Stickman Readers' Submissions October 29th, 2003

A Rural Lifestyle

By Jeff

Well, I just want to stay in touch and let you know how I am and how you can get a hold of me to let me know how things are there. To start, it's HOT here, and humid. My first 3-4 weeks here it was 100+ and humidity near that, but lately we've had rain enough to cool things off into the 85-90 range, although it does cool off nicely at night. I do live in a jungle, so what can I expect. I live in Northwestern Thailand in a small, rural village where they grow rice and raise chickens and Brahma type cattle. You know, with the humps on their backs. On a map just find Chiang Mai, the largest city in Northern Thailand. We're about 150 miles south of that. If your map is detailed enough, find Phrae, or Lampang. We're close to those.

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People are very poor here, living on a subsistence level, but we have built a very nice house, and thanks to my retirement money and savings, have everything we want, mainly because it is quite inexpensive to live here. I could never have retired and stayed in the states. I live with my wife and her two children, a boy and girl. Thom, the boy is 16 and Thai the girl is 10.

There's not much to do here, in our village of Pah Mo, but we can drive about 20 minutes to a small town that has a market and about a 6 block long main street holding bank, and a number of small stores. About a 40 minute drive takes us to the next larger town which has many more stores. It probably has about ten to fifteen thousand people, and has pretty much everything. including a fairly modern looking supermarket, a department store, a business district of about 10 – 12 square blocks, and a few schools. If we want to travel an hour and half, there is a pretty big city with a movie theatre and mall complex that has a few restaurants, including a Burger King and a store called Big C which is like a Big K-Mart.

I'm slowly picking up the language with the emphasis on s-l-o-w-l-y. It's a hard language to learn, especially hard to write, since the characters are totally different from ours. Here's a sample: ???? Very cool looking, I think, but, hard to learn. As for the food, that's just as difficult. In the village here they gather, fish or hunt a great deal of it. I have personally eaten food containing snake and snails, mostly because I want to try everything, but I stop at raw meat in a bowl of blood and the occasional dog that gets eaten. Two entrees that my wife does not eat or prepare, thank God. Much of what she makes is quite good, and there is a small local restaurant that prepares a few really good noodle dishes. It's a stretch calling it a restaurant. It is open on three sides , has a concrete floor, picnic type tables and benches. Chickens stroll through as you eat. The cook often has to shoo them off the counter, and I eat with one hand and shoo flies with the other, but.. the food's pretty good. Thai cooking usually combines sweet, sour, and HOT! I'm talking 5 alarm fire here. I literally cannot touch some of the dishes to my tongue. Some of the fruits are very exotic and delicious, but many of the vegetables, leaves, stems and roots they cook with are very different flavors from anything I have ever experienced. Oh, did I mention rice? Well, there's plain white rice, and sticky rice, which is eaten with your hands out of a community basket, rolled up in a ball and dipped into various bowls of food. There's rice in the morning, rice at noon and rice at night. Like westerners, they eat three times per day, but make no distinction between the three meals in what they eat. There's nothing like eggs or cereal for breakfast, sandwich for lunch and meat and veggies for dinner. You could just as likely have a bowl of fish head soup, sticky rice, and a plate of leaves and stems for breakfast as for lunch or dinner. It's all dinner to them! By the way, I've started preparing some of my own food. I buy a large can of Quaker oat's at the supermarket when we go into town, and eggs are abundant, all "free range"! Chickens are running all over, and I can make western style meals from some of the same ingredients used in Thai cooking, except for the snakes and dogs. We were driving home from town one day when a rather long snake, I would say about 6 foot, was crossing the road in front of us. My wife, Thom and Thai all pointed excitedly at it shouting "gnu, gnu" or snake, snake. I didn't know if they wanted me to brake so I wouldn't hit it, or if they just wanted to make sure I saw it, until my wife said "can eat", "aroi", delicious. They wanted me to run over it. I did, no preservation of wildlife here, and Thom leapt from the car practically before I could stop, in order to capture it. Unfortunately, yeah right, it got away into the jungle growth alongside the road, sporting a new set of tire tracks.

Many of the local women bathe and wash clothes in the river. We are without water about 1 day per week for about 6-10 hours, and electric has gone out on us twice now in the 6 weeks I've been here.

I know some of this sounds a little crazy / dismal, but the benefits far outweigh the negative.

To get away, we can go to Chiang Mai, which is about a 3 hour car ride on a decent road, or a 6 hour train ride on a train circa 1930, that stops at every little village on route. Chiang Mai is a pretty large city, with a good selection of very nice hotels, to downright 5 star and a zillion restaurants. It is a real cultural hub for northern Thailand, mixing Chinese, Laotian and Burmese cultures. Maybe you've heard of the "Golden Triangle" notorious for it's drug smuggling. Well, this is it!

Bangkok is further, about a 10 hour train or 11/2 hour flight, but is a city of 8 million and as you might guess has everything you may desire, and then some. It's a very fun place to visit with Moo Thai boxing, floating markets, Buddhist Temples, Thai massage, movies, malls, commuter rail system. It's sort of an Asian New York or Chicago.. We can eat at small open air restaurants for about 85 cents a piece to rather nice restaurants for about $3 to $6 per person. In other words, a very reasonable holiday getaway can be had.

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Southern Thailand is surrounded by the Bay of Thailand, the Andaman Sea and the South China Sea, and has a plethora of beautiful tropical islands and beaches in resort type settings.

Thai people are, by in large, a very happy, open, loving people. They don't call this "The Land of Smiles" for nothing. As a matter of fact, Long, a local lady who sells the lottery tickets stopped by the other day, and my wife, Pin, who she had stopped to see, was working in her sister's rice field. That didn't bother Long one bit. She sat down with a big grin on her face and we spent an hour smiling, laughing, and trying to speak to each other. She doesn't speak a word of English, and my Thai is severely limited, but we did a lot of smiling, nodding, and laughing at each other's attempts at communication. I finally showed her the flash cards I had made to study Thai from and she had a ball showing them to me one at a time and correcting my pronunciation. You try pronouncing a word that starts with "ng" !!

Note: This was a letter written to me by my good friend a few months ago. I went to his wedding last January in this hill tribe area, and it was insane, and I wondered what he was doing. He is now staying with me in San Diego for 6 weeks, taking care of business. When he showed up I couldn't believe how thin he had gotten. He just couldn't stand the crap they were gathering in the hills to eat, and didn't have the nerve to tell his wife that either he or she had to start cooking some other food. He's been grocery shopping every day here, and gained over 15 pounds his first 3 weeks here and is back in good health.

I'm going to his village to visit him in a couple months, and promised I would go shopping before I go up into the hills and bring something that wasn't gathered in the forest. Just a reminder folks, you don't have to lose yourself or your personality when you are in Thailand. Don't depend on the woman to make everything you like all the time. You can shop and cook your own food when you want. And for God's sake learn the language. My friend feels like such an outsider in his village and losing his personality, because he can't joke around and participate in the conversation. Thailand is lovely, but don't lose yourself there.

Stickman says:

Great advice indeed.

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