Country life of Thailand

Outside the Capital

Within the limits of the crowded capital one can easily study closely the superstitions, the customs, and the ceremonies of the people. But if any idea is to be gained of the industries of the country, it is necessary to pass from the busy canals and the crowded highways into the wide plains beyond. In the busy city the Siamese are shopkeepers, policemen, postmen, soldiers and government officials. The mechanics and artisans are Chinese. There is no sign of any native industry, no weaving of cloth, tanning of leather or manufacture of anything beautiful or useful. The city is the mart; the goods that are sold therein are made or grown in other localities. Travel into the jungle or the field, and then you may find the native at work, earning his living, and spending his life in the most primitive manner. It may here be stated that it is not an easy matter to travel even a short distance in Siam, and very few of the foreign residents ever make a trip except for business purposes.

The journey to every place must be commenced by water, either in a house-boat or in a steamer. The house-boat is about eighteen feet long and four feet beam, and is rowed by a number of strong skilful boatmen. The number of men varies from two to eight according to the size of the boat. The man at the stern manages the rudder with his foot while he rows with his hands. All the men stand to their work, and row after the native fashion. In the centre of the boat is a small hut or cabin, which is about three feet high, so that its occupant can only lie therein. Standing or sitting is impossible, and the operations of dressing, washing and eating are performed under trying conditions. The deck planks are all removable, and under these must be stowed away sufficient clothing and provisions to last the traveller during the whole of his trip, for no matter where he travels, he can never replenish his larder or his wardrobe. The Chinese cook, who is an indispensable part of every expedition, sleeps and cooks at the back of the boat, in a space about three feet square. He shelters himself during the heat of the day with a big paper umbrella, and sleeps at night on the floor of his kitchen. He prepares his master's meals just as though he were surrounded with all the ordinary utensils supposed necessary in the practice of culinary art, and when they are ready, he acts as waiter and hands them into the cabin through a small window in the back. The traveller's limbs get very sore with constantly lying on a hard mattress; but he has little opportunity of taking exercise, for the jungle comes down to the water's edge in most places that are uninhabited. These house-boats are only used for inland journeys as they would soon be capsized in a rough sea.

PREPARING RATTAN FOR CHAIR-MAKING.
PREPARING RATTAN FOR CHAIR-MAKING.

One thing that soon strikes the wanderer is the presence of the Chinese. In the most secluded hamlet, and in the deepest jungle, wherever men are gathered together, there are the Celestials in the midst of them, doing the chief share of the work, and taking the largest share of the profits. The wealth of the country consists in its agricultural produce. Rice is the chief food article cultivated, and will be dealt with in the succeeding chapter. But at Chantaboon, now in the hands of the French, excellent pepper is grown. Coffee has only recently been introduced, and it too flourishes in the neighbourhood of the same port. Sugar-cane is very plentiful, but is little used for the making of sugar. Where the refineries do exist they belong to the Chinese. The tobacco plant that is grown is very rank, and too powerful in its effects to become popular with Europeans. If it were properly cured and prepared, it might be more palatable. Amongst the other agricultural products may be mentioned hemp, cotton, cocoa-nut, areca-nut, maize, teak, bamboo, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, indigo, a little tea in the far north, and fruit of many varieties.

FISHING LUGGER.
FISHING LUGGER.

Petchabooree is a typical Siamese agricultural village. It is easily reached by house-boat from Bangkok in two or three days. Through the village runs a clear silvery stream with a white sandy bed. On each side of the stream extends a double row of wooden houses, under which lie innumerable pariahs. Between the double line is a narrow passage forming the street, market, and pleasure-ground of the inhabitants. Buffaloes come down to the river for water at regular hours twice each day. On the broad plains in the neighbourhood rice is grown. A few miles away is a Laos settlement, occupied by the descendants of prisoners of war who were once placed here to till the soil for those who captured them. They still preserve their dark striped petticoats, and are never seen without their long knives at their waists. They spend most of their time at this particular place in manufacturing sugar from the sugar palm. When the fruit appears upon the tree, a man climbs to the top, and cuts it off. To the cut stalk he fastens the hollow stem of a bamboo, about eighteen inches long. As the juice oozes from the cut surface it drops into the wooden cylinder. When this is filled it is removed, and replaced by another. The juice is collected and boiled in iron pans under an attap-thatched shed. The furnace is of very simple construction. A trough is dug in the earth, and the hole thus made filled with wood. A light is applied, and then the pan is placed on the ground, with its centre over the hollow dug-out fireplace. Fresh wood is pushed into the hole when required. As the wood costs nothing and the iron pan is cheap, the manufacture of sugar in this primitive fashion is not at all costly. The thick syrupy liquid is put into big wooden barrels, and sent to Bangkok to be further boiled and converted into sugar. The fresh juice of the sugar palm is sweet and refreshing, but when it begins to ferment it is a powerful intoxicant.

