Greetings from Galen


Since my last entry, the floodwaters have all receded or perhaps I should say have continued on down to empty into the city of Bangkok, a massive city still reeling from flooding. But up here, the monsoon season has departed and we are blessed with lovely weather-delightfully sunny days with cool mornings and rather chilly evenings.

Roti and Ricefields

Soon after moving out of Chiang Mai into the countryside, we kept seeing a young lad bicycling his small roti shop from one end of this vast valley of rice fields to the other; he seems never in a hurry, stopping only to prepare roti for the local farmers that live in the area and the occasional farang like myself.

For those of you who don’t know a roti from a goatee, it’s an Indian flat bread, but here in Thailand it’s often called ‘Thai pancake’, served as a sweet dessert. Usually the vendors are from India, Bangladesh,  or Burma, which has a rather large Indian and Indian mix population.

The raw unleavened bread balls are prepared in advance, then flattened with the palm of the hand, spun out a bit like a good pizza dough until it’s very thin. The word roti comes to us from the Sanskrit word रोटिका (roṭikā), and means bread. (thank you,Wikipedia).

The bread is then placed in a hot, flat pan with a bit of oil and butter. An egg is often added, followed by sweeten, condensed milk…if you like. Often a banana is added instead of the egg, or with the egg. The roti is folded and then an optional final dusting of sugar is offered. A diet dessert it is not. Without the condensed milk and sugar, it would be more like a pancake omelette. In the image below, with the egg yolk miraculously assuming the shape of a heart, one might imagine the entire concoction good for you. I suspect it isn’t. But it looks tasty…and it is.

About a year ago, at the age of sixteen, this young lad, whom I shall call A, managed to scrape together enough money to buy passage in a car filled with others in a similar situation – one of extreme poverty. They arrived here from Bangladesh after traveling several days overland through Burma. When he first arrived, he found a job working in a motorbike repair shop. He saved enough money to buy a used bicycle onto which he adapted a make-shift roti shop and set himself up in business. Though A. has never been to school, he quickly learned the Thai language and Chang Lek assisted me in my interview.

He lives in a small room for which he pays 1200 baht (40 US$) a month. Other than an uncle who lives in the area, he’s completely on his own, living alone and quite capable of managing the simplicities of his life. He’s on the road by 8 am each morning, seven days a week, working until 5 pm, but because he travels on his bicycle shop, he often doesn’t get home until 9 or 10 pm. Occasionally his bicycle chain will break and then he must physically push the shop back home which takes several additional hours. A. indicated that he generates, after paying for supplies – eggs, flour, butter, sweetened condensed milk, and sugar – about 300 baht a day (10 US$) which is the current official minimum standard wage in these parts.

In spite of being only seventeen, a boy still in most cultures, he wears the look of someone far older and even though he smiles easily and generously, there is something deep and serious radiating from the depth of his eyes, as if he’s already lived a long life.

He explained to us that he left because there was no opportunity for him back home and within the crushing weight of poverty and overpopulation, no one seems to care.

Given his circumstances, I asked him whether he had any hopes or plans for the future. He smiled broadly. Yes, in the future, perhaps he would replace the bicycle with a small motorbike…perhaps. And, maybe, even one day he would own two or three traveling roti shops and rent them out. But for now he said he’s quite happy with his life, peddling through the countryside, enjoying the wide space and quiet company of the rice fields and the freedom of his thoughts.

The Buddha said, “There is no fire like greed, no crime like hatred, no sorrow like separation, no sickness like hunger of the heart, and no joy like the joy of freedom.”

Blessings  to all, Galen