were driving home the other day and she noticed that a roadside stall had roasted pig for sale. “Puppy pig” she told me, which had me thinking! What they were actually cooking was a piglet and so I questioned her about the Thai equivalent. Evidently Thais don’t have different words for young animals. They just use the adult word and add thark or “baby”. She had thought that “puppy” was our version of the same thing.
Thinking back to my early school days wouldn’t it have been wonderful if the farmyard nursery was all covered under “baby”. I bet there are still some animals where you aren’t sure what the young are called! Would you prefer to remember that a baby alpaca is called a cria or just a baby alpaca? I’m with the Thais on this one. A full list of baby animal names HERE for those into that sort of trivia.
Another great example is the Thais use of the word “Tu” – pronounced more like a “dtuu”, which on its own means a cupboard. The Thais then take this description for a small enclosed space and use it in a wide range of descriptive words. Tu yen is a refrigerator – tu for cupboard and yen meaning cold – a cold cupboard! A tu seuxpha is cupboard clothes or a wardrobe, tu cdhmay = a mailbox, tu pla = a fish bowl!
The Thai name for a comb and hairbrush is the same – they both sort of do the same thing. Mind you none of this has helped much in my learning Thai, which is still woeful.
Skip this one if you particularly sensitive about using man’s best friend as a food source.
Isn’t it funny how the topics that make up one’s life change according to circumstances. It is why living here has been so interesting. I have gained so much new knowledge and been shown a very different way of life since retiring in Thailand, especially my time in Isaan. Why do they burn the sugar crops at night? Because there is less chance of wind then and this reduces the possibility of the fires spreading. Not necessarily the most useful piece of information but not something that took up a lot of my thought processes in Canberra.
Now dogs falls under the same category. Rural Thais love having dogs in that every house has at least one and sometimes several but I have seen very little evidence that they “love” their dogs. I suspect that they are used more for security than any emotional attachment. Having said that Thais show very little signs of emotional attachment for anything or anyone in public certainly in the way we do, so it’s hard to tell what they are feeling.
The problem is that there seems to be no effort made to control the dog population. Desexing is available, as there are plenty of vets here, but for whatever reason, probably financial, it isn’t widely used. The result is an excess of dogs.
Because Thai houses in rural villages have very little in the way of properly enclosed areas the dogs encroach into public spaces, sitting in the roads and roaming other people’s land pretty freely. Walking through the village at night is impossible because every house you pass will have a dog that comes out to bark at you. Also at night you’ll get a group choir of howling dogs set off by one with many others joining in. It is a real downside to living here and one of the many reasons I am building a soundproof house.
Now pre-coup the excess dog problem was solved because dog collectors came up from Southern Isaan, places like Sakon Nakhon, where dog was on the menu, and bought up these animals for the markets. A big export market to places like Vietnam also soaked up excess dogs. When I say bought the deal actually was that you exchanged your dog for a couple of plastic buckets. I have seen photos of the horrendous transportation conditions inflicted on some of these animals, which is totally unacceptable but I guess take out our pre-conditioned attachment to dogs they are just another source of meat. I hope Tess, my much loved dog I had to leave back in Canberra isn’t reading this post.
Post-coup the military have banned the dog trade, maybe as part of doing everything possible to continue to make Thailand an attractive tourist destination, something affected by the coup and the murder of a couple of tourists down South. My insightful comment 🙂 seems to be supported by this article HERE.
Now this is all good but there then also needs to be some action taken on the supply side otherwise villages like mine will be totally overrun with dogs.
We are coping at the new house by having a dog and chicken proof fence and also an electronic entry gate at the front, which will be closed to keep unwanted visitors, human and animals out! I wonder what the longer term solution will be.
Isaan Tuk Tuks
For some reason the tuk tuks of my bit of Isaan and maybe elsewhere in the East of Thailand are of a totally different design from those of Bangkok or Chiang Mai. It’s like a statement of individuality maybe along the lines of Queensland or Western Australia v’s the rest of the country back “home”.
If you have been to Chiang Mai and are over about 160 cm high you will remember the thoughtful design that has your head stuck in the roof and having to bend down to see out. Also CM must have the oldest most rundown set of tuk tuks in the country.
While the Northern tuk tuk is more like a three wheel car, here in the North east they have kept the motorbike concept and just added a passenger compartment on the back.
I have yet to see one of these get over the speed of a fast walk but maybe that’s more to do with the pace of life here than the capacity of the engine. A$2,500 will get you one of these. A guy from the Netherlands in the village has one as an alternative to a car for ferrying members of his extended Thai family around locally.
I did a lot of reading before coming to Thailand even for my ten day holiday in 2012. There are a large number of blogs out there with advice about how you should behave and the do’s and don’ts of Thai life. Examples that stick in my mind are stepping on runaway money, because it has a picture of the king on it, eating with your left hand, the wai greeting, feet pointing and pointing in general, temple behaviour etc etc. Many people reading these lists must come here in fear of making a social gaffe and being attacked by angry Thais.