There are many pretty places on the shores of the Gulf of Siam, but these can only be visited by steamer. They are charmingly picturesque, the bathing is excellent, and the fish are delicious. No steamers call at these desirable spots, there are no hotels, and except for fish they have no food for sale. Only one of them—Anghin, has any house in which a foreigner would care to reside. The village of Anghin ("stone basins") is so called because there are several large hollows in the granite rocks, where rain water collects in the wet season. Public attention was first drawn to the place in 1868, when a notice appeared in the local papers in these words:—

"H. E. Ahon Phya Bhibakrwongs Maha Kosa Dhipude, the Pra Klang, Minister for Foreign Affairs, has built a sanitarium at Anghin for the benefit of the public. It is for the benefit of Siamese, Europeans, or Americans, who may go and occupy it when unwell, to restore their health. All are cordially invited to go there for a suitable length of time and be happy, but are requested not to remain month after month, and year after year, and regard it as a place without an owner. To regard it in this way cannot beallowed, for it is public property, and others should go and stop there also."

FISHING BOATS AT THE BAR.
FISHING BOATS AT THE BAR.

For a time a few people went, but the sanitarium is now in ruins, and is only habitable in dry weather when holes in roofs and walls are no inconvenience to the visitor. It is necessary when visiting this lovely little spot to take with one all the provisions required during the stay, a plentiful supply of pure water, and every article of furniture, such as beds, tables, chairs, and wardrobes. Having collected all these things, a small steamer is next required to convey them and their owner to his destination. An English resident in Bangkok who wished to take a holiday there, bargained with a native merchant for the loan of a vessel. The native promised faithfully that the steamer should be at a certain landing near the Englishman's house by one o'clock in the afternoon of the day mentioned. Early in the morning he removed all his baggage to the riverside. He was surrounded by baskets of ducks, baskets of chickens, hams in canvas bags, jars of rain water, boxes of soda water, pans, pots, furnaces, chairs, tables, mattresses books, camera, and sketching material. A few friends who were going to accompany him helped to keep guard over this motley collection. At one o'clock no steamer was visible, but there was nothing very surprising in that fact, as the Oriental does not know the meaning of punctuality. But when two o'clock passed, then three o'clock, and then four, he felt that something had gone wrong. One of the party went to make enquiries. He returned after dark to say that the propeller of the steamer was broken, and that the steamer was in dock, but that she would be at the landing by seven the next morning. All the boxes and furniture were sadly and slowly conveyed back to the house again. One of the boxes was opened, and a dinner made of soda water and corned beef. The host and his guests slept as best they could, on the floors of the dining-room and the drawing-room.

At seven the next morning all the holiday traps were carried out and placed on the landing, where they were speedily surrounded by a crowd of jeering natives who scoffingly enquired when the party proposed to start. They endured this until four o'clock in the afternoon, when the vessel did at last put in an appearance. They embarked as rapidly as possible, and began their journey at night. There was only one cabin, which was dirty beyond description, and swarming with spiders and cockroaches. In the middle of the night it began to rain, so they wrapped themselves up in cloaks and waterproofs and slept on deck under the tables. One of them asked the Malay skipper why the vessel was going so slowly. Said he, with an amused smile, "This boat go half-speed. This boiler got many holes. Go full-speed—burst!" Then he chuckled. When about two miles from Anghin the recently mended propeller broke and sank. Everything was landed by means of one small boat. The sanitarium had been untenanted for many months by human beings, but thousands of ants, spiders, cockroaches, and lizards had made themselves at home there. The men opened some tins of kerosine and flooded the place with it. All the creatures that were not destroyed by it were driven away by its obnoxious smell, and in a short time the place was rendered habitable. Perhaps the reader will now understand why it is that European residents in Siam seldom go to the sea-side.

