According to a recent count there are three thousand eight hundred and sixty seven species of insect in the Prasat region of Surin province Isaan. Three thousand eight hundred and sixty two of these bite, suck, scratch and generally irritate the human body. There’s also one that can apparently kill. The other five are grub like creatures that live beneath bark, smell terrible and leave a nasty taste in the mouth, but are eaten locally all the same. Larger game in the region is regrettably much scarcer owing to a successful regime of hunting, cooking, and eating all but the hardiest species. Tortoises are prised from their shells and boiled for soup, and porcupines have their spines removed before being roasted over an open fire. There are a few remaining wild monkeys at the Koh Lam reserve, and there is talk in town of a solitary Tiger prowling the Cambodian border. The debate over whether this Tiger still exists was recently refreshed following a drunken declaration by a village huntsman with an indifferent shot and a tendency to brag about killing Tigers.
The topography here consists of vast barren dust lands broken up by arable crops, rice, corn and a few hardy vegetables capable of tolerating the parched desolate growing conditions. That said, I have actually found items resembling carrots and potatoes in the local market and did indeed concoct a casserole that left me feeling very ill for many, many days afterwards. They also raise cattle, pigs and a few scrawny chickens who lay small free range eggs that form around fifty percent of my daily diet. The other fifty percent is made up exclusively of warm Chang beer.
Rubber is another cash crop favored by the locals for its significant long term financial return. The trees once planted take at least six years before the rubber tapping can begin and the grower can reap the rewards. Locals sit around chewing straw and drinking Lao Kao ‘waiting on the rubber’ as they well know the Kingdom of Thailand needs a lot of rubber. The exact process between tapping the sap from the tree and the end product that is hopefully used by a Farang holidaymaker during his copulations with indigenous females in a holiday resort eludes me, but it must play havoc on the rubber farmers mind, whilst his daughter looks for work in Pattaya or Bangkok.
The populace here in Prasat is mainly made up of migrant Cambodian stock. The Khymer language sounds aggressive when compared to that of your average Bangkokian Thai. I overheard a conversation this afternoon that escalated into shrills and howls and could seemingly only lead to a standoff between the two middle-aged countrymen. Turns out they were discussing the whereabouts of an inedible local root vegetable and could not agree upon the exact location. The Cambodians love to argue, however in doing so there appears to be no effort towards being discourteous towards each other. Unlike much of passiveness here is by no means a virtue, unless that is you are a Monk.
There are no bars, no restaurants and indeed nothing of tourist interest in the village. The main social hub is the local shop that has a table and a few chairs sat above a dusty area of land stained red through the constant stream of betel not juice spat out by the village elders. The nut is ground up with a mixture of spices and herbs (each betel nut addict has her own favorite recipe) and chewed on continually throughout the day. Apparently betel nut has an amphetamine like effect and the withdrawal from long term use can be rather harsh to say the least. Thankfully the nut grows locally so there is no need to ever have to go without, unless that is you have a modicum of self decency. The nut is red in color and stains the teeth, gums and lips giving the nut user the appearance at best of acute tooth decay, and at worst of internal bleeding. The men here prefer to drink whiskey rather than chew nuts, and do this on a daily basis. I have observed certain individuals so advanced in the stages of alcoholism that have lost the attribute of speech completely. When I mentioned this to a villager he said that this is perhaps a blessing as before he ‘talk no good’ anyway.
Quite true I surmised over a cool glass of Chang watching the sunset over my balcony; All’s well that ends well, here in Prasat.
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