London Buses and Thai Movie Trucks... Nothing for ages then they all come at once...
I've not written a blog for a long while, well over a year I guess... At one time, living in Bangkok, and having very little to do at night (other than wait for so called friends to cancel their English 'lessons'), I used to like spouting off about anything and everything that annoyed, amazed or totally astounded me. Nowadays, after a year and a bit of living in Nan, I'm much calmer, and not so quick to vent my anger and frustrations with all things Thai.
So why start blogging again? A Thai friend has just started writing a new blog (he wants write about biking and to put his photos online) and asked whether I would like a log in for their site. I couldn't quite understand why he was asking. I have a blog (albeit one that I'm too lazy to update) already.
But, his question kind of challenged me. I wondered if, given a bit of free time (something I have scarily little of nowadays) I'd still enjoy writing about my life here, and, whether I'd be able to find or think of anything worth writing about....
Anyway, here goes...
London Buses and Thai Movie Trucks
Theres an old saying in English, that you wait hours for a London bus, then 3 come at once. The same thing seems to be true of movies in Nan.
Nan used to have a cinema but, sometime between me riding my bike around the north east (a long story, more on that some other time I guess) and coming back from England it mysteriously disappeared. In the 3 weeks that I was away, the front had been stripped off the building and the interior had been turned into a tacky souvenier shop and a cheap and nasty (and very cheap and nasty if the taste of the food is anything to go by) food court.
Now the only way to watch a 'real' movie (rather than renting a DVD or VCD) in Nan is wait and to hope that a 'nang gampaeng' (a phrase which kind of translates to 'movie on the wall') comes around.
When they decide to appear (not often it must be said... in the 1 and a half years I've lived in Nan, until a month ago I'd only seen two) they are great.
For anyone who has no idea what they are, they are usually rusty old trucks with 30-40 year old (probably, in some cases even older) projectors inside.
The owner normally spends a couple of hours errecting a huge white screen in front of a temple (or on a bit of wasteland in the village) and around 7.30 the first (of sometimes 2 or 3 movies) usually starts.
The films themselves aren't that great, they're usually Thai classics, cheesy comedies, or over the top action or ghost movies which were popular in 'real' cinemas 2 or 3 years ago, but the atmosphere, kids screaming along with the actions, or singing along to the soundtrack usually makes the night.
If the weather's nice it's cool to sit outside, and watch the movie, as well as seeing life on the streets and hearing the sounds of the countryside at night, the beetles, frogs, and geckos. It's like being in a drive in, without needing the car, or being confined to a big concrete parking lot.
A friend in Nan once told me that the 'nang gampeang' was a much looked forward to part of village life. People saved tokens from soap powder packets to get free admission, and kids looked forward to the movie trucks coming round for weeks and weeks.
But nowadays, these movies aren't that popular. People hardly mention when the screens appear in their village, and audiences have dwindled. The movie trucks rarely charge people to see the films. Instead the owners try and make money selling goods from their hometowns, usually herbal medicine. The movie truck is a convenient way to travel and the films themselves an added extra.
Thai teenagers dismiss the 'nang gampeang's' as being for old women and kids. It's true that the audience is mostly old women and kids, but then, go to any of the villages around Nan on a weekday evening and most of the people you see with either be very old (and usually female) or very young. In many rural areas of Thailand, those able to escape do. I guess the 'nang gampeang's' audience is just a reflection of the local demographics.
In the year and a half that I've lived in Nan, I've only seen 2 movies, one a jackie chan action film I've long since forgotten the name of, and, last Saturday night, Tom Yam Kung, the athletic but relatively poor sequel to Ong Bak, probably one of the few classic Muay Thai action movies around.
So, what does this have to do with London buses? Like London buses, the movie trucks are pretty infrequent. And, like London buses when they do finally decide to appear, they are very, very easy to spot. In London, you see a bright red hazy square in the distance and know that, in a few seconds, it will have turned into a bus. In Nan, a kilometer or so before the nearest village, you hear Look Tung (Thai country music) blaring out of the nearby rice fields. A couple of minutes later, the greyish smoky haze that you see in the distance slowly turns into a strip of bright white lights, usually shining above, or next to a big white movie screen.
So, why the bus analogy? This evening, riding on the road between Baan Nar Luang and Nan, I saw 3 movie trucks, all within 2-3kms of each other. Like London buses, there've been no movies in Nan for a long while. Then, when the trucks do decide to make an appearace, they all come at once.
The 1st, a youngish couple from Udon, had set up shop in front of the temple in a village 5 or 6km from Baan Nar Luang and were planning to stay put for at least 2 nights. It's Tom Yam Kung tonight and 'Kon Fy Bin' (a Thai comedy) tomorrow.
I watched the rest of my bike group sprint past as I was talking to the women working in the truck, so was in no rush to hurry home. I asked why she and her husband had decided to come to and show their movies in Nan. (Nan is a long way from Udon - I'm guessing that its around 400 or so km, some of it over mountain roads.) They wanted to sell herbal medicine from their hometown, they said. Once they sell out, they plan to head back towards the north east, and will probably come back to Nan in a year or so's time.
