Monthly Archives: July 2006

‘The Sad Story of Khru Juling’

Seldom does a day go by when we don’t read a story of an atrocity in the deep south. There are many tearful stories which have evolved, but perhaps the one which stands out most, is ‘The Story of Khru Juling’.

Khru (teacher) Juling 24, was born in the northern province of Chiang Rai. Even though her family was very poor, with the financial assistance of family and friends who were amazed by her art talent – she graduated with honours. Working as a teacher, Khru Juling could simply have stayed put in her home province and found a simple cozy school job. Selflessly however, she applied for the position of art teacher in the deep southern war-torn province of Narithiwat.

Feeling heartfelt pity on the Muslim children who grew up without a teacher to teach them, she put her life at risk to help the little ones whom she loved so much. Even though there were daily shootings and bomb-blasts, for one whole year Khru Juling, against the desires of those who cared for her, persisted on teaching at her school . For Khru Juling, a beautiful young teacher from the north, who published a book of her sketches for one of the Princess’ childrens charities – just who would ever think of doing her any harm?

On a regretful Friday – May 19, of this year, local women villagers, angry at the detention of Muslim Militants on a completely different charge, surrounded her school and ordered all the teachers of Buddhist religion to come out. Even though the school children screamed at the top of their voices to let go of their beloved teachers, the local women simply took them away.

What happened next in the presence of others is almost humanely unthinkable. Held hostage for three hours – Khru Juling singled out most, was bashed so badly by local villagers that she remains until this day….. in a coma, with severe brain injuries.

What is most sickening of all, is that after the police forced their way in to arrest the culprits – the local female villagers threatened to attack them (the police) with knives, rocks and bricks. The hundred or so women involved in the abduction and beatings of the teachers showed absolutely no remorse for what they had done.

HM The Queen, also very upset by this tragedy, has asked that she is updated daily on the conditions of Khru Juling who is still in intensive care at The Prince of Songkhla Hospital in Hat Yai.

Pitiful Khru Juling hangs on for life amidst the hope of every Thai person. Let us all wish that we never again have to hear of such a despicable tragedy.


Normal day - in the city !
The city name means, ‘Grand city of the just king‘. It is around 830 kilometers from Bangkok, by train , and 780 kms, by car. Divided into 21 districts, or Amphoe, Nakhon is bordered by Surat Thani in the North, Trang and Krabi in the West, the Gulf of Thailand in the East, and Songkhla and Phatthalung in the South.

The city is serviced by Nok Air from Bangkok.

The city is nearly 1600 years old, and was first called Tambralinga, as well as many other names, such as Tan Ma Ling, Lochac and Ligor. Going back to the Buddhist 6th Century, the city has been a famous Buddhist centre and has a richness in Culture and History, second to none. There are many, many temples to visit.

Wat Phra Mahathat Woramaha
One of the main thoroughfares in Nakhon Si Thammarat, is Ratchadamnoen Rd. Along this road is one of the most famous of temples, ‘Wat Phra Mahathat Woramaha’ (see photo).
It is a royal temple and one of only six ( 6 ) temples of the ‘Woramaha Wihan’ type. The temple holds the holy relics of Lord Buddha in the ‘Phra Borom That Chedi’ pagoda .
The pagoda has a distinctive Ceylonese ( Sri Lankan ) style, and stands around 56 meters high. The top is entirely covered in pure gold !
Further down the road, towards the city centre, you’ll find remnants of the ‘Old City Wall’. (see photo)

The Old City Wall
One of the highlights of a trip to Nakhon, is the National Museum (see photo). Situated in Tambon Nai Muang, on Ratchadamnoen Rd, the museum was opened in 1974 and displays artifacts from 4 southern provinces, Surat, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phatthalung and Chumphon. There is also a branch of the National Library where rare and interesting books can be viewed.

National Museum and Library

In surrounding Amphoe , there are Nature Walks through National Parks , Waterfalls , Limestone caves , Ancient Wats , Rafting expeditions , Thai handicrafts , Archaeological sites and Beaches . There’s something for everyone . One of the favourites is the Khao Wang Thong cave . It’s just 78 kms from the city centre and is AWESOME !

