ATM is a 25km trek away over some scarily rutted roads until you hit the smoother two-lane ‘highway’ leading into marginally larger Chom Phae. Local roads are best avoided once the sun sets over the western peaks and if you want to preserve your car’s shock absorbers and tyres you’d best not drive by night.
Our village, a miniscule blimp on Thailand’s geographic radar, offers very little in the way of labour for its residents except during the twiceyearly rice and sugarcane harvests so it’s a decidedly tranquil place to be at nighttime. Here, on a normal evening, cicadas chirrup their cheerful choruses while you can occasionally hear the distant yet distinct rising cry of the brown Thai coucal crow (Centropus bengalsis). People head off to bed at nine o’clock and the streets are deserted and all the shops shut by half past eight.
But come sunrise all things audible rapidly change. To start off, public announcements by the Pu Yai (the village headman, a genial chap blithely unaware that he is waking everyone up with a barrage of largely irrelevant information) are cranked up to MAXIMUM VOLUME with tinny speakers blaring out at cruelly and cleverly intrusive locations throughout the village.
Sip-lor (10-wheel trucks) rumble, roar and banging their empty trailers, sashay their way through the main thoroughfare, sound trucks – their roof-mounted speakers trumpeting wares for sale, ranging from fresh pork (“moo ma leeow, moo ma LEEOW”) to eggs to even bicycles and spectacles, bump through the ruts (it’s a mystery how they manage their diesel costs) while students’ motorcycles with their mufflers neutered snarl, shake, rattle and roll their way to school in much the same way that we, as kids, used to attach pegs to our bicycle spokes in order to sound like grown-up mo’bikes. So quite early on in the day our ‘tranquil’ village morphs into a cacophonic ear-battering battlefiel
I should explain that this sad event is not uncommon here given the propensity of heavy-drinking villagers lavishly indulging in lao khao – an eminently affordable rice spirit and probably the most serious contender as a deadly alcohol concoction since prohibition America’s moonshine.
The first sign of a local demise is three cannon-like fireworks exploding, resounding across the fields to announce the unfortunate’s passing. Flocks of panicked birds rise, then calm themselves. But unlike the unsuspecting avian population we steel ourselves to what must surely follow: total audio carnage.
A local audio man is hired by the bereaved family. He duly arrives with a sound setup that looks like a mobile mini music festival rig and is easily as powerful in terms of sheer wattage. The Noise Man proceeds to blast out hypnotic Issan tunes and songs at window-cracking, crockery rattling, foundation-shaking levels from six in the morning until late in the evening for days on end interspersed with Buddhist monks’ chants and folksy sermons – all perfectly audible throughout the village. You might say that it’s a collective experience.
Yes I know, when in Rome etc.…, but these setups are remarkable due to the maddeningly unequal noise-versus-people equation of folks actually attending these events. They simply don’t add up in the Western mind but are perfectly logical to Thai rural society.
Noise equals prestige here in Nong Chaem and I daresay in a lot of other villages nationwide. One last addendum is that a Buddhist monk beats out tattoos on a huge drum and gong every evening. And I simply love it. Put up with it, farang. It’s Thai rural life.