The Truth about Village Life ...



Some old Thai hands find comic relief, while others become incensed by the new kids on the block. They arrive with a pair of rose colored glasses, a dream, a phrase book and an abundance of hormones. In ten days or so they have discovered the “True Thailand” and become evangelical in their promotion of this newly discovered world. The cynical old farts, like myself, are told that we need to get to know “real” Thai people and that if we don’t like “everything” about Thailand perhaps we should go home. Regardless of the fact that this is our home and we have lived here longer than we have lived anywhere else. Sometimes longer than the newbie has been on the planet.

Having been escorted to a bargirl’s home village for a brief stay, some newbies are enamored by village life and wax poetic about the peaceful tranquility of the rural environs. As with most things nothing is all that simple. The truth is, no two villages are alike. Regional differences can be dramatic with their difference in language, customs, food, environment, crops, infrastructure, work ethic and source of income.

In the early years, one of the many villages I visited, only had access through a rough dirt road and riding in the back of a produce truck. I vividly recall sitting on a load of those little red onions to get back to civilization. I have stayed in three walled structures where, after a meal on the floor, you would brush the leftovers through the ample gaps in the flooring, to be cleaned up by the animals waiting eagerly below. Water often came from a bucket hung precariously on the end of a bamboo pole. The technique of catching the lip of the bucket on the well water’s surface was exacting. I found to my chagrin that being off fractionally left the bucket at the bottom of the well. Believe me it is no easy task to recover an object from the bottom of a deep dark hole.

I’m sure there are still place like that but there are also villages with 7-11 stores, internet cafes, karaoke, gas stations and access to much of what is deemed necessary in the modern world. We still don’t have landline telephones in our village but you can get western TV on UBC and internet on IpStar. People where I live are not very sophisticated and take little pride in their environment. They are not very entrepreneurial and are slow to adopt new ideas. On my long bike rides I pass through neighboring villages that are quite different to the one I live in.

The devisions and differences in villages are often not visible to an outsider. Often what looks like one village is actually two or more. For example our village is divided into moo 5 and moo 13. There is a definite sense of “them and us” despite proximity and no visible separation. While sitting with the village headman recently, to get a house number or address for our new house, I was interested to see what number we would be assigned. The process is quite simple. Regardless of location you are given the next number on the list. Our half of the village now has over 170 homes but I am not sure about the other half. I’m also unclear as to exactly were the line is drawn. It seems very clear to them, however.

I am sometimes surprised at how little they trust each other in the village. They worry incessantly about theft and fully expect anything that is not locked up will be “borrowed” by a neighbor who covets the item and sees no harm in appropriating it for his own use. My wife has tried to explain this local reality to me and has also assured me that a gate will be necessary on our road. Otherwise our private road to the house will be seen as a nice public area for kids to play, to dry produce and park vehicles, thus blocking access to our own home.

Our village also has its fair share of functionally illiterate souls among the older generation. It is not surprising that change is slow when the teachers who taught my wife are still teaching her friends children. A few people went to work overseas in the past but you would never know it. The money didn’t last long upon return and they spent all their time overseas in a Thai work camp and never saw anything except other Thais, the airport and the work site.

Bangkok friends ask how I can live around people like this. It can be hard to explain to someone who demands a homogeneous environment with like-minded people to reinforce their beliefs. I am quite happy to let people get on with their lives no matter how pitiful they may be. It is not part of my mandate to change everyone else, to fit into my view of how things are “supposed to be.”

A healthy dose of “live and let live” seems more appropriate in my humble opinion. I figure it is kind of like, pushing a piece of string. Your not going to get very far telling people that they have it all wrong. On the other hand if you, pull the string, by living a good life and setting a good example, you are providing an alternative role model for the next generation. It can be hard for people to change if they are unaware of alternatives.

Some villages have local role-models, while others are closer to towns or cities, making progress easier for them. I guess what I am trying to say is that visiting one Thai village does not make you an expert on all Thai villages. Not every village experience is the same. Sometimes you will feel like you are camping out in a raw natural environment, at the mercy of the elements, while a short distance down the road there are people living a comfortable almost luxurious lifestyle. No two people will have the same experience here, whether in a city or a village environment. Just accept that and get on with your own life. It is really just that simple, if you let it be.

I must say the silence was deafening after my last post. I suppose it was to be expected since I voiced a nonstandard view of a biological imperative. I did not intend insult to those who have a different view but at the same time I do not apologize for seeing things from an alternate perspective. It is to be hoped that your life choices work as well for you, as mine do for me.

