Monday, June 7, 2010

Issue #2

There may be no connection, in fact most likely isn’t, but it was interesting to see a New York Times article disparaging blogs come out (June 4, 2010, “The Public Editor, Other Voices: What Exactly Is a Blog?”), right after it became perfectly clear to all concerned how completely off the mark was almost all international media reportage of this Spring’s Bangkok turmoil. Democracy protests and class conflict indeed. The legitimacy or illegitimacy of the current Thai government, Thai income disparity as world's greatest (outside of India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Burma and only a few score others… “The haves in Thailand have a lot — the country has one of the most inequitable income distributions in Asia, a wider gap between rich and poor than in China, Malaysia, the Philippines or Vietnam, according to a World Bank report.”). And preparations for warfare in Bangkok’s ubiquitous kiddie-sex zones was even reported (see “What Happens to Thailand's Sex Tourism During the Riots? It takes a lot of violence to drive the sexpats away” by Jessica Olien, June 3, 2010; or perhaps better, don’t), with Pattaya deserted and revolting peasants. Ah well – all that playing at writing must have been fun. White isn’t black, but divides up into a rainbow of all colors, and black is all colors, mixed, so they’re pretty much the same, no? Bath was a town in England before soap as we know it came into being; now it’s various kinds of liquid soap. Some things change, but not that no blame or aspersions will be cast on the incessant promotion of materialism coming from the USA, for over half a century. Nor will mainstream media discuss vote-buying! Nope. They’ll just act to justify pre-held opinions, and to propagate fear, as per usual. Like the bar-girl who lied to a customer (see 1st issue) – just doing a job.

The Lahu

The Lahu, or Musur (Burmese for ‘hunter’) tribe of the central Far East Golden Triangle area, an independent people for whom honor and integrity are integral to society, speak dialects of the Yi/Lolo branch of the Tibetan-Burmese linguistic group, make musical instruments and jewelry, weave and garden, traditionally weeding but little and rarely writing (Lahu written language, related to Burmese, is used mostly for religious purposes – animist religion, until the last century). Lahus link health with purity, prayers, and a great spirit with some control over other spirits, G’ui Sha (who created the heavens), and Ai Ma, his wife, (the Great Mother who created Earth). Lesser deities include house spirits, spirits of mountains and valleys, water spirits and ancestors. Believing G’ui Sha brought the first man and woman out of a gourd, they endeavor to please him with music from gourd pipes, called naw, which they tune to the pentatonic scale. Many Lahu men play the naw, made by putting holes into a dried gourd and adding five bamboo pipes set in with beeswax. They use the naw to “talk to each other” during courting – especially at New Years. Lahu also play stringed instruments and drums, and are famous for their knowledge of magic and herbs; they love entertainment and the easy life.
For a Lahu, to believe words while ignoring opposite action is not only a height of shame, but an absurd hilarity. To a Lahu, ambition is crude, shallow and puerile (I was going to use unsophisticated, but that crudely abused term – arising from an early Greek term with strong connotations of "false", used for prostitution, perversion, mystification, and specious nonsense – could be as misleading as most have found the term 'Sophisticated Lady'). Life is to be enjoyed, and not by having, or ordering, or controlling, but by sharing, participating, and observing. The Lahu exhibit scarce little in the way of pomposity (or even manners; they rarely express hello, good-bye, thanks, please or excuse me), but they can be quite regal, nevertheless.
A short Lahu-na fable: Long, long ago, people had wings but no hands (or, at least, no opposable thumbs), and ate only fruit. They could fly but had no fire. They slept in trees; in the rainy season they were often cold; at night, they just couldn’t stay warm! But a kind of jungle animal, a nocturnal raccoon-like squirrel (in Lahu, fahsu), back then had 5-finger hands, and could make fire. But it wanted to be able to fly up to fruit in trees too. The squirrel used fire he made from hitting rocks together to keep warm, but envying wings, finally a trade was arranged. Mankind became able to make fire, and flying squirrels got to eat fruit.
The moral, that all is a trade, that for everything one gets, one also loses something, might help us all to better understand some of our modern predicament. We’ve been trading away some which we might ought to have wanted to keep.

