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.