Wat Manik

I imagine Manik temple and the surrounding Manik area of Phuket is not on most visitors "must see" lists, but if you are passing this area near Cherng Talay, on the road between the Heroine's Monument and Surin Beach, you can find a very nice local temple and a very green and as yet relatively undeveloped area of Phuket. We took a drive around this area a few weeks ago - it's a habit of ours to follow back roads, plus I had read about a waterfall in the Manik area, so we tried to find it...

We followed one dirt side road for several miles up into the hills. The road became narrow and twisty and steep. And we don't have a 4x4. The hillside was covered in rubber plantations and in the valley below was a small waterfall, though I guess not the one I had read about. The road suddenly ended and I had to make something like a 15 point turn to point the car back downhill!

Oh well, no waterfall, but the surrounding scenery is lovely in this part of Phuket.

Scenery in the Manik area

Manik view

Being a fan of temples, I wanted to stop at Manik Temple (Wat Manik) for a quick look. Another well cared for and peaceful local temple. You can't find much information about it, though apparently several dogs that live at the temple are looked after by a local dog-lovers club. Can't say I actually saw any dogs, but I did like the temple. Just down the road a few km is Cherng Talay temple, and also along the same road is Bang Tao Mosque - the largest mosque in Phuket. So, if you like religious architecture, this is a road worth exploring... We'll have to try another time to find the waterfall, though.

Wat Manik

Manik Temple Buddha image at Manik Temple

Manik Temple

Buddhas at Manik Temple

Do you like temples? Read about more Temples in Phuket!

Mediocrity ...


In the vast, dark sea of human mediocrity and misery there are on occasions, brief moments of blinding light and hope. Actions that raise all 6.5 billion of us above and separate us from, the beast of burden and our wild forest brethren. This sadly is not one of those eventful moments in the history of humankind.

We have just taken delivery of a two month old baby boy. Before I get into that, it might be helpful to set the stage by providing some relevant background information. My wife has two younger siblings, a sister and a brother. A little more than nine years ago, as a teenager, the sister decided she was ready, willing and able to produce offspring with her high school boyfriend. 

One guess as to how that all worked out. The two kiddies who were performing the “most wonderful, natural and fulfilling act” in the life of a human being, (producing yet another miserable life to be lived) changed their minds and moved on to something else. As is typical in the village, Granny inherited the burden produced by her irresponsible offspring. For the last nine years Granny has done a good job of spoiling and producing a regular brat.

Being illiterate herself, she couldn’t have been expected to help much with schoolwork or life knowledge. We have paid the bills and made attempts at correcting behavioral problems. The birth mother has made appearances from time to time. We sent the mother to university for many years, allowing her to be the first graduate in the family. The only tangible result being that my wife felt better for having tried her best to “fix” her sister.

Now it is the brother’s turn. He has generally followed in the footsteps of his father. A mean drunk who morphs from a quiet shy guy into Mike Tyson. A womanizer who thinks with a particularly fickle part of his anatomy. He has been with the latest girl for two or three years but at the time of conception was sleeping with at least a couple of other girls. Now if I were the suspicious type, I might wonder it this child were an attempt to “keep her man.” Why she would want to, is anyones guess!

There were many tears and much anguish about leaving her baby with her mother in law. Her own mother, however, was already taxed by bringing up her other child from a previous relationship. I just love how people make horribly stupid decisions again and again, and then piss and moan about it. Asking “why me?” and asking for sympathy and help to solve the problem. Their problem is a clear lack of common sense and good planning. The time to solve the problem is before the act, not after. If your decisions are controlled by your glands, hormones, and emotions then it is sensible to expect difficulties.

People here seem know they will bear no responsibility and the family safety net will clean up their messes. The village as it is, consists primarily of grandparents and grandchildren. Not many of the present generation want to farm rice, going off to the city to find work better suited to their modern sensibilities. Some manage to build a new life in the city while others fail miserably and return to the village to live off the generosity of their extended families.

I suppose my wife being a baby sitter from time to time is still better than being a mother. Moving to our new house in a couple of weeks will provide a little distance and privacy, allowing my wife to choose, to some extent, how involved she wishes to be. Without us, I sometimes wonder how any of them would survive. We have discussed how my wife’s efforts to “fix” her family have perhaps had the opposite effect much of the time. Something like giving drugs to a drug addict. It relieves the immediate pain but perpetuates the problem.