There is not much difference between a fishing and an agricultural village. There is the same double row of houses with the street between, and the back doors of each of the houses nearest the sea or river, facing the water.

Along the beach small heaps of sea-shells are found at intervals of a few yards. They have been collected by the villagers, who send them in small sailing boats to Bangkok where they are used for making lime. The lime-kilns are made of bricks in the shape of a shallow box. The floor has a number of apertures, and some fire is placed beneath. In the box a layer of shells lies upon a layer of straw and charcoal. Then comes another layer of fuel and another layer of shells, and so on until the box is full. A blast of air is driven into it by a fan connected to treadles. There is no covering to the kiln, and the fumes that rise have several times been fatal to the workmen.

KHLONG NEAR PETCHABOOREE.
KHLONG NEAR PETCHABOOREE.

From the beach can be seen, at low tide, long lines of poles radiating in all directions. These form the fishing traps that are used chiefly for catching a fish called "plah-tu." It is about the size of a herring, tastes like trout when fresh, and like kippers when smoked. During the north-east monsoon these fish are driven in great shoals to the northern end of the gulf, and while this wind continues to blow the fishermen are kept busily employed. The fishing stakes are long slender poles. They are fixed in the bed of the sea about forty inches apart from each other, in double rows, forming a funnel-shaped passage with a very wide entrance or mouth. Several funnels converge upon a central circular or rectangular structure also made of thin poles, which we may for convenience call the trap. Nets are fixed in it by cords so as to be ready for use when the fishermen pay it a visit. The radiating lines are often half a mile long, and as they move to and fro in the restless sea they form an impassable barrier to the timid fish, who are driven by the currents into the trap, from which they seem unable to find their way out. The boats usually go out at sunset, and they form a very pretty picture as they skim lightly over the buoyant waves, their yellow porous mat-sails catching rosy or orange hues from the setting sun, which are again mirrored in deeper shades in the purple waters below. On reaching the trap the men let down their nets, only to haul them up again a few minutes later, laden with silvery fish. The boats return about daybreak. Their coming is eagerly awaited by the whole population, who turn out to receive them. Buffalo carts are also ready to carry the fish from the boats to the village. In the village the night's booty is sorted and examined. The fish are cleaned and the gills removed, all the refuse being thrown into strong brine. The briny solution of fishy odds and ends is afterwards sold as "fish sauce". The best fish are very lightly steamed and then packed in flat circular baskets, put on board the swiftest sailing boats, and sent off to Bangkok. A certain amount is sold to people near at hand, or used for food by the villagers themselves. The remainder are either smoked, or packed with brine in deep pits in the ground. When well salted the fish is dried and exported. The value of the fish exported is about one and a half million dollars. It finds great favour with the Chinese. The Javanese too buy large quantities of the salted fish, chiefly on account of the salt that they purchase at the same time, for pure salt is a very dear luxury in that island. The decaying rotten refuse is used as manure in the kitchen gardens of the Chinese. If its properties as a manure are half as powerful as its odour, it should be extremely valuable.

But "plah-tu" are not the only fish caught in this out of the way corner of the earth. Prawns are plentiful, and they are caught in nets of very small mesh. Two boats go out together from the shore for a little distance and then separate. From boat to boat is suspended a net heavily weighted to make it sink. When the net is fully extended the boats move towards the shore, dragging it with them. In this way thousands of prawns and small fish are easily caught. Prawns are pounded into a paste with salt. The mixture is not unlike anchovy sauce.

Mussels and many other shell-fish are obtained in an easy manner. Long poles are driven into the sand in water where these creatures are known to abound, and left there for some time. After a while they are covered with the shell-fish, which have fastened on the poles. To pull up the pole and scrape off the deposit is but the work of a few hours.

