Time for Q & A ...



Q:
“When you walk around your house, when you see Thai farmers working on the rice field, I am sure that you would see them walk pass by to work on the rice field by your house, in the morning before sunrise and back home when the sunset. Do you have any of your opinion story to talk about that?”

A:
Alas, it does not bother me, that they do toil in the fields and I do not. If, that is what you were getting at. They have their lives and we have ours. Life is neither fair nor equal and values can vary greatly. People here for example are not always as respectful of boundaries as we might like, but I can appreciate that it is easier to cut through our property than to walk through the fields. Just keep your hands off my fish in the pond and don’t throw rocks at my dogs.

Around here they only get one crop of rice per year. Very few are industrious enough to plant some other crop during the off season. Those who do, usually plant Thai pumpkins with that wonderfully “politically incorrect” name (f**k). You need to haul one bucket of water per plant so it is not hard to imagine why most don’t want to work that hard. Up in the hills they do plant other things, after cutting down the forest of course. That means most of the year I am not treated to their presence on my stage.

There is always something to watch, however. The weather or the dogs, are always up to something and there are some very interesting birds. My favorite is a hawk of some sort. White body with black head and wing tips, thin black epaulets and patch on the back. There are also a few birds that frequent the pond in search of small fish. A couple of snakes swim in the pond with the fish and crabs.

During the harvest which recently ended, I noticed people were waiting for the fog to burn off before heading off to the fields. It was quite cold and wet, with low visibility so not much point in heading out before the sunrise. I’m sure they were at the market or doing something else at home in the meantime. My wife and I were more apt to meet people heading out as we were returning from the dam like we did this morning. Greetings are brief as they whisk by on motorbikes, E-Tans or tractors. Their facial expressions speak volumes, however.

I like the communal aspect of their work, though I’m not a great fan of their loud, after work drinking. I feel that may have something to do with holding them back. But, to each his own. Sometimes they work in family units and often larger groups of 10, 20 or even 30 people harvesting by hand. Others hire big harvesting machines for the day. Most use machines to thresh the rice, while some still beat the bundles by hand to separate the grains of rice from the stalk. My wife actually did that for the first time this year. She saw her mother and brother pounding away and maybe felt a tad guilty, so went out and gave it a try. I helped by loading the bags of rice into the truck and hauling them over to the mother’s house. I am not easily guilted into anything but since my wife’s driving is still not up to par, I do the driving out of self interest and preservation.

Q:
“I like your blog very much and would like any comments you have to make about the differences in culture that please you, the ones that make you stay there ~ and how it's different from your culture of birth.”

A:
I have to say, I completely misread this question at first and had to rethink my answer. My wife and I actually discussed this on our hike to the dam this morning, so here is my take on things.

We don’t live here for any cultural reasons. It is all about lifestyle and affordability. Often, when reading or dreaming about a foreign country, one can be transported into a romanticized and magical realm where all things are beautiful and all problems and worries disappear. Discussion of culture usually focusses on historical foundations, theories and an idealized version. The truth of daily life seldom has any resemblance to those lofty ideals. It is like watching a Hollywood movie and believing life is really like that. Common people often have little understanding of their own culture or religion. They keep up on all the rituals and ceremonies but don’t necessarily understand the cultural and historical foundations for what they do.

My wife pointed out how monks aren’t what they used to be. They have cellphones, chase girls, drink, smoke and at least one major theft case in the village was young monks breaking into houses after having been there for blessing ceremonies and sussing out what might be ripe for the taking. At present we only have two monks at the local temple as the boys would rather pursue a more modern and materialistic lifestyle. Regardless of this, the older generation only see their sons becoming monks, in the light of the merit it brings to them and the family. Now it beats me how they can see merit coming from the goings on of their young delinquent sons, just because they shave their heads and wear a shade of saffron.

We thought we had found a way out of the traditional house warming (destruction) party by making a sizable donation to the local temple instead. After all it was all about the blessing of the house by monks and placating the spirits of the land that we displaced, right? Dream on. We were told by some that the temple and merit making is one thing and the drunken party is a separate and more important event, so to speak. I still think we are going to do it our way, however.

The cultural differences that stand out for many will depend on their own pet peeves. Like honesty, injustice, domestic violence, child abuse, manners, food, religion or any number of things that one places value on or is offended by. Culture shock or culture infatuation all depends on the luggage you bring with you. For me I was so young when I arrived and have been here so long, that the luggage was misplaced long ago.

Don’t know that any of this was what you were looking for by way of a response or “opinion story” but it is the best I can do right now.