Do yourself a favour and visit Nakhon Si Thammarat!

Lovely, quiet Sois, too!

Choke dee, nah!

The southern tongue

Thai, like any other language, is marked by regional differences. Although Thailand is often perceived to be an ethnically homogenous society, but in actual fact, it is as ethnically, linguistically and culturally diverse as its many Southeast Asian neighbours. Linguistically, each main region in Thailand can also be differentiated by the type of Thai spoken, namely the Central Thai, the Northern Thai (kham mueng), the Northeastern Thai (Thai-Lao) and Southern Thai.

Once, I had the chance to take a train from Bangkok to Chiangmai. And as the train chugged up north and the flat landscapes slowly gave way to hills and mountains, a keen listener would be able to discern the greetings of the many female snacks and drinks sellers that came onboard the train drinks at each station, changing from “sawatdii kha” to sawatdii jao”.

Most of the time, Thais will be able understand you when you speak standard Thai. But whether one would be able to understand and decipher their replies is another matter, especially when they reply with a thick local accent.

The South is another region where the Thai language has evolved into a distinct dialect. Due to its geographical proximity to Malaysia, many Malay words are adopted and infused into the Southern dialect, thus partly adding to its unique flavour. Prior to that, my Thai friends have often remarked about the seemingly less comprehensible and curt speaking style of the southern Thais, who tend to “eat” their words. I have also noticed that each time a southern Thai person speaks during a Thai movie, subtitles in Thai will invariably appear on the screen. I reckoned if native Thais themselves are having an “earful” in trying to understand the southern dialect, I am definitely not going to be spared from this if I visit the southern provinces.

Indeed, this linguistic problem posed some challenges to me when I had to do fieldwork in the tsunami-stricken provinces of Krabi and Phangnga in southern Thailand last July. Thai is often known as a melodious language, but I find the southern tongue even more singsong-like. It seems like the tonal rules undergo some change when spoken in the southern dialect. I often had to utter phases like “phuut phasaa klaang thao nan, phuut phasaa tai mai dai (I’m only able to speak the central language, but not the southern)”.

Despite being rather proficient in spoken standard Thai, both my professor and I had a hard but enjoyable time interviewing the residents in the fishing villagers of Baan Hua Laem in Koh Lanta. Luckily, we had a Thai friend who came along as an interpreter with us on the project. However, even my Thai friend admitted that he had to pay very close attention to the conversation.

The Southern tongue, I realized, is not that indecipherable. After a while, I started making some sense of the conversations. It is only a matter of getting used to the southern tongue, and developing a keener sense of hearing. After all, when feelings of “mai khao jai” set in, just give a smile. Well, my research project has proven that regardless of the dialects spoken locally, the friendliness of Thais still reigned.

Personally, instead of a simplistic conception of a homogenous society, I feel that this linguistic diversity adds even more colour, flavour and character to Thailand, doesn’t it?

This lady had a strong and thick southern accent, but her amiable and forthcoming replies when we questioned her about the tsunami were not “lost in translation”.

How To Roll A Good Smoke

sampling some tobacco

To a confirmed non-smoker like myself, one of life’s mysteries is how anybody can insert a burning ember in their mouth, drag back its fetid smoke and then say, “God, I enjoyed that”. The Tobacco industry in the west at least has been under attack this past quarter century by health groups, community action and government regulation restricting advertising and gradually compacting the areas where smoking is allowed.

Even with all these restrictions, the Tobacco companies still appear to make a “squillion” dollars profit annually and of course Governments gain massive revenue from all the taxes on the industry. As Arthur Daley would say. “a nice little earner”

In Thailand it appears that the Government is slowly turning on the Tobacco industry with health warnings and anti-litter crackdowns in the cities. Of course the Thai Government like its counterparts around the world speaks with forked tongue and still laps up the tax revenue. As for Thai people in general, I have always found them to be fairly easy going about smoking – there appears to be more non-smokers than dedicated puffers.

