How Our Village Runs
We are Ban Den Village, Mu (residential cluster) number 2 of Ban Mae Sub-district of Sanpatong District of Chiang Mai Province of the Kingdom of Thailand. At last count Chiang Mai had 27 Amphur (districts), Sanpatong had 11 Tambol (sub-districts of which 3 were classified as municipalities), and Ban Mae had 13 villages. I believe every plot of land that is not owned by the government in the name of the King of Thailand is included in a village or its equivalent, including the farmland. Our village has about 150 residences with about 450 inhabitants. Everyone who resides in the village is an official resident and has a house number as his or her residence on their national identification card. New residents who move into the village or come by marriage are often given a public welcome. The population has been steady over the past decade.
There is one Buddhist temple, a primary school building (no longer used), 3 small buildings owned by the village (a multi-purpose assembly hall, a storage shed for community equipment, a drinking water purification plant), and a public water system. There are 4 shops selling non-perishable daily necessities, and two agri-businesses that buy farm products and sell them to bigger wholesalers. There is one kwiteo (noodle) shop.
This means that the food people eat at home must be prepared from items that grow around their house, rice they have harvested but not sold for profit, and fresh produce from a roadside table or a market in a nearby village. Local fresh food supplies are sold either in the early morning or late afternoon and may include some cooked items. Occasionally people in our village purchase foodstuffs from big supermarkets; they go to the supermarkets and malls for clothing, house ware, and cleaning supplies. I counted 25 edible items growing around our house, but, like lemon-grass, chili peppers, bananas, coconuts and jackfruit, they are not staples.
Nearly every household has someone who is employed outside the village earning a salary. Agriculture is quickly becoming a sideline, but almost all families still own their own fields and orchards. An average holding would be 1-3 acres. With land values sharply rising, an acre of farmland would be worth about $50,000. There are 45 orchards in Ban Den (based on a count from the Google map above). Orchards produce one crop a year. Lameye (longon) are the most popular. A tree is full-grown in about 5 years and naturally produces a crop in August worth about $150; a one-acre orchard would have about 50 trees. Some orchards are stressed with phosphates to produce an out-of-season crop in December, but the price of December fruit has dropped to about the same as other seasons. Rice fields can produce 2 crops a year if irrigation water is available, which it usually is not. The big rice harvest is in November. About a third of the fields are used to grow sweet corn, onions or soybeans as a cash crop from January to May. A typical farm would produce about $3,500 in gross income in a year, or about $3,000 in actual profit, not counting the value of labor.
Wage earners from Ban Den work in towns or the city of Chiang Mai, earning an average of $300 a month. Only a few (not more than 3 or 4 I think) work in Bangkok or overseas. I know of neighbors who are employed as domestic workers, in the health department or hospital, as teachers, clerical staff in educational institutions, construction workers, small shopkeepers in market places, piece-workers (sewing garments in shops in their home), one is a veterinary assistant in a big swine operation in the next province, another is a sales trainer for a major appliance company, and about half a dozen are civil servants. No one in our village is a concerted producer of handicrafts. In the past, the villages around here had people who made pottery, musical instruments and chili sauce, wove baskets and cloth, did wood carving and made furniture, as well as bamboo mats of many varieties. At least a third of us village residents are too old or too young to be gainfully employed. I am the only ex-patriot in residence full-time, but 2 others are here some of each year and have Thai family connections and a house in the village.
Community services are either provided by community members or the government. There is a primary care clinic in the next village and a much-improved government hospital in the district town 15 minutes from here. An ambulance based in a village close-by is on call. A corps of village health volunteers assists the public health nurses to do screenings for high blood pressure and diabetes, and run mosquito eradication campaigns.
The village head is an elected official who serves as government liaison and village constable. The head hires a couple of assistants to be on duty when needed. The sub-district governor is elected and has an office and staff. Most government citizens’ services are provided by the district office. The district governor (called Nai Amphur) is appointed by the national government but office personnel and staff are hired by department heads.
When there is a crisis in Ban Den, the community will respond first – as in the case of a flood or fire, both of which are rare. When a death occurs in the village the community springs into action. Religious events at the temple count on community support. The village is sub-divided into 5 neighborhood units which respond to needs in their neighborhood, such as work-details to cut weeds along the pathways or street or to help cook and assist with funerals or house-blessings.
There are meetings of two types. The entire village is called to an annual planning meeting about once a year to voice opinions about preferred public improvement projects, which are almost always road repairs. Other meetings are for those concerned to learn about or to sign up for assistance from the government. Old people with no income or those with disabilities get a monthly subsidy of something like $10 or $20, which is to supplement family support but would be entirely insufficient for independent living. Pet owners sign up once a year for rabies vaccinations for their dogs and cats. Occasionally a commercial enterprise will pay the village head to use the village public address system and assembly pavilion to sell such things as agricultural chemicals or eye-glasses. The other type of village meeting is for organized groups. Two highly visible groups are the Housewives Association and Village Health Volunteers. An organization for youth doesn’t seem to ever have any meetings but they have activities anyway. There is also a village savings system that operates like a savings and loan and a committee to manage funds distributed by the government to encourage local economic development. The underground lottery has no meetings to supervise their considerable cash-flow.
Primary school children are transported to a consolidated school about 2 kilometers from here, or they are taken to private schools. A few go to select schools in Chiang Mai about 30 kilometers away. Parents choose the best secondary schools they can afford. Tuition for public secondary schools is usually covered but admission fees, expenses for activities, and travel expenses have to be met by the families. Nearly half of the secondary-school-age children go to private vocational and prep-schools. The extended-family (clan) is also the main source of care for persons with disabilities and for infants up to nursery school age. In our village there is just one fellow with cerebral palsy, a blind woman, and a couple of old people with mild dementia.
The way villages run is constantly shifting. A few years ago the temple committee was how the government connected with the village to provide everything from road improvements to distribution of medicines. Now services are greatly expanded and the temple committee rarely meets.
Postscript: Ban Den is an agricultural low-land village. Upland ethnic-minority villages are organized and function differently. Villages inside a metropolitan complex, such as Chiang Mai, tend to serve as suburban housing and may contain several sub-divisions and housing developments along with a cluster of stores if they are on an arterial highway. The most conspicuous difference between types of villages is the degree of cohesion and mutuality.
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Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.