Five Things About Isaan (that you/I never knew before)
Isaan actually means North East
Jeff told me this and I questioned him. I was wrong. Well, sort of. North Eastern Thailand has been known as Isaan since the beginning of the 20th century using a word from Sanskrit ‘Ishan’ literally meaning, ‘north east direction,’ or so they thought. The central government wanted to make Isaan feel more Thai and de-emphasize the Lao and Khmer history/ethnicities. Funny thing is, the word they chose to Thai-ify actually predates both Thailand and Lao people and is rooted more in Khmer/Mon Kingdoms and refers to ‘invisible power.’ Thanks Wikipedia.
Yes I knew about ‘kao niao’ before I came to Thailand, but here are some new things I learned. In Isaan, agriculture is the largest part of the economy at about 22% of the Gross Regional Product (for the country it is only 8.5%). Within that, the production of sticky rice, takes up about 60% of farmland. And they eat it everyday, but we knew that already. I’ve also learned some of the different words for rice, sticky or otherwise, now I’m trying to just keep them all straight in my head.
Just how poor are we talking?
There are lots of studies that focus on money and how it is not the source of all happiness. In fact quite the opposite. So how much ‘happier’ is Isaan than the rest of Thailand? According to our good friends over at Wikipedia, in 2002 average wages in Isaan were about 3,929 baht a month (about $130 US). This is compared to the national average of about 6,445 (just over $200 US). Now seventy dollars extra a month might not seem to be that much more to us (though I could have stretched that far in college), that is a decent chunk of change in Thailand. I didn’t realize how large of a difference it was and can see why many Isaaners leave to work in Bangkok or other more urban areas.
My province is home to the largest standing Buddha image in the word
Fancy that? Phra Phuttha Rattana Mongkhon at Wat Burapha Phiram in an amphur I have yet to find. Here’s a photo instead, maybe a Tuesday Travel Photo opportunity awaits…
Ok, I knew this before, but I thought I should point something out as it’s becoming more and more apparent to me/part of my everyday life here. There are many dialects in Thailand. Most people in my previous site could speak Lao and now I’m in Isaan, we can add that to my list. Lao and Isaan are similar, deriving from the same branch on the language tree, and I’ve been trying to add some vocabulary to my Central Thai. In Isaan though, there is also a decent amount of Khmer (language of Cambodia) spoken. That means that some people are tri-lingual (granted some overlaps in wordage/grammar) before they even start learning English. How awesome is that?