07 March 2011

Migration to the Cities

At first glance, Thailand is a place of exotic beaches, thrilling wilderness treks, and smiling, happy people. However, if you step off the beaches and away from the dazzling waterfalls, you’ll find a country desperately struggling with many issues tied to development. As I’ve traveled to several villages around Isaan (the Northeast), I’ve realized that mass urban migration is a major problem facing villagers today. In contrast to the United States, there are still many small farmers in Thailand, though there may be far fewer in the future.

During numerous interview and exchanges, farmers have said that they don’t want their children to take on their profession, as it is a very difficult life. Farming isn’t considered a desirable occupation in Thailand. In fact, the people of Isaan are often thought of as “hicks,” who consume sticky rice and fermented fish and aren’t accustomed to the fast pace of city life. Children grow up nowadays with a desire to leave the villages in search of a more exciting and profitable city life. Part of the appeal of city life may be a result of what the youth see on TV. I have now stayed in four village homes since I have arrived in Thailand; every single one of these homes has contained a television. Not only does the TV exist in many homes, but it is also a central part of family lives. The soap operas that one of my families watched as we gathered over dinner were never set in villages like my family’s, instead they always seemed to be in modern or urban areas. Whenever a darker skinned, villager-looking character appeared on the screen, they were the laughing stock, a joke of a person.

As young children grow up with this negative association tied to farming life and their parents push them to find easier lives, it’s no wonder that urban migration has now become a widespread phenomenon. Many children leave the village to go to a university in the city, where they may meet their spouse, find a job, and start their own lives, leaving their parents behind to toil on the farm. I never met my homestay parents at one of my homestays, as they were working in Bangkok – my grandmother took care of my homestay sisters and me. In cases such as this, the grandparents must continue to work while also taking care of their grandchildren.

Not only does urban migration create a strenuous situation for the elderly, but it also means that village culture is slowly dying out. During my last homestay, I asked my host father, an organic farmer, if he thought urban migration was a problem for his village. He replied, “I think it’s a big problem because a lot of the younger generation has lost, or don’t even know any local wisdom. So we try to work with the young people nowadays in order to have them learn about local wisdom.” My host father works with the AAN (Alternative Agricultural Network), which is an organization that is working to promote organic farming. One of the AAN’s programs works at raising youth awareness of the local ways of growing and cooking food. In the past, Thai farmers would grow vegetables and local varieties of rice both in order to sell and feed their families. However, the trend of large scale, chemical farming was introduced with the onset of the Green Revolution in the mid 1900s. Large-scale farming led the job to become less centered around family, and instead largely oriented towards the international rice market. The AAN sets an inspirational example of people that are working to reverse this trend, so that small organic farming will once again self sustaining, involving everyone in the family.

Patricia Noto
Bates College


Anonymous said...

Dear Patty,

I completely agree that the media plays a huge part in encouraging people to move to the city to find better jobs and so they dont have to work hard a s a farmer. I feel like in most places in Asia, people have always been looked down on if they had dark skin because that meant they needed to work hard in the fields farming and were not well off. So this disheartened me because it is not a new trend. But I it was also looked down on to be so skinny because that meant you may not have enough food to eat. And now it is very popular to be skinny so it seems the media does play a huge part in supporting these social trends and I wonder if it would be possible to make farming “cool” in the media, and if this would ever catch on...

Anna Craver

Dan said...

Hey, Patty,

In reading your post, I couldn't help but think back to my home in Cleveland. At one time, Cleveland was a thriving city full of life and vitality. Now, it seems just the opposite (at least, that's how the media portrays it).

When applying to post-secondary school, I didn't consider any university within four and a half hours of my home. "I have to get out of this place," I would tell myself and others. "I hate it here." I would even use the term "embarrassed" and "ashamed" when describing my hometown.

I think back to Forbes Magazine's list of America's Most Miserable Cities. My freshman year of college, Cleveland was ranked #1. I recall smiling from my college in New York at the thought of having escaped the treachery. I know I'm not the only one, either. Cleveland is notorious for the brain drain it has faced over the latter decade; it's talented young professionals have left in masses in search of the more glamorous cities like Boston or Chicago.

Until my experiences in Thailand, I never realized what it meant to contribute to my community and why that's important. While all my friends are doing whatever they can to get the hell out of Ohio, all I can think about now is how badly I want to return to Cleveland to help fix the many problems the city faces. Despite the media brainwash, Cleveland is a really wonderful city to live in. I just wish we could all turn off the television and, for once, give credit where credit is due. I am a child of the Midwest, and I cannot wait to return home to help rebuild the places that made me who I am today.

Thanks for the post,

Anonymous said...

Hello Patty,

I feel like in every unit we have been in now, involving the youth in their respective issues has been one of the main priorities and struggles of villagers. Without the support and action of the youth, the future of the villages looks bleak. Involving the youth in order to sustain local traditions and way of life has been another constant throughout every unit. It has been really interesting to see what different communities define as their local traditions and how many communities are looking to maintain similar local traditions despite different locations and different threats to their way of life, whether those traditions simply be the practice of integrated agriculture, the knowledge of local seed varieties, understanding local herbal medicine or weaving cow-neow baskets and mats. And with the increased desire to move to cities, I wonder how successful these villages will be in sustaining their local traditions and way of life. I wonder what the most effective way to involve the youth is in these communities because they are so clearly an important component of the success of these communities.