The main exception is that very few Thai women smoke. I have always been told that Thais associate female smoking with Bar Girls and prostitutes.

Although packets of “tailor made” cigarettes including international brands such as Marlboro can be purchased anywhere in the Kingdom, hand rolled cigarettes are still commonplace in rural Thailand. The reason for this is tradition and the fact that local tobacco costs a fraction of what you would pay for a packet of cigarettes. The other reason to is taste.

Most hardened rural smokers would argue that the locally grown product is cleaner and has more of a kick. Back in 1985 on my third trip back to Thailand I bought my Father-in-Law a carton of Marlboro cigarettes at duty free. When he lit one up, he said nothing but the expression on his face sort of said “what sort of girls smoke this insipid crap”. A couple of days later we invited the village Monks to the house so that they could bless our daughter Natalie’s second birthday. On a plate in front of each of the invited Monks a packet of Marlboro cigarettes had been mysteriously placed.

Buying tobacco in rural Thailand is drop dead easy. Walk into many morning village markets and you will find somebody selling tobacco. Not like your fancy Tobacconist in the city but basically laid out in mounds or bags with the different colours indicating taste and blends. Of course what immediately grabs your attention is the quantity and the give-away prices. For a western smoker paying through the nose for a few ounces of ready rubbed or a packet of “Gaspers” the sight of all this village tobacco largesse would bring tears to their eyes.

On top of the tobacco mountain at the market usually resides a packet of cigarette papers and a box of matches. Smokers will roll a free sample to see what blend they want to buy. Smokers tend to buy the product not in piddly ounces but in small sacks – at those prices why wouldn’t you.

The rolling of a cigarette is in itself an art form. As a young kid I was always fascinated by one of my uncles who would methodically rub a small portion of tobacco in his palms and could still laugh and have an animated conversation with a cigarette paper hanging out of the corner of his mouth and the paper would flatter as he talked. Due to the high cost of tobacco, the smokes that he rolled were matchstick thin.

tasting the product

In contrast the rural Thai smoker rolling a smoke will reach into his tin or sack and pull out a large quantity of weed. This is then laid out on a small piece of butchers paper and then loosely rolled, sealed with one tongue swipe and then plonked in the mouth. The smoker then lights up the cigar sized smoke. Due to it normally being loose rolled together with the quantity of tobacco, half the cigarette goes up in flames and sparks together with a cloud of smoke. Once the smoke is finished the process starts again.

I opened this Blog with a firm statement of my attitude to smoking. The rest of the Blog could be seen to be favourable to smoking, but I have always had the possibly selfish attitude that its not my lungs that are being ruined.


Phra That Si Chom Thong

The Holy Relic

Phra That Si Chom Thong, Chomthong, Chiang Mai Province

Year of the Rat: About 59 kms south of Chiang Mai, on the same road for Doi Inthanon, you will reach Phra That Si Chom Thong. This is one of the most important shrines in Chiang Mai Province as it houses a holy Buddha relic. Normally, relics are buried inside a chedi, however, here it is enshrined inside a container in the main hall. This relic is believed to part of the right side of the Buddha’s head. According to legend, the Buddha once came to the hilltop where this temple now stands and he foretold that the place would later house a holy relic. The relic was apparently found in 1452 and a temple was built on the hill at Doi Din Thong to enshrine it. When I visited the temple earlier this year, I was disappointed to see that the chedi was covered in scaffolding as they were renovating. I had made a special trip down from Chiang Mai just to visit this temple. But, at least I could pay respects to the holy relic in the nearby hall. This is an important shrine for people born in the Year of the Rat. As Doi Inthanon is nearby, you could combine a trip to the highest mountain in Thailand with this temple. Hopefully when you go the renovations are over. The pictures I have seen of the golden chedi are really beautiful. Incidently, the temple building below prohibits women entering. It seems to be common in northern Thailand to see signs stopping women entering sacred shrines.