cartoon on Ban Mae Moh school wall

a great place to be a kid

Acceptance into Thai society

To simply understand, let alone enter into, Thai society, one must understand at least some about Thai power relationships, (and words like pii-nong, kraing-jai, pu-yai, khwam neptue, tam-naeng, nah-tii) and the importance of emphasizing positive feelings. One can learn much by studying up on all the many, various terms utilizing “jai” (heart, as in mind or soul); much less about the many various kinds of smiles in the Land of Smiles. But both are important, and necessary. This is not to suggest that people differ between here and elsewhere, but only that familiarity with the Thai view can be important for getting along with Thais.
Acceptance into Thai society for non-Asians, or maybe better put, people for whom eating doesn’t mean eating rice, is usually quite problematic, and difficult to accomplish at all, even with good Thai language skills. OK, you may say, I’m not interested in society – meaning high society, meaning realms of achievement and recognition, meaning membership in organizations of the polite, upper classes. But one’s always interested in being accepted, at least, by somebody, and anyway, here, for a Farang, that’s usually easy… as a provider, who must only achieve recognition of capacity to perform. The Westerner often comes with pre-conceived ideas of love and respect, of “winning hearts”, but here, as in many an elsewhere, it’s anticipated future contribution which really counts. One doesn’t get to rest on laurels from a big victory for long, not if one doesn’t get out there and “ruam muh” – join hands in the work to be done.
So, a retiree finding a wife on the internet gets introduced to an ever-expanding family, and to ever-expanding needs! A friend of ours has a wife of tribal origins, and hired two others from her tribe to look after their baby - while they fought to acquire the necessary paperwork to get the baby to Europe. “They only used soap in the village, why do they need shampoo now?” he asked. Well, they do – in Rome one must do as Romans do, or suffer being looked down upon and despised. Not good for anyone!
With media barrage, education (well… publicly financed indoctrination?), exposure to others’ recent acquisitions and generally increasing expectations, one can suddenly find need to be quite the innovator, finding work, school placement and even fashion-accessories for people one never anticipated taking under one’s wing… at least not when first contemplating taking up residence here! But it must be gracefully accomplished, or not only is one not popular, but things start to disappear… one’s position, such as it was or might have been, starts to become undermined, and then one certainly will begin to have doubts! Then grave reservations, misgivings, and serious losses.
Without getting into arranged marriage vs. romantic love, let’s just say that part of the glory of mating is the anticipation of gaining something. A gift that keeps on giving! A symbol of success! Hopefully, a relationship that will grow, flowering into a beneficial sharing for all concerned. Which isn’t to say you can’t come and stay here if you don’t take a mate (but you can’t really hope to fit in at all if you don’t).
Who you are here is determined largely by who you support, unless someone is supporting you – and that position is problematical too. A tourist comes and everyone seems happy to make acquaintance; hospitality is extended by beaming strangers and these ideas occur… hey, I have something to offer here! I’m actually even liked here, way more than at home… I can do this. This is what I want.
But does it want you? It’s an old, ancient society, no matter what anyone says about lack of ruins and institutions of great antiquity. Arrangements have been fought out at great expense of suffering and capitulation. Not all is to anyone’s liking… all would like more. Quite as usual. Kind of like home! And best to look at it that way. Yes, you might have something to offer, but no, you’re not the bearer of Western Culture and all that it represents, nor would that mean as much as you might like to think, even were it so. Are our toilets and kitchens really so superior? Is our way of life even as sustainable, affordable, friendly, fun, adjusted to local realities (weather, availabilities, power-structurings, insect and mould life, disease probabilities) or even common emotional needs? I submit, not. Nope – the local ways are tried and true; innovations too often prove problematic in the long run. Sometimes dangerously problematic…
Oh yes, it’s fun to feel a sense of being a savior, a provider, idea-man (or woman). But that, like so much, is just illusion, and temporary. If you really want to stay, you must learn, more than teach. Are you ready for that? If you want to stay, think seriously:
How much can you offer respect, how much do you really have, beyond the desire to exploit? Think seriously about it, for, as you will surely find, you too will be exploited, quite as much as you exploit! Live with it, and learn, and you may well be glad you did, and even come to smile about it!

