I recall lying on my bed up in the sleepy village on the banks of the Mae Nam Khong (River Mekong) as the sounds of the rest of the family waking up slowly penetrate my half-asleep conciousness.
They are always up at the crack of dawn, showered and off in the 'tractor' pretty much at daylight.
The previous night's sleep had been fitful to say the least. When I show photos to my friends they comment on how peaceful it looks, well this time around, some of them are about to find out the truth!
Looks peaceful doesn't it?
This is the place where, according to my theory, all the trouble begins!
As I said, the previous night's sleep was regularly interrupted by..... guess what?
If you've been to Thailand before, and stayed anywhere outside of the main tourist spots you'll know the answer....dogs and chickens!
As I lay half asleep the previous night, all around me absolutely gone, as if a switch had been thrown, head hits pillow....asleep, in seconds, I pondered a theory, which was dragged off into the ramblings of yet another theory by the evil communist plot from across the river!
The first theory is about Thai people and sleep. It's easily proven, switch off any device that makes noise, primarily the 'boing' and canned laughter contained within the television, stop anyone from talking (a feat in itself, I'll readily admit) and within five minutes every Thai person in the vicinity without exception, irrespective of the time of day, the amount of sleep they've already had, or the comfort of the space they currently occupy will be asleep. Not napping nor lightly dozing, sound asleep. Dead to the world. A doctor may be needed, if one can be roused, to confirm that the person in question is, in fact, still with us.
This could, I reasoned, be why there is constant chatter of TV, radio, music or talking loudly during essential and otherwise dangerous activities such as working, driving and operating machinery. It's the safest option!
Happy with my thoughts, I began to drift off, bearing in mind I'm a city boy. I need traffic, sirens and the sounds of people throwing up and fighting to get me to sleep!
Anyway, I was pondering the usefulness or otherwise of the Thai 'off switch' ability to sleep at the slightest pause in the general cacophony that is life in Thailand when I heard a distant noise. My ears aren't adjusted to tune out the sounds of the Thai countryside. Maybe that's why I heard.....the Dogs of Laos?
I already knew a little about Thai dogs, they live outside, they're fiercely territorial, like most dogs, but because their territory in a rural village isn't so easy for them to identify, given the general lack of gardens fences and walls, they tend to struggle with the idea that they, or those that feed them, do not in fact own the whole world. This often leads to 'huffing' at anyone indecent enough to not be asleep when those that feed them are asleep. They're obviously deviant in some way or another (those that are awake and mobile, that is, not the dogs) and deserve a 'huff' or three.
If you are presumptuous enough to dare to ride past on a motorsai, well....that's your own fault and you are clearly requesting a bit of a bark and a chase down the soi aren't you?
Pheem is my girlfriend's sister's family dog (who I refer to as the 'Maa Yai Baan') Pheem's in charge, he's the dog ambassador to the court of the human beings in the soi. He sulks if he's not invited to go to work in the fields and continues the sulk long after they return from the day's toil and it is he who leads the howl, as it were. Pheem decides if any odd noises at night are worthy of comment from the under-dogs.
It came from afar, and as I was a sound engineer in a past life, I am still reasonably competent at fixing the location of sounds, especially at night....this one definitely came from across the river.
The 'huff' from across the geographical and political divide grew, it seems that Pheem's more northern counterpart (no doubt elected by a co-operative committee) had pronounced a full-blown 'bark-up' It seems that even villages that don't suffer the exploitation of the proletariat by the capitalist dollar slave have a 'Maa Yai Baan'!
'Huff/bark/howl/snarl/woof/yowl!' the chorus of communist canines rolled across the river, generating images in my mind of the cartoon Tasmanian Devil as a cloud of ferocity heading our way accompanied by the harmonies of the lesser footsoldier...the Laotian chicken!
It came like a wave, a tsunami of sound if you will, I could hear it approaching. The leading edge of this phenomenon stirred all in it's path, well, all that hadn't been rendered comatose by the earlier 'off switch'
The lower ranks of the Thai dog society began to rouse, a 'semi-huff' here, a padding of pawed feet there. The odd rustle of chicken wings and, eventually, when the 'Maa Yai Baan' deemed it an occasion of suitable significance, the soi 6 battalion launched into song!
The ripple effect of this is obvious to me, it flows like an evil sound epidemic from North to South. It may even traverse the globe and be a perpetual sound chorus pulsating from pole to pole.
During my vain attempts to sleep I tried to calculate it's speed and how long it would take to reach the southern island of Kho Samui. "Bout an hour" I thought to myself as the first wave could be heard rolling southwards waking the echelons of Thai dog society as it went.
'Huff!' another one started! An 'afterhuff' how long would this go on for?
The night continued in this way until the light began to creep into the room.
That's when I heard the change, a change in sound, the dogs it seems, were finished with their work for the night. There came the vaguest hint of a voice, some kind of slow melodic repetition. "ahhh," I thought, the Wat (temple) isn't far away... that must be it.
I let the sound wash over me and I began to drift off, my mind allowed thoughts of spirituality, karma dharma and sangha to dwell in my head. The beauty of all the Buddha images I'd already seen all over the country, the warmth of the people's smiles. The chanting of the monks receiving alms mixed in with the music that was, strangely, getting louder.
People were stirring now, I hadn't slept much but didn't care, an afternoon nap was on the cards so I decided to get up and explore the outside world a little, perhaps investigate more fully the source of the music that had turned a fitful night into a pleasant morning.
I stumbled about a bit, found some clothes, went and washed my face and headed out into the soi....
Stretched my arms and smiled at the sunshine, the music was approaching now, inquisitive and slightly perplexed I wandered up to the edge of the yard into the soi itself....
And there it was..........
The music was interspersed with what I had assumed, in my ignorance, to be messages of enlightenment 'kit dee tam dee dai dee' (think good, do good, receive good) kind of thing...
In actual fact it was.....
A bloke in a pick up selling spanners!
No lie, at 5:30 in the morning, this fella had set off in his truck with speakers arranged on it's roof, into a village where no-one's got any money, everyone's already got all the tools they can afford to have... with the express intention of flogging at least a pair of pliers.
I asked the Mrs. "what's he doing?"
"Mai, not have money to buy now"
"ok, why does he do it?"
"up to him"
Time for a nap I think!