A pity but true, many Westerners deeply underestimate the lives of an average Isan family. You notice that from many comments on blogs, you often read that on social media. The Isan countryside and its inhabitants are rather troubled. Lazy, addicted to alcohol, profiteers, easily go into prostitution. Immediately the entire region, a huge area actually, is written in the concrete. Dry and dry, hot, monotonous. Nothing to see, nothing to do.
The Inquisitor often wonders how the critics get it. Even think that they are standing blind and do not want to have insight into how people live here. Never mind understanding.
Isaaners continue to believe in their culture and way of life that has been governed by nature for centuries. They have to, there is hardly any work outside of agriculture. No industrial areas, no ports or other things that offer employment. On the contrary, they are actually forced to remain in the rice sector with a soft (?) Hand, this is too important for the country, not only as a basic food but also as a hugely important export product. In addition, there are also forestry, sugar cane, rubber, animal husbandry, etc. All things where the people at the bottom of the ladder can't even stick their own price. The small initiatives that are being taken to switch are actually just the same: vegetables, fruit and other crop crops – here too they are dependent on others who determine the prices for this.
Nature determines their rhythm of life. In a fairly extreme continental climate: from December to February a winter with regularly some really cold periods, a spring with storms announcing the extremely hot season, a summer with the rainy season that can bring enormous showers. From August to the end of September there is always the chance that one or more typhoons will appear with all consequences. The rains stop only around the end of October and a dry drought begins that will continue until about March.
In the midst of all that natural disasters, the farmer must collect his food. On the fields, in the woods. Fighting the cold without the necessary tools that every westerner finds normal. Tolerate the rain because the rice is not delayed. Growing other crops during the dry season, watering is then necessary but not easy, they do not have the modern tools for this either, it always costs them a lot of time and effort.
And in between all this there is still the care for goods and good. Build, repair, improve, expand house. Keeping cattle, but that also brings many concerns. Complying with obligations: sending children to school – they are again charged for costs due to registration fees, uniform duties and others. Taking care of the elderly and the sick throughout the year. Doing community work: repairing streets, maintaining water supplies. In short, there is little free time and money to relax once in a while, let alone take a vacation.
Every day again, Sunday or public holiday, year after year, they have to get started.
No government, no institution that helped them with this, it is only since the last decade that some measures have been taken. A kind of healthcare but very limited. Some premiums for rice production, some income support for the poorest of the poor. To give you an idea: the "welfare card" that has been created is awarded to people with a low liveable income. A huge investigation has been done for this, also here in the village. Control sat: how many people does the family consist of? They had to specify how large the home is, which building materials were used, how many rooms. The number of rai agricultural land they own and the number of rai that is cultivated. How many cattle a person has. The income of each family member. Number of school-going children. They even wanted to know how many dogs and cats or other animals each family has. No one could cheat there, home visits were organized by delegations made up of those in charge from Bangkok, the province and the village itself – all people who don't know each other. Well, sixty (!!) percent of the villagers here are "approved" for it. So more than half of them are below the minimum of life – which is already set very low and which no farang can live on. And see, they get some financial support. Maximum … three hundred baht per month.
The Inquisitor drinks an amount like this when he is sitting with friends – within four hours.
All this makes people dependent on each other. Family is the greatest good, people support each other unconditionally. For centuries and it is still needed. But also among themselves, they help each other wherever they can. Someone who has more, shares. People who produce goods, a carpenter, a bricklayer, etc. will not charge exaggerated prices, works almost at cost. Local shops can only use a minimum profit margin, they know that the fellow villagers have too little to spend. Hence the cheap life that farangs who live in Isaan are often blamed for.
And people look for work elsewhere. Emigrate abroad, but more often to areas that are economically richer in domestic areas where there is industry or tourism. But always with a minimum wage, of which they save as much as possible and send it to the needy parents, the sick and family.
And so many end up in poverty because they remain vulnerable. The financial manager of the family becomes ill, ergo, dies. Just when people have borrowed money to buy manure for the coming rice season, because only a few have enough money to do it without a loan. A grandfather gets sick and needs expensive medical care, that's where the saved bahtjes go. It could also be simpler: the often-voiced criticism from Westerners of the large pick-up trucks that people own. Which they absolutely need because how are you going to transport the bags of rice? How are you going to dispose of the harvested wood? How are you going to stock your store? How do they, with seven of them from the same village, get to that job in Bangkok? How does a carpenter, roofer, … transport his goods?
And then that expensive investment breaks down. Heavy costs that put a mortgage on the future.