Having lived here for over 18 months now I can put your mind somewhat at ease. What has been particularly enlightening is observing life here in the Moo Baan and the way people interact and just live day to day.
Firstly to reassure you, based purely on my own experience, Thais in general are the most relaxed people and completely understand that us farang aren’t too bright when it comes to knowing about Thai behaviours. There are obviously exceptions and you might encounter unpleasant people as you would do in any country but a smile will overcome many many situations here.
So lets look at some of the things you’ll read about and some others I have thrown in that you might find interesting in understanding what you see when visiting here:
It’s true that shaking hands is not on the Thai agenda. Thais who deal a lot with westerners might offer to shake hands but it’s best to wait for the Thai to make the first move. Don’t expect Thais in general to either understand about our form of greeting or even want to touch hands.
The Wai – is the Thai’s alternative to shaking hands – see Ronald’s photo above. I got overly concerned about when and when not to wai and, as there are three different levels of the wai depending on the social level of the person you are greeting, it all becomes a bit too much. In reality the wai is used very little in everyday life. Family, friends and people I meet on the street most often won’t expect a wai or give me one.
Where it is used is in the following situations:
- At the meeting of two people who haven’t seen each other for a while. Gaun’s niece, Puk, who is going to college in Udon Thani, wais me on her return home for the weekend. She is an adult so I will wai her in return. There’s no need to wai small children even though they might you.
- Meeting people in a formal or semi-formal situation. When I visited the local school and met the principal and teachers there were wais all round. We recently went to an evening party in Si Bun Ruang to celebrate Teachers’ Day. There were lots of wais going on as people met up and obviously as well there would have been a whole undercurrent of social assessments happening as junior staff met more senior teachers.
- You will find that shop staff will most likely wai you at some stage in their dealings with you. The checkout operators at places like Tesco Lotus will wai you when you arrive and again at the end of the transaction. It is part of their training. It is not necessary to wai back. A smile and a khob khun kup for males or khob khun kaa for females – thank you, will cover it. The same in other situations like petrol stations and smaller shops. It is easy for me because I just follow Gaun’s lead. If she has had a more involved contact with someone, say a chat with the masseuse while I’m having a massage, then she might wai them on leaving. Don’t get too hung up on it. As I said before Thais know that we don’t know and a smile covers any shortfalls.
Hello and goodbye – Thais don’t do welcomes and farewells. I watch the crew arrive on the building site and there’s no good morning equivalent. They turn up and get on with whatever they need to do often without acknowledging each other. This isn’t because they don’t get on it is just part of being Thai.
I get a “good morning” from the family because they like practising their little knowledge of English but they don’t do it to each other. Farewells are the same. Once an informal event is finished, like dinner at the end of the night, they just up and leave. Once again the family say “good night” to me and “sleep well” – non laa fundee in Isaan BTW, but it’s not part of their culture.
Having drinks with the building crew at the end of the day when people want to go home they just get up and go. Listen to a Thai finishing a telephone conversation. They just stop. There is no formal ending.
I have dropped money here and although I have never stepped on it I have also never seen any sort of horrified expectation of a farang doing something terrible either.
NEVER say anything in public or to a Thai about the Royal family. That could certainly offend if taken the wrong way. Thais almost worship the King. In many temples you will see photos of the King and Queen along with Buddha, it’s that serious.
Thais eat mostly with their right hand but only as far as I can see because they are mostly right handed! The family eat with both left and right hand if it works out that way and what they’re eating needs hands rather than the spoon or fork. Maybe in more serious social occasions it is seen as a gaffe to touch food with the left hand but as I don’t move in what the Thais call “Hi So”, short for high society, circles I can’t comment 🙁
I will continue to add my observations of Thai life in comparison to what we are told through the travel forums to the Small Stories from time to time.
In case you haven’t noticed Thais are super keen photographers, snapping pretty well anything around and, very much like the Chinese and Japanese, are at their happiest when standing in front of something, preferably as part of a group, having a photo taken to record the moment.
Just up the road from us is a resort that has been landscaped in true Thai style, with weird brightly coloured statues and lots of places where those photo moments can be captured.
Puk, Gaun’s niece, Peng and another niece called Apple headed up there recently for just such a photo expedition. These are some of the results:
A few even smaller stories to finish:
- Isn’t it good to see Thai catching up with the rest of the world. Why have a bike and take exercise when you can have a remote controlled car instead?
- How did an Aussie XA Falcon find its way to Nong Bua Lamphu?
- Gaun brings colour to wherever she is:
- During the cool season the government hands out free blankets to older members of the community. The family picked up a couple of these. They must end up with quite a collection over time:
I hope you’ve enjoyed these little insights to life here. I will try to keep them coming but there must be a limit.
Thanks for reading.