Nong Mae Taeng,
Sai Ngam District, Kamphaeng Phet
A place with tons of trace to follow…
Strange. Unfamiliar. Remote.
Those are only three possible words I could suddenly come up with to describe ‘Nong Mae Taeng’ when I heard it for the fist time. Not to mention that most people also barely know about this place since it is not a tourist attraction. It is just a small regular village located in Sai Ngam District, Kamphaeng Phet Province. But, just the anonymity of itself is worth exploring.
The main reason I went to visit an unacquainted place like this was due to a voluntary camp organised by Thammasat University. So, if it was a famous flourishing place at the beginning, it surely had not been meant for the volunteers. It is our job to develop the site to be better. At least, I could learn something from the camp. Lol.
So, let me introduce you guys to the lost land where is ready to be found.
When the bus I came along with turned to the narrow dusty road, I had the feeling that many obstacles were waiting for me. Without knowing, the bus had already arrived at the down dead street, which means other volunteers and I needed to walk for the rest to the destination.
We did it. I could not remember how long we took, but it was enough to wake you up in an early morning. I mean 5 a.m. actually. We then arrived at Nong Mae Taeng School (TU volunteer) where our fist meal would be served.
As I noticed from the school’s name, there was a certain connection between this area and my university.
After I had lived and spent some times with people here for a week, I learned a lot about history and legend of this village. It has been told from generations to generations.
Let’s begin with the name of this village. In fact, Nong Mae Taeng in Thai means swamp, mother and cucumber.
Long ago even before migrants had discovered this area, there were only a few local people who lived nearby the swamp or Nong in Thai, and there was a generous woman sincerely thinking about her kids in the future. Therefore, she grew cucumbers in hope that the descendants’ stomach would always be filled with foods. Originally, the village was named “Nong Mae Plook Taeng” or A Mother Nearby The Swamp Grows A Cucumber. As the time passed, the words were cut out, so only Nong Mae Taeng remains.
On the other hands, some villagers told me that there was another story. It’s believed that the word “Taeng” did not refer to the cucumber, but it referred to Taeng Sang tree instead. At that time, this trees naturally grew all over the area. So people just named it according to the ambience, basically.
Another thing needs to mention is that the school of this village was built many years later on after the migrants moved in with a help from Thammasat students who went for volunteering. Some said they were many, while others said only a few went for help. The period of building the school was also mysterious as different people had different belief. But, it was said that it’s no longer than a month.
No other evident appeared to convince the story, except for the old photo of the day they finished constructing the school.
As a result, the other staff and I, as TU students, were warmly welcomed by Nong Mae Taeng people. They keep telling the story and share the feeling with us that they are really missing the good old days with TU students. They still even remembered the name of some students. Not only do adults think of TU students, but also the kids of new generation in the village also feel close to them as if they were there. Maybe, it is because of their parents telling those good times.
You may be curious right why I’m telling this kind of story, right?
Then, look at the society nowadays. No one can deny that we are living in the state of hyperreality in which the distinction between the media and reality has been collapsed. It is hard to differentiate now what actually are originally real. All of us are influenced by what the media present. Some contents are merely a saturated image to blind us from the reality.
Why does this kind of things happen?
All of those mediated images and content are produced to fill human being’s emptiness. Some things unbelievable or miracles possibly become true by an art of media industry. When we see it through various media, we feel excited, impressed, touched, amazed, etc.
However, compared to the local myths that I just mentioned to you guys, there is an overload of information for those people to believe. They may acquire the story by the books written by TU students at the school’s library, an old newspaper from that time, the history board at the school’s main building, or even storytelling from their parents. These things are also parts of mass media.
The story keeps repeating itself one way or another in the village just like the media contents keep representing the mediated images. No longer people can tell which story is real, but all of them still fulfil the emptiness of the society.
Nong Mae Taeng was originally unknown in the first place and people from various corners of Thailand came to gather together. Yet, there was a gap in time to convey an appreciated story to the next generation. That was the point where the reality has been shaken. To encourage others to feel the same way, you may need to ‘add’ something to create a great impact.
I’m not saying that all of the generosity or myths I experienced was unreal, but just because feeling it was real could not support anything. People had a good feeling towards me. Of course, it was real but is it because of the story that has being told to them, so they feel great about my visiting, or their own feeling after really knowing about me. On the surface, they may already like me as the result of an appreciated selected story.
Even I myself could not say that I love Nong Mae Taeng people only because I spent time with them. The story that I know also influences me to have a great feeling towards this village. So, is this the state of hyperreality?
Nevertheless, there was nothing wrong with creating the affection in the society by using any kinds of mass media, but the thing is that you will no longer feel the reality due to the own free will to get rid of the emptiness.