There are lots and lots of words for smile in Thailand, despite dictionaries sometimes only giving things like roi-yim (yim-yaam, and others, including yim-raraeng, rawy yim, yim-yoh!, prai-yim, yim-kram, yim-prai, yim-ka-ria-ka-raad, yim-jaeng, yim pen, yim-yong, yim lamai, yim haeng-haeng, yim huei huei, om-yim – my dictionary with the most listings had 13, but that’s 16 beyond the basic yim, a verb, regardless of how less than rigorous Thai grammar might be seen as…). Lao and Pasa Neua (Kam Muang) have similar words, and one could also count to include Thailand’s many languages of over 50,000 speakers: Yawi, Karen, Mon, Burmese, Khmer, Mandarin, Teh-chiu Cantonese, Lahu (Musur), Lisu, Akha, Hmong and Yao (Iu-Mien) – certainly adding a dozen more terms! The Suai people, Sea-gypsies, Lawa, Kamu, Htin and Mlabri Pi’i Tong Luang People of the Yellow Leaves, Farang and Japanese, Korean and Indians add even more, but well, never-mind that.

The smile is perceived in Thailand as being just about the most appropriate reaction to any possible situation. It's used to show happiness, embarrassment, fear, tension, resignation, remorse etc...What the smile means depends on the 'type' being used - out of many possibilities, including:
Yim suan - a joyful, laughing, merry, jolly smile;
Yim taenn nam-tah - an “I’ve just won the lottery” real happiness smile;
Yim-yong - to smile joyfully
Yim prai - to smile radiantly;
Yim-krim and yim-chaeng - beaming happily;
Yim-yaem or yim chaeng - to grin, beam, or smile broadly and cheerfully;
Yim lamai - to smile pleasantly;
Yim tak-tai - a polite smile used with people you barely know or strangers;
Yim cheun-chom - for when you’re impressed, or find admiration for someone;
Yim hai gamlang jai - the smile of thanks or encouragement;
Yim cheuat-cheun - the smile of a winner for a losing rival;
Yim tak-taan - for “I’m sorry, but you’re wrong and I’m right!”
Feun-yim - to force an “I’m smiling even though I don’t want to” smile;
Yim kuh - to simper, smirk, smile wryly or sheepishly, smile to hide embarrassment at unfulfilled expectations;
Yim ye-ah ye-ah – also to smile wryly and/or sheepishly, but more for apologizing and reducing anger, or smoothing over awkward or embarrassing situations;
Saeng yim, yim yang mai jing-jai – a pretend smile, smirk; a simpering;
Yim sai - used in attempt to mask sadness and unhappy feelings;
Yim sao - to smile sorrowfully, with sad face;
Yim mai awk - a smile that doesn’t really come out, despite attempt to make it do so;
Yim haeng - a ‘dry smile’ for placating, as when apologizing for lost luggage, or stepping on someone’s foot; also, to smile mirthlessly;
Yim mii lai-nai - used to conceal evil ideas or feelings, like “I’m going to rip you off and you don’t even suspect it”:
Yim-yoh - used to mock, taunt or laugh at someone;
Yim duai bpak or yim yuh, to behave insultingly;
Yim yi-yuan, yim yuan or yim yua – to smile provokingly;
Yim karia-karaat, and yim yee-yee, to smile wryly and sheepishly, with embarrassment and confusion;
Yim-soo, for situations so bad one might just as well smile as anything;
Prai-yim, a trace of a smile
Om-yim, to smile knowingly, in a mildly amused and patronizing manner, without parting lips.
There should be another for youth sitting in front of the driver of a moving motorcycle – that big smile isn’t really the smile for strangers, and isn’t just for pleasure, but seems to be a smile for meeting the world, a smile to be seen in, seen wearing… a smile to express a pure heart.
One shouldn’t just assume that someone smiling is happy or being friendly; there are many less pleasant reasons for them to do so. But people smiling if you happen to trip up might not actually be laughing at you (yim yoh), but just giving you a yim ye-ah ye-ah to try and stop you feeling embarrassed.

