In our village house we have a clock in the living room which sits on a shelf in a corner next to the bathroom. It’s a cheap affair, bought for about 200 baht at Nong Khai’s Indo-China market on the Mekong River. Why I bought it heaven knows.
Wonderful Wi has three ladies wristwatches, two of which I bought for her and the other is her showpiece one, secured after lengthy bartering for 800 baht at a night market in Hua Hin. When she does wear one of her watches I often wonder if it’s worn for appearance or to actually know the time, my guess is the former because in a Thai village does time really matter at all.
Time doesn’t seem to matter in Wilai’s village, at least that’s the impression I always get. For a long while I’ve had the feeling you could split time into two parts, day and night or better still light and dark.
The simplistic life of an Isaan villager is different to the western way. There are no last minute mad dashes to drive the kids to school or mid morning workouts at the gym, just work in the sun or a laze in the shade. The sun comes up and the sun goes down, time is what’s in between.
In Thailand a visit to a rural doctor or dentist is a case of showing up and waiting your turn, only a follow up appointment will require being on time. There are exceptions to when a Thai villager needs a grasp to the hour of day. Religious ceremonies, bus journeys and buying the freshest food from the market all depend upon being on time but there are means other than clock watching to making sure you aren’t late.
When I’m back home in the UK I am totally dependant on knowing the exact time and I initially found the Thai’s complete chosen ignorance of it to be strange, then I realized there are other ways to have an inkling to the present stage of the day. There are many events in Wilai’s village which occur on most days and pinpoint or at least give me a very good idea as to the time without having to look at a clock, watch or my mobile phone. Below is my 24 hour village clock.
- 04-30 The cockerels start crowing. In Thailand they believe the rooster crows at this time because he wants to be the first to greet the day’s rising sun. The cockerel wakes way before sunrise but lets everyone know it’s time to get up and join him.
- 06-00 If there are any public announcements to make the village headman will relay them over a very loud PA system.
- 06-45 The bell rings at the village temple as a reminder for those who wish to visit the Wat.
- 08-00 Thai TV plays the National Anthem.
- 13-30 This is the one part of the day I cannot be precise about but at around this time Wilai will start preparing Som Tum (spicy Thai salad).
- 03-30 School has finished and soon after happy youngsters make their way home or to wherever.
- 18-00 Once again Thai TV plays the National Anthem.
- 19-00 Depending on the time of year around seven in the evening darkness has fallen or the light is starting to fade.
- 20-25 The main Thai TV soaps start. You can guarantee the television will be on for them.
- 22-00 When I pull aside the living room curtains and can see the village bathed in a quiet and still darkness I know it’s at least ten at night and the country folk and roosters are asleep waiting for the next day’s sun to come up.
- Midnight The soi (street) dogs sometimes howl as they catch sight of a late night straggler returning home after hunting for frogs. If they howl real long and loud then you know there’s a ghost about, so the Thai’s say.
The experienced Thai eye relies on other conditions to fill the gaps between those listed above. The position of the sun and the length of the shadows are easy indicators of time. The herdsmen taking their cows to graze in the morning and on their return late afternoon are tell tale ones too, and the ice cream seller, fish man and the fruit and vegetable truck all have their way of letting you know how long is left of the day. Who needs a clock when you’ve got so much to watch. Tick tock.