Ruu doo rawn: the hot season in Thailand. The news was bad today, demonstrations in Bangkok with 15 people killed. Darkness offers us a few hours of coolness and the dogs quiet down after the temple bells stop, happy to get some rest. Not so with the people trying to get a fair share of the system. This is a hard land. With the first rays of the sun, the heat starts to rise up from the ground. The sun is relentless this year, and the farmers in the valleys and on the mountain slopes are burning the sere winter grass and shrubs now, sending up clouds of smoke that blends in with more smoke and haze streaming eastward from India, Bangladesh, and Burma, crossing over us here nestled beside the Ping River below Doi Sutep, then drifting onward over Laos and Vietnam, crossing the China Sea, and then up the coast of industrial China. This season the sun brought back a childhood memory of black and white movies and newsreels of soldiers in khaki shorts, shirtless, bone thin, wearing canvas campaign hats, whipping streams of sweat from their face. Sitting in the dark theater, I could feel the sun on that day, the same sun and heat that burns down now. World War II in Southeast Asia was as much a war against the sun and insects as against the enemy. It turned soldiers into killing animals, angry to be in the blazing tropics exposed to the elements. Now everyone walks quickly to the nearest shade beside a building, under a tree or inside a food stall or cafe, searching for a sliver or swath of shade to buffer the sun’s blast on your skin. I remember the biting snow-covered mornings in Alpine in the Big Bend. Each year there, in the Chuhuahuan Desert, we had snow, and then in summer, the bleach-dried cactus and the rocky hard-baked desert ground where the heat rose up through the soles of your boots.
Fifty years ago, most rural Thais were born into a peasantry. They are a hard, tough people who have seen the world grow modern and who have lived under the sun close to the soil, struggling to raise families. They know this heat, this sun.