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Nahong Village



Thailand photo.

July, 2004

Thailand photo.
1. Nahong village street
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Thailand photo.
2. Somkid's family
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Thailand photo.
3. Village tour
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Thailand photo.
4. Temple
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Thailand photo.
5. Food for the novices
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We first met Somkid Kutpa at "novice chat", a place where novices (who are studying to be Buddhist monks) can practice their English by talking to foreign tourists. Somkid understands written English quite well, but his pronunciation often left us guessing, and vice versa. We had a good time with him and went back to the temple to see him several times. He cannot leave the temple grounds to eat in a restaurant, so we ate lunches at the temple with him. Food is served in a large covered space with a dozen or more vendors selling rice and various Thai dishes. A meal costs 10 baht ($0.25) per person. One day, Somkid invited us to visit his village, Nahong (see photo #1, at left). We, of course, agreed immediately. Somkid's abbot also agreed, with some conditions and after some delays.

We met Somkid on a Sunday morning (his day off) and traveled by song thao from Chiang Mai to Nahong village in Mae Chem District. The trip took about 5 hours, passing through Doi Inthanon National Park on the way. For the final 30 kilometers, there is no regular transport, so we hitch-hiked. We were lucky to get a ride in the bed of a pickup truck that was actually going to our destination. When we arrived at the village, Somkid's mother and father (photo #2) were very happy to meet us. They knew we were coming, and had prepared a place for us in their home.

Somkid took us on a tour of the village (photo #3). The total population is about 300. As we walked through the streets, we could hear the word being passed ahead of us: falang, falang (foreigner). Few foreigners ever visit the village, and we were something of a novelty. As Somkid introduced us to people, it seemed that most of the villagers were related to him in some way. Everyone certainly seemed happy to meet us. Two of the very young children were rather afraid of us at first, because we seemed so different. Most, however, simply found us interesting.

The village temple (photo #4) is certainly the center of the community. For such a small village, the temple seemed quite properous. It was beautifully decorated, inside and out. The temple also includes a monastary and religious school. There are loudspeakers throughout the village that allow the monks to make morning announcements of the day's activities. Many of the young boys of the village become novices, for a variety of reasons. Some may be drawn to a life of religious study, others are interested in getting an education that they could not otherwise afford. Still others are seeking to "make merit" for their parents, especially their mothers. All Buddhist men are expected to spend at least a month or two as a novice or monk.

Each morning, the novices go out into the village to collect food for the monastery (photo #5). One of them carries a gong which he rings quietly to announce their presence. Each family brings out rice and curry to feed the monks. The food is taken back to the monastery and combined with that collected by other novices before being divided up amongst them all. On most days, the monks and novices can eat two meals, on some days only one. In any case, the noon meal is the last of the day. It is no wonder that so many of them are so thin.

Most of our time was spent in the home of Aopun and Net. There we met a large number of friends and family. We had made up some photos of ourselves and places we lived or visited in the United States. They were a big hit, particularly the pictures of us in our younger days. Somkid's family had only a couple of water-damaged photos of themselves, none of Net. So we took photos of everyone, and when we returned to Chiang Mai we had them laminated against the humid climate, and mailed them to Aopun. We made a second set for Somkid to have here in Chiang Mai. We are sure they will enjoy having them.

Although the people of Nahong village may be poor by US standards, they are much more prosperous than the farmers we know in the Philippines, or the ones we met in Burma. Most homes have a television and satellite dish. It seemed that everyone had access to a car or motorcycle. Although the homes are unadorned and made of local materials, they are clean and comfortable. We certainly had an enjoyable stay there. As guests, we were fed first. Then, the family would eat their (different) meal. This was actually a good idea, as they put an incredible quantity of really hot chili peppers on just about everything they eat. We could not have eaten any of their meal.

Few people in the village spoke any English at all. A few spoke only a little. We can just about say "good morning" and "thank you" in Thai. So our communications were on a simple level. We had no discussions of politics or religion, which is just as well. We did have a really wonderful time getting to know some very kind and generous people, even if only a little bit. This was a high point of our trip to Thailand. It is the sort of experience that makes life more interesting and more rewarding than it would otherwise be. It is surprising how difficult it is to express just how important our visit to Nahong village has been for us. It is something we will remember, and cherish, forever.

As usual, Jim took hundreds of photos during our visit; here are just a few of them:

mountain  | drum  | street  | gasoline  | garden
market  | market  | flower  | Somkid  | portrait  | portrait  | Jim

 

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Created 7/2004. All text & photos are © 2004 Jim Richter.