Or like last year. Typhoon Doksuri crossed the area here. Rice fields and others completely destroyed. Roofs torn off, homes totally flooded. Thousands of families were completely on the ground, not to mention the loss and sorrow of the dozens of deaths that occurred …
And yet every time Isaaners find the strength to get on top of it. They make excessive efforts for it. Going to work, far from the family, for months, sometimes even for years. People live extremely economically, they get their living from fields and forests. And, as mentioned earlier, they leave family, family and village to work elsewhere. In factories, in construction, …
They will work in the tourist enclaves full of rich Westerners. First with the idea of finding a normal job. As a garden woman / man. Or brush, do the laundry, childcare,…. Or in a store, a restaurant, cafe, …
Where they are subsequently seen as a potential bed partner, the farang pays a lot of money for it – in their eyes – they find out quite quickly. And these Isaaners are mostly desperate, their blood relatives need money to survive, they feel obliged to help.
Do you face that "choice": continue to work in usually poor conditions at a very low minimum wage, or admit to the demand there is: providing sexual services, better working conditions and much greater earnings. With sick and needy family members there somewhere in Isaan, it is actually not a choice. The financial comes first.
And they come into contact with Westerners who drink the money on a single evening with which they can give their sick child medication for two months at home. Teach them to live a different rhythm of life: done with going to sleep just after sunset and getting up at sunrise, the nightlife announces itself. They teach that there are people who, when something breaks, immediately replaces new and better, without problems. They learn that sleeping in the hot season is a breeze with that air conditioner. Will they find out that there are people who do not have to do anything all day long, just fulfill their pleasures? They no longer have to catch frogs and iguanas to still get a decent meal that day. They teach you that you do not have to work all day in the burning sun, that you do not have to get calluses on your hands and feet, that there is time to relax a bit.
And yes, the people of Israel regularly break, they have had enough and they lose their culture. A number adopt that lifestyle and can no longer do without the nightlife. Some do not want to go back to the family anymore – this kind of life is easier because they have found an understanding partner. Yet it is a minority that acts that way. The majority actually find it terrible, just because they are financially forced and because there is a demand for it, they do it. A zero reading, the body can get you, heart and soul never. The Inquisitor has been recording conversations with ladies for years, and now, here in the area, he has contact with people who tell their story little by little. De Inquisitor will elaborate those heartbreaking notes one day.
And it is often these farangs, without any idea of this country and culture, that make stupid criticisms. An often used excuse of songs men who come here every year for a few weeks to satisfy their desires: "they always have the choice, even poor people".
They criticize that Isaaners are greedy, after money, that the family eavesdropping on money. While for an Isaaner it is the most normal thing of life – sharing with your family and loved ones, especially if you have it a little better.
Even people who come to visit quickly and quickly to please their Isan partner but do not understand that this is an event for the small village in which they end up. That the villagers, in their culture, expect that – in their eyes rich, without exception – this person will share something, provide food and drink. Then the Westerner finds it nothing that he is supposed to take off his shoes, that Isaaner's feet are dirtier than his shoes, he thinks. He sees refrigerators and televisions, pick-up trucks and immediately condemns that: "they would be better …".
Or are they Westerners who even dare to spend the winter in the countryside for a few months? Without any understanding of the way of life here. Well, of course, they fall into a black hole. Do not understand that people are going to sleep here early and get up early, every day. That they maintain a slower pace of work here because you cannot force nature without expensive technological aids that a farang finds normal. They cannot understand that people like to sit together, just talk in a relaxed way, ergo, who start drinking in the middle of the day, the only pleasure they can afford. He finds it strange and annoying that the whole village thinks he is a rich man, even if he only lives on a pension – which is at least four times higher than what an average Isaaner earns.
And even farangs who come to live here permanently often fall short of the monotonous life in their eyes. They don't understand why there are no cinemas in that countryside, no bars with a pool table or other artificial pleasures. They think they are being ignored, they do not understand that it is because they refuse to speak the language at all, because they do not want to understand the culture, because they do not want to participate in social life. And in that way come into conflict with their partner who, just like every other Isaan who comes back to his home, starts to behave less Westernly and to get more attached to the family.
Then they go and look for fellow sufferers with whom they spend all day complaining about their bad life here, not realizing that they are getting themselves into a depression.
Is The Inquisitor without sin? No, because he would never have known sweetheart without the poverty of Isaan. That is something that will always depend on the relationship. Once arrived here he was struck by a feeling of surprise, a second culture shock after his introduction to Thailand twenty-five years ago. But he got the will to empathize, the language will never go in fluently again, but once you get to know their culture and way of life you can build a good life here, he learned. A culture, a way of life that is close to nature.
And for which The Inquisitor admires without forgetting his own background and upbringing. He is also not blind to the excesses, to some things that in his eyes cannot get through – in his culture. Poor education, you can never agree with that. Buddhism that puts a heavy burden on people, also financially. A grabbing elite who wants to keep things the way they are, but that is not exclusively Thai or Isan.
But you cannot demand that people start to adapt their way of life to Western insights, because you simply came to live here.
The Inquisitor understands Westerners who cannot settle here, but you have to make a choice. And not cheap criticism when you have or had bad experiences. Because in most cases that is your own fault. And he will continue to defend himself about comments that are made without any knowledge or that have been prompted by resentment.
To be continued….