A BUFFALO CART.
A BUFFALO CART.

The buffalo carts used in the villages in this part of Siam, are peculiar-looking conveyances. But they are admirably fitted for the rough work for which they are built. They are used between villages on the coast at times when boats cannot pass from place to place, and also between places inland where no canals exist. Their construction will be better understood from the accompanying illustration than from any written description, but a few points may be noticed. The hood over the top is not for protection from sun or rain. There are no roads in the jungle, though here and there, there are a few tracks. The buffaloes literally force their way through the dense undergrowth, the eye of the experienced driver always telling him where the most passable spots are to be found. The hood protects the head of the driver or his passengers from the branches of the trees that obstruct the way. Without it they would be unable to travel at all in any place where the vegetative growth was at all thick. The projecting side pieces in a similar way keep the wheels from getting entangled in the undergrowth. The bottom of the cart is at a good distance from the ground, for very often the way lies through swamps or flooded marshes so deep that only the heads of the buffaloes can be seen above the mud and water. In such places the animals frequently lie down to cool themselves. This in no way endangers the cart, as the beasts are not harnessed to it in any way. The yoke is simply laid across their necks, and prevented from slipping by straight pieces of wood on each side. When passengers travel, a plank is placed at about the level of the driver's elbow in the picture. The reins are of rope, and the bell round the neck is a hollowed piece of wood with two or three wooden tongues inside it. Owing to the uneven character of the ground the cart sways from side to side, and produces in most people who experience the motion for the first time, a feeling akin to sea-sickness. As the plank, on which the traveller sits cross-legged, is near the top of the vehicle, his head is dangerously near the roof. Every time the cart gives a sudden lurch to one side, he receives a smart rap on the side or top of his head. As a rule he recoils from the blow only to receive another on the other side as the vehicle recovers its equilibrium. The huge wheels, unsupplied with metal bearings, creak and groan with awful ceaseless regularity.

A SIAMESE BULLOCK CART.
A SIAMESE BULLOCK CART.

In many places valuable minerals are said to exist. Gold, rubies, sapphires, and diamonds have been found, but so far have not been obtained in very large quantities. In the Siamese provinces in the Malay Peninsula, tin is exceedingly abundant and is mined by the Chinese.

In the northern provinces there are numerous valuable teak forests, from which the Government derives a very large revenue. Nearly the whole of the teak that is used in building the ships of the different nations of the world, comes from the extensive forests of Upper Burmah and Northern Siam. Much of the teak that is exported from Moulmein and sold as Burmese or Indian, is really obtained from Siamese forests lying between the River Meping and the River Salween. The forests of Burmah have been worked for a much longer period than those of Siam, and the logs obtained therefrom are of inferior quality and smaller girth. The teak forests of Siam are worked with British capital alone, no French or Germans being engaged in the trade. The agents of the British firms live at the scene of the lumbering operations, and are personally responsible for the hiring of the forests, the cutting of the wood, and its subsequent exportation to Bangkok. The different firms have saw-mills of their own in the city, and they trim and cut the logs before they are finally sent abroad. The leases for the forests are obtained from the Lao chiefs in whose districts they stand, but the terms of the leases are often subject to revision by the Siamese Commissioners. The trees are killed before they are felled, by having a ring cut in the bark, about two or three feet from the ground. The "girdled" stem is left for nearly three years before it is cut down, as it is not properly dead before that time. The only method of transport possible in places where there is no water, is by elephants, and this form of transportation is so very expensive that the workings are mostly confined to the banks or the immediate vicinity of the streams. Teak trees unfortunately do not grow in clusters or groves, but only in isolated spots, often separated from each other by considerable distances, so that the question of carriage is financially a very important one.

