A Chocolate Box of Weirdness

Thailand is both amazing and weird. This week has been a chocolate box of strange flavours that you’re unlikely to ever experience in the West.

An area of Chiang Mai affected by forest fires recently set by residents. Photo by Richard Rhodes.

Let me give you a taste: Rung is 27 years old, beautiful and has a master’s degree. She is one of the kids’ teachers. She went to the capital this week for the first time in her life. It is also the first time she has not shared a bed with her grandmother since she was four years old. Normal.

On the teaching theme, my Thai tutor asked me to find out the name of the actress starring in one of the soaps I force myself to watch (to help learn Thai). Her name is Pancake. Every Thai has a nickname or rather adopted name that eventually gets printed on the birth certificate. Common names include Chicken, Prawn and Pig. A friend has told me that the latter is almost always appropriate although pancake must have other connotations in this part of the world!

Talking of soap operas, I had to endure yet more ugly viewing this week. Of course I am not referring to the actresses (model quality only) but rather the violence they have to endure. Man handling and attempted rape are common. Not by the villain but by the hero! Indeed, until last year, women had no legal recourse if they were raped when married. While we’re talking about Stone Age values, the 70 year old “husband” of my wife’s friend sadly passed away last week. She was the “little” wife, accepted by the “big” wife, to retain some vitality in the family. “Big wife, little wife” is accepted practice in many parts of Thai society.

I have been digressing. Last week I wrote about the appalling forest fires that are deliberately started in Chiang Mai. The idea is to burn all the undergrowth so it’s easy to kill everything. This practice was confirmed when I saw a convoy of farmers with ancient single shot rifles heading for the hills on their scooters near to where I live. Surreal. Then I read the headline article in the local press. The provincial governor had issued a public order “prohibiting burning of all kinds in open areas…..including forests” “Any breaches of the new public order will be severely dealt with under the law”. This morning an aunt of my wife brought some friends to our house. Among them was a very senior local official. He offered his services to assist us with any local problems. I mentioned the fires: “Very difficult to stop this practice. Can I help with anything else?”. So next time you see international leaders committing to change climate change, don’t expect much beyond a pile of signed documents.

Lucky for me, the last flavour in the box had a really pleasant after taste. Yesterday it rained and cleared all the smog from the fires. To rain in January in Chiang Mai, now that is weird.

By contributor Richard Rhodes. Richard lives in Thailand with his wife and children and runs e-photoframes, an eco photo frame business. If you feel like writing for us, drop us an email!

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