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With the Forest Thais

One of the reasons why I havn´t posted anything new in the last weeks, is the fact that I spend these weeks in a small village close to the Burmese border. Mainly to visit a longtime friend but also in order to flee from the daily lunacy in Bangkok.

Like all small villages which I occasionally visit, it is almost impossible to get to this small village without knowing some tricks and people.
Only if you know the name of the right temple you can tell the bus driver where to drop you off. After that it takes another phone call and 15 minutes later some relative of my friend comes and stores me on the back of his pick-up truck.

After arriving at the village, which is in fact only a small accumulation of simple houses in the forest, almost nothing happens. Unlike in an Isaan village, people in western Thailand are less affectionate. And even if, they don´t show it.

While I am hugged endlessly in the Isaan village and shown around like a trophy, in the forst village at the Burmese border there is hardly a lead that somebody recognized my presence.
But people in Isaan are ethnic Lao whereas the western part of Thailand is populated with “Forest-Thais”.

Apart from that there are many mutualities: The village is full of females of all generations since the men are either working in the woods or have moved to the city to find employment there.

Occupation: Village Inhabitant

The remaining village inhabitants accept their domicile also as occupation: livin in a village.
This means they basically do nothing. And my daily routine is accordingly:

At 5 in the morning I get up, under two blankets with jacket and wool cap, because during this season, temperatures drop down to 12 °C.

I stay in bed until six since it is still too cold and dark outside.
That it´s six I know from the smoke of the neighbor’s coal fire that wafts in my nose.
Still, at this time most of the people are still fast asleep.

I go outside, look for wood and chop it to small pieces with the help of a perilous cutlass.
I rake yesterday´s ashes out of the cooking site and spread it in the yard. The small pieces of wood I stack in the cooking site. A small piece of an old rubber tire serves as lighter.
Smells and smokes like hell but it burns long and hot. After that I pile up the charcoal until I get a proper blaze.

I take a pot and go behind the house. In huge cisterns water had been collected during the rainy season, which is now used as drinking and cooking water. I fill the pot angle some dead leaves out of it and heat the water on the cooking site. Unheated the water would be too cold for the grandmother who is concluded from her appearance about 4000 years old.

Then, I have to think about what to cook today. Actually, the people in the village don´t have money. Hence, most of the ingredients are found in the surrounding nature.
Although the garden behind the house looks feral, spontaneously one could easily whip up three different dishes from the plants.

Ingredients are provided by the surrounding nature

Today, I decide to fix a papaya curry. In Isaan people prefer to eat the unripe papayas as papaya salad (som tum). Forest Thais rather wait until the fruits are ripe and sweet.
First I have to pluck some tamarind and boil it in the wok. Then I have to find a long bamboo pole to push down a bulky, green papaya off the tree.
The rest is pretty simple: Chilli, sugar, salt, chop up the papaya and boil it. Meanwhile the rice is cooking in the cooker. As soon as everything’s ready, miraculousy the whole house awakes.

The food has to suffice for the rest of the day. But Thais eat mainly rice anyway so the curry is practically only used to add some flavor to the rice.
Eating like in a western Chinese restaurant where you topple the whole dish over the rice and mix it is unimaginable and even impertinent in Thai perception.

After breakfast not much happens. I sweep some dead leaves together, carry the garbage out in the yard and burn it all together. A waste disposal service doesn´t exist in the village.

Sometime around 9 neighbors drop by. This is the time, when I retreat behind the house and plug in my ear plugs and read a book.
The way people communicate with each other in that village in Kanchanaburi province is even for my all-terrain mind way too much: These people don´t talk, they shout. And many times they shout completely meaningless sounds.

One woman yells for more than half a minute „Ohooooo- Ohooooo- Ohooooo“.
In addition all participants of the talk repeat everything that had just been said.
Which is in fact no big surprise since in a village where nobody ever does something, nothing ever happens. Accordingly, topics to talk about are rather rare.
Hence, I form a highlight in their daily routine. When I add more seasoning sauce to my rice the whole village will know it.

In addition, every household has half a dozen dogs. And quite often it seems as if these dogs are only kept to have an opportunity to shout at something. Constantly you hear a housewife shouting at some dog.

Eventually the sun goes down again. I eat papaya curry for the third time and at 9 o`clock I go to bed.

For some this daily schedule might appear boring, but for me it´s holiday. Just doing nothing. Get up when I want, eat what and when I want and just sit out in the sun and read.