Her biggest disappointment was her father and he had the gall to die before she could resolve her issues with him. I do my best to repair the damage done to her by her family but only time will tell how things play out. As caring and wonderful as my wife is, her family is equally dysfunctional. The more depressing thing is that we are seen as the strange or abnormal ones. Dysfunctional is normal. Thinking about consequences and being responsible is far too tedious. It is much better to breakout the local moonshine or white lightning and go for a high speed ride on the motorbike.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival Photos 2007

I have to say, as a seasoned traveler, and 8 year resident of Phuket, the Phuket Vegetarian Festival is a real buzz. The street processions are so full of life, full of noise, full of people, full of magic... and what goes on in the temples at night is almost other worldly. There is something special going on here, this is no show, this is not make believe. This is very real.

I would still like to see more in the future, there is so much to experience during the festival. Over the last week I have been sticking to the Jae food (albeit washed down with a few beers), and I have been into Phuket Town on 2 mornings for the street processions. The processions start early, around 7 - 7:30am, nearly every morning during the festival. In the evenings at various shrines are such activities as fire walking and "bladed ladder climbing", but I never seem to have time to see all that.

I took more than 250 photos, so this blog post might get a bit long.... I will try to be selective. These pictures were all taken during the processions on 17th and 18th October from the Jui Tui Shrine and Kathu Shrine. Oh, and if you don't have a fast internet connection, sorry. Get one.

For more information about the festival and links to my photos and blog posts over several years - see Phuket Vegetarian Festival Introduction













 







 











The photos above were all from the 17th - the street procession from Jui Tui shrine, one of the largest in Phuket, found near the market in Phuket Town. The following day was the procession of Kathu Shrine. They actually walk from Kathu into town (about 7km) before starting the walk around town. I followed this procession last year (see Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2006). Next year I really must get to the shrine at 5am and see what goes on in the wee hours before the procession.

On with the show....





















 

















After all that, I am quite exhausted! Now that the festival is over, I must say a steak would be nice. The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is something not to be missed - dates for 2008 : 28 September - 7 October. Hope to see you in Phuket!

(Added 2008):

Phuket Vegetarian Festival Pictures 2008

Marriage ...




My head is spinning with all that is going on at the house these days, and I don’t do half of what my wife does. They have gotten a second wind as they approach the finishing line and everything is going on at the same time, in a whirlwind of activity. That pretty much means all day, everyday on site to keep track of it all. I should be writing something interesting about the work but it is all a bit much and I need the distraction of writing about something else.

I will say, however, that I am most impressed with our electrician. The Energizer Bunny incarnate. His “can-do” attitude and relentless work pace is a wonder to watch. Like many of the guys he is young and a little scary looking at first glance. He is very interesting though and completely unfazed by any request. He installs down lights six meters up on a flimsy bamboo scaffold. He shimmies up power poles and installs street lights, like there is nothing to it. What can I say, except I am in awe? Enough already lets move on.

Marriage looks promising as a subject to ponder and distract me from my house building overload. Marriage seems like a simple enough word. An easily understood concept until you look at it closer. In the news different factions fight over the definition and meaning. Statistics say most marriages fail or end in divorce. That is all within the boundaries of a single country. Now throw into the mix different countries, cultures, customs, beliefs and religions, and things begin to get more interesting. At this point you are no doubt beginning to expect a rant supporting one view or a detailed discussion of the merits and faults of the differing options. Sorry, I think I’ll just tell you our story instead.

I was a successful bachelor of 43 and fully expecting to continue on that path in perpetuity. I have always preferred the company of women to that of men and never used deceit or subterfuge in my dealings with the fairer sex. So when we met I was not inclined to give false hope. Pretty early on I made it clear that I liked my single life and marriage and children were not in my plan. To my surprise she said she was fine with that. I guess we both had low expectations of long term relationships.

That physical and chemical state that clouds the early stages of a relationship and bathes one in euphoria began to clear with time. What became clearer as the fog lifted was that we had grown very close. There was trust, commitment, loyalty, compatibility, companionship and an easy way of navigating the little things that often trip people up in close proximity. Equally important I was allowed to be me and not constantly prodded and primped to become someone else.

I had always been somewhat guarded and prepared for the worst in relationships but found myself opening up to the possibility of something long term. There were no grand gestures or Hollywood moments, down on one knee with a full orchestra playing. We simply began discussing the pros and cons of the various options.

