After reading so many articles on the sordid side of Thailand, of drugs, girls and boys available for sex, of con-men overcharging for jewels, taxi-rides, tours and such-like, I felt the need to show you the other side of Thailand. Forget the shopping malls, the air-con and the glitter. Make time to see the heart of the country, the real Thailand.
I have worked in a small village in northern Chiangmai for three years. The most important things to the villagers are the Lord Buddha, the Royal family, their own families’ and-survival. The village is one kilometer from the main road and consists of a dirt lane that turns into a quagmire in the rainy season-coming soon!
Some of the better-off people who have grown up children working in the cities, sending money home, live in brick houses with electricity. It’s only been available here for 3-4 years. Some even have a fridge and TV. The poorer people live in grass-roofed houses without electricity. Most houses have a well. If they have electricity and money they will have a water pump. Poorer folk have a rope and bucket. When water is scarce, everyone bathes in the river near the village, but certainly not naked of course.
We have a small temple which earlier only had one nun, but now it has many monks. When the monks came, the whole village from very small children to very old people turned out to build them living accommodation. Now we are building a bigger temple but it will take years, as it is dependent on contributions and labor from a village which is, shall we say, not very rich.
The nearest hospital is 10kms away, for those who can afford it. I regularly give them lifts on my motorcycle. Those who cannot afford hospital ask the monks to come and drive away the sickness or evil spirit which possesses them.
In one year, four people contracted Japanese-B encephalitis. I was one of them. I went to the hospital. The others could not afford it and they died. There was a lovely girl who runs a shop for her very old grandparents. She was knocked down on the main road by a drunken motorcyclist and died instantly. The police told the rider to pay compensation to the grandparents, of which he paid only a fraction. So apart from suffering the death of a girl the whole village loved, the grandparents had to close the shop and lost their only income.
Villages, and indeed towns, have a type of insurance in which those who are members pay 20 b. or more if it was a close friend and if you can afford it. In most cases, 100 days after the funeral, the family makes a tam-boon, a merit-making party to let the spirit know it has not been forgotten. Again, all are invited and donations are made to meet expenses. The same thing happens at a marriage ceremony.
When the time comes to grow rice, sweet corns, peanuts, cabbage or whatever, the whole village gets together as a group, descending on each other’s land in turn, digging and planting and then moving on to help on the next person’s land. If someone can’t work themselves, they will pay for a substitute.
I wanted to build a little bridge from the road to my office over a wide drainage ditch and like you do, asked the village headman for permission. I was told I would have to put large concrete rings in the ditch to form a drainage tunnel under the bridge.
When they were delivered, a guy who works as a postman was passing by and asked me what they were for. After I explained he said “Right”, you mix some cement to seal them and I’ll be back in half an hour.” Half an hour later, there he was with five other village blokes.
“We’ll put them in, you seal them”, said my new boss. Like most things it was easier said than done. It took three hours to finish the job.
“How much do I pay them?” I asked the guy.
“Pay them? What are you talking about? This is a village!” came the sharp retort. “Go and buy a couple of bottles of ‘Lao Khao’, some sponsor and some snack.” That’s cheap rice whisky, a mixer and something to nibble while you drink it. After we finished our impromptu little partly I thanked them heartily as they left.
“Just remember-you are part of the village. There will be a time when you can help us” came to reply. I was a Thai, and suddenly a deeply moved one.”
The village clubs together to buy seeds, fertilizer and chemicals in bulk. This is true collective farming. If you do not own land yourself you can work with the rest of them for 60 b per day, a thought you might bear in mind when you buy your next beer at 55 b.
Some of the produce, such as sweet corn, is cooked and sold from stalls along the main road, usually by wives with very young children or older women. You might have seen them as you rush by in a bus or rented car. It seems odd to us to see a row of six or more stalls, all selling the same thing at the same price. But there’s no bad feeling and if one stall sells out they will borrow stock from one of the others.
If you happen to walk or bike past a field or house when a family is eating outside you will usually be asked to sit down and eat, no matter how poor or rich the people. Villagers like these, throughout Thailand are truly the very heart of Thailand itself!