For vacation and relaxation I don´t need beaches and the sea, which I could of course easily find in Thailand.

But you find palm trees in the village, too.


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The Bangkok Clock

Livin without a watch.

It´s a dream of many. Just allow oneself to float through the day and only listen to one´s inner clock.

In the western hemisphere this is hardly possible, especially not, when you are employed.

In Thailand this may be possible. Even in the city, you don´t need a watch since Bangkok has it´s own sequence and most often a look out the window is enough to estimate the time:

At 6 the sun comes up.

At 7 the soup at the noodle shop is ready.

At 9 people start queuing in front of the post office, which I can see from my window.

At noon my house doesn´t have a shadow.

At 2 p.m. the smog is so dense that I can´t see the Royal palace anymore

At 3 p.m. the noodle shop closes.

At 4 p.m. the traffic jam starts.

At 7 p.m. the Karaoke brothel next door opens up.

At 8 p.m. the cockroaches come out.

At 10 p.m. the rats follow.

At 2 a.m. a water tanker of BMA waters the bushes and trees.

If your are still out at after that time, you probably don´t care anymore.


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The Thai Animal Clock

The day before yesterday I also gave some clues how to determine the time in Bangkok quite exactly.

But people and especially Thais are rather unreliable. Accordingly, one is in danger to rely on a clock that´s going wrong.

Unlike the country´s animals. You just can´t determine the time more exact. I managed it to predict the time in the middle of the night with only 10 minutes wrong.
Of course, this is only possible in the village since in Bangkok there are hardly any animals except dogs, cats, cockroaches and bed bugs. The rest is negligible.

This is much different in the village where the proportion of man and beast is 1:3.

Naturally, there are the obligatory cats and dogs (the latter ones at least 3 per village inhabitant), buffalos, cows, ducks, chicken, pigs and of course elephants.

In addition, there are a zillion singing bird, who don´t belong to anybody.

In Thailand´s rural life it is rather unimportant what time it is. When the sun comes up, people wake up. When it gets dark, people eat and go to sleep.

For me as a Bangkokian socialized in the West this is not as easy because even in the village I persue a sophisticated scheme of lying in the sun and reading/sleeping and lying in the bed and reading/sleeping. Without knowing the exact time this two-fisted schedule is hard to keep.

Since Thailand is quite close to the equator a day has almost always 12 hours daytime and 12 hours darkness.

Especially when it´s dark, the missing shadows and position of the sun make it hard to find out what time it is.

Is it worth to turn around in bed and try to fall asleep again, or will the sun come up in 20 minutes?

For this reason I am giving some leads:

At 9 p.m. giant bugs start making a noise, so loud that even the Thais can´t sleep. Hence, they run around in their yard armed with water buckets and soak the ground in oder to make the bugs come out of their holes in the ground and kill them.

At 11 p.m. suddenly all hundreds of dogs start to howl. A concert that goes on for at least 20 minutes.

At 1 a.m. the same thing happens with slightly less howling.

At 2 a.m. the roosters start to crow for the first time of the day, only to find out that the sun still won´t come up and then fall asleep again (Thai roosters believe that they are in charge to bring the sun up by their crowing).

At 3:40 the roosters mean business and won´t stop their noise until late morning.

At 5:30 the cows moo for the first time (and exactly once).

At 6 a.m. the bells on the cow´s necks start ringing as they are moving now.

20 minutes later the sun comes up and the day starts.


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Bangkok Post masks Thai Airways Manager

With the help of photoshop one is able to do more than only create nice and clear faces. It can also bring up absurd and disturbing results as the „Bangkok Post“ proofed today in their report on the executive chairman of Thai Airways, Wallop Bhukkanasut.
He is accused of having used his influence to avoid extra luggage charges and customs control for his more than 40 suitcases weighing in total 390 kg.
But even an offense like this doesn´t justify, to mutilate him in that way.

Or has this meant to be a symbolic picture to subtly demand Wallops resignation?



