Tick Tock

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.

Martyn

I'm a sixty-year-old Englishman living in the town of Swindon in rural Wiltshire and I have a real deep desire to retire in Thailand one day. If you don't have a dream then you won't have a dream come true.

18 Responses

  1. malcolm says:

    Martyn , loved it, and it took me about a year to stop depending on my watch so much to
    get me thru the day , I love all the little time tellers in the LOS and have grown aware of their importance in the village life . BUT you left out one very important time teller that is very important, and looked forwaed to by a certain group of Thai’s and that is 11:00 o’clock am PANE the time for the monks to eat their last meal of the day . Thanks again for the great post and a little reminder to all of us, that time marchs on, just to a different beat here in the LOS. Malcolm
    .-= malcolm´s last blog ..THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD =-.

  2. Hoo Don says:

    Malcolm this is a subject that has held my interest for a few years now. I have for a long time been amazed at the lack of wristwatches worn by the villagers, it’s almost as if time doesn’t exist. I’m sure a lot of them don’t know what day it is let alone the time. Fascinating.

  3. Adullamite says:

    Great post! We are so tied down by time in most things.
    .-= Adullamite´s last blog ..Born Under a Bad Sign =-.

  4. Hoo Don says:

    Graham I’m tied down to time at the moment. I have to be at work in 12 hours and yet Chelsea are playing Manchester City lunchtime. Bridge versus Terry. What to do. I guess work has to come first.

  5. Mike says:

    Martyn I couldn’t agree more. Initially I was always worried about time in LOS, now I just go with the flow. I can set by watch by how late the Thai trains are running on the nearby line, since they are consistent in their lateness.

    In fact I actually wonder why Thai railways has a timetable at all. God help the locals if one turned up on time.
    .-= Mike´s last blog ..Kapok Tree Photo/Image =-.

  6. Hoo Don says:

    Mike every village or small town has its own little things which signify a certain time of the day has been reached, in your case the trains would be an obvious source. I think time in a Thai village doesn’t matter most days, nor which day of the week it is either. The days seem to be dominated by food, gossip and TV soaps, nearly forgot, the lottery as well. They seem to know when the lottery is about to be drawn on the TV, must be the length of the papaya tree shadows.

  7. Talen says:

    Excellent read Martyn. I don’t wear a watch in Thailand at all and you are dead on about when Thai’s do need to be someplace like a blessing or a second clinic appointment.

    Of course all Thai’s do keep track of time though they just use their cell phones instead of watches…and every Thai has at least one cell phone.
    .-= Talen´s last blog ..Bangkok Jazz Festival 2010 =-.

  8. Catherine says:

    Martyn, excellent post. I don’t wear a watch in Thailand either. I took it off years ago and dumped it in a small container somewhere. There are clocks around the house, but I swore after I quit working corporate that I would never wake up by an alarm clock again. That hasn’t quite worked out as planes have their own timetable).
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Thai 101 Learners Series: A Trusted Native Speaker is Essential =-.

  9. Hoo Don says:

    Talen the only time I need to know the time in Thailand is in the middle of the night because I’m not the best of sleepers. If I wake in the night I really have to know what time it is and so I leave my mobile next to the bed. During the day in the village I really don’t bother thinking too much about the time as it doesn’t seem important at all and I do always have a rough idea by seeing what’s going on around me. Cell phones are two a penny but I’m sure some of the villagers don’t even have them.

  10. Hoo Don says:

    Catherine as I replied to Mike, everywhere has its tell tale time moments and yours are the planes. I’m amazed at the amount of watch sellers who walk the streets of the tourist resorts because for a nation which seemingly has no care for time they do have a lot of spare watches hanging about. Are we westerners really that obsessive about time, the watch hawkers appear to be telling us we are.

  11. Siam.Rick says:

    Yes, Martyn, I noticed how those Indian watch pedlars only hit the farangs on the patios.

    Me, I gave up wearing a watch some time in the ’90s. It was making nervous, always glancing at my watch when I didn’t need to really look at it. I don’t watch TV anymore because I always had to be in front of the boob tube at a certain time and I didn’t like that either. Now, the only time that matters, the only time I become a clock watcher is when the hands creep toward 5 o’clock. When in Thailand, my only clock watching is for the 7 o’clock deadline when the 2-for-1 beers stop at The Londoner. My friends and I can pre-order. Life is good.
    .-= Siam.Rick´s last blog ..Royal Thai Embassy to Canada needs new website =-.

  12. john says:

    tick tock the clock of life is surely a wonderful thing rise in the morning with the sound.s of the village as people start to mill around back in the uk being woken up in the morning would normally be annoying
    but in udon thani province its a pleasure to rise with the pace of the village are village is in the ban dung area so as in most villages there’s not much to do in the late hours of the day so you tend to sleep early
    sometimes worse for wear but there’s only so much sight seeing you can do before the local falang bar calls to you
    i normally do my socialising in the afternoon so iam dead tired as the sun goes down iam not sure my snoring is welcome is the quiet of the night but i do get a great sleep out there
    .-= john´s last blog ..new Thai biometric passport in london =-.

  13. Catherine says:

    Yes, I would say so. Having a watch was more than a fashion accessory in the west. Out here it’s just a bother. Besides, we have clocks on our phones, so no need.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Linguistic and Developmental Underpinnings of Language Acquisition =-.

  14. Hoo Don says:

    Rick I rarely watch TV here in the UK unless it’s sport, I find UK TV to contain too much ‘reality and talent’ shows which are not to my taste. I’ve yet to find a 2-for-1 beer outlet in Udon although I have been told about one, but any type of happy hour bar is always welcome unless it’s packed to the rafters. Western life is so reliant on time and that is basically the major difference I’ve noticed with that and Thai village life.

  15. Hoo Don says:

    John I think our village house is the last one to have lights out at night when I’m staying there. I’ll sometimes stay up past midnight and that’s way, way past the villagers bedtime.

    Life in the village has little on offer past the evening closing of the shops unless there is a rare event going on or at the local town. I’m an early riser myself irrespective of the time I went to bed and will often be up at half five. I love seeing the village slowly kick itself into life for the day.

    Snoring is normally induced by large quantities of beer.

  16. Hoo Don says:

    Catherine mobile phone clocks are used nowadays as a source of time and mine is used for just that but after a quick calculation or two. With my old phone I don’t bother resetting it for the hour change in the UK. It’s either one hour fast or right and I just read it to suit. For some reason on my last LOS trip when I put in my Thai sim card it readjusted to four hours behind Thai time and three hours in front of the UK(something like that). At times due to lack of sleep, too much beer or feeling under the weather I had big problems working out the time in the UK and Thailand. Eventually I couldn’t remember which country was three hours wrong and which was four. Next time I must put it right on my arrival.

  17. john says:

    getting the last beer in before the local shop close.s up for the night is always a good idea
    village life can be boreing sometimes but what a way to relax
    forget spending Thousands on holidays of a lifetime get yourself to issan north east Thailand for the big chill

  18. Hoo Don says:

    John after all the time I spent in Pattaya in my early days I can honestly say that although I really enjoyed most of it village life is far better in many ways. I love the peace and quiet knowing that I can relax in the sun without the western world sticking its dog eat dog culture in my face and time really is my own. Lovely.

    John nobody has noticed the cobra in the bottom left hand corner of the second photo. It needs a lick of paint but it’s still a cobra.

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