There's a lot about life that I do not pretend to understand. The vast majority of them revolve around things that happen to me. Let's face it, I'm the protagonist of my story. I'm pretty curious as to where my choices will lead me and if there is a happy ending. More then this though, I want to truly live between the beginning and end. Live my dash. 1986 - ? That dash is the most important thing I can do. I'm constantly striving to grow, to teach, to learn, to smile. But here? There is no strong pull to change what happens in that dash, it is just accepted, but even with that acceptance there is a vibrance to life that isn't present in more materialistic societies. As I mentioned before, people here have a fatalist view on life. That's not to say that are looking for death, but rather that they accept their lot in life and do not begrudge others their own stories. This is a Buddhist belief and does not reflect the manner in which Muslim Thai carry out their lives, though it is similar, it is fundamentally different. In my own experience, I have changed the hats that I wear more times then leading doctors recommend (4/5 doctors say to change your hat once a month). But being here has shown me something that I had only read about in books (I've always wanted to say that). Perfection of the day and the seeking of simple intricacies. Tackle each and every day to the point where a routine is not a chore but rather a walking mediation, know it like you know breath. This past weekend I got to see a lot of what Thai do for a life here and it's both beautiful and totally different from what I've experienced, despite the many places I've traveled.
Rice, as you can imagine, is one of the largest exports in Thailand. Particularly in the south it contributes massively to an individual family's wealth. Blah, blah, blah, this thing you know. But what you probably haven't guessed is the amazing loveliness of a rice field and the abundance of care and attention that is placed into them.
Each one is a collection of perfectly aligned, perfectly spaced plants. There are no machines, there are no rulers. Every single rice plant that you see is placed into the ground by the hands of the farmer. These can go for a long time and if you ask nicely they will gladly let you help plant. Dirty feet, muddy hands, the occasional leech or two and in the end you have both friends and a rice field to call your own.
It is not, "plant rice, make money, wash, rinse, repeat". Instead, it is "plant rice, live life". The rice farmers have laugh lines. They enjoy what they do. Sweat, hard labor and the satisfaction that there is love in their work. How many can say they truly love what their life is? That you do not escape it, instead you embrace it. Hell, the thought of embracing one place and one thing terrifies me. But they do it with such alacrity that it inspires.
- If you're going to do it…do it right. Ugh, I sound like my dad.
- Look closer at what's around you. There's an intricacy that you can't see from the sidelines.
- Stop being hung up on what you don't have. Cherish what you do.
- Fresh rubber smells like a 100 backed-up sewers.
- If you touch it you will smell. Forever. No amount of scrubbing will purify your tainted skin.
- Lastly, coconuts?! Who knew?
The coconuts are used to collect the sap from rubber trees which, surprisingly enough, is literally latex. It gave me a whole new appreciation for anything rubber. This stuff looks like rubber, feels like rubber and reeks to the point of gagging. According to a couple of people in the area, the farmers who produce it make buckets and buckets of money. My thought process on rubber was that it was produced in factories and latex was a by-product. I did not know that latex is the product and rubber is the by-product. Rocked my world. It doesn't seem that difficult either. Once the smells are conquered, you simply slice some bark from the rubber tree, tie a coconut under a spout and collect money in the form of tree blood. If you look closely at the photo below you can see a river of latex spiraling down the tree. If Hollywood knew about this I think a movie called 'Blood Rubber' would be in order. It just sounds like a Steven Seagal movie.
This form of harvesting is actually pretty kind to the trees. I expected things to be a bit more harsh, but once the trees have been tapped for so many years, they are left to grow until death. Harvesting the latex does not do unrepairable amounts of damage, which has left giant fields of trees that have become unofficial preservations for animals of all types, mostly poisonous snakes, poisonous spiders, poisonous millipedes, the occasional giant frog (probably poisonous) and a plethora of birds. Moral of the story? Walk though rubber plantations softly and carry a big stick…or a machete, whichever really tickles your jolly. *note* not all animals in the jungle are poisonous but it's an awesome idea to assume that is the case.
It looks like the eggs of some alien life form, but if you look closer it is instantly recognizable as rubber. The plantations themselves are very lovingly tended and get meticulous attention while they are in operation. Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned while exploring is that if someone passes you on the road going 110km/h (roughly 70 mph) and there are a bunch of chainsaws strapped to their motorcycle, they are a badass and either a rubber farmer or a very prepared zombie apocalypse survivor.
A man selling coconuts with his trained monkey...
*note* This man loved the fact that we were farang (westerners). He made it a point to get his monkey and throw him into a tree. Yes. He owns and trained a coconut monkey. Then promptly had it throw coconuts at me. Awesome experience…even more awesome when you consider just how strong this fur ball is. He's ripping things in half that I have trouble even scratching with that butcher's knife down there. Oh, I can dent it..but to rip the things off the tree and break them? Forget about it. You win coconut monkey.
I've been many places, met hundreds, if not thousands, of interesting people. I'm not talking about passing on the street, I mean actually sat down and talked to them about life. The people in Thailand have shown me something that no other people have. Just smile. Appreciate your place in life and stop trying to force the world to revolve around you. *Obviously, I'm a bit hypocritical here...I don't fully agree with this lesson and I will continue to change my awareness and perspective, but it is still a striking way of life.
No where else have I gone where someone just pulls a random stranger off the street, takes them through their backyard and shows them their monkey (I know what that sounded like). No place have I been flagged down on my motorcycle and just handed a goat before. Never once did a farmer just allow me to walk through their field and then laugh about it as if it was the best thing in the world.
Go on, live your dash.