Video: Isaan Impressions

Once again some nice motion pictures from Baan Konssay, U-Kaew district, Udon-Thani province

Check it out:



Military Draft in Thailand

In Thailand the military has always been playing an important role. The military operates broadcasting stations, banks and military schools as an alternative to the regular public schools.
In politics one finds much more Generals than in western countries.
Of course there is a military draft in Thailand. All males at the age of 21 have to do their duty for two years. And the draft is always due in this time of the year. From April 1st to April 12th draft-time in Thailand during which all 21-year-olds and all males born in the year 1987 have to submit to the draft.
Conscripts will receive an monthly salary of 1,550 baht and a daily allowance of 75 baht.
Assistant army commander Gen Jiradet Khotcharat said the army had set up 154 committees to supervise the annual draft to make sure it is free of fraud and bribery.
Gen Jiradet said the army must be careful in drafting men from the three strife-torn southernmost provinces for fear that insurgent sympathisers could mix with and infiltrate the army. He said military training would help instil good attitudes into conscripts from the South and help them stay away from insurgents. This year, a total of 85,760 new conscripts will be recruited into the armed forces. Of these, 1,392 will go to the Defence Ministry and the Supreme Command, 62,323 to the army, 16,000 to the navy and 6,045 to the air force. More than 20,000 conscripts have agreed to sign up for military service so far



Thailand: Gang of 30 Beat up British Tourists

After a vicious fight at an food stall in Nakhon Sawan a Briton had to be hospitalized due to a skull crack. A gang of about 30 Thai, including one soldier had kicked and punched the victim and two other Englishmen while they were dining at a roadside restaurant early Sunday morning.
After the three victims had been taken to hospital the gang stormed the building and resumed beating the three Brits until police eventually arrived. Responding to questions about the attack, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said the incident must be thoroughly investigated by police and the army.
Meanwhile police have arrested the accused soldier and another man. The suspects face a maximum seven years in jail if found guilty.
Police are searching fort the other suspects.

Also read the post : Battle with Thai People - You better don't



The Whitening Madness

Like Europe in the 18th century elegant whiteness is regarded as chic in today’s asia. In drug stores all over south east asia you will hardly find a bodycare product without “whitening”-ingredients. Ranging from deo roll-ons to bodylotion all products have the whitening stuff inside which particularly people in the sunny regions of south east asia like. But many peole can’t effort the mostly expensive brands and buy therefore no-name products from the market –with sometimes ugly results. So, if you care for your skin pigments better buy brand products an invest some minutes to find a cream without whitener.



Fish Sauce – South East Asias smelly seasoning

Some call it a smelly liquid made of fermented fish but for others it it is part of the national culture. Even the ancient Romans used it for seasoning their dishes and called it Garum. What soy sauce is for the Fischsoße -Fish sauce. Asia's smelly seasoningChinese, fish sauce is it for the people in South East Asia. Especially in Vietnam fish sauce (Nuoc Mam) is very popular – cook and poets refer to it as eatable perfume. There are even poems and songs about it. In Thailand fish sauce is known as Naam pla, on te Philippines they call it Patis and Koreans speak of Jeotgal. But all have the strong, fishy smell in common, which needs to getting used to for foreigners. The production ist quite simple: Fresh anchovies are mixed 2,5:1 with salt. During the next months the salt abstracts water from the fishes, which drains through a small tap in the fish sauce barrel and pour back into the barrel. Like olive oil Nuo Mam has different levels of quality. Fishsauce increases the taste of most dishes without adding a fishy taste. With fish sauce, chillies, garlic and lime juice you can fix yourself easily a asian seasoning sauce on your own. Just chop some Thai chillies and garlic, pour some lime juice and fish sauce on it an leave in the fridge for some days.
But, as I said, it takes some time to get used to the aroma. I remember the small village Mui Ne at the coast of Vietnam which is famous for its fish sauce production. At 40 degree Celsius the stench was unbearable.



Thailand: Culture Ministry Encourages Parents to Choose Thai Nicknames

The Thai Culture ministry wants to encourage parents to nickname their children with Thai names after a survey displayed that in the Isaan province of Khon Kaen 45.9 percent of the children have English nicknames already. "Now, more and more parents give English nicknames to their children," Culture Ministry permanent secretary Vira Rojpojchanarat said.
In Thailand people have nicknames additionally to their official first and last name. Official names hardly play a role in everyday life in Thailand. Instead, nicknames are used even on the job. If people are close to each other or younger than you, they may call themselves by their nicknames instead of using pronouns. Some Thai nicknames have meanings, and some don’t. Treat them as mere names – don’t try to translate the names because some might be funny or not make any sense like pig (muu), chicken (gai) or fish (pla). Common Nicknames are: yai, duk-daa, gung, mot, an, jäng, dim, mai, bum, dtui, än, ding, nooi, däng, mäm, nüng, miao, nok, gop, oo, nit, nuu

Source: Benjawan Poomsan Becker: Thai for intermediate Learners and The Nation

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