Lanna's Sacred Mountains

Asians, indigenous peoples and Taoists generally revere sacred mountains – places of refuge, where gods and heroes come from; symbols of power and strength, eternal landmarks, and repositories of nature, which provide a kind of encyclopedic reference.
The world is dotted with ‘sacred mountains’ - and northern Thailand has its share. Sacred mountains offer potential connectedness to a sense of source, to tradition, history and legend, and to mysterious power. Mountains are believed to harbor guardian spirits, and inspire respect and reverence. Caves, springs, waterfalls, mountain-tops and great heights all carry an aspect of the spiritual, as can ancient trees and lagoons. Buddha relics are frequently claimed ensconced in ancient jedis (no, not masters of the “Force”, but pagodas, stupas – bell-shaped religious memorials), often located atop high places, places where hermits lived, and powerful animals (representative of forces of nature). Pre-T’ai legendary figures and supernatural beings are remembered in folklore which became incorporated into Buddhism and local chronicles; the mountains give real place to go with story, and resist change more than other geographical features. As Bangkok has no mountains, one was built – PuKhao Tong – the Golden Mount.
Doi Tung is the most famous and visited sacred mountain in Chiang Rai, with royal residence, gardens, zoo, restaurants and tribal villages in addition to temples. My personal favorites are Doi Khao Quai at the south-west edge of ChiangRai City, and Doi Klong Khao (the khao in the first name khao refers to a white buffalo with crystal horns, this second means rice, in rice-box), west of town just south of the river (and the prison). We’ve two Doi Luangs – one with national park and nine-tiered PuKaeng waterfall (10 km. south of Phan), the other between ChiangRung and ChiangSaen, near the Kok River (a mountainous ‘tambon’ administrative region, with highest point in the province). Sleeping Lady Mountain and Lagoon, 7 or 8 kilometers south of Mae Sai, has many shrines in the area, including an interesting new one dedicated to woman’s suffering (near Taam Luang, the province’s biggest cave, and some other caves with other shrines; one has a devil depiction). Doi JomTong, the hill where Mengrai set the original base for his new nation, has a large physical map of the Buddhist universe, and a variety of shrines – some unusual. The hill across the Kok north of Pattaya Noi beach not only has a Buddha cave but a Chinese temple and wonderful natural ambience, great for a wander around. Just west of Mae Sai is a Meditation Point graced by elegant natural beauty and tradition, and along Rt 1129 southeast of Chiang Saen, at K. 49 just south of the Kong River (Mekong) at Ban Sob Cam, are some old temples including Wat Prataat PraNgao with PraBoromTaat and PraTaat JomJan, and Wat PraTaat SongPiNong. What may be the oldest religious memorial in Chiangrai is near Wiang Chai, towards the Kok, in Wat Boran; there is no hill there.
Chiang Mai has Doi Inthanon, with the highest elevation in the country, Chiang Dao (great caves) and Doi Suthep, one of the nation’s most revered sacred mountains. But for mountain lovers, Loei Province is best: PuLuang, Pu Rua, PuKradung and Khao Yot Chi. PuKradung National Park has a beautiful mountain and interesting wildlife; the area reminds me of better aspects of West Virginia. PuRua National Park, bordering Laos, has mountains of sandstone and granite, numerous streams and broad-leafed evergreen forests; climbing this “boat mountain” takes about two and a half hours. On the summit are meadows, pine stands, rock gardens, a view of the Mekong and a Buddha image popular as a pilgrimage site. Sunrises there are spectacular, and to facilitate viewing them, tents available for rent (beware, there’s tigers and bears!).
Malaysia once had much natural splendor; now it has many rubber plantations with dominant modern materialism grafted onto medieval Islam. Thailand’s lush forests and exotic wildlife is almost all gone as well, and the burning in the north distressing. This gets blamed on hill-tribe scapegoats, but it’s really almost everybody is to blame. Cigarettes carelessly thrown from cars, trash burning, brush clearing, a perceived need to limit vermin (naturally dealt with by predators now gone), and materialism over quality of life (as purportedly communist Chinese leader Deng Shau Ping said, “To be rich is glorious”), all contribute. Results include flooding, changing weather patterns, landslides, chemical dependency (fertilizer, pesticides) and water shortages. The tourists who used to flock to the hills to do drugs in hill-tribe villages now go to Laos, but eco-tourism and outdoor adventure remain viable (though yet poorly promoted or supported. Cement is used with gleeful abandon as if a cosmetic, the climate heats up, and what? People learn of consequences?