Felling takes place during the rainy season when the ground is soft and wet, so that the trees as they fall are not likely to sustain any serious damage. Three labourers working together are able to fell three trees in one day. The rough logs are piled side by side until they are removed by the elephants. One of these strong sagacious creatures is harnessed to the log by ropes. He drags it over the ground to the nearest water, his work being considerably lightened by the aid of rude rollers placed along the track. The elephants on reaching the water, pile up the logs on the bank, until the buyer or the agent has examined them. The owner places his own mark on them for purposes of identification, and then the elephants roll them into the water, and place them in positions that render their being bound into rafts a comparatively easy matter. Thieves make themselves busy at such times, breaking up rafts, stealing logs from which they obliterate the owner's mark, and disposing of them as rapidly as possible at nominal values to the first customer they can find. They keep on the look-out for stray elephants too, and occasionally manage to get safely away with their valuable spoil. No replanting goes on, and great waste of timber is caused by the servants of the lessees. The forests will ultimately be destroyed unless some regulations are made with regard to the girth of the trees cut down, and the replanting of fresh ones in the places of those that have been felled. The loss that the world will experience from the loss of the wood, will be infinitesimal compared with the injury that is likely to fall upon the country itself in the changed climatic conditions that invariably attend such wholesale deforestation.

Very fine trees are allowed to stand because the natives are afraid to cut them down. Within any giant of the forest they suppose powerful spirits to be embodied, and they are afraid to call down upon themselves unforeseen and terrible visitations of anger from the spirits who inhabit them.

The villagers in all parts of the country are very hospitable and kindly disposed towards travellers. They show their politeness in their extreme inquisitiveness. They poke their noses into everything, and beg old bottles and sardine tins from the cook, at the same time making little presents of eggs and fish. In very remote places the white skin of the European is a great curiosity, but they never molest any traveller whatever his colour, nor do they interfere with his personal liberty. On the other hand, every one, from the governor of the district down to the lowest slave, will do all they can to help the wanderer, provided he treats them with that courtesy and respect which they are prepared to show to him. Sometimes a native with a little mischief in his nature will attempt a practical joke, but it is usually of such a harmless character that only a very disagreeable person would be likely to experience any great annoyance. A fisherman one day visited a small party of Europeans who were encamped in his neighbourhood, and offered to sell them an animal for food. The creature had neither head, feet, nor tail, but their absence was explained by the vendor, who said he had removed them in order to save the white men trouble. He further stated that the animal was a hare that he had trapped in the jungle. None of the party knew very much about anatomy, but they felt rather dubious as to the truth of the man's statements. One of them, quite thoughtlessly and casually, observed, "Perhaps it is a dog." A broad grin spread over the wily fisherman's face, for the stray shot had hit the mark. He retired roaring with laughter, and exclaimed in the vernacular, "Master very clever, very clever!"

They are generally frightened by a camera, but it is a strange thing that no where do the priests object to having their photographs taken and printed. In fact, as soon as they learn the nature of the apparatus they become a perfect nuisance by the eagerness they express to be photographed. They will come every morning to the tent or hut where the photographer is encamped, dressed in their best Sunday robes, and wait about all day, in the hope of being "taken." They express considerable astonishment at the coloured and inverted picture seen on the ground-glass screen at the back of the camera, and they are unable to understand why prints cannot be instantaneously produced. A very picturesque old Peguan was once entreated to sit for his portrait by a man who was travelling. The ancient one hesitated, and thought, and consulted his family. He was allowed to look through the ground glass and see the faces of a few of his friends thereon. That decided the point. He threw his fears and scruples to the winds, and posed himself in a graceful attitude astride a water-jar. The photographer focussed and adjusted his machine, snapped the shutter, shut up the slide, and exclaimed, "It is finished." Then the old man came up to have a look. When he found that his picture was not ready at once, he felt that he had been grossly deceived, and his remarks were such that the photographer deemed it wise to seek for the company of his friends.

The sight of the coloured picture on the ground-glass screen of the camera, led a few villagers to commit an amusing error. After looking at it for some time, they went to another spot to watch an artist who was at work there at the same time. They decided amongst themselves that his work was a superior form of photography, and that as he drew his brushes across the canvas they made the coloured picture come up through the back. Their theory worked excellently for a while, but when the artist began to put in boats in places in the picture which did not correspond to those in the landscape, they felt that the machine had gone wrong, and departed, murmuring that it wasn't a very good "picture-box" after all.