Firstly published 18 September 2021
I had a comment on my personal Facebook page HERE that asked:
How is an evening spent relaxing after the toil of the day?. I would assume an ice-cold beer if refrigerator available and just enjoying a tropical evening listening to the sounds of nature. How do Isaan people relax and "get loose" when they have time outside of the necessary.
Thanks Julian Wills. I thought it was a good topic to cover here to expand on the insights I can offer members. I will only base my reply based on my specific experience, which is only what I see the family doing, rather than make generalisations for other situations and social classes. A teacher or mechanic working in a big city will have totally different routines, and I have no idea what that looks like. So in this context, I am referring to working farmers who undertake all the tasks of the farm themselves.
Some of my family at the farm
Firstly, I am in no way making any sort of judgement about the original comment because Julian is asking for clarification and not making an assumption, but this is an entirely western way of looking at local rural life - being the context I am illustrating. I'm Australian, so for me, it brings up a 'home' based image of hard-working, hands-on blokes, dirty from a day on the land turning up at the pub for a few drinks and a social chat with others. To clarify this, let me say I was a suit-wearing office worker and have no more idea of Australia rural reality than many others.
Dining 'out' tends to be a buffet served at our home in the village.
So, what does my observation of real farming life look like? Yuan and Lud start the day at 4:00 and often earlier in busy seasons (they start at midnight leading up to New Year) and work through until 18:00 in the evening. By that time they are exhausted. They drive to the family home in the village to take mama back for the night, have a shower, cook a quick simple meal and return to the farm to sleep by 19:00. This is generally true of the entire village. The place is dead (not that it gets lively at any time) by early evening, with nobody around.
The concept of a social relaxing end of day drink is foreign to the family. With a very early start to the next day, alcohol is not involved in the evening schedule. Beer is seen as expensive and for a treat only. It is bought when needed, and you won't find any in the fridge as you would at my place.
The deadly Isaan whisky, Lao Khao, is a more likely end of day tipple for those that do drink because you get more bang for your bucks, but my family don't in this context. Lud likes a Lao Khao, but he uses it as many locals do as an energy boost early morning, as we would use coffee. The local shops sell it by the shot for 10 baht, and people will stop off on the way to the farm to knock one back. It's the same as I observed in Italy, where people on the way to work would call into a café, get a strong espresso and quickly drink it standing up. In fact, coffee costs more if you sit down.
The concept of 'enjoying a tropical evening listening to the sounds of nature' is our interpretation of a certain attitude to life we might like to impose on local reality as well.
I may be wrong, but I don't pick up on the family having an appreciation of their surroundings and kicking back to absorb the atmosphere in the same way we might. They will take time off late morning, especially if it has been a hot day, to relax in the hammocks, but Lud falls asleep in a couple of minutes and Yuan will browse her phone or sleep as well. This is essential energy top-up time, not a moment to enjoy 'the sounds of nature'.
My daughter Peng in the farm hammock.
There is a very down to earth attitude based on reality, and this flows into many aspects of life. There is little point in me taking Gaun to a fancy restaurant, even if that was a local option, with beautiful surroundings and tableware, because it just doesn't register with her as 'special'. She likes the variation, but is equally happy if I buy a cheap Isaan buffet to be eaten on the floor at home or farm. Artwork is a mystery, as is planting things you can't eat. Our obsession with not only how things look, but how they contribute to an emotional experience, is not necessarily shared by many Isaan people.
Street parties in the days they happened.
Westerners can also be busy during the week of course with limited relaxation time, so from that point of view there's nothing different happening here. However, where we probably have weekend time to sit around, socialise and generally set our own agenda separate from the working week, the farm runs seven days a week with no break in routine other than festival days. Sunday looks like Monday. There isn't a pre-determined non-working period to implement a schedule that isn't based on earning money.
Having depressed you with an observation of what seems like a fun exclusion zone, I will lift the mood by saying you won't meet more content people than my core family. Laughter is always bubbling beneath the surface and when they do have the chance to relax they love it. We will take some beers to the farm later afternoon, and they will sit down and relax and chat. In the days when we had celebration or festival events pre-covid, they would be totally involved, lots of alcohol would be consumed and a great time had by all.
Readers of this will have varying experiences of how Isaan people 'get loose', and I hope a few of you share what that looks like.
Thanks for reading.