Author of the JP Weiscarver Mystery Series
4. Our neighborhood
Our first morning in Thailand, after traveling halfway around the world and enjoying a good night’s sleep, we awoke to the somewhat haunting but lovely sound of the adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, emanating via loudspeakers from a mosque half a mile away.
It served as a reminder we were no longer at home in central Texas.
Allow me to introduce you to our home and neighborhood during our stay. Of course, that means the home of our hosts, Catherine and James.
The house was roomy – a living room, two bedrooms, shower room, rest room and large kitchen. However, most of our non-sleeping time was spent on the huge carport, where was centered a table and chairs for dining and hanging out. That’s also where I set up my computer.
Temperatures were generally in the 70s at night and upper 80s during the day. At 8 degrees north of the equator, temps don’t vary much during the year. The seasons are defined by rainy or dry. January is supposed to be mostly dry, but we saw quite a bit of rain.
The moderate temperatures are reflected in the housing.
During the day, all three doors remained open when anyone was home. Screened windows were open around the clock. Only the kitchen windows were closed at night because they had no screens.
Leah and I slept under the breeze of an oscillating fan. Some evenings, it was rather warm as we went to sleep, but it cooled nicely overnight.
There were four or five other houses on our dead-end street. Ours was the first on the right, one was across the street and the others further down.
That meant we got to watch the kids drag themselves up the street to school in the morning and then frolic back toward home in the afternoon. In the evening, two or three boys would often run up and down the street playing and yelling.
People are the same over much of the world, more so the kids.
Almost every day, Leah and I walked somewhere. Usually, that meant going a few miles, but some things we found nearby.
Our first night in Thailand, we walked a short distance to Steak Lao for dinner; we made an encore visit shortly before we left. Across the street from that dining establishment was the Family Mart convenience store, which we visited several times for various small items.
Nearer still was the Coffee Cup Club, where we twice ate breakfast. I even had pancakes once.
The other direction up the highway, almost half a mile, was a larger grocery store, Mother Mache, and a 7-Eleven. Just a bit farther was one of the afternoon markets, where you could pick up all kinds of fresh fish and produce on the designated day – Wednesdays, I believe.
One that was important to us was across the highway from our little street. The window had painted on it, beneath a name in Thai characters, Loma Minimart, but I don’t believe much English was spoken there.
It was where we bought drinking water.
We were told everyone bought drinking water. Tap water is used for bathing, laundry and dishes but is not considered safe for drinking. So, these large, plastic jugs – I’d guess them to hold about five gallons – once emptied, would be exchanged at the store for a filled bottle.
For this, we paid the Minimart 13 baht, less than 4 cents U.S. money.
James and Cat have a rack in their house to hold the jug and which allows one to tilt the jug to pour water. We had a large water bottle in the kitchen which we would fill from the jug and then use the bottle to refill the water bottles we carried with us or for use around the house.
The practice wasn’t overly demanding and definitely worth it to have safe drinking water. I couldn’t help but think aboutt places where it’s not even that handy.
I’ve been involved, over the years, with Church World Service CROP Hunger Walks in four different cities where we’ve lived. The thing about them that has always hit the strongest chord with me is the work they do helping provide safe water. Indeed, I remember presenting the 10-kilometer walks as being representative of the distance some people had to walk to fetch clean water each day.
Another item of housekeeping is taking out the trash.
On our end of town, at least, there didn’t seem to be curbside pickup. Instead, at several points in the area, there were short containers made of hurricane fencing. Trash was to be deposited inside and it was collected from these central areas.
That appeared to be the theory, at least.
In practice, it seemed most people just threw their garbage at the container. Some would be inside, most would not. Critters had a role, I’m sure, in helping spread the trash.
Suffice it to say roadside litter was common.
Did you say beach?
Our first trip out, the morning after we arrived, was to walk to the beach, about three-quarters of a mile.
We first found the harbor, where boats were crammed together waiting for a reason to head to open water, and then strolled upon the beach.
We walked around a spit of land that stuck out into the water, eventually reaching a small karst island (Section 7).
By the time we started back, things looked different. It took us a second to get our bearings and realize the rising tide had covered the strip that connected us to the mainland. We eyeballed where we felt the high ground should be and waded across, feeling the persistent tug of the flowing water.
The beach itself, in that area, is not considered the nice beach, but I don’t know why. Probably because the touristy shops and nice hotels are not nearby. We observed a lot of locals (judging by what they carried to the beach, primarily full spreads of home-prepared foods) around there, but quite a few tourists showed up as well.
While Leah and I totally love beaches, we’re not sunbathers even when it’s not a tropical sun, so we were happy with a little wading in the water and just soaking up the scenery.
Something else we saw near the beach, lying in a grove of trees, was a pack of dogs. Catherine referred to the feral canines as soi dogs, soi being the Thai word for “street.”
The reason the topic came up was our hosts had recently rescued a soi dog, naming her Maya.
She had already adapted rather well to life with humans but still would slip away at times to romp with her brother and their mother.
We continued to notice what were apparently stray dogs all over the area. The most unlikely were two dogs at the top of the Tiger Cave Temple. We were at a loss to figure out how they got there and were left wondering whether they stayed.
I originally thought “soi dogs” was, at best, local slang if not something Cat originated, but I have since found an impressive animal rescue organization known as Soi Dog. (Note: the Web site did not work properly in my Firefox browser but did in Microsoft Edge.)
Soi Dog has an impressive 14-year story of working to heal the problems of Thailand’s stray dogs and cats, centered around an effort to sterilize the animals to slow their growth, but including rescue and medical care and eliminating a darker tale.
We were told that strays were on occasion rounded up and shipped to other countries where they were sold as meat. Soi Dog confirms that practice and adds disturbing accounts of torture because of the belief that pain leads to the tenderizing of the meat. I’ll leave it at that and you may research more if you wish.
One parting observation on the soi dogs is that those we saw around the highway seemed to respect the traffic.