She had shared so much of her life and roots with me and I for the first time was considering sharing more of my life and roots with her. That meant traveling abroad so she could meet my people and see where I came from, something I had never before considered with a Thai girl. In our situation marriage was pretty much the only option available to allow the lifestyle we envisioned.

We discussed the merits of a Bangkok wedding over a Village wedding and what each would entail in great detail. In the end we decided on neither. On my birthday we went down to the local registrar, but found to our dismay, that we didn’t have our paperwork in order and were told to come back another day. It took us a while to sort things out but ten days later we were back and signed on the dotted line. Due to peculiarities in Thai law, many upper class Thais, will go for the big wedding but never register their marriage as it would make doing business more difficult for the wife. In our case the wedding was seen as unnecessary and wasteful while registration provided greater benefits for both.

For the longest time afterward people either didn’t know we were married or simply refused to believe it. After all we had not followed the appropriate and socially approved procedure. We hadn’t even consulted our families. I mean it was the two of us getting married and it really didn’t concern anyone else. We made a concerted effort not to change our lifestyle in the slightest and that may have contributed to people’s confusion. My wife revels in telling people that she had to wait six years before I bought her a wedding ring. I don’t know another woman that would admit such a thing let alone talk about it openly.

We did travel however and spent around half our time in my country. That was after the year it took us to get the visa thing all sorted out for her. Now I had expected a change in attitude toward my wife but not toward me. I found that I had undergone and instant image makeover without being aware of it. Single guys get a bad rap in Thailand, though mostly deserved I must admit. I found many benefits to being married and became a softer gentler version of me. She tapped into a part of me that had been carefully safeguarded, allowing me to open up and embrace a more emotional and caring existence.

We still don’t have children and won’t. That continues to be something that other people have difficulty with. It bothers them that someone can understand and have control over their biological and genetically imprinted urges. I never fluctuate on this issue but the wife does from time to time. Not in any serious way but she does tease that the hormones play with her mind on occasion. Add to that nearly every friend she has, is either pregnant or has had a kid in the last two years.

I understand there needs to be an outlet for all this, so have supported her taking on the role of mother figure for her niece. Since the niece lives with grandmother and her mother comes home when she can there is no shortage of mothers and the work load is not a great burden. So my wife gets what she needs, the niece benefits and I get off easy. Ain’t life wonderful when you know how to play the game. Ten years on, we are dancing to a melody that only we can hear and enjoying every step and note.

Vegetarian Festival 11 - 19 October 2007

In case anyone reads this page in the future .. for up to date info and photos see :

Phuket Vegetarian Festival Introduction
Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2015 Schedule

October 2007: The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is here again. For 9 days, this is the time to purify body and soul by eating the right food and refraining from alcohol, sex and other naughty things. The origins of the festival go back to 1825 - anyone who thinks Phuket has no history is mistaken! Last year was the first time I really participated in the festival - I ate the food (and I tell you it does clean out your system), I visited shrines, and followed a street procession one morning. The processions are the highlight of the festival - have a look at last years photos - Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2006.

Entrance to Kathu Village

Last night things went off with a bang here in Kathu. There was a firework display and at every participating shrine the "pole raising" ceremony took place (unfortunately I was at work, I would love to see this) - The poles join our world with the spiritual world, allowing the spirits to descend to the shrines. During the festival, the spirits enter the bodies of mediums who participate in the street processions which will take place every morning from the 13th to 19th around Phuket Town.

Kathu Village street 11th October

Kathu Shrine 11th October

I started on the food today. Some of it tastes quite good! I found a place selling Ahan Jae near the office in Karon, and tonight we went for a walk in Kathu Village to buy some dinner - fresh spring rolls, phad thai. Not too much going on.. yet. The Kathu Shrine has their procession on the 18th and I hope to follow it into Phuket Town. Also during the next week are such events as fire walking and bladed ladder climbing.

It's all vegetarian

Vege snacks

Tomorrow night we'll maybe head into Phuket Town - the shrines at Bang Neow and Jui Tui are 2 of the largest with a lot of food for sale. The shrine at Sam Kong is also a big one - it's near Tesco Lotus on the north side of town. If you're in Phuket, try to see something! Note that all the processions start early. You'll need to be in town around 7:30 - 9am to see something. And the food is not bad either, especially washed down with a cold vegetarian beer. Oh! Naughty!