For a quick approach to some understanding of the teachings of the Buddha, some good advice from the Dhammapada may help: "To speak no ill, to do no harm, to practice restraint according to the fundamental precepts, to be moderate in eating, to live in seclusion, to devote oneself to higher consciousness, this is the Teaching of the Buddhas."
Note that last word. As with other religions, Buddhism has amalgamated teachings from more than one source. No single version of the life of the Buddha is accepted by all Buddhist traditions. That Gautama Buddha is reputed to have attained enlightenment under a fig tree (protected by the serpent king who came to spread his hood above the Buddha and thus shelter him from storms) may be as significant as that Jesus is reputed to have been born of a virgin (like many deities before him). The fig fruit is enclosed (in an inflorescence or synconium, an urn-like structure lined on the inside with the fig's tiny flowers); its unique pollination system involves tiny, highly specific fig wasps, which enter into the hidden flowers, and both pollinate and lay their own eggs. Fig fruits provide both food and traditional medicine; they contain laxative substances, flavinoids, sugars, vitamins and enzymes. However, the sap is a serious eye irritant. The fig is thought of as fruit, but is actually, the flowers and seeds grow together, in a closed receptacle with many small flowers arranged on the inner surface; thus the actual flowers are unseen unless the fig is cut open. Because the flower is hidden, a legend developed to explain its absence; thus, in Buddhist mythology, the flower has been said to bloom only once every 3,000 years. It thus symbolizes events of very rare occurrence, but not a unique one. Buddha had many incarnations, as told in Jataka tales. But the cycle of rebirth, or samsara (literally “wandering”), is relegated to a domain of suffering; the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice is to escape that suffering, which Gautama is reputed finally to have done, becoming “thus gone, worthy, fully and completely awakened, accomplished in knowledge and virtuous conduct, well gone, knower of worlds, unsurpassed guide for those who need restraint, teacher of gods and humans, awakened, fortunate.”
How much all that pertains to Thailand, though, depends much on how one wishes to see things, and it may be quite important to recognize that prayer and magic (religious chanting and incantations for sorcery) utilize the same root syllable, mon, as in wet-mon (magic spells) and suwet-mon (recitation of prayers).

photo by Elayne Warren

Here’s a link to an interesting article on Thai bananas:
G:\The banana, and its many uses.mht

More business recommendations:

Rung Ruang Service (auto-body repair), east out Paw Khun Road from the Mangrai statue at the Ha-yeak, almost to Central Park and the bridge to the airport, on the north side at 90/1 Mu 12, Tambon Ropwiang; tel 053-742592 or 081-5959626. Owner Khun Udom has little English, but provides excellent service, with speed, honesty, good price and always the right advice.

Lawyers: as experience of each and every one I have not, perhaps I shouldn’t say, but my experience if those with offices near the courthouse has not been good. As with water system installers (next), there are always some who clearly have simply too little facility with the work they try to do. Mr. Pairote Boonprasert, just northeast of the Ha-yaek at 126/1 Paholyotin Road, tel. 053-718907 or 081-7248931 (e-mail is not the cheapest, but he speaks some English, and can understand more.

Water systems – one doesn’t need to be an engineer to understand the water systems used here for homes without access to the municipal supply, but it might help. Electric pumps, a tower and holding tank, cleaning maintenance, on-off switching systems and quite a lot of attention to detail are all quite necessary, and results can be much less than satisfactory. I recommend S.B. Water Filter (kruang krong nam), 129/1 Mu 1, Ban Du, about 300 meters south of Makro. 053-703889, 081-0263979 or 081-4723799.

Northern Farm: great frozen salmon and hamburger patties, good cheese and pork chops, and a distinct Farang orientation (but a quite limited, and stagnant, product line). Cashiers often have but little English, but that usually isn’t a problem. On Soi Wat Pranon, well behind the Ha-yaek Bangkok Bank, at 863/6 Pahonyothin Rd., Tambon Wiang, Chiangrai 57000. Tel 053-716618 e-mail

Munic Supply computers and computer repair: 836/16 Pahonyothin Rd., Tambon Wiang CR 57000, tel. 053-718000 - just south of the Ha-yaek, on the east side of the Superhighway.

And the people who got us into our beautiful new home:
"Sawaddee Chiang Rai" - The Northest Pride Realty
Property & Realty service on Chiang Rai
Contact: Khun Toms Duang-Jai Khum Mon-Thrien
( คุณดวงใจ คำมณเฑียร - คุณต้อม )
address: 77/16 PraToo ChiangMai Rd.
Tambon Wiang, Meung District
Chiang Rai 57000
Mobile phone: 086-1903219, 086-6701053
fax: 053-744086


"The Hill-side Design" archetictural service
service to - Property planing
- Building Design
- Construction Drawing
- Building Consualtant

contact: Mr.Sushine Uraives
( คุณสุชาย )
same address as above
Mobile phone: 081-3871145

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