Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Road Less Traveled, A Path Often Not Taken

A Road Less Traveled - Somewhere Between Ban Chiang and Nong Han
A few months ago I had mentioned to my wife my wish to someday to get into our truck together and find some road out in the countryside to determine where it lead to.

Just as we often find ourselves in life, everyday tasks, the complacency of the familiar, and the preoccupation with prescribed daily activities prevented us from finding that road less traveled or path often not taken - until yesterday.

Recently an expat that I had met in Ban Chiang died.  His daughter in Europe tracked me down through the Internet, notified me of his passing and asked if I had any details.  Since I had only met him once I did not know that he had died let alone have any details of his death.  I did have an address for him.  He lived out near Ban Chiang.  Since I had intended to return to Ban Chiang to tour the Ban Chiang National Museum, I decided yesterday to go out to the museum and to incorporate a little investigating into the man's death.

Although I hardly knew the man, it seemed to me to be the right thing to do and to see if I could provide some closure, if not comfort, to his family.  Things are easier here in Thailand which some people would find very unsettling and disturbing.  My wife and I first went to the hospital in the town near where he lived.  We went to the hospital first because we did not find the police station before we found the hospital.  We went in and explained why we were there, the rough approximation of the week when he died and his name.  The staff did some checking and indicated that there was some information but we would have to wait a little bit because the person who could get the information was at lunch.  Duang and I watched a Muay Thai match on the television with the EMT who was on stand by.  Long ago in America there was "Friday Night Fights" on television.  Today in Thailand we have "Saturday Afternoon Muay Thai", a time when many televisions are intently viewed by thousands of Thais.  In about 15 minutes we were presented with what appeared to be the Thai equivalent of a "Death Certificate"

The document contained a great deal of information regarding the admission, treatment, and cause of death . Yes, it was personal information, very personal information.  I am sure that many Americans would be appalled with the release of such personal information and how easily that information was released.  However I was able that night to provide details to his family that they were needing.  In my opinion privacy does not exist - here or in America  In America there is a great deal of paperwork involved in "protecting" our privacy.  Just think of all the documents that you have to read and sign when you go to a new doctor, get admitted to the hospital, or encounter on Internet websites.  They are really not about protecting your privacy but deal more with what they can do with your personal information which you don't really have much choice in giving to them to obtain their services. Here in Thailand life is not as complicated by so much legal mumble jumble that provides little privacy.  Here in Thailand the use of private information is dictated more by a combination of good manners, common sense, and practicality.

The hospital document also contained the phone number of the Thai woman that the expat had been living with.  Duang called her twice without any success.  Despite not being able to  contact her we decided to drive out to her home.  A person at the hospital had made a map for us to follow to get to the house.  With map in hand we set out on the main road.  We followed the map and after awhile we came upon the familiar main road going to Ban Chiang - we were not lost because we knew exactly where we were, we just were not where we wanted to go.  Going with the flow we drove out to the Ban Chiang National Museum.  We had a wonderful time touring the museum.

A Home Out In The Middle of the Rice Paddies
After leaving Ban Chiang, Duang was able to contact the woman who gave us directions to her home.  Well it turned out that the way to her home was the road less traveled and the path often not taken.  From the main road we turned on to a dirt road.  We drove off into what at first seemed nothingness.  Because we had a final destination in mind, we pressed on, stopping occasionally to confirm with people that we encountered to confirm that we were going in the right direction.

What first appeared as nothingness became more and more interesting the further that we traveled along the deep red dirt road.  We encountered woodlots.  Wood lots are groves of fast growing poplar type trees that are harvested to make paper.  We also encountered groves where tree were being cultivated, not for their wood, fruits - but for their red ant eggs (kie moht daeng).  Weaver ants build their nests only in a certain tree; weaving the tree's leaves into nests in which they lay their eggs.

We passed fields of sugar cane and cassava which are quite common place here in Isaan.  Even further down the road we passed rubber tree groves.  I had walked and photographed a rubber plantation once in Malaysia and witnessed land being cleared in Laos for rubber trees, but this was the first time that I had seen them in Thailand.  In one plot the trees had been tapped to extract the latex bearing sap from the trees.  The tree's bark had been slashed about two feet above the ground. At the lowest end of the cuts, the white viscous fluid dripped into small shallow bowls.  This road less traveled was proving to be quite interesting after all.  Driving along this dusty red road was becoming quite a pleasant experience.

Continuing along this road, we finally encountered another traveler along this road less traveled - a motorbike  driver wearing a typical field hand hat complimented with a pakama wrapped around their face for some protection against the red clouds of dust.  I had stopped our truck to get out and photograph the homes situated in the middle of the rice paddies.  We are in our hot season now - hot and dry.  Last week there were three days with a high temperature for the day being 100F.  We have not had a substantial rain since October so the ground is parched and dusty.  The rice harvest was completed back in November leaving the paddies dotted in a grid of straw stubble.  In the area around this red road, as far as the eye could see, the straw stubble had been burned in man set fires.  The very few trees in the countryside were mainly bare - having dropped their leaves in reaction to both the heat and lack of water.  The land was barren and reminded me of New England in the Winter - without the snow.

Little House on the Paddy

We saw several homes amongst the barren fields. There were two basic types of houses in the area.  There were houses where people lived year around in and there were houses where people lived in only during the working times in the paddies - planting and harvesting.  Both types of homes in the area were more primitive than the homes that I am so familiar with in Tahsang Village.  The homes along the red less traveled road were most definitely more agrarian in nature as well as function.

By now I was convinced that this was a road that I will return to for although it is less traveled or perhaps because it is less traveled it is a road that is much more interesting than the roads that I am familiar with.  It is a road that presents more opportunities to experience and to document life here in Isaan.  Once again I am reminded of the ubiquitous saying here "Same Same but different".  My curiosity is piqued with the possibilities of experiencing rubber cultivation, red ant egg cultivation, as well as rice cultivation on a much larger scale.

We eventually arrived at our destination which was on this road less traveled.  We ended up learning more about the deceased man's life and met some very nice people.  I am not alone along the roads less traveled and the path often not taken that I have chosen to journey along.

Neighbors and Family Constructing A Pavilion Escape the Heat of the House
There are many expat men who have come to stay in Isaan. They are scattered throughout the area. These men have left their homelands and to a large extent their native cultures to begin anew in a foreign land.  In each their own way they have adapted and adopted aspects of the Isaan culture to create their own world here, far from their native lands.

Just as the roads less traveled and paths often not taken can often reveal interesting as well as rewarding possibilities along their route, life away from one's origins can also be rewarding and can always always be counted on to be interesting.

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