Geoff Richards

All about Isaan folk

What keeps them smiling exactly


I've said it before and I'll say it again. Isaan folk are by far the easiest people to get along with in Thailand.

They are very easy going and like nothing more than to be surrounded by family, friends and food.

But they do not like to be controlled or governed. I think the same can be said about a lot of Thais but you can really see it in action here. Isaan folk will only tolerate something when it can't be ignored.

The media frequently told us that this was the stronghold of a former prime minister. Not in any conventional political sense it wasn't. This is the poorest area of the country and that politician realised that pulling favours here would earn votes. And it worked.

It was and is rare to find a picture of said former P.M. in offices, public buildings and homes though. And there was not a lot of love lost here when he was first of all ousted and then subsequently forced into exile.

Back to Isaan folk. You can divide them up into three groups;

Thai-Thai; this is where you find the majority of the poor, many of whom live at a similar level to people in Cambodia, Lao and Vietnam. Don't agree? Then go to village areas and all will be revealed. Most of them can't speak a word of English but will greet you you with a great big smile. They'll also point at you and say "Falang" and want to come and study you for a minute or two. If you can speak some Thai though, they will usually want to have a giggle with you. Bless ‘em.

Thai-Vietnamese; apart from in places like Nong Bua Lam Phu, these people are the minority. They maintain certain traditions such as wearing ao dais to weddings and cooking pho bo. I have yet to meet any who I would describe as being dirt poor. They do have to work hard to make a living though. I don't understand why more of them haven't branched out in to the food business because Vietnamese fayre is popular up here and I much prefer authentic style cuisine to the VT restaurants.

Thai-Chinese; this is where the money is and it varies between having a comfortable house and a decent car to being noticeably wealthy or absolutely filthy stinking rich. A middle group always make me laugh. They holiday in expensive countries, drive flashy cars, have sets of golf clubs to die for and own every conceivable gadget, but their homes still need a good lick of paint and some decent furniture. If you teach at a private school in Isaan many of your students will be Thai-Chinese. Absences during Chinese New Year are always noticeable.

What are Isaan folk like to teach? At every level from primary 1 up to TOEFL and business English you need to make your classes lively and enjoyable. If you can't do this then it will be difficult to build meaningful connections with your students.

If you can do this however, then finding private tuition work is relatively easy. Word of mouth means a lot here and reputation can be everything.

What are Isaan folk like to work with? There are always going to be exceptions and I have worked with one scallywag outfit myself. But, on the whole, people here don't go in for back stabbing or office politics. In my office we speak a mixture of English, Thai and Chinese and we always have a good laugh. Carry some Listerine to freshen your breath if you smoke though.

I had a road accident and if it wasn't for my Isaan colleagues I wouldn't have come through it quite as well as I did. If people like you here it is very easy to get help, find cheap motorbike repairs and obtain credit at local stores and laundries. I sometimes share beers with a brigadier general and a senior police officer. Now those two guys can really pull some punches!

Songkran is also a good laugh but not if you're sitting scowling in a foreign bar. True, some people can't stomach the event but I can always get a copy of the Post back home in one piece! Go on, there's the deep end. In you go.

A word to the wise guy. There are a lot of retired foreigners living here, mostly male. More than a few of them have a tale to tell about being stung by a former girlfriend and/or wife.

Number one, more fool them. Number two, if they have a problem with living here then surely they should move somewhere else. Number three, attractive younger women back home also don't usually fall in love fat 60-year old alcoholics.




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