Land of Living Waters

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    Canals (klongs) and rivers flowing by homes built up on stilts are as common to boys and girls living in Thailand as streets and roads winding past homes are to children living in other countries.

    Located in Southeast Asia, Thailand is a country about the size of Utah and Arizona combined. It is shaped roughly like a butterfly with a long tail and is bordered by the countries of Burma on the southeast, Laos on the northeast, and Cambodia on the southwest. Thailand is a tropical country where orchids, gardenias, and many other beautiful flowers grow wild and where panthers, tigers, monkeys, and boars roam the forests.

    The Siamese cat comes from Thailand, and the air is full of over a thousand different varieties of birds. One unusual fish found in Thailand waters, the climbing perch, can crawl on dry ground or climb trees.

    Rice grows well in Thailand because of the many waterways that flow through its central plain and also because of the abundant rainfall. The wide Chao Phraya River or Menam (Mother River), as the Thai people call it, meanders for 140 miles through the country’s rice land, helping the young rice plants to grow. Sometimes the people ride on the rivers in motorboats or water taxis called “longtails.”

    Eighty percent of Thailand’s thirty-seven million people are farmers who live in small villages that always include a wat (a group of buildings used as a social and religious center). Whole families, wearing either straw or bamboo hats, work together in the rice fields at planting and harvest times.

    Even young boys can become elephant drivers in the mountain provinces of northern Thailand. With powerful trunks and strong tusks the elephants are trained to haul heavy teak-wood logs to the Ping and Yom Rivers nearby. The logs are then floated downstream to sawmills and cut into lumber for making furniture and for building ships.

    Most of the people in Thailand belong to the Buddhist religion. There are over 20,000 Buddhist temples dotted around Thailand’s lush countryside. The capital city, Bangkok, has 400 temples and some are sheathed with gold.

    Since Buddhism forbids the killing of animals, cattle and water buffalo are used as work animals in the fields and in the rice paddies but never as food. Protein in the Thai diet is supplied by shrimp and fish caught in nets in the Gulf of Siam or in the rivers. The average Thailander eats a pound of rice a day.

    Thailand is proud of its freedom, never having been ruled by a European country. The Thai words Muang Thai mean “Land of the Free.” Although Thailand still has a king, whose title is “Lord of Life and Possessor of the Twenty-four Golden Umbrellas,” the country has had a democratic form of government since the 1930s when it changed its name from Siam to Thailand.

    Thai boys and girls go to school until they are fourteen years old. They like to play soccer and in the spring or on windy days they have great fun flying kites. In fact, kiteflying or kitefighting is the national sport in Thailand where even grown-ups fly kites.

    One interesting type of kite they build and fly is star-shaped and called a chula. It is very fast and strong with hooks fastened to its string. The chula kite tries to hook loops fastened on the string of a diamond-shaped pakpao kite and capture it.

    Note: Photographs, drawings, and stories from boys and girls in Thailand arrived too late for the April issue of the Friend. Be sure to look for them next month!