I told them that I'll probably go back tomorrow night to watch the movie. I said that I'd seen a big screen movie a week ago too, and that I'd really enjoyed it. Nan hardly ever has any travelling movies. You have to see them whilst you can.
I got back on my bike and carried on down the road. A kilometer and a half later, I heard the same Look Toong song I'd heard 15 minutes ago. I saw the hazy white light too. 'Temple fair' I thought at first, but, nope, as I got closer I the screen appeared too. Another movie truck. Another couple from the north east, also selling medicine and showing old style movies for free. This one had a really old projector (unlike the first which had the projector for show, and showed the films via a more modern looking DVD player.) This couple had the old film reels too, and took one out for me to see.
I asked how long they were planning to stay there. Not sure, they told me, but at least 2 nights, they said. I told them the same thing that I'd told the first couple - that I'd probably go back tomorrow to watch the movie, and maybe take a few photos too. I also asked them why they'd decided to come to Nan. 'to sell medicine,' they said. I told them that there'd already been a 'nang gampaeng' nearby, a week or so ago, and that there was another movie truck set up in the next village, less than 2 kilometers away. 'But it's a different village,' they told me. 'and the movies (tom yam kung - tonight and something they hadn't quite decided on yet tomorrow) won't be the same.
I said my goodbyes and got back on my bike. Another 2 kilometers down the road, I heard the same song again. I wondered whether, impossible as it seemed, it would be another movie truck. It was. This time I didn't get chance to talk to the owners. One, in spite of the deafeningly loud look tung tune was laid out fast asleep on the tiny wooden bench that lay to the right of his projector.
I didn't need to wake him up or say a word. I already knew that his answers to my questions would be identical to those of the 2 couples I'd met earlier.
There was lightning in the distance. The storm had been brewing for hours. Riding along the road, the air had been hot and sticky one minute, and cool and breezy the next. My bike group would have been at least 20 minutes ahead of me now. I knew I ought to head back towards Nan, before the storm, (and the rain) hit.
I rode slowly and steadily. It was only around 7.30 at night but it was dark by now and the villages surrrounding Nan have their fair share of nightime dangers. Dogs, who like sleeping in the middle of the road, and bark fiercely whenever anything moves towards them, snakes, crabs and scorpions (all easy to run over) and people who have super bright headlights, and like blinding you as they drive towards you (dazzling's not seem as a bad thing here like at home, no one dips their headlight to oncoming traffic...) or none at all.
As I was pedalling away, I couldn't help wondering about the movie theatres, and about why so many (3, or 5 if you count the 2 that did their rounds here the week before) movie trucks had decided to appear. It's as if one person has the idea to go to Nan, to make some money and the others all follow too. I wondered whether the owners were friends who decided to travel together (and camp out in a different but nearby place) or business rivals, who were secretly annoyed that the other trucks had copied their plan.
The copying thing happens a lot with businesses here too. As soon as one person has a great idea, everyone else copies it. For a small town, Nan has so many shops that do or sell the same thing. There are at least 10 mobile phone shops, 7 or so fresh coffee shops, and countless bakeries, photo developing and souvenier shops. In England, most of these places would have gone out of business a long time ago, but, in a small town in Thailand, where lots of older people recieve money from sons and daughters working in cities and don't need to rely on their business for their income, or think about and ensure that it's profitable, they all stay open year after year. Some have only one or two customers a day but still manage to survive.
Buses in London will always seem to do OK. There are always enough angry people waiting to fill each one. On most, even when 3 or 4 appear at once, its usually standing room only, and even then, 1 or 2 of the 3 or 4 that approach will probably sprint by, already full.
But how How many Thai ??? (since most of the people in Nan are Thai - sure there are a 'lot' of foriegn tourists here too but rarely more than 10-15 a day...) people regularly go to bakeries or drink expensive fresh coffee? Outside of the big cities, it's probably not that many. Sure, as a foreigner, it's great to live in a small town yet have the luxury of choosing from 6 or 7 good coffee shops each Saturday morning or a range of top class restraunts to eat in on a Friday night, but, since there are so few customers that have the time or money to visit these places regularly, the owners themselves probably make little profit.
It's the same with the movie trucks too. In the end everyone loses out. OK, the audience have the choice of seeing 3 different movies this coming Saturday, but, being able to see 1 of 3 movies tomorrow night and then nothing for almost 8 months isn't, to people who like watching films, that great a choice.
The owners of the trucks, competing to sell their herbal potions to a tiny pool of mainly poor older women, also lose out too. Their market shrinks as the movie goers have the choice of 3 rather than one seller (and movie) on Saturday night.
I plan to go back down the same road tomorrow night. I want to take some piccies of the trucks (I love the 'old' style movie projectors they have here.) I'm not sure whether I'll get to see a movie or not, but it will be interesting to see how many of the truck still remain and how long they plan to stay on for.
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