Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Place Called Tahsang

Food carts, one beverage and one main dishes, serving Tahsang Village
On Friday, my D700 camera arrived from Bangkok where it had spent the past month for repair.  It arrived too late for the funeral ritual earlier in the day.  However I was able to bring it with us on Saturday when we drove out to Baan Tahsang, Tahsang Village, to visit the family.

You never know what or who you will come upon when driving the back roads of Isaan so I typically carry my camera gear when we travel about the countryside.

A street of Tahsang Village
The rice crop has been planted for almost two months and is well established.  We are in the rainy season now so we experience rain just about everyday; sometimes twice or three times a day.  The days are heavily overcast and very humid - great for growing rice but not so great for sufferers of prickly heat.  The rice paddies are a resplendent vibrant green.  The sugar cane is around 2-1/2 meters high, truly as high as an elephant's eye although we did not see any elephants on this trip.  Occasionally we see elephants walking along the country roads with their handlers.  With the restrictions on logging in Thailand, many elephants that were used in the forestry industry are now unemployed.  Since elephants live so long, eat so much, and are basically bonded to their handler and handler's family, the elephants are paraded about the countryside to help support themselves from donations of food and money. Elephants have even visited Tahsang Village.

The rice harvest will commence in Late-October and the sugar cane harvest will commence in late December.  As such, there is a lull in activities in the fields of Isaan.

With the monsoon rains, many people are busy now constructing or repairing their fishing platforms along water courses and on the floodplain where the water is already noticeably higher as well as rising.  People sit on the bamboo platforms and use dip nets to catch small; very small fish to feed their family.

Tahsang Village yard
Tahsang Village is Duang's home village and is located outside of Kumphawapi about 60 KM from our home in Udonthani.  Approximately 300 people, many of them related to Duang, live in the village.  The residents of the village are mostly subsistence farmers, their activities coinciding with the demand of the various crops during specific times during the year.  Local crops are the ubiquitous sticky rice (glutinous rice), sugar cane, peanuts, cassava, and corn.

Water Buffalo headed out Tahsang Village to graze on the surrounding floodplain

Some people raise water buffalo.  They are kept in small corrals in either back or side yards.  In the morning they are herded out of the village to graze on the surrounding fallow fields and flood plain.  In the late afternoon they return to the village.  This is a rhythm that is repeated every day; a measurement of the passing of time in a small village in Northeast Thailand.

Some others raise a few head of cattle, scrawny animals that forage about the countryside for nourishment. Many villagers have chickens which are free ranch in the sense that they do not have coops and roam all about.  Somehow the villagers are able to distinguish what chicken belongs to what household.

Recently the villagers have commenced a  cottage industry cultivating mushrooms.  Several yards and vacant lots in the village now have long rows of straw covered beds where mushrooms are being grown.  The mushrooms are mainly eaten by the family that raises them with any surplus sold to fellow villagers or friends.

Once in Tahsang Village, Duang retired into her mother's house to catch up on all the village and family news and gossip.  I chose to sit outside and watch life pass me by.  Sitting at the intersection of two village streets underneath a thatched roof, I was never bored.  There always seemed to be something going on and most of the time it was interesting.  Unlike current life in the United States the people of Tahsang Village spend a great deal of the daylight hours outside.  Unlike our life back in Groton, we see many children playing outside everyday.  It is entertaining to see children unencumbered by adults, inventing their own amusements, organizing their games, and resolving their disputes.  Now that he is three years old, our grandson Peelawat, is part of one the village groups.  He plays with 4 or 5 other children, boys and girls around 4 years old.

Tahsang Villagers buying drinks and food
Saturday, Duang's brother and his wife brought their food carts to the village.  Duang's brother's cart sells beverages.  He sell cups of soda and crushed ice.  The sodas are on display in glass bottles lined along the top of his cart.  The crushed ice is stored in a plastic cooler strapped to the back of the cart. A cup of soda goes for 20 baht ($0.60 USD).  In addition to carbonated beverages, he sells cups of Cha Menow (Lemon Ice Tea).  He does sell Lipton or Nestea ice teas.  He brews fresh tea over charcoal fire, adds sugar, and squeezes fresh lemon to produce each glass of Cha Menow which he sells for 20 Baht - delicious treat for the hot and muggy Isaan days.
Duang's sister-in-law's cart uses propane to deep fry hot dogs, pork balls, and pork.  The meat is served with a hot chili sauce that is like a chocolate sauce, cucumber chunks, and greens.  Everything that she needs is loaded on to her cart.

The villagers lined up and bought their food and drinks which they ate outside their homes and readily shared with people who passed by.  Although this type might be considered as "fast foods" in many locales, it is not here in Isaan.  It does not take long to cook the food but here in Isaan shopping in a market or off a food cart is a social event.  It is another exercise to get caught up on family and village life - time to be cherished as well as savoured.  It was amusing to observe the development of this attitude even in the children.

The Ice-Cream Man Cometh

There was also a treat Saturday morning - the ice cream man came to Tahsang Village.  In Baan Chonrada, where we live, we have two ice cream men.  One man, a young man, comes early in the afternoon.  The second man, an older man, was our original ice cream man comes at dinner time.  I am loyal to the original man and when I buy, I buy only from him.  Both men sell the same prepackaged ice cream novelties from an insulated sidecar to their motorbike.  The side car has an umbrella over the top of it to help shield it from the sun or to keep some of the rain off of it.  Each ice cart blares the same obnoxious tinny tune over and over to announce their arrival to the village.  I was surprised during our stay in America to see that some of the products sold here in Isaan, Walls Magnum, were available.

"Slicing and Dicing" Ice-Cream for customers
The ice cream man who came to Tahsang Village was an affable man with bright clothing, a bright motorbike and a brillant smile.  His products were kept in an insulated box strapped directly on the back of his seat.  His ice-cream was a more Thai product than the western novelties of the Baan Chonrada vendors.  His ice-cream was available in seven flavors - long blocks about 5 cm by 5 cm by 32 cm.  The customer selects the flavor that they want.  The vendor opens the insulated box, and removes a block of the selected flavor and cuts it into the proper portion with a knife, and thrusts a bamboo skewer through the portion.  An ice-cream costs $0.15 USD.  Peelawat and his 3 friends all enjoyed an ice-cream.
Peelawat enjoying his ice-cream

The confluence of food, beverage, and ice-cream vendors made for quite a busy time outside of my mother-in-law's house.  People from throughout the village showed up to buy things and to socialize.  It seems that just about every child has a bicycle in Tahsang Village.  When they get older, like 14 years old, they start driving motorbikes. The streets are always busy with combinations of toddlers, bicycles, dogs, chickens, motorbikes, farm wagons, and pick up trucks.  Saturday one of the villagers who can not walk came over using her tricycle.  Her tricycle is a special vehicle - it does not have pedals to propel it.  She propels the tricycle by moving a vertical lever back and forth.

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